Eric Yu and Yuko Shimokawa both grew up in cities, used to an urban lifestyle and unaccustomed to most things that would require a little DIY and a lot of elbow grease. But by 2018, the couple was tired of their routines and of dating long distance—he in China and she in Japan—and decided to go all-in on an RV trip from Canada to Ushuaia, near the southernmost tip of Argentina. But first, they needed a ride.
After buying an empty 2018 Ford Transit commercial van for $36,729, Yu and Shimokawa spent eight months—and $17,400—turning the van (which they named “Bernie”) into a fully liveable home on wheels: They added solar panels, electrical wiring, insulation, rear windows, a fan, walls, cabinets, and a wood-panel ceiling by hand, self-taught from YouTube videos. In May 2019, intrigued by the idea of an epic trip through North and South America, they took off, spending seven months winding through Canada and the United States before crossing into Mexico at the end of December 2019.
To make ends meet, Shimokawa freelances as a graphic designer for clients in Japan, while Yu manages the duo’s blog, Asobo Life, and lives off of savings. (“Asobo,” roughly translated from Japanese, means “let’s play.”) Now finally living their dream of moving between countries and cultures, the pair say the experience has been rewarding—but also a lot of work.
“We see what social media says about van life and it looks beautiful and pretty and easy, like you just roll up to a beach and open the back door.”
“Every day we go to sleep exhausted,” says Yu. “It’s a lot of the things that most people don’t experience when they live an everyday life because it’s so routine. But for us, it’s like, Where are we going to sleep? Where are we going to eat? We see what social media says about van life and it looks beautiful and pretty and easy, like you just roll up to a beach and open the back door. You can go to these places. But it takes a lot of planning. And a lot of driving.” Adds Shimokawa: “It’s rare that you sleep in the scenery you see on Instagram.” (Instead, they say, it’s more about campgrounds.)
Initially, Yu and Shimokawa had hoped their entire journey would take them a year, but thanks in part to COVID, that estimate has been bumped up to four years. Right now, they are parked in Seattle, unsure of when they’ll be able to resume their journey. (Yu is a U.S. citizen.) But they know that whenever they do get back out there and move between countries and cultures once again, they’ll find community.
“It’s this thing that binds us together,” says Yu.“We’re all on some massive road trip, each going in a different direction. In normal life, you can’t just go up to someone and start chatting. But when you’re abroad, when you’re both doing the same thing, everyone is willing to sit down and chat. Everyone’s got a story they want to share.”
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