- Age: 28
- Vehicle type: 2017 Ford transit 150
- Miles: 61000
- Time spent in van: 6 months
- Birthplace: San Diego CA
- Average monthly expenses: varies drastically based on the types of trips we take
- Go-to van meal: All fruit, we always have the van fully stocked with apples, bananas, blackberries, mangoes, and oranges
- Favorite parking spot: Alabama Hills, our home away from home
What were you doing before living in a van?
A whole lot of camping! prior to the van we had a jeep wrangler that was built as an awesome overlanding rig. It opened up some super cool opportunities for us to be able to go places that you could only get to with a serious 4×4 vehicle, which allowed us to get to some incredible places! We would take several day road trips around the west coast and inland a little bit, and really enjoyed the time we had in it. Unfortunately, between the wildly low gas mileage the jeep was getting (almost 10mpg) and setting up and breaking down tents and camp everywhere we went, we decided that we wanted something even more conducive to traveling. We had been playing with the idea of getting a van “one day” for a while, but for some reason never took any real steps toward that, until our big trip up highway one. We had a few nights in a row that we had to set up the tent in some discrete places due to campsites being full, and then an awful night that it stormed like absolute crazy and we got totally ruined. After that night in Big Sur, we decided on two things: we definitely want to travel more because Big Sur was amazing, but were going to do it in a van. We ended up coming back and listing the Jeep for sale that weekend, and we picked up our van a week after that!
Why did you get started in Van Life?
We really wanted something that would enable us to travel even more than we already were. We were taking every single opportunity we had to get out and explore as far as we could from home, but we kept running into a lot of the same problems. If we had a last minute trip pop up that we wanted to take, our options were generally to find somewhere to pitch a tent, which was usually tough because campsites are always full, and weather seldom cooperates, or get a hotel, which for us completely takes away from the adventure of it all so that wasn’t even a choice for us. When we had our fiasco of the last tent camp in Big Sur, we decided that nothing would provide opportunities to see the world as much as the van, and we were right. The sheer convenience factor of being able to pick anywhere in driving distance, and just go without worrying about where we’ll sleep, or how we’ll eat and cool, or what to do with the dog has been absolutely life changing.
What’s the best feature about your van?
My first response would have to be the bed. We decided we did not want to settle one percent. on the sleep setup, and we sure didn’t. We basically built the living area around the bed, to ensure we had the best sleep situation a van could offer. Fortunately we had two of the same queen tempurpedic mattresses at home, but were only using one, so we cut it to fit the van for us two and the dog! we decided very early on that we wanted the bed to run lengthwise, as opposed to east to west, so our feet could hang off the end because I am a few inches taller than the mattress, and it’s been totally great. Besides the bed though, I think my favorite feature would be the ski access that we have in the garage. We were struggling trying to find a way to store our skis which are pretty long, without sacrificing the ability to close off the garage from the front of the living area. My compromise was deciding to incorporate a pass through hole in the driver side bench, allowing the skis to fit comfortably in the back, but still be closed off from the front. That with the waterproof flooring makes it super convenient to stow them after a long day on the slopes.
How do you make money?
We both work full time jobs, Han working for a health and wellness company, and myself working in the medical field. we are both very fortunate to be able to spend a ton of time traveling and exploring the world with these responsibilities and are super grateful for that.
What are some challenges you face on the road?
Lately our biggest challenge on the road has been the actual driving itself. Because we don’t live full time in the van, we drive at minimum a few hours both ways every single weekend to wherever we are lucky enough to get to explore. While this is such a cool opportunity to see so many places, it does get fairly frustrating sometimes. We would both love to be able to go somewhere like mammoth or bishop, and really set up camp there for a week or two, but unfortunately our trips generally only last a few days at a time, then it’s back in the driver’s seat for another 5 or 6 hour drive back home. The van we have is also the most basic model, so it doesn’t have cruise control, which is something we did not even think about. It is not a huge deal, but certainly would be nice on the longer trips, and especially since we do much time behind the wheel.
What has surprised you most about this lifestyle?
How many people want to do this. I have people every single day see me loading groceries or something into my van and they will say “you’re so lucky, ive always wanted to do that, I wish I could do that” Seriously probably hundreds of people by now. I did not realize that apparently the majority of people have this secret desire to move into a van and travel the world. But it makes sense now that were on the other side, I can see why!
It’s raining and you’re stuck in your van for a full day. What do you do?
We’re pretty proud of our home theatre setup, and it gets used often where were beat after a long day of climbing, or when the weather isn’t cooperating! On rainy days, we will hang the “movie tray” up over the bed, crack open the laptop and hard drive, and generally pick a season of Game of Thrones and get going. It’s actually one of our favorite coziest places to be, and the rain on the roof just makes it that much better.
Do you have any tips, tricks or hacks for van life?
Something we just added recently that has turned the whole van around, succulents! we added three small real plants inside the van and its brightened up the van so much! not that the white walls needed to be any brighter, but we love the new addition. We have two vents and a lot of sun gets inside, which has been more than enough to keep them alive so far! We also love the folding hooks on the walls. We have 5 or 6 of them all over the van, anywhere you could possibly need to hang something. If you need them, fold them down, and if not, keep them folded up and they’re out of the way and looks pretty modern! And last thing, we’re huge coffee people, so we have a few different coffee means in the van at all times. we keep a french press for the mornings we want to take is nice and slow and fill a big thermos up. we also have an aeropress for when our mornings are starting a little quicker and we just need to get a quick cup before we hit the slopes or walls. Just figure out what you don’t want to compromise on, and build your van around that.
What is the most essential item in your vehicle?
Right now, the climbing board in the back. We climb almost every single day, and try to do most of our climbing outdoors on different walls around socal. The climbing board has been such an awesome way to be able to organize all of our climbing gear and quickly access anything we need. We just pull up to wherever we’re going, fill our bags with whatever we need off the board, climb, and then come back and clip it back in! Super simple and it’s made life so easy.
If you had a magic wand and could do anything, how would you improve your vehicle?
I would definitely add the cruise control I talked about earlier. I would also take the opportunity to upgrade our electrical system. right now we get most of our power to charge stuff from a GOAL ZERO 150, which is generally more than enough for us for a few days, and we also have a solar panel to charge it up if it gets low. However, I do plan on stepping up and outfitting the van with some actual wiring at some point in the near future, to enable us to plug directly into a wall mounted outlet, and to have recessed lighting in the ceiling. Currently our lights are battery powered, which has been great and lasts literally 6 months on a set of AA batteries, but we do plan on taking that next step soon.
What is the worst thing about van life?
So far, nothing! We love everything about life when we are able to get away for a few days. We might have to get back to you when we go full time, im sure we’ll be able to think of something. Probably the dog hair.
What is the most rewarding thing about Van Life?
Being able to pick literally anywhere that is within driving distance, and say yep let’s do it. The opportunities we have had to take spur of the moment trips to Yosemite, Zion, Mammoth, Bishop, and plenty of other places without worrying about how we’ll make it work once were there has been unbelievable. I cannot imagine how many more places we have been able to experience due to this van, but I don’t see myself ever going back, we want to do it all.
What kind of advice would you give to couples pursuing the van life?
Make sure that you’re both more than comfortable with each other, because there is absolutely zero privacy living in a 60sq/ft house. Also try to be super aware of each other’s moods and what is needed to turn a grumpy day around and help each other out! For instance, I know I get grouchy when traffic is awful and I have to drive for a few hours in it, so Han will get a snack for me or offer to drive in bad traffic. It’s a small way we’re able to play to each other’s strengths and stay positive in the tiny space. It can be such a great relationship builder if you’re ready for it, start with some smaller trips and if you love it then keep progressing!
What advice would you give to someone starting or thinking about starting Van Life
Just start! once you have the van built it doesn’t cost anything more than owning a normal car, so why not have a car that lets you take your house with you to see the world! It seems like such a daunting task until you make that first cut and get going. Once you put a few days of solid work into the build, you’ll be shocked at how quickly it’s coming along. I built our entire van with literally a jigsaw, a power drill and zero experience building in my entire life. It’s so much less challenging than you think, just start. And figure out a few things you do not want to compromise on and build your van around that. this is your home on wheels, make it how you want it, and don’t be afraid to mess up and redo some stuff. we rebuilt the bed twice because we wanted to lower it four inches, and rebuilt the cabinets 3 times because they looked like hell, and were so happy we did because we love it all now! Just get after it.
Follow Tanner and Hannah on their van life journey on Instagram