Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

Vangie Is Her Name, And Travel Is Her Game

To say that the global pandemic rocked the world in horrific ways would be to put it mildly. We may never know the full extent of grief, anger and loss, but for certain, we’ve been forever changed for having experienced and come through this season of our lives. This is my story.

“Wake up!” That’s exactly what the ugly, life-disrupting monster known as the pandemic screamed in my head. “Ha! You fool! Who’s in control now? Let’s see how ready, willing and able you are to pivot.”

Unlike others around me, I wasn’t at all overcome by fear. Instead, I was totally stunned by this reality: I live as though I know the future. I plan with a level of certainty that is completely unrealistic. I choose not to recognize that everything can change in a moment.

My husband and I have a long list of things we will do and places we will see — someday. When we retire. When we have time. Once we finish this or accomplish that. And while we plan, life is passing us by.

The pandemic made me see clearly that all of our big plans lie under a shroud of uncertainty. The only thing we know for certain is what is happening right now.

Still stunned by what was happening all around me, I was flying through my email one day in early 2020. I still cannot figure out why I opened a message from a quirky site with a funny name: This is Why You Are Broke. A gorgeous new camper van was the first item to pop up.

My immediate reaction was to be slack-jawed, intrigued, with heart beating fast. I forwarded it to my husband, Harold, with a simple message: “We need this.” Of course, I had visions of traveling carefree whenever we felt like it — to every corner, nook and cranny of this beloved country. I was ready to start making every moment count. The uncertainty of life was my new reality.

His message was swift, if not hilarious: “Are you kidding? Who IS this?”

To understand, you have to know a little history.

Early in our marriage, as our two boys were babies (17 months apart), we did the camping thing in a tent. How many ways can I say “miserable”? Horrible. Rain, wind, even snow in July. All work, no fun. I hated it. I don’t remember saying it, but he recalls, “I will never go camping again. Don’t even ask me!” We sold all the stuff, and that was that.

Fast-forward decades later, and there we were — him with his mouth hanging open, me with a photo. I found the company that created that van conversion and got them on the phone.

How, where and when were my questions. “You buy a van and bring it to us in New Jersey, we convert it into a camper van; but sorry, we are booked through 2023,” they answered. Oh, and the sample of their work that I was looking at would cost $65,000, give or take, on top of the cost to buy the vehicle.

Rats! I had my heart set on at least going to look at it. But $125,000 or more? Double rats.

Unbeknownst to me, Harold had a spark of joy at the thought that I would ever allow “camping” in my vocabulary again. He began looking around, researching and plotting. He discovered that Colorado, where we live, has become the “vanlife” capital of the world. This is where most van sales and conversions happen.

And so it was that on a Saturday in June 2020, we drove to see VanWorks in Fort Collins, Colorado. What we found was awesome — every kind of conversion from just the bare essentials to high-end luxury options.

We had no plans to make any decisions that day. You can start laughing now. VanWorks has a partnership with the local Dodge Ram dealer. Surprise! They had just one 2019 model left and were anxious to get rid of it. We bought it on the spot with more than $12,000 in discounts and rebates.

We settled on VanWork’s BaseCamp conversion with a few upgrades. Our 2019 Dodge Ram Promaster now has a 400-amp hour lithium-ion battery, 2,000-watt inverter, 24-gallon water tank, water heater, Webasco heater, Insty Connect mobile internet system, dry-flush toilet, outdoor shower, sink, induction cooktop, fixed bed, a garage for eBikes, and basic camping gear and equipment.

The day we picked up our newly converted camper van, we named her Vangie. As we took her maiden voyage, Harold turned on the radio, located that Rolling Stones hit from the ’60s, “Angie,” cranked it up, and we were in heaven.

It’s been nearly two years since we adopted a kind of semi-vanlife, and we couldn’t be happier. We’re seeing every part of our newly adopted state as quickly as possible.

We have not retired. Both of us work more than full time. We’ve just figured out how we can afford to include vanlife in our current schedule. We travel for fun, part time. And what fun it is. I highly recommend it.

The total cost of the van including conversion came in at less than half of the company in New Jersey’s final estimate.

Living without debt has its benefits.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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