Van life is something that has been becoming increasingly more popular. It even has hash tag recognition on social media. Some see it as the ultimate adventure. It provides an opportunity to see the world and explore new places with a minimum of responsibility. The additional freedom is something many crave. To others the concept seems completely crazy. Quitting your job, living on the road, and being confined to such a small space can seem like a large, uncomfortable risk for some. Between all the stories of those who love it, those who merely use it as a means to do more of what they dream, and those who say it’s super hard, I decided to talk to my own source on the subject.
Kyle Bishop has been living in his van for about 4 years now, so he knows a thing or two about what this lifestyle is like and how to make it work. I’m happy I was able to meet him before his journey began and through pictures, blogs, and social media posts, it has been exciting to watch this inspiring adventure unfold. Kyle has one of those personalities that just draws people to him. He has a positive energy, friendly demeanor, and adventurous spirit. He is a charismatic person and a lot of fun to be around, which definitely makes him someone worth meeting. I’m sure that many of the people he has met on his adventure would consider themselves fortunate for the opportunity to get to know him and spend time with him. I’m grateful he was able to answer some questions for us about life in the van and his travels.
Climbing Together: What initiated this idea or made you want to start living the van life?
Kyle: The house I grew up in had a lot of unused space, hid in a blue collar town, and had no access to public transit. A safety bubble, as sterile as it was boring. By high school I was dying to escape.
In college I stumbled upon Tumbleweed houses, beautiful tiny-homes placed discreetly on trailers. A home with no wasted space? Free to escape a town you might outgrow? Sign me up!
After college I took a graduation trip to Yosemite. No wheels meant hitching to all the crags. Eventually I was picked up by a van. Looked around and realized it was a home. From there things just clicked. I’d already survived sharing a dorm barely twice as big, why go for a tiny house when you can get a van for 1/4 the price! (con: also 1/4 the room)
Climbing Together: Once the idea started to take hold, were there obstacles to getting starting? What tips would you recommend for someone who wanted to try switching to this kind of life?
Kyle: The only real obstacle was overcoming initial fear. Nobody really van-lifes in New England, probably something about the mind-numbing winters. I was pretty apprehensive without knowing anyone showing it could be done. “Is this crazy? Is there something I haven’t anticipated?” Lots of doubt.
My advice to anyone interested is to head to Yosemite, Red Rock, or Indian Creek during peak season, this is when the wild van dweller performs his/her annual migration. Catch yourself a wild dirt-bag and ask ’em some questions.
Everything is pretty smooth sailing after the first week or two. You quickly realize you can always move back into an apartment.
Climbing Together: Good advice. You’ve also done some backpacking. Do you think switching to backpacking was easier because of your experience with van life first? Or is it something you would have been able to do without that initial experience?
Kyle: A lot of travel is all about your comfort zone. From sanitary… “issues” in India to altitude in Nepal, relatable past experiences help you cope. Van-life is somewhere along that spectrum; it pushes your comfort zone just a little bit further.
Climbing Together: Do you think a certain kind of mentality or way of thinking would make someone more or less capable of adapting to this kind of traveling life style?
Kyle: Having such a small space means you can only keep so many things. New purchases have to be weighed against what you already have, both in value and in volume. An anti-materialistic streak goes a long way in being ready for that change. Also, your will to withstand jokes about vans and rivers must be ironclad.
Climbing Together: Makes sense. You mention in your blog getting seasonal or short term jobs to help with income for the rest of the year. Is it hard finding and getting these opportunities?
Kyle: I mostly stick to freelance programming. I’ve found two to three months of half-time work can give me enough to last the rest of the year #noRentVanLife.
I’m very lucky to have found programming; I’m fairly confident I’d be some kind of poopsmith without it. Programming is one of the few fields where opportunities seem to come to you without you looking for them.
Climbing Together: There have been quite a few articles lately promoting the idea of being in nature being good for mental and physical health, which is easy to understand. As someone who is able to spend more time in nature than the average person, have you noticed any kind of difference in regards to this?
Kyle: The city used to feel like a concrete prison. Working a 9-5 has you itching for the weekend, when you can finally run off to the mountains and reclaim some sanity.
The van brings a sense of calm through control. Don’t like the place you’re in? Drive somewhere new. Want to go cragging but short on sleep? Crash in the parking lot. Snowstorm coming? Time to head South. That control has always been much more calming to me than the forest itself.
Climbing Together: You’ve been to a lot of places in your travels, is there anywhere that sticks out as being a favorite? Is there anywhere you haven’t gone yet that you are hoping to? Is there anywhere that surprised you by being different from what you had thought it would be?
Kyle: Yosemite has always been number one; aptly deserves its title of “mecca”.
Top of my bucket list is The Great Arch in China and Rocklands South Africa.
The only place to surprise me has been Joshua Tree, I think the people of LA have Stockholm syndrome about that place. The rocks look like giant piles of horse manure strewn between weird trees, feel like tear-your-skin up sandpaper, and have the strength of kitty litter held up by Elmer’s glue on all but the most trafficked boulders.
Climbing Together: What areas have you found to be the best climbing? Have you seen improvements in your climbing from being able to do it so often?
Kyle: Bouldering: Little Rock City, Chattanooga. Not as big as Bishop, but damn is the gymnastic style fun.
Trad: Tuolumne. Alpine adventures everywhere!
Sport: The Red. Pizza. Beer. Miguel.
I’ve come to realize I don’t improve unless actively trying to do so. Having so many great destinations at your fingertips can put you in a rhythm where you just shoot for the problems in your comfort zone. There are so many classics in that comfort zone that you don’t really have to push yourself; just do the next classic you know you can conquer.
If anything, I’ve become incredibly consistent. Throw me any style of v7 and I’ll almost certainly plow through it.
Climbing Together: With traveling so much you’ve likely experienced a lot and have many stories. Is there something that stands out as an exceptional memory or something you could share?
Kyle: Went to Nepal and hiked the Annapurna Circuit. Near the end decided I would hike into the heart of the mountains to Annapurna Base Camp. Many days later, I reached the top around noon, 5 miles behind me and 4200m below. It’s about 40 miles back to Pokhara with a little over 3000m drop, roller coaster style with ups and downs in-between.
So I took off my shirt, put on some tunes, and blasted down the mountain. 24 hours later I hobbled into town, feet aching, body broken, spirit beaming.
Worth mentioning I did it all in 5mm sandals.
Climbing Together: What are some challenges to living this type of life style?
Kyle: Many people won’t understand you, some may even try to change you. The doubters. The haters. All these people will come together to foster doubt in yourself. Nowhere is this more true than a place without others doing the same (I’m looking at you, New England).
Some nights will be cold, others sweltering hot. Sometimes you wish it weren’t raining so damn much so you could escape the van and stretch outside. Creature comforts don’t come as easily to a box on wheels.
Through it all there are those days where you wake up with mountains all around, a short ride to endless adventure. On days like these, you know, oh man is it worth it.
Climbing Together: Speaking of other people, on the one hand it seems like you would get to meet a lot of different and interesting people, which would be rewarding. On the other, it seems like constantly being on the move would make social relationships possibly difficult. What is your experience with the social side of your traveling?
Kyle: A shared bond like climbing makes for an easy icebreaker, but friendships often end when the next destination calls. This has easily been the hardest thing to come to terms with, and is why I plan to set roots in San Francisco.
Travelling is an amazing experience, and I still recommend long-term for all who have the opportunity. Seeing so much and meeting so many has a way of showing you what you truly want in life, through both example and experience. There’s a saying I’ve grown fond of, “some live to become an example for others, even if just to show what not to do.”
I’ve spent the last three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, purposefully longer than I’d usually spend, fostering deeper connections while preparing for the last transient hurrah before the roots come down.
Climbing Together: It seems you are thinking of going back to a more stationary type of life? Would it be hard to adjust to that?
Kyle: As you can tell from the last Q, very much yes. After having bounced between the occasional apartment in Asia, I can say the only thing that takes adjusting to is rent and utilities.
Van-life provides one hell of an adventure, but I’m looking for a long vacation from adventure. Shit, I must be getting old.
Climbing Together: You’ve mentioned a little about this, but what are your current goals or plans for what’s next?
Kyle: I’ve been holed up in Asia working on a top secret project, an anti-procrastination tool for programmers. A few more months and I’ll be ready to launch. After that it’s off to SF.
Enough time in ad-tech, the majority of my freelancing work, has me craving a company on the forefront of social change. I’ve spent enough time in the mountains to know they’re worth protecting. Time to put my money where my mouth is.
Thank you for all your awesome answers and the time you took to write them! It seems van life is a bit of a challenge, but well worth it to see all these breathtaking views, have the control to go where you want to and when, and experience all the incredible things that come along with traveling. It is something worth considering if you have the mind set for it and the capabilities, but like all things in life, it isn’t for everyone. Good luck as you continue and finish your amazing adventures Kyle. The mountains are worth protecting, and it will be great to have someone like you working for them. Hopefully I will see you again soon, perhaps in Yosemite.
Have any of you tried the van life? Feel free to comment below with your own experiences or goals.