Can you imagine getting rid of your stuff, packing in your job, buying a van and going on a (potentially) never-ending road trip? That’s exactly what John and Jayme of Gnomad Home did. You will probably want to do the same after hearing their story…
Please can you give us some background on who you are, where you’re from and what you do as nomads?
We are Jayme (27) and John (32) of Gnomad Home! John was born and raised in Connecticut until he met me (Jayme) and I convinced him to move to my hometown – St. Louis, Missouri. Now we live nomadically with our 3 dogs Nymeria (3), Delilah (7) and Crow (17) in our 1996 Chevy Express 1500 high top conversion van we have built into a mobile tiny home. We have built websites we have monetized via Amazon’s affiliate program and we continue to build them – this is our main source of income.
What is a typical day like for you?
This always varies as where we are in the country greatly affects this. When we are in a city, our days are tremendously different than when we are in the wild. Here’s how an ideal day would go when we are camped out in our favorite areas far from the bright lights and sky scrapers. We wake up with the sun and do what we call our “morning shuffle” – bathroom breaks, convert the bed back into couch mode, etc. John takes Nymeria for a run while I stay back and do yoga.
We make breakfast and not too long after clean up – depending on our cell service – we bust open our laptops and get to work. We tend to split up a bit when we’re working. Jayme may be sitting in a camping chair next to the van whereas John may be a couple feet away working in a hammock.
We work on and off with occasional breaks throughout the day to play with the pups, go for a hike, take a dip in some water if any is nearby, play instruments, etc. Before sunset we start prepping dinner and once it sets we either sit by a fire (with or without instruments) or head into the van for a little Yahtzee before we lay down for some light reading and then bed.
What pushed you towards living a nomadic lifestyle?
We have always been avid travelers. Having been to Australia, Italy, Southeast Asia, Ireland, Colombia, and a bunch of places throughout the US as well. But somehow we fell into the 9-5 hustle society tries to shove so heavily on most peoples’ shoulders.
We always felt exhausted by how we had to cram our passion (travel/adventure) into the few hours a year our work would allow us to take. We talked about doing one last “hurrah” before having kids and were just going to quit our jobs for one year – galavant around – then come back to our home in the ‘burbs to start a family.
Around the time we started selling all of our possessions is when we discovered #vanlife and started weighing out other ways to make this work for us.
What are the best things about waking up in van?
One of our favorite parts of it is how easy it is to get on a healthy cycle with the sun. Living out in the wild is a much simpler lifestyle than all of the noise and distractions from cities and society. It’s so refreshing opening our eyes at the glimpse of the day’s first light – when you can still feel the rest of the world sleeping around you.
How can vanlife be a headache?
For us, personally – the biggest headache is the constant juggle between staying longer in a beautiful, secluded out-of-service camp spot, and leaving that spot to go get cell service so we can work. We have a lot of tools and methods to help us find more off-grid locations we can still work at, but it really is quite the balancing act.
What is the single most important thing to remember when converting or looking for a van to live in?
We always tell people to narrow it down to 3 things that are most important to build them and build around those concepts. For us, our 3 were off-grid capabilities, a large bed, and ample storage!
What are your inspirations?
We are inspired by what makes us come alive. Those adventures and passions that set our souls on fire with excitement. We’re inspired by others who have found these inspirations for themselves and work daily to keep chasing that feeling of fulfillment and excitement!
If you could return to just one location you have spent time at and had to stay there, where would it be and why?
So far one of our favorite spots has been on a lake in Montana we found through one of our wild methods of finding secluded spots wit cell service. We felt like we had this huge lake surrounded by alpine trees and scenery all to ourselves with our own private beach access.
The weather was perfect, Nymeria was able to roam, and the only sites around us were hike in only – so we truly had this spot all to ourselves. We had a sliver of cell service so with our weBoost cell phone booster we were able to get a bunch of work done as well. This is also where we enjoyed the eclipse last year.
How has your lifestyle affected your relationships with people back ‘home’?
All of our friends and family are incredibly supportive. We’ve already had one dad try out vanlife, and another dad contemplating converting the back of his Honda CRV. One of our best friends just flew to Colorado to pick up a van for themselves!
Can you elaborate on how being silly together helps strengthen a relationship on the road?
On the road or not, being silly together is crucial to a relationship. Sharing all of yourself with your significant other is how you truly reach an inseparable closeness and appreciation for one another – and that includes the silliness!
A lot of things can go wrong on the road – vehicle breakdowns, missing deadlines due to no service, dog gets sick, etc – you need to be able to take any situation lightly and be able to laugh about it to make it flow more peacefully and successfully.
If you are the couple that fights and bickers nonstop about little things – we suggest strengthening a bit of your relationship’s foundation before embarking on the road together.
What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?
For us being “home” is wherever us and our dogs are.
Has anything ever scared you as nomads and how did you deal with it?
There was only one situation where we felt unsafe, and it was actually in a city when we opted to grab a hotel room for the night. It was just a shady area and some unpleasant people were asking way too many personal questions about our van when we ran out to grab some things so we decided to pack the van back up and head off.
Do you prefer to travel slowly or quickly and why?
We prefer slow travel. It’s less exhausting on us mentally and physically – as well as for the dogs. We like taking in our surroundings and being able to travel while still having time in the day for things that are important to us like healthy meals, going for hikes, etc. It’s hard to do that on 14 hour drive days.
We prefer not to drive more than 3 hours max a day, but sometimes we have obligations that we wait till the last minute to leave for, which results in long, quick drive days at times.
We always feel like shit after those days though because we don’t do anything active much on those days and we typically end up getting shitty gas station coffee and food and such – it’s hard to take care of yourself on those kinds of travel days.
How do you think your attitude to life would have differed if you had never taken the step to travel permanently?
It would have been tremendously different. We would still be living paycheck to paycheck acting like we weren’t internally freaking out. We would be spending our weekend mad that we had to cut the grass to fit in because grass is stupid and pointless (lol – we spent a lot of time cursing our front yard). We probably would have had at least one kid by now. Our dogs would be at least half as happy as they are now.
I realized how easy it is to hide from yourself when living in the heart of societies norms. I had never allowed myself to truly flourish as a human before vanlife, although I had convinced myself that I had. When you hit the road, there are a lot of harsh realities you have to face pretty quickly within yourself – especially if you want to make it work full time for you. I’ve learned a lot about acceptance, patience, my ego, but I’ve also learned a lot about my strength, my drive, my capabilities that used to be so hidden and stashed away in our former lives.
Before we were living in the exact definition of a comfort zone – but we hadn’t realized that nothing ever grows there. You need to leave that space to really grow and flourish.
Can you tell us about one or more of your favourite moments as nomads?
Just the unbelievable amount of scenery we get to experience and call our backyard so frequently is mesmerizing. We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been moved to tears by the beauty surrounding us. It just goes to show, you don’t have to spend a whole bunch of money or go out of the country if you want to experience some beautiful land!
How do you choose where to go next?
We factor a lot of things into this. It depends on what commitments we have already. If it’s March and we’re in Florida and we know that we have to be back in Missouri by May, then we will see if there’s anything we’d like to do in the middle of the two during that time. We also travel based off of the weather. We’re not the biggest fans of extreme heat, so when we find ourselves in or near areas that look like they are about to get wicked hot – we look up the nearest cool spots.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years?
Oh man, we don’t even know what we hope to be doing in one year, yet alone 10! Haha happy, healthy, and fulfilled is the best we can ask for!
What are the main aspects of your personalities that have allowed you to live as nomads?
We’re very go-with-the-flow kind of people. We are very aware people as well and we don’t care much for mental or emotional “games” – so we’re very straight to the point with a lot of stuff. That helps us accept and tackle any obstacles we face as we travel.
Do you have any daily routines or habits that you always stick to?
We have adapted the Miracle Morning routine we learned from a Hal Elrod book. You use the acronym SAVERS. This is our morning routine. Silence (Meditation). Affirmations (Motivational mantras we have written for ourselves). Visualization (Picturing ourselves achieving our dreams – whatever this interprets to for us). Exercise. Read (Preferably a book that helps with growth to some degree).
We can read anything we want outside of this, but our Miracle Morning is to better ourselves specifically, so for this part of the routine we use books we have chosen as tools to better ourselves). Script (Journal). You can make this routine as short as you’d like (1 minute for each activity) or as long as you’d like. We use different time lengths for each activity altered to what fits us best, individually.
Do you take holidays? If so where and how?
We talk about “going on vacation” all of the time. For us – going on vacation just means not having to work at all. Most of the time when we vacation, it’s the equivalent to going out of cell service for an extended amount of time.
What preconceptions do people from places you travel to have when they first meet you and how do you find common ground?
Most people have a reaction of “Man, I wish I could do that!” It’s very easy to find common ground with strangers though. There’s something that connects us all in some way or another, and just communicating with others can help us find whatever that thing may be.
It’s not like everyone walks around the world with signs of their interests stapled to the fronts of their shirts so we know where the common ground lies. We talk. We listen. We understand. We all share common ground somewhere in our own personal stories with everyone in the world.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on your travels?
We find most of our entertainment from our dogs. Whether it’s watching them sprint and leap and sore in the wild, or playing with each other right next to the van – they make for much better entertainment and hilarity than any tv show or movie we’ve discovered.
How do you stay healthy when you are on the move a lot?
We actually are much healthier on the road than we are when we find ourselves in cities visiting friends or family. On the road we only have healthy food in the van. We don’t eat out, we cook. We also have more time in our days because we don’t have to deal with things like getting dressed for work, driving to work, etc – so going for a run in the morning or doing another hour of yoga in the evening is very feasible to fit into our schedules.
When we’re in cities, it’s much easier to grab cheap, unhealthy food than it is to create something truly nourishing for you. It’s also very easy to get lost in the chaos and get off track with any exercise goals you may have.
Are there any places you would recommend against traveling to? If so where and why?
There is not really anywhere we would recommend against. We feel that you can benefit to some extent from any location. Everywhere has some sort of beauty to embrace, lesson to learn, or culture to explore. Except for New Jersey. No one ever needs to go to New Jersey. (inside joke) (but, I mean, really..)
Have you developed any hobbies/non-work skills as a result of the nomad lifestyle?
Absolutely! When we hit the road I (Jayme) was about 170 pounds with quite the drinking problem and zero workout habits. Now, we just had our 1 year anniversary, and I have cut back dramatically on drinking (I probably have about 3 drinks a month give or take), I now do yoga daily.
And I honestly can’t tell you how much I weigh because I don’t even know the last time I stepped onto a scale, but I do know I’ve lost at least 30 pounds. We also have a lot more time to practice our instruments which has been a very rewarding experience together.
What is an issue that you feel especially passionate about?
We are strong advocates for the environment and equality and fair treatment of all humans – black, hispanic, refugee, old, young, etc.
What do you wish you had known when you started out (as nomads)?
I wish I had known my own personal capabilities – but at the same time I am very grateful to have been able to discover this along the way. We also wish we would have known we could have done this years ago, hah!
What is the best food you have eaten as nomads (apart from bean dip)?
Hahah – bean dip. Let’s see… we have had so many incredible meals! Any stirfry-like one pot meals are always dank. We make a meal with butternut squash, onions, barley, zucchini, brussel sprouts, seeds, honey and apple cider vinegar. It’s just a big ole medley that you will want to eat for the rest of your life!
Knowing what you know now, what ONE item would you buy if you were just about to start the nomad lifestyle all over again (that you didn’t the first time around) and why?
A roof rack for the top of the van! It would have totally changed how we would mount our solar panels, and it would give us a very easy spot to install an awning. (We’re wanting to build our own awning from scratch, but since we do not have a roof rack, we are really struggling with figuring out how to mount it).
How do you make connections with other people when moving from place to place?
Social media, man! Who would have though?! Before the van we didn’t do Instagram or any of the social media stuff outside of Facebook. Now we do, obviously, and we thank it daily because it has helped us form so many incredible bonds with complete strangers from all over the world!
How do you define success?
We view success as being the person you want to be and doing the things you want to do on your own dime and your own time.
How do your dogs Nymeria and Crow react to discovering so many different places?
So we have a third dog now as well, Delilah (7) ((we still need to add her to our website and all that jazz)). But the dogs absolutely love it. Personally – Crow could probably not care less. She’s the equivalent of a baby where she just sleeps all day until she wakes up and needs to go to the bathroom or it’s time to eat, haha. But we always joke that we built the van for Nymeria.
When we first got her as a pup we would do all kinds of outdoor stuff, and she loved it. But when we were done, we would always go back to our house with the fenced in backyard. She would spend endless hours lying on the windowsill staring out the window and just watching the world outside. We would always tell her that there was an entire world out there that we would show her one day, and then finally we decided to give that to her!
One of Nymeria’s greatest strengths is her agility, which makes her so entertaining to watch in the wild. She can jump multiple feet high and climb the edges of mountains. She loves splashing around in water and sprinting along the squirrels at the tops of the trees. It’s nearly impossible to see Nymeria in the woods without a huuuuuge grin across her face.
Delilah is really entertaining to watch in a sense that she really hasn’t seen much in her life. Until last year, she basically spent all of her time in one house, with one backyard, and would travel as far as the next door neighbors house. Now she really enjoys running around, taking in all of the new views and scents around her. It’s almost like you can hear her go “Oh my god, WHATS THIS?!” as she runs from flower to flower! It’s very adorable.
Which books have had a big impact on you?
What are the creature comforts you cannot live without?
A big bed was pretty non-negotiable for us traveling with 2 humans and 3 dogs, so our bed frame pulls out of the couch and turns into a queen sized bed. We are very grateful for this!
Please can you tell us about any other inspiring nomads you have met?
We find every human we have crossed paths with to be inspiring in some way or another. Everyone has some powerful story that has shaped them into who they are today, whether they are aware of that or not. For me (Jayme) personally – I find any female doing full time vanlife all on their own to be extremely inspiring.
Please can you tell us about your initiatives Midwest Vanlife Gathering and United We Van (and your cookbook!)?
We are hosting the first ever Midwest Vanlife Gathering with Vanlife Diaries May 18-20 in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri! We’re predicting numbers based off of last years Colorado Vanlife Gathering which was about 250 vans! We will have Stand Up Paddleboarding, yoga (regular yoga, acro yoga, and trapeze yoga), a community pot luck, and a raffle filled with wickeddd prizes from all kinds of kickass sponsors! You can find more info about the event here or here.
We also have started a little community “give back” organization called United We Van. We bring nomads from all over the world together to collaborate on a project that then raises money for public land conservation.
Last fall we launched an e-cookbook – e-book version so it 1) won’t take up space in the vans and 2) can be downloaded and used out of cell service.
It’s over 100 pages of contributions from over 30 vanlifers. After we launched it, we let the contributors vote on a nonprofit that deals with environmental issues and our public lands – they voted on the Nature Conservancy! At the time that we donated ALL of the cookbook’s proceeds, there was someone matching donations, so we helped raise over $1,330 for the Nature Conservancy as a community! You can find more on the cookbook here.
Massive thanks to John and Jayme for taking the time to answer our questions. Please check out their website and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram. Also, have a read of their Vanlife How To page in which contains some great tips on how to find camping locations, how to discover community, how to make money on the road and more!