Why I Stopped Living in a Van Full Time

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Why I Stopped Living in a Van Full Time

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It was a bittersweet day, June 1, 2018, I moved into a rental that is immovable, has a foundation, a heating system, a kitchen, and a BIT bigger than my van. This seemed to all happen slowly but also incredibly fast, isn’t that how most things in life happen?

This blog starts with the decision to live in a van full time and now the post has come about moving out of a van full time, almost two years later. It’s always good to give the whole story and not keep all 1 million, (okay maybe 10?)  🙂 of my readers dying to know what happened to that crazy girl living in a Tiny A$$ van in freaking Alaska?! So here is what happened.

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Reason 1: I got into a car accident

First, don’t worry I am still with Vanny 90% of the day working in Denver. She still gets away from the city streets and into the Rocky Mountains regularly. The catalyst to moving out of the van was getting in a car accident with the van back in February. There ended up being over $6000 in damage  (insurance covered) and I wasn’t able to get her scheduled for repair for 3 months. Then she was in the shop for 4 weeks! This time consisted of a lot of contemplating “what should I do next?”

Tiny Van Big Living|van life

There was some damage to the bed of the van as well as the solar power that I still not working. Now that the major repairs have been completed, I plan to tackle the conversion issues, one project at a time. Obviously, with a broken bed and no power source, it be difficult to live full time comfortably. I personally wouldn’t be able to do what I need to do for work with Vanny’s current condition.

I have talked a lot about how the small size of the van has really been a positive to me, but I feel I have begun to outgrow it (with a boyfriend and now a 50lb dog). This size van is really comfortable for one, but not particularly for 2 adults and a large dog. However, the van is a really great daily driver and has some other benefits I wasn’t expecting.

For example, as a home health/ community-based Occupational Therapist currently, it’s really easy for me to snag up a bunch of $10 tub benches and $25 wheelchairs at thrift stores for my peeps (OT and PTs know what I am talking about). Vanny is the most useful and versatile car I have ever owned!

Reason 2: I moved to a big city

Moving to Denver was pretty much never in the plan. I thought I would be in Arizona, Oregon, Washington, or Hawaii right now. Like most decisions in my life, this was a last minute decision. Similar to when I took a job in Alaska and had to get from Los Angeles to Alaska in 2 weeks!

At the end of 2017,  I was working an assignment in Montrose, CO (amazing place!). My boyfriend of over one year lived in Denver. We were making visits back and forth about 5 hours which is a lot closer than a few hours plane ride to Alaska.

We were planning on traveling together after Montrose but it just wasn’t working out. With more limited jobs due to major Medicare changes on the horizon and insurance reimbursement getting cutbacks,  and continued ridiculous productivity expectations. I just don’t have the pick of travel occupational therapy jobs I previously had. As the end of my Montrose contract got closer we realized him traveling with me just wasn’t in the cards at the time. I decided to go to Denver for a few weeks until we figured out the next move.

For anyone in the travel therapy world, we all know that Denver travel contracts are very difficult to find. I didn’t even bother, I Just looked for PRN work to feel the place out. I found what looked like a really awesome company in Denver when looking for jobs ads. With no advertisements of help needed I just emailed my resume anyway, not getting my hopes up. I was getting some callbacks but I was honestly disappointed about the pay for Occupational Therapists in Denver (lowest I ever have been offered), but was hoping something decent would come through. Then something did!

Reason 3: I got an awesome job!

A few wakes later I got a call from one of the owners of the company mentioned before. She said she felt like the universe was aligning because they were just finding out they were going to need a new OT, and then my resume arrived in their email, the rest is history.

I have had to become a very independent and autonomous clinician in the travel world and this job would allow me to do that. It is a more permanent job with tons of flexibility which is pretty much the holy grail of nontravel jobs! I am still in this job and am truly enjoying it. For those who care, I document on a word document, old school SOAP note, not a million drop downs and then a populated note that looks like nonsense! I am enjoying myself :). This job is about 20-25 hours a week, and I supplement the rest of the week with PRN home health visits.

Reason 4: I adopted a dog

There is nothing better to do than adopt a dog when you are not sure where you are going in life just yet, right? I have wanted a dog for 28 years and one day in March I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to wait anymore. Shamus and I found the cutest, smartest, and obviously the best dog in the world, after visiting a shelter one day. He was a 6-month-old stray brought from Texas to a Colorado shelter that day.

My new adventure pup, Borealis. “Bori” for short

We immediately fell in love and adopted him. We named him Borealis aka “Bori” after a dream I had in Alaska about having a black puppy that I named “Borealis.” This was a dream after watching the best Aurora Borealis show in Fairbanks, AK. Also as the volunteer said at the shelter “ oh because he’s the brightest star in the sky!” As you can imagine a 50lb dog takes up a lot of space in a tiny Ford Transit Connect van.

Reason 5: I needed a home base

It’s kind of crazy, a year ago I woke up every morning in Alaska and used an outhouse. I had to make sure I had enough water in my Nalgene to wash my face and brush my teeth. This morning I found myself using indoor plumbing with what seems like an endless supply of water, I will forever appreciate a bathroom from now on.

Van life I personally feel is great for a more traveling lifestyle, but it is really difficult when staying one place long term. After really enjoying my job, the community, and access to the Rocky Mountains I learned I wanted to stay here longer than the typical three months.

Vanny Devito is  a very minimal van, and its hard to live in non-mild weathered places. I have learned that Denver gets very hot! I have also learned that there are stricter rules about camping in a non-permanent residence when you are not in a place long term. When working full time it’s difficult to not have a home base.

As mentioned before the accident made things very difficult, it is difficult to live in the van full time in its current condition. I considered saving money for a tiny home since I would be more permanent.

Guess what, you can’t live in those either, at least not permanently in the greater metro Denver area at this current time.

Looking at all the facts it just made sense to get into a more typical type of housing for now. I don’t know how long I plan on staying in Denver but at least an additional year or two. So basically I came down to the following realizations.

Why I no longer live in a van full time :

  • It is too hot to live in the van the summer (for me).
  • I would end up paying just as much in campground fees as I could monthly on a one year lease.
  • I would likely have restrictions on how long I could camp
  • It is currently illegal to live in a tiny house in the greater Denver area.
  • The van is not large enough for 2 adults and one 50lb awesome dog to live comfortably full time.
  • I can easily transition the van to a daily driver and weekend adventurer
  • This will stabilize my expenses while staying put allowing me to pay off my student loans.

Full-time van life in the future?

For now part-time/ weekend van life is really ideal for me. Similar to when people asked how long I would live in the van I don’t have a definite answer for how long I will be out of the van. At the minimum, I see some very long van life road trips in the future. If I ever were to go back to full time, I would like to get a van that would be more comfortable for 2 adults and a large dog. As you can imagine a ford transit connect can get pretty tight. Our true goal is to settle somewhere in the mountains, when that’s feasibly possible, where? We don’t know, wherever works!

Bori’s first van adventure

I have ideas for fixing the necessary repairs for Vanny and possibly renting her out on sites like Outdoorsy to let other people experience the temporary freedom of having a home on the road! There is also plan is to buy a larger van and convert ourselves this time, Stay tuned!

The future of Tiny Van Big Living

The blog will remain up and running, and I will begin to post regular content again! I really enjoy blogging and I still have a lot to write about concerning van life, getting out of student loan debt, travel therapy, and just “living big” in general. I still get emails and comments with curious folk that I still feel I can provide helpful answers to with my own experience. Also, I like the community associated with this blog and want to continue to be and part of and contribute.

For new and old readers, thanks for following along the journey and I hope any of my experiences (good and bad) can help you in some small way :). As always, please email me with any topics you would like to hear about!

How long do you think you could live van life? Leave a comment below!


16 Comments on “Why I Stopped Living in a Van Full Time”

  1. Would like to have some more news of how your experience is continuing. Myself live in a Campervan for 2 to 3 months at a time in Italy.

  2. There’s nothing wrong w having a home base.
    I have been living in some sort of camper since 2010.
    Yet I still own property amd can return to it if necessary.
    Although my personal property is just a 30×50 overweight garage on 3 acres where I can pull my motorhome in and where I can switch out my motorcycles, boats, jet skis, etc when i come through town.
    Totally wooded, block building and metal roof, so virtually no maintenance when I’m gone, not even grass.
    Yet it is still a home base if I want or need to take a break and it’s paid for.
    I have a class b Coachman Ford gas high roof, a 32 class A motorhome, and a 35′ 5th wheel w two slideouts. The 5th wheel stays at home most of the time because it’s the least fun to actually travel with.
    Bigger ain’t better and big trailers suck when you’re not stationary more than you are moving.
    You definitely went small and rustic. Even my class b has a shower and everything else, although I actually have a motorcycle pull pop-up camper w no amenities that’s about the same size as your van !! Lol.
    I hope u still get some long weekends in and if you ever get to sw Michigan and r still roughing it you can park in our parking lot for free in St Joseph.

    1. Still van adventuring on the weekends and when I am off work, don’t think I will ever totally quit it 🙂 Thanks!

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  4. Sarah, I’m glad you weren’t hurt in the accident. Your dog sounds awesome. Thank you for a fantastic van diary all this time. I look forward to hearing more on your about your life now.
    Best of luck — Trace

  5. How exciting when I was reading your van life articles and saw that your were a traveling OT! I am a PTA student considering going into Travel Therapy, and van living has been quite appealing for that. Most of the resources I’m seeing for vanlife parking seem to focus on people who are always on the move. Do you have any suggestions on finding safe, consistent parking while on assignment?

    1. Hi Jen, I recommend campsites or renting a site. As a traveling therapist its good to have that home base and you will need some type of rent to qualify for tax-free housing stipends. I have stayed at hospital parking lots that I worked at, campgrounds and private campsites!

  6. Hi Sarah! Your dog looks like one of the dogs I rescued by the interstate in Vicksburg, MS! I took him in for a few days; got him to a vet & fixed up medically; and then met friends in Missouri for the “underground pet railroad”— which is a group of incredible volunteers who take dogs and cats all over the country to place in shelters. It sounds like your pup was a part of something similar, and it absolutely thrills my heart to know that people like you are out adopting pups like the ones I rescue. Thank you for choosing to get a shelter pup and for not contributing to the overpopulation of pups who are given up because of breeders. It sounds like he has an incredible life, which every dog deserves!!
    Your blog has been a big help to me, and I begin my own “VanLife” journey in 2 more months! I’m super excited and plan on implementing many of your suggestions.
    Best of the best to you, your pup, and those you love 💕

    1. That so awesome! The story we got was he was a stray in Texas and was brought to a kill shelter and then brought to a shelter in Denver, which is where we got him. We were set on adoption as soon as we decided we were going to get a dog. He is a happy 80lb boy now :)!! Good luck with your Van Life journey!

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  9. Hey! Just found this blog and totally love it! I’ve read several of your posts now and am getting excited about van life! I’m looking at taking the leap as rent is outrageous here in Central Oregon and I want to feel free for a while! So saving money and finding myself are the two biggest reasons! Looking forward to driving deeper in this blog. Anny online groups you might suggest for getting in contact with other van life peeps?

    1. Hey Emmet, thanks for reading! If you find my Facebook page I started a group, only a few members at this point. However, there are several other groups if you just search van life. There are also several reddit subreddits about the subject too. Good Luck ! 🙂

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