Hey Barista,

Features

HeyBaristaFeature

Seth Shank

Seth Shank Is Giving His Kids the World through Compact Living

Seth and Claire Shank built a tiny home in 2018 to live more simply. After adding two kids and a dog to the mix, the couple decided they wanted to show their growing family the world. Literally. So they built out a van—complete with a full mobile café called Compact Coffee—and hit the road. You might think that extended trips with an entire family in a confined living space that doubles as a work space would be difficult, but if you ask Seth, it’s worth it. The kids have taken to van life like pros, clocking in adventurous beach days and hunting for shooting stars. We chatted with full-time “stay-at-home” dad Seth about everything from enjoying the small, precious moments to adapting to the perspective shifts required for being on the road with two small kids.

PHOTOS BY SETH & CLAIRE SHANK, AND MOLLY SEELING

Hey Barista

You and your wife built a tiny house a few years ago, then built a van to live and travel in. How did having kids change your vision of compact living?

Seth

Well, for one thing, you have to get creative. Crew is 1 and Asa is 3, so it’s a handful right now, for sure. With a small space, you have to use the outdoors as much as you can. We like being outside, fly fishing, hiking, biking. The tiny living forces you outside more, and we really like that part of it.

Hey Barista

How do Crew and Asa like van life?

Seth

They just want to be in the van all the time! I mean, it’s like a fort that moves—especially in our van, because we have a bunk-bed system. Whenever they get into the van, they become different kids. They’re well-mannered and well-behaved. They know what they’re doing. They’re going traveling, on an adventure. The kids push us to go out more frequently and to keep traveling. Sometimes we’ll plan to be gone for three weeks, but everyone’s having a good time, and we get in a groove, and we end up staying out five, sometimes six weeks.

Hey Barista

What are the kids’ favorite things when you’re out on a trip?

Seth

They love going to the beach—it doesn’t matter where, as long as they can play in the water and dig in the sand. We also like to watch the sunsets. If there’s a nice sunset, we stay up and don’t make the kids go to bed right away. They’re always super excited when the sky turns pink or we watch the stars. Seeing the kids light up when they saw their first shooting star, the magic it brought—that was really special. We were at an altitude high above the tree line, and it was way past bedtime, but the sky was so clear. We had the sliding door of the van open, and Asa saw a shooting star and—it gives me goose bumps just talking about it. The look on his face… his eyes got super big, and you could just tell that he knew it was special. I think that moment sparked his interest in space and stars. He’s super into that right now, which is so cool. With Crew, it’s too early to tell, but he’s starting to figure things out.

PHOTOS BY SETH & CLAIRE SHANK, AND MOLLY SEELING

Hey Barista

Does traveling with children change the way you experience things?

Seth

Oh, 100 percent, yeah. I think of the world completely differently than I used to. They have changed my whole perspective, and that’s why we want to travel full-time. We’re going to be able to give them such a crazy-cool experience.

Hey Barista

How do you see your travel and living situation changing as your kids get older?

Seth

That’s an interesting question. We’ve been thinking about that because we have about two to three years to decide whether we’ll do homeschooling or public school. We’re leaning toward homeschooling and continuing to travel. If anything, the kids have inspired us to live even more simply. They have way more fun with less stuff. They even get more creative on the road. Their boredom sparks creativity in their little brains. They’ll look around and ask, “Can I draw that?” They’re figuring things out.

PHOTOS BY SETH & CLAIRE SHANK, AND MOLLY SEELING

Hey Barista

Do they experience the world in different ways?

Seth

They have differences in how sensitive they are. Crew, our youngest one, he’s a go-getter. He’ll leap off anything without any fear. Asa makes sure things are sturdy and safe, that he has a cushion to land on. Asa’s a little more fearful than Crew. But it is nice to see them start to interact with each other more. Since Crew is able to walk around, Asa has been helping him like crazy. Asa will take his hand and say, “C’mon, Crew, I want to show you something!” He’s always inclusive and Crew is never left out. They’re starting to have a best-friend relationship, which is pretty cool.

Hey Barista

It sounds like the kids are really taking to van life. How do you hope this lifestyle will impact them as they grow up?

Seth

I hope they realize what we’re doing with them, that we’re trying to spend as much time as we can with them as parents. My family didn’t travel much as I was growing up, so I just want to do the opposite for my kids.

<Crew starts crying in the background>

Hey Barista

Sounds like naptime is over! Any last words before you go?

Seth

I just want to show my kids the world, and I didn’t think that was going to be a real deal. But now, we can legitimately take them across the planet and show them the world. I think everyone should get off their continent and see another part of the world. It changes your point of view and puts life into perspective. By doing all this, that’s our goal with our kids, and I’m really excited for where this takes us.

PHOTOS BY SETH & CLAIRE SHANK, AND MOLLY SEELING

If you want to follow along on the family’s adventure, find @living.compact on Instagram and see what they’re up to next!