Grass Valley-raised man explores life out of his van for two years |

Grass Valley-raised man explores life out of his van for two years

His van has seen more of the world than many people.

Sean Ross bought the white, nondescript vehicle from a family of three that had taken it from San Diego to the bottom tip of Argentina and back over two years.

“I thought, ‘You know what — if a vehicle could have a soul, this could have a bit of one already,’” said Ross.

The interior has a bed, table, stove and refrigerator. The floor is gray wood. A bookshelf is filled with clothes, shoes, seasonings and, naturally, books line the side.

Ross, a Grass Valley native, plans to drive around the country for two years, exploring spaces he’s frequented and those he hasn’t, and visiting old friends along the way. A minimalist at heart, packing the van was relatively easy. Plus, he said, if two adults and a 9 year old could comfortably squeeze into the space before him, he figured he could, too.

“The biggest thing I had to pack was my library,” he said.

A freelance audio engineer currently based out of San Diego, Ross already travels for work. He ensures sound systems are properly set up for a variety of public speakers, including scholars, artists, researchers and others. On multiple occasions, Ross has met author David Sedaris through his work.

Freed up when his son moved out of his home, Ross decided to do something different: he sold his apartment and bought a van on Craigslist with the intention of exploring nature, working events as needed and writing. He said he plans to do different trips after semi-frequently returning to his home base in San Diego.

Ross is possibly joining a growing trend.

Due to California’s increasingly high cost of housing, living out of a vehicle is becoming more popular. Reporting from Capital Public Radio suggests that van conversion companies like Mercedes Sprinter are profiting off the lifestyle changes.

While Ross said the decision to live out of his van is very much a choice, and not due to poverty or homelessness, he is saving money, and hopes to simultaneously reduce his carbon footprint.

Studies are mixed on consequences to the climate.


Ross feels as though the stigmatized archetype of a “hippie, subversive, countercultural” individual living out of their cars has begun to fade. He calls the trend a “vanarchy,” and appreciates the opportunity it lends for him to wake up in a new space each day, admiring the trees above him and rivers below.

“This thing’s a conversation piece,” he said. “People come up all the time like, ‘Hey, that’s a really cool van.’”

Ross’ trip is guided by desires to roam national parks, meet with friends littered around the West and engage spontaneity.

The audio engineer meets a lot of people while he travels. Sometimes the friendships are only hours long, but in those moments, they remain valuable.

“The people that I do meet, they are fascinating because they’re outside the box — and this is part of getting outside the box and seeing America from a different perspective,” he said.

Ross said he never misses the comforts of a non-mobile home. He parks in public spaces or sleeps at friends’ homes overnight. If he needs a shower and there are no natural reservoirs in sight, he said, his gym membership comes in handy.


Living out of a car has allowed Ross to participate in one of his most prized activities: writing. He writes in the traditional model, with a notebook and on typewriters.

“Because it forces you to go forward,” he said. “I can’t go back and edit. So, I’m like, ‘just go forward, page by page.’”

The typewriter medium affects the message. If a key sticks to the machine’s interior, it slows him down, thereby altering his thought. How fluid his hands move manipulates the narrative churning in his mind.

“All of those little things contribute to the construction of these stories,” he said, adding that he snaps a photo of the page he last wrote “in case it blows away in the wind.”

Mostly, Ross said he writes essays based out of present experiences. Sometimes, though, he explores the past.

One of his destinations includes the Sierra Nevada mountain range, an inspiring place for him that he said will pull him back into childhood memories. Back in the 1980s, Ross’ father taught him to scar a tree, etching legacy into wood. He learned to sketch in the “punk rock style,” he said.

On a future trip in October, he’ll be searching for a tree in the middle of that mountain range where people scribble their names and a date. He’ll be searching for the space he marked, the chunk of wood that contains his first carvings.

A few days ago, Ross said he planned to return to San Diego. While he doesn’t miss much, he misses a few things.

“I can’t believe I forgot my guitar,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email or call 530-477-4219.

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