Van Life

7 years ago by

In the studio, we’re always getting inspired by awesome people doing incredible things. I suppose that’s one of the greatest gifts social media has given us – the ability to follow, and be inspired by, people all over the world pursuing their dreams. Our most recent source of inspiration (and borderline lifestyle envy) is a movement of people challenging traditional life by living in vans. That’s right – a home on wheels.

Whether it’s a part time gig, or a stationary trailer in an effort to simplify life, people all over the country (and world!) are making the move to go mobile – switching up their scenery, working, evolving, and creating along the way.

We connected with a handful of people that inspired us most to find out what drives them (no pun intended), what scares, challenges, and excites them.

Noel + Jonnie Russel | Part-time, Los Angeles
What is the make / model / year of your trailer? What were your thoughts when you first obtained it?
We travel in a 2006 dodge sprinter. It took us a while to convert to a Sprinter – as former owners of a VW pop-top camper van, we had poured a lot of soul into our former vehicle – but when we met this van, we immediately know she was the one.

How long have you been on the road? Do you have an end goal in site?
We have been van people for a couple years now. Although we aren’t full time vanlifers, we average about 150 nights a year spend in our van. Our goal is to one day live on the road full time – but for now, we are lucky to have jobs that we love, which keep us tethered to LA.

What has been the most rewarding part of living on the road?
Being able to enjoy our giant “backyard”. Life on the road requires us to live outside a lot. When we park someplace, we immediately roll out a woven mat and set up our chairs in front of our van door. It’s our “living room” – and the view is always marvelous. We eat outside, read outside, take our morning coffee and evening cocktail hour outside. We nap in our hammock and catch rays on the van rooftop. People often see vanlife as small living – but in fact, its quite the opposite – living in the wilderness is like living in a mansion. Except when it rains.

Van Life

What advice would you give to seekers of nomadic road life?
Give it a try. Learn as you go. 4 years ago I decided to leave a successful career in the fashion industry, because I wanted to help people struggling with homelessness. When I told my father that I was thinking of quitting my job, he said to me, “there’s one thing I’ve never heard anyone say on their deathbed – and that is: ‘man, I wish I didn’t take so many risks.'” Its become my mantra with every big decision facing me.

What inspires you during your life living in a van?
How lovely the mundane things in life truly are…Like eating breakfast as the sky changes from soft warm hues to bright clean blues. Like meeting people at the campsite next to you, sharing a glass of wine and hearing them share little gems of stories from their lives. Like getting warm by the fire, or huddling under piles of blankets until the day warms up enough for you to peek outside. I am inspired by what wet earth smells like in different parts of the southwest, and by the color of the soil, by what every day life looks like across our little corner of the country.

How has living on the road changed your relationship to others and to yourself?
I am increasingly hopeful. During our time on the road we are constantly encouraged by how wonderful complete strangers can be. One time we were parked at a campsite and one of our dogs ran over to greet the people setting up camp next to us…one of the campers stood there and pet my pup for nearly 5 minutes, then he leaned down and kissed her on the head. The love of the wild is unifying – and it calls us to be better versions of ourselves.

What’s one thing you hope people take away from following your journey?
That our wild places are sacred and should be cherished and preserved. Oh – and that adopting a rescue dog (or two) is basically the best thing that could happen to anyone, ever.

Where are you currently?
I am currently writing this in bed, in my van, parked about 30 feet from an 100 degree natural hot spring, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Life definitely could be worse…

Photos courtesy of Noel Russel

Amanda Sandlin | Part time, Denver
What is the make / model / year of your van? What were your thoughts when you first obtained it?
I have a ‘97 Toyota Previa, which I found on Craigslist. As soon as I caught a glimpse of that awkward little green spaceship-like minivan, I was sold.

How long were you on the road? Did you have an end goal in site?
I was on the road for six months. My goal was to make it through the summer (I started in May).

What were you doing before you went mobile? Was there any crazy life moment that made you realize this is what you wanted to do?
After returning to the States from living in New Zealand for a year, I had no idea where to be. My family and friends are scattered across the country, and I have no real sense of ‘home’. Since I work for myself, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Were you traveling alone? If so, were there any scary moments you encountered that kind of freaked you out?
Being a solo woman on the road was one of my greatest fears. That’s why I had to do it. My fears quickly subsided. I felt confident and capable and realized the world isn’t as scary as we sometimes make it out to be.

Can you tell us about a moment that was just hilarious or completely absurd?
Waking up in the van in Beverly Hills. And then having the cops called on me for making breakfast in front of someone’s mansion.

Was there ever a day where you woke up nervous or anxious about your van life? Have you ever questioned living small?
I wouldn’t say I was nervous much, but anxiety was definitely an issue. I often felt so lonely and directionless. If I go back out on the road next summer, I want to have more of a plan and travel slower.



How was your van life funded?
Through my art and graphic design business. I maintained a decent client list on the road and saved up a bit beforehand.

What advice would you give to seekers of nomadic road life?
Let go of any expectations. Understand it won’t be perfect. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Know the journey will be worth it.

What was the most rewarding part of living on the road?
For me, being on the road alone was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Instagram and the Internet make it look idyllic, but the road changes you. It tries you. It forces you to cut the BS, to face true yourself. Growth is usually not pretty. It’s painful. And you don’t think you’ll make it out alive, but you do. I’m a different person than I was six months ago, and that’s all I want in life — to keep evolving and, hopefully, becoming a better version of myself.

How did living on the road change your relationship to others as well as to yourself?
I began to feel so much more compassion. For all of us. I’ve romanticized vanlife for so long and after I realized doing it full-time isn’t for me after all, I experienced this new self-acceptance and appreciation for folks leading all kinds of lifestyles. If we were all the same life would be so boring!

What’s one thing you hope people take away from following your journey?
You don’t need to necessarily live in a van or travel around the world to live a wild, adventurous life. The people who inspire me most are those seeking and creating a life they love — whatever that means to them. That’s it!

Photos courtesy of Amanda Sandlin and Kris Holbrook

Natasha & Brett | Stationary, Seattle
What is the make / model / year of your trailer? What were your thoughts when you first obtained it?
We have a 1971 Airstream Sovereign. When we first got it it was ROUGH looking. Leaky and covered in paint and mold, we were definitely overwhelmed a bit at first.

When did you decide to move into an airstream and why? Was there any crazy life moment that made you realize you wanted to shift your lifestyle?
Our journey in alternative living started with our mutual desire to see the country. In 2014 my husband Brett and I bought a 1978 Volkswagen van, converted it into a camper, put everything we owned in storage, handed back the keys to our apartment and traveled the United Stated for six months.

We loved the alternative way of living and as our trip started winding down we began talking about how we could live differently when we returned home. Eventually we sold our van, bought a tow vehicle for our pending airstream purchase (& a puppy) with the proceeds and headed back to Seattle. We purchased a gutted airstream in Portland on the way home & started work on it in February of this year.

What has been the most rewarding part of living in a trailer?
We bought our 1972 31 foot Airstream Sovereign gutted and started the process of completely rebuilding it. When we moved in here we had no running water but after living in a van for six months it just felt like so much space for us! Over the last four months we’ve gradually put up walls, built a closet, got the water running, installed a toilet and sink, built cabinetry, a daybed, shelving, a backsplash and installed fixtures.

There’s definitely a huge sense of accomplishment in doing things yourself.

What are the main things you miss from traditional life, if any?
We’ve adjusted pretty well. We have to limit our purchases and can only spread out so much but we’re pretty happy in our space. I’m an illustrator and I’ve always had a studio so I’ve definitely downgraded a lot on art supplies and I’d love to have a pottery studio, but we make sacrifices to live the way we want.


With limited space, how do you decide what makes it inside, whether it be decor or functional objects?
We try as much as possible to live by William Morris quote, “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” We definitely are a lot more thoughtful than we used to be about choosing items for our house.

How did you adjust to doing normal things in the trailer, like taking a shower?
The biggest adjustment has probably been the way we cook. We have a tiny little fridge so we shop more often cause we can only fit so much. We also have to adjust cooking in a smaller space in a different way. We opted out of a microwave and oven so we cook everything using a range (and we have a toaster).

What’s one thing you hope people take away from following your journey?
You don’t need as much as you think you do.

Van Life

Photos courtesy of Tin Can Homestead


Add yours
  • This is wonderful – the stories, the people, the beautiful photographs. Thank you for this. I love the new direction the blog is taking. It makes it incredibly interesting and satisfying to come to every day.

  • Je signe des deux mais ! Ce genre de reportage est génial. Quel que soit nos choix de vie, ces personnes sont tellement inspirantes, ça me donne encore plus envie d’aller de l’avant et de tracer la route avec confiance

  • Quelle liberté ! J’adorerais vivre cette aventure avec l’homme que j’aime !




  • HOW COOL IS THIS? I love #vanlife and I am so intrigued by the lifestyle. I love that this post balances the more romanticized way it works out for some people as well as the difficult realization that some things we want to love just aren’t what we expected. Really great article.

  • I was skeptical before starting to read this story, but it is actually pretty cool!!

  • Shirley Hunt November, 23 2016, 1:06 / Reply

    Lovely post! So interesting! Your blog is my favourite – been reading it everyday for years! Keep up the great stories, fashion, style … And Pardon my French ! The best!!

  • Very nice paper, very deep. A bit sad for me too, we used to have a van, and it just burned like that one day, on the road, probably too old. Someday I will buy another one, maybe.

  • Down by the river???

  • I can see doing something like this if you are very young, and you don’t have to work, or you can work remotely. Again, I stress very young. I may have been attracted to this lifestyle 40 years ago…but probably not, since I already had a child. But..if one is unencumbered by a family and a job, it would certainly be an adventure, at least temporarily.

  • Ce reportage est génial! J’en veux d’autres!!

  • Going mobile! I love it! I could see myself starting out with a short trip and then becoming a true Roadie. At 61, after having raised my children I’m tired of my tagnant life. I certainly am seeking something different. And I too,like Noel are looking for some hope.

    “I am increasingly hopeful. During our time on the road we are constantly encouraged by how wonderful complete strangers can be.” Noel

    Now, isn’t that what it’s all about?

  • “ça pourrait être pire”… Pas mieux! ^^

  • My parents are retired and still quite young, so they live the camper life a few months out of the year. They spend Canadian winters in Palm Springs living in their small VW motorhome. They keep their lives really simple and always have a lot of fun. I can see the allure in this when very young or older, not so much in my 30s though.

  • Merci pour ce reportage! Une piqûre de rappel de ce que doit être l’essentiel.

  • Partir a l’aventure, qui n’en reve pas ? Il faut etre jeune et libre ou retraite parce qu’entre les deux, il y a des obligations serieuses comme les enfants, par example ?

  • Katheline Coudon November, 24 2016, 6:11 / Reply

    How cool to see a topic like this on this blog :)
    Lived 8 months in a van in OZ. Life was rough yet so real. Never felt more free.
    Makes you realize you dont need much money nor things to be happy. or even just “be”
    in the moment, with wildness around you.
    I know, its a cliché but man, it is so true!

  • C Hélcias November, 25 2016, 11:05 / Reply

    Cool, but… I don’t see anything new about it.

  • Wow ! Article tellement inspirant. Ces histoires donnent à nouveau des leçons de vie comme le fait d’idéaliser quelque chose et de se rendre compte que finalement quand on le vit, c’est différent de ce qu’on espérait.
    Merci beaucoup pour cet article !


    Eloïse, Lifestyle Blogger

  • This post is such a beautiful inspiration for http://www.mychicplanet.com Thanks a lot!

  • Shireen Bora February, 19 2017, 7:46 / Reply

    There is always a way. Truely love this.

  • I did it for four month last year so that’s really cool to read this kind of post here!
    My boyfriend was graphist at Christian Louboutin and i was manager in a shop in Paris. We loved our life in Paris so much, friends, museums, parties, shopping… And everithing special that you can find in Paris but we were tired… Paris is an always awake city you have always somewhere to run and something to do and we felt hurry everytime. My parents had an old combi VW when i was child and my two brothers, mother, father and i travelled in it each holidays for almost 30 years so i used to live in rolling home and i dreamed to have mine.
    We baught our VW in october 2015, quit our job, made our bed, sofa, “kichen” and decoration during a month, and began our travel in may 2016.
    We spent 4 month on the road in France, enjoying especially Atlantic Ocean from the south to the north and the north to the south and it was amazing!
    So if you dream to change your life change it, even just for few month, it was my best adventure and if i can do it again one day, for sure i will!!
    Enjoy your life and take the way you want to feel the best!

From the Archives

This or That
  • This or That
  • Holiday Gifting
  • Happy Holidays!
  • #AtelierDoreDoes
  • How To...
atelier dore this or that summer sandals chunky sandals vs. delicate sandals

This or That / Sandal Edition

This or That: American or Française?

This or That: American or Française?

atelier dore this or that lingerie lace or cotton sex month

This or That / Lingerie Edition

This or That / Blush vs. Bronzer

This or That / Blush vs. Bronzer

This or That: The Beanie

This or That: The Beanie

This or That: Nails

This or That: Nails

This or That

This or That

This Or That

This Or That

Silja Danielsen Photo

This Or That: Low Knot or Top Knot