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The people you meet along the way are truly what makes vanlife great. Lucy and Ryan (@lucygoeswest) are two of Lindsey’s friends that she met during her travels that were kind enough to share their vanlife adventure with us. I hope you enjoy their story as much as we did!
I’m from Charlottesville, Virginia but I had been living in Washington, DC for about 5 years working as a Senior Program Manager at a consulting firm that helps fundraise for non-profits before I met Ryan in Europe. I had made the decision to quit my job and travel Europe for 2 months and then decide what to do next. About 2 weeks into my trip, I met Ryan and made the decision to move to Australia which is when I first got introduced to vanlife because Ryan had just bought an empty van before his trip to Europe and had plans to convert it when he returned.
Ryan is from Kingscliff, New South Wales, Australia and was working as a Powerline Technician when we met. He had been doing that job for about 7 years at that point and was in Europe on a 5 week holiday on his own. He was still working the job when I came to Australia, but did end up leaving the job a year later when we decided to travel more long term together.
He bought a VW Transporter T5 (which we have since learned don’t exist in America, they are a small white paneled work van) prior to his trip to Europe with the plans to convert it into a weekend camper for surf trips and small camping trips. Since I had never been to Australia before, Ryan did the build out rather quickly so that we could do a 2 week trip down to the Great Ocean Road and visit towns along the coast between Melbourne and Sydney. After that trip, we really just used the van for small weekend trips. Having small camper vans is extremely popular in Australia for long weekends, but also for young people visiting from other countries. It’s a great way to see the country.
After a year in Australia, my visa was coming to an end, so Ryan quit his job and we moved to Japan. We lived there for about 4 months in a ski town where we both worked in a lodge and I learned to snowboard for the first time. Next we traveled to the USA, which Ryan had never been to before, so we made the plan to build out another van so he could see America and I could experience more of the west coast since I hadn’t been much before. Ryan had a 6 month tourist visa so we had to build quickly. It took us about a month to even find a van that met what we needed, and then about a little over another month to build it out and get repairs done to it. We set out in June of 2019 and drove all over America until Ryan’s visa expired in October which is when we entered Canada. We moved to a small ski town called Fernie (its just north of Montana) and still live here now. We did move out of the van when we arrived here because we hadn’t built the van to survive Canadian winters and it is cold here!
Meet Big Mac
Our first van was a VW Transporter T5 which we named Big Mac because she’d make this weird mooing sound when we would turn her on, and for some reason that led to naming her after a burger haha. Ryan did the bulk of the build in about 2 1/2 months while working a full time job so that we could take her on a 2 week trip.
The layout had to be rather simple since we didn’t have much room to work with, the big requirements where space under the bed for Ryan’s surf board and a small storage area for clothes and a fridge. We didn’t bother with a kitchen set up since finding public BBQs and water sources in Australia is so easy to come by. A few things we learned from the build – we wish we had put in a fan! We didn’t because we had a window and thought it would be enough, but it wasn’t and we constantly slept with the doors open. We also did the floors with real hard wood, which was beautiful, but scratched too easily. We made a few mistakes with this build, but we learned a lot from it which made our next build even better and a much faster process.
The Lovely Sheila
Our second van is a 2014 Ram Promaster with a high roof which we named Sheila after my sister’s recommendation. This build was much larger then the last, but took a little over a month. Ryan again did the bulk of the work but we both worked on it full time with no days off during that month. Since this van was much larger, we viewed it as an investment and thought about the design a lot. We ultimately had to go with the layout that could be executed the quickest, but look the best. If we had more time with it we would had done something different, but we are still super happy with how it turned out. We fixed a lot of problems we had with out last build. The flooring is much more durable and was easier to install – and we prioritized a good fan!
Our favorite thing about the van (other then how beautiful it turned out) is that the window is near our heads when we sleep and when the fan is on extraction, we get a nice breeze on us almost like air conditioning. We didn’t really plan that, but its amazing and we wouldn’t change it for the world. Another thing I should mention is that Ryan and I are tall, like really tall. I’m 5’11” and Ryan is 6’4″, so being able to sit up in bed with enough head room and being about to sleep comfortably was a top priority. Promasters are wide, so most people try and position their bed width wise, but that wasn’t an option for us so we had to sacrifice some space from our kitchen area to position the bed the way that worked best for us. For the record, even though we had the high roof version Ryan STILL couldn’t stand up fully inside the van, so we tried to do most of our cooking outside the van, and if we couldn’t, I would cook since I had plenty of head room.
After two van builds our biggest tip is invest in a fan and window! We also recommend thinking about what set up is best for you and not necessarily the cutest thing you see on insta. Also, if you are a couple building a van out together, you should really have a serious conversation about who actually owns the van and how you plan to divide up the financial investment of the van. Maybe even put it in writing! You don’t want to be in a situation where you break up and are unsure how to split a van. Building a van is HARD. Instagram and YouTube makes it always looks fun and carefree, but you will get into arguments and the stress will get to you, especially if you are on a tight timeline like we were. It was probably the hardest month of our 2+ year relationship, so I recommend couples really think about this seriously before diving into a build. Living in a van together can be a bit stressful too. You are together 24/7 and have to deal with issues together like where are we going to park tonight? Do we both feel safe? What do we do if we blow a tire or get into an accident? Luckily we like spending all our time together and we wouldn’t trade our time in the van for anything in the world. We’ve made some of the best memories but it is something to seriously think about before committing to vanlife.
Adventures with Sheila
We built her in Virginia but then took a very odd route across the country. We drove south to North Carolina to visit a cousin of mine and then started to head west to Nashville. We then went back north to Michigan and hit Chicago for 4th of July, and then went to Iowa to visit another friend, and then South Dakota to the Badlands. We then headed to Colorado where we met Lindsey at the Vanlife meet up. Next, we went to Utah, but after 3 days we realized that Moab in July was a HORRIBLE idea, so we blasted north again and visited the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. We then went west to the North Cascades and Seattle before following the coast line all the way down to San Diego. Ryan is a surfer, so we spent a little over 3 weeks finding surf spots and enjoying the coast. We then made our way out to Las Vegas and then to the Grand Canyon, Zion, and then Bryce. About 2 days before Ryan’s visa was due to expire we blasted north to Vancouver to get him out of the country. It’s not the route we wanted to do when we set off, but we made the decision to follow the weather even if it was a weird way to travel.
Our favorite times in the van where all the national parks we visited. Ryan really knew very little about America before this trip and he had no idea we had such diverse parks. We both love to hike and be outside so we spent very little time in cities and tried to be in wilderness as much as possible. I would say our favorite park was probably Glacier National Park, not only for the epic hikes we did, but we met two other couples in vans while there and ended up camping with them the whole time and we are all still in touch! That’s the best about vanlife, all the other people you meet along the way. We’ve befriended some of the kindest people along the way that we hope we can visit again one day.
With the Coronavirus closing borders, we are currently trapped in Canada. I can of course return home and so can Ryan, but we can’t go together since neither of us have Permanent Residency in each others countries. So, being so far from our families during these uncertain times is really hard on us, but we feel lucky that we have a home here in Fernie. We initially thought we might be moving back to Australia this year to settle down, but shut downs closed the ski hill here in Fernie early so we feel like we missed out on some of the winter season that we enjoy so much, so depending on how this year goes we might work another winter in Canada so we can do another season of snowboarding. It’s really hard to plan for anything right now, but we plan to just see how things go and to roll with the punches.
Lucy and Ryan – thank you so much for sharing your story, y’all are amazing. If you want to follow along with their journey, this is where you can find them: