Living Simply: Van Life Begins


As some of you may know, I like to camp.

Actually, that’s not totally true: I like to rock climb, and camping is necessary for rock climbing in really cool places like Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, Texas, California, Utah, and Wyoming, to name a few.

I can now comfortably poop in the woods, efficiently cook over a fire or on a Coleman stove, safely weather storms, make my food rodent and bear-proof, and set up a tent in the dark. I’ve even spent plenty of nights sleeping on the ground without a tent. It’s fun sometimes, but other times the whole thing sucks.

Last year I’d had enough of tents, cooking in caves in the rain, and annoying flies.

“I’m 34 years old. I’ve had enough of these 19th century shenanigans,” I said to myself over and over. My friends’ vans with built-in kitchens, permanent beds, and dry roofs were the source of my envy, and I got the bug to make one of our own.

So we did.

My husband and I bought a 2003 GMC Savana van that had 55k miles on it – it was in great shape.


Then we hired someone to pop the top, install solar panels to conjure us some power, and install some lights.


The rest was up to us.

From about May 1st of this year until this past weekend (July 20-21), my husband and I spent every minute of our weekends and spare time creating our mini “RV” that we plan to live in for the next year.

Seth and I have been together since 2005, which in my book is a miraculously long time. I thought I knew him inside and out, and I thought we were really good at communicating, but I didn’t and we weren’t.

But now?

Now we have a better understanding of what patience, compassion, and letting go are. We’re closer now and it’s because we built this… thing with our own two hands and brains. I have a newfound respect for his ability to do stereotypically manly things, and I now know that I’m sort of creative when it comes to solving construction problems.

I also know that compromising is often not an option for a perfectionist who happens to have a degree in architecture.

“No, Neely. We’re not buying cabinets from Home Depot. We’re crafting our own out of this beautiful wood (that you’re going to spend hours sealing and sanding) so that the cabinetry can perfectly align with the unique contours of our van.” Those cabinets took 6 weeks to make, but they’re very pretty and they do fit perfectly. Seth now has some new gray hairs, too. Seriously.

Or this. “No, Neely. We’re not just going to slap together some shoddy bed frame out of wood! What a silly idea! I shall weld a perfectly constructed steel frame that will align precisely with the unique contours of the bottom half of our very oddly shaped van.” That took 5 weeks, but it’s awesome and it gives us so much more room for storage. I didn’t even know he could weld…

In the meantime, I learned how to use at least 10 different power tools. I miraculously didn’t lose any appendages in the process, and I mis-measured almost everything I put my hands on. I’m more of an “I’ll just eyeball it” kind of girl.



Anyway, all we have left to do is put the remaining cushions on our bed and bench, which Seth’s mom is upholstering at the moment. Here’s the finished product.





I’m sad I missed out on most of this summer of climbing to build it, but I’m really proud of what we’ve created. And I’m beyond excited about moving out of our house in 5 days to live in it and be free.

We can go wherever we want whenever we want to go there.

No more going on a climbing trip for the weekend or for a week and being so disappointed that we have to come back home!

You may be saying, “Welcome to reality, Neely. Most people are disappointed when their vacations end, duh.” And I realize that. Sometimes I think I’m nuts for wanting this, but doing this has been my dream for a very long time: going on the road to climb, knowing that I can still pay my bills.

Being able to climb wherever I want while still having a really meaningful occupation is a huge gift I’ve been given. My job is amazing in that I can do it from the road as long as I have internet. I love writing blog posts, answering people’s questions, overseeing our meal plans, and seeing clients, and I’ll continue to do all of that while we’re living in the van. I don’t take it for granted that I’m able to do this, and I never will. I’ll also be visiting you guys, doing Paleo Q&A sessions at CrossFit gyms, and visiting with local Paleo Meetup groups. Please let me know if you want me to come visit your gym or group!

Living Paleo on the Road

While the van is outfitted with a fridge, a 2-burner gas stove, a full-sized sink, a butcher block counter top, a heater, a bed, electricity, a small toilet, and a TV, there are some things I will miss, of course.

I’ll miss our freezer with our cows, pigs, and loads of dog food (meat and bones) in there. We have a fridge, but we won’t be able to go meat shopping in our freezer every 3 days anymore. It’ll be more expensive to buy meat now for sure.

I’ll miss hot water, but I may strongly suggest that we get hot water in the van eventually :) And I’ll miss our dishwasher and our laundry machines… I guess the list of things I’ll miss is pretty long.

But I will not miss the truckloads of things that we have in our house that we never ever use – the things that just take up space.

I’ve already thrown away boxes and bags of stuff, and my life feels cleaner and less weighed down already. I threw away 6 boxes of books alone – books I never would have touched again.

I’m looking forward to living simply – having only 2 forks, spoons, knives, plates, etc. And speaking of eating utensils, we’re planning on continuing our Paleo lifestyle 100% while on the road, of course. The dog will even stay on her raw Paleo diet, thanks to our small freezer and fridge. I’ll let you guys know how that all goes, and what troubles we come across with finding high quality food across the country.

I’m also very much looking forward to being outside pretty much all the time. Whether I’m cooking, eating, working, climbing, or sleeping, I’ll be in the elements or very close to them. That makes me happy :) Well, it’ll make me happy until I’m freezing my buns off in Kentucky in November…

Thank You’s

Ok, that was a long-winded post – I guess I needed to talk about this huge project! I want to thank Seth’s family for the massive amount of help they’ve given us in the build-out. We couldn’t have done it without you! And I want to thank Joel Love for graciously letting us borrow his tools and his brain all the time. And all the other van veterans out there who gave us the resources and encouragement we needed along the way. Lastly but not leastly, I want to thank Jason, the owner of Paleo Plan, who is allowing me to continue to do my thing at Paleo Plan while living in the van. I can’t tell you how much your trust means to me! Love all you guys!

Let this thing begin…