Van Life

Van Life

An Interview with Duke Grad Estlin Haiss

You travelled over 12,000 miles in a Sprinter van. Where did you go? What was life on the road like?

My trip started and finished in my hometown of Alliance, Ohio, covering fifteen states and two Canadian territories in between.  For most of the trip I was traveling with my buddy, Carl (who’d also just graduated from Duke).  We got along pretty well the entire way, which is amazing considering the fact that we were literally spending 24 hours a day together.  We’re both creative people and both experienced travelers, so that made it a pretty chill experience.

What inspired your journey in the first place?

My dad built a bed in the back of his ‘69 VW bus when he was in college.  As I was growing up he told me lots of stories about the road trips he took, and that inspired me to want to go on a whirlwind adventure of my own someday.

Which destinations were most memorable?

Out of all the places we visited, Yosemite was my favorite.  Canada’s Banff & Jasper National Parks were spectacular, too, but I’d like to revisit those when it’s a little warmer (we were there in late October).

Is there something particular about travelling on road that enhances the experience?

The beautiful thing about doing a van road trip is the utter simplicity of it.  There are really no limitations when you’ve got your accommodations and your kitchen with you all the time.  It’s definitely my favorite way to travel.

This semester, FORM is exploring the theme of movement. Movement is inherent in your journey across North America, but we also see it represented in your photographs. Did your time on the road impact your photography and if so, how?

Carl and I learned a lot from each other as photographers.  Our styles are very different, and it was great to share knowledge and constantly push each other creatively.  We were a little burned out by the end of it, but I’m looking forward to the next time we get to shoot together.

What was the motivation behind your decision to take aerial photographs of your various stopping points?

I honestly didn’t take as many aerial photos on the road as I would’ve liked to.  My drone was grounded for a good portion of the trip--flying in national parks (where we spent most of our time) is against the law, and we got hit with a ton of rain up in the Pacific Northwest.

Which photographers inspire you and why?

There are way too many to name! A few off the top of my head are Chris Burkard, Abe Kislevitz, Foster Huntington, and Brianna Madia.  The creative people I admire generally lead super-adventurous lifestyles, which is truly the root of my inspiration.

Have you read Jack Kerouac's On The Road or similar pieces of literature focusing on the American road trip?

I haven’t read that one, but it’s been on my list!

We’ve seen this idea of "van life" all over the Internet on various social media accounts and blogs. Why do you think abandoning a conventional way of life and hitting the road has become so popular in recent years?

Someone once joked to me that the only difference between being a hobo and living the #vanlife is an Instagram account.  I think that the way of life itself is nothing new; people have been living out of vans for decades, but now that everyone’s on social media, it’s just a whole lot more visible (and glamorized).  I don’t have any plans to live in a vehicle full-time, but I’m absolutely going to go on another big adventure--next time I’ve gotta make it to Alaska and back!