GSA - Who are you?
Mikhaila - Why does the first question have to be the hardest one? Who am I? Not even sure yet, but the road has helped to define my values and my mission in life.
I am an Arizona native, and I have never lived anywhere else until now. Prior to moving into our van, Sam (boyfriend) and I rented a 180 square foot stationary trailer. We lived there for three years sharing a twin bed and getting used to the tiny life. We quickly learned that we both loved living compact and with less, and we started getting enticed by the idea of getting rid of it all and moving into a van. In late June 2017, we sold everything and moved out of the trailer and embraced the great unknown.
While neither of us is currently working, we are both passionate about photography and hope to turn it into a career some day. For now, we are living off our savings and hoping to make it last for at least the next six months. Other than that we are lovers of the outdoors, environmentalists, hikers, backpackers, climbers and story tellers. Hoping to make the next chapter of our lives more meaningful and beautiful than the one before it.
GSA - What’s your current van make/model and why did you decide on this particular vehicle to embrace van living?... and does your van have a name?
Mikhaila - We live in a 1995 GMC vandura. It's not the most unique or glamorous of vans, but we chose this model because it was super cheap, had low miles and we see lots of these old GMC vans on the road so we figured they have to be pretty good if so many of them are up and running! Our van does have a name, but we don't really refer to it by its name. Mostly we just call it "the van" and the tone just depends on how it's acting that day. Our van did come with the initials BMJ painted on the driver's and passenger side doors, so we decided to name our van based on those initials. It's more of a formality, but its official name is the Big Mountain Jalopy.
GSA - How long have you embraced van living?
Mikhaila - we are a few days shy of our one year vaniversary!
GSA - What are some of your personal Pro’s and Con’s about living full time from a van?
Pro: We get to see more of the world! We've worked jobs that don't give you time off, so if we wanted to do something, we had to cram it into a short, two day weekend. We got tired of that. Quitting our jobs and living full time on the road has allowed us to see and experience so much more. There are places I only dreamed of going, that I never thought I would get to experience in my lifetime. Living in a van has helped us to make those dreams come true.
Con: We are always dirty. The van is dirty, our feet are dirty, our hair feels like we washed it in melted crayons. We are in a constant state of feeling like we rolled around in mud, it is unavoidable. "Shower Day" is always my favorite day of the week
Pro: It's allowed us to connect with what is important in life. Society tells us we need to live in a big home, drive a nice car, work a high paying job and constantly keep moving up in life to be happy and succeed. We've found a new way to succeed and it has nothing to do with the money we make (or don't make, for that matter) and it definitely doesn't have anything to do with this old van we drive!
Con: We miss our friends and families a lot. It can be pretty isolating living on the road, just the two of us. We have enjoyed meeting new people along our journey and visiting with old friends when we can, but most of the time it's just the two of us. If we had a bigger van, we would have brought everyone we love with us!
Pro: We have made a lot of incredible people on the road. From meeting my real life van doppleganger, to hanging out with some really fun women on a baby goat farm, this lifestyle has allowed us to meet with so many like minded individuals and helps us broaden our horizons
Con: No cell phone reception
Pro: No cell phone reception
GSA - Fondest location you’ve called home for the night?
Mikhaila - Every time we park our van some place new- I always declare, "this is my new favorite spot!" So I guess you can say I have a lot of favorite places to call home.
GSA - What have been some of the biggest lessons learnt from living your best van life?
Mikhaila - It isn't as easy or carefree as it looks. Instagram paints a very romantic picture of this lifestyle, when it is anything but. It is wonderful getting to explore places we only dreamed of, but between the mountain summits and desert vistas, we are filling up bottles of water in a dirty mop sink in the back of a gas station because that is the only potable water source for miles. We take about 1.5 showers a week, if we are lucky (that is roughly 78 showers a year) so we are almost always smelly. We aren't always sleeping on some incredible overlook, last night we slept in an warehouse parking lot while the neon light of street lamps filled our van and the sound of delivery trucks lulled us to sleep. All of those things sound bad, but honestly I love it all. I love getting back to basics, learning to use less water, embracing buying less stuff and learning to love life without showers! It's all part of the package deal.
Living on the road has also opened our eyes to issues facing the outdoors. Every time we pull our van up to a BLM camping area or we head to a National Park, we find trash everywhere, graffiti, toilet paper, ect. We have become painfully more aware of it than we were when we just went on weekend trips. We make it a point to do the best we can to clean up after others on the trail and promote Leave No Trace values when we post images of our travels. It isn't all doom and gloom, the outdoor community can really do a lot to pull together and make an effort to combat misuse of the outdoors, and I have seen an increase of social media posts that promote outdoor stewardship. Since we moved into our van we decided to make it our mission to leave the world better than we found it. The biggest lesson we have learned is how important Leave No Trace really is for the preservation of the wilderness.
GSA - If you could switch up your current van for one of the following below for a 48 hour adventure which would you choose and why? Where would you go? and to keep things interesting you have room for two extra companions, who would you pick to fill the empty seats?
Van options are from the following: The A-Team van, The Mystery Machine, Postman Pats van, The Mutts Cutts van, The Krystal Ship from Breaking Bad or Dale's RV from The Walking Dead.
Mikhaila - I am so bad at pop culture, I only knew one of those references! (Sam is laughing at me) So of course I would head out with Walt and Jesse from Breaking Bad.
I'd leave a seat reserved for Paul Simon, since he is my favorite musician and our van lacks a radio, and Steven Martin can come too for laughs. I think that group would be a winning combo, and I hope they bring pizza and chip in for gas.
GSA - Making the most of the space around the van is essential, is there anything you wished you had in the van but didn’t have the time/money to install during the build?
Mikhaila - Our budget was so small we didn't have money for hardly anything! We kept it pretty basic and built the whole thing ourselves, a lot of the wood we used was salvaged from the previous owner's wood framed bed he built in the back.
We originally had hopes of having an awning, a refrigerator, a built in stove, etc. But honestly now that I'm used to living without those things, I don't miss 'em a bit! Everything I need in this world fits in this old van, and I like it that way.
GSA - Strangest encounter while on the road?
Mikhaila - There is a town in Wyoming that has a free campsite at the local park, and we like free. This attracts the van life crowd, but a lot of vagrants too. One of our "neighbors" tried haggling us for a can of beer. He kept coming up to our van and offering us various bits of trash. A broken stroller, a can of coffee that smelled like mulch, a handful of change and some lint....... That was our exit music out of that town.
GSA - What would be your ultimate van journey destination and why?
Mikhaila - I have never been one to want to cross anything off the list. There isn't a list actually. We travel from place to place with maps in hand and no agenda in mind. We will visit the local forest service office and get recommendations for hikes from a ranger, or we will stop by an outdoor gear shop and ask the person behind the counter what their favoirte crags are. We had a friend tell us we *had* to visit some climbing area in Wyoming, so we diverted our plans to head west and drove north to this sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere to find some pretty amazing routes and some incredible camping. Each days is a surprise, we just take them as they come.
GSA - What three items or kit are a must have for living from a van?
Mikhaila - Every van is different, it depends on what yours comes equipped with or how you chose to build it. We kept ours simple, doesn't even have a kitchen sink! Instead we have a collapsible bucket that we use to wash our dishes and hair. I think it cost $10! That is probably the best thing we own.
I am not a gadget person, so I don't have any recommendations for things you might need to live happily on the road. After the first week of living in a van, we quickly realized we needed a lot less than we packed, so we donated even more.
Honestly, the best asset you can have when you live in a van is the willingness to adapt to change and having a sense of humor, and you can't buy those at any outdoor retailer!
GSA - Who within the van living community would you highly recommend we follow on Instagram?
Mikhaila - I have met so many amazing people along our travels, most off of instagram. It is always fun to meet up for a few days with people you have been talking to online for so long, but the hardest part is saying goodbye to new friends. I can't narrow it down to one, so I will list some other van lifers who I miss the most:
1) Celly and Taz (and the goats) from @lostintrillium
2) Mark, Nives, Maddie, Carl (and Hector) from @camptrend @campbynives and @madisonhayashi
3) My doppleganger Heather Grow from @grow_explore
4) Savannah and Drew from @savannahkingmusic
5) Nick Roush from @nroushphoto
GSA - Where will the unknown road take you next and what’s the best way to keep up with your van life adventures?
Mikhaila - The breeze keeps blowing us northbound. Next we are headed to the Pacific North West, northern Idaho, Montana and Canada. Cross your fingers our van lasts that long! You can follow our adventures on @mikhailahoward and @sam_joe_carl. I also have a website few know about mikhailahoward.com and I hope to start a blog that inspires others to Leave No Trace soon!
GSA - My final question, what words of advice and wisdom can you pass forward to those who are thinking about making the move to living in a van?
Mikhaila - Sam and I dove into the van life scene head first. We quit our jobs and sold everything and hit the road, we didn't even know if we would last a month, let alone a year.
When we are done traveling, we will have nothing to come back to. No job, and not a single stick of furniture. It is an incredibly freeing experience. Learn to have less and you will live so much more!