Because the best next place to live is on the road.
In October 2018, my partner and I quit our jobs in Denver, ended the lease we’d held for three years and took off in my Honda Fit. We’d built a platform that contained storage space and extended into a bed when the seats were pushed forward. We jokingly called it #FitLife.
About a year prior, during a road trip through the southern United States, I’d tentatively asked the question, “Where would you live if you didn’t live in Denver?” We’d been in the city for a while, my partner eight years and me almost five, so we’d developed a lot of connections—friend groups, professional networking groups, favorite climbing crags, social justice causes. I knew that this question was a big one.
But truthfully, despite the community we’d created and the familiarity the city provided, I’d been struggling with Denver’s rapid growth for a while. Like most metropolitan areas that become popular, tech in Denver is on the rise, neighborhoods are quickly becoming gentrified and renamed, and folks are either losing the housing battle and falling into homelessness, moving to the lesser developed outskirts, or leaving the city altogether. Because of the influx of people, most new Denverites are too green to notice or care about the changes.
When I asked the question “Where would you live if you didn’t live in Denver?” I didn’t have an answer. I just knew I wanted something smaller, less transient. But the question spurred a conversation that, once opened, generated all kinds of collective wants—mountains nearby for hiking and climbing, access to a major airport, an ocean within six hours, like-minded community. And just like that, we had a goal to leave Denver. Within a few months, I’d created an entire list of potential places to live—Tucson (Arizona), Reno (Nevada), Bend (Oregon), and so many more. Our vacations over that year became about visiting these places.
But every time we visited a new place, once the trip was over, I was eager to visit the next place. That made me pause and question our plan—was I looking for the ‘perfect’ place, or was I just looking for exploration? That idea seemed irresponsible and unattainable at the time. So after a few visits, we settled on Bend, Oregon. We set a deadline that corresponded with the end of our lease and quit our jobs with a plan to travel until we found something within our career fields.
We traveled for six months, transitioning from #FitLife to #AirbnbLife two months into the journey. We drove from Southern California to Santa Fe, back to Tucson, then to Albuquerque, up to Reno and over to Oakland and a few other places sprinkled in between. We cimbed, spent time with friends, advocated for equity in outdoor spaces, all the while, assessing whether we wanted to do this long-term and how it would work with full-time careers.
Much of how I engage in social justice is through my career—I enjoy managing projects, overseeing programs and interacting with people professionally to create positive changes for advancements I care about: education, equity, co-liberation. I realized I wanted to continue working for an organization with a mission I believed in but didn’t want that company to dictate where I lived. So, I decided to continue my career remotely. I also rediscovered a hashtag I hadn’t considered in a while: #VanLife.
In my exploration, I’ve found that #VanLife is really just a concept that captures all people who live nomadic lives, whether in a van, RV or car; whether working, retired, or younger and traveling full-time; and whether for adventure, or the inability to afford traditional housing in their chosen city. There are even affinity communities, like #BlackVanLife, solo women on the road, or #VanLife with pets. The more I researched this lifestyle, the more I realized that a lot of people are seeking something similar or have already found it.
After a lot of joint life planning, my partner and I decided to seek #VanLife as our next life opportunity. And that’s where we are today—building a van, selling most of our life possessions, and after searching for the right roles, continuing our respective careers remotely. My partner and I do carpentry as a hobby so other than researching electric and plumbing, building a home hasn’t been a skill stretch. But for those that don’t have those skills, there are also van builders that specialize in creating homes on wheels, many of which began as van lifers themselves.
Thinking back, the moment I submitted the notice to my job, I felt like I had already left Denver. I also realized something else in that moment—I’d been longing for the opportunity to live in different places, meet new people. But the fear of not having stability, of leaving a place and a career that had become comfortable, had prevented me from seeing that. Making a plan and committing to that plan left the future wide open. And I’m ecstatic to fill it.