The sharply dressed guy, obviously fresh out of the shower, and looking much more awake than I was at nine a.m. was not the college van dude I was expecting to interview last Friday morning. In fact, if I hadn’t seen him expertly maneuver his red high top GMC into my tiny driveway, I might not have believed that he was really living out of it. Over our first cup of coffee on my porch, I asked him how his morning was; he had already ran, stretched, eaten breakfast, worked on his honors thesis, and showered. Let me repeat, it was nine a.m.
I had invited Isaac Kroger, @organism_ike over to my house to talk about living in his van because I’ve noticed a pandemic-esque trend in this lifestyle, and it’s got me asking a ton of questions. I was immediately intrigued when I heard that Isaac had spent last semester climbing in Europe all while living out of a van and maintaining his status as a full-time senior honors electrical engineering student with the U of A.
“Whenever people ask me what I’m gonna do with that degree, I say rock climb. Travel the world and rock climb.” Isaac wants to get a job as a programmer on the road; he has worked internships in this area and his honors thesis is on software development. “It’s kinda the ultimate job as a climber… you make your own hours and get the job done. All you need is an internet connection.”
Van living has become curiously prevalent among our generation as more and more people realize the savings, flexibility, and freedom that this alternative living style offers. Isaac says he decided it was the right move for him while he was in Spain and saw that almost everyone at the crag had rolled up in their apartment-on-wheels.
“I got the van back in January when I figured out that the price I would pay for rent for just one semester, $3,500, could buy a van.”
Which begs the question, is it possible that what appears to be a stigma for broke hippies could actually be a practical decision? It might seem crazy, but we’ve come to accept leggings as business casual and living bacteria as a energy drink fad- is this any more out there?
According to Isaac, this isn’t the only misconception he faces, “I guess it’s looked down upon because people get the feeling that when they see someone who’s supposed to be ‘grown up’ living in a van, they’re like ‘Oh, this person never made it’. Like they weren’t able to find a job to support them to live in a normal household and live a normal life. That’s the whole misunderstanding… because the whole point of having a van is to be free of all that.”
This seems to be a recurring motif among the vanlivers I’ve met: Freedom, a constant mobility, an open ended question, an intangible lure. But at what cost?
Does this mean giving up careers and partnership and family? Is it a wild sabbatical or a lifelong choice? I posed this question to Isaac as we were climbing over the weekend.
“I think one of the caveats to that question,” he said, “is that you’re still under thirty. After that point, it seems like people’s mindsets really shift. I’ve talked to people who have said that to me explicitly, like ‘Oh, that’s awesome that you’re doing that! As long as you don’t end up living in it the rest of your life.’”
I asked him if he agrees with that.
“No. Heck no, are you kidding me? Why do you have to be in your twenties to live the life you wanna live?”
That stuck with me on the drive from the crag back to Fayetteville. I realized that I had just had an incredible day with great friends doing what we all love and I hadn’t thought once about a single one of their homes the entire time because I didn’t care. That’s not something we typically judge people based on hopefully, because it doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment, house, basement, car, or pineapple under the sea. What matters is that you’re happy. And many find such happiness in its purest form gathered around those silly, beautiful rocks that call us all together, no matter how or why we get there.
Meredith Reitemeier is a writer, artist, traveler, photographer, and climber living in Fayetteville Arkansas. She works as a guide for the university outdoor center and is always planning and saving for her next adventure. You can follow her journeys at @reitemeier or thoughtstashblog.