Freelance writer Brianna Madia (27) and her husband Keith (29), from Connecticut, USA, claim they couldn’t bear to leave their dogs and go anywhere without them. So much so that the couple bring their dogs abseiling with them in the desert. “It’s messy and it requires a lot of planning and sacrifice but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” explains Brianna.
“When you live in a vehicle with your dogs, they stop being regular house pets and really become the co-pilots of your life. Anywhere we go, they go. Any activity we do, they do. There is no us without them. Bucket and Dagwood are essentially an extension of my own body at this point. Sometimes when they’re sprinting through the desert alongside the van as we rumble along down these dirt roads, I just lean out the door and watch them.
“There are no words to describe the look on their faces. I’ve learned everything I know about being free from watching my dogs. I’ve learned everything I know about joy from watching my dogs. I know they don’t know how many states they’ve been to or how many beaches they’ve run on or country’s borders they’ve crossed or oceans they’ve swam in but I have to bring them there.”
“I have to see places through their eyes. I have to experience things the way they experience them. No place would be the same without them, so I just couldn’t imagine leaving them behind.” The couple does run into some problems by bringing their dogs everywhere and have to avoid US National Parks due to strict leash laws or no dog policies.
Brianna recalled how they came to live in a van in the first place and how the lifestyle is less glamorous than is often portrayed on social media. “After college, my husband and I had nowhere to live so out of desperation, his family let us post up on their 33-foot sailboat for seven months while we worked and saved up some money to move out west,” she said. “I’m sure that sounds super glamorous, but the fact is we had no running water, no air conditioning, no internet, no TV and no refrigerator.” A couple of years later when the couple had saved enough money to get a house, Briana says she realised they did not want to live inside four walls. Instead they bought a gigantic orange van from a man in a parking lot and the couple have been on the road ever since.
“People are usually shocked that there are four of us living in here. They’re shocked that we live in the desert where it’s over 100 degrees and we have no AC or protection from the elements. I think there’s a huge discrepancy between what some vanlifers choose to display on the internet and what this life actually looks like.”
The couple spend most of their time in Utah but have traveled through Oregon, Colorado, California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho and even Mexico. They hope to live on a sailboat again someday, somewhere outside the US – but not without their dogs.