This Is Why We Love #VanLife
Cover image: Northern lights over Skagafjörður, Iceland. Author Jesse Cunningham and his family rented an R.V. to tour Iceland before purchasing a cargo van and retrofitting it to cart around Jesse, his wife, and two young kids. The Iceland experience confirmed that the family's desire for a tricked out van to simplify the process of getting outdoors was a priority. All images: Jesse Cunningham
I’m standing in a mostly empty cargo van with a pile of wires at my feet. I peer out the window at the 18 inches of new snow from yesterday’s epic March blizzard in New England. It’s 22 degrees outside with a wind chill hovering around 0 degrees. The inside of the van has frost from my breathing on areas of exposed metal, but it feels balmy in comparison to being outside.
Bringing the Dream to Life
I’ve spent the last six months seriously planning this project: reading, researching, and sketching pages and pages of ideas in a notebook. This after devoting years to keeping this dream alive. I have two weeks at my Dad’s house (I’m relying on his tools and expertise to help make this happen), to finish the construction I started during the holidays in December, and there is a lot that still needs to be done. The present conditions were not what I had in mind when I planned this trip. I look back down at the pile of wires at my feet and remind myself that nothing worth doing is easy.
Now, where does the orange wire go again? Sorting out the wiring in the van. The Oboz Bridger Insulated boots were perfect for a quick snowshoe outing in the morning followed by working on the van in the cold.
My wife and I both separately spent much of our early adult life living and working outdoors—guiding, teaching, field research, backcountry ranger, etc. We chose a lifestyle that maximized our time for travel and outdoor adventure. Our shared love of adventure is what attracted us to one another and our shared goals for future plans keep us motivated, learning, and growing.
With the addition of children to our lives, priorities have changed, and the way that we recreate has changed, but we still try to get out whenever we can and have adventures with our children.
Family portrait at the Jökulsárlon glacier lagoon in Iceland.
Kids on Board
Anyone who has children can attest to the fact that traveling and adventuring with kids can sometimes be a challenge. One of the biggest hurdles that we struggle to overcome is the amount of time that it takes to pack for and unpack from trips.
The proportion of logistics time to fun time seems reasonable with long trips, but sometimes for short day trips or weekends, the proportion of time spent on logistics can be frustrating. We have been dreaming about a family adventure vehicle for several years now, something that we can just jump into and go, sleep in when we are not in the backcountry, and hang out in when we are road tripping or when the weather turns bad.
Last year we spent a week in Iceland in early April. We rented a small RV so that we could test out our mobile adventure basecamp theory. Having a comfortable, heated space made it much easier for us to travel with our children, knowing that we could escape from the unrelenting, icy cold winds into the comfort of the RV. We hoped to see the northern lights and having the RV allowed us the flexibility to follow the weather and camp in the best areas for viewing.
Our family loved the whole experience, however, we also confirmed what we already knew: we don’t need a traditional RV. The irony of having a vehicle be the key to more outdoor adventures is not lost on us. But still we don’t want a house on wheels.
Waking up to a beautiful morning in Iceland.
We want to go to sleep with the outside world around us, live more simply, and wake up with new places to explore right outside the door. We want a way to connect and bond as a family without distractions. From this goal was born our dream to convert a cargo van to be just what we want; a van that can function as a second family vehicle and also sleep four and haul gear for all of our adventures.
This is what is next for us. A new chapter in our book of family adventures. Stay tuned to see where the Frosty the Snow Van takes us.
Frosty the Snow Van awaiting its transformation.
Jesse Cunningham lives in Ellensburg, WA and is an Oboz ambassador, photographer, and father to two young adventurers. He enjoys motivating his children and others to get outside and chase their own adventures almost as much as he does plotting and pursuing his next big trip. Follow his adventures on Instagram.