For the past six years, photographer William “Willie” Woodward has moved his entire life into a 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon GL to travel across the United States perusing his dreams of being a full-time travel, adventure and commercial photographer.
Woodward documents his adventures in the old VW van he’s named Ruby across his social media accounts and blog, both called “Where to Willie.”
“Ruby is the vehicle that got me to where I am today – both figuratively and literally,” Woodward told Volkswagen of America with a laugh. “It’s become such a deep-seated part of who I am.”
Before Woodward embarked on this journey in 2015, he lived in Illinois and worked as a mechanical engineer.
“I was getting tattooed by a guy in Portland, and the artist shared with me that he owned a Vanagon, named Ruby, and he would use it to travel the Oregon coast to surf with his son,” Woodward said. “To me, it seemed like such a unique way to travel and reminded me a lot of my own upbringing.”
Inspired by the idea of having a Vanagon for himself to travel in, Woodward began his search – until the tattoo artist reached out to him, offering to sell him Ruby. He jumped at the idea and even kept Ruby’s name.
After purchasing Ruby, Woodward decided to hit the road full time. He announced the lifestyle change on social media April 1, 2015. And no, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke.
“Everybody thought it was an April Fool’s joke, but the joke was really on them,” Woodward said. “Years later, we’re still going strong.”
Ruby has undergone three makeovers since Woodward has transitioned to living in the VW van full time. The most recent renovation was a full interior rebuild, LED headlights and floodlights, a 12-volt refrigerator, sink, stove and additional seating.
“Vanagons were built in a way that just makes them so much more capable than you’d ever expect,” Woodward said. “I surprise people constantly with her ability to get into some of the more remote places I shoot and enjoy spending time in.
“The van helps me feel less like a spectator and more like a neighbor in the community I’m spending time in and increased my ability to share people’s unique stories and walks of life through photographs,” he continued. “My best work has come out of getting to know a place more deeply by being able to stay there for an extended period of time.”
Woodward not only found his new home with Ruby but also as part of a community of like-minded individuals.
“When I bought Ruby, I didn’t really understand that I was joining a community,” he admitted. “But I quickly realized that when you own a Vanagon, you instantly become part of a family. Some of the best friends I have today are people I’ve met through the VW world, and I can’t imagine doing this adventure without them.”
You can follow Woodward along his van-life journey with Ruby on his blog.