Personal Improvement

How To Live In A Van (And Do What You Love)

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how to live in van

Ever dreamed of living in a van down by the river? Our guests actually do. They’ll tell us how to live in a van and do what you love.

You hear about people who decide one day just to give up the 9-5 life most of us live to do something different, and today we speak to a couple who did just that.

No Really, They Live in a Van

Our guests are  Syd and Macky, both professional mountain bike racers. They bought a used van, made some modifications and hit the road in late 2014. Since then, they have traveled 30,000 miles all over the US to attend bike races and just to see the country.

That sounds romantic, and sometimes it is. But other times, it’s not. Driving around looking for a place to camp, the threat of an injury that could disrupt their training and racing. It has taken a lot of effort to be where they are now, and they love their life, but there are parts no one sees.


So, What’s the Big Secret?

Everyone wants to know the big secret that allows the couple to live this life. No big secret beyond determination, passion, and persistence. But there are a lot of small secrets, and that’s what they are with us to share.

For Syd and Macky, travel is their priority. They don’t have a lot of the comforts we have, but they aren’t interested in those things. They spend money on what is important to them. Neither are location dependent on income. They make money by racing, sponsorship, and freelancing, all of which they can do from anywhere.

They use travel rewards credit cards to pay for airline tickets. If you know which cards to have and how to churn the system, you can virtually fly for free.

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It’s Not About the Van

When you see the van on the site, it’s not like one of those twee tiny homes. It’s a utility van, and most of the inside is taken up with biking equipment. The van allows the couple to live the kind of life they want, full of travel, pursuing careers that they love, and being free of the financial worries that come with more traditional choices.

Write it Off

Remember the episode we did with Natali Morris about making your family into a business so you could write off a lot of expenses? Syd and Macky have perfected that advice. Last year combined they earned $94,000. Of that, about two-thirds were from sponsorship.

They claimed $57,000 in expenses for things like hotels, car rentals, and race fees. They saved $27,000 and paid taxes on just $37,000. The total non-business expenses for the year were about $11,000, most of that spent on food. By living so cheaply, Macky was able to pay off $20,000 in student loan debt.

A Life of Adventure

The couple participates in about 15 races per season. They race two out of three weekends between April and late August. They now race full time. It took a few years to be able to get to this point. For a few years, just 30-40% of their income was race related; the rest came from freelancing.

During the off-season the pair work on content creation that they and sponsors can use. Because this career is so precarious due to the constant threat of injury, the couple is successfully turning the lifestyle they live into their brand and their product.

They sell t-shirts and water bottles and have designed a course on how to attract sponsors.

syd macky van life

How to Live in a Van

A big downside of the lifestyle is dealing with the logistics that you don’t have to worry about in a house or apartment; making sure you have water before going to bed or spending a few hours sitting in a laundry mat.

But they’ve done it long enough to have systems in place. They’ve pretty much perfected cooking on a gas, double burner camp stove. They don’t stay in one place for long and have to buy groceries every two or three days because there isn’t room to store more.

It would be more accurate to say the couple stay in the van rather than live in it. They cook outside the van and sleep on top in a pop-up tent. They use it more like you would use a tent on a camping trip.

Sometimes, Spend More

While the couple is frugal, sometimes you should just spend more. If you arrive at your destination starving, get something to eat at the airport rather than driving around looking for a grocery store. We work hard, and we are allowed to enjoy our money and use it to make life more comfortable as long as we are keeping the bills paid and saving for the future.

We Probably Won’t

Most of us will probably never do what Syd and Macky did and live in a van while traveling the world. But there are certainly lessons we can learn from them and apply to our lives. They made sacrifices so they could spend money on their priority; travel.

They turned their family into a business so they could save money on taxes. They saved about a quarter of their salary. They keep their non-business expenses obscenely low. They have created multiple revenue streams. These are things any of us can do.

Show Notes

Ommegang Abbey Ale: A rich, fruity brew.

Syd and Macky’s Website: Follow along on the adventure and find their new Youtube channel.

Instagram: Syd and Macky’s IG for the hardcore bike fans.

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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