A: My van purchase was a “right-place, right-time” kind of moment. I had been dreaming about converting a van for at least 3 years, and always made excuses to not do it - expenses, an office job, scared of leaving my family, fear of being a women alone in a van. I had some wonderful friends suggest that I test out van life and then maybe that would inspire me more to go for it. A week before the corona virus hit the United States, myself and two other pals, flew to Kauai and spent a full week in a Volkswagen Westfalia, and it was GLORIOUS. After the trip, I was all in - I wanted to start planning ASAP.
I returned to my office job, and 4 days later, Southern California went into total lockdown, and I have been furloughed ever since. With all the time I had on my hands, it was just a perfect time to dive in to this project.
Q: How did you and your van, Sunnie, come together?
A: Luckily, I have the type of personality where I fully immerse myself into projects, and when I find something I’m really excited about, I become fully encompassed. I “googled”, I “facebook marketed”, I “offered-up”’ I “insta-stalked” in search for a used small cargo van within my budget. I looked at a few semi-converted rigs, and they were just not right. Becasue I had been planning and dreaming for so long, I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, and how I wanted it to function, so I decided that I was going to have to convert it on my own. I set up an appointment at a dealership that had hundreds of used vans, and flipping through the catalogue, found the one that checked all my boxes and I was sold. That’s it. It took about 2.5 hours total at the dealership. I just knew it was what I wanted.
Q: What was it like to build your set up inside your converted camper van? (So impressive, by the way!) Had you done any woodworking before?
A: Because I have been brainstorming about it for SO long, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted a clean and comfortable, yet SUPER functional space that is equipped, so that if I needed to live in it full time (which I hope to do at some point), I could. When a space is so small, it's important that everything has a specific purpose.
Also, my dad is quite the carpenter. He built beautiful furniture and cookware when I was younger, and with both of our brains, we worked together to complete it. (Thank you for the help Daddy-O!)
Q: What has been your biggest lesson/takeaway during your van life experience?
A: My biggest lesson would have to be flexibility. Things didn’t always work out just like I wanted them to on the first try (it’s the first time I’ve done something like this after all). My perfectionism wasn’t always understanding when things weren't perfect. I had to learn to just go with it, and figure out a solution when/if things went awry.
Q: You’re also an artist! How did you start your business @happeeillustrations?
A: I have always love art and doodling, and after graduating college and lots of student debt, I just needed some more funds to pay for bills. I had done a few portraits for friends here and there, but with a little encouragement from my family friends, I used my skills to make art, and I love it! Also, with experience with web design, online retail, marketing and social media at my 9-5 job, I had familiarity with how to start.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for your art? Has van life changed your inspirations?
A: I love art that makes people laugh and feel good. As a kid, who had terrible self image, I found comfort in silly stickers and prints that were colorful and represented diverse and unique humans, especially women. When I’m creating, I keep these ideals in mind. With my travels in my van, I’ve been visiting more and more National Parks (I’ve been to 12 so far!), and I would love to work on an illustrated children’s book about the parks!
Q: What advice would you give to other women who aspire to live on the road?
A: I felt like I was on the edge of making that first jump into van life for SO long and one of the big things holding me back was fear - fear of being a women on the road alone. Luckily, most of the time, I have some wonderful friends with me to adventure with. However when I am by myself, I do have my furry companion "Petey the Yorkie" with me, who barks at any movement outside, and I also make sure to find my parking place for the night before the sun goes down so that I’m not searching in the dark. At night, I lock my door, and I do keep a weapon nearby, just in case, but I have never had the need to use it.
Q: Did you have any hesitations on traveling as a solo woman? How did you overcome them?
A: Yes! As I mentioned before, this was one of the reasons I held off for so long. I think reassurance from my family and close friends is what really did it for me. My dad was almost more excited than I was for the project.
Q: How long do you see yourself living the van lifestyle?
A: As long as it makes sense. I think with corona virus still being very present in our country, I love having van life as a means for safe travel
Q: How has sharing your story on Instagram influenced your experience?
A: I have always treated Instagram as a means for meeting people in the community. When you’re an adult, it’s hard to find friends that you jive with sometimes, and now with social media and hashtags, it’s fun to find people that you wouldn’t normally run into in life. I have found and connected with so many great people, and some i have made life-long friends.
Q: Finally, what are your top 3 favorite places that you’ve been to?
A: So far? The Grand Canyon, The Painted Desert and Death Valley
Follow Jessie's van life adventure on Instagram at @jessiecoalterprice
Need some new wall art? Check out her store at @happeeillustrations