Many vanlifers tell the inspiring story of quitting their jobs to live full time on the road. We love these stories (and follow many of them)! Our story is a little different, though. Yes, we quit our jobs, but we did it to start a business that involves the things we love – rock climbing, mapping, being outdoors, and living in a van.
We (Rick and Stef) are avid rock climbers and founders of Climb-On Maps, where we create very detailed trail maps of the most significant rock climbing areas in the United States. We did this so we can help other climbers not get lost when looking for or getting off a climb. For our business, we needed a campervan. But not just any van, it had to also have a high clearance 4-wheel-drive, as well as be affordable.
So what did we do? We purchased an old 1987 converted 4×4 Chevy Astro Tiger campervan.
Why a van? There are so many reasons it makes sense for us to live out of a van! Here’s why:
• Some of these parks and climbing areas are so large; it can take us 1-3 months (per area) of non-stop, 10-hours-per-day, mapping to get the data we need to create these maps. It would be financially impossible for us to do this work if we didn’t live out of a van.
• We need to move around and be physically close to the specific location we are mapping on any given day. These parks are vast and remote. We can’t spend an hour or more on the road, each way, going back and forth between a hotel or house rental, we need to be as close as possible to where we are mapping. Then we can wake up at 4 a.m., make breakfast, and be out the van-door by 5 a.m. When we are exhausted at the end of the day, we can climb into the van and crash.
• Many of the roads we use are unimproved and require high clearance and 4-wheel drive.
When we bought the van, we knew it would need a remodel, but we under-anticipated the extent. It ended up needing a complete overhaul. We put in a new transmission and engine and completely gutted the interior. Initially, I thought we could keep the interior bones, but upon discovering that the leaky gasoline line was going through the inside of the van, through the cabinets and past the pilot light, everything got ripped out. So, we went ahead and re-did the insulation, moved the gasoline line, turned the tiny dungeon-like bed into a king-sized pullout, made a storage bench out of our bouldering crash pad, added a tool storage box and gasoline holders onto the back of the van, and replaced the RV fridge with a super efficient over-landing electric cooler. Although we have done a lot, we still have much more to do. But, all of this still cost us less than if we purchased a newer 4×4 campervan rig.
Because we are only at our physical home a short time between mapping trips, and we also have to use that time to process the data we collect into maps, finishing the interior van work is taking a while. We dig the rig, but living out of an unfinished van has been surprisingly challenging.
I thought since we are backpackers dirtbags and used to “roughing it” over long periods of time, living out of the gutted van would be like glamping. Well, as it turns out, not quite. Although we have everything organized into bins, we have found that simple things like having a dedicated seating area, having multifunctional storage that keeps items stacked and immobile (i.e., stuff won’t slide around the van when moving), a table, and a countertop, are pretty critical to daily living in a van. This is especially true if you are working out of the van and you have gear/equipment in addition to basic living supplies.
If you want to remodel a campervan, I recommend doing it before you move in! I think most people do that, but our schedule and unplanned events necessitated our approach.
But, with each short trip back to home, we make progress on the van transformation. We have been posting helpful (and sometimes funny) van transformation tips on our blog. We hope our experiences can inspire others to create their unique vanlife without spending their life savings. Our most significant advice is to bring the right attitude to the experience – have a vision, perseverance, and patience – and with an old vehicle, especially patience.
We also want people to know that vanlife takes many forms. It’s not just about quitting your job, seeing the world, and living full-time in a van. Although that is a really sweet existence, there are many more options than that. Take incremental steps and let your vanlife be driven by personal goals, needs, current resources, and the reality of the day. As much as we want to eat the whole cake at once, we can only chew one bite at a time!
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