It all started with a dream to see more of the beautiful country in which we live. Liz Snyder and Rachel Wood currently live in a 2006 white, Sprinter van because they wanted to break free and travel the United States. They quit their Asheville, N.C.-based jobs and lives, turned their van into their home and are traveling the United States and Canada. To date, theyâve been on the road for eight months.
Both Snyder and Wood independently dreamt of living life on the road, experiencing beautiful landscapes and recreating around the country. After hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2015, Snyder felt the most freedom she ever felt, and she knew she couldnât return to ânormalâ life. The travel bug bit Wood during an internship in Bend OR. After this life-changing experience, Wood says, âI just want to move and travel and see as many places as I can while Iâm on this planet.â
From their first time hanging out together, Snyder and Wood knew they had a mutual dream of travel, and travel has a big influence on their relationship. Woods says, â Travel is a huge part of our relationship and probably what helped bring us together. â
Hear the ins and outs of how Snyder and Wood built a life on the road:
The glorious and bumpy road
Snyder and Wood admit there are good days and bad days. Says Snyder, âAs with anything, there are good days and there are bad days. But even the bad days still feel good.â At the end of the day, though, they can look around wherever they are and revel in their independence.
Snyder and Wood have watched their parents work the 9-5 grind toward retirement. While they appreciate that kind of dedication, both feel âthose retirement daysâ are never promised and believe they can be both smart about their future and live their dreams in the present. Both feel the path isnât the way they want to live. âItâs important to find comfort in discomfort,â says Snyder.
Both Snyder and Wood enjoyed their jobs and found them rewarding, but they grew tired of the routine and normalcy. They felt so comfortable they were stagnant. Snyder continues, âThere is another life out there for everyone. You just have to do it.â
Both stayed at their full-time jobs until a few days before they hit the road. Many people today use the term âside-hustleâ synonymously with second and third jobs. Snyder and Wood saw building out their van and preparing for life on the road as their side hustle. That side-hustle included finding their van, educating themselves on building out a van and charting their course out of Asheville.
Once they started, everything fell into place. â Once you put your mind to something and thatâs your goal, the universe follows along with you ,â says Snyder. It took Snyder and Wood 11 months to go from inspiration to purchasing their van. It then took four months to build their van into their current home, which admittedly was a fast turn-around time for building out a van.
Both attribute their constant communication and checking in with each other while making their plans concrete for helping their relationship survive what couldâve had adverse consequences. Every step of the way, from quitting their jobs to selling their cars, they checked in with each other to ensure neither had doubts about their unconventional plan.
âItâs very stressful, sometimes terrifying, to change your life, sell your things, leave your family and friends and move into a such a small (6-foot x 10-foot) space,â Wood admits. Itâs worth noting that both women are nearly 6-feet tall, and they have a full-grown Labrador Retriever on the road with them. Regardless, even when they were most scared or doubtful, they always came to the same conclusion; they wanted to fulfill this dream.
The âhow toâ of building out a van
The biggest source of stress on their relationship through this experience was building out their van. The couple admits they had no building experience before assuming this task. Initially, Snyder and Wood only owned a hammer. For a birthday, they got drills and other tools to do their van conversion.
Aside from a few mistakes, their education cost them almost nothing. Snyder and Woodâs education came from YouTube and Instagram, though mostly from YouTube. They watched numerous van-build-out videos and adopted what they liked for their van. Many people who build-out vans showcase their progress on YouTube, which provides education to an audience who might do the same.
The financial roadmap
Because Snyder worked at Eagleâs Nest Camp and was required to essentially live on-site for three months each year, she was able to save about 40% of her annual income because both housing and food were provided by the co-ed residential camp. Knowing she would eventually be on some sort of adventure, Snyder saved her money for a few years prior to their departure.
Having $30,000 saved â maybe having fewer beers when planning â for this adventure wouldâve been great, although they never reached that number because they didnât want to sacrifice their dreams waiting for âthe perfect time.â Neither has touched their retirement accounts, though they have tapped into savings, and they took out a small loan to buy their van.
The build of their van cost less than $3,000, which includes the plywood for their bed and a bathroom vanity purchased for $45 from a Habitat for Humanity restore. Everything else was self-made. Their solar setup cost $600 and their fridge cost $500.
Since theyâve hit the road, their expenses have been nothing like living in an apartment or a house. They donât pay utilities. They always camp at free sites or park in lots where itâs allowed. In their first six months, their net-costs were between $5,000 to $10,000. Both acknowledge they havenât been terribly frugal, though.
Working on making the road work
Snyder and Woodâs carefree life isnât free of bills. Theyâre still responsible for student loans and cell phone bills, and theyâre paying off their van loan. To manage expenses, they take temporary work through Craigslist and local staffing agencies. These jobs combined with their savings help cover recurring bills and provide satisfaction and education.
They were dandelion pickers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO for $12 an hour for six weeks. That job came with free parking for added savings. In Oregon, they worked on an industrial hemp farm planting hemp to be used for CBD oil after growing and production. Most recently, theyâve worked as gardeners at a private home. Theyâve augmented their income by being groundskeepers for Granite Gear.
Notably, Snyder and Wood have exchanged the traditional for the authentic. The couple has pared their lifestyles back as much as possible and redefined what comfort means to them in order to have their unique experiences. This disrupts many peopleâs paradigm of how life should be, and Snyder and Woods have felt condescension from others at times because of it.
People say, âYouâre farming? Is that what youâre doing for a living now?â From their experience, living authentically, having the unique experiences they desire, requires a thick skin. âItâs important to question society and whether its rules make you happy. Itâs not about what we think we need or what others think we need but what we actually need,â Wood says. âDoes your Apple Watch hug you at night and tell you, âI love you,ââ she concludes.
Thereâs not an app, yet, that gives hug and love, but a life spent living your dreams doesnât need an app for that.