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My First Day Of Van Life

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

After over three years of traveling full-time, we are officially starting our blog and sharing more pictures, videos, and stories that we haven't shared before. Our journey traveling the world on planes began in March 2017. We did not start #vanlife and vlogging about it until later that year when our brand "Off The Grid With A Kid" was formed on Instagram and YouTube. If you are new to the website, I'd like to encourage you to read our story in Good Housekeeping Magazine or meet us on The Tamron Hall Show and refer back to this blog for more depth about our experience traveling full time as we relive 3 years of adventures.

In September of 2017, (two weeks before we started van life) I lost sleep looking for the perfect van to begin my van life adventures. The idea to do van life had come after traveling full time on planes while visiting my family and feeling stranded in my hometown without a car. Ridesharing wasn't popular in St. Louis, and taking the bus was primarily frowned upon, unlike other big cities. I didn't want to venture around like a tourist, and I wasn't sure where I was going to travel to next. I was bored in my hometown, and I also grew tired of flight hopping and living out of my suitcase. Something else I had noticed was whenever we traveled outside of the country, locals would ask us about different locations in the U.S that we had never visited.

From having traveled full time primarily outside of the U.S and then two months in the U.S, I observed that traveling in the U.S was more expensive than traveling in most countries we had visited. I still wanted to explore the U.S, but I didn't want to fly, and Uber to hotels and Airbnb's all the time. I was tired of feeling like a part-time travel agent, but I want to stop traveling. I wanted more simplicity. This led me to wonder,

"What if we explored our backyard for a while?" "What if we didn't have to worry so much about reservation times or repack our suitcases every week?"

I then had a vision of a van with a bed inside of it. I thought about an old school van that I had seen somewhere when I was a kid.

"What if I could find the perfect van for our lifestyle?"

I started thinking about how much stress and money could be saved if we no longer rented cars or waited for rideshare costs or had to hurry and book the next hotel or Airbnb because our reservation was up.

I held that vision of a van we could stay overnight in, and I started looking through several listings on craigslist. Even though I didn't find what I had envisioned, I stayed up all night messaging sellers that had a van that I could at least convert. The problem was that everyone wanted more than what I had budgeted for a van, and I didn't want to convert a van myself or even hire someone to do it based on my budget of 5K. I was determined to find a good deal, so I kept searching, and I messaged a few friends and informed them that I was shopping for a particular van, and I asked them to keep their eyes open if they heard about one off the market for sale. A few days later, one of my friends messaged me back and sent me a listing for a van. I couldn't believe it; It was perfect!

As I reviewed the seller's listing on Rv Trader, it seemed too good to be true. Everything on the van was in mint condition, and the price was below my budget. ($4,900) After recognizing scams posts on Craigslist, I figured it was worth the shot to message the seller to see if the listing was legit. They responded right away and suggested speaking over the phone.

There was a catch...or two.

It turned out that the seller was an Australian touring throughout Canada and drove through the U.S and needed to sell the van to get back home in Australia. It seems logical, right? The catch was that I'd have to pay for the van and allow him to use it for another week or two while he purchased his flight, and it was time for him to fly out. There was something about the conversation that made me feel like it was too good to be true, but I wanted this van so bad. It had everything I wanted and even more than I expected, and I hadn't seen anything like it.

The other catch

Many other people had inquired about the van, and I had to be the first person to meet the seller at the border of Canada and New York if I was going to buy it. I had 72 hours to get to Buffalo, New York. After making a phone call to the seller's auto insurance company to make sure the van existed, I felt confident enough to book a one-way flight to Buffalo New York along with hotel accommodations. The plan was to meet the seller, pay for ½ the van, get the title and then stick around New York while the seller used the van until it was time for him to fly back to Australia. I'd also have to take him to the airport.

As the days approached the day I'd fly out, I got a few opinions from friends, and they were concerned it might be a scam. For three days, I communicated with the seller to track their ETA, and the way they interacted with me put me more at ease. My son stayed behind with family, and on September 26th, I arrived in Buffalo, New York, and within 2 hours, the sellers met me in a nearby hotel parking lot.

I Met The Van Of My Dreams!

Everything felt better once the seller and I met in person. He was a friendly elderly man traveling with an older woman. The electronic transfer was sent to the seller, and I obtained the title! One week later, the seller picked me up from my hotel and gave me a quick tour of how things worked and even left some small notes and maintenance records. When I dropped him off at the airport, we exchanged seats, and as he closed my driver door, the old man said, "Good Luck Kid!". He left everything in the van but his black water because he did a sanitation dump before picking me up. Thank God! Lol All of the dishware, pillows, towels, blankets, tools, and food were left, and the couple walked away with nothing but their backpacks.

As I drove off, it felt like I was steering a whale! I was excited, and I was also very nervous while driving it for the first time because It was so heavy to drive and completely different than the BMW I had been accustomed to driving. I had been warned to drive slowly around corners because the van was a lot of weight to steer, but it was also top-heavy. I drove for about 10 minutes until I pulled over under a highway overpass because I needed to use the restroom, which just so happened to be onboard the van. It took me a few minutes to sit with the reality that I was about to use the bathroom inside a vehicle while also wondering where the waste was going. Lol

(My First Time At The Gas Pump With My Van) This picture was taken not even an hour after I purchased my camper van. I remember shaking from the excitement and reality that this 1989 Ford Econoline Class B Van was now mine! I did it and I felt 16 again! I was far more excited to have this van than I was when I bought my BMW or any other vehicle that I had bought in my lifetime. I went from wondering if this van was real to wondering why it had to gas tanks. Lol To this day I still don't know why they're separate, but whatever. (Inserts laugh)

My First Night In the Van

That same night I camped in a Walmart parking lot where I also took a shower in the van. Taking a shower in the van right there in the parking lot was awesome! It felt like an inclusive and discreet thing to do. The following day I spent all day in the parking lot and filmed my first YouTube video. After this, I spent the next five days caravanning with a friend making a cross country road trip in their van. We caravanned and camped in various spots until we reached a fork in the highway to travel independently.

Up Next: Part 2: The First 30 Days Of Van Life: Spending The 1st Night in A Van With My Son


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