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International Consulting podcast: Campervan digital nomadism life with Hilary Bird

Digital nomadism comes in all forms, and Hilary took the leap to leaving the corporate life to live in a camper van, and work several remote jobs from her custom van.

Her main tip: It's for anyone who is comfortable being uncomfortable and likes to travel.

Is that your case, would you like to become a campervan digital nomad yourself? Let us know in comment, and follow her solo female vanlife Instagram page!

Green Van Go: Hilary's solo female vanlife Instagram
Hilary travels around the country in her self-converted campervan while working remotely and exploring the beauty of the US. She quit her corporate job nine months ago and hasn't looked back since!
Hilary travels around the country in her self-converted campervan while working remotely and exploring the beauty of the US. She quit her corporate job nine months ago and hasn't looked back since!
  Hilary Bird: Solo Female vanlife - Green van go

Watch the videocast, listen to the podcast

#1 Introduction with Hilary Bird, a campervan digital nomad

Hello and welcome to this episode of international consulting podcast i am now with a campervan digital nomad: Hilary. Hello Hilary!

Hello Yoann nice to talk with you.

So you are right now in your campervan?

I am this is my home my work space my bed.

Is this like your whole space?

Um that's a good question it's like it's a hundred and eight inches long i don't have exact dimensions i wish i could give you a tour if i'd uh you know your house a little it's a little messy but uh there we go!

It gives a good idea yeah!

Yeah it's definitely not a huge camper van‌ but it is uh good size.

So you you are even working from your campervan?

I am yeah this is i'm uh the ocean is right out there i'm right on the the washington coast and i have cell service it's awesome.

And it looks like you even have a sunny day?

Yes it's starting to become a sunny day it's a yeah it's a nice day out there.

So for how long have you been a campervan digital nomad?

Uh for about two months i have been on the road uh full-time working you know just traveling around the US.

And approximately approximately like how many hours are you driving, how many hours are you working?

Yeah that's a good question say i'm working about 20 hours a week two different i have two different parts time marketing jobs and then when i first started i was driving a lot more than anything um but now i stay in one location for sometimes up to a week so i'm doing a lot less driving and more exploring and working and stuff um yeah i don't know probably driving like 10 hours a week that's it.

So at the beginning you were driving a lot you wanted to to get away?

Yes exactly because i built out the van at my parents house in new hampshire and i was like i need to get away i need to go be free and i'm still renting a room in utah where i had moved to from new hampshire like five years ago so i wanted to go back to utah to see friends um i have a cat there also that i miss so much so much...

Um so yeah right when i hit the road i traveled literally across the whole country to utah and i guess two it's common like once you hit the road you want to see everything all at once like you just get really wrapped up in it so rather than like exploring one area for a while it's kind of like you just want to go but now i'm like chilling out and i'm like all right gas is expensive to buy and there's a lot of cool stuff around here so..

At your current location for how long have you been there?

Uh this is day four i believe yeah that was my third night yeah fourth day it's so good it's such a great place it's free it's safe there's self-service there are public bathrooms nearby i'm literally right on the ocean uh there's another camper van‌ that's been here uh also for the last three days so i have like a neighbor you know a little safety net there.

Is it easy to meet people?

Uh that's a good question yes and no i'd say i'm not super like good at going out there and just introducing myself but if someone approached me like another van person um yeah then absolutely it's it's easy to make friends and actually using instagram is a great tool for connecting with people uh kind of you know evaluating who they are and then you guys can coordinate to meet up so i have done that a couple times.

But do you meet them on instagram or you meet them in real life first, exchange instagram?

Yeah i meet them on instagram um it's such a robust community on there and i we all have something in common instantly um and you can kind of see who else they're friends with like do you have mutual friends and so that helps vet them out as you know a safe person and stuff um but it's pretty it's pretty wild i never thought i would be using social media to make friends.

But how do you find on social media people physically kind of close to you that you can meet?

Yeah good question um so let me think about this it's a little tricky but i had a van friend doing van life before i started and i met up with him and then from there he told me there's basically a group like the van community follows the follows the seasons and so like as long as you know you go up north for the summer to stay cool and then you slowly start working your way south as the weather gets colder and colder and he just told me like basically if you stay along this route you're going to meet van people um you're going to be where tons of other van people are and so you know the more van people i follow on instagram like they will tag their locations and i'll be like oh you're in washington i'm in washington when are you going to be in this area and then you go from there so it's actually pretty easy it is actually pretty easy yeah.

And how did you get your camper van, how did you prepare it?
Cheap flights
Cheap flights

So basically i wanted a van that was not too expensive where like if everything went wrong i wouldn't be totally broke so um so i op but i also didn't want to build it out myself because i knew nothing about how to build it out so when i came across this van even though it was located in canada um i loved it because it was already built out and it was i think it was about sixty six thousand dollars which was in my budget i'm like okay i can do that um so i booked a one-way flight to canada‌ to pick up this van and my friend of a friend was selling it um and then i was in where was i oh it was like quebec area which was only like 10 hours away from new hampshire so i drove it down to new hampshire to have my dad look at it because that's where my parents were uh from a mechanical perspective but then we ended up gutting the whole thing and building it out ourselves because we felt like the original build was not super safe or really what i needed to live in at full time.

So then we spent the next six months building it out and um my dad is very knowledgeable in woodworking and cars and electrics so i could not have done it without him for sure so what we see behind you you have built it yourself with your dad the yeah the woodwork above you and behind you yep that was all me my dad um so this this actually used to be a holiday inn shuttle bus like the the hell you know and so it already had some insulation built into it because it was designed to carry a lot of people and keep them comfortable so like in the ceiling uh there's a thick layer of foam built into the the whatever it's called fiberglass so that helps keep you know regulate temperature and then all this uh this fabric is actually from the original shuttle bus and it's it's from 1999 so it's got it's got like a retro you know kind of vintage vibe about it so this is yeah this is from the original van and then all the woodwork is from uh me and my dad and i have like a you know a ceiling fan that we put in and ceiling lights yeah it is it's very cool i can't imagine ever selling it.

So it's like a small apartment?

It is like a small apartment with a little more rust probably on the bottom uh but i will say when uh and you know stop me if i'm going too long but uh when i took this to my dad's mechanic friend to look it over he actually came back saying you should sell this van and get a new one like it's not worth it um like it's just it needed new rear brakes front brakes uh the exhaust manifold things were snapped like just you know about over three thousand dollars worth of work that needed to go into it yeah so for there was like two weeks where I started looking at other vans and touring them and and whatnot but uh at the end of the day i was like you know what i have this van i can handle putting in another 3000 to make it safe like that's still within my budget um so i opted to do that and our mechanic friend you know he he put his heart and soul into making this a safe and reliable vehicle for me so a lot of love went into this van.

It's very interesting. So you said six months building it, uh upgrading it?

Yes upgrading it significantly.

That sounds like a lot, it's a kind of a small baby.

It is and my dad actually retired two months into that process um so we were working on it full time every day.

It's hard to imagine like what you have to do what takes so long.

We knew nothing about what we were getting ourselves into i think normally you buy a van and then you make a blueprint for what you want and you're like you know what fits your lifestyle and then you buy the supplies and then you you build it out uh you know one piece at a time my dad and i were like whoa i guess we'll just build you know come up with ideas as we build um i was so eager to get on the road so but most importantly you just start with things like you build out the ceiling and then you build out the walls um you know there's insulation that people put in that's important and to me it was really important to have a bench to bed conversion so the bed i'm on right now actually folds up yeah into benches because i wanted a designated work space.

So that took a lot more work than rather just like a fixed bed which a lot of people do.

So right now you are on your sleeping area, not on your working area?

Yeah exactly and i was warned beforehand that you know there is how you think you live and how you actually live and a lot of people have the bench to bed conversion but they end up not uh actually like converting it every day because they just get lazy and it's a lot of work i have reached that point i am now just my bed is just a bed it never gets turned back into a bench now.

So looking back now, would you implement other changes in your campervan?

You mean do that just a bed instead of a bench to bed for example?

Do you see that you missed something, you forgot to?

Yes my sink set up i don't have a drain in my sink so anytime i use it i have to lift it up and dump it out and i hate feeling like i'm you know dumping water in a place that i shouldn't be here i don't know it's just like that that you know social judgment i'm worried about people saying um yeah there's that i don't use solar which a lot of people are like why don't you use solar but i don't regret that i have two RV batteries that charge when i'm driving the van battery charges them and then i also bought this portable uh portable battery after power so yeah so i have enough power to run my laptop you know for days at a time if i'm not driving and stuff um but yeah uh there's nothing massive i regret actually i'm very happy to say that.

So you did plan it uh well!

Yeah i guess so i mean i am no longer using my my benches as a workspace it's just my bed i guess i kind of regret that but it's not bad i like still having the option.

And it actually forces you to move from time to time to recharge your batteries?

Exactly if you are depending on solar like maybe you would stay at a place for a month as long as it's sunny and yeah exactly um yeah and yeah that's that's okay but i like to be moving it's good to just keep moving you know.

#2 What is campervan nomadism?

So actually, what is campervan nomadism? How does it work?
It's for anyone who is comfortable being uncomfortable and likes to travel

Yeah i think it's for anyone who is comfortable being uncomfortable and likes to travel there are people who do it full-time then there are you know your weekend warriors who just go out on the weekends and maybe they still have you know a residence and they work full-time but really campervan nomadism is living out of your van not an RV but a van and just traveling around wherever you want to go.

I saw that it is very popular in New Zealand or in Australia, but mostly for for holiday, not only for digital nomads?

Yeah that's a good point yeah.

When you meet other people living in campervan are they also working remotely, are they all the digital nomads you're enjoying life and moving with their campervan?

Right i'd say one person i met is working remotely‌ another person is not he just quit his job and is allowing himself like a year to travel um and i know some other people that work seasonally so maybe they will go to yeah certain locations and then like work at a restaurant or work out on a farm um that would stress me out because it looked like it's just such an unstable form of income not knowing if you know i'll get that job and stuff so it's definitely a mixture it's all over the place.

So you are actually getting regular income?

I am getting regular income yeah that i i could say when i when i started this lifestyle i didn't tell my parents i just quit my job my corporate you know full-time job with benefits and the salary and all that stuff and i booked a flight to canada‌ to get this van and i didn't tell my parents because i knew they would try to talk me out of it uh not not because they didn't want me to do it but because they were like Hilary you don't have a new job lined up you don't have you know like what you're just gonna live off of your savings and um it's really amazing once you make that big leap how things fall into place.

So like i quit my job and had no income and that terrified me but i actually went back to my job saying hey do you guys want to work out some remote setup and they were open to it so i got that and then i messaged an old co-worker on linkedin who had since started his own business and he needed marketing help so within you know three weeks i had two part-time remote gigs already um and and then my dad happened to retire so i got his help building out the van and it was just like really cool that it worked out.

So you kind of got lucky?

I feel like i got lucky but i also i you know i like to think that there was more to it i don't know i'm a big believer and like the energy you put out into the world is the energy you receive and i think the world could tell that i was really determined to make this happen and it's like they only want to support you in that um so yeah it's cool yeah.

#3 For whom is campervan nomadism?

It is awesome! So for whom is campervan nomadism? Is it like for any kind of digital nomad, can you do any little normal job? Like i hardly imagine for example there are a lot of customer customer care digital nomads.
Stable mobile Internet connection
Stable mobile Internet connection

Oh like if they're in customer support you mean or for example you you don't really get a stable internet connection‌ all the time right you do you work a lot offline or typically only online and have to deal with um i would say there are ways to ensure that you have a very stable internet connection‌ pretty much all the time between like i'm using my phone as a mobile hotspot‌ uh you can buy mobile hotspot‌ devices um there's also this device so expensive though i can't justify getting it for myself but it's called we boost and it's a cell phone signal booster so um because there are loads of places where you get a little bit of cell phone service but not enough to stay you know stable but this device takes care of that so i think people who are really serious about working from the road they have mobile hotspot‌ devices, they have cell phone signal boosters.

And also they plan their schedules accordingly so they know like i'm gonna be doing my work you know monday through wednesday so therefore i'm going to stay in a mcdonald's parking lot where it has a really good you know free wi-fi signal so it is still a compromise it's not just you know gorgeous views in the middle of nowhere all the time if you want to work from the road you have to do some sacrifice.

Is it actually allowed to stay on any parking lot like mcdonald's parking?

Yeah you can't stay overnight you get kicked out doing that but i have spent many full days in a mcdonald's parking lot just using their free wi-fi um you know even if i didn't buy anything from there it's um it's really great that that's an option and there are gas stations also.

Gas stations have really good free wi-fi um yeah so there are actually plenty of options to to work on the road there are yeah it's it's pretty decent but again you have to stay kind of close to a city in those cases because like once you go up to a national park you might be hours away from uh you know fast food places or places for free wi-fi um but overall yes with a little careful planning it's easy peasy.

Usually do you have to to pay for your overnight stays?
Cheap hotel stays
Cheap hotel stays

So there are a couple cell phone apps that uh van people use to list free camp spots or really any type of camp spot um that's how i found this one actually it's an app called overlander and uh you know you leave reviews so i always look for the free places i'm proud to say i actually haven't spent any money on a campground yet or anything um because camp campgrounds get expensive um but and otherwise hotel parking lots are always a safe bet so like if i can't find a spot and it's getting late at night and i'm getting a little worried about finding somewhere safe i will just look up the closest hotel and you know stay in their parking lot.

I did get kicked out of a hotel parking lot once but uh but i wasn't being as stealthy as i should have been.

#4 How to be productive working from a campervan?

So you still manage to stay productive while working from your camper van?

Yeah you're saying what what are the techniques i use to stay productive?

I definitely got to get out and stretch my legs so i like to be you know in a place where i could go do a quick hike or even you know here i could just walk along the ocean something to change up the scenery from being in this little compact space um that recharges me and then also making sure my space stays tidy i mean it's impossible to keep it totally clean all the time but you have to know things are in order that helps my mind stay focused.

And then also kind of setting a loose schedule for myself so i'll say you know again like monday through wednesday you're gonna do all your work you know and then you know thursday and friday you can go do a hike and just let your mind be free um yeah that's my strategy.

So you squeeze your working time over a few days, so you can enjoy the location in the other days?

Exactly yeah it's nice.

Do you typically take a lot of breaks during your working days at least?

Yeah i would say so i i'll get really inspired really easily so i'll be working on something and then i'll be like oh wow that's a cool i want to go take my camera and take a picture of that and then you know a half hour goes by and i'm like man now i'm hungry i might want to make lunch and then uh yeah it's a not overly structured work day but it keeps me happy and you know i still get my work done.

Well that's amazing are so lucky to be able like to go to the beach right now right? Yeah you ask for anyone's permission you right you can just hop off your camper van‌ and go for a swim.

I could yeah but i'm not gonna go for a swim it is too cold oh and also that's another very difficult uh thing is showering especially during covid basically a lot of van people use gym memberships to get access to free showers it's like a lot of them use planet fitness because planet fitnesses are across the whole country and it's only like 20 or 30 a month um but like if i jumped in the ocean right now i would just be covered in you know salty water and i'd be like i have no way to shower yeah i can't do this so that gets really really annoying that's tough.

#5 Tips to become a campervan nomad

Actually it's already a lot of tips for anyone that would think about becoming a campervan nomad!
Solar shower
Solar shower

So finding the free parking spots, the free wi-fi, maybe getting a mobile connection.

Yeah right i know right now the showers are still closed in all gym locations basically across the country so i have a solar shower‌ bag and yeah you just fill it up and you let it sit in the sun for a few hours and then but uh but right now since i'm up in the north i mean it's chilly it's not warm enough to warm into an outdoor shower and then you gotta find a private place to be able to you know take a shower um so i have done some hotel or motel stays just for one night to uh you know like reset do laundry uh you know take a shower and stuff so yeah or i can find my friends and i say hi can you can you take care of me can i sleep on your couch for a day and use your shower.

Do you have other tips?

Let's see what other kind of tips do i have um say for anyone that is seriously considering this life but hasn't started it yet or anything i think the best thing you can do is save money um i regardless of like what your career is in i think that you should understand about how long you want to be on the road and then have you know try to get an idea of how much that would cost and then have that much saved up because living this lifestyle comes with a lot of big unknowns i mean i could be in a car accident i could have skyrocketing medical bills all of a sudden i could you know need thousands of dollars of fixes on my van um just just a lot of unknowns and i think that's that that's the first place to start.

So you do have a travel insurance right?

No i actually do not have one okay i should um well i have like you know AAA and uh geico i have two, two different ones um so actually when i left utah to go start my adventure i didn't even make it out of utah before i had an epic breakdown in my van it was really it was quite scary i was uh flying down a main road and then there was a red light so you know i stopped and then when the light turned green i went to drive and my van just wouldn't go the gas pedal did nothing and so i'm like in the middle of this really busy main highway where people are just whipping by and they can't tell that my van is you know not moving and anyway thankfully uh you know some guys towed me off the road right away and i had a you know my insurance company sent a tow truck and then there was like a place that um uh auto shop place just three miles down the road and it was a saturday and the shop didn't open until monday so i just stayed in a motel for a couple days um but that whole like uh towing and all that was within my network so it was actually free which was really great um and again like i'm just so impressed at how helpful and supportive random people are like friends family and strangers um so yeah i don't know why i told that story but well.

That's very interesting i think that actually happens to all digital nomads.

It's not about being alone actually it's even about connecting even more and making use of your network like rather than staying at home watching TV maybe planning something for the weekend you do connect with and interact with people you already know even more often.

I totally agree and exactly like i just stayed with some friends in seattle that i hadn't seen in literally probably 10 years and i was there with them for you know three days and i it seems like people enjoy the mixing up of their daily lives so you know i do feel i don't want to be this you know leech showing up at people's houses being like take care of me but i find that they want they want the you know the company they want to catch up and um like you're saying just really have time to really bond not just oh we're all getting together because of a birthday party or a wedding it's like no this is just hanging out doing nothing together which is really when great bonding happens.

Well yeah that sounds great.

#6 Discussion wrap-up

What do they say when they see you arriving with your campervan, must be a shock! Do you tell them that you are living in a campervan?

Oh yeah everyone knows uh i'm i'm documenting it on instagram pretty thoroughly so you know my friends are very excited for me and they they want to come meet the van um but you know they they ask for a tour of the van and um and then yeah i don't know.

It is actually kind of a baby, other people want to meet your van?

That's so true i have to say as someone who doesn't own a house or doesn't have a baby like this is a pride point for me for sure like i'm very proud of this and you know i built it i'm protective of it uh it's you know mine to cherish.

Well that was a very interesting discussion. So before we we finish maybe you want to say something about your online business?

Yeah i would love to um so if people are interested in following my adventures on instagram uh my instagram handle is green dot van go geo not yeah not gov and um i want to inspire other solo female van people to try this so i've also been writing a blog and sharing tips and tricks on my website which is greenvango.com

Yeah we'll share the links below below the video of course!

Okay awesome thank you!

Well that was a very interesting talk so thank you very much it was great!

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