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Alex Ulmke dropped her day job, bought a van and has spent the past year traveling and finding a new way to experience life. In today’s show, she shares with us why she wanted to do that and what she’s learned along the way.
Welcome to The Art of Living big. My name is Betsy Pake entrepreneur, author and personal success coach. This is the show that brings you stories and small ideas to help you live a big life. I hope this once a week podcast will inspire you, motivate you and encourage you to think differently about what could be possible for your life. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now let’s go live big. Alright, so I have with me today, my friend Alex on the phone. Hey, Alex, thanks for being here.
Thanks so much for having me. So
tell everybody a little bit about yourself and and where you are.
Um, well, right now I’m sitting in Alaska, and I’m trying to steal the Wi Fi from wherever. And yeah, I’ve been just drove up here a few days ago. So I’ve been up here for about two weeks from Washington and I live in my VW bus.
So fun. So I found you, like online because and everybody that’s listening to the show that’s a regular has heard me talk about how my daughter wants to live in a van. And you’ve sort of tell tell me kind of how this whole thing started. And really, now you’ve created like your own little girl in a van community.
It’s been super amazing, actually. So I started off like completely, it was totally on a whim the whole thing actually. So I just actually, it’s hard to even say it’s also eight in the morning here. So I’m still waking Yeah. Um, so I was living in Seattle working full time for the past three years ever since I graduated college, and I bought the van, kind of on a whim. And I knew that I wanted to live into the live in the van full time at some point. And I didn’t really know exactly when that was going to happen, or how that was going to look. And then kind of the more and more that I started, like getting it to my job. And I started, you know, analyzing my future, I realized that I wasn’t really going the direction I wanted. And I was trying to kind of reconfigure my life within my job and maybe looking for new opportunities. And then I realized that if I really wanted to radically change my life, I needed to make a radical change. And so I quit my job. I moved full time into my van. And I started the girl in her van blog and Instagram as like half travel half like VW van nerd, because I didn’t want to put my friends through like, Oh, look at pure I am in this beautiful place on my personal Instagram because right isn’t really yeah, I wanted it to be a little bit more of just kind of like, this is how I did it. This is how I like made this table and stuff like that. And people just really seemed to connect with my story. I think being alone, and I think being a girl and being 20. I was 26 when I started. Yeah, I think that was a huge, you know, a lot of people talk about stuff. But I don’t really feel like a lot of people actually will get up and go Yeah, and I think when there are people that are representing that in a really organic way, as much as social media can be organic. I think that people see that. And they really like want to expand to connect with that.
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s so true. And I think that many times, like we’ll have an idea or a dream or something we want to do. But before it can even get any legs, we shut ourselves down and go oh, but I couldn’t do that. And a lot of is just because we don’t know anybody that has like, we don’t even know that it’s possible. But someone watching you that has that same idea or dream for adventure could see you and be inspired and know that it can be done. And that in itself is just a really cool thing. And so it’s cool that you’re sharing it all, you know, on social media.
Yeah, and I’ve really tried to be as open as I can be with it, you know, the highs, the lows and everything in between. And I think that, you know, social media can be very poetic, and I think it can glorify really easily a lifestyle. It’s super difficult. Like I woke up this morning, and I was like, frustrated to be in my van this morning. I was like this is so small. This is such like a difficult space to be in all the time. It’s not this like super epic like camping in epic VISTAs every night like you can Walmart’s and you’re sitting in Starbucks is using internet for five hours a day. Yeah, no. And so I feel that like with my story, I tried really hard to not to glorify the moments that deserve to be glorify, but also to be like, no, it’s still still life. Yeah. figure out a way to do dishes and, you know, give half taxes and insurance. Yeah,
yeah. Yeah, that’s really important. You know, that’s interesting. You know, it’s funny, because this morning, I live outside Atlanta, and I was sitting on the back porch, and I have had this dream to move to the beach, but I have a kid in high school, so I want to let her live out her high school career, but I actually cried this morning. I’m 46. So I’m older than you. But I cried this morning because Cuz, like, when am I gonna get to go and it’s funny because you said you woke up really frustrated to be in your van and I have like a beautiful like 5000 square foot house. And I cried because I was like, I hate it. And then all of a sudden, I had that moment where I was like, Oh my gosh, like, look at the abundance around me just the trees outside, you know, like, there’s so much greatness, and I’m so focused on the crap that I don’t have, that I’m not even appreciating what I do have. So it almost feels really nice to have you say that, then, you know, it doesn’t matter where you are, or what you’re doing, or what kind of adventures you’re having, like, everybody, you still have those human moments where you’re just like,
no, totally. I mean, no matter where you go, your problems are still going to be there. And I remember sitting in a parking lot in California crying on the beach, because I was like, this is just so hard. Like this lifestyle is really difficult. And the problems that I thought I was going to get answered because I gave up my job and moved into a van. Like those problems still were there. Like they didn’t get answered, because I moved into a car. If anything, I had got more problems. Right, right.
Yeah. So let’s take it back to like you’re working in a cubicle, right? And you just make like, this is something I really want to do. Like, how did you take the steps to do that? Like you, you know, you find a van and just do it? Like, do you tell? What is your family say, like, tell me the beginnings of how this happens.
So my family’s super supportive of travel and kind of like, Renegade lifestyles. So it’s so funny, cuz a lot of people ask me what my parents think about it. My parents have been the biggest cheerleaders and like, at one point, they were like, No, you have to do this. Yeah, like this, this is something you have to do, because you’re always gonna wonder, right, and so I was sitting in a cubicle, and I knew for about a year that I wanted to quit, but it was such like one of these things that you only think about at night, you know, like when a world kind of can’t see you. And so I knew, like, for a year, and the dead of night that I wanted to do it. And having that kind of little like nugget of a dream. It kept growing and it was like a little seed and it kept kind of like, I kept feeding it because I kept like looking into things. And I started like kind of looking at the actual possibility of it. And it looked at my finances and, and the more and more I kind of kept feeding that dream, the more it kind of became like a little talisman of hope for me. Yeah. And, and I started like, slowly telling people, you know, I talked to my dad a whole bunch about it. And, you know, once I kind of made the decision, I was like, This is the decision, like, this is how it’s going to be. And I kind of just I told people I didn’t really ask, I just told them, I was like, This is what I’m going to do. And yeah, a lot of people come to me and ask about, you know, I was bringing a gun, Am I safe? How is this? You know, you’re leaving your job that’s like, at the time was a dream job for most. And so it was super difficult kind of cultivating that.
We have we have like this, like idea of what life is supposed to be like. And for anybody goes outside of that ideal. I’m sure people questioned it because it made them question themselves, right? Like you’re doing this cool thing, and I have stuff I want to do, but I’m not doing it. So you can’t do that. Because then it’s bringing up the point to me in my life that I’m not doing my thing, right. Don’t you think? That’s a lot of it? I feel like that in my life when I come against people that think I’m nuts.
Oh, yeah. No, I mean, I think it’s just people are gonna have their opinions about it. And you know, it’s something on them. Yeah. Yeah. So,
so so that you so you told everybody you made a declaration, you found a van, but then really, you had to make modifications to it so that it would work for you, right?
Yeah, so the van just kind of like fell into my lap a little bit. And, um, you know, it wasn’t even for sale. And then it came out of the blue that the owner was willing to sell it and it had 4000 miles on it. And it was like the hometown, my hometown back in Washington State. And it was just kind of destiny was van destiny. And after I bought it, there was a lot of like, little stuff that I like needed to change to like make it like, seemingly more livable. And my dad is a like a he’s a craftsman, and he’s a woodworker specifically and he’s just, he’s just one of these Renaissance men that can kind of just do everything. Yeah, cuz you’ve done some cool
stuff. And people can see that on your Instagram page and on your blog to all the cool like, it’s it’s crazy, like even like with the table that like moves outside and
yeah, yeah, that’s all my that’s all my dad. Like that. Like, I wish I could like claim because we we work a lot together. Maybe not like, I’ll send him like ideas. Like I’ll send him really like rough patch ideas. And then him and I will work together like to try to figure out a way to make it come to fruition. Yeah. And so that’s like really, really special. So a lot of it is you know, DIY but with somebody whose craft is like woodworking, and electrical and things like that, and like my parents have had solar at their house since I was, you know, 10. And so when it came for me to do my solar setup, I was like taking my dad’s brain like crazy. And he was helping me to set the whole thing up. And so so there was a really strong like family collaboration on the van, which was great because it made it feel more like home like, Yeah, I know that I’ll never get rid of my van because it kind of has. It’s like a little like love of labor for my dad do. Yeah, I see him and a lot of it. And I see like my mom and a lot of it too. Yeah, that’s, that’s made it feel more homey to
me. And it represents so much probably at this point.
Oh, yeah, it’s, yeah, it’s my home. And it’s where I feel the most comfortable honestly, like when I like I’m in my parents house or I’m in like these bigger houses. Now. I feel like overwhelmed by the space. Yeah. And like the small space like really is like kind of where I feel most connected to myself and to my environment.
So you get this van and you make some modifications so that you can be in there, you’ve got electricity, and you don’t have to have the van running. Right. And you’ve got internet capabilities in there and all that stuff. No, I just like hotspot my phone. Okay, Starbucks’s. Okay, yeah. Cool. So so then you take off, so you’re from Seattle. So where do you go? Like, where’s the for? What do you like? What did you do?
I mean, I feel like sometimes my story is like a mixture of like, Eat Pray Love and into the wild. Yes. Like, honestly, I was talking to somebody recently. And I was like, I feel like that is my summation. Like, I took off, and I went up to Alaska. And I feel like Alaska has been always this place where it’s the great expanse, and it’s the great wilderness. And like, if you go, and you kind of put yourself into nature, you know, it will all come back to you kind of a thing. It was very, very thorough. Year. Yeah. And, and so I left Seattle last night on May 6, so my one year anniversary is coming up real soon. And may 6, and I took up to Alaska. And then I traveled around Alaska for three months, I took a job working for two weeks in Southeast Alaska. So I was like, not, I guess, not on the ground, like the whole time. But I took a job for two weeks. And then I went over into the Yukon in northern Canada. And then I came down to the Yukon for a month. And then I was in BC. And like, right around this time was when the trip got really lonely. And it really just, like kind of became a difficult time for me. Yeah, so initially, I was gonna go down through Montana, and into Wyoming. But I ended up cruising back through Washington for a few for a few days, and spent like a week in my parents house, kind of like re grounding.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
That’s a long time to be by yourself. And like, being by a guy wasn’t like long road trips, when I used to have a sales job where I would have to travel, you know, to two or three states over, like, I would always look forward to the time in the car alone, but after a while, we’ve your thoughts, like, you know, you get where you’re either thinking way too much, and way too deep and over analyzing, you know, or you just get like sick yourself. So I can imagine that that whole experience was like, a little overwhelming.
Oh, for sure, like, more time does not necessarily mean better time. And you kind of find that you think about the same things like again, and again, you kind of brood on them. And you kind of like realize, like how interesting some of your thoughts. And yeah, having that much time alone, it was a gift. And it was kind of a curse. Like it was amazing, because it gave me such space to grow personally. It gave me such space to like really kind of analyze my life and my reactions and my relationships, especially. And then what also occurs because then you you know, you’re analyzing yourself, which is always a very difficult tie.
Yeah. And sometimes you need somebody else to like counteract, because you can kind of at least for me, I can go down like a rabbit hole of craziness. If I start thinking too much, you know, Oh, for sure. Do you? Did you like are you a book reader? Or like, Did you listen to audible books? Or like, Do you listen to music? Or were you really like, just quiet when you would be driving?
No, I listen to something like all the time all the time. I like yeah, I have like an issue with the silence. Okay. Like always. Yeah, there’s always like music on audiobook. Like I read a lot. I watched a lot of like movies stuff. Yeah.
Yeah. Cool. Cool. So, um,
so tell me,
I guess this is the thing that I’m kind of mesmerized to. And I will say that I’ve had a couple other people on the show that I’ve interviewed that are like younger people in their 20s and they are traveling all over and I will say I hear a lot of crap about millennials. Like there’s a lot of jokes. about millennials, right? You know what I’m talking about? Like, Oh, yeah. And it drives me nuts. Because and I’m not a millennial, clearly, I wish I was, but like, it drives me nuts because I feel like you all are the group of people that are saying, like I saw you work your butt off and still get fired. And I saw you work your butt off and and have failed relationships and have divorces and like, I don’t want that for my life. I want to figure out what really gives my life purpose and do that thing instead of getting caught up in the like, the thing that that my generation is caught up in like, you know, keeping up with the Joneses kind of thing. Do you think that do you think it’s a little bit different? Your journey because you, you were coming at it from a point of view of a millennial, where like, I want to change my life, I want to figure out what my life is really about.
I think that’s like the 20 something. And first off, thank you for asking this question. But I really think that the 20 something crisis is real. And I think that not I think a lot of people are making jokes about it. Like there’s so many memes about it and drives me nuts. So many. Yeah, there’s so many Instagram accounts. But I can say firsthand that I know, most of my friends personally, that are going through these kinds of real crises, like leaving their jobs, like moving back home, like taking off and like traveling, trying to figure it out that way, or have the friends that somehow got really lucky. And they got into like the field they love, like right away, you know? Yeah. And I think that it was so funny, I was talking to someone about this about how like van life is like the new American dream, instead of like having like the white picket fence, kind of stuff. Yeah. And it’s, I think it’s so funny how that transition, but i think that i think that this idea of simple living, and needing less is kind of like the basis right now. And I think that while I part of me does think that it can be a little bit like trendy, I do think that the morals of it, and like the priorities of it, you know, connecting more with nature, not needing to buy a house right away, not needing all these things that will just like bog you down, I think that that those ideals are really going to continue to expand? And I hope they do, because I think that it will, it will be like a real defining thing of our generation, if we’re able to kind of take a step back. And not only say like, okay, maybe we don’t want this like our parents had, but we worked really hard. And we actually put in, you know, real invest time. And we thought about it, and it wasn’t just like, I’m gonna go to Southeast Asia, because I don’t know what else to do. It’s like, No, I’m gonna work for a few years, and like, really try to figure out what my career is. And then if I don’t like it, I’m gonna take a step back and reconfigure. But I just don’t agree with like developmental like downtime. And I think that’s like a huge thing, also, with the 20 somethings is that a lot of people will just go and they’ll just start traveling, like with no end in sight or no purpose. But I think you always have to be trying to better yourself and trying to figure out what like, the next step is for you, and what the best move is. And that’s one thing on my van trip that my parents said that they never worried about. For me, they were like, We knew you were going to figure out where you needed to be. Because, you know, I’m always seeking the next like, professional, not development, maybe but the next skill I can hone Well,
yeah, yeah. And I think that’s a big thing. And trying to just learn about yourself. It sounds like you’re like thoughtful and trying to learn about yourself as you’re on this journey.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. It’s it’s been very eye opening. Yeah,
yeah. You know, and I think there’s like a new wave of like spirituality coming to be where people are more conscious of how we’re all connected. And it’s not necessarily like religious based as it’s like this, like greater mindfulness. And I wonder if that’s part of it, too, you know, that. Maybe like the millennials are kind of bringing that to be because they are taking that time to like, be thoughtful and connect and be mindful about what they’re doing and be aware of, like their existence in the world. I mean, when I was 23 years, you know, I bought my first house, like, I just did stuff that I thought I was supposed to do. Like I didn’t I wasn’t aware of like what I really wanted to do about a house I got a dog, you know what I mean? Like a difficult job. And like, I love it, that you’re just doing what you want to do. And, you know, when I talk about my daughter wanting to live in a van and do her thing, and my friends will say like, No, you got to talk her out of that. And for me, I would, I would never, I would never talk her out of it. My job as her parent, and I think it sounds like your parents kind of feel this way. But my job is not to be a judge. My job is to to be a guide. So when She decides she wants to do something, my job is to help her figure out how to do it. And so, you know, I don’t I do not want to ever be the person that when she’s 40, she says, I was gonna do that, but that person stopped me. You know what I mean? Like that, like, I will not be that person. So I love it that you sort of had this dream. Yeah. And started working towards it. And your parents were there to support you and all of that. It’s just really, really cool. Tell me now as you’re traveling, like, how do you make money? because now you’ve been doing this almost a year? Like do you have an online business? Or do you make money from your Instagram at all? Or like, what’s, how do you do that?
Oh, sorry, you just cut out we just repeat your last thing you said?
Yeah. I was just asking about money. So how do you make money now?
Oh, well, I have a job now.
Okay. Yeah. So you went up to Alaska?
Yeah. Yep. I just came up to Alaska. And I’ve been working for the past week, and I have a job for the next six months. And money is so funny, because people ask me all the time how I fund this, like, how do I find this? Like, yeah, I save it for two years. Right? And I and I didn’t look I came out of college like debt free, which was a blessing unto itself. You know, and I got like, a really good job right out of college. And I was able, it’s really easy to save when you’re saving for a dream for you’re like, yeah, yeah, yeah. And so I saved for two years to not work for 10 months. Yeah, you know, yeah. Yeah. So it’s, it’s super funny. And I said this recently to someone else. And like, if you have crazy amounts of debt, or you have like a mortgage, like Do not move into a van, like do not think that you are gonna like start making this like secret income? Because you will. Yeah, that is not. That is like you will maybe get some free cookware. Right is about as that is about as financially play. Yeah.
Yeah. Advanced you will get well I will ask because they can’t figure like, they can’t see that for themselves. Like, how do they make this happen? You know, and like I told my daughter, now she’s 15 that she’s, she’s already starting to build an online business so that she could do it from anywhere. I’m like, if you want to live in a van, and you don’t want to go get a job first. You know what I mean? Like, you got to figure out how you’re going to be like, have a creative path. So I’m sure that’s why people are asking because they’re trying to figure it out, you know, how could they do something similar?
Which is like, I’m so sorry, the connection is getting so bad. Oh, no.
Well, we can find a lot we can wrap up. If I know you’re out in the middle of Alaska. Yeah, that’s okay. We can wrap up if you want. I know you’re out in the middle of Alaska. I know. I’m sorry. I
also feel like I’m whispering like really intensely.
No, it’s good. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for coming on the show and talking to us. This is fascinating. And I I have loved watching your journey over the last year. I mean, I think I found you over a year ago. I mean, it probably right about when you started your journey. So I have had fun watching.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it and definitely give your daughter my contact info and I can chat with her a little bit.
Okay. Yeah, that’d be great. Thank you. All right. Thank you so much. All right. Thanks, Betsy. Thanks for having me on your journey. today. I want to invite you to jump inside our free Facebook group. You can find that at SS lB community.com that stands for start small, live big community.com and we can just continue the conversation in there. And as always, here’s a little message from my husband.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai