We might be biased, but we think the Vanlife community is the coolest on Earth. There’s something for everyone in this lifestyle, and the collection of rad humans it brings together consistently blows us away. The stories shared, and the warmth between strangers make us grateful to live amongst, work, and connect with so many adventurous, inspiring humans daily. We recently sat down with Rika Kova, and she generously shared her story with us for our blog series, Humans of Vanlife. Without further ado, it’s our pleasure to introduce Rika to you today!
Let’s start from the beginning! What brought you to Vanlife?
Seven years ago, I was working at a bar and my Canadian coworker inspired me whenever she’d share stories about Vanlife. She lived in a campervan seasonally and traveled with the weather; going down south and chasing the sun whenever it became too cold. Back then, there was no such thing as Hashtag #Vanlife. It just wasn’t trendy yet.
It sounded weird at first, but also amazing – and like something I wanted to explore! I knew one day I had to try it. Not long after that, I was in a long-term relationship for six years. My partner wasn’t at all interested in ever doing Vanlife. We officially broke up this last summer – we’re still best friends and we even went to Alaska together in August to celebrate our breakup! This was the catalyst for my full-time Vanlife journey and I’ve been living full-time in my van since August 2022.
Tell us everything!
This isn’t my first experience with Vanlife. I had a smaller van initially, that I brought pre-owned from a couple that had started building it out but couldn’t afford to finish it. It had a slide-out, outdoor kitchen with a simple camp stove and a bed. It didn’t even have a water hook-up! It was more like a basic campervan.
I spent $10k to renovate it myself. It was super girly – I made all-white, very instagrammable cabinets and it was my first taste of living the Vanlife. My cats even came along and were traveling in the van with me!
I ended up selling that first van while I was in my relationship because I wanted to stay with my partner in Chicago, and I was also studying. I didn’t know how to balance being in partnership and solo travel at the time. The van would just be sitting around, not being used so I didn’t have any reason to keep it. I bought that van for $38k. I sold it a year later for $55k! I invested $10k in it for renovations but I don’t regret selling it at all. It was a great experience.
Why did you choose a Sprinter over a Promaster, and why Bemyvan?
Aesthetically, the Sprinter is just such a beautiful vehicle. I fell in love with the interior build by Bemyvan, from the wood cabinets to the lighting, and I knew I needed something that was 4 Wheel Drive as my first van was always getting stuck in the mud and puddles, (adventurer over here!) I knew if I was going to live in it full-time, I was going to need something capable of moving through all terrains. As an artist, I really appreciate the beautiful things in life and it is dreamy and cozy inside! I feel at home.
What’s your favorite part of the build?
Honestly – EVERYTHING. It’s my dream van layout and build. I love the desk area and I use it way more than I thought I would. I also love having so many windows! In my old van, I only had a front and back window. This makes a huge difference. I used to dream of having panoramic views in my house and now I DO!
I have amazing insulation and I’m always cozy in here. For winter I’ll be installing a heater with Bemyvan soon. I want to be able to go up the mountain this winter and test out my home on wheels in the cold. I haven’t had any problems with my heated blanket and by the time the cats and I are up in the morning, the place is warm. The van runs all night long and I never have to worry about the battery running out or anything. It’s amazing.
It’s amazing that Bemyvan uses the latest technology and all the best equipment! I love my induction stove so much. I cook all the time and in terms of comfort and practicality, it’s just perfect.
So how has it been since living this lifestyle full-time? What’s been happening?
This is my fourth month living in the van full-time! Everything has changed. Most importantly for me, it’s been the transition – I was a professional ceramic artist before this, and before I needed large kilns to create that used a lot of electricity. I often exhibited at art shows in Chicago.
Ceramic art is a safe place for me – it’s something I know I can always go back to, but now I’m testing my skills in photography, videography, and social media! I’ve been building up a portfolio with my van and my lifestyle. I feel more confident than ever with the apps I’m using. I LOVE Instagram and I see it as a playground for creativity. I scroll out of curiosity rather than addiction, and I think it’s important to open the app with intention. It’s definitely helped me to get out of my comfort zone and expand my creative horizons.
What’s been your experience like traveling with your cats?
Both of my cats (Mama and Baby cat) live in the van with me. In my first van, Mama Cat couldn’t understand why the house was shaking all the time!
Previously they weren’t outdoor cats at all. Ever since living in my Sprinter built by Bemyvan, they’re learning to love the outdoors! This past couple of months has been a big practice in trust with both of them. I let them out in the morning and I teach them to explore outside before they eat, so by the time they come back inside they’re tired and hungry and I give them treats.
I am very protective of them, and I’m like an actual mom making sure they’re always between me and the van. They’re unleashed, but they don’t run away! They follow me everywhere. Even in my apartment, both cats would follow me to the bathroom and fall asleep there. It can be stressful at first while they’re getting used to it but it’s 100% worth it to be able to experience Vanlife with your fur babies!
Can you tell us what your Work/Life balance is like?
Well, at the moment I like to think I’m a student of life! I’m working on my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts, and I’m finishing up an online course in sales, all from the van. Whether I end up selling my sculptures, videography, or both, it’s been really helpful and rewarding to learn these things while I’m on the road and traveling, and I’m enjoying doing it all from the Van with Starlink!
What is it like being a solo female traveler on the road?
I’ve always been independent – I’ve never really needed someone with me 24/7. I enjoy spending time by myself, with myself. I’m super introverted – one social event in a week is plenty for me though I do love being social when the time is right! I really enjoy sitting on a BLM alone doing my homework and school stuff. It’s total freedom.
I think a lot of women worry about safety when traveling solo, and the main thing to remember when you’re traveling on your own is to listen to your instincts. If I don’t feel comfortable somewhere, I’m going to get up and drive somewhere I feel safe. Even if it needs to be a rest stop on the side of the highway. I try not to stay in big cities – mostly because I don’t find it joyful to wake up in the city. Most BLMs in the U.S. are actually very beautiful. Right now I’m right outside of Joshua Tree and it’s so dreamy and deserty!
Since having my Sprinter, my instincts have gotten stronger. I want to know who’s around me, and who is approaching me, I try to remember who’s around, especially on a BLM. My intuition has absolutely gotten stronger and it’s my guide while I’m on the road.
Any highlights you want to share from your time in the van so far?
I think the first three months I was driving SO MUCH and really fast, I ended up visiting six states because I wanted to see it all and check everything off my list! I think a lot of people do that at the beginning of their Vanlife adventure. Come November, I really started to slow down and I’m enjoying it so much more. Going between California, and Arizona, and slowing down is so important for me now. I’ve had much more time to edit my work and finish my final projects. I’m really enjoying slow travel and learning a lot along the way.
When I got the Sprinter I created a list of dreams and goals that I wanted to accomplish within the next year. I’ve always wanted to be a dancer and I signed up for this dance class which was really fun! Having that time to finally do things that I didn’t do in the past has been a huge highlight. I love going back to my list to see what else I can accomplish next. Next up; learning to fish and playing the flute!
What’s your experience been like meeting people?
I’ve met more people on the road than I did in Chicago! I met a girl in a laundromat the other day. Photographers, builders, dreamers, people finding themselves, 9-5ers, I’ve met so many inspiring people but what I miss the most is meeting up more often because it’s of course quite transient. People have their own routes, you don’t know if you’ll see each other again in the next week or if you’ll have to wait another year.
How does Vanlife help to foster your creativity?
I now see things from a different perspective! In all the places I’ve been, I see things through a phone camera. I want to capture the beauty and the essence of places. I get ideas for my videos and different places definitely have helped me with my videography and photography skills. I have a professional camera but I realized it’s not my thing. I’m just so used to my iPhone. The camera on the 14 is shockingly good! With good light, it captures so many things it’s almost unbelievable. My creativity has evolved from ceramics to capturing beautiful, fleeting moments in time.
Any challenging moments on the road so far?
It can be lonely sometimes! Let’s be honest. I do miss seeing my friends and I wish I could see them more often. It has been hard not having my friends around as much. There should be an app for Vanlifers to meet up! (Make sure to check out our blog article about making relationships while traveling, here!)
Do you have any advice for future Vanlifers?
If you think you can do it, that means you can! If something inside you tells you “I’m going to have fun…” Go and have fun with it! It’s there for you to learn a lesson, serve a purpose, and take you to the next step. We have to make decisions to go forward – and Vanlife is an amazing thing to dream about. Is it a want? Is it a goal? Don’t postpone. Life moves quickly! You only live once. GO FOR IT. You won’t regret it. It’s been a life-changing experience for me.
Another inspiring adventure for the books! We can’t wait to see where Rika and the cats end up next, and all the beautiful, fleeting moments she captures along the way.
You can follow Rika and Mama Cat + Baby Cat’s lively adventures on her Instagram, @wherethesoulhides.
Be sure to check out her Ceramic Artistry creations at @onehappyartist, too!
Are you also ready to slow down, expand your horizons and lead a life of adventure? Tell us about your dream van today!