What happens when you stop chasing someone else’s idea of success and start defining happiness on your own terms? For Dustin and Naomi, it led to a Vanagon purchase that turned into their traveling home. For the last three years, the couple has been journeying across the country, sharing their passion for environmentalism and advocating for the protection and conservation of outdoor spaces. They took a moment to chat with us about how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle and what living on the road has taught them. Follow their journey @irietoaurora.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are from, and where you are going.
- Hi there! We’re Dustin and Noami – eco-vanlifers, digital nomads, and outdoor enthusiasts. Our journey started in New Orleans, LA, over three years ago when we bought a van and hit the road. This was the most radical thing we’ve ever done. Since then, we’ve found ourselves drawn to less, with a realization that we don’t need much to be happy. And the things we value now are not things at all. We don’t know where our destination lies, or if we’ll ever get there. And, you know, it doesn’t really matter.
What was your main desire for buying a van and hitting the road?
- For a long time, we felt we were living a life that wasn’t our own – chasing someone else’s idea of success and happiness, consuming too much and not living enough. When we chose to hit the road, we weren’t seeking comfort or an easy life; we were seeking a life of intention and purpose. And buying a van and traveling the country was a dream that got buried over the years. We decided to dig up that old dream, and we haven’t looked back.
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Smiling big because this past weekend @thevanlifeapp gathering I hosted my first big yoga class and I was so filled with emotion, I teared up at the end. ~ It was such an honor to meet so many of you beautiful humans. We danced, shared meals, did acroyoga, hugged, networked, dreamed up ideas… Dustin & I even hosted our first Leave No Trace Awareness Workshop and were overwhelmed by the positive response from everyone who attended. ~ We feel so fortunate to be part of such an inspiring and supportive community. And we are excited to be part of the incredibly talented and hardworking team behind The Vanlife App. ~ When Bre @ladiesvan and Jess @van.there reached out to us and shared their vision for the app, there was no doubt Dustin and I had to be a part of it. It was clear from our first phone call the love, passion, and dedication they shared for the app’s creation and our community. ~ Dustin & I joined this team because we believe in its mission: To make this lifestyle sustainable on all fronts – by connecting people to community and resources, and promoting environmental stewardship. ~ While there are other apps that can help you find a campsite, these free apps are hurting our community and our environment because they take no accountability for the protection and conservation of wild spaces. ~ As Leave No Trace Proud Partners, our mission at The Vanlife App is to make vanlife synonymous with sustainability and environmental stewardship through education, financial contributions, and action. ~ And when we say The Vanlife App, we mean you and me, this community. This is YOUR app, your platform to connect and create positive change for our environment, our community, and our quality of life. ~ #LeaveNoTrace #EnjoyYourWorld ~ 📸 by my beautiful & talented soul sister Lauren Fletcher @laurenfletcherphotography @ourviewfinder
How long have you been on the go?
- We’ve been roaming the open road for over three years now.
What kind of vehicle are you traveling in, and why did you choose it?
- Our home-on-wheels is a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon named Irie. We chose this van because it was equipped and ready for life on the road with all the basics we needed: a bed, sink, stove, and plenty of storage. When we began researching vans, the Vanagon was the one that impressed us the most. It’s compact enough to be an adventure rig, and it’s designed so that there’s no wasted space. We can take it down a rocky mountain road, and when we pop the top, we can stand up and walk around. Everything is intelligently stowed and well put-together. Plus you just can’t beat that iconic VW look. She’s a real head-turner.
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🎉 Did you hear? Dustin and I have teamed up with the talented folks over @vanlifediaries to host the first ever Dirty South Vanlife Gathering in New Orleans on October 18-20, 2019!!! More details and tickets coming soon, so stay tuned! ~ FYI, ours is only one stop on the incredible 2019 Vanlife Diaries tour! Click the Link in Bio for the full tour schedule and meet the team behind the tour. ~ And if you’ve never been to a Vanlife Diaries gathering, know they are open for everyone to attend. So no van, no problem. Whether you’re in a car, truck, bus, motorbike, tent or RV, all are welcome! ~ Dustin and I are so stoked to see you on the road this year. #vanlifediariestour #vanlifediaries
How did you get interested in environmentalism and sustainability?
- Noami’s love for the outdoors started pretty early. She grew up in a jungle on the island of Trinidad. As a child she spent her days playing outside with her brothers, running barefoot in the forest, hiking to waterfalls and her neighborhood mud volcano. But when she first moved to the U.S., she spent hardly any time in the outdoors until college, where she pursued a degree in Environmental Science. Many of her courses required her to spend time outside, which reignited her love for nature. She started taking road trips to the mountains and did her first backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. That was it!
Tell us about the Van Life App and your roles as Directors of Sustainability and Public Benefit?
- The Vanlife App is a must-have for any overland traveler. It’s the only app that brings together both community and resources. And we’re not just another geotagging platform. We’re a community organization advocating for the protection of our lifestyle and conservation of outdoor spaces. The incredible team behind the app is made up entirely of vanlifers, led by our CEO, Breanne Acio. After several months of life on the road, Breanne and her wife, Lacey, found themselves facing some challenges that made this lifestyle hard to sustain, like lack of connection to community and difficulty finding campsites and resources. So she set out to build a solution – The Vanlife App.
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Hey guys! It feels good to be home, back in America the Beautiful. I’m forever changed and I’ll probably be processing the experience for a lifetime. The past few months have put a lot in perspective. I guess that’ll happen when you give yourself room for change. The thing is, I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to figure out where I fit. I was an earth and environmental science major in college. After graduation I worked as an environmental scientist. And although I liked my jobs, I didn’t love them. I never felt I was making a difference the way I wanted to. Most days I felt like my values were compromised, my creativity put in a box, and my voice stifled. You see, the past two years I’ve come to learn a lot about myself. I’ve learned I’m a scientist and a teacher A child and an artist I’m a writer and photographer An explorer and a friend A wife, a mechanic, a chef An eco-feminist, an activist A runner, a yogi, a blogger and a farmer I’m a philosopher and an environmentalist. I am all of these when I choose to be. They’re not tools. They are who I am on any given day. I’ve grappled with this acceptance because society says we can have only one identity. But I say fuck that.
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It’s been a tough few weeks. Dustin & I drove the length of Baja in 5 days, sat in line at the border for 5 hours, and as soon as we hit US soil, the bandaid we put on Irie in southern Baja failed. I still don’t know if that was a blessing or a curse. You see, we were racing to get back to California to get to work on The Vanlife App. But instead of pouring all our energy into this passion project, we’ve been juggling our time and spending countless hours on this fucking van. The thing is, Dustin & I have worked really hard to create a life for ourselves on the road, to make it sustainable. And although breakdowns are inevitable, this one in particular has drained us both to the core. But, you know, I don’t think we would have made it this far without the wonderful community we’re so fortunate to be a part of. Through all the swearing, bloody knuckles, and sleepless nights over the past two weeks, it was uplifting to have a team there rooting for us. Shoutout to @theladiesvan for sharing their garage space @sdcampervans, and to the rest of @thevanlifeapp team for all the reassuring words and the “heck yeahs” & high fives when we finally fired up Irie’s engine. I’m telling you, never underestimate the power of community, which is what we embody here at The Vanlife App. Now that Irie is rolling again, we’re off to Santa Barbara to get ready for The Vanlife App Gathering this weekend. Who’s all going? We’re stoked to meet you. And if you haven’t already, head over to the Link in Bio & sign up for updates on The Vanlife App launch. Trust me you want to be in the know on this 😉 #TheVanlifeAppGathering 📸: Matt @van.project
When Breanne and COO, Jess, approached Dustin and I to join The Vanlife App team, we jumped at the opportunity to give back to this incredible community. As Directors of Public Benefit and Sustainability, our mission is to make van life synonymous with sustainability. We’re achieving this through a combination of education, financial contributions, and action. The Vanlife App is a Leave No Trace Proud Partner, and Dustin and I are Leave No Trace Master Educators. With this incredible privilege, we hope to spread awareness and inspire responsible environmental practices in the outdoors. The outdoors is our home. It’s where we spend most of our time living, working, and playing. So naturally, we have a responsibility to advocate for the protection of our public lands and our lifestyle.
What are some of the small, but impactful choices you make on the road that help minimize and reduce waste?
In an effort to reduce waste, we unpapered our kitchen by switching to cloth napkins. We reuse them until they’re dirty and throw them in the wash. For cleaning up spills and wiping up around the kitchen, we rip up old t-shirts, and we use reusable towels in lieu of paper towels. Cheap, simple, and no waste.
Another very impactful change is saying, “no thank you.” It’s free and has been one of the most positive environmental impacts in our lives. We say “no thank you” to single-use plastic, fast fashion, and unsustainably made products. This is one of the most powerful statements we can make as consumers.
What is a myth of #vanlife that you’d like to squash?
Well, let’s squash the myth that we have it all figured out. The truth is, we don’t! Every day brings new, unexpected challenges. It’s a constant experiment of trial and error. But the experience teaches us to let go, it pulls us into the present moment and opens us up to change.
What destination has left a lasting impression on you?
This is tough because many places have left an impression. Whether they’re positive or negative, we’ve learned so much from these experiences. But if we had to choose one, it’s Yellowstone National Park. If you’ve been to Yellowstone then you know, it’s wild and raw and beautiful. When we first visited we had been on the road for just six months. We were lost, lonely, and wondering what the hell we were doing with our lives. Yellowstone was a place where we asked ourselves a lot of tough questions. It was a turning point for our lives on the road.
What advice would you give someone just starting a long term trip or living in a van/RV?
Magic happens when you move at the speed of slow. So go slow and enjoy the journey. Follow your passions as soon as possible, keep an open mind, and don’t be too rigid with where things go — experiment and take risks.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The beauty of this lifestyle is that there are no “typical” days. Though, we do have a few routines that keep us grounded. Weather permitting, Noami starts her day with a yoga routine and Dustin with a long run. We follow this with a healthy breakfast and a few hours of work on our various projects. Lately, we’ve been limiting our screen time in an effort to blur the line between work and play. This means our afternoons are typically reserved for idle time. What we’ve found is that, by allowing ourselves this “free” time, we’ve given ourselves the space to be creative.
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I don’t have a full size mirror (obviously, I live in a van). Dustin has been taking pictures of me so I can see the evolution of my asanas. It has helped me in a great way to understand the spaces in my body & see my progress. It feels a little weird sharing my practice in this little square, but since I’m teaching yoga at The Vanlife App gathering this weekend, I figured why not. Anyway, I’m looking forward to meeting everyone who’s coming out this weekend. Dustin & I will also be teaching our first Leave No Trace Awareness Workshop, one of many we hope to share with the community this year. ~ If you haven’t already, head over to the Link in Bio and sign up for updates on @thevanlifeapp #vanlifeappgathering ~ Sustainable yoga wear by @synergyclothing
What are your five must-have items for van life?
- Cast iron pot & pan because they’re safe, tough, and durable
- Beeswax/ vegan wraps, our favorite plastic-free alternative
- Mason jars for bulk storage
- A good toolkit for the inevitable breakdowns
- A paper map
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Market day is my favorite! It’s become our tradition, like taking Sunday drives with the family (and yes, we do it on a Sunday). For us, it’s the most important day because it’s the day we decide what will nourish us for the coming week. If we’re near a town we’ll find a local farmers’ market and spend our morning sampling all the fresh fruits, vegetables and baked goods (we call it breakfast). When we’re between destinations, we take the scenic route and hit every ‘u-pick’ farm along the way. Dustin at the wheel, me on the map, singing at the top of my lungs to every song on our ‘Irie Tunes’ playlist. It’s a hoot🦉 During our travels through Asia this tradition did not change. We stayed in places where we had our own kitchen so we could shop at the local markets. It’s a treat for our senses – the colors and smells and tastes. For me it’s a sensual experience that makes me feel very connected to the land. Plus it feels good to put our money in the pockets of local, sustainable farmers. It wasn’t always this way. Pre-vanlife we were too busy to take the time to mindfully purchase our food. Grocery shopping was a chore. And when we first got on the road, we were moving way too quickly to even take the time to prepare proper healthy meals. Over the past year we’ve made it a priority to better nourish ourselves and our environment. And with minimal space in our van, shopping this way helps us to reduce packaging waste that would usually come from a grocery store haul. Plus our food tastes better. Perfectly ripe = more nutritious = more flavorful. What’s market day like in your family? @abeego @manateebags
We read that you live by the mantra “No matter what, I will leave everything I touch and every person I meet a little better than how I found them.” Can you share with us a few ways you live into that mantra?
One of the most important ways I live into this mantra is by first being compassionate with myself, by falling in love with my life. And from this place of love, I am able to extend this compassion to others. Respecting and accepting others for who they are and their life’s choices and always being inclusive. And, of course, doing my best to be a good steward of our natural world.
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Lately I find myself crying a lot. Tears of joy & compassion – triggered by things I used to never pay attention to. Like the other day, I sat on the beach and watched a family play together. Their happiness brought me so much joy – I wept. Then this morning I was behind the wheel of Irie and “Man in the Mirror” came on the radio. I was singing at the top of my lungs crying my eyes out 😭. It was funny & awesome & it felt really good. I played the song on repeat and let it out. Someone recently told me, “tears are sacred, let them flow.” And this has become my mantra. You see, in society courage and bravery are often viewed as tangible acts, usually involving physical feats like jumping out of an airplane or running a marathon. But I think it’s also allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It’s about asking yourself the hard questions, facing your weaknesses, and living your truths. The past few years have been a balancing act of surrender and acceptance. And on this painful journey of personal transformation I’ve learned that when my heart is open I become powerful and limitless. I used to feel a little silly sharing my story here on social media. But I’ve come to believe we all have stories worth telling. And I think my story is a testament that vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. So, don’t hide your light, shine your light. Because when we soften, so does the world around us. ~ What song always makes you cry? 😉 ~ 📸 from my time with gentle giants in 🇹🇭
What’s surprised you the most about life ‘on the road’? What have you learned about yourself in the process (so far)?
Travel surely has a way of putting things into perspective. It’s exhilarating and certainly has expanded our horizons. It’s been three years on this wild journey. In that time, we’ve found ourselves drawn to less, and one of the most important things we’ve learned is that we don’t need much to be happy.
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Dustin and I spent New Years weekend at a campground in a beautiful valley. We had a spot right next to the river. Everyday we sat in our little nook and watched families go about their day. Children playing, swimming, & riding bikes. Dads teaching their kids to fish and kayak. We observed a little girl learning to use her legs for the first time, with one determined foot in front of the other, a new journey began. It was incredible! It made us wonder, what kind of world do we want for a child of our own? A world filled with love and peace, of course. Where we spread kindness and compassion, and seek beauty in everyone. A world where they can nurture their passions and freely express themselves. To have the kind of world we want for our children, we have to let go of the limiting beliefs we were taught. Life can be hard, friends. It requires long-term commitments that involve sacrifice, devotion, pain, frustration, and a strong mindset. But the most challenging part is starting. Let 2018 be that year. Let’s do the damn thing! Happy New Year friends! 🎉 ❤️ #HopefulFor
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