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Like many college students, upon graduation, Caysem Johnson, a graphic designer here at Rhone, found himself with rather shallow pockets but a desire to get out of his parents house. It was inspiration from a bumper sticker, a Google search and a quick flight to Colorado that provided Caysem with an answer to his question of how to get out and live on his own: van life. 

We sat down with Caysem to learn more about how he decided to live in a van, what it took to build it into his home on wheels and of course, his career so far as a Graphic Designer.

How did you decide to live in a van?

I was a poor college student (like most) and was living with my parents. I desperately wanted to have my own place, but had zero money to make that happen. Then one day, while driving to campus, I was following a van with a bumper sticker that said “home is where you park it”. And I thought that was odd, but it struck me and so I googled “living in a van” that night and was blown away that #vanlife was actually a thing. I graduated, moved out on my own and had some expendable income. But I kept thinking of building a little van home–I had to do it. If I didn’t, I would have been saying no to the little dreamer in me. So I hopped on a plane to Colorado, bought a van, drove it back and got to work. 

Give us the details of the van! 

I drive a girthy 2015 Ram Promaster 2500 cargo van. When I bought it, it was an empty tin can so I had to build the entire inside from scratch. I put in insulation, framed her up, installed a solar and electrical system, as well as plumbing for a sink. The bed converts into a table and there are storage cubbies and drawers throughout the van. It really is a little house. 

What's your day-to-day like living and working on the road? 

I wake up, usually workout out (I travel with a set of Powerblock dumbbells and some gymnastic rings) to get the body and mind going. After that I convert the table into a bed, sit down and sign onto work (1bout 90% of the time I work off my phone hotspot for WiFi). After that, I usually sign off and work on any passion projects I have going on unless it is Wednesday, which is date night. Then I eat dinner and settle in for bed. Somewhere in there is driving to the next stop on the itinerary. That is my standard week. The weekends look much different. Most weekends I am either exploring a city attraction or preferably I am in a National Park - hiking and hanging out in nature. 

We know you’re not just parking on the side of the road at night….right? 

90% of the time I use an app called iOverlander to find where I will be staying. It is a community of people who share free places to stay overnight in your vehicle. Sometimes this is a sweet campsite with wifi and a view, other times it is on the side of a road next to a park in Boulder, CO with a bunch of homeless and shady folks. Sometimes it is a good ole reliable plaza parking lot. 

How to balance work/life?

Work/life balance is something I am good at sometimes and also bad at. Some things that I do consistently to draw lines in the sand are signing on and off at the same time each day, taking a lunch break, and silencing notifications when I am signed off. Usually if I am doing those things, I feel like I have a nice balance.

Can you give us a high and low for living in a van?

The high: insanely cheap travel. Of course you have to pay for gas (which right now, might become a major problem) but other than that, I can visit anywhere I want and not have to pay for lodging and can cook my own meals so I save money on food. There is no way I would be able to go where I have gone this year had I traveled the traditional way. So cheap travel is the high, hands down.

The low: there are a lot! What everyone see’s on Instagram is the highlight reel of a few very talented content producers. Here are a couple lows:

  • No bathroom - there are many a gas station stops and coffee shop visits

  • No shower - I shower at truck stops, laundromats, and sometimes just don’t

  • No AC (I have a heater)

  • My electricity depends on the sun

  • Finding places to park

  • Mess - I live in the van with my girlfriend and it is insane how dirty the place gets in a day

Do you have to eat out every meal? What does food and nutrition look like for you?

I have an electric induction cooktop that I use to cook everything. Assuming this is a judgment free zone this is what my diet consists of: ground beef, eggs, refried beans, cottage cheese, extra sharp cheddar cheese, tuna fish, and of course Cholula. I eat a combination of any of those things basically weekly. But, we definitely eat out. Food is such a huge part of experiencing a place–to skip it would be a misstep. 

Favorite places you visited with your van to date?

Easy. Glacier National Park. It is way up in Northern Montana and is full of some of the best alpine scenery I have had the privilege of laying eyes on. A very close runner up is Grand Teton National Park. 

Big trips coming up?

I am the most excited for the back half of this year. I plan on going on a big trip that will include: Yosemite, Redwoods, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, and Glacier Lake National Parks. This is all assuming I can afford it with the new prices on gas…

What’s a common misconception about living life on the road that you’d like to debunk?

I think the biggest one is that everyone probably thinks it is all an Instagram influencer highlight reel but in reality there are a lot of things that are very hard about it (see lows). But if you are the kind of person who can handle a little adversity, then you open yourself up to a really interesting way of living. 

So you're a graphic designer for Rhone. How did you get into design?

I have always liked art. I took a few design classes in high school and just felt at home. When I got to college, a degree in Graphic Design seemed too one dimensional, so I majored in Public Relations and Advertising. I figured that would give me a wide enough skillset to get just about any intro level marketing job. Right out of college I got a job as a graphic designer for a small fitness company in Utah, but because it was such a small team, I habitually took on more responsibilities and eventually served as their marketing director for a few years. At that point my skill set was very wide, but I could still feel a draw to design. That’s when I decided to apply to Rhone–a decision I’m extremely happy about. The more I learned about marketing the more I realized that I loved the branding aspect of it the most. Design impacts how consumers think and feel about a brand. I think it is an incredibly important part of marketing and something I take pride in doing every day.

What do you do when you're not doing design work? 

Sometimes I just keep designing. Right now I am trying my hand at illustration as well as designing a hand made font (which you can check out on Instagram). To be truthful, most times I can’t wait to close my computer at the end of the day–sitting all day kills me. I love to get outdoors and hike, camp, play yard games, anything outside. I am also a huge fan of tabletop games, in particular Magic: The Gathering. There is something about getting a few people together and playing a game face to face that is better than any video game on the market. 

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