What do you get when you throw an accountant and a photographer into a van together? An epic duo called the Dirty Darlings. Matt and Megan left their comfortable lifestyle in San Francisco to move into their 2006 Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter 3500. With the goal of visiting all 50 states and inspiring others to get outside, they live life reminding themselves that comfort is overrated and the struggle is worth it. They refer to their van as a “she”, describing her as feeling “just as much at home resting her head for the night under an urban street light as she does sleeping under the milky way.”
They are funny, well spoken, and were kind enough to let me ask them personal questions. Get to know them below through our interview and send them your suggestions for the best back roads in the US!
Let’s start with the big question: why did you decide to move into a van and travel full-time?
Adventure! The decision mostly grew out of a desire for change and a wish to find a place that feels like “home”. When Matt & I met, we were both independently in a place where we were thinking about leaving San Francisco. Our first date involved lots of wine and Matt telling me about dreams to travel the country in his converted sprinter van. At the time I assumed he was just a crazy man with a crazy plan but something about his endearing road trip stories made me lead in and want to know more.
As we started to get to know each other, his crazy plans became our crazy dreams. ‘Vanlife’ was never the ultimate goal of what we wanted to do but more a way for us to travel and explore other things. And while you may be wondering how we got from date numero uno to now (just over a year later), I will spare you the mushy details of our relationship and leave a little mystery for you to get to know us.
I know that you both work on the road and that your career paths are quite different. Can you please give a brief description of each of your jobs and explain how working on the road impacts your daily life/travels? How does your creativity and work ethic differ in your rig vs. life before the road?
I am an accountant. [Insert lame dad joke about numbers here] I work part-time with my same employer based in the Bay Area helping startups create, manage and scale their accounting and finance operations. In San Francisco, I had a lot of client interaction but worked mostly from home so the transition to working remote wasn’t a big jump. I can work from pretty much anywhere with a computer and wifi connection.
Matt is a freelance photographer and also contracts back with his previous employer on special projects in the realm of production (photography, videography and audio). He’s either sitting next to me in front of his computer editing photos and helping to produce a podcast or he’s flying somewhere around the country to help with a video/photo shoot.
As you may imagine, my job is very logic based and Matt works in the world of creating things. We are both very fortunate to have jobs that we were able to bring on the road with us. While our lifestyle requires both of us to remain pretty flexible, my job is the more rigid one and we often mold our plans around my needs. I constantly struggle to figure out if I’m planning my work around our plans or if we’re making plans around my work.
Our work ethic is largely the same now as it was before. We want to be productive and feel like we’re accomplishing something. We determined early on that simply ‘traveling’ and seeing new places didn’t feel like enough to stimulate our mind and soul. We’ve been working hard ever since to find other projects and passions that align with what we’re doing and give us an opportunity to exercise our creative side.
I can do sudoku puzzles all day, nerd out with numbers and tell you random facts like ‘we spend an average of $92 per day on all inclusive costs for two people (including things like health insurance)’. I also love being outdoors and exercising the right side of my brain telling stories or doing other craft projects around the van. Matt will do 100 pushups before I even get out of bed, speak 5 different accents (not languages) that will give your stomach cramp from laughing so hard and then he will take more pictures in a day than I count. While doing all of this, his positivity will inspire you to want to do ‘more’ and think outside the box. Have a project that will put our skills to use? Contact us now! JK.
How has living in a van full-time affected your long-term goals and outlook on life?
When I decided that I was going to sell all of my things and move into a van, I thought I would be taking a year off. I thought this would mean loads of spare time to explore my inner creativity, follow passions, read more books and maybe even explore other career opportunities in the outdoor industry. Since we’ve lived on the road, our mindset has changed. It no longer feels like a temporary trip but more a change in lifestyle. Deciding to work while on the road was a big part of why our outlook shifted. There is a lot of uncertainty in our future. And while this often feels liberating, it can also feel like an obstacle to make big ‘life decisions’. It’s easy to use the unknown as an excuse for not making a decision, “Well, I don’t know what I’ll be doing a year from now.” But I continue to remind myself that the question I should be asking myself is, “What do I want to be doing a year from now and how do I make that happen?”
I think we both can agree that living out of a vehicle can be a full-time job in itself. Can you explain a little bit how this statement relates to your guys’ daily or weekly routines?
We underestimated the amount of time that the logistics of travel would take. Matt has waited too many times while I have “just 10 more minutes” of work to finish. I am extremely appreciative of the fact that he takes care of most of our logistics and planning while waiting those extra 10 minutes (*2 hours*). Constantly moving can make it difficult to stay in the moment because you’re always trying to plan the next step.
Matt and I talk about the notion of ‘decision overload’. Decisions are required for almost everything; where to eat, where to sleep, where to go next? Every week or two we reach a point of decision paralysis. Neither of us want to make a decision about anything. This often leads to us being hunkered down in one place for a few days doing nothing but fulfilling basic human needs of food, sleep and just spending time together. We still struggle to find routine and to decide if that’s a good or bad thing. Nights spent in Walmart parking lots allow us to appreciate the days filled with adventure, back roads and campfires under the stars. We try to find balance and to remind ourselves that the effort to search for an awesome free camping spot is always worth it. I also want to make it clear that we are not complaining. We both chose this life and continue to choose it everyday.
While chatting back and forth, you mentioned that one of your inspirations for life on the road was visiting all 50 states and potentially finding a place you want to plant roots in. Do you feel like you’ve found that place? If so, where is it?
I don’t think we’ve found that place yet. We’ve found cities like Austin, Bend, Boise, Tucson or San Diego that have a lot of things that we like. I’m also still coveting the state of Colorado in my mind hoping that it has some secret treasure for us. Matt loves to check out the real estate market in most cities that we go through and we enjoy talking about what life would look, feel and smell like if we lived in that place. We play around with dreams of buying property, flipping a house or building a tiny home out of a shipping container.
A common phrase when we roll into a new place is, “Well, we live here now.” In some sense, that’s true. If we miss a place after we leave than there was something special there.
If you could give someone considering your lifestyle any advice, what would it be?
Go into it with intention. In no way do I mean you have to have it all figured it out beforehand, but have some idea of what you want out of it. Are you traveling to see the country, do you want to mountain bike in every state, do you want to continue doing what you’re doing now but do it from a van? Be open and allow this to grow and change with you on the road. We spent 6 months trying to figure out if we were on vacation or living ‘regular life’. I think the answer is somewhere in between but until we felt we had a little direction in our lives it was hard to determine what our priorities were.
Also, if you’re considering life in some sort of mobile rig, go test drive as many as you can before making a decision! There are endless options and you won’t know which is best for you unless you see what’s out there. Figure out what’s right for you and go for it! Don’t give yourself a comparison hangover. If you don’t know what’s right for you, take a step forward and when that doesn’t feel right after a month or even a day, you’ll adjust.
To come full-circle back to the first question regarding your motivation for hitting the road, do you feel like your original purpose for doing so is still your current motivation for continuing?
What started as 6 months quickly turned into a year and is now something that we want to do until it doesn’t feel right anymore. This lifestyle feels like a challenge that I still need to conquer before I can be done with it. I don’t mean to say that it’s a thorn in my side but just to express that I have so much more to learn and figure out. While we don’t have an end date on the road, it’s also something we don’t want to do forever. While we hope to always have some sort of van in our lives, we think life will also bring different adventures and new challenges.
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