Noël Russell is no stranger to the campervan life, having grown up exploring the great outdoors and sleeping out in various vehicles throughout her childhood in everything from a 1980s Jeep to her grandparent’s 1976 Winnebago. In 2015, she decided to pursue her own adult vanlife dreams along with her husband Jonnie. 

a woman with a camera reflected in a van mirror
Noël and Jonnie have been exploring the States in their van since 2015 © Noël Russell

Jonnie and Noël describe themselves as “part-time vanlifers”, as Jonnie’s job keeps him in the San Francisco Bay Area four days a week. Outside of that, the couple take every opportunity possible to hop in the van and go out for a new adventure, along with their adorable dogs. 

Noël Russell and her dog Fin in the van
The couple rescued their dog Fin while out camping one night © Noël Russell

“We've spent most of our time traveling around the western states, spending our summers primarily around the Sierra Nevada and spending winters exploring the southwest and the California coast. We've learned a lot from our time on the road - about each other, about the amazing landscapes we call home, and how to be more mindful and sustainable when it comes to the way we live,” Noël told Lonely Planet. She also said that they have learned how to reduce the gear that they need and focus on only bringing what is necessary at any given time. The process has taught them to be flexible with plans, and to take each day as it comes. “Despite our best intentions, every trip is filled with unexpected surprises, and though things might not go as we'd hoped, that doesn't make it any less of an adventure.”

Noël Russell and Jonnie
The couple spend as much time outdoors as possible © Noël Russell

One of those unexpected surprises came one cold and dark night during a camping trip, when Noël heard something whimpering under their van. It turned out to be a tiny malnourished dog in need of help. The pair cleaned her up and brought her to the Humane Society the next day, only to end up adopting Fin themselves. She now accompanies them on all of their trips.

van outside in the mountains
Noël advised others to embrace the adventure of exploring new places © Noël Russell

When it comes to offering up advice to others dreaming of spending more time exploring the great outdoors, Noël says the most important thing to remember is that everyone is unique. “There's no one way to do vanlife. You can sleep in the back of your car, or in a tent, or in a van or a camper - don't let a preconceived notion hold you back. Just take advantage of whatever time you have and find some way to spend nights outside. If that's weekends-only, that's wonderful - if that's for years-on-end, that's great too. Allow yourself grace to make mistakes, and embrace patience as you learn what works for you and what doesn't. Most importantly remember that breakdowns - both figuratively and literally - are part of the adventure - and there's almost nothing that duct tape, a screw driver, or a glass of wine can't fix.”

You can follow Noël and Jonnie’s advenures on her Instagram page.

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