We started a blog series where we interview various full-time travelers, sharing how they make money and travel. Our goal is to help inspire and educate others on the various ways to work remotely while living a nomadic lifestyle.
Today’s interview is with Natalie and Abigail Rodriguez from Ride and Seek. This fun-loving couple traded their day jobs for van life. Their unique work experience has allowed them to find creative ways to earn money while they travel while do things they love and enjoy.
Tell us your story! What made you want to pursue van life?
I (Natalie) was the first to initiate the idea of van life after I met a fellow who was living in his VW bus before it was even a thing. Abi was already a world traveler before I met her so it took no convincing at all. It was mutual which solidified our decision to purchase our van. We left our home base of Charleston, SC in 2019 and have never looked back.
Tell us about your RV
Our current van is a 2004 Dodge Sprinter named ToWanda. (Named after an ode to women’s empowerment from Natalie’s favorite movie “Fried Green Tomatoes”). It is a diesel, 177” wheelbase, traveling machine. Originally the van transported prisoners so we enjoy knowing we’ve turned it into our freedom vehicle.
Building out the van took us a year and a half.
It was quite the challenge as we knew nothing of building a tiny home and had no previous skill set working with tools necessary for getting the job done. As frustrating as it was at times, we had some major help from family and a dear friend we met serendipitously during the process. A blessing in disguise really.
Also “YouTube University” is your friend. Trust me.
How are you able to make money and travel?
Our story is a bit different. We do not make a set annual income on the road and we didn’t have a definite source of income before we embarked on van life. During the year and a half we were building the van, we diligently saved money. We knew going into van life that we wanted to be able to go at least a year without working on the road. It was important to us to be able to really throw ourselves into travel so we picked up extra jobs to allow us to save what we felt would be feasible to live off of.
Collectively, Abi and I saved roughly $25,000 to get us through the year. We came upon this number by adding up what our monthly expenses would be for 12 months. Expenses include top-notch vehicle insurance with roadside assistance. A phone bill including a hotspot, Spotify, fuel, our website domain, Adobe for Abi’s video editing software, and food.
This does not include individual savings we already had which we deemed (emergency funds). We also made sure with purchasing an older vehicle we factored in vehicle maintenance funds. Basically, money set aside for a new transmission as we know it is sadly in our future.
Abi has own her photography business, Nonpareil Photography. She had a studio in Charleston and had an outstanding client base. However, she ended the lease as well as sold everything because we were not planning to return to live there. Abi does some client-based photography work on the road and also sells stock photography. She also does product photography for different companies and we do some brand ambassador work.
Previous to van life, Abi ran a successful photography business. I am a chef. I was making a decent salary as Sous Chef, running the kitchen before transitioning into van life. When we decided to pursue the dream of van life, we downsized our house and moved into a friend’s studio. This helped me sock away half of my paycheck every month towards van life savings. I also did personal chef work and pop-ups at restaurants for extra cash.
Because we knew we did not have set jobs once we took off, we made the decision to eventually focus our efforts on digital nomadism. Because Abi can make our content look pleasing to the viewers and I enjoy writing. We’ve been able to slowly get that brand ambassador/product work via social media. We also decided we are going to slowly work towards monetizing our Youtube Channel. There are plenty of resources on how to do this if you feel you are interested via YouTube. It is a lot of work but we are traveling and documenting our experiences anyway, why not make some earnings along the way?
What has been your favorite part of RV travel so far?
Our favorite part of traveling full-time answers itself. We get to constantly travel, see new things, and experience new landscapes and cultures whenever we want. Our house was designed to be fully off-grid. This allows us to stay in remote areas for weeks at a time if we wanted. It is absolute freedom and constant education. It is constant growth and I could not imagine living any other way right now.
What has been one of your favorite places so far and why?
We have so many favorite places it is hard to choose one. We spent 3 months this past winter in Baja, Mexico and it was definitely a highlight. The energy there was unlike any we’ve experienced. It was humbling and soul-satisfying. We met a couple that we ended up caravanning with for almost two months. Later we went on to do pop-up restaurants on the beach.
I got to cook the way I like and feed guests out of my van and over an open fire while making some money. Imagine waking up and seeing whales by the shoreline every morning and sunsets to die for. Also, we go to a lot of national parks which are so beautifully unique. I’d say Big Bend in Texas, Glacier in Montana, King’s Canyon, and Yosemite in California are a few that stand out.
What’s your biggest van life expense?
Our biggest expenses are fuel and food. We are foodies. We eat a lot!
What advice can you give to someone who wants to pursue van life?
If you are interested in this lifestyle, we suggest watching van life videos on YouTube. There is so much excellent content on the day-to-day, build-outs, and tutorials on just about every facet of the process. As far as work goes, there are also a ton of digital nomad resources.
Just go to YouTube and type in “van life how to make money”. There will be a ton of excellent videos on all the ways to do just that. We also suggest Basecamp Outdoors on Facebook. There you can post and or find jobs on the road in all areas of outdoor work. Another great resource is our friend Gnomad Home. They have everything to step by step buildouts to knowing if van life is right for you.
It is never too late or too far-fetched to jump into a new way of life. If you love to travel and live minimally, this is absolutely an amazing way to get out and see the world. I was not happy in my day-to-day life. I always felt there was something missing within that grind.
When I decided that the 9-5 dream was one that didn’t fit my idea of a fulfilling life. I took steps to change it. We both downsized, sold everything, paid off our debts, and started saving money. Many years later and I am now the person I admired growing up. It has been one hell of a fascinating ride.
How can our readers get in touch with you?
If you have any questions for us and/or would like to follow our journey, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. We also have our website which gives more on our build, Abi’s photography projects as well as info on booking sessions with her, my food recipes and blog, as well as my poetry and other fun stuff.