After living full time in my Airstream with my dog, Rue, for the last year, I have decided to switch to van life! I am now having a Ford Transit Van custom built into our new home.
The company that is professionally building out my van is Drifter Vans in Detroit, MI. Their work is outstanding and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with this team so far! You can check them out here: https://www.driftervans.com/nomadicsarah
I keep getting asked why I am switching to a van. Well, that’s a LOADED question! There are many pros and cons when it comes to switching to van life. After heavily weighing them, I have decided a van is a much better RV for me. Let me break it down for you.
The number one reason I am switching from a travel trailer to a van is to simplify my travels. This means no more hitching up and towing. That may not sound like a big deal to you, and it’s really not. I’m totally capable of all the work that goes into it, I just don’t feel like doing it anymore! I’m hoping it will save me a lot of time, not only because it’s faster to break down camp and hit the road, but I should be able to drive a little bit faster as well. And I’ll have way less anxiety because I’m not towing a trailer!
Another big reason I’m switching is the compact size of the van compared to the Airstream will open up so many more opportunities for me. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to stop at a cool restaurant or pull off the road to catch a beautiful view but was extremely limited on what I could do since I was towing a trailer. Not many places can accommodate parking for a tow vehicle PLUS a trailer. Even simpler things like grabbing fast food or finding an RV accessible gas station with the Airstream requires way more planning than I initially bargained for. The size of the van should allow me to make so many more pit stops than I could before with way less planning.
In my opinion, I think the van will be a lot safer when it comes to escaping a sketchy situation. There was one time I was boondocking in the Airstream and felt pretty unsafe, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. My neighbors had approached me at sunset and gave me really weird vibes, then proceeded to scream and fight all night long. I’m pretty sure there were drugs involved and I just wanted to get out of there. But I would have had to go outside, break down camp, and hitch up in the dark with these people watching me. If I were in a van, I could have easily hopped in the drivers seat and removed myself from that situation. But in the Airstream, this wasn’t an option.. And it was not a fun situation to be in as a solo traveler.
Another safety aspect to consider that makes the van a better fit for a solo traveler is navigation. There was one time I was towing the Airstream and made a wrong turn down a residential road. It was super steep and there was no where for me to safely turn around or even stop to reroute the GPS. I eventually found an exit onto a different road after driving for a few miles, but if I was in the van, I could have easily pulled into someones driveway and turned around.
#4 BOONDOCKING & STREET PARKING
I think the van is going to open up many more boondocking and overnight parking options for me. Some boondocking spots are much more difficult to get to with a trailer, and most forest roads don’t have a good place to turn a trailer around. As far as street parking, I would never even attempt this in Airstream. I feel like I would just stick out like a sore thumb on the side of the road and would not feel comfortable. Plus, the Airstream and my tow vehicle are too long to fit in one street parking spot. The van should be a game changer for both of these situations.
In the Airstream, I heavily relied on Harvest Hosts, and will continue to use it with the van, but hopefully not as much. If you don’t know what Harvest Hosts is, check out my video on my experience with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-93w0Ttuaw&t=331s
Pretty great, right? You can get 15% off your membership here: https://www.harvest-hosts.com/Q6M3HD/2CTPL/
I also won’t have to rely on RV park or campsite reservations as much, which are always booked out in peak season anyways. The electric and plumbing systems in my van should allow me to be way more self-sufficient, meaning I won’t always be relying on campground hookups. Being a bit more off grid will allow me to plan less and be a bit more spontaneous with my travels since I will have less limitations. I’ll be going over the details of the appliances in future posts along with the custom floorpan and design.
#5 CONSOLIDATING DEBT
Debt consolidation! Woo-hoo! Will I be in any LESS debt? No, absolutely not. The cost of the van plus the build is actually more expensive than my Airstream and tow vehicle combined. BUT, I will only have one payment for both my car and my home, as well as only one insurance payment, which is nice. If you’re curious about the price of my build, you can head to Drifter Vans website for more details: https://www.driftervans.com/nomadicsarah
#6 HAVING ALL BELONGINGS WITH ME ALL OF THE TIME
There is nothing more I love about RV life than having my kitchen, bathroom, and all of my belongings with me wherever I go. This was a huge perk while traveling in the Airstream, until I decided to start going on a lot of weekend trips while on assignment in Washington. Normally my plans are spontaneous and too last minute to book a campsite for a 22’ Airstream.. plan a safe route.. break down camp.. hitch up.. travel.. set up camp.. and do it it ALL OVER again just a couple days later. So I ended up frequently leaving the Airstream behind and car camping in my Jeep. I would constantly be packing and unpacking, I became very unorganized, and was constantly losing track of my belongings. I was doing this almost every other weekend in Washington and it became exhausting. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to pull off these spontaneous trips much more easily with the van. That way I’ll always have my things and I don’t have to be packing and unpacking all the time.
Although I absolutely love the idea of having all of my belongings with me everywhere I go, this could also be considered a huge con. If my vehicle gets broken into, my home gets broken into, which has all of my possessions. I plan on going overboard with security measures, which I’ll talk about in future posts. I will also have my WhereSafe GPS tracker, so if the van were to get stolen, I could track it. Get 10% off your WhereSafe GPS with code NomadicSarah: https://www.wheresafe.com/nomadic-sarah
Another downside to driving my home everywhere is I will constantly have to stow and secure all of my belongings when I want to drive. Regular errands may become more challenging due to limited parking spots and not being able to go in parking garages, but if I stick to more suburban and rural areas versus big cities, this won’t be as much of a problem. I’m not much of a big city person anyways, so I’m not too worried about this!
#7 TRAVELING WITH A DOG
Another thing I will have with me at all times is my dog, RUE! This has been a big concern, one that I thoroughly considered when deciding to switch to a van, so let’s talk about how I’m going to make it work.
Similar to the Airstream, Rue will always be in her home, which is much more comfortable for her than when we bounced around to new homes all the time when I first started traveling for work. Making the Airstream our home was the best thing ever for Rue and reduced so much of her anxiety, because wherever we parked, we were still “home.” It was her safe space and I could always leave her in there. Anytime I checked on her with the camera, she was just chillin’. Hopefully Rue will feel the same way about the van once we start living in it.
Now that I will have more flexibility in places to park, this means I can also chase the good weather when choosing work assignments instead of being limited only to places with RV park availability. These places are typically booked out in peak season when the weather is nice, making it hard to take assignments where the temperature is ideal. Even when we are in less than desirable temperatures, the van is being completely customized to suit mine and Rue’s needs. I’ll have a heater, a fan, windows that open, and a 12V air conditioner to help regulate the temperature off grid. Even though the 12V air conditioner can only run off the battery, it can only last for so long. Ultimately, I will have to bring Rue to a sitter while I am at work if we are in a very hot location.
When we’re in cold areas, I can run the heater, which is extremely efficient and runs off of fuel, but Rue might not even need this, cause she is a husky and does enjoy the cold! Either way, I will continue to use my Waggle pet monitor (50% off: https://bit.ly/3zFTDKc) to keep an eye on the temp while I am not in the van with her. I will also install security cameras to keep an eye on her. I’ll be doing a lot of the same things I talked about in my recent video about living in an RV with a dog with some modifications: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pY0bRz-mXVk&t=104s
In some ways, having Rue in the van is going to make my life a lot easier. I won’t ever have to drive to the other side of town just to walk her. We can be out and about all day. She can chill in the van while I run my errands and go shopping, and I even get to have her at work with me and can walk her on my lunch breaks! I’ve met a couple healthcare travelers that live in their vans with their dogs, and it’s encouraging to hear that this is how they make it work. Not to mention, having Rue in the van also doubles as a built in security system!
Alright, there’s few downsides that I want to mention that I’ve also strongly considered before deciding to switch to a van:
LOSING BOONDOCKING SPOTS
A downside to boondocking is that I may lose my spot if I decide to drive away for any reason. This a very real possibility and would be a total drag, but honestly, I would rather have my rig with me as opposed to leaving it behind. Although leaving it behind would save my spot, it also increases the chance of it getting broken into or stolen completely. And that’s my whole life in that rig. So I would prefer losing my boondocking spot over leaving it out there and coming back to it broken into.. or completely stolen.
With the van, I will be sacrificing a lot of space. A lot of people thought my next rig would be bigger. Well, surprise, I’m going smaller! I don’t mind the small space. It’s mainly a place to rest my head. As far as having less storage, I don’t think I’ll have too much of an issue. I still need to downsize some more, but when I moved out of the Airstream, all of my belongings fit in my Jeep with EASE and I could still see out all of the windows. I guess I own less stuff than I thought! As far as feeling claustrophobic or cramped, Rue and I spend a lot of time outside anyways and hope to do the same while we are living in the van.
I think the biggest downside to having a rig that you can drive versus tow is that it can break down. And if it does break down, my home is in the shop. This is a big reason why I decided to go with a Ford Transit versus a Mercedes Sprinter. There are plenty more accessible Ford dealerships versus Mercedes. Many mechanics know how to work on a Ford, whereas the Mercedes mechanics are highly specialized and charge a bit more. The downside to the Transit is it is AWD versus the Sprinter which can be 4x4. Theres quite a few other comparisons I can make, like affordability, reliability, ground clearance, fuel, and more. But that’s why I chose the Transit in a nutshell.
Alright, that was A LOT! I hope I answered most of your questions, but please let me know any additional ones. As I stated, I'll be covering the appliances, floor plan, and design in future posts. I promise to always keep it real by talking about the GOOD and BAD. I don’t want you guys to think I’m looking at this through rose colored glasses by any means. I heavily weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided the few sacrifices of switching to a van are well worth it and this is a better choice than the Airstream for me and Rue. I’m really excited about all of the possibilities and to see this van come to life! I hope you all are just as stoked as I am!