As a full year closes on our vanlife adventure around the country, I sit in Vinnie (our van) thinking about the last year and how it all started. My wife Rocio and I had been living full-time in a fifth wheel RV since April of 2018. We started our adventure in Florida and traveled until Rocio found a job in Southern California. After weighing our options, we ended up staying in the area for a while so Rocio could work, and we could save up for big plans and adventures in 2020.
However, 2020 threw everyone’s plans out the window. The weekend the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and places began shutting down, we had a cabin rented with friends in Big Bear Lake. As Friday approached and the news reports rolled out, we made the last-minute decision to stay home.
What we believed was going to be a few weeks to a month (at most), stretched on and on with no end in sight. We were planning on visiting Hawaii, Mexico, and Puerto Rico—but as early spring turned to mid-summer, we knew a change was needed. We realized that our dreams of tropical vacations filled with planes, trains, and passports was unrealistic, and we began to scramble for a new option to get out again.
We were in our big fifth wheel, which became a logistical nightmare with the pandemic in full swing. So, one day, while watching another endless marathon of Netflix shows, Rocio turned to me on the couch and said, “What do you think about buying a van to do weekend trips around Southern California?”
I honestly can’t remember what I was watching, but I do remember pausing the show as I turned and looked her in the eyes. I figured she had to be joking, since we were literally sitting inside of an RV. The moment I saw her face, I knew she was serious. “How and why would we do that?” I asked. I chalked it up to a case of COVID-19 cabin fever, and I didn’t really expect an explanation—but she made a lot of sense when she broke it down. We would use the fifth wheel as a home base and buy a van that we could easily resell. And just like that, we finally had a way to get back out on the road.
We began looking for used vans in the area, but quickly fell down the rabbit hole, and within a week, we were looking at new vans in dealerships all around Southern California. After searching for nearly 2 months—and losing out to other buyers on several occasions—we finally found the exact van we were looking for. The only problem was it was all the way in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I called the dealership anyway, had them send pictures, and immediately told them we would buy it. We made the down payment from 800 miles away, got things in order, and left on an impromptu road trip with our dogs Wilson and Journey the following weekend.
On the road again
Simply being back on the road together was invigorating. Watching cities and mountains come and go as we talked, listened to music, and rolled the windows down for a little crisp desert air at night was just what the doctor ordered for our cabin fever. When we arrived in New Mexico and signed all the paperwork, we immediately headed out on Vincent Van-Go’s maiden voyage. There was no way we were going to drive straight back to Southern California—we had to give Vinnie a proper shakedown trip.
We set our sights on a few Southwestern cities and hit the road. Forced to carpool back in separate vehicles, we must have called each other on speakerphone every 10 minutes. “Did you see the colors on those mountains? Oh my God, what about all the wild horses?” Without realizing it, we had been instantly transported back to our cross-country RV days, and we loved it. On the way home, we stopped at Mesa Verde National Park. We saw countless deer and so much of what makes the Southwest so beautiful.
Traveling with a new, compact home on wheels was amazing. Vanlife was giving us a sense of freedom and spontaneity that was hard to come by in the fifth wheel. On a whim, we stopped at Gooseneck State Park, and were blown away by its majesty: curving canyons, sweeping views, and a 1,000-foot drop to the meandering river. After enjoying the beauty at Gooseneck for a bit, we headed out and randomly decided to stop on the side of the road overlooking Monument Valley to have lunch.
With pictures in hand, full bellies, and smiles on our faces, we headed out for the last night of our impromptu adventure. Vinnie settled in nicely between some trees in the mountains outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. The dogs ran around, stretching their legs, and Rocio and I took it all in under a gorgeous, starry night sky.
When we hopped back in our respective driver’s seats for the ride home, there was a sense of happiness and fulfillment in our souls, and the possibility of change was scratching at the back of our minds. The vanlife bug had bit us, and we were hooked. Within 3 weeks of returning to Southern California, we had been on several little road trips, including finally making it to Big Bear.
Then, when Rocio came home from work one day, I could see the frustration on her face. She was an events manager in a time when events were canceled indefinitely. Right then, I knew what we had to do. What had started as a conversation where she convinced me to get a van for weekend trips, ended with me convincing her to take a 3-month leave of absence. One year later, we’re still going strong—and we owe it all to our maiden voyage through the Southwest in our little Class B, Vincent Van-Go.
Thanks for the memories Vinnie, and here’s to hoping we get to make many, many more.