There’s something romantic about living on the road and having the freedom to explore the great outdoors. On Instagram, there’s no shortage of photographers taking pictures of their traveling life via van or other vehicle. Maybe that’s why living in a van, camper or RV is becoming a dream for many outdoor enthusiasts. Not everyone, though, is able to make the jump to being a full-time nomad.
So I introduce the weekend adventure mobile.
Those who love an outdoor lifestyle want to be ready to ditch the daily routine at a moment’s notice, no matter the weather, to get an outdoor detox. An adventure mobile is your ticket to getting out there fast. And, they can be customized to fit various personalities, from full-time dirtbag to weekend warrior.
I’ve interviewed my extended crew of REI teammates to learn more about the decisions it takes to become an adventure-vehicle owner. Activities, gear, events and experiences have put most on the road to finding that home away from home. Many didn’t want the shoulder seasons to stop them from going outside. A season that’s a little too rainy, cool and dark to pitch a tent and pack it up is the perfect time for weekend adventure mobiles!
Below are the inspirational weekend vehicles I see while walking around REI’s campus, as well as tips I’ve picked up through my conversations.
Marcos F. is a merchandising analyst and races cyclocross in his free time. The proud owner of his first van, Marcos has big plans for TINA–named after a character from “Bob’s Burgers” TV show that seemed to fit the van’s personality. Decorated to be a second home, TINA has been gifted with a Southwest-style rug and is a social hangout on Marcos’s adventures. Marcos doesn’t hide the fact that he’s excited to talk about TINA: “Having a teal van, it’s easy to invite new friends from the crag to hang after a long day of climbing.”
Tip: Get to know your vehicle before naming it.
Rachael M., a program manager for REI Outdoor School for the last two years, spends her weekends climbing, running and cycling. Rachael named her van Lola after the free-spirited child of its previous owner. “It just seemed fitting,” she says. And indeed, since purchasing the van early this year, Rachael has been caring for Lola like it’s a child. Being new to van ownership, Rachael’s still figuring out the rules of vanlife–from where to park for the night to packing. One of the van’s first decorations is a dreamcatcher that hangs from the rear-view mirror. Her father bought it for her on her first national park trip, to the Grand Canyon.
Tip: Pack supplies into easily foldable, small or compatible containers. Added storage, like a roof box, optimizes sleeping space.
Jason Z., a program manager for the direct marketing team for five years, can be found snapping climbing, hiking and camping photos. After spending time in a friend’s truck, Jason knew the customizations he wanted to make when building his. On a warm summer night, he left the back open and woke up to a swarm of mosquitoes. Now, he’s searching for ways to add mesh screens to still enjoy the open ventilation without bugs.
Tip: The mattress is key. Invest in a foam mattress and cut to size for a better night’s sleep.
Adam H. is currently a design researcher and has been with REI for the last 21.5 years. His outdoor adventures usually include cycling, backpacking or day hiking. Look for at least one pink flamingo and you’ll find Adam’s adventure mobile. After buying his vehicle, he drove it down to California and had the roof outfitted into a pop-up bedroom with room for two. He’s added a storage box to the back that swings out and acts like a table. He’ll sometimes bring along a large tent and set it up as a “guest house” for friends.
Tip: Personalize your vehicle with stickers to help tell your vehicle’s story.
For the past 6.5 years Jason S. has been working as a forecast analyst and seeks climbing adventures after hours. Wanting to keep his 4WD SUV, Jason decided to invest in a roof-top tent. Jason describes, “It’s like a treehouse.” He’s become quite crafty by adding storage compartments where he can.
Tip: Look for parking where you can wake up to a mountain view.
Melissa H., a training specialist for merchandising for the past six years, and her husband spend days on the road heading to mountain biking competitions. It says it on the van: Get Up, Get Out. She says they constantly get stopped to give tours of their van. The van is decorated with stickers of where they’ve been, and they’ll sometimes find a new one tucked under their windshield wiper to add to the collection.
Tip: Keep a bag with the necessities ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Daniel W. has been with REI for 14 years and is a senior designer for Novara bikes, which explains his passion for biking. Having an older van, it’s all about community for Dan. He dabbles in many outdoor activities with his wife, Jay, and heads out even if the weather is iffy, which is most of the time in the PNW.
Tip: Check online forums and van communities for used parts, fixes and advice.
Greg D., a skier, hiker and cyclist, has been with REI for three-plus years and is a senior manager for REI’s private brands. Greg’s been an adventure-mobile owner since the early 2000s and is ready to go adventuring at the drop of a hat. Keeping the name of his first van, Wally, from the “Wallace & Gromit” comedies, his second Wally has more bells and whistles. The adventure mobile didn’t slow down after Greg had a son. The van gets a lot of questions with its unique build, and Greg doesn’t mind sharing.
Tip: Some of the best adventures are unplanned ones. Stay wherever and go whenever you want to wander. It’ll take you to some of the best experiences in your life.
Jon A. is a product manager in merchandising for the last nine years and enjoys white-water kayaking. Jon and his wife camp to facilitate their outdoor activities, and with that, they tend to be “early to bed, early to rise” to take advantage of the day. Jon’s reasoning for the van: “Most campgrounds are closed during the winter months. And in Western Washington, winter usually means rain. Lots of rain. We actually enjoy camping in the rain. But often what is a dry tent site in summer becomes a small lake in the rainy season. Plus, drying out the tent and fly after every trip is never fun.”
Tip: Keep the design simple. It’s more customizable for a variety of trips and gear.
After walking around the REI campus, I’ve tossed around the idea to maybe one day get an adventure mobile of my own. Until then, I’ll have to live vicariously through my coworkers.
Share your weekend adventure mobile photos on Instagram by tagging #OptOutside.