Living Their Dream & 4 Tips for Living Sustainably On the Road
It took Noami Grevemberg (@irietoaurora; @diversify.vanlife) several years to pursue a long-awaited dream. Once she did, however, she realized she’d found the life she had been seeking. In the years since then, she has also worked to make “Van Life” (#VanLife) more accessible, and welcoming, to everyone through #DiversifyVanlife.
Grevemberg went to college at the University of New Orleans and met her eventual partner, Dustin Grevemberg, at a football tailgate party. “I shared with him my dream of living in a van and traveling the country and seeing all the national parks,” she says. After graduating from school, they both found corporate jobs and put that dream on hold, temporarily. But not forever.
“Five years later, we were both living a redundant life,” says Grevemberg. “We were working jobs and feeling unfulfilled. I was an environmental scientist but felt further and further from the person I’m meant to be.”
The two had dinner in their kitchen one night and discovered they both were ready to follow that delayed dream. “We gave ourselves three months [to go] because we didn’t want to talk ourselves out of it,” she says.
The original plan was to take one year, driving from New Orleans to Alaska and then returning. But it’s been almost seven years and the couple are now living their #VanLife dream. “We found community on the road,” she says. “Van life was in its infancy then, but this is something we want to continue doing, and we haven’t looked back.”
Making Van Life Work
While the couple had originally planned on quitting their jobs, Dustin continued to work for his company through a remote position. “Dustin kept working which gave me some space to consider whether I could turn my passion into something that can help me financially,” says Grevemberg. “I love writing and that had taken a back seat ... I was able to turn my passions [including photography] into work projects. It took some time to be able to make enough money, but it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
“I just started sharing my story — my life as a woman on the road; as a woman of color; as a black woman; and a lot of people became interested in my story,” she days. “I began doing influencer articles and writing for smaller magazines and doing blog posts.” In 2020, an editor from Simon and Shuster contacted her about writing a book that will publish in 2023.
The Pros of Van Life
What’s living and working on the road like? “I have the freedom to choose,” says Grevemberg. “I get to decide how much I work, and what I work on, and how much I want to be outside. I feel like every decision is my decision. Before everything revolved around my career. In this lifestyle I get to choose my life’s trajectory, and I get to spend so much time with partner and my dog and plenty outdoors.”
Still, there are some drawbacks. “It’s really hard to have a routine,” she says. “You have a loss of routine which can feel very chaotic. The whole point of this lifestyle for my partner and I has been to blur the line between work and play but how do we do this and have some kind of balance? There are times when I’m at my computer all day long.”
Grevemberg admits that “sharing a small space with another human” can also be challenging. “In the beginning it was really difficult. There is literally no place to hide,” she says. “It’s totally shifted our communication styles. It’s challenging when your home is your office and your adventure mobile.” Her advice? “Set aside time just for us,” she says. “Put down the computers sometimes, take alone time, and communicate your needs when you have them.”
In the fall of 2019, Grevemberg founded #DiversifyVanlife (@diversify.vanlife) as a community organization as a way of shifting the narrative of van life. “As we all know, van life has been romanticized and homogenized so much in the media,” she says. There are voices and experiences of individuals who live on the margins; of BIPOC; of disabled people; of the LGBTQ+,” she says. “The organization came in a response to that — to creating a community that’s truly, and intentionally inclusive of all people. Not everyone chose this lifestyle, and not everyone has been privileged enough to say, ‘I want to travel fulltime in a van.’ I started the community out of frustration — to create a place of safety and to empower road travelers like me and to begin that representation to all media.”
The organization centers the voices of marginalized individuals and shares resources that can help everyone living on the margins. For example, “We recently created a BIPOC guide to van life and outdoors with living resources written and created by our community members,” she says. “This community is not homogenous, and it’s important to bring all voices to the table … we all have different experiences and come from different backgrounds.”
Living the Eco-Life
Grevemberg describes herself as an accidental minimalist. “I like to say my partner and I are eco-vanlifers — we’ve been practicing low-waste living, and sustainability is at the forefront of how we try to live,” she says. That includes living plastic-free and composting and recycling whatever they can when living on the road, though the pandemic made that more challenging.
They separate their garbage, recycling, and composting, and look for places like community gardens and city recycling centers where they can dispose of it responsibly. “It’s a lot of extra work but it matters,” she says.
She’s found her CFX3 75 powered cooler has also helped reduce food waste by letting them freeze food that would otherwise go bad. It’s also a luxury to have a freezer on the road, she adds. “It has changed our lives and lets us have frozen treats for our dog and ice-cold water while in the desert,” she says.
“My favorite Dometic GO products have been the hydration water jug and faucet,” says Grevemberg. “In vanlife, conserving water is essential since we don’t have an unlimited supply flowing from our tap. I’m excited to go outdoors and stay hydrated with Dometic GO water solution. And my German Shepherd pup, Amara, loves to drink straight from the faucet.”
Advice for New Van Lifers
Her advice for people who have a similar dream of exploring via a van — or another vehicle — is simple. “I think for the most part that people think they have to have it figured it out at the beginning, but you don’t,” she says. “Your needs are going to change so stick to the basics of what you need and leave room for exploration.” She also encourages people to create room for their passions and to sync up with community as soon as possible. “Get on social media, connect, and attend in-person events,” she adds. “Going to our first Van Life event opened up so many possibilities.”
Her last piece of advice may be the most critical. “Go outdoors as much as possible,” she says. “Go exploring. Connect with nature. It’s so healing and inspiring.”
Her connection to the outdoors has been lifelong. “I grew up in a rainforest on a tiny island [Trinidad and Tobago],” she says. “In my back yard, there were howler monkeys in the trees and birds so my connection and my love and my reverence for the planet started pretty early. As an environmental scientist, I love our planet and want to do my part to take care of it. When it comes to the intersection of people and planet, I don’t think we can separate it. You can’t have one without the other.
“When you build a connection with nature and build a relationship with it, you fully understand what it means to take care of our planet and who is invited to the outdoors,” she says. “Everyone has a part to play, and it serves as an umbrella effect when we realize we all have a place in the outdoors.”
Tips for Living Sustainably on the Road
Minimize Food Waste. Food scraps in the landfill produce gnarly methane gas, so we try to minimize food waste whenever possible. Make a weekly meal plan to ensure you’re not buying more than you can eat in a week. Don’t let leftovers go to waste and compost food scraps. This can be difficult living in a van on the road. Thanks to our Dometic CFX3 75DZ, we can freeze our leftovers before they go bad, and we also freeze food scraps until we can get them to a composting facility.
Opt for Reusable and Ditch Single-Use Plastics. A benefit of vanlife is that we have our homes with us 100% of the time, which makes it super convenient to ditch the disposables and opt for reusable products. These days you can find reusable EVERYTHING, from grocery bags to water bottles and takeout containers. While reusable items come with an upfront cost, they will save money, resources, and impact in the long run.
Go Solar and Maximize Energy Efficiency. We have an abundant power source in the sky every day. And using solar in your life on the road allows you to move freely without relying on the grid for power. To maximize power and reduce energy loss, make sure you have proper wiring and energy-efficient appliances. One of the best additions we’ve made to our vanlife is upgrading to an energy efficient Dometic CFX3.
Travel Slowly. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to see and do it all, but magic happens when you travel at the speed of slow. It allows you to develop a real sense of place. Stay a while when you visit a town or landscape you really enjoy. Get to know the locals and the environment. Hike the trails, swim in the rivers. Slow travel also saves you money and helps to minimize your carbon footprint, because you can’t burn fuel when you’re out on the trail or mingling with the locals.
Noami is currently writing a memoir. Set to release in 2023, it is filled with stories about her life growing up in Trinidad and current life on the road. Follow The Grevembergs on Instagram to stay up-to-date on their vanlife adventures and the book’s release!