We’ve met a lot of people over the last few days, but it seems that most of them have been from somewhere else (like us) rather than from here in Savannah. We met people from Massachusetts, DC and Pennsylvania. The RVs parked next to us in our overnight spot have had NY & CA plates. We even met someone from Warren, PA, which is barely an hour away from home. I think I expected some kind of culture shock, but instead so many things have felt like the way they’ve always been.
I found this to be especially true at our first gig. After we found a parking spot for the van – in downtown Savannah, this proved to be a very difficult task – setting up felt like we could have been in any upscale cafe in Buffalo. It was nice in a way, though. To have three hours to do the one thing I’m good at, the thing I’m familiar with, was a nice reprieve from some of the craziness that has come with adjusting to this lifestyle. The gig itself went very well. It was SO cold by Savannah standards, and we (stupidly, perhaps) decided to play on the outside stage sans heater. People came out to the patio to listen anyways. They paid attention, bought merch, and though the crowd petered out by about 9pm (it was dipping into the 30’s by then), we did keep people there until the end of the gig. If every show we have booked goes as well as this first one did, I think I’d be happy (though I’m already having issues with a couple promoters, so I doubt we’ll be so lucky).
The sole complaint I have about Savannah is the weather – the high temperature should be way more than 45 degrees down here. Otherwise, it’s a pretty neat city. The visitor’s center amazingly allows overnight RV parking, so we’ve been hanging out in the heart of the historic district for the past few days. It’s been a bit too cold to walk very far, unfortunately. But we did find this neat seafood place (the Savannah Seafood Shack) where I got a totally delicious fried oyster po boy, and a bar just down the street from us (the Rail Pub) serving 40oz of beer for literally just $5. If you ever come down here and need to find things to do on the cheap, hit up those two places for sure. And fun fact: there’s no open container law in Savannah. You can order your drinks to go!
This afternoon we’re driving back up north Macon before our gig in Athens on Sunday. We’ve run the batteries in the van pretty low since we haven’t been doing any driving, so it will be nice to be able to turn all the lights back on soon. And hopefully the heater, too – as much as I enjoy sleeping in our tiny house on wheels, it would be a whole lot nicer if it wasn’t so dang cold all the time. I am SO looking forward to some Florida heat in a couple weeks.
Hello from central Georgia! We’re about an hour out from our stop for the evening just outside of Savannah. Greg took over driving for me a few minutes ago and I’m taking my first break since about 8pm last night. The last 36 hours have been a very interesting mix of uneventful and way too eventful. Here’s what I’ve learned in less than two full days on the road so far:
Gas is expensive when you’re only getting 10 miles to the gallon. (Cheaper than a hotel by a million bucks, though).
Ohio has the worst potholes I’ve ever come across. I recommend just avoiding the nightmare that is Ohio roads altogether if you’re traveling soon. I was so sure we were gonna pop a tire on one of the craters in those highways. Thankfully we escaped unscathed.
Kentucky and Tennessee are like 85% mountains. Real nice to look at, but not good for our MPG or general anxiety level – going up and down hills and around corners in an eight thousand pound vehicle is a little unnerving.
Sleeping at a truck stop is not nearly as terrible as you might think. We stopped just outside of Knoxville last night at a Flying J. It was literally as easy as just pulling in and parking in the back of the lot for 8 hours. Aside from some intermittent truck noise, it was pretty nice, albeit very cold inside the van even with our heater on (it was about 20 degrees last night). Plus it was free! We’re en route to another one tonight where it’ll thankfully be much warmer.
Speaking of truck stops, here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: the truck stop showers I saw today were really nice. Seriously. I expected a high school locker room type affair, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You basically get an entire private bathroom to yourself. The ones I saw were nicer than the majority of hotel bathrooms I’ve seen, unbelievably. Will report on this further if/when we ever use this particular type of shower.
Atlanta traffic is NO JOKE. We drove through at about 1pm today and I’ve never seen so many people with absolutely no fear of death. People flying across three lanes of traffic with no turning signal, people weaving in and out between tractor trailers, people pulling out in front of me and slamming on the brakes when we were going 50mph (again, eight thousand pounds of van, we don’t stop on a dime..). Would not recommend. When we head back that way at the end of the month, I’m making Greg drive.
Two days in, we find the van easy to drive on the highway, and very difficult to drive anywhere else (for now). Case in point, we can look to the small scene we caused about a half an hour ago. We were running low on gas and missed the exit with a gas station right off the highway. We ended up in the outskirts of Macon way too far off our route with no choice but to stop. As soon as we pulled into the next open gas station it became apparent we had made a terrible mistake – the parking lot was WAY too small, and we immediately clipped one of the pylons at the back of the pump. We did manage to get the gas itself without issue, but it took us about 20 minutes to maneuver our way out of the parking lot, scraping up the van against the pillar and attached cardboard sign all the way. 😦 One gentleman in particular stood behind us the entire time and got a real kick out of our naïveté. In the end, the van has a fancy new battle scar down the drivers side and about a dozen Georgia residents watched us make idiots of ourselves. Lesson learned quickly and thoroughly – that’s the last time we underestimate the size of the van.
All of that being said, things have been going pretty well after over a thousand miles of driving. If we have fewer experiences like the one we had in Macon (read as: if we make fewer dumb mistakes) and more experiences like the unexpectedly pleasant truck stop in Knoxville, the next six months should be great. But I’m sure we’ll have plenty more of both before we’re done.
Our first gig is tomorrow! It also marks the end of full days of driving for a while, hallelujah. We’ll be taking the van into downtown Savannah for our gig at the Foxy Loxy and hopefully hanging out in town beforehand – I’ve heard so many great things about this city and I’m excited to finally get there. Here’s to hoping that the drive is easy, that people show up, and most importantly: that they like the music!
Hard to believe we’re finally at this point. The last few weeks have been the stuff I’ve been day dreaming about since the van purchase, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t been more stressed now than I ever have been in my life. Here’s a status update on all the things:
The van is completely road-worthy. I say this while fervently knocking on the nearest wooden object as every time I look at the van wrong lately something decides to break. Example A: this morning we picked up the van from its final shop visit before we leave (where I had just spent a lot of money on a ton of maintenance), and I arrived home to find the gas pedal had literally just fallen completely off. Turned out to be an easy fix, but there’s something like that every day it seems. That said, mechanically she’s never run better than she does right now and I’m pretty excited about that. She’s also now equipped with: 3 super-high-tech security/backup cameras, an electrical system that won’t accidentally kill us (that was a fun project..), a generator that no longer spews smoke into our living room, a fridge that won’t dump its contents onto the floor when turning corners, and like 50 other little things that will make it a lot less like living in a van and a lot more like a tiny house on wheels. So as long as the small stuff stops breaking every single day, things are solid here.
We’re about a third moved into the van and out of the apartment. Moving sucks, and it sucks more when you can’t take three quarters of your things with you. Add to that carrying things up and down stairs in January in Buffalo, and it’s basically a recipie for misery. Note to future self: do not move during the winter ever again.
Greg and I both left our full time jobs over a month ago. However, I was asked and agreed to stay on part time as a remote worker more or less indefinitely. So, at the current moment I work three part time remote jobs on top of booking the tour, advertising shows, coordinating with promoters, etc etc etc…. Somehow I’m busier now than I was when I was working full time. Second note to future self: stop biting off way more than you can chew, you ambitious idiot.
Speaking of the tour, it actually is just about completely booked. We’re currently sitting at 42 gigs. For a first ever tour 100% booked by cold-calling people from the internet, I’m pretty damn satisfied with that number. We’re just one week away from gig numero uno (and that part of it STILL doesn’t feel real to me, lol).
We did announce the tour as soon as Greg and I had both put in our notice at our jobs. And honestly one of the best parts of this has been the absolutely awesome reception this has gotten from our friends, family, and fans. People have been overwhelmingly supportive and excited for us. It has been so fun to talk about our plans with everyone and it definitely helped to keep my spirits lifted on days where things were not going so smoothly. Our last gig in Hamburg was on Sunday, and I was so humbled by the amount of people that came out to wish us luck on the tour. It was great to see everyone and play music with some of my best friends one more time before we head out.
That’s a pretty good summary of where things are at. With all of this going on, I’m basically nothing but a ball of nervous energy. Maybe even borderline neurotic if you ask Greg (stress tends to make me… irritable, to put it mildly).
I’m hoping once we actually get on the road and start to get settled in I’ll be able to breathe a little easier. I’m mostly hoping to take a big step back from this administrative/secretarial minutiae and spend a lot more time on the actual point of this whole ordeal: the music.
Now that we’re in the thick of it, I plan to update a lot more regularly! Next time you’ll hear from me is from the road. 🙂 And do me a favor and pray for some warm weather in Georgia! It’s looking like our first couple nights are gonna be real chilly.
It’s occurred to me that I haven’t really explained how we came to the decision to quit our jobs and move into a van. The first post in here just says “I bought a van to tour in!”, which really doesn’t speak to all the planning that went into this. Granted, that was almost 8 months ago and I wasn’t sure anything was going to work out at the time. But now that pretty much everything is in motion, I can give a little bit of insight into our timeline and decision making process. I’ll try and give you the abridged version as best I can. (It also feels nice to tell the whole story out loud – this has been a secret for so long.)
In August of 2016 I was 22. I had just landed my first full-time job, upgraded to a shiny new car, and had moved into a 1 bedroom that I was sharing with Greg after 3 years of dating. At the beginning of the fall, I had some kind of youthful, naive optimism that I was finally “on the right track”. I was securely on a typical path many people tend to follow after college, and thus I was expecting to find some kind of fulfillment after attaining these important things.
Essentially I found the opposite, and pretty quickly. Turns out, sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours a day, sitting in traffic for 2 more, and sitting on the couch for the rest was making me more miserable than I had ever been and causing me to drink far too much on the weekends. I wanted a way out before it was too late.
After some soul searching and brainstorming, I stumbled upon the van life community. There are a lot of people out there living in decked out vans and RVs who aren’t just retirees looking to pass the time. These are people who live, work, eat, and sleep on the road. These people get to travel the country and do what they love without the overhead of utility bills or the grind of a daily commute. As soon as I came across it, I could tell how much work it was going to be to get to that point. But I was also sure that this was my way out of the 9-5, and my way into playing music full-time.
In the beginning of 2017 I broached the subject with the important people in my life. My parents were wildly supportive from day one, as they always have been. I then approached Greg with the idea of moving into a van with me. Asking a person to quit their job, leave their apartment, and move into a vehicle with someone who you are not bound to in marriage was… intimidating, to say the least. Fortunately he was 100% on board right away as well. And those were the two green lights I needed to get serious.
I wanted a Class B RV, which is basically an over-sized van with all the guts of an RV shoved inside in Tetris fashion. But those are hard to come by on a budget, so I was fairly flexible on what might work. I looked at monster tour buses, at stripped out RV shells, at 70’s VWs and 2000’s Roadtreks. I spent many late nights scouring RVtrader.com, Craigslist, and eBay for my perfect vehicle. And in late February I found her in an eBay search – the 1995 GMC Vandura 3500 that will soon be my full-time residence. The closing of that eBay auction was insanely stressful, and someone very nearly outbid me, but I was victorious.
From March until early July, I learned as much as I could about everything RV-related. I learned about deep cycle battery capacity, how to calculate a power budget, AC vs DC power, how to use a rivet tool, how to crimp and solder wires, how to install a car stereo, how to replace a DIY plumbing system, the difference between grey and black water tanks, how to dump waste water, how to choose and install solar panels, and so many other things. We had to disassemble a lot of what was already in place inside the van to get things working the way we needed. As a result I know how nearly everything works, where it’s likely to break, and how to fix it.
I also learned how to book a tour. I became an accountant, a manager, a marketer, a salesman, a PR rep, and a secretary for us. I planned a route in direction that would keep our gas costs low and the weather warm, I found spots for us to park the van at night, I put together an EPK so compelling that you’d be crazy to turn us away, I calculated how much money we can spend on food if all the venues pay us and if none of them do, I sent (and am still sending) dozens of cold-call emails every day to venues in cities I’ve never even visited. This tour has been 100% built and booked by stuff I’ve learned on the internet and crossed fingers. And for some crazy reason, it seems to be working.
I guess the biggest point I’m trying to make here is that it hasn’t been easy. In fact this will probably be the most difficult thing I ever do. I’ve given up many things to pursue this already, and I’ve spent so much of my own money trying to turn a crazy dream into a semblance of reality. It has been blood, sweat, and tears for almost an entire year. I genuinely eat, sleep, and breathe this thing. I’m sure that the hardest is yet to come (I’ve yet to officially put in notice at my job, give notice to my landlord, get in the van and drive away, or actually, you know, live in the van), but I’ve also never been more excited about anything in my entire life. Even if everything absolutely implodes in on itself a week after we get on the road, or we decide that we absolutely hate living in a vehicle, it won’t be for lack of trying. There will be no more “what ifs”.
If you’ve made it all the way to this point, I commend you. This is mostly the ramblings of a person who has had to keep a super important secret for too long. In the coming months, posts here should become a lot more interesting and feature a lot of cool places & things (or it’ll just be boring pictures of the highway, who knows). If you’re at all interested in following the journey, stay tuned! I promise to try and keep it entertaining, or at least recommend some cool hangouts for your next vacation to Florida.
Unbelievably, we’re less than 12 weeks away from moving into the van and hitting the road. I’m as anxious as I am excited. It still feels like we have a ton of things to do, but the reality is that we’re pretty close to being ready overall. I can say this confidently because this past weekend, we finished what should be the last big project (and one that has given me a great deal of trepidation from the get-go): installing a roof vent & fan. I didn’t do a great job of documenting the previous projects, so I tried to make up for it on this one!
Some background: the van is equipped with a giant rooftop AC unit. It’s awesome. But we can only use it consistently when we have an external power source to plug into, i.e. a campground with electricity hookups or someone’s house. Our house batteries can’t provide enough power to run it for more than a few minutes. We also have no windows aside from the two standard ones in the cab. This means that when we’re running on battery power alone, things get really, really hot and humid in the back of the van. Since we’re heading straight to the south, clearly this would not do. The solution? Install a roof vent with a fan that will suck hot air out and blow cool air in. It sounds reasonable, but step one of this project is cutting a 14 inch x 14 inch hole in the roof of the van. Commence nail-biting.
With everyone’s schedules being as hectic as ever, we had to wait until this past weekend to get this project done. Amazingly we were graced with gorgeous 70 degree weather in late October (albeit with a annoying surge in the bee, stinkbug, and ladybug population that each took quite an interest in bothering us). On Saturday, Greg, my dad, and myself got to work adding more Swiss Cheese holes into my beloved van. (Side note: this entire van project would have been borderline impossible without the help of my father. He’s been our electrician, our carpenter, our security officer, our plumber, our mechanic, and an amazing advocate for us attempting this crazy thing in the first place. He’s the coolest.)
The new hole was cut with relative ease, to tell you the truth. The downside is that we finally got a look at the insulation between the outside roof and our inside ceiling, and it was completely soaking wet. This was super bad because it means something on the roof somewhere was letting water inside. In other words, we had a leak. And we were fairly sure of the culprit – our AC unit. Very quickly our simple one-day vent install became a much larger project.
We determined the main problem to be the sealant around the outside of the AC unit. Apparently, RV Air Conditioners are designed to drain onto the roof, and if the outside of the unit is sealed, it causes the water & condensation to drain back into the vehicle. So Greg and I spent a long time scraping old, hardened silicone sealant off the top of the van and the bottom of the air conditioner (see the giant pile of that stuff that looks like boogers in the top right of the above right picture). Not an enjoyable job to say the least.
We also sealed some suspicious looking holes and replaced the gasket for good measure. On Sunday we began the task of putting everything back together, finishing the installation of the new vent, and hoping everything still worked like it should.
And it totally did! Not only did we not break the air conditioner upon reassembly, but the air vent installed easily and works incredibly well. We bought a MaxxFan based on its rave reviews online, and from what I can tell it’s worth the hype. That thing can really move a lot of air. And after a quick trial run it seems like it does a good job of cooling things down in the back. Only time will tell if it keeps things bearable on the road, but I’m optimistic. Now all we have to do is wait for rain and hope we sealed everything correctly.
There’s still quite a few smaller projects left to tackle. We’ve got some security cameras to install, some storage solutions to work out and some items to secure so they stop falling on the floor whenever we drive around, among other things. But this should be the last major modification we have to do before we leave, which is both exciting and a bit relieving.
Things are going much smoother on the music front, which I did not expect to be the case. The only unexpected surprises I’ve faced in regards to booking shows have been positive so far. We’re up to 17 confirmed dates in Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. Most of the dates are in Florida; I had a pretty easy time booking there for some reason. Currently I’m working to secure about a week’s worth of dates between Pensacola FL and Shreveport LA before we head over into Texas, where I think we should do really well. March 30th is the halfway point of the tour, and we’ve got confirmed dates through March 15th. So unbelievably we’ve booked nearly half the tour already. If I had known we’d have so much success booking shows in other states, I might have done this a long time ago.
We’re rapidly approaching November, and I’ve planned to submit my resignation at my job on November 2nd. My last day will be either November 30th or December 1st. I’m still not sure that the implications of what we’re doing have fully sunk in for me yet, but I’m fairly sure that officially leaving my job will be the thing that makes it feel “real”. And there’s nothing like not having a steady paycheck to motivate you into making things work.
Next step: announcing the tour! By the middle of November Greg and I will have both notified our jobs, so we can finally make the announcement. (And I should be able to make this blog public then, too!)
We’re still about 5 months away from lift off, but things have really come along in the last couple months.
First, the van (We have been affectionately calling her the Beast, but she goes by many names) is now outfitted with: 400 watts of solar from Renogy, 4 200ah AGM batteries (thanks, Uncle Rob), and a 5000 watt Jupiter inverter. Which basically means we have all the power. Seriously, we can run the power-hungry A/C unit off that stuff. So now we can watch TV, use the microwave (also new, the old one used a bit too much power), run the fridge, dry my hair with a hairdryer (!!) charge phones, etc, all without worrying that we’re gonna run out of juice. I’m ecstatic that the electrical guts of this thing are finally coming together. We also replaced the broken engine temperature sensor, and decided just to use our GPS to determine our speed rather than trying to fix the speedometer.
We also fixed the water pump, so running water is now a reality, which has been more exciting than anything. (We decided against a water heater…. so showers last about 45 seconds total). But, now it feels like a real RV!
In July I was booked in Allegany State Park for a week of gigs. I took the Beast down and used it as my primary residence/tour bus for six straight days despite being given a cabin to sleep in. Honestly, it was really nice. I was worried about it being too small or too uncomfortable, but it’s surprisingly neither. In a place where I had no concern about being parked illegally (currently my biggest fear is being booted from a parking spot at 3am in a city I’ve never been to), I was pretty damn comfortable. And I’m way more accustomed driving it than I was when we bought it back in March – it’s really not quite as large as it felt the first time I took it out for gas. I was alone most of the trip, though, so I was worried how things might be when we added a second person.
Last weekend Greg and I attempted the first two person trip, up to my Dad’s summer cabin in the 1000 Islands. This was a bigger test – a 4 hour drive at night, 2 people sleeping & showering in the van, PLUS a gig, meaning we had to load in all our gear as well. And you know what? It was awesome. The worst part was the drive home! It’s got me pretty psyched for what the next year might have in store for us.
On the music front, The Rightly So’s self-titled album came out on 7/28. We had a release party at the Alibi, and it went extremely well. People are digging the tunes, which is exciting. And the release of that CD meant we (read as: I) could start booking the tour. This has been my biggest concern of the entire process. If we don’t book shows, we’re not gonna get to eat, and we probably won’t last too long on the road. And most of these places are 100% new to us.
Well, great news. I’m about 3 weeks into booking the tour, and I’ve got 4 shows confirmed, 1 in Georgia and 3 in Florida. We’re actually gonna do the thing! Albeit slowly, things are really starting to come together.
We probably won’t be announcing the tour officially for quite a few months – can’t have either of our jobs finding out that we’re planning to leave. But we’re getting there and that’s exciting. I can’t wait to go see all these places that I spend every waking moment analyzing & trying to figure out where we can sleep/park/eat. And I can’t wait to be playing music for a living, even if living only means being able to afford food and gas. I’ll update again when we get a little closer!
This past weekend I finally got the chance to get the van registered & titled. (That will also be the last time I go to the DMV on a Saturday…) She gets inspected tonight and then will be 100% both legally mine and legally driveable! I did take it to get gas on Saturday, and driving it on familiar streets gave me a much better feel for its size. If I didn’t know better I would assume it was a full-sized tractor trailer, or a tank or something. It. Is. Giant. And loud. And is going to take many, many hours of driving to get used to it. This has not deterred my excitement, though!
You’d think that all this would have made the decision sink in a little more, but it all still feels very much in the “what-if” stage. Hopefully once we start booking the tour it’ll feel a bit more real.
Anyways, once the inspection is done we can start on the interior stuff – got a lot of electrical work to do, along with some existing parts to replace and modifications to make to the interior to make it a little more livable as a residence rather than a weekend camper.
Next update will probably be when most of the interior modifications are done. Stay tuned!
I (took a giant risk and) bought a converted box van off eBay! This is the very first step on the road to full-time touring, and I couldn’t be more excited.
This is a 1995 GMC G-Series Cutaway Van. The picture makes her look smaller than she is – she’s about 9 feet high and an estimated 20 feet long, I haven’t had the chance to take a tape measure to her just yet. The interior is unbelievable and I can’t believe I stumbled upon this awesome find.
A full-sized bed, table/desk, microwave, fridge, sink, toilet, shower, & over cab storage! It’s got the works. Plus crank windows (so retro!), lots of heavy, lockable doors, and giant orange work lights. It’s pretty eclectic but I’m happy with the purchase! We drove out to a town south of Cleveland yesterday and picked her up – took some getting used to going from driving a Honda Civic to this beast, but after an hour or so I settled into it. It’s not a bad ride.
We’ve got some electrical issues to work on – right now the speedometer and engine temperature gauge don’t read correctly in the slightest, and the inverter and air conditioner don’t seem to be working either. Plus she needs a bigger water tank & hot water heater. Overall though, it shouldn’t take too long to get her on the road!