Dave Anderson and Szu-ting Yi wear a lot of hats: guide, writer, photographer, filmmaker, speaker, vagabond. They say their travel schedule-spending up to half of each year overseas-means it makes more sense to live in, and work from, their 2012 Nissan NV 2500 Mobile Office. We caught up for them just before they left for another stint in Asia.
Year, Make, Model
2012 Nissan NV 2500
Does the vehicle have a name?
How did you get it?
My partner Szu-ting pooled our savings, traded in our cars, secured a loan, and purchased it new from the dealer.
What do you do for a living?
Szu-ting and I wear several different hats in our quest to make enough money to pursue our goals. Szu-ting is a writer and occasionally does short programming contracts for various high tech companies. I am a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker (dave-anderson.com, @davide_anderson). In addition, we own an international trekking and climbing business, LittlePo Adventures. LittlePo provides custom trips for small groups of clients traveling to Taiwan, China, and Mongolia. Fortunately for us, the ability to connect to the internet is easier than ever, so we are able to organize and conduct all of our various work-related projects on the road.
Balancing earning enough money to support our lifestyle and having enough time to pursue our climbing goals led to living in Magic. We often spend three to six months in Asia each year, so having a permanent residence would require us to spend more time earning money and less time climbing.
How did you modify the vehicle, if at all?
Magic came as a bare cargo van and we did almost all the customization ourselves. We bought the van when we were renting a house in Las Vegas that had a large garage where we could work on the van build. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned and we moved out before the customization was completed. For the next year and half we lived in Magic while completing our customization. Luckily, we had several friends who graciously let us park in their driveways for extended periods while we renovated on our van. We also spent a lot of time at Lowe’s and Home Depot parking lots working on the van.
We insulated the vehicle, added custom side windows, installed a couch that folds down into a bed with locked storage underneath. We built lightweight wooden cabinets along the sides and back of the van. In the kitchen we have a foot pump to pump water into the sink. Magic has a 20-gallon fresh water capacity, a 5-gallon drainable grey water tank, and a propane stove. We also have two solar panels and a battery bank that meets the power needs of our DC fridge, phones, laptops, and runs our roof vent’s fan. For cold weather, we have small catalytic heater that runs off propane. We also purchased an adapter that allows the front passenger seat to swivel and face the living area. For safety we installed a propane and CO2 sensors and have a fire extinguisher. We do not have a bathroom and rely on pee bottles for the middle of the night.
How many states has the vehicle visited?
Magic has traveled to 10 states plus several international visits to Canada. We follow the typical climber migration patterns to take advantage of climbable conditions throughout the year. In the summer (when we are not guiding in Asia), we spent our time at Wild Iris and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, Index and the Cascades in Washington, and Squamish. During the winter, we head south to Red Rocks and Joshua Tree. During the shoulder seasons, we spend most of our time in Utah frequenting Maple Canyon, Indian Creek, and Zion National Park as well as Yosemite.
Our primary “sport” is climbing-sport, trad, alpine, and big wall. As a result, most of the storage areas in Magic are filled with ropes, cams, biners, quickdraws, haul bags, portaledges, ice axes, crampons, etc. We also have associated trekking and backpacking gear that we use during our climbing adventures. To stay fit on the road, we have a climbing hang board and TRX type fitness system that attach to the side of Magic.
What do you love about your vehicle?
In the past I had lived out of a car, minivan, and pickup truck, so I had a good idea about what features were important in making Magic be a comfortable long-term home.
Stealth: From the outside, Magic looks like a typical work van, which allows us to park on the side of any city street to sleep for the night and not draw unwanted attention. We purposely don’t have any stickers, bikes strapped on the back or rocket boxes on top that might indicate to a would be burglar that we have expensive gear inside. In addition, having all outdoor gear locked under the couch/bed means a thief would have to do more than just break a window to steal everything we own.
Functional kitchen: Being able to cook tasty meals inside has several advantages. During bad weather a great kitchen reduces the temptation to eat out, which costs extra money and might not be as healthy as a meal you cook yourself. Having a fridge to keep food fresh eliminates hassle of dealing with ice and allows your perishable food to last longer.
Room to stand up: Magic’s inside ceiling height is 6’1″ and although it sounds like a luxury, being able to stand up to cook, stretch, and get dressed in the morning is huge for the long-term.
Awareness of our environmental footprint: Before we moved into Magic we only had a vague idea about how much household utilities we used. The USGS estimates the average person in the US consumes between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day. Szu-Ting and I use around one gallon per day. A typical three-bedroom house will use around 500 gallons of propane for cooking and heating for a year while we will use around 20 gallons. Of course we take showers, use flush toilets, fly to Asia, and drive around 15,000 miles in Magic each year, so we are still contributing to global warming, but at a much smaller level than when we lived in a house.
Relationship therapy: Magic has also helped Szu-ting’s and my relationship become stronger. Being constantly on the road together, the farthest we are apart is often the length of a rope, which took some getting used to. Living in a 80-square-foot space has forced us to deal with disagreements and other issues as they arise in a constructive manner as there is no place to hide physically or emotionally.
But the biggest thing we love about Magic is the freedom to work from wherever we happen to be parked, live comfortably, and pursue our passion of climbing.
What do you not love about your vehicle?
I am not a big fan of driving in city traffic, and finding parking for Magic’s 25-foot length is not always easy. Recently someone hit one of Magic’s side mirrors when we parked on a narrow Seattle street.