A few cool outdoorsy brands and media ran #vanlife oriented contests this spring, you probably saw people asking for support through your newsfeed! We did enter a few of them too actually, and even if we didn’t win (!), we thought it could be relevant to see what it’s like to go on a road trip on someone else budget! See how Sonny is living the dream after she won the Live that Van Life contest from Gear Coop.

Tell us your story and what was that contest you won?

I’m originally from Germany, but I’ve been living and working in the US since 2004 – first in Boston, then in Houston for the last four years. I used to be a strategy consultant, meaning my job was to support CEOs and their executive teams in figuring out how to run their companies better.  I had actually already quit my job and was planning to use my savings to live on the road for a while before I even heard about the Live That Van Life contest.  Through winning I’ve gotten $1500 in gas money and ~$10,000 worth of relevant outdoor gear from the Gear Coop and the contest sponsors, which is a wonderful help in stretching my financial runway a bit further – particularly because I’m still figuring out what I want to do once my money runs out and I have to start being a responsible adult again.

Congratulations! What pushed you to enter this contest? Have you been living on the road before?

Thank you 🙂 I entered the contest because I saw a note about it on Instagram and thought ‘why not’ – I knew I might have a compelling story, but also figured that there would be a LOT of submissions to the Gear Coop; after all, the contest really is a dirtbag’s dream: all you needed to qualify was lots of (or plans for) adventures, a few cool photos, and wanting to win a boatload of money! I never thought that I would win, but I had nothing to lose; you can imagine how thrilled I was when the Gear Coop reached out to me to let me know that I was one of the finalists.  

This is my first foray into #vanlife, but as a rock climber and adventurer I have had lots of role models that made the idea of life on the road look exciting and appealing. When I decided to quit my corporate job last year, I immediately started scheming to figure out if I might be able to take a break and explore my favorite playgrounds with more time before needing to find a new way to make money.  Looking at my finances I knew I wouldn’t last long unless I could find a way to not pay rent or spend money on expensive plane tickets anymore.  At that point it was just a matter of putting 2 and 2 together and scouring Craigslist for a cheap yet awesome adventure mobile.

What made a difference for you to come up first for this contest?

There were a couple of things that played in my favor.  I said earlier how thrilled I was to be one of the three finalists who were going to compete in a popular vote; well, that thrill last exactly as long as it took me to check out the other two finalists – Adam with then 12,800 IG followers and Caleb with over 80,000 followers! In contrast to my very young IG account with at the time ~350 followers. Saying that I was the underdog feels like a euphemism. And yet it all came together! I think the big difference were three things: First, regardless of my nascent social media footprint I have wonderful friends and large networks in the background (through work and school) who encouraged me and help activate supporters; second, as the sole woman finalist I got gender-specific tailwind from great women’s networks such as @sisugirls and @outdoorbella.  And finally I was relentless in managing the campaign for votes, bugging everybody who said they might be willing to support me on just about a daily basis until the voting period was over.

Which vehicle will you be driving across the country?

I got lucky and found a wonderful little Astro Van on Craigslist (there aren’t many of those in the market in Texas!): Eddie the Van is 13 years old with ‘only’ 220k miles on the chassis, 95k on the engine – and I got him for $2800 in cash.

Tell us about your planned itinerary? What are your expectations for this trip?

I don’t have a full-blown itinerary, just a couple of things I want to do and then lots of  time to ’fill in the blanks’ in between so that I can be spontaneous (and follow the weather!).  My anchor points are rope-soloing a big wall in Zion sometime in April, exploring Glen Canyon/Lake Powell on a longer trip on my SUP, meeting up with my mom and her husband – who will be visiting from Germany – to show them around the Golden Circle, spending lots of time in Yosemite, and ticking off a few summer mountaineering objectives in the Bugaboos. I’m also hoping to get to hang out for the Hardrock 100M in July, and to keep exploring Utah as well as the high sierras. The fall and winter will likely end up being a bunch of international objectives, more expeditions and adventure travel but less #vanlife; once I leave Canada that is..  

My expectations or the trip: to live life to the fullest, do things that I love every day, and meet cool people who care about similar things as I do. I am at a point in my life where I mostly want to decompress from four years of burnout-level intensity in my old job, and at the same time slowly figure out what I want to do once I run out of money or get tired of constantly being on the move.

Regarding GearCoop, do you have any obligations ? Content or events you need to do?

This is the coolest part: no obligations, other than checking my mail for packages with new toys 🙂 I do get the opportunity to share stories and photos from my adventures through the GearCoop, though I have complete freedom to choose how much – if anything – I want to share. And then there’s the introduction to the contest sponsors, which again is no obligation but a wonderful bonus that I’m planning to take full advantage of.

Follow Sunny here:
Official Website: www.gearcoop.com
Instagram: @stroeer