#VanLife on a teacher’s budget: Dave and Matt Vans started in Vail Mountain School parking lot
Since starting officially Jan. 1, builders have put 30 vans on the roads out of Gypsum
The van life didn’t choose Dave Ramsay and Matt Felser — they chose the van life.
The two friends with two different paths in life connected on the golf team at Williams College in Massachusetts. Ramsay would go on to work in New York City as a trader before working for a hedge fund in Connecticut and eventually opening his own while Felser went on to teach Spanish at Vail Mountain School for eight years. Ramsay is interested in adventure sports like mountain biking and skiing, but he is not “a fanatic like you find in Vail,” like Felser.
The stars aligned last summer when the two met up on their annual Williams College golf trip and started talking about the van life. Ramsay had started the process, renting out a small fleet of vans in Minneapolis while busy managing his own hedge fund. Felser was just beginning the process, building out his own van in the Vail Mountain School parking lot — on a teacher’s salary.
Ramsay stopped in the valley last summer while transporting one of his rental vans from California to Minnesota, and he never left. The two are now “full-time” van lifers looking to share the lifestyle with as many people as possible through Dave and Matt Vans, officially an LLC on Jan. 1 operating out of Gypsum. In less than a year, the company that started in a single-car garage then moved to a two-car garage and is now operating out of a four-car garage near the airport in Gypsum, getting 30 vans onto the roads already.
“Our whole philosophy basically came from me building a van on a teacher’s budget,” Felser said. “We have since dialed it into a process that is cheaper and faster than pretty much every van builder we know.”
Dave and Matt Vans takes Ram Promaster vans and for $18,500 gets them onto the road with “everything you need, nothing you don’t.”
The basic build-out includes:
- Rooftop solar panel
- Roof vents
- Sliding side windows
- Colorado beetle kill paneling
- Queen bed
- 4 USB ports
- Electrical system
- Waterproof flooring
- Swivel seats for driver and passenger
- 2 removable seats in the back with seatbelts
“We can build vans in two weeks and get people on the road because we can build them so fast,” Ramsay said, adding it took him 300 hours to convert his first van back in Minnesota.
Ramsay remembers seeing a conversion van when he was 10 years old, he said, with the armchairs in the back and a TV. He said it blew his mind and was interested ever since. Through their personal experiences, Ramsay and Felser have taken their knowledge and turned it into a business, or a way to share their lifestyle.
“We’ve basically removed the bells and whistles that other van companies jam down your throats,” Felser said. “Instead, our base model is everything you need and nothing you don’t.”
Customized options are available, in addition to the base model.
“We’ll put anything you want,” Ramsay said.
While the base model doesn’t come with a full kitchen, the designers left space next to the sink for a small camping stove — saving $700 on an install by recommending $40 camping stoves.
“Those are a lot of the options we can do,” Ramsay said of the kitchen, “but there are other ways to do it that are cheaper and function the same.”
That’s the goal for Dave and Matt Vans.
“Our main goal is to enable this lifestyle for as many people as possible and do it in a very affordable and practical way,” Felser said.
The Van Life
While being based in Eagle County, living the van life allows Ramsay and Felser to be mobile.
“Mostly for me, it was just enabling a really interesting lifestyle of being able to travel around the country, being able to meet interesting people and see parts of the country I hadn’t seen before,” Ramsay said. “And the biggest part was honestly being able to take a bunch of risks I wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise. If I had my New York City apartment still, I could not have ever left and tried to do my own thing and work with my buddy. And so the van life was really the way to enable that.”
For Felser, it was a way to make ends meet while living in Vail.
“When you consolidate your overhead monthly to a car payment basically, between $400 and $800, you’re saving yourself on all these things that add up so quickly and kind of limit people,” he said. “It’s a pretty unique way to look at it, especially in a place like Vail where housing is exorbitantly expensive. It’s a unique way to live in an expensive place like Vail, San Francisco or New York City.”
Of the 30 clients Dave and Matt Vans has put on the road this year, the backgrounds of people entering the van life is varied. Journalists, Crossfitters, Instagram influencers, photographers and programmers are among the van lifers thanks to Dave and Matt Vans.
“We’re starting to see the modern worker who can work remotely is starting to gravitate toward living in a van, cutting costs and pursuing what they enjoy,” Felser said.
The duo has plans of expanding but are happy right where they are now.
“We’re in Eagle County for a reason,” Felser said. “It’s become home for me. We love being here and our intent is to support the community first and then grow from there.”
With a “gray area” around van life living in Eagle County, Ramsay and Felser hope to educate and be part of the conversation moving forward about policies in the area.
“It’s becoming more and more popular, and I feel like town councils will have to at least think about what their policy is because they’re going to have more and more of it on their hands,” Felser said.
For more information about Dave and Matt Vans, visit http://www.dmvans.com.
The best part of van life
“It allows me to live a professional lifestyle in the Vail Valley while still being mobile and going to all the places I love to travel to without really having to plan or prepare for it.” — Matt Felser
“The best part for me is it has enabled me to do a lot with my life that I had always wanted to do. To be able to take these risks that have landed me in a position to be able to work with a good friend of mine, to be out in Colorado and travel the country — that’s, to me, been the dream.” — Dave Ramsay