Van Life Sans Van: An Interview With Diana Boyer

If any of you dare tell me you’ve never fantasized about dropping it all and hitting the road with your van, your gear, and nothing but time to explore, I wouldn’t believe you for a second. I sure as hell couldn’t say it. Van life seems to be an outdoor enthusiast’s heaven, but making that dream a reality without the biggest piece of that title (a van), may pose a challenge. Luckily, I happen to see a friend of mine overcoming just that not too long ago and thought I’d bring her on to talk about it.

Ladies and Gents, welcome to the blog Diana Boyer! Diana and I were co worker’s at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in NY. Since January we’ve parted ways, but when I saw her post showcasing a tricked out Subaru and announcement to start traveling the country with it, I knew I needed to talk to her about the how she made it happen.

While I would have loved to conduct this interview at a crag or on a hike, distance and currents health precautions prevented me. Nevertheless, I feel immense gratitude and appreciation towards Diana for taking the time out of her journey answer a few of my questions to share with you all. Let’s jump in!

  1. Where are you now and where do you plan to be this week?

I’m currently in Santa Fe, NM. I was camping outside of Santa Fe mainly to be outside of crowded areas, but I’m actually staying with a friend from highschool who I went to camp with– wilderness camp, actually. I haven’t seen her in six years and I randomly decided to call her up. She happened to be here so I’m staying with her and her family right now.

I plan to head to Colorado at the end of this week. So, I’ll leave Sunday, maybe spend a night in Taos, NM, hike Wheeler Peak which is one of their bigger mountain (12,000 ft) and then drive into Colorado.

2. What sparked this? How long did it take to make happen? (saving up, planning out, etc.)

What sparked this was my lack of plan in life haha. I was planning on going to Italy to work on a farm but obviously Corona Virus kinda messed all of that up. So, I was home for a whiled going insane kind of not knowing what I was supposed to be doing (as I’m sure most people have been feeling), and I’ve always had this really strong urge to go out and explore and not have to worry about the everyday things in life. I find that nature is just one of the most grounding things that you can go out in and experience so I felt this need…and I proposed the idea to my mother kind of joking and she was all for it! She was like “Yes! That sounds like a great idea!” So that helped move everything along.

 It took maybe a month and half to plan everything. It took a long time to plan the actual building out of my car because you really need to make sure you have the measurements right on that. Building anything in your car is difficult because it’s not the same measurements all across. You have to make everything level, so that was a process. But, that was about a month and a half. In regard to saving up, I had actually saved up a nice amount of money working my previous job at Blue Hill so I used that money. I was also living at home with my parents, rent free, which was very fortunate. 

In regard to planning my route I had a general idea of what I was going to do. My idea was to go down south and then go into New Mexico, across to Arizona, and then into california. Go up into oregon, maybe into washington, and then go across through idaho, montana, wyoming, back down into Colorado. BUT then I kinda realized it is super hot in the south/southwest right now haha and that the places I wanted to visit (desert) – this was probably the worst time to visit. So, I reconsidered everything and decided to head up north at the beginning and head back down later when hopefully it’s cooler outside. 

Something that really helped was my  brother’s friend who lived out of his car for nine months and he had a lot of good tips for camping, what places I should visit, all of that stuff.

3. What was building out the actual Subaru like? How did you go about designing it?

Building it out was… painful haha. I’m not very savvy about building things. I’d like to think I’m the ideas person, the writing person, the… i don’t know. That’s more of my thing, but my mom is incredibly handy. I don’t think i could have done this without her. Her brother is a carpenter so she’s always had this general knowledge about building things that I kind of lack. So it was a painful process because it didn’t come naturally to me and getting the measurements down took a long time. I was dragging my feet through that process. But once we got the measurement down the building process itself went by in three day. 

We went out and bought a piece of plywood, went to a lumber yard where they were able to chop the basic measurements out for us, and then we took that home and (my mom has a handsaw) so we used that to make angle cuts and leveled it all out. I watched a lot of youtube videos on people building out their cars and I wanted it to be kinda simple. I really wanted it to just be a comfortable bed to sleep in when i wasn’t camping and it was my mom who said let’s put all these extra things in. We put in a drawer attached to my bed to hold all my kitchen supplies in and that ha been really handy because it has a countertop on top of the drawer that I can use for my stove when I don’t have a flat surface around. There’s also a secret compartment in my bed which is really handy for books and my laptop and it’s a good hiding spot….I’m exposing it now haha but its good for hiding valuables. 

My last thing about design is that once the main thing is built, everything just comes together after that. It’s easier to think about some other things you might need like curtains, a little trash can, etc.  

4. What’s your biggest predicted challenge for Subaru life and has it come true? What is your current biggest challenge?

I was worried that a lot of the places I’d go to would be really difficult to get around because of CoronaVirus and it had more to do with our current state of affairs then actual car life. Actually one other thing was it’s really hot to sleep in the car so getting good air ventilation was definitely a challenge but I’ve been tent camping a lot which is much more enjoyable. Camping at elevation alo helps create a cool environment. 

Has it come true? Um, No. I have not gotten Coronavirus.. At least not that I know of so that’s good haha and parks and things are still open…some state parks are closed to people outside of the state. I haven’t tried to go to those places, so I’m not sure how well those rules are enforced. But some places are just closed, parks have closed off different parts of them and it is kind of disappointing because you do want to see certain areas but I get it. We are currently in the midst of a pandemic so….

The biggest challenge that I wasn’t expecting is loneliness. You know, I’ve done a lot of jobs where I’ve been out in the middle of nowhere where I haven’t had a lot of people around me, and you originally start off like that it’s kind of easy to get used to things. But it’s usually a month where I’m kind of lonely, I wish I had a friend here. This was different because I started out alone, then met up with one of my friends and he camped with me for like a week and I didn’t realize how nice it was until he left. Then I was like “oh wow I’m really alone”. And in a way, it was really comforting to have someone there just to talk to but also I didn’t realize I could have my guard down a lot more…just being a woman travelling by herself you definitely have to be somewhat more alert and judge things a little carefully. But I definitely wasn’t expecting to feel lonely or a little scared once my friend left. I was a little jumpy at first actually aha, the next day was fine but it took a moment to get used to.

5. How long do you plan to do this?

How long do I plan to do this… I do not have a plan for how long. I kind of went in with the idea of doing it until I run out of money or find a job– Ideally find a job before I run out of money. So, I’ve been looking at farming jobs and I’m not doing it too intensely now because it’s the beginning of the trip but yeah if I’m in service i’ll get emails about that kind of thing. I think I was originally thinking three months but after talking to my brother’ friend who did it for nine I thought “Woah, I could do this for a long time.” So, we’ll see.

I think living out of your car like this, it’s good to have a general plan, but not specifically. It’s nice to have the freedom of being able to do what you want. I think going in and planning it with areas you want to go to around that time that works well with the weather– you know if you’re going into the mountains, like Montana, you want to go in the summer rather than the snow because you’re gonna get stuck there. Thinking more of seasonality and general location is a good way of planning.

6. When you’re not staying with friends, where do you park?

Okay, This I secret I never knew about but apparently a lot of people know about. will show you campsites in the area you’re around so you can camp for free! Some of them are just parking lots, others are off of forest roads. (It’s called dispersed camping.) If you can camp for free in a national forest that is super nice because once you’re out West, there’s national forest in most places. I think the secret to finding the best campsite is going down the dirt road that is not labeled and there are usually campsites along the way. Granted, the road is usually rough but if you have a decent car with four wheel drive you should be fine.

Another good tip that I didn’t know about and Google Maps is that freecampsite uses coordinates to help you locate where the campsite is and you can type in those gps coordinates to Maps, and it will take you directly there. So, that’s really handy; these places don’t really have addresses.

7. What’s your favorite part about this lifestyle?

My favorite part is that I’m outside all the time. That’s something that I’ve really craved…I used to be very outdoorsy in highschool. Like every summer I would go on these canoeing trips in Minnesota and Canada and I felt like that was a really good experience because it makes you realize there are far more important things in life than the things we do within society. It’s important to be outside in nature because it’s really what our whole earth is made of. So being in nature and also being active.

I guess I have a little routine now: I’ll wake up, I’ll have my coffee, I’ll go for a run because there are usually always trails where I am. I’ll have my breakfast (usually oatmeal) and then I will have some type of hike to do in the afternoon and then find my next campsite!

8. Best 3 pieces of advice for anyone looking to do this themselves? (Please spill the beans on showering on the road haha)

One good piece of advice is to be flexible! If you’re going into this type of lifestyle things are just not going to go the way you expect them to go and it’s a lot easier to enjoy what you’re doing when you’re not glued to a plan. It’s very nice I feel like I just have endless amounts of time. 

Second piece of advice is to figure out some kind of cleaning routine…Yeah I didn’t shower for a week and I’m pretty active during the day. Like I said I’m hiking and running so I’m pretty dirty by the end of the day and that has been something annoying and kinda gross to me. Because I come in and out of society I feel really gross getting groceries and things like that. I would recommend figuring out a way to keep yourself clean. I’ve used baby wipes which is a nice way to keep your face clean…but I think a more sustainable way that I’ve really been lacking is swimming! Finding a lake to swim in is great. 

I also have a solar shower which is just a bag you fill with water and leave out in the sun. You can hang it from a tree branch and get a gentle rinse…I haven’t used that yet, like I said I’m lacking on the cleaning routine. Seeing friends along the way and using their showers are also really nice. 

Last piece of advice is stay organized. You’re going to want to use every bit of space you have and the minute you get lazy and leave things in a mess, things are going to start going a lot slower for you. It’s just so much easier to maintain your little home because it will really make every other detail that much easier.

Major inspiration and travel bug vibes, am I right? I hope this helps any of you itching to hit the road in the vehicles at your disposal. Again, thank you Diana! Stay badass and earth lovin’! Have the best time on your travels!

And thanks all of you for reading along~

Adventure On!


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