How Van Life started for us
Van life is not a lifestyle we were naturally inclined to aspire to from an early age. At least, not in the typical social culture that currently exists. From our earliest of memories, we have been taught and indoctrinated that in order to and be considered successful, there are certain elements and criteria required to measure that.
Those criteria differ from one culture and region to another. The constant denominator though, is that it is a formula that is engrained in our mindsets from an early age. Any deviation from that structured path is considered radical, weird, unconventional, or quite frankly, a failure to succeed.
There is nothing wrong, and everything is right about that mindset and goal for any individual who chooses to pursue it. In fact, we both followed along that same path for the first 44 years of our lives.
We owned our own homes and property, went to work religiously 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and lived it up on the weekends only to dread the Sunday evening realization that we were to start all over again on Monday morning.
For us though, something changed. Simultaneously, we shifted in our thinking, our goals, and our mindsets. We didn’t know or even dream of living van life immediately or even within the next 10 years.
Our path and journey to living and traveling full time in a camper van was an evolution of remarkable and fortunate shifts for us as a couple, a simultaneous and coordinated effort and desire.
Camper van life
We both knew and were convinced that living in a large house in a community we had both grown up in was not something we wanted to continue after all of our children had escaped the proverbial nest. We loved where we lived but just couldn’t imagine spending the rest of our lives in the same community, around the same people, eating at the same places, and doing the same things we had for decades before.
We had a yearning, desire, and drive for something different. We had a premonition that a different lifestyle than what we had experienced all of our lives was our destiny. We just had to figure out what that meant and how to make it happen.
We knew from the start of this awakening that we wanted to live “smaller” more minimal and we didn’t want to be anchored geographically to any one particular place.
We initially started looking into tiny homes and loved the minimalist concept. We quickly moved on from that idea with the realization that although we loved the designs and concepts of a tiny house, we knew that traveling and mobility would be something we would have to compromise on or completely sacrifice and we were not willing to do that.
We moved on to consider living and traveling full-time in an RV. We loved the idea of being able to “go” whenever and where ever we desired. The main issue we had with this plan was, obtaining an RV that was of substantial-quality and reliability without having to get a “mortgage” on an RV was quite near improbable if not impossible. The stark reality is that RV ownership is rather expensive and even with a new or newer model with a hefty price tag, they are still prone to repairs and problems.
One of the alternatives to an RV was going the route of van life, but at the moment, making such a drastic leap into something so small was a bit too constraining and drastic. We decided to try converting a retired school bus as the alternative. We did just that in 2018. We drove up to Virginia from Central Florida and purchased a 2004 Thomas HDX and then drove it back to Florida to begin our skoolie journey.
We moved into our newly renovated bus in December of 2019. We started full-time RV life and had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic was right around the corner and would stifle our travel plans. We traveled throughout Florida for the first 7 months before venturing out of state. Our first trip would take us over 1,500 miles, through6 states and a few overnight stays along the way before we reached our resting destination of Nekoosa, Wisconsin. We have some van-life friends, The Rolling Rogans whose family has a lakeside cabin there. They invited us up to park and camp while we waited to see how the country would respond to the Covid-19 crisis. We had a great stay there with them and their family enjoying lots of campfires, boat rides on Lake Nekoosa, ATV adventures and so much wildlife you would have thought we were filming for National Geographic.
From there, we traveled out west to Colorado and spend some time in the Rocky Mountains. It was on that trip that we decided that Van life was the direction we wanted to take going forward with our travels and adventures. There is a whole other story as to what lead up to that decision and we will be writing about that soon.
We headed to Southern Colorado from Lake Grandby and the Arapahoe National Forest, where we would list our skoolie for sale while helping some fellow skoolie friends build their log cabin in preparation for winter.
van life vans
Our bus sold to a great young couple, ironically from Wisconsin where we had recently left, and our excitement was only throttled by the quick reality that we needed to buy a van and quickly begin our build so we could continue our adventures.
We juggled the pros and cons of what kind of van to purchase. It felt like an enormous decision considering we were going from over 200sq ft. of living space in our bus to a very modest 80sq ft. living space of a van.
Not only did we have to decide on the make of the van, whether it would be the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, or the popular Dodge Promaster, we needed to decide on roof/ceiling height and length, or wheelbase. There are many different options to choose from depending on many personal factors.
For us, we decided to focus on a search for a Mercedes Sprinter 144.
Choosing a Sprinter 144 for Van life
Besides the reputation and reliability of the Mercedes brand, we really loved the style and design of the Mercedes Sprinter. We were familiar with the Mercedes diesel engines because that is what we had in our school bus conversion, albeit a much larger version, so we felt very comfortable and confident with that engine.
We decided on the 144 wheelbase even though we realized that going “smaller” would mean we would have to minimalize our life and possessions even more so that we had to live and travel in our converted bus.
We found the van that would soon become our new van life home in Kansas City, Missouri. It matched our price point, year range, color, height, and length. Everything checked out for it with the Carfax report, so, we loaded up the pups and headed East towards Kansas City. A comfortable overnight stay in Kansas and the next day we were test driving and already falling in love with our soon to be tiny-house on wheels. We then headed back west towards Colorado in our shiny black Mercedes Benz Sprinter van.
We would spend a couple of more weeks in Colorado helping our friends get the roof on their cabin in anticipation of the winter snow season in Southern Colorado, but the last snowfall was just too much for us to bear and we decided it was time to change latitudes.
We left Colorado behind us and headed south in New Mexico. We took a hard left in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and drove over to Tucson, Arizona to visit and spend a few days with our son who lives there.
After a few days of good visits, yummy dinners, and good drinks, it was time to head back to Florida, where we would be building out our custom van renovation on the property of some good friends somewhere outside of Jacksonville.
The drive back to Florida was a very long, but much more pleasant, relaxing, and enjoyable ride than any road trip we had ever taken in the skoolie.
We couldn’t be happier that we decided to purchase our Mercedes Sprinter 144 for our van life adventures and lifestyle. We have driven it now over 3,500 miles and she has been nothing less but a dream. The build-out is in full swing and we look forward to sharing her with you all throughout the process.
Thank you for sharing our adventures with us as we explore, and grow.