Van Life: Nat and Abi
Names: Natalie and Abigail Rodriguez
Van name: Towanda
Ages: 34 and 36
Vehicle type: Sprinter
Time spent in van: nearly 2 years (1 year, 10 months)
Hometown(s): Charleston, SC
Average monthly expenses: $1,460
What made you decide to move into a van?
A desire to travel and live minimally. Natalie was pretty tired of her demanding job as a sous chef in a restaurant. She worked 60 hours a week and we didn't have much time to spend together as a couple. We decided to save money, then quit it all to realize our dream of travel and tiny living.
What kind of dogs are Bear and Peluche? How do your two dogs like van life? What are the challenges of having dogs in this lifestyle?
Bear is a pitbull/boxer rescue mix and Peluche is a spitz (large pomeranian). They love living in a van and having an ever-changing backyard to explore. It can be a little challenging to have 2 dogs in such a small space, the dog hair gets everywhere, but we don't mind because it's worth it to give our pups the adventure of a lifetime. People always ask, do we leave the dogs in the van alone? If so, what do we do? Yes, sometimes we go places where the dogs can't come and we have to leave them behind in the van. But it's not like leaving them in a vehicle; we're leaving them in their home where they have comfy beds, toys, and water available. We built our van with our dogs in mind, so we have 3 fans to keep them cool and properly ventilated. We close our window curtains and the van becomes a cozy cave and the dogs will nap while we're gone. They won't bark at all as long as we have the windows up.
How do you shower?
We have an outdoor shower set up.
What’s something that surprised you about living this lifestyle?
Ya don't need to shower that often. LOL. We did a lot of research before we began this lifestyle, so there wasn't much that surprised us. Natalie had some fears/anxieties and the road forced her to face some of them and she began to realize what a badass she actually is. So that was a good surprise.
What are some of the ups and downs of van life?
Some days are spent searching for a water fill up and sometimes we drive around for hours looking for a campsite, sometimes settling for a parking lot. Van life isn't always glamorous, but we still love it.
What are some elements you added to your van that are unique or that you personally wanted?
We love our live edge wood countertop, it's nicer than any apartment or house we ever lived in together!
What kind of small touches have you added to make it feel more like home?
We are crazy about ambient or twinkle lights, so we installed color-changing strip lighting all around. We usually set it to yellow/orange in the evening and then at night before bed to red and it helps us relax and feels very cozy. Abi always enjoyed decorating her home, so we also have some little decor items: artwork, dreamcatchers, photos... and it makes it very homey.
What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your van?
Baja California, Mexico. We spent 3.5 months there this past winter and absolutely loved it! It was amazing camping right on the beach and watching the whales. In the winter, there is a huge community of nomads and we made some good friends.
What are your favorite outdoor activities?
Walking the dogs, hiking, biking, kayaking or paddleboarding, slacklining.
Tell me about starting @vanlifepride?
We were inspired by the #diversifyvanlife movement. We felt a space for lgbtq+ nomads was missing in the social media realm. We kept wishing there would be something for us and one day, we decided to stop wishing and just do it ourselves. @vanlifepride is meant to uplift, inspire and encourage community. There are actually a lot of LGBTQ+ vanlifers and nomads out there, but they are never shown on big platforms and you'd never see them just by searching #vanlife . Now there is a place on social media where you can go and see that they exist and that their story matters. We are offering visibility and community and we think that's important.
One of the reasons we are active on Instagram and Youtube is to offer visibility and representation to our community. When we were researching vanlife on these channels (back in 2017), we didn't see anyone like us. That is slowly changing, and we are a part of that change.
We love that now you can search lgbtq vanlife or lgbtq nomad on either Instagram or Youtube and you can actually find people. It's super encouraging.
Tell me about Abi’s Artful Nudes?
Abi: I have studied art my whole life. A huge part of classical art instruction is studying the nude figure. My favorite medium is photography, so naturally that led me to photographing the nude figure. I actually grew up pretty religious but never fit in (ahem... gay). Eventually I went through a process of losing that religion and finding myself. It was therapeutic for me to express myself through art, specifically self-portraits where I'd make my body the canvas in a way.
While we were on the road, we often would wake up in beautiful landscapes without a single soul around, so I began taking these nude self-portraits among the gorgeous scenery. Sometimes I'd incorporate yoga or dance movements and sometimes I'd just interact with the landscape in a natural way. My approach is expressing myself sensually, but I leave the overt sexuality out of it. I'd say the images are very tasteful, and while they are sensual, they are definitely artistic and not pornographic. However, I still can't post many of them on social media due to the nudity, so...on January 1, 2020, I began publicly sharing this series of fine art nudes on a Patreon account. Nat and I would love to be able to make a consistent monthly income while on the road, so I thought I'd give this Patreon account a shot. I figured, since I love making these pictures anyway, why not share them on a subscription platform to make a little money on the side? It felt like a win-win. Having the patreon account keeps me accountable (I make posts every Sunday/Wednesday) and is helping me to grow as an artist. Subscriptions start at $5/month.
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?
We think, especially as two females, that we do have some fears that wouldn't occur to a male. Safety is a big concern. We have certain precautions we always take when parking for the night. We always back in so we could leave quickly if needed. Our pitbull mix dog helps us feel safe. He is protective of us and sounds very vicious. Overall, we trust our gut and intuition, if something doesn't feel right, we take action.
For more about Nat and Abi’s adventures, visit www.letsplayrideandseek.com.