There are a lot of mainstream stereotypes aimed at those who have the gumption to live an alternative lifestyle. Live off the grid in a solar-powered home? Well, then you must be a tree-hugging hermit living out in the boonies. Believe in zero-waste? Then you must be a hippie zealot. Anyway, as you can imagine, stereotypes can be inaccurate at best, and hurtful at the worst, but the conventional response to someone who's living out of their vehicle is that they must be too poor to afford an apartment, or some irresponsible, slacker millennial with no direction.
Busting all of these stereotypes is American filmmaker Zach Both, who has been living in this converted ten-year-old Chevy cargo van for the past year. It's a home and mobile filmmaking studio all rolled into one modernist package on wheels.
I left my job as an art director at a tech startup to pursue filmmaking full-time. The filmmaking process is inherently nomadic, so living and working out of a converted van was a natural fit.
[Filmmaking] is a constant migration to and from different locations based on what the storytelling requires. With this van, I now have complete freedom to write a script surrounded by mountains, direct a shoot in a remote desert town and then collaborate with an editor or composer in Los Angeles — all within the same month. That would be impossible any other way.
Inside, Both used reclaimed wood on the ceiling and walls, taken from a nineteenth-century church in Cleveland, Ohio. There's a futon bed that can be put up for a more comfortable seat, as well as a beautiful workspace. (The stool apparently doubles as a trash receptacle!) At the other end, is a custom-made curtain that divides the front part of the van from the back. Windows are shaded with awnings that double as chalkboards, great for creating the storyboards for films.
We love the kitchen, which is hidden under the workspace surface.
Outside, Both has installed solar panels on the roof, which provide power for the low-energy appliances like the refrigerator, home theater system and Both's mobile wifi network, crucial for any digital nomad. The van is also heavily insulated to keep its interior as warm as possible (see how to do it here). Both showers at the gym whenever he needs to.
Both tells us that living a mobile lifestyle can be at times very trying and "exhausting", especially when one is "constantly being a stranger to the environment and the people around." But, despite the possbility of disorientation, there are upsides, says Both:
During my time on the road, there has been a seemingly endless supply of memorable experiences. Making films and collaborating with artists across the country. Hitchhiking 30 miles in the dead of winter to get help pulling my van out of the snow. Racing a moose on a Wyoming backroad. Sleeping next to massive mountains and oceanside cliffs. Spending Christmas Day making tamales and sharing stories with a family I had met only the day before.
Both estimates that he spent about USD $4,000 on the used van, and another $8,000 on materials, tires, tools and repairs, coming in for a total of $12,000. Both says that he also did some bartering for $3,000 to cover his appliances. Best of all, Both is sharing tips on how he was able to transform the van from start to finish into a gorgeous live-work space, in what he's calling The Vanual. It's well-written, well-organized and visually appealing, and well worth a visit for anyone who is interested in doing their own campervan conversion. More over at the The Vanual, Instagram and Zach Both.