• Hayden Seder

Van Life: Charlotte Kilborn


I first met Charlotte Kilborn at a Friendsgiving dinner party years ago when she rolled into town from Bellingham with her friend Kim and her dog Beacon (also known as “Beacon Bones”). Guests at the party took turns going outside to check out the amazing van that Charlotte was living in, a setup that was both practical and whimsical with its small details like animal

skulls, plants, and art on the walls. She spent three years living in that van which allowed her to save enough money to buy her own place at the young age of 24. The avid skier, backpacker, kayaker, climber, and gardener now spends her winters working for local organization Higher Ground which uses recreation to support people with disabilities, while her van sits in the driveway, still ready to adventure but in need of a new engine.


Age: 26

Vehicle type: 1983 Chevy Conversion

Time spent in van: 3 years (2016-2019)

Hometown: Indianola, Washington

Van name: Cunt/Janice

Mileage: over 300,000

Average monthly expenses: $40 (gas and food)


What made you move into your van?

Charlotte: It was affordable. It was my first home I bought. The freedom, not having to be one place for more than four months so I was able to work in Ketchum in the winters and Bend, Oregon in the summers and didn’t have to pay rent. And Beacon, my dog, loves it. He actually was

not ok moving in here [her house in Ketchum]. When I first got this place, he slept in the van.

Was it after college that you moved into the van? What was the time frame?

Charlotte: I had dropped out of college and moved to Bend, Oregon and bought the van in Portland. Then I took it to Bellingham with me and remodeled the van there. I was just super stuck in a rut in Bellingham and just applied to work at Higher Ground in Ketchum. They hired me over the phone and I said, “Can you give me two weeks?” and redid my van with my dad and drove it out here and that was the start of it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into sleeping in the winters in a vehicle. But it worked out—I had four sleeping bags and Beacon.



What were some of your ups and downs?

Van: The ups were for sure that you only have what you need; you don’t have any excess. You don’t keep anything that’s not truly important, which is kind of refreshing. Definitely upside, I don’t have a TV and you’re outside more than inside so I definitely took advantage of where I was more and saw a lot more probably. Downside? Walmart parking lots, below 20-degree weather, pipes freezing, toothpaste freezing. But also, upsides is that I met a lot of amazing people that were like, “Hey, come sleep in my place or do laundry.” A lot of people were really kind and definitely just made a lot of friends who were helping me out.


How did you build out your van? What elements were important to you? What are some cool elements?

Charlotte: When I bought the van, the bed slid out above the cab and I would smack my head every morning so the most important thing was putting the bed somewhere so I could sit up in it. But of course, that made it so small that Beacon and I, one or the other, would push each other out of bed every night. Mostly just doing it with my dad was the coolest part; we used a tree from our property for the countertop in the kitchen that my dad cut and dried for six years and we put it in there together. The whole thing was made with blood, sweat, tears, and love. My mom and I tiled the backsplash ourselves and my friend Max helped out a lot and my friend Christie’s dad did all the electrical and helped do the solar. So it was a cool learning experience. I never knew anything about engines, plumbing, or electricity and I learned a lot in a small amount of time and had to fix stuff when it broke.

What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your van?

Charlotte: She’s been all the way to Minnesota and back, there were a lot of really cool spots. Mount Rushmore, that was pretty sweet. The Black Hills in South Dakota, Lake Minnetonka, everywhere in Bellingham, Montana, every single lake in Bend. Here, even just going up north. It was just nice, it didn’t really matter where we parked because that was home.

How would you say being a female living in your car differs from what you think or know the male experience to be? Did you feel like you had to take further precautions or were perceived differently than men who live in their cars?

Charlotte: I had a lot of friends that were doing similar things at the time that were guys and I’d say maybe the one thing that was a game changer for me was Beacon because he’s tiny, he doesn’t look that scary, but his bark is really intimidating. So when we would be in Walmart parking lots of wherever, even though you couldn’t see him he sounded pretty scary. I never really felt in danger or anything, but maybe I’m a little too trusting. I always felt safe with Beacon. But I don’t think there was much of a difference. I never felt worried at all. I was never scared in there.





#vanlife #wildwomyn #womenoutdoors #womynoutdoors #staywild

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