Two drifters off to see the world

Hello everyone, we are Dan and Kenz! We are full-time travelers currently working, living, and exploring the world out of our van with our two cats, Jimmy and Lua. We are so excited to share our story with you all.

Dan’s Backstory

Hey y'all - I'm Dan. I come from a larger family (I'm one of six kids) and was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. I graduated from Temple University and was preparing to go to law school (literally studying for the LSATs) when I heard a really interesting quote from Jim Carrey: "you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love." This caused a spiral of reflection, ultimately leading me to understand that law wasn't for me. So I quit my first post-college job at a prestigious law firm and moved to Portland, OR - no money, no job, and no place to live: I trusted that everything would work out, and it did.

I'm obsessed with coffee (I once bought 50lbs of unroasted coffee beans from Peru to try to roast my own coffee when I was younger). So I pursued a job working in coffee as a barista. I've been a vegetarian for 10 years and absolutely love the process of farming, growing our own food, and more simplistic mass-agricultural practices. So I pursued a job working on a small crop farm in southern Oregon. I love the environment and sustainability. So I pursued a job working as a Park Ranger for the State of Oregon's Park and Recreation Department. I love my family. So when both my parents were diagnosed with cancer only months apart, I pursued a plane ticket back to Philadelphia where my life would ultimately be reset.

After only pursuing the things I loved and finding joy in doing so, I still fell under the pressure from family and society to find a job that would ‘better’ my future. It is interesting how you can only ignore that inner voice for so long. After a year working for one of the top investment firms within the Fortune-500, I started to plan my escape back toward taking a chance at doing the things I loved. Within the next year, I started a company, quit my job, and then met Mackenzie. My life would never be the same….

Kenz’s Backstory

Hello Friends 🙂 I’m Mackenzie. I’m one of nine, believe it or not! I was born and raised a few hours north of Philadelphia and a few hours south of New York City in a town called Easton, PA. I was a D1 Cheerleader for Temple University, where I went to college and studied communication and entrepreneurship. I worked a few odd jobs before, during, and after college but never really found my “calling” professionally. Instead, my focus in life has been more geared toward getting to know myself (mentally and emotionally) and building authentic relationships with as many people as possible.

I met Dan the summer before my final semester at school. We were both in a huge period of transition - Dan leaving his job to start his company, and I was starting a new healing chapter. We agreed to make our dreams of traveling a reality. Upon graduation, I took a job nannying for the most wonderful family in Center City, Philadelphia. I would work during the day and spend my evenings watching vanbuild videos, reading blogs, and stalking dealerships.

Vanlife is the perfect lifestyle for people from all walks of life. For me, it is an opportunity to better understand myself and to come to realize what my path in life might be while simultaneously activating my inner socialite through the countless interactions and friendships that are created throughout our travels.

Our Collective Story

On our first actual date, Mackenzie looked at me and said, “this is going to sound CRAZY, but I have always wanted to live in a van.” At this point, Mackenzie did not know that my younger brother was a little bit ahead of the vanlife curve and decided to convert his van before it was more ‘mainstream.’ I helped him throughout his conversion process and took notes on what I would do differently. After helping him and hearing of his travels, I knew vanlife was going to be part of my future. I didn’t know when, but I knew it would happen. From this moment on, Mackenzie and I committed to each other and to fulfilling our collective goal of living in a van and traveling full-time. It took two years of learning and planning but we finally purchased a van, sold our belongings and dedicated our lives to the lifestyle.


For us, the transition was somewhat smooth. Prior to buying our van, we rented an SUV and lived in it together for 2 weeks in California. We figured if we could live like that together we could EASILY handle a van (highly recommend a trial run by the way). Our apartment was smaller as well so for us the transition was smooth in terms of actual living. Our van was built very deliberately: we knew what we wanted and where we wanted it from the very beginning. Our challenges came from figuring out where we wanted to go and how to find a safe and proper campsite for the night. The challenges were very much external vs any issue internally to the van.

Finances

We are very fortunate to be able to earn money while on the road. It took us a little longer to take the leap into vanlife because we wanted to make sure we had work while on the road, but, for us, this sacrifice was absolutely worth it. We still work remotely nearly every day. We have a signal booster on the roof and use our phone’s hotspot as our internet within the van and frequent coffee shops whenever we are in a town or city. Our schedule is generally to work from like 7:00 am until 12:00 pm then the afternoon is ours to do as we please.

Our combined cost of living in the van is about $2,000 per month. This includes van payment, insurance, gas, gym membership, phone plans, subscriptions, food, and entertainment. The low cost of living is such a beautiful aspect of this lifestyle. So long as your basic needs are met, you are living like a king or queen because you are living deliberately where and how you want to be living.

Our van

We went with a 2019 Ram Promaster 3500 159 Extended. From our experience test-driving every available van and our research, we found that the Promaster provided the most ‘workable’ area based on the design we had in mind. We bought our van new to ensure we had an extended warranty to cover our van up to 100,000 miles. It was a little pricier this way, but the peace of mind was worth it given that the van would be our full-time home. The van itself was $48,000 with an extended 100,000 warranty. We put a decent bit down but still maintain monthly payments.

The van conversion itself was a lot more challenging than expected. We did months of research but nothing can prepare you for the actual experience other than the experience itself. Mackenzie and I tried to convert the van ourselves for the first month. After getting it framed, we showed Mackenzie’s dad who is very handy. He took one look at it and said, “my daughter cannot live in this van.” Mackenzie’s Dad and brother, DJ, dedicated the next two months of their lives fully converting our van. They have experience in all elements of construction, however, learned a lot on the fly.

Overall, with solar, our conversion cost us $15,000 and took us 3 months.

Advice and Thoughts

Life is made up of all the small moments - first encounters with strangers, waking up to catch a sunrise, periods of constant transition - but how gracefully you handle transition will define a large element of your life. Our biggest recommendation is to not let money be a limiting factor - find a way to secure funds while on the road. The world today is full of remote opportunities and jobs on the go. There is beauty in life no matter the circumstance, but we recommend planning as much as possible to allow for it to be the experience you want. Feel free to message us on Instagram (@vanziehartlieb) with any questions about the building experience or the lifestyle. We hope to see you on the road!

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