By Mark McConville
MEET the married couple who packed their life into a van and hit the road before their first wedding anniversary and plan to complete all 49 US states by next summer.
Mike (34) and Jessica (33) Shisler, from Baltimore, Maryland, USA, were backpacking in Grand Teton National Park when they noticed a converted Sprinter van for sale on the side of the road.
Despite being out of their price range a seed had been planted in their minds and two months later they bought their own 2013 Mercedes Sprinter to convert themselves, at a cost of $15,000 over five months.
The adventurous couple are currently in south Florida, having driven 18,000 miles through 38 US states and part of Canada. They aim to complete all 49 states by next summer after a trip to Alaska.
“We love that everywhere we go we are at home,” said Jessica.
“Every day is a new adventure and a new experience. We also enjoy the financial freedom that comes from not paying a mortgage and the emotional and physical freedom from not working the standard 40+ hour work week.
“A big part of vanlife for us is about being present in the moment and trying not to plan out every next step.
“We are really enjoying this lifestyle but do keep mental notes of the places we could see ourselves living in the future.”
The couple are able to fund their nomadic lifestyle by keeping jobs on their travels. Mike is an architect turned artist who keeps a sketchbook and draws every day the places they go.
Through his Instagram account and Etsy he sells his artwork to a growing number of people. Jess is a scientist who got frustrated with the lack of communication and outreach in medical research and now helps translate technical information for public consumption.
Despite their love of the lifestyle and somewhat steady income it hasn’t all being plain sailing for the pair.
“Living in a city like Baltimore made it difficult to build out the van,” added Jessica.
“Our urban neighbourhood had little parking and certainly no place for a large cargo van. The solution was to park the van at a nearby storage unit. Mike would bike to the lot every night after work to build the van.
“All of our build materials were kept in a rented storage unit, all of our tools had to be battery powered. He often worked in the dark and cold of a Northeast winter, preparing for our departure date in the late spring.
“The biggest problem we’ve had on the road was when we were rear ended in a hit and run accident on the side of the road while we were sleeping in San Francisco.
“After the other driver fled the scene, we were left with a crumpled rear door and bumper that needed four weeks in the shop to be fixed.
“During this time apart from our home, we were fortunate to be welcomed into the homes of friends all along the California coast who offered sofas and air mattresses for us to stay on.”
The couple had a message for anyone who wants to take on the same adventure after nearly not taking the leap themselves.
“When we first started throwing around the idea of quitting our jobs and moving into a van, we were terrified of how everything would turn out and how people would react to our decision to live an unconventional life,” explained Jessica.
“During this time, two friends of ours who had already made that transition told us, “If it’s a dream you both share, make it happen!’
“It was the little extra spark of confidence that propelled us to commit to making the jump. So our message for readers is to work every day towards your dream, knowing that it will be scary, but if it’s in your heart, you can make it happen.”
For more information see https://www.instagram.com/van.there/