Van Life: Our Golden Doodle Cheat Code
- Cristina Stavro
Story and photos by Rachel Severein and Ola Kalejaye, Co-Creative Directors and Co-Founder at Diversify Vanlife.
Ask any vanlifer what some of their favorite things about the lifestyle are, and it’s definitely better than 50/50 odds that they will mention the people they get to meet on the road. If you were to ask the two vanlifers writing this blog, it would almost certainly be the first thing out of either of our mouths.Out of all of the incredible experiences we’ve had and the wonderful places we’ve been, all of our most cherished memories stem from interactions with incredible people, the likes of whom we’d probably never get to meet if not for traveling the way we do.
Now, we’re both reasonably outgoing and personable (we think) people. Living the vanlife has pulled us further in the direction of openness and expanded our social skills.
But, we have to admit, when it comes to meeting people on our road-travels, our pup Astro is what we call "a cheat code".
Astro is a mini goldendoodle/mini red poodle. If you can picture a 20lb, living teddy bear with floppy ears, you can pretty much picture Astro. We’ve had to get used to her being the center of attention everywhere we go: she turns heads on hiking trails and city sidewalks; she gets admiration from cars that slow down as they drive by her. We get so much joy from the smiles she puts on people’s faces, and she literally never fails to do so.
One memory stands out that really speaks to the power of Astro when it comes to making friends on the road.
We were in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it was the evening before we were set to take our beloved - and at the time, just recently completed - shuttle bus conversion to a mechanic for some urgent and costly engine work. As you might imagine, we were in somewhat low spirits and so, in an effort to lighten the mood, we decided to venture to a park overlooking the Rio Grande that we’d heard was the best sunset in the city. It certainly didn’t disappoint.
As we stood at the edge of the park looking over Albuquerque and enjoying magic hour, Astro kept tugging on her leash, trying to mosey her way over to and get the attention of a person sitting on a bench near us.
Now Astro is friendly, but she’s not usually the one to ask to go cuddle up to a stranger, so we took it as a sign of her intuition at work. Eventually Astro succeeded and the young woman asked if she could pet Astro and we of course said yes.
It turned out that she had flown in from her home in Hawaii and was on a solo road trip herself. We had a nice little conversation and we connected on our different travel stories. We told her about our bus and how we ended up stuck in Albuquerque. After the sun fully set, we said our goodbyes and started walking towards our bus.
“Hey!” We looked up, to see our new friend from the bench doubling back to us. “Could I actually take a look at your bus?”
Having just set off in our bus, she would be our first guest. We were thrilled! We ended up chatting and laughing and sharing stories for a few hours. If anything, our evening was cut short as she had to return to her AirBnB to pack and rest up for the next part of her trip.
That’s far from the only time Astro has struck up a conversation with someone all by herself, but it stands out for how unexpected it was.
We talked about it then, but it’s amazing how Astro made that connection possible: between her parents having a bit of a rough day, and a former stranger traveling solo who needed a friendly conversation in that moment.
We’d only spent two months total traveling in our first van before Astro came into the picture, so it’s hard to say how much she changed our experience because it feels like she’s been with us through it all. If there are any significant downsides to traveling with Astro, we’ve never had to feel them because the upsides are far too great!
Perhaps most importantly to us, having spent a few months at a time of Astro’s life stationary while we worked from an apartment or house, we know that she prefers the road life just like we do right now.
As amazing as this lifestyle can be for all different kinds of people, it might be even better for all different kinds of dogs. The constantly changing scenery, the close proximity to nature and adventure are all things that make Astro a very happy pup.
And Astro doesn’t just help us make friends - she gets to make friends of her own all the time. There’s a saying in vanlife: every van gathering is a dog show in disguise.
Dog ownership is that popular within the Vanlife community, which gives us dog lovers a whole subcommunity to connect and share knowledge with, within the larger vanlife community, and that just makes having a dog as a vanlifer an endlessly attractive proposition - both for us, and our fur baby.
Rachel and Ola are the Co-Creative Director and Co-Founder at Diversify Vanlife – a platform that highlights the less-heard voices in the Vanlife and Nomadic communities, and amplifies the stories of those who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S, and those with disabilities. You can learn more about Diversify Vanlife here, and follow Rachel, Ola, and Astro's adventures on Instagram here.
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