You've probably already heard of Jon Gaffney, or of his moniker The Van Man. He's been driving back and forth across the country with his girlfriend Gale Straub in a sprinter van. They spent last summer at Jon's family home in Maine retrofitting the van before hitting the road. With a fresh paint of coat and a few essential mechanical fixes, they headed West! We caught up with Jon during one of their pit stops to talk about the major year they've been having, their new company Sap Lines, and what adventures are in store for the summer.
You're from Maine, a state known for its epic coastlines, lakes, and forests. What were your favorite outdoor activities as a kid?
Because of the area I'm from, the majority of my outdoors time as a kid was on the water. As a result most of my warm weather days were spent swimming, canoeing, waterskiing, on the rope swing, or going bridge jumping. I also played an excessive amount of Wiffle Ball.
Sounds like a living advertisement for “Vacationland”! You were in Boston working the usual 9-5 before you hit the road. What inspired the shift?
There wasn't a big moment or event that inspired the lifestyle change... I had been considering trying something different for a while. I had traveled a little outside the US, but very little within the country. So an American road trip seemed like a good fit. I’m really lucky that I have a girlfriend who agreed to go with me.
You and Gale retrofitted a sprinter van for the trip. Tell us about that experience.
Building out our van was one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences I've ever had. We were on a tight timeline from the get-go and Murphy's Law reared its head a few times, much to our chagrin. We learned a lot along the way and getting to build our own "home" together was really cool. When he hit the road it only took a few days before it felt natural to be living out of it.
You’ve been partnering with some cool brands during your trip, did your background in marketing help facilitate these relationships?
The three years prior to hitting the road I worked as a Strategist for a digital marketing agency and in addition I also wrote for a few different gear and outdoors websites. When we did our first lap of the country we met with a number of the brands I'd worked with through my writing and marketing. We were hearing similar stories from them about challenges they were facing with marketing and consumer engagement. Gale and I would spend many a mile after these meetings discussing how we'd improve the marketing for these brands if we had the opportunity. It didn't take long for us to decide to stop discussing it theoretically and to start putting what we had to offer into action in the real world. Once we were stationary over the holidays we started Sap Lines, a digital marketing consultancy to help brands improve their marketing strategy and execution. It's been really fun helping companies with great product and compelling stories leverage their brand and connect with consumers
Since then you’ve gone cross-country two more times! What have some of your favorite pit stops been?
We’re actually planning to do it once more before the summer! My favorite places are, in no particular order: Olympic National Park in Washington, New Orleans, LA, Seattle, WA, Bend, OR, and Glacier National Park. I also really liked some of the Southern California beach towns, and swimming in the ocean in March is awesome.
Needless to say, you guys have been living pretty major this year. What new adventures do you have planned?
Next is some time off the road. We're planning to head back to Maine for summer and enjoy catching up with friends and family while continuing to build Sap Lines.
What is your essential gear list for an adventurous life on the road?
Here are my five essentials:
-Smartphone: It's really the essential, at least it is when there's service.
-Atlas: There are a lot more places in the US that have zero service than you'd expect.
-Pocketknife: Gets used all the time.
-Audiobooks: Music only gets you through so many miles.
-Sunglasses: Go polarized, road glare really stinks.
Photos by Gale Straub.