Ask A Van Dweller Ft. @s0weboughtavan
To start things off, please introduce yourself to us.
Our names are Evan & Katie and we are S0WeBoughtAVan
What kind of van do you have? Did you build it yourself?
We have a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter 144” WB High Roof. We did most of the conversion ourselves with the exception of the cabinets. However, we did design and install them!
How long have you lived in your van and how long are you planning on living in it?
We started living in our van in June of 2017, so about 4 months so far. Our current plan is to live in the van full-time for a year but we have started discussing extending the trip or seeing where it takes us.
Why did you decide to live in a van?
We had been throwing around the idea of living in a van for a while before we really made it into a reality. Being able to travel and explore more, particularly in North America, was something we wanted to make a priority in our lives and we particularly loved the idea of downsizing. We really liked the idea of being able to bounce around and having the freedom to wake up every day and decide what we felt like doing, instead of planning every detail of a trip out. So we decided that buying a van and making it a home was the best option for us and for creating the life we wanted for ourselves.
What do you miss the most about living in a house/apartment?
The thing we agree on most is that we miss entertaining guests. We often hosted friends at the house, had bonfires, BBQs, etc. and that was a big part of our lives. We both are very hobby-oriented as well and having a garage to work on projects and tinker in that space was nice. But when it comes down to it, we’ve been able to replicate that idea with the places we camp most of the time. We also left some of our favorite belongings that were a little too big for the van, or we decided against bringing, that we miss a lot (snowboard, record player/records, book collection, Traeger BBQ).
What’s the best place you’ve been so far?
We really fell in love with the Jackson Hole area. You have a view of the Tetons everywhere you go, Yellowstone just a bit North, and the campgrounds in that surrounding area are amazing. When we were there we had windy days, sunny days, cloudy days, and the area was beautiful regardless of the weather. It is definitely a full-time campers dream-of-a-place.
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?
We have a really small toilet (#1 only) in our van, more of an emergency only kind of deal, and the first time we emptied it the situation went so awry. We were both a little nervous about learning how to make this common chore efficient and clean but figured we’d get used to it. Evan went to dump the contents down a campground toilet and as he went inside, a giant tour bus pulled up and over a dozen people got out to use the toilet. When he came out of the stall, the container was completely wet and he had pee dripping down both his arms. Everybody in line was staring at him. The first reaction was anger and frustration but after a second we both caught the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing. Safe to say that we can now empty the toilet with no mess.
What was the hardest thing to get used to once you moved into your van?
We had never lived together prior to moving into the van so that has been a big adjustment. The living quarters are obviously pretty tight and being around anybody 24/7 is a challenge in itself. Almost any time you do something, you have to say, “excuse me” to get around the other person. There are days where it feels like you’re constantly tripping over something or invading the others personal space. But at the end of the day, we have more time together than we ever had when we were living apart and working full-time so it’s been a big blessing.
How do you shower and go to the bathroom?
To be honest, we don’t shower that much. We’ve probably taken 5 “real” showers, in a house, since we’ve been on the road. Most of the time we’re in some sort of water though. We swim in rivers and lakes frequently. We also have the road shower but we’ve only used that 3 times. Mostly, we get by with a LOT of baby wipes. Regarding the bathroom, we have a small toilet, a Thetford Porta Potti 260B. We use this when we park in areas, such as a city, where there aren’t other options but again, it’s only for #1 usage. For our other duties, we either go outside (responsibly) or there are often restrooms provided (most free campsites have some sort of a toilet pit). Since we drive so much, there are always rest stops or gas stations available. We have access to public bathrooms daily so it really hasn‘t been an issue for us.
Is there anything you would change about your van build?
Since downsizing, we’ve realized that we have way more cabinet space than we need. Don’t get us wrong, the space is great, but we often find ourselves wishing that we had a more permanent sitting area. We currently have a tripod-style removable table, which gets the job done, but it gets old setting it up and breaking it down whenever we want to use it. We think that that we could have used the area below our bed where our “dresser” drawers are to have some sort of a bench/table area.
What was the hardest part about converting your van?
Sprinters look like a giant box but, in reality, nothing is “straight”. The walls curve, the ceiling curves, everything curves. This required templates for almost everything we built. Additionally, wiring the electrical system was really challenging. We didn’t have any background in electrical work so it required a lot of research hours with youtube videos, sprinter forums, and seeking advice from other van-dwellers. At least half, if not more, of our 6-month build process was spent on wiring the van (it took us longer than it should have). Going above and beyond during the research part of this phase was well worth it though, as we haven’t had any major issues with our electrical system.
What is the best investment you’ve made for your van?
One of the more expensive parts of our build was the cabinets. We chose to have a family-friend who specializes in cabinets build them and we haven’t regretted it a single day. We love the look of them, trust the quality of his build, and don’t have to worry about them holding up as we drive down questionable gravel roads. Not only did it save us personal time during the build process, we could never have built cabinets like these ourselves. If we were to do it again, we would still choose to have help with the cabinets.
Are there any specific products you use that make van life easier for you?
We are continuously grateful for both our stoves. We kicked around the idea of a permanent stove inside vs. having an outdoor stove that we moved indoors/outdoors as we pleased. We ended up with both: a stationary stove that is built in to our countertop (Atwood stainless steel drop-in 2-burner) and an outdoor stove that we can use when we choose to cook outside (Partner Steel 22” 2-burner propane stove). We purchased a 1-gallon Worthington propane tank that we keep in the back of the van and just ran a propane hose to the indoor stove. If we do decide to cook outside, it’s super easy to just transfer the propane hookup to the outdoor stove. Plus, it costs us less than $3 to refill to the propane tank and usually lasts us a couple weeks.
How are you able to afford van life?
We both worked full-time before moving into the van and planned this transition for over a year before we even bought the van. This allowed us plenty of time to save up enough money to quit our jobs when we hit the road. We’re fortunate enough to not have to work currently but know that eventually, we’ll run out of money and need some sort of employment. Plus, van life isn’t as expensive as you think, especially when you compare it to housing rates/cost of living in Portland, Oregon.
Is van life cheaper than your previous lifestyle?
Simply put, yes. You’re able to eliminate your electric, water, cable, garbage/recycling bills. Even if you calculate in a van/car payment, it’s likely going to be cheaper than paying rent or a mortgage. We also sold one of our cars before hitting the road, which eliminated an entire car payment, maintenance, and consolidated insurance bills into one vehicle. Living in a van has also pushed us to expand our cooking skills, whereas before we went out to eat more often than not, a cost that really adds up. Some expenses you just can’t escape though, like Katie’s monthly student loan payments. In total, the cost of the van, the build out, and our monthly budget for living is cheaper for us as a couple than our previous lifestyle.
Are there any unexpected expenses that you have while living in a van?
Nothing major has taken us by surprise. We did have an unexpected maintenance cost but nothing too drastic. We did our best to make a detailed budget before we hit the road and took a lot of miscellaneous costs into consideration: scheduled maintenance, chains for winter, the occasional campground fee, laundromats, park passes (US and Canadian National passes, State Parks, etc.) and more. We’re only 4 months into this though so knock on wood...
What do you do to pass the time while driving somewhere far away?
We listen to podcasts or books on tape almost anytime we’re driving. We have a good variety between comedy, news, crime, etc. Some of our favorites include Congratulations with Chris D’Elia (huge fans), True Crime Garage, Women on the Road and the Daily.
What are your favorite hobbies and activities?
We both love to hike, which takes up most of our days. We also love searching for a good swimming hole, which we try to do whenever we visit a new area. When we’re not driving to our next destination, Evan loves to fish, tinker around the van, and take photos. He also spends a lot of time daydreaming about van builds and future plans. Most of Katie’s time is spent reading but she also enjoys journaling and pressing flowers. We also love ending our days with a good campfire.
How do you stay healthy on the road?
We do simple things each day to stay healthy, such as drink the proper amount of water, take our daily vitamins, eat a balanced diet. We really enjoy going on walks together, sometimes more than once a day. It’s a good time to slow down, get simple exercise, and enjoy each other’s company. We also try to include some sort of high-intensity exercise in our day, such as a good hike, going for a run, or resistance training. We have the basics in our van: a kettlebell, various resistance bands and tubes, etc.
What are you addicted to?
CRAFT BEER. We both love a cold, draft IPA from a local brewery in whatever town we’re visiting. That’s our biggest downfall. We love trying new beers, especially local beers, but that can get very expensive. We also just started watching Sons of Anarchy and it’s taking up a shameful amount of our time...
What is something that no one would guess about you at first glance?
Our favorite fun fact as a couple is that we have the same last name, just spelled differently (Larsen vs. Larson). We also grew up less than a mile from each other but didn’t meet or start dating until our early 20’s.