Sky-high California rents persuaded a tech exec to live in her $25K secondhand van and work remotely from national parks. Take a look at her new nomadic life.

A woman wearing an orange sweater sits on top of a white van with the blue sky and clouds behind her.
Tech worker is working remotely from her van as she travels across the Southwest. Erica Horn
  • Erica Horn bought a used Mercedes Sprinter for $25,000 and added a kitchen, bathroom, and two beds.
  • Horn works has worked remotely from beautiful locations in Arizona, California, and Utah.
  • Horn has no plans to return to the “vicious cycle” of renting in San Francisco.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A 33-year-old tech worker who ditched sky-high San Francisco rents for a life living and working from her second-hand van told Insider that she has only just started her cross-country adventure.

Erica Horn, an account manager for Mapbox, a platform that helps developers build maps, decided to kit out a used two-year-old $25,000 Mercedes Sprinter during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring.

The inside of a van with a small couch, table, bathroom, and kitchen.
Horn’s van includes a bed, couch, bathroom, and kitchen. Erica Horn

In July 2020, Horn took out a private loan to buy the van, which had clocked up 160,934km, from a local bakery.

“The couple that ran the company was very nice and gave me a good deal because they were excited about my plan,” Horn said.

A white van sits in a desert with orange colored sand and a bright blue sky.
Horn said that she is happiest when she’s working in natural landscapes. Erica Horn

Horn spent about $35,000 in cash and savings to build out the van’s interior over six months, with help from her dad and two contractors who had just started their business.

A smiling woman wearing an orange jumper stands in the doorway to her van.
kitted out her $25,000 second-hand van during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Erica Horn

The van has enough space for a bed, kitchen, shower, toilet and a couch which converts into a guest bed. Horn said there is plenty of space for one person.

But those renovations are a constant process, Horn added. “It’s never done!” she said.

The empty inside of a white van.
Horn started renovating her van in July 2020. Erica Horn
A man and a woman use tools to fit a wooden floor into a white van.
Horn spent about $35,000 renovating her second-hand van. Erica Horn

Horn said that saving money was her primary goal in moving in her van.

“I was tired of being stuck in the vicious cycle of San Francisco rent and feeling like my opportunity to settle down and own a home was too far out of reach,” Horn said. “Now, I take all the money I was spending on rent and I’m redirecting that to savings and retirement accounts.”

So far, Horn has travelled through Arizona, California, Utah, and plans to go further north to Oregon and then Washington as the weather gets warmer, and pandemic restrictions ease up.

“I’m much happier at work when I’m looking out at a mountain or coastline beyond my laptop,” she said.

A bed with orange pillows in the back of a white van looks out on a mountainous landscape.
Horn has travelled through several Southwest states in 2021. Erica Horn

“I love that I can go anywhere I want and my home and my comforts come with me,” Horn said. “It’s a great balance for someone like myself who loves to be at home but really desires to travel.”

Horn said she makes so many more decisions in a day compared to her old life, such as finding water and propane, and making sure her belongings don’t fly around the van and break when she’s driving.

The interior of a white van with a kitchen, bench, bed and shower.
She plans to go further north at some point. Erica Horn

“That bumpy and stressful road you drove down is worth it when you set up camp in a quiet and beautiful setting to call your temporary home,” Horn said.

Two mugs containing hot drinks sit on a table with a mountainous scenery behind them.
Horn has found it difficult to find reliable internet connection in some remote spots. Erica Horn
A white van sits in the middle of a desert in early evening.
Horn has travelled across Arizona, California, and Utah so far. Erica Horn

But finding a reliable internet connection is a major challenge.

“Being tied to a 9-5 job full of Salesforce pages and video calls means I need great signal for hot spotting,” she said. Horn has upgraded her phone, and bought additional hotspots and a signal booster to keep her connected.

A woman wearing a grey and red sweater sits on her bed smiling and holding a mug.
Horn is not sure when her nomadic lifestyle will come to an end. Erica Horn

Loneliness, too, is one of the biggest difficulties of vanlife.

“The solitude is amazing when that’s what you need,” Horn said. “But it can be hard when you can’t just call a friend to come over when you’re feeling social.”

Horn said that she could sell or rent out her van in the future. “It’s hard to say when that time will come, though,” she said.