2018, Year in Review
We are a bit late this year (been a bit busy), but didn’t want to miss getting this all important process out of the way before we get too far into the year.
We just went back and read last years review and are in complete shock (as always) at where we were a year ago. We had just decided to start ZENVANZ, we were just setting out on another winter road trip to chase snow and we were just beginning to feel comfortable financially again after bouncing off the bottom midway through 2015 and trying to live affordably and accountably for the last couple years (building our accounts back to a baseline of comfort and looking forward to hopefully adding some padding as we moved into 2018).
We were apparently seeking more travel outside the PNW and starving for more ocean and beaches. We had no plan at the time how that would happen… but I don’t need to tell you that we’re crushing that goal as I write this from the bahamas and we begin our life living aboard a sailboat!
That said, just like each of the last 5 years we find great value in taking the time to assess where we are and create goals for the coming year. This makes our 6th year of our Annual Year in Review.
What went well in 2018
Well, as mentioned - I’m typing this out from a sailboat anchored off a tiny remote island in the Bahamas. That alone would sound like an amazing “vacation” worthy of celebration… but the fact that we now live on that boat and are out exploring the Caribbean - I still find very hard to believe. Pinch ourselves daily type of disbelief.
It would be an understatement to say that what we are currently doing is/was a lifelong dream, and honestly one we never really thought we would/could accomplish even when we had paying jobs, much less after quitting those jobs and running away to be nomadic vagabonds… much less something that we could find a way to make it happen while we we’re both young enough to enjoy it fully. That alone makes me think the year has been profoundly successful.
But as always, there were other achievements and setbacks as well.
Did I mention we’re now living aboard a sailboat in the caribbean?
We took our mantra (of deciding daily what makes us happy and choosing that over all things) to the fullest extent a few months ago when we realized that we were ready to learn to sail and live on a boat exploring beaches and the underwater world. We then proceeded to buy a boat (sight unseen and 5k miles away) just days later! The work to get here has been significant and I don’t see that changing anytime soon… but we are elated that we both put ourselves in a position to make this leap and that we had the courage to take it!
It’s otherworldly really. To be taking action on something that we have dreamt about as long as we’ve been together, but never thought could actually happen. Living on a boat was always that far flung idea of happiness. A dream that never even reached goal status and one that even a few months ago either of us would have told you was completely impossible. To have not only made a decision to make it happen, but to have put it into action in such a short timeframe (before we had the chance to chicken out or talk ourselves out of it) is both intense and insanely gratifying.
Now let’s hope it all turns out for the best!! =)
Huge success here.
Were it not for photos we may have already forgotten many of our travels over the last 12 months. At the time of last writing we had just decided to take off for another winter road trip chasing snow throughout the west. Fueled by memories and fun we had the year before, we gave up a loose plan of heading south to the beaches of baja to recreate the astounding trip we experienced in 2017.
Sadly, the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with our master plan. While 2017 saw epic storm after epic storm, 2018 really became more about searching for hot springs and waiting for occassional storms that never came. We still had a blast for the first couple months of the year, but the trip didn’t live up to the (impossible) expectations set by the year before.
Our travel then dropped off pretty dramatically as we returned home to kickoff our new business venture (other than a road trip to AZ to kick things off for the business at Overland Expo West), but we made up for lost time in late summer/fall with an epic road trip to Alaska (by way of Yukon and NWT with a stopover at the arctic ocean).
This is a trip we had talked about for years but then something always seemed to pop up that talked us out of going. This year, to the contrary everything that popped up in terms of business stresses and hard work actually seemed to push us towards going. The trip certainly didn’t disappoint as the landscapes and the wildlife was better than we could have ever imagined.
The trip, the experiences and the imagery will stick with us for a long long time to come.
It will also forever be remembered as the trip where we decided to move on from vanlife (at least for now) and dive into boatlife instead. It was midway through our trip while walking the commercial marinas of Alaska where we first had the conversation about buying a boat, made an offer and eventually pulled the trigger on buying our new floating home (even though it was in Miami and we had to figure out how to get to it).
The end of an era for us in terms of how we travel/live, but vanlife brought us oh so many things from memories and experiences to changing the entire direction of our lives.
Add to that a few side trips to cali and BC to see friends, a last minute trip to vegas to celebrate our lifestyle change from vanlife to boatlife, and our drive cross country a month ago (in addition to the fact we’re now exploring the bahamas) and we’ll call this category successful to say the least!
This category will have plenty of both pros and cons this year. We’ll get to the cons later… but when I look back at the fact that at this point last year we had barely even decided to use the name ZENVANZ for our new van building business venture, it’s clear we have come a very long way indeed.
Things certainly didn’t go as planned on any number of levels but through the hurdles we managed to kick off a business, build a couple of complete custom vans that many have described as the best on the market, sell a couple of DIY van build kits (something that didn’t even exist in the market a year ago), got some pretty amazing press from several different sources along the way and are working to find a way to keep the business running despite living just about as far away as possible.
Pretty good start if I do say so myself.
Sadly, our business partnership didn’t fare as well and we fear we may have lost some very dear friends in the process (friends which we would have easily given the business up for, but our efforts to save both the partnership and the friendship seem to have failed)… so this was far from a complete success. All very ironic since they are the ones that talked us into starting the business in the first place.
We do love the fact that we started (yet another) business based solely on living/sharing our current lifestyle, based upon something we designed for us alone but others happen to find value in, and that also allows us to help/counsel other people who are looking to move toward that lifestyle goal.
Our other business, zenbox design had to pause a bit due to our focus and time and money being directed elsewhere - but the one project that got built this year is one we continue to be very excited about and proud of, especially since we were able to manage most of it from afar and (for the most part) had a good time doing so.
Sadly, there are still some lingering details and finishes yet to wrap up so we haven’t yet been able to get a professional photographer onsite to take final photos (trying to be patient, really I am)… but it’s the type of home we would love to continue designing for the types of clients we would love to continue working with… and hopefully we’ll find a way in 2019 to do at least one more dream project like it.
Not sure whether this belongs in the pro or cons, but we just spent all our money on a boat.
As a pro, we never even thought we’d be able to afford a catamaran when we had jobs, much less after quitting them. As a con- I realized a few weeks ago that I have always described much of our financial story as:
“We’ve made mostly good/safe decisions.
We never took any bad loans (loans with balloon payments or variable interest rates), and we never refinanced to buy luxury items like vacations or boats”.
Looks like we just broke our own rules since technically we just refinanced to buy a boat to take on a long term vacation.
Overall… I can’t say we did poorly in this area, especially after going back to read that 12months ago we were just getting back to a point of comfort after having depleted our accounts in the years before. We sunk ample funds into our new business (especially since it turned out that we had the unplanned expense of having to buy out our business partners), but that investment and the hard work we put into it paid off and the business is proving both profitable and successful.
Our real estate/rentals are maintaining the course and growing ever so slowly (but as it goes with real estate, the repairs and fixes seem to keep them from being a huge profit for us (though they still provide much or our “plan” for later in life since we clearly aren’t contributing to a 401k or other “standard” retirement plans.
Other than our hope of stumbling upon some pirate “booty” of a remote caribbean island… thats the plan as it stands. ;)
Doing what scares us
At risk of sounding redundant… did I mention I’m writing this from a boat in the caribbean?
All we seem to do lately are things that scare us. Starting a business from scratch. Moving away from everyone/everything we love to chase a lifelong dream. Buying a boat that is easily more expensive than any home we’ve every purchased. Learning to sail and setting off on adventure we are woefully untrained for. All completely terrifying. Good for us (I think)!
Honestly, when I first added this category in years past- I was only referring to putting ourselves out there more. To trying to be a bit more public against our typical nature of hiding away.
Now I look at how were approaching this goal and I’m almost a bit scared of the goal itself.
For the year we did a great job here. One of the perks of being in Portland for much of the year while we worked on starting a business was that we got ample time to spend with/connect with our close friends there. Our other trips ensured we saw and connected with our other friends scattered out across the west.
Sadly… we now find ourselves very far away from that community indeed, so I’m not sure how were going to deal with this in 2019, and it already causes me great concern. We have no idea what the future holds, but our focus is (as it has been for years) in making ourselves available as often as we can to stay close to those we love.
We also met and made several new friends in the vanlife, nomad, financial freedom arena last year through events, social media reachouts, or from the video we allowed to be taken of us last year about our garage conversion and van build (which now has over a million views, Yikes!). We welcome those new friends but they also highlight how few of those interactions we’ve had despite living that lifestyle for over 7years and putting ourselves out there pretty transparently.
We have only lived on a boat for a little over a month and a feel like we’ve already met several new liveaboard friends (who, much like meeting people in vanlife, we clearly have a great deal in common with from the start) so let’s hope thats a trend that continues as our journey unfolds.
Somehow this never really makes it on the list of categories. Luckily I think that’s because its going so well it never feels like something that “needs work”… but like all other aspects of our life, that’s probably exactly why it belongs on the list- so that we continue to appreciate it and work on it equally as hard.
We’ve been together for 16years now, and been living our unconventional, off-the-grid, figure it all out as we go lifestyle for 7.5years of that. We have worked and thrived through multiple jobs, having no income, having no answers, living in everything from construction zones and recently vacated crack and prostitution houses to empty shells of vans and have lived together (along with our beloved dog karma) in less than 100sqft for most of that time. We have spent at least 23hours a day for most of that period together and I can honestly say that if there was a way for me to extend the day to get more hours together I would sign up in a heartbeat.
We are completely opposite in almost every way imaginable… but we are also best friends, lovers, business partners, travel companions and life partners. We are and continue to be the perfect partners for this journey through life together, and while we have no idea what the future will bring we look forward to every day we have to spend it together and are committed to working on our relationship and giving to each other just as much as we are to every other item on this list.
We also continue to be overjoyed that our Karma (the wonder dog) is still with us, healthy and oh so blissfully happy. Our family would never be complete without her and she’s the reason we’ve been choosing to travel this way for years…so that we can all be together. This is never more present in our minds as we always kind of thought that if we were lucky enough to live on a boat it would be well after she was no longer with us (she’s 13 now), but the fact that she could enjoy this phase with us is a large part of why we jumped so quickly into boat life. I have no doubt that if either of us were asked for just one wish (other than the obvious happiness for everyone on earth) it would be that we could somehow make her 3 again and relive all these amazing years all over again.
Hurdles/Areas for improvement in 2019
While I give us a huge congrats for starting a successful business in 2018 it certainly wasn’t all roses.
While our business plan mostly succeeded our business partnership sadly failed in the process, which means it may have come at a horrible cost beyond the finances. It appears we may have lost very dear friends in the process.
Our main goals for the business moving forward are to see if we can keep the business afloat from afar. No easy feat since we barely know how to run a business while in town. We offered it to many friends we knew were struggling or unhappy in their job thinking that the ability to control their own schedule and have an immediate income stream drop in their lap could only be a positive… but the timing didn’t work out in all cases.
For now, we’re focused on setting up the right partnerships to allow the business to continue even with us away, but hopefully in keeping the nature and brand of the business we’ve worked so hard to create.
We have the same goal for zenbox design - to find the few perfect projects to work on with the perfect clients, and to do it all remotely… but that may prove to be even more difficult from afar (at least until we have more time to focus on it).
Things have been moving in the right direction here and the decisions/work we put in the last few years have been proving to at least allow us to continue on this crazy nomadic lifestyle/journey that were on. We shall see moving forward whether buying a boat was a great decision or the worst ever.
We know the boat isn’t an investment (at least not a financial one), but the question is whether this decision to chase a dream hurts us significantly in the already fragile financial ecosystem of our bank accounts.
We still have no savings/retirement account and all of our proverbial “eggs are in the single basket” of our real estate. While we still have high hopes for that working out well for us I still feel like we need to make a few “big plays” in terms of investments/remodels to secure more confidence in our financial future. Ironically, this is exactly what we had been saving for, exactly what we refinanced for last year, and exactly what we were seeking out before deciding to buy the boat.
It’s so funny to look back at how a few very small events would have shifted out lives dramatically in the last year. A check taking a week longer to deposit than anticipated stopped us from buying a house we thought would be both a fun project and great investment. A slow response from the city and an angry neighbor stopped another project that we were thrilled to jump on. Any one of these moving ahead would have easily meant we’d still be living on the west coast and posting project updates right now rather than the status of our dinghy engine. Such a fragile series of paths were all on without even knowing it…
Always an issue. Always the best laid plans.
We started ZENVANZ under the premise that we weren’t going to run the business and would simply be remote partners. Our friends and business partners basically pitched us the idea of training them to do what we did to our van and then go back to living life on the road and marketing the business by simply living our lifestyle (opening the doors and talking to people while camping…just like always). That was a business plan we couldn’t refuse, but as things got more stressful and those partners eventually preferred to be bought out we found ourselves rushing to salvage a business and protect our “brand” in a panic. We dove into the projects and spent 12+ hour days in the shop (not counting the marketing/communication time before and after) for the next 90+ days. It felt like we were literally sewing the parachute together on the way down, and the next few months were an intense strain financially, physically and emotionally (and that’s an enormous understatement).
We eventually righted the ship… but in the end found ourselves so burnt out and drained that we turned off the phone, started turning away all clients and ran away (drove away to Alaska) - hardly what I would call balance.
We were physically and emotionally drained from the whole experience, but we are also aware that there are so many aspects of the business that we hold dear and wanted to preserve. It would be such a pity to let that hard work go to waste, so we’ve decided to keep the business alive and have been hard at work doing so before and after leaving the PNW.
Outside of the businesses - here we are, literally living out a dream... But it turns out that dream is significantly more work than even we had anticipated.
So far we have daily (at least) events that cause panic, fear, adrenaline spikes and tears. We are putting in long days with countless hours fixing/replaceing/adjusting things on the boat that we didn’t even know existed a few weeks ago and long nights reading/researching/learning how to sail and liveaboard. Right now it’s stressful and exhausting, but we are counting on the scales coming back to balance as soon as we have a better understanding/handle on things and as soon as every single event in our days isn’t the first time ever doing or seeing that thing.
We’re looking forward to the long days spent relaxing under sail or staring at remote islands and snorkeling off their shores… and we hope those days arrive soon! ;)
This whole goal of balance continues to be a process of awareness. Of watching and feeling out where we are in the spectrum of peace and balance daily and making adjustments as needed. We clearly aren’t a couple inclined to stay in one place for long or to find a spot of comfort and stay there… so Im not sure how perfect we can ever dial this one in- but we’re still working on it…
Travel more/further abroad
We laughed out loud when we went back and reread the travel goals portion of last year’s review. We clearly stated that our travel goals were:
- More travel abroad
- More ocean/beaches/underwater
- More warmer climates
- To find a way to travel to places we couldn’t get to by van but not by plane (because we cant fly with karma)
How did we not realize 12 months ago that we were destined to buy a boat and sail the caribbean??
In the course of the last month we uprooted our lives, drove crosscountry to FL, moved onto a boat we had never seen before, taught ourselves to sail and crossed the gulf stream to the Caribbean. Honestly, what’s left in terms of goals here?
To slow things down. To learn enough that we are at a point of comfort where the stress and anxiety are no longer part of the equation so we can spend more time focusing on the fun, the adventure and the insane beauty around us.
This one is tough. Especially coming off a year where it appears we lost a friend couple that we considered very near/dear to us.
Everyone warned us to never start a business with friends.
“Our communication with them is too good, our bond is too great, and we all have too similar goals to let it impact our friendship” we thought. “We are starting the business primarily to help them and don’t even care about profits… how could it possibly go wrong?” we would ask. But somehow it seems to have happened anyway - despite giving and trying everything we could, it happened anyway. What we didn’t count on was the possibility of their anxiety and stress growing out of control, of them walking away from the work and business and eventually asking us to buy them out and then still fading out of communication.
Other than actually agreeing to start the business with them, there is very little that we would change in our actions. We tried to communicate freely, we tried to force conversations asking if they would rather call the whole thing off, we offered them far more financially than we should (or could afford) in the buyout, all with a focus on saving the friendship above all else… but somehow it appears it still wasn’t enough to save it… and this is, without a doubt our single biggest disappointment in 2018.
Now, here we are moving thousands of miles away from our circle of friends and leaving behind “vanlife” which was much of our social network and/or presence.
Of course our hope is that since we can essentially offer “free room and board off any island in the caribbean” that each and every one of them will come and visit several times a year, but also we know that schedules and obligations still happen and that we aren’t likely to get visitors as often or for as long as we hope (but fingers crossed anyway).
Im certain we will also meet new circle of friends in the boating world but it seems very clear right now that we will need to focus and work on maintaining good contact with those we love despite the distance between us.
Art and Creativity
This seems to be a failure every year. Our businesses do provide for creative outlets, but I’m still seeking a way to be more creative simply for the sake of being creative/artistic. I follow people who are doing an excellent job at this and trying to channel their energy.
I brought sketchbooks onboard- now we just need to have enough free time to start sketching/drawing/creating. I need to set some type of rythym/habit to force myself to get started- I have no doubt that once I do the creativity will create its own flow and I wont have to force it for long (though… I also remember typing that in years past).
We both believe this is about to mostly take care of itself throughout the year. We already eat remarkably well (both in terms of flavor and health) thanks to Jen’s natural cooking habits/skills. The act of sailing/taking care of a boat also turns out to be pretty physically involved and were moving our bodies a LOT.
We also hope to do more swimming, kayaking, diving, yoga, and any activity we can find in, on, under and around the water.
The problem we need to keep eyes on is the fact that it’s even more like a permanent vacation than the lifestyle we were on before (which is really saying something). With perma-vacation also comes the mentally that “it’s always 5oclock somewhere”, so we need to be careful to not fall into that sailing trap of drinking/partying too much- whatever/wherever that line is.
We are so very grateful to be living this lifestyle and want to be able to do so for a very long time. Remaining healthy is a very important part of being able to do just that.
The last few months I’ve been doing a great job on blog updates.. primarily because we’ve been seeing/experiencing so many different amazing things. It feels good to be doing so, but what I would actually like to be writing is something more useful/helpful to others.
I’m not sure what that means just yet, but it ties directly into our next set of goals, which is also a carryover from last year.
I spend ample hours each week fielding calls from people who either want to build a tiny house, convert their garage or build and move into van. They find us through our businesses or the blog but it becomes apparent early on that they will never be a client and are simply looking for some support/advice/counseling.
I enjoy the calls/emails, so I’m happy to keep taking them. We call it my “pro bono” work as we know going in that those hours will never lead to paid work, but that’s just scratching the surface of what I’d like to be doing- which is find a way to help people on a broader level.
Not just about the details of zoning or construction, not just about the best campervan insulation or the difference between AGM and Lithium batteries, but helping people in the way Jen helped me. Helping them to find the courage and confidence to make a great leap. I’d like to find a way to reach a larger audience to share our story and show those people who need it that there is an option other than the typical daily grind. That it IS actually possible to follow your dreams and to be happy.
We’ve been toying with the idea of starting up a youtube channel or podcast because video is such a strong medium (as is evident as from the video link earlier)… there’s just that intense fear/hatred of seeing/hearing ourselves on camera we have to deal with first! =/
Maybe there’s a book in there somewhere, we don’t know.
No concrete answers at this point… but the goal is growing in urgency. If you have ideas/suggestions, we’re all ears!
All good things (okay not all, but mostly).
A crazy whirlwind of a year with enormous hurdles and roadblocks and equally large goals achieved. This time last year neither of us could have imagined half of what took place this year, and we’re thrilled about most of those things!
But we also know full well that we didn’t get here by relaxing or taking it easy or taking anything for granted, and that’s exactly how we’ll move into 2019. With a firm recollection of last year (and the years before it) and an even firmer grasp on our goals and vision moving forward.
If you don’t yet do any type of person goal setting or review I highly recommend it.
You obviously don’t have to share it with the world… but going through the process is a huge part of what’s allowed us to find ourselves in this place of freedom, happiness and (usually) balance! If we can help with your goal setting (or the goals themselves) in any way don’t hesitate to reach out!!
One day or day one…we each get to decide.
And, since I prefer to practice what I preach - Im gonna go snorkel before something else breaks!