Hello Shruthi and Peter!
For the people who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about the story behind you.
Our relationship dates back to 2006 when we both lived in the hot and humid deep South: aka Mississippi. Shortly after we started dating we both moved to separate locations, Shruthi went to Chicago for college and Peter to Nashville just to get out of MS. We maintained a long distance relationship for about 5 years before Shruthi moved to Nashville and we eventually got married in 2012. Since then we just lived as normal upstanding citizens in Nashville, working and paying Uncle Sam.
How was your life before van life and how is it now?
Before we left Nashville our lives were pretty standard. We worked normal 9-5 jobs, took weekend trips, etc. We have always loved traveling so we would usually save up our money to do at least one big trip a year, but were always limited to how much vacation time we had.
Now that we’re living on the road, things are much more fluid. There’s (usually) not a clock ticking on how much time we can spend somewhere or where we can go explore. It’s great because we can get out of our comfort zones and experience new things without having to worry about a strict timeline. Obviously there are pros and cons to anything and life on the road isn’t always so glamorous. The pictures you see on Instagram of vans camped out in amazing places or a bunch of super-cool people sitting around a campfire playing guitars and singing “Kumbaya” are only half the story. There are plenty of times where we are scrambling to find a place to sleep for the night, or really wish we had a hot shower, or wifi…
What does the van life mean to you and why did you choose this lifestyle over your previous life?
Van life is freedom to explore new places and new experiences. It’s a way for us to get out there and experience nature and different subcultures while still being able to work and have an income. To be able to explore without the ball and chain of an office. We chose it over our previous life for those reasons. To get out of the norm, to take the plunge into the unknown and into something different.
What do you miss the most when you are on the road?
Nashville hot chicken and hot showers.
How did you realize that it was possible live in that way against the common life path? Was it difficult to take the plunge?
We had been planning for years to do an extended road trip (not necessarily full van life) but things never really lined up. In the summer of 2015 we went to Argentina to drive around with our friends Greg and Katie who had been living on the road for a while. After 10 days of the 4 of us driving around Argentina in their van, we were sold. On the plane ride home we told each other we had to make it happen. After that piece after piece started to fall into place. Things happened at work that enabled us to work part time from the road and so we started getting the van ready to go. It wasn’t really hard to take the plunge at all. We just decided that we wanted to do it and jumped right in. The only difficult thing was all the planning.
Is it worth it?
If we said no would you believe us? It’s totally worth it. We’ve never had so much fun in our lives, but it still has its ups and downs and its not for everyone. Some people like their Tempur-Pedic mattress and hot shower every day, and we really can’t blame them.
How do you afford it?
The simple answer is that we both work part time from the road (roughly 16 hrs a week) and we also rent out our house in Nashville. But really we’ve always led relatively frugal lives and have saved up for a long time. There were plenty of times before living on the road that one of us wanted to buy something and the other one would chime in with something like “Well what about that trip to (insert cool destination here)”? We’ve also been blessed with steady, well-paying jobs that enabled us to put away a little extra. Right now we tend to break even as far as income/spending goes but if our job situations were to change we could cut back and still be able to make it work.
Another thing that contributes to being able to afford it is that we almost never pay for somewhere to sleep. If you’re camping in National Parks or state parks (especially in California), you’re going to pay out the nose for camping. We’re sticklers about not paying, so we save money that way but it also adds a little stress if it’s 11:30PM and you’re driving around wondering where you’re going to sleep.
Tell us a little bit about your van, what is the story behind it?
The van, ironically dubbed the “Blitzkrieg” because it is neither fast nor fierce, has actually played a pretty big part in our relationship. I (Peter) got the van when I was 19 right after Shruthi moved to Chicago. At the time I was persona non grata with her parents and used it to travel to Chicago to visit her and sleep in parking lots. It was kind of a staple in our relationship for those long years of long distance. It is also my first and only car, and has been my daily driver since I bought it in 2006. It’s not like we got this crazy idea to live in a van and then went out and found one. It was already part of our family and when we travel, the whole family goes.
How would you describe a normal day in your life now?
Driving a lot and being dirty. Honestly, it really depends on our plans and if we’re working that day. If it’s a work day then we either use our hotspot to get online from wherever we’re camped and work or go find a place with wifi (library, coffee shop, etc.). Usually the only time we have service from our campsite is if we’re camping in a desert or somewhere where it’s flat and cell service carries. Then again I’m typing this from a desert right now and have no service so we’ll be driving tomorrow to find some.
If it’s not a work day then we wake up, have coffee and just decide where we want to go and what we want to do. That could be exploring back roads through the desert or going on a good hike. We generally try to do at least one hard hike a week. Gotta offset all those hours sitting in the van and driving!
What are the best moments you have lived in this adventure?
Our best moments have been with other people we’ve met on the road and enjoying nature. We’ve met so many cool people on the road and have had a blast camping out, getting stuck in sand, floating down rivers, you name it. Also we’re not hippies by any means, but nature is beautiful and there are so many awe-inspiring places to see, even if you never leave the US. Being able to get out into isolated places without a soul for miles(besides each other) and just take it all in is one of the best experiences in the world.
What are the worst moments you have had to face?
There are always days where things just don’t work out. And, without pointing fingers, sometimes living in a van with another person can put you on edge, even if you love them. Our worst times come when we don’t get enough time to ourselves. And really, how much time can you get to yourself when you’re crammed into a van together 24/7. It’s hard to find that balance and we’re fine with admitting that we haven’t completely figured it out yet.
How long have you been living on the road?
10 Months and counting
What’s next? Short term, mid term, long term.
Short term is Baja for tacos and sunshine and then to the Southwest US. Mid term is back to Nashville to take care of errands related to our house. Long term is still up in the air. We’ve been discussing out options on what the next step will be. Europe? Alaska? South America? We’ll see where the road takes us.
PRACTICAL STUFF. How do you deal with the next things? Can you give us a couple of tips?
Less is more right? It is hard trying to fit everything into a small van but we usually make it work. Every once in a while we have a “clean out” day where we clear out everything we don’t need. Part of it just comes down to packing light and not buying things we don’t need. Really, if you’re only taking a shower once a week do you really need 4 pairs of pants? No, probably not. We also do a fair amount of thrifting: donate what we aren’t using at the moment, and buy the few pieces of clothing we need for cheap. It also helps to be in spaces where we can sprawl out and get outside of the van a bit (weather permitting). It’s also very important to try to get as many dual-purposed things as possible, whether it’s clothing, pots/pans, whatever.
Eat on the road. Stay healthy.
We have a few staple food items that are always in the van that are versatile. Avocados, bananas, black beans, eggs, sweet potatoes, rice. We try to plan out our meals instead of buying things on an urge, though that doesn’t always work out. I also helps to make plenty of leftovers for the next day. We’ve found that generally when we eat the worst is when we’re in cities. Most of the reason is that we’re stealth camping and trying not to draw attention to ourselves, but sometimes it’s because we’re foodies and there’s so much good (unhealthy) food.
We also stay healthy by trying to exercise as much as possible. We don’t have a set schedule, per se, but we try to go on hikes often and get out and walk around at the very least.
Shower and hygiene on the road.
Showering: the biggest conundrum of them all. It really depends on the time of year and where we are. If we’re in warm weather we usually try to find a stream/river/lake to camp by and bath in or take water from to put in our camp shower (one of those 5gal. solar bags). We’ve also done our fair share of sneaking into campground or RV park showers. If we’re in a city/town we sometimes try to find a recreation center that has showers. Usually it’s a few bucks to use the facility, but it also includes access to the gym so we can work out as well and make the shower even more special. Also, sometimes we’re lucky and the rec center is free!
Find a good place to spend the night.
It depends on where we are. If we are in a city then we usually try to find a residential street to park on and blend in, or ask some locals for advice. If we’re just booking in to get somewhere then rest areas or good old fashion Walmart parking lots work in a pinch. But, if we’re actually camping then it’s almost always either National Forest or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. Camping on public lands is almost always free (unless in a designated campsite) and our favorite way to camp. We generally use forest service maps, or apps like freecampsites.net or iOverlander to find spots. We have a blog post that goes over the details of how we find spots.
Relationships with family and friends.
We do a lot of FaceTime and texting!
Most important and useful things you can’t live without on the road.
Peter: My tool bag and plenty of beer. Shruthi: Our cast iron skillet, a camera and coffee!
Travel routine, how much time do you spend in the same place?
The average is probably 2 nights in one spot, but it really depends on where we are or what our week looks like. Sometimes it’s just one night, but there have been times we’ve spent 5 nights in one spot because it was amazing and we had nowhere else to be.
What are your favorite and most van friendly places you have been?
There are sooooo many spots that are van friendly, but some of our favorites have been Baja, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. There are definitely many more, but those places have such an abundance of free spots to camp and remote places to explore that we fell in love with them.
Where do you look for van life ideas, resources, inspiration, help?
We get a lot of help from our friends at GoWesty, the forums at thesamba.com, and the Vanagon community in general. We also get a lot of inspiration from the large van life community on Instagram/Facebook.
What advice would you give to the people who are doubting to give this huge step?
Don’t overthink it but don’t under plan. If you overthink it you’ll never leave and if you under plan then you’ll run out of money and end up asking people for gas money. The best advice we can give is to plan ahead, be prepared, and then dive in.
Where can we follow you and learn more from you?