DEVON & KASSANDRA: ON THE ROAD HOME
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 6/5/17
For the thirty fifth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas we are thrilled to speak with Devon and Kassandra from @ontheroadhome.
20 years ago, Devon and I attended the same school. My mother also used to work for Devon’s father. As they say, it’s a small world. Despite the many twists and turns of life, we have reconnected through the fabric of the overlanding community.
I am thrilled to be presenting this interview.
First of all, Devon and Kassandra are great examples of people who balance their desire for travel with home life. They spend time at home in New York working and connecting with their family, friends, and careers, but they also prioritize travel and make time to enjoy the simplicity of the road.
I certainly recommend following Devon and Kassandra’s travels on Instagram. You’ll see the benefits of taking your life on the road but also maintaining some sense of permanence with a life back home.
Devon and Kassandra are great reminders that there is no right or wrong way to overland. The best way is the way that works for you.
What do you consider to be your place of work?
My “place of work” would have to be New York City. Before we started traveling Kassandra and I were both really focused on our careers. For 15 years or so we were both just kind of living the typical city life. Kassandra does clothing development for women’s fashion brands. I design products and graphics, and do a lot of marketing consulting.
In 2010 we bought a home in Brooklyn, and establishing that was really our focus for a long time. Some people who only know us through Instagram (@ontheroadhome) might not know that we’re only on the road about 1/2 of the time. We still own our place in Brooklyn. I have a business making custom audio equipment that I manufacture there (@devonojas). When we’re on the road I often bring some design work with me, but the clients are all either in NYC or come from contacts there. We try to do about 2 months on the road and then return to New York for as long as it takes to finish all of the work that’s piled up while we were gone.
One of the main reasons that we’re able to support ourselves on the road is doing short term rentals of our home in Brooklyn while we’re gone. I manage it myself and it actually winds up being a fair amount of work, especially when we’re camping at a remote surf spot with no cell service. We’re really lucky that we built ourselves a foundation in a city like New York, and we’re still able to leverage that while we spend our money more frugally, i.e. living in a car in Mexico 🙂
Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it?
We have a Four Wheel Camper Fleet Ute on a 2012 Toyota Tacoma. I guess we call it home.
When and how did you get it?
I guess it was 2014 when Kassandra and I started surfing a lot. It’s really cool that you can live in New York City and surf a day or two a week, but both of us were wanting to surf better waves and much more often. We both had pretty intense full time jobs and hadn’t even considered leaving them yet. Some of our friends had seasonal rentals out in Montauk and that seemed great, but it didn’t make sense for us financially. Meanwhile, I was feeling really envious of friends on the west coast who had vans or truck campers. This lifestyle was really catching on in surfing and snowboarding culture out there, but no one was doing it here in the Northeast.
But then I started thinking about all of the fishermen that I grew up seeing driving their truck campers out to Montauk. Where were they going? Could this be possible here too? So I started doing research and I discovered the Long Island Beach Buggy Association. These guys have been fighting to maintain the right to access by vehicle and camp on remote beaches for the purpose of fishing since the 1950s. Through LIBBA I discovered that with the right equipment and permits we could essentially live beachfront where friends were paying crazy money for a room in a shared house 30 minutes from the beach.
The parks require that you have 4×4, recovery equipment, fresh water, gray water and black water storage and a built in toilet; no Porta Poti’s. This meant that we would have to build a legit rig at no small investment. But this was already a no brainer to me, because it was so affordable compared to renting a beach house on the East End of Long Island.
For Kassandra, it wasn’t so clear at first. Kassandra grew up in Puerto Rico and New York City, and had unsurprisingly never camped a day in her life. She thought I was crazy, but she kind of got it. When I started building our vehicle she said that she had a one night limit. “That’s okay,” I thought. I could easily justify the expense if we could surf on Saturday, camp, surf Sunday and return on Sunday night.
Our first weekend on the beach changed everything. Kass was hooked. She wanted to come back as often as possible and stay as long as possible. Our trips started getting longer and priorities started shifting as we realized that we wanted to explore more and work less. By the end of the year my partners and I sold the business that I was working full time in, and I decided that I did not want to stay and work for someone else. Since then it’s been a major priority of ours to find ways of earning more time and less money so that we can live on the road as much as possible.
In December of 2015 we drove across the country and left the truck in San Diego, preparing for our first trip down Baja and into mainland Mexico–a trip that ended up maxing out the six month Temporary Import Permit on the truck. Over time we realized that not only was there no one night max, but we’re comfortable enough in our truck to live out of it indefinitely.
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
Due to the permitting requirements that I mentioned above we were pretty limited in our options. A lot of the fishermen on Long Island drive Quigley converted Ford based RVs, but we wanted to be able to park the rig on the street in front of our house in Brooklyn. You can’t park an RV overnight in NYC, so a small truck camper seemed to be the way to go.
What upgrades or changes have you made to it?
We’re always making changes. All vehicles have their shortcomings. You identify a weakness of your vehicle and when you modify it to overcome some challenge, most of the time it either creates or highlights a new one.
I give our Tacoma a perfect score in every category except for fuel consumption.
By far, the biggest challenge for all US based overlanders is limited range. We have no mid-sized heavy duty diesel trucks in our market. If you want to live long term out of your vehicle you will probably be hauling around a pretty heavy load. If you want to drive in soft sand and on poor condition roads, like the ones that usually take you to remote destinations, you will want bigger tires. A Tacoma with big tires and a heavy load means very high fuel consumption. The fact is, all campers get pretty poor MPGs, but these smaller trucks also only have a 20 gallon (approx) stock gas tank. So our latest modification is the addition of a second fuel tank that increases our fuel capacity by 50%.
Before people start blowing up the comments on this page, I will state that this can be overcome, to some degree, by moving to a full size 4×4 diesel platform like the Dodge Ram, but for many of us a full size truck is just not an option because it’s too big to get into tight trails… or a small NYC parking spot 😉
What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?
Freedom and simplicity. I’m so grateful that living this way has re-wired our brains and shifted our priorities.
What is your least favorite part about it?
It can limit the resources that you have available, but that’s just a matter of perspective. The fact is, sometimes I can’t get work done because there’s no internet access for 50 miles, but that has nothing to do with living out of a vehicle and everything to do with being in the middle of nowhere.
How many miles have you put on your truck?
About 30,000 since May 2015
What is the best place you have taken it?
This is a really tuff one. If you go back to the beginning of our Instagram feed you’ll see a ton of shots of incredibly picturesque beach camping. All of those shots are at a place called Shagwong Point in Montauk. The consistent waves and perfect point breaks of the Pacific coast have kept us away for a long time, but I think that Shagwong is still our all-time favorite place to camp. When people see the shots they can’t believe that it’s 3 hours from NYC and legal. It looks like the East Cape of Baja, or Western Australia.
Note: usually surfers will not disclose any of their favorite locations due to fear of, “blowing up the spot.” My biggest fear for these 4×4 access camping spots in the Northeast is that they will be under used and gentrified. So, please come camping!
Also note: I didn’t mention anywhere in Baja, haha.
Favorite road you’ve driven?
We’re honestly more about the destination than the trip, haha. We like to follow the wind and the waves. The PCH and Mex 1 are great because they’re really beautiful, but more importantly they connect all of the surf spots.
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living out of a vehicle what would you tell them?
There’s no one size fits all. Try to envision your dream life in as much detail as possible. What does it look like?
If you’re doing mostly urban camping, get an incognito van. If you’re mostly going off the beaten path, a 4×4 truck camper. If you have 3 kids and you want to do a lot of activities that require gear it’s probably worth it to have a big ass RV.
It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people?
I think it’s always been in my blood. When I was a baby my parents lived in a Westy for a little while. When I was 17, I dropped out of high school and traveled across the country with an Airstream. I even recently found out that my great grandmother’s sister drove coast to coast by herself in a Ford Model T in the 1920s. Her journal is incredible! I think that the appetite for adventure is in everyone.
You have found a strong place in the community of overland travelers. What values do you think your home or family instilled in you, that you take on the road?
The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness. 😉
I admire your outside the box approach to work and home. Do you see yourself as somebody who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?
Just a matter of circumstance.
Where do you want to go next?
I have no idea! Right now I really don’t want to get myself into anything that’s going to keep me in one place all the time, but I also love building things, so…