Living in my van helps me make six figures for the first time.
- Rachel Harris, 22, lived in a Jeep with her dog Fado for a year before upgrading her machine in 2023.
- Living on the road is rewarding but difficult when it comes to showers and getting sick, Harris said.
- She’s made sacrifices, like her previous dating, but she loves her unconventional nomadic life.
This article is based on a conversation with Rachel Harris, 22, about traveling the US in her van. She documents her experience on social media, where she has over 500,000 followers across Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I started traveling very young because of my older sister. We’ve had amazing adventures together, and you’ve inspired me to be brave and seek out the unknown.
In high school, I worked two jobs and saved all my money to spend the summer traveling with her. We would go to places like Puerto Rico, rent a car and set up camp.
So, I learned early on how to travel cheaply.
After I graduated from college in 2021, I didn’t have any money. I also had no luck finding work. My friend offered up his couch in Colorado so I could get back on my feet.
For several months, I worked as a waitress to save money so I could live on the road full time. When I had enough money, I moved and started living in my car with my dog. After living in the car for over a year, I finally bought the device of my dreams.
Over the past few years, I’ve had some truly amazing experiences and explored so many beautiful places. This year, my little one and I traveled from the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, all the way to Alaska.
Spending time outdoors and exploring has become the foundation of my career as a photographer and content creator. I’m now a freelancer and making six figures a year. If it weren’t for living in my car, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
Living in a car is not for the faint of heart
Living in a Jeep Renegade with my 60-pound dog certainly wasn’t ideal, but I made it work.
The SUV had five seats and I was folding it down to make a bed. On top of my Jeep, I had a big box with all my stuff. Inside the car, I had a cooler for my food and camping stoves. I also had a portable shower and a gym membership to shower. My dog and I crashed a lot there.
To save on fuel and food costs, I did random errands and sold my artwork. I basically did anything I could to survive. It was the only way I could continue to live on the road.
After saving money, I bought a $1,700 camper in January 2023. The car was very shady but it was the only thing I could afford at the time. Unfortunately, it ended up being destroyed in a wind storm in Mexico.
In June, I got a job as a social media manager at a marketing company. When I was promoted to manager, I was finally in a financial position to have my own truck and camper. I now have all the luxuries.
The camper has a complete solar-powered electrical system. It also has a chest, freezer, sink, heater, and under-bed storage for my clothes. It was designed for off-road driving, which was my biggest goal. I wanted a campervan instead of a truck because it was important to have a vehicle capable of getting into remote places.
I made a lot of sacrifices but it was worth it
This year, I’ve been moving a lot. I don’t know how many states I’ve been to, but I think it’s at least 30. So, it was a lot of driving. I don’t track how much I spend on gas, but it definitely represents the bulk of my expenses each month.
Living in a car is certainly not easy. Everyday chores become important. You have to find places to shower. If you have mechanical problems, you are homeless. And if you’re sick, it’s no fun living in your car.
I never feel lonely on the road because I love traveling with my dog. Fado is very active and loves being outside and having adventures.
I’m also very close to my mom and sister and have some really great friends. The Bedouin community is really strong, so I ended up meeting friends a lot. I certainly cannot live this life without a strong community.
I’ve had a few scary travel experiences, but nothing too bad. In my opinion, women face the greatest risks in their daily lives. People they meet at school or at work pose a greater threat.
In Oregon a man followed me in a truck. For weeks, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he had put a tracker on my car. That was probably the worst experience.
I’ve definitely missed some life events due to my travel too, but that’s okay.
My love life is somewhat non-existent, but I’m also ok with it. It’s not something I strive for at all. If I were to meet my person, they would naturally enter my life.
I have built a career as a travel blogger
After a year of living in my car, my content creation really started to take off. I do a lot of video making on Instagram and TikTok. I also post videos on Facebook and YouTube.
Most of my money comes from Instagram and TikTok sponsorships. I usually make $4,000 from an Instagram post. Overall, I make about $10,000 a month. Not all of it comes from social media, because I still work at a marketing agency – I would say a third of my income comes from the marketing agency.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about travel bloggers is that their lives are funded with daddy’s money or a trust fund. It’s very frustrating because I worked so hard to get where I am now.
I definitely work a lot but it’s flexible. During the day, I’m out on adventures or shooting a movie, and then at night, I’m usually doing computer work – and that’s when I do most of my marketing company emails. I work 40 hours a week.
This year was the first time I wasn’t broke.
Now that I’m more stable, I can afford nice things. I like to buy organic food. I can also afford to eat out when I’m in town or get a hotel room if I’m sick – little things I couldn’t afford before.
The way I live currently is the best quality of life I’ve ever had because I’m always outside. I love not being in society, exploring the world, and enjoying my quiet life with my dog.
I definitely see myself in a few years and hopefully have some sort of home base but I’m still continuing to travel. But for now, I see myself living on the road.
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