Nomadic Story: #VanLife with Chris & Sara

January 6, 2019 · 10 minute read

Welcome to the first of the Nomadic Story series. We started this series to help curious minds, like yourself, explore how and why people switch to a nomadic lifestyle. As any digital nomad will tell you, there is no one right way to becoming location independent. Through this series, we are excited to share with you the stories of unique digital nomads, to inspire you to start your very own nomadic journey.

This week we are introducing a husband + wife duo, Chris & Sara, who are living nomadically in their renovated Sprinter van with their dog, Kramer. They've been inspired by the freedom and adventure that their van life creates for them. Without further ado, here is Chris & Sara's story about their nomadic journey.

Follow Chris & Sara's journey: @letsbe_us

To start, tell us a little about yourselves! Who are you & what is your background?

We’re Chris and Sara, husband and wife creative duo currently living in our self converted Sprinter van. Originally from the southeast, prior to living in the van, we were in Seattle, WA so we sort of consider the PNW home now. Chris has owned his own design and marketing business for the last decade. Sara recently left working for nonprofits to pursue her photography business full time. 

Chris, Sara & Kramer living the #VanLife!

What do you do for a living now? Did you have to change careers to make the transition? 

Chris is a designer and Sara is a photographer. We didn’t change our jobs to live in the van, but we have had to change the way we work (routines, finding clients, etc.).

How did you get turned on to the digital nomadic lifestyle? Was it someone you knew personally, social media, a book you read, etc.? 

I guess you could say the nomadic lifestyle has always been an interest to us so I’m not sure we could really pinpoint an “AH HA!” moment. We met cycling across the country so adventure and traveling have always been at the core of our relationship. Working from home people always joked with us about how cool it was we could work “anywhere” and one day we realized they were right. 

We’ve always wanted to live on the road in some capacity, whether part time or full time. Where we were at in our lives in Seattle we were able to take the plunge into the full-time nomadic lifestyle.

Why did you decide to take the leap towards becoming nomadic?

The time was just right! Our apartment lease was up and our jobs were full-time work from home making it possible for us to just go for it!

How long have you been nomadic? 

 Since October 2018.

How did you transition to this kind of lifestyle & how long did it take? What were some of the steps you took to turn your vision of life as a digital nomad, into a reality?

It took several months of dreaming of planning before we ever purchased our van. From the time we picked the van up at the dealership, to the time we hit the road at the end of the renovation took about 4 months (about 3 months to build it out). Tons of blueprints, research, and learning took place in those months. It was a lot of work but we learned SO MUCH.

Describe what you call "home"? Why did you end up choosing that over something else? 

Our home is a 2018 170ext Mercedes Sprinter Van. We wanted something that allowed us to have all the home “essentials” (oven/stove, office, shower/toilet, permanent bed) and we managed a layout in the 170ext van that allowed for all of this and more! 

While we could have had all of this and more in an RV or tiny home, we like how versatile the Mercedes Sprinters are. They’re small enough to parallel park in a city but roomy enough to make it home. They also are incredibly reliable compared to so many RVs out there.

Interior shot of their Sprinter Van renovation.

What were some of the biggest challenges during the transition?

The biggest challenges were definitely centered around just navigating this new lifestyle and the challenges that come with it. Going from a 1000 sq/ft apartment to an 80 sq/ft van was definitely a major life change. Learning how to live and function in a small space while also having to closely monitor power and water usage while also trying to find wi-fi for work and a place to park at night is pretty much a full-time job in and of itself. After a few weeks, we had gotten the hang of it and things have sort of fallen into a routine now.

What's been the greatest aspect or benefit of living nomadically?

The freedom to live spontaneously and go whoever we want. That’s sort of a broad answer but it’s true! A couple of weeks ago we were in Shenandoah camping and decided we wanted to be in Atlanta for a football game and to see friends the next days so we just packed up and drove 9 hours to be there in time to see the game with friends. 

It’s awesome just being able to choose to be where we want to be. When the weather gets too cold, we head south. If we want snow, we head back north. Our home is on wheels so we really can go wherever! 

What's been the biggest challenges you've faced living in this way?

Routine and community. While we do have a routine to an extent, there are things that are more challenging now such as finding stable wifi for work calls and figuring in time for a solid workout when you’re home for the night is in a Walmart parking lot. 

We also really miss having a steady local community around us. While living on the road affords us the opportunity to see friends literally all over the country, those meetings are still less frequent than we’d like. We’ve really enjoyed meeting new friends in different cities, but we also miss our Seattle community! 

Everything about van life is give and take and this is especially true when it comes to challenges.

How has being nomadic influenced your life? 

Definitely forced to go with the flow more. We can’t control many of the factors that affect our lives so being flexible is a must now.

Would you go back to a conventional lifestyle after this, or do you see this as a long-term lifestyle? 

Our plan was to live on the road for at least 1 year. Right now it looks like we’ll be living on it for longer than that because we love the freedom and adventure so much! We could definitely see ourselves going back to a conventional lifestyle, but having lived this nomadic life, it’s hard to imagine living a “normal” life without traveling in some capacity always a part of it. Whenever we do go back to normal life, it’ll be different for sure. 

How has this lifestyle affected your expenses and/or financial situation? 

Van life was expensive up front just buying the van and putting a good bit of money into the buildout, but we planned for that ahead of time thanks to spreadsheets and a solid budget. Now that we’re on the road and the build was paid for in cash, we’re definitely saving money! 

If you live this lifestyle with a partner, family, or pets, how does this impact your lifestyle? What kind of considerations and choices have you made to accommodate everyone involved?

We’re a husband + wife duo with a pup that travels with us. We were both a part of the build/planning process to make sure that our wants and needs were met equally. As far as the dog goes, we make sure he gets a good park and a run every day and that the van’s temperature is monitored closely so he’s comfortable when we do have to leave him alone. So far he loves van life too though!

Chris & Sara's travel companion, Kramer!

How do you spend your free time? 

It depends. If we’re in a city, it’s at a park, coffee shop, and maybe a museum. If we’re in the mountains, we’re probably hiking or chilling in a hammock with a book.

What are your go-to resources/apps/gear that you can't live without or that have been pivotal with this kind of lifestyle?

Some apps that are game changers for the nomadic lifestyle are Allstays and iOverlander. Allstays is $10 but it’s the best $10 you’ll spend on the road. It gives you everything from free to paid parking spots, propane stations, gas stations, dump stations, and even potable water spots. 

Sprinter-source.com is the go-to site for all your sprinter questions. If you have a question about your van, someone else has had the same question and you can find it on this forum! 

Our favorite components/gear in our van would probably be our oven, iMacs, and WeBoost, and bikes. Those things allow us to live the digital nomadic lifestyle and work normally while also living in a van that feels like home and adventuring the way we like to.

What do you wish you had known before starting the journey to becoming a digital nomad?

Everything is different on the road! Cooking, working, working out, relaxing, everything is different so be ready for that. No matter how hard you try to make your nomadic abode feel like a home, your everyday life with inevitably shift. For us, it’s been for the better.

Do you have a favorite moment thus far?

Not necessarily a specific moment, but a place for sure. We loved Maine! It’s pretty different from the rest of the east coast which surprised us a bit. We love the east coast but our hearts are mostly on the west coast and it gave us a taste of that with a twist of New England. Acadia and Portland were both awesome!

Any exciting plans or changes planned for the future, pertaining to this lifestyle? 

Nope, not right now. We’re just going to keep living the van life and exploring for the foreseeable future. Our goal is to hit up all 50 states and see all the national parks accessible by van.

Sara & Kramer, hanging out in the back of their Sprinter Van. Plenty of extra storage in the back, including their bikes.

What is one piece of valuable advice or wisdom you'd like to share with others that are hoping to embark on this lifestyle?

Do lots and lots of research. Ask questions of people who are already living the lifestyle and learn as much as you can. The more planning you put into the nomadic lifestyle the fewer surprises you’ll experience. By no means can you anticipate every single surprise, but being proactive and prepared will definitely help with a smooth transition into such an unusual lifestyle.

Oh, and HAVE FUN. 

Where can people find out more about you & your lifestyle?