• Hilary Bird

Vanlife Backstory: ManWithVanPlans

Hi everyone! My name is Jon and sometimes I live in a van! About a year and a half ago I made the decision to quit my job, buy a van, convert it into a home that moves, and travel around the states. Well, the decision was made even farther back, but it included another year of working and saving before turning in my notice. I had a really good job and worked with people I truly loved, which is what kept me there for 11 years. But I didn’t enjoy the work or the industry. So I left. It was by far the hardest decision I have made in my life.



I set my initial timeline for a year of self-unemployment, but I added on another 8 months after I hit that mark and had not run out of money. As I write this I have been on my “vancation” for 16 months! But unlike many vanlifers, I don’t stay out on the road full time. I have an amazing partner (Ashley) and two pups (Ruxin and Taco) at home that I can’t stay away from too long. I know what you are thinking and it’s probably the question I get asked the most: “So your girlfriend is cool with you quitting your job and driving around in a van for a year while she stays home and works?” And I reply, “Yeah, she is really cool!” That’s why we have been together for 11 years! The pups, on the other hand, are less understanding. My trips have been as short as 1 week and as long as 9 weeks. After a trip I’ll hang out at home for a week or two, plan the next one, and then head out!

One of the first things to figure out when you get into this lifestyle is the type of van to buy; I kept going back and forth on what I wanted, but finally ended up getting a 2002 Chevy Express. His name is Billy-Bob, like the character in Varsity Blues because he is pretty slow, drinks too much (gas), is not in tip-top shape, and is hard to stop once he gets going. I did the conversion myself with the help of YouTube and the blogs of other vanlifers, and I was surprised how simple the majority of it was. Cutting a hole in the roof for the ventilation fan had me nervous af! But after it was done I thought, “Well that was easy!” So if you are reading this and thinking you can’t do it...I bet you can! And if you mess up, just set it on fire and start over.

Once I got on the road I absolutely fell in love with this form of travel. There is so much freedom; you go where you want, stay as long as you want, meet new people, explore parks, lakes, rivers, mountains, cities, oceans. Sleep under the stars or under a Walmart parking lot light. Eat the local cuisine or cereal three time a day. Hike all day long or take a nap in the hammock. Wander around a museum or break into an abandoned mental hospital. Read a book in bed or belt out some Whitney on a drive...basically just go with the flow and do whatever you want to do when you want to do it!

People have LOTS of questions when I first tell them my story. I mentioned the most common one already, but here are some other answers and I will let you play Jeopardy to figure out what the questions were:

  1. Rivers, Lakes, bucket of water, or Planet Fitness.

  2. By far, the PNW! (Which is where I met the lovely vanlifer who run this blog)

  3. No.

  4. Yes.

  5. It’s uniqueness and that I don’t have to worry about scratches/door dings because they are already there.

  6. I would get a van that I could stand up in.

  7. Wherever I want when I am in the wilderness and in an empty Stok Cold Brew bottle when I’m in the city. And sometimes you have to just dig a hole.

  8. Arizona in the winter. I can’t wait!!!

  9. I have no idea. Making a living is easy, it’s making it while doing something you truly enjoy that can be hard.

  10. Ashley, Ruxin, and Taco.

How did you do? Here are the questions in order: How do you shower? Favorite place you have been? Do you get scared sleeping in strange places? Do you ever get lonely? What do you like most about your van? What would you do different in your next van build? Where do you go to the bathroom? Where are you most excited to go next? What are you going to do for work when you go back? What do you miss most about non-vanlife?

This lifestyle is not for everyone; you give up a lot of comforts no matter how pimped out your van is. There are definitely things you will learn along the way about life and yourself. Like anything adventurous, it can be scary. But...cheesy line alert...the juice is worth the squeeze!

I hope you enjoyed my story! I love meeting new people and talking about all things travel. If you are ever where I am when I am there and you want to meet for a hike or trespass together somewhere, hit me up on the gram @manwithvanplans. Thanks for reading, now go outside.


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