Elopement Wedding

I Live and Work in a Van As a Digital Nomad. It Requires Sacrifice.

  • Mariah Arianna, 30, lives and works out of a van with her partner as a digital nomad.
  • She has a wedding- and elopement-photography business and works as a brand copywriter.
  • Arianna says even though van life appears glamorous, the lifestyle requires a lot of sacrifices.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mariah Ariannaa 30-year-old who works as an adventure-wedding and elopement photographer and brand copywriter.

My mom always said that as a young kid, living in a small rural town in Michigan, I learned to walk and talk freakishly early. I was always looking to go outside and explore faster than she could keep up with, and I got antsy when I was in a routine or exposed to too much familiarity.

I went to college because I knew getting a degree would be my ticket out of the small town I was living in. I majored in applied linguistics and English literature and used my time at the University of Michigan to squeeze out as many experiences as I could, from internships to part-time work, and save up money. I also traveled a lot during college, taking trips to Spain and Morocco. I was enamored with living life anywhere but home.

For my first job out of college, I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, to work full-time as a marketing and training-content creator for a foundation-repair and basement-systems company.

It didn’t take me long to realize the 9-to-5 life wasn’t for me

I didn’t have freedom or enough vacation time, and I always knew I wanted to run my own business and my own life, so I took small steps to make that happen.

I started taking on extra photography and copywriting gigs on the side and began freelancing in 2017. During that time, I connected with a friend who told me about an opportunity to work as a mountain guide at a remote lodge in British Columbia. I was already a minimalist and didn’t have much stuff to get rid of, so I sold what I had and left behind a life I would never return to.

Mariah Arianna on the beach holding her camera.

Arianna on the beach holding her camera.

Mariah Arianna



In December 2018, after working at the lodge and building more freelance photography and copywriting clients, I decided to move with my partner Johannes to his home country, Germany. I was working with a lot of clients in Frankfurt and was able to get a long-term work visa to stay in the country.

We both knew we wanted to travel as much as we could, so we decided to stick with temporary housing while we were in Germany. From there, we’ve traveled to Hawaii, British Columbia, and the western part of America.

We’ve been living and working full-time out of a converted camper van since 2021

My partner, who is a carpenter, and I were able to renovate it together. We bought the van from someone we knew and paid 7,500 euros cash for it. The van took us seven months to build and after that timeframe, we added more small additions (a heater, roof deck, and more storage). The build cost us about 18,500 euros total, split equally between the two of us.

When we’re not staying in the van, we’re on the go and have traveled to Norway, Slovenia, Thailand, and Austria. I even did a two-month stint staying with a friend in Hawaii while doing my freelance work. Recently, we’ve been traveling the Dolomite Mountains in Italy in the van, and I’ve been doing a lot of elopement-photography shoots for clients.

Mariah works on her laptop while Johannes sits across from her.

Arianna and her partner Johannes working in the van.

Mariah Arianna



As a photographer, a lot of my clients find me through my website. I’ve spent a lot of time creating blog posts with targeted SEO so that people who Google certain search terms can find my services. I also get new clients from Instagram, word of mouth, other photographers, and postings in Facebook groups.

These days, I consider myself a digital nomad

My clients know about my lifestyle and find it totally on brand, especially my wedding clients. They hired me to capture their special day in some of the most breathtaking locations in the Austrian, Swiss, and German Alps. I have three elopement-photography packages that range from 3,340 to 7,900 euros.

All my workdays are different, but it’s nice to be a digital nomad and have control over my routine and schedule. A lot of how I structure my days depends on the weather. If it’s nice weather and a day where I don’t have a lot of meetings or need to be in front of my computer, I’ll go rock climbing, go on a hike, or adventure around a new city. On days when the weather is too hot, rainy, or cold, I’ll knock out as much work as I can indoors on my computer.

I managed a lot, from ongoing travel to working with clients all over the world

I use a virtual-assistant and client-management program, Dubsado, to help me stay on top of tasks, invoices, and workflows. It does cost me a $320 annual fee, but it’s worth every penny and cheaper than hiring a person to be my assistant.

Mariah Arianna working in a cafe.

Arianna working in a cafe.

Mariah Arianna



Even though I work on the go, I like to work in quiet places because I get distracted by noise. I usually work in small coffee shops, local libraries, or inside our van, which is very bright and open.

Living as a digital nomad saves us money. I spend around 900 euros a month on expenses like upkeep for the van, gas, groceries, insurance, and my cell-phone plan.

Even though life living out of a van looks glamorous from the outside, it’s not a vacation

You still have to work to make ends meet, clean out a messy chemical toilet in the van, and sometimes sleep parked in a parking lot that’s not so nice. This lifestyle requires sacrifices and the same amount of work, diligence, and planning as anyone else’s lifestyle; you’re just doing it while moving around.

If you’re someone who wants to do this, too, start planning now by living below your means. Too many people let their inflated lifestyles get the best of them and take away their freedom. We pay attention to our finances so we don’t go into debt. When we travel without the van, we try to keep our costs low by staying with friends, in Airbnbs, or by using Workaway.

If you want more freedom in your career, learn skills for different types of jobs or freelancing

You can learn skills like online marketing, SEO, and other digital trades by taking free courses on edX or Coursera.

I’m not a person who comes from money. I don’t have an inheritance or a trust fund, but I made this lifestyle happen because of the decisions I’ve made. Whether it’s from getting a college degree, staying out of debt, or meeting a partner with similar values, I’ve never given up on my passion of wanting to see the world that I’m living in.