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This Couple Is Taking A Year Off To Live The Van Life

Jessica Malone and her fiance are taking their minimalist adventure on the open road.

Life & Travel

How would you like to travel the world rent-free, side by side with your bae, while freely exploring life on your own terms? More than likely, I'm sure you screamed, "Hell yes, pick me!"; but what if that option consisted of living in a van?

Yes sis, a van.

While the #vanlife idea may sound crazy to some, it's a thing. People all over the world are opting into the minimalist, free-living, on the go lifestyle that van lifers have, and have found unique ways to make their van life one of their most memorable experiences ever.

Recently, I caught up with Jessica Malone, a former classmate from my HBCU, and she shared how she and her fiance are getting ready to become members of the #vanlife squad. Jessica and her bae have recently purchased their van and will be getting on the road soon for 12 months to live their best (van) lives.

Here's how Jessica became inspired to become a vanlifer and how she plans on executing it.

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Malone

What Sparked Her Desire For Van Life Living:

"For a very long time while working in corporate in sales and now as a corporate trainer, I had dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. However, I hadn't made the leap because I didn't really know what that would look like. During that time, I developed my brand Nacho Average Fro which focuses on helping people live their best life by simplifying their time, money, and also their attention so that they can gain clarity, find their purpose, and then build a life around their purpose and what they love.

"After having my brand for a while and saving up money from living with my dad, I felt more prepared to plan to make the leap into entrepreneurship. I was financially prepared, I had something that I was interested in and was passionate about working on, and I knew what direction I was headed in. However, even though I had saved up a lot of money, the reality was that my new brand wasn't producing enough revenue for me to put food on the table, or to put a roof over my head. That's when I started wondering what would life as an entrepreneur look like. Where would I live, how would I sustain myself?

"Around the same time, my fiance was also thinking about leaving his corporate job and focusing on some of his passions, so we were having conversations together about what that would look like together as a couple. Simultaneously, I started a podcast that I no longer do with someone I met on Instagram and she started doing this van build-out thing, and it was very interesting to me. From there, I started following #VanLife on Instagram and started watching this TV show on Netflix about minimal living. All of that is really what got my mind going, and is what increased my interest in being a van-lifer.

"One day, this past summer, I called my fiance and I said, 'I think we should get an RV.' To my surprise, he was on board, which completely blew me away."

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Malone

How She Found Her Van:

"Now that my fiance was on board, we started looking for RVs, went to different trade shows, and did a ton of research. At a trade show, we ended up finding an RV that we loved, applied for it, but didn't get it. We found out that we didn't get it because we didn't have enough credit history, and we didn't realize that buying something like an RV is just like buying a house. You have to have a credit history.

"That experience and rejection really bummed me out and it had me thinking that maybe this new life idea was terrible. But then, I kept on seeing more van-life posts on social media, and thought to myself that maybe having a van instead of an RV was the way to go. With a van, I knew that we could pay for it with cash, [it] would eliminate having to pay rent, and [we] would avoid getting denied because of not having enough credit history.

"We ended up buying the van just after Thanksgiving from Facebook Marketplace, which was a totally new experience for me. I had no idea that people bought cars on Facebook. I joined this Facebook group and saw this guy from Utah post that he was selling his van for around $13K. He and his girlfriend had actually recently gone through his own van-life journey and decided they didn't enjoy it so they were selling their van. The van had solar panels and a fan in it, they were giving away a heater, the transmission had just been fixed, and it was just outside of the 10-year mark that we had set aside in regards to how old we wanted our van. The van is a 2008 Dodge Sprinter van, and we ended up getting it cheaper for around $11,300 for it since we were able to meet the guy to pick it up.

"For us, this is an opportunity to build our business, focus on our passions, travel, and spend time with each other, our friends, and family."

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Malone

What The Van Looks Like:

"To give you an idea of our van, it's like the Amazon delivery van, so basically it's like a cargo van. It's two seats in the front, and then it's completely empty in the back. I think our van is like 144 inches long so it's definitely a lot smaller than anything that we've ever lived in.

"As far as planning out the design of our van, we decided we wanted to make it kind of like a tiny home. We decided that we'll have a bedroom space, kitchen space with a counter top, and then work our way up from there and add more as we can. I've seen people add an oven in their van, and that's also something I want to eventually have. We will for sure have some kind of stove, whether that's built into the van or portable. Next, we will have a bed that we can bring down at night, and then up when we're not sleeping so we can use that space to put a table out for work.

"We will not have a shower or a toilet, and I know it sounds crazy, but I don't think it'll be an issue. Based on my research, I found that a lot of vanlifers don't have a toilet or shower, and added going to the gym a part of their daily routine so that they can use the shower there. Ultimately, I've told myself that at the end of this journey, no matter what happens, I'm sure I'll be very fit."

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Malone

How They WIll Sustain Themselves:

"Money is a major thing that we've been thinking about, but we have a plan. For me, I'll be focusing on making money from digital products, and my fiance is working on his own things. Ultimately, we decided that our goal is to live on $2,000 a month. Based on what we've seen from other RVers and vanlifers, that seems reasonable."

Jessica and her fiance will start on the interior design of their van in early 2020, and plan on hitting the road soon after. To keep up with Jessica and her #vanlife journey, follow her on IG @NachoAverageFro.

Featured image courtesy of Jessica Malone

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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