How “van-lifers” embrace authentic and adventurous lifestyles

Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory.

Over the past decade, a growing movement of van dwellers have ditched their cubicles for the open road, living out of their vehicles and documenting their journeys as they travel the world. It has become a lifestyle, online aesthetic and career — one both Kristen Bor and Linda Romero have embraced.

When they met, Bor and Romero were studying for their master’s degrees in Environmental Science and Management from the University of California at Santa Barbara. The now full-time bloggers went their separate ways after graduation, with Bor working in environmental policy in Washington, D.C. and Romero employed at a sustainable energy nonprofit in San Diego. After a few years, both realized they wanted more adventure than their current jobs could offer.

“I wanted to see the world,” said Bor. “It was not enough for me to fly to a new country just to sit in a conference room for a few days. I wanted to integrate travel into [all aspects of] my life in a more meaningful way than would have been possible in a traditional corporate setting.”

Bor (L) and Romero (R) pose together at a van life festival. Bor traveled solo across New Zealand in her van in 2014. Photo credit: Kristen Bor and Bearfoot Theory.

After one year of planning, Bor created a travel blog, booked a ticket to New Zealand and quit her desk job. She devoted the next four months to travelling across the island in a converted van and chronicling her adventure online.

“Van life allowed me to get to know the country in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” Bor said. “I was able to spend as much time as I wanted in each area, without worrying about paying for a hotel or catching a train. It was total freedom.” After her trip, Bor began living in her van full-time.

Bor traveled solo across New Zealand in her van in 2014. Photo credit: Kristen Bor and Bearfoot Theory.

Meanwhile, Romero was having a van-life journey of her own. The California native always wanted to drive through the Americas, and in 2012, she decided to make that dream a reality. She and her partner fixed up a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia, equipping it with a new motor, installing a solar panel, and designing the interior with the comforts of home, including a refrigerator, lights, fan and bed.

“We realized that ‘van life’ wasn’t such an unrealistic idea,” Romero explains. “We saved, we planned, we quit our jobs and we made it happen.”

They spent 15 months in the Vanagon, going through California, Mexico, Central America, across the Panama Canal and down into South America to the south of Argentina — and back. “After that, I knew I wanted the freedom to travel [at any time],” Romero said.

Romero and her partner converted their Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia before they left in 2012. Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory.

She and Bor reconnected after their trips and began working together on Bor’s website. “The ability to work remotely has opened up so many doors for me and allowed me to travel not just once or twice a year, but as a part of my life,” Romero says.

Bor’s goal is to make travel more accessible to the average person. “I want to show people that with the right planning, this lifestyle can be accessible for anyone,” Bor says. She added that she is especially passionate about providing resources for women who are interested in van life.

“It hit me when I was driving past the Grand Canyon around sunset. I wanted to stop and camp there, but it was getting dark and I didn’t feel safe camping alone [so] I drove right past it,” said Bor. “With a van, you can have more security. You have everything needed to get by all in one space. I can make those detours now and know I am okay.” Now, she uses her experience to help guide other travelers to experience nature to its fullest.

Romero met other van-lifers and Volkswagen enthusiasts along the way. Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory.

Bor was inspired to make the leap by other women who embraced solo travel. “When you’re living in a van, you’re totally self-sufficient. You don’t need to rely on anyone or be tied to other schedules. I think online communities like ours can empower women to enjoy nature and give them the right tools to make it happen.”

For Romero, this supportive community has been one of the most fun aspects of van life.

“We’ve met so many Volkswagen enthusiasts on our journey,” she said. “The brand is so recognizable that people would honk and cheer when our Vanagon drove past, even in more remote areas. We would meet up along the way and exchange stories about our lives, our travels and how we have been living out of our Volkswagens.”

The converted Vanagon made it from California to Argentina and back. Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory.

The choice to embrace van life also connects to Bor and Romero’s passion for environmentalism.

“You only have so much space, so you have to live a very minimalist life,” said Romero. “Your consumption goes way down, and you use less water and electricity. You don’t have a huge house to keep heated and cooled.”

Bor added that the lifestyle itself connects to her environmentalism. “I live in my van so that I can access nature more easily. Spending time in wild spaces deepens your connection to nature and creates a new meaning to it that even with my work, I didn’t quite have before,” Bor said.

“It’s my home, but it’s also how I’m able to live a life full of adventure.”