- Author Olivia Young and her partner, Matt, are former office workers who now live in a converted cargo van.
- Their life on wheels allows them to travel more, live simpler, and spend less money.
- They have travelled through much of the US and Canada in their 2006 GMC Savana named Birdie.
- Check out incredible photos of their van lifestyle below.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When I told my loan officer last year that I was looking for a van to live in, she responded with, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”
I was taken aback by her sympathy because, for me, this was a longtime dream.
It all started in 2016, when I found myself exhausted by my job at a Los Angeles public relations agency and looking for an escape. I put in my notice, sold my things, packed a 70-litre backpack, and travelled to New Zealand on a whim.
Three years and 11 countries later, I still haven’t gone back. My partner, Matt, and I now live in a 13-year-old GMC Savana named Birdie, and while it might not offer us daily showers and Netflix, it’s everything we need.
Take a look inside our beloved house on wheels below, and see how we eat, sleep, work, and travel inside our trusty van.
My fascination started with the 1995 minivan I bought in New Zealand. Despite its musty bed and the many tourists who had slept in it, waking up in new places each day was a thrill. A couple months after I met my partner Matt, who had also quit an office job to travel, he moved in.
We travelled around the island together for months before our visas expired, and then we decided to sell the van and continue our adventures in Australia. There, we bought a four-wheel-drive with a rooftop tent and lived in it for almost a year.
Having been on the “van life” circuit for two years already, I knew exactly what I was looking for by the time I returned to the States to search for something more long-term. When I saw this former government surveillance van sitting on the lot, I knew it was the one.
My carpenter-extraordinaire father spent two months gutting the interior and turning it into a homey haven on wheels. With my vision and his handiwork, this retired work van got a second chance at life.
Birdie, as we named our vehicle, has now taken Matt and me through 15 states and two Canadian provinces since its maiden voyage in February 2019.
We’ve tried all kinds of odd jobs on the road, from vineyard work and painting houses to cleaning hotels. When we’re on the move, we make a living off my freelance writing and Matt’s photography.
I love to sample the local café and coffee shop offerings, so I tend to work from whatever window seat is closest to an electrical outlet. On days when I do work from the van, I have a 15-gigabyte data plan and a laptop car charger to support it.
We’ve always been budget travellers. The less we spend, the less we have to work. Our monthly budget is about $US2,000 for the two of us, including fuel, groceries, and the occasional day pass at the gym (for showers, mostly).
Birdie was designed as meticulously as a tiny house. Everything inside has a purpose — or several — and a unique place. I even measured the kettle, shoes, and books before the shelves were installed.
We have about 25 square feet of storage space under our custom-cut foam mattress, which is where we keep our clothes, two portable chairs, a tent, and hiking gear.
Our kitchen space is only slightly bigger than our bed and features a gravity-fed water system that starts with two PVC pipes (each holding seven gallons) on the roof and ends with a copper mixing bowl that drains into a five-gallon bucket underneath.
When it’s warm enough, we hang our portable Coleman solar shower — a five-gallon bag painted black, essentially — in a nearby tree. Our trusty collapsible bucket can be a handy makeshift washing machine and the empty coffee can under the passenger seat is used for late-night pees.
Our refrigerator is an insulated tote from Trader Joe’s. Because our budgets don’t factor in takeout, we typically make at least one trip to the supermarket per day. We have a two-burner butane stove, a frying pan, and two saucepans to work with, and we plan our meals accordingly.
Birdie might require more maintenance than the average commuter car, but the freedom to take our house anywhere is worth the extra repairs. So far, we’ve driven from New York City through the Southwest, up the Pacific Coast …
… and through part of Canada, which is where we are now.
Perhaps this old van will even see another continent someday, but until then, there’s plenty left of North America to explore.
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