Johnie Gall is freelance writer, avid traveller, and advocate for adventurous women. Two years ago, Johnie and her fiancé purchased a Sprinter van in which they balance long stints on the road with returning to home base. Case in point: they spent this past summer on the road climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, and kayak camping, among other endeavors.
To share her outdoor excursions, Johnie built the blog Dirtbag Darling, which has quickly become a resource for women with a penchant for getting outside. Head over and read other women’s stories, gear reviews, travel guides and more. Get inspired!
All photos above and below (C) 2015 Dirtbag Darling
Meet Johnie, Writer & Inspiration For Other Women
What prompted you to leave the 9-5 for a more flexible world of travel and freelance?
I loved working for a surf lifestyle magazine out in Los Angeles—I had become Senior Editor when I was 23 years old and had kind of realized my goal much quicker than I thought I could. Still, I felt this nagging sense that it wasn’t my passion, it wasn’t what gave me goosebumps. So…I quit! People always ask how I can afford to travel so much, and the answer is that I think there’s a misconception about being freelance. I work really dang hard, way harder now than when I was in a 9-to-5 job. It’s a trade-off I’m very proud of.
Why the Sprinter? [Side note: Love meeting Sprinter owners!]
When my then-boyfriend (now fiancé) Marlin and I met, we did all of our adventures in his minivan. He had been dreaming about owning a Sprinter his whole life, and I quickly joined the Sprinter fan club. So we logged countless hours on Craigslist until we found a Sprinter we could actually afford and wasn’t totally rusted out. We’re actually on Sprinter number two now—it’s just the ultimate adventuremobile. It can handle tough terrain, it gets good gas milage, it’s a diesel, and it can fit any gear we can dream up and then some. We’re still working on customizing and building the interior, but we do have a pump sink and a lifted bed.
What have you learned about your fiancé that you might not have had you not been on the road?
I learned that as even-tempered as I thought I was, I’m the whirlwind and he’s always sunny and 75-degrees. When you live in a tight space with someone, you have to save your best behavior for each other or it just won’t work. There’s no escaping issues so you just work them out quicker. He’s a master at managing any situation and making the best of tough times and he’s consistently in a good mood. I also learned he likes to sing….a lot. And loudly. Plus he’s the only person I’ve met who can whistle as well as I can.
If you and your fiance’s “Van Roles” were a Venn Diagram, how would they overlap? How would they differ?
I love this question! I keep everything clean and organized, and he does gear shifting and management. We try to divide driving and navigating pretty evenly but I’ve been known to fake being tired so I can go in the back and read…just don’t tell him that.
Where have you not been in your Sprinter (but you’d like to go)?
In my wildest dreams we ferry the Sprinter to Australia and explore the outback for a few months. But since I’m not Richard Branson, I’m gunning for a rock climbing and surf trip up to Oregon.
You founded Dirtbag Darling as a way to encourage women to get outdoors. Has this enriched your own outdoor experiences?
It’s given me a community of likeminded women that I didn’t know existed. Before I started the blog, there wasn’t really anything else out there like it, no way to connect with other female surfers and climbers. Now, there are some really amazing Instagram accounts and blogs that I check in with—it’s a great way to meet people when you travel and some of my most special friends are ones I met through social media.
Take a photo of your five must-have items for van travel.
- A foot-pump-pressurized solar shower for cleaning up and doing camp dishes.
- A Go-Pro camera for capturing memories.
- My Patagonia down sweater for chilly roadside stops and picture opportunities.
- A huge straw hat because I’ve done enough damage to my skin already.
- MunkPack oatmeal squeeze packs so I don’t gorge on rest stop candy.
- Face wipes! I’m not loyal to any brand but Aveeno is great. They’re my number-one recommendation for everything from wiping off hands, cleaning boots, checking the oil, and giving yourself a quick shower.
When you’re at home or when you’re on the road, how do you know when it’s time to leave?
When the wind blows? We aren’t really planners, so when we start to feel restless or when we hear about great weather somewhere, we don’t think, we just pack and go. When we’re on the road, sometimes I get homesick and it’s nice to have the option to drive back to “home base” and relax for a little. The bonus is that an indoor shower feels like heaven after a few weeks.
What’s been your most uplifting moment of travel? On the flip side, what’s been your most discouraging?
Meeting people is the single best thing about traveling. This summer we were in the middle of a canyon (in the middle of nowhere) and we heard banjo music drifting toward us. We followed it and stumbled across a small bluegrass band who welcomed us over and gave us a private show. Turns out they were the ones who set all the climbing routes in the canyon!
The most discouraging times are usually when the weather isn’t cooperating. We’ve been hit by white-out storms hiking at 14,000 feet, driven through tornado conditions, and had to sleep in 110-degree heat and humidity in a swamp in New Orleans (with no air conditioning). You just can’t let it get to you—you have to remember it’s all part of the experience. After all, you can’t change the weather!
What are you looking forward to in the new year?
It sounds so cliché, but getting married! I get really excited knowing we have the rest of our lives to dream up new Sprinter adventures—the past three years we’ve packed in thousands of miles and traveled all over the country and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re hoping to travel to New Zealand for our honeymoon…we’re just hoping they have Sprinters to rent.
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