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Parenthood, Travel, Nursing, and a Pandemic

Allison Smith-profile-image
Allison Smith
July 7, 2023

TL;DR: Nurses Michelle and Brian Dimayuga embraced van life inspired by patient regrets, the pandemic, and their adventurous spirit, challenging the traditional American dream for a life of travel and family time. Transitioning to van life as a family of four, they balance night shift work with road adventures, documenting their journey on @hapalyadventuring. Their experience showcases the joy of being present, prioritizing outdoor activities, and the importance of living for the moment, offering advice for families curious about the RV lifestyle.

Parenthood, Travel, Nursing, and a Pandemic

How Parenthood, Travel Nursing, And A Pandemic Inspired Michelle and Brian Dimayuga to Transform Their Life

In the modern age, fresh off a pandemic, rising inflation, and massive corporate layoffs, many Americans are finding themselves reconsidering the American dream that they were always fed. To work hard, hustle, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and just maybe you could thrive.

In this political landscape, the classic American dream is harder and harder to achieve. As people reconsider making work the primary focus of their lives, people find themselves craving adventure and longing for the privilege of working as little as possible without having to worry about paying the bills. They dream of having the privilege to prioritize adventures, spending time with loved ones, and getting to live and enjoy the present instead of hustling so that they might enjoy the future.

Nurses Michelle and Brian Dimayuga often speak to patients as they reach the end of their lives. lives. They frequently hear how many regrets people have. People wish they’d spent more time with their family, gone on more adventures, and spent more time outside.

If you find yourself reconsidering the rat race and wanting to reprioritize travel and adventure, the allure of van life is incredibly intoxicating. Michelle always considered herself an adventurous and spontaneous person, and when she found van life content on Youtube, she was immediately sold. All she had to do was convince her husband Brian that they should buy an RV and become part-time RVers. The combination of poignant life lessons from patients, the anxiety and unrest of sitting still during quarantine, and their adventurous spirit guided them into becoming van lifers.

We sat down with Brian and Michelle to hear how their story and how they make van life work as a family of four.

What was the moment when you realized you wanted to buy a van and become a van lifer. What was your thought process?

Michelle: Travel was always very important to us as a couple. We were married in Italy, took our first contracts as travel nurses shortly after when our daughter was born, I was convinced we’d be going to the Philippines during my maternity leave.

But then Covid hit. We were nurses, working through a pandemic, biting at the bit to get out. I re-discovered Youtube and the algorithm decided to push van life on me. Oh, and I dove hard. I texted Brian almost immediately, “Let’s buy a van.” We lived in San Francisco…on a hill…

It was a hard sell.. Ha, it took a long time to come back from that one. But eventually, we found a van that suited us and it was kind of easy from there, in my opinion.

Brian: It’s funny because I see that differently. My wife, she’s the dreamer, and I keep it closer to reality. We kind of balance each other out when it comes to that. She planted the seed of getting a van about a year before actually getting our van. So it took a while for us to go through the steps and finally decide ok, we’re doing this.” Like she said it was early on in Covid when the initial van/RV-life hype really took off and it took us 9 months to even get our van once we were on a waiting list. It took me that full 9 months, plus some to really feel on board with the plan.

Going off of that, your situation is pretty unique in the RVer community. You and your husband Brian both work as night shift nurses. You can’t work remotely, and therefore RV part-time. How do you balance all of those things, build your schedules to balance your work, road travel, family time, and running your Instagram account @hapalyadventuring?

Brian: We are blessed that we are nurses, because there’s a lot of flexibility that comes with the nurse schedule. The whole night shift thing sounds daunting, but it actually allows for us to parent together most of the days. When it comes to time off, for where we work in Northern

California, my commitment is 3 12-hour shifts per week, so I can stack 6 shifts in a row, and cover two weeks of work at a time, to create these long gaps off. I do that to create 10-12 day stretches off, and sometimes, like for our cross-country trip, throw in some vacation time here and there, and we’re able to turn 10 days into 3 weeks. It takes some practice and there’s a little bit of nuance with figuring everything out…

Michelle: And forgiving coworkers. Who are helpful with switches, and can see what we’re doing

Brian: We have a lot of believers in the hospital right now.

Michelle: When we had Marin, I went part-time and my requirement is one shift per week. When we’re home, I work more. When we’re traveling, I will pull back my hours or stack shifts,

similarly. I can do four shifts in a row and meet my requirements. When I went part-time, I honestly had some time to myself that I wasn’t used to having. I’m not at the hospital, not recovering from night shift, so I needed an outlet.

I’ve always been very interested in documenting our life, I used to make short YouTubes to share with our family about our travels and I loved having a creative outlet. What started as an account to share with our family, to share what we’re doing, has grown into this really cool travel community interested in this alternative travel style. Don’t get me wrong, “we” like nice things.

Brian: I like nice things!

Michelle: So for us to suddenly be in a van, close quarters all the time, that’s an adjustment. So we have this kind of “hybrid travel” where we’re able to do both. We’re able to prioritize nice hotel stays along our routes because we’re in our van all the other times.

In the past 2 years since you’ve been on the road, in what ways has your life changed since your very first night in the van?

Michelle: Brian mentioned that from the time we first signed up for the van to when we actually picked it up was a 9-month waiting period. I was super excited, all on board but I remember about an hour before we went to pick it up, I panicked, like “Is this a good idea? This is a $70,000 commitment! Are we sure we want to do this? You can’t back down now.” But that went away immediately.

We stayed at a campground that night, we just were giddy. We’ve learned so much since then, we can find a balance between doing touristy things and just slowing down and enjoying your campsite, being together, putting phones away, enjoying no service for a while, and spending time, just the four of us.

Brian: From my perspective, the first year was the hardest part. It was an adjustment phase of being new parents and learning how to travel together again. The second year, and the arrival of our second baby, was a continuation of what we’d already been doing. it was seamless once Frankie was born. Michelle did a great job with developing these foundational skills with our first kid (sleep, naps, meals), that once we got in the van, we were able to maintain these routines, and it actually helped us get on the road because our daughter excelled; She had a lot of these fundamentals in place already.

Seeing her thrive in that situation, spending say 6 hours outside playing around during the day while still having wonderful nap times, meal times, and being a kid. It was really refreshing after a year and a half of frustration and being stuck inside. Everything that came with Covid.

It let out a lot of the stress of what life was like during that period of time. Having another kid was not stressful, except for the rearranging of our van, but I think most of our adjustment was in the first 6 months of having our van.

I’m kind of a worrier. I’m very analytical when it comes to certain things. Giving up control and being spontaneous is not part of my core, it’s not my being. So being able to change and become more spontaneous and adventurous has been a transition that this van has allowed us to have.

Michelle: It’s given us this confidence to do anything.

Brian: And to carry that confidence, while being new parents at the same time has been awesome.

Michelle: If we can do it, anyone can do it.

Brian: I couldn’t have said it better. That’s the sentiment that the last year has been building up towards. It’s been really nice.

Do you have any advice for those who have a hard time being spontaneous on the road?

Brian: Michelle and I are a great balance for each other, most of the adventure in my life is because I’ve had an adventurous wife to pull me out of my comfort zone and just open up my eyes to new things. Really show me that there’s a lot out there for us. And that’s a transition I never thought I’d be making, especially as I’m having kids, that’s usually when people hunker down and settle.

For me, I think seeing my daughter excel is really… I was still very timid when we started, but seeing how much she enjoyed it is what allowed me to embrace that lifestyle. It took some time, some shorter trips and day trips for me to eventually feel like “WOW! We’re doing all right!”

Michelle: A lot of our spontaneity comes from the van. We chose the van as our second vehicle. We shared a 2015 Subaru Crosstrek for 7 years, and that gave us the ability to choose this as our vacation home. The van allows us the spontaneity we wished we had before. It’s very costly to be spontaneous. You might be able to book a hotel last minute, but it’s not going to have the same value and experience. With the van, everything’s in there. You can just pack up and go because you decided yesterday that you wanted to.

Some advice for people that are starting out, I think Brian had a really good point. If you are interested in getting a van, maybe try a rental for a week to make sure you vibe in a van together, Once you do get a van, take that day trip, go to a state park, and do the things that are somewhat local. There are so many gems that we didn’t even know about and that have become some of our favorite places to be.

Brian: Short trips! Start with short trips! Our first trip was 10 days.

Michelle: We way overpacked. No plan. And it was awesome!

Brian: We got to Colorado with clothes. We went to our local store and loaded up on a ton of stuff to fill up the van. In retrospect, my recommendation is 2-3 day trips to start, get used to it, know what you like, what you don’t like, what you need, and what you don’t need.

Michelle: Whatever feels comfortable for you. My point is, you can jump right into it.

You mentioned how living together during Covid really inspired you to get out on the road and become van lifers. How did the pandemic also impact your relationship with nursing?

Brian: I can answer this. Working through Covid, obviously, everyone knows what it entails, there’s a lot of trauma, and it’s very sad. I worked in the Covid ICU for the majority of the pandemic. Really, what I pulled from that– is our mentality of living in the moment. That’s when we stopped living for the future and started living for the moment. You don’t know what 6 months to a year from now looks like. So really, the mentality changed… we live for today. We try to enjoy every moment. We try not to worry and we really try to embrace the moment for what it is.

Michelle: And it’s not just something as extreme as covid. The more you’re in it, the more patients that you’ve helped… I’ve worked with a lot of cancer patients with chronic issues and a lot of them work so hard just to retire and get sick shortly after. And that always resonated with me in such a way that if you can, if you have that ability, you need to have that balance from the beginning.

Brian: There’s a lot of reflection going on in hospitals, as Michelle said, and there are a lot of regrets that you hear when talking with these people and the common theme is “I wish I did more,” “I wish I traveled more,” “I wish I was outside more,” “I wish I wasn’t committed to a 9-5 life.”

Michelle: There’s value in that, some people are just hard workers, but it’s important to find a balance. Now more than ever, this world is just a little bit crazy. And if you don’t prioritize yourself and your family… if you’re not going to do it now, when are you ever going to do it?

Brian: I don’t think my kids are going to want to travel with me in a van when they’re 20, 22, or even 12. The work-life balance aspect is what Covid really put into perspective for us.

You signed on to be a part of the Harvest Hosts Adventure Series, where you mention how different your life looks during your time in the van versus your time at home base. Can you share more about the differences between these two different versions of your life?

Michelle: We kind of strive for the same thing either way, we’re in a beautiful area of the country and it gives us the chance to be outside and enjoy the coast. When we’re home, it’s a priority, but it’s also more work-focused. We’re the sole caregivers of our kids, we don’t have any help, all of our family is on the east coast. He’ll work his shifts, sleep for a couple of hours, and then I’ll take a nap so I can work mine. We take turns, having a shift change with kids on top of a shift change at the hospital.

I feel like there’s more focus on us recovering and healing to be mentally there for work and for our kids and it just feels like we’re in the grind. But we do it so we can then go and explore together.

One of the biggest things that carries between the two in the past year, is the 1000 Hours Outside challenge. It’s this great push for kids to reduce screen time and go enjoy the outdoors. My 3½-year-old doesn’t need or even benefit from the screen. We use it for sure, we’re not anti-screen, but to get 1000 hours outside is a cool goal to work towards.

When we’re at home, we’re at the playgrounds. When we’re in the van they’re messy, they’re in the dirt, they’re collecting rocks, they’re jumping off of structures. It’s really cool to see them being challenged and in new environments because you can see them growing from that.

Because we are so focused on work when we are home, when we’re in the van, we prioritize being present. We give each other turns without the kids so that we can recoup and recover and mentally be present for our girls.

Brian: When we’re home we establish a foundation with our kids, 1000 hours outside, establishing our morning routine, our nighttime routine. Just getting our girls on a schedule, is preparation for when we go on the road. Our girls are ready to go because they’ve been practicing at home. They’re chomping at the bit to get outside by 9:30 whether it’s in the van or at home because they’re used to spending that time outside. Then we’ll come in, have lunch, give them a nap, and they’re ready to go outside, get messy, and do it all over again. We parent a lot through the van.

Michelle: I think it would not be fair to not mention the sleep aspect with two kids in a van. With one kid, it was fine. With two kids, we started when she was two months old. It took a lot of adjusting, flexibility, and learning on the go. It’s not perfect. The time at home is so valuable; that’s where we were able to sleep train and get everything back on track. I commend full-timers with young kiddos. It’s a lot to juggle.

Do you have any advice for young couples or young families looking to get into the RV lifestyle?

Brian: It started with camping. You need to be comfortable with being outside first. Once you get through that, just keep stepping it up, step by step, longer and longer, and once you develop that level of comfort, take that leap.

Michelle: Say a family wants to rent a van for the first time. Make sure there’s a toilet, a bed, and a fridge. Everything from there will sort itself out. It’s ok if you want to plan ahead or be spontaneous, just know that it’s accessible. And if you’re on the fence, maybe you’re like Brian and you love a good hotel stay but van life seems really cool…we travel more than we ever did before getting the van. You can still go to hotels, or you can park in their parking lots and just use their spas.

You don’t have to be on BLM land in the middle of nowhere every single time. Van life isn’t just for super outdoorsy people, it’s for everyone. Anyone can do it, and they can do it anywhere.

For more inspiring stories of how people make life work in a van, be sure to check out the Harvest Hosts Adventure Series!

About Harvest Hosts
Harvest Hosts is a unique RV camping membership that offers self-contained RVers unlimited overnight stays at over 5,608 small businesses across North America with no camping fees. Boondock at farms, wineries, breweries, attractions, and other one-of-a-kind destinations throughout North America, and you’ll get peace of mind knowing that a safe place to stay is always nearby!
Allison Smith-profile-image
Allison Smith
Hi, I'm Allison Smith, Harvest Hosts content writer.