Where To Find "The One"

Finding Bombadil was a little bit like dating. I went into it knowing that no van (I could afford) was going to have everything I wanted. So I made a list of the things that were important to me:

  • 2005 or newer

  • less than 130,000 miles

  • cruise control

  • high top

  • tow-hitch

  • 8 cylinder engine

Sprinters were out of my price range and Transits had just come out and there wasn’t any info about their long-term reliability so those were the only 2 models I eliminated right off the bat. I did not want to take on the debt for a brand new van, so I was looking only at used vans.

I would look at any van that had at least half of the “important things” on it, and allowed for the fact that some of those things can be added later if the van was otherwise excellent.

I tried Ebay, Craigslist, Facebook, local papers, local dealerships (particularly ones that dealt with fleets). I looked for more than a year. I didn’t find anything that I was willing to pay the asking price for. I was beginning to think I might have to get a new one.

What finally found me my van was that I had told my family and friends that I was looking for one. My parents drove by a used car dealership that had Bombadil sitting there. They talked to the dealership, test drove it, took it to their trusted local mechanic and had him look it over. Even though they are over 2000 miles away from me, they found “the one”! I bought the van without ever seeing it in person (there were many texted photos however). My parents picked it up and kept it in their driveway for a couple of months until I could fly out and pick it up and drive it back here.

Bombadil came with 4 of my 6 important things, which is pretty good!

So if you are interesting in doing something like this, my advice is don’t give up! And tell people! You never know who knows someone who knows someone, or who sees something you never would.

The Why(s)

I have spent almost two years converting Bombadil into a camper van, evenings and weekends and vacations. There are two “why” questions I get asked the most. The first is “why don’t you just live in a house/apartment, like a normal person?”

I have of course done just that for many years, I am middle aged and until last month that’s exactly how I have lived. But here’s the thing, I have backpacked and hiked much of my life. I have lived all across the country doing a wide variety of jobs. All those years, all of the places I have lived, I have always wished for more time. More time to spend in the beautiful, interesting, different places in this country, more time to explore the places I find, more time to find new places. What I want is time and experiences. I am not getting any younger, in order to have as much time and as many experiences as possible, things need to change.

Coastal Maine in the fall.

Coastal Maine in the fall.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

This is the way that I have chosen to get what I want. Living in a minimalist fashion with only what I need means I can work less and have more time and energy. Living nomadically means I can travel more easily, cheaply and more often. Living this way isn’t as easy and convenient as living conventionally, but it gets me much closer to what I want out of life. For me that is a trade worth making.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

The second question is “Why a van?” Generally followed by two or three other “better” options. When I decided that I want to try living nomadically I did a great deal of research. Research into RV of all sizes and ages, into 5th wheels, pop-ups, tear-drop trailers, cargo trailers, buses, vans and at least half a dozen more options. All of these options have positives and negatives. Any of them could work. The trick is to find the option that will work the best for you personally, and to remember that no option is going to have EVERYTHING you want. For ME, for the kind of travel that I want to do, the van is the option I decided to try. Even after I made that decision there was even more research, what van? How old? How long/tall? Etc. There are companies that will convert a van into a camper for you, there are companies that will do just some of the work. I read blogs, I watched Youtube videos, I haunted fora of various kinds. I attended “Vanlife Gatherings”

The van I have ended up with is the product of research and an honest appraisal of what I need and what I use the most. I may change it around, I may try something else entirely. But for now it is working for me!

And It Was Good

I finished the van!

From the back.

From the back.

From the side barn doors.

From the side barn doors.

Well ok not really, it still needs an awning (but it’s wintertime so I don’t need that yet) and a swing away cargo carrier for the back (waiting on my tax refund) and some odds and ends like that. However I moved into it on the third of December! Just in time for snowpocalypse here in the south. Asheville’s average snowfall per year is 11 inches, we got 18-22 inches… in one weekend. So that wouldn’t have been my first choice of beginnings, but we don’t always get what we want.

I have been van living for almost a month now. I like it. I am comfortable. I have everything I need. There are things to get used to, some things take longer and some things are quicker vs traditional living. I wondered in the back of mind as I worked on the van…”what if I do all this work, spend all this time and money, and then I don’t like living that way?” The deal I made with myself is that I will live in the van for a year. The van will pay for itself in one year, with what I am saving in rent. After the first year, if I still like it, great I continue on. If I don’t like it, if I am uncomfortable or unhappy because of my living arrangements then I can go back to traditional living and I won’t have lost anything.

So this is where I am. I live in my van full time. I am exploring other ways of making money that would allow me to travel. But for now I am saving money while working full-time. I am using this blog to document both how I built out my van, and how I make this lifestyle work going forward.