Snowbum Minivan Vanlife

Hi, I am Nathan James. I am a 22 year old hippy from Los Angeles, CA, that has wanted to be a vandweller since I was a kid. I have loved the travel aspect, the minimalist aspect, and the community aspect of vanlife. I wanted to travel and work at a ski resort, so I applied for a job at Bear Mountain Resort in Big Bear, CA, and got it. My housing plans fell through, so I figured that I might as well start my vanlife then and there. I was living with my parents at the time to save money while I am going to college, so I told them my plan of buying a cheap van to start my adventure. My parents decided to bless me with borrowing their van, FREE of charge (besides a couple maintenance issues that I had to pay for). Their van is a 2005 Nissan Quest minivan. Above is a photo of me and the van that I named Wendy. This was taken a few weeks before I started my vanlife adventures.

I had only a couple weeks to buy all the essentials and to build out my van before vanlife started for me. Since I am giving Wendy back to my parents once the ski season is officially done, I decided to do a temporary build. The build I built has a cot with a camping sleeping mat for the bed, a Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater as my heat source, a Goal Zero 1400W Lithium Battery electric generator power bank with a Goal Zero 100W Boulder Briefcase solar panel for my power source, a cooler for my fridge, a box for my pantry, and a bunch of bags and boxes for organization. I also put reflectix on the windows for privacy and for extra warmth, and I chose to put 3 layers of carpeting for extra insulation on the floor as well as making the floor comfy when I am barefoot in my van (I only wear shoes for work and specific activities; barefoot anywhere else). Yes, I’ll be honest, it isn’t the prettiest build you have ever seen, but for a temporary build, it has worked out great and I stay organized.

Here are the BEFORE and AFTER pictures…


Being in a van during the winter has its challenges. There are the challenges of staying warm at night, of snow not falling into the van when you open the door in the morning, of parking in a parking lot and getting snow plowed around your van making you stuck, oh, and did I mention staying warm? The biggest struggle I had was staying warm when it would snow. There were 2 options of how to stay warm that I had to think about and measure out the pros and cons each night. Option 1 was to use the propane heater, but I would need the window cracked open which would let in a cold draft, let snow in if it was snowing, and have the reflectix insulation on the windows not do its job. Or, I could go with Option 2 (which I usually chose), and that was to tough the cold out without a heater, leave the windows closed, let the reflectix do its job of fully insulating the van, bundle up with clothes and blankets, and drink a beer to feel warm on the inside. Even on a -12F degree night, I chose to tough it out because I didn’t want the snow to come in the window and get me wet, and I figured the insulation would work better with the windows fully shut. That was the 1 night that I was actually COLD!


Like I said above, I am a college student. I believe that college is important for living comfortably in the society that I live in in the United States, so I decided to not be a college drop out and choose vanlife, but to find classes that I can take online while I am vandwelling and working at the ski resort. When I wasn’t working or shredding snowboarding, I would be doing homework outside on sunny days while charging my power bank, or inside at Starbucks if it was snowing, or inside my van at night once Starbucks closed. Many nights, I would be up until 2am doing homework inside Wendy because I worked 60 hours a week between working at the resort during the day and working at Starbucks at night.


When I don’t have work early in the morning, my breakfast consists of french pressed Starbucks coffee, instant oatmeal, a peanut butter sandwich, water, and either an apple or a banana. Even with vanlife, I try to eat as healthy as I can and save money by not eating out. My main food dish throughout the past few months has been peanut butter. PPeanut butter with EVERYTHING – apples, bananas, carrots, bread, crackers, or just straight peanut butter with a spoon – is my meal of choice. I have peanut butter with breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it is a good source of protein and keeps me going with my active lifestyle.


One aspect of vanlife that I was worried about was community. I know that the online presence of community in the vanlife circles are thriving, but I wasn’t sure about it in real life. After living vanlife for a month or so, I met a couple other vandwellers that were snowboarders. We started parking in this specific spot at Bear Mountain Ski Resort in Big Bear, CA, and called it “The Neighborhood”. Community is important, especially for me as a very social person, and I was pleasantly surprised of how welcoming the vanlife community is.


After Bear resort closed for the season, I moved up to Mammoth, CA, to snowboard for 2 weeks at Mammoth Resort before I have to move back to Los Angeles for a college class that I have to show up at the school. Down the hill from Mammoth is Bishop, CA, where there are quite a few vandwellers that rock climb. Some of them accepted me and took me out rock climbing over the weekend. Basically over the 2 weeks after Bear, I have been traveling between Mammoth and Bishop, CA, meeting people and doing outdoor activities. Vanlife is all about the community and the adventures that we can share as a Vanlife-Family!

I have loved the past 4 months of vanlife and CAN’T WAIT for the next season of my life with vanlife once I buy my own van hopefully this summer!


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Sami Syed

Published in January


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