INTERVIEW WITH KAITLYN AND EUGENE (@TRAVELS WITH KEVAN)
Who are you and what is your backstory?
We are Kaitlyn and Eugene from @travelswithkevan. We are two 30-somethings that wanted to live a simpler, more meaningful life, and that journey eventually led us to building out our 2018 Ram Promaster 3500 Extended and traveling full time.
We are originally from Utah. Kaitlyn grew up there, and Gene was a military brat that moved frequently, but always had roots in Salt Lake City. We met our senior year in high school and reconnected a few years later when Gene was visiting Utah while on leave from his Army duty station in Fort Riley, Kansas. We got engaged quickly because Gene was deploying to Iraq for 12 months and were married when he came home for 2 weeks about half-way through his deployment. We lived in Kansas together for a year until Gene was discharged from the Army and we moved back to Utah.
We lived a pretty ordinary life for the next 5 years, until a trip we took to Hawaii changed us forever. We met so many people who were living their dreams and it hit us that our current life wasn’t serving us anymore. We kept striving for better jobs so that we could afford bigger houses and nicer cars because that is what society has accepted as “normal”. We realized that accumulating “stuff” was not making us happy, and that we only lived in Utah because our family is there. We decided to see what else was out there, and if it didn’t work out, we could always move back home. When we returned from the trip, we put some feelers out on LinkedIn for job opportunities in other states and Gene received a job with a well-known company in the PNW. We visited soon after since we had never been to that part of the country before, and a month later, we packed up what we couldn’t sell from our 4-bedroom, 4-car garage home and moved to a 600-square foot apartment in Seattle, Washington.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
Moving to Seattle is really what kicked off our journey to minimalism and tiny living, but we had no idea it would eventually lead us to living in a van. We first became interested in tiny homes, which eventually led us to skoolies, followed quickly by the practicality of a van. We love to travel and wanted to see the world, but we hadn’t even explored our own backyard and realized that a van would be the perfect solution. We immersed ourselves in everything #vanlife. We even rented a van and took a test trip down the Oregon coast. We had no running water and it downpoured the entire week, but it was the most fun we had ever had in our entire lives and we knew this was something we needed to do.
Over the next few months, we spent lots of time researching different models of vans and floor plans and evaluating what worked and didn’t work in the van that we rented to figure out our “must haves.” We determined a Promaster would be the best fit for us and there happened to be a brand new one on the lot in Seattle.
Our advice to someone wanting to do vanlife is to do it. We meet people all the time that say “I wish I could do that.” You can. There will always be reasons not to take big leaps of faith, but do you want to look back and have that regret?
We have always been savers, and moving to the Seattle job market allowed us to put away a lot more money. Gene was a Network Engineer and Kaitlyn was in marketing communications. One of the biggest draws to vanlife is the ultimate freedom it provides. To us, that meant no jobs, so we estimated the cost of the van and conversion, in addition to how much living expenses would be each year and set a target of how much we wanted to save before hitting the road.
Quitting your job and travelling full time is something a lot of people save for retirement. What we haven’t mentioned yet is that both of us have been diagnosed with auto-immune diseases and aren’t really sure what that means for our health in the future. While this is definitely a trip full of fun, adventure, and self-discovery, we realize it is also possibly the only time that we might be able to do this. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us, and our biggest fear would be waiting for the “right time” and missing out on this dream we have worked so hard for.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
Living in a van has truly given us freedom. Freedom to go where we want to go, spend our time in the climates we prefer, and see things we didn’t even know existed. If we like a place, we can stay; if we don’t, we can leave. Living this lifestyle means that our days are truly our own. We don’t have time cards to punch, and we aren’t living for the weekends anymore. If anything, we are living for the opposite now because we try to avoid doing anything popular on weekends.
We love visiting unique and interesting places wherever we travel. We often find ourselves looking for opportunities to say, “we never would have seen this if we didn’t live in a van,” like the man walking his turtle in a park along the California coast.
Our marriage has only gotten stronger as we have lived in the van. Lack of personal space and privacy has definitely opened doors to some conversations we never thought we would have with each other...
We are regularly asked what our favorite place we have been is, and we always struggle to answer. Sedona, AZ was truly magical, the entire Oregon coast was beautiful, and there is something absolutely humbling about the Redwoods. We have spent time in deserts, beaches, forests, farm land, and cities and we always end up thinking “this is my favorite.” There is so much indescribable beauty in this country, and we haven’t even been east of the Rockies yet.
Our most recent memorable adventure took us kayaking for the first time to a beautiful clear spring along the Snake River in Idaho. We missed the turn to the spring and ended up going an extra mile or two downstream, only to have to turn and fight our way back up. Our arms and shoulders were absolutely dead, and we were sunburned by the time we got back, but we had a blast and discovered a new hobby that we can’t wait to do again. The ice cream afterwards definitely didn’t hurt, either.
Building the van taught us tons of skills. We actually reached out to a company to build the van for us, but they wanted $30,000 in labor alone, more than a year of living expenses for us on the road, so we decided to build it ourselves and we are so thankful we did. It was the hardest thing we have ever done, but we learned so much about all aspects of construction (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, propane, etc.) and the best part is that if something breaks, we know how to fix it because we are the ones that put it together.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
Vanlife definitely gives us an appreciation for the little things:
- Unlimited running water and electricity
- A huge fridge
- Reliable cell service and Wifi
- Quiet time without your significant other
- Doing dishes without worrying about the tank overflowing
- Fitting in most drive-thrus
On our very first night in the van, we broke the cardinal rule of vanlife by not getting to our spot before the sun went down. There were a few spots listed on iOverlander nearby, and the closest one didn’t work out due to being on private property, so we made our way to the second. We knew it was down a dirt road, but what reviews didn’t mention was how steep and washed out it was...not to mention the sheer cliff on the passenger side. After one of our scariest drives to date, we made it to the spot and waited a few hours for the adrenaline rush to wear off before we could sleep. While the daylight revealed a less terrifying drive down, we learned that no matter what our plans include for a day, we always need to find our campsite before dark.
The hardest, most expensive, and most frustrating thing we deal with on the road is health insurance. Finding a plan that will allow us the flexibility we need with both doctors and our required medications has definitely taken years off our lives, but we also want others that may be questioning their ability to navigate this same hardship to know that it is possible.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
We originally imagined vanlife as more of a solo adventure, and didn’t really consider that having friends on the road would be as important to us as it has become. The best thing we ever did for ourselves on this journey was to start our trip at the Wolfpack Roundup in Oregon. We were so nervous being so new to the lifestyle, but we made so many connections with other like minded folks and have felt really welcomed by everyone we have met on the road. It almost feels easier to make friends on the road than it was in “real life” because we all have this one, really important thing in common.
Instagram has been another great way to create connections and keep up with friends on the road. It also allows us to meet up and camp with friends when we are in the same area.
Our marriage has only gotten stronger as we have lived in the van. Lack of personal space and privacy has definitely opened doors to some conversations we never thought we would have with each other (e.g. bathroom things), but in all, we love the quality time we get to spend with each other. Our most common disagreement is what to listen to on long drive days. We also changed sides of the bed so Gene can deal with any potential knocks in the night.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Our advice to someone wanting to do vanlife is to do it. We meet people all the time that say “I wish I could do that.” You can. There will always be reasons not to take big leaps of faith, but do you want to look back and have that regret? It is scary, but no growth can happen in your comfort zone. There is no right or wrong way, you can spend as much or as little as you want, you just have to be willing to take that first step.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
Our biggest influences came from the YouTube channels and Instagram pages of Trent & Allie, Eamon & Bec, Max & Lee, Nomadic Movement, Tio Aventura, and Kinging It to name a few.
As for things that helped us build the van, we used Explorist.Life and FarOutRide.com. That and a whole lot of Googling. Also, take advantage of Black Friday and other holiday sales to save on purchases for the van, it saved us a ton of money.
What does the future look like?
We told ourselves that we would live in the van for at least 1 year. We are 6 months in and don’t see ourselves stopping anytime soon. I think we will continue to live this lifestyle until it stops being fulfilling for us.
We don’t plan our routes too far out, which can be a blessing and a huge source of stress. We would love to get up to Alaska this summer, but with the borders being closed, it’s not looking too promising. We may spend some time in Montana and Colorado this summer, we just know we need to be in Oregon in September for Descend on Bend. We would love to see the fall colors in New England as well.
Is there anything that you need that you can't find or anything you are seeking help with?
We love meeting new friends on the road. Reach out to us on Instagram (@travelswithkeven) and if we are in the same area, we would love to meet up and share stories and s’mores around the campfire.
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Sedona, Arizona
- Oregon coast
- Bryce Canyon, Utah
Where are you now?
The lovely state of Idaho
How long do you usually stay in one place?
It depends, but we typically only sleep in the same place for a night or two.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
October 2020 (official start, but we did a few shakeout trips before)
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
2018 Ram Promaster 3500 Extended
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?
- Find us on Instagram @travelswithkevan
- We also have a website with our van build parts list and even a blog post or two at travelswithkevan.com