The rear of Luke Krummel’s 2014 Dodge Caravan, which includes a bed and storage space. Luke Krummel photo

Van life. For many it’s a chance to hit the open road long-term — maybe even forever — well equipped and self-sufficient, but without having to deal with tents or tag-along pop-ups or large and expensive RVs.

And with their living conditions set, for many pursuing van life, the traveling becomes more about the journey, not the destination — although the Pine Tree State has attracted many people living in their vehicles full or part time.

“My van has been all over the state, from Sugarloaf in the winter, to Old Orchard in the summer, to Acadia in the fall. I enjoy the activity these places offer, but also the ability to get out of the hustle of these places. I can be there, but not be rushed,” said Luke Krummel, a special education teacher at Leroy Smith Elementary School in Winterport who lives part time in his 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan when school’s out.

A quick Google search for “alternative lifestyle” yields a dozen links to social media accounts and YouTube channels of wanderlust-stricken millennials and retirees embarking on indefinite sojourns across the United States and North America. Some have the money, and buy or retrofit nicely appointed travel vans with all the bells and whistles.

For others who want to travel, budgets are tight. Flights are costly. And for many, moving to their ideal destination is out of the question.

But nearly 92% of Americans own a vehicle — that’s 276 million vehicles registered. And with prices for recreational vehicles at an all-time high, van-lifers are using what’s at their disposal: their own vehicles.


As the name suggests, vans are the most common type of vehicle used, although travelers have gotten creative and refitted their everyday SUVs, station wagons and trucks to accommodate their needs. Many accomplish their retrofits under a tight budget, but the cost to modify these vehicles can be as pricy as buying a new one, which can range, based on materials and appliances, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to the-sky’s-the-limit.

Madeleine LaPlante-Dube, a 28-year-old digital strategist who for a time called Lewiston her home, built out the back of her Subaru Forester during the first summer of the pandemic. Her goal was to see how cheaply she could make a comfortable van life build, and over the course of a week she and her father managed to outfit her vehicle for about $350, which included a platform, some drawers, a pull-out table and a cabinet unit.

“For me, as a lifelong outdoor nerd, van life gets to the soul of being outside: being able to wake up exactly where you want to be. I’m of the mind that it doesn’t need to be fancy — a wooden platform in the back of your Outback is just as good as someone else’s . . . Sprinter (van). It’s more secure than a tent, and more accessible than hike-in-hike-out camping,” said Dube. (For more, see Madeleine’s take on van life accompanying this story.)

Madeleine LaPlante-Dube took this photo of her Subaru Forester build while at a campsite in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. Madeleine LaPlante-Dube photo

“It makes getting outside easier for people, and that’s a win to me. Maine is the perfect place for van life. It has literally everything. If you’re a hiker, you can basecamp at any trailhead. If you’re a surfer, you can wake up and catch a wave here. And for anyone looking to just be in nature, van life means you can go anywhere and still stay relatively safe and comfortable,” she said.

The point of the lifestyle for many is embracing the spontaneity of travel and a do-it-yourself attitude, something that attracted Krummel right away during his first van excursion with his sister to visit several national parks in 2018.

“We did things on a whim and as we chose. It was my first taste of untethered traveling. No plans, no agendas. It also helped me define what van life might be — becoming untethered, whether it be to travel plans, home/house plans, etc.,” said Krummel, 39.


“I discovered some great advantages of actually living in a van. I knew what I expected out of van life at this point, but now I am realizing how to meet those expectations. I spent several (months) observing vans and how they worked. Once I got back to Maine, I began planning my own build. I put weeks into learning new hobbies that I’ve never tried before: CAD (computer-assisted design programs), carpentry (to build) my cabinets and bed, and solar electricity, and powering and wiring the van,” said Krummel.

That sense of adventure is a feeling Krummel shares with his wife and two daughters, along with the clients he rents his van to.

Thomas Betor of North Carolina, who flew into Bangor with his wife and rented Krummel’s van for a tour of the state, appreciated the retro-fitted van’s many benefits. “We felt that the van was the best way to see Acadia (National Park) as it provided great access to the most remote areas of the Seawall and Blackwoods campgrounds. It was also very cost effective compared to a hotel and car rental combination,” he said.

“We love visiting national parks and are avid hikers, but not so experienced with the tent camping aspects of wilderness exploring. We are also hesitant to go full bore on an RV primarily due to maneuverability and limited access to some NPS campgrounds. Plus, we like the idea of the van doubling as our primary transportation option, rather than pulling a second vehicle behind an RV,” said Betor.

The interior of the Mathers’ Sprinter van includes a sink, stove, and a seating area that converts to a bed. Kevin Mathers photo

Kevin Mathers, 30, of Ventnor City, New Jersey, and his wife, Taylor, have traveled across the United States in their 23-foot Sprinter van, documenting their travels on their YouTube channel. The couple came to visit Acadia National Park and fell in love with the natural beauty of the state.

“Maine’s coastline is absolutely breathtaking and it has arguably the best national park on the East Coast with Acadia. The food is also very good, which is an added bonus!” he said.


The Mathers have brought almost all the amenities of a house into their van, compromising space inside but adhering to the overall minimal-living aesthetic of van life.

“In terms of cooking we have a 12-volt fridge that’s powered by our ‘house’ batteries (deep cycle lead acid batteries) and a two-burner gas stove top so we can cook a lot of different meals. We also rely heavily on GPS apps like Google maps, for driving to and from locations and we use apps like iOverlander for finding free places to camp. Some other van life essentials are our shower and 35-gallon fresh water tank, we also have a composting toilet. To stay cool we have several windows and a roof vent fan to keep the air well circulated when hanging out in the van,” said Mathers. 

While some vans are equipped with showers and bathrooms, 39% of van lifers use public restrooms, according to statistics on Thrive My Way, a website geared toward earning income online. Other interesting statistics: While 36% of van lifers are going it alone, about 44% are sharing the experience with one other person.

While for many, van life is a way to travel extensively and see the country for a set time period, for others it is a permanent way of life, whether traveling or staying put. Thrive My Way statistics show that 51% of van lifers reside in their vans full time. The 2019 U.S. Census data says 140,000 people live in their vehicles, though it’s not known how many are doing that by choice.

“Full-time van lifers in Maine have more Moxie. They are prepared for four distinct seasons. They (have) Yankee ingenuity and use it. It takes a certain level of preparedness to get ready for fall/winter living in a van, and Mainers have that,” said Krummel.

“Van life in Maine for me is simple — it’s home. I’ve spent the majority of my life here and I can confidently say every year, any time of the year, I discover new things that I had never heard of in our beautiful state.”

Kevin and Taylor Mathers with their Sprinter van, which they live and travel in while documenting their adventures for their YouTube channel “Mathers on the Map.” Kevin Mathers photo

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