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We Tried to Do Vanlife Right

A few years ago, my family took a once-in-a-lifetime road trip across the country. A week of driving, a week of seeing relatives, and a week to get back. It was memorable, but we went through all our savings and arrived home with our credit cards maxed out, having spent more time in Montana with a broken-down truck than we planned. How do the Instagram #vanlife people do it, when you need to rearrange your jobs and give up your home base to live in your vehicle permanently? Chris Wright and his wife Rachel tried it, after dreaming of life on the open road for years. They saved up bought a van they could afford, which was their first mistake. They also decided not to monetize their adventure on Instagram in order to actually live in the moment, which was another mistake. Every mechanical problem that followed raised the stress level.

If I was obsessing about a breakdown, I was also fixated on money and the way it seemed to flow through our wallets like water through a sieve. Living out of a van can be surprisingly expensive, especially if you’re burning through gas on long drives every couple of days. I had underestimated our costs. Working would mean stopping, extending the trip, spending even more money. I kept thinking about the saying “so poor you can’t keep mosquitoes in underpants.” I only had three pairs. We didn’t need much to survive. But the list of things we could afford was shrinking fast. I was sinking into despair: over van noises, over dollar signs, over anything and everything.

Read about the realities of trying to live a nomadic van life at Outside Online.

(Image credit: Jack Richardson)


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The Instagram thing is an income stream, which is necessary if you want to stay on the road permanently. Otherwise, I agree that living in the moment is better than constantly documenting your adventures.
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Before we got married, we did a two month road trip. My wife wanted the romanticism of a VW camper. I wanted something that would work. We got a pickup with a camper top, some plywood for flooring, a mattress, food, spare water, and luggage. Worked out pretty well. I tried to work some on the road - did not work well at all. By week 8, we were ready to stop. I can well imagine the worries of using a $2,000 van instead.
Was it really a mistake to not monetize their adventure on Instagram? That seems like an awful lot of work, with little chance of making a profit.
BTW, my g'parents took their 8(!) kids on a road trip from Michigan to the Grand Canyon using a pickup truck and home-made camper with built-in beds. You don't need to be Kerouac to be on the road.
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