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What It’s Prefer to Spend three Years on the Street in a 1985 Westy Vanagon

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The Grevembergs—Noami and Dustin—are nearing their three-year anniversary of life on the street in a 1985 Westy, though it’s not their first experiment with nomadic dwelling; they turned engaged whereas mountaineering the Appalachian Path. Between their frequent hikes and street journeys, the couple dreamed of creating a life on the street. However as they moved to New Orleans and settled into careers—Dustin as a mission supervisor for a development enterprise, Noami as an environmental scientist—that dream went dormant.

Noami, nevertheless, started to really feel a stab of discontent. She loved her job, however didn’t really feel like her work was making the form of impression she hoped—one thing felt off. Noami texted Dustin that she needed to speak; he stated that he’d really hoped to do the identical. After they spoke that night, Noami requested if Dustin was open to the concept of dwelling in a van. To her shock, that was the precise query he was going to ask her. “It was so bizarre and unimaginable,” she says. “It was just like the universe heard my prayers.” They gave themselves three months to organize, after which made the leap.

Maybe extra importantly, they’ve discovered a objective. Throughout a visit to Southeast Asia, the couple started considering extra deeply in regards to the impacts of journey and tourism. They realized that they may merge their passions for environmental science and inexperienced constructing, and act as conduits for info. Noami and Dustin now use their voice in the neighborhood to share their very own path to sustainable dwelling (together with their very own efforts to go plastic-free and 0 waste) to assist others alongside the way in which. The Grevembergs launched Cacti and Coconuts, a sustainable consulting enterprise, in June final 12 months. Their hope is to share options—together with the message that anybody could make small steps towards dwelling, touring, and doing enterprise extra sustainably. “I feel that it’s straightforward to lose religion in every thing that’s occurring on the planet immediately,” says Noami. “I feel it’s actually necessary for us to proceed being hopeful that we are able to make a distinction. It makes life price dwelling.”

Dustin and Noami hanging out in entrance of Irie.

Yr, make, and mannequin?
1985 VW Vanagon.

Does the car have a reputation?

So, what’s the “Aurora” in Irie to Aurora?
Noami: Nicely, Irie means “a state of feeling nice.” I’m from Trinidad & Tobago within the Caribbean; it’s a generally used phrase there. It’s form of like an expression of the vibe that we’re in search of on this journey; we’re in search of that state of feeling nice. Initially, we have been going to drive from New Orleans to Alaska to see the aurora borealis, in order that’s why we used “Aurora,” which additionally means “the daybreak.” We have been transferring into a brand new place in our lives, dawning into a brand new chapter.

How did you get Irie?
Dustin: Once we began on the lookout for a van, we didn’t know “vanlife” was a factor; we’d by no means heard that phrase earlier than. For some purpose, the Volkswagon Westy, the Vanagon, simply caught out in our minds as a extremely nice car to journey in. Initially, we have been going to do a 12 months within the van, simply journey the nation. We sought out this van and located it mainly nearly in our yard, in Cell, Alabama.

Noami: The earlier proprietor lived in it up and down the West Coast for a couple of 12 months. It was in his household for some time, so it was very sentimental for him, which was an enormous promoting level for us—it informed me that he actually did take excellent care of it. He was just a little unhappy to present it up, however needed to let go at the moment and was actually glad to promote it to us. He spent a number of hours simply strolling us by means of all the van, all of the nooks and crannies. It was simply such a lovely, magical expertise to have when shopping for our new house on wheels. That’s once we knew it was the correct choice.

Noami preps a meal within the Westy’s cozy inside.

Irie is over 30 years outdated – has this induced any issues on the street?
Dustin: Yeah, many! It’s not if she’s gonna break down, it’s when. We’d been on the street for lower than a 12 months and have been up in Oregon for the winter, and went all the way down to Bend on Christmas to do some cross-country snowboarding. We awoke Christmas day and it was so chilly, every thing within the van had frozen. I suppose the water in one of many cooling hoses froze up and it blew a head gasket.

Noami: We have been on this middle-of-nowhere winter wonderland. Thoughts you, it’s Christmas day. We referred to as each single tow truck firm and nobody would come on the market to get our van and choose us up. It was fairly traumatic. We lastly have been capable of persuade a really good woman on the cellphone. I stated, Look, that is our house and we’re stranded on a mountain proper now and we have to get this van fastened, so please, you might have the ability to make this occur. I used to be in tears as a result of it was the primary main breakdown.

We have been capable of get the van to the place we have been housesitting, and the woman subsequent door allow us to use her carport to work on the van. We needed to do it ourselves as a result of nobody needed to do it at the moment of the 12 months. She gave us this painter’s material and we have been capable of wrap the constructing, because it was a blizzard outdoors. She gave us limitless firewood and a giant fireplace pit. I used to be chopping wooden whereas Dustin was engaged on the van. I used to be making an attempt to maintain us heat and studying YouTube tutorials to him as he’s making an attempt to take issues aside and put them again collectively. That was the time in our vanlife that I knew that we might do something.


300 watts of solar energy enable Dustin and Noami to energy up off the grid.

How is van dwelling extra sustainable or eco-friendly for you?
Dustin: [In New Orleans], we had two autos, we each commuted to work daily, in all probability an hour every means. Although we journey quite a bit, we put fewer miles on the van than we did mixed earlier than. Not solely that, however dwelling in a home or an condo, you’re heating and cooling it on a regular basis relying on the seasons, whereas now, we mainly comply with the seasons. We don’t have an air conditioner within the van; we do have a heater for when it will get chilly, however we use it hardly ever. Our van is photo voltaic powered, so we’re sustainable in terms of our power. After all, we’re burning fossil fuels, however much less so than earlier than.

Noami: Additionally, we waste much less water as a result of we use much less water. When it’s flowing by means of the faucet, it’s straightforward not to consider it, however now that we have now a tank that we have now to deliberately fill, we give it some thought much more, so we don’t waste a drop.

Lots of the couple’s posts focus on the realities of meals waste.

Are there any challenges to dwelling sustainably on the street?
Dustin: We now have a tiny kitchen, a tiny sink, a tiny range, so it’s very easy to purchase meals wrapped in plastic, purchase premade meals, eat out—all of that are actually unsustainable. Dwelling a lifetime of journey, the comfort of these issues would make it quite a bit simpler, so we have now to be far more intentional with our selections and with our actions.

Noami: One of many largest challenges on this life-style is recycling and composting on the street. Typically we experience round with our recycling and our meals scrap waste for a number of weeks at a time as a result of we refuse to ship it to the landfill. Dustin and I’ve created this Irie to Aurora waste administration system the place we have now this canvas sack linked to our toolbox on the again of the van, and we have now a basmati rice bag the place we acquire our meals scraps; we cling it to dry within the solar so it doesn’t get all squishy and nasty if we have now to drive round with it for some time. We now have a dry bag for our precise rubbish and one other sack for our recycling, and we have now this massive canvas bag that we simply put all of it in. We simply acquire it till we are able to discover a facility to the place we are able to eliminate it correctly.

The couple shops meals scraps in a reusable rice bag till they’re capable of compost them.

Any ideas for different van dwellers on how they will reside extra sustainably on the street?
Noami: Simply choose one or two issues that you just assume are doable for you in that second—like, buying at farmers’ markets to your meals and foregoing packaged meals. It’s simply taking small steps. I feel that’s actually, actually necessary when desirous to reside a life-style that’s extra sustainable—not changing into overwhelmed by desirous to do all of it. Simply do your greatest, do what you are able to do.

Dustin: We at all times say, set a purpose and do one factor daily that strikes you nearer to that purpose. You don’t should chunk all of it off at one time.

Noami rinses off below a photo voltaic bathe.


Like many who pursue the approach to life, the Grevembergs have since discovered their very own place within the vanlife group. On-line, they keep a well-liked Instagram account, Irie to Aurora, crammed with cheery pictures and considerate reflections. Offline, they’re making ready to co-host the primary Soiled South Vanlife Gathering with the staff behind Vanlife Diaries. They’re additionally featured within the upcoming documentary, The Which means of Vanlife.

All photographs courtesy of Noami & Dustin Grevemberg


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