Dan and Marlene Lin live full-time on the road with their three kids Ava, Mila, and Luka, and Yoda their cat. This is the incredible story of how they work, learn, and explore from their Four Wheel Camper and Casita trailer. Meet Mali-Mish, and leave your expectations at the door.
The accepted life plan in most western countries is simple. You’re born to a family who lives in a house or apartment. You then go to elementary school, middle school, and high school.
Next, you either attend college or a trade school, join the service, or begin to work full-time. Whichever of these three paths you take, the following step is to meet a girl or boy, get married, get your own house or apartment, and have kids. Then your children begin the same plan.
This life plan is so ingrained in our culture that it’s nearly impossible for many of us to imagine not following it. Not living in a house or apartment? Not going to school? Not getting married? Not having children? Not working? Unthinkable!
But what if part of this plan isn’t for you? What if it felt confining – more like a sentence than anything resembling a happy and fulfilling life? Then what?
You dare to live differently.
History is full of people who lived extraordinary lives and didn’t exactly follow the normal path. In a funny way, this too is accepted, if not revered.
More than any other family we’ve ever come across, Dan and Marlene Lin exemplify this idea. While they started life together following the normal life plan, they were compelled to break free and chart a very different course.
Today Dan, Marlene, their three children, and cat travel the United States, Canada, and Mexico in their Four Wheel Camper and Casita travel trailer rig. Through their Mali-Mish blog, videos, and social media networks they have inspired thousands of followers cheering them on as they blaze their extraordinary path.
This is the story of what led the Lin family to live differently, how they make it work, and where their expanding Mali-Mish universe is going.
Above: Marlene and Dan Lin, with their kids Ava, Mila, and Luka
TCM: How did you decide to live full-time on the road?
Dan: Before we became full-time RVers, Marlene and I were content with our lives. We were the typical young 20-somethings going to work. We bought a house in Ventura, California, and were actually looking to buy a bigger house.
Then, when our oldest was ten months old, our dog unexpectedly passed away. We had wanted to do lots of traveling with her to the beach and mountains. We felt like we had missed out on that experience and didn’t want the same regret with our children.
Traveling by air was not ideal with car seats, strollers, playpen, and lots of gear. So we decided to get a little trailer for weekend trips. After our very first extended trip, we realized what we wanted to do. We wanted to travel with an RV. That was the epiphany.
Above: Camping on the beach in Mexico
TCM: You’ve been on the road since 2008, but you have not been full-time RVers the whole time. Why didn’t you sell the house right away?
Dan: We were initially hesitant to go full-time. In 2008, there weren’t a lot of blogs and websites to read about people living full-time in their RV. We had to figure it out on our own and wanted a home base just in case things didn’t work out.
Marlene: We were also having children and it’s hard to travel full-time being pregnant.
Dan: We didn’t want to have kids on the road, so each time Marlene was pregnant we came back to our house. We’d live in our house and take local camping trips. All three kids were born in Ventura. When our youngest was born, we sold the house.
TCM: What year was that?
Dan: 2010 was the first year that we were more on the road than we were at home. In 2012, we were full-time on the road. At that point, we had an Airstream travel trailer.
When we sold the house, we took the money and bought an investment property. Ventura, California has a high cost of living. If you want to move back, there’s a chance you may not be able to afford it.
So now we own a condo we rent out as income property. We manage it ourselves. In the beginning, it was tough because our tenants didn’t know much about the property. Since then they have taken on more responsibilities and have become good tenants.
TCM: How did your mindset change after selling the house?
Dan: As you become more and more comfortable with full-timing, you shed the belongings you don’t use. Stuff shifts from becoming a security blanket to becoming a burden.
We don’t worry about people breaking in while we aren’t at home. We don’t have property tax or a mortgage. We’re not paying for electricity that no one is using. The camper feels more like home than a house. We love that we don’t have to worry about a house. It’s less stressful.
Marlene’s parents live in Los Angeles and are empty nesters. They love having us back there a couple of weeks a year. So we always have a place to go and visit.
Above: After crossing the border into British Columbia
TCM: We discovered you after coming across a picture of your family with a Four Wheel Camper. When did you get the truck camper?
Dan: In 2015 we took the Airstream to Alaska. On that trip we realized the Airstream couldn’t go everywhere we wanted to go. We were limited by how big the rig was. Sometimes we took the Airstream down those roads anyway and had great times off the beaten path.
That’s when we decided to get a truck camper. At the time, we planned to keep the Airstream as a bigger place we could all sleep comfortably.
Above: Their Grandby is flush to the end of the truck, which is ideal for towing their Casita – Yoda, their truck camping cat is on the bumper.
TCM: Why did you choose a Four Wheel Camper?
Dan: We wanted a truck camper that would be flush to the end of the truck for towing. We also wanted something that wasn’t too heavy and still offered comfort.
We decided on the Four Wheel Grandby with the front dinette. It’s the only Four Wheel model that could sleep five of us. The queen bed pulls out and the dinette turns into a full-size bed.
TCM: And then you rented the Airstream and the five of you lived full-time in the Four Wheel Camper. How did that work?
Dan: It was great! We actually felt a little too comfortable with the Airstream because we had been in there so long. It seemed like we were in a house again.
We had the same dilemma going from our house to our trailer. The house got too comfortable. That’s how we felt in the Airstream. It was a big comfortable place.
Above: Camping at Playa Santa Maria, Baja
TCM: Most folks seek out comfort on the road. Why was comfort a problem?
Dan: We wanted to go down to mainland Mexico and Baja, and the Airstream was too big for some of these areas. We also wanted a challenge.
With the Four Wheel Camper, the weather needs to be tolerable because we are outside unless we are sleeping, cooking, or working. That’s what makes that work. We are totally happy in our Four Wheel Camper.
Above: Dry camping near Lone Pine, California. Mt. Whitney in the background.
Since then, our kids have grown bigger. We just purchased a small Casita trailer to tow behind the Four Wheel. I use the truck camper to work during the day. We also use the Four Wheel on the weekends to go different places.
The kids use the Casita trailer for their schooling. Now the kids ask, “Why don’t we sleep in the camper anymore?”
Since we’ve had the Casita, we don’t have to break camp to drive somewhere. We can easily run to the store or go to a restaurant using the truck and camper.
Before we had to put a lot of stuff in the camper when we drove the rig. In Mexico, we didn’t feel safe with our stuff hanging out at the campground. There were crimes of opportunity to steal a chair or ladder. So, there was was a lot of shuffling. It’s been nice to not move our stuff all the time.
Above: The three kids are in the overcab and Dan is working in the dinette
TCM: How did you store enough stuff in the Four Wheel for five people and a cat?
Marlene: For clothes, everyone has duffle bag. We also have a large bag for laundry. The duffles and laundry bag sit inside the camper while we drive.
We have food in the two kitchen cabinets. We have hanging hooks for fruit. We are also able to put food on the counter opposite of the sink.
Dan: We had to streamline everything. In our Airstream we had plates and bowls. Now we just have stainless bowls. We went from multiple pots and pans to one pot that we cook everything in.
Items must serve multiple purposes. When you are full-time on the road, if you don’t have exactly what you need, just go buy it. There’s always a store. Get rid of something and find something that’s more efficient and works better.
Marlene: People worry about getting the rig exactly right with the right equipment and don’t realize that stuff doesn’t have to be perfect.
If you try to pick the perfect things in the beginning, it still changes. For example, when we began traveling, we mostly stayed in state parks. Then we discovered boondocking and got more solar and batteries. People change as they grow.
Above: Happy hour inside their Four Wheel Camper
TCM: How do you do it with no bathroom in either your Casita or your truck camper? With two adults and three children, that has to be a challenge.
Dan: There was an option for a cassette toilet on the Four Wheel Camper, but it took up valuable storage space. So, we bought a Porta Potti. It’s mainly for the kids and Marlene to use. I’m comfortable finding places outside.
When in an urban area, we all use the Porta Potti. We just have to empty it more often. It worked out well for us in Mexico where it can be hard to find dump stations.
With the Porta Potti, we can dump in any flush toilet that doesn’t require me to walk through a restaurant. I’ll use outdoor parks or gas stations.
With the Porta Potti, we don’t need a toilet or bathroom taking up all our valuable space. Right now we are next to Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierras. We came down a dirt road. Our friends in an Airstream can’t get to where we are right now. Turning around is a lot harder with a trailer.
Marlene: We have a cabinet for the Porta Potti. We also have a cabinet for toys, our one pot and one pan, and toiletries. A cassette toilet would have taken up 2-feet by 5-feet of space. We opted for no water heater for the same reason. Now we have more room for food.
Dan: Not having a water heater is not so crucial in Mexico. In Mexico, we can use our shower tent with our outdoor shower. We take cold water showers outside. In the USA and Canada, we use showers at truck stops, RV parks, recreation centers, and community gyms.
TCM: What’s a typical day on the road like?
Dan: There are multiple versions of a typical day. We have a typical travel day, typical camp day, and typical exploring day.
During our travel days, we try not to drive more than a couple of hours at a time. Since we got our truck camper, our range has extended. We would do a maximum of 200 miles with the Airstream but, with our truck camper, we’ll do more.
We try to plan interesting places to stop. It might be a state or national park. If there’s a visitor’s center, we go in so the kids can get their Junior Ranger badges, which helps incorporate an activity for their schooling. Then we get to where we’re going and decide where want to stay for a few days.
Above: Roadschooling, learning about birds
On camp days, I work and the kids have school. I still work remotely for a company. Our truck camper is my office.
When we’re camping, we like to find boondocking areas because we have more freedom and can spread out. The kids can have a table set up outside for school. We will roll out of bed, make coffee, and have breakfast. I’ll go in the truck camper to work, and the kids and Marlene will do school activities.
Above: Learning about the first overland mail route
Our exploring days are typically on the weekends. We will all get in the truck and drive down a dirt road to see what we can find. If we find a place to stay, we will set up the truck camper and leave the Casita somewhere else.
Marlene: The first thing we do to start a workday is convert the bed into the dinette and move the bedding up to the top bed. Then we can start the day with an actual table.
Dan: In Mexico, when the weather is nice, I’ll work outside. Then the kids can have the inside to themselves.
Above: Working outside in a National Park, note Yoda their cat on the table
TCM: How do you stay productive in such an unusual working environment?
Dan: I am a web developer. That means I have to be on the computer writing code. When I need to, I set up my office and bury my head into my work. That’s half of the time.
For the other half of my workday, I send emails and have conversations with co-workers on the phone. During this time I can still go on walks and explore outdoor places. Of course, we have to be in areas that have cell reception.
Even when I go to the office to visit, 50-percent of my day is on the computer and 50-percent is away. I believe I am more productive on the road than being in the office with distractions.
Above: Here’s a Vlog from Alabama Hills – you can check the rest of their videos out on their YouTube channel.
TCM: With work and family, when do you have time to take pictures and produce videos for MaliMish.com?
Dan: We’ve always blogged and taken photos. We knew we’d make time for that. We want to document our lives during this phase.
I produce the videos after work and/or on the weekends. In Mexico, it was easy because we were out and about. I could film thirty minutes of video on my phone during the day – even on a workday. At night I would edit video on my phone once everyone was in bed. Then, I’d upload it and it starts over.
Now I’m using bigger cameras and more complex equipment, so I only do videos a couple of times a week. The phone was more convenient, but the new equipment produces better quality video.
When I started to work on videos and participate on Instagram, our blog suffered. We have to pick and choose what we want to do.
Above: Mila’s Birthday Party
Marlene: We make documenting our trip a priority. Instead of watching television, we document our lives. We don’t want to forget these details with the kids.
Dan: During the years when we still had our house, the blog kept us motivated to go out again. Through the blogs, we realized this is the life we are supposed to live. Reading the blogs made us want to get back on the road.
Every time I create something I ask myself, “Is this something we will want to watch later?” We want to look back at these in twenty years and show the kids.
Above: A parking garage in downtown San Diego, California
TCM: We really enjoy your Mali-Mish videos and are really inspired by what you are doing.
Dan: That motivates us to do more. When most people are watching television at night, we’re working on a video or a blog post.
Marlene: We work on the blog two or three nights a week. When traveling with friends, we want to go to happy hour and participate in campfires. So we’re not working on it every night.
Above: Marlene and Dan Lin with their Casita and Four Wheel Camper in the background
TCM: Where did the name Mali-Mish come from?
Dan: It means “Little Mouse” in Croatian. It’s really just a name Marlene thought of. Before we started traveling, we registered malimish.com. It was originally supposed to be our blog about being new parents.
We went from having a newborn to traveling, so the blog became about our travels. We put the URL address on the back of our Airstream and people started referring to us as Mali-Mish.
Marlene: The Airstream was the Mish. People thought that was our last name.
Above: Mini-Mish, their Four Wheel Camper and Mash-ita their Casita
Dan: Our truck camper is called, “Mini-Mish”, and the Casita is “Mish-ita”.
When we meet up with people we’ve met online, we refer to each other as our online personas. They say, “We’re traveling with Mali-Mish”.
Marlene: We picked a random blog name not knowing that was going to be our name. We would have planned our name better if we had known that.
Dan: When we started we were just known as Dan and Marlene to other full-time travelers. Few of us had blogs or social media. Now Mali-Mish has become our social media handle.
TCM: How do you plan where you go next?
Dan: Our first couple years we were getting our feet wet. We wandered around the southwest and near our home. That’s when we had our house. In 2010 we did a big cross-country trip. We went out to Florida and explored the east coast.
When we went full-time in 2012, we looked at a map and wanted to go to places we hadn’t seen. From 2013 to 2015, it was all about the national parks. We went to about 100 of them in those three years. Along the way, the kids got into Junior Ranger badges.
This year is the first time we are going back to some areas that we’ve been to before. Now we are in a smaller vehicle and can go further and deeper. We are able to do a second or third tier of exploring in those same places.
We generally try to be back on the west coast with family for the holidays. We have explored all 49 states that you can drive to, all Canadian provinces and territories, and Mexico.
Marlene: When the kids were tiny, they didn’t have an opinion on what we did. Now they are older and have a vote in what we do. We also base our travels on educating our children.
TCM: Do you ever get tired of being on the road?
Dan: I think that can happen when you first start full-time RVing. You might long for the comfort and luxury that you had in your house. You might not appreciate the mobility you have in an RV.
Now we feel antsy in a house. We need to get out. Even if we stay at a place for a week, we think about where we are we going next.
Marlene: We slowly transitioned to being on the road full-time. Maybe that made us realize that we don’t really need all that space and stuff.
Dan: By not going full-time right away, we had the experience of our house costing us money when we weren’t there. We also felt the burden of keeping it. Since we sold the house, it’s freeing to know that everything we own is in a 5-foot by 10-foot storage space. Those are all the things we want to have.
Above: Playa San Miguel with friends
TCM: It looks like you’ve met a lot of fellow RVers on the road. Is that just being in the same place at the same time, or do you coordinate where to be when?
Dan: For the first couple of years we would travel by ourselves. We didn’t know about boondocking. We didn’t have solar. Now we seek out remote locations and fellow full-time RVers.
Instagram has helped the most. There are a billion different communities within Instagram, and we’re in the full-time travel corners. Instagram has made meeting up with people easy.
Above: Beach Camping with friends
Our friendships on the road are incredible. You might see the friends in your home town a couple hours a week. When you meet a friend on the road, you’re sometimes with them for a couple of weeks. You can get close to friends quickly with this lifestyle.
Marlene: The friendships give you a sense of community. Now our kids have playdates with other kids on the road.
Dan: That started in 2012 after Luka was born. We tend to meet up with other families who have kids. We even do long legs of traveling with our friends. We have friends in almost every state.
TCM: That’s amazing. If you could go back to the beginning of deciding to go full-time, would you do anything differently?
Marlene: I would worry less about everything. You’ll figure it out as you travel.
Above: Coco Corner, Sea of Cortez, Baja
TCM: Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Dan: It’s hard to see that far down the road. There are a bunch of possible scenarios.
We are going to ask our kids what they want to do. If being on the road is no longer fun for them, we won’t do it anymore. We don’t necessarily want to settle into a suburban lifestyle, but we would if the kids wanted it.
Above: On their way to pet whales
Marlene: No one in our family has a sense of settling down. We ask the kids each year what they want and they still want to be on the road. The experiences we are having on the road shape us and shape the kids.
Dan: In the next few years, we may still be in the Casita or Four Wheel Camper, or maybe we will want to be on a sailboat. The kids may not want to stop.
If our kids want privacy, or to go to school, or to play sports, we’ll give it to them. Right now Ava is starting to talk about other countries she wants to see.
Marlene: We can go to South America and ship our camper to Europe. It’s all about trying to balance work and lifestyle.
TCM: Your photographs are extraordinary. Tell us how you approach photography.
Dan: We’ve gotten to the point where we are more critical of what we post on social media. We try to look at our photos and build that experience. We want the photos to be meaningful.
We take a bunch of photos every day. Then we look for the photos that make us feel like we’re back in a particular place and situation. Which photos do we feel great about? It is a tailored experience we are creating.
Marlene: I take a picture because it warms my heart or brings up a feeling I want to remember. We stopped blogging for a bit and Instagram took that over. Now we look for one photo each day that encompasses it all. It’s quality over quantity, just like the lifestyle we’re living.
Dan and Marlene’s Rig
Truck: 2016 Ford F-250 XL, Super Duty, gas, long bed, crew cab, 4×4
Camper: 2015 Four Wheel Camper Grandby Silver Spur Front Dinette
Tie-Downs/Turnbuckles: Truck camper is bolted to the bed of our truck with additional internal turnbuckles
Suspension: Stock front suspension, rear add-a-leaf springs, Airlift air springs, 275-70-18 BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires
Gear: Maxxtrax tracking pads, Vair 450P 100% duty cycle air compressor/tire inflator, two 100 watt solar panels with MPPT charge controller, Tow straps and miscellaneous recovery gear