Vangie is Her Name and Travel is Her Game

To say that the global pandemic rocked the world in horrific ways would be, to put it mildly. We may never know the full extent of grief, anger, and loss. One thing is for sure: We’ve been forever changed for having experienced and come through this season of our lives. This is my story.

“Wake-Up!”

That’s exactly what the ugly, life-disrupting monster known as the pandemic screamed in my head. “Ha! You fool! Who’s in control now? Let’s see how ready, willing, and able you are to pivot.”

How it Hit

Unlike others around me, I wasn’t at all overcome by fear. Instead, I was totally stunned by this reality: I live as though I know the future. I plan with a level of certainty that is completely unrealistic. I choose not to recognize that everything can change in a moment. 

My husband and I have this huge list of things we will do and places we will see. Someday. When we retire, when we have time. Once we finish this or accomplish that. And while we plan, life is passing us by.

The pandemic made me see clearly that all of our big plans lie under a shroud of uncertainty. The only thing we know for certain is what is happening right now.

The Picture

Still stunned by what was happening all around me, I was flying through my email one day in early 2020. I get so much mail. And I still cannot figure out why I opened a message from a quirky site with a funny name; This is Why You Are Broke. And this is the first item that popped up.

My immediate reaction was to be slack-jawed, intrigued, with heart-beating fast. I forwarded it to Harold with a simple message: We need this. Of course, I had visions of traveling care-free whenever we felt like it—to every corner, nook, and cranny of this beautiful country. I was ready to start making every moment count. The uncertainty of life was my new reality.

His message was swift, if not hilarious. Are you kidding? Who IS this?  To understand, you’d have to know a little history. Early in our marriage, as our two boys were babies (17 months apart), we did the camping thing in a tent. Did I mention two babies?! How many ways can I say miserable? Horrible. Rain, wind, even snow in July. All work, no fun. I hated it.

Of course, I don’t remember saying it, but he recalls, “I will never go camping again. Don’t even ask me!” We sold all the stuff, and that was that. 

Fast forward decades later and there we were—he with his mouth hanging open, me with a photo. I found the company that created that van conversion (screenshot above) and got them on the phone.

How, where, and when were my questions. You buy a van and bring it to us in New Jersey, we convert it into a camper van; but sorry, we are booked through 2023, were their answers. Oh, and what you are looking at in the picture will run about $65,000 give or take on top of buying the van.

Rats! I had my heart set on at least going to look at it. But $100,000 or most likely even more? Double rats. 

Spark of Joy

Unbeknownst to me, Harold had a spark of joy at the thought that I would ever allow “camping” in my vocabulary again. He began looking around, researching, plotting. 

Not surprisingly, I guess, he discovered Colorado has become the vanlife capital of the world. Where we live is where most van sales and conversions are happening. He located a highly reviewed van conversion company with 40 years experience within our area.

So, on a Saturday in June 2020, we went to see VanWorks in Ft. Collins, Colo. What we found was awesome. They offer every kind of conversion, from just the bare essentials to high-end luxury options. 

We had no plans to make any decisions that day, and you can start laughing now. VanWorks has a partnership with the local Dodge Ram dealer, where they buy fleets of cargo vans with the right factory components for quality conversions. And you’re probably way ahead of me here, but surprise! They had just one 2019 model left and were anxious to get rid of it. Long story short, we bought it with more than $12,000 in discounts and rebates. 

We met with VanWorks and settled on their BaseCamp conversion with a few upgrades. I’ll add basic specifics below for anyone into that kind of thing.

In addition to the specs below, we have a 24-gallon water tank, water heater, dry-flush toilet, outdoor shower, sink, induction cooktop, fixed bed, garage for eBikes, Blackstone grill, folding table, and chairs, etc.

Meet Vangie

The day we picked up our newly converted camper van, we named her Vangie. As we took her maiden voyage, Harold turned on the radio, located that Rolling Stones hit from the 60s, “Angie,” cranked it up, and we were in heaven. 

It’s been nearly two years since we adopted a kind of semi-vanlife, and we couldn’t be happier. We’re seeing every part of our newly adopted state as quickly as possible. 

We have not retired. Both of us work more than full-time. We’ve just figured out how we can afford to include semi-vanlife in our current schedule. We travel for fun, part-time. And what fun it is. Highly recommended.

The total cost of the van plus conversion, including items below, came in at less than half what the company in New Jersey estimated. Living without debt has its benefits.

And Here She Is

Specifications

Van

2019 Dodge Ram Promaster 136-in Wheelbase

Battery

Battle Born 400 amp hours lithium-Ion

Inverter

Victron 2000 watts

Toilet

Laveo Dry Flush

Refrigerator freezer

Nova Kool

Heater

Webasco

Mobile Internet System

Insty Connect

Bedding

Beddy’s

e-Bikes

Aventon

Awning

Moon Shade

 


 

 

 

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  1. Christine Hall says:

    I Love It! Welcome to the club! When I met my now husband just in 2016, he has been camping in van for years. We have an old 1995 Chevy Conversion Van, that my husband took all the seats out of. We just roll up a futon for our bedding and we have a bucket with a toilet seat lid from Wal-mart, that is a neccessity. In 2020, we were supposed to travel cross country from Ohio to Yosemite, but with all the riots, we changed our plans and headed up to the Upper Peninsula, MI, we towed our boat and went on all the lakes. We were able to stay at State Park Campgrounds that were open. And since there were not a whole lot of people out and traveling. We even slept in the van parked right on the street overlooking Lake Michigan and the beautiful sunsets. I love that you are doing this. Its a really simple way to LIVE LIFE in the here and now.

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  2. Jo says:

    Thank you Mary for this entertaining and informative post. :0] Sounds like you are having a ball! Also your beginning sentences about ‘How It Hit’ resonated with me. I too was not and remain unafraid especially of circumstances I cannot control. Hope you and hubby continue for many years singing at the top of your lungs. Blessings,

    Reply
  3. Betty says:

    Mary: This is so funny! My husband and I are looking for a converted van just like this but in Canada where we are located. But with the recent sharp increase in the gas prices we have put our converted van dreams on the back burner temporarily. But we still intend to get a van one day to travel around in. It looks like so much fun!

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  4. Joan says:

    Lol, Mary we were just looking at a “Vangie” this past Saturday!
    I love it! I would name mine VanGogh!
    On your campsite table, do I see tiny battery powered smoothie blenders or are those lanterns?

    Reply
  5. Betty Thomas says:

    Good for you both! We work full time also and have been having the same conversations. After a health scare and living through the pandemic we have decided to live life to the fullest and enjoy some down time as often as you can. Happy travels!

    Reply
  6. Susan C says:

    My husband and I have been considering something like this but his height 6’4″ have made it challenging to find something that he could actually stand up in. Not sure how tall you or your husband are but how is the headroom when standing in this?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Harold is 6’3″ stands with room to spare. And sleeping is east/west, crossways. We have 72″ clear … which is fine for a side sleeper. Our is the Promaster High Top option … there is a Promaster Low Top which would never work for us. Also the Ford Transit is even taller inside, but it is narrowed which makes crossways sleeping difficult unless super short. Then it’s difficult to find a standard size mattress to fit. Yeah, we had to think of all these things!

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