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Home is where the heart is

  • 23 news Amanda1.jpg
    Former Tamaqua resident Amanda Sandlin sits in Penny, her 1997 Toyota Previa van, which she travels the country in. PHOTO BY KRIS HOLBROOK
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    Amanda Sandlin sits inside her Toyota van, which she outfitted to be a home on wheels. PHOTO BY KRIS HOLBROOK
  • 23 news Amanda3.JPG
    Van life can open up worlds you never knew existed. Here Amanda Sandlin shares a view from inside her van lookin out at one of the many stops she has made since starting her journey. PHOTO BY AMANDA SANDLIN
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    This is one of the images of #atwildwoman that depicts van life. PHOTO BY AMANDA SANDLIN
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    Amanda Sandlin uses a mixture of photography and drawing to create #atwildwoman, which depicts strength and beauty. PHOTO BY AMANDA SANDLIN
Published April 21. 2017 08:34PM

Amanda Sandlin knows the secret to her happy life.

For the former Tamaqua woman, the answer is not a big home, a six-figure salary and expensive items that fill the voids of space in a person’s life.

It’s experiences, followed by traveling and the freedom to be who you want to be.

Just look at Penny, her 1997 Toyota Previa minivan.

Sandlin outfitted the vehicle last year as her own private place on wheels and has been traveling the country ever since — creating a home wherever the wind takes her because home is where the heart is, not where you lay down roots.

The free spirit

Sandlin’s free spirit can be traced back to her childhood.

“I was born in Bryan, Texas, and raised by my mom while we traveled around the world on cruise ships,” she said. “Eventually, we settled down in Tamaqua.”

The bubbly brunette, who for the moment calls Denver, Colorado, home, was active in high school, excelling as a diver on the swim team and letting her creativity shine in the drama club.

Following graduation in 2007, Sandlin’s path turned to Rider University, where she studied journalism.

While there, “I saw the documentary ‘180° South,’ which featured adventurer Jeff Johnson and two outdoor legends — Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins,” she said. “Jeff retraced their epic late ’60s journey to Patagonia by boat. He surfed, explored new lands and summited peaks, and this planted the seed of adventure in my mind.”

From then on, her soul yearned for more than the normal life path she was traveling on.

Westward or bust

Shortly after graduation, Sandlin’s path spread west and her desire to live outside the norms of society grew stronger.

She quit her 9-5 desk job and began a career as a freelance graphic designer, a position she still holds today.

“This gave me the freedom to travel wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted,” Sandlin said, adding that the moves took her from San Francisco to New Zealand and eventually back to the U.S.

‘A shiny penny’

After returning state side, Sandlin spent some time with her family while trying to figure out what her next adventure would be. It was then that she learned about a social media movement called #vanlife.

“I had no real sense of ‘home,’” she said. “And to be honest, I saw all the beautiful (and often misleading) photos of #vanlife on Instagram. It seemed like a bold and dreamy next step, and a way to keep my expenses low while being able to continue seeing new parts of North America.”

It wasn’t until last spring though, shortly after the passing of her grandfather, that Sandlin decided to join the movement and call a 1997 Toyota Previa her new home.

“I bought the van and started tearing out the seats, carpeting, siding — everything — to build it into a little home on wheels,” she said. “I heard a story about how after a loved one passes often you’ll start finding shiny pennies in the most random places, and those are little signs that they are looking down on you, saying hi, that they’re OK. After I tore everything — and I mean everything — out of the van, guess what I found tucked all the way at the bottom, resting on the metal shell of the van?

“A shiny penny,” which Sandlin chose to name the van as a remembrance to her grandfather and a sign that everything would turn out fine.

Over the next month, Sandlin, with the help of her mom, aunt and grandmother, built a 2-foot-wide bed with storage underneath and outfitted a bench that also doubled as storage in the rear portion of the van and waterproofed the floors.

Following her heart

Sandlin began her journey in Florida, traveled up the East Coast to Maine and from there headed west, through Colorado and Oregon, up to British Columbia and down to New Mexico.

She settled in Denver for the winter, putting down semi-permanent roots over the winter and continued to work on her passions, including graphic design with her business Amanda Sandlin Creative, and mixing her photography with her drawings to create #atwildwoman, “an internal feminine personality/mentor of sorts who I first started developing and discovering while living in New Zealand.”

At the time, the thought of traveling alone scared Sandlin, but as she explored places, she found her strength.

“I slowly began to realize my own power, and the #atwildwoman persona started forming,” she said. “She was bold and brave and so sure of herself. She rose above all of the smallness of fearmongering and shame. She adventured on her own regularly. She stood tall in who she was. She wouldn’t become small for anyone. She was wild.

“I’ve learned from the #atwildwoman that courage sometimes looks very quiet, like softening. I’m realizing that braveness has another side, perhaps one more innately feminine. It looks like allowing tears and fears and doubt to coexist with my gumption, my pride, my power.”


Since then, Sandlin can say that van life has changed her perspective of the world while opening up new and exciting possibilities and has helped her overcome dark times of depression and anxiety.

“Van life showed me that I am strong and am capable exploring the world as a solo woman,” she said. “The media paints a scary picture of a woman’s world. Before I left for my trip, many loved ones feared for my life in a very real way, but I quickly discovered on the road that the world isn’t as bad as many make it out to be. People are generally good and want to help.

“I want people to know that nothing is as it seems online, or even in interviews. There is always more to the story. Life is never perfect, but I know that you can still make yours full of joy. Let’s not compare, but embrace our differences, and see what good stuff we can learn from each other while we are here.”

Sandlin’s adventures are chronicled in her blog, on her Facebook page Amanda Sandlin Creative and through the hashtag #atwildwoman.

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