Vanlife: Where It All Began...

Vanlifer driving down dirt road in Mesa Verde giving a peace sign.

Welcome to Michaud You The World! I am so excited to share my experience of life on the road with you and can’t wait to get in to the nitty gritty details of Vanlife and all the tips and tricks I've learned along the way, but before we dive into the great adventure that Vanlife is, let’s first talk about where I was and how I got to the point of living in a van.

I was 32, I had (and have) a great life. I had lived in Boston for just over a decade, since graduating college. I have a wonderful friend group and a close knit family. Our family is so close, even the cousins get together for an annual gathering, known as Cousin Christmas. I had a job that provided me with enough income to buy my first condo, solo, at the age of 29. I always made ends meet, and had enough left over to go on 1-2 vacations each year. I’ve never faced any real tragedy. From most normal standards, my life was good. Better than good. At times, I even felt selfish that I wanted more. It wasn’t that I was an unhappy person. Most days I actually felt very happy, but something was missing. I never seemed content. It was more like I was just moving through the motions of what the American Dream is. But was that really my dream?

When I was in my early and mid 20s, I found Boston to be very alive and exciting. I spent my weekends bar hopping through Faneuil Hall and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. But as I got older, the party scene also got old. I eventually found a new hobby and my weekends were filled with hiking. Then came skiing. My love for the outdoors was exponentially increasing, but most of the week I was stuck behind a desk staring at a computer. By the time I reached my 30s my routine was work, gym, make dinner, go to bed, repeat. If it was Monday, I watched The Bachelor, Thursday was for Grey’s Anatomy. I lived for the weekends where I could break away and go hiking, skiing, a trip to the Cape, a trip to Maine, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted more.

At least once a year I would plan a big trip. The planning was usually enough to keep me content and give me something to look forward to. In January 2018, I headed off to Africa to summit Kilimanjaro, followed by an African safari, and then a few days to relax on the island of Zanzibar. My friend Alison and I must have been saving up and planning this trip for two years. As the weeks got closer to the trip and the planning was over, I already knew I needed something to look forward to when I got back. I hadn’t even gone on the freakin vacation yet and I already had that feeling of longing for something more.

Mount Kilimanjaro Summit at Uhuru Peak.  The tallest mountain in Africa.
Kilimanjaro Summit: January 2018

Fast forward to February, and there I was, back from Africa, with that feeling like something was still missing in my life. How could something be missing, for crying out loud, I had just summited the tallest mountain in Africa, something most people only dream about, but yet I still needed more. The next adventure. The next adrenaline rush.

It didn’t take long for me to fall back into my normal routine… work, gym, Grey’s Anatomy, sleep, repeat, and that nagging knot in my stomach. Then one day, while I was sitting in a training for work, everything changed. The trainer had a bunch of motivating one liners that day, but one of them stuck with me. “If what you’re doing doesn’t scare you, you’re doing something wrong.” I knew it was time to pull the trigger. My routine was so regular and comfortable, I was not getting the adrenaline rush I craved. I was not doing anything that scared me. I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone. A big step. Or more like a hop, skip, and one giant jump. Not a small weak step that would put me back in that same “longing for the next adventure” one week later. A step that would keep me feeling alive over and over again. But seriously, what was I going to do? I knew traveling made me the happiest, but my bank account looked back at me and laughed.

The answer wasn’t immediately Vanlife. I contemplated many things… joining the Peace Corps, applying for a job in Antarctica, and then, of course, there was Vanlife. People always ask me where I got the idea of living in a van. Honestly, I can’t quite remember, but I’m sure it was a combination of Instagram and this date I went on about 6 years ago. A dating app led me to dinner with this cute guy with shaggy hair. He told me about a cross-country road trip he took after college. That was probably the most intriguing part of the date. When I got home, I was wondering how I could pull off a cross-country road trip, not if he’d call me the next day. I never saw him again, but a cross-country road trip went on my bucket list. Initially, I thought it was a retirement plan, but here I was at 32, 6 years after the date wondering if I could make a cross country road trip a three year long journey. The thoughts started to spiral. What if I sold my condo? I would then have the money to buy a van and probably even save more money since I wouldn’t be paying a life sucking mortgage, plus I would get to do all of the traveling I want. So then why wait till retirement? It seemed like the perfect plan. A perfect plan with a million questions I had no answers for.

The next thing I knew, I was at Easter dinner with my family, telling them I was going to move into a van and travel the country. The reactions across the faces of my family were very mixed. They all had questions I couldn’t answer. As supportive as they were in that moment, I’m sure no one, including myself, thought it would actually happen.

Before I could even blink I was having a conversation with my realtor about what the

market was doing and how well he thought my condo would do. Soon I was planting gardens, painting stairwells, and then the listing went up. I got five offers the first weekend. In less than a month, I was handing over the keys to the proud new owner. Everything had happened so fast.

The condo that funded Vanlife
The condo that funded Vanlife

Once I sold my condo there was no turning back. I was scared, nervous, excited, clueless, and now homeless. The first step was to buy a van. The next step was to have it built out. There is a lot of pride in doing your own van build, but I knew it was a project bigger than I could tackle alone. I was going to have to hire out the build, but we'll save that story for another day. For now, I'll just say I bought an empty cargo van in October 2018 and it was delivered back to me in February 2019 as a tiny home on wheels. My greatest adventure was ready to begin.

Mercedes Sprinter Vanlife van conversion before picture.
Vanlife van conversion after picture.

All the steps that led me to this point were not easy. I repeat, they were not easy. A lot of big, scary, uncomfortable decisions had to be made. Selling a condo I owned for less than three years was a big decision. Buying a van that I was terrified to drive was not an easy decision. Paying someone I barely knew $40,000 to build out the van was not an easy decision. Asking my employer if I could transition my job into a remote position and reduce it by 10 hours/week was not an easy decision. I tell you this because a lot of people look at my van or Instagram account and say, "I wish I could do this" with the assumption that a van just happened to fall into my driveway and I drove away to live an amazing life checking off one bucket list item after another. While yes, I have an amazing life and check off bucket list items faster than a carton of milk expires, a lot of scary decisions had to be made, hard questions asked, and many nights up worrying if I made the wrong decision.

When I first had the dream of Vanlife, I did not think it was a dream that would be possible for me. Financially I did not think it would be possible and I also didn't know if I had the courage to follow through with each of these steps, and then the courage to explore the remote places I wanted to see by myself. I also new I wanted it so bad. With that I knew that if I wanted to make it happen, I was the only one that could make it happen. So I sold the condo and bought the van. At each step along the way I wondered if I made a horrible decision that would ruin my seemingly good life, but I also felt proud that I was doing it and excited that I was one step closer to my dream. Spoiler alert: I'm two years into Vanlife and I did not ruin my life. It's the best it's ever been!

If you have a dream, whether that dream is Vanlife, climbing Mt. Everest, or anything in between, you are the only person holding you back. Today I challenge you to figure out what the steps are to make your dream come true and then start chipping away at them. Know that big dreams don't turn into reality overnight. There will be set backs along the way. People who don't understand your dream will try to steer you in the other direction. There will be times you question your decision, but keep plowing forward and in the end, it will be 100% worth it.

Before you go, don’t forget to subscribe to Michaud You The World so you don't miss out on any new blog post or helpful Vanlife tips!