CALIFORNIA – Most people cannot imagine giving up their nice new car, and beautifully furnished condo in favor of living in a van with two dogs, but for John Brant, that was his American Dream.
“I’ve had the new car, the beautiful condo, the nice shoes, and it wasn’t for me,” Brant said of his former life. “I love having the freedom of going anywhere at anytime.”
Brant grew up in Gladwin, never dreaming that he would eventually have the life that he does now. He graduated from GHS in 2010, eventually serving 5 years in the U.S. Navy as a Medical Corpsman, during which time he trained to be a Surgical Technologist. After five years of service he was honorably discharged but still works in the medical field.
“I am private contractor as a Surgical Technologist. Essentially I assist in surgery, traveling between hospitals that need assistance in my preferred surgical specialties for weeks or months at a time,” Brant said. Currently Brant is based out of San Diego, CA.
Given the nature of his work, having a permanent residence, as well as a short term place to stay would be unreasonably expensive, in addition to the exhaustive hassel of living in two different places. Van living gave Brant an alternative, as well as extra social perks.
“Having to live out of a suitcase as well, really becomes taxing. So now, I drive my closet essentially anywhere I go. I don’t pay rent and as an introvert always on the move it’s very hard to make friends which can become depressing. Luckily - the Van draws people to me and then the dogs are always a talking point,” Brant said.
Brant travels in the van with his two dalmatians, a 6-year-old rescue named Payton, and Myles, Payton’s 2-year-old son.
The van life gives Brant the opportunity to explore the country with his dogs in tow, without having to worry about finding hotels that will accommodate dogs.
“ My favorite spots to ‘ ‘boondock’ are at most off leash dog beaches and dog friendly parks due to the convenience of waking up and being able to slide my doors open while making breakfast, and having the peace of mind that the dogs can run around without having to worry about them being on or off leash.”
The building of the van took began in late September 2019 after months of research on vans and RV’s. The van’s base is a 2016, 2500 Dodge Promaster Highroof. From the point when he got the van, Brant, along with two friends that helped him, gutted the vehicle and started building his dream design, that many builders said was impossible. But with determination and creativity, they achieved Brant’s dreams a little over 3 months after the project start date.
Though Brant says that the van is never done because there is always a project to do, there was a moment where the beginning plans were completed. “When I put the last spice jar up in the kitchen we all stood back and just starred at the van, remembering what is was like when I drove a hollow tin can into their driveway with a crazy idea and nothing more than a poorly drawn diagram.”
Soon after Brant and his dogs hit the open road. “The first ‘adVANture’ I had taken was to Sequoia National Forrest,” Brant said, saying that it was a test run for the vehicle. “It was exciting, and terrifying. That trip I learned about momentum and how strong refrigerator doors are and how easily they open when taking a turn about.”
For Brant, the point of this project has really been about getting a chance to travel more freely, and spend time outside with his dogs in his sparetime. “I live for spontaneity. This has given me the luxury of seeing all these beautiful places and states without having to plan hotels and extend stays and risking taking a great job for a bad location,” Brant said.
Having the van has opened up a lot of social doors for Brant, as people are interested in the van life. Routinely people come up to him to ask questions, or just make comments on the van. According to Brant, the people are positive about the van 70% of the time. “The other 30% are people thinking I’m a food truck or creeper van down by the river handing out free candy and WiFi,” Brant laughs.
Brants parents, Joe and Angie Brant, live in Gladwin. His father was one of the 30% who were confused by the idea of a van at first. “I had the newest car beautiful condo in San Diego, worked at a level 1 trauma center with the perfect job...I told him I’m leaving it all to live in a van and travel as a private contractor he was confused... but supportive. Through the process I’ve been able to show him the growth of the van and myself and that’s invaluable to me,” Brant said.
Throughout the van building process and afterwards, Brant has been active on social media, frequently posting about the van lifestyle. He now routinely gets questions sent to him about the subject. So much that he is considering starting a podcast on vans. “I do not hesitate to try to answer any questions because during my build I had a hard time finding people to ask without them charging me a consultation fee.”
Brant knows the van life isn’t for everyone, but he feels that for him it’s been rewarding. “If there’s anything I want people to know is the hardest part about the conversion is setting aside the societal pressure of you need this and that to be deemed successful. I’ll be the first to tell you, I’ve worked hard, sleepless nights on call making money to feel adequate and to feel I am maintaining that status,” Brant said, saying it just wasn’t for him.
“My American Dream is not the same as yours, I understand that. Invite me into yours and share your American dream, I’ll be happy to open my passenger door and share mine.”
You can find Brant on Instagram at @dalmatiansandme.