About a year ago, Lisa wrote a post on my blog about solo female traveling. That post resonated with a lot of women living on the road and sparked conversations about fear as a solo traveler and safety. I caught up with Lisa recently and she revealed it was her one-year van-niversary. To celebrate, we are sharing Lisa’s story of how she got inspired to convert a 2012 Nissan NV2500 and live on the road in the first place.
My first family vacation was a month-long road trip to the east coast in our Ford Econoline van when I was five years old. We packed into the low-roof minivan covered in blue velvet and lacquered mahogany, and watched the movie Vacation on repeat on a tiny tube TV (pretty fancy for the 90s).
Nomadic gypsy blood runs through my veins. My grandfather spent his years traversing Route 66 in his trailer, playing acoustic guitar at dive bars and selling charcoal sketches of wild horses. My mom moved us to a dozen new towns throughout my youth, for no other reason than to quench her restless soul. We moved from Wisconsin to Arizona, because I secretly moved a Ouija board to say “T-U-C-S-O-N,” where my sister’s best friend lived (true story). I fully embraced the constant inconsistency and opportunity for reinvention.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actor, but my dad used fear and guilt to convince me to become a lawyer. And so I did what I was told—got my law degree, got a good job, lived in a nice house, and drove a reliable car. By society’s standards, I was successful, but the happiness that was promised never came.
When my mom died from breast cancer, my entire universe fell apart. Facing death through the eyes of my mom had an unanticipated side effect—it lit a fire inside of me to live life now because nothing is guaranteed. This new attitude felt like a superpower: suddenly all the things I was so worried about—work deadlines, family expectations, societal judgments—didn’t matter anymore.
That’s when I discovered vanlife. When I saw Freebird, my 2012 Nissan NV2500, in the repo lot, she was covered in a pink magenta wrap with “Mighty Bird Tacos” on the side. It was love at first sight.
Freebird has seen many changes over the last two years. First, she was the home for me, my then-boyfriend, and his two pit bulls. Then, she morphed into my personal hub of solo adventure and creativity.
We’ve climbed mountains together, slept in the sand on the shore of the ocean, relaxed in the vast open desert, nestled between dozens of vans at social gatherings, and secretly hid in quiet neighborhoods below flickering streetlights.
Vanlife is the ultimate freedom. Now I rule my time, my place, my energy, and my path. It has helped me align with my instincts and goals like I never imagined. Every day and every moment I have the power to do as I please, regardless of what anyone else thinks or what’s expected from me.
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Produced & edited by Kathleen Morton.
Written with photos courtesy of Lisa Jacobs.