By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 10/2/17

For the forty eight installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas, we are very please to speak with Tom and Catie from @VNVS.

Tom and Catie are full-time #vanlifers. In addition to living and working from their van, they also created a initiative to share and promote art on their vans exterior walls ,as they travel around the Bay Area. Periodically they wipe the slate clean for the next mural and local artist to begin their vision.

I first came across their project through Instagram and you can view their profile and give them a follow here.  Of course you can also follow their adventures on Facebook and through their Youtube Channel as well.

Being full time #vanlifers is a commitment, but one that we hear time and again comes with its challenges but also reaps huge rewards for those willing to take the steps to embrace that kind of change.

Tom and Catie are wonderful reminders that while we make our own choices on how to live and create, there is also always a community of like-minded individuals to help support and share your enthusiasms for life.

Check out our interview below.

What do you consider to be your place of work?

We’re not your typical vanlifer’s as we both have full-time day jobs. Tom is an acoustician for a San Francisco-based architecture firm and Catie is a special education teacher in Oakland.

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

We have a 2010 Freightliner Sprinter which we call Vanvas, short for van canvas. We’re doing something a little unique. We’re attempting to promote art in the Bay Area by having local muralists draw on it! Check out our first artist collaboration in this video.

When and how did you get it?

This past Spring Tom bought our retired fleet vehicle from a logistics company called Ryder.

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

We wanted something with a high top because we’re both fairly tall (Tom is 6’2″). Used Sprinters were in Tom’s price range and the 3.0 turbo v6 gets great gas mileage!

What upgrades or changes have you made to it?

It was a bare shell when we got it. Tom built out the whole cargo area as our tiny home with some help from friends and Catie’s dad. It has two 250 watt solar panels mounted on the roof which supply a 160 amp-hour gel deep cycle battery. The goal for our van was to power everything off of electricity, so we decided to go big with the solar.


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

Even though we don’t work out of ours, we do live in it full-time. During the week, we rent a side-yard of a house in Oakland where we have access to all the amenities a house would and almost every weekend we take it out and explore our new surroundings. Our favorite part about vanlife is the flexibility the lifestyle provides AND we never have to worry about leaving things behind because we always have our home with us!


What is your least favorite part about it?

We’re honestly having a hard time coming up with something for this. We’ve both made smooth transitions into our new lifestyle and having a consistent place to park plays a big part. One “fun” story we’ll share though is this: We are among the few van dwellers that do not have a composting toilet. Instead, we have a Dometic SaniPottie. We learned the hard way that there is a special kind of TP for portable pots. We won’t go into much more detail, but THAT was by far Catie’s worst day in the van.

How many miles have you put on your van?

We’ve been having too much fun to keep track, but our guess is somewhere between 8-10K!

What is the best place you have taken it?

That’s another hard question and no, there is definitely NOT just one! We drove Vanvas across the country – from Columbus, Indiana to San Francisco, California and stopped in so many amazing places along the way. Catie’s favorite spot was Crater Lake in Oregon. You can’t fathom how blue the water is until you’re there in person. It was a photographer’s dream! Tom’s favorite place was Moab, Utah because we got to park on some BLM land outside of the city and set up our own camp. It’s nice to have all the amenities of a campsite sometimes, but we definitely prefer to be in the middle of nowhere.

Favorite road you’ve driven? Highway 50 from Moab to SF. It’s named “The Loneliest Road in America” and we loved it because there were long stretches of open road where we couldn’t see another vehicle in either direction.


In one word, what describes your approach to life? 

Catie: Go!     Tom: Bubbly


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

Make sure you’re down with peeing in a bottle if you’re not planning to build in a toilet.

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?

Catie: When I was growing up, my parents often took my brothers and me on long car trips even if just for a long weekend – most often to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which was 12 hours away from my hometown! They used to joke that we grew up in the truck and in a sense, we did. My mom would pack too many snacks and made sure we were comfortable in the back seat. She helped us turn what could have been dreadful trips into adventures we’ll never forget.

Tom: My mom was a flight attendant growing up, so I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel the world from a young age. I didn’t get the travel bug again until after college when I traveled solo to Costa Rica. Since then I’ve made a point to travel as much as possible and vanlife allows for plenty of that.

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?

Catie: When I was a freshman in high school, my dad’s job moved my family to Stockholm, Sweden. My amazing parents’ overall positivity and adventurous spirits helped our transition overseas to be a smooth one, despite all of the drastic changes. Whether they want to admit it or not, I got the travel bug from them!

Tom: Creativity and the ‘do it yourself’ mentality was instilled in me from a young age. Designing the van to make the most use of the space was a very rewarding experience and allowed the transition into vanlife that much easier.


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?

Catie: I think it’s a little bit of both for me. If you would have told me even 1 year ago that this would be the path my life would take, I may have laughed, but I also would have been curious to hear more. In many aspects, I’m a doer THEN a thinker. I have to say, though, choosing vanlife was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Tom: Before vanlife I lived the typical ‘American dream.’ I had a house, a nice car, a good paying 9-5 job and realized I wasn’t happy at all. It’s cliché, but true- money cannot buy happiness. When I accepted a job in San Francisco I decided that it’s now or never to try vanlife. It was a decision we decided to make and commit to which I couldn’t be happier about.


Where do you want to go next?

In the future, we both want to devote an extended amount of time to explore Central and South America! Catie is a photographer and Tom is gaining interest and skill in videography. We have dreams of meeting other nomadic friends to make the trip with us and make a documentary of our epic adventure. Who wants to caravan with us?

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