A Life on the Open Roads with Kristen Bor
Kristen Bor is the founder and voice beyond the outdoor adventure travel blog, Bearfoot Theory. When she began writing about her outdoor adventures over five years ago, Bor was often exploring on her own and showing others how to do it.
Fast forward to today, she lives part-time in a Sprinter Van in order to have easy access to some of the best adventures out there. Not only is she a proponent of solo female travel, but is super passionate about teaching others how to break through barriers to live a life they love.
This summer, she took it to the next level and brought her love for van life to hundreds of people at the Open Roads Fest in McCall, Idaho. This one-of-kind event inspired hundreds to live out your dreams, go out and get after it, and make having fun a non-negotiable. I got to chat with Kristen to hear more about the ins and outs of planning an event like this, the inherent challenges, risks, and the rewards that made everything worth it.
What motivated you to take on such a huge challenge and put together a big event for the first time?
I’ve spent the last five years growing an online community, and I thought it was time to bring everybody together in person for an epic weekend of learning, adventuring, and community building. When I took the leap into my van life back in 2015, I would have loved the opportunity to attend an event like Open Roads Fest. At the time, there wasn’t a ton of information online outside of the uber-techy forums, and I went into the process lacking essential van conversion knowledge. While Instagram was gaining popularity, I didn’t really have a community of more experienced van lifers who I could reach out to for reliable information. Instead, I took the advice of my first conversion company at face value, without question, and as a result, ended up with a number of regrets in my rather expensive build. If an event like Open Roads Fest existed then, I would have gone into the process feeling more confident and knowledgeable and could have avoided a lot of mistakes. Even now after being on the road for years, there is still plenty more to learn.
It wasn’t just about the learning though. Van lifers are some of the most creative, inspiring, and determined people I know, and when you get 400 of them together, some real magic can happen. I wanted Open Roads Fest to be a place where people formed lasting friendships, strengthening the van life community as a whole.
The main focus was van life, but there was also a big emphasis on outdoor activities and all the things you do outside of the van. What made you want to include this as part of the festival experience?
My blog Bearfoot Theory started as and remains an outdoor adventure blog, where our goal is to empower everyday people to get outside and live more adventurously. For me, it’s really about the adventure, not the van itself, so it was only natural that those activities be a big part of Open Roads Fest. I didn’t want people to just sit around and talk about their vans all weekend. Of course that was part of it, but I also wanted people to build on those relationships further by hitting the mountain bike trails or going paddle boarding together. I wanted the festival itself to feel like an exciting, adventure-packed vacation.
As a first-time event planner of this scale, you really embodied the Open Roads Fest ethos of breaking out of your comfort zone and living big. In what ways did this challenge you and help you grow?
Planning Open Roads Fest was a huge undertaking, and I’m not sure I knew what I was getting into at first. It was a huge risk, not knowing if I’d be able to sell the tickets or secure sponsors. I also didn’t really know how to determine a budget, and with insurance, porta potties, venue costs, signage, and other costs, I had a lot financially at stake. At the same time, a lot of the other pieces were falling into place. For instance, the venue literally couldn’t have been more perfect with access to 20 miles of bike trails and a private on-site reservoir. Outside Van was committed as my title sponsor, and I found an amazing event coach who was going to mentor me through the process. So I weighed the pros and cons and decided to seize the opportunity. I told myself that if it didn’t go as well as planned or I simply didn’t enjoy the planning process, I wouldn’t have to do it again.
Even once I committed, there were many times I wanted to quit. For the six months leading up to Open Roads Fest, I didn’t have the healthiest work-life balance. I was working like crazy and was anxious and overwhelmed thinking about all of the people I’d be letting down if things did not go smoothly. But then I’d get a message from someone telling me how stoked they were or an application from an enthusiastic volunteer. That kept me motivated.
When it was go-time the week of the event, all of that hard work paid off. Thanks to all of the detailed prep and the help of my team, things couldn’t have gone better for a first-year event. It was so rewarding watching people making friends, learning from one another, and hitting the trails together.
Pulling this off took an enormous amount of determination, and I now know that it was all worth it. I also know that in order for this event to be sustainable over there long term, I need to take active steps to avoid burnout during the planning process by being more mindful of my stress levels and setting aside more personal time.
Open Roads Fest was unique in that it was truly such a mix of people. What was it like to look out at the field and take in a sea of vans, campers, and tents owned by people from all walks of life?
We had people from Alaska all the way to Florida come to Open Roads Fest. Our goal was to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of experience, rig, or background, so I was especially excited to see so many tent campers. We had over 70 people who came to learn before they made the initial investment in a van. A number of those tent campers told me this event sealed the deal for them. They had been on the fence about van life, and after Open Road Fest, they were ready to take the plunge. Others were researching their second van and left inspired with a ton of new ideas. I just wish I had time to poke my head in more vans myself. Next year!
The inaugural Open Roads Fest was a huge success. Folks left inspired and motivated to do something new, and even gained a new community of friends and fellow adventurers. What’s your vision for next year’s Open Roads Fest?
Overall, Open Roads Fest went really well, so we won’t have too many major changes for next year, but we will have some tricks up our sleeves. We’re going to tinker with the layout, and we want to offer some more in-depth workshops that will allow people to get their hands dirty. I’d also like to add more outdoor offerings to the schedule next year and to organize some group adventures around McCall before and after the festival. We’ll be announcing the 2020 dates soon and can’t wait to share more details.