Want to travel the country in a van? This Fort Wayne couple is, and here's what they're learning

For Justin and Cassondra Lim of Fort Wayne, traveling the country was a “we’ll-get-to-it-someday” type of dream.

Like many millennials, they had talked about simplifying their lives, packing up a van, and hitting the road. But they hadn’t really considered putting that idea into action.

“We’d talk about it for a while, and then it would fade out,” Justin says.

Then, surprisingly enough, their plans changed one day thanks to a Cadillac.

“Really, the van dream was basically over, and I was going to buy a Cadillac,” Justin clarifies.

Justin and Cassondra Lim visited the Rocky Mountains.

A longtime Cadillac-lover, he found a ’64—his favorite year—for sale in Cleveland, and he jumped at the chance to buy it. If everything had gone according to plan, he might have never left Fort Wayne. As it turned out, though, the Cadillac was a bust.

“We drove all the way out to look at the car, and it wasn’t worth it at all,” Justin says. “It was in such poor condition; the roof needed redone. It completely flipped our plans.”

A week later, Justin and Cassondra used the money they'd saved to buy a repurposed van instead, and they started planning their cross-country adventure. The van was already built out as a miniature apartment, complete with a sink, fridge, shower, and bathroom. It even had a bench that flipped over for a bed, making it ready for an indefinite road trip.

Buying a van ready for travel made the Lims's plans a reality.

With it suddenly purchased and waiting in their driveway, Justin and Cassondra realized their maybe-someday dream was actually happening—sending them on a journey that is still taking them across the U.S. and giving them a new appreciation for their hometown.

As a full-time sign painter in Fort Wayne for Old 5 and Dime Sign Company, Justin could adjust his schedule to his travel plans.

“I’ve connected with a lot of tattoo shops over the years,” he explains. “When I’m traveling, I already know people in the area and can offer painting services for them.”

Justin paints a lobster on the side of the van.

In fact, because the van purchase came together at the last minute, he already had sign orders booked out for months—and he found himself working 20-hour days just to get everything done before they left.

“On June 7, 2019, we finally hit the road,” Justin says. “We had a loose plan, but we were open to detours and side adventures. We knew we wanted to jump in and out of Route 66; then when we got into California, we went straight up Highway One from San Diego to Portland.”

Justin Lim is a sign painter by trade at Old 5 and Dime Sign Co.

From Fort Wayne, they’ve traveled to Indianapolis, Ind.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; the Grand Canyon; Las Vegas, Nev.; San Diego, Calif.; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Eugene, Ore. They’ve seen it all, from the nation’s biggest cities to its best-kept secrets—and they’ve learned a few things along the way.

“The funniest thing is that we’ve been to so many cities—Los Angeles, Portland, etc.—but the coolest parts of the country are the in-between places,” Justin says. “In a typical day, we’d drive until we bumped into something. We had nowhere to be, so we’d just sort of pop into places—like the Painted Desert. It’s about a 20-mile loop in the Petrified Forest National Park, so we decided to spend some time there and get right back on the highway. But it was so amazing that we just went through the entire thing.”

Justin and Cassondra Lim spent the first half of their journey on the West side of the U.S.

For the Lims, travel doesn’t have to look like a straight line from Point A to Point B. Instead, they’ve gone wherever their curiosity has led them. About an hour south of Flagstaff, they came across Sedona, Ariz., and it ended up being one of their favorite spots, Justin says.

“It was just beautiful,” he explains. “The huge canyon, the winding roads, the stunning red rock; it was absolutely breathtaking. There are tons of hiking trails and even tiny motels that have been there for 80 years. It was a cool place.”

Some of the Lims's favorite destinations have been spots in between bigger cities.

Through their cross-country explorations, Justin and Cassondra have also met all kinds of people. Since they didn’t plan their trip specifically, they often struggled to find campgrounds with open spaces. But thanks to social media (and the kindness of strangers), they’ve almost always found a place to stay the night.

“I’d post where we were going on Instagram and ask if anyone had a driveway or a quiet street where we could hang out, and we’d have tons of people I didn’t even know commenting and offering their places,” Justin says. “Some of them even became long-term friends. In today’s world, you’re always kind of reserved about people you don’t know, but we met up with complete strangers sometimes, and it was just refreshing to connect with some really great people.”

Justin and Cassondra Lim of Fort Wayne are traveling the U.S. by van.

For all the adventures and excitement, Justin and Cassondra also realized something else: There’s nothing quite like coming home.

“This trip really showed us how much Fort Wayne has going for it,” Justin says. “There’s a great community of artists, musicians, chefs—tons of people making this area a better place. We visited a lot of cities where we felt unsafe or saw a ton of drug use, and Fort Wayne isn’t like that. We always thought we’d move to a bigger city somewhere, but after seeing so many of them, we’ve decided we’re pretty much Fort-Wayne-rooted.”

In all their travels, the Lims discovered a new appreciation for Fort Wayne.

Despite their newfound appreciation for home, the Lims’s journey isn’t over yet. Until Thanksgiving, they’re headed northeast, planning to work their way along the New England coast, starting in Maine. They’ll stop through Fort Wayne again for the holiday, then go south to Nashville and New Orleans before coming home for Christmas. After that, they’ll close the book on their year-long journey—but they won’t close the book on their adventures.

“We love being a part of Fort Wayne and watching it grow,” Justin says. “But we’re also planning on doing lots of weekend trips after we get back. We used to spend entire weekends just sitting around and trying to decide what to do. But now, we know there’s always an opportunity waiting somewhere, and we want to explore all of them.”

No matter where the Lims go next, one thing is for sure.

“We’re pretty Fort Wayne strong,” as Justin puts it.

The journey has been freeing and enlightening, but—like so many other Summit City natives—they’ve discovered that all roads lead back to home.

Follow their travels

To follow Justin and Cassondra on their upcoming adventures—and maybe even get some travel recommendations—look for @old5anddimesignco on Instagram.

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