Roll with Julie & Alton in a Chevy Van

Square feet: 57

Sometimes I can’t believe the life I’ve been lucky enough to live. It is bigger and better than I ever could have imagined.

Where are you currently living?

At the moment, we park in various stealthy locations throughout the Front Range of Colorado —  mostly in Boulder. But we also travel a lot throughout the West, stopping in California, Utah and Wyoming. Then we spend a good chunk of the winter in the South — usually Alabama and Tennessee.

Name the make, model and year of your home.

Alton and I own a 1999 Chevy Express 2500, lovingly named Bertha.

What were you doing before you went mobile and why did you make the change?

Since we both work in outdoor media, we’ve always been semi-mobile, traveling a few times a month for various photo and video shoots and to cover stories for Climbing Magazine. (Julie is the senior editor for the magazine and does freelance photography and writing on the side. Alton is a full-time freelancer, doing design work, photography and videography.)

We had been renting a house in Boulder for a few years, but it grew tiring paying rent when we were barely there. Plus, it felt like we were getting really complacent having a house. When we were out traveling, we’d be up and about working, climbing, shooting all day and feeling great about life. But then coming home, it seemed too easy to just flop on the couch and watch Netflix after a long day of work.

Going mobile made sense for both of our occupations, but we also wanted to challenge ourselves to be more engaged with life even when we weren’t working.

How long have you been living there and do you live there full time/part time?

Since December 2014, the longest stretch we’ve been in Boulder has been about 10 days, and most of that time away has been spent in the van. So we’ve been living in the van part time for the better part of a year.

But as of August 1, we have been full-time van dwellers!

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

The biggest step was downsizing the amount of crap we had, but it was also the most rewarding part. We’ve always tried to be somewhat minimalists, but the sheer volume of stuff we had was staggering, especially when we were using less than 5% of it on a daily basis.

Spending weeks at a time in the van before the transition helped us determine what we’d actually need and use, so it was pretty clear what to keep for the van when we started packing. (This also helped us figure out how to balance travel, personal climbing time and work!)

We do have a storage unit in Boulder that’s filled mostly with backup outdoor gear and apparel and sentimental items, like family heirlooms and furniture. We donated a ton to Goodwill and gave even more outdoor gear away to friends.

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

The best thing about the work we do is that we can do it whenever and wherever. Being photographers, writers and videographers, we work mainly on location, so we’re always ready to go to the next spot.

When it comes to editing the content and writing, we just have to make the time. Whether it’s taking a full rest day to work at the McDonald’s in Worland, Wyoming, or borrowing Wi-Fi late at night from a Starbucks in Abilene, Texas, we’re always hustling. We also prioritize who does most of the driving on long hauls based on which one of us has more work or a closer deadline.

What are your hobbies on and off the road?

Climbing! Any and all of it — bouldering, sport, trad, ice, alpine, you name it, we love it! Both of our jobs are based around climbing and the outdoors, so we’re incredibly grateful to be able to marry our career goals with our passions and hobbies. We also both love to ski, ride bikes, drink coffee and, of course, play with cameras.

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

Aside from our dog, Lizzie, iPhones, climbing gear and photography gear — which are pretty necessary for everyday working life on the road — our top three items would be as follows:

Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator: This is powered by two Goal Zero Boulder 90 solar panels on the roof of the van. We power everything with this setup — from camera batteries to laptops and our mini fridge.

A Handheld Electric Bug Zapper: It looks like a small tennis racket, but the wire netting in the middle puts out a small electric charge so you use it like a fly swatter to zap the tons of moths and mosquitoes that make their way into the van on summer nights.

Helinox Chair One: These little camp chairs are really small, easy to set up, packable and comfortable! They slide behind the driver’s seat when we’re moving, then we pull 'em out for chilling anywhere we are.

What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?

The simplicity of everything, by far. While certain things (cooking, gathering water, cleaning, etc.) actually take more time than if we were in a house, it makes you feel more productive to be up and doing stuff all the time.

We’re more in touch with our natural roots as humans. We never want to be in the van all day, or even for more than a few hours, so we’re always outside, running errands, climbing, hanging with friends and living!  

This is where my head is the stars, hanging out next to the van.

What is the most challenging thing?

Keeping things organized all the time. Since we need a decent amount of gear for our hobbies and jobs and the van is somewhat small, we’re always moving and rearranging stuff. It can be annoying sometimes when all you want to do is pass out but the bed is covered with camera and climbing equipment. However, keeping up with it little by little has become part of the routine so it’s way less frustrating now than it was in the beginning. (Also, when Lizzie decides to roll in something stinky and there’s not a river or creek in sight — that can be quite the challenge!)

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

If you want to live small in the future, start by downsizing now and practicing living with less. You’ll impress yourself with how few things you actually need on a daily basis — everything from kitchenware to clothes and furniture.

Start with something like your closet and immediately get rid of everything you know you don’t need or want. If there’s anything that you’re not sure about keeping or tossing, box it up and put the box away — out of sight, out of mind. Set a reminder on your calendar to revisit the box in a few months. When you go back to it, did you miss anything in it? Probably not, so start donating!

It is the most freeing feeling to cut ties with material things. And to give it to someone in need on top of that is awesome.

We didn’t get rid of anything that still brought us joy or had meaning (like Julie’s grandmother’s cedar chest or our collection of antique cameras, among other things). But what we found is that most of the stuff we had was extraneous.

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

We recently added a Toyota Tacoma to the fleet and will add a topper, bed and storage so we have a camper truck for the backcountry! We need the extra vehicle since we aren’t always working on projects in the same location, and it gives us a sweet guest room for visitors.

Our next big trip is to California, where we’ll put up new climbing routes just north of Yosemite Valley.

Despite the recent chaos of the last few weeks (months? years?), persistence has paid off in spades by putting me exactly where I want to be in life: with this guy and Lizzie in the van, living out our dream! Life can be pretty fucking sweet, y’all!

Follow Julie & Alton and their adventures on their website. Keep track of Julie on Instagram @joolyhart, Twitter or her website. Alton's work can be found on Instagram @agrphoto, Twitter or his website.

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to Julie & Alton.