Meet Lisa- a lawyer, designer, writer and solo female vanlifer. Pretty awesome right? To Lisa life on the road means a sense of freedom, of ditching plans and embracing life as it comes. Feeling dissatisfied in a life that should have been fulfilling, Lisa made the bold move to step away from societies conventions and to take her ever changing career and entrepreneurial spirit on the road.
Below Lisa writes openly about life in her beautiful van, Freebird. Read more and be inspired as she talks about fear and freedom, about traveling solo and connecting with strangers and about finding that work-life balance. Lisa’s interview is a reminder to take life as it comes, to stop planning so much and to just go for it…
Girls Off Grid! Ft. Solo Female Vanlifer, Lisa @vacayvans
“My location at this moment is the Los Padres National Forest… but that will change again in a day or two.”
Tell me a bit about yourself:
I’m Lisa, I’m a 34 year old solo female vanlifer from Austin, Texas. My location at this moment is the Los Padres National Forest outside Ojai, California, but that will change again in a day or two. My next destination is unknown. I work remotely doing admin/legal work for an internet company, so you could say I’m a digital nomad. I’ve had a several different careers over the years: I’ve been a lawyer, event planner, construction project manager, and sustainable interior designer. I love anything and everything creative—I write, sew, perform in community theatre, and am obsessed with brainstorming new, creative business ideas.
What did your life look like before you found vanlife?
Before becoming a solo female vanlifer, I was in Austin, Texas living with my two cats in a vintage Airstream I recently renovated. Before that I lived in a regular house in Austin where I worked from home and did design work for residential and commercial clients.
Why did you decide to get a van and become a solo female vanlifer?
Before I decided to make this big change, it seemed (on the surface anyway) like my life was going in the right direction—I had recently bought a house and started a growing interior design firm. But deep down, I knew something was off. There was something missing in my day-to-day life that was leaving me unsatisfied, but I couldn’t pin point what it was. I even remember writing a short story last year about a woman who bought a house and ran a success business, but still felt lost. I had no idea that the solution would be to move into a 60sf van!
Tell me about your van- make/model, age, price, when you bought it, layout inside, what you love about it, what you don’t love so much…
My van, Freebird, is a 2012 Nissan NV2500 high roof I purchased from a repo guy off Craigslist for $11,000 with 50K miles. I got a great deal because she was an old chicken catering van and was completely wrapped in a bright pink car wrap. The NV is not a van that’s commonly converted, but it’s an excellent option for a camper van conversion because it’s so affordable to maintain and comes with a solid warranty. Freebird is a great size for one person to live and travel in—the living space is 6’ by 10’ and the finished height clearance is just over 6’. If I wasn’t a solo female vanlifer and was traveling with a partner, I would probably prefer a longer wheelbase, because Freebird is about 3’ shorter than the larger Sprinters. That said, it’s a huge plus that the NV is easy to drive and I can pretty much park anywhere.
When I purchased Freebird, I was halfway through renovating my Airstream, so I was familiar with designing small living spaces. I knew a decent amount about residential construction, but building a tiny house inside a van was an entirely new beast! I tried my best to design Freebird sustainably, with healthy indoor air quality in mind. That meant spending extra on plywood without added formaldehyde, using non-toxic wool for insulation, renewable linoleum flooring, and no VOC-added paint. I hired an outside contractor to run the electrical wiring and install all the systems (AC, vent fan, propane, cut-out and install the windows, etc.) and my ex-boyfriend helped me with the project.
“Vanlife is ultimate freedom.”
A top priority was for the van to feel spacious, since I knew I’d spend a lot of time working on my computer in the van. For that reason, I went for the convertible bench-to-bed layout versus a permanently fixed bed. I love that I can have both the back and side doors open at the same time, for a ton of natural light and airflow. I also recommend adding windows, as long as you have good window covers for privacy and temperature control.
I literally designed Freebird down to the 1/8” in SketchUp, a program I’ve used frequently for work. The cabinetry was designed specifically to fit my kitchen items, the water jerry cans, and the toilet. Countertop space was prioritized with two fold-out countertop extenders.
How much time do you spend in Freebird?
Honestly, I spend a lot of time in my van. This is because I work on the road and I work A LOT. Time in the van is spent working, cleaning, cooking, planning my next moves, driving, and sleeping. So yeah, that’s a huge chunk of time! My goal is to have better work/life balance and to spend less time in the van! I need to curb my inner workaholic and force myself to take more time off exploring the beautiful places I’m traveling. It’s hard though, because I’m working on a writing project for my next creative venture, and that’s an activity that takes up a lot of time.
“I don’t know where I’m going sleep tonight and that’s pretty typical.”
What does vanlife enable you to do?
Vanlife is ultimate freedom. I can go anywhere and everywhere at any time and there’s always an opportunity for a new adventure on the horizon. Since I don’t have any timeline, I am free wander and relax without planning ahead or even planning at all. I typically ask locals where they recommend I go, and then I go there. It’s that easy and free flowing. I don’t know where I’m going sleep tonight and that’s pretty typical. Vanlife has also opened up a whole new way of connecting with people—I’m making friends all around the world and have met so many like-minded people, it’s incredible how many genuine new friends I’ve made in my short time on the road.
How do you feel being a solo female vanlifer? Do you feel safe? Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Fear is an internal and danger is an external. At the beginning of my travels as a solo female vanlifer, I felt afraid sometimes, but there was no actual reason for it. It was all in my head. Once I realized that I control my feelings and I can decide to not be afraid, I’ve chosen to feel safe and strong in the van on my own. It still sort of boggles my mind that people think it’s scary for a woman to do something on her own. I’ve been traveling internationally on my own for years. Yeah, bad things can happen, but they are probably more likely to happen at home than on the road. I refuse to let being female hold me back from doing the things I want to do. If I’m afraid of anything, as a solo female vanlifer, it isn’t people. It’s my own lack of wilderness skills or something related to the van—like the fear of getting the van stuck or breaking down in a place without cell service. Generally speaking though, feeling fear doesn’t help me be safer, trusting my instincts does.
“Fear is an internal and danger is an external…I’ve chosen to feel safe and strong in the van on my own. “
How have you found life as a solo female vanlifer?
I didn’t intend to travel solo, I originally planned to do the adventure with a boyfriend, but we broke up. At first, I wasn’t sure if I could do the journey on my own—I had never even considered doing this solo. I took a break for a few months to regroup and assess what I wanted to do next. It wasn’t long before I realized that vanlife was still my dream. It was going to look differently than I had originally planned, but that’s just part of life.
I’ve definitely grown a lot in this short time living and traveling solo. Instead of relying on someone else to solve my problems, I’m learning how to take care of myself. I’m so happy I faced my fears and got back into the van on my own—I think I’m growing into a stronger, better human and I’m so grateful!
Would you say your time spent in Freebird has changed you as a person, your goals, aspirations or your outlook on life?
Being in the van has definitely changed me as a person. I really love the weirdness factor of living in a van. I always had a hunch that I was a little different/quirky, but I never really felt comfortable embracing that side of myself. Instead, I let outside expectations influence my actions and that always left me feeling unfulfilled. I remember being in law school and feeling like I was so out of place— like I was trying to fit into a square peg but I was a pinwheel.
Living in a van gives me the opportunity to embrace my unconventional side. Since I don’t maintain a “normal” lifestyle, I don’t feel the external pressures to fit inside society’s mold. I can create my own way of life and it’s almost anticipated that I’m going to be different. I’m so excited to see how I grow creatively throughout this process.
What does your journey look like?
I have no plan! I want to hit up as many vanlife gatherings as I can, because I really enjoy connecting with others in this community, but other than that I’m pretty open. I do have two cats in Austin being taken care of by a friend, so at some point I’m going to have to either find a new friend to watch them or bring them in the van…that’s all to be determined.
What’s the best thing about vanlife?
My favorite part of vanlife is being able to be spontaneous at any moment. I can say yes to any random idea, suggestion, or opportunity that comes my way. I am open to anything and this has resulted in some experiences I never would have had if I were living a “normal” lifestyle.
And what’s not so great…
On the flip side, complete spontaneity can sometimes be exhausting because I am constantly making decisions about things that greatly influence my path, like which direction to travel, what to see, and where to sleep each night. This is both exciting and sometimes overwhelming. I’m working on finding balance with this. I’ve learned that when decisions overwhelm me to just take a break and not make any moves until I’m feeling better. Sometimes it’s nice to just chill and take a break from moving forward all the time.
What are your essentials for life on the road?
I love my kitchen. I have a three-burner propane stove, lots of counter space, and a huge Dometic fridge. I can cook pretty much anything I want to (as long as it’s on the stove). I also love my Bose speaker and use it daily for podcasts and music.
Other vanlife essentials I recommend include back-up chargers—I have an external charger for when I need to charge devices by my battery is low. I also have a tow strap (thanks for @humblebeginningsvan for the recommendation) and battery-rechargeable jumper cables. I also highly recommend good, insulating window covers. I made covers with layers of thermal fabric, reflextix, and magnets that fit perfectly within my window frames. These are essential for temperature control and for privacy when you’re in the van at night. Also, make sure you have lots of hooks for storage and a dedicate spot for your keys—it makes life a lot easier!
Where do you park most of the time- do you wild camp or stay at campsites?
I do a lot of urban camping in neighborhoods in small towns because I often need cell service for work. I’m still mastering how to find good stealth parking spots in nature—I think it’s a bit of an art to have an instinct for that, and I’m hoping to improve my skills the longer I live on the road. I’m still a newbie and I have a lot to learn. I’m definitely utilizing the resources out there as much as I can (recommendations from locals, Instagram, Reddit, freecampsites.net, iOverlander, etc).
“Losing her made me realize that all we have is now and that’s why I’m living in a van.”
How did your family & friends react when you decided to move into a van?
My dad definitely doesn’t understand anything that I’m doing in my life, but he’s 75-years-old. He still thinks I should go back to being a lawyer because in his mind money equals happiness (which is something the vanlife generation has turned on its head). Back in his day, a single woman without kids in her 30’s was an old maid. I tried to explain to him that a single woman in her 30’s can run the world and his only response was to shake his head and say, “It’s a crazy world.”
My siblings, on the other hand, are themselves not very conventional, so I don’t think anyone was too surprised. We all are a little quirky and have embarked on our own wild life journeys, so this is actually pretty in-line with the rest of my family. I bet that one day my brother Adam will live in a van too– maybe we’ll have a family vanlife caravan one day!
My mom passed away a few years ago but she would be both absolutely thrilled with everything I’m doing in life and at the same time completely overrun by worry (oh, moms…). In a lot of ways she inspired me to live this wild lifestyle. She was a bit of a wandering gypsy herself. That said, she was always planning for the future, rather than living in the now. Losing her made me realize that all we have is now and that’s why I’m living in a van.
What are your future plans as a solo female vanlifer?
I don’t have any plans for the future! Wow, when I say it like that it sounds a little scary… I have some plans for events and travel this fall. I might spend some time in Austin. I want to learn photography and filmography and I want to write (maybe I’ll even write a vanlife screenplay one day!). Other than that, I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 3 months, 6 months, or 9 months, and I’m okay with that.
We loved hearing from Lisa about her independent travels across the United States of America. Her story and outlook on life is an inspiring one and really encourages you to go for life and live to the fullest. Lisa has thrown away the conventional rule book to the daily nine to five grind and as a result has created a lifestyle where everyday is an epic adventure that can bring something new. As Lisa said, “vanlife is ultimate freedom” and with freedom comes true happiness. If you enjoyed Lisa’s interview and hearing all about her travels then you can follow her current journey over on her blog vacayvans.com.
If you’re a solo female vanlifer we’d love to hear from you- email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to be a part of our Girls Off Grid series.
Written by Rose @vincentvanlife