demystifying my version of “van-life”

All credit goes to Jake Marquez: give him a follow at

I thought I would take the time today to tell the story of my van, Rosie.

I think it’s pretty easy to make a lot of assumptions about people who are attempting van-life, as Instagram and Pinterest are completely saturated with overly-filtered imagery of the most beautiful vans you’ve ever seen. Gorgeous sprinters with perfectly built interiors that look like hyper-modern, hyper-chic tiny homes, super complicated electrical & plumbing set-ups, and seemingly endless outdoor gear and other expensive utilities. It can be a lot to digest, particularly if van-life is something that interests you. I know that when I was looking for inspiration, the money signs kept wracking up in my brain.

How the hell can I afford to do this?

One thing I realized while doing the research was that the majority of these fancy Sprinter vans cost upwards of $50,000, some built out, some not. Some of the more high-end vans can cost around $200,000. With my $40,000 of debt, I knew that would be an impossibility for me (shout-out to me for buying a $25,000 car when I returned from my trip to South East Asia: anyone in the market for a 2016 RAV4 Hybrid?)

I had no money to speak of, and that $40,000 of debt was more like $45,000 thanks to me being belligerent with my money and accruing credit card debt on top of my student loans and car payments.

I literally spent the last $2,000 I had to buy Rosie, completely draining my savings and putting me farther into debt.

That $2,000 was meant to pay off some of my credit card debt, but I was desperate to get a van. I was desperate because something deep inside of me told me it was something I had to do, and had to do soon. I had wanted to buy a van and try this lifestyle out since I was 19 or 20, but I never pulled the trigger. I allowed myself to be incapacitated by resistance for so many years. I wasn’t living consciously, and I wasn’t taking the initiative to really live at all.

On a date, I uttered the words, “I just feel like a lot of my life has been out of my control.” I wanted to throw up when those words came out. What a waste. What a waste! And, what a lie that was. I hadn’t had the brevity, the courage, the balls to take control of my life. That was my problem, and with that realization, I knew something big had to shift. I needed to focus on being alive, really alive. I was over sleepwalking. I was over pretending that life was something that just happened to us, and I decided I was going to take action.

Cue meeting Jake. That’s the type of person who will make you feel alive.

Now, with his encouragement, I felt empowered. When I talked about wanting to do it, he would say, “You have to do it. If you don’t, it will eat you alive.” A sentiment I had thought, too, now echoed through his voice.

I knew, in my bones, that if I hesitated and waited, my 20’s could fade into memory more quickly than I could conceive of. I was already almost 24. When you feel strongly that you will regret not doing something, you have to follow that impulse and do it. Regretting things you have done is something that can only come from hindsight (it’s also pointless, and should only be met with action). If you have the foresight that you’ll be riddled with regret about neglecting to do a thing, you’d have to be pretty complacent and cowardly to not do that thing. That’s the universe, the god inside of you, giving you such a clear sign.

I looked at a couple of vans, one being a beater for $5,000 that could barely make it to 35 mph and didn’t have seat-belts. The pickings were bare, and I began to get pretty discouraged, until I saw a little ad for a 1991 Chevy Bonaventure.

The second I saw her, with her old-lady brown and light pink exterior paint, pink curtains and seats, maroon carpet, and old-school wood paneling, I knew I had to have her. $2,000! What a steal! She runs, and runs well. Only 125,000 miles and a new engine with only 50,000 miles on it. Insane.

To me, this was incredible. I had found it: finally! A van I could see myself fixing up and slowly making the transition into van-life (still not quite there yet, by the way). I didn’t bother telling my dad what I had found because I knew what he would think: he’d already made it pretty clear that he wouldn’t support his daughter “living in a van down by the river.” I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw my mom: surely she’d be supportive. When I told my her about it, however, she was absolutely furious. I could not stop crying when I told her, going from absolute giddy-excitedness to total depression in the matter of seconds. She said “absolutely not” and proceeded to tell me all of the reasons that it was unsafe, not something that “smart people do”, and it would be a gigantic mistake. I felt horribly misunderstood and alone. I could literally feel myself getting smaller as the tears escaped me. It felt like I was shrinking into this dark oblivion, where mankind truly was an island (I’ve always been dramatic). My ego was screaming, “Why does no one understand me?” All the while though, and I can thank my dad for this stubbornness, the whole time she was arguing with me (a plea to her daughter to not take unnecessary risks in life: an understandable plea from a mother) I was thinking to myself, “I’m going to show everyone that I can do this.” Always obstinate, I’ve never liked being told what to do. “I’m going to do this no matter what anyone says.” Eventually my mom lamented, after a lot crying and emotional attempts at explaining from me, and she said, “I can’t stop you from doing this.”

So the next morning, I bought Rosie.

(By the way, and this is very important, my mom has completely changed her tune since I bought the van, and has been totally supportive and wonderful about it since then. My dad went from being pretty angry (“You’ve always done whatever the f*ck you want, so I’m not surprised you didn’t care what we thought.”) to joking with me about it, and they both helped me get a very important feature of my van for my birthday, so that’s a good sign. I’m only sharing this to explain the resistance that I had faced.)

This was March 10th. I signed the papers, gave a wad of cash (all the money I had) to a random person, and drove off. The job I had had me working 8 days on and 6 days off, so I dropped Rosie off at my boyfriend’s house, and went straight to work.

In the next coming days, I wouldn’t even have a chance to think about the van. COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic the day after buying her, and fear quickly ensued.

When I bought the van, I had no idea that would be my last shift at work. I had just sunk all of my money into something, and I had no job, and no job prospects to speak of. I was completely overcome with anxiety: I was keeping something huge from my parents, I felt totally alone and alien in the world, and I had no money. It took me a couple of weeks, but finally I admitted to my parents what I had done. I could, at least, eliminate that stressor from my psyche.

The alienation I felt eventually subsided, and that is 100% due to the fact that I accepted something fundamental that I think everyone needs to accept: You are never going to be accepted by everyone. Period. People are going to judge you, people are going to not understand you, people are going to make fun of you, but that has nothing to do with you. That comes from within them, and their triggers. It has nothing to do with you.

Accepting yourself, aligning yourself with your path, being authentic, and following your truth are some of the most important things to do in this life. And with these, you will begin to honor other people’s paths, not take things personally, and not be so judgmental of others choices.

The universe brought me this van at the exact, right time. I had been manifesting this life of traveling around in a van, and now I have that. I have it also, in part because of what is going on in the world. It feels weird to be grateful at all for a pandemic, but in this way, I am. I’ve had the time to invest into a future that I had been praying for, that seemed far off even when I first bought Rosie. Now, it just feels like life.

All in all, and with the help of Jake (and the profoundly important birthday gift from my parents, which is a Whynter fridge), Rosie has cost around $5,000 to get fully outfitted. That means solar, storage, fridge, cooking/camping utensils, emergency tools (hydraulic jack) and recently we added a solar shower, following Kombilife’s video:

Our version of the Kombilife solar shower!

Our solar set-up is from GoalZero, which requires a lot of cost up-front as compared to other “DIY cheap van hacks” all over the internet (~$1200 for 2 panels, one 50 watts and the other 100 watts, and the battery and cables), but it’s perfect for us because we don’t know anything about engineering. It’s so simple and easy to manage, so if you’re looking at these “simple” videos online about wiring up your van and are feeling super overwhelmed, you’re not alone! Don’t be discouraged if you’re dumb like us, just buy the GoalZero Solar Kits. It will make your life a lot easier. And, fun fact, we’re both powering our laptops using the solar set-up right at this very moment!

Jake working on creative projects, pretending to not notice me taking his picture.

Here’s the link to the solar kit we bought:

GoalZero solar panels + hacky roof-rack attachment system that works just fine!

Our fridge is a Whynter 65 Quart Portable Refrigerator. Most of these “cheap and easy!” van-lifers are using a Dometic fridge, which is twice as expensive as Whynter for whatever reason, but I did the research to decide to go with the cheaper option, which was still around $500. These fridges ain’t cheap, but they are wonderful for soda water drinking carnivores like Jake and me.

Installing all of this stuff has been really fun for us, as I said, we are not engineers. We didn’t know shit, and now we know some shit, but not much. It’s been a great experience of challenging our abilities, getting super sunburnt, and figuring things out as we go.

My final, longwinded point is: if you are drawn to buying a van to live in, it doesn’t have to be the most beautiful Sprinter van in existence. It can be a cheap, old van with broken door handles and quirky wood paneling. If you have zero technical skills, do research, and watch Youtube videos until you find a way to do things that makes sense to you. If your loved ones don’t support you getting a van, understand that that resistance is the universe’s way of telling you to be strong, and persist. And also understand, that they will come around eventually (especially once they see how happy you are following your path), and if they don’t, you don’t need anyone’s acceptance anyway. You only need your own.

Be resolute in what you want, set those intentions, and take action. The universe will reward your bravery.

Published by Maren Morgan

searching for brevity, seeking release

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