A year ago, Lucas and Willa Via decided to shun traditional vacations and become road warriors. They bought a van on Craigslist, remodeled it with bohemian-chic interiors, and left New York for wide open spaces. The couple drove across 14 US states over four months.
Between filling up the tank and eating out, they spent less than $35 a day on the essentials.
“If we flew by a teeny tiny log cabin cafe that looked straight out of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ we’d make room in our budget to turn right around and give it a try. This goes for signs that said, ‘world’s best donuts.’ There are a lot of those,” Willa told Business Insider.
Real life has picked back up for the Vias, who live in San Francisco now. But they plan to take the van out for weekend getaways as a way to vacation more frequently and affordably.
Lucas and Willa Via are living their most Instagrammable lives.
They were inspired to vacation in a converted van-dwelling after seeing the unmissable hashtag on social media. (There are over 2.3 million Instagram posts tagged #vanlife).
Van dwelling is an increasingly popular lifestyle choice among creatives and tech workers, as a way to live in urban centers without spending half of income on rent.
Lucas and Willa started planning their great escape shortly after getting married in 2016. “Being New Yorkers, in our twenties, we weren’t rolling in cash by any means,” Lucas said.
The van, which they named Roosevelt, cost several thousand dollars and had 250,000 miles on it. It was previously owned by a construction crew that unloaded tools, glue, and cement into the back.
A friend offered to keep the van in his driveway upstate. Lucas, who grew up building skateboard ramps and fixing stuff with his dad, spent every weekend working on the van
With help from Willa’s stepdad, Ron, they outfitted the van with a U-shaped bench that serves as storage, seating for lounging around, and a platform for a memory-foam mattress
With a fresh coat of white paint and some shiplap, the van was transformed.
Willa, a grade school teacher, took a sabbatical before starting a new job in San Francisco. Lucas, who works as an account manager for an analytics company, could work remotely. They charted a course that would bring them to friends and family along the way.
Most weekdays, they camped outside coffee shops and public spaces with WiFi so that Lucas could work from his “home office.” Willa explored new terrain and blogged.
By night, they set out to find dive bars — the best place to meet locals. (A waiter recommended this hidden gem of a campground on Green River in UtahThey parked and slept in campgrounds and WalMart parking lots.Living in a van created a “fairy tale experience where you can live outdoors,” Willa said.
The weekend road warriors discovered national parks and natural wonders.
The van made it through blazing temperatures in Arizona and rain storms in Oklahoma.
Though they avoided paying for motels, Lucas said they racked up serious expenses on their vacation by stopping every few hours to eat out, visit a local museum, or see a band play.
They emptied their pockets on activities, but only spent about $30 a day on food and gas. Lucas estimated that they filled the tank — which cost about $60 — roughly 33 times during the trip.