RVing, cycling and running are at the center of the Jon and Pamela Robichaud's happy place and it's how they choose to explore the world, all from their Sprinter Van.
Mercedes Sprinter, Roaming Robos, Great Lakes, Sprinter Van
MobileRVing: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider, Written by Olivia Richman
Getting The Most Out Of (Van)Life
@RoamingRobos Are On A Continuous, Eventful Adventure In A Sprinter Van; Their Most Precious Cargo: Touring Bikes, Penny The Dog & Unlimited Freedom!
After scouring the internet for “van life” inspiration, Jon and Pamela Robichaud set out to modify their own van and travel across the United States.
Last year, they traveled 38,000 miles. They were on the road for 16 months straight.
All inside a modified Sprinter Van.
“Ultimately,” said Jon, “it was making up for lost time. It was about taking life by the horns and appreciating it for what it is.”
After 16 months of straight travel – from a deep dive in the south to a long stay in Alaska – the Robichauds are back home in Boulder, Colorado, planning their next adventure. They're back in their home. Back with their friends and family.
Surprisingly, Pamela didn't miss her home at all while out traveling in the van. But now that she's at home she feels like something is missing.
What do you feel you're missing?
Her answer: Freedom.
“In 2013, my friend had said to me, 'Why am I going to work?'” Pamela recalled. “I thought to myself, 'That's a great question.' We obviously need money to live. But, beyond that... I don't know. I don't have children to pay for, college tuition to pay off, doctors appointments to pay for... Part of our motivation to travel was to appreciate all that life could be.”
And without children, the Robichauds don't feel like anything is missing from their lives. They don't want kids. But they do feel they need something in their life to keep things interesting.
She said: “You don't want to just work for 50 years. And say that's all you did.”
After getting hit by a car that same year, the Robichauds began to realize that life was just too short. It was time to head off.
The goal, for Jon, was to get to Alaska, one of the only states he's yet to visit. Working freelance jobs from their van, the Robichauds were able to travel to Alaska and stay up there for an entire month.
“We like to stay on the 'edge of nature,'” said Jon. “There's so many bears walking around... We didn't want to go too deep into the woods. You want to be close to civilization still. But we wanted to see how truly untouched it was up there. For me, it was breathtaking.”
Jon described the experience as driving up to a movie set. As they drove up to some cities, they saw the bright blue water, snowcapped glaciers, etc.
“Although we weren't contributing to our retirement or a 401k... We were making new memories,” said Pamela. “You're cycling 100 miles on a dirt road in Alaska. That's something you can't do when you're 70.” That attitude has also rubbed off on their loved ones.
One of the their most magical memories was inspiring Jon's parents to travel to Alaska with them. Despite never having traveled, his parents took only 10 days to decide to take the trip and then travel to meet Jon and Pamela in Alaska. It was a trip that had taken the Robichauds months to plan.
“They just got on a flight and met us there,” said Jon. “For them to fly... That's a huge thing... It was really cool to see how we helped them tick off a box on their bucket list.”
Pamela recalled Jon's mother saying her wish was to see a glacier.
Of course, they saw many, many glaciers. “And she had tears in her eyes,” said Pamela.
While traveling across America obviously leads to many once-in-a-life-time memories and breathtaking views you thought you'd only see in calendars – they saw the Great Lakes in Michigan sparkling underneath the beautiful sunset, and hiked 6,000 foot mountains in Texas – but the beauty of traveling for the Robichauds wasn't in the attractions and site-seeing. It was in the adventure itself.
It was about getting away. It was about being together in a van.
“One of my friends said, 'Isn't every sunset so meaningful?' And I said, 'No,'” Pamela stated. “You can't live like that. Some days are just days. It's easy to romanticize it. But some days we just went to the grocery store. Or we spent the day on the computer.”
Daily life on the road was actually determined by their dog, Penny. She was the schedule keeper, noted Pamela. She gave them purpose.
Jon would wake up in the morning and take Penny out of the crate underneath their bed. He'd take her out to use the bathroom. Then Penny would lay on the bed with Pamela while Jon made coffee and breakfast.
The Robichauds would discuss what they were going to do that day. Hike? Run? Ride bikes?
Before leaving, they would make sure the temperature was just right for Penny, so she'd be comfortable while they were out exploring a state park.
When they got back, Pamela would take Penny out to use the bathroom again and then put her away in the crate. Before leaving the site, Jon would take in the mats from outside and store them. Then Pamela would make dinner.
This was a routine that sort of just happened. It wasn't planned.
And it really was that simple, said Jon.
One question people often ask them is about using the bathroom or showering. How do they do that while traveling in a van?
“It's really okay if you don't have a toilet or shower,” said Pamela. “Our big thing is that we don't like to open the van door to pee outside at night. It wakes up the other person in the van. So we both used pee bottles. We'd slide out of bed and use a pee bottle without waking up anyone.”
Being in the van was also made easier by Jon's modifications. He took the skeleton of a passenger van and modified it to fit their traveling needs. They never felt homeless. They had everything they needed. It was just smaller.
Modifying the van was a way for Jon to understand the inner workings of the vehicle in case anything were to go wrong. But they also began to think of creative ways to fit new mods.
Last year, the couple added a sliding bike tray to the back of the van. Instead of just putting the bikes underneath their bed, they had trays that slide out for easier access.
In an entry on their Roaming Robos website, Jon describes adding a little shelf into the van.
“Recently I've been looking at the available and usable space at our disposal within the van to create a work station,” he wrote. “Why? Pamela has gotten in the groove of coloring again and I was looking for a better way to type on my laptop.”
Desiring a more “ergonomic setting,” Jon ordered a 36” x 16” pre-treated shelf, locking brackets, sand paper and stain. The shelf – according to Jon – adds 1.75” of space to their kitchen area.
It's evident from their journal entries that the van's space was viewed as a positive. Even roomy. They didn't feel cramped. They didn't feel they were lacking space. In fact, they even felt they had room to work with.
It's not just about hiking up a beautiful mountain. It's about finding a new view on life. They had each other. They had a bed. They had Penny.
Right now, Jon is going to school in Boulder to become a massage therapist. It's a dream he's had for 10 years. But once that's completed in March, the couple will be back on the road for two to three months. Something they're thinking about constantly.
“We've always had a really good understanding of how fragile life can be,” said Jon, “how it can be taken away from you. With the van, we can connect with more people. We see friends we haven't seen in forever. The two of us can spend more time together.”
It's not like what people see on television. There's no drama. There's no intense arguments. Not every moment is astonishing. They pee in bottles. They drink coffee while discussing where they'll hike. They take their dog for a walk. Just like everybody else. Except they are where they feel like being at the moment. Most importantly, they're doing it together.
A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.
Make Sure To Check Out:
Roaming Robos, a story of why Pamela and Jon Robichaud bought a Sprinter Van and where it will take them. They recently embarked on a year of travel and living in a van with bikes and their dog.