Major wanderlust drove Mariah and Mads to buying and renovating a 1987 Ford TransVan, but with COVID, they had to get creative…
Quick facts 1987 Ford TransVan
car manufacturer: Ford
model: E 350 TransVan by Champion
year of construction: 1978
how many seats: 2 with 2 additional seat belts on the back bench
consumption at 100 km: BAD. we’ve never calculated it, but we probably get about 5-7 mpg (that’s about 50 L/100 km)
driving license classify: class c
top speed: 85mph (but really she wants to stay well under 65mph)
motor fuel: gas
price: we paid $3,000 USD
costs of repair per year: in the first year we put about $5,000 USD into major engine repairs and maintenance
insurance: $460 USD per year
Hello you! Before we talk about your van, let us please know your name, where you are from and what you do for a living..
We’re Mariah and Mads. Mariah was born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA, and Mads grew up in various spots around Monterey Bay. Mariah is a Director of Development for a non-profit, and Mads works in technical support for a booking platform for outdoor trips.
What drew you to travel in a van?
We’ve got major wanderlust and have always dreamed of renovating a van! Santa Cruz is a vanlifer’s dream. Both having lived there, we’ve always seen vanlifers coming and going and loved the thought of setting out to see all of the beautiful spots in our country without all of the stress of vacation and air travel.
What van do you own and why did you choose it?
Our van is Boatie, a 1987 Ford TransVan. Mariah’s cousin did vanlife in Santa Cruz for a bit before deciding to move to New Zealand. He asked us if we’d be interested in buying his van. At that point we had been window shopping for a while, so we decided to take the leap!
Is the interior made by yourself or did you hire a carpenter?
Boatie’s interior is fairly original. Her original owner hardly ever used her, so everything held up really well. We decided to just do some updating rather than a full tear-down and rebuild.
How long did you work on your 1987 Ford TransVan until it was finished and ready to travel with?
Boatie is a pre-built RV on a van chassis. We’ve left the entire layout the way she came. Initially, we had grand plans of gutting her and starting over, but we lived in an apartment in Oakland, CA with no parking. 2 months after we purchased her, the pandemic hit. We had no way to get significant work done, so instead, we painted some of the interior and called her ready! In the blink of an eye, we packed up our apartment, and Boatie became our home. Almost a year later, we’ve moved back out of the van and have slowly started taking on little projects now that Boatie has her own parking spot and we have space to keep tools!
Tell us your 3 most important camping gadgets of all time!
Cast iron pan, portable battery, a lighter!
Do you earn money while traveling? If so, how?
Since living in the van, both of us have secured fully-remote jobs. It makes it tough for us to travel freely, since we do need to be “on the clock,” but having the van has made it so that as soon as we log off, the adventure begins!
Which countries have you seen already with your 1987 Ford TransVan?
Just the US. We’ve put international travels on hold due to COVID, but hope to hit Canada and Mexico someday soon!
How long are you on the road already and do you live in your vehicle full time?
We lived in Boatie full-time with our cat and dog for 7 months before deciding to call it quits. We were primarily traveling the PNW when the devastating fires hit here (Portland) and in CA. Since going home was no longer an option with fires raging between CA and OR, we made a decision for our own health and our pets’ health to take a break from vanlife and find housing.
Some people prefer campsites for the night, others love free camping somewhere in the middle of nowhere. What do you prefer and why?
I think it really depends what you’re looking for! For us, we needed reliable internet for work 6 days a week, so that often meant staying at campgrounds or stealth camping in cities and neighborhoods. If it was up to us, we would choose camping in the middle of nowhere (ideally by water) with some friends. There can be something eerie about parking in the middle of the woods completely by yourself, but it’s so much fun if you’re with a group of people! We love meeting other vanlifers when we travel.
Did your van ever break down or did you have any troubles in that department?
Boatie is our rock! Having been our daily driver for nearly a year, she’s never broken down on us. We did recently get a 2nd car and started driving her less. So, that mixed with her being parked out in the snow, her battery did die on us, but that’s the only problem we’ve ever had with her. We’ve had to take her in for maintenance several times but never unexpected problems!
What makes travelling and living in a van such a great experience?
Before we lived in a van we both commuted into the city for work. It would take about 45 minutes each way, and in the winter, it would be dark by the time we got home. We were missing hours of our day just traveling home from work, but living in a van, at 5 pm, we closed up our computers and hopped into the hotspring we parked next to, or went on a hike or put up our hammock in a tree and read. We’re both big international travelers but with COVID, we had to get creative. We’ve been all over the world, but we realized there’s so much of our own country we haven’t explored. Traveling in a van made that so much easier. There’s so many hidden gems out there, and in a van, you can pull up right next to a lot of them and stay the night! It’s pretty incredible.
Nothing is perfect – what´s the down side of vanlife?
There certainly are downsides! Vanlife is not all instagram makes it out to be. The reality is that not all vanlifers are content creators. We didn’t have the luxury to drive from National Park to National Park, taking amazing photos and cooking delicious food. We were still working our demanding 9-5 jobs which meant we could only drive in the morning before work or in the evenings after work, and we had to have good wifi signals wherever we were staying. That made our options super limited and the traveling pretty stressful!
For us, vanlife was a dream but it was also a necessary reality. We had to move out of our apartment and into the van full time pretty quickly and unexpectedly. Because of this, we were working on the van and making it functional, while living in it. That made things pretty difficult. When we moved in, there was no working bathroom, no electricity and no running water. We still lived in the van for weeks before we were able to get those things fixed. Despite the challenges of vanlife, it forced us to really think about what we needed in our lives, rather than just wanted, and relearn what was important to us.
What tips would you give new vanlifers?
If you can, try building out your van before moving into it full time! It will make your job a whole lot easier. Have a home base you can always come to if you need a break or just a good shower. This can be a family member or a friend. It’s always best to have friends’ houses to stop along the way. You’ll be able to live in the van a lot longer if you’re able to take breaks every once in a while. The best advice a fellow vanlifer gave us is: “all vans break down. The new Sprinters and the old “87 Ford Trasvans. They all break down! So don’t bother spending a ton of money on a brand new van and just buy a reliable old one.”
Do you sometimes make new friends on the road/meet other vanlifers?
We do! Meeting fellow travelers is one of the best parts about being on the road. Everytime we see another van we always wave or shoot a peace sign out the window.
What are your future plans when it comes to traveling/living in your 1987 Ford TransVan?
We’re hoping to do a little more traveling in Boatie this upcoming spring to hit more PNW spots we didn’t make it to when our travels got cut short, but then plan to pass her along to a new home in the summer. She’s been a great home for us, but we want to downsize to something a little smaller for off-roading and weekend adventures.
We’ve jumped full force into our next chapter of creating an urban homestead, so don’t see ourselves moving back into the van in the near future. Our big goal is to set out for a trip in our next van when Canada borders open back up again.
For more 87 Ford TransVan adventures, check out Mariah and Mads’ Instagram account @driven.to.wander.