Hi, I’m Hilary! After about seven years into my marketing career, I decided the 9-5 corporate lifestyle wasn’t for me. I had a deep-rooted feeling that I had more to explore about the world and myself. I quit my job, packed up my things, purchased a one-way ticket to Canada to pick up the van of my choice, then drove it back to the US and spent the next five months building it out. I had lots of help from my parents, and finally hit the road to live full-time van life this past May 2020! I’ve now been on the road for about four months, exploring the Pacific Northwest in the US.
What drew you to travel and live in a van?
I really love the element of the unknown. Whether that comes in the form of going on a hike and not knowing what’s around the trail corner, or living in a van and not knowing where I’m going to sleep that night…I like keeping things interesting! I’ve always loved traveling and have spent time in places like Spain, China, and Thailand…but they were all trips that eventually had to end. With van life, I don’t have to put an end on this trip. I already carry my home with me so I don’t have to “go back home” at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’d like nothing more than to be in a real home (in a real bed, with a real shower) but once I get those things, I like being able to appreciate them so much more, instead of taking them for granted.
What kind of van do you own and why did you choose this kind of van?
I own a 1999 Ford E250 that used to be a hotel shuttle bus! It was actually bought many years ago by another traveling couple that built it out to live in. Then, it was passed on to two more road travelers until it was sold to me. I originally bought it because it was inexpensive and already built-out. This was important because I wasn’t sure how hard I wanted to commit to van life; if I ended up not liking it, I didn’t want to spend all my savings on a really expensive van. I also wanted it built out because I didn’t want to build it out myself. But, after having my dad look at the van from a safety perspective, we ended up deciding to gut it and rebuild it out anyway. The build it came with was very minimal and not really suited for the lifestyle I wanted, and there were some safety concerns.
Is the interior made by yourself or did you get a carpenter?
Myself, with lots of help from my dad. We got most of our supplies from Home Depot, Craiglist, Facebook Marketplace or Lowe’s. I’m lucky in that my dad is an electrical engineer and talented woodworker and mechanic, so he helped me with every aspect of the van build.
How long did you work on your van until it was finished and ready to travel with?
Between taking it to the mechanic for some big fixes and building it out ourselves in the middle of cold New England winter, it took us about five months. My dad retired from his full-time job about two months into the build, which was great because then he had much more time to help me with the build.
Tell us your 3 most important camping gadgets of all time!
Whenever I’m camping, I love to cook, so my propane cooking stove is a critical gadget for me. I also have a portable power charging station that can charge my camera battery, cellphone and laptop. This is great when I’m camping for many days at a time and am taking lots of nature photogrpahy shots or if I have to hop online to do some remote work. Lastly, I’d say my heavy-duty collapsible camping shovel–never know when you need a good shovel! It can be used for digging holes for going to the bathroom, digging your van tires out if you’re stuck in snow or mud, clearing out fire pits…the uses are endless!
How do you earn money while traveling?
I have two part-time, remote digital marketing jobs. Both jobs came from old coworker connections so it’s been great to re-connect with them. I act as a freelancer and work about twenty hours a week, which is enough to help me save a little while I travel. It also allows me to not have to put a deadline on this van life adventure.
Which countries have you seen already with your Ford Econoline 250?
I have only explored the western US with my van so far…but it has lived quite a life before me! It spent a lot of time in Guatemala with the first traveling couple and stayed in Canada for a long time as well.
How long are you on the road already and do you live in your vehicle full time?
I have been on the road full-time for four months. Over those four months I have stayed at friends’ houses for a few days at a time, but never more than a week.
Some people prefer campsites for the night, others love free camping somewhere in the middle of nowhere. What do you prefer and why?
I’m proud to say I haven’t paid for a camp site yet. My view is that if I’m paying to stay somewhere, it needs to be a luxurious place like a nice hotel–not a crowded campground with noise and no views. Which, I typically find most campsites are crowded in the summer and lack privacy or scenery. I always prefer a free, dispersed camping area. That being said, free camping areas can be hard to find. If I’m in a pinch, I rely on hotel parking lots. They are not glamorous, but they’re relatively safe and private.
How do you shower?
I shower in a variety of ways. Sometimes I just jump into a river or lake, other times I use my solar shower bag and hang it off my back doors. Sometimes I use the shower at my gym or use a friend’s shower when I’m at their house.
What’s your experience when it comes to vanlife during Covid-19?
I started van life after a month of quarantine and have really only known van life during COVID-19. It definitely made things more difficult in general, but I like to think that I’ll be that much “stronger” on the road for it. For example, I was looking forward to making other van friends at van gatherings, but they have all been cancelled. I had also been relying on coffee shops for free wifi and gyms for showers. But for the first few months of van life, I had neither of those things. So I spent many hot afternoons sitting in my van in a Mcdonald’s parking lot because their free wifi was accessible from the parking lot. And I was showering a lot less, especially if I was in the city where there was no privacy for an outdoor shower. I’ve also run into closed campgrounds, national parks and public bathrooms. While none of these things has “ruined” a day for me, it just makes it more difficult and unpredictable.
What makes travelling and living in a van such a great experience?
For me, it’s the time you get with yourself. It’s a chance to strip away the layers of societal expectations and pressures and to gain a better understanding of what a happy life means to YOU. Yes, the scenic views are a massive perk. But I entered into this lifestyle hoping to gain a better understanding of how to stop standing in my own way of reaching my own goals. And when no one else is around, I can hold myself completely accountable for how I spend my time. Which is very eye-opening.
Nothing is perfect – what´s the down side of vanlife?
Loneliness can be a downside of vanlife. But again, when I’m feeling really lonely, I see it as a challenge to pull myself out of it. I try to think of who I could call or text, or do something productive like work out or go sight-seeing. But sometimes, it does just suck! Also, staying on top of messes is exhausting because even one dirty dish or dirty piece of clothing lying around can make the van feel messy. And when my van is messy, it’s hard for me to concentrate on things like work or other chores.
What tips would you give new vanlifers?
Save money! All the time! Sure vanlife can save you lots of money in the long-run, but this unpredictable lifestyle can sometimes lead to unexpected costs. I’d also say that when those lonely feelings and feelings of “what the hell am I doing with my life?” pop up, try to see them as a challenge to overcome rather than a downward spiral of negative energy. It’s incredibly empowering to learn how to be content with yourself. It’s still a process for me, but it’s getting better!
Do you sometimes make new friends on the road/meet other vanlifers?
Yep! I already knew some van lifers before hitting the road, and it’s been nice meeting up with them so I can see “how” van life meetups work. I have also used Instagram to meet up with other van lifers. And, I’ve made a few friends just from staying at random camp spots where they also happen to be. So far, everyone has been kind and welcoming.
What are your future plans when it comes to traveling/living in your van?
What are your future plans when it comes to traveling/living in your van?
I honestly have no idea…right now, I plan on being on the road for at least a year. I will go south when the weather gets cold. I think in the longterm even if I were to buy a house and have a family someday, I would want to keep van life a part of that. I know my desire for traveling and the unknown will never go away, so I’ll find a way to keep it there!
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