Santa Barbara, CA: Sean Collier with his van.
1. Where do you even find a van like this?
Sean: I’ve wanted a van for years. Seeing all these trips and photos through the van life culture prompted my obsession for having my own someday. It took about two years of searching through the Samba and Craigslist until I found a potential van, and I actually didn’t even find it myself. My mom is a AAA agent and had a client that mentioned he was selling his big conversion van he never uses.
My mother, knowing my love of vans after hearing me for years, instantly told the guy her son might be interested. She called me right after he left, told me she found a van I could go check out, and the next day, I lit out from Santa Barbara to my hometown, after a restless night dreaming of owning one. I had the cash ready for my first visit and ended up purchasing it on the spot. I got it for a steal. And that’s where it all started.
2. Do you really live out of it?
Sean: Unfortunately, at the moment, I don’t have the ability to spend a majority of my time in the van and on the road. College is a priority for me right now, and it steals a ton of my time and money. However, I always find a little time to hit the road and get away, even if it’s only for a night. I go to school in Santa Barbara, which is a pretty prime location to travel from. If I have a busy schedule, I usually just take to the mountains of Santa Barbara, or go sleep at the beach somewhere.
The beauty of van camping is that you’re always kind of ready to leave on short notice. I keep my van stocked with food and supplies at all times because, sometimes, you just get the urge to go sleep somewhere different for the night.
3. How often do you spontaneously decide to hit the road?
Sean: Almost all my trips are spontaneous. I keep my van stocked with food and supplies so I can hit the road whenever I find time, which is usually all I do in my free time.
Spontaneous trips usually are the best and turn out to be a better experience. It’s great to be able to leave the city and the stress of school and take a break for a little in the mountains. Having a set plan is also nice as well, haha. I love connecting with old and new friends and scheming camp plans together. Spending time with people around a campfire is priceless.
4. How did you build out the van to make it livable?
Sean: My van is an explorer model, which is like those big conversion vans from the 90s that families used to drive across the country in. I’m talking equipped with Nintendo 64 and everything, haha.
It came with a foldable queen size bed that is super comfy and gets the job done. I added a kitchen cabinet for storage and cooking and a nice cooler to keep my food cold.
I also custom-built the roof racks so I could haul my surfboards around without keeping them inside. I haven’t done much of a build-out myself, but I actually just started scheming a build that might take place this summer. I’d like to strip the interior and completely build a living space, with the help of friends.
5. What are the biggest challenges and advantages?
Sean: I’d say my biggest issue with owning a van is getting fixated on seeing the van as an item and not a gateway to exploration. I recently noticed that I take a huge amount of photos of my van itself, and sometimes I lose the memory of actually being in the moment in those new places. I have tried to start focusing less on my van as an item and just being grateful that it’s such a sweet way to travel and makes the experience so much better. Owning a van is a blast.
Sometimes I’ll be parked at the beach, hanging in my van, and a group of people will walk by and cheer and give me high-fives, haha. I love seeing the smiles and stoke I get from people appreciating the way I live. I think everyone relates to the desire to invest their time in quality time on the road, instead of luxury or money.
With that said, the thing I love most about owning my van is the people I have met on the way. The #vanlife culture is so strong, that every owner of a van wants to meet another person with a van and see what their van life is like. I can’t begin to tell you how many friendships I’ve made and the inspiration I’ve gained through owning a van. It really rocks.
6. Will you ever do Van Life full-time?
Sean: The more I travel in my van, the more I long to live in it. Like I said, I don’t quite have the option to move in full-time because I’m trying (very hard) to stay in school and get my degree. I’m graduating in the Spring of 2018. That’s where things get interesting. I don’t have a set path after school, like getting a job or where I’ll be living.
Not having an plan in college is wicked scary, but also a lot of fun. As of right now, my ideal dream is to take time off after school and hit the road, living out of my van full-time (don’t tell my mom). My girlfriend would most likely accompany me because I've gotten her hooked as well, haha.
Having a van gives me another option, a route that I know many people would love to take but may not have the guts to do. I’m hoping I still will in a year.
Sean Collier is a lover of meeting new people, coffee, surfing, and taking photos. As he finishes up his final years of college, he plans to hit the road and live out of his van, shooting film and exploring the United States. Inspiration from friends and the surrounding community drives his passion for creativity. Connect with him at his blog. He'd be beyond stoked.