A pregnant nurse who lives in a tiny sprinter van with her husband and their three children has revealed how the growing brood navigates life in such a tiny space – while sharing how their nomadic lifestyle has helped to bring them all together as a family.
Rachel Sanchez, 32, from Idaho, met her husband Mike, 37, from Utah, in 2009 when they were both working at the same hospital – her as a nurse and him as a director of nursing.
They bonded instantly and ended up tying the knot just two years later, welcoming their first child Lili, now eight, in 2013.
Five-year-old Mila and two-year-old Remi soon followed, and together the couple are now expecting their fourth child, who is due later this year.
Rachel and Mike say they have always shared a passion for adventure and the great outdoors, something that they knew they wanted to pass down to their kids. So they decided to embrace a nomadic lifestyle that would allow them to embrace nature as much as possible – while also allowing them to maintain a family home.
On the move: A pregnant nurse who lives in a tiny sprinter van with her husband and their three children has revealed how the growing brood navigates life in the cramped space
Van sweet van! Rachel Sanchez, 32, and her husband Mike, 37, moved in their van with Lili, eight, Mila, five, and Remi, two, after purchasing it for $38,000 on Facebook in 2020
Out and about: The couple had always shared a love of the great outdoors and they wanted to find a way to pass this passion down to their children
Happy non-campers: Rachel and Mike used to camp together while enjoying nature trips, but they found that this was much more difficult with kids so they started looking for alternatives
Before welcoming children, the couple would regularly camp together, but they soon found that this was much harder to do with infants, and so they sought out a way to make their adventurous lifestyle a bit more manageable for the whole brood.
Initially, Rachel and Mike considered buying a motorhome or trailer – but they soon found themselves drawn to the idea of converting a van into their own little home.
After searching for their perfect van, they came across a 2008 sprinter on Facebook Marketplace, which they bought for $38,000 at the beginning of 2020.
Although they had saved for a while by putting money aside whenever they could, Rachel and Mike had only saved up $10,000 in total, which would have made an entire van renovation a tricky process.
Luckily for them, the van they chose had already been converted for a couple previously, so the only adjustments they had to make were finding room for their three kids.
They started by converting the previous bed into a bunk bed system, by lowering the surface down and placing an additional bed above that was fit for the children costing $2,000 and just one week later, their van was complete and they hit the road.
As Rachel is currently going through a high-risk pregnancy, they try to travel only a couple of days a week so that they’re in close proximity to the hospital and have so far travelled through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Once they arrive at their destination, they wake up in the early hours of the morning and begin exploring with their kids.
Perfect! After considering a motorhome or a trailer, the couple settled on a converted van as their ideal home on wheels and managed to find one that had already been renovated
Room for everyone! The van had already been fitted with a bed for a couple, so all Rachel and Mike had to was add another bunk for their children to sleep in
Settling in: Rachel and Mike say that their children absolutely love life in the van – and are always disappointed whenever the family takes a break from their travels
Simple: In order to provide a bed for their children, the couple added another level to the bunk system that was already in the van, making room for everyone
Cozy: Although the van does not afford them a great deal of space, the family prefers to spend most of their time outdoors and say they have everything they need in the vehicle
Lilli, Mila and Remi have fallen in love with the van life and are always disappointed whenever the family have to take a break from their travels, with the family’s favorite location being Utah due to the beautiful scenery.
For Rachel and Mike, they believe that buying the van has brought adventures to their fingertips, as they are able to drive and explore wherever they want, whenever they want. They are grateful for the family time that it has granted them and believe that the main purpose of life is about being together and loving each other.
‘Myself and Mike met in 2009 whilst at work and we soon tied the knot just two years later, going on to start a family in 2013,’ said Rachel.
‘Before we decided to live the van life, we had always loved adventure and prioritized spending as much time as possible in nature.
‘We spent our free time hiking and exploring as well as camping – but this can be a lot of hard work with so many little ones.
‘We wanted to find a way to make it a bit easier and allow us to do a lot more, which is where we came across the idea of a mobile home.
‘After looking at motorhomes and trailers, we decided that we loved the whole concept of a van – the ease of driving, parking and just the simplicity of it.
‘Logistics are always a bit more complicated when children are involved, so we took the time to consider a lot of things when looking for a van.
‘We saved for a while, just setting money aside whenever we could. However, we had only saved $10,000 by the time we bought our van.
When life gives you lemons… Initially the couple had only planned to use the van on weekends, but when the pandemic hit, they took advantage of the opportunity to hit the road full-time
Ideal: ‘We have taken advantage of remote schooling on the road and are loving the freedom to travel as we wish right now,’ Rachel said
Caution: Because Rachel is experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, the family are limiting the amount of time they actually move around so she can remain close to a hospital
Bliss: The couple have faced backlash from social media users who say that they are guilty of ‘neglecting’ their children – but they insist that is not the case
‘I found a 2008 sprinter on Facebook Marketplace at the beginning of 2020, which we fell in love with and part financed for $38,000.
‘Despite the van already being used, it had been converted for a couple who were using it previously. Although the renovation process was relatively simple, we had to find ways to create space for a family of five – soon to be six.’
Rachel and Mike took the current fixed bed and lowered it down, where they sacrificed additional storage space to create a bunk bed system.
‘Within a week of purchasing, we had spent just under $2,000 transforming the van into our home,’ Rachel said.
‘For us, the most important feature was to make sure that there was enough space to fit everyone as well as enough seating for the kids so that they were comfortable.
‘Our intention was to homeschool on the weekends only – but then COVID hit and everything shut down.
‘We have taken advantage of remote schooling on the road and are loving the freedom to travel as we wish right now.
‘However, as I’m currently in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy, we are staying within a close radius to our hospital – but once our baby boy arrives, we will start travelling everywhere we want.
Controversy: Others have hit out at them over their close sleeping quarters, insisting that it is inappropriate for the couple to share a bed that is just below their children’s bunk
Positive: Rachel insists that van life has been nothing but beneficial for their children, despite the online controversy over their living arrangements
Happy: ‘There are so many ways in which the van has benefited our children, as they have come so close to nature and truly appreciate experiences over materialistic things,’ she said
‘Currently, we try to only travel a couple of days a week and spend several days in an area, where we wake early and get to a location in the early afternoon so we can get right to exploring with the girls.
‘For me, Utah has been my favorite place due to the beautiful red rocks – but we have also travelled across Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
‘Our girls have the ability to tell us that they’re not enjoying themselves and want to stop, but this hasn’t happened yet and they love the van.
‘They’re always disappointed at breaks in the travels – but there was this one time in southern Utah in a heat wave and that was pretty miserable.’
Despite loving the van life, the family have faced some challenges such as a roof leak whilst they were travelling, which they had to fix with garbage bags and duct tape.
‘We have since purchased a satellite phone, so that we never get caught in a worse situation and be unable to contact help,’ said Rachel.
‘Our next focus is to get our little boy here safely, as that takes top priority and affects our travels entirely.
‘Once we go through the newborn stage of everyone getting used to the new normal, I am confident that he will fit right in and we will be off on far away adventures in no time.
‘There are so many ways in which the van has benefited our children, as they have come so close to nature and truly appreciate experiences over materialistic things.
Excitement: Rachel and Mike are excited to welcome their fourth child – a son – in a matter of months, and say that they have no doubt he will ‘fit right in’ to their life on the road
Precaution: The couple purchased a satellite phone so that they are never in danger of getting into a risky situation without being able to contact help
Happy: ‘Our family has always been close, but this has only made it better as the girls are each other’s best friends and constantly rely on each other,’ Rachel shared
‘We have one drawer dedicated to toys as we couldn’t bring loads with us and we worried that this would be difficult for them – but nature has become their playground and they make toys of whatever they can find.
‘Our family has always been close, but this has only made it better as the girls are each other’s best friends and constantly rely on each other.’
Rachel has a passion for photos and documenting her children’s lives, so began sharing their journey on social media, which has become an outlet to share that adventuring with kids is magical.
‘Our community online is simply amazing as people are so kind and uplifting. However, when my photos are shared on large accounts, we are always bombarded with many hateful comments such as, “Those kids must be so neglected” and “Imagine getting it on with kids right above you” which are written by those who don’t have or want kids, so can’t see the magic,’ said Rachel.
‘We love the family time that this grants us, as life is simple and it’s about being together and loving each other – we have what we need and there’s not as much longing for other “stuff” anymore.
‘Van life can mean what you want it to and the only reason you need in order to do something, is that it makes you happy.
‘In the end, regardless of whether we are in a van, a house or the mountains, our family’s favorite place is to be together and we are so excited for this kind of travel and adventure as a family.’