At this point, it feels safe to say van living is having more than just “a moment.” It’s a fully acknowledged movement — the mix of nomadic lifestyle that’s been viable (though difficult) since the advent of civilization and the ability of “digital vagabonds” to be online anywhere. To some extent, this has been going on for decades, but the van movement has done a good job using Instagram photos of smiling people with nice butts, reclining in little wood-paneled cocoons, to make being homeless sexy AF.
All those gorgeous Insta images tend to paint a homogenized picture of the average person living out of a van. Though the community often does have a shared system of values, people living the van life vary widely. Not every story is a simple quest for the endless summer — motivations vary widely. Luckily, the Mad Ones have Kathleen Morton, to celebrate and champion this individuality on her website: Tiny House, Tiny Footprint.
A writer and photographer since childhood, Morton found the perfect subject matter when she became part of the #vanlife movement. She discovered a group of people spending more time in nature and living a more intentional life with a smaller negative impact on the environment. To exalt these kindred spirits, she writes profiles and dedicates episodes of her podcast to couples and singles, as well as the vehicles in which they dwell. You can listen to an interview with Lynelle and Matt about their mail van or read about Ron and his VW Vanagon. For people thinking about grabbing up a van and hitting the road, these profiles can be instructional. But, they are also pure entertainment for people romanticizing the wayfarer’s life.
In a shift from the interviewer to the subject, Morton sat down to give us some insight into her own life on the road. She told us about her new van build, her commitment to the van life community, her favorite spots to set up camp, and her traveling companion, a dog named Peaches. And, she sent us some great images of her present and previous rides. It looks like a damn fine life.
Did you grow up being outdoorsy?
I grew up in the Midwest and definitely didn’t have a huge camping scene growing up. That wasn’t really something I did a lot of. I didn’t spend a ton of time in the outdoors. I ended up moving out to Colorado after I graduated college about six years ago. I did it because I was really fascinated with the lifestyle out in Colorado. It seemed like from people I talked with who lived out in Colorado were always doing stuff outside no matter the season. In the winter, they were snowboarding and skiing. In summer, they were biking and rafting. It didn’t seem that there was a shortage of things going on, and I wasn’t used to that in my background. That was the appeal for me to move out there.
I was living in Denver, and I noticed the rent increasing in the city. That’s still happening out in Denver and other big cities. I was searching for another option. My lease with my boyfriend was coming to the end; we were like, “Is there a way that we can afford to live somewhere without paying huge rent and also increase our outdoor experience?” I think a lot of people notice that they spend a lot of time outside hiking, going on adventures. It just seemed a little silly that there was a place we were using to sleep and not really spending time there, but we were paying this huge rent cost.
We were still working full-time jobs, and we looked at van life. But, it seemed like a big ordeal to get a van and live somewhere and still work a full-time office job. We started looking at camper trailers. We thought that could be a more permanent one-location solution. We bought a camper trailer for $1,800 on Craigslist. It’s a 1969 Terry Camper Trailer. We wanted to do it as a way to save money, but also, we were really interested in living more intentionally. That was something that we weren’t able to do much of in the city. We felt like we were consuming a lot, using a lot of resources. We talked about how we wanted to be environmental stewards and it wasn’t happening in the way that we wanted it to.
We were focused on environmental initiatives, and we thought this could be a great way to reduce our footprint while also exploring some new ideas, new principles like composting and just being more creative with how we use our resources. We had this camper and then we had to find a place to park. We found a family that was going to host us in their backyard. We moved in their backyard for 14 months and both worked full-time jobs and this camper trailer was pretty much off the grid. Meaning we had a compostable toilet. We didn’t have any running water. We had one electrical plug but pretty minimal, and it was only 140 square feet.
We did that for 14 months, and then, I started blogging about my experiences in the camper trailer. I realized there were other people living alternative lifestyles, which three years ago when I first started doing this lifestyle, I did not know anybody, even people in vans. I honestly did not have a clue that this was a thing. It was really comforting to find people who were also doing similar things, so I started interviewing them for my blog, featuring once a week a new person trying out a new lifestyle. Through that, I became more intrigued about van life; it’s a little more mobile. Our camper trailer was such a pain to move from one spot to the other. We didn’t bring it on trips or anything. It was just a small structure that stayed in one place.
I became intrigued with the idea that you could bring your house with you and have that freedom, so I transitioned into some remote work. During that time, my boyfriend and I split, and I decided I was going to pursue van life. I had already lived small. This wasn’t like a super new thing. The owners of the place we rented our land from had a 1987 Toyota van that they were going to chuck into a junkyard. I was like, “Can I take that van?” They’re like, “Yes for sure. We don’t want it.” After fixing it up, I took that van and did some solo trips until it broke down. Then, I had some friends that were looking for someone to buy their 1978 Ford Econoline van, a former postal van, they let me take that out for a bit. I took that on, and that one had a ton of issues. It was really wearing on me, the expense of always fixing up an older vehicle.
I did that until I felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore. Now, I’m in another 1987 Toyota van. This one I bought from a friend who is pretty mechanical. It’s pretty small in here. I’m in here right now. It’s like 40 square feet, but we made use of all the space to build it out. That is what I’m currently traveling and living out of. I fund the experience by finding seasonal work like working on farms and also freelance work and also finding other odd jobs so I’m able to make the money work.
For the most part I try not to spend too much on gas and try not to travel too much to too many locations. I just have everything with me.