Get Smart About #vanlife

by DGO Web Administrator

From the looks of Instagram, Matt Foley isn’t the only guy livin’ in a van by the river. Let Rex Winchester, fly-fishing guide with San Juan Angler, tell you what #vanlife is all about.

How’d you get into this?

It’s a practical means to solve a problem – the Durango housing market is insane. We got pre-approved for a loan and did everything we could to jump on a place if it came available, but nothing did.


It’s me, my wife and our 90-pound Lab, Murphy.

What’s your rig?

I scoured the Internet to see what other people were doing and, on the way back from a climbing trip, we passed this big Dodge dealer and pulled over to get some measurements. Everything fell into place, and we drove off the lot with a 6-mile-old Dodge Promaster. Ours has the 170-inch wheelbase because we knew we were going to take it places. It’s gone down Old Lime Creek Road! We took out a personal loan to build it all out and finished it in 2½ months. There’re no straight lines on this thing, so we had to get creative in the building process.

What’s it got in it?

I figured if we’re going to live in a van, I wanted it to be really nice inside – not some creepy rape van. Full kitchen, Playstation, flat screen, solar, water, propane and a full-sized bed. We’re both just short enough to stretch out in it. It’s all self-contained with the exception of a bathroom. There’re tons of options – composting toilets, backpacker bags – but we decided to prioritize other things. I’ve become that dad who’s always turning around, “Everybody used the bathroom? Claire? Murphy? OK, let’s lock ’er down!”

What’s to love about van life?

There’s no barrier to adventure. At the drop of a hat, we go. And I never forget anything at home! We’re going to Idaho tomorrow for three days to fish – it’s going to cost us $200. We also save a ton of money. After insurance, phone, van payment and food; between my job as a guide, and my wife working as a teacher, we’re packing away $1,000 a month. In Durango.

What’s tough?

Early on, I would think, ‘Do people think I’m homeless? What do my parents think? Can I handle someone knocking on my door and telling me that I can’t park somewhere?’ I had this huge fear early on of breaking the law, of getting in trouble. There’re little loopholes where I potentially could get a DUI for just having alcohol in the van.

Is it harder for your wife because she has a “professional” job?

We have a membership at the rock gym and that’s our shower, but it can be three to four days between them. She was nervous about it at first, but it’s turned out that all of her teacher friends are intrigued by it. ‘How’s the van? What’s it like?’

What are the unintended benefits?

In the summer, when I can’t get the van cool enough, I have to go do stuff. Opposite when it gets cold. We’ve got to be in the van and it’s going to be me, my wife and the dog. There isn’t enough solar to watch a movie because it’s been snowing, and we don’t have enough data to stream Netflix. So we’ve got six hours of talking to each other, or playing games, or reading. It’s ultimate intimacy.

The lack of space imposes minimalism, how does that look for you?

I’m hyper-analytical, so our budget is crazy specific – like broken down to what we are allowed to spend per day, which is usually right around $5. So, if I want something, I think ‘Is it worth the only $5 I have today?’ and most of the time, it’s not. You constantly think, ‘Where would I put it? How would I use it?’ If you’re a hoarder, if you have a lot of attachments, it’d be tough.

What would you say to someone who wants to, but is on the fence?

DO it. You cannot prepare enough; you can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. We’ve become different – better – people because of the van.

Cyle Talley recommends you watch the old SNL Matt Foley sketch. If you have anything you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at [email protected].


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