Tag Archives: living in a van

Very Happy That We Did It (an Interview with Ryan and Samantha of Gone Vananas)

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Split, the Gone Vananas van

I met Ryan and Samantha (and their cute little doggie friend Mickey) of the Gone Vananas vlog when we worked together in a remote National Forest campground. I could tell almost immediately after meeting them that they were both hard workers serious about doing a good job. As the weeks of our employment passed, I also found them to be funny, kind, smart, and generous. They had been vandwellers for just shy of one year when I sat down with them to talk about choosing a rig, getting along in close quarters, what they miss about their old life, and what they love about their new one.

Rubber Tramp Artist: Whose idea was it to hit the road?

Ryan: I think it started with me. I had a conversation with my best friend about a co-worker of his that decided to quit his job and sell all of his stuff and move into a van and then go do chairlift work out in Colorado since he was a big snowboarder. That got the gears turning for me. I started doing all kinds of research on how that would look for us, what kind of van I could possibly build. Once I had enough information, I approached Samantha about it to see what her take was on it.

RTA: [to Samantha] How long did it take him to convince you?

Samantha: Oh, not long. [Laughs] I’ve lived like a nomad most of my life. I’m 32, and the van is my 35th home.

RTA: Wow!

Samantha: No question. Ready to go! Let’s do it!

RTA: What’s the make and model of your rig?

Ryan: It’s a 2016 Ram Promaster 3500 extended. It’s the biggest one that they make.

RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a typical cargo or conversion van or a minivan or a big motorhome?

This is the independent bathroom Ryan wanted.

Ryan: My grandfather is retired Chrysler, so we got his employee discount on this brand, which helped a lot. I wanted something that had enough room to comfortably live two people, and I’m 6’2” so the ability to stand up in it was really important to me. I also wanted an independent bathroom. When I added all these things up, and looked at the dimensions of all the vans that were out there, this one made the most sense.

RTA: Why a van rather than a motorhome? Was it primarily because of the discount that you were able to get?

Ryan: The primary reason was I wanted to build a rig that was stealthy and easy to maneuver in normal parking spaces and normal roads and situations. I considered a school bus conversion for only a short while. The cons of that—not being able to stealthy camp in a neighborhood and limited parking spaces—kind of shot that down for us. We wanted to camp for free essentially everywhere just by camouflaging ourselves in normal areas.

RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up when you left your conventional life behind?

Samantha: The kitchen and its gadgetry. I’m a baker. I like to bake, and I like to spread out and will make a couple

The full kitchen in Samantha and Ryan’s van. Sink. Check. Stove. Check. Oven! Check. Refrigerator. Check.

hundred dozen cookies come the holiday season. That was tricky, but Ryan was able to give me a full kitchen. I can basically do everything in there that I can in a real kitchen, with much less space.

Ryan: In smaller amounts

Samantha: [Laughs] Yes.

RTA: And so what about for you, Ryan?

Ryan: I have to say, I was really fond of my muscle car. It was my project car. It was kind of my baby. I loved having that, but at the end of the day, it was just a thing. I didn’t mind selling it because I really value traveling and experiences over stuff. It was kind of just going through the motions of being upset about it when I sold it.

RTA: What kind of car was it?

Ryan: It was a 2014 Dodge Challenger that I put a lot of time and effort and money into making it my own and looking really nice. [Chuckles] It only had 8,000 miles when I sold it.

RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t spend one more minute in the van with the other person?

Ryan and Samantha at the same time: No

Samantha: Never

RTA: Wow! That’s awesome.

[Laughter from everyone]

RTA: My next question was going to be, “How do you remedy that situation?” but…

Ryan: We’ve spent every day together since…

Samantha: Yeah. Just shy of a year?

Ryan: Yeah.

Samantha: We’re coming up on a year in the van.

RTA: Wow!

View of the kitchen from outside the back of the van. You can see a sliver of the restroom on the far right of the photo.

RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.

Ryan [to Samantha]: You wanna start?

Samantha [to Ryan]: No. You start.

Ryan: Well, I would say one, Samantha is, I guess, what they would call a low-maintenance girl. [Laughs]  She definitely isn’t very needy. She doesn’t have to have all the big, expensive stuff and house and car and all that things that…you’d hear other people need. She’s very go-with-the-flow. I guess that would be another one. Not a lot rattles her. She’s adaptable. She basically will get along with any situation. She won’t freak out if…things are going a little bit south or we don’t have a plan or something isn’t going the right way. It’s kind of tough to rattle her. Those are important things, I think.

Samantha: Ryan is very well organized and always has…some kind of plan. He knows where we’re going or what we’re doing or how we’re going to get there. [Laughs] And he is good about keeping us in minimalism. If it doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t get to come on the road with us, it’s got to have a place to go in the van. [He is] keeping us from acquiring too much more other than necessities…Also he is very handy. If something goes wrong he figures it out very quickly and fixes it. So far we haven’t had too much trouble, but the few things that we’ve come across, he’s figured it out and knew what to do and what he needed to do it and got it done right away.

Ryan: A lot of repairs in the Home Depot parking lot.

[Laughter]

RTA: So y’all are quite a bit younger than many other rubber tramps. What do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your 30s?

Ryan: We have talked a lot about that. It’s been a fluid plan as far as maybe tweaks and changes here and there. The main part has been we would like to purchase land. Where that is necessarily has changed. Right now we are considering Southern Oregon. We would like to have around 10 acres, maybe build a tiny house on a trailer, have a workshop and also a garden and a homestead and off-grid power. We kind of want a self-contained little area that we can call home when we don’t feel like traveling anymore and have a little bit of space of our own to sort of spread out.

Does that include working too?

I stood in the kitchen to take this photo of the front of the van. A door between the cab and the living area can be closed for privacy. Bedding is stashed in the area above the wall during the day when the bed converts into a sofa.

RTA: Sure! I would love to hear what your plans for work are.

Ryan: Right now I am trying to educate myself in coding and web development. It’s pretty much the ultimate way to make money on the road. I have no experience with it, but I’m learning right now the best way that I can go about accquiring the right skills in order to make a decent living while traveling whenever we would like.

Samantha: I currently make jewelry and sell it on Etsy, and [I’m] working to maybe expand that from jewelry into something else, maybe even like van-esque accessories…different storage option type upholstery items, potentially.

Ryan: It’s definitely a work in progress right now.

Samantha: Yeah.

Ryan: We don’t have a clear, defined future as to what we’re doing. We’re kind of living moment to moment. But in reality, that’s what we signed up for. That’s what we wanted. We spent the last decade of our lives in such a rigid, structured type of life that it kind of turned us off to it. We knew what we were doing every day, and it was the same thing every day, so this [living moment to moment] is kind of the intended experience that we wanted. We’ll figure it out.

RTA: So y’all travel with a little guy named Mickey.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: Tell me about Mickey. How did he take to the road?

Mickey the cute doggie companion

Samantha: Surprisingly well. Mickey even before we decided to go for van life, is a pretty well-traveled dog. He’s flown a few times, drove across the country with me. But he is a very relaxed dog, especially for his breed. He’s a Boston Terrier. But he’s just happy when he’s with us. As long as he’s with us, he’s pretty much content.

Ryan: [Sound of agreement]

Samantha: And he’s got his little space between the captain’s chairs [in the front] and he pretty much sleeps there 98% of the time when we’re on the road.

Ryan: He has a modified Temperpedic mattress for his bed.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: [Laughs]

Ryan: Someone was throwing one away, and we just cut a piece off of it.

Samantha: Yep.

Ryan:  and made him one.

Samantha: He’s going on eight years old. He’s a bit of an older boy, so he’s pretty relaxed. He doesn’t hike, he doesn’t [laughs] do much of anything except sleep and look cute.

Ryan: He walks a half mile and plops.

RTA: [Laughs] Do y’all plan to expand your van family by having kids?

Ryan: Nope!

Samantha: No.

RTA: [Giggles] OK!

[Everyone laughs]

Samantha: There will be four-legged children in our life, I’m sure, for many years to come, but that will probably be it.

Ryan: It was something we talked about not doing before we even started this lifestyle.

RTA: What would each of you say is the best part of your life on the road?

Samantha: To wake up wherever we want.

Ryan: There is no putting a price on true freedom, in my opinion. The ability to just be wherever you want, whenever you want…I’ve never felt anything like it. I don’t want to give it up.

Samantha: Nope. Not for anything.

RTA: Is there anything else either of you want to add?

Ryan: One thing I just want to add is that I had and Sam[antha] had no experience building anything or having any idea what we were doing when we started this, and we created something that we are so extremely proud of. You can see when other people see it how astonished they are about what we built. It’s just, I think, the ultimate example of if you want something so bad, and you actually care about doing it, then you will create something beyond your wildest dreams, something you didn’t even think you could possibly do. I’m just very happy that we did it and didn’t actually listen to other people that thought we were crazy for wanting to do it. If you really want something, you can absolutely do it as long as you care the most out of everyone else.

Samantha: Yep.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

On Homelessness

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It happened again.

I was part of a small group sitting around a kitchen table, drinking tea and conversing. One woman was being quite difficult. She was older than I am by about 20 years and tried to dominate the conversation, no matter the topic. She tried to present herself as an authority on New Orleans because as a teenager, she’d lived for some time in a town 25 miles away. Even though I lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade and her feet hadn’t touched the city’s soil in over forty years, she wanted to present herself as the expert.

The five of us in the room talked about where we’d grown up. I talked about my job as a camp host. The difficult woman asked me, Where do you live now?

I  answered in a perfectly cheerful way, I live in my van.

I saw the panic on her face and heard it in her voice when she asked, But where do you live?

I said again, I live in my van, then went on to explain I don’t have a sticks and bricks house waiting anywhere for me.

I could tell she felt pity for me, which is not what I expected from her, since I knew she lives in a 5th wheel with multiple cats.

I think the woman was worried about me because she is worried about herself.

Later in the conversation around the table, the woman admitted she’s not entirely happy about living in the 5th wheel. She doesn’t see the 5th wheel or its current location as the home she wants for the rest of her life. She want’s something bigger, something “better,” something different. I suspect she wondered how I could be happy living in a van if she’s not quite happy where she lives.

As the five of us stood up to say good-bye before parting, the difficult woman singled me out and hurriedly told me in a voice barely above a whisper how some years back she lived in her car with her dog. I could tell this part of her history was not something she remembered fondly or spoke of proudly.

I assured her many people have lived or currently live in a vehicle. I wanted her to know that living in a vehicle is not as weird as she’d convinced herself it is.

I refuse to be ashamed for living in my van, I told her.

I hope she will let go of her shame too, because if isn’t doing her any good.

I told her I don’t know if I could ever go back to living in a conventional home, as I now find the thought of paying rent for a house or an apartment offensive.

Sometimes I’m glad I can be an example of a woman living a good life while housed in her van. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel as if I have to explain my existence to every curious or worried person who crosses my path. On the day with the difficult woman, I felt something in between. I hadn’t expected or wanted to talk with someone who was shocked by the way I live, but I did enjoy disabusing her of some of the notions she seemed to be holding about people who live in vehicles.

Knock in the Night

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I’ve been living and traveling alone in my van since the Fall of 2012. I’ve been through at least ten states and have stayed in cities and on public land. On only two occasions has anyone bothered me while I was sleeping. Once it was a cop harassing me and the other time–well, I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about.

I was staying at a free National Forest campground in Northern New Mexico. I’d stayed there before. It was basically primitive camping, but there were a couple of pit toilets there. I liked the place, mostly because there was no charge to stay, but also because it was next to a river, lots of tall trees grew there, and the temperature was cool.

I arrived late in the afternoon of the night in question. I’d been selling jewelry and shiny rocks all day. I was tired. I wanted to eat dinner, then crawl into my bed with a book, probably go to sleep early. I was scheduled to sell jewelry and shiny rocks the next day, so I planned to get moving early.

When I’d pulled into the campground, I’d found the most desirable spots close to the pit toilets had been claimed. I looked around until I found a spot to park the van farther out. There was a tent pitched in the general area, but I gave it plenty of space.

I went about my business of cooking and eating dinner. While I was outside, I saw at least one large dog and several young men around the other tent. A small pickup truck arrived, then left. I kept to myself, didn’t try to make conversation, but I noticed it wasn’t a family camping over there. I saw no children, no mother figure, just guys.

When the sky darkened, I got in the van, locked the doors, and closed the curtains. I read my book, then turned out my light. The night was going according to plan.

Suddenly I was jolted awake by knocking on the van’s exterior. It took me a moment to figure out where I was and what was happening. I’m in my van, I remembered. I’m parked next to the river.

The knocking came again.

Who is it? I yelled. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded grumpy and gruff.

The side windows were open to let in the cool night air, so apparently my voice was audible. I didn’t even move a curtain to peek outside, much less open the door.

A male voice outside the van identified itself as one of the neighbor campers. If their vehicle needed a jump start in the morning, would I help them out?

What the fuck? I was thinking. Who knocks on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night to ask for a jump start if the situation is not a full-blown emergency? Apparently this guy.

Sure, I told the guy, if you need a jump in the morning, I’ll help you out if I’m around.

I knew good and well that I planned to be out of there early. I’d likely be gone before the sun was up.

The guy seemed to wander away (I wasn’t trying to peep out the windows), but now I was wide awake. (If you’ve ever felt the burst of adrenaline that comes with waking from a deep sleep to the tune of someone knocking on your van, you know it’s not easy to drift off after.) I started wondering what was really going on. Why had the guy really knocked? He must have suspected I was asleep since it was the middle of the night (around 2am when I switched on my light to look at my watch), and there hadn’t been a single light on in the van.

As I lay there wondering if I were safe, wondering if the man would come back, I tried to remember the vehicle situation at the nearby camp. I didn’t remember seeing a vehicle parked near the tent when I arrived. I did remember the small pickup  pulling in, but I was mostly sure it had left. I hadn’t heard another vehicle arrive after dark, but I could have conceivably slept through a car or small truck’s arrival. Could I have slept through the noise of someone discovering a dead battery, discussing the situation with others? Maybe. But I was almost certain the man had asked for my help if the battery were dead. Did he not even know the status of the battery when he asked for my help?

I finally slept again for a few hours more. I woke early, but didn’t get out of the van. When I looked out of the windows, no one seemed to be moving on the other campsite. As I maneuvered my van out of my spot, the van’s engine noise awakened the large dog who barked and barked and barked. I felt satisfaction that perhaps the dogs’ barking would awaken the guy who’d disturbed my slumber.

As I left the camping area, I looked around for a vehicle that belonged to the nearby campsite. I didn’t see any vehicles–not a car, not a truck, not a motorcycle or even a bike. Did a vehicle start and leave sometime after the man knocked on my van? Maybe. But I doubt I would have slept through any noise after the knocking interrupted my sleep and shot adrenaline through my body.

I’ve often wondered what was really going on that night. I don’t think those guys had a vehicle at all, much less one that maybe had a dead battery. As I said before, barring a complete emergency, good manners and common sense dictate that one does not knock on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night.

I think the man just wanted to know what I would do if he knocked on my van in the wee hours. Maybe he’d acted alone. Maybe the other man had dared him to knock. Maybe they were drunk. Maybe he was hoping I’d open the door or step of the van so he could what? Rob me? Rape me? Did he just want to know if I’d agree to help? Did the men not want a camping neighbor and were hoping to scare me off?

I suppose I’ll never know what the intentions were that night, but I’m glad there was nothing scarier that night than a knock in the dark.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.

My Shower System

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Last summer, I spent a lot of time and money to stay clean. (Maybe I should say “cleanish” since I was only showering once a week.) I drove a minimum of thirteen miles (and sometimes as many as 73 miles) to shower. I paid a minimum of $10 (but usually $12) to shower, plus all the gas it took me to get to a place where I could clean up. I decided I had to find a better (or at least cheaper, closer) way to get clean this summer.

Zodi Outback Gear Hot Tap Travel Shower
I looked into a Zodi shower system after meeting a man last summer who told me how much he liked his. The Zodi has two components: a heating coil powered by propane (specifically, one of those small, green canisters) and a pump powered by D batteries. Cold water passes over the heating element and becomes hot (or at least warm) and the pump squirts water out, if not with as much force as a conventional shower head, at least in a gentle stream.

The Zodi seemed like a good way to go, but the $150 price tag was more than I could afford when it came time to buy supplies for the summer. On top of the cost of the Zodi, I also needed a privacy tent, the cost of which would increase my investment. I started researching other methods.

I knew I wanted something more complex than baby wipes. I used wipes last summer for in-between cleanup (and I use them for the same purpose now), but wipes just aren’t enough. I get dirty as a camp host (especially my legs, even though I wear long pants), and swipes with wipes don’t get me nearly clean enough.

I didn’t think one of those solar shower bags was going to work for me either. Most of them hold five gallons of water, which is 40 pounds. Too heavy. How am I going to carry that, much less hang it? I know I could buy a smaller one or fill a large one only partially full, but I was also concerned the plastic would suffer a puncture or come apart at the seams. Also, a shower bag needs to hang, and none of the trees on my campsite have branches at an appropriate height. I wasn’t convinced a solar shower bag would work, and I didn’t want to pay to experiment with one.

In a Facebook group I was in, a woman mentioned using a garden sprayer as a shower. When questioned, she admitted she used hers while wearing a bathing suit, out in the open, just to rinse off after hiking. But I thought I could use a similar sprayer to take a soap and water shower.

I went to Wal-Mart and poked around in the garden department. There were several sprayers to chose from. While these sprayers are intended to be used to spray a variety of pesticides, they’re sold empty, not contaminated with killer chemicals. (I don’t recommend using a sprayer that’s had killer chemicals in it.)

The sprayers I saw held either one or two gallons of water. I chose a larger one because I was concerned one gallon of water would not be enough for my cleaning need, although one gallon has proven to be plenty. I wish I had gotten the smaller one. The water in the container doesn’t get nearly as warm as does the water in one gallon plastic water jugs. Also, the less full the container is, the more pumping it takes to pressurize it.

In any case, the sprayer I bought (according to http://www.walmart.com/ip/13376325?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=0&adid=22222222227008776090&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl3=41079622592&wl4=pla-60819427766&wl5=9031687&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=8175035&wl11=online&wl12=13376325&wl13=&veh=sem, it’s the RL Flo-Master Sprayer) cost under $15. (The aforementioned website lists the price as $13.86.) There may have been a one-gallon size that cost slightly less.

This is my shower sprayer. The handle doubles as the pump.

This photo shows my shower sprayer. The handle doubles as the pump.

Since the sprayer works through pressurization, the handle also serves as a pump. After 30 to 40 pumps, the water comes out of the nozzle in a pretty good stream, not nearly as strong as water coming out of a shower head, but strong enough to rinse soap from my body.

The second piece of equipment I wanted to buy was a privacy tent. I wanted to take full-on, soapy, naked showers, not just rinse around a bathing suit. Since I figured neither my campers nor the company I work for would want me frolicking au naturel in public, I decided I needed a privacy tent.

I researched a lot of privacy tents and read many online reviews before I settled on something. The cheap ones seemed to be poorly made. (No surprise there.) I certainly didn’t want something that ripped the first time I zipped it, even if I hadn’t paid much for it. A ripped tent is a worthless tent, even if it didn’t involve much out-of-pocket expense.

I bought a Field and Stream brand privacy tent, partially because it got good reviews and partially because I was able to buy it at a chain sporting goods store in the city where I picked up the last of my supplies before I went into the forest. I paid $64.49 for it (including tax). As of mid August (after setting it up in early June), the tent is doing great, with no rips or broken zipper.

This photo shows my Field and Stream brand privacy tent.

This photo shows my Field and Stream brand privacy tent.

(Note: Nearly every review I read mentioned that while this sort of tent is super easy to set up, getting it back into a flat circle in order to return it to its carry bag is usually an ordeal. I’m not eager for the day I have to take down the tent.)

I also purchased a cheap bathmat to stand on when I’m showering, since the privacy tent doesn’t have a floor. I wear shower shoes while I’m cleaning up, so I could do without the bathmat.

My shower system isn’t complicated. In the morning of the day I want to take a shower, I carry the sprayer ( with whatever water is left in it from my last shower) and two or three plastic jugs filled with water out to the meadow. I set the water containers in a spot that will get sun for the next several hours.

After I finish my work for the day, I carry the containers of water back to my campsite. I’ve found it works best if I add one gallon of the warm water to the

This photo shows my jugs of water sitting in the meadow, warming in the sun.

This photo shows my jugs of water sitting in the meadow, warming in the sun.

sprayer reservoir, since the water in there stays cooler than the water in the other jugs. I place all my wash water in the privacy tent. I also place soap, shampoo, the wonderful microfiber towel my host family gave me, and a house dress in the pockets in the tent.

I get into the tent and zip the door mostly closed. As I take my clothes off, I toss them out of the tent, onto a chair I’v placed nearby for this purpose. Then I zip the door completely.

I start from my top and wash down. First I pour water from a gallon jug over my head to wet my hair. (Depending on how hot the day’s been, sometimes the water is as warm as what comes from a hot water tap.) Then I lather my hair with shampoo and use more water from the jug to rinse.

Washing my hair leaves the rest of me adequately wet. I wet a washcloth with water from one of the plastic jugs, then pour some Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap onto the cloth. When I finish scrubbing one area of my body, I use the sprayer to rinse off the soap, pumping as necessary to build up pressure so I get a strong, steady stream of water. If I find a body part is no longer wet enough, I use the sprayer to squirt some water on myself.

My system would work best for someone who can set up a privacy tent where it won’t be blown away by heavy winds. It may not work very well for someone who’s changing locations a lot, although folding the privacy tent may get easier with practice. Also, one review I read indicated the owner of the privacy tent had been told s/he couldn’t shower on his her campsite because it was going to leave a soggy mess for the next campers; different locations will have different rules. I don’t think it would be a problem while boondocking on BLM land in the Southwest.

While I am happy with my shower system, I think I could have gotten along without the sprayer and just used a couple of gallons of water in jugs to clean with. In any case, it’s nice to be clean more than once a week. Of course, it’s also great not to have to spend a bunch of money to get that way.