Robbie Sell is driving his van across the United States, documenting his experiences on LivingVANcariously.com, and compiling the world’s most epic coffee table book. He’s even invited his friends to join him on the road for a taste of van life!
After losing his corporate job, the retired pro snowboarder from Lake Tahoe poured his life savings into restoring a 1995 Eurovan camper, with just enough left over to sustain his diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over the next few months.
Robbie has created an interactive itinerary, so you can follow his journey and feel “like you’re sitting shotgun in the van.” Don’t expect the typical park jumper approach. He’s spent countless hours seeking out the most unique and strange attractions across our great country, many I have never seen or heard of!
Check out his inspiring interview below, then head over to LivingVANcariously.com to hit the road with Robbie!
Tell us about yourself!
My name’s Robbie Sell, properly Robert Harold Sell III. Since there were too many Roberts in the room, I became Robbie! My brief life story is I grew up in Lake Tahoe, went to high school in Truckee. I skateboarded in the summers and since the ground froze every winter I got into snowboarding. In about 1995 I started competing and gained sponsors, and after I graduated stuck around to pursue the dream of going pro. That happened a couple years later and then spent the next decade working with shred mags to get printed on their pages and did tricks into the movies. I was fortunate to have deals with some amazing companies and traveled around the snowy parts of the world. When I retired I went to the other side of the lens, then worked my way into the marketing dept.
When was the defining moment you decided to hit the road?
I was the marketing manager at a highly corporate backed brand, and the product line I was working on was discontinued. …as well as my position. After my unemployment insurance was exhausted, I decided that before I get into an office based career I have a couple bucket list goals to accomplish. A cross country road trip has always been at the top. I don’t own a home or have a serious girlfriend, so the time was now.
How did you prepare your van for the journey?
I chose a fairly ready-to-go camper van. I have a tight budget, so I got the 1st year model Eurovan, the 1995. I made mine a little more adventure ready, adding a lift kit, all-terrain Yokohama tires, spraying body armor to the bumpers, installing off road lights, hooking up a rack for a bike when wanting to cruise the cities. Other than that, I did a full engine and tranny service, rebuilt the cv joints, replaced some old parts, etc, etc, etc… Now I have just enough money to cover the estimated gas costs and PB&J for the next few months. It’ll make for a good story.
What inspired you to create LivingVancariously.com?
While I was at my previous desk job I constantly was frothing over some amazing Instgram and Tumblr feeds. My friends like @laura_austin. @zakshelhamer, & @gabe_lheureux contributed to that inspiration of this tour, to get out and explore. I decided I wanted to give back to somebody who was in my position, to photograph and share the beautiful and bizzare locations across the US, and really that’s how I created the pun title to have you start “Living VANcariously” though my adventures. With my background as a professional photographer/marketer I couldn’t help but turn this adventure into a project. It could be a simple fun vacation, but I can’t turn my brain off like that.
How do you decide your day-to-day itinerary?
I’m kinda winging it, but honestly I put in a lot of time researching to build a map with key destinations to visit. I also have a lot of experience as an action sports Team Manager, planning detailed events, so I have the foresight to get me through some shit. You can never avoid unexpected shit coming up, so I’m just waiting for that to catch me off guard.
What is your favorite place you’ve visited so far?
Actually my favorite spot was right before I technically started the tour. My friend and I went to Yosemite last month a couple days before the higher road closed for the winter. The big goal was to visit Taft Point to make a self portrait. It was super sketchy, a sheer vertical 1000’ cliff that I stood a couple feet from just to make a photo. The entire area is so beautiful, the sheer size of the monoliths pulls you out of reality and kind of open your mind. It’s a great area to do some reflecting on life.
Can you share any lessons you’ve learned on the road the hard way?
Don’t act sketchy in a van, the cops are quick to judge. I almost went to jail already.
Do you have any advice for other adventurers wanting to travel solo?
To keep from getting lonely, I’m inviting friends join me. I’m having them check my route and choose an area they’ve always wanted to explore. I’ll pick them up at an airport near their choice, we’ll have a great time, then drop them off at a plane down the road. It’ll give them the chance to experience the road trip of a lifetime without the time challenges, and I’ll get some company!
What is one thing you can’t live without on the road?
A camera and music.
Where to next?
Right now I’m in NorCal waiting out a rainstorm and visiting friends, then I’m headed North, then East, then South, then West back to my storage unit in San Diego. Then, sitting down and putting together a coffee table book for you.
Photos © 2015 Robbie Sell
Robbie would like to give special thanks to Arnette eyewear, Coal headwear, Ambig clothing, and DVS shoes for sponsoring his journey.