When we had the idea for Gnomad Homies, it was just to interview Van Life people. But once we were getting more and more into it we realized how many alternate forms of living and travel are out that, not JUST traveling around and living out of a van.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Averi Melcher from @thepedalproject. She is about to begin vanlife, but first she did some traveling around on her BIKE! So here’s her awesome story and be sure to give her a follow to check out what new adventures her vanlife chapter will bring her!
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Where are you from? Where are you currently located?
I originally grew up in a tiny town in Nebraska, but I claim San Diego, California as home now. I’m currently in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
What are you living/traveling in? Did you build the interior yourself or buy it pre-built?
You’ll most frequently find me living/traveling on my bicycle, where I have everything I need in my panniers. But I’ve been looking at the van life for a while and I just bought a 1986 Ford Econoline – like I literally sent the money this morning. I was originally going to do my own conversion project with my brother, but I was on Craigslist last week and saw this one already waiting for me to move in and start adventuring. I knew it was perfect. I had a friend go test drive it and the rest is history.
Once I get back to the states, I’m sure it will need some minor updates to be customized for me, but I’m so excited to know that most of the heavy lifting is already done to make it livable.
How long have you been living in this? Do you live in it full or part time?
You caught me in my transition phase! For the last two years, I’ve been traveling part-time, alternating between backpacking, bicycle touring and driving around the country. But you know how the more you travel and see, the more you realize there is still waiting to be discovered? Yea, I’m at that point. I bought a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico four months ago, hopped to Costa Rica and plan to dive into the fully nomadic life by the end of June when I return to California.
What made you want to choose this lifestyle? What was the transition like?
I’ve always loved being on the move – a constant state of change is where I thrive as a writer and creative. For some reason, that life plan of a house, 2.5 kids and a dog just never resonated with me. Instead, my five-year plan involves bicycle touring around North America, running my business from a van and being able to pick up and move whenever I want.
As for how it started, it was less conscious decision and more a gradual evolution. A couple years ago, when I graduated from college, I had a hard time finding a job. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I started doing freelance writing and then marketing consulting. I realized pretty quickly being your own boss meant never asking for time off – or sitting in an office. As long as I had internet, I could work.
I started exploring with long weekends away, hot spotting wifi in the car and even my tent (you’ll be surprised at the far-reaching coverage of today’s internet!) Then, it was weeklong work-cations and a 3-month trip overseas. That last one was kind of my test trip. When I returned, I knew this was something that I wanted to do full time.
What is your favorite part about this lifestyle? What is your least favorite part about this lifestyle?
I’d say there are too many good parts to even count, but one unexpected one was how being nomadic has put a lot of things in perspective for me. I used to think it was just about a bucket list or seeing new places, but I’ve learned a lot about slowing down to play and explore, connecting with and loving nature and not worrying about things I can’t change. I’m a pretty high-strung type-A personality, so it’s a daily challenge for me.
My least favorite part is that, sometimes, I feel like I’m creating unnecessary work and challenges for myself – sourcing a place to sleep each day, cooking over a portable stove, not having a fridge or other creature comforts of an apartment, having to calculate time zones just to have a phone call. I’m learning to love the process, though. It would certainly be easier to wake up, go to work, pay rent, go out for happy hour, and repeat. Call me a masochist, but I’ve always enjoyed being challenged.
What were you doing in life before you made this change?
Wandering a little aimlessly, haha. So I guess not all that much has changed, but now the wandering is physical instead of internal. Three years ago, I was getting ready to graduate college with no inkling of an idea of what I wanted to do. Getting ready to jump into the corporate world and half-heartedly exploring graduate schools. I worked three jobs through college and had kept myself so busy that, on the night of my graduation, I looked up and was kind of like, “uh, so, now what?”
I had reached what I was working toward and didn’t have a plan beyond that.
What are your favorite features of your living situation? Anything specifically unique?
Watching the Milky Way come up while out camping with my bike and meeting other people who have the same lifestyle – you feel an instant bond. Nature is my TV now and my roommates are anyone that’s around me. But, in relation to other people who are living and working remotely, I don’t think I do anything particularly unique.
Actually, I have a lot to learn. I’m always watching and following other people to see what I can adapt for myself. Some people have created some amazing set-ups and ideas that I would have never considered!
What do you do for income on the road?
I’m a copywriter and marketing consultant, plus I have a travel blog (The Pedal Project) that’s just starting to gain a little traction. I’m hoping to work with more brands in the adventure sports and eco-tourism worlds and have a few other projects I’m working on in the background. Stay tuned!
What have been your favorite locations thus far, and why?
While touring the Pacific Coast Highway, I hung my hammock in Butano State Park one night. My friend and I were the only people in the park (at least that we could see), and waking up being surrounded by redwoods was just a mesmerizing experience.
Another highlight was when I was driving across the US this summer and living out of my car. I got to Arches National Park right at sunset and hiked up to Delicate Arch. I didn’t even know it, but I had gotten there on a New Moon, and the sky was lit up with the most amazing view over the arch. I actually ended up staying on the trail all night and crashing in my car at sunrise for a couple hours.
What are some things you brought with you that you use nearly everyday? What are some things that you end up never or rarely using?
Since I’m not living out of a van full time yet, I can only speak to the trips I’ve taken with my bike or car up until now. But some things that I use every single day (and will always bring with) are: a multi-tool for my bike, a coffee pour-over and coffee grounds, solar-powered lanterns (I can never keep anything else charged or with new batteries), a good beanie (to stay warm at night and hide helmet hair, etc), a quality backpack and/or panniers, my computer and my camera. I’ve learned almost everything else is replaceable.
As for something I NEVER use? All of the clothes I bring. I still always manage to over pack.
Is there anything you miss from your former lifestyle?
While very accessible internet has made it possible to keep in touch with anyone anywhere in the world, I do miss calling up friends and heading down to the bar or beach on short notice. I still hang out with friends, it just requires a lot more logistical work to plan schedules around times I’ll be in town/they are free. I always hate missing out on people’s events because I’m not there.
What do you do in your free time? What are your favorite activities?
Well, right now, I’m still in recovering workaholic phase, but I’m trying to divert that energy toward working on my blog, volunteering and building collaborations with local people who are doing amazing things.
When it comes to just having fun, I enjoy taking my camera out for a day, doing yoga, playing guitar, heading out into the wilderness for a weekend of campfire smoke and starry skies and of course riding my bike on new roads or trails. I definitely appreciate having time to go on a lot more of these open-ended adventures with friends!
What advice would you give to someone considering this lifestyle?
Figure out your fit. I’m definitely not the first person to suggest this, but I’ll repeat it, because it’s been so important for me to remember in my own journey. There will always be someone who travels lighter, more luxuriously, longer, to more exotic places or…whatever <insert any adjective here>.
It’s great that there is so much information about converting vans, living a minimalist life on the road and traveling – you can now literally find advice on almost anything you want to learn about. Heck, there are specialist blogs for people who backpack with their cats. Yes, I follow them, and yes, it made me want a cat – until I realized I also enjoy skipping the country at regular intervals and not having to worry about another living creature during that time.
The point is, don’t get caught up in someone else’s photos or stories that you forget what you love to do. Take those pieces of advice that work for you and scrap what doesn’t.
So what if you can only handle 2 nights in a tent or van until you want your own bed? Or even if you really only want to go out on day trips? You’ll enjoy it a lot more if you are honest with yourself up front about your comfort levels and then build out accordingly.
What is your favorite meal to make on the road?
I hate to admit, but when I’m on a bike tour, life is pretty simple – rice, beans, veggies and a loooot of hot sauce. Also, burritos.
But, if I’m in a vehicle and carrying food supplies isn’t a concern, cooking over an open fire instantly brings out the gourmet chef in me. My absolute favorite thing to make is grilled pineapple – I slice them and let them soak in brown sugar, cayenne and maple syrup before putting them over the fire. So simple, and so, so good.
What is your take on the nomad “community?” What does it mean to you and how would you describe the community feeling?
I’m just getting into this whole thing, but a huge part of what drew me in was the community. I’ve actually met a lot of people through Instagram, which has turned into friends and then friends of friends…It’s just a ripple effect from there.
I’m looking forward to meeting and connecting with others once I hit the road this summer. If you see me out there, feel free to say hi!