Junior Designer + Animator Krysta Coates gives new meaning to remote work. Read about her journey building out a custom van, working on the road, and living life to the fullest.
The pandemic changed the way people work in many ways, most notably by forcing many of us to work from home out of necessity. For me, the concept of working remotely became the possibility to work from anywhere. As someone fresh out of undergrad and living at home, I was able to save money and do something that I never-in-a-million-years thought would be possible for me: I bought a van to renovate into a home with my partner. We named it Cooper.
Two years after graduating, I am traveling the country with the goal of visiting all of the national parks without having to sacrifice having a career. I know I’m extremely lucky to make this dream a reality, and the support of my colleagues, friends, and family has been crucial.
Transitioning to a lifestyle on the road wasn’t as jarring as I had imagined, as working from the van feels a lot like working from home. The main challenge is making sure I have a stable internet connection. We use different apps to help us find places to stay each night and ensure that we feel safe and have internet access. Grocery store parking lots end up being the reality of where we are parked throughout the work week.
It isn’t all parking lots though; each week brings new and exciting adventures. We do a lot of our driving to new areas and small towns after work. A couple hours of driving here and there is very comfortable for us and allows us to enjoy each weekend to the fullest. On the weekends, having an internet connection isn’t as much of a concern, so dispersed camping on public land becomes possible.
One of my favorite memories so far is our first time finding a camping spot on public land. The grass was so tall that we almost missed the turn onto the narrow dirt road. It was dark, and even though we were driving slowly, the van was rocking back and forth from the bumps on the path. We knew all of our belongings were secure, but we could still hear our dishes clank in the cabinets and our shower curtain swaying. It can be quite stressful driving your house on a bumpy road, but as we pulled up to the location marked on our now lost-signal phones, we realized we were on the most beautiful cliffside, overlooking a canyon that flattened to a plain as far as we could see. We nestled Cooper into a spot on the edge of the cliff among a couple other vehicles to watch the stars for a while. There were even fireworks in the distance that night. You wouldn’t think it would be that comfortable sleeping in a vehicle parked so close to a large drop, but I slept just as comfortably as I do every night. We decided to wake up early to watch the sunrise before we headed to Badlands National Park the next day. I have never been so happy to wake up at 4:30am. We opened our sliding door to the view and cozied up in blankets. It is so surreal to have a space so familiar to you juxtaposed next to new and ever-changing views. I had taken out the pair of cheap binoculars we bought in the Great Smoky Mountains and watched deer frolic on the plain below.
There are so many other beautiful memories I already have from our experience, like hiking in the pouring rain, seeing a pika on the mountainside in Grand Teton, or baby bison running to catch up with their mother near Wind Caves. My partner and I have also basically formed a singing duo while hiking to keep the bears away.
One nice thing about the van is that it can (just barely) fit into a regular parking space, so adventuring in cities is also possible for us. We had a great time visiting friends in Atlanta, and spent some time in Nashville to experience amazing barbeque. We went to the Mall of America in Minnesota and got to ride on some roller coasters. I even brought the van into New York and went to work in the office.
Of course there are things that are very unglamorous about van life, like cleaning out our composting toilet or having to refill the water in your tank, but the pros certainly outweigh the cons for us. Lots of people ask about how difficult it is to share such a small space with someone all the time. Personally, I feel really secure and comfortable in the space that we built; it hasn’t felt much different than sharing a room together during COVID lockdown, except this time we are able to get outside and explore things I didn’t think I’d ever see! I feel so lucky to get to share a space all day with someone I love spending time and seeing the world with.It has been interesting to see the changes to how we eat since living in the van. We eat a lot more cold meals like salads and sandwiches. Meals that we can cook once and then eat cold throughout the week also work great for us, like pasta salads or chicken breasts. Halved bell peppers stuffed with spinach and artichoke dip is my new favorite side to any sandwich.
There are so many more little things that I could go on for hours about, so here is a rapid fire list about the things I love about living in the van so far:
Cooper is still a vehicle that we built out ourselves and has limitations. Here are things I’m looking forward to in life after the van:
Cave tours, walks through swamps, drives through forests, and hikes up mountains or around lakes are just some of the amazing experiences we have had so far. We have been to 11 national parks in about three months. Each one of them has been a new and amazing experience. I am so excited to see what else our journey will bring us, and am forever grateful that this has been possible.
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