If you’re not familiar with IAmA on reddit, it’s when someone says who they are and encourages users to AMA, or “Ask me anything.” It usually looks something like this:
I am a van-dweller who has lived in a minivan-turned-camper for 2+ years while traveling full time. AMA
There are so many questions we get about the miscellaneous ins and outs of van living that we thought we’d dedicate a whole post and comments section to your questions. So ask me and Chris anything! We’ll start with some questions we’ve gotten from our email subscribers and friends on Facebook.
Did you use a particular checklist when selecting your van? Did you buy it used or new?
We bought it used. We knew we wanted it to be new enough that it wouldn’t have major mechanical problems. We also knew we wanted to be able to fold down/remove all the second- and third-row seats, and it needed to be reasonably big enough. We test drove an old Mazda MPV, but the high mileage combined with lack of cargo space made it a no-go. We also checked out a Dodge Grand Caravan, but it felt sorta rickety. Honda Odysseys and Toyota Siennas are great, but out of the price range. Then we found good ol’ Red Delicious at a nearby dealership and the rest is history.
Have you had any cultural clashes rolling into one town or another?
No clashes, per se. But sometimes it is painfully obvious that we’re not from around these parts, especially in small towns in the deep south with our California accents and North Face jackets. People are generally nice and interested in meeting new people, especially if you ask them about their life and town. We take our outsider status seriously, and almost try to behave like we’re ambassadors or something. Basically don’t be Ryan Lochte.
What are your favorite podcasts to listen to while driving?
When do you miss being in a traditional home or being in one place for a long period of time? What’s lost and gained?
It sucks living in a van when a) you want to hang out with friends, because you’re too far away, b) you’re feeling sick, and c) it’s raining. Overall the biggest loss is that you have less of a community. But the gain, besides adventure and getting to know new places, is adaptability. Living outside your comfort zone keeps you on your toes!
I just had a conversation about how in some places it’s just so obvious to see white people in management and people of color in service roles. Where do you see that and where don’t you see that?
In the South, for example, we’ve seen white people, African-Americans and Latinos in service roles. Not to downplay race issues at all, but on this issue the unifier is economic class.
How do you make art or learn new skills on the road?
Van travel would be great if you’re a painter or photographer because you’re constantly seeing beautiful new places and people. Or perhaps a documentary filmmaker. Sometimes we wish we’d set out to do a HONY-style series. Neither of us consider ourselves artists, but being by a campfire is a quiet, contemplative time perfect for art-making or learning new things. Chris will sometimes whittle and Tamara has been learning ukulele. Something you can do that requires minimal equipment and YouTube videos is ideal.
What makes for the perfect pee jar?
A tall, narrow container with a wide mouth and screw top. We use plastic roasted-peanut jars. The only thing that would make them better is if they weren’t clear.
The “In-N-Out” of screwing in a fast food parking lot: an informative guide.
Quietly. And NOT in a fast food parking lot. And definitely not with a light on while it’s dark out, especially if you’re in a tent.
I have always been super interested in the gender dynamics of your van life and van life culture in general!
Exploring is a stereotypically masculine desire, even though in reality lots of ladies have wanderlust. Living in a van means letting go of a lot of female gender expectations. A lot of guys say their female significant other wouldn’t last a day without their hair dryer/comfy bed/etc., and the woman emphatically agrees. Girls are raised to be pretty, clean and responsible for the home, but what happens when courage and assertiveness are more important and there is no home? Tamara tends to be the one who straightens up the van, but it’s because she likes it. Chris tends to cook more, but we both share dishes, wood chopping, etc.
Is van living environmentally sustainable?
Van-dwellers tend to use a lot less water and electricity, but probably more gasoline. The good news is our van is only five years old, so it’s relatively fuel efficient. And if you can get a solar panel installed in your van, you’re really doing good.
Do you stay in KOA campsites?
In the beginning, we stayed at KOAs more, but now infrequently. They are SO EXPENSIVE and often more like Chuck E. Cheese than nature. We got turned away from a KOA a couple weeks ago. There was a thunderstorm and the state park we headed to didn’t have late check-in and the gates were locked. We headed to the KOA because they all say they welcome late arrivals. When we got there, the guy said we couldn’t have a tent site unless we slept in the tent. We said, “Look, we have a tent, but we’d rather sleep in the van because it’s raining.” He said, “I don’t make the rules.”
Have a different question? Hurry on down to the comments!