Early in their relationship, Natalie and Abigail Rodriguez moved into an 80-square-foot van and began chasing their dream.

A chef (Nat) and a photographer (Abi), they spent the last two years on the road 24/7, during which time they built a virtual hub, Vanlife PRIDE, to convene and give visibility to LGBTQ+ travelers in a safe space. They were in South Carolina rebuilding their van, Towana, when YNF reached them.

What did you learn during those two years on the road?

Nat: I've learned a lot about myself. I'm more capable than I thought. It tests your relationship and opens you up to new people and places.

Abi: We liked being outside, but now we know we don’t just like it. We need it.

What has been your favorite National Forest to visit?

Nat: The Ocala National Forest was the first experience we had camping for three to four days, so it has a lot of meaning. Going from building the van that year and a half, to sitting out there, walking, and hearing the wind blowing through the trees—that set me up to know this is the life I want.

Abi: Sequoia National Forest has such great camp spots. The big trees, the rivers.

Do you have any advice for people new to dispersed camping?

Abi: It’s different than camping in an established campground. You have to come prepared with water, food, everything. We use the app iOverlander to find campsites.

Nat: In terms of fire safety and restrictions, check with the local ranger station or fire department. Also, we have a cell antenna and AAA for emergencies, especially as two females. We have our dogs. We carry mace. If we go somewhere and don’t feel safe, we change spots. But honestly, I feel safer out in the forests.

How is it traveling as a queer couple?

Abi: Sometimes we get stares, but luckily it hasn’t turned into anything too bad, other than making us feel uncomfortable.

Nat: Being an interracial couple on top of that, there is potential for problems. Especially for me being Black, it’s harder to feel like I could be out of the van at certain places.

Tell me about your online community.

Abi: When we were initially researching van dwelling, we didn’t see anybody like us on Instagram or YouTube, so that was one of our motivations.

Nat: The support has been overwhelming. People didn’t feel they were being represented on the big vanlife platforms. We wanted to create a safe space so people could connect with others on the road like themselves.

Is there message you'd like to share about the outdoors or your experience?

Nat: People are so stuck in their jobs and routine they forget about the beauty outside their door. Being in nature, meditating in the forest, being at the ocean, or taking a run—it’s really changed my life. I couldn’t imagine sitting in a house anymore.

Abi: The outdoors is for everyone.

Follow along with Nat and Abi’s adventures on Instagram @letsplayrideandseek, and check out their channel celebrating LGBTQ Vanlife @vanlifepride.

National Forest Foundation