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Tiny Van, Giant Journey

By March 04 2016All stories

Tasha recently started a cool restoration process to live in a 2010 Ford Transit Connect van. She’s barely 5 feet tall but she surfs waves twice her height. She just launched a blog called TinyVanTravels with the desire to live a simpler life. Here’s her story!

Can you introduce yourself ? What’s your story? What inspired you to become a nomad?  

Hi, I’m Tasha. I’m a 25-year-old photographer and graphic designer originally from New England. The idea to live in a van grew slowly. The seed was planted on a solo road trip through Australia. The reality was fueled by a desire to live simply rather than to simply live.

Some reasons for choosing to live in a van are obvious like lower living expenses. But in reality, I firmly believe in minimizing my overall footprint as a consumer. I would rather own little and experience more than lock myself into the processional acquisition system. As a culture, we flock to this pattern of inanimate ownership like bugs to a light. We can’t truly justify the reasons… It’s just easier to follow the herd than contemplate alternative paths. In a van, you can take only what you need, nothing more, end of story. In other words, you are forced to question the intrinsic value of literally everything.

As you’re still studying, how do you balance school and van life?  

Yes! In 2013, I finished my undergraduate degree in Biology and Business Administration. In college, I never really felt that I was studying the right things for the right reasons, though. After graduating, I realized that my true interests were in the creative realm. So about a year ago I decided to bite the bullet, buy a computer, and go back to school to study Graphic Design and Digital Communications. I found a bit of a loophole in the University of San Diego Extension programs I where I was able to take all the courses I needed completely online. This gives more flexibility. I also work at a surf shop and as a freelance photographer and graphic designer on the side.

Additionally, I had been rushing to finish the conversion in 2 months because I had been offered an internship on the west coast. The company decided to scrap their internship program a few days ago, however, so my offer was rescinded. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing because I really needed more time to finish the conversion… I still have quite a bit of work left and wasn’t ready to move into it full time and drive across the country just yet!

How did you select your adventure mobile?

I wanted my van to be small enough to get good gas mileage, drive through cities, and look completely incognito. After tons of research, I decided to go with a 2010 Ford Transit Connect van. The 2010 version is about 5’2 at its wide point above the rear tires and about 4’11 tall. Since I am only 5′, I would be able to install the bed width-wise to save space. The newer models grew progressively shorter and narrower, so it had to be a 2010. These 4-cylinder vans get 25mpg to save on gas and handle much like a small vehicle. Additionally, and less importantly, it’s looks more cute than creepy!

It’s been exciting to follow the restoration process of your van, can you elaborate on this? 

I sketched out a rough idea in a notebook before I started. This stayed roughly true to the initial intention though it improved significantly overtime. The van came with a shelving unit and a wire-frame cab divider, so I knew I needed to make use of what I already had.

Mistakes? Problems? I never really got bogged down, but heck yeah I encountered them! The list could go on and on. The most notable ones were covering two of my windows with sound deadener only to realize it gets frying pan hot in the sun and having to remove it all, spending an entire day trying to get my tapestry to stick to the roof with Velcro/adhesive, and badly spraining my MCL (doing something stupid and unrelated) in the middle of my work period.

That being said, each time I made a mistake, I came up with a better, more elegant solution to the problem. When something didn’t work at first, it just meant that there was a better solution that I hadn’t thought of yet. The van evolved into something so much better than I had originally intended simply because I encountered an obstacles and came up with better solutions along the way.

I’m most proud of my LED Spangled Faux Wood ceiling. After I realized Velcro was a bust, I came up with the idea to use headliner retainer tabs to hold the lights and tapestry up. You can read a detailed description of how I did it here.

This came out wayyyy better than I could have initially anticipated even though my plan for it evolved along the way. In fact, I thought to put the lights under the tapestry and just cut small holes for the bulbs to poke through over breakfast on the morning I started working on it. I now have the coziest little ambient-lit cabin space.

My friend Rob was instrumental in my van build process. He’s a welder by trade, and since I had no experience in the field, he offered to help me out with my metal work. Among the million other things he did for the van, he custom fabricated my bedframe and bed topper (which doubles as my desk/table), re-fit all my shelves, and next week he will be helping me cut the ceiling vent. I don’t think he quite knew what he was getting himself into when he agreed to help initially.

So far, we’ve had two sessions where he has worked the entire day, then immediately helped me with the van for another 10 hours on top of that! He’s put in days where he has stayed up for more than 24 hours so we could get everything done… even if it meant we didn’t finish until 4am. There really isn’t any way to express the massive debt of gratitude I have for him. This whole project wouldn’t have been half of what it is without his help.

I have no “sponsors” at this point, but Nomad Goods did hook me up with a Roadtrip Charger and a key cable. I can’t say enough about how practical these are for vanlife! Also, Big Kahuna Portable Showers let me sample one of their 4.6 gallons units. If you are a surfer or care about hygiene on the road, this is a godsend! You can learn more about them here.

You’re a pretty outdoorsy person! Can you describe 3 activities and your favorite locations to enjoy them?

I love to surf. It is hands down my favorite activity. I started swimming before I started walking, and I have always been at home in the ocean. While it’s tough to pick one particular spot to call my favorite, I would have to go with a spot called Glass Doors on the Mokuleia side of the North Shore of Oahu. It was the closest wave to my house when I lived out there. I didn’t have a car, so I built a surfboard rack on my bike with PVC and would just bike to it. It is a really long, playful left that usually only works in the morning when the winds are right (and it’s in the middle of a known hammerhead shark breeding ground) but it was never ever crowded and I had some of the most memorable and fun sessions of my life at that wave!

After surfing, rock climbing was my second love. I went to a small high school called Holderness which is right down the street from Rumney, NH – some of the best sport climbing crags in the US. It was also close to Franconia notch and other prime climbing spots.

Yoga is one activity I enjoy everywhere. I discovered it later in life and kind of by accident. About a year and half ago, I started struggling with a heart problem that took a long time to diagnose. It changed the rules of the game for me. For a while, anxiety about it was pretty pervasive in my daily life. During this time period, I started practicing yoga regularly. Through yoga, I was able to find stability in my mind, body, and spirit, and ground myself in my surroundings. I’m so grateful to have discovered it power beyond the means of a “workout out”. I continue to practice it regularly to this day.

Where to next ? Any road trip in mind?  

Right now I am building the van in Texas. I will most likely be heading to the West Coast next. (I would rather not give away my exact locations to the Internet, though.) The only thing I can say for sure at the moment is that I will be keeping the van in the continental US. Other than that, we shall see!

Follow Tasha here:

Official website:
Facebook: Tiny Van Travels 
Instagram: @tinyvantravels