It has two seats in the front, four wheels and a view of the road ahead. For Benny Goldstein and Ari Beausoleil, their 2018 Ram ProMaster cargo van isn’t just a mode of transportation, it’s actually a 4,500-pound house on wheels, and there’s room for a kitchen, a bed and an adorable pup named Copper.
Although dwindling down your possessions to the equivalent of a small suitcase, hitting the road for a nationwide adventure and leaving your comfort zone in the rear-view mirror is a terrifying feat, this duo is facing the unknown head on.
The pair met in Appleton when Goldstein was touring as the drummer for a band at a music festival Beausoleil was attending. The two hit it off, and after Goldstein settled in Nashville, Beausoleil made the move down south to work in social media marketing, but soon realized that she wanted something more.
“I just had a realization that there really wasn’t anything tying us down to Nashville other than our own minds, and I discovered van life just from Instagram,” Beausoleil says. “Instantly when I saw that, I was like, that’s what I’ve been looking for.”
Beausoleil was immediately sold on the idea of this nontraditional style of living small and traveling. Goldstein was a little harder to convince. After touring with his band for almost three years and hopping from city to city, motel room to motel room, he was ready to leave his van days behind him, but Beausoleil saw the potential that this idea had.
“A big part of it was seeing Ari need to do something different with her life, and I support her, and I know that feeling because it’s the feeling I had when I decided to join a band and start touring, like needing something different, not wanting to go stagnant,” Goldstein says. “I saw her feeling that and I was like, well, if you’re feeling that then we’ve got to do something about it.”
So, they got to work.
It’s a chilly, 45-degree October afternoon in Appleton as Goldstein, 30, and Beausoleil, 22, are working tirelessly to convert the van to hit the road before the cold Wisconsin weather arrives. But this isn’t their first rodeo with the van life.
The van that they are currently working on is actually the second one they’ve converted. The first go ended at the junkyard after a head-on collision with another vehicle. This is one of many lows that occurred during the up-and-down roller coaster ride that was van No. 1.
When Goldstein and Beausoleil picked up that first troublesome van, it actually broke down on the way home. The van needed a whole host of mechanical repairs — and this was all before the conversion had even started.
“I took it in for an inspection and I felt like we’re probably good, and they gave me back a sheet of things that the van needed, and it was over $2,000 worth of repairs,” Beausoleil says.
“So, she bought a $2,000 van, then she put a $2,500 transmission in it, and then she got this quote saying you need to put $2,000 more into this van … It was devastating, like her dreams got crushed for an afternoon,” Goldstein adds.
That’s when Goldstein made the decision to be more involved. He transformed from musician to mechanic to help get the van ready. Goldstein would spend hours under the van, his hands covered in grease as he watched YouTube videos to learn how he could restore this van to its glory.
“He wanted to help me achieve this dream,” Beausoleil says.
After months of work, the duo and their pup were finally ready to take their van and hit the road. Beausoleil recalls a memory from their earliest days of van life. They needed a place to sleep for the night, and the only place that they knew of nearby was Walmart.
“I remember it was one of the first moments where, it’s silly, but it’s one of the first times where Benny was kind of like, ‘this is actually nice, I kind of dig this,’” Beausoleil says. “We’re in this s****y Walmart parking lot, and that kind of gave us a taste of the van life, because we were like, if we like this, imagine how we’re going to feel about being in the middle of the desert or something beautiful.”
There are two sides to every story, and although Beausoleil and Goldstein’s plan to live on the road started with a few bumps, it is one that they hope will be full of new opportunities. But living a nontraditional life isn’t always a choice.
Just as the van life duo is now in a position of living at Beausoleil’s parents house after their plans took a sharp turn, Oksana Voytovich spent months of her early 20s hopping from couch to couch trying to find her place.
Voytovich battled with depression in her early 20s, and it led to her dropping out of college while she was living in Eau Claire. Her path of living in a nontraditional setting was far from the hashtagable adventure that is van life, but she took just as many lessons from the experience.
“It teaches you how to be humble, how to be kind to others, how to work hard for everything you have and don’t take anything for granted,” Voytovich says.
She was born in Russia to a drug-addicted mother and spent many of her childhood years in an orphanage before she had the opportunity to come to America. After being adopted by her now-family, Voytovich spent the remainder of her child and teen years in Antigo, a town in northern Wisconsin. Her experiences as a child are what gave her the strength to keep fighting.
“I tried to make the best of the situation, so I didn’t really let myself fall into fear,” Voytovich says. “I didn’t let myself fear of what’s going to happen because I knew what I had to do.”
After she dropped out of college, Voytovich spent many months living on friends’ couches or on park benches when the days got really tough. She was afraid to tell her family back in Antigo about the situation she was in and credits two strangers, who let her stay in their basement, for helping her get back on her feet.
Natasha, Voytovich’s sister, was just nine years old when Voytovich was adopted into their family, but she always knew that she had a fighting spirit. Even after finding out after-the-fact about her older sister’s troublesome period she says that she didn’t fear the situation Voytovich was in.
“She is a survivor, and she would do what she needed to do to get back, so if she didn’t think that she could have done it on her own she would have come home,” Natasha says.
Voytovich embodies the same independent spirit that can be seen in Beausoleil. Although they are on two distinct sides of the spectrum of nontraditional living, one out of choice and the other out of necessity, these two women are cut from the same cloth. Their confidence in their own ideas and abilities are what has gotten them through the difficult times.
From her earliest years, Voytovich has lived in unique situations, from an unfit home in Russia, to now living on her own. The experience being homeless changed the way that Voytrovich views the relationships in her life and the home they represent.
“I think that comes with growing up where she didn’t really know what home meant and the unconditional love that a home offers you,” Natasha says. “After that experience she said, ‘I know what family really means now.’”
Now 28, Voytovich has settled in Colorado and can see the positives in her situation.
“I don’t regret anything that happened because of the person that I am now,” Voytovich says.
Although there can be a lot of downs in the van life, Goldstein and Beausoleil look back on their troublesome time in the first van as a learning experience and a time for which they are grateful. The pair shared that one of the most special things that they gained from their first van was the relationships reflected there. In every corner of the van was something that a friend helped them build, and they could sense the love in the thing that they created, even if it felt like an unsteady journey to get there.
“I decided to put the mattress in, so I could see what everything would look like, and Copper jumped up on the mattress, and he looked out the window like he had been doing it for years, and I just started sobbing,” Beausoleil says. “I just thought it was so amazing that we got to that place, it felt like we were never going to get there at some points.”
Beausoleil and Goldstein are now just taking their van life experience day by day. The pair have established reliable means of income; Beausoleil works remotely in social media marketing, and Goldstein got a job writing quotes for Beausoleil’s dad’s small business. They spent months working the first time around to create the perfect home to live in on this adventure, and when they look to the future, they let the universe take control. There’s no one-, five- or 10-year plan for the pair. Instead they’re just enjoying the ride.
With the first van, their initial plan was to live in it for a year and see how they liked the van life, then the accident derailed their plan. The pair ended up where they are now, living at Beausoleil’s parents house to build their new van, but they see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Even though some really traumatic, scary events brought us here, we’ve talked about how we just feel like we’re better off now. This is better than our plan,” Beausoleil says.
“Honestly, these days I’m trying to be much more aware of where I am right now, not where I was five minutes ago or where I think I’m going to be five minutes from now,” Goldstein adds.
As society is moving toward a trend of being minimalistic, Beausoleil attributes a point of her happiness to the ability to worry about only a few possessions.
“I really liked how it felt to finally get my wardrobe down to something that fits into a backpack. I don’t have to waste my morning thinking about what I’m going to wear. I felt like I was just making such better use of my time,” Beausoleil says.
“I think of it sort of in the same way I think about veganism actually, which is that a lot of people from the outside see it as something that’s highly restrictive, and from my experience those restrictions actually afford you such a wide range of experiences that you never, ever would have had without imposing those restrictions,” Goldstein adds.
As Goldstein and Beausoleil gear up to create their lines on the map, they are showing that taking risks is not something to be fearful of, and the van life is not all that you’d expect.
“I feel like there’s this perception of van life, and people really want to know where do you go to the bathroom and how do you shower, and it’s all about life inside the van,” Goldstein says. “And really, van life is about life outside the van.”