I live and work in a van as a digital nomad. It requires sacrifice.

  • Mariah Arianna, 30, lives and works in a van with her partner as a digital nomad.
  • She has a wedding and elopement photography business and works as a brand editor.
  • Arianna says that while the van life seems glamorous, the lifestyle requires a lot of sacrifice.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mariah Ariannaa 30-year-old man who works as an adventure and elopement wedding photographer and brand editor.

My mother always said that as a young child, living in a small rural town in Michigan, I learned to walk and talk weird at an early age. I was always looking to get out and explore faster than she could keep up, and I got anxious when I was in a routine or exposed to too much familiarity.

I went to college because I knew getting a degree would be my ticket out of the small town I lived in. I majored in Applied Linguistics and English Literature and used my time at the University of Michigan to draw out as many experiences as possible. , internships at part-time work, and save money. I also traveled a lot in college, taking trips to Spain and Morocco. I was in love with living life anywhere but home.

For my first job after college, I moved to Omaha, Nebraska to work full-time as a marketing and training content creator for a foundation repair and basement systems company.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the 9 to 5 life wasn’t for me.

I didn’t have the freedom or enough vacation time, and I always knew I wanted to run my own business and my own life, so I took small steps to make it happen.

I started taking additional photos and writing gigs on the side and started freelance work in 2017. During this time I contacted a friend who told me about an opportunity to work as a mountain guide in a remote lodge in British Columbia. I was already a minimalist and didn’t have much to get rid of, so I sold what I had and left behind a life I would never return to.

Mariah Arianna on the beach holding her camera.

Arianna on the beach holding her camera.

Mariah Arianna

In December 2018, after working at the lodge and building more freelance clients for photography and writing, I decided to move with my partner Johannes to his home country of Germany. I worked with many clients in Frankfurt and was able to get a long-term work visa to stay in the country.

We both knew we wanted to travel as much as possible, so we decided to stick with temporary accommodation while we were in Germany. From there we traveled to Hawaii, British Columbia and the American West.

We live and work full time in a converted motorhome since 2021

My companion, who is a carpenter, and I were able to renovate it together. We bought the van from someone we knew and paid 7,500 euros in cash for it. The van took us seven months to build and after that time we added other small additions (a heater, a roof terrace and more storage). The construction cost us about 18,500 euros in total, divided equally between the two of us.

When we’re not staying in the van, we’re on the go and have traveled to Norway, Slovenia, Thailand and Austria. I even did a two month stay with a friend in Hawaii while doing my freelance work. Recently, we traveled to the Dolomites mountains in Italy in the van, and I did a lot of elopement photography sessions for clients.

Mariah works on her laptop while Johannes sits across from her.

Arianna and her partner Johannes working in the van.

Mariah Arianna

As a photographer, many of my clients find me through my website. I spent a lot of time creating blog posts with targeted SEO so that people using certain search terms on Google could find my services. I also get new clients from Instagram, word of mouth, other photographers and posts in Facebook groups.

These days I consider myself a digital nomad

My clients know my lifestyle and find it totally on brand, especially my wedding clients. They hire me to capture their special day in some of the most breathtaking locations in the Austrian, Swiss and German Alps. I have three elopement-photography packages ranging from 3,340 to 7,900 euros.

All of my workdays are different, but it’s nice to be a digital nomad and have control over my routine and schedule. A lot of how I structure my days depends on the weather. If the weather is nice and I don’t have a lot of meetings or don’t need to be in front of my computer, I’m going rock climbing, hiking, or going on an adventure in a new town. On days when the weather is too hot, rainy or cold, I work indoors on my computer as much as possible.

I handle a lot of stuff, from on-going trips to working with clients all over the world

I use a virtual assistant and client management program, Dubsado, to help me stay on top of tasks, invoices, and workflows. It costs me an annual fee of $320, but it’s worth every penny and cheaper than hiring someone to be my assistant.

Mariah Arianna working in a cafe.

Arianna working in a cafe.

Mariah Arianna

Even though I work on the go, I like to work in quiet places because I am distracted by noise. I usually work in small cafes, local libraries, or inside our van, which is very bright and open.

Living as a digital nomad saves us money. I spend about 900 euros per month on expenses such as maintenance of the van, gasoline, groceries, insurance and my mobile plan.

Even though life in a van looks glamorous from the outside, it’s not a vacation

You still have to work to make ends meet, clean a messy chemical toilet in the van, and sometimes sleep parked in a parking lot that isn’t very pleasant. This lifestyle requires sacrifice and the same amount of work, diligence and planning as anyone else’s lifestyle; you just do it by moving.

If you are someone who wants to do this too, start planning now by living below your means. Too many people let their bloated lifestyle take over and take away their freedom. We are careful with our finances so as not to get into debt. When we travel without a van, we try to reduce our costs by staying with friends, Airbnb or using Workaway.

If you want more freedom in your career, learn skills for different types of jobs or freelancing

You can learn skills like online marketing, SEO, and other digital professions by taking free courses on edX or Coursera.

I’m not a money person. I have no inheritance or trust funds, but I created this lifestyle through the decisions I made. Whether it was graduating from college, being debt free, or meeting a partner with similar values, I never gave up my passion of wanting to see the world I live in.

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