Florida Gator Magazine

Small Vans, Big Plans

The hike Drew and I took to this spot above Lake Annecy, France, at the top of La Tournette was absolutely worth the effort.

Two Gators ditched the conventional trappings of success to discover the world, and themselves.

Beyond brushing our teeth and washing our faces, our daily routine is something that changes nearly every day. Some days we wake as the sun rises over a crystal-clear ocean, our eyes blinking slowly awake as waves lap up on the sparkling sands of a remote beach. Other days we slide open our door and cool mountain air rushes in to greet us. While looking at the view, our eyes are filled with colors and our hearts overflow with gratitude for this moment. We might spend days surrounded by more cows than people, but when fateful roads meet, we welcome our new neighbors with bonfires, stories or simply a warm good-morning hello. Then there are the less glamorous days, where, out of convenience or necessity, we awake in the parking lot of a shopping plaza or 24-hour gym.

Our mobile office/bedroom is equipped with mountain bikes, bathing suits, a swing, hiking, rock-climbing, kitesurfing and snorkel gear. Our shower is a brilliant, yet simple, utility tub contraption that my husband, Drew (BSA 10), built in a drawer. It stores under our futon and all of our utilities, including hot-water heater, are powered by solar.

While living in a 112-square-foot space with your significant other has its challenges, it is constantly teaching us the importance of communication, asking us to humbly grow into the best version of ourselves a little more each day. For the past five years, together we have explored 39 states and 24 countries across three continents, all while living in a van. We never planned to live in a van after college, but we did plan to wholeheartedly discover and pursue what we love.
Our journey is unpredictable, but with our rolling home and our desire to make something truly good of this life, there’s only one place we’ll always end up, exactly where we want to be.

A Traditional Start

Drew and I met in fall 2009 after being chosen from 400 students to serve as interns for the JanSport marketing team. Part of our internship, which really just felt like an incredible opportunity to have fun together, was to ride in JanSport’s psychedelic 1967 Volkswagen bus during UF’s Homecoming parade. I blew bubbles out of the sunroof while Drew danced with an inflatable alligator and threw candy into the crowd. Looking back, it’s no wonder that 10 years later we’d happily choose to live life on the road.

At UF, Drew and I became JanSport marketing interns who rode the company’s Gatorized van in the 2009 UF Homecoming parade

It’s also important to mention that two years before Drew and I met, I had been medically withdrawn from UF in order to seek in-patient treatment for my near-death struggle with an eating disorder. I wrestled to understand my purpose and place in this world. I was in desperate need of freedom and joy, while being trapped in a body that just couldn’t reach out for help. If it weren’t for my courageous friends and the incredible staff at UF’s campus infirmary who truly helped save my life, my adventure may have ended right then. When I returned to UF after a year of treatment, I decided that if I was going to live a recovered life, then I was going to have to pursue what truly made me come alive.

After graduating in 2011, Drew and I drove across the country to The Land of Dreams — Los Angeles — where we eventually found ourselves living the proverbial dream. We had a cozy little apartment in a great neighborhood with the best neighbors and jobs that paid us enough to enjoy weekends and put a little aside each month. Fast forward three years, and we were beginning to feel stuck in an endless cycle of living for our weekends. It wasn’t enough anymore: not enough freedom, not enough purpose, not enough creativity or joy.

Drew had been working to start an online business selling refurbished luxury watches. He realized that the future he was creating did not align with his truest values. Similarly, I felt overworked, undervalued and lost in the stressful mix of night shifts and monotonous desk-sitting that clouded my daily existence as the head of intake, aftercare and admissions at an eating disorder recovery center. We wondered why we couldn’t just be grateful for the lives we were living. We felt numb, dead to the passion that we knew existed somewhere deep within. So, we set out to find it.

Making a Map

The original plan was to quit our jobs by April 2016 so we could teach English in Southeast Asia. We focused on downsizing and saving as much as we could. Then, our family suggested we first borrow their campervan to explore all that our own country had to offer. Simultaneously, Drew’s online business began to fall apart and, after leaving my position at the recovery center, I was struggling to make any sort of job stick. In December 2014, a year and a half ahead of schedule, we put our remaining possessions in a tiny San Diego storage unit and set off for Florida to pick up the campervan in which we would roam 21,000 miles across the U.S. and Canada the next year.

Savoring sunset scenes, like this one on Valentine’s Day in Tafraoute, Morocco, took on a greater importance to us after we left our traditional jobs.

Halfway through that road trip, Drew received an opportunity that revolutionized our life on the road. A teleradiology company previously owned by his family was sold, restructured and in need of a new office manager. Duties could be performed remotely, making Drew the perfect fit for the role. His income, combined with our brand collaborations, other creative endeavors and YouTube channel proceeds are what have allowed us to pursue roads that stretch far across our home country and beyond.

Falling into Place

After that first year of vanlife we were hooked. All the challenges and changes that came along with living in a van were helping us grow into the people we always knew we were destined to become. The open road made it easy to feel happy and free, and there was no going back. We married on Jan. 30, 2016, surrounded by family and friends on Islamorada Beach. Five days later, we flew to England to buy our first home, a used 18-foot converted Ford Transit van we dubbed “The Howeller.” It carried us on our life-altering, two-and-a-half-year, 40,000-plus-mile, honeymoon-on-wheels through Europe and North Africa.

We planned our route according to our travel Visa limitations and the seasons: Central Europe in spring, Croatia in summer, Morocco in winter, Norway and England the following summer, returning to Florida for winter and so on. Our incredible trek through Europe was marked by drastic changes. Each time we crossed into a new country, we experienced a new language, new customs, new cuisine, landscape and people. We spent nearly every day immersed in nature. At night we’d park next to the sea or on top of a peaceful mountain under a star-studded sky. We bathed in whatever body of water we came across and went days without looking in a mirror. We explored and made friends with strangers much different than us, finding endless fascination with each unique story. We owned less than we ever had before, yet life felt so full.

We loved the sensation of these tidal flats underfoot near Mont St. Michel in France during the European leg of our adventure.

It took some courage for us to stand on top of Kjerabolten, a boulder deposited by a glacier 4,000 feet above Lysefjord, Norway. But it’s a memory we’ll never forget.

A Whole New Chapter

We returned to the U.S. this August, wondering how and where to move on with our lives. As exhausting and difficult as life on the road can be, the undeniable call to adventure continued to ring in our ears the moment we tried to settle down anywhere for too long. After living in four different vans, we decided the most natural thing for us to do was take on the challenge of building out our first ever custom-converted rolling home. It took us five months of hard work to complete, but this van isn’t just our adventure mobile, it’s our sanctuary, our freedom vessel into The Great Unknown. Providing us with just the right amount of comfort and space that we need to grow into all that this next chapter of life has in store.

We continue to find purpose in pursing the path unknown, beauty in the ever-changing horizons and invigoration in the endless possibilities that await us each and every day. While we don’t exactly know our destination, this journey continuously provides us with the freedom to pursue our passions and purpose, allowing us to encourage and light the way for others seeking their own.

10 Tips for Finding the Life of Your Dreams
Be deeply curious about your passions. Care for them, practice them, believe in them. Realize that change is necessary, take action and create room for the possibility of greatness to take root.
Surround yourself with “expanders,” the people, books, experiences, stories that will inspire you to push beyond your comforts and reach out for more. Use your emotions as motivation and a guide to understanding some of your innermost desires.
Be willing to do what it takes. Dreams don’t just happen. They take courage, vision and a lot of hard work. While our journey has been one of the most challenging experiences of our lives, it amplified the feelings of gratitude and joy that came along with realizing our dreams.
Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from making the best decisions of your life. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying, “yes!” Dare to say yes to what scares you; dare to believe in your ability to persevere.
Let go of the need for more stuff. Consciously choose to spend your money on the things and experiences that truly align with your values. Oftentimes a home-cooked meal can be just as satisfying, and perhaps even more meaningful, than one at an upscale restaurant.
Figure out what your values are and honor them. If you love animals, decide to educate yourself on the food and products you buy. You have huge power as a consumer. Choose to harness it in a way that allows you to be part of the change you wish to see.
Practice being happy with what you already have. Before you get out of bed in the morning, think of three things for which you are grateful. Making the decision to be grateful sets the tone for the rest of your day.
Don’t limit the ways in which you can be of value in this world. Drew and I chose to pursue a path that adds a vibrancy to our existence. If we can find a way to bless others through what we share and create, that’s what our version of living the dream is all about.
Stop to recognize the magic around you: the sound of birds singing, the glint of light through a tree branch. Remind yourself how precious our life is. It will reconnect you to the infinite source of power within yourself and others that is often just waiting to be ignited.
Choose to be empowered by your dreams. No matter where you are in life, there is always another level of joy and meaning waiting to be realized. What big step can you take right now to help you manifest your greatest dream?

It’s the simple things along our journey that we try to cherish most, such as this breakfast by a lake in Millinocket, Maine.