Van Life and Overlanding
Show Notes for Podcast Episode #12
Vanlife and Overlanding
Scott and Matt sit down with Brittney Bloch (@brattneyb) and Chris Cordes (4x4_touring) to discuss their full-time travels in their vehicles. Brittany owns a diesel 2WD Sprinter and Chris has a diesel Excursion, and they use both vehicles depending on the chosen adventure. We discuss the differences between Van Life and Overlanding (not much), and learn about tips, tricks, and hacks for life on the road. Vanlife is an admirable combination of living on the road and meandering travel.
The First "Van" was a 1917 Ford Model TT
Van as a term started from the word caravan.
One of the original van upfitters is Sportsmobile, started in 1961
In 1989 Allen Feld started Sportsmobile West, made famous for converting and modifying Ford vans for travel.
Iglhaut 4WD Sprinter Conversions with Locking Differentials, Low Range, and 37" Tires
Chris mentioned the Omnia Oven: https://omniasweden.com/en/home/
Brittany mentioned her hack as the Dawn Wrinkle Release Spray: https://downy.com/en-us/fabric-softener/downy-wrinkle-releaser
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @globaloverland
Matthew is a leading expert in automotive adventure. He has extensively explored the world's most remote places by 4WD and is considered an industry authority on overland travel. He is the only American to ever become an editor of a major Australian 4WD publication and has over 15 years of competitive auto racing experience. @mattexplore
Scott Brady: Hello and welcome to the Overland Journal Podcast, I am your host Scott Brady and I am here with my co-host Matt Scott, and we’re gonna talk about something a little different today, what’re we gonna talk about Matt?
Matt Scott: Vanlife. Very trendy.
Scott Brady: Hashtag Vanlife
Matt Scott: It’s basically if you were to take Zoolander and make it into Overlanding it would be vanlife, it’s very trendy right now. Very hot right now.
Scott Brady: I like that, I like that.
Matt Scott: Everybody’s got their own clothing, their own version of sparkling water, and everything’s desaturated. Even the photography’s desaturated. And we’ve got some cool people with us, we’ve got Christ Cordes who has worked with us for eight years. He started off as an intern out of Embry Riddle University here in Prescott, and is one of our editors. He manages expedition portals, so all of that great content you see on the portal is curated by Chris. He’s an authority on the Overland subject, and has travelled extensively around the country and in many international trips as well. We’re very fortunate to have him on the team, he’s a master of his craft. He’s also sort of traveling over the last few years full time, and we’ll talk to him a little about that. Chris, who do we have with you today?
Chris Cordes: My girlfriend Brittany, who is probably an expert on van life than I could ever be. She’s been doing it for a while and is really integrated into the whole community.
Matt Scott: Thank you for being with us Brittany, when I first saw your van parked in the Overland Journal parking lot a year ago now, I was like, “That is such a cool van,” It’s one of the original style sprinters. So it’s not the super modern one, it’s the super cool one. And another thing that makes this van cooler for this podcast is that it’s actually where we started. We recorded the first three episodes of the Overland Journal Podcast in Brittany’s van, so we all owe you gratitude, and thank you for being on the podcast Brittany.
Brittany: Yeah you bet.
Matt Scott: So Brittany, tell us a little bit about what inspired you to live in a van and how long have you been living out of your van.
Brittany: Um, so I would say just travel in general is what inspired me to do so. I lived in Southern California, I road tripped everywhere from San Diego on the weekends whenever I could, doing as much hiking and backpacking and outdoor activities as I could. And to a point you can only do so much within a two to three day weekend. I did everything that I wanted to do within an eight hour drive to San Diego and so I started looking at, “Do I need to move”, looking at other places to live. Then I stumbled upon this van life community, which the premise of it is to get you closer to where you want to be. And that was kind of what started it, and inspired me to do so.
Scott Brady: That makes a lot of sense, so you were already spending a lot of time outdoors, and the van allowed you to stay connected with the outdoors on a daily basis.
Brittany: Right. A lot more comfortable than that Tacoma.
Scott Brady: No doubt. And Matt and I have both travelled extensively out of wagons and I think even about the expedition 7 trip, and the vehicle was only really a place to sleep, it was not a place to live.
Matt Scott: I think that’s what’s so appealing about a van, or about van life is you get to a point where you’ve been on the road for a while and you need that time to yourself, you need to be able to shut that door on the world and kinda look in, or just get away from people and watch Netflix and read a book or something.
Matt Scott: The van is really perfect for that.
Scott Brady: I mean, if you talk to any experienced Overlander, usually once they’ve been on the road for one or two years, there's always that endless pursuit of interior space. Just a place to reset, a place to live your life so you can go back to enjoying the journey you’re on. Dan mentioned that his next vehicle he wanted to have more interior space and I believed that he acknowledged that he sports mobile that was with him in Africa, it went everywhere he went in his Jeep, it got essentially the same fuel economy because it was a diesel. But it was literally a home that these people were able to have that respite, that removal from the environment that when I think of my travels on a motorcycle or when I think of my travels in a wagon, you’re in the environment all the time. And that is a nice difference. And the intention of this podcast is not to say that there’s a difference between van life and Overlanding. I think that the one thing that might be a slight difference is that Overland travel tends to include more remote travel, whereas there are a lot of people that travel, say in van life that may never leave a paved road, their vehicle isn’t suitable for that, or maybe just a gravel road. For them, it’s the ability to live and wander and travel, whereas oftentimes Overlanding is the intention to get remote, and that’s where you can see that crossover occur. So this is when a van, is also getting remote, getting off the grid, is able to operate off the grid, that’s when you start to see that parallel. And oftentimes I think that Overlanding when you have a very specific purpose or a very specific trip, say I’m driving from Alaska to Argentina or something like that, with van life you may not even have a destination or a set amount of time. Overlanding is the same way to a certain extent, but van life is, “I am choosing to live my life in a vehicle for the freedom that it allows me.”
Matt Scott: Yeah I think that’s a good distinction, when I think of my own Overland trips they almost always have a destination in mind, I’m trying to get to Zambie, or I'm trying to get to the South Pole, or Indiana, let’s not forget Indiana.
Scott Brady: So Brittany, tell us about your van.
Brittany: I think that Chris has a better answer to that question
Scott Brady: Does it have a name? Did you give it a name?
Brittany: *laughing* So I’m not a person who names vehicles and Chris is a person who names vehicles and he kept pestering me about it and it came down to, if you’re going to make me name it, it’s going to be something silly like Wayne.
Scott Brady: So Wayne the Van it is.
Matt Scott: Wayne’s a pretty Vanlife name.
Brittany: It actually works out pretty great, when we left on our very first trip, Wayne you think of just the party animal, party on Wayne. Our very first trip we had taken, we had gotten on the road, it started raining and I turned the windshield wipers on, and the windshield wiper completely wrapped around the mirror, and when I went to open the door to fix it, it completely snapped off.
Scott Brady: Oh no.
Brittany: And it was kind of like, okay this is, party on Wayne, let’s keep going!
Matt Scott: Yeah I think one of the things with van life is that the van is more of a tool. I feel as if Overlanders have a bit more identity wrapped up in it. I think part of van life is being a little bit stealth, right, being to stealth camp. You’ve spent a lot of time and care and effort on the interior of your van that was one of the things I noticed you did yourself, right?
Brittany: Partially, so I actually purchased the van in Phoenix, from a guy named Brad who works and builds and flips vans, so I had seen his work done before, I knew it was gonna be good construction. So he had done a lot of the basics, so when I purchased it we took it back to my parents house, and my dad and I basically redid all of the cabinetry. My invision was to utilize every single centimeter of space I could, and that required basically redoing the entire cabinetry.
Scott Brady: Relocating electronics, relocating the fridge, adding cabinets that weren’t there before. It was a redesign basically, of what was already there.
Matt Scott: And what’s interesting over the past week or so in preparations for this podcast, I’ve been watching a lot of videos on van life, and it looks like you have an emphasis on the bed being set up all the time, and have the big garage in the back. Whereas I see other vans that tend to focus on this kind of aisle along alley, kind of convertible to a table scenario. What led you to choose the full time bed garage system.
Brittany: I have a lot of friends who have chosen one or another and there's a lot of conversions like a Murphy bed, which is a lot more easy than just the drop down table. Our choice was that way because we have a lot of toys. I love being outdoors and part of being outdoors is that you have to have outdoor gear. I have backpacking gear, we have snow shoes, we have snow boards, everything that we own-
Scott Brady: Surfboards, rock climbing gear, you name it, we’ve basically stuffed it into the top of that van. And that wouldn’t really be feasible in that longally configuration.
Brittany: Right, when you have that couch and that table that drops down you loose a lot of that storage space, and a lot of people end up renting a roof box or something.
Scott Brady: Yeah, which everybody sees the drop down kitchen table and they go, “Yeah wouldn’t that be nice to have that seating area where you can hang out” but when you’re literally dropping down that down and recreating a bed every morning and night, it gets old quickly and you lose so much storage space. And my experience, even around the expedition seven stuff, is that the more you have to set anything up, it’s actually the reason why we didn’t rent a trailer or a roof tent because I could leave everything in a vehicle. It was kind of like garage style, so there were high-roof land cruisers where you could have all of your gear in the same spot and never have to mess with it. And we actually left the beds set up in the back, so you get tired at the end of the day, you crawl out of the driver's seat and into the bed so you’re camping, you’re sleeping. So, that’s an interesting point and it’s an important one for people. I remember Allen Feld from sports mobile, that’s a long time van company, one of the oldest from the 1960’s. And he told me everyone wants to buy the longalley aisleway style, but the one you want to actually live with is with the permanent bed style.
Brittany: Yeah I mean it really depends on your lifestyle when you’re choosing a layout. I mean I have friends who love the table because they love to entertain, and they chase after meetups all across the country that they can be with other people within this community and they can all sit around the table and play cards or have dinner, potlucks, things like that. And when it’s raining outside, and shove everyone in the van, and you have room for that. We don’t really have entertainment spaces because we have the bed, but for our life and the way we do, it’s really only us in the van.
Scott Brady: Although when we were at Overland expo we would have three of four people in the van. You got that passenger seat that turns around and gives a spot. You work from the road, tell us a little bit about that.
Brittany: So, I had travelled a lot like I said, primarily three day weekends and road trips and that was because I had a full time job. But for me, in order to live this lifestyle and just live in general I need to have a job and stable income. I had already tried the whole, “Let’s sell everything you own and see how long you can last”
Scott Brady: You moved to Thailand which is a pretty significant jump.
Brittany: Yeah so I jumped and travelled Asia for a few months and eventually ran out of money and had to come home so I decided I wasn’t gonna do that again. So I do work remotely, and my program portfolio manager for a financial tech company works primarily for software development, and within that sass space, I’m not a client facing I’m only internal. Which makes it a lot easier to be on the road. A lot of my internal employees know I live in a van so I don’t have to explain that on every call. But I do a lot of video conferencing calls and stay connected that way.
Scott Brady: Very cool. And I think a lot of the questions people have about van life, about overlanding, you know, about extended lengths of travel is how people are affording to do it. I mean obviously there is the method of selling everything you own and keep going, some people are just fortunate just to have the money. When you go to these communities and you go to these meetups you talk about, what kind of jobs are a common place within that circle of people? I mean, I would say that a lot of the jobs that the vanlife community hold are the same jobs that everyone else holds. The difference is that technology these days has enabled people to do these jobs remotely. And while some people may look at that as an opportunity to work from home, some people say, “I can do this job from anywhere in the world” or anywhere in the U.S if you aren’t allowed to travel internationally.
Matt Scott: Do you find that having to work while you’re on the road and while you’re traveling takes away from the experience, I mean I know when I’m on some of my longer trips where I’ve tried to work from the road for example, I always get really frustrated, because you’re traveling so you can have the experience, and you’re working so you can afford to travel but then the working gets in the way of the experience. I found I have to just sit in coffee shops the entire time. With the coffee shops on the California coast kinda thing. I don’t wanna speak for Brittany here but I would definitely say that you have to look in a different lane, you cannot look in it as “i’m traveling” you have to look at it as “I’m living the same life as I would at home, the difference is that at 5 o lock when I get off of work my backyard is a different place” I can go explore the area but if you really wanna experience a place you’re not gonna be able to do it in the same amount of time that you normally would, you can’t take a week and go to the Northern California coast. You have to spend a month, you kinda have to pace yourself, and you obviously have to have the internet, that’s the catch out of all of this. Do you find that the internet connectivity is pretty good? Or, do you have a satellite internet? I’ve always looked at satellite internet.
Brittany: You name it, we’ve got it. I mean, having the internet is very key for primarily my job but also for a lot of what Chris does, he could do his writing and his photography and whatnot from anywhere, which is what we primarily end up doing on the weekends. But, my job requires me to be logged in and available and ready to take calls.
Scott Brady: So you’re at a desk, 9 to 5.
Brittany: Yeah. I am on my laptop typically a lot of video calls, we use hotspots, we use weboost for cell signal.
Scott Brady: I think right now we have eighteen verizon, sprint hotspots, plus the sky room which operates on various networks depending on what country you’re in. Plus a weboost and the gear antenna. So we’ve basically covered the spectrum if one cobrater doesn’t have service, someone else most likely will. It’s really not as expensive as you think it would be, it depends on what plan you go with.
Matt Scott: I mean, the internet at home is expensive.
Scott Brady: You end up paying a mortgage. There are gonna be things that will be more expensive living on the road full time. I think about when I’m traveling internationally, it costs me 10 dollars a day to keep my cell phone connected in the same fashion that it is here, because I don’t swap sims. So, it is expensive, It’s over 300 dollars a month just for me to keep my cell phone connected.
Matt Scott: Yeah I think it works great internationally. I don’t think it works that well domestically because you only have the Sprint T-Mobile networks. But it’s perfect for me, because I hate it when people call me.
Scott Brady: Well, first tell the audience a little about what your typical work schedule looks like and, I mean, you being a journalist, and your job is a travel journalist, so it seems to fit perfectly. I would say that my typical work week is pretty close to Brittany’s at this point. I’m gonna spend most of my weekends at the desk writing certain emails, editing photos, but the weekends are when I get to go out and hit the trail and capture all the content for the life that we live. Whether that’s rock climbing, or last weekend we went surfing in Baja. The exceptions would obviously be when we do media trips, so you’ll be able to find an airport to fly out of and try to schedule your life around that is always a crazy time.
Matt Scott: From my perspective, as the publisher I think that there’s a lot of upsides to us, for you being on the road like that, because you’re always interacting with new people. You’re experiencing new events that we may otherwise not go to. You’re able to interact with companies that are located throughout the country that would be very expensive for us to fly people to. So, there’s a lot of advantages that I believe that you provide to us as an organization. I think that when people are starting to travel like this, or looking at the vanlife, is to find a way to add additional value through your travels. And that’s one way to make that happen I think.
Scott Brady: I mean, even the amount that I made below the interface with our readers, our listeners now have been fantastic. One man when I was in Novasckosha who just happened to be an Overland Journal subscriber recognized the truck and he and I ended up grabbing a beer and hanging out and it led to a five day trip that we did all throughout the interior novasckosha. The trails that I probably would have never found without someone who had grown up there. The power of local knowledge, it’s amazing. Every time it surprises me because we have our local trails that we love and that nobody really knows about and then everybody else has got those too and if you can interact with those folks, for me when I travel, because I don’t travel as long as you guys do, maybe a couple months at a time, I do try to do free full days of work. And when I meet full days it’s like, I get up at six and I work until eleven or midnight and then I also work 70 hours a week typically when I’m home, that way I can allow for longer chunks of time to travel. SO there’s a lot of different ways to do it. The important thing is to be reasonable about what you expect to do. I think that a lot of folks expect to be able to translate their job towards travel without making it just that. They always expect it can get more done. Or they don’t solve the technology problems early on, it becomes very frustrating, if you want to be traveling and working i don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation. I think if you wanna travel, it’s a recipe for disaster. I have found in my own life that it’s very frustrating trying to do that, so I make sure I’m way ahead on everything when I leave, and then I literally stop what I’m doing, give into the excitement, I get a hotel and I park there for three days and I work and then I check out the hotel and I get back in the vehicle, and then I go out and I adventure and I capture content and I shift into a different mode.
Brittany: Right, and essentially that’s van life right there. We are parked, we get our work done, and then at the end of the day, we’re where we wanna be.
Scott Brady: Yeah, that’s amazing. The biggest thing that I would say for anybody looking to transition to vanlife for a life on the road and whatever vehicle they may choose, is try at home first. Get used to it, get used to working from home, and being away from the office. It’s also an easier way to work with your employer to convince them to try out the working from home, working remotely thing, if you’re productive and things are going smoothly, it’s gonna be a natural next step for you to be able to accomplish. Why can’t I do this on the road? It’s essentially what you did with us, you edited in smaller chunks first, then more and more time away, and now we have good ways to measure your success that you did essentially anywhere. Which is very cool. Now do you guys find that you guys recently took a vacation, did you find that you needed to take a vacation from van life.
Brittany: Oh yeah.
Scott Brady: Walk us through what that looks like.
Brittany: So the vacation we took wasn’t necessarily a vacation from van life, it was just a different version of it.
Scott Brady: Where did you go? You can’t take a vacation without saying where you went.
Chris: I wouldn’t necessarily call it a vacation, I wouldn’t say that we really take vacations, our goal is to travel, and travel in a way that we couldn’t ordinarily do with our jobs. For this trip that meant going to Nepal and going backpacking.
Matt Scott: Oh yeah you guys went to Nepal! I thought you were gonna be like, “we went to Michigan, it wasn’t a vacation”
Chris: Yeah, we went to Nepal then we backpacked a portion of the circuit and it was wonderful and awful on certain days, and definitely a thorough travel experience. But I wouldn’t call it a vacation from van life. You’re still worrying about where you’re gonna find water, where you’re gonna sleep that night, and you’re still sleeping much less comfortably than we do in the van, I’ll say that. I think I’m in the same program. To me the idea of going and sitting on the beach in Hawaii, it literally sounds like torture to me.
Brittany: For like, a day.
Scott Brady: When is the last time somebody’s offered you a pina colada in a pool?
Brittany: You should come to my dads pool party
Chris: I do find that when I take a vacation I want to go somewhere like the Nepal one which sounds perfect, where I’m out of my routine, I’m not using a vehicle, maybe I’m backpacking. One of the trips I’ve been looking at is doing some polar skiing because it would be so different. But also a challenge where it is an escape. I find that when I can reset mentally from my job, that’s when that vacation effect happens. I mean our vacation effect that was on this trip was the fact that we were so busy worrying about not dying because you’re so out of shape. This is my first backpacking, I should say that. So I kinda dove in head first. And I disconnect from all social media, from all digital technology, and then coupled with the only day I can think about is making it up this 2,000 foot gain so that I can sleep tonight and not freeze to death. It really resets the way you’re thinking.
Scott Brady: So it sounds like vacations and maybe even a time in a home, all those things are just as important for someone that’s van living, as someone who’s overlanding, you do find it’s nice to just grab an airbnb. I love to camp, but I don’t wanna camp every single night. It’s nice to come and reset, get connectivity, get work done, it allows me to travel. I’m not in a position where I can just travel full time and not work, so I do find that that’s also a nice relief from being in the vehicle all the time. Which leads me a little bit to van life in general. I did some research on the history of van life. Vans, in fact, it all came from caravan, which is a very old term. It’s been around as long as the english language. It’s this idea of a group of camels, a group of travelers, a group of vehicles, caravanning, that’s where van came from. The first van that was ever made was made by Ford in 1970, it’s the model TFord. Which had this enclosed rear storage area, it had a heavier duty rack, it had additional payload. We’ll put a picture of it in the show notes because it’s actually super cool. Very cool looking. And you can see why if you look at images of the TTFord for camping, there’s all of these cool camping accessories, people added campers to it and they have tents coming off the side. So none of this stuff is new, they’ve been doing it since the first Ford was available that you could turn into a van. So I think it’s actually really neat, and this is not the first generation to do it either, the1960’s Volkswagen vans, people lived out of them! They travelled around in bitchin’ Volkswagen vans and they camped out and they hung out at music events. They did a lot of the same things that are being done today. It’s easy for us to say, “Overlanding is this new thing”, it’s not a new thing, it’s just become a very popular thing. Van life is not a new thing, it’s just become a very popular thing in recent years. But people have been van lifting since the first van came off the market.
Brittany: Some of them are still out there.
Scott Brady: That’s true, we’ve run into our fair share. But I think, yeah, the biggest difference between van life then vs. van life now is that modern technology has enabled working professionals to participate in that full time. It’s no longer Chris Farely, van down by the river, it’s financial advisors and people that 100 to 200,000 dollar Mercedes sprinter vans. And I actually run into those more often than I run into someone who is barely getting by in a van. Because I think it is still expensive, it’s expensive to put fuel in the vehicle, it’s expensive to buy the vehicle. To start with even your van, Brittany, what year is it?
Scott Brady: SO it's 2006. That’s still a 35 to 45,000 dollar van. Which is much more expensive than most vehicles of the same vintage. If you were to look at a 2006 4runner, a 2006 grand cherokee would be a fraction of the price.
Chris: It’s 35,000 to 45,000 with everything built out.
Scott Brady: Sure!
Chris: But, you know, it’s the stuff you’re gonna need to get out there.
Scott Brady: And the new van that has all wheel drive, or low range and other accessories that allow it to get remote, those are 120 to 200,000 plus. I mean, the base model, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the base model new sprinters I believe are 63,000 dollars.
Chris: I don’t know the exact price, I will say it’s close to 60,000 for all wheel drive. And I will say we’ve been looking recently at the winnabegorablles. Some people don’t like the quality but I think a lot of the components there and most importantly, you can actually buy one and you can participate in van life tomorrow. A lot of these specialty van companies are booked out a long wait from a year to two years for wait time.
Brittany: Well even if you’re gonna do it for yourself, it’s a minimum of three months.
Chris: We’re driving a mode 4x4 from storyteller overland right now, that’s actually what we brought from California and we picked it up in a dealership, it was ready to go and it had everything you could need in it, every system you could need, hot water, a shower, a toilet.
Brittany: It’s appealing.
Scott Brady: What do those cost?
Chris: I believe they’re about 148. And I think they are expensive without a doubt, but when you look at the prices of RV’s in general these days, it becomes relatively affordable very quickly for many people.
Scott Brady: Yeah and I do think an important identifier is that you can go buy a new van and you can finance it, I would be very careful to ever recommend that someone do that, I think that people should always buy what they can pay cash for. But if you’re looking at, :I’m not gonna live in a home, this is the life that I’ve always wanted, and I can get it at a low interest rate” It may be something worth considering. But the other idea is start with a much less expensive van which is like you guys did that allows you to save money, pay the van off a year in, and then use that to leverage up to newer models without having to pay the profits of a much larger financial corporation.
Brittany: Right, and everyone always asks what does it cost to live in a van and it’s just such a vague question. It really depends on your lifestyle and everything that you need for comfort, and that you do normally. But if you have a van that you’ve already paid off, then I don’t know what you’re paying for gas and groceries. So it depends on how much you drive, and what you normally eat.
Scott Brady: If you’re gonna buy an astro-van for 4,000 dollars and build it out with the basics and you’re in another 2,000 to 3,000 dollars then wander around the country, it’s gonna be really really cheap. I secretly love astro vans. They’re kinda cool, I don’t know if you ever saw team o'neil did a video while adrift in Astro vans. I think they welded the roof or something cool like that. I think that was a great video, and I think that because we always wanna be transparent in our advice, I think it’s a mistake for people to go out and spend a bunch of money on something that puts them in financial shackles again. Like they had with a home, so that’s why I think what you’ve done in Brittany is so notable, you bought an affordable van that’s well within your capability to pay for it. I do think that, take advantage of the opportunity to get out of a mortgage, out of rent, find an inexpensive van. Also see if you like it because then you don’t have the depreciation of something new if you buy a new sprinter with a full build out for 160,000 dollars and you decide a couple months later that it doesn’t work for you, you’ve taken a huge depreciation hit.
Chris: You’ve just paid for someone's vacation house.
Scott Brady: Exactly! So of course I’m telling you my personal advice, but start with something that’s affordable, that while you’re making an income you’re starting to put that money away. And then you take the van, you make some improvements, you sell it for a profit, and you take that profit plus the money you saved and then you move into a nicer vehicle. What you guys have done is, you have a vehicle that’s worth at least as much as what you paid for it, because the van you have has gotten more and more popular. So, it’s highly in demand. And then you guys are gonna leverage that towards your next build which is gonna be what Chris?
Chris: Right now we’re currently rebuilding the interior of the excursion. It’s a little bit of a compromise, the interior space is not as big as the van mostly, and the height. But it has the 4 wheel drive capability that we’re looking for and the range we’re looking for, it checks all the boxes for us to get further off the grid without paying a huge payment.
Scott Brady: You own a truck, and you’re now reducing your vehicle expenses by half, because you’ll be getting rid of a vehicle. And you’ll be able to take that money, invest it, save it, and then eventually you take that plus your excursion, which is gonna be worth a lot of money. They’re not making those anymore, they’re very popular. And then you leverage up whenever the next thing is, so I think those that are listening, we never wanna give the impression that you go out and spend a bunch of money on something you can’t afford. I think that that’s always a mistake, I think people always regret it, there’s a momentary feeling of euphoria that you have this brand new, super fancy vehicle. If you can’t afford a 150,000 dollar vehicle in cash, you probably shouldn’t be financing it. I think it’s probably a safe bet that a lot of our listeners are going to think that they need to get a 4 wheel drive. 4 wheel drive vans are very hard to come by, they’re very expensive right now, and I would just, if you’re looking to get into van life, I would encourage you to consider looking at a 2 wheel drive. Plenty of people have driven around the world in 2 wheel drive vehicles, and lord knows that VW busses have been to every corner of the globe. And when you look at travellers like Brad and Cheena from Drive Not to Drive who took a 2 wheel drive van down to South America, and had a great adventure.
Chris: The world runs on 2 wheel drive vans, think about it, every address that is capable of receiving packages, it comes in a sprinter van. We went down a crazy dirt road in Nepal, I would hesitate to even call it a road. And we were in a 4 wheel drive and we thought that we were pretty cool, we were really challenging the vehicle. And sure enough, not two minutes later, a bus, 2 wheel drive bus, came down and did the exact same route. And I think that when you visit other countries, you’ll be able to see just how capable a 2 wheel drive can be with the right driver.
Scott Brady: And I think I was chatting the other day around this idea that with each level of capability provides access to a more remote location. So, there are advantages to 4 wheel and all wheel drive. So, a two wheel drive van will get you a lot of places, it will even allow you to get further away from other people that are boon knocking. But there’s some risks with that. It’s mostly if you don’t have experience around self-recovery, the next advantage is an all wheel drive van which is how many of them are delivered now, the new Ford Transit in particular is a good example of that. It allows you to get a little further down some sandy tracks, things that would challenge a 2 wheel drive vehicle. It allows you to get out onto a beach if you want to, which is also really nice. And the idea of adding that capability is, especially in a van platform because I don’t want anybody to be misled into thinking that these things are designed to do the rubicon, you gotta get up into the eagle conversions to be able to have capability, which allows you to have remote technical terrain. So most of these all wheel drive, four wheel drive vans, what it allows you to do is get a little further off the beaten path, a little further away from the crowds.Little further away from the crowds truly Boondock which lowers your expenses so there are definitely some advantage to the full drys but I don't want anybody to think cuz they're still very low Vehicles they have very long wheel base has terrible breakover angle.
Chris: I always question when people are turning these Things into Rock haulers that when I see a sprinter at 35 I'm kinda like, why? You spend a lot of money to have something that's less capable in like a stock 4Runner
Scott Brady: right they still can't articulate they’re still very tall, they’re still very long.
Chris:and a lot of the time, the Conversions on these things cost another vehicle
Scott Brady: The conversion, like an Eagle Hout although it’s extremely well done, is well engineered uses all Mercedes components but it's $90,000 so it cost more than the van and more than a two-wheel drive and a brand new van.Brand new tool Drive Sprinter more than the van to get it converted to this low range locking differentials typos 37-inch tires and that was the the most capable of the ones that I've driven but I did drive a lotf a stock Sprinter a few years ago and it struggled on even just a basic trail, a lotta Tire spin a lot of scripts scraping in and a lot of spotting and a lot of very close paying attention engine which you got your house how much how much risk do you want to expose your house to that so I think I think it's important to recognize that you're not going to create a Land Cruiser level of capability but if you're in a van I don't think that all-wheel drives a bad idea because you like to go skiing if you want to go out onto the beach I think that all-wheel drives a great solution
Chris:l and I love the idea of just the four wheel drive Sprinter and keeping it relatively stocked.
Scott Brady: Put some good tires on it
Chris: Speaking my mind.
Scott Brady: It's a vehicle that will force you to prioritize the travel and out the train
Chris: I think fans are you know when they're four-wheel-drive equipped I think they're there for getting you out of or getting you through soft surfaces I don't think they're really for much more than that
Scott Brady:yeah I would mixed Surfaces on established roads and that establish Road could be a secondary road that maybe he has some some corrosion and other little issues and Sandy Crossings but that's pretty much what you're dealing with the gods, a murky dug way that he had a couple of friends who were recently in Death Valley and it has it snowed while they were there and the passes on either side became impossible for a two-wheel drive and that's where the all wheel drive 4 wheel drive van really is where it pays off. And that leads to a question, what would you consider to be the ultimate van right now, like if you guys, if I could give you a blank check and you guys could go buy any fully prepared and not make it yourself, go write a check which one would you buy?
Brittany:You’re not allowed to say van again.
Scott Brady: She knows I have a VolksWagon problem, it’s terrible. I don't think that even money is the issue that would prevent me from getting the van I want its importation laws the first-generation sprinters, the T1N’s are remarkable Vehicles that's why we have one, They were not available in 4-wheel drive in the US and nobody's really offering a factory level conversion kit on them
Chris: so he gives you It gives you a blank check and you want to buy a 90s Sprinter van
Scott Brady: Yeah man.
Brittany: Well we love the van we have and we definitely challenge it And we did a full loop Loop around the country this year and we Caravan with the Excursion and the van and you push the van to get to as far as it would go
Scott Brady: I mean here’s the thing, if you're in a $200,000 sprinter van or even $100,000 for a van Ford Transit needs to or whatever it is there is a level of worried that is going to come with taking that vehicle down places I shouldn't be able to worry that he's going to be there when you take it down to Mexico. When we went down to Baja like last week we parked in the middle of Ensenada and we slept in the van overnight and nobody looked at it because it's an early 2000 Sprinter van
Matt Scott: it looks like a delivery vehicle. And here’s the issue with this, everybody thinks there is a delivery vehicle, and try living in Fruita like I used to and try living outside of Telluride
Brittany: Or living in San Diego for six years, it’s the same thing.
Scott Brady: I guess my question from that is, is stealth camping still a thing? Because to me it seems like the jig is up, like everybody knows, especially on the West coast, Indesirable locations like if you're in Telluride and there's a white van parked in the street the cop is going to knock on the door right it's like that.
Matt Scott: People, as soon as you see a white sprinter Van now, it’s pretty much assumed there’s someone sleeping in it.
Chris: It's funny how my brain has been rewired where I used to be like okay that's a plumber, or or, a carpenter or whatever.
Matt Scott: people are created with it I mean I wont for this person under the bus and name them, but we know people who have traffic cones and construction hats that people put in the front seats at night so that people are convinced that it's a construction van.
Scott Brady: Or you could even put some logos on the side.
Matt Scott: There's a whole form friend dedicated to creative signage that people put on vans like magnets and stuff. But it is interesting, I mean we’ve kinda come to the conclusion that even though my excursions certainly stand out, it’s not going to be the vehicle that people assume you’re sleeping in. So, for stealth camping in cities, it’s actually a little bit more advantageous than the sprinter van. What I mean about the worry with the sprinter van is more theft than anything else, the stealth camping isn’t so much an issue, but if you have a 100,000 dollar van and you’ve got lights on and a roof rack and surfboards, there’s a pretty good chance you’re gonna get targeted for theft. We saw them when we were down in Mexico last week. And Mexico I would just say is a very safe place.
Chris: Yeah I’ve never had any issues.
Scott Brady: Yeah and we have friends who 'll park their van and they leave it in the same place for 24 hours, which isn’t a good idea. And they were broken into.
Chris: Yeah that does happen.
Brittany: Yeah I think it has less to do with sleeping in a van and being stealthy, it’s more we like the van and the look of the van because it doesn’t have anything mounted on the outside that we worry about getting stolen.
Scott Brady: And the old school drive train, new motors, new diesel motors especially with that diesel exhaust fluid and ultra sulfur diesel, they struggle especially fueling in the U.S and America. I think there’s a lot to be said for any older Mercedes platform. I think about how durable your van is. Yeah I mean I think about how durable my G-Wagon has been, it’s been amazing. It’s not always been reliable, but it’s always been durable and always amazing. For me, I love it! It’s a bread van kind of. Well, that leads me to a kind of interesting question, so around this stealth camping and everything else, what ethics do you think need to be kept in mind around those things? As a van lifer where you’re now living out of your vehicle, what do you think are some of the things that you would like to see some van lifers take responsibility towards being more mindful and respectful of? You now don’t have a mortgage and you’re maybe taking advantage of a parking spot in front of somebody’s home, what’re some of the things that you can do, or even camping remotely, what are the most important things you think people need to be doing to give back and to make sure they’re not creating a negative impact?
Chris: Well, I’m gonna start with the respectful part. We never park in front of somebody’s house. We’re always looking for commercial districts that would otherwise be unoccupied spots that we can park. We are very careful about being in one area, we never stay in the same spot more than one night in a row. As soon as it’s six AM, we’re up, we’re moving the van, we’re going somewhere else, we come in after dark and it’s not a big deal, we just want to have zero impact on the surrounding area. But to be honest I think that Brittany is gonna be able to speak more of this. She’s been heavily involved in the van life community, especially the work that the van lifers have been doing. In the San Diego area, dealing with a lot of these issues, not sure if you’re aware but San Diego has been a hotspot for van life issues. The housing is expensive there and it’s become a very popular option, and a lot of the residents have noticed, so that’s been a big legal battle recently. And they’re also dealing very much with homelessness now as well.
Brittany: That’s part of the regulations and the laws that they’re putting in place is that they are lumping this van life community with the homeless community. And there’s a large difference between those of us who are living in these expensive sprinter vans that we have put a lot of time and money into maintaining and respecting our vehicle, vs someone who lives in their vehicle because they have to, and they have it parked in the street for weeks at a time. And from that, there’s littering problems, there’s drug use problems that are all uprising within the San Diego community. And they’ve created laws that said, you’re not allowed to sleep in your vehicle in the entire city. That lumps us in with those other people and I think that the van life community is trying to bring awareness that people who are in their vans, the type of vans and the way that we live are different than those other people. And one thing that they do to give back is they arrange community clean ups, which are every other month, and they go out within the city of San Diego, we try to attend as many as we can whenever we’re in the area. And they clean-up the beach and they make it aware that this van life community is different and we do give back and we care about our environment.
Chris: Yeah I mean the van life community is not the same people living in the van down by the river. They’re working professionals and people who are contributing to the local economy. People who are going to the brewery’s, the restaurants, buying fuel, people who often live and work in these cities. But I think one of the challenges too is that a lot of the folks that are displaced, many of them still work, they simply cannot afford to live anywhere but in their vehicle. And you know, I certainly have had a tremendous amount of empathy for them. I left Los Angeles at 19 years old because I couldn’t afford to live there, so I went into the Military because I couldn’t find a job that would pay me enough money to be able to live in that city. And I think that that’s a real challenge and I’m wondering how the van life community can help not only support the local cities that they’re enjoying and occupying, but also to raise the standard of living and the level of opportunity for the people who don’t have that choice.
Scott Brady: And you mentioned that, Brittany, earlier before we started the podcast I think it was really important to differentiators that someone who’s living in a van, doing van life, is someone that has the choice to do that. You could live in an apartment or you could live in your van, you have the choice to do one or the other. Whereas I think a lot of people who are living in their car are actually more classified as homeless, they don’t have a choice. I wonder if there’s a way to really help in both directions. To help the community, and also help the people who don't have a choice.
Brittany: One thing that they are working on is educating those people about being more respectful about their surroundings. Like Chris said, we always come late and we leave early. If you have to live in your vehicle, that’s something that’s a public parking space, I don’t see the difference in that parking space being occupied by someone who’s in their vehicle, or someone who parked there for the night, and walked into their home. The difference is, are you leaving garbage around your vehicle, are you self contained.
Scott Brady: Has there been any advocacy for any self-contained certification, for van life?
Brittany: I think that’s something they would love to see.
Scott Brady: IN New Zealand, that’s a huge thing. We rented a sprinter van for a few weeks and one of the big things is that you had to be self contained certified to camp in a lot of these places, they were fine for grey water, black water, because that’s the unfortunate reality of living on the road is that all of the things that come out of you, *talking over each other* And I know that a lot of communities have really struggled with that, the small town I lived in Colorado that was kind of the thing that would constantly get brought up, is yes we recognize that there’s the 200,000 dollar sprinter with the two 10,000 dollar map on the back that is really the people staying here. But then there’s also that homeless people respectfully can empathize with this situation, but there is so much grey area but I think between that. And I believe that that’s a challenge that both the van life community and the overlapping community face, so the trails that 10 years ago, like the Mohave road, were hardly ever driven. I remember the first time that I drove the Mojave road, I drove for hours without tracks in the sand in front of me, they had been blown clean in the weeks or days at least before someone else had driven across. Now it’s the Mojave highway. There are clubs and organizations that will have hundreds of people, if not thousands of people show up to go use a public road that can’t handle that kind of abuse. Of course you add on top of that excess speed and low driver experience, and you end up with a lot of damage to the trail. We’re even familiar with folks that have done trail damage to the Mojave road because they were driving too fast. Those kinds of things happen, so I think just like overlanders need to take responsibility, let’s minimize certain packs, let’s make sure the size of the groups are appropriate to the conditions. Van life community can also benefit from that. And maybe an app is the way to do it, maybe the app is the way to, like, your area is green, there's not enough people staying there, we’re not creating too much of an impact. Kind of like ways of working for driving. It starts to get to yellow once there’s too many people hanging out.
Brittany: There’s a trucker app actually that does the exact same thing, which you look at truck stops that are in the area. People show you whether it’s green, yellow, or red based on the number of spaces that are available at truck stops.
Scott Brady: Wouldn’t that be a great way to minimize the impact and to show that the community is taking responsibility. That just means, hey I’ve got to go to this other spot where it is free, and there is space, so that way we’re not over-burdening the community. I just went hiking in Sedona just the other day and I could not find a place to park for a popular trail to hike. Every single site, street, parking area, I don’t know why you would wanna live in Sedona now that you cannot escape it. It’s overrun by tourists. I think we’re seeing this explosion in adventure and outdoor activity popularity. And so hiking trails and off-road trails, all of it is just becoming extremely crowded and we have to be looking at how we manage this. And to disperse the impact, the secret is to go to New Mexico. It’s really pretty, and that’s how it’s gonna be, people are gonna have to take responsibility for going to areas where there isn’t as much impact. So without naming necessarily an exact, what’s been some of your highlights, like your favorite campsite? What are some of the things that now that you’ve had a few years in the van and you stayed in places as varied as Eastern Canada to now in Baja, what were some of the highlights? What were your top two or three experiences?
Brittany: It’s really hard to shape, we love the Pacific NorthWest. I love waterfalls, I love red rocks, anything, I grew up in Minnesota, so I grew up pretty generally outdoors. Big waterfalls and red rocks are something that is just far from anything I grew up with and spent time around, so anytime that I can get in that type of landscape is what I’m looking for.
Scott Brady: How about you Chris? What were some of the highlights?
Chris: I think I love a lot of the places that everybody else loves you know, Baja is beautiful, California Coast, Northwest. To switch things up I would say one of my favorite spots that you don’t hear about very often is definitely Newfoundland. It was spectacular, there’s not a lot of traffic up there, very bright out, there’s awesome. There’s insane campsites that you can camp on , the site is overlooking the ocean, you’re in between some really stunning mountains and a valley on a lake, and there’s no one around.
Scott Brady: That’s funny cuz actually all four of us have been, which is not really a place you can go. Matt and I were there seven years ago. It’s a very cool place
Brittany: I just let the secret out though. The one with New Mexico
Scott Brady: You know what’s funny though, is even though I’m never gonna mention the truly special spots that are special to me right? I don’t wanna a bunch of people to show up, but you’ll mention the trail that is relatively obscure and difficult to get to and you’ll go back years later and there’s still nobody there. I think that people look for accessibility, and they look for good weather and it just means that the Mojave roads can get abused because people won’t drive the additional time it take to get into the northern part of another park or another area, they just don’t tend to, like death valley doesn’t see a lot of traffic because it’s that much further away. And then the Mojave road is ransmorego or something like that. It’s the convenience factor. So, let’s mix things up a little bit. What are some books you guys have read the last couple years that you think have been pretty definitive- I try to ask guests that are on the show what are some impressive things you’ve read.
Chris: It has nothing to do with travel or overlanding but one of the books that i enjoyed recently was the book Joy. It has a diorama.
Scott Brady: Did you listen to the audio book or read it?
Chris: I read it.
Scott Brady: I’d also recommend maybe considering the audio book because they hire actors that basically have the same accent as the main character. It’s really great. That’s a beautiful book, it’s a good recommendation.
Chris: We live in such a time of contention and turmoil and especially coming up on elections now, reading that book where you just have people from totally different parts of the world, different religions coming together and just talking about life and joy and laughter and sadness and just the experience that we all go through. It’s a great book, I would encourage you to put that on a list.
Scott Brady: How ‘bout you Brittany?
Brittany: I would say the last couple of years, definitely with the amount of road trips and things that I’ve been on, I haven’t gone the audiobook route, I’m much more of a podcast person. But I like to nerd out on science podcasts.
Scott Brady: What’s your favorite podcast?
Brittany: Besides the Overland Journal Podcast? I really like science vs and undiscovered, it’s silly questions that get answered scientifically, it’s really cool.
Scott Brady: Ideas for anyone who likes the outdoors? I’ve listened to learn how to be a better podcaster. One of the ones I’ve started to listen to regularly is Dr. Peta T Peratia, which is a Doctor that specializes in lifespan, so it’s not just about living to be 100, it’s about living as healthy and for as long as possible. He’s also a race car driver and he has a bunch of similar- he’s into watches and other stuff that I like as well. And he’s a great post and he brings on some really thoughtful thought leaders, medical thought leaders, and it’s a great podcast. I highly recommend people check it out. So how about you Matt? What’s in your recent reads?
Matt Scott: You know, I don’t do very many audiobooks, I don’t do many podcasts, I’m kind of stuck in the 90’s, I listen to grunge music. I have to say that I still really like paperback books. My life is so digital, my life is so connected that for me I don’t wanna have this screen in front of me, I don’t wanna have the computer on, at night I still read books, and I read travel books cuz they’re a great escape. Right now I’ve really been on a big Paul Theroux thing. Some of you may know Scott and I are going to Nibia next week, Africa theme, so I have just finished reading the last Train Is On The Verde, a southern Africa travel journey, by Paul Theroux.
Scott Brady: Great suggestion. I really enjoy that for those of us who aren’t audiobook enthusiasts. We have our new gadget, we do our gadget of the week kind of thing. Let’s start with you guys because I have been on a spending spree. Chris, anything recent that you’ve been digging on?
Chris: When living in a van, we picked up this thing called an Omnia Oven and it’s basically this little donut shaped pan that sits on top of your camp stove or any propane stove. It acts as an oven to cook things, it’s really cool. We’ve really been digging it, we use it every day. There’s a silicon liner for it so you don’t have to use much water to clean it. We’ve cooked brownies, pizza, nachos, chicken wings, cinnamon rolls.
Scott Brady: I had cinnamon rolls at expo eats, that was amazing.
Chris: We served cinnamon rolls to the Baja group and it was awesome. I would like to note that I did not receive any cinnamon rolls.
Brittany: You had to come early I guess.
Chris: There were only four or five of them that would fit in there but it was really cool. We since devised new ways to double the capacity.
Scott Brady: Brittany how about you?
Brittany: I, you asked me earlier about something we made in the van for, kind of a van hack, you have very limited space and we keep all of our clothes in packing cubes. I try to compress as much as we can in there but then you have to put clothes on that are very wrinkly and we have a dawn wrinkle release spray and it is great and it smells good and it really works really well.
Scott Brady: So it’s made by the company Dawn, and you kind of put up the shirt or whatever on it?
Brittany: You get dressed and you stand like a mannequin and they spray you.
Scott Brady: Oh that’s awesome! Does it actually work?
Brittany: It actually does work, it’s great.
Chris: Yeah that’s a big thing, I can’t stand wrinkled shirts, I used to iron even my t-shirts. And It's actually done a really good job in keeping me sane.
Scott Brady: We have to laugh about the overlanding community and one of the things that is funny about the overlanding community is LAcroix and any form of flavored sparkling water.
Chris: Entry level sparkling water
Scott Brady: Well it is cuz i have now found what my, the Tom Shepard Grape.
Chris:You tell me your sparkling water and I will reveal my secret.
Scott Brady: Okay so this company in Colorado and the name of the sparkling water is Duram Apothecary. And I am not going to disclose what they cost each because I would be embarrassed doing so, but they also make bitters and like really nice cocktails. But it’s all botanicals and they all taste fantastic. And they’re made in Colorado, so it’s not like you're drinking the ghost of a fruit. It’s really flavor forward, and all organic and really healthy forward.
Chris: It’s just a way to have something that’s refreshing that’s filled with sugar and that’s really hard these days.
Scott Brady: It is! Sugar kills us, it’s as simple as that. So if we can avoid high-fructose corn syrup or even cane sugar in what we drink, would it be enjoyable? Yeah so Duram Apothecary. Diggin’ it.
Chris: Mine is also organic. It’s from a boutique brand called Kroeger, Simple Truth Organics.
Chris: I don’t even know how much it is, it’s cheap, it’s good, it’s orange vanilla. That’s the one. I would be lying if I said we didn’t have the cases of some bubbly water in the back of the van. You gotta keep it around. Currently I just have Pacific.
Scott Brady: We’re officially on a water tangent here. That probably wraps this podcast up but I would like to ask both of you a final question. What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone that is on the verge of getting into van life? The answer can’t just be just do it. What was something that was legitimately helpful that you would like to pass on?
Brittany: I have a couple actually. One would be, goes off of what Scott was saying about your expenses, I mean really understand what your true expenses are today before you buy the van. And figure out what you’re willing to spend and what your lifestyle could be and try and get a realistic view on that. Because van life is already, bottom line it can be stressful. You’re worried about water, shower, and where to sleep. You don’t want to have the added stress of your financial situation as well.
Chris: I would say don't look at van life as travel. I can’t count the number of people, including myself who, the first year they’re on the road, get out and they plan this huge trip around the country or around all of North America or wherever they live, with aggressive timelines and they end up doing absolutely nothing but working and driving. You have your whole life on the road and try at least for the first month to say “I’m gonna go one or two places in the first month that I’m on the road and just enjoy it” So slow down, plan less, just take it easy and let the journey take you.
Scott Brady: Yeah that’s some great advice and I think it does come back to what we talk about often on these podcasts which is don’t over spend on the vehicle, because then you’re completely beholding to it. Then you have to work 50 hours a week. Or you have fewer options, or you start to stress about, “Am I gonna make this big payment on a 200,000 dollar vehicle” and it steals the joy that we should have from being able to be on the road and to experience the world. So buy something you can easily afford, even if your job conditions change, you have time to get another job, you can keep your savings. But if you’re planning on travelling and reintroducing yourself to the workforce, plan for that too, have money in savings that allows you to reintegrate with the workforce, put a downpayment on a home, or to put a first and last month’s rent on a rental. So plan financially for that, Instagram promotes lifestyles that are oftentimes out of reach especially for the people who say they do it every day. A lot of these folks are barely getting by and you don’t hear that. So plan very conservatively, don’t overspend on the vehicle.
Chris: Yeah and don’t think that every single day is gonna be the Instagram van life. It’s gonna be a Walmart parking lot or a truck stop parking lot every now and then.
Scott Brady: Yeah or the toilets gonna break or you’re gonna get sick in the van, imagine throwing up in your van! Those are difficult days and that happens, we’ve been there for sure. Well thanks guys so much for being on the podcast, we really appreciate it.
Chris: Thanks for having us!
Scott Brady: See you guys! We’ll talk to you soon.