Back in 2019, I firmly decided that I was going to buy a van and spend a solid amount of time traveling in it. I admit that it was quite an impulsive decision and looking back, I’m astounded that it worked out at all in the time frame I had. I watched countless YouTube videos and created lists of everything I wanted and how I would go about bringing them into reality. I had a small budget of $3k, possibly $4k at max to purchase a van and I was looking into buying an old cargo or conversion van and renovating the inside with what I already had and what I could find at thrift stores and trash heaps. Fancy stuff, I know. I scoured Craigslist and Facebook marketplace and went and looked at a few vans, but nothing really stood out to me as a good option. I was a bit frustrated and anxious. I had set a date for when I wanted to leave and go explore the west and it was quickly approaching while I still remained van-less.
Late one night while sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, I decided to search Craigslist again on a whim. I had already exhausted my searching on there and I figured I’d see the same listings, but this time, the first listing that popped up was one I had not seen yet. It was for a beautiful 1985 Ford E-150 van, bright red and silver, lower mileage, fully furnished with a bed, shelves, cabinets, and solar set up, and…wildly out of my price range. Yet I knew right off the bat and down to my core that it was the one I had been looking for. I audibly exclaimed to my mom and showed her the listing while lamenting about how out of my price range it was, but she encouraged me to contact them anyways. I did and a little while later, there I was seeing it in person. I fell in love at first sight. I test drove it and had a long conversation with the owners, a couple who had traveled for several months in it, and I was entirely sold. Being it was my first time buying a vehicle and I was vastly inexperienced with negotiating, I lowballed and offered $3k less than their asking price. My dad and my best friend (now boyfriend), who were both there to look things over with me, were shocked by my move. The couple said they would talk it over and get back to me, as they had other people wanting the van as well. After a few days of waiting and wondering if I had just ruined my chances with my insane offer, they reached out to me and told me that they saw how much I loved the van and would take great care of it and we came to a price in the middle. Next thing I knew, I was getting a personal loan from the bank, something I didn’t originally plan to do, and I became the proud new owner of Walt, the wandering van, as the previous owners had affectionately named him.
Walt is my beautiful old man. He is 37 this year and is still chugging right along. He doesn’t have any rust worth mentioning and he only just surpassed 100k miles towards the end of 2021. He has a queen sized memory foam mattress inside and lots of storage space. The driver and passenger seats are worn, but comfy, and there are twinkle lights that line the ceiling inside. There is a map of the US next to the bed so I can see how far I’ve come, and there are red curtains on most of the windows that I can pull shut to close myself off from the rest of the world for the night. Being an older vehicle, I have experienced mechanical issues here and there that do come with age, and occasionally a bad mechanic, but thankfully I haven’t had to do anything major yet. Faulty starters, a dying alternator in the driving rain, a bad brake, an oil leak, an old water pump leaking coolant on a Sunday when everything is closed; these have been some of my biggest issues and we’ve gotten through them. There will doubtless be more issues ahead, but I try to keep him well-maintained (and I also now try to take him to the best shops) to avoid massive problems.
Walt and I have been through many adventures together. We have driven through desert washes, over mountain passes, and up narrow, unmarked logging roads on the sides of hills. We’ve both been rattled on washboard roads while all my pots and pans crashed out of the cabinet onto the carpet, and we’ve cruised down long stretches of perfectly paved highways. We’ve even floated across the water in a ferry. We’ve come face to face with a bison (Walt and the bison were about the same height, if anyone wants to know) and we’ve found that birds really like to eat bugs out of his grill. We’ve parked ourselves in prime grizzly territory and I’ve buried under the blankets while hearing very large footsteps outside in the night. We’ve had flies buzzing around inside for days at a time while I’ve spent all my non-driving hours swatting them, and there have even been a few stray mosquitos who’ve snuck in in the night to bite my face. I’ve laid on the warm and dusty roof and gazed into the vast expanse above us many a time. I’ve cooked lunch on his hood on a hot afternoon. I’ve kissed the steering wheel in moments of joy and draped myself over it and cried when I’ve been frustrated. I’ve had two fingers fractured by the passenger door and have had to wrap them up myself to continue on. I’ve laid on the bed motionless and barely clothed all night after blisteringly hot days and I’ve also layered up and buried under several layers of blankets on chilly nights, to awaken to ice on the window the next morning. We’ve been pummeled by hail and whipped by dust. I’ve whispered to him and confided that he is the only man I’ll ever need, while we’ve driven towards the sunset.
I told a few people last year while I was on the road that it was probably going to be my last long trip out west in Walt since he’s getting older, but I think I was lying to myself. I believe Walt still has a lot more life left in him, especially since I don’t drive him in the wintertime or the snow, and I love adventuring with him. I’m not sure I’ll have a chance to drive out west and do a long trip this year, but I’m sure we will do something, and of course, many smaller day trips. And we will continue to do so until he tells me it’s finally time for him to rest. Van life is certainly not picture perfect and absolutely not for a lot of people, but it is something I love and I love that friggin van more than many people, I’ll admit it. It’s my space where I feel at peace, at home, and truly myself.
Walt’s Instagram (which I inherited, but admittedly don’t really update anymore): walt_the_wandering_van
My travel/explorations Instagram (which I have more Walt content on): thebattyadventurer