Van Life, Top Photo by: E.A. Kidwell Photography

Jared and Emily Shrode were newlyweds when they decided to risk everything by leaving the conventional life behind. In an attempt to discover their own unique path, they devoted their lives to a dream of adventure. Because why not?! Now, the Chief Smile Makers at Vannagram & Co run the finest mobile photo booth in Texas. Here they explain how the journey of a lifetime, and one very special van, would change their direction forever.

Van Life

Jared & Emily, Photo By: Vannagram & Co.

Lots of people talk about quitting their jobs to travel the world, but you guys actually did it. How risky was making the dream your new reality?
Like many other people in this world, I had always thought that the natural progression in life went like this: graduate from college, get a job, meet a lifelong mate, get married, buy a house, have 2 kids and live happily ever after. I think sometimes society teaches us to focus on the things that we feel like we HAVE to accomplish instead of focusing on the things that will truly make us happy and fulfilled.

But my husband Jared has always been an adventurer, and his adventurous persona has a way of tapping into the free spirit in me. He had always been nudging me to go on an extended trip. It seemed impossible at first but the more we talked about it, the more real it became! We decided to take a 5-month trip, and travel from the southern tip of South America, all the way up the west coast of North America. I admit it was tough leaving our stable corporate jobs to live as vagabonds in a van. But even though it was a huge risk for us to fund this trip with the money that we’d saved up for a house, we knew that the reward of the journey would greater, filled with challenges and experiences that would make us feel the most complete. People certainly thought we were crazy, including our parents, but they’ve since told us that they admired our willingness to have the guts to take that leap.

Van Life

Photo By: E.A. Kidwell Photography

You hit the road for 5 months in a Volkswagen van. Tell us about the experience!
Having the wind in your hair and not having an exact path or deadline was invigorating! We certainly learned quickly how to adapt and live in an 80 sq ft space. Jared drove while me and Solly, our long-haired dachshund, co-piloted the 15,000+ mile journey. We set a limit to not drive more than 5 or 6 hours a day so that that we could really enjoy the cities we visited and do our best to live like the amazing locals we met along the way.

Van Life

Hitchhikers, Photo By: Vannagram & Co.

We dined with Teo, one of the original gauchos in Argentina’s Patagonia. We shadowed Stephie, an American-born ex-Pat who lived on her family’s farm which ranks as the #1 largest farm in Chile. In Chalten we enjoyed intense games of Yahtzee with Greg and Katie, a couple from Nashville, TN who were on a two year-long honeymoon traveling in a VW bus. We loved the company of Neil and Lana, a Scottish couple who were older versions of ourselves. We shared beers in a garage with an Argentine family while they worked on our van. We partied til the wee hours of the morning drinking wine with our new Swed friends in Mendoza. It is also pretty normal to pick up hitchhikers in South America so if we saw someone thumbing, we typically picked them up and loved to exchange our travel stories with each other. We also had a Polaroid camera with us so we would try to snap a photo of the hitchhikers with the bus to take as a souvenir when we dropped them off at their stop!

Van Life

Chile, Photo By: Vannagram & Co.

Favorite South American spot?
I think we both would agree that Patagonia, located in the southern-most part of Chile, was the most beautiful place that we visited overall. The terrain is so pristine, like it has been completely untouched. At the country’s National Park, Torres del Paine, located deep in the Andes mountains, the vibrant icy blue lakes at the base of the jagged snow-filled peaks don’t even look real to the naked eye.

Any good coffee along the way?
Most of the of the time, we bought quality beans and made our own French Roast in the van. It was our daily ritual to prepare for the drive ahead of us. There was one amazing coffee shop in Puerto Natales called The Coffee Maker at Kau Lodge that stood out for their brew. When we were back in the States we found a few great coffee shops too, one memorable one was in Santa Monica called The Funnel Mill, where they served rare single estate coffee beans and specialty teas. They took great pride in sharing their inventive brewing methods and educating us on their craft.

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Grand Canyon, Photo By: Vannagram & Co.

Favorite stateside discovery?
When we came back to the States to complete the second half of our trip, it was important to us to visit as many National Parks as possible. 2016 is the 100th birthday of the National Parks System in America so it was incredible to make that journey through many of the big ones that have been around since the beginning, like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Tetons and Glacier.

We tried to not pay for camping whenever we could. One website that we relied heavily on was freecampsites where they list, by state, all of the places to camp for free. Some of the most incredible camping spots we discovered were through that site, including one where we had a ridiculously perfect view of the Tetons out our VW bus window. We were in total awe of the beauty that we discovered right here in our own country and it made us second guess always thinking that we have to travel to other countries to experience something wonderful!

Van Life

Photo By: Vannagram & Co.

What are the 3 biggest lessons you took away from your massive journey?
1. We learned that it is totally possible to live with less – and it can actually be freeing! Living Rich is a relative term and does not have to be applied to making money. It can be applied to living life in a deeper, more fulfilling way.

2. Patience is a virtue, and sometimes it’s best to just take in the scenery and enjoy the ride. This of course was a bit of a challenge at the beginning of our trip since we all live our lives at such a fast pace. And since our beloved VW bus could only go 55mph, we had to sit back and relax, which allowed us to really experience the beauty all around us.

3. Seven days is our absolute max that we can go sans shower!

At what point did the lightbulb go off that your trusty van could become a smart business venture?
Being on the road with our van, I saw the attraction the VW bus could bring. I cannot tell you how many times we were stopped so that someone could chat with us about their VW story they experienced growing up. There’s just a natural draw to these vans! During our time on the road, we would talk about what the ‘afterlife’ of our van would look like. Would we sell it? Would we keep it? Could we turn it into a mobile business? As an Austin based event planner by trade, I could never find the exact unique photo booth I wanted to hire – something with loads of personality and all of the modern technology that was important for marketing purposes. We saw an opportunity to capitalize on that and knew Austin would be a great market for the Vannagram to thrive because there are always tons of events and it’s a quirky city where unique is not weird, it is appreciated and applauded!

Van Life

Photo By: E.A. Kidwell Photography

Besides endless smiling, what unique products/services does Vannagram provide?

At Vannagram & Co., Jared and I love working with each client directly from start to finish. You will not be passed off to anyone else. We fully customize everything for you and your event, from the print outs, to the digital images and animated GIFs, to the backdrops and props. Heck, you can even customize the outside of the bus! One feature that corporate clients really enjoy is that you can post pictures straight from our van’s kiosk directly to your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The features are endless!

Van Life

Photo By: Vannagram & Co.

Is there a prop that people love the most?
In Austin, we all know that the taco is king, so the oversized taco is always a hit. But close behind are the unicorn head and the ‘I love you so much’ sign. People love these props because they aren’t your average mustache and bowtie props, they are unique to our business and of course ‘very Austin’! ☺

What’s been the single most exciting moment for you thus far as a new business owner?
One of the greatest rewards for us through this whole gamble, is hearing the laughter spill out of the VW bus while people are having a great time posing, being silly and making memories with their friends. We feel so lucky that we get to create fun and make people laugh for a living! We are also incredible grateful to be in a city like Austin where small businesses are so well received and welcomed. In just a few months of being open, we were booked up for SXSW, booking Paramount Pictures After Party for Richard Linklater’s premiere of ‘Everybody Wants Some’ and even GSD&M’s killer party they throw annually for their clients.

So what’s next for Vannagram?
A Vannagram fleet!! We want lots of little Vannagrams running around this town! Maybe an expansion to new cities? I guess you will just have to wait and see what is up our sleeve!

Van Life If you could have coffee with any five people – alive or deceased – who would they be?
Frances Mallmann – Many of you have probably not heard of him…but he is an Argentine celebrity chef who combines his prestigious 3-Michelin star French culinary background with traditional Patagonian cooking methods. After seeing Mallmann on the Netflix series, Chef’s Table, we were very much intrigued by the art of his cooking, but even more so by his philosophies and his bohemian lifestyle.

Iris Arpel – She is just so eccentric and has lead such an interesting and colorful life. She also has a great attitude towards life and doesn’t appear to care what anyone thinks.
Morgan Freeman – We think he would be the ultimate storyteller. We just wanna get lost in his voice!

Theodore Roosevelt – He was such a great leader in our country’s history, who created many systems that are very useful to this day. One system that we were really grateful for on our trip was the use of the National Parks. Roosevelt had such a big hand in establishing a parks system, making them more accessible to everyone, and preserving them for future generations.

Foster Huntington – also probably another unfamiliar name… Hunter was certainly not one of the first to live the #vanlife, but he was the first one to create the hashtag, which in turn created an entire community that shared the love of vans and the desire to live a simpler lifestyle immersed in nature. Huntington left his corporate job in NYC in 2011 to pursue a life on the road. He has documented many stories of fellow van lifers but also The Atlantic shot a great short film that truly depicts the unexplainable perks and frustrations of #vanlife called The Wanderlust of #vanlife. He now lives in a treehouse in Oregon.

Van Life

Photo By: EA Kidwell Photography


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About The Author

Emmy Award Winning TV Producer, Becky Lewis, is no stranger to entertaining content. Her pop culture obsession led to a creative career in freelance production and writing, spanning from TV to music, and has taken her around the world in pursuit of magic. Becky splits her time between New York City and Austin, Texas.