Buy a van, sell everything, quit your job and explore the country. In the last 10 years, the van life has become a sought-after prescription against conformity, the cure for millennial wanderlust and — maybe above all else — a pretty idyllic way to road trip.
Until it's not: there are the long stretches of highway, the fast-food pit stops, the expensive campsites, the spotty Wi-Fi and the sleepless nights spent in Walmart parking lots. For every positive on the van-life list, there's bound to be a negative.
Which is why Katie Boué is in the midst of a road trip experiment: Is spending less time actually on the road the ultimate way to see the country?
As the social media manager for the Outdoor Industry Association and the popular adventure blogger behind The Morning Fresh, Boué has the unique perspective of having both lived the van life (she spent a year on the road living in a yellow Sprinter) and having dabbled in a new way of traveling.
“The last time I hit the road full time, I wasn't really doing much of anything besides [rock climbing],” she explains. “This time, I'm working my salaried job — so is my boyfriend — so we need a proper place to hunker down during the week.”
The plan? Load up a Subaru Outback, drive to a new city and rent a home through Airbnb until the couple is ready to move on to the next location. It's a slowed down, pared down, way to embark on a long-term road trip that might just be the answer to a pretty big question: How the heck am I going to make money while I'm on the road?
“Staying put longer and renting an Airbnb makes it much easier to really soak up a city's culture, eat healthy, shower on a regular basis and be able to sit in on conference calls,” explains Boué.
“We're sticking to outdoor-minded destinations, so I'm still able to get outside and play any day of the week. It's significantly more expensive than van life, but since we're both working full time, we can pull it off.”
With no rent to pay at home, Boué and her boyfriend can justify the cost of booking a rental in each city they visit. So far, they've been plotting a route from Denver, Colorado, to the Southeast, back through the Southwest, and up the West Coast to Seattle.
“Van life isn't exactly conducive to my current situation,” says Boué, adding that “one of the big downsides to traveling in a van was being stuck camping out in the boonies or feeling like an outsider stealthily boondocked on the side of a street.”
Renting a place in town puts the duo in the heart of the city's culture and affords them the luxury of personal space (and a warm bed).
“I was down in [Tennessee] this time two years ago in my old van, and it was one of the most miserable times of my life,” she says. “It's frigid in the mornings and evenings this time of year, period. I remember waking up in the van shivering to frozen Nalgenes, nowhere to go on bad weather days and absolute zero motivation to climb.”
Now I get to crank out work all morning from 'my' living room, toss the crash pad into my car, climb my heart out until the sun sets, then drive home for a warm meal and some foam rolling. I'm happier, healthier and psyched.”
There are downsides, of course: Rentals need to be booked in advance, so there's little room for spontaneity.
“Once we pack up the Subaru with everything, it's not ideal to have it unattended,” Boué explains.
“We pretty much have to jet between destinations. And if we end up taking multiple days to get places, we have to sleep squeezed into the front seats without any possibility of reclining. But those juicy moments of inconvenience are so worth the squeeze,” she says.
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