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In 2013, Tamara Murray and Chris Trenchel started to feel sick of their life in San Francisco. Tamara worked for a public relations firm and Chris for the city, and both felt like they had to work too hard to pay the bills in the most expensive city in the United States.
“We felt like we were wasting our youth,” Tamara said. “We didn’t get to enjoy being in San Francisco. We saw this TED talk about a guy who said to take five years of your retirement and spread them throughout your working years. So we decided to take a sabbatical.”Take five years of your retirement and spread them throughout your working years.Click To Tweet
They started with a plan to take one year off, and toured Latin America with their dog. But then they found they’d become addicted to a life of freedom, where they weren’t trapped within the walls of a 9-5 job.
So, they bought a used van, a Kia Sedona, with plans to do a minivan camper conversion.
The minivan camper conversion: how they did it
“We took out the middle seats and folded the back bench set into the floor. We put a foam mattress that makes a bed where we sleep when its cold,” Chris sad. “At the foot of the bed there’s enough space for us to have storage, so we put milk crates that act as drawers. We put our clothes on one side and on the other side is our kitchen stuff. There’s also space for chairs and a table we bring out to the campsite.”
It cost the couple just $200 to do the minivan camper conversion.
Where they liked to stay
They spend a lot of time in campgrounds, and head to where the weather is good and look for interesting places to stop.
“We really like hiking and biking, so we do that, but we also work when we travel,” said Tamara. “It’s important for us to have cell services and its nice to have a campground with electricity so we can charge our laptops.”
When the couple gets tired of the minivan camper conversion, they stay in Airbnbs (if you’re new to Airbnb, click the link to get $40 credit from me) to catch up on work. Tamara does public relations for non-profits and Chris has an e-commerce business.
They also use the website Trusted Housesitters, where you can stay for free and watch over someone’s pets.
“The first one we did was in Cedar City, Utah,” Chris said. “We were taking care of someone’s house and their little Pomeranian, three cats and four chickens. We were right next to Zion National Park and did some good hiking.”
“We also did a short on in Albuequerque with three dogs,” Tamara added. “It was nice being in a neighborhood versus a touristy area. Our favorite one was when we took care of a farm in Asheville, North Carolina. It was exciting and different from our life in San Francisco. We’d get up in the morning and spend two hours taking care of over 100 chickens, geese, ducks, goats and a couple of dogs. It was so much fun. We got to learn how to milk goats and in the evening we’d collect eggs and put the chickens away.”
“There were chicks; we were hatching eggs,” Chris said.
“It was a great way to experience it without being a farmer forever,” said Tamara.
Next, they’ll live in a house in Boise for a few days and take care of a cat.
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Their next adventure
While the couple has loved their adventure, they’re quitting life on the road this winter to settle down for awhile in Santa Barbara.
“When we’re not traveling we’re going to join recreational activities, start home brewing beer, hang out with friends,” said Chris. “Have a garden. It’s hard to build community when you’re traveling a lot.”
He said the two have learned valuable lessons while living in their used van, including one to simplify stuff.
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“Being in the van, you can only have stuff you really need. In San Francisco we had all this stuff we didn’t use very often and it built up. Now we’ll make more deliberate decisions when we are in Santa Barbara in a house. It’s nice not to have clutter and spend money and time on all these things that aren’t important. That’s one of our main takeaways.
The two have a blog of their adventures called NomadsWithaVan.com.
Check out a video tour of their minivan camper conversion here: