I first met Sarah Meg at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). She came to the initial organizing meeting at the RTArt Camp and immediately made herself useful by donating materials and offering to teach classes. We met up again during the summer in the Sequoia National Forest during a Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering she hosted.
In this interview, Sarah Meg talks about downsizing, the benefits of having a minivan for a rig, and why she was drawn to a life as a nomad.
Rubber Tramp Artist: So Sarah Meg, how long have you been on the road?
Sarah Meg: I’ve been a full-time nomad in a minivan, that I converted into a mini RV, for about a year now. Before that I was a full-time van/RV dweller, and a part-time nomad for two and a half years. I’ve been a part-time van or vehicle dweller and part-time nomad since 2001 when I got my first vehicle.
RTA: Now you’re in a minivan. Why did you decide to live and travel in a minivan instead of a full-size cargo or conversion van or some of the other things you lived in before?
SM: The van was free. [Laughter] I probably would have chosen a slightly larger van, one that I could stand up in if I had purchased it myself, but this van was free, so I figured why not try it?
When my mother died, this van was up for grabs, and so I decided to take the opportunity to try it out and make it into a tiny little home.
RTA: Does living in your mom’s minivan make you miss your mom and [feel] sad or does it make you feel close to your mom?
SM: It’s kind of cool. It’s almost like my mom’s coming along with me on my travels, and this van is the first vehicle I’ve been a full-time traveler in. Before that I was only a part-time traveler even though I was living in an RV and before that in a station wagon, and I wasn’t leaving my county where I’m from very often. I would go on trips that were about four to six months long each year where I would travel out of the area where I am from, but the majority of the year I was staying in campgrounds or in people’s driveways in the county where I’m from.
To be honest, I didn’t even know you could go full-time and not have a home base that you stayed at frequently until like a year and a half ago. As soon as I realized it was totally acceptable and normal to be completely nomadic, I did it.
RTA: So what’s the make and model of your minivan?
SM: It is a Toyota Sienna.
RTA: Is there anything in particular you like about this make and model?
SM: Supposedly, it’s the biggest minivan on the market. I don’t know if that’s true or not. All I know is I can keep one of the back seats in and up to use for sitting in and still have a bed that is 30 inches wide and six feet long.
RTA: So you have a single bed?
SM: Yeah. It’s a couple inches narrower than a regular twin bed, but it’s the same length as a regular [twin] bed.
RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in your van?
SM: Almost everything. I have a small spot in my aunt’s garage that I have a few boxes in, and I also have the middle seats that I took out of the van [which are stored there] as well.
RTA: When I met you, you had a storage compartment on top of your van and now you don’t. Why’d you get rid of it?
SM: I had way too much stuff. I was probably about 2,000 pounds over payload because I had so many things jammed everywhere in the van. I had so much stuff in the cargo topper. I realized that I didn’t need all that stuff, and that that stuff was quite literally weighing me down and making it difficult for me to get all the places I wanted to go. I drove around with that much stuff for about six months, and then I met someone who was an ultra-minimalist who also lived in the same kind of van as I do , and she encouraged me to get rid of a few things. So I got rid of about maybe 60% of what I owned, and I’ve been very, very grateful that I was willing to do that; because it’s a lot easier to travel and to live in a van if you have less things.
RTA: You felt like purging your belongings was liberating vs. feeling deprived? Would you say that?
SM: I think it was probably both. I didn’t realize that it was going to be liberating until I got rid of the stuff. I thought it was going to make me feel deprived, I thought it was going to make me feel like I didn’t have enough, and it wasn’t until I got rid of everything and lived without those things for about a month that I realized it was much more freeing to have less.
RTA: Do you think your van is still overweight or is it where it should be?
SM: I don’t know if my van is still overweight. I did get rid of a few more things this week so I’m assuming it’s probably under payload now. I’m hoping so because I’m not planning on getting rid of anything else.
RTA: What kind of things did you get rid of?
SM: Oh, so many art supplies. When my mom died, I inherited all her art supplies, and I tried to bring all of them with me when I left. Probably not the best idea. So I got rid of a lot of art supplies.
I got rid of a lot of just random things. There [were] a lot of things I really thought that I would need on the road that I never used. I probably had like six camp stoves, so now I have three, which is good because, you know, you need more than one, but you don’t need six. I had I think three shovels. You don’t need three shovels. You need one. So it was just stuff like that where I just had too many of each thing. My camping equipment, I had so many backups and then more backups for my backups, and that’s stupid.
RTA: How’d you decide which item of several similar ones to keep?
SM: I just picked the smallest one.
RTA: Oh, that’s a good plan.
RTA: Can you tell me more about your bed setup? How you got where you are today , how you decided on the size?
SM : I knew I wanted a bed that was as long as a regular bed because I like to stretch out as far as I can. I’m not very tall, but I still wanted a regular length for my bed. The width was determined by the fact that I wanted to keep one of the seats in the back. The seats in the Toyota Sienna , the back right seat, it reclines. So it would be like having a recliner in my tiny little van house. My bed width was entirely determined by whether or not I could keep the back seat. I measured it, and it was exactly 30 inches between the wall of the van and the seat that I left, so I made my bed 30 inches wide. I built it with a piece of plywood and some 4” x 4”s because I wanted to make sure it was sturdy.
Before I built that bed, I tried an Army cot, but it was too tall, so I couldn’t sit up all the way, and I was crouching on top of the bed. Even though I had a chair in there, if it was raining and someone came over to visit me, then there was nowhere that we could all sit down. Now I can fit-if I put a stool in there too—I can fit four people on a rainy day inside my tiny little van. I can have company.
RTA: Do you have a mattress or memory foam?
SM: I have a memory foam mattress from Wal-Mart from the kids’ department. It’s the one that goes on a bunk bed. The best way to explain it is if you ever went to camp, and those foam mattresses that were on the bunk beds at camp, that’s what it is.
RTA: Do you have storage under the bed?
Sm: Yes I do. I have some old drawers that were from a [plastic] drawer set. I just took them out of the framework of the drawer set, and I used them underneath the bed for storage. They have little handles, so I just pull the handle [to pull them out].
RTA: Oh, that’s clever.
RTA: Do you have a kitchen in your van?
SM: I cook outside. If it’s raining I have a small little stool I can put a small stove on top of it and cook inside the van, but normally, if it’s raining I just eat things that don’t need cooking or I go out to eat.
RTA: Is that why you have three stoves? One little one for indoor cooking and then an outdoor stove?
SM: Yeah so one looks like an actual burner from inside of a house; it’s one of those butane stoves and I love it because it will simmer. My other stoves don’t simmer very well. Then I have a small backpacking stove that I can use inside the van if it’s a cold, rainy day. Then I also got an Ohuhu stove because I thought they were so cool. I figured if I ever ran out of fuel, and I couldn’t get somewhere, at least I could build a tiny fire. So the Ohuhu stove is just a small, metal wood-burning stove that you can cook on.
RTA: So you used to live in an RV. Do you ever miss living in a big rig?
SM: I miss living in it, but I do not miss taking care of it or driving it around or paying for the repairs on it. But I do miss living in it. I miss having basically the size of a house or an apartment- it was almost as big as my apartment that I had moved out of. It was large, and it was nice having all that space, but to be honest, I didn’t use all the space, and I don’t know why I need two double beds and two twin beds if I’m only one person. It was obviously too much space, but I sometimes miss having a place where I can stand up inside and walk around inside.
I did recently build a 6’x10’ structure out of PVC pipe and shade cloth, but since the shade cloth has tiny holes in it I would get wet in there if it rained. But it is very nice to be able to stand up all the way and walk around inside something. It is great for shade and having people over to visit.
RTA: What do you think is the best part of living in a minivan?
SM: Being able to go anywhere and always have your house with you. With a bigger rig, you’re not necessarily going to drive it into town to just go and get something. When I had my bigger rig, I also had a small car that I would tow behind; it was nearly 40 feet long in total. It was very hard to get anywhere in that thing so I am immensely grateful for my little van home now. I’m also really bad at packing my bag in the morning to know what I need, so it’s really nice to have almost everything I own with me wherever I go. It makes me feel like the ultimate Girl Scout or like my friend Jan says, my van is the Mary Poppins bag, I have everything with me all the time.
RTA: What do you think is the worst part of living in a minivan?
SM: I can’t stand up! I can’t stand up inside the van, and that really sucks to me. It bothers me so much. I used to not be able to walk very well and I had to use a wheelchair, and so now it’s really important to me to be able to stand up and walk now that I can. Not being able to stand up in my own home just feels very restricting. That’s one of the main reasons I built the shade structure.
RTA: Is there anything else about your life as a nomad that you want to share?
SM: I just want to say that I think the reason I was drawn to this life is because I’ve always just been obsessed with camping and I’ve been obsessed with being in nature. When I found out that you could camp every single day of your life and no one was going to give you shit for it, and in fact you could make a nice Instagram out of it, and put #vanlife and everybody was going to think you were cool, when I found out this was a lifestyle choice, this was normal, that I was not crazy for thinking that I wanted to camp every single day of my life, and that it didn’t make me homeless or a bum, then I just wanted to do it all the time.
I’m really grateful there were people out there on YouTube, on the internet, and people I met while traveling who told me, “Hey this can be done all the time.” It wasn’t just the druggies and the dropouts, it was all kinds of people who were out here on the road. Knowing that I wasn’t completely an oddball and that I was normal, at least within the van dwelling community, that gave me the courage to live how I really wanted to live and not allow society’s expectations to hold me back from being full-time as a nomad.
With Sarah Meg’s permission, this interview was edited for clarity and length. After the interview was transcribed, Sarah Meg sent me changes via email.
I took all the photos in this post.