Taking to Vans and RVs for Life on the Road
by Sandra Yeyati
Many Americans choose to travel in recreational vehicles (RVs) or well-equipped vans with all the comforts of home—no hotels, just the open road and a tank full of gas. Cindy Jane is a Florida naturalist, vegan advocate, accomplished artist and wife to land surveyor Kevin Georgeson. Now 50 years old, she’s had a dream since she was 18 to travel the country in a van, visiting state and national parks, hiking trails and spending quality time in nature. She envisions setting up an easel and painting in inspiring settings. “It’s about getting out of that social norm of always knowing what the next day is going to be like, doing the same thing every day. I like a little bit of the unknown, the unexpected. I want to see things. I want adventure. I want the freedom that comes with going,” she says.
The couple purchased a 2018 Ford Transit van with low mileage and a little warranty left on it. Together, they are customizing it to create a comfortable home away from home to satisfy Jane’s wanderlust. Crafty and resourceful, they voraciously watch YouTube videos to learn the ins and outs of solar panels, electrical hookups, kitchen countertops, insulation and 1,000 other details that go into a successful buildout. They’re taking their time to do it right after investing thousands of dollars already. To document their progress and hopefully inspire others, they record videos on Jane’s smartphone and post them to her website (ArtfulVeganNomad.com).
Val and Nick Wheatley are veteran nomads, having travelled the world for almost four years in all kinds of rides, including the 1994 Ford Bronco they drove across the U.S. for six months. Camping outdoors was challenging, and they vowed never again to travel in a vehicle without a bed. They purchased a Ford Econovan to explore New Zealand and sold it three months later when they left. In Germany, where beautiful campgrounds and free public lots with inexpensive electric and water hookups are plentiful, a rented RV was the way to go. With experience, the couple has come to prefer converted vans or smaller RVs, thanks to their fuel savings and easier maneuverability in cities and on narrow country roads.
According to the Wheatleys, traveling and living in close quarters has its drawbacks. Cleaning out portable toilets and taking showers at truck stops can be challenging, but for the avid explorers, these inconveniences were always eclipsed by jaw-dropping scenery and cultural immersion in new countries. “Because we had wheels and time, we got to see some cool stuff off the beaten track that most people that were visiting for a weekend or week never see,” says Val.
Offering tips, tricks, candid descriptions and inspiring photography of their many world-trotting experiences, the couple’s travel blog (WanderingWheatleys.com) tallied more than 600,000 visitors last year. Through online advertising and affiliate programs, they earned enough money for living and travel expenses. “The world actually isn’t a scary place at all. People all over the world in every culture are friendly and welcoming,” Nick says.
For those looking to connect with fellow travelers, there are numerous recreational clubs that offer base camps, programming and social opportunities. One such club is Sisters on the Fly (SistersOnTheFly.com), an all-women outdoor adventure club founded in 1999 by Maurrie Sussman and her sister Rebecca Clarke with a penchant for small, vintage trailers that are restored and embellished by their owners.
With 9,000 active members and an organizer in each state, these resourceful and festive ladies hold more than 1,000 events nationwide every year, including fly fishing, guided tours, kayaking, mountain climbing, biking and more. “It’s about being outdoors and meeting amazing women. We love going into the national parks, taking back roads and visiting all the small towns,” Sussman says.
Living in an RV or van full-time has become an attractive option for many people, including college kids looking for inexpensive housing or retirees on limited incomes. “I think more and more we’re seeing people who value their time more than a bunch of possessions,” says Jane. “Maybe that means working less and living more frugally, so you see a rise in minimalism and van life.” For a wealth of information on vans and RVs as full-time options, as well as in-depth interviews with van lifers, visit Bob Wells’ YouTube channel CheapRVLiving.
Sandra Yeyati is a freelance writer. Reach her at SandraYeyati@gmail.com.