Best friends Kristen Bor and Linda Romero have the embraced van life movement, spending half the year traveling the country in their customised campers and working full-time on Bor's website Bearfoot Theory, which offers insights, tips and resources for anyone considering a life on the road.

It's a lifestyle that many of us have fantasized about at one time or another: breaking our lease, downsizing our belongings, saying goodbye to the confines of our nine-to-five jobs and hitting the open road in a camper fitted with home comforts. It's a dream that best friends Kristen Bor and Linda Romero shared and made a reality. After spending some years tied down in office jobs, with Bor working in environmental policy in Washington, D.C. and Romero at a sustainable energy nonprofit in San Diego, they decided to make the switch to a more flexible lifestyle by becoming digital nomads and joining the van life movement.

Linda and Kristen with their customized van
Linda (r) and Kristen (l) ©Samantha Sais/Bearfoot Theory

"I loved my job but it was an office job," says Romero. "I worked in a cubicle, it was Monday to Friday, nine-to-five and I realised that wasn't the life I wanted." A few years earlier in 2012, Romero and her partner had converted their Volkswagen van into an energy-efficient camper and spent 15 months on the road, traveling from her home state of California all the way down to Argentina. It was the trip that changed her life, the one that got her thinking that maybe travel doesn't necessarily have to be squeezed in to two weeks of vacation time each year.

Meanwhile Bor was having similar thoughts. She had spent three years living in DC before she realised that was not her long-term path. She wanted to see the world. So after some planning she quit her job, started a travel blog and spent four months journeying across New Zealand while documenting her adventures online. The blog took off so Bor — who had been bitten by the travel bug — continued to take stints in a van across the US when she returned home, before realizing this was something she could do full-time, or close enough. Taking inspiration from the tiny house movement, she found a builder on Instagram who helped her convert her 4×4 Sprinter Cargo Van into a camper and moved in.

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Woman sits on top of her camper van
Kristen found a builder on Instagram who helped her convert her Sprinter and utilize her space ( ©Bearfoot Theory

"My blog was already making money when I decided to get a van. I was very fortunate in that regard. I had bounced around so much in between my 20s and early 30s that I never accumulated that much stuff so the moving in process was very easy for me," she says.

Bor and Romero, who had been in graduate school together, reconnected after their road trips and began to work full-time on Bor's website, Bearfoot Theory, which aims to make van life and outdoor travel more accessible to everyone, particularly women. In doing so they became fully-fledged digital nomads. They set up a home base, with Bor in Salt Lake City and Romero in San Diego, where they spend a few months of the year in their respective houses, while the rest of the year is spent traveling separately with their partners across North and South America in their customized vans.

Sprinter Van
Reflective moments on the open road ©Bearfoot Theory

Over the years the women have noticed an uptick in the number of people turning to vans for their trips. And with international travel curtailed this year it's become even more popular. "I think here in the US I've seen more vans on the road than ever. It's really one of the only ways we can travel now. You can of course travel in your car but a lot of people are wary about staying in hotels, getting on an airplane. Being self-contained in a vehicle you can sleep in makes it really easy to travel when other forms of travel may not be as attractive," says Bor.

Recently they found themselves fielding even more questions than usual from a wide range of age groups and diverse backgrounds who were curious about life on the road, with queries on everything from renting a camper for a week-long trip to choosing the right one for life-long commitment. So in response they set up a free online course called the Van Life Roadmap to guide potential van enthusiasts through all sorts of essential processes from choosing the right vehicle to planning your conversion, downsizing, moving in and making money with options for working on the road. There are six modules and the course is self-paced, designed to save people "a ton of time, money, headache, and stress." 

When it comes to the main considerations Bor says it's all about evaluating your priorities, which she often helps people determine. "How to choose the right vehicle, because that's the first step - and it all comes down to your budget and where you're going to live in it and how you're going to use it. Deciding what kind of life you want to be living. Do you want to be traveling full-time in it? Do you want something you can throw your stuff in the van and go out for the week?"

"Now more than ever people are taking the time to reevaluate what they really want in life," adds Romero. "We're seeing that you never really know what the future is going to be like. If people want to do something, they want to make it happen and not always wait until they retire. People's priorities are shifting. They want to be able to travel on their own terms, in their own vehicle, in their own comfort zone, at their own pace."

And that's what they hope Bearfoot Theory and its growing community will help people do: fulfil and comfortably manage their van life dreams; whether that encompasses a week, six months or a lifetime on the road.

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This article was first published Aug 17, 2020 and updated Aug 17, 2020.

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