Why are you doing this?

While living in Chile during our one-year sabbatical, one of our roommates, Alexey, told us he could never go back to his life in Moscow after traveling for so long. He said, “It’s like taking a step backwards when you want to keep moving forward.”

Where are you going — and for how long?

We’re making it up as we go! We’d really like to drive up to Alaska sometime, so hopefully we can figure that out. As for how long: until we get tired of it. Mostly we find ourselves following good weather.

How do you earn an income while traveling?

During our one-year sabbatical, we began experimenting with different projects and freelancing. Chris earns income through SEO consulting and revenue-generating websites. Tamara earns income through communications freelancing and book sales. We also own a condo in San Francisco that we rent out. It doesn’t earn any extra monthly income for us — it’s a long-term investment.

Why’d you name your van Red Delicious?

She’s dark red, like an apple. And when we think of red apples, that song/episode from Flight of the Conchords always pops in our heads.

Do you live in your van full time?

No. While we’d like to park Red Delicious out in the wilderness for a week at a time, earning an income requires us to stay on the grid. We camp for chunks of time, and also find Airbnbs for chunks of time.

Is it safe to live the van life?

We think it’s about as safe as everyday life. Unless you live in a super small town where everyone knows each other and you never leave, you are constantly around people you don’t know and in places/situations that are new to you. Most campgrounds and Airbnbs are filled with like-minded people who want peaceful experiences and to meet new people. We drive a lot, but probably no more than someone with a long daily commute. Someone could break into our van and take our stuff; someone could break into our house and take our stuff too.

Where do you park your van at night? How do you find campsites?

We primarily stay in campsites. We really like the Allstays iPhone app for finding campsites on the go. Sometimes we’ll make reservations ahead of time if we think the park will be busy. We’ve stayed at RV parks and KOAs too but really don’t like them.

Campsites are also more expensive though. We’ve read about where others go — Walmart parking lots, rest stops, trailheads, or stealth camping in neighborhoods. We’ve tried it too, but it doesn’t work for us on a daily basis.

What do you do about Internet?

Campground-provided wifi, when it exists, is horrible. Everyone is trying to download movies and it’s impossible to send a two-word email. We use Verizon for cellular data and answer emails from our phones or we tether our laptops to our phones.

What we prefer though are coffee shops. Starbucks is a good ol’ standby, but most local coffee shops have wifi too. Fast food chains even offer wifi nowadays. Sometimes we’ll park outside and use it, since neither of us can bring ourselves to buy a McRib just for wifi. We have standards, people.

How much does it cost to live the van life?

Many full-time travelers hem and haw when asked about the cost of their travels, but there’s an honest reason for that: it depends. How much does it cost to live in your city? It depends.

For full-time travel, your biggest expenses are food and shelter. If you get all of your food from the grocery store, the cost is different than if you eat all of your meals at restaurants. If you pay for campsites every night, the cost is different than if you stealth camp — or camp so far off the grid that it’s free. If you change locations frequently, you’ll pay more for gas. If you like doing paid activities like tours and museums, you’ll pay more. So it really depends on how you like to live your life in general.

Can you really fit all your stuff in a minivan?

Yes! We have a full kitchen (except an oven), a bed, sporting equipment and games, clothes for all types of weather, toiletries and personal care items, a table and chairs, basic tools, charging equipment — even a pair of bikes. One day I’ll put together an item-by-item inventory, but for now you can take a video tour.

We do own more stuff than what’s in the van. Our condo has a basement storage area where we keep some of the things we weren’t sure we wanted to get rid of: kitchen items, extra clothes, personal mementos. We also have one small box with our birth certificates, wills, check books, and computer backup that’s in Chris’ parents’ garage.

How do you, you know, go to the bathroom? Or shower?

We rely on public bathrooms at campgrounds, coffee shops, rest stops, etc. We do have an emergency pee jar if we’re stealth camping and can’t leave the van in the middle of the night. As for showering, there are campground showers, gym day passes, community pool showers, hostels, or baby wipes and dry shampoo in a pinch. Hygiene is super important!

What happens when it’s really cold or really hot?

We have a wool blanket that goes over our sleeping bags for extra warmth. When it’s hot, we sleep in a tent or keep the windows rolled down. We even added screens to keep the bugs out. That being said, when it’s really cold — like in the 20s or below — we grab a motel room.

Did you really do this with a dog?

Yes! Our dog Holly traveled with us for a year across Latin America, and lived the van life with us until she passed away from cancer at the ripe age of 16. She loved car rides and camping, and we brought her favorite toys for her to play with. Traveling with a dog just requires setting a new routine. The van is lonely now without our best girl.

What do you write on this blog?

I, Tamara, mostly maintain this blog. (It’s not that Chris doesn’t like you — I just really like doing this.) We write about three things: tips on van life, our experiences making a living freelancing, and tidbits about the places we visit. How’s that?

  6 comments for “FAQ

  1. 2014-12-17 at 4:33 pm

    Sounds good to me!

  2. AunJelle
    2016-08-11 at 7:25 am

    I really like this website, Tamara and Chris, you guys have done an awesome job. I plan to one day do what you guys are doing, but as you know, that takes planning. I’ll get there. Do you have any tips on how to get me started? (ps- I don’t yet own a car, so any tips on which to choose would be great) thanks 😀
    It’ll probably be just me traveling, and maybe one other person, a best friend now and then. I want to at least #vanlife it through college.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-08-13 at 8:14 pm

      Sorry for the slow reply! Checking out blogs is a great start. Sometimes you don’t know what to think about until you read some of the issues other people come across. Also, check out the vandweller Reddit! As for choosing a van, there are a lot of factors. We chose a minivan that was somewhat new (a 2012) because:

      – It’s more affordable than an RV
      – A somewhat newer car needs fewer repairs and we could afford it
      – It’s easier to drive and more stealthy than a big cargo van

      I recommend, if you can, renting a van and doing a weeklong trip to test it out, especially if you’re not an experienced car camper. Let us know if you have any other questions. Good luck!

  3. Kathie Vidmar-Mitchell
    2016-08-15 at 7:03 pm

    We converted our mini van like you did. But we can’t get the bug screens to stay adhered to the window frame! What kind of glue do you suggest??? We need to know ASAP, Please! Thanks you.
    Kathie and Dan in CO

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-08-15 at 7:18 pm

      Great question! We were going to write about mosquito/bug protection for our next post. We used clear tape the first time and it didn’t stick for long, but duct tape seems to do the job! Good luck

  4. cori
    2017-06-04 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Tamara and Chris- So enjoying your blog – just discovered it tonight. I’m a single woman in my 60’s, a teacher, and travel in my Grand Caravan every summer to get out of the Texas heat. (Although one terrific summer in the 4 corners area was wonderful, and OK because it gets very cool at night). Last summer I drove 9,500 miles from Houston to Cape Breton Island via Minneapolis – fabulous summer! I really like your curtain idea – last summer’s sticky velcro left my windows gunked and didn’t always adhere well because the material I used was heavy flannel-backed vinyl. I learn something new each summer. I made some window screens in which I sewed rare earth magnets into pockets around the edges and the screens are perfect for fresh air and no bugs. Unfortunately, only my front seat windows roll down, though, so I can’t get the same fresh air directly in the back. But it’s usually ok. I look forward to hearing more about your lives.

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