Van Life: Ellie Hoover and Moose
Maryland native Ellie Hoover and her cat Moose (@the_moosecaboose) moved into a converted Sprinter van a little over a year ago. Vanlife seemed more attainable to Ellie than her previous goal of tiny house living and she couldn’t be more thrilled with the experience. Read on to learn about her life as a solo female vanlifer.
Vehicle type: 2005 Dodge Sprinter
Time spent in van: A little over a year
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD
Average monthly expenses: Approximately $1,500 but really depends on how much I move around.
What made you decide to move into a van?
Ellie: I had been looking into building a tiny house for several years, but it always seemed a bit out of reach for me and definitely out of my skill level. Then I discovered vanlife and instantly I fell in love. It felt like an actually achievable project for me.
What were you doing before that?
Ellie: I was the sales manager for a brewery in Maryland.
What was the hardest thing to let go of when making the move from apartment/house to a van?
Ellie: I think the hardest part was just paring everything down to the bare essentials honestly. In your normal life, you can get away with having 6 pairs of black pants that vary just slightly, but in a van you have to boil it down to one pair, maybe two, and that was more difficult than I could have imagined.
Do you ever worry about Moose running away or have other issues traveling with a cat?
Ellie: Oh of course it's always a worry, but it doesn't dominate my mind anymore since we have successfully (knock on wood) been on the road for so long now. We have definitely had our scares though, but I have learned from them and feel confident that Moose would never really run away—he loves food too much. One time we were in the middle of nowhere AZ, and I had attached him to his 20 ft. leash and left him to sunbathe while I went to reorganize my garage space in the back. I was probably back there for 45 minutes when I decided to peak around and see how he was doing, only to see the empty harness laying there with no Moose. The pure panic set in. How long had he been gone? What if a coyote got him? What if he never comes back? This is my best friend, how could I let this happen? I frantically circled the camp calling his name—nothing. I ran and grabbed his favorite treats, shake, shake, shake....and sure enough I faintly heard the clanking of his name tag against his collar and out he came, running, from god knows where for his treats. Moral of the story, we don't leave Moose unattended outside for very long anymore.
Where are you living right now?
Ellie: For the last couple months I have been soaking up the sun and 70-degree weather in southern California, but just a couple weeks ago I decided to stop being a beach bum and hit the road again.
How do you shower?
Ellie: So I actually have a couple different showering methods. I have an on-demand water heater with a self-built, highly efficient shower head attached to the back door of my van. When the weather's nice I shower outside only using 1 gallon of water. I also have a Nemo Helio solar shower which I use when I am camped by a body of water. I can bring it down to the water, fill it up, leave it in the sun all day, and then have a nice warm, pressurized shower at the end of the day. Finally, when it is not possible to shower outside, I go to a truck stop or gym.
What’s something that surprised you about living this lifestyle?
Ellie: I was surprised by how much I fell in love with this lifestyle. Originally, I was only planning on living in the van for a couple months but then COVID hit, and I knew it would be near impossible to find a job and apartment in a new city, so I decided to stay on the road. Three months turned into 12 and I never looked back. I have been able to really create a sense of community through vanlife as well. I have more friends now than I ever did before, and we all get to travel around and meet up in some of the most stunning places.
What are some of the ups and downs of van life?
Ellie: There are ups and downs with everything in life and vanlife is no different. There are the daily struggles of finding a new spot for the night, never really having stability or routine, and of course concerns about safety. Then there are the emotional struggles of being alone a lot of the time and missing family and friends. In my personal opinion, all those struggles are well worth the freedom that comes with this lifestyle. I am in full control of what I do, when I do it, and who I decide to share my time with. This freedom is something I never felt in my "normal" life.
What are some elements you added to your van that are unique or that you personally wanted?
Ellie: One of the unique features in my van is that I chose to block off the front cab from the back living space. I did this for a couple reasons. 1. It gave me so much more living space. I fit a huge sink there by making the "L" shaped kitchen which also allowed for a 10-gallon grey water tank. I have so much more storage by doing this and I could then fit a chest-style fridge that was big enough to have a nice sized freezer. 2. This separation acts as a huge temperature barrier. I don't lose nearly as much hot/cool air through the front windshield as most people do, even when they have a curtain. Many of my vanlife friends will be burning up or freezing their toots off and I am perfectly comfortable. 3. I actually see this as a safety feature. Most people break into vans thinking they are full of tools, not people. This way there is no way for them to get into the living space when they break the front window, and it gives me time to escape out the back doors. Another feature I added was a hidden place for Moose's litter box. I didn't want to have litter tracked through my living space so I drilled a hole in my bench so that he can climb back under the bed where his box is.
What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your car?
Ellie: When COVID hit and all the campgrounds and many National Forests and Parks were closed, I found a BLM spot on the Arizona side of Lake Mead that was incredible. It was right on the water which was nice and warm. There were big boulders that I could climb, tons of hiking, and the most beautiful sunsets. I stayed there for 3 weeks and made a lot of friends that I still talk to today.
What are your favorite outdoor activities?
Ellie: Moose and I love hiking, kayaking, and visiting local breweries.
How would you say being a female living in your van 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?
Ellie: I think there are many differences between the female and male experience of vanlife, but I want to shout this from the treetops: JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE A SOLO FEMALE DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN'T DO VANLIFE! Can living in a van alone be scary? Absolutely! But it's no different from walking down an alleyway at night or any other thing we do as women in our normal lives. Do not let people scare you. I can’t tell you how many women reach out to me and say things like, “I don’t know how you do it, I’d be way too scared to live in a van alone.” This hurts my heart. You are strong, independent, and completely capable of living this lifestyle if it is something you are interested in. I think the main difference between men and women in vanlife is awareness. I am always observing everything around me. Is there a car pulled over on the side of the road with a single male in it? I am taking notice. Are there people walking outside my van? I take note. I think for men they can just live their life without being so observant. In the end, I believe that women are taught to be scared of the world from a very young age, but in reality the world is not out to get you. As long as you stay observant and don't walk around yelling, "I'm a solo female traveler over here," you will be fine. I did decide to take a few precautions for added security just for peace of mind. I added an extra pad lock on my rear doors that locks from the inside, I share my location with several people, I have a satellite phone just in case I ever need help in an area with no service, I have a cassette toilet so that I don't have to leave my van in the middle of the night to pee, I wear a ring that looks like a wedding band on my ring finger, and I also talk about my travels as though I am traveling with another person. "We went here, we are going here next, etc."