Vanlife from Colorado to Patagonia: Real life adventures of Kruisin Koru

Vanlife was always a dream for Matt and Sarah. A ‘one day we will’ that they kept safe in the back of their minds.

Lot’s of people have such a list. They call it their ‘bucket list’ or their ‘life list’ or their ‘I’d really love to but I can’t because’ list.

Everyone has goals. But not so many go out and get them. This is a story about a couple from Colorado Springs who turned their dream into their daily routine.


The journey

Sarah and Matt are currently nearing the southern tip of Central America. Their journey has taken them through Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico, Cuba, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and soon Panama.


kruisin koru vanlife
All photos courtesy of Sarah and Matt Smith, Kruisin Koru. All image sources:

They plan to take it all the way to Patagonia and to climb in every country along the way. As they go, they stop for days, weeks, or even months at a time to work, relax, explore, and experience the local culture.


kruisin koru vanlife


I caught up with them last week as they neared the end of their time in Costa Rica. I asked Matt and Sarah what was the driving force that motivated them to get up and go?


kruisin koru vanlife


They replied:

“We viewed this as an opportunity of a lifetime, to see, and more importantly experience the world around us in a real way beyond the 2 week vacation most Americans experience.”

So why now?

When is the right time to travel? When you’re young you don’t have the money, when you’re old you don’t have the time. At least, that’s how it can seem to a lot of us. Deciding to commit to the journey and step through the door is often the hardest part of traveling.


kruisin koru vanlife


I asked Sarah and Matt why they decided not to wait and what they told me really got to the core of the matter.

“As we are now in our 30’s, we viewed it as the perfect time, knowing if we waited much longer we’d get even more trapped in the 9-5 grind which neither of us wanted.”


kruisin koru vanlife


“We felt mature enough to undertake a trip like this in a vehicle, yet young enough to really get out and adventure our way through the Americas.”

Sounds like achieving quite the balance to me. And lot’s of people make the leap when they are younger and less experienced or older and less able. It’s never too early or too late to decide that the time is now.

These two said it perfectly:

“It could have been easy to say ‘now’ is not the right time for many reasons, but ultimately the decision to step through the door is the hardest and most important moment.”


kruisin koru vanlife


Since they decided to take that step and live the vanlife, they seem to be pretty stoked.

Here’s how they made it happen:

Searching for a van

They knew what they wanted and they knew what they needed. A van, preferably a Westfalia, that was powerful, practical, and possible to repair on their own. That meant an older model with a rebuilt engine. They didn’t need a shower, but they did need a bed. They didn’t need an oven, but they did need a stove. 


Kruisin Koru vanlife


After no small amount of searching, they found their van. It’s a rebuilt 1987 Vanagon Syncro Westfalia camper van. It’s engine was replaced with that of a 1998 VW Jetta to give them the power they needed and it came without all the modern electronics which complicate car repair.

The mighty Koru

kruisin koru vanlife


Built in gauges monitor pressures and temperatures within the engine to warn them of any potential problems. After all, break down is a major concern on cross continental trips. You may not be anywhere near a mechanic when a problem starts. Heck, you might not even speak the language.

They painted, detailed, and modified Koru until he was just what they needed. Extra boxes help store gear, upgraded suspension and tires help tackle Central America’s infamously bad roads, and a new bumper adds an extra margin of safety when the traffic gets tight.


kruisin koru vanlife


When I asked them about the van, they cited the amount of work they put into it as one of their best decisions.

“Best choice: Taking the time to fully prep the vehicle for an extensive trip like this. It was really hard work and very stressful at times during the years prior, but now that we are on the road, the stoke is high for how prepared we are.”


kruisin koru vanlife

The road ahead

When I asked Sarah and Matt how long they planned for their trip to take, they shared an important insight,

“Our initial plans were for 1 year all the way to Patagonia and maybe back, but we quickly realized that to make a trip like this the best we could, we needed to slow down. We’re almost 9 months in and are only in Costa Rica.”


kruisin koru vanlife


That means they’ve spent a lot of time getting to know each place along the way. They would have had a very different trip had they tried to stick to the plan. However, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Adapting their plans has allowed them a richer experience in every way.

“We see more places and meet more people this way which is the best part.”


kruisin koru vanlife

Vanlife: So far, so good

So for Matt and Sarah. Vanlife is going pretty well. They’ve been on the road for nine months and are nearing the halfway point. They certainly face struggles and challenges which you can read more about in this recent blog post of theirs. After all, vanlife isn’t always easy.


kruisin koru vanlife


But they have few regrets. The biggest one, ironically enough, is that they didn’t slow down soon enough. They said,

“We should have taken it slow from the get-go. Hindsight is 20-20 and, had we known, we would have slowed the eff down as soon as we hit the road and not made so many plans.”


kruisin koru vanlife


That’s a lesson we all could benefit from.

To read about Sarah and Matt’s epic adventures, all about their vanlife, and more, check out their website at


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ian-carroll is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival