I am a sucker for vintage vans and campers, especially since I own both of those things. After hearing Jordan and Devon's van life story, I knew it was time to get another perspective—camper life.
That's where Stefanie and Jerimiah come in. Over the past six months, they have been living and traveling out of their 1972 camper trailer. But by looking at their photos, you would have thought they'd been doing it for longer. Find out why they left the city life, how they restored their camper and why they wanted to turn it into a mobile home.
We have seen 18 states and driven more than 6,000 miles. All of a sudden, fall is all around us. I am sitting under a shelter as it rains somewhere in North Carolina. Staring at the fog fall on the mountains, which are changing colors right before my eyes.
Jerimiah and I just hit our six-month anniversary of being on the road, which seems crazy because it feels like so much more. When we left Chicago, it was the beginning of June and summer had just started to peek its head out. Now we are preparing for winter and plotting our course for the months to come.
Why we wanted to travel in our camper
For 10 years, we both lived in the Windy City. We had an amazing family of friends and great jobs we both cared about. But we needed a change. We needed a challenge. As it is with many things in life, Chicago had run its course. We couldn’t see ourselves ever having property, and both of us wanted to get back to our roots and find a place where we could have some land.
We had talked of moving west somewhere—Long Beach, Colorado. Wherever it was, we knew we would have to come up with a double deposit for a place to live. But what if we owned something? That became the new question. What if we had a camper that we could take anywhere and that we could post up on a friend's property until we got our bearings?
Like many great ideas, this became one we couldn’t shake.
Finding our camper
In August 2014, we found a 14-foot Midas Frolic camper trailer in the middle of Indiana. It was love at first sight, and after some negotiation, the price was right. We had worked our butts off and saved just under $2,000, and we got the camper for $1,300. That gave us a little jump to start working on the camper.
Converting our camper into a tiny home
We started work on the Frolic in late August of 2014 and worked until the real winter set in, around the second week of December. We had a great group of friends who offered their help, and we got a lot accomplished. It didn't need a ton of work, but if we were going live out of it, some things needed an update.
With help from our friend Sean (who is 100% how the Frolic got finished so fast), we assessed what needed to be done. All the cupboards came down, the walls and insulation needed to be replaced, we caulked all the holes we could find and laid down a new liquid roof. We started the construction on a real bed and got rid of the couch pullout. With the help of our electrical friend, Danny, we rewired new LED lighting and made sure everything else was safe and working.
By the time, we were ready to hibernate, the camper was ready for the intense Chicago winter. It was time to step up and start preparing for this huge life change.
We worked long hours so we could buy what we needed to finish the camper. The design aspect was developing, and we were getting excited. We made all the social media accounts and gave ourselves the name American Frolic. Our amazing friend George took that and made our graphic, which we absolutely love.
Why we bought a van
At the time, Jerimiah had a Toyota Tacoma truck—his dream truck. We knew it wouldn't be able to pull the camper up the mountains, and we knew his 1973 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead motorcycle needed to come with.
We needed a van. Jerimiah put out the word that the truck was for sale. And right after Christmas, it was gone. It was a cold winter, and without a car, I knew the sacrifice he had made giving up not only our sole vehicle, but also his dream truck. It was all worth it, because with Jerimiah’s Craigslist determination, he found a gem: a 2004 Ford E350 diesel passenger van.
This van couldn't be any more perfect for us. Jerimiah did a ton of research about what we needed to do to make the van ready for a trek across America. He also came up with a winch system in the van to help pull the motorcycle in the back so we didn’t have to push it by hand. With the help of our good friend Kendell, that became a reality.
We both worked full time in the service industry. We agreed if anyone offered us a shift, we would take it. We started cutting costs on everything. We downgraded our phone plan and cut out going out to eat, buying coffee and going to the bar. We made two boxes for saving money. In one went money for construction; the other, money for the trip. I am proud to say we never took from the trip fund. Anytime an unforeseen cost would come up, we would work an extra shift (or two or three).
We got creative too. We bought a rare bottle of whiskey and sold it for a profit. That right there, my friend, is trust.
Spring came fast, and that long awaited countdown was seeming like not enough time. Downsizing took awhile, but we did it one month at a time. We started to weed through the important items in the apartment, and Jerimiah also had a shop space for his motorcycle.
Every month, more things had to go until we were left with a “must-have pile." Every blog we read said you need half of what you think you need. So keeping that in mind, very little came with. Anything we kept went to my parents in Iowa, which was mostly clothes, art and pictures.
As spring was ending, we gave ourselves a deadline. By June, we would be in the camper, out of the apartment and ready to hit the open road.
Starting our journey
Things happened so fast. While seeing if our mattress from home would fit in the camper one day, we decided we didn't want to take it out again. So we moved in on May 23, living in the parking lot at the shop where we had been working on the camper. We ended up working our jobs until that last week in May, and we were working on the camper until the day we left.
After our jobs were done and we were unemployed, we had a going away party, which was the best send off we could have ever asked for. The support we got from our friends and family—and not to mention complete strangers—was overwhelming. It was a bittersweet end to our time in Chicago, but we knew we would have our family and friends on our trip with us at all times. When June 4 arrived, we ripped off the Band-Aid and left the city.
We had mapped out a vague idea of where we wanted to travel first. We had to be back in Chicago in September for a wedding, so we didn't want to be too far away, and summer in the south was not an option.
New England it was. I couldn't have been more excited!
Just before we left, we got an invite to Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, to attend an Ural Motorcycle event. We talked about it and decided it was a great way to start off our journey. We would make a small lap around the Midwest seeing family and friends and then head out east. This also gave us a safety net to work out any kinks and become more familiar with the camper before we were too far away from any help.
Not many know this, but the day that we hitched up the camper and pulled out of the parking lot was the first time our new van had driven the camper. We had hoped to take them both out to get practice, but time never allowed us to. Again trust and faith are something Jerimiah and I have in each other.
Living in our small bubble, we had little idea anyone but our friends and family had heard about our trip. So it was odd to have people at the Ural event say, "Oh, you're the camper people." The whole weekend was so inspiring. We met creative and successful people who all at one time had a dream and by taking a chance and working hard had all made it come true. We knew we were meeting people we would see again, and it inspired us to move forth on our journey with more confidence. "We can totally do this!"
Relationships on the road
Most times, we do a good job of balancing who gets to freak out and who gets to be the cheerleader. Some days though, we both can't take it and explode. We are with each other all day, every day. Jerimiah and I are both super stubborn and the only child of our families, so explaining why we did something to the other person is hard and sometimes feelings get hurt. That being said, we try really hard to have a time limit on being mad and upset. There is always so much to do and nowhere to go. You have to learn to get over it, whatever it is.
One major part of why New England was amazing was being able to meet up and travel with our friends Small Room Collective. They had been a huge help to us when we were planning how to do this, so being able to meet up and caravan was amazing. It's also so nice to talk with someone who knows what you're going through. Small Room and our friends Birch and Pine have been constant friends who we text with about our camper life trials and tribulations.
In August, we started a small vintage site on Instagram and that was making enough for gas money, but we promised ourselves our bank account would never get beyond a certain point. So we said when someone offered us work that, whatever it is, we will take it. And that we have! We have demoed a kitchen, worked at a kids hockey camp, worked at restaurants and bars and so much more. We are thankful for every opportunity someone has given us to work.
Now we are still very frugal. We suspended our iPhone service and only use them when we have Wi-Fi. Then for phone calls and text, we got a pay-as-you-go phone. We don't eat out very much and don't usually do any tourist things that cost money. Right now it's working for us, and hopefully we can keep it going.
What's next for us
When days are hard, I have found there is always an aha moment—that thing that makes you realize what it's all for, what it's all about. Those make you know you are in the right spot.
We also do a lot of checking in with one another. Do you need to stop traveling? Is this what you want? Is it too hard?
So far the answer is "No, I am not ready to quit." If ever the answer is "Yes," then we both agree we will figure it out and find a home. We can't lose perspective.
We made our way down the east coast to the south now and will be here for fall and winter. We are staying in Birmingham for a couple months with friends, and we have picked up work. Then, after the new year, we will make our way west staying south until spring and then head north again. Everything is very vague, and our course can change at any moment—whether it be for work or an adventure, we will be open to possibilities.