The Two Have Recently Embarked on a Year-Long Trip with their Trusted Sprinter
For the past two months, Rich and Jules have been traversing across the North American West in their trusted Sprinter van. Leaving behind the creature comforts of a static home, the couple paired down their possessions to the bare minimum—or, at least, almost—and hit the road for a year-long sabbatical.
As explored in our book Off the Road, the life of a contemporary vagabond is one filled with lush landscapes and thrilling views. Since leaving home, Rich and Jules have been documenting their journey on their blog and their popular Instagram account. We spoke with Jules about what happens when you forgoe an apartment for a four-wheeled home.
How did you choose your Sprinter? It seems like a pretty huge decision and one you must not have taken lightly.
The story of the Sprinter purchase is kind of funny actually. It happened only four months after Richmond and I had started dating. We’d been talking about going through with it and daydreaming about it a lot, and one week in November he told me that he was going to look at a Sprinter down in San Jose that he’d found at this place that flips them. I took it half seriously… until he showed up at my office later that day in an empty Sprinter shell with his name on the title. I was kind of speechless!
Overall, though, it was a solid choice. It’s just shy of 18-feet long, so it fits into most standard parking spots—I’m seriously blown away sometimes the places that we’re able to fit into. The turning radius is also amazing. Since we took it in to get worked on last, it’s been running like a dream.
When planning a life on-the-road, paring down supplies to the bare minimum seems like it would be of paramount importance. How did you decide what to bring?
Packing for a yearlong trip definitely involves some previous experience with traveling—especially for outdoor adventure—but also includes quite a bit of trial and error. With a 50-square-foot living space, there has to be a lot of flexibility. When we first moved in, we decided we would overpack, so that we could choose along the way what was necessary and what wasn’t based on our experiences.
Because we’re chasing the warm weather, the first thing that I noticed is that I packed way too many sweaters. Living in San Francisco, sweaters were a must, as most nights, the fog rolls in and chills you to the bone unless you are layered up. Out here, things are a bit different, and stocking a lot of layerable sweaters is uncalled for. If anything, so far it’s either been really hot or really cold. There hasn’t been much in between. It’s all climate dependent though, so I know that in the fall we’ll definitely want to have layers when we head back down through the Pacific Northwest on our way to Baja.
As far as gear goes, we brought the essentials to start for climbing, surfing and hiking. We have more than twice as much space for our gear than for our clothing and we wouldn’t have it any other way—we have no office commitments or people to look good for. We’re happy wearing the same things day in and day out until they’re ready to be thrown in the wash.
Likewise, how do you prepare for unexpected challenges and unforeseen roadblocks?
As far as challenges go, we certainly are lucky in that we saved up a good amount of money before hitting the road. Money makes it a whole lot less stressful when we’re not sure what kind of obstacles we might come up against. We just know we have the funds to counter any major pitfalls, like gear failing or the van breaking down. We made sure to build emergency into our budget just in case something unexpected comes up.
That being said though, we do get frustrated. Sometimes things just come up and we have to deal with them. I’ve really tried to adopt more of a “whatever happens happens” attitude on this trip because there really shouldn’t be a ton to complain about when you’re on a year-long sabbatical even if you do get stuck in the weeds.
In terms of non-essentials, do you have any personal luxuries that you think are must-haves for your travels?
One of our favorite luxurious non-essentials is definitely our Jetboil. They cost about $60 at REI—and then some more for the small gas canisters—but they are so worth it if you’re a fan of hot beverages. Every morning, we wake up and fire up the Jetboil, then sometimes use the Aeropress (another luxury) to make a good cup of coffee.
Another luxury would be beer. We’re not heavy drinkers by any means, but after we go out for a long hike or a long day of climbing in the baking sun, nothing sounds better than to kick back in a camp chair with an ice-cold IPA or Pale Ale. Such a treat!
Is there a communal aspect of van living? Do you meet many other people living like you are and have you met any particularly fascinating characters while on the road?
There is definitely a large community of people who live in vans, so it’s been really cool to see Sprinter vans out on the road in their earlier stages! Some are completely empty, bar some of the essentials like a bed and some storage. It’s so exciting to see those empty shells because it reminds us of when we first started on the van and it was this big, blank canvas. We’ve also had some people just come up to the van at campsites and say that they recognize us.
We stalk a lot of other van dwellers via Instagram, and some of the finished builds that others have done are so incredibly creative and impressive! There’s no end to the innovation, and I’m constantly blown away by the things people come up with. The two of us are already sketching out ideas for the next van—that’s how much we loved working on it.
What’s your itinerary been for the past few weeks and what’s coming up in the next few weeks?
We’ve really only been on the road for just shy of two months now, and that is crazy to type and reread because it feels like it’s been so much longer than that! Every day that we spend in the van goes by so slowly and so leisurely because we don’t have to plan far out in advance. It really lets us spend time in the moment and enjoy ourselves without having to stress about what happens next.
In the last month or so, we covered a lot of ground. Too much, really, but that was mostly because we had to get to Austin TX to drop off our dog Roscoe with Richmond’s sister Marissa. It was a difficult thing for us to do, since we love him like crazy, but we know he’s happier out of the hot sun and we couldn’t have taken him into most of the national parks.
Our initial plan was to cover the Southwest in Spring. Since March, we’ve been to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. We’re now in Utah at Zion National Park, where I’m surprised to have full cell service and data. We're planning on taking our time through Southern Utah over the next month or so, since there's SO much climbing and hiking to do out here. Probably will make our way to Colorado by mid-May and we'll go from there. We've mostly gotten lucky with first-come first-serve campgrounds and cancelled reservations. If we don't have a site, we just find a good spot on the side of the road.
What else have you learned?
We get so many questions on our Instagram account, mostly about the build and about how we finance our lifestyle. We’re planning at some point to write it all down in some kind of book to really help those who have no clue where to start. The truth is we experienced our fair share of failure as we worked on the van, and so will anyone else who is new to building—but we learned a ton. One of the most important lessons I would say was learning that with some creative thinking and after banging of heads against the wall, your craziest ideas can be possible. And crazy ideas really just are some of the best ideas that need to be executed to prove that they were worth the effort in the first place. Some of our best work came out of last-minute maybes and what-ifs.
Images © Home Sweet Van
Many of us long to get away from it all in the great outdoors. Converted vans, trucks, and other vehicles are increasingly popular means of escape that provide temporary homes amid isolated terrain, sandy dunes, and endless skies.