Hi, I’m Hilary! For the past three months, I’ve been living full-time out of my 1999 Holiday Inn shuttle bus that I built out with the help of my parents.
We started the build in December 2019 and finished in May 2020. I stay financially afloat through a couple of remote, part-time marketing jobs and have spent the summer exploring the Pacific Northwest. What drove me to this lifestyle was a love of travel, a desire for the “unknown”, and a refusal to let fear run my life. But the way I went about making this change included many detours and re-routes, so to speak.
Leading Up to My Decision to Try Living Full-Time Van Life
Van life had been in the back of my mind for a while and two years into a corporate marketing job, I was having more “career pathing” conversations with my manager. I was watching colleagues push for promotions and friends dive into relationships, but I could never give my manager an answer for my own path. Finally, I began realizing I had no interest in a corporate career or even “settling down” in any way. I had the need to explore more about the world and myself.
As I was processing this realization, something inside me said, “hurry up”. I went into work one morning, made my yogurt parfait like usual, sat down at my desk, took a bite, and out of nowhere, completely panicked. I’m talking heart racing, sweaty palms, dry mouth, white-out vision, and this feeling of complete doom. In hindsight, I now see I had a mild anxiety attack. I know it was my body’s way of kicking me into gear through fear since my conscious self wasn’t acting on it.
Letting Fear of the Same Propel Me Forward
After that experience, I became serious about making changes. My friends were very supportive of the van life idea. I reached out to an old coworker who had since left corporate life to travel Asia. I had no idea if she knew anything about van life, but figured I’d ask. She responded, “weird… my friend just messaged me asking if I knew of anyone interested in buying her built-out van.” How…coincidental?
From there, within a matter of a couple of weeks, I’d quit my job, taken a few virtual tours of the van (the van was located in Toronto and I was in Utah), made a downpayment on the van, and booked a one-way flight to Canada. Oh and…didn’t tell my parents beforehand. Not because I didn’t want to; I just knew they’d want me to think it through more, which would inevitably result in inaction.
Flying By the Seat of My Pants
Normally I’d say buying a van you haven’t seen in person yet is a bad idea. But I was more than ready for any obstacles thrown my way and expected plenty to pop up, given the age of the van. Since it was pretty inexpensive, I could budget for repairs.
My dad ended up meeting me in Toronto to pick it up (which was great because I underestimated the stress of driving a big rig at night in another country). We hustled home because there was a winter storm on our tails. It was a stressful but exhilarating 12-hour drive through the night back to my parents’ house in New Hampshire.
Making a Slight Change in Van Plans
Within a day of the van being at my parents’ house, it got completely dumped on with snow! I had a wild time trying to clear it off and in the process realized this van might not be ready for the full-time living van life I wanted to do in it.
Even though my mind was already on the road, I recognized some of the safety issues and build design flaws that’d only get worse if not first fixed. After discussing and getting lost in dreamy build-out ideas with my dad, I ended up gutting the van. I remember seeing my dad’s face as he walked down the driveway and saw me begin the process–this look of, “oh wow, this is actually happening.”
It wasn’t until after the van was gutted that I realized how dependent I was on my dad’s help. I became very anxious that the van would never be finished. We had no build-out blueprint and honestly didn’t know the first thing about this process.
Starting – Then Pausing–Then Re-starting the Van Build-Out
Over the next few months, a lot happened. My dad retired and put his full focus on helping me. I reached out to an old coworker on LinkedIn and began doing part-time marketing work. Then, another old coworker reached out for marketing help, so I took on that part-time job as well. But then, after taking the van to our mechanic friend for a look-over, his diagnosis came back as, “buy a new van”.
This threw a wrench into plans, where I spent two weeks yo-yoing on putting $3,500 into fixes, or just buying a new van. But now having the marketing jobs would help with budgeting. I ultimately made my decision when a family friend asked me, “forget about money–listen to your gut. What does it tell you?” And without hesitation, I said, “keep the van”. I was also a few beers in, which helped the decision-making process…
So, we got back to it and holy mother of pearl I’ve never learned so much so fast. Every day I was either Googling how to do some part of the van build, scouring Facebook Marketplace for deals, driving to discount stores with my mom, helping my dad with a new auto, electrical, or woodworking task. Or even following him around the basement to show my support and be a helping hand. I think he interpreted it as me being the micromanager, but we both agreed I learned how to be a project manager within those months.
Learning to Manage My Mindset
I’m someone who naturally “goes with the flow” and adjusts to other peoples’ paces so I don’t overwhelm. But during this buildout, I realized that attitude was interpreted by my parents as not really caring how fast the buildout went. This resulted in a few crying breakdowns where I’d ask my dad, “what do I have to do to make you take my deadlines seriously?!” Ultimately though, no matter what deadline I set, nothing could speed up the process since we were already working as hard we could.
But I was learning how to make decisions way before reaching “critical” moments of breakdown. We’d be patting ourselves on the back for completing one task, and I’d already be asking, “what are we working on next?” Shifting from a fear-based mindset of “this van is never going to get done” to a confident mindset of, “this van will get done, and what makes the most logical sense to work on next?” was a massive learning experience for me during the build.
My dad would frequently remind me that just because visual progress wasn’t made, it didn’t mean critical things weren’t getting accomplished.
For example, the electrical wiring was one of the longest projects but every day the van looked the same. I knew I had to trust the word and process of my mechanic-savvy dad, while simultaneously not letting him get carried away on unnecessary add-ons.
Ultimately, it took us about five months to gut the van and complete the build-out. The majority of resources came from the basement or garage of my parents’ place, which I’m eternally grateful to have had their resources and help. My van is now fitted for my style of living, and I can proudly say I haven’t run into any major issues in the three months I’ve been on the road *knock on wood*.