(upbeat electronic music)
- I bought my first van in the summer of 2013
because I was sick of wasting money on hotel rooms.
In addition to being a film maker, I'm also an author.
I've written several books and I used to go on
book tours all the time,
which basically means that I would spend
between 150 and 200 days a year travelling.
And it also means that I used to spend between 15,000
and $20,000 on hotel stays.
Now the worst part about it was that
I didn't really even get to enjoy these hotel rooms,
I barely set foot in them actually.
Typically how it would go is I would go to a town or a city
and I would teach a class, I would do a book signing,
and at the very end of the night
I'd go back to the hotel room and I would just literally
throw my bones on the bed and go to sleep.
Six hours later, I'd wake up, I'd get in the car
and go to the next location.
So this expense sucked, it was 100% unnecessary,
and the rational part of my brain told me
that something had to change.
Prior to purchasing a Sprinter van
I did quite a bit of deliberating
about which vehicle would be best for me.
I needed a car that was both volumous,
I needed a lot of room for books and heavy film equipment,
but I also needed fuel economy.
I needed a car that I could crisscross
the entire United States in
and I wouldn't just get pillaged at the gas pump.
Initially I had my eye set on a VW Eurovan,
but after perusing countless auto listings
I quickly learned that a 20 year old beat up microbus
with over 200,000 miles on it,
sells for between 20 and 25 grand.
This seemed like a ridiculous amount to pay for an old van
that could fall apart at any moment.
So I kept looking.
I looked into other options as well,
such as trucks and campers, pull-behind trailers and RVs,
but was ultimately deterred by high mileage,
low fuel economy, lack of reliability,
and/or hefty price tags.
Then during a work trip to Europe
I discovered the Sprinter van and boy was it glorious.
There was nothing embarrassing or shameful
about this van whatsoever.
It was spacious, it was practical,
and yet it was somehow classy, and I instantly wanted one.
So when I returned home from my overseas trip,
I googled Sprinter van, and I went down
to my local Mercedes dealership and I bought one.
I remember feeling extremely nervous
because I'd never bought a new vehicle before,
let alone one with a $40,000 price tag,
but again the money that I was shucking out on hotel stays
helped justify the purchase.
I have owned my van for five years
and I'm proud to report that I've never had
one ounce of regret, there's been no buyer's remorse.
Out of all the different vehicles that I've owned
in the past, this van is by far my favorite vehicle,
and I absolutely love it.
I like to compare my van to the transition
from a T9 cell phone to a cell phone with a full keyboard.
So if you recall, back in the day we used to have
those brick Nokia phones,
and on those phones you had to hit each button three times
to get a desired letter.
So texting was a pain in the butt.
And then we all got phones with full keyboards
which means that we could now write texts much quicker,
it was much more convenient,
(imitates explosion) our minds were blown,
and it was evident that we're never going back
to the old ways.
It just seems archaic now to do that, right?
Same thing with a van.
When you experience first hand what it's like
to be able to freely move around in your vehicle,
to get up from the driver's seat and then go into the back
maybe when it's raining or snowing outside,
and yet you're comfortable, you're standing upright,
you're warm and cozy.
This is an incredible feeling
and you just can't replicate it in other vehicles.
So once you experience the comfort and the convenience
of a van, you can't go back to a sedan or a station wagon,
it's just not happening.
It goes without saying that paying for hotel rooms
is now a thing of the past for me.
Now when I travel I stay in my vehicle,
and in doing this I save heaps of dough,
and I'm way more comfortable because I get to sleep
in my own bed, surrounded by my own smells every night.
In addition to being great work vehicles,
vans are also fantastic for leisure.
Whether you're going adventuring with your buddies
or visiting relatives in another town,
traveling by way of van allows you to be more spontaneous,
more flexible, self-reliant, and free.
Presently I don't live in my van full-time,
I use it more like a weekender.
So my girlfriend has a house, I live there.
And then whenever we want to go adventuring,
we fill up the van, and we go.
Whether that be for a weekend, or a week or a month,
this works really well for us.
And so we like to think about it kind of like
in spaceship terms, where the house in the mothership,
and the van is the rocket,
and every so often the van has to resupply like rockets do,
and then we fly off somewhere else and go exploring,
go have fun, go to work, whatever.
During the first couple years of van ownership,
one thing that I remember very distinctly
is that people used to stop me on the street,
random strangers would stop me on the street
and they'd ask me a plethora of different questions.
They would ask me things like, what kind of van is that?
Do you like your van?
What kind of gas mileage do you get?
Where do you get it?
How much was it?
Et cetera, et cetera.
And then one day all the questions stopped
and people just stopped coming up to me, period.
And it was kind of strange 'cause it happened consistently
and then, boom, nothing.
After pondering on this for a while,
I figured that the shift had to do with the fact
that there are more vans on the road.
While vans and van life have been around
since the early '60s, we are currently seeing
one of the biggest van booms in history right now.
If you look at commercial van sales in America alone
since about 2016, you'll notice that Ford Transits,
they're the leaders in the U.S.,
they sell about 14,000 vans a month.
Chevy Express sells 6,000 vans a month.
Ford E-Series, 5.8.
Dodge Promaster is next at 3.3 thousand.
Mercedes-Benz is close behind at 3,000.
And the Nissan NV series sells about
1.7 thousand vans per month.
So that's roughly 33,000 vans per month total.
And 405,000 vans per year in the U.S. alone.
I'm no expert, but 405,000 new vans on the road per year
seems like a lot of vans.
Maybe that's why it feels like vans are everywhere
these days, 'cause they literally are.
Globally vans appear to be trending as well.
In the first half of 2017, Mercedes-Benz reported
that it sold nearly 200,000 vans,
mainly Sprinters and Metrises worldwide.
This marked the fifth year in a row that their van division
experienced significant growth,
and according to expert projections
this trend will only continue to increase.
In addition to these sales figures,
today there's way more resources about vans,
and van life than ever before.
There are literally countless blogs, and websites,
and social media accounts and YouTube videos about vans
and so people have a lot more ways
that they can learn about van life,
which means they no longer have to stop random strangers
on the street like myself,
and get information directly from them.
So what is this all about?
Why are vans booming?
Clearly there's a need out there
that these vehicles are meeting,
and yet the answer to this is anybody's guess.
In fact, even Mercedes-Benz has no idea.
And I know this because they actually sent me an e-mail
where they said, Sergei, why is it that you think
vans are booming?
So when they're asking somebody like myself,
I can only assume that they have questions
as to why this is happening and what's going on.
Major publications such as the New Yorker, Time, and Vice
have their own speculations.
In one way or another they all claim that vans are trending
because van life is the new American dream.
This intrigues me for several reasons.
Number one, it's a big bold statement,
that I automatically want to challenge.
And number two, it very well might be true.
Is van life really the next American dream?
If so then why?
Are people moving into vans because they can no longer
afford to live in traditional houses?
Or are they simply shifting their values
because they're finding that alternative lifestyles
make them more fulfilled and happy?
Maybe that's what's going on.
If this is the case, does van living
actually make people more happy and fulfilled?
Is this a sustainable lifestyle?
I want to know if van life is a trend that will someday pass
and we'll think, oh my God,
I can't believe we ever thought this was cool.
Or perhaps this is a viable lifestyle that's here to stay.
I've decided to act on this curiosity and make a movie
that investigates this van boom.
This summer I'm gonna jump into my Sprinter van
and I'm gonna go wherever the wind blows me
to try and interview as many different people as I can
that are in some way, shape or form, tied to vans.
I want to sit down with as many different demographics
as I can, this being young couples, seasoned vanners,
solo travelers, nomadic families,
companies that manufacture vans and van products
and anyone else that's willing to talk to me,
and I want to get down to the bottom of
why vans are so popular.
I have no clue whatsoever if this is a good idea,
if this movie will be interesting,
but I have this genuine curiosity, and I'm going for it.
- Okay, so I suppose you want a van tour.
Let's check it out.
All right, this is our cozy little Sprinter van.
This is our bed, it's a twin, so we snuggle.
Underneath we have storage for our camping stove,
extra camping gear, clothes.
And then up top we have cargo nets,
which we can store our curtains, our window shades,
or more clothes.
We also have some little utility racks
and cute hangers, as well as some sparkle lights.
Let's go around back and I'll show you some more.
So in the back here we have our kettle bells.
This is how we work out when we're on the road.
And they also provide extra weight and traction for the van.
So this is another view of the van from the back.
As you can see, it's super simple.
We don't live in the van, we take it for weekend trips
so this simple setup works really great for us.
Okay, on the back of the van we have a ladder,
it's made by Prime Design.
And it gets us to the top, let's go.
Here we have a little deck made of plastic pallets.
It's perfect for stargazing, taking naps,
or having picnics, and extra storage if needed.
Also on the roof we have a Road Shower.
It's exactly what it sounds like, it's a shower for the road
and it gives us the opportunity to clean off after surfing
or being in the lake, or clean the car.
Whatever we desire.
So everything I just showed you on top of the roof
is attached to the roof via our roof rack.
The AluRack by Prime Design.
The last thing I want to show you is our VertiRack.
It allows us to store our paddle boards
on the outside of the van,
which frees up space inside of the van for us.
So that's our van in a nutshell.
- So today is June 2nd.
We're officially kicking off the production of Van Boom
and we start filming today.
And we're heading from Tacoma, Washington up to Bellingham
to take part in a van life festival.
This festival is hosted by Freedom Vans.
They're an outfitter that customizes Sprinter vans,
and Ford vans, every other kind of van.
And so we're gonna go meet some cool people,
see some cool vans, and hopefully gather some interviews.
What do I think we're gonna learn
while making this documentary?
I hope to learn the real truth about van life
on Instagram and social media,
it just looks so gosh darn fun.
And I want to know if it's really that amazing
and how much you have to make to afford that kind of life.
And what kind of jobs you can have to live that kind of life
'cause it seems like an expensive lifestyle.
And to have an expensive lifestyle you need a job
but if you're living out of your van
you can't always have a traditional job.
I don't think I want to live in a van myself.
Though maybe someday it would be a possibility, but
I think it's interesting to know all of this
because there's a lot of people out there
who are considering it and a lot of people
who are considering buying a van over buying a house.
I just bought a house, so
I'm gonna live in the house and not the van,
but maybe other people will choose the other way around.
I'm just a little confused sometimes
because a lot of people when they go into living in a van
they say it's because they can't afford
to buy a house or live in a house.
When you buy a van it costs,
if you buy a new van it costs roughly like $40,000, Sergei?
- Yep. - Yeah.
Okay, and then if you want a really nice build,
like something comfortable where you have a kitchen
and you can actually live in it,
that's at least another 60 grand.
I would think.
Probably more, but, so you're up to a hundred grand
in this van.
I live in an area that is appreciating
so if I decide to sell the house in five years
I will make money off of living in my home.
If you have a van they just break down, you put on miles,
so there's no way that you're gonna make money
off of your van, you're only gonna lose money in the end.
So I don't see the benefit.
Or I don't see how people say it's cheaper
than buying your own home.
Hopefully through this documentary
we'll get to the bottom of that
and people can explain why it's cheaper than owning a home.
(sweet chiming music)
- [Sergei] Who says you can't have a lot of shoes
if you live in a van?
- My name's Tom, I run a company with my partner Kyleigh
called Freedom Vans.
And we are all about giving people
chances to live off the grid, sidestep mortgage if you want.
You can live out of your van, have solar power,
have all your amenities, comfortable living space,
all in a tiny little space on wheels.
Vans are popular and gaining popularity because
they take the automotive industry and basically combine
all of the genres into one space
that performs as well as each of them,
and actually outperforms a lot of them.
They're people carriers, they're efficient on fuel,
they can load a lot of job materials, heavy equipment.
They can get from A to B comfortably.
They do it all.
I got inspired for the van life movement
because of housing crisis.
I'm a dog owner, but I'm not a wealthy homeowner
at the same time, and so when I tried to move from one lease
to find a new place I couldn't get anything.
Nobody would sign me up.
You have a dog, you can't rent here.
And then I had a van that I used to travel
for mountain bike racing and I started feeling like
I wasn't gonna have a catch net to land in
when my lease ended,
and I was like, I'm not gonna be homeless.
So I took matters into my own hands
and I built myself a weekender.
I built a little Ford Econoline from the mid '90s
that was an old conversion van.
I gutted it and I put a desk in there
that I used for a counter.
I built a power system and stuffed a fridge
and cut in a sink and glued a microwave to the desk.
It didn't know how to do pumps,
but I found a pond pump and it worked,
so that was kind of how it all started for me.
And I just felt so liberated
when I figured out I could comfortably
live for a month out of a van.
For one whole month I didn't have a house.
So then I realized van life was sweet.
It was 100% liberating, I felt no longer like I was trapped
by expensive real estate that I couldn't afford.
I felt like,
for a low investment I could get
a comfortable space and that's sort of
stair-stepped me up to
doing that same thing for other people now.
A lot of the things that we do build
are for people who are going on weekenders,
they're a weekend warrior,
they want to go traveling, get out of town.
Stress relief, vacation and stuff.
That's important and it matters a lot to everybody,
so you need to be able to do that.
But then there's also the people like traveling nurses
who are going somewhere for seven weeks at a time.
They've got a traveling stipend
and they're getting paid for housing.
My first full-time client-based freedom van was Dana.
She has her van named Amelia.
She lives out of it in California.
And that is a good example of
a new way of thinking about
how you can approach your living space.
She pays about 700 bucks a month
is her van plus conversion payment.
It was all worked in on the same purchase.
So her van purchase and her conversion were lumped into one
and the cost is about 700 a month.
She owns it via the bank, but in an area where
a one bedroom apartment is $2,200.
The San Francisco Bay area is 2,300 to 2,600
for a one bedroom apartment.
So her one bedroom van in the spaces she was traveling in
is 700 a month, and that's a pretty good system
when you look at the numbers.
- I think that economically it makes sense
and there's a lot of people turning to van life
for that reason, but the motivator is more that
our millennials are all coming of age to buy things.
And they're seeing all these vans
and these epic photos on Instagram
and they see that and then they want to live it.
- [Sergei] The pictures you see of people
living on Instagram and they're just like always having
just a joyous time, everything's perfect--
- [Sergei] How does van life on social media
differ from real van life?
- Yeah, I think that social media just gives you a glimpse
of what van life is.
Yes, you're in all of these beautiful places
and you're having all these experiences,
but I think what I miss the most
was experiencing them with other people.
And that's definitely becoming easier
as more people are into van life
and more people are traveling with their friends.
But when we were on the road, our friends were more grounded
and couldn't necessarily travel everywhere with us.
So I missed just having
people that I saw all the time.
And that community feeling.
So it's nice to see people who are doing van life
are building those communities,
but again, that's just a glimpse on social media.
I'm not sure how that actually translates into real life.
It didn't translate for me.
- [Kiley] And what about the aspect of social media
that's like everyone posts their like beautiful photos
and it just looks like so idealistic.
Is it really like that, like?
- Yeah, so these beautiful photos,
honestly van life brought me to the most beautiful places
and sometimes I think back on my own photos like,
I just need that right now.
And I'm really fortunate to live in a place
that has all these beautiful lakes and trees
and I think that's why we ended up here
after traveling to so many places
to see where we really wanted to be.
Yeah, I just think back on some of these photos that I took
and how much I enjoyed those days.
And those little glimpses, there's so much to those days
that are actually not portrayed in the photos.
(light instrumental music)
- So this is the Noggin van crib.
It's a 1995 Dodge old Transit vehicle, we call her Rammie.
We designed the bed, the kitchen.
Everything so it would be extremely useful and beneficial
to our kind of lifestyle that we thought we'd be living.
And then in this back unit here,
we've designed this huge kind of box which is mainly storage
but you can also have a person or two sleep on this.
This unit pops out, and the cool thing about this is,
her and I could both work on our laptops all day.
We have little cushions that you could sit
on the wheel wells and so we built out
these wood little things, and then we have cushions,
and then you could sit here and work for eight hours.
So it was extremely useful for both of us to work and live.
We both kind of had our own spaces when we needed,
which was great, which was kind of like having a house
or a separate room.
Or you'd go to a coffee place
or hop out of the van for a little bit.
- [Sergei] What is the cost to van life?
Everybody talks about how much cheaper it is
than house life.
Did you do actual any calculations?
- Oh yeah, oh yeah.
- [Sergei] So what does van life cost?
- So van life for us, like so we had an apartment
here in Bellingham at Darby.
It was $1000 a month, then you have internet and utilities
and so it was about 13, 14 a month.
And that was about two years ago.
So we hopped in the van.
We were spending, with all of our bills together,
and everything in our relationship,
about three grand a month, so we had a lot of bills.
We had student debts and credit cards
and starting the business, and all this expense.
We hopped in the van and we were able to immediately
get down to like 1500.
And then we started looking at our food expenses in LA.
Well I have a problem with sushi and really,
I love Thai food and so we were going out to eat a lot.
And we're like, okay can really cut this down even more.
Then we started cooking every day.
Then we started getting into the more of the vegan lifestyle
and food, you know, fruits and vegetables and raw organic
kind of cooking, and that really saved a lot of money.
And so then we were down to like a thousand bucks a month,
even like 800 a month if you don't drive a whole lot.
- [Sergei] Sweet, so if I understand you correctly,
you went from roughly $3,000 a month,
- [Sergei] To instantly 1500,
and then were able to go down--
- To about a thousand, 800.
And that was with a lot of travel
and not being cheap on organics and buying--
- [Sergei] That's a huge saving.
- Proteins and stuff like that, so.
- [Sergei] 'Cause I've seen some of these people on YouTube,
like, oh van life's so cheap but now my coffee bill
'cause I hang out at coffee shops has skyrocketed, so.
- I had already been doing that,
so that was already included in my costs.
In Bellingham, I was going to (laughs)
four to eight coffee meetings a day,
and that really adds up.
So what I would do in business meetings
is I would take my Starbucks receipt,
or Woods Coffee in Bellingham,
and I would take it to different meetings and say,
"Hey, I bought one 30 minutes ago."
"I'm here every day, you guys see me."
So they got to know me,
but I would try and save a lot of money doing that,
but LA, we would go to libraries, parks,
beaches, you know, a lot of free Wi-Fi.
Near malls, schools, lot of things like that.
So we'd just bounce around like that
and not try and go into coffee shops.
- My name is Chris Paige Owens.
Most people call me Ma, from vanning at least.
I live in Puyallup, Washington,
I've been vanning since 1978.
Traveled all over the United States
and even into England with vanning.
- [Sergei] So what does vanning mean to you
'cause you're like, you're, us young people,
we'd say you're the original gangster, the OG.
What does vanning mean to you?
- It's family.
You look around, you see the vans.
Young people are coming back into it.
There's a lot of us old people, I mean, I'm 71 years old.
So, grandma and great grandma.
But it's fun.
- [Sergei] Why did you get into vanning originally,
in the '70s?
- Somebody stopped us on the road and says,
"Hey, there's a van club meeting at Shakey's
"at seven o'clock on Thursday night."
So we went, and been vanning ever since.
- [Sergei] Seems like vans are becoming
more and more popular.
Would you say that was true?
- I would say that.
A lot of these Sprinter vans,
the vans are becoming more popular.
A lot of people are living in them because they can't afford
the houses, you know, and they're getting off the grid.
Or just traveling, I mean, do it when you're young
because when you get older they call it the golden years,
that doesn't mean it is.
I'm still waiting to see the gold.
- [Sergei] And so can you give us a tip or two
of something you wish you would have known
at the very beginning that would have maybe saved you
a little bit of headache?
- We bought a brand new van, Ford van in 1976.
So what would I do different?
I would have gone in 1976 to some van runs and found out,
like here, what they look like inside
and what to do with the inside,
'cause ours was a blank screen type thing.
And we put interior in it on our own
and then we went to van events in '78
and found out, oh we should have done this,
or we should have done that.
The best thing to do is go with a blank screen
and see what to do.
That's the easiest way to find out.
Make it yours, but you can pick up ideas here or there.
- [Sergei] Thank you so much, Ma.
- So the van rally just finished.
That was literally my first ever van event.
And I have to say,
I'm blown away by how genuine people were,
how excited they were.
I realized at the event that even though
I'm in the van realm on YouTube, and I make van videos,
doing stuff on the internet by yourself puts you in a vacuum
and you never really get to be part of the community
if you only do that.
For anything, whether that be vans
or surfboarding or skateboarding or whatever,
I don't think you can really be part of the community
unless you go out and meet people that do the same thing,
and actually shake their hand
and look inside their vans.
That's really what makes that connection,
what makes that tight knit.
In this video I really want to get to the bottom
of why vans are trending.
Some would say why they're resurfacing,
because they were a thing in the '70s.
And I keep attributing it to this one thing,
is it an economic reason.
Is it adventure.
What I think I'm gonna learn in this documentary
is that it's all of the above.
The van package is just too good to pass up.
It's a truck, it's an RV, it's a passenger car all in one.
It allows you to be very adventurous, it saves you money.
It's all of the above.
So that's my new hypothesis moving forward.
Next we're heading to the Grand Tetons to do more research
at the Vanlife Diaries meet up.
(light instrumental music)
This is why Sprinters rock.
We got to a place kind of late.
We didn't have to set up any tents.
We just hopped in the back, over there, and we fell asleep.
And then we woke up in the morning
and we didn't have to take down any tents.
We just hopped in the van, which we were already in,
and we're off.
Okay, check it out you guys.
There's the van.
And we're gonna walk right over here.
♪ Dun du-dun, du-dun du-dun, du-dun du-dun ♪
And there's a nice little river.
But when you feel it, it's hot.
It's a hot spring river.
There's the van.
Here's our campsite.
Hot spring river.
So when you're making breakfast in nature
you always want to look around you
because you might just find some wild growing vegetables.
This right here is wild onion.
The easiest way to identify an onion is by the smell.
All onions smell the same, just like a store-bought onion.
And today we're just gonna harvest a few for our meal
and we're only gonna harvest the top.
We're gonna leave the roots intact
so as not to disturb the plant too much.
The seeds and fruits of a plant are natures gift
to the creature, to the animal, to the human.
And so it's okay to take a couple,
throw them in your meal,
and it also makes your meal more nutritious
because they grow in top soil that hasn't been depleted.
Their root systems are longer,
so they're like nature's super food.
Okay, update time.
So Kiley and I are driving in the van,
we're heading to the Vanlife Diaries van festival
in Victor, Idaho.
But I've been texting on the phone
with Dave and Diane from Aluminess this entire time,
and they just agreed to sit down with me
and give me an interview.
So what this means is we have to divert a little bit.
And by a little bit I mean like three to 500 miles
out of our way.
If you're not familiar with Aluminess,
they are a premium company that manufactures
racks and ladders for trucks and vans.
Dave and Diane have been doing this for many many years,
they know all the ins and outs of van life,
and this is an opportunity that I just can't pass up.
So this means that we are probably not gonna be
sleeping much in the next couple days
because we now have to veer north to Coeur d'Alene,
which is a few hundred miles out of our way.
Then we're gonna have to veer south
back to our original destination, which is Victor, Idaho.
But you know what, I don't even care
because this is an incredible opportunity and
I just didn't think I'd get it, whoo!
- So, you wanted to know a little bit about the van life
and stuff, so I thought I'd take you back to what I think
is kind of at least a decent starting point,
and that is the Volkswagen camper van.
And so that was around for people to actually
go camp in a van way back in the '60s I believe.
I'm not sure exactly the first year.
But a gentleman, Charles and his dad started a company
called Sportsmobile, in I believe Austin, Texas.
They also had a shop in Indiana
and they scaled way up with Volkswagen,
and then West Valley came on the picture,
or was on there as well,
and then they started doing Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and so on.
So that was kind of where the whole van thing originally
was in my mind started, and then in about oh,
'91 or '92 a gentleman Alan Feld,
who actually owns Sportsmobile West,
he had worked for me when he was 20 years old
in a stockroom at a medical device company.
And he went on to do some other things beyond that,
and one was sales, and he ran into a sportsmobile,
which was a van converted to a motor home,
a class B motor home they call them,
and he felt he wanted one.
And he found out he had to go to Texas to get one.
And so he thought it'd be a great idea to do a franchise
or something in California, and Charles,
who was the one who started that, or owned it at the time,
was not interested, didn't want to scale up again,
didn't want anything to do with another business.
Would just like to have his little shop down there
and build four or five a month and that was it.
And so Alan asked me to go with him down there
to talk to him and see if we could talk him into it.
So we grabbed on a plane and went down there
and Charles changed his tone after talking to both of us
and said okay, and gave us a go ahead.
I chose not to do it with Alan mainly because
I didn't want to lose a friend over stuff,
and I'd done a big business for a group
of open heart surgeons that, you know,
I just don't want to get involved in that kind of stuff.
So anyway, over the years Alan basically
started making these vans out of Chevies and Fords,
and then he started looking more at the younger people.
Prior to that it was kind of a retirement van.
People would retire, get one of these,
go see the national parks, stay in a hotel once in a while,
but they had some camp, and you know,
small camping capability but not a big motor home.
So Alan started putting the big tires on,
and hey you can go out in the back country and so on.
And then he got a company called Quigley Motor Company
to convert some to four-wheel drive.
Quigley Motor Company's back in Manchester, Pennsylvania.
And so they started making them four-wheel drives for him,
send him out an empty van four-wheel drive,
he'd convert it to the whole pop top version
like the one you saw out front.
And then after about two years all of a sudden
there was a problem with four-wheel drive,
the front ends were all worn out, they were shaking,
they were causing problems, brakes were squeaking and so on.
And they argued back and forth about the problem,
whose problem it was and who was gonna fix it.
And actually Quigley, Mike Quigley back east,
canceled all the warranties on all the customers,
sent them all a letter.
Alan happened to call me up, 'cause I build the street rods
and said, just tell me how to fix it.
He's really good on the marketing
and customer service and sales and so on,
but I'm kind of the nuts and bolts nut.
And so I went up there and took some apart,
and flew back east, worked with Mike Quigley,
we redesigned the front end and so on.
But one of the issues was, they were putting
these steel bumpers that were mainly used on farms
for pushing combines and stuff around
that weighed three, 400 pounds,
and the guy's doing, you know, 15, 30 miles an hour
kind of thing.
And so they were tearing up the front end
as well as some other issues that we solved.
So I tried to get his suppliers
to make them out of aluminum.
They were quite rude about what type of a
less than intelligent person
would make something out of aluminum.
If you wanted a beer can or Japanese pot metal,
go see Coors or Budweiser.
So next thing you know I'm in my driveway
with a sheet of aluminum and a saw and a welder
and I'm mumbling about those guys
'cause I'm trying to tell them that fighter jets
land at full throttle on a carrier
and that's lightweight material, and it's all about design.
So I made some and took it up and Sportsmobile liked it.
I was retired at the time, so I could do that.
Then I went and found a guy down on the boat docks
that could weld way better than I could,
manipulate aluminum a lot better than I did.
And so I just would buy all the material, take it to him,
all cut out and so on, he'd weld them up,
I'd take them up to Fresno from San Diego,
drop them off and then after that it just grew.
And then I just started adding more items,
nerf bars, rear bumpers, roof racks,
ladders, that kind of thing.
We started building these things actually in the parking lot
of a sports fishing company with one guy,
and then I got 800 square feet, then 1000, then 2000,
then 3000, 5000, 10,000, we're up to 30,000 feet now.
And we bring people on and
teach them how we want to do the product.
We design it for the features and benefits
that we think, or that we get feedback from our customers.
Many of our customers are depicted in these drawings here,
They find out a way to break it, or something it doesn't do,
and they get a few arrows in their back,
and so we invite them back in and we replace it or fix it,
or evolve it.
So that's kind of our philosophy is to try and make
the best product out there.
And the reason for the aluminum is one, it's lightweight,
and so it doesn't take up the suspension that you need
when you're going off road.
Whereas if you compress that suspension,
now you're back to zero,
even if you spend a lot of money to improve it.
- [Sergei] Okay, now you're in the hot seat.
Why are vans booming, what's your assessment?
- The new vans, one are much more efficient,
so they can get up in the area of 20 miles per gallon.
They have a lot more room, they have a lot more features.
Whereas the previous vans were really pretty tight.
And when you get two people in those,
there's not much room to get around and so on.
But in the Sprinter van, and the Transit van and stuff,
you can get different lengths,
so you can get a lot more gear in there.
And people are wanting to take
more and more stuff with them.
So it accommodates more of their toys and their pleasures
of kayaks and bicycles and motorcycles
and that kind of thing.
I think that they are more versatile,
they're more economical,
you're going from 10 miles to the gallon to close to 20,
and the longevity.
You know, back early on,
I'm an old guy, vehicles lasted 80, 90,000 miles.
And now, a Mercedes van has got a track record of going
four or 500,000 miles.
So even though they're much more expensive,
the cost for the life is a lot less.
- [Sergei] How 'bout the types of people that you're seeing.
Is it young people, old people, or like a big mix?
Who would you say your average customer is?
- On a personal opinion basis, I would believe that
our customer base is younger now
because the original van market,
I always labeled it as the blue hairs.
These people are retired, and they want to now go out
and see the great old U.S. of A.,
and they got these vans that they would camp in.
They were two-wheel drive, pretty basic,
and it allowed them to go to national parks and things.
Today, it's the youth, the sports-minded
who's taking their mountain bikes and their kayaks
and their surfboards.
Mexico's a great wonderland and I would say,
the big market we had early on
were teachers and fire fighters who had the time off
and could explore further beyond the pavement.
So a lot of people that went to Mexico surfing, fishing,
that kind of thing, a lot of people that went
off-roading and to the desert and so on.
(bright upbeat instrumental music)
- [Sergei] Bring the hits.
- [Josiah] There we go.
- [Sergei] You must be from Portland.
- Nah, I'm from San Francisco, I'm not from Portland.
I'm a God damn San, wait wait wait for I'll go in with you,
I'll go with you too, come on, yeah.
Here you go, cheers guys.
- [Woman] I just wanted to get closer to the fire.
(uptempo electronic music)
- My name's Matt Swartz and I'm one half
of The Van Project.
Sort of a social media community blog,
that my girlfriend Amanda and I run.
We drive a 1964 Clark Cortez motor home.
We ended up finding a small RV,
but we still kind of refer to it as a van,
it kind of feels like a van to us.
And we've been on the road for a little over a year now.
Our home is our vehicle, and we're not tied down.
So we can go wherever we want, and we do.
We've been all over the Southwest this winter
and now we're here in Idaho.
- My name is Marcella Garofalo
and this is our little trailer.
- And my name is Taz Darian.
We chose to go with a trailer as opposed to a van
because we have the flexibility of leaving our home
at the campground or wherever we decide to stay
and go explore in our vehicle.
- [Marcella] Living with less you actually live more.
In that you have the freedom to not be tied down
by things and confined in a box, essentially,
dealing with all these possessions.
You really don't need much.
- You don't.
People think bigger is better, more is better,
but in reality traveling full time in our little trailer
has taught us to minimize.
We actually ended up going home briefly
just to get rid of half of our gear
'cause we really didn't need that much.
You just need the simple necessities
to survive, like the basic needs really to be comfortable.
And actually living this way teaches you what you truly need
to be comfortable and, I don't know,
you're working with the elements more.
We don't have running water, we don't have a bathroom
but it kind of teaches you to appreciate
the things that you took for granted
when you did have all those things.
- [Josh] I'm Josh, and we're driving
a 1987 Vanagon Westfalia.
- So I'm Jen, and we've been on the road
for about three weeks, we're planning to
be on the road for many months coming up.
We're going up to Alaska and hopefully
all the way down to Patagonia after that.
- She's an '82 Vanagon Westfalia.
And I got it a couple years ago.
I had wanted one for a long time,
and was just, it was lime green, and that was it.
Saw it, and I was like, yeah that's the one.
- Sprinter was always the best option for us.
We wanted a four-wheel drive,
we wanted the diesel for the gas mileage,
and we wanted standing room height in the van.
- I think most people that do van life,
they really love the idea of sustainability
and being off grid and minimalism.
You can't help but think of all of those things
when you think of a Tesla, right, zero emissions,
it's small, they're also very sleek and minimal.
And I love cars and it's sexy as hell, so how could you not?
Living in a zero emission vehicle
has offset my carbon footprint immensely
and it feels great every day.
Not just driving, but living in it.
- My name is Seven Grey and I am driving a step van.
This is a 1996 Grumman Olson step van.
A lot of people confuse a step van with a box truck.
Box trucks are typically a cab separate front
and that can either be a van front
of a traditional truck front
with a big square rectangular box on the back.
Step vans are more like bread trucks or UPS or FedEx trucks.
The front doors are sliding doors, they slide into pockets.
And also they have steps right on the passenger side,
which is where they get their name.
So there's just a bunch of steps
and I'm sitting on the steps right now.
I had a number of criteria for my vehicle,
and one of those was primarily head room.
I'm nearly six foot six,
and a Sprinter van maxes out at about six foot three,
and I didn't want to walk around
with my head tilting all the time.
So I needed a vehicle that was tall enough for me
and in my price range.
I didn't want to finance it, I wanted to pay cash.
And they're built for industrial use.
Like the engine in this particular vehicle,
a Cummins 5.9, is built for a million miles
because it's an industrial engine.
I bought it with 10,000 miles on it.
That means I've got 990,000 miles of potential use.
- We drive a 2006 Sprinter 3500 Dually.
We got married in November 2016.
But we were living in Denver, had a great life,
everything was awesome, and I think we could
just kind of extrapolate out the next 15 years,
and see what like normal life was gonna be for us,
and it scared us both a little bit
and so we started thinking about trips we could go on,
just like things that we could do to change things up.
Started getting involved in the van life community
through Instagram and then one Saturday afternoon
we just kind of sat down, got out a spreadsheet,
and like actually built out the whole thing.
Like, okay, could we make this work financially on the road,
what would van life look like,
and then exactly 10 days later we bought a van.
(funky upbeat music)
- In 2016 we gave up our house, put everything in storage
and we started traveling in a truck and trailer
because it was a fairly easy transition from a house
to a trailer, it was 300 square feet
and we could convince our 17 year old daughter
that it'd be a good idea.
After traveling for about a year in the truck and trailer
we realized that we were limited as far as where we could go
and what we could see, and we started brainstorming
as to what we wanted to do and how we wanted things to look
and a smaller space was not that big of a transition for us.
And we started looking around and we wanted something that
would accommodate all of us comfortably,
we'd all have our beds, except for the two of us,
and we could stand in.
And was good on gas because our truck and trailer was not.
So we gravitated towards the Sprinter van.
Because of the space and the height.
- Quick tour on the van.
Biggest, I guess struggle, was to figure out
how to put five of us in here.
So one of the big things that we came up with
is kind of a bunk bed system for the boys.
This platform folds out,
allowing Josiah to have a bed down below.
And then we got this bed here that will kind of pull up
into the ceiling, lock in on the walls,
pull up on some straps in the front,
and that's basically Samuel's bed.
So that's how we hold the two boys in there.
This is where the kids travel,
there are seat belts in there.
That was a big concern for a lot of people
that we weren't gonna keep our kids safe.
So seat belts in there, storage throughout the bottom.
This will slide out, allowing Sarah to have
an almost twin kind of bed system.
I guess in the back we have a full size RV
queen bed for both me and Tracy.
It also doubles as kind of our lounge area
when it was movie night.
Or when the kids need to stretch out.
It's Tracy's favorite place to basically
slide some pillows up, kick the doors open in the morning,
I make her a cup of coffee and she takes in the view
wherever we happen to be calling home that day.
Fabbed up this aluminum shelf.
Runs the full length of the van,
allowing each of us to have two bins each for our clothes.
If you can't fit it in the bin it wasn't allowed on the van.
- I'm 67 now,
but in my late teens and early 20s
I spent a lot of time hitchhiking around the country.
Then settled down, but I knew that I wanted to travel again
and hitchhiking it later on was not that great.
So I always wanted to do a van.
So we kind of eventually found a van that we liked,
converted it, spent our maiden voyage about five years ago
going through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming,
and then back home to northern New York.
And it worked out fairly well.
- [Sergei] Sylvie, what's it like to live with Rich
on the road?
- I would say that 90% of the time,
it's incredibly comfortable,
and I never thought I would be able to say that
because sharing a very small space is very difficult.
But we really are very comfortable with one another,
we listen to one another, we give each other space.
We know how to move around one another, so it's been great.
It really has.
And those little rough moments, we work them out.
- So we were just talking about how and why we're in a van,
and we have no idea.
Like, I really wanted to, I saw stuff on the internet
and I was like, that'd be super rad.
And then I pitched it to her and she was like, nah.
And then like a month later or something, she was like,
actually we should do that.
And so then the next week we went and bought a van
and then started building it, and so.
And never really looked back, we never really questioned it,
it was weird.
- Sit down.
- [Sergei] Julia, what's it like to have two little ones
in the van?
- It's challenging, but--
- Good example right now.
They're very active, but I think it'll be good
once we can be outside more
and we're in more even temperatures.
- Which may never happen.
- Yeah, may never happen, we'll see.
(upbeat musical interlude)
- My reason for living small has to do with
I want to reduce my environmental footprint
and I felt that when I was living in the city
I had a hard time conceptualizing how much I was using.
And so van life was a way for me to cut back
on my water use, my electricity, connect with nature.
And play a bigger role in being an environmental steward.
And I think it's definitely done that.
I've been more aware.
I live more intentionally.
And through my social media I try to encourage people
to do the same.
Even small things, even if they're not living in a van.
And next month, July,
I am gonna be part of a 30 day plastic free challenge,
and I'm encouraging the van life community
to be a part of that as well.
And so it's a step in the direction
of trying to make some change,
and I think together as a community if we all change
we can have a really big impact.
- I personally think there's like
a minimalism movement, sort of.
And I think that as that catches on
more people are realizing that stuff
really doesn't make them happy.
And it's like the experiences that you have
that make you happy, at least for us, that I've realized.
And so having not very much stuff
helps you to not be distracted from the things in your life.
And instead focus on the experiences that you can have,
and the memories that you can create.
- Amanda and I were living in San Francisco.
We were both freelancing
and we had been doing a bunch of traveling.
We took a three and a half month trip
to South America together,
and did the whole west coast of the country.
And when we got back to San Francisco
and were living on our freelancer income,
it felt like a tough balance to strike there.
The cost of living was really high.
And just the amount of hustle that needed to happen
to exist there in a comfortable financial state
was just more than we wanted to do.
You know, it was the threshold between
just constantly working versus doing something
that we really loved and having some free time to ourselves,
it felt like the balance was off
much more in the direction of looking for work
and being concerned about that, so.
We love to travel and we had this crazy idea.
Not too crazy, really, but we said,
why don't we look for a van and see how that could work out.
That was pretty much it,
cost of living in San Francisco, man,
it'll make you do some crazy stuff.
- You know, I think exploration is,
as a feature of the human species, is kind of the thing that
is maybe one of the best parts of who we are
and I don't know I think a certain group of people
are tapping into that and not everyone can go to the moon
but damn it you can drive out to the middle of nowhere
in Bears Ears and watch the sunrise over the Colorado River
and have your soul filled.
There's some weird jolt of serotonin and endorphins
that I think feeds some of the better instincts
of our species in it, and so.
I don't know, maybe it's an expression of a good thing
in the species, where, yeah that's about as much as I have.
About as far as I've thought through it.
I try not to over think it.
Just keep going with what feels healthy.
(upbeat instrumental interlude)
- Right now, how I make some side money
in order to support myself to some degree is Lyft driving.
And with minimal maintenance
it makes it relatively beneficial,
especially versus gasoline cars.
And that's kind of how I'm trying to get by for now
until hopefully something
- I guess we're seasonal van lifers, so we spend the winters
working, and thinking about the summers doing this.
It's good motivation to get through work.
- So I'm an acupuncturist.
I also have a health navigation-slash-coaching business
called Evolve Personal Wellness.
And I'm always looking for clients who are really looking
to make long-term changes
that they might have struggled with in the past.
- When I was actually an undergrad
I started an education company called Learn Fresh.
It's actually a non-profit and we partnered with the NBA
and made a fun math game for elementary
and middle school students.
So we work across 30 states, about 35,000 students
on a weekly basis, and our whole team is remote.
Not as remote-remote as we are, but we're spread out
across the country, we're a distributed company.
When I had this idea, brought it to my board,
shared it with some other staff members,
and they said, "Well as long as you can still
"get to the place where you need to fly to for work,
"it shouldn't be a problem."
And so I'm really fortunate that I can work
wherever there's Wi-Fi.
I do have to travel a bit for work,
and kind of leave her doing the solo thing with our puppy.
But yeah, that's been really great for us.
- One of the places that I lived for a while
was over in Taiwan, and while I was in Taiwan,
not to be confused with Thailand,
Taiwan has a very very low cost of living.
You can live there, I had an apartment $100 a month,
included a scooter and internet.
But you can live in places like Taipei
for three or $400 a month and then eat out every day.
What's unique about Taiwan is
if you have a bachelor's degree
from Canada or the United States,
you are guaranteed a job teaching English over there,
20 hours a week and you can earn about $30,000 a year.
And then your cost of living,
just a few hundred dollars a month,
you can put $25,000 a year in a bank account.
And my idea was to save up a couple of years
working over there and buy rental properties.
And so if you can get two or three rental properties
you can live easily in a van for 500 to $1000 a month
and you can retire by age 30, 35,
and just travel the world, travel in a van,
and never have to work again.
So that's my advice to people who are fairly young
is to go that route so you don't have to slave away
in a cubicle for your entire life.
(upbeat musical interlude)
- The biggest non-glamorous part of van life
is sometimes the isolation and, you know,
solitude's a good thing,
but isolation can be a little bit weird.
'Cause sometimes it is just you and your van.
You've got your, I like to call it your,
almost like your disposable relationships,
which might be a cynical way to look at it,
but your friends you make for a few days
and then you're off on the road again.
Sometimes that can be really beautiful
and you make life-long friends,
but sometimes it's very transient.
- I'm really longing for some long-term connections.
And I think this community really offers it.
These gatherings are a great way to make those connections.
But life on the road is about impermanence, and spontaneity,
and that can be a little bit of a struggle at times.
So I like the idea of resting in between travels, and
doing it as often as I can,
but also just really connecting with people
and my surroundings a little bit more.
- While it opens up a lot of opportunities,
you also lose out on a lot of opportunities.
You have to say no to a lot of relationships.
Or have someone be very understanding,
or a lot of the couples you see out here
have a lot of the same wants.
I think for me
what would get me out of it is an opportunity
that I want to say yes to that gets me out of it.
- I think there's several different classifications
of people that are doing the van life.
There's those that are choosing to do that,
and they're very actively engaged in the world around them,
either with employment and income,
the way they dress, the way they take care of themselves,
the way they interact with others.
Those people I think flourish and do very well
walking into Starbucks or into
any retail establishment or going to gatherings.
I think the ones that struggle
are the people that are forced into van life
without a choice who maybe have difficulties
engaging with others and being socially interactive
on a way that's not confrontational.
And I think these people would struggle
whether they're in a van or living in an apartment
or in a house, it doesn't really matter.
It's just that they're forced into a van.
And those particular individuals I think struggle a lot
in the van life world and relating with what we call
sticks and bricks people that judge them.
And maybe they view it as being judged for living in a van
but I think it's probably not, it's due to
differences in attitudes and maybe the social,
I don't know what the word is, the social ability to
relate and be able to communicate effectively with others
and they just are not able to integrate with society,
and the van is irrelevant,
it just happens to be where they're at.
(upbeat musical interlude)
There's two factors that are lending themselves to van life
and the popularity of van life.
One is the internet and the digital age.
We now have really good information infrastructure
with Wi-Fi hotspots and internet access,
which allows you to have location independence,
ability to work wherever you want.
They've coined a term a few years ago
called the digital nomad.
Now we have all these digital nomads
that are traveling the world,
but some of them want to have a place to put more stuff,
they don't really want to be as minimalist as a backpack.
So they can still live a minimalist lifestyle
and combine that with the digital nomad.
So that's the second factor is minimalism.
- One of the reasons why van life is booming is
that people are just kind of
saying no to this false dichotomy of having to separate
life and earning money from having fun
and enjoying and doing the things that you love, right.
And so more and more and more people
are trying to bring everything together
into one holistic life that is fun and adventurous
and also hopefully works for your financially.
In this day and age so much of what we want to experience is
like out there, far out there,
and then also there's a lot of like digital experiences,
right, and so when you bring those two things together,
like being anchored in a place
is less valuable to our generation.
- I mean, I think a lot of people get into it because
of the financial difference.
Like, compared to renting a house or owning a house,
and it depends where you live,
but can be astronomically more expensive.
If you want to be able to live without the need
to make all that money, it gives you that freedom.
- Or even people like us who really,
this is like how we vacation.
If we didn't have a van and we had to book hotels
and eat out every night, or for every meal,
we wouldn't be able to go the places that we have been
or be away from home for weeks and weeks at a time.
So it's a way for us to be able to see
as much of our country as we can with our budget.
- My take is that alternative lifestyles
are really the thing that people are exploring these days.
And the van life is one alternative lifestyle.
And I think financial reasons is I think an important one
and freedom is an important one.
And just the ability to just go out there and explore
and kind of break loose for a while
is really important to a segment of the population.
And I think it's great, I really do.
I think there's so many ways of living your life.
And the van life is one way.
- I think the biggest thing is just the freedom
to be a creative individual and not feel the pressure
of having to earn this big income to afford a house.
I think that's really appealing to people right now,
and I think especially people our age,
in their 30s, 20s, anyone.
This is independent of age, but people are re-evaluating
what success means, and they're finding
that they can be happy and feel successful with less.
And this is one way to do that.
- [Woman] (mumbles) like broke something.
- Here Heaths.
- Hold my beer. - Hold my beer.
- [Man] Hey y'all, watch this.
- [Man] Whoa, whoa whoa whoa.
- [Woman] Uh-oh.
- Here's a quick check in after the Vanlife Diaries festival
that we went to in Victor, Idaho.
We had a fantastic time, interviewed a bunch of people,
I collected 23 interviews throughout the weekend,
which was a large sample size of the people there.
And the verdict is, different strokes for different folks.
A lot of people come to van life
for various different reasons,
whether that be financial, or adventure,
and it seems like the driving force for all of them,
a theme that keeps coming out is freedom,
freedom from something.
Freedom from bills, paying for rent.
Or freedom to adventure, some form of freedom.
Another pattern that I noticed in my interviews is that
typically people seem to be doing the van life thing
full-time for about a year and a half.
There are people that just started
and there are people that have certainly done it longer,
but it seemed like a year and a half was kind of the mark
people were hitting before they craved stability.
In my mind, I sort of drew a parallel
between living the van life and traveling,
'cause a lot of times people when they go traveling,
they can keep that going for X amount of time
and then they crave just being back in a stable place.
So a conclusion I came to surrounding that was that
people really do use van life as a way to see the country.
Maybe they get out of college or high school,
they buy a van, and it's just an inexpensive way
to cruise around, see the southern United States,
the northern, check out the Pacific Northwest,
and really get to know this country in depth.
In the wake of the festival Kiley and I have been
talking about it repeatedly that we just want to travel more
and make more time to be out in nature.
(upbeat instrumental music)
Camp grounds are all booked.
And I'd really hate to be in a tent right about now.
This is one of the magic parts of owning a van
because you could get the best of both worlds.
It's like having a cabin on wheels.
You could choose to camp if you want to in a tent,
but when the weather is absolutely awful,
when it's pissing rain and hailing,
you can take shelter in your turtle shell.
- Those buffalo were awesome.
(rhythmic instrumental music)
So far this summer, we've interviewed dozens of van lifers,
people who live in their vans.
We want to go ahead and switch it up a little bit
to get company's perspectives,
so businesses who may be affected by this van life boom.
We want to see if they've seen an increase in sales,
who's buying their products,
and what they make out of all this.
- After a quick stop at home, in Tacoma, Washington,
where we backed up our footage
and made sure that it looked good, woohoo!
We hit the road again to interview some van companies.
We plotted a course south to Fresno, California
to interview Sportsmobile West owner Alan Feld
and his son Jonathan.
Alan is in part responsible for the camper van
as we know it today.
He's seen all the ins and outs of vans
as they've ebbed and flowed throughout the years,
and thus Kiley and I thought he'd have
some valuable insight to share.
- Okay, welcome to Sportsmobile,
and this is how it all started here.
This is a 1965 Volkswagen.
We actually started the company in 1961
converting Volkswagens into little campers.
And then in the mid '60s we actually went from Volkswagens
to Ford, Chevy, and Dodges, and that's what we're doing now
along with the Mercedes Sprinters.
In 1965 in our government's wonderful wisdom
they put a tariff on these vehicles from Germany,
it's called the Chicken Tax.
I guess the Europeans weren't buying chickens from us
in the '60s so in retaliation
we put a tax on utility vehicles.
And the little van got caught up in that.
And I think back in '65 this van was like $1800 brand new.
And they put a $400 tariff on it.
So we sent one of our kits,
camper kits to a company in Germany called Westfalia.
And you guys are too young, but if you remembered
in the older vans the tops all went straight up and down,
those are all Sportsmobiles.
Just like our tops now on the Fords and the Sprinters
go straight up and down, we have a patent on that.
And then Volkswagen tops all tilted.
And they did that to get around our patent.
Started bringing the vans in from Europe
to get around the utility tariff because now they were RVs
they weren't utility vehicles.
So back then we lost all our supply of Volkswagens
and our sales were all through Volkswagen America.
So we lost our, you know, parts coming in,
and our distribution all went away.
So we went to Ford, Chevy, and Dodge,
and we have sold direct since 1965.
So these are all service vans back here.
I mean, that is a really old Dodge right there,
it's a 1980-something probably, maybe early '90s.
And they brought it in to have something repaired,
something replaced, add something, add solar panels.
That one's from Montana, that one's from Colorado.
In 2015 Ford discontinued the Econoline van.
And the Ford Econoline was kind of our claim to fame.
We did a lot of four-wheel drive conversions and everything
and when they discontinued it, we're like oh my gosh,
what are we gonna do.
And luckily Mercedes came out with their four-wheel drive
that same year.
So that kind of saved us,
but people still wanted the Econoline
because of the articulation,
the towing capacity is 10,000 pounds.
So Ford is gonna make what they call their Cutaways
for the next eight to 10 years,
and they're making them for the motor home market,
the ambulance market, and the U-Haul
is one of their biggest customers.
So what we do is we get this Econoline like this
which the good news is it's half price.
The bad news is you get what you pay for.
And there's not a whole lot there.
- [Kiley] And then you guys have to build
the whole back part.
- [Alan] We're building the whole body on the back end.
- [Kiley] Ah.
- So again, if you look this one's got cherry wood,
this one's got the white wood.
This one's got the dark,
and we have all different kinds of colors, and show room.
So we just signed a new deal with a company back east
called Quigley Motors.
Which is this van here, this is a Ford Transit,
which is not made by Ford with the four-wheel drive.
So Quigley is converting these for us
for four-wheel drive now
because some people want the Ford Transit,
they want a gas engine versus a diesel engine.
One of the issues with the diesel engines
is we sell to a lot of people
that like to do international travel.
Well with the ultra-low sulfur American diesel standards,
you can go to Baja now, because there are some gas stations
down there that do have the ultra-low sulfur,
but mainland Mexico doesn't have it.
There's a lot of countries in central and south America
that don't have it.
So a lot of people need a gas engine
to go international travel.
Okay, well this is our classic.
So that one there is four inches narrower on the inside.
This is our one that's fiberglass on the back
that we just built.
And again, we have the same box here, silverware,
this all flips out, flips down.
And this has got the light oak in it, it's got a little
microwave in it.
- [Sergei] Absolutely gorgeous.
- [Woman] How are ya, love?
- Now my wife and I have this one with a pop top
and we sleep up all the time except in two situations.
The first one, if it's really cold outside,
we'll camp like this, but when we go to bed at night
we'll lower the top because now the furnace is heating
half the space and it's way more efficient.
And the other time we sleep down below
is when we're stealth camping.
At the Ahwahnee, the Hilton, the Hyatt and the Marriott,
we don't put the top up, we don't put the awning out,
and I don't barbecue outside.
And nobody knows you're sleeping in it.
- [Kiley] Yeah.
- But like Apple, we sell to a lot of people
from Apple and Google because the cost of living
in the Bay Area is so high.
And they're staying on those campuses in their vehicles.
Get up in the morning and go to work,
I mean, they've got cafeterias there,
they got gyms, they got showers.
We sell to a lot of doctors
that have to be on call, they have to be on the hospital.
In fact, Clovis Community here has hookups.
And they're 50 feet from the front door
but they've got their own bedding.
People aren't slamming doors all the time
and turning lights on.
- Interesting, I didn't even think about that.
- Yeah, a lot of traveling nurses,
a lot of traveling radiologists that travel
and sit on other people's businesses
while they go on vacation or at seminars and stuff.
They're living out of their vans.
Because they have everything with them.
My red van, my wife calls it my man purse.
And every time we go somewhere she goes, let's take the car.
I go, I want to take the van
because I have everything with me.
I don't care if the hotels are booked
because I've got a bed.
I don't care if the restaurants are closed
because I have my own refrigerator, I have my own food.
And the best thing is, we have a portable toilet
and I can actually get from here to San Diego
45 minutes faster 'cause I don't have to stop three times.
I do slow to 55. - Yeah.
- But I don't have to pull over,
every time you pull over it's 15 minutes.
- Van life has grown exponentially.
I don't know if I could put a number on it,
but it's easily doubled, tripled.
I mean, probably more than that.
I don't know if I have really a percentage number
to quantify things, but massive.
I mean, it has just been massive.
And just in our business and nearby businesses,
and people who are involved in selling parts for vans.
I mean, every industry involved with vans
just seems to be blowing up.
There are definitely different reasons for every individual
why they choose the van life.
I think the biggest one is adventure.
They see the possibilities, and a lot of our customers
are into the outdoors.
I get people that ask me all the time,
who is buying these things?
I mean, they see this factory full,
I tell them we're a year and a half, and they're like,
who in the world is buying all these things?
And it's like, everyone that is interested in the outdoors.
Do you like cycling, do you like skiing,
do you like photography, do you like mountain climbing?
Anything that's gonna take you out of the city
and into the outdoors, and I can even go further than that,
I mean people stealth camp in the city,
they'll go tailgating.
They'll use these as just kind of road trip vehicles
to take their buddies to Vegas.
So there's not just like one individual reason
to get in a van, I mean, there's just a multitude.
People use them mobile dog grooming.
There's just a million applications
that a van just fits really nicely into.
(sweet instrumental music)
- [Sergei] In August and September we visited more companies
operating within the van realm.
We drove up to DECKED, a business that makes pullout drawers
for trucks and vans.
We went to see VerdiRack, a company that produces
ladders and surf racks for commercial vehicles.
We spoke to Prime Design, a van accessories brand.
And Road Shower, the pioneer of pressurized
outdoor road showers for adventure vehicles.
I even flew out to the east coast
to Manchester, Pennsylvania,
to interview Mike and Todd Quigley
from the Quigley Motor Company about why vans are popping.
Time and again we heard the same things.
Business is up, vans are trending,
social media is propelling the movement forward,
and vans are booming because they offer people
freedom and adventure in a one-size-fits-all package.
Curious to know more about how and why social media
has latched on to #vanlife,
I reached out to several popular internet personas
to get a better grasp on what's going on.
I was particularly curious how real van life
differs from that which you see on Instagram.
- My name's Kristen Bor, I run the outdoor adventure blog
where I share information about the outdoors
and try to help people build the skillset they need
to have a good time outside.
I also write about van life.
I love having the van.
It just makes it so much easier to work from the road
and get my job done and be able to maintain my career
while still having the flexibility to travel.
Van life has obviously exploded over the last few years
but I think people have been doing this for a very long time
but with Instagram and the internet
just more and more people are finding out
that this is a possibility.
And I think also the internet has made it easier for people
to take their careers online and be able to work remotely.
Which makes living in a van full-time more viable for people
because they can actually continue to explore
their career passions while also traveling.
I do think Instagram
has a tendency to romanticize van life.
People are only showing the prettiest pictures.
Of super clean, tidy van,
which is really unrealistic actually.
My van is a mess all the time because
you're living in such a small space.
And I think also it can be tough two people in a van.
So if one person likes it and the other doesn't
that can be hard to reconcile.
And you really have to communicate a lot.
So I think for people who are doing it as a couple
I think they get in to the van and it maybe challenges
their relationship in ways that maybe they didn't expect.
I also think you're making decisions all the time.
What are you gonna eat, where are you gonna camp,
what are you gonna do?
I think constant decision making can be really challenging
for people who are used to just waking up, going to job,
being told what to do.
And then all of a sudden you come to the van
and you have like so many decisions that you have to make.
That can be hard for people.
And I think, you know,
you're not always staying at like a beautiful campsite.
A lot of times you're staying either at a campground
or a Walmart, or on the side of the road,
and it's not necessarily what people show on Instagram,
these beautiful campsites.
There's some of that, but there's also
like not beautiful campsites.
And I think sometimes people have these expectations
about like what van life's gonna be and that every day
is gonna be like the most exciting day of your life,
where there's a lot of mundane also.
You spend a lot of time driving,
you spend a lot of time looking for good campsites,
and so I think that like some people
like the challenges that come with it,
and thrive in those environments, and others don't.
And so when that sort of,
when faced with those challenges, it causes stress,
and that's not the point of being out here.
If you get a van and all you are is stressed,
then that's not really, you know, fun.
- [Sergei] One thing that I just thought of
as you were talking.
So, maybe the part of the Instagram appeal
is this carefree life.
- [Kristen] Mm-hmm.
- [Sergei] And then when you get in a van you realize
well life is still not problem free, you have to find water,
you have to find a place to bunk up for the night.
You got to figure out what the hell
you're gonna do every day.
So would it be fair to say that
you just trade in one set of responsibilities for another.
You don't absolve yourself of responsibility.
- Oh, yeah, I mean, yeah.
I think there's a lot to think about when you're out here.
I mean, we were just in Seattle,
and like there's nowhere to park that feels really
all that comfortable in Seattle, so you're in this cool city
and you want to go explore,
but then where are you gonna park.
So I think there's just always things
that are on the back of your mind when you're traveling.
There are tons of responsibility that come with a van.
I think cleaning a van is easier than cleaning a house
but it's not like you just,
I don't think it's as carefree and,
it doesn't free you from some of the stresses
that you face in daily life.
Yeah, so I don't want to make it seem like
it's all negative.
I love the opportunities that van life
has presented me with, but in terms of just
kind of thinking about some of the challenges
that maybe you don't see on the internet
and that people aren't always talking about,
and maybe what causes some people to quit
like a month or two in that they maybe didn't expect,
I think that's just some of,
some of the causes I think that may
not sit well with people once they're actually out here.
- [Sergei] Is van life here to stay,
or is it a trend that will, is fleeting?
- I think van life's here to stay.
I mean, people have been doing it since like way back when,
when people traveled in VW buses,
and now I think it is more,
it's a more accessible lifestyle to anyone.
You don't have to be a hippie living in a van
to live in a van now, you can have a normal job
and like maintain a career from the road.
And so I think as more and more people realize that like,
hey I can explore my career passions and live in a van,
it's just like it makes you able to think outside the box
a little bit more in terms of the possibilities
for how you can make money and still maintain your freedom
from a normal nine to five job and be able to travel
and work it all together in a nice, convenient way.
I think it's here to stay.
(upbeat electronic music)
- In October, as our film production started winding down,
Kiley and I continued reaching out to van people.
We formally interviewed several new folks,
followed up on Skype with friends
that we'd made over the summer,
and repeatedly started up casual conversations
about van life with strangers on the street.
These additional dialogs confirmed
what we had already learned.
The majority of people who come to live in a van
do so because A, the cost of buying or renting a home
is a burden in today's economy,
and B, people have the desire to live adventurous lives
and travel more while also putting a stronger emphasis
on experiences instead of things, i.e., being minimalists.
We also discovered that reasons A and B
are not mutually exclusive.
Meaning that more often than not,
vanners come to van because of both lower living costs,
and the higher likelihood for adventure.
It's also interesting to note that at least one fifth
of the van lifers that we interviewed
in June, July, August, and September,
ended up selling their vans and renting apartments,
remarking that van life wasn't sustainable long-term.
While each party had their own reasons and explanations
for why they stopped van life,
common threads could be observed.
Ex-vanners explained that while living in a van
offered certain benefits,
they ultimately found it to be lonely and craved community,
namely friends and family,
missed their former routines, stability, careers,
and lacked an overall sense of purpose.
In our conversations together, Kiley and I came to agree
that van lifers who tend to thrive on the road full-time
and last past the year and a half mark,
are comprised of people who have
a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors.
Such individuals tend to spend the majority
of their time outside already, with or without a van,
and thus thrive as full-time road warriors
once they acquire a vehicle
that's conducive to their lifestyle.
As for the rest of us,
van life is a fantastic temporary break
from a stuffy desk job, a re-occurring mortgage payment,
and a traditional, sedentary lifestyle.
It's also a great way to experience heaps of adventure
and see our country for a year or two.
However, for most of us, full-time van life
seems to have big voids and is not sustainable indefinitely.
Since June 2nd, 2018,
Kiley and I have traveled over 18,000 miles
while working on this film.
12,000 of those miles were logged
crisscrossing the western United States in our Sprinter van,
and 6,000 miles were covered by airplane and rental car.
Over the span of summer and fall,
we also interviewed 40-plus people in depth about vans
and informally spoke to at least 40 more.
Throughout our conversations we learned that vans
are increasing in popularity for several different reasons.
And the first reason is flexibility.
Vans are a complete utilitarian package.
They are an RV and a truck and a passenger car
smashed into one.
Hence, vans offer their owners complete control
over how they are customized and used.
Do you want to start a mobile acupuncture
or chiropractor business, no problem, you can do that.
Do you have a big family and want to see all 50 states,
easy peasy, and the list goes on and on.
Regardless of what your dream is, if it requires a vehicle,
a van fits that bill.
Secondly, vans are economical.
As the cost of living continues to increase
many people choose to, or are forced to get creative
about how they exist on this earth.
Vans are a viable solution because they enable folks
to maintain a high standard of life
without the homeless stigma.
By skipping a traditional home
and moving into a gas-efficient mini-bus
van dwellers can save thousands of dollars every month.
This in turn takes a lot of the pressure away
from having to bust your hump at a job you hate.
When life costs less, you have to work less,
and when you have to work less,
you have a lot more free time
to do that which makes you happy.
Thirdly, vans offer people freedom.
And freedom, as we all know,
is heavily prized in our culture.
For some people, freedom equals liberation
from bills and the 40 hour work week,
which ties directly into the point that I just made
about vans being economical, but for others,
freedom has more to do with spontaneity and adventure.
And vans are just as good at spontaneity and adventure
as they are at saving money.
When you hit the road in a decked out van,
you never have to book a hotel,
or make a reservation at a restaurant.
You can decide to stay somewhere for an extra day
or leave a day earlier.
And you get to bring the comfort of your home
wherever you go.
A van is like a turtle shell,
providing you with most of your necessities
wherever and whenever you need them,
and if this isn't freedom, I don't know what is.
At the beginning of this project
Kiley and I set out to determine why vans are booming.
I think we were successful in this venture
and determined that vans are trending
for the three reasons that I just discussed:
flexibility, economy, and freedom.
As for whether or not vans are the new American dream,
for me the jury's still out.
Maybe they are, maybe they're not.
What is the American dream anyway?
Is it the white picket fence, is it the husband and wife,
or the 2.5 kid family?
After pondering on this concept for many months,
I've come to realize that the idea of any one thing
being the American dream is preposterous.
There are roughly 300 million people in the U.S. alone,
and each one of those people has their own unique idea
of what their dreams and wants are.
Sure, some people want a more traditional
cookie-cutter lifestyle, but others rebel against this,
and strive for an existence
that's unique to their own values.
And van life is no different.
For some people, exploring the U.S. in a van
seems like an idyllic fun endeavor,
but for others this type of lifestyle probably seems
irresponsible, claustrophobic, and dreadful.
And there's absolutely nothing wrong
with either of these stances.
It's ultimately up to the individual, to you,
to decide which American dream works for you,
and which one doesn't.
For what it's worth I still think vans are awesome
and I have no plans to get rid of my van anytime soon.
And I have tons of new friends
that feel exactly the same way I do.
So there you have it, now you know.
And last thing that I've been asking everybody
is if you had to describe vans and van life in one word,
what would that one word be for you?
You can't think about it too hard, you got to just.
- Yeah, freedom.
- I'd say freedom.
- Peace, I guess.
- [Sergei] What does van life mean to you?
- Roller coaster.
- Life changing.
- So, van life is rewarding.
It's not always easy but for me the exploration
and the opportunity to explore lands and myself is worth it.
- Dogs love it.
- It's natural.
- I would say either the word is independence, or freedom.
- If I could describe van life in one word,
it would be fulfilling.
- Unfinished (laughs).
Our van's not finished yet so it's been,
we don't have running water yet,
and we're under-electrified.
- I think that the idea