Tech

I make more than $300,000 a year working 3 jobs. I gave up my home in Austin to live in a van and travel the country — here’s what it’s like.

  • Jasmine Wilson, 28, is a UX designer from Battle Creek, Michigan, who lives in a renovated van.
  • She hopes to hit every national park in the US before finally settling on the West Coast.
  • Here’s her story and how she rebuilt her van all by herself, as told to Lauryn Haas.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I bought my van last summer, and I started living in it in December. When I was in college, I always wanted to do this, but I went straight into working, so I never got around to it.

Then quarantine happened, and I realized that I move a lot. I’ve lived in so many states in the past few years, and I don’t like being stuck in one place at one time.

I was in a 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom house that cost $1,500 a month plus utilities with just me and my dog in Austin, Texas. 

I realized I would be in my room all day or I would go to my game room because I used to stream back then. I’m a very simple person, and I like to be in chill spaces.

When quarantine happened, I started seeing van ads pop up. People were either selling them because they’d just lost their job or trying to get a van because they’d just lost their job and wanted to try a new life.

I found this deal, and I don’t know much about vans, so I bought mine at a local dealer. I bought it used, but it had less than 20,000 miles on it.

white van in front of a bright blue sky on sand

Jasmine Wilson’s van.

Jasmine Wilson


It was under warranty and that’s unheard of, especially because I paid $25,000 out the door for my van. 

I first tried to call contractors to see how much it would cost to build it out and how long it would take. I guess because so many people were starting to do their vans, contractors were getting pushed out six months or it was just an insane amount of money.

I didn’t know how long I was going to do this, so I didn’t want to pay someone $50,000 to build out a van I didn’t know if I would stay in. I realized while I was down a rabbit hole of videos on YouTube that it wouldn’t be that hard to do, even if I didn’t have experience outside of IKEA furniture.

It took me 2 months to build it from the empty cargo van that it was to what it is now. 

I did it based on my means, what I knew how to do, and what I could learn on YouTube — and it’s worked out for me.

woman standing in an empty van with her dog

The van before renovation.

Jasmine Wilson


I have a collapsible sink. If I had a physical sink, it would probably just hold dishes and not get used. 

People ask where I shower because when I left in December I was mostly in San Diego where all the gyms were closed. I go to the gym every day, but I do have a shower that’s in my van. You can’t see it from looking at it.

One of the benches is a fridge and a freezer, but the other one is a shower. When you take the lid off, there’s a whole shower curtain in there and a shower pan.

I built it to be very functional. I have enough electricity. I have an air fryer because I don’t cook. I have everything you could have in a house, but when you look at it, initially, it just looks like someplace people just sit and hang out.

a look inside a renovated cargo van

The interior of the van.

Jasmine Wilson


I’ve been through most of the South, but I’m trying to hit every national park.

I spent a lot of time in Arizona. A few weeks ago, I went to a Black Nomads meetup at this Black-owned RV park in Georgia. We spent the weekend there hanging out. Then I went to Louisiana because my mom’s there.

woman standing in front of white van on snow

Jasmine Wilson’s travels.

Jasmin Wilson


I like to stay on the West Coast, so I’m trying to finish the East Coast of national parks in the next couple of months. And then I’ll go to the West Coast where the rest of the parks are to be able to knock those out and stay over there.

I think a lot of people just think this is what I’ll do forever. I love van life, but I’m not going to live in a van forever. The goal wasn’t to really save money, to be honest. I’m not a frugal person, I’m just enjoying seeing the country.

Because I make so much, I can’t just buy things. 

I don’t really budget since I’m not in a van to be frugal, but my biggest expenses are gas and food because I don’t cook a lot. Most of my experiences are free because I tend to stay at the beach or national parks, and I have a national park pass which is only $80 a year.

On a normal week, depending on how far I’m driving, I’ll probably spend around $300 a week on food, necessities, and experiences.

woman sitting in a hammock holding a laptop next to a sunset

Jasmine Wilson working from her van.

Jasmine Wilson


I’ve saved money, and I do want to buy land and hopefully at some point build a home on that land. I also want to have an RV park so I can continue to do the van thing and help other people have a place to stay, but also build my house on it. That’s the end goal.

First, I plan to pay off my student loans because I started grad school when I probably shouldn’t have. I’m consumer-debt free, but that’s the last thing I have to do.

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