Life On The Road: Ryan Smith and Alex Krahling

Sarah NelsonJuly 20, 2018

Life On The Road: Ryan Smith and Alex Krahling

Ryan Smith and Alex Krahling are living the dream as a couple who works and lives on the road full-time. They own and run their own branding agency and spend their down time searching for the perfect views. We asked them how they balance their budding and demanding career lives with vanlife, and what they wish they had known before setting off.

What do you do for work?

Alex: “I do the branding and graphic design for our business. Ryan focuses on photo and video.”

Ryan: “I also do documentaries for MMA and Jiu Jitsu.”

When did the idea come up to live and work out of a van?

A: “Ryan and I met in advertising school in Miami. We thought we’d go to big agency firms and work for directors. When it came time to find a job, we were watching ‘Into the Wild’ and asked ourselves if we really wanted to work a 9 to 5. We both looked at each other and thought, ‘Let’s move into a van and start an agency together.’ We’ve now been in the van for 7 months.”

How soon into dating did the idea come up?

A: “About 6 months in.”

Year, make, and model?

R: “2008 Dodge Sprinter LB”

What did you do to renovate it?

R: “To give some context, I had never met Alex’s parents. We were going to see them and build out the van, and I had to suddenly explain to them that we were living in it. On the way there, the van broke down. That was all of our time we had allotted ourselves. We now had two weeks to build it in the middle of winter in Wisconsin.”

A: “We had originally planned 3 months for building it, but in two weeks, we put the bed and bench in the back, installed the cabinets, insulation, flooring, all of it. We kept the style on the inside very minimal.”

What does a typical day look like in the van?

A: “Every week, we have to cover workouts, food, working, having fun, and laundry. We determine what we’re going to do for the day when we wake up. Sometimes, that means working from cafes if we have a lot of work, or on the beach or in state parkswherever the service and WiFi is good. But work is always No. 1. We’re obsessed with the things we do, and we plan things that excite us around that, like hiking in national parks. A lot days we’re sweating it out in a parking lot trying to build our business.”

How do you balance your work life with living on the road?

R: “A couple times a week, we make it a point to do things as a couple like go on a hike in a national park or go to see something on the road that we’ve always wanted to see.”

A: “We really have to plan things. Getting out of the van is an effort, but it’s always worth it.”

How has it affected your relationship?

A: “Honestly, we can’t picture not living in a van together 24/7 and not being together all the time. We’re best friends. It kind of has to feel that way if you’re sharing 80 square feet.”

What’s the best part of your van?

A: “I love our bed. We spent the money on our bedding and it really makes a differenceit’s so cozy! But my favorite thing about having the van is the freedom. We can go wherever, whenever.”

R: “The back two doors. You open them up and it reminds you why you’re doing it, and why the square footage matters so little.”

Favorite memory in the van so far?

A: “On one of our first trips [photographing] for Hipcamp and first times taking the van out, we stayed at a horse farm. We woke up surrounded by horses peeking their heads in the van. Ryan and I looked at each other and said, ‘Hell yes, we made the right choice.'”

R: “[Mine was] a night we spent in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our campsite was all the way on top of the mountains, where the stars come out like crazy when the sun sets. Wild [elk] just wander right up to you. We were cooking dinner surrounded by them.”

Most challenging moment?

A: “Any time we’ve gotten stuck. But we now laugh more about it more than we get angry about it.”

How do you decide where to go next?

R: “We go where my next documentary is. Alex can work from almost anywhere, but I need to be on location.”

What’s one thing you wish you had known before setting out on the road?

A: “We looked at so many YouTube videos and read so many articles about living on the road, but the reality is that our life and experience are like nobody else’s. Build the van that you want, with the things you want, to go to the places you want. Stop trying to plan and just live.”

R: “Yeah, and you have to prioritize the things you want to see—it’s so easy to spend the whole time on the highway.”

Rapid Fire Q&A

Favorite drink?

A: “Wine”

R: “Beer”

Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

A: “Dark”

R: “Dark”

Dogs or cats?

In unison: “Dogs”

Best way to de-stress?

A: “Working out”

R: “Jiu Jitsu”

Favorite season?

A: “Fall”

R: “Yeah, fall”

Sarah Nelson, Outdoorsy Author

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