Danny is a travel nurse and we move every 3-12 months to a new city to fulfill hospital needs. We were getting destroyed in apartment costs, and don’t even get me started on how expensive moving companies are. We knew that we wanted to find a way to live in a home that is mobile so that we could easily go from one contract to another, but we didn’t quite know what avenue to take. We knew we wanted to be able to jump into the front seat and go. Not one box would need to be packed, I wouldn’t have to find an apartment in a city I never stepped foot in, and the best part is that we didn’t have to pay one more non-refundable deposit. Here is where Vanlife came in.
Choosing To Live In A Van
We first started to look into RVs because we knew a few other traveling nurses that went this route, and it seemed to work well for them. The two main issues we had with RVs were mobility and stealth. We would need a fairly small RV so that we wouldn’t be discouraged to go somewhere due to our size. We often traveled down small trailhead roads, and wouldn’t want to be forced to drop hitch every time we wanted to go down a narrow road. Now stealth, since Danny is a travel nurse, we are forced to be city-bound at least 3 days out of the week. It could get fairly pricey if we were forced to live in an RV park 3 days out of the week, or had to commute from a dispersed camping spot. It just seemed like an RV wasn’t a good fit for us, so it was back to the drawing board.
Vanlife was introduced to me (Lindsey) on Instagram, but I never really put two and two together, but it was the perfect solution for us. The AHA moment happened when we were in Banff, Canada for vacation and vans were EVERYWHERE. We realized how livable they were and how they answered all of our problems. We were hooked after that, and had decided that we would become van-dwellers after that trip.
That very next month, we bought our van (Bruce) and the research began. Three months later we trekked it back to our home state to build him out. 7 months after purchasing Bruce, we had him fully built out and we were on our way to our next nursing contract in Salem, Oregon. I guess when we set our minds to something… we go all in. It was the best decision we could have made. Vanlife has served us well so far, and we are loving every minute of it.
Our Home On Wheels
Bruce is a 2018 Ram Promaster 3500 extended 158 Wheel Base. (Our van is the largest version of Ram Promaster Fleet.) He is 21 feet long and just shy of 9 feet tall with the solar panels and cell phone booster. Since we are full-timers we wanted to have as much space as we could get, but still be able to fit in most standard parking spots. In addition, our van is the high roof version so we can comfortably walk around without having to duck down.
Our van was self-built but mostly based on the layout of fellow RVers Trent and Allie’s floor plan (another van couple). In our opinion, it provides the most storage with still having a home-y feel. We are over the moon on how it turned out, and it is the perfect little space for us. We are four seasons capable and all of our power is fully sustainable off of solar power hookup. We have a fully compostable toilet, a cat box for our two little bundles of fur, a big deep sink, an automatic water pump system, and a queen-size bed. We use propane for our 6-gallon hot water heater, 19,000BTU furnace on a digital thermostat, and stove/oven combo. We do not have an indoor shower because we didn’t feel like it was necessary. We only have 30 gallons of freshwater, and a shower would deplete that very quickly.
If we want to shower and are in nature, we can use the faucet for a quick rinse or we do have an outdoor shower in the back. If we are in the city, then we go to Planet Fitness for 24-hour access to unlimited showers. It is around $20 dollars a month for the black card membership and you get to bring a friend for free. So, we only pay for one membership and we both get to shower. Win-win!
Our Income While Traveling
Danny has maintained his job as a travel nurse, but I, Lindsey, had to completely put my career on hold. I was a raw materials chemist prior to the nomadic life, and letting it go was the best decision I ever made. I no longer work 50+ hours a week or spend my life behind a desk. I have worked little odd jobs here and there, my favorite was being a barista in Seattle. I currently am unemployed and have focused all of my time and energy on growing our social media front and editing videos for our YouTube channel.
Learn From Our Lessons
We have two really interesting stories to share! When we went to this van gathering, “Descend on Bend”, the terrain was this deep soft sandy dust. Not only are we super heavy (~9400lbs), but we are also front-wheel drive with bald tires. We didn’t have a chance, we sunk in the first five minutes of arrival. Thankfully we were right next to this rugged rig that had a winch. We got out and found a spot that had a more solid ground.
The second was when we got our very first knock from the police. Scary right… we saw the flashlights and they knocked super loud to alert us of their presence. We greeted them and found out that we were in a city limit where it was illegal to sleep in one’s car overnight. The police were very nice, and let us off with a warning since it was clear to them that we had no idea that we were breaking the law. How nice of them. They directed us to an area where it was legal and we were on our way. Needless to say, I have no desire to experience that ever again.
Enjoying The Simple Life
It’s hard to just pick one thing we have greatly enjoyed because Vanlife has complimented our needs and wants so well. If we had to choose, we would probably say our first van gathering. It was crazy to see all of the different types of vehicles and builds, but the best part was the community presence. Everyone was so inviting and just wanted to have a good time. We all wanted to show off our rigs and cheers to our nomadic lifestyle. It was just a really cool experience, and we can’t wait for the next one.
Adjusting To Our Smaller Space
For us, we have two adults and two cats inhabiting 70 square feet. Needless to say, there is very little personal space, and you are constantly in someone’s way. I, Lindsey, am a very independent person and this was a hard one for me. We went down to one vehicle and I had to give up the very little independence that I still had, but it was worth it. We are so mobile, and I am getting used to being more patient. We are learning how to communicate better with each other to make sure our needs are being met, and learning how to work in the van in a more harmonized way. It has made our marriage stronger, and our personal growth has been exponential since embracing Vanlife.
Another one of our biggest adjustments is trying to control the clutter that builds up all day every day. Living in such a small space does not give you much freedom on being lazy and not putting things back where they belong. I swear one of my titles is professional putter away-er (that’s a word right?). At Least in our case, we just accepted the fact that clutter will always be a constant in our life, and sometimes (more often than not) our van will look like a bomb just went off in it.
Our Cats Love The Adventures Too
We have two little bundles of fur on board and they live their best little van cat lives every day. They have access to food, water, and a cat box at all times (even when in commute). One walks on a leash and the other is a complete wallflower. They both took to van life very well right from the beginning, but they have also been traveling with us full-time for 3 years prior to us moving into a van. When we moved in, we made sure that we kept all of our bedding, their food dish, their cat box, and rug, all the same, to try to keep as much normalcy as possible. We have only experienced two negatives to having van cats. One being is that they popped their nails on our driver and passenger seat and completely wrecked the fabric. We cover the seats now with blankets, but the damage has been done.
The second is trying to keep them cool during a heatwave. We do not have AC, so we have to make sure that they are staying cool enough in the higher temperatures. I have had to keep the van running all day one day because it was just too hot. Our van temperature typically stays 1:1 with the outside, so if it is 100°F on the outside, it is 100°F on the inside. This being said we choose contracts in cities that have a nice average temperature of less than 80-85°F in the summer. The cats seem to be unaffected until around 90-95°F. At that point, they usually lay on the floor and relax instead of being more active. Truthfully, they seemed more comfortable then we were in those conditions.
Stealthy In The Suburbs
We have never been forced to pay to find a place to stay. We did pay once, but that was so we could be close to our friends in a big RV. While we are in the city, we generally stay in residential areas. We come in after dark and leave in the morning. Our tip is to never stay the whole day, or stay multiple nights in the same spot or street. We try to be as “not seen” as possible. We have never got a knock or been told to move because someone didn’t want us parked in front of their house. That being said, we are also fully sustainable on the inside. We don’t have to exit our vehicle to grab something from the outside or open up slides. We are the ultimate stealth mobile. We cook, listen to music, watch movies, and do all of the normal activities as a conventional home, but we just have to keep the volume down.
Enjoying The Views
If we are in nature, we boondock or disperse camp every time. We use apps like wikicamps or freecampsites.net to find a general location to head and then, the search is on. We have found some absolute hidden gems by not settling, and seeing what else is out there. We have also just headed down forest fire roads and there is always a little nook that we can squeeze in to. Don’t get me wrong, we have definitely sleep on quite a few pull-offs to just get some shut-eye before continuing on to the next adventure. We rarely stay in one place for more than a day because we are always on the go to the next best thing. We truly love to live nomadically and yearn to see as much as we possibly can before we have to leave for the next contract.
So Many Plans Ahead
We have no plans on stopping. If we stay in the van for 2 years, then the total build-out cost is equivalent to the sum of 2 years of rent. We are stealthy and small enough that we can live in the city when Danny has to work, but we are built tough enough that we can go out into nature and live off-grid for 5-7 days without running out of resources. It is truly the coolest life.
Our nursing contract right now is based out of Torrance (near Redondo Beach) in Southern California. We have plans to meet up quite a few other van dwellers this winter that we met through Instagram and van-gatherings, and of course, we will have to take a few days to stargazing in Joshua Tree. The opportunities are endless, and we are excited to see where Bruce, our van, takes us in the next 3 months. Follow our adventures on Instagram and Youtube.