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Chester County man experiences ‘Nomadland’ in real life during pandemic

Last year, as Michael Burlotos worked from his Atlanta apartment, he made the shocking decision to jump, or rather drive, off the hamster wheel of life, to seek happiness among the mountain views. and Walmart parking lots.

Burlotos, 25, chose the #vanlife, a 2003 refurbished Chevrolet bus from a New Jersey mental health facility, to be exact. “Chase what makes you feel alive” is written on the side and that’s basically what Burlotos did last year. His Siberian Husky Bailey, also did the trick.

“I really fell in love with focusing my life on experiences. It’s a fulfilling life, ”the Chester County native said outside his bus on a weekday in a Delaware state park. “You hear stories of people on their death beds saying ‘I wish I could have done this or that’.”

There are currently 10.1 million Instagram posts under the hashtag #vanlife, one of the most popular outdoor influencer trends of recent years and a lifestyle, as in the case of Burlotos, which has exploded during the pandemic. His Instagram account has just over 6,700 followers.

Burlotos grew up in Chadds Ford, Chester County, and graduated from Unionville High School in Kennett Square and later from West Chester University. In March, he moved to Atlanta for a new job.

“I had never been there before, but I was excited to take on this new challenge and meet new people. I’m an extrovert, ”he said. “But of course COVID completely clouded the experience and I was trapped in this apartment with no friends or family around. I remember asking myself “What could I do today to make my future thank me?” I had my car, my dog ​​and my Jeep and I thought I would go out west and see where life took me.

There are different levels of “living in your car” and obviously some of them are not the best remedies for the homeless rather than changing their lifestyle. In the outdoor community, climbers and “ski enthusiasts” have been sleeping in vans for decades. Entry-level #vanlife enthusiasts often pick up used vans and frame beds and cooking zones for a few thousand dollars, though companies coast to coast are converting new and old vans. At the top of this lifestyle, there are city bus-sized RVs stuffed with leather, with prices close to a million dollars.

Across the country last year, sales of recreational vehicles soared.

“People don’t want to fly, they don’t want to stay in a hotel. In an RV, you can cook your own meals and sleep in your own bed, ”Craig Kirby, president of the RV Industry Association, told Reuters last year.

The world got a glimpse of a slice of #vanlife in the Oscar-winning film Nomadic country, where Frances McDormand plays a widow traveling the country, working and mingling with a collection of nomads who live in their vans.

Unlike McDormand’s character, who found work where she could on the road, Burlotos kept her fintech job through an accommodating ‘work from home’ policy. All of his days, whether in Wyoming or Washington, began with work and finding a stable Wi-Fi signal, he said.

The journey began in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, with Burlotos folding down the seats and sleeping in the back with Bailey. He then bought a travel camper van in 1986 to hitch him to the back, which gave him more space. A member of Planet Fitness, Burlotos was able to shower in places across the country. The Walmarts allow motorhomes to park overnight, free of charge.

“I drove straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” he said. “I felt this brand new rush for life. I was jumping in 50 degree lakes, doing things I never imagined doing, but felt so alive, and I ended my days sleeping in the back of my car with my dog ​​and a bag of sleeping.

Burlotos bought the bus in November in New Jersey and has been working there continuously since. There is a bed, sofa, sink and kitchen area, even a composting toilet, but no name. He keeps water, propane, an electric generator, and even a fire pit for his rooftop patio under the bed, while photos of Bailey and his girlfriend, Katie, hang on the walls.

In total, it costs about $ 22,000 on the bus, gasoline being its biggest expense.

Burlotos has visited more than 30 states, including Alaska, since leaving and was back in the Delaware Valley recently to attend a wedding after a long stay in Florida and South Carolina. He hikes Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania later this year.

“The best part of it all was all the people I met,” he said.

Burlotos is quitting this well-paying finance job overnight, co-creating a social media platform for entrepreneurs and people who want to “turn passionate projects into real, tangible things”.

“No one can dispute someone else’s happiness,” he said. “I’m right over there chasing him.”

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