I met up with Kim & Nash at one of my favorite breakfast spots in Denver when they were passing through a few months ago. We jumped right into conversation about the places we've visited and our adventurous lifestyles. Soon we were already planning a way to cross paths in the coming months.
If you met them too, you'd get a serious case of wanderlust. They have spent the past three years exploring the US by bus and international countries by foot.
Square Feet: 80
Make, Model, Year: Volkswagen, Type 2 Riviera Top, 1978
Does it have a name?
Originally we wanted to call him Mr. Louis, but when we bought him he was so rusted on the outside that we ended up calling him Rusty. Even now, though we just painted him, he is still our Rusty.
Where did you find your van?
During our 5-month long Southeast Asian adventure, we knew we weren’t ready to settle for the ordinary life. We had the choice of either moving back into a tiny apartment in San Francisco and working a 9-to-5 job to be able to afford our rent and daily expenses, or get a tiny home on wheels. We decided on the latter. Settling wasn’t on our list and working more than living didn’t seem very appealing either. So we started perusing the Internet for an old VW bus to call home. After a few months of combing Craigslist, we came upon the one, down in Ojai, California.
Why did you choose it?
I am a dreamer. I think it is just in my DNA. Ever since I was little, one of my biggest dreams was to one day live in an old school VW bus. I had mentioned it a few times in the past, but we will never forget the moment when it became reality. We were sitting in our apartment in Phuket, Thailand, talking about what we were going to do with our lives and I said, “Let’s move into a VW bus,” and Nash didn’t have to think twice.
Honestly, we chose this particular 1978 pop top because it was the only one in our price range, close enough in proximity to where we would land and that was still available once we returned from Southeast Asia. Though we bought this bus with a hole in the roof, a rusted exterior, a terrible engine (we were such amateurs) for way too much money, after two years we can still say we never regret moving in. He has become part of who we are, and he is one of the few places where we truly feel home.
How did you two meet?
I came as an au pair from Germany to San Francisco, and when I met Nash it simply clicked. I will never forget the moment when I opened the door to my friend’s car and saw Nash sitting quietly in the back, with a big fat grin on his face. He had me at hello. It still baffles me that though there are billions of people on this earth, I am married to someone that was born on the other side of the ocean blue. But what is even crazier is the backstory. When I first came to the States I was paired with a family in New York. However, I ended up applying for a rematch because they were in the middle of a divorce, the family situation was a disaster and I was treated so badly as a result. My area director told me that the chances of getting a new family in the middle of the year were pretty small, and to get one on the other side of America (i.e., San Francisco) was pretty much impossible. Her words left me super bummed; I couldn’t believe that this had to happen to me. Then during my last days in New York I met a guy who, when I found a new family in San Francisco, was going to be there a couple weeks after my rematch. He introduced me to all his friends in San Francisco and that lead me to Nash. I mean what are the chances.
Which one of you had the idea to hit the road?
We both are nomads at heart, but our itch to travel is pretty much a direct result of our 4-year long-distance relationship. Instead of just visiting each other in our home countries we decided to meet up in different foreign lands and explore them together.
What have you learned about each other from traveling?
It is hard to narrow down and pinpoint specific aspects. I think the beauty of traveling together is being able to share an experience which later turns into a beautiful memory we can both cherish forever. I will never forget the spark in his eyes when we crawled up a Pagoda in Myanmar to watch the sunrise over Bagan, or the smiles of pure excitement as we meandered through herds of elephants in Tanzania.
We have seen each other at the best and at the worst, and when things go south we have learned that it is important to put our energy towards problem solving rather than blaming each other for what could have or should have done differently.
How do you find alone time or do you not need it?
To be honest we don’t ever seek out alone time. Our 4-year distance relationship gave us enough time alone that we are still making up for all those days apart. Till now, we have yet to get enough of each other. The main reason for being inseparable is the desire to have someone as passionate, weird and exciting by your side to share it with. Going on a walk alone and spotting a fox is awesome but going on a walk and spotting a fox with your favorite person in the world is a whole other level.
How are you funding your travels?
People write us all the time asking how we afford to travel so much. Here is the deal we are broke all the time because all the money we ever make goes straight to buying the next airfare to an unknown destination. We live in a bus and don't have any fixed expenses. Sometimes we eat only once a day cause that's really all we can afford. Once we do run out of money we either return home to work random jobs or we are lucky and our birthday rolls around just in time to keep us on the road a little bit longer.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the key to traveling 365 days a year and making money at the same time. There are so many people out there who seemed to have mastered it, but we are still as lost as everyone else.
You've been all over the world. Tell us about some of your favorite places.
Choosing our favorite places around the world is always hard to do simply because every spot is so different and beautiful in its own way. However, if we had to choose, our all-time favorite thus far was our most recent trip to Tanzania and Kenya. I can’t even put into words the feeling I had while watching elephants bathe in the rivers, cheetahs bask in the morning sun and the wildebeest and zebras start their migration back up to the north. It was absolutely mind blowing and gave my heart so much joy. Pictures can’t even begin to capture the joy in a baby elephant’s walk or the sound of a baby rhino communicating with its mom.
South East Asia also has a very special place in our hearts, because we lived such a carefree life there. Traveling without a plan and accepting each day as it comes can be so liberating. Both the sites that we stumbled upon and cultures we encountered left us awe-inspired.
Last but not least we love Europe (especially during the summer). Everyone must visit Rome just to eat delicious pizza and mouthwatering gelato, frolic in the warm summer rays amongst the white cities of Santorini, explore the stunning streets of Barcelona and of course wake up before the first sun beams tickle the horizon to watch the balloons rise in Cappadocia, Turkey.
What are some of your most memorable experiences?
Our trip to Bagan, Myanmar. No words can describe the feeling of sitting in anticipation atop a stone temple, built over a 1000 years ago, waiting for an unforgettable sunrise. At 4 am that morning we crawled out of bed and peddled half asleep like mad down the pitch black streets to one of the tallest pagodas in Bagan. An hour later, the sun started to light up the early morning sky, bringing in the new day. As the sun rays started to kiss our toes and nose, the hot air balloons began to rise over the temples. At first they were only small dots in the distance, floating silently through the dawn. As they drew closer and closer, the sun rose higher and higher, outlining their beautiful shapes. Cameras clicked, oooos and aaaahs came from the congregated crowd, and magic filled the air.
What made this adventure one that we will never forget was not only the beauty of 1000s of ancient temples in Bagan, but what came after. Four days after we landed in Singapore for a quick stop over, I got really sick. She was diagnosed with dengue fever, felt very weak and had extreme pain in all of her bones. If you are not familiar with this virus there is no antidote, no medicine and nothing to cure it. We had to go to the emergency room a couple times because of the tremendous pain I experienced and my fear of dying. To this day it was probably the scariest experience we have ever faced. But with the bad comes the good. It was this experience that brought back the awareness of how precious life is and that we should pursue our dreams now, live out our passions and do what makes us really happy. This marked the day we started to seriously pursue our Nomadic lifestyle and make it to our mission for people to realize that no matter how invincible they might feel, life can be over in an instant; so make sure to spend it wisely and with no regrets.
Do you normally stay in your van or a hotel when you're traveling?
Both. Traveling the US is synonymous with vanlife.
Plus, the places we usually explore are hotel free, ruled by the wild. Once we head overseas, we do leave Rusty behind and hotels, hostels, guesthouses, couch surfing and Airbnb comes into the equation.
What kind of adventures do you normally go on?
Anywhere there is beauty. We are obsessed with lakes and waterfalls and are suckers for cultures different to our own. We travel from luxurious hotels, to hostels and to our tent when hiking to hidden waterfalls or mountain lakes. We only have one rule while adventuring—to avoid returning to the same place twice for two simple reasons.
We are afraid to overwrite or spoil our first impressions and experiences, and maybe even return home disappointed; the chances of being disappointed are higher when the first trip to an unknown destination was nothing but incredible.
What are some of your van essentials?
- Nikon D610 with a wide angle and telephoto
- IKEA king-sized down comforter (extra warm) from IKEA
- BioLite campstove and flashlights
- Mizu stainless water and thermos bottles
- Sperry hiking boots
Was there a moment that made you question this lifestyle?
Yes. Though living on the road is becoming a popular alternative to the norm, the pressure to conform still looms over us. The moments when these thoughts become extra heavy are during the bad breakdowns. We have broken down quite a number of times in the past, but it wasn’t until recently when we seriously considered selling old Rusty and figuring life out from there. This particular breakdown was the worst yet. Usually we are able to tinker around and get him going again, but this time we were really stuck. We had just gotten him repaired and were out on a little day trip to a hot springs in Northern New Mexico. After a relaxing soak, we came back to the car to find that it didn’t start. This really hit us hard. After a fat towing bill and luckily only minor repairs, Rusty was back in commission.
In the heat of the moment we do question our lifestyle, but as time rolls on we come to our senses. Traveling is the only expense that makes us richer. It is about the beauty of experiencing different cultures, places and languages that feed our curiosity.
Why live this way? And will you live this way forever?
Living on the road has brought a lot of perspective into our lives. Our biggest life lessons came from packing up and permanently moving into Rusty. It is quite surprising how little you need to survive and how consumerism has influenced our sedentary lives. Having only a 5-gallon water jug on board you start to appreciate every drop. For about a year we drove around the West Coast of the US chasing beautiful spots, picking up hitchhikers, sharing stories, meeting the nicest people during our break downs, all while being in love and carefree. The purpose of traveling to us is so much deeper than just exploring unknown destinations. For us it's about the freedom to express ourselves, do what we love, wake up surrounded by nature and to live without the pressure of having to prove ourselves to our surroundings.
Traveling will always be a part of our lives, but living a somewhat sedentary life is on the horizon. This idea of having a space of your own to come home to is starting to sound more and more appealing every year.
We are currently in Yellowstone replenishing our very empty bank account. We will be here for the next 6 months working and of course exploring our surroundings. After that we are home free with no plans except to get back to Europe to visit my parents for Christmas and then who knows maybe Japan, India, Finland or all three.
Follow Kim & Nash of The Nomadic People
Produced by Kathleen Morton.
Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to Kim & Nash Finley.