INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY AND SHARON (@THE BEARDED VAN)
Who are you and what is your backstory?
Hi! We’re Anthony and Sharon, otherwise known as Thebeardedvan. We live full time in our T1N Sprinter with our brand new puppy, Gunner! We roam the country, pulling our boat, looking for all the best fishing spots. Anthony has a deep love for fishing, especially saltwater, and if he’s not on the boat, you’ll find him chatting with the locals at whatever boat ramp we happen to be at. Sharon loves being out on the water but for photo taking opportunities and not so much fishing. She’s a true homebody and loves spending time in her van. The newest member of our crew is also the fuzziest. Gunner is an 11 week old Golden Retriever and has added a ton of entertainment as well as mud to our little home.
I, Sharon, had never heard of vanlife before Anthony approached me in 2015 with the crazy idea to sell everything we own and move into a van. I honestly thought he was crazy! We had just moved into our little dream home a few years before, in Ohio, and I was not ready to give that up! But Anthony is extremely persistent and one day he rolled up our driveway with an ‘86 Westfalia! Surprise! Lucky for him, I thought both he and the van were pretty cute and we spent that entire summer fishing and camping as much as we possibly could. Having the convenience of the van allowed us to be ready to leave for any adventure in about 15 minutes. With every weekend we spent out in nature, the idea of a long road trip grew on me. We took the van to Maine to explore the east coast for a week and it was life changing. We came home and started planning out what we needed to do to travel for a year or two.
When Anthony bought the Westfalia, the interior was original and immaculate but the exterior was in rough condition. He spent a good 6 months doing body work and painting her back to her original color. He also added a ladder and a swing bar he made. She was now in prime condition and worth a lot more than he bought her for. We felt between us and our sweet dog Maverick dragging mud and dirt inside, we would be way too hard on her. We sold her to a gentleman from Texas who promised to take great care of her.
There is an instant understanding with most transients that we have all chosen to have experiences over possessions. To collect memories rather than things.
The perfect van was waiting for us at the local junkyard. It didn’t run and it wasn’t the hightop we wanted, but for less than $1,000 we were convinced she’d do just fine. We had her towed to his dad's garage where Anthony immediately got her running. We were a bit stumped though when we saw the insane amount of rust on her. It would take MONTHS just to complete the body work. One day Anthony happened to find a hightop in the same year. Sure, the engine was completely blown up and she needed a lot of work, but the body had no rust! Maybe he could use the engine and some other parts from the first van? Anthony enjoys a challenge and before we knew it we had two vans!
That was in the beginning of 2018. Between our summer spent camping in the Westy and now the adventure of restoring a van and the excitement of traveling in our future, we were in the most idyllic year of our marriage and all was going well.
Out of absolutely nowhere, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. All thoughts of van life faded away as we moved in with her to provide care for her the last few months of her life. When she passed, my whole world was shattered. If you have ever gone through such a deep loss, you can understand the anxiety and PTSD that can follow. I was not able to hold down a normal job and could barely function. I didn’t even care about my “dream home” anymore. Our next step became clear. Our short term vacation van plan turned into something we needed to do to survive. We packed up the things we wanted to keep into a small room in the basement and immediately rented out our home to the most wonderful people. Vanlife began right then with us moving into our half built out van.
At the time, Anthony and his dad were restoring a ‘69 Camaro for a client. So we stayed at the garage while Anthony worked on the car during the day, and finished the build in the evenings and weekends. Three months later, December 2019, the van was finally finished. We hooked up our boat, left Ohio, and drove south till we felt the warmth of the Florida sun on our faces.
The next few months were very healing for us both. Anthony’s great passion is saltwater fishing and he did that in abundance. I loved spending time with him and Maverick on the boat, especially when we explored the backwaters of the St Johns river and the grass flats of Florida Bay. It is such a different world out on the water! We were able to be together all the time and that was exactly what we both needed. We drove and floated our way around the coast of Florida until it got too hot for comfort and we headed back to Ohio to visit family. Unfortunately, a couple months later Maverick passed away from bone cancer. He was our heart dog and we miss him every single day.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
As you can tell from our story, our experience with life is that it can be incredibly fragile. The most important thing to Anthony and I is that we create amazing memories together, doing what we love which is exploring this beautiful country of ours. Because we are ok with living on a strict budget we’ve been able to continue this lifestyle. We’ve seen some of the most beautiful places. Last September Anthony wanted to try Salmon fishing in Michigan. I was super excited because that meant we could also go see the Upper Peninsula. We found the perfect spot to stay at, for free for three weeks! Anthony had such good success with the salmon that he convinced his dad to come join us. The two of them caught salmon to their heart's content while I enjoyed our meals together over the campfire and took long walks down by the river. We even smoked and canned salmon in the wild! You’ll have to check out the YouTube on the homemade smoker Anthony made out of a cardboard box.
Catch and Smoke Monster King Salmon Haul in ... - YouTube
We will treasure those memories we made with his dad for the rest of our lives! After his dad left, we drove to the UP. What a wild and beautiful place! We slept on top of a mountain and woke up to everything dusted with snow. We’ll never forget our trip to Michigan and that is why we do what we do.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
There is only one thing I truly don’t like about vanlife. I don’t like sleeping anywhere that we might get a knock on the door asking us to leave. It gives me anxiety. I would rather sleep in a Cracker Barrel parking lot then in a pretty place where we might get kicked out!
Our set up is a little bit different then most since our main goal is to find fishable water in a beautiful spot. So we don’t mind sleeping in a parking lot as long as we can spend our days on the boat. I think it might be different out west where there is more public land. We’ve spent a large majority of our nearly 2 years of vanlife in Florida where we’ve experienced difficulty finding the perfect trio of free, legal, and beautiful overnight parking. Not to mention trying to find all of that in one spot close to a boat ramp!
Vanlife is stressful. You can alleviate some of that stress by understanding what type of build you need to make this lifestyle sustainable for you. Be honest with your needs.
I asked Anthony what is one thing he doesn’t like about vanlife and he just grinned and said absolutely nothing! We’re finally living his dream life and there are no bad days! He did mention later that the only negative he’s had to deal with is other people judging him for not working himself to death to afford a big house and fancy lifestyle for us and instead, being a transient. He said once you get past caring about people’s opinions, you're golden.
When it comes to maintenance on our van, Anthony’s background in mechanics has been a huge blessing. He completely rebuilt the engine before we left so that he would understand everything about it. He knows our van inside and out and that’s so reassuring to me. Yes, sprinter parts are expensive, but we save money because Anthony is able to fix whatever’s wrong rather than having to pay someone else to do it.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
Our marriage has only improved with life on the road. When we were living a normal life with 9-5 jobs, we were both incredibly independent. That was fine. But as we went through some traumatic things and then shifted to a lifestyle where we’re always together, our marriage and friendship has deepened. We take care of each other. We check in on each other, often. We enjoy having conversations, planning our next destinations, and dreaming about the future. Of course we have our disagreements. But if we get on each other’s nerves Anthony will just go fishing for the day and I’ll enjoy time spent reading or on the beach. It’s remarkably easy to find space if you need it.
When it comes to community, the vanlife one is very open and welcoming. We have made some of our best friendships out on the road! Here we are with JP. We met him our first week in Flamingo and traveled the Keys with him. He showed us around and we ended up having our first caravaning experience with him and another couple. We consider him one of our best friends and can’t wait to travel with him again.
There is an instant understanding with most transients that we have all chosen to have experiences over possessions. To collect memories rather than things. It’s been an instant bond. Our last trip to the Everglades ended with a weekend at the Flamingo campground. We spent both evenings sitting around our new neighbors campfire with two wildly different couples with polar opposite lifestyles. But we all instantly connected over our love of travel. We had some very healing, heartfelt, conversations mixed in with hilarious stories of mishaps that happen with life on the road. It was exactly what we all needed. I hope we can meet up with them again.
How do you support yourself financially?
Vanlife has certainly taught us to be ballers on a budget. A very tight budget. We have always lived frugally though, with the goal of remaining debt free. Van life has just decreased the amount we receive in income. We have four different income streams. We have a rental. I am in direct sales with Arbonne. www.sharonmiller.arbonne.com I also run some social media groups. Anthony does side jobs.
I mentioned earlier that Anthony’s great passion is saltwater fishing. We’ve had a lot of fun creating videos of him fishing for our YouTube channel. Maybe someday those will take off and he will be sponsored to fish! That would be a dream come true!
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Your setup doesn’t have to be perfect to try out vanlife! We went camping quite a few times with just an air mattress thrown in the back and jugs of water and some food. That gave us the opportunity to see what layout will work best for us. Something else you may want to do is take cardboard and mock everything up. That helped us understand the space we were working with.
Vanlife is stressful. You can alleviate some of that stress by understanding what type of build you need to make this lifestyle sustainable for you. Be honest with your needs. We would never be happy with a minimal build. My brother in law has a suv that he built out. It’s so cool but I wouldn’t survive in it long term. We needed a van that has most of the comforts of home. That’s why we made the choices we did. We went with a Nature’s Head toilet. Expensive but there is no smell. We need to have quality sleep. So I researched until I found the best, non toxic mattress in our budget. (Sleep on Latex). Now we sleep better in this van then any house we’ve ever lived in. We just installed an ac that we run with our Honda generator if it gets too hot. By understanding our needs and choosing quality products, we now have a build that will help us sustain this lifestyle that we love but can be very stressful if not prepared.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
Here are a couple of our favorite Instagrammers.
- Nomads In Harmony - VETTE (@nomadsinharmony) • Instagram … They have traveled all over America! Check out her posts for destination inspiration.
- Tiny Home Tours (@tinyhometours) • Instagram photos and videos - This account is a great inspiration for anyone doing a build.
- AshevilleVanLife (@ashevillevanlife) • Instagram photos and videos - Wanna meet cool people? Check out this rally!
We love dogs and we love following accounts that post their dogs a lot. These three are our favorites.
- Ramblin' Van (@ramblinvan) • Instagram photos and videos
- Travel | Osteopaths | Buslife (@outbackosteos) • Instagram photos …
- Brandon, Sarah, Ziggy, & Kissy (@livinginadvance) • Instagram ...
What does the future look like?
We just did something that will affect our entire future. It’s been about a year since our sweet Maverick passed. We weren’t quite ready to add a dog to our family and never expected to add a puppy. The plan was to someday adopt a senior dog since there are so many that need a home. But then some very special circumstances happened and all of that changed. Meet Gunner! He’s the softest, fluffiest, little Golden Retriever puppy you’ve ever seen!! He was only 10 weeks old when we took these pictures. He has a very special back story. You can read more about it on our May 1st 2021 Instagram post. He has already brought us so much joy with his little puppy shenanigans! Our future just got a whole lot brighter because of this little guy. ❤️
We haven’t yet made any plans for summer 2021. We keep meaning to head out west but Anthony keeps getting distracted with fishing the Carolinas and Florida. Maybe we’ll head west in June. We’re definitely not meant for cold weather so this summer would be the perfect time temperature wise. I have a feeling that trip will happen like everything else does in our life - we will talk about it one day and leave for our destination the next. We’re not great at planning too far ahead and have learned last minute works best for us.
Is there anything that you need that you can't find or anything you are seeking help with?
Speaking of going out west, having never been there, we’d love to get the travel community’s recommendations on must see spots. Especially if those spots are in a prime fishing area!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- A good water filter.
- Our sleep on latex mattress.
- Our boat
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- The Everglades, Florida.
- The state forests in Maine.
- Upper peninsula, Michigan.
Where are you now?
We are currently visiting our family in Amish Country Ohio
How long do you usually stay in one place?
- When we're on the road we tend to get antsy after 3-5 days in one spot.
- When we are visiting our family in Ohio, a little over a month before we’re ready to hit the road again.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
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?
We have a T1N Sprinter van and we pull a Skiff boat
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?
- YouTube - https://youtube.com/channel/UCPetGkh2DT0d7Sir40_d5FQ
- Instagram - Anthony+Sharon | Vanlife (@thebeardedvan) • Instagram photos …
- The Bearded Van website