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Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation road-trip classic 'On the Road' was 'too boring and slow-paced of a book' for Zach Both to finish.
But then the 23-year-old became enamored with the idea of trading in his Boston-area desk job and apartment and making films in Los Angeles while living and working — cheaply — in a converted van. So he went online and found like-minded people who have been living a similar lifestyle.
“I found videos and articles from all sorts of people [sharing] tips and their own experiences,” Both told NBC News. “I figured it would be something I could do. It wouldn't be easy or romantic all the time, but do-able.”
Both bought a 2003 Chevy cargo van on Craigslist for $4,000. Then, with carpentry help from his dad and sewing assistance from his mom, he spent 10 months and about $8,000 ($11,000, Both figures, if you add in the fridge and other items he bartered for) on repairs and the installation of everything from insulation, flooring, walls and a recycled plaster lath ceiling to a sleeping area, kitchen, work space and rooftop solar panels.
Black-out curtains fit snugly into the windows with magnets and the inside of a stool doubles as the van’s garbage pail.
“There’s not a wasted inch, and almost every part of the van should have multiple uses,” Both explains in the informative and well-illustrated online “vanual” he created to helps others who might want to follow his lead.
“In my case, my bed also functions as a couch and my main place of storage.”
With his van road-ready, Both left Boston and spent about seven months traveling across country and down the West Coast before landing in Los Angeles in March.
Along the way he perfected the “stealth” van life, defined in his vanual as “the practice of making it appear as if you don’t live in your van and your vehicle is just like any other vehicle on the road.”
Being “stealthy,” Both explains, offers both “the flexibility of staying out in nature when you want, but more importantly living in urban areas with ease and without hassle.”
And when living in a van, even a nicely decked out one, health is as important as stealth. Both’s vanual offers straightforward tips on keeping clean and presentable (including how to find places to shower and use the bathroom) and attending to good mental health.
And lest his website and Instagram feed make van living look too romantic, Both recommends that anyone considering the lifestyle try renting a van for a few weeks before just jumping into one and calling it home.
“They need to make sure they can handle all the aspects of living a mobile lifestyle, not just the inspiring, care-free lifestyle that's presented in pretty photos on Instagram,” said Both. “A few weeks in a van should give you enough of a taste to determine whether this is for you.”
For those that want to give it a try, here are two popular campervan rental options:
Escape Campervan Rentals has rental locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas and New York City, and rents colorfully-painted Ford E150s and Dodge Caravans that come equipped with kitchenware, cooking utensils, 2-burner stoves, bedding, a road atlas and a state parks camping guide.
JUCY RV Rentals has pickup locations in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Oakland, California (and in New Zealand and Australia) and rents Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country “Champ” minivans that sleep four and are decked out with two stoves, a fridge, sink, wastewater tank, table and other features.
And while he’s having fun now, Both says he doesn’t plan on living in a van forever.
“I probably have another year in me,” Both said. “Once I start seriously preparing my first feature film, it'll be time to find a more permanent space to live and work. But I probably won't ever get rid of the van. It'll still be great to have on weekends and for long-distance assignments.”