Real Talk About The Joys (And Frustrations) Of Life On The Road

Noel Russell

It’s hardly a secret that we love vanlife, which at this point has become just as much a social media aesthetic as a social movement. Are we always down to scroll through images of beautifully outfitted vans parked next to exciting vistas? Sure. But we also feel a kinship with the neo-Bohemian commitment to living more freely with less.

To dig into the draw of vagabonding, in general, and vanlife, in specific, we turned to Noël Russell — a true wandering soul and one hell of an Instagram follow. Russell and her husband, Johnnie, both work in homeless services in the Bay Area of California. Any time they can take away from work is spent outdoors in their van, which is primarily what Russell documents on her Instagram account. The feed is a beautiful collection of images from some of the West’s most picturesque locales, coupled with beautifully worded captions.

Read on for Noël’s insight into the allure of the open road, her philosophies of van living, and why she thinks the community is so appealing.

Noël Russell

How did you get started with vanlife?

I got married to a pragmatist who was like, “Absolutely not. That’s an extra thing that breaks down and needs work, and we are not doing that.” One night, we were camping in the high desert, and it was roughly 25 degrees. We were sleeping in a tent because we tent and backpack religiously, and we always have. But it was freezing, and Johnny put two pairs of pants on and he was using a third pair of pants as second sleeves for his arms. He had tied them at the ends around his gloves, and while we were sitting, we saw some lights shine on the tent, so we undid the seam. A couple in a Westfalia pulled up next to us and turned on their cabin lights. The man proceeded to grab a kettle and put tea on the stove and his partner kicked her feet up on the dash and started reading a book. They were wearing one layer of clothing. Johnny looks at that and looks at me and says, “We’re fucking getting a van.”

I didn’t have to win that argument. Thank god this couple won it for me. And that was when we decided to start hunting seriously for a van. Secretly, I’ve been hunting for ten years.

Noël Russell

What were the non-negotiables for you with the van? Like if this is something you’ve spent your whole life wanting, when it finally manifested, what is your van like?