With the inevitable tactical challenges of van life survival, managing limited space and resources is just the beginning. So when your van mate is also your work mate, open communication and cooperation become added factors for maintaining equilibrium in such cramped quarters.
Zach Balle and Joshua Talmon are two dudes trying to realize their dream of waking up near the beach everyday. Moving into an RV has brought them from the coasts of Cabo to Tofino. It’s also served to created a home base for their growing non-profit, Hug it Forward, a grass-roots organization that facilitates education and awareness by empowering communities in Guatemala and other developing countries to build “bottle schools.”
Between their non-profit work and upbeat attitude to mobile living, these two have a passion for growing as people and embracing the world’s potential for positive change.
KTV: Where were before your transition to the van?
Zach Balle: We started out with three people in a one-bedroom apartment in Pacific Beach, California. I was on the kitchen floor on a blow-up mattress. We don’t get a salary from the non-profit, so money has always been tight. We love living in San Diego and want to surf whenever we have time, but living on the beach just wasn’t affordable. So after our third roommate moved to Maui, we decided that we were going to live in an RV. Because we travel so much, it would just be a bummer to pay for a place when we’re gone all the time. So when two of our closest friends asked how they could help support us personally, we told them we needed shelter and asked if they would help us buy an RV to live in. They have always supported us in our non-profit work, so it was their way of giving back.
KTV: So this was a post-college attempt to figure out what to do?
Josh Talmon: No, out of college we hit the ground running with successful real-estate careers. And we did it well for four years. We were successful from a monetary standpoint. We made a lot of money, and just got to the point where it was pretty unfulfilling – to make money that way, look at it and say, this is what we’re going to do the rest of our lives? No fulfillment, no real passion. Just kind of do the deal. And so I moved out to San Diego.
KTV: So in a matter of three years, you went from raking in money, to sharing space with three guys in a one-bedroom apartment, and now to a motor home for two.
ZB: It’s such a freeing feeling to get rid of unneeded material possessions. So a lot of people ask, “How could you live with three of you in a one-bedroom apartment?” I respond by saying, “It was the best time ever.” I got to wake up to my best friends every morning with a shared passion to make the world a better place. Obviously there are some challenges with girls, being in each other’s space, or just getting your own time. But we surf. And yeah, you might be able to surf together, but you’re not on each other the whole time, and you get your own time to be with yourself and the waves.
KTV: Did you have a difficulty reducing your possessions to move into the apartment and then the motor home?
JT: Getting rid of my truck was a really gnarly thing — it’s almost like getting rid of your freedom a little bit. You jump in your car, fill it up with gas, and drive wherever you want. And now you think bike, you think skateboard, you think walk, you think transportation – it’s great!
It was big for us living in that one-bedroom apartment. We’re all going through an unwinding of a lot of things. Having people to bounce those thoughts off of and be vulnerable with, that’s been a huge catalyst.
KTV: Why did you decide to move into the van while working with this non-profit?
ZB: We don’t get paid by the non-profit. For several years we survived by a couple hundred dollars here, a couple hundred dollars there. And it really wasn’t sustainable. We had this idea that we were going to start this non-profit with the intention of not taking any money from it. If someone’s going to give us money, we want all of it to be spent on the ground in Guatemala. So realistically, we could not afford rent. We still can’t afford rent if we want to live on the beach. So the only way to live on the coast, and afford it, is to live in a motor home.
JT: And to be able to surf and have beach-front parking… It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.
KTV: So are you living off savings or doing odd-jobs?
ZB: We knew we needed to figure out a way to sustain our life, because even minimalists need to eat. So with the same passion we leveraged in starting HugItForward, we started a for-profit company called Serve the World Today. That for-profit company allows people to experience voluntourism with eye-opening results, and we get paid a stipend for our work.
KTV: What was is like when you got started, what did people think? Was is tough to be traveling and living in a different way, and not yet having solid results to show people?
ZB: Absolutely. I call it the Get out of Jail Free Card. I use this example all the time. If people ask you what to you do and you happen to say, “I’m going to grad school,” they leave you alone.
But if it’s “I’m starting a nonprofit,” then they ask, “Well, what do you guys do?” “Well, we facilitate bottle schools, working alongside communities in Guatemala.” Oh, bottle schools in Guatemala. What is a bottle school? Why Guatemala? Where do you live? Where’s your nest egg? Aren’t you going to have a family one day? You went to school to study business, and now you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment with three guys, living on this blow-up mattress. Are you OK?
Now people think it’s cool because we have results, whereas before, because we didn’t have results, people were just scared for us. I had a hard time getting my dad’s approval, and I finally got it two months ago when he came to Guatemala to see it. I’ve told him what we do, but he had never felt it. He came down, he felt it, he understood what’s been set up, and the results of what we’ve created in such a short amount of time. We’ve completed 26 bottle schools and 24 Voluntourism trips, with more on the way. So now, after three years, I finally have a Get out of Jail Free Card.
My advice is to surround yourself with people that validate you for making the right choices in life. Build on your own security, validate yourself, and just let others have their own reality.
KTV: Do you designate your work hours and free hours, weekends versus weekdays?
JT: We respond as needed and to whatever comes up that day. It’s just finding the balance working with businesses, sponsors, and people… Everything’s built on relationships, either by meeting people or by word of mouth. Things show up at the right place and time. We need this, but six months later it leads us in a completely different way. It’s about letting things fall into place.
KTV: Do you think you would like living in an RV if you were doing it alone? Do you think this would be as rewarding without the other person around?
ZB: I think it would be lonely. I love to be able to share experiences with someone and to do it with a best friend is super rewarding. JT and I have been through and seen so much on ourtravels that we will have plenty to talk about when we sit on our rocking chairs reminiscing about the good ol’ days.