While #VanLife seems to be the current rage on social media, the LC recently sat down with a young woman who has created her own take on this lifestyle: #BuickLife.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Amanda Finstad. I am 23 and work seasonal as an outdoor educator. I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI. At the age of 16, I struck out on my own and moved into the city, bouncing from place to place. Essentially, growing up fast and developing a survivalist mentality. During this time period, I found the outdoors, specifically, the amazing pursuit of rock climbing. My days climbing in the gym and at Devils Lake, WI started me looking at colleges where access to climbing and other outdoor activities were mere minutes from campus. Lo and behold, I ended up at Fort Lewis College, a small liberal arts college located in Durango, CO where I graduated with a degree in Adventure Education in three years.
Three Years?! How did you make that happen?
Because I had been responsible for myself since high school, I learned that I don’t really need that much in life. I discovered that when I work for and obtain things for myself, I respect it so much more—whether that be my climbing rack which took me four years to put together or even my college education. I came to Fort Lewis with a small college fund from my grandfather, but little else. With rising college costs and hence increasing debt for those in my generation, I vowed to myself to live the Durango “dirt bag” life and finish college with no debt. Working three jobs; budgeting $100 a month or less for lodging; and spending $17 a week on food, I doubled up on my semester credit load and am proud to say that I finished in three years debt free. I even saved enough to travel for five months through South America upon graduating.
Wow! Impressive. Especially in a mountain town like Durango where the cost of living is not inexpensive.
Thanks! My minimalistic mentality from my high school years helped me be able to be okay living in closets, laundry rooms, or sharing a bedroom with others. Additionally, it is amazing how many meals you can get out of $17 worth of rice, beans, and vegetables for a week. I really learned how stuff is just stuff and will always accumulate if you let it…let alone drain your bank account. My mom was a hoarder—a hoarder like you see on those TV shows. I guess as a kid, it made an impression upon me and I never wanted to end up that way…controlled by stuff. Spending time outside and with my friends is more important to me than having a nice place to sleep or the latest and greatest of gear. By living on an ultra-cheap budget, I am able to meet all of my goals.
Did you have a budget for transportation? How did you get around?
Initially, when I started college, I had a motorcycle which wasn’t the most practical Colorado vehicle for a variety of reasons. Prompted by a need to pick up a friend in Denver during my sophomore year, I began hunting for a car. So, there I was searching Craigslist for the cheapest car I could find…vans, sedans…whatever was cheap and had low miles. This is when I found “Gramps,” a 2001 Buick Century with 125,000 miles and a rusted-out muffler for $1800. It was a match made in heaven. Since I handed over my hard-earned cash, Gramps has been my main source of transportation and lodging. I have been living out of Gramps since my college graduation.
So what is #Buicklife?
Ha! This is my own spin on the very trendy and highly romanticized lifestyle of #VanLife. I am essentially poking fun at it. I work in California and encounter lots of weekend warriors with their $80 to $100K sprinter vans that they use only occasionally. I like to pull up next to them in Gramps and show them the true art of living out of a vehicle, which I have been doing since I graduated. It is kind of fun. Honestly, I have nothing against people with vans. They are pretty sick and if I could afford one, I definitely would be driving one.
Why did you make the choice to live out of your car?
Well, I think my past has definitely influenced this decision, but also, my mentors have helped propel me into this lifestyle. They all have lived out of a vehicle at one time or another simply to be able do what they loved…climb, bike, ski, travel, etc…to be free to pursue their own dreams and passions. This is what Gramps is for me. It is what I am able to afford in order to work in the outdoor industry in the capacity that I do…as an instructor for Outward Bound and other organizations. It provides me the financial mobility to travel and chase my dreams. Up to this point, I have been to 48 out of 50 states with Gramps. It is pretty cool as I am not tied down to any pressing responsibility and can go anywhere at any time.
How long do you plan to live this way?
I plan on staying on my current career path as a field instructor for as long as my body will hold out. I know I have at least 15 more years of doing this type of work. Living out of a vehicle will probably not be in the cards for all 15 years, but I will definitely be sleeping in Gramps until it goes by the wayside. I believe in getting all of my adventure dollars-worth out of my stuff—including my car. I will run this thing to the ground. As long as she will run, I will be driving her.
Regardless, I will continue to live a minimalistic lifestyle. I have had times where I have rented out a room and honestly, I get pretty anxious being in one spot for longer than three months. I prefer living on the road at this point in my life—even though it can be hard at times.
So how is Gramps set-up in order for you to comfortably live out of it?
Well, I recently did some renovations, which have greatly enhanced my living experience. I unbolted the front passenger seat and removed the back seat creating room for a more comfortable sleeping platform that has storage underneath it. Previously, I would sleep half on the rear seat with my feet thrust in the trunk through a hole cut in the back seat. The narrow hole made turning over at night quite uncomfortable and awkward. My new platform with three-inch memory foam is legit.
The rear driver side door is the home of my “closet” as the door compartments contain my toiletries with a little Rubbermaid container holding all of my clothing. A mesh bin holds my laundry. The trunk provides more storage and is the home to my kitchen. I built a fold out table that is supported by my trekking poles. Additionally, my two-burner stove, mini cooler, 20-liter water jug, and pots and pans all find their places in the trunk. Voila. Everything fits.
You are a practicing outdoor professional—which means you have gear—where does your gear get stored in Gramps?
I get rid of clothes…so I can have more gear. Everything I own fits in Gramps which means I don’t have many things. I only have the essentials—except for my golf clubs. I have all of my climbing gear, skis and assorted gear, etc. Everything fits and has a place. Minimalism at its purest.
As a young woman, living this type of lifestyle, what do you do to keep yourself safe?
I consciously think about safety a great deal, especially where I sleep at night. I always park in areas that are well lit and where there are people around. If something happens, I hope that others will hear it happen. I don’t like to sleep in the middle of nowhere. There has to be others around, thus, I never sleep at trailheads alone. I have privacy shades so no one can see in my car. And of course, I always keep my doors locked. When feeling uneasy about a situation, I have been known to sleep with a knife under my pillow.
What kind of lessons have you learned from this lifestyle?
The biggest thing for me is to live simply. Minimalism, not just in regards to the accumulation of material goods, but also in the way I interact with those around me and my impact upon the environment. I am very conscious of my carbon footprint and how the more I consume, the more I impact the health of our planet. I like to surround myself by people who inspire and help me grow as a person. I try not to think about money. It comes and goes and is a source of such strife in our world. For me, the experiences matter. I think in my work, it really shows. As an outdoor educator, I help people get out in the natural world and learn about themselves. This career doesn’t pay a lot, but that is okay. It is meaningful work and makes a difference in people’s lives. I can live in Gramps and still save money. Enough for me to accomplish my goals of travel and adventure. Additionally, through my choice of #BuickLife, I have learned to keep changing and moving…to keep moving forward. I rarely get stuck in a rut, because the lifestyle forces me to keep progressing in whatever ways I can.
What kind of advice would you have for others seeking their own versions of #BuickLife?
Something about #VanLife that does get to me, is the very skewed perception that social media has created. It looks glamorous with all of the staged photos of scantily clad women and beefcake men in an exotic locale. That is honestly, not what it is like. It is hard...hard to live out of your vehicle. It gets lonely…think about where you go after work. I don’t go home to a couch with a family or roommates. I crawl into the front seat of Gramps and ask myself, “Where do I go now?” I think a lot of people would be sad doing this on a daily basis. It is not for everyone. What it really is about, is figuring out how you can challenge yourself and make yourself happier. For me that is living simply which creates movement and growth. Living out of Gramps challenges me each and every single day. Figure out where you are not happy and make some change to challenge that unhappiness—whether that be paying off all of your debt; going back to school; reaching out to those you have hurt; or simply going travelling. It may not mean living in your car like me. Find whatever version of #BuickLife is for you and go challenge yourself. Try something new.
What is the next big adventure?
I am realizing that there is so much of the United States that I haven’t seen. I want to go to the Pacific Northwest, go to Montana, and climb in Wyoming. I also want to continue to travel abroad. My mind expands so much through overseas travel. In particular, I would like to go somewhere in east Asia. Ultimately, I want to continue this adventure into living simply to inspire others to grow into the best versions of themselves. This lifestyle has the power to change the world.