#Vanlife: Our Evolution
A Journey of Letting Go and Living More.
By now you've either heard from someone who knows someone, scrolled through pages on instagram and youtube, or personally observed the new craze roaming the streets and highways of the West Coast. Yes I'm talking about #Vanlife, a new movement of full-time van dwellers and weekend warrior overlanders. People are going mobile and off-grid left and right. Why? Well simply, it's a thrill and it's totally attainable. However, instead of attempting to analyze the current status of the van life movement, we'll be jumping back several years where the seed of Simply Synced Collective, rooted in the soil of van life, was planted. I hope you enjoy this story of letting go and living more through the adventures of building and living in a van.
- MINIMALISM - circa 2016
Welcome to the 21st century society where everyone is looking for ways to find purpose and direction in their lives amongst a whirlwind of opportunities and perspectives. It's truly a beautiful chaos, but can quickly overwhelm you without an intentional mindset and tools to guide your days. Enter Minimalism, a lifestyle practice, focused on the elimination of material possessions, negative mental processes, and really anything that doesn't add value to your life. As The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, put it: "Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom."
The initial dive into minimalism took place in a beautiful cabin in Lake Tahoe, California. I sat in my friend's living room alone, mid-morning sunlight filtering in through the big windows all round me. I stumbled upon a documentary called Minimalism, directed by Matt D'Avella, about Joshua and Ryan's journey and unfolding of minimalism. I was so enthralled by the content they were laying out in front of me, especially the stories of all these people they were meeting on their US tour that were practicing minimalism. The beautiful nugget was each person was manifesting minimalism in their own unique way, based on their needs and preferences. Some lived in tiny homes, some in vans, some in larger houses with 6 kids; the key was that they were all simplifying their lives and living by the theme of "Less is More". By removing some of the distractions, for example, over-consumption, these people found more time to enjoy time with family friends and really grow in the areas of life that meant the most to them. Doesn't this sound pretty straight-forward?? For sure... so why are so many of us caught up in consumption and accumulation instead of living a life focused on meaningful connections with others and deeper personal growth? I don't have the answer to that, and it's not worth our time to dive it. What truly matters is that each of us begin/continue to have more intention with our possessions and activities that we fill our lives with. I believe it's impossible for someone to sit down and dedicate time to reflection and not come away with several areas of potential growth. We are imperfect beings, hungry for adventure, so feed yourself with goodness. There was a moment during this film, sitting on the couch in that cabin, where tears actually began to roll down my face. The message was hitting me at a depth I wasn't accustomed to and I couldn't deny that my life needed some changes. I knew at that moment, this practice of minimalism was going to be at the forefront of my months and years to come. Not only was I stoked on this idea of getting rid of some of the meaningless knick-knacks in my room, I found myself in wonderment of those people living in vans. It seemed like such a wild adventure, filled with many challenges, but ultimately outweighed by the freedom it would bring. Y'all should know that I crave adventure and consistently challenge myself to ride against the norm... and this is where the dream of vanlife took hold of my being.
- SANTA CRUZ -
A significant element of my college years and the months following my experience at that cabin in Tahoe, were my road trips to Santa Cruz to visit my lovely sisters, Carina and Celine. With school and eventually a full-time job, it was usually a quick weekend send up the coast from San Diego, but packed with wildly memorable experiences. Whether it was climbing the treehouses amongst the redwoods on UC Santa Cruz's campus, meals in the dining halls, sippin' on coffee at Verve, jumping off the pier into the frigid ocean, or simply hanging out on a living room floor; we always found a way to have a blast. We opted for planning less and letting our curiosity guide us through the weekend. When you boil it down we were simply grateful to be in each other's presence, so there weren't these grand expectations we had to fulfill, we just enjoyed every moment together. Santa Cruz provided me with a few different mindsets that effectively steered my life in an incredibly satisfying and rewarding direction. First, is the importance of family and the power of knowing you have humans that will always love you and support you, no matter what. This doesn't come easy though, it takes dedication and patience to overcome the challenges and pain that almost every family will face. Hold onto your family with all the will power you possess, in turn they will walk through the fire with you or to save you. This is the same for your closest homies. I had a few that consistently joined me on these righteous roadies. Nothing brings a couple of friends closer like driving along Highway 1 through Big Sur, stopping at every damn turnout, hooting and hollering with every epic view, and making PB&J's in the back seat while your bud whips back and forth on the two-lane cliffside highway. Second, is the act of peacefully surrendering to the magnificent beauty and mightiness of nature. Walking amongst the giant redwoods in Santa Cruz, being sprayed by waves crashing against the cliffsides, observing banana slugs curled up on giant mushrooms, and dancing around bonfires under the starry sky; the wild spirit in us is manifested. When we mindfully adventured into nature, we found our truest selves, and the distractions of modern day communities drifted away. We dropped into a state of bliss, burning beautiful memories in our minds that we can return to when we slip away from wild spirits. Unfortunately we couldn't stay in the woods forever, but when we left, we brought elements from it with us in our minds, bodies, and souls. Lastly, which I elude in the previous notes, is the simplicity that washed over me on my travels to Santa Cruz. Which I was always eager to bring back with me to San Diego. It came during the slow mornings at coffee shops, thrifting at the local goodwill, listening to vinyl's, surf seshes at Steamer's Lane, drives up Highway 9 to Felton, and every moment in between. It's hard to describe the feelings that coursed through my being during my time in Santa Cruz, but whatever they are I can return to them quite easily when I play particular songs, flip through the photo albums, or even just close my eyes for a few. I seemed to be able to connect with my inner self the best, embrace my people, and simmer in the gracefulness of nature whenever I was there. So it was either move there or allow the mindsets to travel with me wherever I went. I chose the latter, and with it I needed a van, because there were a heck of a lot vans in Santa Cruz. - SAN DIEGO -
Living the young party life in Pacific Beach, I quickly realized I didn't belong in that scene. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun, but staying out till 2am and trying to hit a sunrise surf sesh 4 hours later isn't too sustainable. I much preferred the peaceful mornings in the water than the drunken nights wondering when I'd meet the love of my life. Turns out it wouldn't be at a bar in PB, shocker... Anyways with this looming feeling of not fitting in with the vibe in town, I obsessively dove into minimalism and planning out my dream van. I was able to gift a lot of my belongings to friends and give the rest to Goodwill, eventually working my way down to only the essentials. Coming to the end of a year living in Emerald Manor off Lamont St in PB, I wasn't quite sure what my next move would be. I didn't have the money to buy myself a van, my best bud got back with his ex, and my current roommate was ready to move in with his girl. So I decided to sleep on an air mattress in my homies grad housing studio for a month. Me and Brandon Schiller got real close that month, talk about tight quarters and simple living. I did get a storage unit for the camping gear and momentos that wouldn't make sense to keep in my Subaru Outback. This turned out to be a great test run for what living in a van would be like! A room ended up opening at friend's place in La Jolla, which was real close to work, biking distance actually. It seemed a perfect spot to be my last room before sending it into vanlife. With this intention, I slowly started to fill my room with materials and products that I would become my lil home on wheels. Live edges slabs of wood, a Dometic refrigerator, solar system components, burlap sacks, floor plan sketches, more wood, new power tools, a rooftop fan, and much much more. The stoke was growing with each thing I brought into my room that would eventually find it's way into my van. My days at work were tough, because all I wanted to do was look for vans and browse through peoples builds. I would sneakily draw out floor plans, scroll through instagram, and watch you-tube videos to feed my desire for vanlife. I constantly debated if I was ready to buy; would I go the cheaper route with a low roof painters van, find a used sprinter van that would still cost me $20k-$30k, or continue being patient until I could afford a new van off the lot. I went and saw countless used vans to let my creativity flow, knowing deep down I needed to keep saving and envisioning the dream. Around February of 2018, I went and saw a few Ford Transit 250 High roof vans. Cruising the nearby streets of the dealerships, I felt real good about this style of van. I would stand in the back of them and envision the build, overflowing with creativity and passion. Shortly after I submitted a custom order through Ford, as I needed just the right color and windows on the side and back doors. The waiting game wasn't over though, it was slated to take about 3 months for Ford to build and ship it to San Diego. Unfortunately around month 3 I was told there would be a month delay, and then a month later another month. I was getting antsy no doubt, but it didn't stop me from van planning. Finally, on June 1st, I made my way to the dealership to pick up my brand new, stone gray Ford Transit.
I'll never forgot leaving the lot, Dreams by Fleetwood Mac blaring, my mind flooded with the possibilities of how I would build it out and all the places I would explore. It was finally time to start building my dream. And with all the planning I did, I totally thought it would only take me only 3 months. I'd be able to grind hard that summer and start living in it the coming fall. Damn, I was so wrong....
I didn't anticipate all the curved cuts I'd have to make, the time it would take to learn how to do electrical work, the time it takes for stain and sealer to dry, and oh yeah a full-time job. Not to mention the struggles of not having a garage to build out of. I spent a lot of time on the street outside my house, friend's houses, girlfriend's house and even my girlfriend's uncles house. I was a nomad builder! Most days I'd get to building right after work, and the weekends were primetime for knocking out a bunch of building. I kind of accepted the fact that I was going to miss out on a lot of fun occasions, hit the gym less, sleep less, surf less, and basically devote all my time if I ever wanted to finish. Blessings to my girlfriend at the time for putting up with my van building craze and listening to all my ideas that were never ending. It literally consumed me, but thankfully spit me back out a grateful and stoked individual. I ended up becoming a member at a local maker space where I could utilize some higher end wood and metal working equipment, which really brought my creations to a new level. I was able to get a storage locker there and learn from a lot of skilled creators. Even better, there were a couple other folks building out their vans there, so we were able to bounce a lot of ideas off each other and help out with bigger projects. To be able to afford the membership I decided to move out of my room in La Jolla and "move into" my unfinished van. No bed, no sink, no stove, no cabinets. So I slept on my camping pad and cooked soup on my jet boil. That didn't last long though, I ended up at my girlfriend's most of the time. It was exciting to sleep on random streets and embrace the feeling of not having a room to call my own, but I was far from actual van life. This is a lot of storytelling, but what I'm getting at is that building out my dream turned out to be way more involved and stressful than I originally imagined. I literally bled, cried, and for sure sweat a ton. And it really took several months before it started to feel like something special. It was hard not to compare my experience to the beautifully finished vans on Instagram. I constantly wondered if my build would turn out like how I envisioned it. Looking back now, I wish I could have practiced more patience and acceptance of my work, because I truly created something beautiful. I don't want to invade your mind with all the details of the breakup with the above mentioned gal, but it certainly sent me into Full-time Vanlife. Still not fully complete, I did have a bed, a sink and a refrigerator at this point so I was able to comfortably live in my van. I was still working a full time - job in La Jolla, so I stuck around San Diego most of the time. I continued spending time at the maker space, knocking out detail after detail, bringing my visions to life. A few months later I convinced my best bud to let me convert his garage into woodshop so I could have more space to myself and continue transforming the van. At this point I'm probably 2 years into the build, still feeling like there's more to be done, not satisfied with the condition, only now realizing it was my mental condition of necessary perfection that made me always push for more. A blessing and curse. The process was grueling, but rewarded me incredibly.
- PRESENT - Summer 2022
You're probably wondering if the van is done... Nope, it probably never will be, but I'm enjoying the hell out of it. I'm not really good at "chillin" though, I have a tendency to always be taking on a new projects, so I bought a fixer upper house with a friend at the end of 2020. This put a halt to my semi-nomadic van living, springing me into a whole new realm of building. I must say it was nice to be in a stationary room again, and have access to running water and a big kitchen. Fast forward to present day, we are getting close to wrapping up the remodeling and the the gas prices are nearly $7. The world seems to be on the brink of collapse, a perfect time to quit my steady job, hop in the van, travel the US and try to wood work full time! Luckily I won't be alone this time, I met a lovely lady whose going to join me full time. We figured we're only getting older, regular jobs will always be there, and kids aren't too far off. Time to get out there and explore as much as we can handle! Stay tuned and stay synced y'all!