Man living in a Jeep Wrangler camper hopes to inspire

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Living in a Jeep Wrangler camper may seem like too tight a fit for some, but for Chris Shontz, it’s perfect. His bright orange 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is outfitted with a J30 camper top by Ursa Minor, providing a comfortable bed and storage beneath.

Chris travels alone, overlanding through wild forests and past hidden valleys and lakes. He’s been doing this full-time since 2017, when he knew something had to change in his life.

Chris was tired of the status quo. The work, the job, the apartment. So he set off to explore and be in nature, and through that, has found a sense of inner peace.

I caught up with Chris via email to learn more about his story. You can go watch Chris’ videos over on Youtube on his channel venture4wd.

And before we get started, check out his tour of Chris’ tiny home:

Hi, Chris! Tell me why you live in a Jeep Wrangler camper

Between the years 2000 and 2017, I was a web developer. I started doing web design in the late 1990s and then transitioned to a back-end developer. I’d breathe life into web designs to create functional web-based applications.

It was something I was proficient at, but never passionate about.

Chris cooking dinner inside his Jeep Wrangler camper
The Jeep Wrangler camper is a cozy spot to cook a meal. Photo: Venture4wd

Thus, my performance as a web developer gradually diminished. I was having trouble meeting deadlines, employers lost faith, and I felt purposeless and depressed.

This journey started as a result of being in a dark place. I traveled to figure things out…it worked.

I knew something had to change, so I took a leap of faith…

Supported by some freelance web development work, I left my full-time job and set off across the country in the Jeep.

This was not a choice to pursue a mobile lifestyle. This journey started as the result of being in a dark place, where life felt empty and unfulfilling. I didn’t have any answers. All I knew was that I was traveling to figure things out – to force fate’s hand.

It worked.

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Why did you choose a Jeep Wrangler camper over a different rig?

Good question!

I didn’t pick this vehicle, per se. Before I fully embraced the mobile lifestyle, I was a four-wheel-drive hobbyist. I already owned the Jeep Wrangler, and I outfitted it with the Ursa Minor camper-top for weekend excursions and the occasional road trip.

Jeep Wrangler camper on a dirt road in the desert
A Jeep can go where a van can’t. Photo: Venture4wd

So I had absolutely no expectation that I would travel and live in the Jeep camper on a full-time basis.

With a Jeep, any deteriorated route is viable for exploration.

That being said, I do favor the camper-converted Jeep for its ability to travel well off the beaten path. I might find a forest road or a severely degraded track with an idyllic campsite at its end – and these places are often treasures.

While I’d love to have the cavernous accommodations of a van, I’d hate to encounter an interesting looking road, and have to pass it over because it’s too rough.

With the Jeep pop up camper, any deteriorated route is viable.

What has been your favorite Jeep Wrangler camper adventure so far?

Map of the places Chris has visited in his Jeep Wrangler camper
Map of the places Chris has visited in his Jeep Wrangler camper

There isn’t a simple answer to this, I’m afraid!

I have been on the same adventure ever since I set off in March of 2017. I remember being somewhere in West Virginia. It was cold and snowy, and I asked myself, “Am I really doing this? Am I just driving away indefinitely?”

Adventure itself has become a full-time job.

Like Bilbo Baggins prancing out of Hobbiton, “I’m going on an adventure!”

This overlaps with one of your other questions, but I support myself by making travel videos and publishing them on YouTube. The format of my series requires me to record new places and experiences every week.

Adventure itself has become a full-time job.

What do you hope people get out of your YouTube videos?

My videos are about places, and experiences, and it’s my aim to show how close the rest of the world is. I’m just the narrator, and nothing more.

While I am a character, or the human element, I try to make the videos less about me, and more about the places and the experiences.
 
I enjoy the crafts of story-telling and photography FAR more than I enjoy being in front of the camera!
My aim is to inspire people to travel, to step outside their comfort zone.
My aim is to inspire. To inspire people to travel. To inspire people to step outside their comfort zone. To inspire people to be active and do something crazy. Take a chance. To think outside the box and approach life differently. To show how much is out there to discover and explore.
 
 receive heartfelt messages from people who sit down as a family and watch my videos – with their children – every week. I can’t fathom why. I don’t think my work is very good, and I can’t watch me, BUT there is nothing more affirming and more valuable to me than someone saying,
 
“Thank you. You’ve inspired us.”

What are the positives and negatives of Jeep Wrangler camper life?

Cooking on a hot grill outside his Jeep Camper
Chris cooking outside his Jeep Wrangler camper. Photo: Venture4wd

Let me see…

The positives are almost certainly the places and experiences. Travel is endlessly rewarding, and I feel enriched by different places and cultures on a regular basis. I’m also in the best shape that I’ve ever been, at 43 years old.

Negatives include loneliness, distance from family, infrequent showers, poor diet in terms of nutritional value, and fatigue offset by gratuitous coffee consumption.

How do you support yourself on the road?

When I first started traveling back in 2017, I performed freelance web development work, and also wrote some blog posts about life on the road for a vehicle outfitter I used to work for.

As I traveled, I also used my smartphone to record video clips of my experiences every week. At the end of each week, I’d compile those little clips into a single 20-30 minute video and publish it to YouTube with monetization turned on. Nobody watched, but I did it anyway.

It was fun, and it gave me a way to re-live my travel experiences, should I ever feel nostalgic.

Several months passed, the web development work thinned out, and I started to fall behind on my bills – including rent. So out of necessity, I returned to my apartment in Pennsylvania, from Portland, Oregon, using my credit card to get back across the country, and accruing even more debt.

Jeep pop up camper parked in the ferns in the redwoods
Photo: Venture4wd

Also, by this time, people were starting to watch my YouTube videos. I didn’t understand the appeal, because they were very raw, and unpolished, like glorified home videos. However, I was starting to generate a little bit of revenue from the traffic I was receiving.

Now that I’m back at the apartment, what do I do?

1) Between the blogging and the YouTube revenue, I could conceivably resume traveling in the Jeep, but ONLY if I got rid of my costly apartment, would I be able to stay afloat financially.

2) Or, I could keep the apartment and seek out a new job, but all my resume had to show was web-development. I was at risk of getting caught in the same very same rut that caused my professional breakdown in the first place.

Three months of deliberating passed, and I chose the former.

Fast forward to today, I support myself by making videos.

My income is through YouTube ad revenue, Patreon subscribers, GPS data sales, one-time PayPal donations, and a business relationship with a vehicle outfitter.

Growth has been steady. I’m passionate about my work. My proficiency with the craft has improved. I’m not rich, but I am able to afford day-to-day costs, provide support for my family, and handle unforeseen expenses.

I’m grateful for the lifestyle, and especially for those who make it possible… but if you had told me three years ago that this is where my path would lead, I would have thought you were out of your mind!

What advice would you give others who want to do this?

Chris sitting on a jetty with waves crashing in the background
Photo: Venture4wd

It might look romantic from the outside, but it’s wrought with its own challenges. Yes, you will experience some amazing places and meet wonderful people, but it’s not a vacation, and it’s not an escape from your troubles. New ones will arise.

You don’t need to have all the answers before you set off.

Strive to balance pragmatism with idealism.

Don’t listen to those who say you can’t.

Be passionate.

I know these sentiments look like they belong on motivational posters, but I find that we’re usually our biggest obstacles when it comes to allowing change and life experiences. The first step, in the case of mobile living, is absolutely the hardest.

Just go.

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Remember to go subscribe to Chris’ YouTube Channel to keep up with his adventures.

What an inspiring story!

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