Vanlife Portrait: Hannah from San Diego
We first met Hannah in June 2017 when we were still living in Berlin and she was couchsurfing Europe with her best friend Mikayla. The two girls stayed at our apartment for a few nights and we loved hanging out with these two! They were super nice, fun and easy going and had lots of great stories to share. So we knew we had to see them when we would go to California.
Fast forward about one year with a lot of changes in both of our lives, we got the chance to catch up with Hannah for a good couple of weeks in San Diego with beach bonfires, farmers markets, tacos and a couple of beers. Unfortunately, Mikayla wasn’t in town at the time, but instead we got to meet Hannah’s lovely boyfriend Justin. And they make quite a couple, believe me!
For us, it was amazing to know locals for our stay because it just makes every place so much more authentic. Also, cruising around in Fritz in a big city can sometimes be quite exhausting, so me & Fabi were lucky to have Hannah and Vandra (“the bitch” how she lovingly calls her vehicle) take us out, and Fritz could enjoy his peace & quiet in our favorite beach parking lot.
Today we want to tell you Hannah’s story. It’s awesome and unique and also a little romantic.
Name: Hannah, 23
Current location: San Diego, California
Van: Honda Odyssey (Minivan) called “Vandra” (16 years old)
Vanlifer: on & off since May 2017
Makes a living: working at Starbucks & studying Marketing & Communication
Motto: Choose joyX
The beginnings of Hannah’s vanlife story
When we met Hannah for the first time in Berlin she lived in a Dodge Suburban with Mikayla. The girls had moved down to San Diego and after sharing a tiny room for $400 a month each, they decided that this was not a lifestyle they wanted to pursue and moved into a van. It was only planned for a couple of months and ended up being almost half a year for Hannah and a full year for Mikayla After her first vanlife experience, Hannah temporarily moved back to an apartment with her (now ex) boyfriend and when things didn’t work out she was crashing at friends’ places for a while. Since she was sure that she didn’t want to pay rent again, it became quite obvious that a new van would be the right direction for her.
So about 6 weeks ago, Hannah went back to vanlife, when she found her Honda minivan for $2,200 on Craigslist. It was super clean and in good condition and she made it her own in only 4 days: all it took was a little detailing, a fold-out sofa/bed from Ikea for $100, a nice rug and some curtains paired with an old drawer she still had and born was Vandra – the most stealthy mini van in San Diego. Despite only working on it for a couple of days, it turned out really nice and cosy!
“I love the simplicity of the whole set-up and it still feels like a little home for me”
Before, when her and Mikayla had the Suburban, they built their own bed frame and put a lot of effort into designing the interior, but Hannah likes her new version a lot better: it is just so simple and still feels like a home to her.
When we met Hannah here, we quickly came to appreciate how stealthy her van is and that it basically allows her to park anywhere she wants without ever getting noticed. She even kept a “Baby on Board” sticker from the previous owners, which I think is an absolute brilliant idea!
#Vanlife in the city
This time, vanlife is a lot different: Hannah has her own space, her own van. Living in the Suburban with Mikayla was great but also challenging.
Vanlife now just feels exactly right to Hannah “I love it, I can’t even imagine not liking it anymore at some point.” The freedom and flexibility to just do whatever you want, to be able to wake up close to the ocean every single day and go down to the beach in the morning in San Diego’s most prestigious neighbourhoods without having to pay for rent is just a luxury that she doesn’t want to trade in for a “proper house” any time soon.
“By keeping the cost of living low, you can just do things you want without having to worry about huge fixed costs all the time. It is just so insane how expensive rent is”. Still, life is not for free: Hannah works at Starbucks as a Shift Supervisor for 40 hours a week and studies Marketing & Communication at the Arizona State Online University. To her, it still gives her enough time and the money to do all the things she loves, which is mostly travelling, new cultures, rock climbing and hanging out at the beach. “To be able to afford rent, a lot of people work two jobs at the same time – I would never want to do that. We can’t enjoy life if we just have to live to pay rent”
But surely there are also downsides to living in a van in a big city (or anywhere for that matter). For Hannah this is mostly little daily things: “Finding a shower can sometimes be annoying if your shift ends after the gym closes or not being able to cook on a regular basis and having to eat out all the time. But she finds something positive in any of these points: “at least I don’t have to do dishes that way”. Sure, she cannot invite people to her own place, but luckily in San Diego you can spend most of your time outside. This is actually how we spent our first evening here together: having a bonfire at the beach. I guess it could have been way worse!
“Oh, one more annoying thing: in the morning I can’t use the bathroom – I always have to find a spot, but at the end you just get used to all the little annoyances. What is so bad about a dirty public bathroom compared to the upsides of living in your vehicle? And at the end of the day, there is always something a little off no matter what kind of life you lead. You just have to choose which little troubles you actually want to go through to live the lifestyle you want.”
We ask her if safety is ever an issue, but she declines. She has never felt unsafe in her van. “I surely don’t tell every customer about the fact that I live in a van and I am generally precautious, but so far I haven’t had any issues”. And the best thing about living in a van? “It does get dirty, but you can clean it in like 4 minutes!”
The couple with two vans
The story of Hannah and Justin is kind of a funny story: they had been friends for a while when Justin moved in his truck. She was like “yeah that’s what I want to do again, I used to live in a van”. But before she found Vandra, the couple already hit it off and basically spent 3 weeks living and sleeping in Justin’s truck.
This space is already quite tiny for one person to sleep in but they made it work: “One person always had to sleep on their back, while the other slept practically on top, but we got so good at it”. Now, they spend most of their time sleeping in Hannah’s van but every once in a while they will crash in the truck for old times sake. “It’s funny how you can have a bed where your feet are completely hanging off of it and you still think it is the best bed ever because it is such a huge upgrade to the truck before!”
We really feel Hannah and Justin make a great couple and you can instantly see what a great connection they have: they both have the same ideals about traveling and freedom, to rather have that little extra money to do what they want to do rather than spending it on rent. They love that they can just take their homes and go places, like to Palm Springs where they went last weekend – little adventures just make life so much more livable. But they are both also independent with their own vehicles. Still, they basically park their cars next to each other every single night – isn’t that romantic?
Hannah still needs her own space and will be grumpy if she doesn’t have her “Hannah-time”. But these two also found a way to give each other space, even in tiny vehicles: Hannah always gets up a couple of hours before Justin (which is not too hard as he loves to sleep in a little). She sits at the beach, reads a book, listens to music or catches up with friends – when Justin eventually joins her, she is relaxed and ready for the day. Having time to do the things you love is just worth so much. The couple has been enjoying many months like that and there is no stopping in sight.
Dream big and don’t go home
What’s going to happen next is still unclear, but Hannah can imagine to share a van with Justin at some point (that’s commitment people!), maybe get a dog… You know, life is good! As she doesn’t like to drive big rigs it should still be rather small and sturdy. A good van can take you to all the places you want to go, that is what really mattered. For now, the only goal is to finish school: Hannah has about 1.5 years left, and she will definitely continue to work at Starbucks until then and live in a van.
After that she would love to live somewhere else. “I have always been fascinated by Latin America and its vibrant cultures”. So maybe that’s where they are heading next: open a hostel, live by the beach. Both Hannah and Justin love meeting people and travelling so they will surely find an amazing spot to call home for a while.
If you ask Hannah what advice she would give people that are thinking about buying a van, she says: “Just do it, you can make it work wherever you are! San Diego is sort of meant for vanlife” – and we couldn’t agree more! From all the places we have been to since starting our journey, San Diego has been by far the easiest: it is warm year round, easy to find great places to park and the police don’t bother you too much.
And there are a lot of people thinking the same thing: the city is full of people living their own version of vanlife. “I just feel like our generation is drowning in debt and money problems”. And while a lot of it is self imposed, using that credit card however you can, expensive schools, etc., people have to create solutions, and vanlife can be one good answer to that problem in her opinion.
So shall the government do anything? “It would be great to have more public land to park on, but than that gets trashed, because it is open and free and people take advantage of it. It’s a dilemma” Still, Hannah has the feeling living in her van right now is kind of perfect timing: it is happening enough not to be frowned upon but easy enough to live a comfortable life without the police harassing you all the time.
Sometimes it is hard to constantly feel a little bit like being a criminal and breaking the rules but as long as you are respectful people usually treat you with respect as well.
So do you ever feel uncomfortable saying that you live in your van? “No, not really. Some people are a little hesitant but I don’t mind if people think I am crazy – I think it is crazy what they do as well, but at the end of the day, everybody has to live their life the way they want to. I don’t judge.” – We couldn’t agree more!