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The duo behind the Instagram account @vanziehartlieb stated that there is some inherent loneliness on the road, but there are also scenic hikes, mountain views and brand deals.
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Hike for a week in Utah under the orange, eroded caves of Arches National Park. A one-month road trip through the vast land of Colorado, in the shadow of picturesque mountains in the morning. Drink coffee near national landmarks in the afternoon and watch the sunset from the roof of the car in the evening.
This is the existence of 31-year-old Dan Lieber and 24-year-old Mackenzie Hartrum. They are a Philadelphia couple. They traded a South Street apartment in exchange for the transformed Ram 3500 Promaster as their home.
Lieber and Hartrum are vanlifers.
What started as a rugged nomadic niche culture evolved into the lifestyle of millennial social media creators in the 2010s, spawning a cottage industry of traveling alone, building kitchens from scratch, and decorating mobile homes like small anthropology. The vanlife hashtag on Instagram contains 11.6 million posts, many of which boil down to the same elements: outdoor scenery, slideshows of small houses, and thinking about how remote work provides freedom to travel around the world.
"It may sound strange, but my dream is to live in a van," Lieber remembers Hartrum telling him on their first date, back in 2019. He does a full-time job in wealth management at Goldmach Sachs, and it feels impossible. "Then the pandemic suddenly appeared, allowing us to work anywhere."
Since August, the couple have been recording their lives in their compact living space on the Instagram account @vanziehartlieb (a hybrid of their names), where their 11,000 followers have been the first to experience Fanside Yoga, Desert Camping, and All the ordinary life before. What happened between.
What needs to be clear is that the lifestyle that can be well transformed into an impact van is an expensive lifestyle, most suitable for those who do not need to face-to-face flexible work in the office. Vanlifers are entrepreneurs, advertising executives and full-time freelancers. For his part, Lieber now runs MERR Consulting Group, a boutique digital marketing agency.
The couple purchased their Ram 3500 in August 2020. Two attempts were made for internal construction. It took Lieber and Hartrum a month and a half to build their living space and then show it to her family. They immediately intervened. Spend the winter in Poconos, working with Hatems' father and brothers, and a pair of carpenters to make the van suitable for living. Hartrum said that the most challenging part was plumbing and electricity, but her father watched some YouTube videos and figured it out.
"After it's done, it's really like framing a house," Hartrum said. Her favorite part is the loft bed, which overlooks a window that makes "everything outside is like our living room." As for Lieber, he likes the corner of their study (yes, in the van), where he said it has a cafe feel and a lot of wall art.
The daily expenses of truck life are very low — “just insurance, gasoline and food,” Lieber said — but the upfront investment can be very high.
The high-end is priced at US$100,000, and the blog post details the search for a US$25,000 retro Volkswagen and a US$40,000 truck refurbishment company contract to decorate the interior. The DIY construction cost of Lieber and Hartrum was approximately US$16,000, including solar panels, built on a new car, and the extended warranty period brought them back to US$50,000. The couple said they paid between 500 and 600 dollars a month.
Hartum and Lieber have been on the road more or less for about 9 months. They headed south, stopping in Asheville, North Carolina on their way to the Florida Keys, and then heading west to explore the hiking trails in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.
Although no day is the same, Hartrum says there is a pattern: wake up and go to a coffee shop in town to work until noon, go hiking in the afternoon, and then use the evening to go to local bars and restaurants to camp with other vanlifers in the area.
Lieber said: “We really want to be immersed in the culture wherever we are and the feeling of living there, not just visiting,” said Lieber, who said they still make time for travel moments, such as Sleep near Sedona under the stars of the desert, or learn how to boulder so that they can see the famous Moab Funnel Arch on Instagram.
Then there is social media, which is almost essential to the life experience of the van.
The couple said that they have not encountered "a vanlifer without some form of public-facing Instagram or Facebook." Through @vanziehartlieb, Hartrum focuses on creativity, editing photos, and writing twisty titles, while Lieber uses his background in data analysis to develop strategies for clients and collaborate with brands.
At this point, Lieber describes their Instagram as more of a sideline or passion project than a real source of income. So far, the couple have worked with brands such as health drink Oaza and solar generator manufacturer AcoPower, but they hope to establish a partnership that is consistent with other aspects of their lives.
"I'm happy to work with software companies," Liber suggested, citing the perfect combination with remote work, "but these companies have not yet seen a market for creators like us."
Hartrum said that vanlifers attracted a large number of followers because the image they sold was “a realistic dream,” but she warned that they would jump into it without any plan. She and Lieber spent two weeks driving an SUV around California to find out how it was.
"We have met many people on the road. They only did it for a month or two and invested a lot of time, money and resources in their trucks, but they didn't like it," she said. "Our lives are It may look beautiful online, but they are definitely not always beautiful."
Lieber swears that they have no intention of becoming Instagram influencers. The couple only started posting photos after their family and friends started "always asking [them] for photos and updates." The account still reads like a personal diary.
On November 2nd, the photo of the couple holding hands in front of a scenic desert background began: "We confessed - we are not good at planning anything."
Another hand-held photo in mid-November tells how to fight the inherent loneliness of the journey. This is a recurring theme, but it is also part of the packaging.
“From Philadelphia,” the couple wrote the week before Thanksgiving, “we still can’t imagine a whole winter without snow, and even harder to imagine an upcoming vacation without family and friends. Having said that, we are Excited about everything and the new experience waiting for us in the sun."
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