Vanlife Star Hokey Pokey Shares His Best Vanlife Tips (Including How to Live in a Van with a Dog)

Vandweller Hokey Pokey
Hokey Pokey with his dog, Okey Dokey

My name is Hokey Pokey and I’m from Georgia, USA. On most days, I write something, play fetch with my pup, Okey Dokey, and drive around in my van, known as Bulky Folkie.

When I started writing this email I was in Northern California looking to partake in a seasonal cannabis-industry job. Now, I’m 3,000 miles away in Atlanta, Georgia—my original starting location. My favorite things to do include rhyming, writing, playing with fire, cooking, eating, and throwing a ball or stick for Okey Dokey.

Vandweller Hokey Pokey
Hokey Pokey with Bulky Folkie

How and why did you get into living in a van?

In December 2014, I graduated with a degree in journalism and philosophy from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Unlike many of my colleagues, I had a job offer to be an education journalist in Macon, Georgia before I graduated.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the journalism industry wasn’t the idealistic nor noble profession my teachers professed in class. My job afforded me the ability to fill a three-bedroom house full of things and stuff, and I was miserable. Neither the three-bedroom house, nor all the things, nor the steady paycheck and good benefits made me feel any better about settling down into a mundane routine.

Within nine months I left my job and downsized my possessions to fit in a van. Not just any van. I felt it was necessary to start out with a 1977 Volkswagen Westfalia. I embarked on the journey during the summer of 2016.

In January of 2017, it burned up. I enjoyed the experience of attempting to live in, maintain, and drive a Volkswagen, but the reality of what it takes to keep a VW going makes me feel okay about it burning up. It was a blessing in disguise that afforded me more adventures with my new van—a 1991 Chevy G20 conversion van.

I’m still in the process of the build. It has been an ongoing project I’ve been working on while on the road. I hope to have it completed soon.

Vandweller Hokey Pokey

How do you finance your vanlife?

Any way I can. I’ve done everything from working construction and other general labor jobs I could find on Craigslist to creating promotional videos for local businesses to writing freelance articles for several publications across the country. I even spent a stint as a vanlife motivational speaker.

Eventually, the goal is to have my vanlife writings support me. I currently write a weekly vanlife newsletter about my escapades. The newsletter is free to anyone who wants to sign up, and some of my followers also opt to set up a voluntary monthly contribution. I’m hoping it’ll generate a modest salary for me to live on one day. Until then, exploring and writing is what I want to do—so I’m doing it.

In the past 10 months, I’ve lived on under $10,000. My biggest expense has been gas, van maintenance/repair, and insurance. To say I was frugal this past year would be an understatement. Because I’ve taken a less traditional route embarking on vanlife, I’m not sure what the typical cost is for other vandwellers.

Vandweller Hokey Pokey

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

How I sleep and eat doesn’t feel any different than how I used to do it in a stationary home. I have a minifridge connected to an auxiliary battery supply and a propane stovetop in my van.

Oatmeal with fruits and nuts, as well as fresh coffee is still my favorite breakfast go-to. If I’m in a fairly unpopulated location, I will go to the bathroom in the woods. Otherwise, there’s always a convenient store bathroom somewhere in a town close to you.

Showering is one of the biggest concerns from those who don’t live vanlife. Personally, I prefer to meet people who are kind enough to open up their homes for me to shower. However, a gym membership—to a gym with multiple locations nationwide—is how many vandwellers ensure their ability to take a shower at will.

Trying to figure out where to go has surprisingly been the most difficult thing about vanlife. When you can drive anywhere you want, finding the best direction to go takes some consideration. The biggest danger I experienced was being held up at knifepoint in Barstow.

Finding a place to park is usually easier than it seems. I recently described it to a couple of campers like this: “Ya know how you can spend a good amount of time looking for just the right spot to set up your tent?” It’s like that, but instead of walking to find a spot you’re driving. Parking has never been a problem for me.

Vandweller Hokey Pokey

How do you bring your things with you?

When I first decided to make the jump to vanlife, I had a three-bedroom house full of things and stuff. Over the course of six months, I consolidated my life’s possessions down to fitting inside one rented room in a house. The longer I’ve lived the vanlife the more I’ve got into minimalism.

Everything I have now can be stored away in all the custom storage I built in my van.

How do you organize things in your van?

Vanlife organization is always a tedious endeavor. I like to have a place for everything to go, but sometimes it just ends up on the floor. Over the course of living in the van, I’ve realized certain compartments I’d wished I made or shelf space I wish I had for one item or another. But more or less, what I’ve built works for me. And if it stops working for me, I renovate.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

“If ya didn’t bring it, it wasn’t that important anyway,” a friend once said to me during a camping trip. He made a good point. If something were really important, I thought, you likely wouldn’t forget it. Important meaning things that are necessary for your basic survival.

I knew vanlife was going to be a good fit for me even before I started, so I gave considerable thought to what I was going to bring—and I didn’t leave anything important behind. The five most essential things in the van include: my auxiliary power system (here’s a link to an Amazon list of the items), my plush full-size bed, my MacBook pro, my iPhone, and my writing implements.

Vandweller Hokey Pokey

Why did you bring your dog?

Okey Dokey was always part of the plan. In the beginning, I knew I wanted a K-9 companion. However, I didn’t realize until later down the road how essential he would become for living my vanlife. From always having a buddy with you to having to consider the wants and needs of another living being, I ultimately think we’re both better for it.

For the large majority, people are accepting. The most common reaction is kindness and awe. And I mean “aww” and awe because he’s usually riding on my shoulders — Okey generates a fair amount of double takes in public because folks aren’t used to seeing a pup riding on someone’s shoulders everyday.

What is your best advice people new to vanlife?

It’s as expensive or cheap as you want it to be. Taking your time can be good for planning, but it’s also good for getting you to second-guess yourself. Try and find a balance between being spontaneous and deliberate. Finding that balance is what vanlife is all about.

I highly recommend DIY—Do It Yourself—when it comes to building out your van. There are plenty of tutorials with step-by-step instructions, photo illustrations, and even full on videos to show you enough to get started. On a frugal note, all of the wood I used to build the interior of my van was reclaimed, recycled, or scavenged. I didn’t spend a dime on those materials and it saved me a lot.

Vandweller Hokey Pokey

What will the future bring?

As of right now, I don’t have any plans on quitting vanlife. It seems to be a style of living that works well with me and I’m determined to continue making it work.

Visit Hokey Pokey on his website and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat


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