"Vanlife" Q&A

Last week on Instagram I asked for people to send over their biggest questions about the full-time travel/vanlife/overlanding lifestyle because I wanted to answer them! I got a ton of great questions from people and I wanted to pass along the Q&A to you guys! I also thought it would be a good idea to leave this information in a place where it can be revisited. If after you read this, you have questions of you own, please send them our way. I think that this is something that I want to revisit because I really enjoy helping others find their way to their own adventures!

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Q: How do you communicate that you need privacy or a moment away from each other?

A: Owen and I have been together for 10 years now and have been on the road for 3.5 of those 10 years. We are obviously very close and genuinely love being together, but in a rare case when one of us needs space we have a rule that you have to just come out and say it. Communication is everything. Ways that we give each other space is that one will go on a walk without the other, one will drop the other off for a yoga class or at the climbing gym without the other, or even take a hike alone. The fact of the matter is that even if you want/need space, you still have to work together to make that happen. Everything we do on the road requires team work so if your team isn’t functioning, life is not functioning. Sometimes a little alone time is what is needed to get back on track. We recommend that you always stay open to each other’s needs and don’t take those needs personally.

Q: How do you keep the romance alive when you live so closely with one another?

A: Celebrate the small stuff! When space is small, your trying to save money on the road, and you are out in a remote place celebrating the small stuff is an easy way to make something feel special. Example: If we had a tough work day, we’ll go to the grocery store and buy those tiny personal sized ice creams for $1 each. Then we go out to the parking lot and eat them on the tailgate and call it an “ice cream social”. Or we have fancy feast: which is when we buy a reasonably nice bottle of wine, gather our favorite hors d'oeuvres and some nice chocolate and find a place to watch the sunset and cheers to random things that we like. For our most recent anniversary we had a “pizza party”, which just means we went out for pizza and called it a pizza party and that evening we made a playlist of our favorite love songs and danced in the dark at camp. If you care about one another, it’s really easy to find ways to celebrate each other no matter where you are or how small of a space you live in. (Also I totally realize that some of these things are ridiculous, but we love them, so find something that works for you)

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Q: What have you done (if anything) to insulate yourselves in cold weather?

A: I wouldn’t say that we have done anything “special” to insulate ourselves for cold weather. We typically try to follow mild weather around which is why we’ve actually never had a heater in any of our rigs, but this year our plans have us staying in consistently colder weather than we’re accustomed to. In fact, we were snowed on a month ago in Labrador! So here is how we’ve been dealing with the cold. The space that we have for “living” is so tiny in the bed of the truck that once we’re inside our body heat actually warms up the space pretty significantly. The inside of our camper shell is felted and we think that also helps cut some of the cold. We also have found that having a small candle lit does an amazing job warming our tiny little space. (don’t worry our camper top is far from air tight so we don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning) We also feel like we’ve dialed in our blankets for sleeping at night comfortable in just about every weather condition. We use a @gorumpl synthetic down blanket that keeps us cool when its hot and warm when its cold. At a certain point (low 40s) we’ll add a wool @pendletonwm blanket over the top. The combo of the two has kept us toasty in temps well below freezing!

Q: How do you deal with condensation in the truck bed? 

A: We actually deal with condensation a lot like how we deal with cold! The felting on the inside of the camper shell limits the amount of condensation we have to just the windows and the back wall of the bed. A candle does a great job of cutting the moisture while we are awake and hanging out in the truck bed. We also have velcro curtains that when closed prevent the condensation from running off the windows. In the AM we always try to leave everything open to give the inside a chance to dry out. Over the last few months the system has actually worked really well for us.

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Q: What do you do for income?

A: Owen and I are both full-time freelancers (which feels like an oxymoron for some reason) and between the two of us we do motion graphics, graphic design, illustration, and video production. We work with clients all over the world. When we initially went on the road Owen and I didn’t work together, but over time a lot of our work has started to be projects that we tackle as a team. We really enjoy working this way because we’re both able to contribute and have creative input when we have the ability to work together on them. Side note: if you’re in need of any design of video work, don’t ever hesitate to reach out because our work is what makes our life on the road sustainable!

Q: How long did you both work at a "traditional" office job before gaining the experience and courage to work remote/freelance?

A: I’m glad you that you used the word courage in asking this question, because it takes a serious amount of courage to go freelance! It was honestly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I worked in a studio designing for about 2.5 years before I went freelance, and Owen worked in a studio for about 4 years before going freelance. When Owen and I wanted to go on the road to chase the things that inspired our work as artists and we knew that the only way to make this lifestyle sustainable was to take our careers with us. Transitioning from a studio to a freelance career was the hardest and longest part of preparing for life on the road. Owen was able to go freelance in about 6 months and it took me a little over a year. Once we were both freelance we also wanted to “practice” working together in tight quarters, so we spent the last 4 months before going on the road working at a tiny desk together to be sure that we could do it once we were in the van. 

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Q: How do you divide your working time with your other activities?

A: The simple answer is that our work dictates our schedule most of the time. Freelance life can be feast or famine so if work is coming in, we take it. Typically we work Mon.-Fri. normal(ish) business hrs because that’s when most of our clients are working. We’ve made a point to be as very accessible to them so that they trust us to complete our work when we’re mobile. During the week we stay in places we know we’ll have at least cell service to be sure that we’re around to answer calls & emails. On the weekend we make a concerted effort to do things that we don’t have access to during the week the help us feel recharged from the week. When days are longer in the summer we like to wake up early & get to work so we can wrap up our day early & still have plenty of daylight for an adventure. Despite how it may look, work is actually the drive force behind our day to day life & we’re totally ok with that because we like the work that we do.

Q: Any secrets/words of wisdom about breaking into the graphic design/artist scene? Specifically finding clients when you are nomadic.

A: Breaking into the scene takes time, patience, and a lot of sleepless nights. The 2 months leading to me quitting my desk job I think I was sleeping an average of 4 or less hours a night because I was taking on as much work as I could to know I could support myself when I went freelance. Reach out to companies you want to work with and offer your services. It doesn’t always work, but when it does you’re working with someone that you’re excited about & everyone gets great work out of the deal. If you’re picking up clients in preparation for being on the road be transparent about what you’ll be doing in the future, that way they can get to know & trust you before you go mobile. We’ve found that a lot of our clients are actually really excited to be apart of our journey! Lastly, just do good work. If people like what you do and like working with you, they’re going to be stoked to tell others about you & that’ll bring you more work. The vast majority of our new clients come to us via word of mouth. 

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Q: In your current vehicle, where do you work?

A: What a great segway from yesterday’s questions into today’s! Our “living space” is where we’ve done our work from in all of our previous homes on wheels. It’s pretty obvious that Lando (our Tacoma) doesn’t have a whole lot of that. Since moving into Lando we’ve had to change the way work pretty drastically. The majority of our work is done from local coffee shops and public libraries. If y’all don’t use your local public library, I highly recommend it! They’re our absolute favorite places to work because they’re quiet, free, and the internet is usually pretty solid for those who depend on it. In fact, I’m typing this from a public library! Long term, it isn’t ideal that we have to work this way everyday, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy getting to know different little towns through their libraries. However, when the weather is nice we do work from camp off the tailgate and use a @humlesspower battery and solar panel. That battery can charge our laptop over 8x on a single charge and that’s more than enough to get us through a work day!

Q: Considering Lando is your home and like any car, it needs maintenance. Are you trying to do all the maintenance needed proactively or are you more fixing as problems occur?

A: Owning a VW for a few years made us really good car owners. We’re very intune with the current state of our vehicles, and be proactive. After the holidays with our families we always like to take our rigs in for a full inspection, and usually take care of anything that comes up. We’re very diligent about oil changes & manufacturer proscribed check ups. We’re firm believers that if you take care of your vehicle, then they will take care of you. All of that being said, Lando has been bomb proof. We keep a close eye on him and we’ve had a few full inspections and people are hard pressed to find anything even acting up a little. The joys of being a @Toyotausa owner.

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Q: Rando lando question. Is he a V6?

A: Our dear Lando is a base model 2008 4 cylinder Tacoma. Everything we need, nothing we don’t. If you’re curious, we’ve been really impressed with how powerful he is just as a 4 cylinder.

Q: Do you plan on upgrading Lando or are you guys looking to go back towards van life after your Lando? Do you miss the extra “inside” living space ever?

A: Settle in, I have a lot to say on the subject! Lando was always intended to be temporary. The decision to sell Amelia (Sunrader) was made on the side of the road in North Carolina. I pulled over unable to drive another ft without confessing what had been on my mind for weeks. I looked at Owen tears already streaming down my face. Owen speaking before I could said he knew what I was going to say. Turns out we both had the sneaking suspicion that Amelia wasn’t going to workout for us. Vocalizing those thoughts as we sat in our dream home that we’d just spent 8 months building was gut wrenching. In that moment, our priorities shifted. It no longer mattered what our home looked like to the outside world, priority #1 was to get back on the road so we could get our life back, we were willing to go in absolutely any mode of transportation necessary. With the decision made we went to camp called our parents who worked along side us and took care of us through the build and our dear friends @liveworkwander to make sure we weren’t crazy. The next time we started driving it was to pick up Lando. We needed something simple & fast to help us fall back in love with being on the road. We needed to take some time to reflect on Amelia, why she didn’t work for us, & what we wanted our life to look like going forward. As fast as that decision was made it was the right call to make because I can honestly say that he’s been able to do that for us. Our time in Lando has brought a world of clarity to our long term goals & what home on wheels that is right for us. Owen & I’ve put a down payment on our new rig and should be in it by the end of the year. We’re still sorting out a few of the details so we’re not 100% ready to share what we’re moving towards. What I can say is that it’s not a van. We’re also not doing the build build ourselves because we learned the value of our time when building Amelia and we want to travel until the day our new rig is ready. We’re so excited to share with you all because it feels like we’re finally close to ending over a year of vehicle transitions. 

We only miss inside space on rainy days. Otherwise all our time is spent outside & when we’re living outside our home feels far from small.

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Q:How do you get snail mail?

A: We have all of our physical mail go to our business manager (aka Mom, but really she is also our business manager). We actually get paid via check so it’s good to have someone who has access to our business accounts receiving our mail so they can be deposited ASAP. When there is a pile of mail that we need in person we have her send us packages either general delivery USPS or @UPS to another UPS location.  General delivery is a great tool on the road because we can send packages to a post office we know we will be going past in the coming week or two! Visit the USPS website for info on how to address general delivery packages. For those who don’t have a person to send their mail to, we’ve heard that there are services out there that can do something similar, but we’re not experts on them. Side note: I want to publicly thank my mom (@kroghnest) for being the best business manager anywhere <3

Q: How do y’all keep internet connection to do your work consistently?

A: During the week we tend to stay in areas we know we have good cell service. We have the @Verzion unlimited plan…and it’s amazing for working from the road. We use our phones as hot spots when we’re doing our day to day work from the road and it works like a charm provided that we have decent service. On project delivery days we require a lot of internet so we try to strategically place ourselves in an area we know we’ll have a strong internet connection at a coffee shop or library.

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Q: Whats the process like of getting the film back on the road? 

A: We process all our film with @thedarkroomlab. We can send them our film from anywhere and they process it as we instruct on the form we send in with the film. Once the film is developed they send us digital files that we have immediate access to and the negatives get shipped back to our wonderful business manager who then stores them in a fire safe we left for that exact purpose. If you decide to process through the Darkroom you head to their website and request the their prepaid mailer. We stock up on them when we can so we have a few saved up for when we’re on the move.

Q: What do you do for health insurance while on the road and traveling in and out of Canada?

A: I’ll be full honest & say that I don’t know a whole lot on the subject, but I’m glad this was asked because it made me realize that our insurance policies are not accepted anywhere outside the US. There is Travelers insurance of which I purchased once for a trip to Mexico. There are various providers of travelers insurance & the great thing is that you can purchase it just for the length of your stay in whatever country you are traveling to. Full transparency, we don’t buy travelers insurance unless it’s required on a group trip or something. It’s out there, & you should probably be more responsible than we are & get it especially if you’re traveling for a sport (ie. climbing, surfing, or underwater hockey)

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Q: Are you both “good” sleepers? I love camping & outdoor adventures, but I’m not a good sleeper, which is frustrating. Have you ever had this struggle on the road, how did you overcome it?

A: Owen could sleep through ANYTHING, and always has been that way. He is the type of person that falls asleep half way through a sentence. I on the other hand, used to be light sleeper and often would have a hard time falling asleep. Living on the road has actually made me a FAR better sleeper. The first few weeks of being on the road I was crazy paranoid & would wake to every little sound. It just took some time to get used to. I now sleep harder consistently than I ever did before going on the road. I think that the constant change & seeing new things takes it out of you more than you may realize until it’s time to go to sleep. I also think might light sleeping has changed to more of “aware sleeping” which is hard to describe. For instance if we leave a window open for air flow and it starts to drizzle, I’ll wake up immediately to close it. If we’re asleep at a truck stop I’ll not wake up to a diesel truck rolling by the car. Weird, I know. It’s just how things have come to be. I’ve also found that if I have a hard time sleeping, having a @kindle near (great because I don’t have to turn on lights to read) I’ll read a page or two & be out before I know it!

Q: Do you miss your Vanagon?

A: Everyday. I think about that van (Stanley) seriously every. Single. Day. I’m a firm believer that the Westy platform is the perfect living space for full-time life on the road, but we just couldn’t deal with the inconsistency from a mechanical standpoint. We loved living in that van, the world look so good through the windshield, and it brought so many wonderful people into our lives. That’s the great thing about a VW, people just come up to you and start telling you their VW memories. Sadly, what did us in was that eventually nearly every dollar we made was going into keeping our van running (after the many $10’s of thousands of $ we put in before the road) Stanley nearly bleed us dry of all of our money on more than one occasion, and weren’t ok with that. Our symbol of freedom was the one thing that was holding us back, and we knew that something had to change. Even after purchasing Amelia we thought long and hard about keeping our van because we really loved him that much, but it just wasn’t practical to have that much money tied up in a vehicle that weren’t using. Also, Stanley was built to be on the road and it would be cruel to put him in storage.

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Q: Since living in tacoma don’t you ever feel like sitting up inside on your bed while say it’s raining or too cold outside?

A: No, not really. That’s probably because we don’t spend very much time in the back. We’re only in there if we’re winding down for bed or watching a movie. If we’re hanging out when the weather is bad we tend to stay sitting in the cab. If the weather is good we’re outside. Once we get in the truck bed we’re ready to be in there and it’s super cozy. We’re also not the largest people out there so we can sit up, it’s just a hunched sit.

Q: What is y’alls strategy for finding good/safe camping spots on a day to day basis? 

A: This is something that we tend to keep close to the vest and I’ll tell you why. We take a lot of time to find the places we camp at every night. It’s taken us a long time to perfect the craft. Learning this skill overtime has made us appreciate the places we stay that much more because we work so hard to find them. We believe that others should put in the work so they too can experience the joy of rolling a killer spot for the night. Also, more and more we show up to camp spots and they’re TRASHED! All too often people stay, then leave behind unbelievable amounts of trash and because of that we really struggle with the idea of putting spots on blast like that. I know that this won’t be a popular answer but honesty is my middle name, and this is how I feel about it. What I can tell you is that we mostly stay in public lands and other “green spaces” where dispersed camping is permitted. We’ve also gotten very good at identifying spots via google earth and when we’re just driving along. Walmarts, rest stops, and large truck stops are great for in transit camping but we only use them when we have to. Signs will mark weather or not overnight parking is aloud in all of those places. I feel that this is a good time to stress the importance of taking care of the places you camp at, paid or not. We’re guests in every place we go and we try to treat it as such. If you see trash left behind by others, take out what you can so you can leave it cleaner than you found it. People are less likely to leave an area trashed if it isn’t already littered. Thanks for understanding our reason for discretion in regards to camping, it’s really something that’s very important to us.