The World Nomads Podcast: Vanlife

In this episode, inspired by the documentary The Meaning of Vanlife, we explore why modern nomads have ditched traditional homes for a life on the road.

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Photo © J.R. Switchgrass. Director Jim Lounsbury living and working out of ‘Hunter S. Thompsvan’ during the filming of the documentary.

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The World Nomads Podcast: Vanlife

This episode has been inspired by the documentary The Meaning of Vanlife an adventurous, revealing look into the Vanlife community through the eyes of nomads who have chosen a life of freedom on the road.

What’s in the Episode

01:13 Meaning of Vanlife Director Jim Lounsbury joins us in the studio

04:30 What demographic is attracted to Vanlife?

09:10 Kim thinks she'd struggle around the camp fire

15:28 Catching up with vanlifers in Wyoming

18:22 Kit Whistler

21:08 What Kit's family thinks about her life choice 

26:02 Kit's book and what it meant to her dad

31:58 "Maybe I don't want to take a shower in front of my entire audience here."

33:20 The birth of Vanlife Diaries

39:00 "Each gathering is completley different."

42:45 How filming with World Nomads changed Joel.

46:26 According to Joel, Jessica has cracked the code

54:02 Next week

Quotes from this Episode

"The whole premise of America is this country built on these people who put all their possessions into covered wagons and headed west looking for better opportunity. An in so many ways I actually feel that Vanlife kind of mirrors that." - Jim Lounsbury

"When you're going to make a big lifestyle shift it's very important that when you look at those who you are inspired by and what you see around you that you take the elements that work for you, but don't try to model your lives after one particular person who you look up to." - Kit Whistler

"I think the reason it's exploded beyond that though, housing affordability is a massive thing. Rentals. If you want to save up for a house, how do you do it while you pay rent? That's really tricky." - Jared Campbell

"This is my mobile home and after my travels in the US and after filming World Nomads, I came back and I felt really off when I came back. I kind of felt a little bit down and displaced and I was just trying to figure out what was happening and what was up with me and I thought it was the feeling of the post holiday blues." - Joel de Carteret

Who is in the Episode

Director Jim Lounsbury spent 4 months living in a van while capturing the stories for The Meaning of Vanlife.

“As a naturalist, environmentalist and filmmaker, I have long wanted to make a film that captures the adventurous spirit of those who embrace conscious consumerism and sustainable living.” – Jim Lounsbury.

Official poster for The Meaning of Vanlife featuring Kit Whistler.

The film was partially funded on Kickstarter and was shot in 2017 and 2018 in Australia and the United States.

Kit Whistler is one of the central characters in the documentary. Kit is a writer, and her partner J.R. an photographer. Their book ‘Orange is Optimism’ is “a genre-blending book which we have dubbed a pictotext, a blend between a novel and photobook.”

Check out their site Ideal Theory Bus.

Jared Melrose Campbell is a musician and has been living full-time in his van for four years with his partner, Ashleigh. He is a co-founder of Vanlife Diaries with lifelong friends Sam and Jonny.

Their book Vanlife Diaries celebrates the nomadic lifestyle and community of Vanlife through interviews, essential advice for living on the road, and more than 200 photos. Follow them on Instagram @vanlifediaries

Jared and Sam also convert vans into beautiful living spaces.

Joel de Carteret is the founder and chief storyteller at Stories in Motion, a boutique film production company. Joel is the host of our US Discoveries Series due out shortly.

Resources & Links

Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.

The Vanlife App is your complete travel resource to locate campsites, facilities and connect with the community.

The World Nomads team has created their own road trip soundtrack on Spotify, alongside the soundtrack to The Meaning of Vanlife.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

You can get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast. Delivered by World Nomads, the travel lifestyle and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast, it's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim: Thanks for tuning into the podcast in which we celebrate Vanlife. An episode inspired by the documentary The Meaning of Vanlife, an adventurous, revealing life into the Vanlife community through the eyes of nomads who've chosen to live a life of freedom on the road.

Phil: Director Jim Loundsbury worked closely with the Vanlife community stalwarts Johnny [Dusto 00:00:32] and Jared Campbell of Vanlife Diaries to find and tell authentic stories from within the Vanlife community. And look at why modern nomads have made the decision to forgo traditional homes for a life on the road.

Kim: Yeah, well in this episode we will catch up with a couple of Vanlifers featured in the doco, Jared as you just mentioned and Kit Whistler. But world nomads was present at one of the Vanlife gatherings that they have filming for our US discovery series which is due out shortly. So Joel our man in front of the camera has captured conversations with people at the Wyoming gathering which we'll share in this episode. But look, lets kick it off and catch up firstly with Jim, the director to find out how it all started.

Jim: Well to be honest it started because my wife went to high school with Jared Campbell and Johnny Dusto. And these are two gents that I've known for about 10 years, 15 years in Australia. I'm not Australian as you can probably tell by my accent.

Phil: We picked that.

Jim: But I've lived here for the last-

Kim: Seattle?

Jim: I am from Seattle, yeah you've done your research.

Phil: And then tried to fake it.

Kim: He had to tell me. I tried to fake it. Fake it til you make it Phil. So you're wife was friends with the guys who are in the movie?

Jim: That's correct. And they were traveling around in their vans, their both muso's and Johnny's an avid surfer, so that's a classic gateway drug into van life-ing. Is traveling vans. And so what they did is they started this social media network, Vanlife Diaries. And they're whole idea was to share and celebrate stories of some of these people they've been meeting on the road. Because they met dozens and dozens of people. Hundreds of people living on the road in their vans. And it just exploded and they realized they'd sort of caught this movement at a time when it was just, look you've got hundreds of thousands of people out there doing this in different ways shapes and forms. And I think three, four years ago when they first did it was kind of when social media kind of intersected that and people were able to share those stories in visually compelling ways. And also they're all out there alone and they're wanting to connect because you're isolated when you live in a van often. You're out in National forests, you're parking it out of the way places, that's part of the joy of it.

Phil: Yeah exactly. But it says on the can.

Jim: But yet you get a little lonely out there so they all like to come together for these gatherings. And Johnny and Jared started running these gatherings. When they started on social media network it exploded. And I think when I first spoke to them about doing a documentary I said look this is crazy, because they exploded from about 10, 15 thousand right up to over 100 thousand within the space of the first six to nine months they were doing this. And I was like you've really caught onto a huge interest group. And whether it's someone who's out there living in their vans or it's just people vicariously wanting to live in a van or thinking it would be a wonderful thing to do someday, I'm like this is a universal thing. I've always been fascinated by nomadism and the idea of how going places can change you. I'd really love to do a documentary on this, should we do it together?

Kim: And so you did.

Jim: And so we did.

Kim: I think there's been a huge paradigm shift between, I don't know what it is like in America, but I'm guessing there's still that let's get married and buy a house and live in a house. Does this sort of swing towards tiny homes, towards Vanlife. You don't necessarily have to have bricks and mortar, single address for 25 years until the kids retire. It's just not like that anymore. And I noticed in this film, it was all ages of people that were into Vanlife.

Jim: It was. Even though the primary characters and subjects in the documentary sort of were in that, what I call the sweet spot of Vanlife in that 28-35 category. The reason why I focused on that age bracket is partly because I was looking at an area of Vanlife where people were making a conscious decision to life a life on the road. And often these people had spent time working in the ordinary world, as in working in corporate America, working as accountants, photographers, writers, designers, all sorts of normal jobs that we would consider normal jobs where you go to work nine to five. And then had made a conscious decision to go you know what, this just doesn't fit. It doesn't fit right, I need to go either searching for self or I need to search of something else that does fit right. And it's kind of funny, when I was doing all the research on Vanlife diaries, and on Vanlife as a general thing. I started looking at the whole American psyche and the way America was set up because I'm from America, obviously I filmed Vanlifers in Australia, and America, and Germany. All over the world.

Jim: But in America, the whole premise of America is this country built on these people who put all their possessions into covered wagons and headed west looking for better opportunity. An in so many ways I actually feel that Vanlife kind of mirrors that. Because it's these people, whether they're over stimulated, over worked or just lost in some way shape or form, have just gone, you know what, I'm going to put all my possessions in this vehicle with four wheels and we're going to head west, or north or south, or some other direction looking for better opportunity. And it was that common theme of looking to redefine their expectations of life. Which I think emerge through the document.

Kim: In fact at some of the gatherings the people who had been doing it for a few times had their core group of friends and they would park their vans exactly-

Phil: Circle the wagons.

Kim: Yeah they would, exactly the way the wagons used to be.

Jim: And that's the term they use is, you circle the wagons. There's a safety in that. There's a community in that. And that idea of four or five or either two or three wagons circled and a little fire in the middle and you make your meals in the middle and then you kind of explore each others vans, whatever. And you might go off into the woods for a hike or to explore photography or do something, yoga, whatever your practice might be. But yeah, coming back to that safe base that community.

Phil: But the difference being the covered wagons, heralded in a period of amazing economic growth and building of wealth. And this in another way is kind of a rejection of that, do you think?

Jim: Yeah I think there is at the heart of this a re-evaluation of capitalism and the promises of capitalism. I think that's a reoccurring theme throughout a lot of the Vanlife movement. It's not that Vanlifers as I saw it were rejecting capitalism or the structures that exist. It's that they were going, you know what. I'm not sure if this works for me, and it could be because of the pressures on housing, you know the rising cost of living and I don't know where I read this, I don't remember which generation it was but it's recently, we're finally getting to that point, where as children we're not making as much, or we don't have as good as prospects as our parents did in terms of economic outlook. And so people are having to redefine consumerism and what it means to be successful. But yeah it is extraordinary when you see all the shapes and sizes and flavors of people that are out there doing this. And like Eddie Craft, one of the guys on the documentary, is a famous photographer, he did that famous photo of Jimmy Hendrix with the guitar burning.

Phil: Burning?

Kim: Yeah, he was an album cover photographer.

Jim: Yeah a rock and roll photographer, but did a lot of album covers for a lot of famous musicians in the 70's and 80's. And but Eddie, you know he got to this point where he'd been working since he was 16 years old. Doing photography, because I think he had a press pass when he was in high school photography class and got into a Jimmy Hendrix concert and took that photo. And his career just exploded as you can imagine and went on from that into being a restaurateur and everything else. He just never didn't work. He was a workaholic and got to, had some health problems later in life. And went you know what. Bucket list, I never got to have that trip as a youth, as a young man. Never got to have that trip where I got to travel without possessions and just travel around the world in a van, live in my vehicle. And I want to do that.

Kim: The other thing that worried me about the gatherings though, is that I don't have any mechanical skill nor do I have any skill that I could share around the fire. Like singing or dancing, because they're all really talented people.

Phil: Give me a break, you're pretty good at telling a story.

Kim: Who wants to hear about the time I shat myself?

Phil: You've got that one story that will get you around any gathering.

Kim: I've got that one story and I'm pretty good at put downs. But they seem to be a really talented bunch of people.

Jim: Yeah, I think there is a common element in the Vanlife communities that I experienced is that so many of them are artistic, they're expressive. And also this idea of going out on the road, you have that open road, you have a lot of time to think you have a lot of time for inward reflection. And you get a lot of perspective, you get a lot of art from that.

Phil: So this is a not very secret passion of yours that you're harboring Kim. Do you think you're going to get serious, you're going to do it?

Kim: Absolutely. Not necessarily to nick off for six months. But, when we lived in Adelaide we were huge campers, we had an A-frame van that Andy's dad has given us so we spent a lot of time at the [inaudible 00:10:14] ranges. Places like [Kooapeety 00:10:16]. So we're part on this journey anyway. So we had a home that, we had two children which one's still in Adelaide, ones in the UK. So we're empty-nesters. We had a huge home, so it was two living areas, four bedrooms, three bathrooms. We had two kayaks, we had four bikes. We had absolutely everything.

Phil: All the toys.

Kim: All the toys. All the bells and whistles, roller skates, roller blades. We left Adelaide January 2017 with four boxes. And that's all we still own. So we're very keen on the idea of being minimalists and to hook that into getting into your van on a Friday and not coming back until Monday morning before work.

Jim: And to be honest, there were so many people in the Vanlife community who we're weekenders. They had a house somewhere, they had a property somewhere. Even Kathleen Morton who is now one of the members of Vanlife Diaries and she runs gatherings in Colorado and [Teetons 00:11:18] and everywhere else. But Kathleen, she owns a little property out in the wilderness in Colorado. She rents the house out to a young family and she lives on the acreage in an old motor home, or van. Whatever she's driving or living in at the time.

Kim: The other thing that we like, so we've been doing lots of tiny houses and often these places are quite remote and you can't take your phone. So I really like reading. But I'll read at home two pages and then I'll pick up my phone and I'll go through Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Then I'll put it down.

Phil: Read a couple more pages.

Kim: Yeah, and awe but where was I up to? We go away for these weekends and we will read a whole book or half a book and then we'll have conversations about the books that we're reading and then we'll go for sticks to light a fire or see a snake or watch a hot air ballon. I don't know.

Jim: And for all you people out there listening, I mean she's just describing what life was like in the 80's.

Kim: Exactly. Maybe that's why I have such a love of it. That's classic, it's classic.

Jim: But it's true and I think there's a huge need, and I don't think we're taught. We're not taught in schools, we're not taught in our social structures that we actually need time for reflection. We need rocking chair on the veranda time to actually process all the information that's continually coming in. We're stimulated all the time, over stimulated. By everything from school to entertainment, to advertising to everything else. And I think that we have to find those pressure valves. For many people it's going down for the ocean swim in the morning. Some people it's going for that run through the park. For some people it's ...

Kim: Yoga.

Jim: Yoga. Or one of the other curated reflection times. Meditation. There's a lot of different ways to find that pressure valve. But certainly travel is one of them. And certainly living the Vanlife can be a big pressure release for someone who might have just had too much of it.

Phil: Is there any estimate of how many people are living the Vanlife?

Jim: We tried to get a beat on it. I don't know. I certainly think that it's growing because of the interest in Instagram, because of the accessibility with social media and everything else. People can see it, they can see a pathway too it. So many people plan and are reaching out to some of the founders of Vanlife Diaries, every single day about how best to go about it. Where do you park, how do you convert your van?

Kim: How do you eat properly.

Jim: How do you eat properly on the road? How do you get showers consistently, how do you, all those how-to's. So there's a constant, I guess you could say tsunami of conversations happening on social media about that as people prepare and help one another prepare for Vanlife.

Kim: I loved the film. How do people access it?

Jim: The Meaning of Vanlife, is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Vimeo on demand and Amazon Prime. If you're in Australia we have an exclusive deal with Stan so you can watch it on Stan. It features a lot of these people we've been talking about, Johnny Dusto and Jared Campbell, Sam Peterson, Kathleen Morton, JR and Kit, who are of Idle Theory Bus. And a lot of other Vanlifers are out there doing it. And it really focuses on the community aspect of Vanlife and how important it is for these Vanlifers to lean into one another, be a part of a community, even though they often live out in remote areas, experiencing all the freedom and joy that that provides, in these amazing places. But coming together and the importance of community is sort of the focus on the documentary.

Phil: Thanks Jim. By the way, he largely shot the doco himself apart from a few Australian scenes shot by the Australian cinematographer Anthony Jennings.

Kim: Yeah love it.

Phil: Good stuff.

Kim: Joel [Dekenrate 00:15:18]. He's a filmmaker but he was on the other side of the camera with World Nomads hosting our US discovery series, which we filmed at a Vanlife gathering and he checked in to find out a little more about living in a van.

Bridget S.: My name is Bridget Sweeney. I've been doing full time Vanlife for about five months. I work in HR remotely, full time for a company that I worked for previously. They let me take my job on the road which as been super sweet.

Speaker 5: What do you cook and eat?

Bridget S.: I eat the same thing every single meal. I'm a creature of habit. So right now I'm doing frozen cauliflower, I'll do it with some olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic powder, put a little cheese in it and add a protein. So whether it's like ham or sausage or something. I have a sink in the van that works with a foot pump so I can wash my face, brush my teeth, things like that. For showering I have an Anytime Fitness membership and I life twice a week, so I usually just shower when I lift and that's my general schedule. And going out to eat and exploring new breweries, probably more than I should. But in general my expenses are way lower. I pay for propane, I pay for water. 10 bucks a month probably for each. The expense that really drives me crazy is laundry. I don't know why, it costs me 20 bucks every time I do my laundry at the laundromat and it just makes me so angry. And then obviously gas depending on how much I'm driving that month. But I don't really pay for campsites ever, comparatively to living in a house or an apartment, my expenses are way lower.

Bridget S.: I had a friend who's been living in a van for the last nine years or so. And I just thought it was cool, but I just didn't see how it would work. I'm very practical so I'm not comfortable quitting my job and spending my savings just to live on the road. And then I worked in Colorado for a couple years. The company, about 80 percent of their employees were fully remote and a couple of the guys I worked with lived full time in RV's and stuff with their significant others and they're software programmers, working full time, making good money. And that was the first time I realized, you can contribute to your 401k, add to your savings. For me I need the practicality and the consistent income to feel comfortable. So once I saw that that was an opportunity, I really started thinking about making it happen. And I moved home with my parents for a couple years, two years or so, to save for and build it out. I figured I have to find a remote job, but again my company let me keep my job and go remote because I had a good track record with them. So that was pretty sweet. So it was really seeing those guys do it, do it full time while having those practical things at the same time that really made me realize that I was an actual option for me.

Kim: Kit Whistler and JR Switchgrass. They are the dynamic duo behind Idle Theory Bus. A website and a community of dreamers who seek idleness, or time spent doing nothing.

Phil: Sounds good.

Kim: Sounds very good, doesn't it? Kit features in the meaning of Vanlife and is a very long term Vanlifer.

Kit Whistler: So we have been full time, living in our bus sunshine for seven years now. We also did a year before those seven years back in 2010, that was kind of our trial year. We went back to the city, didn't last there long and hit the road again in 2012 and we've been out here ever since.

Kim: Two things stick out for me personally about you. That you haven't spent, I think you said more than an hour or two hours away from JR in the whole time that you've been traveling in your van. Has that changed since you made that statement?

Kit Whistler: Yes. So at the time of filming with the documentary that was true, we spent years side by side in the bus, not separating out, we didn't take a flight. We never were apart. And for a while that worked for us actually, I think that we were in a flow in which that time period was working out really well. This year, about six months ago we started changing that a bit. We felt like we needed independence. We didn't know quite how to allow that within our lifestyle and we've kind of been experimenting with spending time apart, so actually a few weeks back JR just went off with some friends for two weeks and I was alone in sunshine for the first time, for two weeks and it was heaven. It was something I had been craving for a long time. And it was just an epiphany to wake up every day and not have to check with someone else, where are we going today or what are we doing today? It's been interesting how long we've been doing this, because as a person you change and your needs change and that's how it should be. But, living the way that we do, making these changes because we have been a single unit has been quite the challenge and we've had to very consciously map out these times apart, but it's good.

Kit Whistler: I don't think that this is for everyone, people write and ask and they're like how can I make this work with my partner and there's no unified answer of how it works, it's couple to couple. But I also I think that you have to be incredibly aligned in pace, in values, more-so than I think in most other lifestyles. Pace is a big one. JR moves more quickly than I do and I'm more slow moving, but he can't just leave camp if I'm not ready, so we often find that he's waiting for me. So we've had to make these micro adjustments so we're not driving ourselves crazy all the time or driving each other crazy all the time.

Kim: The second thing that resonated with me was that I felt really sad, I actually had a bit of a tear. I was already teary thinking I don't want to do this now, I want to be a Vanlifer. But when you talked about your fathers response to the way you wanted to live your life. Can you just take the listeners who haven't seen the film yet through that?

Kit Whistler: Sure. So my family had a very difficult time with it. My father in particular. He had this idea of how he thought that I should live. And in a way at this point in my life I can say rightfully so he was there for me and raised me and he helped pay for my schooling which I'm enormously grateful for. But given all that he literally told me that when I was moving out onto the road that I was a bad return on investment. JR and I when we stared out on the road were doing farm work, and my father just couldn't comprehend that I had gone to a good school and I was an intelligent person and that I was out there picking fruit. That just didn't register to him. And we had a really tough time working through that together. We didn't talk for a while. It was really difficult for him, his identity was so wrapped up in his children and their success, which I think is, especially in the United States, I'm not sure as much in Australia, but a lot of parents really define themselves by their children's achievements and I think that the fact that I wasn't going to achieve anything really just kind of destroyed him.

Kit Whistler: And it says a lot about our culture. I don't think this is just my father, I think that this is life in the United States as a middle to upper middle class person, there are these standards that we're supposed to live up to and when we don't we get judged very heavily by society and I didn't care about being judged, but my father did and that was a big reckoning, I never meant to bring shame to him and I never meant to cause harm to our relationship, but I definitely did. And I think both of us over these last seven years have really had to work out an understanding between us of hey dad there's other ways of measuring success besides what I'm doing for a living. Well I'm happy, can we find a way to measure that and maybe measure my success on those terms. And we have come to that. And we talk now which is great. He doesn't understand everything I do, obviously every time I talk to him he asks where have you showered? What are you eating for dinner? He just can conceive of what my life actually looks like day to day. But he's curious now.

Kit Whistler: But yeah, I struggled enormously with that. And I think that's an aspect of Vanlife that isn't talked about very often. People think that you just get all of this support and that people think it's the dream and people look up to you for doing this. But I think the reality for a lot of people is that they have a hard time explaining these choices to their families and they have a hard time reckoning with society and how society views an alternative lifestyle. It was a hard thing to share in the film, but I'm grateful that did. Some people have reached out since and expressed that that resonated with them, or they had similar experiences. What I was seeking in the beginning when we hit the road, I feel like I was running away from a lot of things, I was running away from boundaries, I was running away from restraints. In the beginning it was about running away from responsibility. And I think over the years I have started to think when am I becoming and what am I headed to? And to me that's more values based than outcome based.

Kit Whistler: So I moved towards values of freedom which I define as the ability to accept insecurity, I moved towards beauty. I found that beauty is very important to me and that my spirit starts to wither when I don't have it in my life daily. So as I'm choosing my path, that's where I'm coming from is, what does my daily day to day look like and does my day to day consist of values that make me joyful, and that's what I'm moving towards. And I think that our society doesn't really have a way of measuring whether or not we're achieving these values, beings surrounded by beauty or freedom, or happiness, or joy. And that's kind of a challenge, I've been like can we, just like we have money that we measure certain forms of success by can there be some kind of system by which we measure our joy or the beauty in our lives and maybe we would value it more then.

Kim: But also for your dad to measure your success practically, you've written a book. That's pretty cool.

Kit Whistler: Yeah I think that the publishing of our book three years was a turning point in my relationship with my father. Now there was a way, I had gotten something that was within the traditional world, I had achieved sort of traditional success, and if that's what it took, okay. That means something to him. At first I was kind of angry, and like oh wow that's what it took for you to support. And I think over the past seven years, my father has seen, you know, you're interviewing me on a podcast now. How could he have foreseen that I was going somewhere with what I was doing. I mean I couldn't prove that, I didn't know that it was a path to creating a book, that wasn't why I went and did it. But it's really interesting how when you follow what feels right, it's like these things start to fall into your lap.

Kim: So making sure that you have money. That's hard when you're on the road. How do you do it?

Kit Whistler: Our financial situation has been really interesting on the road. In the beginning, when we first hit the road, 100% of our money came from manual labor and farm jobs that we picked up along the way. That included fruit picking, that included, we butchered chickens. That included building fences on ranches. We dug out a fountain that was filled with gravel once. You name it, we've done a lot of strange things for money and in the beginning, doing the manual labor, that was part of our goal in hitting the road. And we found we really enjoyed that work. We were able to, you can turn your mind off. They're repetitive tasks that kind of slow. They don't pay well, they don't pay well at all. But it was enough. It was enough to get us around. When we do a farm job we can usually work for about four weeks and travel for two months off of the money. Usually the farms give us a place to park the bus, or they have worker housing. And a lot of time you also get food from the farms.

Kit Whistler: About three years in we started sharing our journey. JR is a photographer and I'm a writer, and we started sharing what we were doing on our blog and social media and we kind of over the years gained a following of people who wanted to see what we were doing every day. And that's kind of transformed into, our book grew from that, from that social media and blog following. So now we've really transitioned into making art 75% percent of the time and the other 25% still comes from farms. So that's been an interesting transition. We had to put a solar panel on the bus so that we could work out of it. That was new. We were trying to figure out work-life balance and it's been really cool to grow into that just as our relationship has, our relationship with work has grown.

Kim: The beginning of the chat we talked about needed space and if you're contemplating Vanlife being on the same page or hitting in the same direction. What would the second piece of advice be to anyone that's contemplating this kind of lifestyle?

Kit Whistler: When you're going to make a big lifestyle shift it's very important that when you look at those who you are inspired by and what you see around you that you take the elements that work for you, but don't try to model your lives after one particular person who you look up to. And I tell people that all the time, there's a million beautiful ways to build out a life on the road or off. And I think that if you're going on the road, some people get this grand idea of the archetype of what it looks like. And I think that it's very, very important in our media driven society that you are an active creator of your lives and not an imitator of someone else's, because that's where happiness comes from. And I know that's a little bit esoteric and it's not exactly about Vanlife, but I think that is very, very important.

Kit Whistler: From a practical side, circling back to what I said in the beginning, if you're going to be living in your vehicle with another person, it's very, very important to designate areas of the bus, or the van, or the camper that are only yours or only theirs that are off-limits to the other person. Having a little bit of physical space that you keep your possessions in, that they can't look at or they have no say over, we found that to be absolutely crucial and maintaining a sense of privacy and autonomy.

Phil: Links to the Idle Theory Bus website in show notes. Now, Joel checked in with Gus from van do it, to get his take on Vanlife.

Gus: I like to eat, really all kinds of things. I do have a dometic fridge, so as far as regular refrigerated goods, I like my veggies and fruits and plenty of, this morning I had a little yogurt with granola and some blueberries, but hey whatever is available, whatever I'm carrying in the van at the time. Three main staples, I would say stir-fry, oatmeal or granola for breakfast and definitely a lot of, I have a hot-tronic slow-cooker, so slow-cooked chicken, usually tacos. So I have a drop shower, I have a five gallon hot water tank. It's also part of our grid system. Each component is removable, so I can set up in about three minutes our drop shower off the back. I have mounting points off of these doors for transit. Other than that I could drop the stall wherever I wanted it to be. In this setting, maybe I don't want to take a shower right in front of my entire audience here. I mean I'm sure they might be into that, just because they're van people, but if I needed to more privately move that shower back over here against the tree line, a little bit more appropriate for the setting.

Gus: I'm a month in on the van so I can tell you that I've got a 25 gallon tank, 3.7 V6, so getting on the best case scenario 16, 15, miles to the gallon. So most of my living expense is towards gas. I'm based out of an area where I use another vehicle to commute to my contract work for this period of time. So I would say probably in the under 500 realm very easily between gas and food, insurance, yes. I feel it is very welcoming, you see a lot of families, you see a lot of couples. You see a lot of engaging people that simply want to know who you are, know what you're about, where you come from, what your story is, and kind of bring you into their world. So it's a wonderful community.

Kim: Meaning of Vanlife director Jim mentioned Jared Campbell in our chat earlier. A musician who's been living full time in his van for four years with his partner Ashley. He is a co-founder of Vanlife diaries, which at the time of recording has just under half a million followers.

Jared Campbell: Well, it's a pure love project. I was lucky to start up with two really good friends. Jonathan Dusto, I grew up with him since like grade one. So we've known each other a really long time. He's a musician, we're all musicians which is great and it's a small world when you make music. He came down to visit and we just got chatting, Sam and I were doing a few vans while I was holding down a steady job, we'd just do them for friends. And then he wanted to share peoples stories on the open road as well, so Johnny was already working on another platform called Rebel on a Rainbow which was sharing creative stories. And he came down and said ah, and we went out for coffee and we just started chatting, shit let's just do this together, it'll be heaps more fun and I love working in collaboration, I feel like you can get a lot more done in collaborations personally. You can really drive off each other's energy and really push at it a bit harder.

Jared Campbell: So the next day after coffee we started the first Vanlife forum to celebrate individuals on the road, I mean people have been doing it for a long time, since the 60s since vans we're made. And we just want to celebrate everyone as a whole and unify everyone and we did it under the name Vanlife diaries, it just grew ridiculous quick.

Kim: Johnny's in the film with you, how did you and Johnny get your van from Australia to America? Or did you get another van when you were in America?

Jared Campbell: I bought one when I was here. My partner Ashley and I bought one when we were here. We bought one from Vancouver our last trip when we were running events and filming the documentary with Jim. We spent two thousand dollars on a van just outside of Vancouver. It's a 77 Dodge pop top which was really cheap. I saw it on craigslist and messaged the guy before I came over and just said hey, do you mind if I buy that off you, can you hold it for me because it's a true relic and it's a beautiful old van. It broke down every second weekend, but the parts don't cost a lot, it can just be nerve wracking. That's one of the pains of Vanlife is your kind of bound by how your vehicles going and it can be quite stressful if you have to be places and it's not going.

Kim: Can you just arrived somewhere like you've just explained and pick up a van and head off and have a Vanlife experience for [inaudible 00:35:56].

Jared Campbell: Definitely. I'd encourage people to do it that way. If that's the type of travel you enjoy then definitely try that. I mean because then at the end you get your money back as well.

Kim: Tell us about this business that you've got down in Victoria. And I say down in Victoria because I'm talking to you from World Nomad's headquarters in Sydney. You fit out vans.

Jared Campbell: Yeah we do complete custom conversions for people. I do that with Sam. People will come to us with a design and we work with people purely on the design and they'll give us all the things they want, we'll give them a quote. They'll either mark it back or say let's go for it. Usually we can pull it back until they're happy with the quote. I mean we work purely to get people on the road. Generally, people come between the 8 to 15k mark. That's usually what people want. And for that price you can get an off grid vehicle with solar panels, you can get all the electrics out, you can live lights in it. All the things pretty much. That's pretty cheap for a custom conversion. We also give people the option to sand a pain stuff, because we just charge them a day rate. I guess that's why we love doing the custom work is that we can actually take the time to see the people and actually thoroughly go over stuff and see their vision and get excited with them, it's really fun.

Kim: You mentioned the 60s and Vanlife that was kind of when it was born. Why do you think it's so popular now?

Jared Campbell: I think there's all sorts of contributing factors, the fact that it's just really fun and awesome to be in a car park and to be able to pull a kitchen out the back from under a tail gate. I think the reason it's exploded beyond that though, housing affordability is a massive thing. Rentals. If you want to save up for a house, how do you do it while you pay rent? That's really tricky. And you can change at any point. For me it was like moving into a smaller apartment, had to get used to a few little things and I can move out of it whenever I want too.

Phil: For the link to Jared and Sam, their Instagram page and conversion site in show notes of course.

Alex Bowen: I'm Alex Bowen, musician for most of my life. Just sort of getting back into music now. Done the Vanlife on and off for about 10 years. So I basically would travel with music and then come back to it, and I've gotten into content creating which as brought me back to Vanlife which is incredible and injected me back into this community.

Hayden: I'm Hayden. And I've been a part of the Vanlife community for three years now. Where do I even being? It's crazy. My journey's been through three countries now. As I was mentioning to you earlier, it's been my ninth gathering here. And the question you're asking was what are some of the common themes that we find? I find the idea of how people want to live their life is all common. Now each gathering is completely different and there are so many different souls that come here, different families and different ways of life. But the idea of just living free and living in the moment is the most common thing that I find. We were lucky enough to borrow Jim Lounsbury's van. He's the filmmaker and documentary make of The Meaning of Vanlife. It's would you say a two person van, and there's three of us in there.

Alex Bowen: Yeah, two person definitely.

Hayden: We've been in it for four weeks. After that we attended two gatherings. First one in Squamish right at the beginning of our trip which was one of the warmest welcome's I think we've every received on a trip. And we finished our Canada trip with a van gathering and we were lucky enough to score some rides with some friendly folks. And there's been multiple gatherings where we haven't had phone reception and there's been multiple times where people aren't on their phones and those are some of the most connected moments that I've found. And those gatherings are always held out in the bush, always away from society and stuff. There's definitely a common theme throughout each of the countries that I've experienced. But it's so good.

Alex Bowen: Yeah as you said, we've been to a few that have no reception, that kind of stuff. And it's not even like this community needs forced vulnerability or forced love, but that kind of stuff really promotes it. To be able to disconnect from the real world, whatever that is. Which for us, this is the real world.

Hayden: Yesterday I was looking at everyone gathered around the potluck and I just smiled. The sun was setting, I was just like this is beautiful, this is primitive, we're outside, we're sharing food and everyone is sharing conversation and ideas, everyone has a spot.

Kim: A big thanks for Joel for capturing these conversations but I think we should actually check in with him fellows, he's no stranger to Vanlife himself.

Joel: The first Vanlife gathering that I went to was in Sunshine Coast. And immediately I felt like I belonged and then when I went to the Colorado meet up in Wyoming, it was an incredible feeling because I felt like not only was I with my people, but I got to geek out and see a different range of vans and different types of people as well living the Vanlife. It's just an incredible community and I feel like when you get there there's this instant wall that is down. And there's this overall acceptance of who you are and where you come from and just a general interest in who you are and what your story is. And I think the exchange of stories in this meetup just helps you to really understand that this is a thing. It's a shared interest, it's a shared lifestyle, it's a choice. And to be really honest, I think that whether you're doing it full time or part-time, or just part of your lifestyle, I think it opens your world to a range of experiences that you wouldn't have if you just tried to get around in a car.

Kim: You live in a van, and we're talking to you from your home.

Joel: Well no, I do Vanlife part-time. So I've got a home as well. This is my mobile home and after my travels in the US and after filming World Nomads, I came back and I felt really off when I came back. I kind of felt a little bit down and displaced and I was just trying to figure out what was happening and what was up with me and I thought it was the feeling of the post holiday blues. You know when you go on this epic trip and you go back just really down. But I realized that when I came back I changed, and my old life wasn't serving me the same way. So literally yesterday I made a decision to move out of Sydney, move out of the hustle and bustle and move to Newcastle. And it's been a real liberating feeling that I can live a coastal lifestyle and then when I'm not working on productions, when I'm not filming or directing, I can go out and have national parks at my disposal with, quite close from where I live. And I'm closer to Brisbane, still very close to Sydney. The road I met series was an incredible experience and it changed me.

Joel: And I think when you travel, I think what you need to do is figure out how you've changed and then make steps to facilitate that change, otherwise you just get stuck back in the rut. Then you're always looking forward to your next holiday. You're just not living life and I made a real commitment to just making sure that I'm living my life on my own terms. And meeting so many people in the World Nomad series and interacting with people I would never ever, ever had met in Australia just made me realize that there's such a big world out there. And I want to explore it, but I also want to explore my backyard.

Phil: Who of those people have been the most inspiring? There must have been a life that somebody was living that you admire.

Joel: Well I met a couple who are living vanlife full time. They're on their second van. I think they've cracked the code. I think they've cracked the code as far as living on their own terms but also making a living, and making a good living. There people from all walks of life, but I feel like this couple that I met who are actually one of the founders of the vanlife app in the US. They've made it work, they've been able to create for themselves a lifestyle where they can earn a really career, a really good wage, live minimally, but not roughing it out. Not getting out of their van with a toothbrush and their pajamas. They've really kind of mastered the lifestyle. I think that what I've learnt from them is life is not about stuff. Life is about experiences. From talking to them I realized that their whole work and their career is centered around being able to have a lifestyle where they're not spending money just on material things. They're spending their money on their lifestyle.

Kim: Okay, let's meet one half the couple that was such an inspiration to Joel.

Jessica S.: All right, my name is Jessica Schissler and I'm the co-founder of the Vanlife app and the creator of the travel blog Van.there. Van dot there. And I have been living in a van, a Mercedes sprinter for the past two years, this is our second van and we can dive into that in a little bit, but I started living in a van with my husband because we wanted to live a more intentional minimal life in a sustainable way, so the first time we saw a van we were like hey, that's pretty expensive but it's a pretty cheap mortgage. So we started thinking about it a little differently and about life differently and figuring out how we could quit our jobs and build sustainable businesses.

Jessica S.: So we were living on the east coast. So a cheap mortgage is around 250 but some of these vans are upwards of 120. We ended up financing a brand new van, so we pay 900 dollars a month for the financing fees and then building it ourselves was about 15 thousand dollars, including five thousand dollars of salvaged materials from our previous van. So there is definitely some upfront commitment, but we don't really consume as much as we used to, so we don't spend as much as we used to. We were able to pay down a lot of debt in the first year or two while I was going a lot of freelance work with some clients. I do science communication so I help life science companies talk to the public about science in a really approachable way, in a way that's easy for people to understand. But now I'm in the startup world. So I've been building the Vanlife app, which is an application that helps you find community on the road, helps you find places to stay for free overnight, water, resources, gatherings, all the things you need to sustain this life.

Jessica S.: So needless to say a start up business, it doesn't give you any money. So we were so close to being debt free before I sort of jumped into this venture and now we're living on credit cards, and in terms of our expenses. Like I said, about 900 on the van payment, actually health insurance is our largest payment. We pay about 1000 dollars a month for health insurance because we needed a PPO plan. PPO plan allows us to get care anywhere and we're never in one place so it's really important to us. And we like to do outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, and it was just too much of a risk for us to not have that type of coverage. So then with the auto insurance we learned the hard way that we should definitely have motor home insurance on the van. Our first van was only covered with auto policy so it only covers the engine and the vehicle itself and that vehicle was totaled by a herd of elk in Idaho. So it was a pretty unfortunate situation that we didn't really get a lot of reimbursement back from the build itself, which is why we worked so hard to salvage all of those materials.

Jessica S.: So we learned the hard way to definitely get motor home insurance, go to the DMV or the motor vehicle department and register your vehicle as a motor home and then go to your insurance agent locally and talk to them and see what kind of policy you can get. What we did was basically I detailed out everything we paid for on the build and I submitted that then that helped us with our case with how much the van is actually worth, granted they don't pay for your time and your labor, so unless you get a professional that's not really covered. So diesel is about 450 a month on average, it depends obviously on how much we drive. Other expenses, paying down 1000 a month on a credit card, so I think we average about 4000 a month in expenses. We have set the space up so that we can both work in the van. We have a desk situation where the two booths face each other and then there's a table in the middle so that allows us both to work. I use mostly computer work and he does art, so he's always drawing and painting and he tends to get out of the van to do his work more than I do.

Jessica S.: But of course, like we were sitting here right now under and awning with the loungers out, with the tables out. I have some portable power packs from [Jackeree 00:50:41] that I can set out here so I can charge my computer and we can make it work out here. So everything is very amplified when you're living in a small space. So if you are having a bad day, your partner can really feel that very quickly. So it's important just to say hey, I'm not feeling great, I just need a little bit of space today and then just go for a walk by yourself, definitely get alone time, is really important. It's a whole set of new challenges, so it has pros and cons, just like anything. They're just a little different than people living in a house. Everything takes a little longer. You have to get fuel, you have to get water, you have to dump the toilet. You have to make sure you have enough groceries and the fridge only holds about four days of groceries so you have to go pretty often to the grocery store unless you stock up in the coolers or anything.

Jessica S.: So things take a little longer and I think the first day we got on the road, it was such a hustle to pack up the house and move into the van and by the time we got in the van we were in Baltimore and I needed to be in Chicago in two days for work, because I was working full time on the road for the first month. That was kind of the deal that I sparked with my company that I was working for. So then we had to drive like crazy to get to Chicago, but we stopped at Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio, and we got there right as the sun was setting and we pulled out the tables and we started the little stove outside and we cooked and we sat down and we were eating our dinner as the sun set in the National Park and we were like this is it. This life is for us. So it really was even in all that hustle, the first day we knew that this was going to work for us.

Kim: As you know I don't need any convincing and I'm totally up for it.

Phil: You've done some of the tiny home stays haven't you?

Kim: Yes, yes, yes. And talked earlier about my love earlier in the episode of running off in a van. There will be a heap of links to inspire your own adventure on the road in show notes. But the way, Phil you can't do a road trip without a great soundtrack. What's your favorite song to play when you hit the road?

Phil: Well it tends to be the latest pop song that the kids like. But I did a few years ago when I did my trip around South Africa, I had a little secret playlist that I played and the first time we got the car I put it on and of course the song had to be Africa by Toto.

Kim: Oh perfect. I like the Australian band, I love the Australian band Cultures, also [inaudible 00:53:11] for me as well. The World Nomads team has put together a list of their favorite road trip songs which will be in show notes featured alongside a soundtrack link to Spotify.

Phil: Have you created a Spotify playlist for us?

Kim: Mate, I'm not just a pretty face.

Phil: I don't know why I'm laughing but. Somebody sent us some feedback by the way that said I don't like how you guys put each other down.

Kim: Perhaps that's Australian.

Phil: It's a very Australian thing.

Kim: Very Australian thing to do.

Phil: Well I didn't mean to put you down there Kim, but thanks for making the playlist.

Kim: Well you will notice that I laughed, had I have cried then there's an issue. Anyway created the Spotify list and it will sit aside The Meaning of Vanlife list which is also on Spotify, so fun to do. Hey, where are we off to next week?

Phil: Ironically we're going to Bangladesh, where it's suggested you don't do any driving.

Kim: You can get the World Nomads podcast from wherever you grab your favorite podcast and please feel free to share, rate, and subscribe.

Phil: And get in touch by email, [email protected]

Kim: In fact tell us your favorite road trip song we'll add it to our playlist.

Phil: We'll do that. Okay. Bye.

Kim: Bye.

Speaker 1: The Worlds Nomad podcast. Explore your boundaries.

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