For years Jeff and Crystal Robertson had a home office to run their business and a van to quench their thirst for travel. And then they began to wonder: Was it possible to have both in one?
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After months of research, the Robertsons bought an extended-wheelbase 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 3500, converted by custom shop Roadtrek into its popular CS Adventurous model.
“We started looking at ways we could potentially live in a van full-time,” said Jeff. “The natural progression led us to the Sprinter.”
Jeff, a former professional skier, and Crystal, a certified yoga instructor, now live and work in their Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Chocolate brown cabinets and closets are built into either side, separated by a walkway that leads to plush leather seating at the rear. They turned their Truckee, Calif., home into a rental.
“Right now this is home for us,” Crystal said. “This is comfort. This is perfect.”
The couple started a guided tour business, Le Grand Adventure Tours, together in 2012. Jeff serves as the main guide and Crystal runs marketing. They trek the Sprinter up and down the West Coast to surf, bike and camp while running their company from the road.
Living in the van has become an important part of their identity, Crystal said. It allows them to live with a small consumption footprint while preserving their freedom to venture out and explore.
The Robertsons have become high-profile members of the growing #vanlife movement on Instagram and other social media platforms.
From their account, @legrandnomads, they share images from their outdoor adventures and the scenic locations they wake up to. It has drawn more than 8,500 followers and played an important role in growing the customer base for the business too. People are drawn to the van lifestyle, with its flexibility and freedom, Jeff said.
Roadtrek prices the CS Adventurous from about $135,000. The Robertsons financed their purchase and pay about $1,000 per month on the loan.
“It’s really allowed us to follow our passions,” Jeff said.
Recently, the Robertsons have taken road trips as far south as San Diego and as far north as Vancouver, Wash. They regularly visit Lake Tahoe and often reconnect with friends in Santa Cruz, Calif., for the iconic surf.
The Sprinter — nicknamed “Max” — is a high-roof version with an extended 170-inch wheelbase. Total length is nearly 6 feet longer than the standard 144-inch wheelbase van. The extra space allows the Robertsons to have a full kitchen and galley, a shower and toilet, and cabinets and drawers to hold clothes and possessions.
The rear bench quickly folds out into a queen-sized bed, and a hidden overhead storage bin lowers at the push of a button to reveal extra sheets and bedding. Folded back into a bench, the space serves as Crystal’s work seat.
“I can plug in right here,” she said, pulling a small leaf from the wall that acts as a desk. “What we picked was exactly what we needed to live a normal life.”
On a warm April afternoon in Santa Cruz, Jeff praised the virtues of the Sprinter’s driving dynamics and pointed out standard heated seats that are helpful in the snow. Crystal was splayed across the back row, answering e-mails and composing an Instagram post.
Jeff commented that Santa Cruz was crawling with vintage surf vans: Volkswagen Westfalia Campers with pop-up tents on the roof and Ford Econolines converted to haul surfboards on side-mounted racks. But the Robertsons have taken a more modern approach.
Their van is equipped with a high-powered router and desktop-range booster to help ensure they can stay online, even in obscure campgrounds. When all else fails, they pull into a Starbucks parking lot.
“We’ve really been creative to make sure we’re connected at all times,” Jeff said.
The Robertsons are often taking international calls or responding to foreign clients. Le Grand Adventure Tours completed a skiing tour of Japan in February and will host a private bike tour through the Swiss Alps this August.
But the couple is most comfortable back in Max.
“Some mornings you don’t quite remember where you are,” Crystal said as the van pulled into a free beach lot in Santa Cruz and unloaded their bicycles. “You look out those blinds and usually you have a pretty incredible view.”