Year in Review 2017

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This marks our 5th annual review  

This “tradition” has become an annual reminder to stop, look back and consider things from the last 365 days before moving forward with a new year and new directions.  Each and every year it provides the motivation and opportunity to look at the big picture of our lives, remember where we were at this time last year, and then begin setting goals moving forward with focus.

We just got done reading last years review, flipping through photos and memories from the past 12 months and awestruck (as always) by what an enormous difference a year makes.

At this point last year we had just finished a few long months of work in the shop trying to complete our van build (aka building our home).  Honestly… an hour ago I probably would have told you that was over 2 years ago because it seems like so long now we’ve been living and traveling in this van. 

We were also just departing for a winter road trip and had no idea what to expect… but now those vivid memories and adventures seem so very long ago that we are starving for more and taking off for a second round of the same/similar winter adventure and completely stoked to be doing so!

All further reason we try to continue doing this year after year even though sometimes it proves to be a struggle and a harsh reality check… it’s very easy for us all to forget the path we’ve been down to get where we are today.  Its easy to forget the hurdles, hard work and fears we had in the past that brought us to whatever today is and I continue to believe that that clarity also provides strength and focus for whatever it is we are trying to tackle, accomplish or overcome right now and moving forward… so on with it!

 

What went well in 2017

We continue to have SO much to be thankful for, but are doing anything but resting in our laurels because we are still very aware at how fragile this lifestyle is.  It’s all about balance in all things… saving money vs spending, travel and adventure vs soaking up friends and family, creative work vs getting overwhelmed by the stress and deadlines that come with it.  Specifically…

Travel/nomadic lifestyle We have fully settled into our nomadic lifestyle and continue to live on the road more than not.  We did occasionally see our “home base” in portland in between trips if it wasn’t being rented/occupied by other guests… but I think our nights in that space totaled out at less than 30 this year.

We started the year with a 4 month winter road trip hopping from resort to resort and hot spring to hotspring...and also proved to ourselves that not only can we enjoy winter weather vanlife and snowy adventures, but that it might be just as fun as beach/summer living (almost).  Regardless…it was at least fun enough that we opted out of heading south for baja this winter and will be doing a similar trip over the next few months!The summer saw us recreating our summer living in the van a block from Kits Beach in Vancouver, BC.  We did a bit less touring the province this year, but still got in a large amount of travel and found us spending almost all of everyday outside, playing volleyball and soaking up summer and seeing BC at its finest.

In between we drove to a few overland events and vanlife gatherings in arizona, the olympic peninsula, and central oregon where we met and hung out with so many people who share similar lifestyles and had immediate connections… always such a pleasure to get to know people with whom we share so much in common and we look forward to reconnecting with and traveling with many of them in the year to come.We also got in a few trips outside the van…a week in Mexico to celebrate a friend's 40th, a much needed week reconnecting with the ocean in Hawaii (i think we might have forgotten how much we need...yes, need the ocean up until this trip...), a friends trip to Calgary and a quick weekend escape to Vegas. 

All in, we were traveling over 200 days this year, and even most of the time we spent in portland was spent living in the van…continuing whats now 5+ years of vanliving and a nomadic lifestyle.

Happiness We continue to be blissfully happy.  We feel nothing short of gratitude for the lifestyle we lead and are so grateful every single day for what we have achieved and the freedom and flexibility that has come with it.  While the idea of living in the tight quarters of a van with someone and spending literally 23hours a day together seems to make most people cringe (or question how we don’t kill each other), it continues to draw us even closer together and enjoy each other even more.

We have now been together for almost 16years, married for 9 and traveling and living in tight quarters for almost 6… and we are far from looking to kill each other.  In fact, were still each others favorite person, best friends and we feel closer and more passionate now than when we started this insane journey.

There are clearly still things that we want and strive for… but the one thing we seem to have completely dialed in is our focus on happiness and our unwillingness to give it up - for any reason.

Work/Creative Despite the fact that we started our little business for creative purposes and not for income…our first year of zenbox design saw us completely overwhelmed with interest, which was quickly followed by being overworked and stressed about our workload.

This year we successfully ratcheted that worked back and only took a very select few clients/projects so that we could focus intently on each one and on refining the details of each so that they could become true works of art.

This year we saw a few projects wrap up and a very exciting design break ground that should be wrapping up in the spring.  We continue to find immense value and creative spirit in the small homes we design and the clients we work with and love the process of watching our designs come to life as built structures!  While we still haven’t found our work on the pages of dwell magazine…we are also very proud of the work we have done and are so excited to see the current projects completed and future projects begin! We also decided to start another business this year.  Based upon immense interest and countless requests for us to build sprinter camper van conversions for other people, we eventually agreed to partner with a few friends and form ZENVANZ.

Our plan is to build the absolute best overland capable van conversion on the market, and while the work we've done with our van to plan the interior "kit" is a good part... we  look forward to continuing this project into an actual business in the new year. Finances It’s so very interesting to go back and read last year’s Year in Review because we were still clearly very unsettled at the time of writing in terms of finances.  We were working hard to re-establish our base and simply hoping to put some money back in our accounts after depleting them on renovation projects the year before.

This year, ironically, thanks mostly to our living in the van, traveling  and renting out our home base while away we successfully re-padded our account and find ourselves back to a point of comfort, or at least out of the stresses that came with an empty account.

We also sold an investment we made almost a decade ago in Utah (which turned out to be a horrible investment and mostly cost us money and caused us stress every month for the past ten years) and put that money back into portland where we understand the market and feel like we can impact things positively (like we did with our home/home base a few years back) if/when we need to.

Obviously we are far from “rolling in it” but I have to admit it’s nice to be back to a point of comfort and still building our account and financial situation back up to where we would like it to be. 

Doing what scares us

We continued this goal from last year, though not in a huge way… We still haven’t gotten to the point of actively seeking out things that terrify us, but we do say yes when the opportunities present themselves.

We attended a few networking and marketing events, but this year the largest opportunity for outright fear was probably a request from Kirsten Dirksen to video us in our home base and van.  She made the process easy, but it’s always scary to put yourself out there, especially when that video now has almost 700k views! Community This is always a delicate balance for us as our lifestyle often has us traveling away from the people we love… but it also allows us to see all of them despite the fact they live in different places.  Most of our trips this year were in the PNW, floating back and forth between our loved ones north of the border and those south of.

As far as broader community, the vanlife and overland events were great in connecting us with others who share similar mindsets and lifestyles with us.  Some were fun interactions and conversations with people we’ve never met, others were connections with people we’ve chatted with online but never met in person… several of which we have no doubt will be lifelong friends.

Health/Activity For two seasons of this year we crushed this area.  4 months of near daily snowboarding, hiking and snowshoeing helped ensure we started the year off on a healthy note (especially compared to the typical stagnant northwest winter lifestyle/activities). 

Summer saw us living in vancouver, where we go almost everywhere on foot and play volleyball several times a week; and we filled most of the other days with activities from hiking to kayaking which certainly helped our fitness goals.

Our Sprintervan Home-on-Wheels We have been thrilled with our van home.  That’s true both for the van itself and where it allows us to go (it was a real champ in our winter road trip despite severe winter road conditions) as well as for the camper we built inside of it.

The van is literally the centerpiece of our lifestyle right now.  It not only is the roof over our heads but our means of travel  to whatever destination we are currently en route to.  Because the van allows us to live somewhere outside of our home/home base, it’s also is our means to financial stability. 

We never feel like we’re lacking for anything in the van and while the space is obviously small it also helps ensure that we spend the vast majority of our time outside the van…exploring whatever city or neighborhood we’re in or out enjoying nature. E the bus This was one of our largest (and hardest) goals moving into this year, but we sold E in exactly the manner we hoped.  Never officially listed the bus for sale, but word of mouth and social media helped us find a family that we felt great letting E go to so that the adventures could continue rather than sitting in a garage for decades to come. 

We probably lost money on the deal, but feel great about the decision and knowing that someone else is out there allowing the bus to lead them to adventure and living dreams in the same way it did for us.

 Hurdles in 2017, or areas for improvement

Business While our live/work balance was exponentially better in 2017 (primarily because we got much better at turning away 90% of the prospective clients that come our way), there were still stresses as we get to know our business better and refine our processes. 

We still look forward to fine tuning our contracts and models to remove any possible friction points between us and our clients so that the process can continue to be smoother and more enjoyable for all parties involved.

Finance We feel so much better than we did last year at this time but despite the fact that we can now say that our “plan” is working…we still have a ways to go here.  We aren’t a young couple running away for a few years to live the vanlife dream, were aging adults who need to have a solid foundation and a plan for the future.

We still feel like we need to make a few “big plays” in terms of investment or creative projects that will continue paying us in the future.  Sadly…those things sound alot like work, which is why they are hard for us to jump into completely, but the start of ZENVANZ is a good first step and we have been having conversations about other investment/renovation project possibilities for 2018.

Balance Largely due to the improvement (reduction in clients/projects) we feel like we found a great deal more live/work balance this year and enjoyed the reduction in stress/anxiety as a result. 

We do still have work to do here however as stresses continue to find their way into our lives from time to time, and we are always looking for ways to simplify, reduce those stresses and focus on balance in all things. Our lifestyle and decisions are all about focusing on happiness so theres simply no place for those things in our life (at least not if we can control the things causing them).

The thing that really threw us off balance this year were in the personal side of our lives.  The second half of this year saw some  friends and family going through major struggles with health and happiness and we cant help but soak up some of those woes as our heart pours out to them and for them.  Jen’s mom also passed away a few weeks ago after struggling with health over the last few months.  We know theres little to nothing we can do to help or change these situations or the feelings that come with them, but they still shook us to our core.  One of our goals moving into next year is to simply treat ourselves right, to heal and and to move forward.

Travel more/further abroad We certainly have no complaints about the amount of time we spent traveling this year, but we continue to hunger for more travel by plane, more time spent on beaches and near the ocean and exploring new places we haven’t yet been. 

Obviously this is difficult because one of our goals is to never leave karma behind, and since we can’t really fly her anymore its a bit limiting in terms of how much we can realistically take on in terms of long or far away trips…but we’re still looking for ways to have our cake and eat it too... simply put, we NEED more ocean and sunshine!

We also would like to venture further afield even in the van.  To get further out of the PNW and see/experience more places we’ve never been before.  If what we’ve been doing the last two years is exploring in great depth…we would also like to explore in more breadth, including more unknown places and checking more of our must-sees off our list.  A road trip to alaska is already in discussion for 2018! Art and Creativity Epic fail in this category this year.  Yes, zenbox design provides a great deal of opportunity to create, brainstorm and problem solve and I continue to enjoy all aspects of designing small custom homes and seeing them come to life. 

Our new business endeavor, ZENVANZ is also proving a great opportunity for creative outlets, both in terms of learning things we didn’t know before and in terms of true creative outlets like logo design, marketing pieces, etc (in addition to designing the actual van interiors)… but one of our primary goals for this year was to find outlets for creativity that aren’t based upon money of profit…simply art for art’s sake.  This goal is going to have to carry over into our goals for 2018.

Health/Excercise While we did a great job during summer and winter this year, we still need to translate that activity better to the months in between.  We’ve yet to hit a stride unless were snowboarding or playing volleyball… and with the dog less able to travel long distances we notice that hiking/backpacking is no longer a viable option.  Jen loves yoga but I’ve not yet become passionate enough to make it a priority and saying that making any activity a routine is difficult when living on the road is a huge understatement!  We’re thinking rock climbing is the solve here…but we have to get at it and make it a normal part of our routine wherever we might be!

 

Writing Also a fairly big fail.  We simply seem to find ourselves so busy that writing the blog and other writing opportunities simply didn’t happen or make their way to the top of the list.  I started to right the ship in the last few months of the year and hope to continue that moving forward both in the blogosphere and beyond.

Jen is feeling much the same way… primarily due to some of the emotional intensity over the last few months, so she’s looking to take up journaling again early this year.

Giving Back This has been something I’ve never been able to put into exact words or wrap into a specific goal, but I continue to become increasingly aware that I have a strong drive/desire to reach out to others and help them find the confidence to do what we have done- to take a leap, chase our dreams of happiness/freedom and not take no for an answer.

I feel like (or hope) that we occasionally hit a chord with an individual or couple that stumbles upon our story or who we are lucky enough to meet in person and share a deep conversation/connection with… but i desperately wish there was a bigger answer here.  A way to be more impactful or to reach more people.  It’s really the only reason we still find ourselves engaging with social media or updating the blog.

I still haven’t solved exactly how… where to reach the right audience, how to spread the message, or what exactly we can provide… but I’m more convinced than ever that i need to find the biggest stage possible to share our story, to let others know that its possible and try to help nudge them to take the leap on their own.

Synopsis

We really feel like we hit a stride this year on many different levels.  We didn’t take a giant trip/excursion or feel the need to run away or make some major change… instead we simply kept repeating the things that have been working for us in the past and are having such a blast that we see no reason to change it.

We still check in with ourselves almost daily about what we want and where we want to be… and we take full advantage of (and have huge appreciation for) the freedom to go wherever and do whatever we feel is right at that point.

We are also excited for the coming year, for the chance to refine things even further and to try to use this foundation to build something even bigger… something that equates to more confidence and stability for ourselves moving forward and hopefully a way to share that with others as well.