We are extremely excited to share with you all the wonderful story of Sydney and Ella from Divine on the Road! Nothing inspires us quite like a strong and independent woman traveling on her own with her trusty, furry, four-legged side kick! Enjoy reading Sydney’s story, and begin to feel inspired by her fire and hustle! And don’t forget to follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and be sure to scope out her extremely helpful website and podcast as well!
What is your name/are your names?
Hi! My name is Sydney and my pup is Ella.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Indianapolis but lived in Chicago for 4 years before moving into the van.
Where are you currently located?
Typing this from San Francisco! I’m actually making my way to the PNW right now for the first time.
What are you living/traveling in?
I live in a 2017 Ford Transit 148″ Wheelbase with a high roof.
What specs can you tell us about your rig?
My van was purchased with about 70k miles and currently has 85k. I found it on Autrotrader or Cargurus (one of those types of websites). I have 400W of solar with 2x 95 amp hour batteries but I recommend getting slightly bigger ones! I have an induction stove, 110V fridge, and the bed/bench dinette conversion layout in the back.
Did you build the interior yourself, or did you buy it pre-built? If you bought it Pre-built, what touches have you added to it to really make it “your own”?
I bought an empty cargo van and asked family friends to help with my build! I was really lucky to know a carpenter and an electrician so they were willing to help bring my vision to life. I designed the van and dropped off all the materials as they were needed while they put it all together.
Do you live in it full time or part time? How long have you been living this way?
I live in my van full- time and have been for about 6 months. I lived in a Sprinter for 8 months before this one!
What were you doing before vanlife?
I was working as an events manager for a hotel and restaurant in downtown Chicago. I was also a full- time student and getting my degree in Fashion Business (oh, how my priorities have changed).
What made you want to choose this lifestyle?
My job was incredibly demanding, usually about 80 hours a week, and I was so unhappy. Between school and work, I wasn’t handling the stress well at all and knew there was so much more to life than what I was doing. I didn’t want to get stuck working a 9-5 for 30 years to realize that it wasn’t what I wanted. I have no kids and nothing that was really keeping me from trying out a new way of life. I told myself it was either now or never (which isn’t exactly true but it felt like it at the time) and just made the jump!
What was that transition like?
If I’m being completely honest, it was a very easy transition for me. I was struggling a lot with depression before van life and immediately after moving into the van, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Material things no longer mattered. There was no boss to yell at me. I didn’t have to keep chasing nice clothes or validation from my peers. It was like finding the piece to the puzzle that had been missing from my life.
I know so many people who haven’t had an easy transition to living on the road for various personal reasons and I don’t want anyone to think that how I felt is exactly how they’d feel. We all have a different journey. I just felt so grateful to be doing this that nothing could take away how happy I was. I still wake up every morning and immediately have a sense of gratitude for the life I’m able to live.
What is your favorite part about this lifestyle?
There’s nothing greater for me than being able to control my own life. It isn’t just “freedom”; it’s an endless ability of making my own decisions and feeling strong in the choices that I’m able to make for myself. I will never have to worry if my boss is going to be mad about this or have to ask permission to do that. I don’t have to dress a certain way to impress anyone or worry what others will think of me. I get to be entirely myself and attract the people who are okay with who I am. I didn’t like myself before living on the road because I wasn’t myself. Now, I’m so comfortable being me and I actually love who I am. I would’ve never known this person at this age if it wasn’t for what I’m doing in the van.
What is your least favorite part about this lifestyle?
My least favorite part would be saying goodbye all the time. I’ve made friends that I only get to see in person a couple times a year. My nephew is a year and a half old, and I’ve missed his first steps, first words, and all the funny things that come with a toddler. Facetime is great, but how many family photos of holidays and events where I’m missing from the picture does it take to change my mind on all of this?
Whenever I make a new friend on the road, I ask them to stay up with me sometimes until 3-4am just to talk because I know the next day that it’s coming to an end. You never know when you’re going to see anyone again. I wish I could say that I’ve doubted van life because of this but to be truthful.. I haven’t. It hurts for a minute but then Ella leaps into my lap and I remember why I’m here.
What do you do for income on the road?
I actually have a van life/travel website where I share about all the things I’ve learned on the road. I talk about van builds, remote income, van life logistics, and personal stories. I’m able to do affiliate marketing and advertising there which earns the majority of my income. More recently, I’ve been helping people design their own website and build them in order to do the same. I teach them about affiliate marketing and just kind of pass the torch from what I’ve learned so far.
What have been your favorite location(s) thus far, and why?
San Diego will always have a special place in my heart because the community there is so strong and I can always count on seeing friends when I’m there. The Alabama Hills were also really incredible because there was literally no one else there for the entire week. It was like I found some secret planet where I could do whatever I wanted and Ella could just roam free all day. Yellowstone will probably always be one of my favorites as well because it was the first place I went in this new van. It was the first place I took Ella and it just felt like a new chapter. Not to mention, everything about Yellowstone is breathtaking.
What is your favorite meal to make?
Fun fact that not many people know… I HATE COOKING. I was raised on turkey sandwiches, frozen pizzas, and Dairy Queen when we wanted to get fancy. I could probably count the number of home cooked meals I had as a kid on one hand. So as I got older, I just never cooked for myself. I will eat anything that doesn’t require heat. I have granola every morning with fruit and hemp seeds. And then I basically just snack for the rest of the day. I am vegan now which has made things interesting but I’m used to it at this point. I do use my induction stove a few times a week to make pasta or something (and coffee everyday) but I’m really never doing anything that requires more than boiling water. Love food. Hate making it.
What are some things you brought with you that you use nearly everyday?
My camera is one thing that I couldn’t live without but probably because it ties into my job. I take photos of everything because I love remembering all the little moments plus I get to use them for social media and my website. Another thing I use all the time I guess is my coffee pot? I could probably walk away from my van with just my dog and be perfectly fine. But for the sake of the question, I drink coffee basically all day every day. So I would want that too. Also books, love my books! Gotta have the physical copy always. Don’t come near me with a Kindle. Camera, coffee, books. Bliss.
What are some things you brought with you that you ended up never or rarely using?
My paddle board. I was convinced that I would use my paddle board all the time because how cute would it be to paddle board with your dog on a perfect, sunny day?.. But now I’m like, when tf am I going to get it out of the bench, pump the whole thing up, and get on a paddle board with my dog? It’s happened like twice and hopefully more in the future. However in my head, it was happening all the time. Nope!
Is there anything you miss from your former lifestyle?
Honestly, no. I feel like I can come off as being way too excited about van life sometimes. But the truth is, I freaking love life right now and I don’t miss anything about my previous lifestyle. I feel way more stable now than I ever did because my mentality is stable. My paychecks may vary but my mindset is confident and unwavering. I know what unhappy and instability feels like, and this is not it. No going back.
What things do you do in your free time? What are your favorite activities?
People always ask me what I do during the day and if I get bored.. My first thought every time is there literally isn’t enough time in the day to do everything I need to do. I’m busy from morning to night. Even if I have no work planned, I’m hiking, running, playing with Ella, doing chores. Having a van is a full- time job. There’s always something to be cleaned, an errand to run, a shower to be taken. There’s never been a moment where I was truly bored because there is never “nothing” to do. Read a book. Take a walk. Write in a journal. Life is too abundant to spend time being bored.
What advice would you give someone considering this lifestyle?
My biggest advice is that there are two kinds of people interested in this lifestyle. One is the person who is interested and will do it. The other is someone who is interested but will never take the leap. It’s completely fine to be either one but you need to realize quickly which one you are.
If you aren’t going to take the leap, be satisfied with seeing it on social media and focus your attention on something you will be willing to do. Don’t waste your time obsessing over something that you likely won’t ever be passionate about enough to commit to. That’s not a failure. You successfully recognize that it isn’t for you.. and move on.
Now those of you who are going to do it, make small steps to your goal every single day. Don’t let a day go by where you don’t do anything. Research. Find different opinions about everything. Do not listen to only one person. Make your very best decision, and trust that it will take you to where you need to be.
Be sure to give Sydney a follow to check out some of her exciting upcoming projects!
I am working on a few projects right now. My recent work of teaching others how to design a website and how to monetize it has been taking up quite a bit of time and is really repetitive. So I’m putting together a course that will share every step of the process and all of the knowledge that I’ve gained. I’m also putting together all of the dimensions of my van for anyone who likes my build and wants to do something similar. So those are a couple things I’m working on and I’m excited to share them!