Who are you and what is your backstory?
We are Shawn and Jessica and we are currently living fulltime in our self-built van. Shawn is originally from Rochester, New York and Jessica was born in Sacramento, California but raised in Orange County. We first met while we were enjoying the outdoors; Shawn was climbing and Jessica was hiking, but wanted to get into climbing. Climbing and the lifestyle of the climbing community is something that first connected us. Through our relationship we found activities that brought us outside to be active together and having fun. This was mainly centered around climbing, but would also look like roller skating by the beach, riding bikes to the park, walking our two chihuahuas or our two cats.
We moved to Colorado for climbing, yet we spent most of our time working full time jobs which only allowed us the weekends to enjoy time together. The work week felt so long and dragged out waiting for the weekend to have the chance to truly live our lives for just two days per week. This was something we both did not enjoy and wanted to make a change. Jessica was managing an edgy hair salon on Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, called Pompadours. Shawn was a mechanic for high end bicycles at a triathlon shop in Boulder called Colorado Multisport. We didn’t want the typical 9-5 work day where we worked hard to make as much money as we could just to pay the bills. To pay high rent for a place we called “home”, but barely spent any time in. Instead, we wanted less things and less overhead. We wanted a more minimalist lifestyle to leave a smaller footprint. Time was so precious to us and the chances we got to be together were not enough. More time equaled more freedom and that freedom meant we could spend time together enjoying the outdoors.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
After one year of long distance dating, driving through Los Angeles traffic for an hour or two to see each other, we did what any new couple would do--we moved in together--17 hours away in Boulder, Colorado. Everyone who lived there seemed motivated to be outside soaking up the sunshine. Boulder is like the Hollywood of Colorado--full of professional triathletes and climbers. This is also where we first found interest in tiny homes and other ways of minimalist living. We met a lot of great people within this community and over time learned vanlife was a much more attainable option for us. It would not only be more affordable sooner, but it would allow us to travel the United States. We didn’t want to settle down in one place just yet and instead wanted to spread our wings to see more beautiful places like this one and get to climb in new areas we had never been to before.
We are sort of a rare breed where we don’t need much of our own time away from each other. Most people find this hard to believe and once they see how small of a space we live in, they question it’s truth.
We were able to pay off debt and save money towards purchasing a new Promaster van. We spent every evening after work and weekend planning, learning and building our future home. This felt safe because we spent the time beforehand to save up and were not going into debt to make this dream a reality. We knew if it didn’t work out that we still had our jobs and we still had our rental space. We just had a van project in our driveway. This was a fun adventure and learning opportunity for us to work through together. We were not rushed into the change, instead we slowly went through our belongings and could really downsize with ease. The more excited we got, the easier it was to let go of materialistic things.
We were motivated to have less overhead of paying rent and working full time jobs that still kept us away from each other and indoors. When COVID-19 forced Jessica’s work to close for a month, it accelerated the downsizing process and allowed us the time to get everything figured out. This also gave us a taste of life without a full time job and further motivated us to hit the road. We gave our 30 day notice and moved into the van just in time for Jessica’s work to open back up. We knew there was unfinished business and needed to give it a little more time to make the transition. We spent the first six months still working full time and with the comfort of parking near a friend’s house to help with any unexpected issues that may have come up. This helped ease us into full time van living and gave us a taste of what living on the road would be like. We were also able to save more money and reassure ourselves about taking time off from working full time.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
Now that we don’t have to pay rent, we are finally able to take time off from working full time jobs. Rent takes away so much of your hard earned paycheck, right? We are able to set our own schedules of our favorite things. We can be lazy and hangout in the van, lay out in the sunshine in our double hammock, climb hard, hike to waterfalls or soak in natural hot springs. We can decide to stay longer in an area we are really enjoying or take off somewhere new. We always ask each other, “Where do you want to wake up in the morning?” Our favorite place so far has been Bishop, CA. We have a spot we’ve parked in the most right next to a peaceful creek that is on BLM land so we aren’t bothering anyone and no one is really around. There is plenty of space for the dogs to roam, to hike up the hill to get our legs moving and hunt for crystals. We’ve found so many really clear and pillared ones. We have the snow capped Sierra Mountains behind us and the best granite bouldering just up the road.
We feel like since living in the van we have opened our eyes to things we never had to think about before, such as water conservation. We have to pay attention to how much water we have and how much we use--which usually means as little as possible! We have a 20 gallon tank to store our water and have realized that with some trickery we can make that last up to 5 days for the both of us. According to The National Research Foundation in 2016, “the average shower uses roughly 17 gallons and lasts for around 8 minutes.” This doesn’t include drinking water, washing dishes, or flushing a toilet. I’d say, we’re doing our part.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
Through our research of building out a van to live in, we made sure to cut out a lot of the possible issues or day to day stressors. We made sure to have enough solar and battery capacity to run the things we use, to build a wall dividing the cab from the living space, having a composting toilet and shower with enough water storage to last us a few days. When we are moving from place to place the first thing we need to look for is a water spigot to make sure we will be able to refill our water. This seems to be the most stressful thing for us so far.
Second to this, would be finding a place to park overnight that feels safe and with enough distance from others to not impose. We are most often on BLM land or near climbing areas where there is either lots of room to spread out or other vans to make us feel welcome. Other times, we are parking in a neighborhood in town or near a closed business. We have heard horror stories of other vanlifers having issues with safety and break-ins. This is important to us as well because of having all of your belongings in one space and because we have two older chihuahuas to look out for. We need a safe environment to walk them often and to park our home with them inside. Luckily, we haven’t had many issues with this, but we are told it will happen as we travel around to less van-friendly places.
You will only regret something you didn’t do. If this lifestyle appeals to you--do it. We highly recommend spending time up front planning, planning, and planning some more.
The couple experiences we have had with getting a knock after midnight to move the van somewhere else woke us up from a dead sleep and we had to drive around for a while trying to find another spot. Both times we were in a new area and thought, “Let’s just find a Walmart or a Winco that are open 24 hours...should be fine.” So we aren’t quite sure why we were asked to leave other than we think these particular ones had a private security patrolling the parking lots. We have heard you can go in and ask the manager if it’s alright just for the night. This wasn’t our first thought as typically, we don’t ask for permission, we ask for forgiveness. I guess this mindset will need to change that for the future. We have also woken up to a note on our windshield while staying near the San Diego beaches one time. We first thought it was an official warning, but it had the laws copied and pasted onto it. We asked another vanlifer who parked nearby and he said it’s from an angry neighbor that leaves these notices on every van. We even saw a handicap van full of passenger seats with one on the windshield. We don’t ever want to bother people by parking near their homes which is why we tend to find a spot that is less intrusive and not right in front. We will find an area where maybe there’s a side or back yard with a high fence and park in front of that instead. In this case, we didn’t even park near a home, it was next to a grassy field across the street from apartments.
One stressful thing about not staying in one place for a long period of time has been finding veterinary care for our animals. Having elderly animals seems to be the same as having health care for yourself as you age. The older we get--the more care we need and the more consistent you are with the same care provider, the easier it is. We have had to travel out of our way to find care or pay extra for emergency visits when our animals have been sick. We have been lucky enough to not have had this issue for ourselves--but this could very realistically be the same if one of us becomes ill or gets injured away from our permanent home address. Which brings another challenge of receiving important mail in a timely manner when we need family members forwarding it to us wherever we are. If you thought ‘snail mail’ was slow before...
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
We are sort of a rare breed where we don’t need much of our own time away from each other. Most people find this hard to believe and once they see how small of a space we live in, they question it’s truth. But really--we love being together and maybe because we spent so much time longing for more time together now we are truly appreciating it. Our families are excited and happy for us to be choosing this lifestyle and are all following along our adventures, mostly through Facebook.
We are living in a time of technology where numerous social media platforms and mobile apps make it easier than ever to communicate with others on a consistent basis from any part of the world. We’ve communicated with so many others living this lifestyle and have been able to share what we’ve learned through our experience.
We’ve found our favorite mobile app for van life to be The Vanlife App where we have even connected with the developers of the app who are also living on the road. They are open to suggestions from us to improve the app and build this community in a positive way. This resource has helped us with the most difficult parts of exploring a new area such as finding water refill stations and overnight parking. It also allows us to add what we’ve found on our own if it’s not already on there for the area. Another neat thing about this app is hosting or attending events and finding others nearby. We’ve met others living on the road in person and have built lifelong friendships with them. Shawn has helped a handful of others with their build such as cabinets, drawers, water and electrical. We’ve met other climbers living on the road and have caravaned to new areas together to climb in each new area. It’s difficult to part ways when you’ve spent every day together for a week, but we know we will be able to stay in touch and meet back up with them again somewhere else. It’s never goodbye--it’s always “see you later”.
How do you support yourself financially?
It was really scary to think about both quitting our jobs and not having a steady income to rely on. When the time came, we felt confident enough to make that transition because we were able to save up a decent amount and lower our monthly expenses in order to be comfortable for at least one year. If we make income here and there along the way then it’s just a bonus and will extend our time on the road. We hope through this time off from a typical 9-5 that we find alternative ways of generating income since now we really don’t need as much money per month to sustain this lifestyle. We have been a lot more active on Instagram and Youtube trying to share our build and our travels with others. We see it growing every day and feel it would be really awesome if this could turn into a way of making money some day.
We have been able to connect with companies we’ve used for our build and create unique affiliate links for their products. This allows us to make some side income through referrals when someone chooses to purchase based off of our recommendations.
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What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
You will only regret something you didn’t do. If this lifestyle appeals to you--do it. We highly recommend spending time up front planning, planning, and planning some more. Watch lots of Youtube videos, read online blogs, and don’t be afraid to ask others living this lifestyle any questions. You will be welcomed with open arms and good vibes from most vanlifers who are eager to share their stories.
Try to avoid putting a deadline on your build process. The reality is--things will take longer than expected. Don’t get discouraged by this, instead--enjoy the process! Take your time with each step so you can avoid making mistakes and in the end have something to be proud of.
We think it’s important to save money rather than go into debt. Money is stressful. If we could choose to live without it--we would! One important thing to do before increasing the stress would be to save up and have a comfortable cushion of money to spend wisely through your build and while on the road. We recommend a fun little challenge we did to help you save called “the five dollar challenge”. Click here to learn more: https://cruxandbeta.weebly.com
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
During our beginning planning stages of a tiny home and then eventually a van, a friend told us about a free program called SketchUp where we could make our ideas come to life into a 3D design. This took some time to learn how to use, but we were able to visualize our plans better with measurements to exact scale.
When it came to solar and battery setup, we got a little overwhelmed, but found a very useful Youtube video for figuring out how much solar power and battery capacity you will need based on the things you will be using.
We found a how-to blog for installing a horizontal propane tank underneath our specific van with lots of pictures and a link for where to purchase online.
We found another very useful blog about disposing of our compost toilet while on the road. This was still a process of our own to experiment with and figure out what worked best for us.
What does the future look like?
Our plan is to travel around the U.S. to new places or places where we have family or friends. We want to see as much as we possibly can and make this adventure last as long as possible. We want to spend more time in each place instead of rushing it like we would if we had a limited amount of days off from work. We’d love to climb a lot, make more videos for our YouTube channel and post as many beautiful captures as we can on our Instagram. We favor warmer weather so we will be chasing the seasons as they change--letting the laws of nature dictate our travels. We started in Colorado leaving before winter came to head to California. We are currently exploring the west coast of California and heading north through Oregon and Washington. We will head east until we get to New York and then start heading south before returning to where we started. We hope to either continue traveling or decide on specific places we want to bounce around between.
Is there anything that you need that you can't find or anything you are seeking help with?
In the future we would love to see local governments supporting their communities by providing potable water fill stations in public parks to allow everyone access to free clean water. We would like to see more dump stations and trash receptacles including recycling bins in public areas as well as more public restrooms. We would love to see free safe overnight parking areas offered as well. We have found a few of these in San Diego and Truckee and would like to see more of these. It would be helpful to loosen up the rules about sleeping in your vehicle overnight. We had an idea for applying for some sort of permit letting neighborhoods and police officers know you’ve been pre-screened and are safe to be in your vehicle overnight.
If anyone has any advice on how we can advocate a little louder for these things, please let us know.
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Propane (heater and cooking)
- Solid solar and electrical system
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Bishop, CA.
- Buckeye Hot Springs
- Zion National Park
Where are you now?
South Lake Tahoe
How long do you usually stay in one place?
When did you first start Vanlifing?
May 4, 2020
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
All of them
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
2019 RAM Promaster 3500
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?Website: https://cruxandbeta.weebly.com