Keep it Simple: How to Live and Travel in Your Van

Published on June 30, 2015

Bedrock Sandals co-founder Dan Opz lived and traveled in his ’86 VW Vanagon for a year and a half from 2012-2013. Below he shares his inspiration, gear, and story of life on the road.

The Inspiration

During the winter of 2012 I took a 6 week long road trip through the entire Baja Peninsula in search of empty waves, trails, and a brand new experience. I traveled nearly 4,000 miles in total from Northern California to Cabo and back all in an ’87 Vanagon Syncro with my old college roommate Foster and good friend Trevor.

In addition to empty roads, waves, and trails, I discovered groups of American ex-pats living off dollars a day in their vehicles parked along the beach. Many worked for a few months a year in the states then headed south with surfboards in tow for 6-8 months in the fall, winter, and spring. What amazed me most was how little money they needed to be sublimely happy – living simply without many of the modern day worries and woes most folks have. Fishing for halibut, surfing your brains out, and heading into town for internet and fish tacos once every week or two.

During the spring of 2012 I decided that I was done paying rent in my Northern California apartment. I wanted an experience that forced me to simplify my lifestyle, list of belongings, and afforded me the opportunity to travel and work on Bedrock Sandals full time.

The Van

I decided I wanted an ’80s VW Vanagon because of their relative ubiquity, affordability, and spacious living quarters. The major issue, however, with VW Vanagons is their unreliable and underpowered nature. In order to have the best of both worlds I figured that I needed a more reliable, modern engine.

After hunting Portland, Oregon craigslist, a great place to find VW’s Vans, for months I finally found what I wanted – a Vanagon in good body condition (no rust) but with a blown engine. I bought my non-running ’86 Vanagon for $750.

Next I found a used engine in good working condition off of a ’97 Subaru legacy. Subaru engines are perfect transplants into VW Vanagons because they are roughly the same shape, have the same configuration (horizontally opposing 4 cylinder engines), and are insanely reliable. Folks have used the same 2.2 liter Subaru Legacy engine (EJ22) on small airplanes. I found a crafty and affordable mechanic to lead the charge on the engine conversion and other more minor maintenance we did on the van. 

In addition to converting the engine we added an auxiliary battery that charged off the engine’s alternator while running – then when parked the auxiliary battery cuts off from the starter battery to provide the van with off-the-grid power for 3 or so days.

The Journey

Over the past year I have traveled to the far corners of Down-East Maine all the way to central Baja California, Mexico. I’ve worked on designing and testing Bedrock Sandals on the road, growing our small company, and taking photos for our Company Instagram Account.

Along the way I have gotten the chance to run and hike in some breath taking wilderness, fly fish in both mangrove ocean and high alpine stream, and surf some awesome breaks across the US. More importantly for me though, I have simplified the list of things I need in life to be happy. I’ve learned that living such a simple lifestyle affords you the opportunity to focus on what truly matters towards your happiness and fulfillment.

After 1.5 years on the road Dan decided to sell his van, buy a sailboat, and experience life below deck anchored in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Bedrock Sandals is now based in Richmond, California!