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A family of 5 with a baby on the way lives and travels part-time in a converted sprinter van. Here's how they make the small space work.


Summary List Placement

Many people dream of waking up to these views. One Utah-based family made that dream a reality by downsizing and moving into a van part-time.

Since March 2020, Rachel and Michael Sanchez and their three daughters, Lilliana, Milana, and Remina, have traveled throughout the US in a converted sprinter van.

They live in the van part-time and spend the other time at their home in Utah, Rachel told Insider. 

Lilliana, Milana, and Remina always enjoy waking up to what the family calls "the view of the day," Rachel said.

That's how the Sanchez family starts every day on the road. After purchasing a van in March 2020, Rachel and Michael found ways to make it work for their big family.

The Sanchez family started living in a van part-time shortly before the onset of COVID-19 in the US, Rachel told Insider.

While the couple had been contemplating van life for a couple of years, a traumatic pregnancy led Rachel and Michael to stop "waiting for someday" to try out tiny living, she said.

"It was kind of a wake-up call for us that life is really not guaranteed," Rachel told Insider of her pregnancy experience. "This pipe dream that we had had for so long was only going to happen if we made it happen." 

While the Sanchezes only live in the van part-time, they spend more time in it than they do at their home base in Utah.

Rachel said in May that because she is in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy, the family is keeping their travels fairly close to their home in Utah.

They live out of their van for about three weeks each month, and eventually, they plan to take it across the country. 

A look inside the van shows how the Sanchezes use bench seating to create a living room-style area in the small space.

The couple bought the van on Facebook Marketplace earlier in 2020, Rachel said. She added that the vehicle seemed to be designed to accommodate one or two people, not six, like they needed.

But the Sanchezes said that since the van has six seats — two rows of three seats — they can accommodate their growing family.

One row of the seating doubles as the family's couch, Rachel said.

The van is packed with overhead storage and about 18 drawers for everyday items, she added.

In the back, the Sanchezes adjusted the lofted bed area to fit queen bunk beds that sleep the whole family. There's no bathroom, so they stow a portable toilet under the bed.

Rachel and Michael added another bunk to the back of the van to fit the whole family.

Beneath the bottom bunk, the family stores their portable toilet and other large items.

Rachel and Michael even added a customized mural that wraps around the outside of the vehicle.

The van's exterior shows silhouettes of mountains, arches, and other red rock structures, Rachel said.

On the back, there are six bears — one for each member of the growing family. 

"We spend as much time as we can up in the mountains," Rachel added of the design inspiration. 

When they live in the van, the Sanchez sisters share a drawer for toys and art supplies, and Rachel said the adjustment to minimalism has changed her daughters' values for the better.

Rachel said that her daughters have embraced their daily routines with fewer toys and more experiences.

Aside from sharing their drawer of toys and art supplies, the sisters have each other and "the hikes that we go on," Rachel said of the family's outdoor trips.

"I've seen a shift in them from caring about toys and things to having this very minimalistic life where our joy comes from being together and being in nature, which is what we really wanted to see in them," she continued. 

While Lilliana, the family's oldest child, is learning responsibility in her new life on the road, her younger sister, Remina, likely has no concept of home outside of nature.

Each time the Sanchez family pulls up to their destination of the day, Lilliana leads her sisters in exploring and learning about saying safe in nature, Rachel said.

"Having her start van life older has given her the ability to see a more mature side of it — the reasons behind why we do the things we do, and why we have certain rules to keep her safe," Rachel said of her oldest daughter.

Rachel added that Remina, who's younger, likely does not "know any different" than part-time van life.

"She has zero hesitation when it comes to the dirt. Nature is her home and she just loves it," Rachel said.

After taking in their view of the day, the Sanchez family has breakfast and heads outside to explore and learn.

The Sanchez family has been learning remotely since the pandemic, and Rachel said that she thinks nature is the best classroom. 

"It was kind of perfect timing when we got the van," Rachel said of moving into the vehicle in 2020. "Everything shut down, and that was the only option."

Then, it's back to the van for lunch and Remina's nap before more outdoor activities.

The Sanchezes use two Yeti coolers in place of a traditional refrigerator. They eat a lot of salads, soups, and chicken hamburgers, Rachel said. 

"We'll have a lot of things that don't take a lot of prep because tools are limited in the van," she added.

Some of their adventures include hiking and swimming, Rachel said.

"We like to frequent places with hot springs or different ways to get the girls in the water and learning those skills," Rachel said of teaching her daughters how to swim and get acclimated with hiking.

Every night is a movie night after dinnertime thanks to a projector in the van's bottom bunk.

Rachel said the girls love to end the night with a movie on the projector. 

The next day, it's time for to do it all again — but this time, with a different view. The family may open their doors to see anything from canyons to bull moose in their ever-changing backyard.

Rachel said one morning in the middle of mountains in Utah, she opened up the van doors and saw two bull moose right outside of the vehicle. 

"That's when it really hit us that this is our way of giving our children the world," she said. 

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