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This Family Has Been Living on the Road for 7 Years! #VanLife


We’ve seen plenty of Skoolie families, or tiny house families, but a van family? They are few and far between! And this one didn’t just jump into tiny living a year or two ago — they’ve been doing it for seven whole years. They’ve proved any naysayers wrong, showing that a family of 4 with two school-aged kids can happily share a Sprinter as a home.

The kids’ even have their own room in what’s normally the “garage.” And yes, this home has a toilet and shower! We got to interview mom, Julia, and she said she can’t imagine being as close to her kids if they lived a “normal” life in suburbia. And because they’ve been parenting tiny since their oldest was one, she said she doesn’t know any other kind of life with kids!

Be sure to read our Q&A with her at the end of the post, and follow the family’s amazing van journey on Instagram.

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Mom, Dad, 2 School-Aged Kids, A Dog & Their Sprinter Van

Family game night with cookies. Yum.

Big sister storytime in the kids’ room.

View from the entrance of the van.

Bathroom!

Love all those patches!

You can see mom and dad’s bed above the kids.

View from the back.

They have a stove-top and oven.

I love that they made room for books!

The interior of this van is so different from many we see.

Here’s the safe spot for the kids to sit.

Love the map on the fridge/freezer.

They have booster seats for the kids.

Another look at the kids’ space.

Bike rack for adventures.

Looks like such a fun hangout.

This Family Has Been Living on the Road for 7 Years! #VanLife 17

Dinner time!

Drawers for storage under each kid bed.

Some awesome constellations.

Welcome home!

What are your name(s)?

We’re Julia, Marcel, Emmi, Sam and Cody the Border Collie-Lab mix

How many people (and animals) are living in your home?

That would be two full-sized people, two small people and one dog.

How long have you lived tiny?

We’ve always lived in less than 600 sqft, but we’ve been tiny living on the road for 7 years now.

What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time?

We travel full time and work as software engineer and customer support/social media management.

What are you hoping to get out of living tiny/small?

At this point it’s more about what we don’t want to loose any more 😉 I don’t think we could live as closely together in a residential life. And I don’t mean the space but the closeness of our family. We’re together 24/7 (except for solo exploring every once in a while) and I appreciate that I get to really know my kids, experience life and learning with them and they know that I’m here whenever they need me. I also love the traveling and exploring, seeing new things and changing our backyard every couple days, and that wouldn’t be an option in a “normal” life.

Describe your decorating style and philosophy.

Simple, black, kid friendly and functional. Generally speaking: you can fit more into a van than you’d think, and yes, the kids can have their own room and we add a big fridge and a bathroom and a full range. It’s all about how well you’re at playing Tetris.

What inspired you to choose a van (rather than say a tiny house or an RV)?

Our priority was always to travel, and a tiny house isn’t necessarily made for that. We did travel in a travel trailer and a Class A before buying the van, but like everything in life our requirements evolved and so did our choice of vehicle. The Class A was great for getting an idea about the whole “traveling with kids” dynamics, and the trailer were great for downsizing and exploring. The van gives us way more options on where we want to travel and how spontaneous we want to be, plus we are more mobile. We also thought about doing more international travel with our home in tow, and shipping a van is way cheaper/more convenient than a trailer.

How did you acquire your home? Did you do a lot of renovations?

We’ve moved into our Sprinter last year, and we did the renovation ourselves. We bought it from a dealer, the first new car we’ve ever owned. Before that we had a shiny trailer that we also renovated and restored ourselves.

What are bills/utilities like compared to before?

Obviously we don’t pay rent or utilities, since we don’t usually stay in campgrounds. Food budget has gone up, but the growing kids account for that. Other than that we don’t have the expenses for sports/extracurricular activities on a monthly basis, but we do like to explore the places we travel to (museums, pools, National Parks), so that was added. I feel like we spend way less money on a monthly basis though, but I have no experience of living a stationary life with two kids, so I wouldn’t know.

Before going tiny, what was life like?

I was still in college, Marcel just started his first real job, Emmi just turned one and I was pregnant with Sam. Basically the cookie cutter life of soon buying a place in suburbia and settle down and live for the weekends kinda thing.

Is there anything from your old life that you miss?

Just leaving the apartment to walk to a bakery or the market, instead of driving 30 min to the closest supermarket, mostly over washboard dirt roads is something I miss. Other members of our family miss long showers, and constant access to playgrounds.

What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?

I’d say the main benefit is the traveling, thanks to living in a home on wheels, no mortgage or unnecessary bills and remote work. We get to choose our backyard for the day, sometimes even our season for the week and we get to see so many different amazing things as a family. Other than that I love how close we are as a family, and how well we know each other. And I don’t have to walk the dog in some park.

What about some challenges?

Money was definitely tight, and remote working did not make it easier to make money (the job market was very different in that respect 7 years ago). We also started on the east coast, which is not boondocking or free-camping friendly. If we would’ve started in the west things would’ve probably been a little easier in some aspects.

I feel like we grew into this lifestyle, so challenges were more like chances other than downsides. We adapted to limited water and space, but we only ever knew tiny parenting, so we never really focused on what’s a challenge.

Have you dealt with any push-back from friends and family about your choice to live tiny? How do you respond?

Miraculously, we did not. I guess everyone thought it was a phase after college and that we’d grow out of it. And then when it became clear that we didn’t, we’ve been at it for so long that it became obvious how well this life suited us (and how happy the kids are, kudos to the grandparents for acknowledging this).

What makes your tiny home special?

I guess four people living in a van is pretty rare, but I love how cozy our home is. It’s a true home on wheels, not just a vehicle, and it’s a setup we can see ourselves live in for the years to come.

What is your favorite part of your tiny home?

The fact that we have a proper bathroom with shower and toilet, and that the kids have their ow space with desk.

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?

Plan on being resourceful, plan on lots of things going wrong and enjoy the journey in between. A common saying is: On the road, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. The earlier you accept that, the better it will be.
Oh, and don’t listen to the naysayers.

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Our big thanks to Julia for sharing! 🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.
{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Linda Baker
    May 29, 2021, 11:56 am

    Since the kids have never known any other way this suits be their needs. Most kids would want more socialization and certainly more “stuff”. Roots can be put down later after they get older. Since they don’t frequent campgrounds I wonder how they access water and dump. Do they have be solar for power?

    • James D.
      May 30, 2021, 12:20 am

      Passenger seat base houses two lithium batteries… They don’t go into detail about the setup but there are two solar panels on the roof and they probably also charge the batteries while driving the vehicle off the alternator, which is pretty common now to have two, one for the vehicle and one for charging the van house batteries.

      They indicate they usually have everything set up so they have enough supplies for a week, Berkey water filter, etc.

      Looks like they also have a website, same name as their Instagram page…

    • James D.
      May 30, 2021, 12:29 am

      Okay, found some details on their blog website…

      They have 300 Watt solar panels, gotten on a Cyber Monday deal… They used to need to go to campgrounds to get power after batteries depleted and they had no way to recharge. Using power sparingly gave them a week of boondocking but can now stay a long time out, but they note it has trade offs being away from a campsite where they had access to laundry facilities and unlimited grid power…

      Say they used a generator once to keep batteries topped during a bad weather spell but wording seems to indicate they don’t yet have a generator of their own but are considering investing in one…

      So that means they don’t use an alternator with their setup but is something they should probably look into as the generator would take up a lot of space…

  • Marsha Cowan
    May 29, 2021, 9:00 pm

    Those are good questions, Linda. I went back to see about solar, but there aren’t any pictures of the top of the van, nor is there any mention of it, so they may have a bank of batteries or something that they recharge now and then another way. I love the whole setup. I love the frig/freezer, and the way the sink is done. The kitchen has you everything you need to cook a regular meal, but does not take up so much floor space doing it. I love the way the space under the parent’s bed is used for the kids, and the fact that even in the day, the kids can still sit on their beds and used their desks because the parent’s bed is pushed out of the way. The eating/game area is well done, too. It is an amazing design that covers all the bases, and looks very comfortable for daily living. I think it is my favorite van conversion of all I’ve seen. Maybe the adorable kids have something to do with that. Lol! I can’t help but wonder where the dog hangs out most of the time, but he seems very happy, too. Looks like an Australian Shepherd, and if so, I can totally understand how he would love this cozy setup where he can keep all his family close. Safe travels to you all, and God bless you.

    • James D.
      May 30, 2021, 12:13 am

      From their Instagram page, looks like they’ve also used a ‘66 Streamline Duke. Not sure, but looks like they alternate depending on where they want to go with the van providing more access to remote and out of the way places and the travel trailer a bit more comfort… Making a lot of memories and showing the kids the wonders of the world…

  • Cherrylipgloss
    May 30, 2021, 1:09 pm

    Oh Miss Julia, I must have those boots! If you read this please tell me the brand and place of purchase.
    Thank you!

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