Hey there, my name is Lexi! My partner Cody and I have lived full time out of our sprinter van since October 2016.
Together we founded our creative studio Dynamo Ultima, where we help small business owners with their brand and website design. Recently, we started helping aspiring digital nomads create a successful online business that gives them the freedom to travel full time.
We recently just finished DIY building our second sprinter van that we’ll be living in for who knows how long. We love our lifestyle, but our relationship with this lifestyle has a grim beginning and has taken some time to flourish and grow into something that we truly love and enjoy.
I’m sharing a bit of our story from our first van life experience to now because I really want to give you an authentic, transparent perspective that we never got to see when we were doing our research on van life almost three years ago.
Back in May 2016, van life looked a lot different for us than it does now.
At the time, we had just graduated from college. We sold every piece of furniture that we bought from Ikea, our two vehicles, two large iMac computers, and a third of the clothing we owned. We bought a Sprinter Van and lived out of it for a couple weeks while we waited for graduation day. We parked and slept in the van in my moms apartment complex parking lot with way too many boxes stacked a mile high and a 2 inch memory foam mattress topper.
Stressful start to say the least..
The day after our graduation party, we drove with major hangover headaches from Portland, Oregon to Paradise, California, where we’d be spending the summer building the van in my aunt and uncles driveway. We were looking forward to an adventure of travel, spending time outdoors, sleeping next to pristine views of lakes and mountains…all while living much cheaper than we had in downtown Portland.
“We could save SO much money. Van life is way cheaper than living in an apartment!” Or so we thought. Let’s just say this transition was much more difficult than we had imagined.
This is going to be a truth bomb, because it really wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies when we moved in. It was one of the most difficult things we have ever endured in our eight years of being together and while we are so happy with our decision, I do wish I had made the process much easier for myself by fully preparing for the change of lifestyle.
Although, how much can you really prepare anyway?
We didn’t calculate how much the materials for our van build would cost, which left us running out of money quickly by the time we were close to finishing the van build. Even though we had saved up a chunk of money for the build, when we finished the van and moved in we only had a few hundred dollars in our bank accounts.
For work, we had been freelancing during college so we already had some experience under our belts with being our own boss and running a remote business but we weren’t nearly prepared enough for the lack of knowledge in how to find clients consistently every single month to help us generate income to live this lifestyle.
We thought it would be cheaper, but what we didn’t realize that there were new expenses we didn’t even think about.
Online business expenses, gas, national park fees, parking fees, campsite fees, auto maintenance (those Mercedes van oil changes don’t come cheap!) This was turning out to be a much more expensive lifestyle than we imagined. When we decided to live in a van for the first time, we had a couple consistent freelance retainer clients, which gave us the confidence to be able to commit to full-time van life. We also figured we’d grow our business on the road and turn our skills from freelance jobs into a creative agency of our own.
Fast forward to move in day, one of the worst possible things that could have happened, did. My freelance retainer job was terminated because the company I was working for decided to go a different route with their business. We were banking on that to pay for our life after the build and $300 was not enough to do anything exciting. Money for the move in stuff after the build was the thing we didn’t really consider saving for. We needed soap, groceries, garbage bags, gas…
The only income source we had the day we moved in was our little baby business called State of Mind Studio.
Even with this business, we had put it on the back burner during our van build. This business at the time was very elementary. We invented the studio during college and it was pretty much just us teaming up and taking on freelance work together. We had no business plan, no services outlined, no marketing strategy, no real plan on how we would make an income; we were just going at it blind.
A lot of time was spent posting blog posts to get traffic to our website, posting instagram photos, creating our first few youtube videos, cold calling companies we wanted to work with and facing rejection more times than we could count on our hands. We were lowering our prices so much that it didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere.
We were lacking the confidence we needed to get those clients on board..so we were broke.
Applying for freelance jobs and living from each client’s invoice to the next. This left us desperate. Desperate for people to hire us, desperate to sell our services, desperate for money, which only pushed people away from us. You can sniff out desperation from miles away.
There were ups and downs every month. Some months we’d make only a few hundred bucks and we had to rack up our credit cards to pay for food. Some months we’d make $1000 – $2000 and we’d immediately use it to pay for everything else.
We both wanted to give up so badly.
We could only afford top ramen and parking out in the desert in Lake Havasu, Arizona, spending our days trying to figure out ways to find clients. Trying everything, we posted special deals on our website, we contacted companies in Lake Havasu to see if they needed help with their website, we asked family and friends…but to our demise, we had little luck. We were stuck in Lake Havasu. Literally we had no gas to drive and no money.
To others we looked “cool” and we were living the dream. People would comment on our posts and videos and praise us for following our dreams. After four videos on Youtube one of the videos went viral and we saw a huge surge of subscribers and followers. We were posting beautiful pristine scenes of our van out in the desert with beautiful views, but all we could think about was how we were miserable and wanting to give up. Van life was now less of a choice and more like our only option. We were officially two broke millennial college graduates living in an expensive van.
Fast forward to October 2018 we are now living in our SECOND van. You think after all that we’d have surely given up. Instead, we’re now making more than double our income from 2017. We live in a brand new 4×4 luxury sprinter van with a shower, bathroom, heat, and all of the amenities. Clients come searching for us, we never have to “find” them. We’re making consistent income every single month. We’ve been able to pay off some of our credit cards, buy new camera gear..and we’re LOVING our life. So much that we’re onto chapter #2 of van life with no plans of quitting anytime soon.
So, what changed?
After almost a year of living in our van full time and struggling each month to make a consistent income and constantly questioning everything, we figured it all out.
Our persistence paid off. You know when they tell you that you’re three feet from gold? That was us. Each time we cried about our failures and we didn’t give up in that moment we so desperately wanted to, that got us one step closer to striking gold.
So what did we do differently? Because it’s definitely not luck that got us to where we are today. We changed our mindset, we created a money making business strategy, and we worked on our own self confidence & self care.
That’s all it took! Let’s talk about mindset first. The moment Cody and I were at our breaking point was the moment we decided to question WHY we were going through this cycle of feast and famine. Were WE the reason we were broke? Were we the ones who were sabotaging our success with our limiting beliefs? And were our own thoughts the reason for our months and months of brokeness, desperation, and a failing business?
We felt we were ALWAYS going to be stuck here and nothing would ever work out for us. The thoughts that were running through our heads were: “we’re always going to be broke”, “clients never say yes”, “clients don’t appreciate our talents”, “we’re too poor to do this”, “we’re too broke to afford anything”, “our business is a failure”… you get the idea. Just a constant spiral of negative thoughts.
Is that the reason why we were stuck? Because we were keeping ourselves there? Digging a deeper hole?
Yes. That was the exact reason why. So we started listening to books about the Law of Attraction, Money Mindset, and Limiting Beliefs. We started changing the type of content we consumed to more positive things, and over time all of the new things we were learning helped us completely pivot and practice changing our thoughts to more positive ones.
Instead of constantly telling ourselves we were broke, we decided to tell ourselves that we were worthy of earning more, that we had enough, that we were successful already, that making money was easy. We decided to be more grateful for the journey, more grateful for the clients we had, the money that came in, and more focused on the good things instead of focusing on what we were lacking.
We actually had a money mantra we repeated where we said “I’m abundant in money, and money is abundant in me.” We literally would shout it out loud while driving in the van.
Truthfully, we are still working on our mindset today and it’s definitely a daily practice to change negative thoughts into positive ones. But if it wasn’t for making that change first, we would NOT be where we are today, making more than double our income last year.
After we started working on our mindset, we of course had to take action with those thoughts. Believing it was possible is only a small step, so we took more steps in our business to show the universe (or whatever you wish to believe in) that we were serious and committed to making it work. That we were DONE with feeling sorry for ourselves, done with letting our FEAR control our lives, and done with our limiting beliefs.
After that we focused on creating a money making business strategy.
We set goals and made a step by step plan for exactly how we would reach those goals. We focused on building a memorable unique brand and had an intention behind every action. Instead of creating just to create, posting just to post, writing just to write…we did everything with a purpose and a clear goal. Little by little, we would check off those goals and eventually we were making consistent income. Instead of only focusing on client work as an income source, we decided to put our eggs in a lot more baskets.
We started working out and exercising a lot more, journaling, reading books and making time for ourselves, which eventually led to more confidence. This then led us to being more positive and open for opportunities to come our way. So now, in the second chapter of van life, we’re more ready than ever to explore around the world in our new van.
Follow our journey online!