Life On The Road: V & M Van Life

Sarah NelsonOctober 13, 2018

Life On The Road: V & M Van Life

Madison and Raynor left their routines behind this January to pursue the unknowns of van life. Now, they help others who are in the van-conversion process create exactly what they need to start living a life on the road. We chatted with Madison about her advice for first-timers, the challenges that come with escaping the corporate world, and the couple’s lightning-fast conversion of their Sprinter. See the vibrant build for yourself @vandmvanlife.

Where are you based?
Madison: “Ontario, Canada”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Aug 15, 2018 at 8:59am PDT

Year, make, and model of your van?
M: “It’s a 2018 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, 170-inch wheelbase and full height.”

What changes did you make to it?
M: “We added 960 watts of solar on the roof on a tiltable panel that sits above two max air fans, and upgraded the tires to off-road tires. On the interior, we added a full work station with an ultra-wide screen monitor for my work, all the tools and equipment for Raynor’s business, a full-sized queen bed, an induction cooktop with an electric kettle and toaster, swivel chairs, upgraded the deck and speakers and added a subwoofer.”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Oct 4, 2018 at 6:36am PDT

I read you converted the van in 36 days. How?!
M: “I ask that question myself. I was working in the U.S. at the time, flying every week to Phoenix, so Raynor did this by himself in 36 days. We watched the time-lapse footage once and all I did was help him lift solar panels onto the roof. He’s an automotive mechanic by trade, and we were able to drive the van into a heated shop that had all the tools we needed. I think it was the combination of really good lighting, not having to fight the weather, and already having all the tools. Plus, we had an existing skill set and a deadline we had to make.”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Jul 18, 2018 at 6:30am PDT

When did you make the decision to hit the road, and why?
M: “When we first met, we both had talked about our own versions of tiny living. I always envisioned the tiny house on wheels with cute siding, and my husband envisioned a conventional RV. We originally went with an RV, and lived in that for the first five months of our marriage.  

It was a great opportunity for us to learn about living small and understanding real mobility. RVs are pretty tricky to travel significantly in—we liked tiny living, but we wanted to be on the road more. We went from idea to purchasing a van pretty quickly after that, and it was easier for us because we had experimented with the RV and traveling on the road.”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Jun 25, 2018 at 6:55am PDT

Can you tell us more about your work and Raynor’s business, Ray Outfitted?
M: “Raynor, before the van, was an automotive mechanic working in a shop. He had a 9 to 5 job. For us, when we made the decision, our plan was, by living this small, my income on its own would be enough to keep us going and figure out ‘the next thing.’ Once we were on the road, I was working and Raynor wasn’t. People were touring the van, and we started getting lots of questions on social media. We were convinced to help DIY-ers, to tailor it to specific people. Four or five months ago, we started Ray Outfitted. He’s tackled about a dozen different conversions and components of them. I help with marketing.

For us, work-life balance isn’t about the number of hours we’re working, it’s about how hard we feel like we’re working. We can spend all day, every day hanging out with van-build projects and it’s fun. We feel lucky that we get to do it, and that’s a big piece for Raynor. It’s exactly what he wants to be doing and gives us a lot of freedom.”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Aug 11, 2018 at 9:39am PDT

What does a typical day look like for you?
M: “The most exciting part for two people who had really repetitive lives is that we do not have a routine yet. My husband makes himself a coffee and me a tea and we go from there. We have days as extreme as waking up in California deserts to snow in Canada. It’s the extreme that we really love. Sometimes, we’ll chase good weather and decide to take off and find a place we can hike together. When you’re owning your own business, you can’t always schedule days off, so we take advantage when one happens.”

What has been the biggest challenge living on the road?
M: “There’s a mental head game in slowing down enough to enjoy this; of being able to embrace the days you don’t have work rather than worry about not making money. You’re still surrounded by family and friends buying bigger homes and getting promotions who will never understand fully why you’re taking an off-the-beaten-path approach to life. It’s hard to get into the mentality of not worrying about everything all the time and just seizing the day.”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Jul 15, 2018 at 7:24am PDT

What’s the most scenic view you’ve gotten?
M: “I think some of the best were driving through Death Valley. It was a very bizarre road trip from California through Death Valley, from lush green forest to empty desert. Just as you’re entering, you can look back behind you and see white sand and further into the distance, trees, and then snow-capped mountains. It’s out-of-this world to see four seasons in one moment.

But what’s really special about living in a van is that you can get a gorgeous view parked along the side of a highway. Some vanlifers get caught up in trying to capture the most epic view, but the joy is finding the beauty in the most regular of spots.”


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A post shared by V & M Van Life (@vandmvanlife) on Apr 2, 2018 at 10:12am PDT

For someone who’s just starting out and has never built out a van before, what’s your biggest piece of advice?
M: “Go slow. People are surprised I say that, but giving yourself time means that when you start, you have the space to recognize when something you’re doing isn’t working. Everyone wants to find the one video or one person that’s going to tell them everything, but you have to make it about you.

It also amazes me the number of times we hear, ‘We’re building out a van, but we’ve never been inside one before.’ We go out of our way [to talk to them], because it terrifies me for them. There are 1,001 different ways to do this, and when people ask for advice, I absolutely recommend trying it out.”

Rapid fire Q&A

Hand-written notes or typed?

Favorite kind of chocolate?

Next destination?
“British Columbia”

Crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
“Can I say both?”

Favorite outdoor activity?
“We’re very big on water sports.”

Sarah Nelson, Outdoorsy Author

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