After four hip surgeries and stuck recuperating at his parents' house, Ben Guzman's yearning for the freedom of travel reached an all-time high. The coulda-woulda-shoulda game had increasingly less influence as captivating stories and images of van life online had more. With a van that was originally intended for band gear, Ben outrightly bought, created, and built the van (endearingly named Gnarly) that would allow him to explore the Lower 48 solo for a life-changing year. Taking the whole idea of the SNL Chris Farley character who "lives in a van down by the river" to a totally new, and aspirational, level. And co-creating a business in the process. Needless to say, as an advocate of solo travel, I had a lot of questions and enjoyed a candid, insightful conversation with the Nomad Van Company co-owner.
RR: Did you have a travel plan before setting out?
BG: I made an initial plan before leaving with routes, stops along the way, and to follow the weather. After Florida though (a few weeks in), I felt more comfortable winging it and not knowing where I was going to sleep that night.
RR: What were the 3 most important physical things you took for a trip like this?
BG: Solar power to power things like the van's fridge. My guitar. Comfortable bed. There's nothing like sleeping in your own bed every night.
RR: How did it feel living out of a van?
BG: Liberating. Everything I had was right there with me and I had no schedule. Surprisingly, I thought I’d get claustrophobic but space wasn’t an issue. But it can be scary and sketchy at times too. I often found free campsites to stay at on freecampsites.net and one night there were severe thunderstorms forecasted in South Dakota. It's a whole different thing to ride out a storm in a van vs. a house when you're so remote with no one else around.
RR: As a musician, I bet music played a big part on your adventure. What did you listen to and what song best represents or describes your journey?
BG: I'm always into new music but Zeppelin was always a solid go-to. Listened to a lot of Neurosis and got to see them in Boston. I never used radio so I didn't hear regional radio but couldn't avoid country at every stop. At every Walmart, every parking lot. Wow, the rest of the country really listens to country! Not sure I can pinpoint a particular song that sums up the trip, but certain songs take me back to certain points. Highway to the Danger Zone [by Kenny Loggins] for instance takes me back to a creepy, overnight incident at a campsite with a rather obnoxious, antagonizing truck. Oddly, it took me out of a place of fear.
RR: What was an unexpected "hard part" of the trip?
BG: You have to be ready to deal with your personal demons. Whatever you have going on, it's escalated to the hilt. Positive or negative. You only have yourself to rely on. Wherever you go, there you are.
RR: What area or locale did you most connect to? Why?
BG: I connected most with the desert. There is something mystical about it; the wide open space and so much beauty in what seems to be desolation. It doesn’t have to be AZ [or the southwest] but anywhere there is wide open, barren space with a lack of vegetation. The landscape is otherworldly. Loved Utah; Valley of the Gods and Moab.
RR: What surprised you about traveling solo (in regards to yourself and others)?
BG: Most of the day, I was just fine being by myself. I thought there would be more of a challenge being by myself. I always did short trips at home by myself but wasn’t sure if I could sustain that 9 months later. The bad part was witnessing how divided and racist this country is. I bought a CA flag first thing when I returned.
RR: What suggestions or tips do you have for someone thinking about making a trip like this?
BG: Stop thinking about it and do it. Take your first action toward doing it. You’ll think of a thousand excuses not to do it and will never go. You just learn along the way. There will never be a perfect time.
RR: What can you tell me about your new venture Nomad Van Company?
BG: It started very organically. After getting lots of positive feedback and questions [about Gnarly] from people on the road, I realized a need. The idea of possible custom work [with brother Zach] turned into converting vans or other vehicles with low miles in good condition. Our customer is anyone looking to go smaller; even from an RV. A converted van is more gas conscience, less maintenance, and can go places where bigger vehicles can’t. It also provides more stealth travel as people wouldn’t necessarily know someone is living and sleeping in there. a perfect weekend getaway machine and more affordable than the Sprinter crowd with the same amenities. Built ready to go!
For more info about or to connect with Nomad Van Company, check out the following: