I've been talking with Amanda & Matt through email for several months now with the idea to co-host a vanlife gathering together. And now we're doing just that! Next month, we are organizing an amazing event in one of my favorite places, the Teton Valley in Victor, Idaho. We're stoked to bring this community to a location that has incredible rock climbing, fishing, biking, rafting, horseback riding, and just phenomenal views. Before the event took place, I wanted to introduce you to these two. Here's the story of how Amanda & Matt met, their unique adventure mobile and why they choose to travel even when it gets difficult to continue.
Newton’s first law of motion states, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
We were both experiencing our own versions of Newtonian physics. Matt had been living in Nederland, Colorado, for five years, gotten married and settled into a 40-hour a week grind. Amanda was working for a prominent technology company and in the San Francisco Mission District. To say we were unhappy would be inaccurate. We were existing, but we were not thriving as individuals.
Cue the unbalanced force.
We were both laid off from our jobs and Matt got divorced.
Fast forward to Burning Man 2014. We ran into and recognized each other (did we forgot to mention we went to high school together?) after 10 years without any interaction. We had matured a lot since high school, and our adult selves were much more similar to one another than they had been as teenagers.
We traveled from Ecuador to Patagonia via the west coast of the continent over a span of 3.5 months. Travel has a funny way of making or breaking couples. Things can fall apart or become rock solid. After many overnight 24-hour bus rides, mystery jungle rashes that eventually led to an emergency room in a Peruvian mountain town, climbs up to active volcanoes, and treks through the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, we were inseparable.
Returning to the states put a lot of things in perspective. All of a sudden, spending a fortune to live in San Francisco (we’ll love you forever SF) didn’t feel so appealing. We were trading valuable hours of our lives, working to live in an overpriced apartment, and feeling limited by our freelance incomes (the cost of living in SF is extreme).
For us, transitioning into vanlife (or RVlife in our case since our vehicle, while the same size as a long wheelbase Sprinter, is technically an RV) was a no-brainer.
Compared to living out of a backpack, our rig feels like a palace. The kitchen has ample space to store and cook meals, and we’ve even adopted a healthy, 90% plant-based diet since living in our RV.
Our front and backyard are ever-changing. We move with the seasons and weather—south in the winter and north (or at least higher up in elevation) in the summer.
People ask us questions like, "where do you shower, poop or sleep at night?" If this is what’s keeping you from trying out the lifestyle, we have one thing to offer: After a short time on the road, these things will come easily to you. You’ll find a daily, monthly and seasonal rhythm. You'll start to get a feel for a new town or city within a few hours or sometimes a day.
Sometimes you’ll stay in a Walmart parking lot and realize you don’t like that, and perhaps you’ll never do it again. Or maybe you’ll learn that despite all of your past beliefs, you'll love the desert and want to spend as much time as possible soaking up that dry heat, those desert sunsets and those incredible sandstone horizons.
The biggest barrier for us was psychological. We had to break free from the “defined” path and from “success” meaning a paycheck or savings account. And that’s not something that happens overnight. We had to remind ourselves why we chose this lifestyle and check back in constantly to make sure it still suits us.
And when we check in, what do we find? Over the past year, we’ve visited more places than we could have expected in more than 10 years, and we've gotten to know some of these places intimately—some to the point of calling them “home." We’ve pursued our creative passions almost without bound, experimented with new mediums and committed to things we said we’d someday start before moving into the van. Those things have been watercoloring, videography and video editing (we now have a YouTube channel so Matt can experiment with camera, drone and storytelling in that format). And we've been updating a blog and website on a fairly consistent basis. We’ve even gotten Matt’s photography and Amanda’s writing published in blogs, and in a beautiful book (Hit The Road by Gestalten Publishing).
No matter what challenges, struggles, failures or successes we’ve experienced as individuals, vanlife has taught us some very valuable lessons—the least of which is the importance of community. It’s easy to take for granted your awesome neighbor who drops by for a cold beer on a summer afternoon, or the owner of a local coffee shop who welcomes you by name and immediately sets to work making your drink. Nomadic as we are, we don’t have the constant of community—at least not in the same terms as all those houselife folks. Our community is alternative, just like our lifestyle choice.
Vanlife isn’t devoid of community. In fact, our experience has been quite the opposite. Vanlife thrives because of community. It supports and encourages the idea that we can define our lives by any means of success we see fit. Our collective support and encouragement pushes us through the tough times—getting back in the driver’s seat after our second tow in 24 hours or rumbling the extra washboard miles down forest service road 589 to that perfect flat spot with a view of the mountains and stars.
A van at rest will stay at rest. But put a passionate crew of adventurers behind the wheel and get ‘er rolling down the hill, and that van—now in motion—is a force no breakdown or speed bump can stop.
Come join us and Vanlife Diaries as we host the first-ever Teton Valley Vanlife Gathering June 15-17. We're stoked to meet all of you in person as we spend the weekend staring at the Teton mountain range, listening to live music, doing yoga and having the most delicious community meal together. We're also excited to donate a portion of the ticket sales to The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, a local non-profit.
Follow Amanda & Matt of The Van Project
Produced & edited by Kathleen Morton.
Photos courtesy of Amanda Winther & Matt Swartz.