Nomad Life On the Road

A Young Man Quits His Old Life to Travel the world in a Van

July 7, 2016

Zach Both was living in Boston and working as an art director for a 3D printing start-up when the road beckoned. He felt restless behind a desk. He had wanted to be a filmmaker since age 9. He knew he needed to take a creative risk. Then he watched a video of Alex Honnold, the free-solo rock climber, who lives in a customized van and travels from mountain to mountain.

Mr. Both, 23, decided to embark on what he called “a cool creative roadshow”: traveling the country and collaborating with local artists on short films. In late 2014, he paid $3,900 for a white 2003 Chevrolet Express van with 200,000 miles. With a Dwell-inspired sense of design and help from his father, he made it a rad home on wheels.


Last July, he hit the highway, heading west. He camped in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, got stuck on a wintry road near Mount Hood in Oregon and spent Christmas with a family he met in Washington State. Lately, he has been driving the California coast, using Los Angeles as his base.

When Mr. Both bought the van, the interior was a dingy rust-speckled shell. He used 19th-century lath boards that he got free from Craigslist to sheath the interior in wood, built a futon that folds down into a bed, installed a stove used on boats and wired an ARB refrigerator to run on a Goal Zero solar generator. “The great thing was I had complete control: I could do whatever I wanted and design everything to the exact specification that I needed,” Mr. Both said. “My friends who are my age say, ‘It’s way nicer than the apartment I’m living in.’”


Early in his travels, Mr. Both felt the gravitational pull of Los Angeles. Rock climbers like Mr. Honnold, he realized, could drive to the nearest mountain to meet one another. But he wasn’t likely to find film collaborators in rural Idaho. So he parked in Los Angeles and began networking. He recently shot a short film, “Unseen, Unknown,” at a fantastical antiques store in Culver City, Calif. The experience brought back memories of visiting the Santa Monica Pier as a child from the Midwest and seeing a movie being made, Mr. Both said: “I thought, ‘O.K., this is the place where this happens.’” A sun-faded postcard from that trip sits on his dashboard.

After a movie shoot, Mr. Both may drive out to Joshua Tree National Park or up into the mountains above Santa Barbara, Calif., to edit footage on his laptop. The van’s pop-out windows give him the kinds of views he never had at work, back when he spent his days in an office. “If I can do what I want to do in these interesting places and not at a desk, that’s what appeals to me,” Mr. Both said.

He has written an online manual for aspiring van dwellers, which he callsthe Vanual. It includes tips for stealth van living, like “never park in the same spot two days in a row,” but nothing so far on how to break it to a possible romantic partner that you have no fixed address.

“You tend to be by yourself quite a lot,” Mr. Both said of his nomadic life. “That’s the reason it’s not for most people.” He has made it a practice to say yes to social invitations and keep “forward momentum,” he said. “It’s always resulted in interesting experiences with interesting people.”03ZACH2-WEB-superJumbo

The Author

Zach Both is a young filmmaker who in a past life worked as a designer and art director. His passion for telling unique and unusual stories through filmmaking has lead him to travel the country in a van that doubles as his mobile production company.

Zach is available for commercial film work and is also interested in collaborating with other like-minded creatives on personal film projects. Willing and able to travel for both. To see his work, check out his portfolio. To follow along with his travels, follow him on instagram.




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