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About 6 months ago, we met a fantastic full time van life couple, with an amazing energy, and equally great story. Aaron and Christine just celebrated one year of living and working full time from the road in their Airstream van. They take us on a van tour, and share the ups, downs and realities of full time van life.
Meet Chris and Aaron from Irene Iron Fitness
Hailing from Minnesota, full time Online Fitness and Health Coach, Christine Willers, left her former career as director of operations for an advertising company, to create her online dream business. Helping others live their best life by supporting them in creating healthier eating and fitness habits. Her husband Aaron left his management career in the auto parts industry to support Christine in building Irene Iron Fitness, and their related YouTube Channel.
In this article, we share some of the main discussion points of our recent chat. But yoou’ll want to watch the video for the full length interview and van tour. There’s a ton to learn about van life, shopping for a van, and how to navigate living together 24/7 in such a small space – and stay married!
Are we Considering Van Life?
As you know, we love our full time RV lifestyle. Having our home with us as you explore the country is a great way to travel. And our own 40′ motorhome is like a luxury apartment on wheels, especially since completing our Ultimate RV Makeover. We definitely like our space! But we find ourselves increasingly interested in small space living. No, we’re not planning to downsize and full time in a van! But we ARE considering the idea of a second, smaller RV – perhaps a Class B, B+ or Class C – for more nimble trips. So this year, we’ll be trying a few on for size, and learning what we can from others, like Chris and Aaron – along the way.
Why Chris and Aaron chose Van Life
This lovely couple met young and have been together for many years. They both had 16-18 year professional careers with large corporations before changing gears. Though successful in their careers and life by most of society’s measurements, they wanted something different. After growing tired of 1-2 hour commutes to work and losing interest in their careers they wanted to enjoy more travel and experiences.
Chris and Aaron began downsizing and simplifying their lives, wanting to save more of their hard earned money. During the process they sold their home and property and instead, rented progressively smaller apartments. They stopped going out to eat and reduced other expensive activities. Soon they were saving over 75% of their income, opening up additional options for more freedom in their next stage in life.
A few years into their downsizing journey, Chris and Aaron decided what that next stage would be. They would become full time RV travelers. But instead of living in a big RV, they would further downsize to a small and nimble van. Two years later they paid cash for their 2014 Airstream Mercedes Sprinter Van, and had a financial buffer of money set aside that would enable them to launch new careers on the road. So they left their corporate jobs and hit the road in January 2019.
What Do They Travel In?
Aaron and Christine travel in a 2014 Airstream Interstate van on the Mercedes Sprinter 3500 chassis. It is an unusual, dual wardrobe model that offers two lounge areas and more cabinet storage than many other similar models. The interior is all light colored, sleek cabinetry and comfortable ivory leather seating that make the interior of the van feel much larger than it really is. After all, their total living area is only about 100 square feet.
When you live and work full time in a van, you need to make the most of every inch of space. Chris and Aaron chose a floor plan that allows them to convert the rear ‘lounge’ area into the bed so it is well used at all hours of the day and night. The front lounge area is made up of the driver and passenger seats that turn around. The center area of the van is the galley/kitchen, where you will find most of the storage cabinets and the bathroom area.
This floor plan allows for two separate work spaces during the day. Chris and Aaron also carry a 5 sided Clam screen tent, so they can spread out a bit more, and use an outdoor space from time to time. With their van being surprisingly well laid out and cavernous storage, they feel their van can carry everything they need. They do not consider themselves minimalists. They do carry quite a bit of gym equipment and winter clothing too. But it wouldn’t be easy for most people to downsize their possessions enough to upsize their flexibility and lifestyle to this extent.
Why did they Choose an Airstream Van?
Airstream Vans are known for being high quality, and Chris and Aaron also loved the unique floor plan of this rare model. Airstream vans also have larger than average fresh and waste water tank capacities than many other vans in their class.
Aaron had been doing extensive van research for 18 months on all different brands and models to be sure they made the right choice for their needs. Keep in mind that everyone’s needs and wants are different when looking at RVs in general, and especially in limited spaces offered in vans.
Testament to the different needs of buyers, there are even many companies that build fully custom vans, like our friend George Mauro who shares his van build process on his Humble Road YouTube Channel. These days, even more folks are choosing to do their own DIY van builds so they can have them just the way they want, especially when trying to do it on a budget.
How Do They Make Money To Support Their Full Time Van Life?
So how do Chris and Aaron afford their full time RV lifestyle? As mentioned above, they worked for many years and lived below their means in order to put a lump sum of money aside. That gave them the freedom to leave their jobs and choose their current path and lifestyle. Living frugally has literally bought them time to build new careers on the road, while enjoying a full time traveling lifestyle.
Chris and Aaron are now finding intrinsic reward in their new business, with a passion for helping others live better lives through personal training and health, nutrition and fitness coaching. Most of their work is online, coaching clients in stick and brick homes and RVs over the country – online and by phone.
Their Youtube channel shares videos of their van life travels, as well as weekly cooking videos filmed in their van. As a Food Network fan for many years, Chris loves now being able to show people how to make simple, healthy and tasty meals, from her tiny van kitchen.
Next week, Julie and Chris will cook a one skillet chicken enchilada dish from their Airstream Interstate Van, on our own YouTube channel. So keep an eye out for that.
Biggest Challenge of Living In A Van
As shared multiple times in the video, it has not been easy moving into a van, hitting the road, and launching a new business. Especially doing it all at the same time. Living 24/7 with your significant other in a small space is tough enough, without all the stress of building a new business, finding places to stay, and all the trip planning and time is to make it happen.
But Chris and Aaron love their full time van life, and the freedoms that the RV lifestyle offers them. But just like other lifestyles, van life isn’t the endless sea of dreamy, picturesque beauty and adventures we seen on social media. Things break, and every other stressor of life can still show up. Fortunately, in general, the lifestyle is still much more laid back than the corporate careers and long commutes they left behind. And knowing they are free to choose their schedule and location is priceless.
What is broken in their Van?
RVs have a reputation for always needing some kind of repair and vans are no different. Aaron shared that they have two repairs currently needing attention. First, an easy one. Their towel bar in their shower/bath area is broken from the welds. It is an easy and inexpensive fix once they order the part, which will cost about $15.
Second, their macerator pump is starting to fail. Without that pump, they can’t effectively dump their waste water tanks. So. that is a much more time sensitive, and significant repair. This will be a DIY job, and Aaron has already done it once before. The part cost around $150. It will be a messy and time consuming job – about half a day’s work – but it’s not difficult for a handy guy like Aaron.
What Are Their Favorite Experiences?
Chris and Aaron shared their favorite experience has been connecting with other people in their travels. They love the RV community, and even meeting random people in parking lots that are curious about their van lifestyle.
In the past year, they have traveled around the ‘margarita rim’ of the Unites States, traveling the circumference. They drove over 16,000 miles and visited 32 states along the way. Having a van means that they can easily drive right into the heart of big cities like Manhattan, New York, and sometimes even spend the night in parking lots or side streets.
Their travels have also found them waking up in beautiful boondocking spots near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and many other scenic spots along the ocean or open lands.
Where Do They Stay?
Don’t think Chris and Aaron are mostly living in parking lots, side streets or out in the middle of nowhere. Actually, they spend most of their nights in campgrounds. When they first hit the road, they spent about two-thirds of their time in campgrounds. But after upgrading their Thousand Trails membership, they now spend more than 80% of their nights in campgrounds. With limited tank capacities, it’s hard to boondock more than a couple of days. And finding places to move and park for free is time consuming and stressful. So they have found their TT membership allows them the relax and enjoy campground amenities, while being able to focus on their work. All for less than $10 a night.
We have spent over 700 nights in the Thousand Trails camping network since hitting the road in 2014. We have written a ton of articles about how we literally save thousands of dollars each year with our Thousand Trails memberships. Learn more in our articles by clicking here .
Do You Think You Could Live Full Time In A Van?
While we were hanging out with Chris and Aaron we were very impressed with how well they have adapted to such a significant life change. We also found ourselves wondering how well we would be able to adapt to living full time in a van. Van life comes with its challenges, as well as its benefits. And like all RVs, there are advantages and trade offs to every type.
As mentioned earlier, Julie and I have been considering doing some shorter trips in smaller RVs. After recently spending more time with multiple friends who full time in vans or other smaller RVs, we are more serious than ever about giving it a try. Not instead of our current coach though. It would be a second RV. But because we have so little money invested in our full time 40′ motorhome, it means we are not over leveraged financially. So the idea of a second, smaller RV for more nimble travel and events is quite appealing to us. Who knows, maybe we can even rent it out, to help offset some of the expense?
Our next step in our own small RV shopping process is renting an RV during our upcoming trip to Florida for the Florida RV Super Show, and other events in Florida in January. We will be sharing our RV rental and shopping experiences with you in our upcoming posts and videos. Until then… we’ll see you on the road!
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