A pursuer of van life dreams since 2019, Hilary navigates life on the road in a Ford Econoline and shares van life tips on her blog Green Van Go.
How did you first discover vanlife?
Somehow I managed to end up dating three different guys who had, at some point, lived out of a van or vehicle for a while. Not while I was dating them, but that’s how I first learned about the lifestyle. This was over the course of a few years. I’m not a serial dater! Guess fate was already tempting me…
What was your life like before vanlife?
Comfortable and routine. I was almost seven years into a digital marketing career, working full-time and spending my free time playing volleyball, exploring Southern Utah or floating around on dating apps. I was getting tired of feeling like I was missing a deeper part of myself and life in general.
What made you decide that vanlife is right for you?
I had a deep-rooted, gnawing thought that I wasn’t living to my full potential. I felt like I’d stopped growing in my lifestyle before vanlife, but I knew I had more to see and learn about the world and myself.
How long have you been traveling/living this way? Are you full-time or part-time?
Since the van build, it’s been about ten months. I’ve spent four months on the road full-time, took a month-long break, and will be returning for another 4-5 month stint…tomorrow, actually!
Tell us about your van
It used to be a Holiday Inn shuttle bus! It’s a 1999 Ford E250 and I got it for $6,000. I’m all about budgeting and I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself into this lifestyle by buying an insanely expensive rig. It came already built-out, but the build ended up not being suitable for the type of full-time living I wanted to do. So I unexpectedly ended up gutting it and roping my dad in as well…the ultimate father-daughter bonding project!
Where do you travel to in your van? Any places or destinations you would recommend?
I spent the summer in the Pacific Northwest (mainly Oregon and Washington). It was a combination of some of the deepest, greenest forests I’ve ever seen and sandy ocean beaches. I’m from New England, and it was like a bigger version of New England–very nostalgic for me. What’s more, I was blown away that there are areas of rainforest right on the ocean coast! That’s something I have never experienced before. Recommend that during the summertime.
What has been your most memorable vanlife experience so far?
I stayed on a free plot of dry, dusty, land in southern Idaho after becoming desperate for a place to stay and stumbling on this place from a camping app. Won’t lie, driving up to the place looked like the setting for a perfect murder–a junkyard with buses painted like dogs, a pile of tires, and all other random tidbits. But, two separate camping apps had rave reviews about the place and the man who ran it, so I gave it a shot. I ended up making five new van life friends, and was blown away by the kindness of the landowner. He offers his land for free, but his only “rule” is that you join him by the bonfire every night for a beer.
What is your biggest vanlife fail so far?
Within two hours of hitting the road, my van broke down in the middle of a highway and I was sure I was going to be rear-ended! Thankfully, a truck driver pulled me off the road just minutes after breaking down, but I then spent the next hour in my sweltering-hot van on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck. It was a Saturday so all mechanic shops were closed, so I ended up staying in a motel for two nights waiting for the place to open. Weirdly enough, the mechanic shop said my van worked fine by the time they got to it–but it was very low on oil. Still not sure what happened.
What does your typical day look like, from when you wake up to when you go to bed?
It really varies on whether or not I’m off-the-grid or in the city. If I’m off the grid, I’ll wake up, make coffee, read or check my laptop, do a Fitbit workout, maybe find a place to hike. If I’m in the city, I’ll go to a coffee shop and work there for a few hours. Then, I’ll head to the gym for a workout and shower.
How do you make money while on the road?
I have two part-time, remote freelance jobs. My background was in digital marketing, and both gigs came from previous job connections so I’ve felt very lucky to work with people I already know and can be transparent about my lifestyle with. The job roles mainly include video marketing, and SEO activities.
How much money do you save by living in a van?
Honestly, I’m probably spending a pretty similar amount as when I lived in a regular house. Mainly because my rent was insanely cheap (lol) and now the gas costs alone each month can equate to a cheap room rental. It’s tough to answer this one.
What are some vanlife hacks you would recommend for travelers on a budget?
To visit my website–shameless plug! My site is focused on how to start vanlife for those on a serious budget. First tip is to REALLY think about every purchase you make–big or small–because it’s easy to lose a lot on insignificant purchases. I would also opt for a used van without a bunch of bells and whistles. But–here’s a plot twist–REALLY think hard on your day-to-day lifestyle because you don’t want to buy, say, a cheap setup for your outdoor work station, then end up hating it, and now re-buying an outdoor work station. Sometimes, it’s worth splurging on the good stuff (and actually cheaper in the long-run).
Have you ever felt unsafe while living in a van?
Yes–really, only in the wee hours of the night when I hear something that goes bump. I had one night deep in a national forest, no cellphone service, I’m the only car in the lot, and a group of people show up at midnight and start partying (very loudly) right by my van. They started playing loud music and I even heard gunshots off in the woods…decided that was my queue to leave. Drove away at 2am.
What’s the biggest downside to living in a van? Any pet peeves?
The dust! The endless dust! I never realized I was so sensitive to it until…it consumed my life. The sealant in my van isn’t great, so anytime I go down a dirt road, I can see the dust fill my car, I can smell it, taste it, and am then reminded of it once I stop and see the coat it’s left across everything!
How do you meet new people while on the road?
Either through Instagram or happen to camp at the same place. It’s been about 50-50 so far and I love knowing there are a lot of other road travelers out there. That being said, always a gamble when you roll up to a new camp spot and just have to hope that your neighbor is cool.
How do you stay in touch with friends and family?
Lots of Snapchats (it’s actually the main form of communication between me and my mom!), as well as video calls and texting.
Do you have any advice for others who are considering living or traveling in a van?
So much of life and opportunities comes from money….unfortunately. My advice is to start saving now. Even if it’s a few bucks a week, it will not only help you down the road (pun intended) but will start building your confidence in feeling like you have a plan towards making your dream a reality.
Foodie? Fave vanlife recipe?
Hands-down, this bad boy is healthy, easy to make, and is good cold: Cook up a cup of quinoa in beef broth, add chopped bell pepper, onion and cucumber. Then add some feta cheese, black beans and balsamic vinegar. Boom–it’s so crunchy, refreshing and holds me for hours.
What are you listening to lately?
Probably the worst thing possible for a solo female vanlifer–a true crime podcast called Morbid! It’s hosted by these two hilarious women from Massachusetts (I swear New England humor is just different) and I laugh, freak myself out, and feel like they keep me good company on my drives.
Who inspires you?
It’s a given that my close friends and family inspire me (that’s why I keep them close) but a couple vanlifers that have been inspiring me lately to continue being my authentic self and to not get overwhelmed by big obstacles are Katie Larsen (@soweboughtavan) and Shane Dennis (@shanedennnis).
What’s your next adventure?
No idea! Right now, I’m torn between driving back east for the holidays to be with family, or staying in the Southwestern states for warmth and new exploration!