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
- 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?
- 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
- 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
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