For those in search of freedom and flexibility, #VanLife offers a sustainable solution.
Nathan Swartz had an objectively good job as an animator and web designer for PBS when he was in his 20s — but it wasn't necessarily enough to satisfy him.
So he moved to England, then to Pittsburgh, all while working freelance. He admits the money was good, but packing up and moving from city to city on a regular basis was not the lifestyle he wanted — he wanted to see it all, but without being tethered down.
So Swartz packed up his belongings and his 7-year-old son into a RV and hit the open road in 2008. He started his own magazine, Wand'rly, and hasn't looked back since.
“I realized I didn't need to keep moving around, renting apartments in new cities to see new places,” he said, “I could just do it all the time.”
Swartz isn't the only one take his life on the road. In fact, he and his family are among the growing number of people adopting a #VanLife mentality.
A look at that hashtag on Instagram will bring up hundreds of trendy photographs of RVs, Volkswagen vans and other large vehicles renovated to house two or more people. But don't underestimate these travelers — they're not aimless wanderers searching for a quick paycheck.
In fact, most make their livings in the technology field, like Swartz, and use their earnings to travel — and technology is making it easier.
Mary Ashley Krogh — who goes by Mak — and her husband Owen have been on the road since April 2016, and they learned from their first road trip in 2012 that the modern nomad lifestyle requires some planning and the right tools.
“Owen and I went on the road three days after graduating from college in 2012 with just a hand-me-down tent, a Honda Element, and the meager contents of our savings account,” Krogh said. “We made it six months before our money ran out and we had to return to "real life". It was on that trip that we fell in love with being on the road and it inspired us to figure out how to do it again but in a more sustainable way.”
Both Krogh and Owen now work as graphic designers and write about their travels at BoundForNowhere.com. The pair has adopted a more eco-friendly approach to traveling, which has helped them save money.
“Being that we are designers/artists we carry a good bit of computer equipment with us (ie. laptops, cameras, cell phones and hard drives),” Krogh said, “so we can make our work from the road. While being mobile, reliable power is everything to us! Power is just as important as all of our electronic decides to keeping us connected. Our rig is fitted with a large solar panel and battery bank so we can charge all of our electronics, no matter how far off the ‘grid’ we are.”
Swartz and his family are also big proponents of using solar to power their Ford van.
“I have a Macbook Pro to get work done, we've got iPhones, and an iPad we use as a way to watch movies when it's raining or the day is done,” Swartz said. “We run 200 watts of solar which powers our tiny fridge, and allows us to keep things charged enough to answer phone calls and run my computer for work.”
Other tools, like, solar-powered portable chargers, lanterns and cell signal boosters can also help keep today's digital nomads in business, both families say. But when it comes to adopting a fully-mobile lifestyle, Mak and Owen say it's most important to keep things in perspective.
“Don't sweat the small stuff!” Krogh said. “Life on the road is full of change and unexpected obstacles that you have to be able ready to compensate for. It took many breakdowns, changes in plans, and races across the country to realize that you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. On that note: pick a reliable vehicle, it too will save you some heartache!”
Swartz says it differs from person to person — but that you shouldn't be afraid to tailor your experience to your own wants and needs.
“Go figure it out for yourself, what works for you, have fun, and don't feel like there's any particular way to do it.”