Year Two: The #VanLife Travels of Cincinnatians Emilie Johnson and Joe Neiheisel

By Emilie Johnson

35,000 miles. 24 states. 364 nights of vanlife. 150+ mountain bike trail systems. 14 ski resorts. $25,645 living expenses, all in.

If there was ever a day I thought a year of travel would be long enough, boy was I wrong. In many ways, it feels like we’re just getting started, but in others, it feels like we’ve been on the road for an eternity. There’s so much more to do and see...and then do and see again. In the past year, we have learned a lot about simple living – and simply put, living. We’ve adjusted well to our home on wheels, which is less than one hundred square feet of space. Though, when the great outdoors is your living room, a hundred square feet suddenly becomes irrelevant.

On more than twenty occasions, we’ve met perfect strangers at trailheads who, within a 15-minute conversation and a tour of our van, have invited us back to their homes for a meal, showers, access to laundry, and a driveway to park our van overnight. What’s even better is these once strangers will likely be lifelong friends, and in some cases, we’ve met up with them now multiple times for fun on the road. Heck, one of the couples is now in the process of doing what we did just over a year ago – quitting their jobs, selling their home and possessions, and hitting the road in their custom built Sprinter. This #vanlife thing, as we have learned, is real and it’s growing in popularity.

For purposes of providing a year in review, I figured it would make sense to look back and provide an update to the interview questions from the January 18, 2017 article in Cincinnati People.

Did we prepare adequately?
To quickly recap, we sold the home we got married in and most of our possessions, quit our jobs and hit the road. To say we haven’t looked back at our once comfortable lives wouldn’t exactly be the truth, but do we miss owning a home, doing yard work, do we regret selling / giving away most of our earthly possessions, taking a break from the professional world, etc.? Nope. Not one bit. In fact, there have been moments when we wish we had gotten rid of even more stuff, or wish we had started this adventure earlier in our lives. While we thought we had purged as much as we possibly could, there’s still more we could have let go of now that we’ve realized we have everything we need with us wherever we go – in the van. It turns out we prepared perfectly. Our van build suits our lifestyle and adventures, and the timing for our adventure couldn’t have been better planned.

Did we map out our route?
When we set out in December 2016, we had a general route in mind with built in flexibility. The fact that we had a loosely defined route allowed us to change plans and direction at a moment’s notice. This is what we had hoped the adventure would be, and why it is so different from what our vacations once were. Gone is the day of meticulously planned itineraries and campsites booked in advanced (unless we’re trying for Havasupai Falls!). Now is the day a friend from Cincinnati tells us they’ll be canyoneering in Utah this spring and will we join them. Our response? Tell us when!

What locations or experiences were the best?
If you’re interested in reading all about our favorite campsites and mountain bike trails, we just reviewed in detail our top 25 and top 20 respectively on both Instagram and Facebook. We also highlighted out top 10 vistas and top 10 recreational experiences. Outside of our favorite destinations, we had some pretty cool and unexpected experiences. We had the honor of being interviewed for a podcast by the US Forest Service to support building awareness of our public lands. We have been interviewed and featured in more than 20 media articles that appeared in publications nationwide, and even worldwide (including the U.K., India and beyond). We shared our story with a videographer who creates YouTube videos about people living in alternative and tiny dwellings. More than 400,000 people have viewed our video. Nothing can top the small world experience, though, when we’ve opened the doors to the van and on more than one occasion had someone tell us they know our van and recognized the laser cut on our cabinet doors from following us on Instagram.

Were your budget estimations accurate?
How often do you hear “we came in under budget”? Last year at this time, we estimated $100 per day, and we ended up averaging $70 per day in 2017. This figure includes  everything - insurance, van maintenance, healthcare, food, fuel, lodging, recreation and miscellaneous. Whereas lodging could have easily driven up our yearly spend, with vanliving and camping on public lands, our total cost for lodging was just over $600, which includes a night at the Aloft when we were both sick last winter. While we didn’t set out with a plan to work within the first year of being on the road, work has found us. In most cases, it found us through our Instagram account (@permanentroadtrip). We have product tested outdoor recreation gear, been hired to take photos for a brewery, been ambassadors for a trail app, and were brought on to be ambassadors for a multi resort ski pass this year. Truth be told, we’ve been approached by more brands than we’d care to count, but if we authentically like the product or it fits our lifestyle, in most cases, we’ve taken on the project.

How long will you be on the road?
Our response is still the same as when we started the adventure. We plan for another three years or so. Even our once shy and fearful dog would agree. She is loving life on the road as much or more than we are.