A few months ago I shared a year recap of life after quitting my job in an article titled, One Year Later, but I decided that my one-year vanniversary was also worthy of a story. You see, two months after I quit my job I acquired my now home, a 2006 Dodge Sprinter Van. I had a lot of questions about what my life would become when I got my van, and not a lot of answers. I took the chance and went into the life without a clue what I was doing (much like most of my life).
Buying the van:
Years before I even bought my van I started the searching process. Every van with a for sale sign got a least a stop and look, and I constantly watched craigslist for the perfect van. This process continued as I test drove everything from a beautiful VW Westfalia to a white cargo van that definitely looked like it might have abducted a few children in its prime. But finally, on a beautiful day in Bozeman, Montana I found the perfect van. This sprinter checked all of the boxes and I was already in love with it. I wanted to have a mechanic check it out before spending my entire life savings on a van, but I was informed that a mechanic was coming to check it out for another guy that afternoon. So my options were as follows: hope that guy decides he doesn’t want it and let my mechanic check it out later that week, buy it on the spot without a mechanic (car buying 101 not to do), or just keep shopping for another van. I did the only logical choice… I went to the bank and got a check. I nearly emptied my bank account to buy the van, but at that point it didn’t matter, because….
I was a home owner!
THE STORY BEHIND A NAME: NEMO
It wasn’t long after I purchased my van that I knew she needed a name (yes, she). After trying out numerous names I decided on Nemo, and no, not the fish. Nemo is Latin for no one, and since I was in high school and read the Odyssey I’ve always loved the word, Nemo. Nemo the Nomad, her full name, of course, was named after “no one” with respect to my love of nature. In nature, we are all no one, nature doesn’t care where we’re from, how old we are, the color of our skin, or what we do for a living. Nature is the great equalizer in life, we are all the same and that is what I love about it.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Life on the road teaches you a lot, and a year on the road ages you beyond what you could ever imagine. I had a lot of ideas of what #vanlife would be, and I can safely say I was wrong. Here are just a few things I learned from the last year.
- I meet A LOT of people. I change towns on average of every few days and while I already had a lot of connections across Montana, I didn’t realize that my friend group would grow exponentially. And it makes sense when I come to a town and hit up my old contacts they immediately want to go out for beers, coffee, or a shoot. A lot of the time they might bring a few friends from their friend group in the process, and now I’ve gone from knowing one or two to knowing five or six people. I was the shy, awkward kid in high school. I never quite fit into any particular groups, and never attended parties. The juxtaposition of my life now is a total 180, and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the most amazing, passionate, and talented friends.
- There have been ZERO negative responses. This probably came as the most shocking. When I set out on the road to live in a van I expected to get a lot of flak, especially from older generations who would perceive me as another lazy millennial. But nothing, not a single negative response from anyone. Everyone from CEOs of mega corporations to the local farmer have been more than excited about my lifestyle choice and are eager to learn about how I do it. The response is always one of two: “I wish I would have done that when I was younger” or “I did that when I was younger and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything”
- The kindness of friends and strangers never ceases to amaze me. In today’s day and age, people tend to look at society as a whole and write everyone off as self-serving and greedy. But I’ve seen a different side of society, and that is people are generally kind and wanting to help. I have endless offers for a shower and a warm place to sleep along with a hot, home-cooked meal. I honestly couldn’t do what I do without the love and support I get in every town I go to.
- The art of boondocking. Boondocking, or free camping, is how I live. I very rarely stay in designated campsites, and have made a life of national forest backroads, pull-outs, and urban camping. The amount of “urban boondocking” I do always surprises me. The vision I had for living in a van was waking up to beautiful views every morning, but often I find myselfs waking up to coffee shop parking lots or friends’ neighborhoods. Spending a long winter in the van meant watching the sun set around 5, leaving me with a decision to stay out in the cold mountains until it was time to go to sleep, or head back to town to hang with friends. With summer back I already find myself sleeping at the foothills of mountains a lot more often.
- It gets lonely. I won’t dive into this too much, because I wrote a whole blog on it, so check that out. The Imperfect Side of the Perfect Life.
- Nobody really understands what I do, and neither do I. I get approached by old friends often who are envious of my life, and then the next question is always “but, how do you make money”. No, there’s not a trust fund that keeps my adventures going (I wish, if I have a rich uncle waiting in the wings somewhere…now is the time to come out). I’m a full-time photographer, and that’s what pays my “bills”. Luckily because of the lifestyle I have the only bills I pay every month are phone bill, car insurance, health insurance, and a gym membership (for showers, duh). But there’s still months where I don’t make a dollar, and I wonder how long I can keep doing it.
I get this question often, asking where I’m off to or when I’ll come back to normal society? Well the answer is always the same, I have no idea. Right now I’m loving this life, and I’m chasing a life that I’ve always wanted. I know I can’t live like this forever, but the sense of freedom and experience gained is irreplaceable. Enough with words though, here’s a small collection of photos of Nemo in action!
Until next time,
Follow me on social media (or just follow me around in real life if you want, but it’s kinda creepy)