Adam and Justin Henderson are brothers from Montana with adventurous souls. They share a unique bond in that they both made life-altering decisions. Deciding to dedicate himself to an on-the-move lifestyle, at 19 Adam purchased a van and moved into it. After a year and a half on the road, his older brother Justin flew to Los Angeles to join him.
After two years of travel in North America, they are still exploring. At the moment they are refurbishing their grubstake with full-time but temporary employment in the U.S. It is this break that allows me to talk to them. Adam says it won’t be long before they’re on the road again. In a recent Instagram post, he mentioned, “Already my mind wanders to the idea of an open map . . . – ready to retire once again.” It seems these nomads are well entrenched into an alternative lifestyle.
Where has the brothers’ journey taken them?
I’ve always been intrigued by the #VanLife lifestyle movement because it coincides with the minimalistic way of living that I truly believe in. After buying his van Adam drove straight to the east coast and traveled down the coastline all the way to the Florida Keys. He then traveled up the Gulf coast to New Orleans. To date, the van has seen about thirty states and three Canadian provinces along with Mexico and Guatemala.
Additionally, the nearly 30-year-old van has gone through a complete renovation. According to an Instagram post from last October (when the remodel was done), the brothers focused their attention on storage room and accessibility. The before and after pictures are quite remarkable.
The brothers have experienced their fair share of cool stories to tell. From spending weeks at Camp 4 in Yosemite – being immersed in the most famous rock climbing culture of the country – to hitchhiking and getting invited to birthday parties and family dinners in Mexico, to kayaking alone during snow storms through lakes of color you couldn’t imagine, to finding work along California’s coastal highway with resume’s made out of cardboard; it has all led them to where they are today.
When asked where the #VanLife inspiration was derived from, Adam said, “I don’t know where my initial inspiration came from. Maybe just seeing everyone I know taking the traditional college path. The idea of people going to school – not for a passion but just for job placement – seems like a waste of time and money to me. I want to break the routine and not know what the next month, week, or even day might hold.” This coincides with everything Wanderway represents and it is so nice to hear from another free-spirit such as Adam.
Admittedly starting this journey knowing very little about the culture and community that he joined, Adam said, “I didn’t know about the #VanLife Instagram community when I started living in the van. On the East Coast, there aren’t a lot of van lifer’s. So for the first months, I didn’t interact with very many other travelers.”
However, as is often the case on the road, meeting one traveler led to meeting more. Pretty soon they were involved and known throughout the community. He told me, “It was when I got to Boulder, Colorado and met Michael (the Mystery Machine guy living in his van – @theofficialmysterymachine) where I realized how many other people are doing this same thing.”
And he had some advice for those not able to afford a van for #VanLife; “It doesn’t have to be a van. You can do exactly what we do in a Honda Civic with a sleeping bag and camp stove and have an amazing experience. My advice would be to just do it.”
He explained the struggle of getting started, “The first step is the hardest. I remember my first night on the road in the van filled with self-doubt – wondering what I was doing. But soon, it went away and before long I was at the opposite end of the spectrum thinking that it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
How do they afford this lifestyle?
I wondered what he is asked about most often. I wasn’t surprised by his answer because I, myself, was wondering about some of the same things; “’How can you afford this?’ ‘Do you guys sleep together?’ ‘Did you paint the van yourself?’” (By the way, the van was painted by Lyn Sweet, @lynsweetart, whom they met on the road).
The question that is on everyone’s minds – how to afford #VanLife. Adam explained to me, “Originally, I left with only $4,000 but lost $1,000 in the first week due to getting in trouble on a college campus. So, I travel until I run low on funds and then I find two full-time jobs and live in the van to save on rent. I’m able to save up quickly with low overhead.”
They have created a mantra for their system, “I like to say: work for six months and then travel for a year. My last jobs were in West Hollywood where I lived in the van on the side of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Probably wouldn’t move back, but it was quite an experience!”
From my own experience with car living, I can attest that a budget is hard to develop. Adam said, “A daily budget is hard to draw up because you don’t know how far you might be driving in a single day or any other variables like that. Food is one of the only constants, and I would put that at about $5 a day for three hearty meals made fresh in the van.”
Learning the lifestyle as they go
They’ve come a long way since the start of their journey. They’ve gone through trials and tribulations that every van lifer runs into. When I asked how they learn from and handle all the hardships and the way of life, Adam responded, “For advice, I look to the community. When you roll into a parking lot with a bunch of van lifers, it’s fun to compare setups and techniques for certain things and apply the best methods to my own travels. For free camping, sites like freecampsites.net and the app iOverlander are essential. I’ve never paid for camping in the two years I’ve lived in the van.” . . . That’s impressive, believe me.
You learn things by adapting. Traveling is a dog-eat-dog world sometimes. You either learn to swim or you sink. He said, “When your car breaks down, your home is stuck. You can’t do anything until you fix it; here necessity drives innovation.”
Even though you gain knowledge about life on the road, #VanLife remains anything but routine, “Days in the van aren’t routine at all and that’s kind of the point of traveling; you never know where a day could take you. I normally start with a park or some cool area in mind and just head in that direction. It’s impossible to say who you might meet along the way and how the adventure develops.”
I can vouch for Adam. The best part about living in your car truly is the unknown you face every day. When you wake up, you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of the day. You don’t know what you’ll see or who you’ll meet. That’s the beauty of it.
How is it living in a van with your brother?
Having a brother myself, I wondered how it was to live in such a confined place with a person you could knock heads with so often. Adam told me, “Living as brothers in the van actually works out alright, because, as your brother, you can tell them how it is. If you want them to fuck off you say, ‘Hey, fuck off’. You can get on each other’s nerves at times, but I think that happens to any two people living in a confined space together. Overall, traveling as brothers makes for a much better adventure knowing you’ve always got your back covered.”
I love hearing great travel stories, and the best story from the brothers is no let-down. “My coolest memory is a hard one to narrow down. One time, we attempted a winter ascent of the Grand Teton mountain wearing only jeans and summer boots – never having used crampons before and without ice axes.”
This sounded so insane. I’ve ascended a mountain unprepared for conditions and the task at hand, however, nothing in the realm of this magnitude.
“We met up with a group of Navy Seals and climbed with them. When we descended, it was already dark and they went back to their tents and we pushed back to the van. At this point, we were twenty-one hours and twenty miles in, not stopping. Just before arriving at the van, I spotted a couple sets of eyes twenty yards away. It turned out to be a mother grizzly and her two cubs.” Uh oh. . .
“When she growled we both completely thought one of us would die so we put on our climbing helmets and pulled out the bear spray. We shot off-trail in the pitch black and bushwhacked for an hour to get to a road and back to the van. It was the scariest ordeal I’ve ever been through.”
It may have been the most frightening moment of your life, Adam, but it makes one hell of a story!
Got any tips for aspiring #VanLife-er’s?
His best tips for life on the road? “Make all your own meals. Never pay to camp, keep an open mind and stay flexible to find the best adventures.”
The Henderson brothers have picked up many new interests and hobbies on their journey through inspirational individuals and friends that they have kept in contact with. Judging from their Instagram gallery, they’ve picked up an insane interest in rock climbing culture.
A Personal Interest
Also picking up an interest in climbing while I was exploring secrets in Yosemite, I was curious about their experience. Adam said, “I love Valley Uprising (Yosemite climbing documentary). I watched it for the first time in my van at Camp 4 (an infamous culture location in the documentary).”
I also was introduced to Valley Uprising within the walls of Yosemite. It is, obviously, an important film to Yosemite-er’s.
He continued, “I haven’t met anyone in the film personally, but the friend who taught me to climb met Timmy O’Neill the same day we met – and he has climbed with him quite a bit. I actually bought a 1970’s Passive Black Diamond trad rack from a famous climber who put up a bunch of first ascents with Jim Bridwell (mentioned in Valley Uprising). It’s cool to use some old gear that was used on some historic climbs in the Valley.”
What a way to be introduced to such a beautiful sport!
I want to thank Adam and Justin for their time. Thanks for sharing your story. Believe me, it’s inspirational to thousands! It’s always nice to come into contact with other like-minded individuals. If you have any questions or are thinking of starting a #VanLife of your own, don’t be afraid to reach Adam or Justin through their Instagram account – @brotherswithoutborders! In addition, you can check out several of my guides to car living in other posts on this site!