What if someday is today? That's how Janna & John see it now, but that wasn’t always the case. They kept delaying their big adventure because something always got in the way.
Recently the two of them decided that life was too short not to travel. As they cruise around the States in their Sprinter Van, they’ve learned that sometimes having a plan is better than not having one at all.
Square Feet: 100
Make, Model, Year: 2009 Dodge Sprinter
Months Living Mobile: 6
We've been living in the van full time, but we have flown back to the west coast a few times for work. We definitely don't have another home anymore.
Currently Living: Maine
We are currently at a friend's cabin up in Maine. We plan to hop around the northeast for the winter, head down the east coast come early spring and then drive through the south.
What were you doing before you went mobile?
We were living in Encinitas, California. John was formerly the editor in chief at "Powder Magazine," and I worked as the creative strategist for a creative agency, called thinkPARALLAX, in Encinitas. After taking two months off, John now works on the road as executive producer for Powder Productions—Powder's in-house studio for multimedia features and video—and I freelance as a writer and strategist.
Why did you make the change?
We both got our dream jobs right out of college (John at "Powder," me at "Surfer Magazine"—that’s actually where we met), and although those were incredible years, we felt like we might have missed out on that early 20s wandering. We are both adventure lovers, and we realized that we are happiest when we are roadtripping/camping. We talked about doing something like this for a few years—always in a far-off, dreamy way. And although we had a nice apartment, good jobs and great friends, the routine of life started to become the norm. The urge to “get busy living” called at us every day, it seemed. And we realized that it wasn’t too late.
What was the process like to move into your mobile home?
Once we finally decided to pull the trigger, it happened really fast. We bought a van at the end of May and spent the next two months building it out after work and on weekends. Meanwhile, we sold or donated nearly everything, got a small storage unit for keepsakes, extra gear and a few pieces of furniture we couldn’t part with.
By the time we left San Diego at the end of July, we’d converted our empty van into a tiny cabin: we’d put in laminate floors and cedar paneling; we built a bed, cabinets and a kitchen; and we put in a swivel seat, a vent fan and solar panels on our roof. It was overwhelming at times, but so worth it. We will never forget that feeling of pulling out of our driveway in the van after passing off our apartment keys to our landlord. It felt like this huge weight had been lifted and we were free. I cried.
How do you balance work and living in a small space?
For the first two months of our trip, we took a sabbatical from work, which was fantastic. We slept in, read and drank coffee until noon, hiked or biked or explored all afternoon and then camped somewhere new each night. Once we started working again, it was quite a shift. We’ve had to develop a new schedule, which has taken some getting used to. The good news is that we are currently two hours ahead of the west coast, where our jobs are, meaning we have an extra two hours in the morning before our coworkers get online. After coffee and a morning run/hike/yoga/bike, we usually work in the van or at a coffee shop until mid-afternoon and then go explore or do something else outside before dark. It can be a bit stressful when we have a lot to do and we’re sitting on our computers looking out at mountains or a lake that we can’t go explore until work is done.
How do you get Internet?
We ended up getting Wi-Fi for the van, which allows us to work from our campsite or park somewhere with a nice view and work. We debated getting it (of course we’d rather feel disconnected when we’re in nature or camping), but it just allows us to spend more time outside and not waste time trying to find places to work with Wi-Fi.
Where do you receive mail?
We’ve had things mailed to friends' houses that we know we’re going to pass by in the coming weeks. So far, it’s worked well.
Where do you shower?
We shower at campgrounds (although now in the east, a lot of them are closed for the season), or at friends’ houses along the way. We also go to yoga studios with showers, take a class and shower there sometimes. We’ve stayed at hotels a few times too when we were feeling super dirty and couldn’t find a campground with showers.
What are your hobbies on the road?
We have our road bikes and John’s mountain bike with us (under the bed, AKA “the garage”), so we try to get out and ride a lot. It’s a great way to explore a new city. This winter, we’ll be skiing (skis are also currently in “the garage”) and exploring the northeast. Come spring/summer, we’ll get our boards and surf our way down the east coast. We also love hiking, trail running and fly-fishing (though I am absolutely amateur at the latter). When not outdoor adventuring, we love reading, cooking and discovering restaurants, bookstores and breweries in new cities.
What are your top three go-to items in your tiny home?
Bluetooth Speakers: For evenings in the van or playing cards at campsite picnic tables.
Coleman Stove: A friend gave us this little red stove and it's awesome. We use it daily, at the very least for coffee in the morning but often for multiple meals a day.
Goal Zero Solar Panel System: It's pretty amazing. We use it to power our lights, mini-fridge and computers. It’s the best.
Buddy Propane Heater: I know you only said three, but I have to throw in a fourth now that winter has rolled around. This heater gets the van nice and toasty.
What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?
We realized what all van lifers have figured out: when you don’t pay rent, that’s a huge chunk of money you don’t have to make—meaning a chunk of hours you don’t have to work each month. For example, our rent in San Diego was $1,300 (which was incredibly cheap for our area, by the way), so that’s $1,300 less we can make each month and still live the same lifestyle we are used to living. Obviously we now pay more for gas, but it's still much less than the rent we were paying.
As much as I admire people who can truly live on nothing, we like a nice meal and a great bottle of wine here and there. We like to be able to stay in nice hotel once in a while—when it’s rainy or we’re not feeling well. So for us, even though we’d saved up, it wasn’t an option to not work.
What is the most challenging thing?
We went into this with no real plan and no real route. We’re not planners, so we’re kind of just winging it day by day—which is great, until it’s getting dark and we don’t know where we’re going to sleep that night. I’d love to pretend that I’m this super brave person, but I’m not. I’m irrationally paranoid of kidnappers and murderers, so I get really anxious if we haven’t found anywhere to park the van to sleep before it gets dark. We’ll be driving around a city, through neighborhoods, asking each other, “This looks safe, right?” I know if I don’t feel completely safe, I won’t sleep all night—I’ll just lay there awake listening for sounds of ax murderers. So we’ve realized that for both our sanities, we need to figure out a rough plan each day and specifically where we’re going to sleep before sunset. That is now our priority each day. Though we still don’t plan more than a day in advance.
Do you plan to go back to your previous way of living?
We do. We plan to do this for a year and then end up in the Pacific Northwest, at least for a little while. At first, we assumed that once we landed there, we’d get “real” jobs, but now we’re realizing that we could very easily keep freelancing and stay at least semi-mobile forever if we wanted to. Europe next year in the van? Maybe!
What is your advice to future homeowners who want to live small or hit the road?
There is so much awesomeness out there to see and experience, and if you have a desire to live the vanlife and your job allows you to work remotely, seriously do it. Or just save up and live really, really frugally.
What's next? Any news you want to share?
We got engaged during the first week of our trip when we were camping on the Oregon coast. We’re getting married next September in Washington, so our plan is basically to circle the country until then.