A Man, A Van, A Plan

A man, a van, a plan image

EDITOR’S NOTE: When my nephew Matt McMonagle told me of his plans to visit all 50 states as a way of determining where he wanted to live long-term (and more), I was impressed and a little envious. What an adventure! Matt is just the type of guy to pull it off in style. Here’s his story.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I thought I had it all: my dream job in a 5-star city and surrounded by amazing people.

In the four years that I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve had fun, laughed a lot, and met some really incredible people. I kept making plans and goals for the future but I could never describe my general state of mind as feeling fulfilled. I knew that what I was doing might look great on paper – living the dream. But, it wasn’t for me. For a long time, I fought and denied the validity of these feelings. I told myself that I have it too good to complain about things. An inner voice told me I’d be an idiot to give up what I had worked so hard to achieve.

Taking the Plunge

But then one balmy November day, it all changed. I bought a van. I made a plan, and here I am, about to travel all 50 states with my lovely girlfriend, Megan. Our plan is to travel all 50 states – 49 of them in our converted Sprinter van that we call “Vanna White”.

"Vanna White" the van image
Our ride: “Vanna White”

The whole idea started with the following thought process running on repeat in my head. “I’m not going to live in San Francisco forever, it’s not the place I want to settle down. Well, where do I want to settle down? I don’t know, I haven’t seen enough options to make an informed decision. I’ve gotta see all the options. How do I see all the options without spending a fortune? A van! I’m going to travel the U.S. in a van.”

Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough

For years, I’d spend hours looking on Craigslist and sprintersource searching for “the perfect van” until I realized that perfect was becoming the enemy of good enough and it was due time to take action. I found a van that I liked the layout and specs located in Pensacola, Florida. I flew there to check it out and decided that the van had enough of what was on my dream van list to take the first step to vanlife. So I bought it. It was probably the most stressful day of my life. I drove it back to San Francisco as fast as that diesel engine would take me, and I was back to work on Monday!

on the road image
My inner voice kept telling me, “Hit the road Matt!”

Over the past few years, I’ve done quite a bit of solo road tripping. I love the freedom and peace and how the experience innately encourages space for deep thinking. I tend to ask myself my biggest questions when I’m on the road and come up with the best answers. But, all that empty road can get boring and lonely, too. I end up making a lot of chatty phone calls to my mom when I’m solo road tripping.

In Search of a Travel Companion

I started thinking about how to combat road-loneliness, and also, maybe it was time to get serious about finding a partner to start a family with. I’m all about biting off more than I can chew, so being trapped in a 100 square foot box on wheels for a year with someone I barely know seemed like a perfect make-it-or-break-it relationship challenge. This naturally led me on a path back in to the dating world. Dating. It was something I feared more than flying, public speaking, and snakes combined.

I went on some dates and I put it all out there. I went full weird and let my freak flag fly.

It went something like this, “I am planning a trip to leave San Francisco to see all 50 states. I’m going to live in a van, reserve my bathing for hot springs and cold streams, wake up with the sun, and find the best food that this country has to offer.”

I went on quite a few first dates but surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly – I didn’t have a lot of second dates.

Striking Gold

Until Megan. Our first date was great. I remember rambling and blabbing about Vanna and the plan. Perhaps I should have learned by now that this was not typical first date conversation material. But, I’ve never strived to be typical, so I carried on. I detailed all the things I wanted to do and see, and then I noticed something. Megan actually leaned in. I’m no body language expert, but that seemed like a good sign. In hindsight, my verbal onslaught of offbeat plans for adventure could have physically exhausted her to the point of needing to rest an arm on the bar, but I like to think she was intrigued, curious, and perhaps somewhat impressed. She was wonderful.

The more Megan and I got to know each other, the more we realized how compatible we are as partners. We have tons of fun together, and communicate openly and vulnerably. We like the same things (except eggs – she doesn’t eat eggs) and there are a lot of parallels drawn between our goals, ideals, interests and dreams. Before you knew it, we were becoming a team. It only took a few months before her excitement for the trip surpassed mine. She was in.

The dirty darlings Megan and Matt image
Megan and Matt

Losing Creature Comforts

As we talked to friends and family about the trip, we realized that a big worry that holds people back from adventure and writing your own rules and fringe living is the idea of discomfort. For our friends, they were concerned about us showering. “How are you going to shower?” “You’re going to be so dirty!” “He already smells bad enough as it is. Are you going to be able to handle worse?” Side note: our friends are really great, and it doesn’t hurt to have a few skeptics in your life. At one wine filled dinner party, some friends started to call us “The Dirty Darlings”. And, we’ve adopted the name for our travel blog: TheDirtyDarlings.com.

The Dirty Darlings Blog

Dirty Darlings image
The Dirty Darlings are ready to go. Our departure date: September 1, 2017.

Blog? I’ve never in my life set out to have a blog. I have more hobbies than I can keep track of and none of them have ever been sharing my insights or feelings to the world, but Megan was looking for a fresh creative outlet. After talking about it, we realized it might be a good intersection between our interests; my photography, sharing our travels and staying close with friends and family, a creative outlet, something new to learn, and maybe even a revenue stream somewhere down the line.

Funding our Adventure

Did you say revenue? That’s right, even though we’re going to live in a van down by the river we still have to make money! Good news, we both have some savings that we’re prepared to tap into while we get into the groove of living on the road. Megan is keeping her job as an accountant, but switching to working part time (hey there, sugar mama).

working remotely image
In our case, working remotely might mean being very remote

I’m still working out how I can help my current employer and favorite company of all time, CreativeLive, reach their goals while we’re on the road. We’re also getting creative and diversified with our financial income plans. I’m a freelance photographer, videographer, and audio engineer so after we get our bearings a bit on what it’s actually like to live in a van, I plan to start partnering with like minded brands to get sick pics of their gear into the world, do some audio and video work here and there and sell stock photography.

evening sky image
An example of some of my photography work
San Francisco image
And one more

We’re also hoping that you find enough value from what we share that you’d donate directly to our gas tank. And if we get support and enjoy maintaining the blog, we plan to start utilizing affiliate programs and possibly sell ad space on the blog. Reach out for our media kit if you’re interested in partnering with us- our following is like the Spartans of the internet; small in numbers, but mighty.

More on our Sprinter Van

Unlike our audience, Vanna is not small. She’s a 22’ long converted 2006 Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter 3500. A home on wheels. A road boat. I bought her because of the layout. The idea of not having to break down a bed every day to have sitting space was appealing. I liked the raw wood vibe, a decent little kitchen, and the fact that she only had 110,000 miles on her. She’s got a 400 watt solar system, dual burner stove, sink, toilet, and a small apartment fridge with a freezer. What more could one ask for?

Megan and I have spent many an evening planning how to make this van a home, and in one long weekend at her parents’ house (with an incredible amount of help from her dad), we really got her looking and feeling like home. Custom curtains, cabinets, shelves, storage solutions, and one big deep clean later – she’s begging us to take her on the road.

Traveling across the country image
Our patio, while modest, will usually have some great views

Visit All 50 States

And hit the road we will. Our master plan is to take about a year to visit all 50 states, 49 of them in Vanna and then celebrate by flying to Hawaii to cross the finish line on the quest for 50.

So where are we going to go first? We ship out September 1 and are going to take the first two months to get acclimated to the lifestyle – not do too much work, see how much time and energy we have to devote to different projects, and explore what we’re most excited to explore; the PNW, west coast, and the Rockies. Our first two months on the road will look something like this: SF to Big Sur to Oregon (Bend, Portland) to Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula to Central WA (Enchantments, Wenatchee) to Idaho (for the hot springs) to Glacier to Yellowstone to Grand Tetons to Colorado to Arches to Moab to Bryce to Grand Canyon back to Seattle (for work) to Half Moon Bay (friends’ wedding) to Yosemite to Eastern Sierras and then probably back to southern Utah until we get snowed out.

visit all 50 states image
Our first couple of months’ itinerary – follow all of our adventures at thedirtydarlings.com

Yes, it’s ambitious – but if we can fit half of this into our first two months we’ll be driving on cloud 9.  And after that, who knows? The itinerary will be dictated by your recommendations, weather, pit stops to visit friends and off the road detours to check out that top rated taco shop.

Our Great Adventure

Like so many people we have dreamed about living a life full of adventure and exploration. We are so excited to scratch every corner of the US, strengthen our relationship with each other through stress, shake up the daily routine, and share our best (and worst) experiences with you.

van mirror image
There’s no looking back now…

Follow our adventures at thedirtydarlings.com, on Instagram at @thedirtydarlings, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thedirtydarlings. Sign up for our newsletter where you’ll get the best of what we find delivered directly to your inbox. And let us know if there’s any best kept secrets in your neck of the woods that we’ve just got to check out. We’d love to hear from you and we hope that our journey inspires you to prioritize adventure in your own life.

–Matt McMonagle


You might like:

Inspiration quotes and sayings

Determination quotes to inspire