#VanLife: How 3 Families Make Living and Traveling in a Van Work

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Home is where you park it. At least that’s the motto of those joining the popular #VanLife movement. These three families bought a van, fit their whole lives inside it and set their sights on the open road.

The Retro Van Family

Amber and Keenan Badger travel in their yellow 1975 VW Van across Australia with their daughters, Coco, 12, and Indigo, 11.

How They Started: We’re actually not full-time van travelers, but we spend large amounts of time away. We just got back from a six-month trip around Australia. We chose that option rather than being full-time to try and get the best of both worlds. We work in between our trips and save our money so that when we’re on a trip we can fully immerse ourselves in it. Being on the road and spending that time in nature and with the family really helps us reset.

Best Parts: We love the living slow component of it. We love that feeling of minimalism and only having the essential things we need. We find when we strip away the things we don’t need we’re happier — and having our family close — that’s a big part of it for us. When we’re living normal modern life in a house, life is busy. It really is hard to maintain that closeness. But when we get in our van and hit the road, that’s all that matters, and we thrive on those bonds.

Challenges: We chose to travel in a vehicle that’s 43 years old. There’s the obvious downside of the mechanical type. It is vintage, and it’s not a modern, reliable car that you can just turn a key and go and get to your destination. Sometimes there’s a breakdown. We’ve also learned to accept that as part of the journey. The only other real downside for us is that we can’t do it permanently. We need to fund it somehow.

Fitting Into the Small Space: There’s never been a time when we’ve felt like we need to get away from each other. We’re outside so much, and the van itself just feels so cozy and so homey. We go as far as to say we actually feel more at home in our car than we do at our house. We find the van brings a sense of calm. When we get in our van and we get onto the road, everything else melts away; we just feel this is where we’re meant to be.

Tip for Newbies: Before rushing out and buying a van, rent one and go away for a few weekends and get a feel for it. Try a few different options. Finding the right fit is very personal. I think anybody who tries it will be hooked. You only need a couple weekends to realize what a great lifestyle it is and how much freedom it brings.

Favorite Destinations: We spent three months on the Western Australian coast. It was phenomenal. It’s such a vast expanse of land, and there’s really not a whole lot in between the destinations, so seeing those remote places along the coast was amazing. There’s really no other way than via a road trip to experience that.

Up Next: Early next year, we plan to explore South Australia, especially the Fleurieu, Eyre and Yorke peninsulas. We passed through this area on our last trip, and the rugged, spectacular coastline has been calling us back.

The Veteran Van Lifers

Marlene and Dan lin have been on the road for 10 years, traveling across North America with their three kids, Ava, 11, Mila, 8, and Luka, 6.

How They Started: The weeks would go by, and you couldn’t tell one from the other. We wanted to be able to take our (then new) baby and explore. So we decided to buy an Airstream. After our first few trips, we were hooked.

Best Parts: Our travels are really about letting our kids experience the world firsthand and incorporating that into their education. That’s always been part of the motivation. Seeing their eyes open up is amazing. Also, everything we do, we do together. We like that family bond and that we can all recall experiences together.

Challenges: We are sacrificing our careers for this lifestyle. Our priority is not getting a raise at work. But we don’t look at it that way: It’s a choice we’ve made and were willing to make and would make again. Our priority is just being together
as a family.

Fitting Into the Small Space: It’s only hard when the weather gets bad. Otherwise we have a huge backyard wherever we are. We can stretch out as far as we want.

Tip for Newbies: Don’t make too drastic of a jump right away. We started out in an Airstream going to cities. A lot of people now burn out — they go from zero to 100 overnight and then don’t know what to do.

Favorite Destinations: Lately we’ve been focused on amazing landscapes and the wilderness. The lesser-known places along the way are sometimes the best and most surprising. A lot of these are places you wouldn’t be able to get to with just a rental car or flying into an airport. You can’t get a rental car and camp on the beaches of Baja. You can’t go on the road in the Arctic Circle in Alaska in a regular rental car.

Up Next: Europe. We want to travel there the way we have here: slow and in flip-flops. We say the measure of the quality of life is the number of pairs of flip-flops you wear through each year.

The Motivational Mom

Bionca Smith is a single mother and Life Coach who has been driving across the U.S. for the last eight months with her 9-year-old son, Carter.

How She Started: I was living a very corporate lifestyle. When I was feeling particularly overwhelmed one day, I made a Facebook post that said, “One day I’m just going to travel the world with my son and not have to worry about anything else.” And someone commented and said, “What’s stopping you?” That really made me think. And the answer was, “Just material things.” A few days later I put in my notice at work and made a Facebook post that said, “Within 30 days, I’m going to travel the world until further notice with my son.” It went viral, and then the clock started ticking. I bought two one-way plane tickets to Thailand. After exploring our way through Thailand, Benin and France, we wanted to come back to the U.S. and explore our own backyard. I got into van life as a way to make the travel more affordable.

Best Parts: Being able to have this all-inclusive experience whenever we travel anywhere. It’s so cool to pull up and have everything you need. I also encourage giving back. If we are camping for free, we’ll clean up beaches or volunteer at an animal shelter. We love that and find it important.

Challenges: The cost of gas. And you can really only make tentative plans. Everything is subject to change. But that’s part of the journey. I want to show my son that it’s okay to chase your dreams and pave your own path and just explore.

Fitting into the Small Space: I never even consider the lack of space. That’s one of the perks. You don’t need that many things, and you still have everything you need on every trip.

Tip for Newbies: Think about why you want to do this. There are going to be some unexpected bumps. That why is always going to remind you why you should keep going. Favorite Destinations: Camping in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. Without the van, we couldn’t have camped right in a canyon. We also camped near the Cabazon Dinosaurs and had a movie night with a dinosaur movie. That was really special.

Up Next: We’re currently in Joshua Tree National Park. We’re either going to hang out in Southern California or shoot up to Oregon. It just depends what we want to do.

By Hannah Freedman

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