This week we had the pleasure of interviewing a full-time van-lifer, Amanda, who is constantly juggling her duties as a full-time student in the northeast region of America. We had the chance to ask her about her experiences in going tiny, and where she sees van-life fitting into the bigger picture of the tiny movement.
The reason I am doing this as a student is that I recently took a year off from school, and during that year I traveled a lot. I got an itch and realized that I love to travel, but I began to dread going back to school.
However, I promised my parents and myself that I would finish school and I wanted to hold true to that promise. A bunch of people at my work live out of their vans, and I began to get some ideas about how I could live in a van and still attend school.
I made a vow to myself that by the end of 2017, I would at least have bought a van; even if I wasn’t going to live in it immediately, I wanted to begin the process.
It just so happened that the place I was supposed to rent back at school fell through, and I had a van so I went for it. If I wanted this lifestyle in the future, why not just start now? After figuring out all the details and realizing that it was possible, I was 100% in. I also have a great support system where I am and my friends and family have offered a couch if I am ever in need.
There are so many factors that have worked into me wanting a small house. When I was younger, my parents got divorced and that meant that I had to truck my stuff back and forth all the time. I was so scared to leave something behind, and at first, I thought that I had to bring every piece of jewelry, every clothing item, you know? I didn't want to leave anything behind.
As the years went on, I realized that I didn’t need to bring everything, and by my senior year of High School, I was only bringing one backpack. This sparked an idea in me that I actually don't need that much stuff.
During my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad, and I would always only bring one backpack during week-long trips because I couldn't afford to check a lot of bags or buy new stuff. It helped to reinforce this idea.
When I came back from studying abroad, I went vegan. People think that vegan only has to do with food and not hurting animals, but there are lifestyle implications as well. You start to notice the way other ethical issues are intertwined with day-to-day activities. For example, there are reasons to not buy first-hand clothing—stuff like that.
I stopped buying things and started a new lifestyle because I wanted to be more ethical in the purchases I made. I got interested in environmentalism and began to think about living off the grid. At that point, my envisioned future was having a small house that didn’t need a lot of energy to heat or cool and stuff like that.
I really want to live with as little a footprint as possible. I want to have a house that is completely solar powered, and if there is no sun, then I want to just make it work.
As a seasonal job, I live in these huts up in the white mountains and we house 100 people every night and we make it work. So yeah, I want to live in a tiny house long term, I think, but I love to travel and that's why I have my van right now.
Sometimes it gets hard for me because I know that a car contributes to my carbon footprint pretty significantly, but I also love to travel and move around. I would like to think that if I reduce my footprint in other ways, then I counterbalance the fact that I am driving and using my car a lot. I don’t use electricity, I eat plant-based, and try to only use a small amount of water, stuff like that.
Where I work in the mountains, a lot of people are van-dwellers and I got to know them and become friends with them. I met a woman who lives with her husband and dog in a Sprinter van, and another friend who lives in a Westfalia. Another friend from back home converted an ambulance and drove cross-country in that. So those three people are my main go-to’s for questions I have and advice and other stuff.
It's mainly people in the mountain countries that I see in the van life community because they want to be able to hike and move around and not have to pay for places to stay, so the van is a part of that community lifestyle. I love to hike and adventure too, so all that makes this lifestyle just really fun.
I think that anyone could do it, but I definitely think that you have to have a certain mindset. I have a lot of friends, who are city people, who hate the thought of getting dirty and they think I am crazy for doing what I am doing. But you just have to be able to be fine with only what you need and nothing more.
But it is definitely possible for anyone. If you are not enjoying it though, it isn’t good because it can wear on you. You also have to be okay with being alone. I’m alone a lot of the time. Which for me is nice, but for some people could be detrimental to mental health or just be unenjoyable.
I think honestly the worst part is…if it snows when I’m sleeping, it’s hard to get out of my car. But that's the worst part. Only once has it been cold enough that I was irritated when I was l sleeping.
My eyelids, oddly enough, are the only things that get really cold, and normally it’s like 10 degrees or lower when I even notice. So I just put on an eye mask and it keeps the heat of my face towards my eyes.
I sleep in a sleeping bag, inside a sleeping bag, underneath a big thick quilt, underneath another blanket. I haven’t had time to formally insulate the van yet, and it was really cold when I was doing the renovation and I was on a deadline, so I didn't have time to tear apart the inside of the van. Oh, and another way that I stay warm is that I put a Nalgene with warm water next to me when I sleep.
Definitely. I mean I pretty much only need to pay for gas, insurance, and maintenance on my car. It’s a lot less than rent.
I have a really small meal plan at my college, which gives me about 4 meals a week. So I typically eat a big lunch, and then I have a bunch of non-perishables in my car. I have like granola bars and canned soups and nuts and packets of stuff. I also have friends who have houses, so once a week I watch The Bachelor at my friend's house and we cook a big dinner together.
Basically, I set an alarm for 7:30 am and get up around 9:30 am hahaha.
If it's a school day, I’ll go to the gym, shower, and then go to class. I’ll then go to the library and do homework until I go to bed. If I get out of class earlier, I might go to the gym after class instead or hang out with friends somewhere.
I also work a lot during the week, so on those days I’ll get up early and drive to the office. I usually stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way to brush my teeth in and wash my face. On weekends, I’ll go to the White or Green Mountains to go hiking, which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to live in my van.
It’s not too hard because I can almost stand up in my van. I do have to lie on my bed to buckle my pants, but that is the worst part haha.
I kind of hunch around my van, but I have a box that I can sit on just fine. But I definitely need to keep my van clean all the time because I feel gross and have no space to move around if my van isn’t clean.
I think tiny houses might be more of a reasonable way to help fight poverty than a van. It’s cheaper to heat and power a small house, and land can be divided and used more efficiently depending on the zoning rules in the area and stuff like that.
I think van-life is a little tougher because they are creating a lot of laws to prevent that from happening and there are a lot of places that don't let you live in a van for tax reasons.
It is also a lot harder for families than for one or two people. Most people who live in vans are a couple or a single person, but it would be hard for a family.
And lastly, it can be really hard to find places to park. Like sometimes when I am traveling, I have to park in some pretty sketchy places and I don't think I would recommend that for a family.
Hmm…my goal is to travel to every national park, especially Glacier National Park before there are no glaciers left. My immediate plans, for now, are to go to Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska. Eventually, I want to go to every state. I think I’m at something like 30 right now.
Special thanks to Amanda for sharing her inspiring story and experiences with her #vanlife so fargood luck with your upcoming travels!