Adventurers Spencer and Sarah Martin dreamed of owning a camper van for several years, they shared, but expenses and full-time jobs came as roadblocks.
“I’m a science educator, and she’s a school nurse,” noted Spencer Martin. “Camper vans are expensive and then sit unused for a majority of the year, so it had always been more of a dream. But then we started to think about how we could monetize it and rent vans out. That ended up becoming our business plan.”
In January 2020, the couple launched their van rental company, VanLifeKC.
Excited to finally get their business on the road, they did not expect to hit the bump that was the COVID-19 pandemic, Martin said.
“We didn’t have a single person reach out for the longest time,” he recalled. “But then people started realizing that traveling by van is one of the safest ways to travel in the pandemic. You don’t need to fly; you don’t need to stay in a hotel. You’re camping outdoors — which is one of the lowest risk activities.”
Click here to check out VanLifeKC.
VanLifeKC’s slow business in March, April and May closely followed that of RV sales on a national level. The RV Industry Association reported that in April 2020, RV sales dropped 82 percent from the previous year’s sales; and in May 2020, dropped 30 percent from the previous year’s sales. But come June, the industry association reported a 10 percent increase from the previous year’s sales, with sales continuing the rise throughout the summer. In the first quarter of 2021, RV sales have reached an all-time high.
Now with camping season just around the corner, Martin advised those who are interested in van rentals to plan ahead.
“Our bookings are definitely starting to increase as people plan summer trips,” Martin noted. “… If there are people who are thinking about doing a really big trip, especially like to a national park, I would advise to start planning earlier rather than later. I already have some people scheduling out all the way for September.
“[Sarah and I] can also help people find free places to camp and boondock if they’re interested in something like that,” he continued. “We love helping people plan trips, so that’s part of the service we offer as well.”
View this post on Instagram
VanLifeKC + VanDoIt
VanLifeKC offers four options for travelers: Vanadium, Darth Vander, Orange You Glad and Astrid. Along with their vehicles, they offer additional camping kits that include everything from kitchen utensils to a solar-powered camp sink.
Click here to “meet the vans.”
“We wanted to offer those amenities for people who are trying out camping, or even those who are considering van life itself,” Martin said. “There’s certainly a national resurgence of people who want to live in a van full-time, so we’ve actually had some renters who have rented a van to see if it would work for them.”
Designed for smaller groups — Orange You Glad is a 2005 Honda Element with a rooftop tent, and Astrid is a 2019 Coachmen Viking trailer.
For larger groups, Martin recommends Vanadium or Darth Vandar. Both are custom Ford Transit Midroof models that were built by VanDoIt — an adventure camper van converter company based in Kansas City.
“Once I started thinking about the monetization side of vans, it just so happened that I stumbled across VanDoIt,” Martin recalled. “The more I researched, the more I realized they are one of the best conversion companies on the market. They’re doing some incredible stuff with batteries and aluminum skeletons on the inside; they’re making really durable adventure vans.”
Click here to read more about VanDoIt.
Martin meets up with the VanDoIt team every couple of months for van maintenance or to bounce off ideas, he shared.
“It’s really great to have a local company who is so good at what they do — plus their customer service is so incredible,” Martin said. “This partnership happened so naturally, and I love working with them.”
VanLifeKC is looking to add their third custom-built VanDoIt vehicle within the next couple of years, Martin added.
Before renting their vehicles to the public, Martin and his family enjoy giving each vehicle a test trip or two, he said.
“We take all our vehicles on a maiden voyage, so that we can answer any questions that may come up — and also use that as a marketing trip to get photos,” he said. “We like going to the Ozarks in both Missouri and Arkansas. I feel like they’re a bit undiscovered. People from Kansas City may think you have to go to Colorado to be in the mountains, but there are some a bit closer.”
Sarah Martin spent much of her childhood traveling in a VW Bus with her family, and Spencer Martin was bitten by the travel bug during his time abroad.
“I grew up with a single mom, and she loved traveling internationally,” Martin shared. “Whenever she got the hankering, we’d travel to Europe or Mexico. That led to my desire to go overseas after I’d graduated, so I joined the Peace Corps. I taught over in Malawi, Africa, and that’s actually when I got the big camping bug.”
With overseas travel limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Martins have been able to spend the past year exploring more of the United States, Martin noted.
“As much as we love international travel, it has been fun to get to know the U.S.,” Martin said. “Being in Kansas City is such an incredible hub for that — I mean, we’re smack dab in the middle and have great camping all around here.”