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3 Years of Living in a Camper Van and Running a 20 People Remote Business

In this first episode of the O4H VANLIFE SERIES Stefan explains his story of quitting high school, living on the beaches of Maui, working on the first self-driving cars at Stanford University and then starting a 20 people technology business that he runs fully remotely out of his camper van.

Ask Stefan Your Questions

If you've questions for Stefan to be addressed in future episodes, please submit them here in our O4H Facebook Community or send them over on Twitter.

Upcoming Episodes

  • Camping: Campsites vs Wild Camping vs City Camping
  • Costs & Expenses of Living in a Van
  • The Van & Its Equipment in All Detail
  • Getting Internet Access in the Wild
  • Food & Cooking in the Van
  • Setting up a Routine and Maintaining Focus
  • The Van Life & Social Interactions
  • Love Life: Living in a Van With Your Partner and Maybe Children
  • How to Run a Remote Business
  • Minimalism: How Many Things Do You Really Need?

Show Notes

Van Walk-through

  • Fiat Ducato / Weinsberg (130 HP Diesel)
  • MacBook Pro 13"
  • iPhone 7
  • Netgear LTE router + external antenna
  • 2x gas stoves
  • 90 litre fridge and freezer
  • Bathroom: toilet + shower combo
  • 3 water tanks
  • Fresh water
  • Waste water
  • Toilet
  • 190m long bed
  • Bike rack that also serves as a laundry line

My Van Story

  • I grew up in a small town in the Black Forest (Germany)
  • Not very good at school → eventually dropped out
  • Started an apprenticeship as a car mechanic
  • Enjoyed learning for the first time → found purpose or meaning
  • Decided to continue to study: Electrical Engineering
  • Not very excited by the theory at university → worked part time for an automotive supplier of Audi in microcontrollers
  • Got interested in self driving cars (back in 2005) and through a few coincidences joined the joint teams of Volkswagen and Stanford in California to work on one of the first self-driving cars in 2007.
  • We made the 2nd place in the DARPA Urban Challenge
  • Project then moved on to Google as the Self Driving Car Project, today known as Waymo [Wikipedia]
  • I could decide to continue working on this project, but also was interviewing with Google and Facebook
  • But then over the Christmas break I went down to Mexico and spontaneously (encouraged by a friend) decided to learn kitesurfing.
  • So excited by the sport that I decided to leave California and move to Maui (Hawaii)
  • Maui was really a great experience, but all I did was kitesurf and live on my savings. Living out of cheap hostels, sleeping on the beach and a run down van that I bought with 2 friends
  • But I also missed the mental challenge and also I realized how much I like or missed Europe
  • Looked for opportunities to finish my university degree (which I started in Germany but never finished) and came across the university in Edinburgh, which accepted my credits from Germany and also appreciated the work I had done in California (although it wasn't studying in the strict sense and there were no credits), but they gave me the opportunity to do the final year there and if I passed I would get my degree.
  • Did that. Finished it and thought I go back to Germany and got a job as an engineer somewhere. For now. And then I see.
  • But before that, I figured it's summer and I had some savings left, why not do a 3 month road trip across Europe.
  • From Scotland took the ferry south to the Netherlands, into France, Germany, Switzerland, across the Alps to Italy, France again along the Mediterranean to Spain, then Portugal and back all the way along the Atlantic coast.
  • Made it roughly halfway, but then got stuck in Barcelona
  • Really loved the place, wanted to stay there, but 2009 in the midst of the crisis and I didn't speak any Spanish it was virtually impossible to get any job
  • However, people were talking more and more about this "mobile" thing and "apps" and stuff.
  • So I looked into that and started building mobile apps in 2009.
  • I benefited from the boom and grew that together with my business partner Jordi Gimenez in a 20 people company called Mobile Jazz and Bugfender, a spin-off where we develop tools for remote teams and developers.
  • But how did I end up living in camper van from that?
  • Well, after 4 years in Barcelona I wanted to do something else
  • Was really excited about the Middle East → completely new culture, language and people
  • Moved to Dubai, but after 2 months already I realized this is not my world
  • Started traveling again Oman, Thailand, Nepal, Bali and various places in Africa
  • Realized I'm not 25 years anymore and could live and travel like I did in Maui
  • When visiting my parents in Germany I was intrigued by their new retirement lifestyle and traveling a lot in a motorhome.
  • Went to a trade show for camping and looked at various models just to get an idea
  • Got once again so excited and also got a really good offer for a show car that was there for exhibition purposes that I signed the purchase contract immediately that day
  • Now it has already been three years of which I spend 8-9 months in Europe traveling all across the continent
  • The other 4 months (winter) then head over to Dubai and from there usually exploring places in Africa and Asia.

Follow Me on My Adventures

If you want to hear more about my vanlife stories and business adventures you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter. You can also subscribe to our O4H YouTube Channel, join our O4H Facebook Community or sign-up for our email newsletter with monthly updates on what's going on.

Top comments (2)

andrews29 profile image
Andrew Smith • Edited

A very interesting becoming life story. You did a great job. Next holiday I'm planning to go in a trip from England To France. So, I'm looking for an used motorhome, a good one. I know that an used one isn't the best choise, but new motorhome are too expensive. I check where they advice to get the Kelley Bluebook RV value guides for finding a fair and reasonable price for the targeted RV
What RV did you get for traveling across The Europe? Does it worth to buy an used one for such long traveling?

ronni-nichols profile image
Ronni • Edited

How to get a salvage title for a camper?
To obtain a salvage title for a camper, you typically need to follow these steps:
Assessment: First, determine if your camper qualifies as salvage. Salvage status is often given to vehicles that have been significantly damaged, typically through accidents, floods or other incidents.
Inspection: Most states require a thorough inspection of the camper to assess the extent of the damage and verify its roadworthiness. This inspection is often conducted by a certified mechanic or a representative from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Documentation: Gather all necessary documents, including the camper's title, any receipts or records of repairs provide information about the camper's make, model, year and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), as well as details about the damage and its previous status.
Fees: Be prepared to pay any required fees associated with obtaining a salvage title. These fees vary by state and may include application fees, inspection fees and taxes.
Approval: Once you submit your application and any required documentation, the DMV will review your request. If everything is in order, they will issue a salvage title for your camper.
Restrictions: Keep in mind that vehicles with salvage titles may have restrictions on their use or resale. These restrictions vary by state and may include limitations on driving the vehicle or requirements for further inspections before it can be registered or sold.
Repairs and Reinspection: If you plan to repair the camper and restore it to roadworthy condition, you'll need to make the necessary repairs and schedule a follow-up inspection to verify that the damage has been properly repaired.
It's essential to familiarize yourself with your state's specific requirements and procedures for obtaining a salvage title for a camper, as they can vary significantly from one state to another. You can typically find this information on your state's DMV website or by contacting your local DMV office directly.