I’ve been following this amazing women & her soul mate as they roam around the amazing deserts of America for quite a few years now. They are in the coolest 4wd van, called Bertha, with their two dogs. Brianna is one of my favourite accounts on Instagram, a real beauty, full of adventure and loves to be free in her raw, wild ways. They live a life full of freedom and happiness and it shines through in the way she writes, not just sharing the shiny parts of her life, but the REAL VAN life as she likes to called it... the non glamorous side. Brianna and Kieth's life motto is ‘never leave the dogs behind’. Recently they went through a pretty traumatic time with one of their beloved dogs in a accident. Dagwood seems to be on the mend and doing really well and you can check the updates through Brianna’s account. We hope you enjoy their story as much as we did, it's a true inspiration to living free.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Brianna Madia. I’m 28 years old and I live in my van, Bertha, with my husband Keith, and our two dogs Bucket and Dagwood. I’ve always considered myself a storyteller and took a bit of a leap of faith in trying to make a career out if in the last year or so. I’m really excited to be working on my first book now!
We are full-time van dwellers for coming up on two years now. I have no idea how it happened so fast…it feels like just yesterday we were standing outside of our apartment, staring at this behemoth orange box, wondering how on earth we were going to make this all work
What are some of the biggest challenges of van life?
Organization is always a struggle. Even with the most minimal amount of belongings, you’re still operating with such a small amount of storage space. I always joke that if you take your jeans off and toss them on the floor, your jeans are now taking up half of your house. Winters are also particularly challenging for us. We’ve stayed on the bare minimum side of this whole van craze so we don’t have super new-age heating or cooling capabilities. We basically live in a giant tin can that gets buried in snow in Utah winters and there’s not a thing on earth that’s easy about that.
I work completely freelance but I took my time getting there. When we first moved into the van, I was still working a standard 9-5 job for a software company. Sometimes I’d sleep in the parking lot of my office building and make awkward eye contact with my coworkers as I was brushing my teeth in the doorway of my van in the morning. I started slowly reducing my schedule, working remotely for half the week, then working remotely full-time, then eventually I became a contracted worker for them so they would just commission work from me when they needed it. It was a really nice way to ease into the absolutely terrifying world of freelance and I’m so grateful for it. I always try to remind people that the easiest place to start looking for a new life is in the cracks and crevices of the life you already have. See if you can adjust your schedule…adjust your spending habits…start a new hobby…minimalize in some small way. The big picture always seems daunting but little steps can be so manageable.
What is your best memory from your van travels?
Oddly enough, a lot of my best memories are when things have gone totally and completely wrong. Our van has been physically broken down on the United States/Mexico border. Like…physically broken in a customs stall while border patrol screamed at us in Spanish! I think when you realize how entertaining these things are in the long run, you’re able to deal with them better in the moment.
But if I had to choose a non-disastrous favorite, it’d probably be the time we drove Bertha up to the Oregon coast so our dogs could swim in the Pacific Ocean for the very first time. We found a super quiet beach that we could actually drive on just a few miles down from a super crowded, touristy spot. We weren’t supposed to sleep there technically, but some local para gliders told us we’d never get caught if we just spent one night. So we did. We slept the whole night with the two back doors open, listening to the waves crash. It was an absolute dream.
It’s tricky and it’s definitely something that has to be at the forefront of every decision you make. I can’t just decide to hit the mall in the middle of the summer if I can’t bring them with me. The most common thing people notice is that we rarely, if ever, visit National Parks. The dog restrictions are just so limiting, but really, we’re totally okay with that. Being forced to explore outside the bounds of where most people are hanging out has helped us discover our tremendous love for those quieter, off-the-beaten-path places. It’s not easy, but my god it’s my favorite thing. Those dogs are my children, and unlike the human variety, the time I have with them is so short. So, to be able to spend every minute of every day with them by my side is the greatest gift I’ve gotten out of this whole endeavor.
We can almost always be found in the Utah desert. It is one of the last few wild places we even have in this country. We really mean it when we say that we go days without seeing another soul.
What are the most important items for a life on the road?
A good sense of humor and a good set of tires. I wish the culture of vanlife was more honest as a whole, because I think people go into this thinking it’s some Pinterest board waiting to happen and it really isn’t. It’s challenging and it’s smelly and it’s dirty and it’s hot and then it’s cold. I think if you have a realistic idea of what to expect and how to navigate the types of land you’ll be traveling on and the proper practices for being respectful of that land…you’re going to have a much better time.
Keith and I have dreamed of traveling to New Zealand for as long as I can remember. I think we’re finally going to do it next year!
Follow their adventures on Instagram @briannamadia