After a video of our truck was published on YouTube on Dylan Magaster’s channel in October 2016, we were astounded at the outpouring of responses. In just a few weeks, nearly 300,000 viewers watched, many chiming in with questions and comments . Dylan had contacted us about doing a video after hearing about our truck from a friend in Boulder, Colorado. He happened to be driving through the same part of Utah as we were so we met up that day for an impromptu and unrehearsed shoot. (Translated: Our performance is by no means perfect). Dylan’s videography captures stories of tiny house dwellers and VANlifers from all ends of the spectrum in an effort to share a glimpse into the lifestyle and how people make it work. As he, too, travels and works from the road in his van, he wanted the direction of our piece to inform viewers of how accessible this lifestyle is – and that anyone can do it.
After sifting through hundreds of comments, here are a few of the things people wanted clarification on most.
FAQ’s from the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle
The video didn’t cover all the details we wanted to know about the truck. How can we get all the build specs?
Feel free to geek out on all the specs here.
How much did it cost?
When people come right out and ask that question, we have to wonder where their manners went. You’d never overtly ask someone what their home cost, right? As with any house, there are a variety of equipment and design features that can be manipulated to affect price. And the price range varies widely – you could probably upfit your own for well under $100k or go crazy with all the bells and whistles and spend nearly a million. As we stated on our video, you can get these chassis for pennies on the dollar through government auction (govplanet.com). The rest is up to you – do you have the skill to upfit yourself or do you need a company like GXV to do the work? From there, price depends on the things we highlighted here – Namely, WHERE do you want to go? WHAT do you want to bring? And, HOW fancy do you need it to be? If you’re curious how much it would be to have GXV or another builder create a custom build for you, we’d encourage you to reach out to them directly for an estimate.
How can you claim to be minimalist and live modestly when this is such a substantial rig and you have good kit?
One, we never claimed to be supremely minimalist. Minimalism is, after all, an entirely subjective concept; more of a spectrum, really. (Think Henry David Thoreau on one hand, Donald Trump on the other). Rather than minimalist vs. not minimalist, our choice to live on the road is more a distinction between a mobile life and a stationary one. We do, however, subscribe to the minimalist definition that more is not better, BETTER is better. To someone in even an average-sized home, we may certainly seem minimalist. On the other hand, our choices may seem extravagant to someone who is living in their vehicle on a smaller budget. Whether our lifestyle is modest or not depends on your perspective. The truck itself may seem gargantuan, but in reality we are living on a much smaller scale than the average home (132 square feet to be exact), with a few differences. One, we get to travel more (obviously). Secondly, because we live small, we can afford to spend money on the best quality things that add value to our lives. Just because we have good kit doesn’t mean that we are defying minimalism. Good knives and cooking equipment, good gear, quality clothing, and high quality foods are things we value and believe in spending money on. We literally don’t spend on anything else. We forego paying for television services, trinkets, decorations, average meals dining out, and collections – these things just become “golden handcuffs” destined to make you stay right where you are. That’s not to say that spending money on other things is wrong or that our way is right; it’s just that based on our values and budget, this is what we believe and what seems to work for us. We ask that people don’t instantaneously judge us as being extravagantly “rich and white” (which many people have so rudely commented), or that just because we have nice things we somehow don’t have a right to say that less is, in fact, more. Really, it’s all about choices. People forget that the price of everything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
What is the gas mileage?
At 55mph, solid highway cruising, we get just over 8 miles per gallon. If we’re driving off-road on trails or lots of uphill, we still manage right around 7mpg.
Feeling judgy about that figure? Consider that this is equivalent to a family with two drivers, each in vehicles that average 16 mpg. Consider also that we don’t have a daily commute and that we drive as little as possible. While our work and travel destinations may take us to far-off places, our comparative mileage total at the end of the year is still probably far less than someone who has a commute to work. One of the reasons for our spacious gear garage was so we could accommodate 4 bikes – two mountain bikes and two touring bikes. We use these as “commuting vehicles” whenever we get somewhere we can park for a while. In Seattle recently, we parked downtown for three days without moving the truck, instead walking an average of 13 miles per day. We frequently get judged as being the worst people in the world for driving a truck that gets poor gas mileage. Those people don’t think through the things they use fossil fuels for on a daily basis, not just in their vehicles. Do we wish it got better gas mileage? Of course! But that’s why we modulate our behavior to try to minimize the impact. We’re conscious of it, and try our best to not just drive for the sake of driving. Furthermore, compared to other RVs and campers, the mileage is not much different.
What if you decide you don’t want to travel anymore or something happens and you can’t?
This is one thing Martin is very good at – evolving. It’s ok to decide we don’t want to do this anymore. Right now we’re on a 3-5 year plan with the truck. Whether we find ourselves doing this any shorter or longer is of no consequence. If we get sick, we both have health insurance. If we get injured, we may have to stay put somewhere for a while. Being too emotionally attached to one thing prevents openness to another. The truck is an asset. If we tire of it, we will sell it and buy or rent something else. Maybe that’s a house or a cabin, maybe a sailboat. The point is to stay open to change and to keep chasing what we want without hemming and hawing over the “what-ifs.” Often, that will require some adaptability should circumstances or desires change.
You claim this is energy neutral for most of your daily living activities. What does that mean?
In our video, many who heard us say that we are net energy neutral misunderstood the comment. Being energy neutral only refers to the fact that the solar panels generate enough electricity for our daily needs so we do not have to run the generator. Our daily living needs (cooking, temperature control, phone charging, water pump, etc) are, on average, fully met by our 300 watts of solar. In a perfect world, there would be a way to make the diesel engine carbon neutral, but the technology does not exist yet. Sorry. Even at 8 miles per gallon, we still have a much smaller carbon footprint than if we were living in a house.
How can you afford this lifestyle? (Also framed as, “You must be rich.”)
No, we are not trust fund babies, nor did we win the lottery (both comments we hear regularly). Rather, Martin was a criminal defense attorney in Florida and Bethany runs a marketing and administrative business she manages remotely. In addition, we have a part-time event-marketing role with Goal Zero that funds our travels to destinations across the US. Martin was fortunate to be able to retire from his “day job” earlier in 2016, the result of putting 30% of his paycheck into savings starting early on in his career and being pretty discerning about most of our buying decisions. He doesn’t own a credit card and doesn’t believe in living beyond one’s means – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live up to those means. People tend to underestimate how small purchases add up. Using a seemingly innocuous cup of $5 coffee as an example sounds hyperbolic, but in reality adds up to $1,825 per year, which over 10 years is $18,250, and that’s not even taking compounding in to the equation! (But with the magic of compounding, at 5%, is $25,927 or $65,187 over 20 years). Martin is Rain Man with the numbers game and his financial success, if you see it as such, is a result of conscious planning and saving – then going after what he wants. In reality, though surprising to some, this lifestyle costs less than when we were home-dwelling.
Don’t you find this to be a selfish way of life and don’t you miss family/friends?
Absolutely not! In fact, we have gotten to spend so much more quality time with friends (new and old) and family now that we’ve been on the road full time! We lived rather far from family anyway, but now that we’re mobile we can enjoy real quality visits. By quality we mean that we can stay for a while without disrupting the day-to-day operations of the friends and family we visit. We have our own space (“driveway crashing” if you will), and can stay meaningful lengths of time. Whether it’s meeting up with fellow travelers or spending time with friends we had formerly lost touch with, we have found this lifestyle so much more socially interactive and relationship-building. Some have criticized this way of life as being selfish, but we would find it more selfish to live in self-pity and be miserable around those we love than to make choices congruent with what we want from life.
Would you still live this way if you had kids?
Yes, absolutely. The kids we meet on the road from families who prioritize travel are amazing! By and large they are bright and inquisitive, adaptable, and intellectually flexible. They have the ability to speak conversationally with adults and they rarely have a screen to their face. Would full-time travel pose some challenges with kiddos? Sure. But having kids is no excuse not to live on the road or travel the world if that is something your family wishes to do. One cursory look at groups on facebook, instagram, and various podcasts can connect you to families who are doing the same thing, yielding such memorable childhoods centered on experiential learning. One of the greatest threats to America is xenophobia. Given that many Americans have never traveled outside of their own state, let alone their own country, it’s easy to see how this lack of exposure to new ideas and interaction with different cultures is culturally learned. The cure? Breed understanding, dissipate stereotypes and create openness through travel. We choose not to have children for a variety of reasons, but it’s been remarkable to meet these families on the road. We have nothing but respect for how they continue to chase their dreams and avoid the kiddos as an excuse not to.
What are your favorite places to travel & where do you plan on going with a vehicle like this?
The truck was built with the notion of Alaskan and Patagonian travel in mind, where destinations can only be accessed via a relatively small percentage of paved roads. That said, it has served us equally well in cities and backcountry throughout the US. Our favorites have been Jackson Hole, the national forests surrounding Glacier National Park, Tahoe, the Oregon coast, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Portland & Hood River, Mount Shasta and mountain towns throughout Colorado. There’s so much within this country to captivate our adventurous spirit – our national parks and forests have such amazing diversity it would be impossible to see it all; we’ve barely scratched the surface. A few of our blogs offer more detail of our travels, though, admittedly, we probably don’t write about our destinations as often as we’d like. We’re more often fielding comments and questions about the truck itself. If you have questions about a particular destination, feel free to ask us and we’d be happy to offer you what we know.
Where do you stay?
In cities, we either camp out in a friend’s driveway/land, or find city streets without overnight parking restrictions. Some cities are easier for this than others. We try to be as incognito as possible, asking homeowners for permission if they’re out. You’d be surprised at how many random strangers look out for us and welcome us with genuine kindness. When we are out adventuring, camping is permitted in national forests, on BLM land and (sometimes) at trailheads. We research our maps ahead of time, try to pick a spot near where we’ll be doing our day’s activities and make sure we can be self-contained wherever we land for the night. If in town, we will pick a spot that is walking or biking distance from restaurants we may wish to try or that will allow us to explore and experience the essential destinations of that city.
“Must be Nice.”
We get a lot of comments from people who don’t really have any questions but feel the need to critique each and every one of our choices or slam us with bold assumptions that we have it too easy. To them, we must reiterate what we said above under the minimalist question: It’s all about choices. People forget that the price of everything is the amount of life you exchange for it. People can be so harsh on the internet, cowering in the anonymity of their nasty comments. Let us be clear that we only present these things because we’ve been asked. Our blog is a forum for us to be able to share what we do, with the hope and intention that it inspires others to pursue the things they wish for. Nothing more. If you’re the jealous type and feel the need to hurl insults rather than joining in a respectful discourse, then we’d urge you to question how much time you’re spending harassing others instead of zeroing in on things that would improve your own life. You could also read our “Must be Nice” post from when we had our Sprinter van.
Why did you have to build custom?
Unfortunately, no commercial manufacturer (think: Arctic Fox, Lance, Winnebago, etc.) has the main features we were looking for from a full-time, full four-season tiny house on wheels. Many claim to, but improper insulation, propane heat, lack of storage (especially for multiple bikes), and other factors ruled many of them out for our application. Once again, this is only for our application and doesn’t render any of those options obsolete depending on your needs. Here are some articles to check out if you want to learn how we narrowed down our decision.
What does winter-ready really mean?
For us, being winter-ready means being comfortable in any range of temperatures that are commonly seen at altitude at ski areas and destinations that regularly get to sub-zero temperatures at night. Certainly, a commercial RV with ½” thick walls is not going to provide warmth for extended periods of time. That’s the key – extended periods of time. Sure, an under-insulated camper might be okay for the weekend with a propane heater, but propane is very expensive compared to its relative inefficiency. In fact, 4 moles of water are produced for every mole of propane burned. Running a 30,000 btu propane heater would produce 1.112 kg of water per hour. Moisture = dampness = bone-chilling cold = mildew = illness & allergies. We don’t mean to get too geeky on this, but the reality of trying to burn propane heat in a sub-optimally insulated space is staggering. A gallon of propane has about 90,000 btu, which will produce about a gallon of water vapor. Let’s say you’re burning about a ½ gallon of propane an hour. That’s 12 gallons in 24 hours and 12 GALLONS of moisture into a small space. To combat that much moisture, you either have to leave a vent open to let the moisture out, or deal with dripping walls.
Why did you decide to use diesel as your main fuel source?
Our chassis is multi-fuel and can accept a wide range of fuel types for travel nearly anywhere. Since we can already carry 254 gallons of diesel fuel (for a roughly 1500 mile fuel range), we opted to use diesel for our stove, heating system and generator as well. There was no need to introduce another fuel source (such as propane) that’s more dangerous and may prevent us from entering certain tunnels or roads. Furthermore, propane produces a lot of moisture per gallon burned (see above), and we like to minimize condensation in the truck.
Have a burning question we didn’t answer here? Ask us!