Roll with Kara in a Dodge Van

We all know the saying, "Life is too short," but what does it really mean? For Kara, that message couldn't be truer when she lost her parents three years ago. Since then, she's been determined to find healing through her travels. Living in a van allows her time for soul searching, self-love and self-discovery. Kara knows that not all parts of the journey are going to be happy but that there will be more than enough joy from the new adventures ahead.

Square Feet: 80

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.

Make, Model, Year: 2002 Dodge Roadtrek 170 popular

Months Living Mobile: 9

I have been living in my van since May 2015. Since that time, I have lived in my van part time and full time, but I'm back to living there full time now. It’s amazing how much you miss living in your van full time when you change it up!

Currently Living: Lake Tahoe, California

What were you doing before you went mobile?

Before I went mobile, I had a normal, 8-to-5 life. I work as a veterinary technician, and I was working at an amazing animal hospital in Lake Tahoe.

Why did you make the change?

My life before was not bad by any means, but it was not feeling full like I needed it to be. I felt that I was just going through the motions because, as an adult, I felt like that was what I had to do.

I had one day of clarity and realized that I could fulfill my life long dream of traveling and living out of a camper van.

Why did you decide to take this trip?

In 2013, I lost both my parents within 10 months of each other when I was only 21. My world was turned upside down. I was lost—I lost my best friends, and then I lost myself. I didn’t know how to heal. Everything seemed off, almost wrong really. I tried to return back to my everyday life, I started back at work as a vet technician and went back to my normal routine, hoping that this would take my mind off of everything. Needless to say, it didn’t. There was a giant hole in my heart that no one, no matter how hard they tried, could ever fill. Something needed to change, but I did not know exactly how or what was needed to make my heart whole again.

It was March 2015. After years of feeling like my life was at a sad standstill, I decided it was my turn to flip my life upside down—but this time for the better. It was time. Time to make a change. I had grown up traveling all over the country with my family in our motor home. It was my dad’s favorite thing to do. He would just light up whenever we would leave for a cross-country adventure. I knew exactly what I needed to do. It was time for me to buy my own van and travel the country. I needed to find healing.

I needed to start loving life the way I did before I lost my parents.

What was the process like to move into your mobile home?

I am not going to lie; it was a little stressful for me!

I did a month of planning and researching about how to make the most out of my little space before I actually hit the road. During this month there was a lot of testing out the space and deciding what I actually needed and what I didn’t.

It definitely took a little bit of adjusting, but it became so refreshing to live with the bare minimum.

Where do you shower?

Most of the time I will shower at campgrounds if they have a shower available, or I will shower at a friend’s house. Showers have become much more infrequent for me on the road though. I have a shower in my van, but never use it.

How do you balance work and living in a small space?

Before I decided to take this venture, the biggest stress on my mind was how I was going to afford this life. I knew that working as a veterinary technician, I would have to quit my job to be able to travel like I wanted to. I saved every penny I could before I quit my job in May. Affording life on the road isn’t always the easiest. There have been times when I have had to stay put until I find the means to hit the road again. I am lucky enough to have worked for a great veterinary hospital, and when I come back in town, I am able to do relief work there.

What are your hobbies on and off the road?

I try to be as active as I can. Since I travel with my dogs, we try to find a new, fun hike to go on everyday. I also love to read, so in the down times on the road, you can usually find me reading a new book. Also, being on the road has given me the amazing opportunity to go see a bunch of live music.

Off the road I still try to stay as active as I can. I love to hike, go to the lake and snowshoe with my dogs, as well as snowboard, skateboard, see live music and read.

Favorite Travel Destination: Zion National Park, Utah

I dragged my best friend along with me, and we had an amazing time. We hiked 14 miles through the Narrows, and that was a magical experience!

What destination are you looking forward to?

I cannot wait for the opportunity to go to Havasupai Falls. It has always been a dream of mine, but I missed the best season to go this year so I have to wait until next year. I am super excited!

What are your top three go-to items in your tiny home?

Water Jug: I have a collapsible five-gallon water container that I bought from REI on a whim, and it has been a lifesaver. I have been spoiled with the water in Tahoe, so I always make sure to fill up here when I can. It is the best drinking water! I fill it up any chance I get, before hitting the road. I built a little system next to my sink that I strap it to, so it is always available.

Books: I can’t be anywhere without them. That includes my atlas too. I can’t tell you how many times my map has saved me from being lost.

Dog’s Bed: The one mistake I learned right away of living in a van with two big dogs is having enough space for everyone to sleep. They sleep in the bed with me most of the time, but being big dogs they like their space too. I found a bed that fits right at the bottom of my bed in the “hallway.” It's great too for when we decide to camp outside for the night.

What's it like living with two dogs in a small space?

There was definitely an adjusting period for all of us! The first few days I was super nervous about how it was all going to work out, but once we got a routine in place, it was great. One of the best things I bought before we left were two 50-foot leads that I could tie around anything. So every morning, if we are in the right location, I let them out on their leads, and I don’t have to worry about them accidentally wandering off.
My dogs have been one of the most rewarding parts on the road. I don’t know what I would do without them.

They are my adventure buddies.

What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?

There have been so many incredibly rewarding things about living in my van. The top one would probably have to be the freedom of it all. My parents always told me I had a gypsy soul. I don’t think I quite understood what that meant until I got older, but the van has really helped me be able to embrace that to the fullest extent.

I can sleep, wake up, adventure or just relax wherever I want. It is so refreshing.

What is the most challenging thing?

There have definitely been many challenging aspects about living small in a van. The thing that I still have a hard time with—even after all these month—is doing the dishes! Most of the time, my van's water-holding tank is empty, and I never thought of how much I would hate doing dishes without running water.

I have also always been somewhat of a messy person, but there is no space for that in the van. I have to keep it as clean as possible or else I will lose my mind. It makes the van seem smaller when it's messy.

What is your advice to people who want to live small or hit the road?

Do it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, because you absolutely can!

What's next? Any news you want to share?

When I first bought my van, I decided to instill the "no plan, plan." That was my only rule for the road, and I am still trying to follow that.

As of now, I don’t know where the road will take me, but that has been my favorite part.

Follow Kara and her adventures

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to
Kara Jones.