Atticus & Lina were almost halfway through their eight-month trip across America in their van when Atticus had a health crisis. They woke up in the middle of a national forest to Atticus having a seizure and rushed to the nearest hospital. They spent the next few days flying from Pensacola, FL, back to their family in California.
A week after Atticus was in the ER, he was in and out of brain surgery like a champ, having three small tumors completely removed. They have spent the past few months reminiscing on the last three months of their adventure. Atticus has had a few weeks of treatment, but they are gearing up to be back in the van and on the road.
Square Feet: 90
The outer footprint of the van is about 120 sq. ft.
Make, Model, Year: 1997 E-250 Econoline Coachmen Conversion
Lina and I had been in love with VW Westfalias, but after months of research and monitoring Craigslist, we expanded our search to include conversion vans. Due to the rising cost and unreliability of Westies, we became more enamored by the conversions and the idea of being able to do a full interior remodel. We found our van on Craigslist and impulsively drove down to San Diego for a showing. It was in good condition and had low miles, but the interior smelled terrible and it had some awful carpet. We knew it was a perfect candidate for the remodel we were dreaming of and that we would be kicking ourselves if we didn’t pull the trigger.
Tell us what you did after buying the van.
We had set a March 1 departure date on the day we bought the Van. With that date in mind, we coordinated moving out of our respective apartments and got our personal belongings in order. We sold the bulk of our larger furniture and stored the rest in our parent’s garages. Then, we quit our jobs and focused on the renovation and moving in.
How did you build out your van?
As part of our van design, we built his and her storage areas for our clothes and made dedicated areas for pots, pans, dishes, food, books and camping equipment. This made it easy to visualize the amount of stuff we could bring. The day after we completed the build, we packed our entire van and left that same night. To our surprise, everything fit perfectly and we actually had an entire cabinet that we had forgotten to fill up, giving us some extra space for a “junk cabinet” that was very handy on the road. It was a long and chaotic day filled with an immense sense of accomplishment.
Does your van have a name?
We always thought that the name of our van would come to us naturally. However, after months of working on it and embarking on our trip, we still hadn’t thought of a good name. On the road, every time we had to leave it somewhere, we would say “Bye Van!” and every time we came back we’d say “Hey Van!”
Currently In: Los Angeles, California
We are currently in LA, planning the next leg of our adventure. After being in and out of the hospital for the past two months, we are finally able to think about the future again. We have just gotten Van back and plan on doing some smaller trips in California and the American Southwest as we get back on our feet.
Months Living Mobile: 3
We lived and traveled in the van full time from March until June 2016. We had planned to live in the van full time for eight months, so we’re viewing this time outside the van as a brief intermission to our trip. While we were slightly terrified of living in such a small space, it turned out to be absolutely wonderful. Even on rainy (or snowy!) days, we were totally content to spend the whole day inside the van.
What prompted this trip?
We discovered our love of traveling when we both studied abroad in Europe during college. Lina was set for Amsterdam, and I was going to Berlin. Just before the programs began, we organized a small European trip for the two of us, and it was the best month of our lives. After finishing school and working for a couple of years, we were getting the itch to go on another big trip. We started the very early stages of planning, and although Europe and Southeast Asia sounded great, we also realized we hadn’t explored any of the good ol' USA. We were greatly inspired by the few #vanlife Instagram accounts at the time and the whole concept of living in a tiny house.
How are you funding your travels?
Because we had been planning (and saving) for a big trip for about two years, we were able to save a good amount of money while working. Once we decided our big trip was going to be an American road trip, we did some rough budgeting that included the van cost and monthly cost of living (food, gas, lodging, etc.) and used that to come up with a goal amount to save. We quit both of our jobs a few weeks before we left on our trip, and we have been living off our savings ever since. Lina used her fancy Excel skills to create a monthly budget that we update at the end of each month so we can be sure we’re keeping on track.
Top Go-To Items:
Phone: It serves as a GPS, camera, and podcast/music player, which are all absolutely necessary.
Aeropress Coffee Maker: It became an integral part of our morning ritual right off the bat, and it makes an incredible cup o' joe.
Big Basket of Games and Books: With backgammon, chess, Scrabble, 2-player Settlers of Catan and a wide variety of reading material, there is always something to do when the sun goes down and we're all out of firewood.
Where do you shower?
Our van has an outdoor shower with a water heater, so when we’re out in the wilderness we can always clean up. We also try to stay at a campsite with showers once a week, so we can take a longer, more luxurious shower. And of course, there’s always the option of finding a river or lake to jump into.
Where do you park?
The majority of our overnight spots have been found on freecampsites.net, although we have also spent nights in National Parks and even a couple in Walmart parking lots.
Walmart can be nice because they are everywhere, you can get some free Wi-Fi, and there are usually other campers around. A couple of our favorite free boondocking spots are Kolob Terrace Road outside of Zion National Park (1898 Kolob Terrace Rd, Virgin, UT 84779), Fortuna Pond in Yuma, Arizona (GPS: 32.724342, -114.452873) and the Jeff Busby Campground on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi (Milepost 193, Natchez Trace Parkway).
Favorite Place to Visit: New Mexico
So far, our favorite state has been New Mexico, with our favorite stop being the beautiful White Sands National Monument.
With ancient ruins, beautiful parks, interesting cities and one of the deepest caves in America, there was always something exciting to discover.
White Sands National Monument was absolutely incredible. We explored the sparkling white dunes, went sledding, took a sunset tour with a park Ranger and watched the sunset and full moon rise over the dunes. And there was some great free camping on the military base a few miles from the park. On our second day at the park, we scored one of the 10 backcountry campsites, hiked deep into the dunes and camped out overnight.
Who inspires you?
The first time we got a glimpse of #vanlife was through the @ouropenroad Instagram account. We fell in love with their adventure and started to follow more and more accounts. We really liked Shelby and Simon (although they are no longer together), because their YouTube videos helped us understand the realities of living in a van. Once we started getting deeper into the community online and on Instagram, we found many accounts that inspired and educated us through our build and into our adventure. Some of our favorites (and new friends!) are @the_eggstraterrestrial, @ashinthewronglane and of course all of the National Park Instagram accounts.
What has been your most memorable experience so far?
We celebrated our six-year anniversary at the Grand Canyon. Upon entering, we were told that the campsites were full, but somehow the stars aligned and we managed to get a spot in Mather Campground for a night. It was a beautiful day, with the sun out and the air crisp. We spent the day walking the South Rim and had a picnic lunch with our feet hanging over the precipice. We brought some cheese and crackers out to the rim to watch the sunset over the canyon. Once night had fallen, we drank some beers by the campfire. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day.
What is your advice to people who want to live on the road?
Just do it! While it can be a bit daunting to plan for such a big lifestyle change, the hardest part is pulling the trigger. We found that after years of thinking about it, once we made the commitment to actually do it, everything came together much smoother than we thought it would. Quitting our jobs and getting rid of our apartments certainly was nerve wracking, but learning so much about ourselves, this country and each other has made it more than worth it.
As for advice once you’re on the road:
- Make as much food as you can, but don’t feel bad splurging on a restaurant every once in a while.
- When you’re sleeping in a Walmart parking lot, make sure to park close enough for the free Wi-Fi.
- Try to use freecampsites.net whenever you can.
Do you plan to go back to your previous way of living?
Yes, as much as we love living and traveling in our van, we never planned on making it a permanent way of life. We saved up and budgeted for an eight-month trip, so returning back to our previous lifestyle was always the plan (we haven’t yet tried to make it financially feasible long term). We love being on the road and the lifestyle that comes with it, but we also miss our friends, family and roots back in Los Angeles.