Chelsea and Dakota didn’t plan to spend two-and-a-half years on the road. It just happened.
The way they tell it, one day they were living in a 1904 bungalow in the Hawthorne neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. The next thing they knew, they were making their way south along the Oregon coast in a juiced up Sprinter van with a mobile hotspot.
Their reasons for uprooting and living in the van—which began as a 4-month trip—went beyond the lure of adventure and freedom. Dakota and Chelsea knew life on the road would help them rethink how they used their time, cultivated personal relationships, and valued possessions.
Turns out they were right. Living in a 6-by-12-foot space on wheels spurred plenty of insights.
Sharing their story
In the fall of 2013, Dakota launched a blog called Traipsing About, so he could share updates and observations about life on the road. Dakota wrote the posts and took the pictures, and Chelsea edited his words. Their story has been unfolding there ever since.
There was the post about how he fixed up the van and why he and Chelsea chose to have the adventure. They chronicled how they spent time in nature and introduced the characters they met along the way.
They noticed how living a mobile life changed them.
“I used to be kind of nervous about meeting strangers,” Chelsea says. “I was cautious.” Suddenly she found it easy to connect with anyone, even without small talk. “You go deep immediately,” she says. “What do you care about? What are you interested in?”
Going by bike
In 2014, the couple took their nomadic life to the next level when they parked their van at Dakota’s parents’ house in Idaho, and started riding their bicycles across the U.S.
They rode 4,000 miles that summer, a trip that included moments Dakota says he’ll never forget. Like the time they placed flowers on the graves of Chelsea’s paternal great-grandparents in Iowa. And the surprise flight in a 1946 Piper Cub seaplane in upstate New York.
The next summer, Chelsea and Dakota loaded up their bicycles again, and rode from London to Prague. While they were in Belgium, Chelsea commented on the Bruges Vegan blog, and the bloggers invited them to come stay in their picturesque home in the countryside.
Curating their digital tools
Not only did technology help them connect with new people and stay in touch, it allowed them to keep up with other parts of their lives.
Dakota continued to run his business from the road, thanks to what Chelsea calls a carefully curated set of digital tools. In addition to the wireless hotspot, Dakota installed solar panels on the van to keep his laptop running and used everything from visual voicemail to digital signing software.
“Our life wouldn’t have been possible a handful of years ago,” Chelsea says. “We are so grateful for the technology we have now.”
One Traipsing About post talked about how Cozy was an essential tool that helped them keep their “passive income more passive.”
Landlording from the road
They hadn’t planned to rent out their house, but instead of leaving it empty, finding a short-term renter made financial sense. Dakota and Chelsea already had experience renting out a condo they owned in Portland, but finding someone to live in their house—the place they’d called home for seven years—felt different.
They decided to rent the house fully furnished, which required a new attitude about their stuff, from couches to wine glasses. They collected their personal items—including a set of dishes made by Dakota’s mom and family pictures—and put them in a closet and one cabinet.
Sometimes, it’s hard to think about other people using their furniture and living in their space, Chelsea says. “But I’d rather have the adventure than be precious about my things.” Besides, Dakota, points out, it’s just stuff. Any damaged items could be replaced by the security deposit.
When they first started traveling, Dakota and Chelsea didn’t know about Cozy. Their renters had to physically visit the bank to make monthly rent deposits. The next set of renters made direct deposits into the couple’s bank account.
“It was dumb,” Dakota remembers. “You had to give them your bank account number.”
Finding Cozy was a relief. “Using Cozy is like Paypal,” says Dakota. “You have my email? Great, we’re done!”
Returning to a more stationary life
These days, Dakota and Chelsea are taking a break from being digital nomads, at least for a few months, until they head to Iceland this summer.
They’re living in their house in Portland. Chelsea is starting a vegan cooking club and Dakota’s practicing the guitar and returning to rock climbing.
But they haven’t forgotten what they learned on the road. “You can’t get too set on having things exactly the way you want them to be,” says Chelsea. “It’s a practice in non-attachment.”
Chelsea and Dakota’s tips for renting from the road
- Find out where your ideal renters go for online listings, and post there. (Dakota and Chelsea only post their Cozy listings on Craigslist.)
- Use Skype to interview and screen potential renters.
- Before you talk, prepare. Write down a list of things you want to know. For example, Chelsea says she tries to figure out if she were in conflict with the person, would they be able to sort it out?
- Think about renting from the renter’s perspective. “I try to drop the walls between myself and the person who is the potential tenant,” Chelsea says. “I want them to know we’ll take care of them.”
- Establish a rapport. It’s just as important for renters to get to know you, as it is for you to get to know them.
- Don’t be afraid to request a background check and credit report.
- Before renters move in, schedule another Skype call, and go through a list of info so they won’t be surprised by anything, from pet policies to parking.
- For furnished properties, give renters a short list of what’s in each room so they know what they might want to bring. (For example, there’s no TV or coffee maker.)
- Install a digital keypad to avoid having to do a physical key exchange.
- Check out The Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening, which is downloadable and free.