Fam-Life, Not Vanlife: For This Clan, Van Ownership Doesn’t Mean Cute Hashtags

An enormous social media footprint and magazine-worthy glamping photos? That’s not the van life that the Waeschle family knows. Try hotdogs, diapers, and family fun. Added to that list is what writer and photographer Amy Waeschle calls “the need for WAP (wild ass plans).” That is, until the kiddos came along.

The Waeschle Clan.

Waeschle and her husband have been van owners for over a decade. Their first adventure bot was an old church-owned Ford Econoline, complete with hymnal pockets and the musty smell of Catholic guilt. Bed in the back, storage underneath, the perfect weekend warrior rig for a young couple in love, zipping to and from year-round surf spots in the Northwest.

“Our good friend had a similar DIY tricked-out rig,” Waeschle recalls fondly. “Together we were called ‘Team Creep’ because our vans were, uumm, creepy looking. Those were good times. I never would have thought to post pictures of us making coffee at 5 a.m. or thought to ‘grow my brand’ by posing like a tree in my bikini. Maybe I’m just getting old.”

The Waeschle family adventure van is not anything like the #vanlife that has taken over social media in the last few years. Waeschle describes herself as an average person. She’s never lived full-time in her van. She doesn’t pose pictures of her adventures and post them to Instagram. In fact, she rarely photographs the van at all. As for partnered brands and sponsors, she doesn’t have any. But the Waeschle van is the family’s fun-seeking, adventure delivery mobile, and their warm, dry haven of quiet and comfort after epic days outside.

The Waeschle kids in the GTRV van.

For Waeschle, van life looks like this: “It’s been great for my family. We’ve taken it all over. With a bed up top and down below and the fridge, we can be self-sufficient for as long as 7-10 days. Our van’s too ugly for van life. But our van is an essential part of our adventuring,” Hashtag hell yes, Waeschle family.

We talked to Waeschle about her and her family’s brand of vanlife.

What do you drive?

“The old van was named Creepy. It was a 1995 Ford Econoline. The current van is a 1999 E 150 that is manufactured by a company called GTRV.”

Wait…your old van was called Creepy? Explain this.

“When Kurt and I bought a van, we weren’t picky and we weren’t rich. The van we bought looked like a church van, with vinyl bench seats, dark blue paint, shiny chrome bumper. The owner actually had, like 10 kids, and needed a way to transport them … possibly to church. He had painted the roof white because he lived in Eastern WA where it gets really hot; he thought it might help it reflect heat. We tinted the windows and tricked it out with a plywood bed and an old futon mattress. It was big enough to still have the first row bench seat with the bed in, so it kind of had a “love shack” look, but the tinted windows we added made it kind of creepy looking. Our good friend, Rick, also acquired a van at about the same time, and his was also dark blue with tinted windows, and had an industrial-looking roof rack. Side by side, our vans could have been cousins, and so became Team Creep.”

Amy Waeschle and her husband.

How long did Creepy stay in your life?

“We bought Creepy in 2004 and it died a sad death in 2013. A week later, my husband Kurt bought our current van, which has a fridge (such a game-changer) and a pop-top bed plus a fold-down bed.”

Where’d you find the Creepster? And where did you find your current van?

“Creepy came from Auto Trader. Our GTRV came from an RV dealer. Kurt was perusing their website the day after Creepy died and saw it. He pounced.”

How did you make it yours?

“We did a lot to modify Creepy. We had to remove one of the benches, build shelves and the bed rails. We had to sew curtains and hang them. Once we had kids, when we would arrive at our destination, we’d remove the remaining bench seat and set it out on the ground outside the van, which made for a nice couch, actually. Then we’d put up the pack-n-play crib in its place. At bedtime, we’d zip the baby into her sleep sack and plop her into the crib, then later on in the evening, sleep in the big bed just behind her crib. We were able to do that until she was about 3-years-old. When our second was born, it became harder to sleep comfortably. Our oldest daughter was in the bed with us and the baby was in the crib. It wasn’t nearly as romantic. When Creepy died and the GTRV came along, it was a perfect setup for our family.”

How do you make a living?

“I’m a writer and author. I mostly write about surfing. I’ve written two books, Chasing Waves, A Surfer’s Tale of Obsessive Wandering, which is a surf travel memoir, and this summer Going Over the Falls, a novel, came out. It’s a surf adventure crossed with a family saga. I’ve also written for Sierra, SURFER, International Living, and the Patagonia catalogue.”

Time for s’mores.

What do you do for adventure?

“Creepy has been from Cape Flattery to So Cal, plus Idaho. The most memorable place is definitely the Northwest coast. It is so wild and rugged here, and the surfing is cold, cold, cold. Having a van as a refuge is a must.

The GTRV has been to Vancouver Island, Oregon, and Washington, from the Cascades to the coasts. This summer we drove it up a super steep access road to a place called Corral Creek. Our family arrived at around 9 p.m., just in time to watch the last of the sunset. We were planning on going backpacking the next day but had our car camping setup primed, so all we had to do was pop the top and climb into our sleeping bags. The best part about this setup was that we had packed our backpacks in our living room at home, minus the sleeping bags. We were able to roll up to the trailhead, which happened to be a beautiful spot, and just climb in bed and go to sleep. No putting up a tent in the dark at 10 p.m. on a Friday night after a full day of work and our nerves fried from a long drive with antsy kids. No digging out the flashlight from deep in the backpack. And no cooking. The fridge was packed. We had bagels and cream cheese and fruit and chicken salad for dinner during the drive. The next day, we were fresh and already packed for our backpacking trip. All we had to do was lock up the rig and start hiking.”

Checking out the view.

Why is van ownership awesome?

“Freedom. You can go anywhere, anytime. You don’t need a campground, or reserve a spot a year in advance. You can explore, get off the beaten path. And if you find a cool spot, you can park there and enjoy it for as long as you like.”

Why does van ownership stink?

“Gas mileage sucks. We can’t use our van as our daily driver, so it means having an extra car, which means extra insurance, extra maintenance. It’s big, so storing and parking it can be an issue.”

Dinner date.

Should I get a van?

“Yes, get yourself a van! It doesn’t have to be pretty and your adventures don’t have to be Instagram-worthy. Get one with a fridge if you can and say goodbye to soggy cheese and bloated pasta salad. With a van, you can explore farther, deeper, and make your own path. You will use it more than you think.”

All photos courtesy of the Waeschle family.

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