Meet Koi Reid: A Black, Queer, & Disabled Vagabond Living in a Skoolie

Koi Reid (he/they) is a fellow nomad who wants to share their story with the world for a reason: “I don’t see anyone like me living van life.”

black woman standing at the back of a skoolie that is parked on the road

Just as they say no two snowflakes are exactly alike, the same is true for van lifers and nomads. At The Wayward Home, we believe the van life community is for everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from.

One of the most beautiful parts of meeting other nomads is learning about our diverse backgrounds, sharing our unique stories, and finding commonality in our bond as van lifers and lovers of the outdoors through this unconventional lifestyle.

Koi Reid (he/they) is a fellow nomad who wants to share their story with the world for a reason: “I don’t see anyone like me living van life.”

He is a 28-year-old black, disabled, and trans masculine vagabond who lives part-time in a skoolie, specifically a 2009 Chevy Collins. At other times, Koi lives in a more stealthy and off-road-friendly Jeep while traveling for seasonal jobs.

Koi pursued van life to explore their interests in music festivals, hiking, and Burning Man. As he mentions, these are “all things that are also not often seen being done by people in my various demographics.”

Outside of their love of travel and music, Koi is a published author, small business owner, aspiring thru-hiker, blogger, and tiny home enthusiast. 

Let’s dive into Koi’s story to learn more about their background and nomadic journey!


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Table of Contents

1. Renovating and living in a skoolie sounds like an incredible adventure. Can you share memorable experiences or lessons you’ve learned on the road?

black woman on the road with a campervan parked nearby
Photo Credit: Koi Reid

It has definitely been an adventure. I would say the lessons I have learned so far are:

Don’t regret your choices, simply learn from them. 

Looking back, I definitely paid more for the skoolie than it was worth, but I was in a time crunch when it came to finding somewhere to live. I didn’t have the time, energy, or know-how to negotiate. I don’t regret it, but I will definitely be careful next time I invest in a vehicle or other asset.

There are long periods when it is parked, and I simply live in the Jeep because it’s easier. I also do this because the bus often has serious mechanical issues that I need to save up to fix (as is the case right now). But I don’t beat myself up about it, and I focus on how grateful I am for the experiences that I’ve had, as well as the knowledge that I’ve gained. 

Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable if it will be better in the long run. 

Part of what drew me to my bus was that it was already fully converted and looked adorable. I loved the way the previous owner had set up the kitchen, living area, and shower, and I thought I had grilled her on all the possible questions. Unfortunately, I missed the most important one, which is whether she actually drove it anywhere. 

Apparently, she had been parked in the same place since the conversion, and the entire setup was designed to be stationary. After I started to drive it, the cabinets fell off within a week. I had to install primitive locks on all of the drawers so that they didn’t fly open. The shower was causing water damage, there was a stinkbug infestation somewhere in the ceiling, and I could tell as things started to warm up that there was little to no insulation. 

So, I decided to start renovating. It means that most of my stuff has to stay in containers or strapped into the walls when I drive, and I have to learn to use tools that I’ve never used before, but I also feel excited and proud of myself with every small step. 

I have met several other skoolie friends doing a similar thing, either living in an empty bus with their belongings in bins or living in a partial renovation. This is because it’s the only option for those of us who don’t have the time or money to invest in all the tools and materials for a renovation in one big swoop. So, while doing a big fancy conversion in 10 months looks great on YouTube, for many people, it’s simply not the case – and that’s ok!

2. As a black queer person with a disability, you’ve navigated unique challenges while traveling and living nomadically. What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them? 

As a black person, I feel that I am less comfortable moving throughout the world than others because so many people are uncomfortable around me. Despite being as harmless as you could get – I am 5 feet tall, quiet, and always wear headphones due to my sound sensitivities – I still have to actively shrink into myself to avoid being antagonized.

This doesn’t stop it from happening. Old ladies do the purse clutch, meaning they see me coming towards them and pull their bags closer in case I want to steal from them. Parents prevent their kids from trying to pet my dog or talk to me. When I was working as a camp host, people were clearly more adverse to me being in a leadership position than they were to my white coworkers.

I have even gone to do clients’ hair and had the police called on me because neighbors thought I was trying to rob the house even though I had been called there to do an in-home service. 

It is humiliating to constantly be seen as a vagrant and a troublemaker. Others generally think we are up to no good when we’re just trying to live our lives, and political and healthcare systems are designed to keep us from getting help when we need it or moving up in society.

My sense of discomfort is perhaps heightened by having a degree in political science and having worked in the government and nonprofit space. I am very aware of the larger systems at work as well as the smaller social aggressors that lead to generally feeling unsafe and unwelcome in many spaces. 

As a trans person, I struggle with the typical things you may expect. People never use the right pronouns because I have only been on testosterone for two years – I don’t look like a woman anymore, but I also don’t fit society’s view of a man, either. Because of this, I get the side eye and have even been chased out of public bathrooms – no matter which bathroom I use.

I have had family members and friends drop me for being queer, and I have turned myself into the perfect target for violence, as everyone has seen with black men in the last few years. Whenever I see a police car, I start to sweat and run through all the things I might be doing wrong.

I remember an ex-partner making fun of me for driving carefully. When they asked why, I straight up told them that if I ever got pulled over, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for me to get shot regardless of whether I did anything wrong. That shut them up real quick. This is why I feel most comfortable in the middle of the woods or desert, and in spaces that have been distinctly outlined as inclusive, such as a music festival or Burning Man.

I also have epilepsy, which I don’t hide. I have been seizure-free for three years due to my prescription medications and strict care of my body, but I also have other neurodivergencies like ADHD, sound and touch sensitivities, and memory loss. I also have neurological and physical struggles that stem from my prescription medication side effects. I constantly wear large noise-canceling headphones.

I am not good at masking my emotions, I am a biphasic sleeper, and I sometimes struggle when making conversation. In short, I interact with the world differently than others, and it has been a long road to accept that. It is why I couldn’t keep up with the 9-5 office life and decided to become a writer and focus on my dreadlocks business. I need to be an independent adult in a way that works for me, and often we as a society still don’t understand how diverse that looks.

In summary, being a black queer person on the road is hard. I have been called slurs, been nearly arrested for doing nothing, and am often on edge in city and suburban spaces. But I have come to the point where I am proud of who I am and found ways to accept these difficulties, and I’ve met people who appreciate me for who I am. 

3. Your choice to live a nomadic lifestyle and start a mobile loctician business is incredibly inspiring. Can you tell us about the pivotal moment or realization that led you to live nomadically and start this business?

black woman on the roof of a campervan
Photo Credit: Koi Reid

I have been a mobile loctician for 4 years. A mobile loctician goes to people’s houses or meets them in a neutral location to do their hair. I took the risk to do an apprenticeship from an amazing loctician and have loved it since. While I didn’t trust myself to do hair as a full-time job until now (I continued pursuing the 9-5 life and simply did locs on the side), I realized that doing something I enjoy is more important to me than making money in a way that is more socially acceptable.

I do the crochet method, which means I can work with clients who normally would not get good dreadlocks from a traditional hair salon. I can work with any hair texture, including straight or curly hair, and I can work with people who are balding or have other hair struggles without damaging it. 

I also plan to teach people how to do the crochet method through individual classes, empowering them to maintain their own locs. I believe dreadlocks are like music – something everyone as humans can share and have joy about and have done so forever. Your hair is a part of your body, and dreadlocks can be very spiritual, so helping people start, freshen up, or repair them can truly change their lives. 

4. What are the goals of your blog, Queer Vagabond? What do you hope readers take away from your stories, and how do you envision your blog contributing to a more inclusive and adventurous world?

Information

There is so much misinformation out there about what trans people are, need, and experience. While I am not a doctor, I am part of several minority groups and have a degree and career experience in the social sciences. I think it is important for people to see, in a humanized view, what it means to be trans, have an invisible disability, and be a person of color. This includes our struggles with economic and capitalist systems that make it difficult for us to do fun things.

For example, in any van life YouTube video or podcast I ever come in contact with, I wanted to know how people got their prescription medications. I only came across one person who mentioned it, and he simply shipped his meds to wherever he went.

I can’t do that because many of my epilepsy medications are federally regulated and need to be picked up at the same pharmacy every time unless I declare that I am moving and get a new prescription. So I have to fight with the pharmacy to get enough meds for my travels, then travel back to my home base before my medication runs out. In this way, the information that is currently out there does not apply to me and other people with tightly regulated medications. 

Visibility

There is something surreal about spending time online and never seeing anyone who looks like you. You almost don’t notice it until… you do. I watched tons of videos about Burning Man and never thought about it, but once I was on Playa, I almost fell off my bike in surprise the first time I passed another black person.

I realized then that I hadn’t seen a single black person in all of the media I’d been taking in, which is why I was so surprised not to be the only one. The person laughed, knowing my thoughts, and gave me a special salute that many of us have in solidarity with each other. Thankfully, there are more people of color at Burning Man than you’d expect, but you wouldn’t know it from looking online.

I simply want to show that there are people out there living an adventurous lifestyle that you don’t normally picture. For my favorite activities (camping, music festivals, and Burning Man), most of the content that comes up on the front page of YouTube, social media, blogs, or podcasts shows young able-bodied white people. You really have to search to see people of color, those with disabilities, LGBTQ people, etc.

While I am not the first person with the idea to share my story, I think it is important to add my voice so that we can all be better heard.

Forward movement

As I get stronger as a content creator and business owner, I want to work together with others to create positive experiences for other people. My friend, Ty Turner, is a YouTuber who has already started to do this by helping queer people get together and enjoy the outdoors in a yearly event. I would love to collaborate with my friends to host more events like these and with organizations such as Van Life Pride or Black Folks Camp Too.

I would also love to push for diversity from groups that may otherwise not have been so inclusive. I am no stranger to adversity and want people to understand that enjoying the outdoors together only makes it better for everyone.

5. How do you maintain a budget while pursuing interests like music festivals and Burning Man? What tips do you have for others who want to do these types of things but might not have the funds?

black woman with her dog inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Koi Reid

I have a low income at the moment because I have been working a career for the last few years that had no opportunity for forward movement. Now that I have gotten out of that space, I am excited for the future of being my own boss and finding some growth, though I know that it will take time to build up my business.

I am still able to pursue experiences like Burning Man and music festivals despite a lack of money by prioritizing them when spending and saving money. For example, when I first moved to Baltimore, I used to buy a meal from my favorite restaurant every few days. It seemed like a harmless treat when I didn’t want to cook. However, I was buying from this restaurant often enough that the staff knew me by name and could put together my food before I made it to the counter.

I figured maybe things had gotten out of hand, and I should go over how much money I was spending on treats. When I sat down and assessed my budget, I realized I had been spending around $200 there per month! That is the price of a general admission ticket for many music festivals, and I was spending it on Poke bowls. 

This habitual spending is different for everyone, including things like subscribing to something and forgetting you’re paying for it or buying your dog a toy every week when they already have a full toy basket. I’m not saying I’m a wizard with money, but by cutting out things like eating at restaurants or buying a morning coffee, I can put that money into my travel fund. 

In conjunction with this, many events work to be inclusive by having low-income programs and work exchange programs. Through these systems, you can apply to get a cheaper ticket by showing that you can’t afford the normal price, or you can do some volunteer work in exchange for a cheaper ticket. This extends to other things, like going on a cruise or to a resort.

If you are passionate about something but can’t afford the experience, there is likely a way to make it happen if you are willing to budget your money, ask questions, and possibly do some work.

Lastly, sometimes simply being creative can make a big difference. If you have a friend who lives near the event, ask if you can park in their driveway or if they can drop you off because that takes away the price of the parking ticket. For city festivals, consider eating a big meal and bringing a snack so you don’t have to deal with the food vendors. If you can’t get off of work, many events happen on holidays that you might be off.

By making a big checklist and tackling the logistics one by one, you can knock down the price to one you can afford and find an event that happens during a period you can attend.

6. How has nomadic living helped you break out of your shell? Do you have any tips for introverts looking to make connections and meet more people on the road?

Whether I am lost without cell service and need directions or I am working a seasonal job where I live on the property, I find myself talking to people more often and more easily than I would have before. While living as a nomad, you are no longer living in a bubble with the same family and friends, going to the same grocery store, and walking your dog at the same park every day–naturally, you will meet many amazing people. 

Working as a camp host especially made me break out of my shell because I was a central point for answering questions, cleaning up, and helping people feel safe. It helped me get better at reading people’s faces and body language and learn to switch between providing customer service and making friends depending on the situation.

Living as a nomad reminds me a little bit of socializing in college, where you always have a jumping-off point for conversations because you have at least one thing in common. Instead of “What’s your major?”, it has turned into “Where are you traveling to?” and “How did you get into the nomadic life?”

My advice for introverts struggling with initiating conversation on the road is that you can always compliment someone’s rig or their camping gear because the person likely put a lot of time, money, and effort into it. If you will be in the same location for a while and are looking to make friends, asking locals for the best place to eat or fun things to do nearby normally makes a good start.

Once you get a conversation going, don’t be afraid to simply invite someone for a hike or ask for their phone number if you like them. Be honest that you think they are interesting, you enjoy making friends, and you don’t expect more than an hour or two of their time. Modern life can be lonely, and more people than you’d expect will gladly embrace making friends with someone new.

I have countless phone numbers of people I met while traveling that I may not meet again, but I have great memories of our time together. 

7. How do you incorporate minimalism and sustainability into your nomadic lifestyle? What advice would you give to others looking to minimize their possessions and reduce their environmental footprint while traveling?

black woman on the hood of a campervan
Photo Credit: Koi Reid

Minimalism

Everyone’s approach to minimalism is different. It is not a challenge to own as few items as possible. I would say the goal of minimalism is to help you make conscious decisions about your belongings, time, energy, and relationships.

I have some unnecessary things, like plushies and posters, and I have multiple things, like backpacks. But my backpacks each have a different purpose, and my posters and plushies give me joy. I simply do my best to avoid mindless participation in capitalism and to avoid clutter taking up my brain space in unhelpful ways. 

My advice would be to find an organization system that works for you and give every item a home. Then create a mental system to interact with capitalism more mindfully. I like to put items on a list and let them sit for a few days before I buy them, unless they are necessary, like groceries. Another idea is the in-out rule: If you buy something, you have to give up something else. 

Sustainability

Sustainable travel involves making conscious choices when planning where to stay and what to buy, as well as pushing through social anxiety when you are interacting with people. In many places, it is still not common to show up at a restaurant with your own takeout container or ask for the person at the counter to fill up your reusable water bottle. In many states, they even push back if you don’t want a plastic bag! But by making a habit of environmentally friendly behaviors, they will not feel like a burden while you’re traveling.

Some easy ways you can reduce your impact on the environment:

Opt for the environmentally friendly choice.

If traveling to a beachy area, try using reef-safe sunscreen, staying at an Airbnb with environmentally friendly accommodations, or simply hanging up your towels at your hotel so they aren’t being washed over and over again. Avoid disposables by stashing reusable bags in your car so you can bring them when shopping, and keep a food container and water bottle in your bag to use throughout the day.

Find a way to remember your trip that doesn’t involve buying a bunch of useless souvenirs.

This can include photos, videos, or journaling. You can also start a collection of something you really enjoy and get souvenirs of those, such as fridge magnets. I like to keep a wishlist and consult it when traveling to see if I can find a souvenir that is also useful. I have obtained my favorite lunchbox, pair of shorts, swim goggles, and fanny pack while traveling to different places. Not only do I use these items all the time, but they feel more special to me than if I had bought them at a department store or online.

8. How did you get into hiking, backpacking, and camping? Do you know which thru-hike you’ll do, and what does the process of preparing for a thru-hike look like?

I first got into hiking when I studied abroad in Costa Rica. To this day, it is one of the most beautiful places I have visited, and I made a friend who encouraged me to join her hiking. It became a favored activity of ours, between all the studying, partying, and traveling, to simply hike up one of the mountains near San Jose and silently enjoy nature. 

When I returned to the US, I continued hiking and invested in some simple gear so that I could start camping. I got hooked on backpacking when I twisted my ankle on Old Rag Mountain in Virginia and came home to Maryland limping. I ran into someone at the pool who had a similar experience, and we spent more than 30 minutes exchanging stories.

I was awed that this mountain hundreds of miles away had just connected me to someone I would never have exchanged more than pleasantries with before. 

The hiking and backpacking community is full of fun, energetic, and kind people who love nature and want to share it with others. Along with the combination of peace and challenge I get from the activities, it is my favorite part of pushing myself to get back outside every year.

My first thru-hike will be a short hike, meaning it can be finished in a few days. Most famous thru-hikes take months to complete, like the ACT or PCT, but there are many smaller more accessible trails. I want to start with one of these, so I will be doing the Lone Star Trail in Texas. This trail is about 100 miles, is well marked, and is in the same state as my current home base, so I think it would be a great start.

I would love to add thru-hikes to my travels, such as hiking the Costa Rica Camino on the same trip that I go to the Envision Festival (hopefully next year!). For me, I am not as excited about hiking thousands of miles as I am about traveling to new places, meeting new people, and giving my body a bit of a challenge. 

Preparing for a thru-hike can be extensive and expensive. You need to have the right gear, a way to track your progress, and an understanding of the local rules. For example, I am going to be hiking the Lone Star Trail later in the year during hunting season, when you can only camp at certain sites, and it is required to wear a neon vest to be visible.

Some other trails require passes or reservations beforehand, which are hard to set up once you’re in the woods with no service, so planning ahead of time is key. You also need to figure out the logistics of food, water, shelter, lighting, and temperature control, all of which will be carried on your back.

That’s why I started car camping first, then backpacking, and now I am ready for a thru-hike. It allowed me to figure out what kind of gear I liked over time and meet others who I could ask for advice. But there’s also nothing wrong with doing your research and jumping straight in. 

I would say to never be afraid to solo hike, camp, or backpack. While, of course, it is important to do your research and take safety precautions, there were times in my life when getting out into the woods for a few days was necessary for my mental health. Like many things, if you wait to find friends or a partner who will do it with you, you may end up never doing it.

Right now I only have one hiking friend, and she lives in another state. So most of my treks through the woods are done solo. To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

9. I saw that you wrote a book called Mutual Territory – congratulations! What was that process like? Do you have plans to write more books?

black woman sitting on the roof of a jeep camper
Photo Credit: Koi Reid

Thank you!! Mutual Territory took me two years to write. I was reading through an old story I wrote as a kid when I realized it had a strong backbone to it, so I decided to redo the characters and worldbuilding. It was very emotional for me because the original story was written to help me deal with the trauma of having uncontrollable seizures.

While I am currently seizure-free, there are times in the book when Aurora still deals with that struggle of not knowing when your body and brain will betray you.

However, now that I am an adult, I have taken the time to flesh out the fantasy worldbuilding and add in LGBTQ+ characters and theming, as well as strong research about cults to make it feel more realistic. 

I am not the kind of person to sit down and write at specified times–that tends to give me serious writer’s block. Instead, I leave the story to fester in my mind and write when I have ideas. I often found myself shouting at Siri to make notes in the car or when I got out of the shower because that was when some of my best thoughts would come to me. Then I would flesh them out into a chapter later. 

When I first finished my manuscript, I paid a professional editor to edit it, then got stuck at the next step. I wanted to go the route of traditional publishing, but I spent months feverishly applying and kept getting rejections. Finally, worried that I would get discouraged and give up, I decided to self-publish. Self-publishing itself is pretty easy, but you need to do a lot of research before you make any big decisions.

Right now, I am mainly trying to market the book. As someone who does not enjoy social media, this has been hard for me. But I will do my best to get it out to more readers because I feel like it will resonate with people.

While it stands very well as an individual story, I plan for Mutual Territory to be a trilogy! This was the original intention, and I already have some great ideas for the second and third novels.

10. Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for the future, both personally and professionally?

Expand my dreadlock business

I have been a mobile loctician for four years, but previously worked as part of a shared business when I lived in Baltimore. Now I am venturing out on my own, and I am excited for my new business to grow. While my home base is San Antonio, TX at the moment, I don’t know where the winds will take me.

I am excited to have clients from all over the US or even in other countries and simply work out the cost of travel with them, as many mobile locticians do. This is my dream, to meet and work with dreadlocks lovers all over the world.

Expand my reach as a content creator

I hope to see my blog grow and hit all of the goals I have for it, including eventually updating it to a better platform. I also want to try out podcasting, as this is my favorite medium to consume, and I would love to add my voice to it.

Finally, I started a TikTok that is very new but growing, and I’m excited to continue using it in order to get comfortable on camera and share my adventures in a visual way.

I would love for each of these platforms to flourish and for me to eventually be able to hire a team to help keep things going. I’m not the best with editing or graphic design- it would be great to have help with those.

Tiny House

I don’t plan on being a van lifer forever. My goal is to one day buy my own land, build a tiny house, and start a queer-focused intentional community. What I hear the most from my queer friends is that they want to “go and live out in the woods” together in a space where we all feel comfortable to be ourselves and can be self-sustainable. I am excited to make that happen someday.

11. How would you advise others who may feel marginalized or underrepresented in the van life community and the outdoors? 

black woman standing at the back of a skoolie that is parked on the road
Photo Credit: Koi Reid

My advice would be to identify what about yourself you are struggling with and learn to love it… which sounds really cliche, but I promise it helps! Accepting who you are can mean different things, including changing your body to fit who you are on the inside, as many trans people do, telling people you want to be called a different name, or changing your lifestyle to fit your strengths.

In addition, finding a community of people you connect with will help you to feel better about your situation or simply feel supported when you need it. Some ways to find community include events, support groups, activism groups, Meetup, online forums, and more.

12. Is there anything else I didn’t ask about that you’d like to say?

I think it is important to not feel guilty about making choices for ourselves, as well as to not get bogged down by having a timeline. 

I went to college to work in environmental and social justice, yet once I began to do it, I wasn’t happy. I loved that I was using my college degree, that I was helping people, and that I was helping the environment, but my mental health was very quickly degrading due to the work climate. Unfortunately, it’s possible to be a skilled and passionate person and never be given the space to do your best work.

I know that moving forward, I will be able to continue to pursue my dreams of political and social activism coupled with people who accept me and my working style – I just have to find them.

I understand better than most people how many individuals do not have the same privileges as others and that many people cannot make changes in their lives due to personal, familial, or economic circumstances. However, if you do make a change in your life for the sake of self-growth and love, hopefully, you will also be able to do so without regret.


Connect with Koi

If you resonate with Koi and their story, want to support their work, or want to get in touch, you can find them on their blog, Queer Vagabond, and Instagram. You can also send Koi an email directly at queervagabondcollab@gmail.com.

Koi says, “I love meeting other van lifers and the instant connection that we feel, especially other people with buses!”

No two van lifers are the same, and that’s what makes this nomadic community so awesome! We celebrate nomads of all backgrounds and identities and hope you enjoyed reading about Koi’s unique experience.

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2 Comments

  1. Bravo! Keep on being true to yourself!!

  2. Christine Hall says:

    Wow, I love Koi’s story and all it entails. Without wanting to sound patronising, I am in awe of the bravery of living outside your comfort zone. I enjoy immensely finding out about other peoples lives, especially those that differ in some way from mine. That might be differing race, culture, beliefs, sexuality, social groups or upbringings etc. The list goes on. For someone who has already felt marginalised and racially discriminated against, it is great to see that you still want to step outside of your comfort zone. Perhaps I might have thought you would feel safer in a non-mobile community getting to know people around you and winning them over to accept you for who you are but instead you travel to meet new people and then revel in the pleasure of that instead of fearing the risks you take by putting yourself in the unknown. I often ask myself why does discrimination of any type still exist in the world today? We are all different and we need to learn to accept all good people for who they are. I believe it stems from peoples insecurities and that if you learn to love yourself for who you are, you can accept all others for who they are. Problem solved huh??? Spread the love.

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