By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 8/28/17

For the forty third installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas, we are very pleased to speak with Nathan and Mallory about their #Vanlife adventures. You may know them as @86sqft.

I first discovered Mallory and Nathan through their fantastic Instagram gallery and noticed right away that there was a kindness present in their images. I highly recommend giving them a follow. They are also on Facebook if that is your thing. Get ready for a realistic look at the challenges of living in a tiny space (86sq/ft) but also the many benefits. They live in their van with their three dogs, Piper, Tarzan, and Jane.

Mallory and Nathan met in Whitefish, Montana. Nathan grew up in Warren, Ohio and Mallory in Whitefish. They connected over their love of the outdoors and their dogs. In January of 2017 Nathan moved into his van and began working as a traveling physical therapist. After ski season ended in April, Mallory joined Nathan in Colville, WA. They then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and are now currently living in Bellingham, WA.

They are a great model for anybody looking to simplify their living situation to a Van full time and yet still remain productive in a non-internet based career. I feel like many people assume that when you move into a small living space that the sacrifices you make to fit your life in a small space will result in reductions in other aspects of life. Nathan and Mallory are terrific reminders that the opposite is often true and if anything, moving into a smaller  space gives you more opportunity to spend time doing what you love.

Check out our interview below.

What do you consider to be your place of work? 

Nathan is a Traveling Physical Therapist and Mallory picks up service industry jobs in each new place that we move.

Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it?

2016 Mercedes Cargo Van 170 inch wheel base extended version.

When and how did you get it?

August 2016, bought it from a dealership in Seattle.

What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?

We needed a vehicle that would fit two people, three dogs, and that we could live in stealthily. We chose Mercedes because they had the biggest van we could get. We went with a brand new because we did not want to buy a van with high mileage that we would have to invest a lot of money in to later.

What upgrades or changes have you made to it?

We bought it as an empty cargo van and over the next 4 months Nathan built it into a home. We moved in in January, and after 8 months decided to remodel. The remodel moved the dog kennel from underneath the bed to individual dog kennels underneath the counter. The free space underneath the bed allowed for more storage, and less clutter in our living space.

What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?

Nathan: not being tied down to one location for a long period of time, and being able to easily go places on the weekends without spending a bunch of money.

Mallory: van living allows us to be more spontaneous and adventurous. I love that we can decide on a Friday night after work that we want to go somewhere cool, and we don’t have to stress about finding a place to stay.

What is your least favorite part about it?

Nathan: Dog Hair and Dishes

Mallory: I am a very independent person and have always loved having my own space. In the van I find it very challenging to get alone time.

How many miles have you put on your van? 


What is the best place you have taken it?

Stanley, Idaho for the Solar Eclipse

Is there just one?

There have been many awesome places we have driven to such as Nelson,B.C. And Jackson,WY.

Favorite road you’ve driven? 

Any dirt Forest Service Road

In one word, what describes your approach to life?

Nathan: spontaneous

Mallory: Passionate

If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living out of a vehicle what would you tell them?

Nathan: Don’t work a “normal” job. Working a creative job or working remote would be ideal for this life style.

Mallory: If you have to work a 9-5 job while living in your vehicle I recommend renting out a driveway or having a consistent place to park. With the chaos in work, it is nice to not have to stress about where you are going to park at night:

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?

Nathan: I knew from an early age that I was one of those people. I’ve always enjoyed traveling and visiting new places.

Mallory: I grew up in the mountains of Montana and have always been drawn to adventuring. I had pictured myself living in a VW Westfalia, but I didn’t see it happening any time soon until Nathan started talking about buying a van.

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?

Nathan: I’m a lone wolf in my family. They aren’t big adventurers, but because I never got to experience anything like this it instilled FOMO (fear of missing out) in me.

Mallory: My parents are very unconventional. In the small Montana town I grew up in she was a big believer in holistic medicine and owned a metaphysical rocks shop. My father lives in Seattle and was the rebel of his family. Leaving his religious upbringing for a life in documentary film making, partying at Burning Man, and being in an open marriage. They are independent, adventurous, and unconventional. Those character traits have been ingrained in me, and have helped me to adapt to moving a lot and living in a van.

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?

Nathan: It just happened, my job allows me to travel somewhere new every 3-6 months.

Mallory: A total leap of faith. Nathan and I had been dating less than a year, and I had little skills to get a remote job. It took me a bit, but now I cannot imagine living any other lifestyle.

Where do you want to go next?

Nathan: I would love to be able to have a career that I could work remotely and preferably creative work. I would love for that career to allow me to travel all across North America:

Mallory: I am currently working on making jewelry, and hope to eventually turn that in to a more stable source of income. I, like Nathan, want to be able to travel all over North America.

If you enjoyed this interview check out some of our other interviews about #vanlife

Peter and Shruthi: @Holidayatsee

David Jongerden: @davebradly

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