It’s no secret that living in the Bay Area is expensive, and the number of people living out of cars and vans in San Mateo County has reportedly spiked in recent years.
With stories of homeowners converting to mobile living popping up each week, we talked to Advanture Co., a van conversion company and lifestyle brand, about the #vanlife and its beginnings in a San Mateo employee parking lot.
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Q&A have been edited for brevity:
Where did the idea for the Advanture Co. come from?
"[Co-founder Brandon Nelson] was actually working at GoPro in San Mateo for a couple years and was unable to afford rent in the Bay Area," said Scott Nelson, co-founder of the Santa Cruz-based company. "Him and a couple of other people decided to live in Sprinter vans with mattresses."
His small business has been rolling out customized vans now for about a year-and-a-half and has evolved into a lifestyle brand, which advocates for what it says is a more affordable and flexible living option than home ownership.
"After four or five months of living on a mattress, we decided to take it to another level. We built out his van over eight months," Nelson said. "So that’s kind of how it started.”
The van conversion company has already converted and built vans for a folk band, physical therapist, photographers and more.
"The whole idea is basically allowing yourself the freedom to do anything you want," Nelson said. "That’s the bottom line."
What’s the process like?
"Everything’s custom, totally varied," Nelson said.
The company works with each client to determine pricing and needs. Depending on the use of the van — whether for work, touring or leisure — can change the outfit of the van, according to Nelson.
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Do you think the number of people living in vans is going to keep going up?
"I think it’s going to keep going up if housing keeps going up,” Nelson said. "We live in one of the most expensive places to live in the world."
Perhaps because of this, the perception of those living in cars has started to change.
"At first it was thought of as a weird homeless situation, but it’s now being viewed as more for mobility, to not throw away $2,000 plus dollars rent, to get rid of the mortgage,” Nelson said. "It’s really an investment if you do it right."
What is the biggest hurdle to joining the #VanLife?
"At the end of the day, to do the "vanlife," you do have to downsize your wardrobe," Nelson said.
But, he says, it isn’t a lifestyle restricted to couples and single people.
"You could have a family of four in there if you build it right," Nelson said. "Set up to live small. Don’t try to cram all your stuff into it. You don’t have to."
And, he says, it comes with a big payoff.
"It simplifies everything," Nelson said. "There are all of these costs that you can eliminate. Every appliance in the vans runs on solar. The only thing you need is diesel fuel and new tires every five to 10,000 miles."
The Advanture Co. will be producing a series of short films with photographer Chris Burkard, after completing his own van. After that, the small team is looking at expanding their company into tiny homes, Airstream travel trailers as well as other cities that might be interested in van conversion services.