Van by a mountain and lake
Van by a mountain and lake
Why People Are Choosing the Van Life
Living off what fits in your van offers mobile freedom—and challenges
By Jennon Bell Hoffmann
Images courtesy of Freedom Vans and Dana Sperle-Wittler
The night Kyleigh Rogers and Tom Doran met in 2014, they spent the entire evening talking about Tom’s choice to live in a converted Sprinter van and pursue his passion for dirt and mountain biking.
Kyleigh Rogers and Tom Doran with their dog outside
Kyleigh Rogers and Tom Doran of Freedom Vans pose with their dogs
Kyleigh and Tom parted ways and didn’t see each other for more than a year, though Kyleigh kept thinking about Tom and dreaming about the freedom, financial savings, and adventure his nomadic lifestyle seemed to promise. When the two crossed paths again, they started dating, and within a few months, the couple, along with their two dogs, were living out the mobile adventure that is van life.
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/ The Road Less Traveled—But Heavily Posted About /
For decades, people have been drawn to life on the open road. For some, living untethered to conventions like a mortgage or permanent address is the epitome of freedom. These days, creative automotive engineering and social media have taken that nomadic dream one step further: #VanLife, a popular hashtag on social media, has created an online movement that’s beautifully showcasing the everyday lives of people who choose to live in converted vans, often traveling across the country to enjoy breathtaking sights and unique experiences.
Van driving down windy road with van life hashtag on image
For most of our clients, the reason that they’re interested in living in the van and are open to this lifestyle is because they just have this love for life and activity outdoors.”
-Kyleigh Rogers
Tom Doran working in the shop
One of Freedom Vans’ projects, the Fitz Roy
Tom Doran working in shop
Tom Doran working in the shop
One of Freedom Vans’ projects, the Fitz Roy
One of Freedom Vans’ projects, the Fitz Roy
Kyleigh and Tom love the lifestyle so much that they’ve dedicated their careers to it. Today, they own Freedom Vans, a company in Bellingham, Washington, that custom-builds vans for mobile living.

“For most of our clients, the reason that they’re interested in living in the van and are open to this lifestyle is because they just have this love for life and activity outdoors,” Kyleigh says.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the next mountain to climb, bike race to ride, trail to hike, or wave to surf is as only a van drive away. When your house is also your transportation, there’s no need to worry about logistics like lodging expenses and availability, and your gear is never lost at the airport.

In short, van life allows for freedom, independence, and self-reliance that aren’t common in this modern age.

“At first, van life gave me a way to take my home and my dog with me while I explored the West Coast as a travel nurse,” says Dana Sperle-Wittler, who is based in the Pacific Northwest. “Now, van life gives me the opportunity to be able to live the integrated life and work from home because I can coach virtually from wherever the van is parked. I love that I get to sleep in my own bed no matter where I am.”
Dana Sperle-Wittler doing yoga with her dog alongside her parked van
Dana Sperle-Wittler doing yoga with her dog alongside her parked van
Inside van showing kitchen area
Inside van showing TV area
Van Seating area
Freedom Vans offers various custom van conversion services.
/ A Peak Under the Hood of Van Life /
The freedom to travel and a low-cost lifestyle aside, van life isn’t always a joy ride. Simply put, being a nomad is not for everyone. Having a flexible or remote-based job makes traveling from place to place more financially viable, however accessibility, cell service, and internet availability can become major challenges.

In addition, you have to adapt to life with far fewer personal items.

“One of the largest challenges of moving into the van was getting rid of things—it is super hard,” Kyleigh says. In the three years she lived on the road, one of the most important things Kyleigh learned was to detach herself from the idea that she needed a lot of possessions. “It definitely takes this open-mindedness and a willingness to let go.”

Van-lifers must also be prepared to think quickly and creatively to handle the inevitable hurdles that come with constant motion. If you’re not a car buff, finding auto shops and resources in new places, possibly at inopportune times, can be risky. Knowing the rules and restrictions for overnight parking, which gyms are best for grabbing a hot shower, and ways to conserve fuel and energy becomes a second language for these people.

Free Vans designed the Pluto for maximum storage.
Free Vans designed the Pluto for maximum storage.
Even with a repertoire of nomadic life skills though, there is an inherent vulnerability to traveling; you may not always be aware of the level of security of certain areas. The first time Kyleigh slept alone in her van, someone tried to get into it at 2 a.m. She thought she had made a good choice by parking outside a well-trafficked and lit area but realized that she wasn’t as prepared as she thought for the unknown. Fortunately, the would-be intruder eventually left without incident.

Along with plenty of online research, seeking advice from auto experts and fellow van-lifers can help fill knowledge gaps. Some resources include Van X, a directory of van service providers across the country, Project Van Life Forum, an open Q&A for users, and in-person meet-ups like the Open Roads Fest and Freedom Vans’ annual gathering.

For some, these gatherings and online communities can be reinvigorating. “One of the beautiful things about the van life or nomad community is that there is so much creativity and fortitude,” Dana says. “If there is anything that draws us together, it’s the desire to see the world as a place of possibility and adventure.”

Kyleigh Rogers from Freedom Vans
One of Freedom Vans’ projects, Driftin’ and Dreamin’
Kyleigh Rogers from Freedom Vans
Kyleigh Rogers from Freedom Vans
One of Freedom Vans’ projects, Driftin’ and Dreamin’
One of Freedom Vans’ projects, Driftin’ and Dreamin’
Van life is about realizing the things that are most important in life aren’t things but opportunities, relationships, and experiences.”
-Dana Sperle-Wittler
/ Driving Home the Commitment /
Beyond taking steps in preparation, research, and outreach, van life requires a significant financial investment.

Knowing what you want your van to be will influence the budget. “Our full conversions that people are living in can definitely be anywhere from $45,000 to $125,000,” Kyleigh says. Exterior accessories, such as a roof rack or bumpers, and interior elements, such as air conditioning systems and indoor bathrooms, can increase the price.

“I try to be really straightforward with the pros and cons of converting and van living,” Kyleigh says. “Questions like, ‘What places are you interested in parking? Do you want to be off or on the grid? Will you be part-time or full-time van-living? Do you want or need a shower or toilet?’ give people a better idea of what to expect.”

If the answers to those questions only make your interest in van life stronger, the payoff could be life changing. For Dana, “Van life is about realizing the things that are most important in life aren’t things but opportunities, relationships, and experiences.”

Two vans in mountains
Van backdoor with snowy mountain in background
Insider
Tips from
a Van-Lifer
Dana Sperle-Wittler, who travels around the Pacific Northwest in her Mercedes 2015 170 Sprinter, has these tips for finding freedom on the road:
Think Safety:

“Glass is a minimally protective barrier so always have an escape route and a plan. Believing in the goodness of people makes van life doable, but awareness is key.”

Downsize and Minimize:

“Decide what you need most and then reduce again.”

Connect with Other Nomads:

“Social media is one of the best ways to connect with other likeminded, free-spirited individuals.”

Be Courteous:

“Stay curious, be kind, be respectful, and be understanding that not everyone understands the desire to roam.”

Dana snaps a selfie in front of her Sprinter van.
Dana snaps a selfie in front of her Sprinter van.
To discover more stories of life on the road, check out the #VanLife hashtag on Instagram, which has more than 6 million public posts.
About the Writer
Jennon Bell Hoffmann writes lifestyle and human-interest stories from her home in Illinois.

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