Life, Liberty, The Pursuit of Happiness and a Really Big Van

Life, Liberty, The Pursuit of Happiness and a Really Big Van

Interview with traveling couple Matt and Grace and their mission to travel North America

Interview by Jeremy Lux, article by Eric Gasa

While most Millennial couples are looking at landing their first home, Matt and Grace are aiming for the stark alternative. No, not a tiny home, they’re past that hype, but think the same concept but on wheels. In short, they're ditching the two-bedroom, two-bath in the suburbs for a decked-out Sprinter van with nothing more but their hopes and dreams, their dog Sawyer, and the whole world on the horizon.

It’s a drastic change from the typical American Dream of the white picket fence and manicured lawn but they're confident that the transient life is the life for them. It’s taken many long months, flights, down payments, and coordination but they're now ready and eyeing the open road.

For episode 17 of Life in Motion, Matt and Grace share the story behind building their home away from home and their future travel plans, with Jeremy Lux.

“It took a lot of steps to figure out what was doable and what wasn’t, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of the United Stated that we haven’t seen yet,” explains Matt.

Matt Mitchell, Sawyer and Sprinter Van

Lux spoke with Matt Mitchell last year about working remotely and keeping his wits in the corporate 9-5. Now in 2019, he’s taken things one step farther by ditching the house altogether and selling most of his belongings.

The first step of living in a van is getting into a minimalist mindset. Matt says when he and Grace started moving out of their two-bedroom apartment they discovered things tucked away that they hadn’t seen in years.  At that point it became obvious what needed to stay and what needed to go. They whittled it down to the essentials; one pair of everything, one jacket, pair of shorts, flip flops, hiking boots, underwear, socks, and additional t-shirts to accommodate.

Though parting with one’s things can be a challenge, finding and planning the van was the next step. The couple decided on a 2013 Mercedes Sprinter model van with 130,000 miles. For durability and distance, they opted for a diesel model which is rated between 500,000 and 700,000 lifetime miles. The van is a huge, tall body vehicle, an absolute must, because next they had to find a contractor to custom fit a kitchen and facilities into the van.

When constructing an interior there’s dozens of different options and formats, so they pored hours into YouTube videos and blog posts. According to Matt, it’s a bit like building an actual house from scratch but much cheaper.

Sawyer Big Sur California

“We're going to spend a lot of time, money, and resources on this van,” says Matt, “So we want it to be ours and wanted it to be custom.”

Just like their van, Matt also found their builder, a guy named Mike, on Craigslist. Mike previously built tiny homes so outfitting the van was a perfect fit. As for the layout, Matt had sketched a 3D model on a free app called Sketchup which he gave to Mike to work from. But other than the floorplan and necessities, they gave Mike full creative reign on the project and he returned the artistic freedom in spades.

About 6 weeks after dropping it off in Boulder, Colorado, the van, now christened Major Cooper (because he’s definitely not a Mini Cooper), was complete.

Sawyer inside Sprinter Van

“It was like Christmas morning,” says Grace upon their arrival, “I had butterflies in my stomach. And it was actually around Christmas anyways so we literally got a car down, Mike said ‘Merry Christmas’ then we opened the door and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Matt was just as surprised and pleased.

“I quickly looked past the bed and countertop which we planned and just looked at all the little details. Mike’s just a master woodworker,” he says. “I just saw all the little touches; little walnut blocks for the light switches alongside the hickory…I was just blown away by not only the functionality but by the guy’s aesthetic.”

Grace Schmitt, Sawyer Horseshoe Bend

But after that it was just like driving in their own house, says Grace. The couple spent their first night with Major Cooper in a Walmart parking lot in Colby, Kansas while on their drive back to Virginia.

“Our parking lot badge of honor,” Matt jokes.

But beneath the money, planning, exquisite interior woodwork, and even the van itself, lies a very tangible passion for travel and adventure in Matt and Grace’s hearts. The whole sentiment behind the van was an escape for the couple, a divergence from the ordinary and a door to the world. Major Cooper is going to be the thing that takes them there.

Matt Mitchell

Matt and Grace have sights on taking the southern U.S. first and ending up in California. Their friends have given them plenty of destination recommendations along the way too. While in Cali they’ll zigzag across the national parks then drive up the coast into Canada, then loop back into Montana and Wyoming where they will stay with some friends. In total, their itinerary calls for a solid six to eight months on the road while Matt works remotely from the van. Though living life by a different mantra, Matt and Grace seem to be doing something right; they’re just taking the scenic route.

Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a really big van.


To follow Matt and Grace on their continental travels be sure to follow their travel Instagram @wevanwild. To hear the full recording of the Mitchell’s interview with Jeremy Lux be sure to check out the Life in Motion podcast.

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