Why The Ideal Adventure Rig Isn't a Van—It's a Pickup Truck
After more than three years and 130,000 miles of living in a pickup, I’m convinced there is no better way
Andy Cochrane, Johnie Gall
Andy Cochrane is a nomadic writer, photographer, and producer based out of a badass Toyota Tacoma truck named Tacomama.
Even on the bad days I feel lucky. My work takes me all around the western half of the US, from empty BLM savannahs to iconic national parks. I’m a footloose freelancer, who writes about gear and travel, and occasionally gets paid to shoot photos intended to make you feel guilty about not living the same way. Sure, during winter it’s common for me to spend a week somewhat damp, or a few days lonely, or an afternoon completely lost—and not in the good way—but these troubles always seem to pass.
Now, if you’re envisioning my life in a decked-out Sprinter van with prayer flags and Pendleton blankets, think again. I live in a Toyota Tacoma. Simple means in a reliable truck. The back has a LEER topper on it, much like a construction cap, with a few stickers on the back. Inside is a foam mattress and a couple sleeping bags and below that a small drawer for my kitchen—a double burner stove, pots, and bags of oatmeal and coffee.
I cook my food on the tailgate, often as strangers walk by and give me odd looks. I smile back, reminding them that there isn’t a set path any of us have to follow. My friends call it the TacoMama, which I love. It’s reliable and always hungry for dirt roads. I can hear the engine rev with glee as I tear down 4x4 tracks and kick up a long tail of dust behind me.
"Some travelers are content on paved roads, visiting well-trodden national parks and highlight-reel tourist traps. Not me."
Admittedly, buying a truck wasn’t a fully practical decision. I’ve wanted a Tacoma since I was a kid and sure, sometimes kids have bad ideas. I guess adults do too. I bought the truck after being kicked out of my apartment when the owners decided to sell. Frustrated with the Bay Area housing market, I decided to stick it to the man and move into a vehicle.
During my truck tenure I’ve made dozens of mistakes – more than I plan to recount in this story. Through the ups and downs there have been a few consistent things in my life though: good friends, gallons of gas station coffee, my four legged sidekick Beadog, and six principles that keep me chasing horizons. These are those, below.
Six Reasons Why Living in a Pickup Beats the Vanlife
1. Simplicity. My biggest joy in this weird, nomadic life is simplicity. Living in a truck means you don’t have much space for sleeping, cooking, or storing stuff, so you’re forced to be frugal with what you bring along. This isn’t totally the case with many vans. And I think it’s hard to embrace simplicity when you bring all the amenities and comforts of home with you. This forced simplicity—the food I eat, the places I sleep, and the toys I keep—makes life somewhat uncomfortable, which in turn forces me learn.
2. Access. Some travelers are content on paved roads, visiting well-trodden national parks and highlight-reel tourist traps. Not me. Solitude is at a premium and I do my best to find it whenever possible. To get there, you need the right rig. My Tacoma has a 3” lift, burly AT tires, off-road lighting, supple suspension and a low center of gravity, allowing it to crawl over rocks, rip through mud, and access places that almost no vans would even consider.
3. Reliability. Access is only half the formula. Investing in the right vehicle means one that you can trust, especially when you’re far from the nearest AAA tow truck. Tacoma, as the pinnacle of reliability, was an easy decision. After more than three years of heavy use, long miles, and lots of dirt, I’ve only had minor issues with the truck. That, plus almost any small town mechanic can fix it, as Toyota parts are almost universal.
4. Less stuff. The fact that I have less storage than most other nomads is a huge blessing, as far as I’m concerned. This means you bring only the essentials and put a priority on practicality over all else. I rely on a Camp Chef double burner stove, a Bedslide drawer for a makeshift kitchen, a Thule Motion XT for storage, a Nemo Jazz double sleeping bag, and a set of MSR pots and sporks for most of my food. Of course there are a few other things, but the takeaway is that to be happy you need a lot less than you think.
5. Selflessness. We’re all part of a community, even us nomads. Having a truck allows me to help others fairly frequently. On a recent trip to Wyoming and Utah, I pulled almost ten people out of a ditch, including a few vans that were bigger than my truck. Similarly, on a fringe season trip to Moab last fall, I helped out a handful of stranded strangers, tugging their vans to safety. This wasn’t one of the key reasons I bought the truck, but it certainly has added value along the way.
6. Fun. In some ways, all of the five principles above add up to one thing: more fun. Sure, living in a truck isn’t as comfortable as a van, or a house for that matter. But the tradeoff is that you get more access, more adventures, and more time outside. I’ve watched many vandwellers spend hours inside their tiny homes, forgoing the opportunity to explore. If you’re going all-in on nomadic life, my suggestion is to buck the #vanlife trend and consider living in a pickup.