There’s something so romantic about the open road—experiencing life one day at a time, rolling where the wind takes you. Having a home on wheels allows for true liberation from societal expectations, the burden of financial constraints, and the monotony of the daily grind. At the same time, van life is not without its own set of struggles, like limited space and missing friends and family back home.
We talked to a group of individuals who call their converted vans and trailers home—and their roving abodes are even more beautiful than some apartments. Think: less Jack Kerouac and more Chris Burkard, seeking out the best of what the world's landscapes have to offer. Whether they’re taking time off to embrace living in the moment, working full-time remotely, or bouncing around with a gaggle of kids, they’re living the dream—and doing it in style.
Sheena, Jason, and Riley Armstrong | @mavistheairstream
The Armstrongs decided it was time for a major change six years into their marriage. They were tired of the monotony of routine, where every day "felt like Groundhog Day." Like many people, they were spending their days waiting for weekends and vacations.
"Then we remembered something: We live in the age of the internet! Why shouldn't we be able to travel and earn a living? So my husband found a full-time telecommute job doing the exact same job that he drove to an Atlanta office in rush hour traffic five days a week for. It even paid more money!" Sheena was already working from home, so she was set.
They’ve been traveling since December 2017, and have since built two Airstreams. The first, which they named Mavis 1.0, was designed around the original floor plan and they did all of the work themselves (with the help of Sheena's uncle and dad who are builders), spending around $20,000. "Labor is by far the most costly part of a renovation," she explains.
Their second build is in the works and will cost significantly more, as they decided to bring in specialized labor to deal with their greatest challenge: "Building in a curved space and building something that can sustain all of the twisting and flexing and trauma of traveling down the road at 65 mph." She describes the new one as a "total wreck" that needed to be stripped down to the frame and required extensive structural repair.
Sheena recommends not getting in over your head. "When we built our first Airstream, we bought a well-preserved trailer that needed a good overhaul but not all the way down to the frame. This sort of work was all able to be done in a driveway with a pretty minimal tool collection. Renovating the frame is not for the faint of heart, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone do such a renovation unless you really know what you’re doing."
Jeffrey and Britt Osborne | @somedrifters
The idea of living in a bus began as a "random thought" on a cross-country motorcycle trip in 2014. Britt has a bohemian bridal line, Daughters of Simone, and she was seeking a way to get out of NYC that would still allow her to run her company and do some shows while they traveled. Their first big trip in the bus was up to Newfoundland, and then to Maine in May 2018.
The couple spent two months just researching and sketching floor plans, "cutting out little shapes on graph paper, moving them around, and taping them off inside the empty bus." Jeffrey wanted a living area that could seat as many people as possible, so he pushed the far wall back to create a spacious living room. The side of the bus is designed to be open to instill a sense of indoor/outdoor living.
"I needed the space to accommodate my wife’s business and doing pop-up fittings on the bus. So the bedroom had to be multi-purpose." It holds a fitting room with a tall hanging rack, full-length mirrors, and a bench to sit on which double as an office with two flip up desks—and the space can be completely sealed off for sound. A queen-sized murphy bed drops down when it's time to go to sleep.
Designed to be as off-grid as possible, the bus can carry 200 gallons of fresh water and it has heating and insulation for winter, solar panels, a lithium battery, satellite internet, and a composting toilet. Jeffrey spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it shows.
"I designed it to be a dreamy, earthy, magical, hobbit-y, dirt ship. Not sure where that came from, it just happened as I picked things." While he loves life on the road, he admits that sometimes they miss the ease of casually hanging out with friends when they all lived close by each other.
"I think the most important thing is just to know, is this lifestyle ‘you.’ Do you love traveling and being on the go all the time, and are you ok with an irregular, non-routine life? Before just totally committing to something like this, I would make sure the get up and go life doesn’t get you down. If you feel drawn to this lifestyle though…oh man…it’s incredible."
These are actually two great feeds belonging to a couple traveling the world together in their van, and making it look glorious. Mitch Cox purchased his first van in 2014. Beat up and old, it was exactly what he was looking for—and he slowly converted it over several months into his first rolling home.
He’d just finished a three-year university degree and was tired of routine, but in the end it was love that pushed him. "I’d always dreamed of owning a van and hitting the road, but it wasn’t until I met my partner Cleo that I thought, ‘Screw it I’m buying a van.’"
After their first trip together, they knew they wouldn’t return to a normal lifestyle—and they've been on the road for about four years now. In that period of time, Cox built out four more vans, each with a different budget and time frame.
"Our latest van was done on the cheap, and was designed for the cold New Zealand winter and with plenty of storage space in mind," Cox explains. He spent just over $1,400 to completely redesign and rebuild that one. "Cost really is not a massive factor though—I’ve built a livable rolling abode in a single afternoon for less than $100!"
He admits that, even while living life on the fly, responsibilities do come into play—and they're even more difficult while living in paradise.
"It’s easy to get caught up surfing all day and relaxing all night for months on end, and while this sounds like the dream, it isn’t really a sustainable lifestyle. Being able to actually be productive on the road while still enjoying each day is something I’m still constantly figuring out!"
He recommends: "My only advice is to just do it. Stop thinking about it, stop putting it off to next year and just go out and start!"
Viktoria Schmidt and Antonio Fernández de Córdoba | @vanilla.icedream
Schmidt says she was a "total camping beginner" when she first began traveling in her van in 2017. She finally decided to do the conversion after many extra hours at work—she’d jumped straight into a job after school, which she loved, but it didn’t give her much free time.
"I felt how my dog was missing me, during all these hours alone. Because of the never-fulfilled wish to explore, I wanted to travel." It was out of love for her dog that she decided to hit the road in a van.
She included a cozy bed with a view, lots of storage, and a large pull-out drawer that serves as a kitchen. "Because I can't stand up inside the van, I moved most of the living in the outdoors," she explains. In order to keep costs low, she used as many secondhand elements as she was able to.
Schmit bounced around Europe in this way with her pup, Cleo, but halfway through she met her boyfriend in Spain. In less than a year, he quit his job and moved into the van too.
Now, they’re working on an upgrade to make it more livable for two—changing around storage, and adding a table and a seat that swivels. "It's a tiny space for two people and has to be planned well. I also invested some more money this time, as I realized that this is not just a vehicle to travel around in, it's my home."
Next month, they’ll drive through Eastern Europe and Russia on the way to Central Asia. "We will be following the route of my family’s history and we'll visit the places my ancestors lived. They were German immigrants, and I was born in Kazakhstan."
She recommends: "Be aware of what you really want. Don't just let yourself be influenced by nice photos you see on Instagram. And once you know, do it. Don't think too long about it and don't wait until it's too late...if you're broke, get creative and find ways to save money. I've seen many cozy vans that are inexpensive. It's better to start with a simple solution than to never start at all."
Mandy and Kevin Fierens | @188sqft
While taking a road trip as part of their honeymoon, Mandy and Kevin kept asking the question (jokingly), "What if we lived this way?" They moved into a new apartment when they returned home, but just a few months in, they felt the road calling them back. The lovebirds found someone to take over their lease, bought and renovated a cheap camper, and never looked back. That was December 2015. Since then, they’ve been traveling full-time, and they have two homes on wheels—both of which they say started with good bones.
"We didn't want to change the layout because that was far beyond our skills, which were very limited," explains Mandy. They renovated their first camper with just $5,000, as they wanted to get on the road as soon as possible. They approached their current rig as more of a home, so they splurged, spending around $35,000 on the renovation, with $18,000 of it going to solar.
The results are oh so pretty, with hardwood floors, pendant lights, floating shelves, and chic textiles. The tiling in the kitchen, which Mandy describes as the hardest part, gives the camper a glam feel. They even have plants and a cute midcentury mustard-hued sofa in their cozy home, which they share with their dog and two cats. Mandy designs her own jewelry line on the road, and Kevin has created an app.
For newbies, Mandy recommends not biting off more than you can chew. "When we did our first rig we just painted it and made some cosmetic changes, and that was a good amount for us. Also, make sure to pay attention to weight; moving homes have weight restrictions that are very important to watch!"
Tyler and Lexi O'Brien | @onewildridebus
This couple decided to leave everything behind to hit the road in a bus-turned-home after getting fed up with paying high rents in Southern California. With no mortgage or kids, it was now or never. They built the bus in August 2017 and moved in March 2018—and they just hit their one-year "busiversary" on March 12. Since then, they’ve traveled to 20 states and Mexico with their cat.
They spent months determining the perfect design for the bus to accommodate all of their needs; and after endless sketches, they settled on the current layout. All in all, they completed their build-out with $25,000. With hardwood floors, curved ceilings, curtains, and a retro palette with Southwestern patterns, the bus feels like a micro beach house.
While they have significantly more space than a van, they’ve had difficulty getting their 34-foot-long bus into some areas. "We are completely off-grid and try to avoid campsites as much as possible, so sometimes isolated spots are hard for us."
"If we had to give anyone advice going into this lifestyle, it would be to not overthink it too much and just go for it. The longer you spend thinking about doing it, the greater the chances are that you will find an excuse not to."
Chase and Mariajosé Greene | @tioaventurabus
Chase and Mariajosé began their "bus life" journey in early 2017, shifting from off-the-grid tiny home builds to earthships to mobile living on the road. "My father showed us school bus conversion videos on YouTube as something ‘really cool’ and entertaining," says Chase. "After the initial shock of the thought of someone living in an old bus, we found ourselves in awe of how creative and deliberate the spaces were being designed."
And then their world flipped. On February 28, 2018, Chase was informed of cutbacks within his company that would leave him unemployed as of June 1. They took it as the perfect opportunity to sell their home and embark on their plan to "live deliberately and differently."
They bought their school bus on April 6, 2018, and they worked on it part-time until the second week of June. "We set a series of unattainable deadlines to our build and pushed as hard as we could to reach them. We were at that point committed to living full-time in our bus, and on August 28, we took the bus and headed north."
The couple began designing their home in March, before they even found a bus. They began by observing their living patterns in their nearly 2,000 square foot home to determine how to prioritize the build. "We were able to identify a few things: We use our bathroom as a sanctuary; therefore we need to make it comfortable. We spend the majority of our time in the kitchen or the bedroom, so those spaces absolutely must be functional and comfortable. We enjoy hosting people, but love our privacy, so we need to design an open plan that feels large, while still maintaining privacy for the living quarters."
"The most exhausting challenge in building a mobile dwelling is working alongside your own personal expectation of the build process and taking time to learn new skills along the way. Mentally overcoming the frustration is key." They ended up with a nearly exact replica of what they sketched on paper, and it cost them around $15,670. (The bus was $3,500 plus tax and registration.)
"If we had to offer advice to someone considering this lifestyle, first and foremost, commit. When you decide to do it, do it. Before you leave a job, search for mobile income. Network with people who are currently building or have already built their rig. Do not be afraid to ask questions, seek advice, and learn as many skills as possible from YouTube. Set unrealistic timelines, and somehow find a way to enjoy the process—because youʼll miss the process when youʼve completed it."
Jeremy Conte | @roam4wild
Jeremy Conte’s van life began with a trip to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as well as multiple trips to the white mountains, but it wasn’t until January 11 of this year that he officially hit the road for good. "After a trip to Africa, I had a special one-on-one moment with a wild elephant. I was struck and had a massive realization that I wanted to live and enjoy life in a different way."
As living on the road was something he’d always wanted to do, he designed the bus long before he bought it. When he was ready to take the plunge, he had his blueprints sketched and knew the exact size he wanted. With the bus, brakes, electrical, interior, solar, and stove, his beautiful roving home came out to just around $20,000.
While Conte loves being on the road, it’s not without its challenges. "The East Coast was parking. The Southwest has been the heat, but overall it’s probably the voice in the back of my mind that tells me I’d love to have someone along to experience everything with me. But for now, my dog is great company."
He recommends: "Take it. If this is a dream, follow it. You’re either living to die or dying to live. There will be hard days, but there will be so many more that create memories and experiences you’ll hold forever."
Jacqui, Allanah, and Poppy Brown | @brownandbird
Within a span of eight weeks, Jacqui and Allanah purchased and converted a Mercedes Sprinter van into a home with their dog Poppy. That was exactly one year ago. As avid travelers, they were used to renting out their house to go backpacking and long-distance trekking. "We hiked across the Pyrenees in 2017, so we were used to living a minimal but exciting lifestyle," says Jacqui. However, Allanah got sick during a trek to the Himalayas, and they were forced to return to the UK without a place to stay, as their home was still being rented.
"Allanah did a sketch on a napkin and I started to design the build using Sketchup (a free online CAD tool). We both came up with similar ideas. We took the essential elements from our house, which include a good-sized kitchen, a sitting and dining space that would enable us to work on the road as a website developers, and a raised bed so we could store mountain bikes, kayaks, and trekking gear underneath in the garage area."
The couple set out to create a tiny home that felt like an apartment, and they minimized their belongings to reduce the need for extra cupboards that remove headspace. They also decided to forgo a fixed shower—instead, they installed a pop-up shower that can be used inside or outside.
The interior is a cut above other vans, with stylish elements like a live edge worktop and copper lighting. The exterior maintains a work van aesthetic to attract less attention and make it easier to park, as it isn't obviously a motorhome. All in all, they spent a little over $28,000 on the van, conversion, and security. They built it all themselves, so they know how to fix things if they find themselves stranded in a remote area.
"We are fully off-grid, powered by discrete solar panels. It’s great to know our environmental footprint is now so much lower than living in a house." They’ve been on the road for just over a year, and have spent time in the French Alps, Switzerland, the Italian Dolomites, Italy, and they're currently in Sardinia. She recommends doing lots of research, considering what you really need inside a camper, and realizing that it’s absolutely not glamorous.
"What you do get is the chance to explore amazing places and have incredible views from your camper. People pay hundreds of [dollars] for hotels with fabulous views—we get them for nothing. There is nothing nicer than watching a different sunset each night from our little home."
Jace and Giddi Carmichael | @ourhomeonwheels
For Jace and Giddi, van life began in March 2016, after they dedicated a full year to building out their home. Both were "miserable and unhappy" with their jobs, and they had planned to backpack around work, but in a fated encounter, they met a stranger and offered to buy his van. "It wasn’t for sale at the time, but six months later he offered it to us and we bought it the next day," says Jace.
The first leg of their trip took them to Alaska, at which point they needed to rethink their living situation. "We found out two weeks before taking off that we were expecting a kid, so we took a break to build a new van to accommodate a child, and a toilet!" The second van took them down to Mexico, and helped Jace transition into a career building vans for others. In the interim, they also realized they wanted to downsize even more. Their first build cost $6,000, the second was $16,000, and their most recent was $20,000.
"We went from a 14' x 6' living space to 10.5' x 6'. Our goal has always been to live outside of the van, so simplifying even more is just what we needed. It seems crazy to some that we are shoving two adults, a toddler, and a dog into such a small space, but nothing seems more right for us. We really value our time together!"
As their space was significantly smaller, they opted for colors that would open it up. They also included elements they would use in a "regular" home. Simplifying the space and paring down their belongings removed the need for an abundance of storage, and allowed them to create a dedicated space for their daughter. "The hope is to make...each area become its own room when it’s converted to whatever it’s going to be used for."
"We definitely splurged on our last van. We really want it to be our ‘forever van,’ and we feel that we’ve been in a van long enough to know what it is we really need and want. We know as our child grows we will need to make some adjustments for her, so we’ve allowed for parts of the van to be able to evolve when the time comes."
He recommends: "Don’t expect it to be dreamy and perfect. Everything pertaining to van living takes patience and time; from building to living and finally being able to travel in it. But what becomes most beautiful is that time becomes yours. You can choose when and where you want to go, and every day becomes more beautiful. Even the difficult days—because they belong to you. It’s definitely not the perfect life, but when you’ve gone over the adjustment of going from regular life to van life, you feel like you can take a deep breath."
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