Around the (21-foot van) office with Dan Hill, CEO of Hill Impact

How one crisis wrangler became a ‘van-based executive.’

Where do you normally work?
Our office is in the Washington, DC, area but I'm always on the go, often working embedded with clients or from satellite locations. Since the beginning of March, prior to getting the rig, I was working at my cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains in West Virginia. 

It's on the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry. I love it because I can get to an international airport in an hour and to Union Station in DC by rail. It's great to be in a place that feels so far away but is yet so close.

I've had clients come there, including celebrity crisis clients who need to be away from it all. I cook for them and we take hikes, ride ATVs, do archery and even yoga. When they get picked up at the airport, I take their phone away from them and give them a new one that has no camera or apps. A flip phone.

So why switch to an RV?
It's something I thought of for years, but flying is just so much a part of me. Several months into quarantine after working 20-hour days, seven days a week, I was completely burned out. The pace was too much, and for the first time in my 30-year career I was depressed. Something had to change.

This was while you were locked down in the cabin?
Yes. Even working in this amazing place, I wasn't able to move. I was sitting or standing at my desk for 20 hours a day. I went from walking 10,000 to 25,000 steps a day to just a few hundred. My clients are amazing, and none of them were putting as much pressure on me as I put on myself. I decided I need to switch things up.

At first, I started forcing myself to do manual labor around the cabin, whether it was chopping wood or building a fence, anything that got me moving but allowed me to stay productive. The van came into my view because I'm about to release a book and next year will be giving a lot of presentations around the country.  

I did the research, found what works for me based on my prior inquiries and pulled the trigger on something that gives me the freedom to be off the grid for days or even weeks but never out of communication. 

I have everything I need: a bed, kitchen, large fridge, shower, toilet and tens of thousands of dollars in communication equipment including professional podcast gear, camera equipment, satellite and premium data plans with every cell carrier plugged into antennas, boosters and a mobile router. All in a 21-foot van. 

Can you work from anywhere?
Yes, I worked along a river in South Bend, Indiana, and in a number of vineyards in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Just me. No pets, as of now. As much as I'd love a dog, I'm still working a lot, and a 21-foot-by-nine-foot house on wheels needs to be really organized and efficient when it's also an office and studio.

Do you tell clients where you’re working?
A few years ago, I would never share that information because it's not about me. If I was sick, nobody would know it. It's different today and with some I know well I do share it. Most of our clients have been with us since I founded the firm in 2012 so these are deep relationships. Some think I'm nuts because they're ready to jump on planes again, and others want me to send pictures and videos to show their husbands and wives.

What has traveling been like? 
The vineyards, farms and orchards I stay at allow me to be there for free. And as a courtesy I buy products, usually a bottle of wine for a few nights of dinner or if they have produce, I buy that, too, so it's fresh. I do my part to support their struggling businesses. Once I provided a free communications assessment in exchange for understanding the bottling process.

I'm back at the cabin now making a few tweaks and finalizing my book before hitting the road next week until Thanksgiving. I will continue to stay at vineyards and farms but will add national parks, as well. Every few weeks, I will rent an Airbnb for a night to do laundry and get mail and packages delivered.

On this last outing to the Finger Lakes, my 21-year-old daughter went with me. We were out for 11 days, and it was magical. She's going back to college, so now I'm off solo.

What are the best things about living out of a van and the worst things?
It's almost all good so far. My favorite things are being out and about but also being safely quarantined. I don't go to crowded places, and I take COVID-19 seriously.  

Most of the time, I'm the only person staying at these places, and they will bring me wine and drop it off at the van. The biggest advantage is that every day I'm steps away from the most scenic gym, kitchen, bedroom and office imaginable. Yoga among vines, pull-ups from a tree.  

I can work hard but breathe doing it. The biggest challenges are water and tanks. I can carry 25 gallons of fresh water, and then, of course, the sinks and the toilet have tanks that need to be emptied. There are great apps that have made that fairly simple, but I do worry a bit about running out of water sometimes.

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