Van Life: Emily Coffman
Name: Emily Coffman
Vehicle type: 2002 GMC Savana AWD
Time spent in van: On and off (mostly on) for 2 years.
Hometown: Boise, but I call Ketchum, Indian Creek, and Yosemite National Park home
Average monthly expenses: $200-500, depends on my proximity to cheaper groceries and gas!
What made you decide to move into a van?
Emily: That story has a lot of heartbreak and a lot of gratitude. It’s something I’d always thought about; I spent time “flipping” vintage camper trailers and had always romanticized the idea of living on the road. I was in a relationship for most of 2018 and it ended horribly; I was unbearably unhappy with my partner, and I went to Moab on a solo trip that fall. I walked past a guy sitting in his van and struck up a conversation with him—it made me realize how possible it was. Two months later I was single, completely heartbroken, and the owner of a sweet, beat up, barebones cargo van. I intended to spend the winter building it out in time to hit the road in the spring. I didn’t end up doing that, and once April rolled around, I moved out of my house and into my mom’s basement, creating an absolute disaster out of her garage. About 6 weeks later, the van was done and packed, and I was pulling out of Idaho. The ensuing 2 years have been nothing short of magic. I decided I wanted to get into climbing, so I moved to Yosemite and here I am three summers later working with the climbing management team, climbing El Cap on Tuesday. I spend my springs and falls in Indian Creek, Utah and my winters in Ketchum where I now own a condo! I’ve worked so hard for my life and have put so much into the people and relationships I have.
What were you doing before that?
Emily: I was living in Ketchum working full time as a bartender, skiing a ton, paragliding, and just itching to do something new. As much as I love that town, it was time for something new.
What was the hardest thing to let go of when making the move from apartment/house to a van?
Emily: There hasn’t been anything that big, it’s all a compromise and adjustment!
Where are you living right now?
Emily: North Pines campground site C in Yosemite National Park!
How do you shower?
Emily: I have a solar shower that I’ll use when I really need it (in Indian Creek that’s every 3-4 days) but otherwise have key places I use, like a hostel in Moab, my old employee housing in Lee Vining or random friend’s houses.
What’s something that surprised you about living this lifestyle?
Emily: The community! I have found the most unbelievable friends who have become family. I feel so grateful, it really is incredible.
What are some of the ups and downs of van life?
Emily: I can’t cook quite the same as I usually do (I don’t have an oven) but am still able to make amazing meals, for which I’ve become well known. I can’t have all my clothes and shoes with me, but I end up wearing the same thing all the time anyways. I can’t stand up in my van, and have very little head room even sitting up, but I spend all my time in the outdoors anyways. I think the hardest thing I’ve encountered is that I’m so transient and can make it a little harder to feel grounded, and it makes it really hard to date! Coming back to Ketchum is especially difficult because it can be a pretty cliquey town. I end up feeling left out for a while, and inevitably once I find a flow and friends it’s time for me to hit the road again.
What are some elements you added to your van that are unique or that you personally wanted?
Emily: I have wall paper! And little knickknacks on my walls! I have lots of storage under my bed and rocket box full of junk on top, so much room!
What kind of small touches have you added to make it feel more like home?
Emily: A really soft bed, paintings I’ve done on the road, gifts from friends.
What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your car?
Emily: Creek Pasture in Indian Creek, UT and Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park.
What are your favorite outdoor activities?
Emily: Rock climbing, skiing, trailing running, paragliding, white water rafting, getting lost in the sauce.
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?
Emily: I’m certainly too trusting sometimes; I often leave my keys in my van and all the doors unlocked. I’m usually in places that are so safe it doesn’t matter, but sometimes when I do go to cities or less secure areas, I do get nervous. I’ve only once felt truly scared by myself but for the most part am able to navigate without feeling the pressure or fear of being a solo woman.