The decision to embark on an unconventional lifestyle does not come without fear and uncertainty.
During the five months that Mike and Jess were building their first van, they were also preparing to quit their 9-5 jobs and create a more sustainable lifestyle that allowed them to decide when and how they wanted to work.
For Mike and Jess, their nomadic lifestyle is much more affordable than their previous lifestyle, as they purchase and consume significantly less. They also have found a way to make their unique passions profitable enough to live comfortably.
Before Van life
Mike had a degree in architecture, and prior to life on the road, worked as a project manager for an office furniture supply company. In his spare time, he designed and created furniture, as well as sketched local architecture in the Baltimore area.
Mike’s wife, Jess, is a scientist. After receiving her Ph.D. in biochemistry, she moved to Baltimore, where she would eventually meet her future husband.
While working in a lab, researching how diet and genetics impact healthy aging, she noticed a disconnect between information accessible to the scientific community and the general public.
This sparked her transition to a career in science communications, in efforts to bridge that knowledge gap. She was commuting four hours a day between Baltimore and her office in Washington DC, and she knew there was more to life than sitting on a train.
After Mike submitted his resignation, he started his own small business, Drawn There, and now creates and sells art through his website.
He specializes in creating on-location pen and watercolor drawings of the inspiring places he has traveled. Mike is currently working on a travel book that highlights places he has explored in his van life journey.
He has a unique style and sense of humor, and his Instagram is filled with beautiful ink and watercolor drawings paired with clever and informative captions.
He likes to sketch on location everyday and spends his evenings creating commissioned pieces for customers. His most popular custom art requests are family homes and pet portraits.
Jess made the jump to freelance science communications consultant at the start of her van life journey, and continues to translate complex scientific topics for public consumption.
She spends about 10 hours a week on client work and several more hours on administrative tasks. She also manages their travel blog and instagram account, @van.there.
Together, Mike and Jess have found a way to take their passions on the road and build a fulfilling, flexible lifestyle.
On the road, the biggest challenge they face is balancing the desire to be out in the wild with the need to be connected.
In the world of science communications and public relations, timing is everything, so Jess often requires good cell signal, meaning they don’t go off grid for long stretches. Furthermore, living the van life takes more time to accomplish daily tasks, like having fresh water and a safe place to sleep.
Mike must balance these household management tasks with his creative business, plus he’s also the driver!
They average about two hours of driving a day, but often will stay in a location for a few days then drive four to six hours to the next destination.
On their way to hike the Lost Coast trail in Northern California last summer, Mike drove Jess back an hour into cell service so she could respond to a client email!
Mike and Jess have lived a nomadic lifestyle since April 2017. After a head-on collision with a herd of elk in Idaho, their last van was totaled on March 2018.
Not ready to quit this lifestyle, they are now building out their second home on wheels, a 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 2500 4×4 144” wheelbase. They plan to be back on the road in May 2018.
Their advice for others looking to transition to a nomadic lifestyle is to find the intersection of your passions and your skills. This is where you will find yourself the most motivated to succeed under any conditions!