After lots of curse words, mistakes, and beers, Jessie Leonard and her father finished the conversion of her Dodge Ram Van 1500 for hitting the road full time and turning her back to the classic 9-5.
Quick facts Dodge Ram Van 1500:
car manufacturer: Dodge
model: Ram Van 1500
year of construction: 1999
how many seats: Originally 6, now just driver and passenger seat
complete weight of vehicle: –
how many kilometers: 165k miles
cylinder capacity: V6
output of the motor: –
consumption at 100km: gas consumption is about 13-15 miles per gallon
driving license classify: general driver’s license
top speed: I max it out at around 80 mph when I speed
motor fuel: gasoline
costs of repair per year: This year has been expensive at almost $2000
insurance: $72 per month
vehicle taxes: –
So tell us a bit about you first!
I am a freelance writer with a wine and environmental sustainability background. I love the environment and try to live all aspects of my life to protect it. The way I live impacts my writing, I am working on a poetry book to hopefully be completed by the holidays.
What drew you to travel and live in a van?
My 9-5 life working in the service industry was not fulfilling. My job at a winery was soul sucking, to the point that I had to quit my job before I meant to because I had no energy to work on my van on my days off. I was always drawn to the idea of traveling full time because on the few long trips I experienced, I learned how much I enjoy meeting new people and seeing things I hadn’t imagined I could see. I wanted to experience awe-inspiring moments.
What kind of van do you own and why did you choose this kind of van?
I have what’s called a “conversion van” in the States. It has a fiberglass top so it is a little taller than a normal low-top and usually has a bench seat in the very back that can convert from a seat to a bed. It was often used as roadtrip vans for families.
I had my eye on a different style of van but every one I tried purchasing kept getting sold out from under me. I wanted to get on the road faster so I settled for this one as my transition van to make sure I wanted to live on the road full-time.
Is the interior made by yourself or did you get a carpenter?
My dad and I built the interior in my Dodge Ram Van 1500. Lots of curse words, mistakes, and beers went into it. Despite the arguments it was so nice spending that much time with my Dad.
How long did you work on your van until it was finished and ready to travel with?
It took about 4 months. I spent a lot of the beginning of the build waiting for my dad to help on his days off, but by the end I needed to be done and on the road. I sucked up my fear and picked up the powertools!
Tell us your 3 most important camping gadgets of all time!
HEADLAMP! When you’re out in the middle of nowhere it is so much easier to use a headlamp when you go outside so you have complete use of your hands.
How do you earn money while traveling?
I do social media copywriting and blog writing. Eventually I would love my blog to bring in an income, and my poetry book will also be an income source!
Which countries have you seen already with your Dodge Ram Van 1500?
I have only explored the west coast of the USA. I hope to see Baja Mexico this winter!
How long are you on the road already and do you live in your vehicle full time?
I have lived in my van for a little over a year now. I do live in it full time.
Some people prefer campsites for the night, others love free camping somewhere in the middle of nowhere. What do you prefer and why?
I love free camping! It’s one of my favorite things to be able to sleep with my window covers off to wake up with the sun. Also my dog is very protective at night and if there are people close by she barks most of the night.
How do you shower and cook in your Dodge Ram Van 1500?
I used to use gym showers before covid. Now I use my solar shower more often or take dips in bodies of water. I will also make use of public beach showers!
I cook with a propane camp stove. I have a fold down table so I can cook outside when it is nice or I can cook inside on the counter if it is cold.
What is your experience when it comes to vanlife during Covid-19?
It was very hard at the beginning when everything shut down. With my job, I use public wifi from libraries or coffee shops and that was gone overnight. I was exploring Arizona when everything started closing so I made the choice to go to my parent’s house in California. Now that I am back on the road, showering is the hard part. I rarely wash my hair, so that makes it much easier.
Some places were very strict about no out of state plates, I wasn’t in places like that but a woman in a grocery store parking lot yelled at me when she saw my license plates weren’t from the state I was in. Other than that everyone understands the struggles for the most part
What makes travelling and living in a van such a great experience?
I think it’s the friends you make. While I live in my van alone, I am rarely alone. Sometimes it’s hard to get rid of friends and actually spend time on your own. But I love the connections I am making. They make these memories so much sweeter.
Also seeing my dog enjoy all the places we go and the things we get to do makes me so happy.
Nothing is perfect – what´s the down side of vanlife?
The shower thing is pretty hard. We try not to seem like smelly hippies who live in vans but without showers that makes it a little less convincing.
The breakdowns aren’t great either. I just had to spend $1400 on my van’s engine.
What tips would you give new vanlifers?
The first weeks are the hardest. Any change is hard, you are changing every habit you had for new ones. Keep going, but also remember you can always change your mind if it doesn’t work. I told myself, this could be six months or three years, but I have to love it.
Do you sometimes make new friends on the road/meet other vanlifers?
All the time! The west coast is one of the best places to explore and live in a van. There are so many vanlifers everywhere. The town I am in now is a lot of my friend’s home base, and it is now mine, so I am always running into them and making plans for trips.
Thank you for the fun interview Jessie! One last question: What are your future plans when it comes to traveling/living in your van?
I am planning on getting a small RV early next year, because I don’t have an end date for this. I love living and traveling so I want to be more comfortable. Being able to stand is a big priority for long-term van living, and I would also like a separate seating area to work or host friends. My dog is growing fast too, so the space is necessary. The next ideal rig is a Toyota Sunrader!
If you want to see more of Jessie and her adventures check out her Instagram: @sandsunsaltwater