Van life vanventuresjournal Johnny Stifter Janna Irons

Johnny Stifter and Janna Irons quit their jobs and sold everything to pursue the van life, and they’ve loved every minute of it. Photo: Maddie Lachte

To most, it seemed like Janna Irons and Johnny Stifter had the perfect life together.

The two former editors met while working in the same office space — 29-year-old Irons at SURFER and 32-year-old Stifter at POWDER — and formed a water-cooler romance.

Attracted to each other by their free spirits and love of action sports — Irons is from Kauai, Hawaii, and the cousin of Bruce and Andy Irons; Stifter was born in the Pacific Northwest with ski boots on his feet — the two soon moved into a house together in San Diego’s North County just a block from the beach and lived the life of weekend adventurers. But, after two and a half years of adventuring from their home base in Encinitas, California, they found it becoming harder and harder to break away for excursions, so they decided to shake things up.

They quit their jobs, sold everything and bought a van. Now they’ve set out on a journey with a simple goal: to see as much as they can.

“I’ve wanted to live the van life and have researched about it for the last 10 years,” Stifter told GrindTV. “Although we both enjoyed our lives with creative jobs, fun friends and an apartment near the waves, we felt life passing us by.”

After buying and renovating a Mercedes Sprinter van to make it a functioning home on wheels, the couple packed up what belongings they had left and hit the road on July 28.

“It’s funny, when we talk to people who live more ‘conventional’ lives and tell them what we’re doing, you can see it in their faces — it’s almost disgust — that we’re choosing to live in a 72-square-foot space,” said Irons, who claims their action-sports background helped motivate their decision. “But for anyone who has some sport or activity that they do in nature — or anyone who appreciates nature at all — the idea of van life is exciting. I mean, when you think about it, surfing or skiing or doing any sort of action sport is at odds with the traditional nine-to-five American work life.”

The couple has started a website (VanVenturesJournal.com) and Instagram feed to keep followers up to date on their adjustment to life on the road, as well as advise others on some of the finer details on how to accomplish their own transition to van life.

“It’s definitely not a simple decision,” said Irons about the move to the van. “And we know that we are extremely lucky to have jobs that we can do remotely — and that we’ve found a partner who has the same dream. For us, the decision to leave our lives and our jobs was challenging, but our lives are pretty aligned.

"For people considering a trip like this, I would say remind yourself what we keep having to remind ourselves: that great experiences are what life is all about, and if this is something you’ve always wanted to do, make it happen; there will always be another great job, school can be continued and 20 years from now the great experiences you had on this trip will still be with you.”

Irons and Stifter agree that getting away from the routine has been the best part of their transition. They love having their mornings back to be able to read books and magazines, and not being tethered to a daily schedule has allowed them to explore beaches and parks whenever they like, without a boss's permission.

“We’ve hiked or biked deep in the woods at a lot of new places and reconnected with friends every single day of the trip,” said Stifter. “We’ve woken up on bluffs overlooking the ocean, slept in hotel parking lots, pulled over in front of a random neighborhood and put the blackout curtains [up] to go incognito, and crashed in friends’ driveways. More than anything, we’ve disconnected from routine and embedded ourselves in books and magazines and nature and cooking and friends. ”

And when asked what their favorite part of their trip has been so far? Well, that answer is easy.

“August 3, we crossed over the California/Oregon border, pulled over on the Oregon Coast and ran around on the beach between giant rock outcroppings in the Pacific Ocean,” said Stifter. “Later that day, we pulled up to a campsite and hiked to a viewpoint overlooking the wild coast and I asked Janna to marry me. That was unforgettable.”

You can follow the newly engaged couple here as they continue their van adventures with no end in sight.

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