SPRINTER VAN LIFE INTERVIEW: SO WE BOUGHT A VAN
With the growing interest in Sprinter Van Life among Bearfoot Theory readers, we decided to start interviewing a few of our favorite Sprinter Van Lifers here on the blog. Our hope is it gives you a broader look at the lifestyle and shows you the many ways it can be done – whether you want to DIY or hire a full blown conversion company to build out your Sprinter.
First up in the series are adorable couple Evan Larson and Katie Larsen – otherwise known as So We Bought A Van. And there is no typo there with their names–they are proud to share 5 out of 6 letters in their last name with each other. See, we told you they were pretty cute.
Since doing this interview, Katie landed a job working as the editor-in-chief of Go-Van.com, an online magazine for digital nomads and weekend warriors, and the two of them also just launched their brand new website, which is looking so stellar. They are currently taking a short break from the road in Oregon after visiting all 50 states in less than a year, but they are currently scheming up new plans for round two in their van.
Get to know Evan and Katie of So We Bought A Van in our Sprinter Van Life Interview Series.
So We Bought a Van Sprinter Van Basics
- Purchased NEW
- 2016 Sprinter, High Roof, 144″ Wheelbase, 2WD with BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, 23-24 mpg
- Homebase: Portland, Oregon
- Just the cute couple living full-time in their Sprinter, in other words, no pets or other humans
- Chose van life so they’d be able to travel and explore without many constraints. By downsizing and moving into a van full-time, they’re able to wake up every day and decide exactly what they feel like doing. It has allowed them to gain control of their lives in a new way.
A Van Tour Of So We Bought a Van
Did you DIY or did you have someone convert your van for you?
We DIYed, except for our cabinets. While we designed and installed them, we had a family friend do the actual building. We really love our cabinets. The look and design of them, the storage space they provide, and the locking mechanisms are perfect for what we were looking for. We also have never had to question the quality of them, which is great when you consider having something long-term.
Describe your Sprinter Van layout. What do you like about it? What don’t you like? And why?
We have a stationary platform bed, overhead cabinets on both sides, a small fridge, dresser drawers below our bed, and a kitchen area. We particularly love the platform bed because we don’t have to set up bed or break it down daily. We also like our kitchen layout because it is simple and easy to use. The only seats we have are the front two seats but they do swivel (we don’t use the driver’s side swivel as much as we thought we would). We also have a removable table but it is on the smaller side.
Describe your plumbing system. If you don’t have a bathroom in your van, where do you shower and use the restroom?
We have a 10 gallon fresh water tank that goes to our sink as well as an extra 7 gallon water jug for drinking water. At first it didn’t seem like enough but overtime, we’ve adjusted to using less water when we do dishes or brush our teeth. We have a 7 gallon grey water tank under the sink that we just pull out and dump when we need. On the outside of the van, we have a road shower that we occasionally use and in the summer, the water gets quite warm. But we don’t have any hot water access inside the van!
We have a small toilet that we use for #1. It just requires dumping every week or so. We usually find public restrooms for more than that, which has never been a problem for us. We have used our road shower a few times but usually are in water every day, especially in the summer, and we see friends a lot and just use their showers!
Tell me about your power system. What do you power/charge in your van and is your system adequate?
We have four 155AH Deep Cycle Vmaxtanks batteries and three 100 watt Renogy solar panels to power our lights, fridge, fan, inverter, and water pump. Our system is completely adequate, if not overkill. We did our power system this way so that we could be off the grid for multiple days and essentially never have to worry about having enough power.
What do you use for heat and AC?
For insulation, we used a combo of reflectix, rigid foam board, and recycled denim batting. Certain areas have more of one material than others, based on how much space we needed to fill. For heat, right now we’re mostly using a small propane heater. Our van does have an auxiliary heater that heats the entire van when we drive, and our insulation keeps that heat in for a while after the car is turned off. Ideally, we would love a diesel heater but maybe in the future! As for cooling, we don’t have an AC unit. We simply crack a back window and turn on the ceiling fan for air circulation.
What would you change about your van? Is there anything that just isn’t working?
We often wish we had a more stationary table and some extra seating. Having a work space and area to eat meals would be so nice but our removable table does the trick for now. We also dream of having a compostable toilet in the future. By no needs is it a necessity for us but it is definitely something that would make daily living in a van easier.
The Nitty Gritty of Life on the Road
If you are traveling with a partner in the van, do you ever feel like you need your own space? What do you do when you have a conflict?
Absolutely. We didn’t take much space at first but we’ve gotten better over time at recognizing when we need alone time. Also, being comfortable in silence makes a huge difference when you’re traveling full-time with a partner. When conflict arises, we usually try to address it right away so that things don’t go unaddressed for too long. Effective communication and paying attention to your personal needs as well as your partner’s needs is a MUST.
Is Sprinter Van Life more or less expensive than you thought?
It is a little more expensive than we thought but definitely cheaper than our lifestyle before. One of our biggest expenses is gas since we drive so much but that is totally in our control. We also are getting better with budgeting now that we’ve been living on the road for a bit.
What are your favorite meals to cook in the van?
We have a two burner gas stove inside the van, but we try to do our cooking outside as much as weather allows. Tacos are a staple meal for us. In the winter, we also cook a lot of soups and stews. They save really well and are nice after a chilly day outside. We use a lot of Fresh Off the Grid recipes too (we love them also!). One of our favorites has been their coconut red lentil stew with kale.
Where do you usually park your van at night and what are your favorite tools for finding places to camp? How often do you physically move the van from one location to another?
We usually try to camp in free campsites. The East Coast is a bit more challenging with this, but there are always available parking lots to stay in overnight. Our biggest tool for finding places to camp is the AllStays Camp & RV App. It costs $10 but has been invaluable. If we’re struggling to find something in the area on that app, we also check freecampsites.net We move locations a lot. We wanted to see a lot in our first few months so we were driving almost daily. If we fall in love with an area though, we really try to stay for a few days/nights to get a good feel for the area. Some states we even stayed in for nearly a month. This will all slow down soon too! We plan to take it much slower when we get to the South portion of the country.
What are the biggest challenges of van life?
We had never lived together prior to moving into the van so that was a huge adjustment. Also, living in a van is almost a full-time job in itself. We have to do our “chores” more frequently because our water tank is small, our toilet is small, our garbage can is small, everything is small. But on the flip side, cleaning such a small space doesn’t take very much time either.
What do you do to feel safe traveling in your van?
We listen to our guts. If something doesn’t feel right, we try to figure out why or get out of the situation ASAP, especially with parking at night. We also make sure that if we ever separate, we know exactly where the other person is. We also have bear and pepper spray in the van with us, which definitely helps when we’re camping
What has been your most memorable experience so far in your van?
We had an amazing trip visiting the Jackson Hole area in Wyoming. The city of Jackson, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park are simply amazing. We had sunshine, snow, rain, everything during our trip. We also did some beautiful hikes, went fishing multiple times, and saw an abundance of wildlife. We absolutely loved the area.
Final Thoughts & Advice for Sprinter Van Hopefuls
How do you find & build community when you’re in the van?
Connecting with others on social media has made a huge impact on our sense of community since living in the van. It’s amazing how friendly and open people are. We’ve met up with various people that live in on the road as well, which definitely makes us feel connected through similar experiences and lifestyles.
How did you deal with friends or family not understanding your decision?
We got super lucky in the sense that most of our friends and family were very understanding of our decision. If anybody doesn’t, we just try to communicate the reason we’re doing this and why it is important to us. The “tiny house movement” has also made an impact because I think downsizing is a lot more common than it used to be.
What are the three most useful things you have in your van (gear or functional items)?
It sounds simple but having a change/quarter jar has been so handy. With showers, laundry, parking, and ESPECIALLY with tolls, it really helps to have change available. We also use our LuminAID solar lantern often, which is a great lantern choice because it doesn’t require any batteries or charging. Another thing we use all the time is our America the Beautiful pass, which costs $80 and grants us access to all national parks for a year. We have saved so much money by having the pass as opposed to paying for entry at all the parks we’ve visited.
If you could offer one piece of advice to someone wanting to move into a van, what would it be?
If you’re thinking about it or even just interested in the idea, do some research and I think you’ll find it’s a lot more attainable than you think. There is an abundance of information out there regarding downsizing, converting vehicles, and living full-time on the road. If you make it a priority, there’s a good chance you can find a way to make it happen. Between remote work, camp host work, and other resources there are a lot of opportunities to work and still live in a van. You can make moving into a van as expensive or as cheap as you want it! You just have to try.
Where can people find you?