5 of the Most Common Questions About Vanlife and RV Life
Van Life and RV Living are becoming more and more popular, we all crave the freedom. We love hearing about people journeys into this lifestyle, and we know starting out can be scary.
To help out, we thought we would compile 5 of the most commonly asked questions we get asked about traveling fulltime and vanlife.
🔸️How is it living together in a tiny space?
The positives here far outweigh the negatives for us. We have definitely adapted to being together in a small space. There have been adjustments to how we move around, the “van shuffle” often includes the dog. Cooking is a one person job. We have our family cuddles in the back on the king size bed. When we need our own space we have the rotating captain chairs at the front of the van, and Logan loves to sit up there and read. Really though, we live out of the van, not in it. So when we need space we are grateful to be parked somewhere beautiful with all the wide open spaces we could ask for.
🔸️How do you budget for life on the road?
We set a budget for ourselves before we left home. Our monthly budget of $3000 includes our van payments, insurance for the vehicle as well as our travel and health insurance, pet insurance, cell phones, groceries, gas, camping fees, and spending money. We know several people who live this lifestyle on bigger budgets, and many who are comfortably living on smaller budgets. Setting a budget is a personal choice, but we think it’s important to be realistic. We have always agreed that if we can no longer support this lifestyle then it’s time to change it.
🔸️How do you earn money?
Logan and I (Kira) both quit our “9-5” jobs before we hit the road. I was an office manager at a dental office, and Logan was a brewer at a busy craft brewpub. It was a priority for us to pay off our debts before making the leap to traveling so we did!! The first step was selling our home in October 2017, it happened very fast as the real estate market in our hometown was booming, and very overinflated.
Logan has been interested in the markets, real estate, and trading, so we decided to invest our money from the sale of our home, and manage our budget with the profits. Because we were just starting out, we started with mutual funds in RRSP and TFSA accounts, and have moved into self-directed investments. We also decided to finance our van, so that money could be invested instead of being locked up in the van. We considered finance rates carefully against the realistic rates of return we could achieve on our investments.
Since hitting the road we have also joined in affiliate marketing programs, and brand partnerships. To be clear, we don’t make this a main focus, because our goal is time freedom. Affiliate marketing and brand partnerships allow us to monetize our social media. It earns small commissions from products we use, and allows us to share those resources and brands we love with our community.
This is a very very common way for folks who work as digital nomads to earn income. It should be noted that it does take work and time. There are really no ways to earn money for doing nothing, so if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
🔸️What do you need to take with you when you hit the road?
This is tough to answer, and in all honesty, I roll my eyes when I read a lot of peoples suggestions for “things YOU need for your RV” or “Gear You Need For Van Life” . In reality, you need so much less than you think. We have never really been minimalists, so it was hard for us to downsize. We felt like we needed so much to ensure we would be comfortable…
The reality is that the more stuff you bring, the more stuff you have in your small space. We have downsized multiple times since hitting the road.
Our suggestion is use what you have, you don’t need to rush out and buy RV specific things. There are definetely things you will pick up along the way, we have some favorite van life gear we suggest too…BUT, Don’t buy something because someone told you you need it, everyones living situation is different. You will be the one to decide what you need or want to make your RV feel like home.
We know people who love to cook. Instapots, camp stoves even a Vitamix you name it. If those items serve you, then great! Consider your space, I would love a Berkey water filtration system but have nowhere practical to store it. What will you actually use? We have bought a few little gizmos that ended up being donated, we thought they would be useful, but they were not daily use items.
When it comes to appliances remember your power source…the first time we made a pot of coffee in our van with our big fancy brewer from home, we blew the circuit and everything in the van shut off….we prefer boondocking to being plugged in, so we have to consider what our battery system can handle.
The things you really need and that we recommend researching are a little less sexy… Things like insurance, updated travel documents (ie. visas, passports) cellular coverage, first aid items (don’t forget your furry travel companions), basic tools (also think of flat tires, or boosting a dead battery) these are all pretty essential.
🔸️What’s the best place we have visited?
Oh man, another tough one!! This adventure has surprised us constantly. I think unanimously we were both blown away by southern Utah, the Mighty Five parks are really something everyone should see. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
We fell in love with Palm Springs and Southern California (though the coast and Redwoods are pretty amazing) the dry heat of the desert was a welcomed treat after being in the Pacific Northwest. The boondocking in the South West is also top notch making van life easy and budget friendly.
The Northwest Territories ended up being a place we spent the second most cumulative time on our whole trip…weeks of unpaved roads, seeing towns and villages only accessible by winter roads and tiny ferries, and the truly wild and untouched land was magic. Seeing the Arctic Ocean via the new road to Tuktoyaktuk was an epic adventure.
So there wasn’t one place, there were many….and the biggest reward in this experience is finding new places to fall in love with.
If you are thinking about full timing in an RV or Van, we highly recommend it! Also a great way to dip your toes in the van life experience would be to rent and take road trip to see how it feels for you.
If you have any questions let us know! And don’t forget to check out our post on Moving Saving Apps for van life travel.
Van Life Resources ~ We Are Sharing Our Favorite Ways To Find Free Camping
Two years on the road has given us a fair bit of practice finding the best spots to sleep or better yet camp! We are sharing our favorite resources for finding free camping!
This can look very different depending on where you are, and your budget. But if you’re like us, we opt for free spots, wide-open spaces, and we try to save paying to camp for when it’s somewhere that we really want to be!
Apps and Resources for Finding Free Camping
Ioverlander (U.S.A &Canada)
This free app is user fed and has one of the biggest user-bases of them all. Find free campsites, rest stops, boondocking, Walmarts, propane, water, dump stations, and even showers. It’s usually the first app we check, open the map, search your area, chose a spot and link directions straight from the app. There is also space for users to include pictures.
**Huge plus this is an app we can use when we are offline. This means we don’t need a cell signal to see a spot on the map or read the reviews.
Being user fed, it doesn’t include everything only places other users have been and contributed the information.
Also, there is no criteria for information so you may not get the best intel every time.
Use your judgment: we have NEVER had a knock on the door, and this is because we don’t presume to bend the rules. If it’s posted no, if someone has previously been asked to leave, or some other issue, we don’t stay there. No judgment to those who do, but that’s what has worked for us.
BLM/ National Forests /WildlifeManagement/ LTVA (U.S.A).
These are a few of our favorite things! Public lands are one of the best ideas ever! These options are:
-often do not require a permit
-can vary from established campgrounds to truly wild places
-usually have a limit of 14 days
LTVA- Long Term Visitor Areas are part of BLM but are more established, do require a permit, but will allow longer stays. Please remember as with any campgrounds to practice Leave No Trace Principles
In Canada, over 80% of the land is Crown Land which is federally designated for public use. This includes National Parks, Provincial Parks, Forestry land and waterways. Camping and land-use rules vary though from province to province on public lands so you can click on a province below to link to their resources.
These big retailers have a history of being RV friendly. Many allow overnight parking in relatively safe, well lit, even occasionally patrolled lots. Some even offer potable water, and dump stations!!
The downside: None really, it is important to understand that this isn’t just inherently allowed at all locations see a No Stay List Of Walmarts here. It may or may not be quiet or busy. If it is posted no overnight parking, then yes, that means you too. If you are unsure best practice is to ask in-store. It’s usually ok, but some areas have bylaws and ordinances that don’t allow it. Some stores have also changed their policies as these locations are easily abused. If you’re staying, don’t set up camp, don’t pull out your BBQs and lawn chairs its a business parking lot, you’re not camping! It’s a spot to sleep. Early in, early out and try to be discrete.
**Parking Tip: we always either back in to protect the area of the van where we sleep, also try to get next to concrete meridians for some added protection, in quiet areas of the lot, not next to a main entrance.
We woke up to a nasty accident in a Walmart parking lot once, it happened about 10 feet from where we were sleeping (not to our van, but too close for comfort).
This website provides a user fed database that provides pretty clear details on a variety of free spots. Users can include pictures and review the sites. This again includes everything from wild camping to parking lot options.
We like this app for the combination of program and user fed database. It lists gas stations, Costco’s, Walmarts, Cabellas, and other retailers. You also see established RV parks, state parks, national parks, public and private campgrounds.
This user fed site offers well-structured feedback on everything from free spots to RV parks. The review structure provides details on the site, fees, access and even cell service which is a biggy for all you digital nomads.
Memberships We Use
After 2 years on the road, we have tried a few things, here are the programs we use.
This program is $49/year and offers 50% off at thousands of RV parks all over the U.S. and Canada. We don’t stay in RV parks often, but when we do it’s almost always a P.A park. We have stayed in some great parks with all the amenities for about $22.50/night (sometimes more, sometimes less). Use our referral code R-0301705 when you register here
Admittedly it took us a while to wise up and get in on this program. The membership is $50/ year and allows you access to locations all over the U.S and Canada. Mostly these are properties of fellow travelers, so it could be anything from a driveway to a church parking lot, to a farm.
How it works: You request to stay directly with the host, and once approved, they contact you with details for your arrival. You get a safe and unique place to park up. We have done this a few different ways: arrived late in the evening(with approval from the host) and basically went straight to sleep, we have also sat and visited with and shared a coffee or a meal with hosts! It is a great way to meet fellow travel enthusiasts, and hosts have the best inside scoop on their areas and love to help you plan your visit! Sign up here
We are still fairly new to this program but we love it! For $79/year you gain access to hundreds of locations in the U.S and Canada. Harvest hosts are categorized as Vineyards, Farms, Breweries, Museums and more.
How it Works: Request a stay directly with a host, you get a cool, safe place to campout, and it’s always a bonus to do a wine tasting. Furthermore this program asks that you purchase something from your hosts in exchange for your stay. So you can stock up on wine, beer, do a tasting or buy local fresh produce! Save 15% off when you sign up here!
We hope these resources for finding free camping help you plan your next trip!
Planning a trip to Texas? Don’t miss out on a visit to Big Bend National Park, one of the largest and most unique National Parks in the lower 48.
Sharing a border with Mexico and spanning the Rio Grande in the Southwest of Texas. This park offers up everything from vast Chihuahuan Desert landscapes, to the stunning Chisos Mountains and of course the river. There are several trails, canyons, and even Hot Springs on the Rio Grande. This park is massive, there are two gas stations in the park and over 200 miles of paved roads! So if you want to feel isolated in the wild, you will find that here.
Big Bend is known as a hikers paradise, with more than 150 trails that span to all four corners of the park. Wildlife? You bet; bears, javelinas, big horn sheep, snakes, lizards, birds, bears, mountain lions, the gangs all here! If paddling is your thing, hit the river and explore into the Santa Elana Canyon. If you’re into birding, you probably already know that this park is a hot spot for hundreds of species. During spring migration expect to see birders out in full force.
Let’s Take a Hike
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail and Dugout Wells
This is a peaceful spot to learn a little history, and about some of the desert vegetation. It’s an easy and short walk around a desert oasis, and a great birding spot!
Up in the Chisos Mountains, there are tons of trails, and The Window is a highlight. 5 miles from the visitors center, the trail is well kept and manageable for even novice hikers. We started the hike at 9:00 a.m. and made it out and back with a nice break at the window by noon. We shared the trail with hikers of all ages [the eldest we met was 84 years old]. The view west from The Window will take your breath away.
Lost Mine Trail
This is one of the most recommended trails we have heard of in the park. There is super limited parking, and we have not been able to nab a spot. This trail is just shy of 5 miles and promises canyon views that are second to none.
Hot Springs Trail
Not far from the Rio Grande Village campground, is Daniel’s Ranch. Here the trailhead to a gorgeous 6-mile hike to the Hot Springs this hike takes you up into the hills and meanders above the Rio Grande. There is a bit of a climb and elevation gain early on, but the majority of this hike is level and clear trail. The payoff, of course, is the Hot Springs at the end.
Boquillas Canyon Trail
Take a little climb to a gorgeous overlook of the Rio Grande and Boquillas del Carmen. Watch for bighorn sheep, goats, horses and neighbors across the river. Follow the trail to the banks of the Rio Grande.
Things to Do
Take a drive
If exploring by foot isn’t for you, there are some incredibly scenic drives. The main roads through the park are paved. Drive up to Chisos Basin and see another side of the park. Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and access some of the most popular trails, and unpaved drives in the park! Enjoy several scenic look out points and work your way down to Santa Elena Canyon and have a picnic lunch before checking out the historic sites like Sam Neil Ranch.
The Hot Springs
Take a dip in the 105°F healing waters on the bank of the Rio Grande. This spot was inhabited and was considered a major hub in the early 1900s. The spot is still popular today in our 2 visits to this park we have yet to see the Hot Springs without a ton of people, and a full parking lot. Our recommendation is hitting the Hot Springs early in the morning, or for sunset.
Day Trip to Mexico
Bring your passports in the Southeast corner of the park there is a border crossing to Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico. Spend a day visiting this little village hitch a ride on a donkey and enjoy a delicious meal.
Big Bend is one of the BEST dark sky parks in the lower 48. Oh yes they’ve got stars. It is 10 miles from Terlingua to the west entrance of the park, and over 40 miles from Marathon to the north entrance. The surrounding small towns are far enough away and are also known for their dark skies. If possible plan your trip around a new moon, that paired with clear skies and you’re in for a treat.
Let’s talk Camping
Did I mention this park is BIG? As such it requires some planning, but it’s worth it. There are 3 established campgrounds as well as ample backcountry spots. But know that ALL of the spots do fill up fast. Even if planning isn’t your thing, trust me reservations are a game changer. Being prepared is nice especially when cell service is almost non existant in the park.
The Rio Grande Village Campground
Reserve online to nab a spot for more than a day or two. This campground does offer some first come first serve spots, but be prepared to be there bright and early there may already be a line up. The spots are all dry camping, so no hookups for RVs. There are washrooms and potable water available. There is also an RV dump station, a gas station and general store, laundry facilities, wifi and pay showers just outside the campground. This campground is ideal for our friends with big rigs. We appreciated a few things about the Rio Grande Village Campground: The shade, more space between sites as well as bigger level spots.
Chisos Basin Camground
Reserve your spot online.
First come first serve spots available, even though it’s up the mountain and not big rig friendly, you will need to get there bright and early and be prepared to move after a day or two.
The spots are all dry camping, so no hookups for RVs. There are washrooms and potable water available. There is a general store and visitors centre here as well for some supplies (even wine!). The road up the mountain has a size restriction, so while it is possible, it isn’t big rig friendly. The spots here are more geared to smaller rigs, vehicles and tent campers. The sites are small and often unlevel. If you need some creature comforts, there are also rooms available in the lodge, and reservations can also be made online. They also offer a restaurant for some apres hike eats, and a beer.
This campground is dry camping only and no reservations. There are pit toilets and potable water available. This campground was closed during our visit. There is a small general store and visitor centre at Castalon, though the visitor center is closed in the summer.
These are ideal if you’re able to boondock. These spots have to be booked in person. For $12 to stay up to 14 days, the price can’t be beat. You will have to choose how long you are staying when you book, you can’t really extend after the fact.
Depending on your set up this could be ideal. Last year we tried to stay at Grapevine Hills past balanced rock. But the 6.4-mile road in took us 2 hours out and back. Without high clearance and 4×4, we opted against camping here. We wouldn’t be able to come and go and explore the park and this was our goal. This was the only spot that was Van or RV accessible that was left when we arrived. These spots also fill up fast. I would say and it’s an ideal situation if you have a vehicle that can easily manage the rough gravel roads or at least mountain bikes to be able to come and go. If you want the gorgeous wide open space check in regularly at the visitor center for availability.
The Road To Big Bend
Visit from the North via Marathon, Texas.
This small town offers fuel, supplies, accommodations, hiking trails and dark sky opportunities. It is worth noting that gas at the Rio Grande Village in the park was actually cheaper when we were there. A small grocery store for supplies and a little stock up expect to pay slightly higher prices here. We highly recommend Marathon Motel and RV park. Full hook-up RV spaces, nice showers, and laundry facilities. Furthermore this is a Passport America park with a great discount price. They also host dark sky parties and stargazing on a clear night is top notch.
Visit from the West via Terlingua and Big Bend Ranch State Park.
There is an awesome piece of history here in the ghost town in Terlingua. Plan to stay a few days in this funky spot with a great cafe, restaurant, and some of the friendliest people. We highly recommend Big Bend Ranch State Park either on your way in or out of the National Park. This area is so vast and diverse, give yourself as much time as you can.
We have met several people who were born and raised in Texas and have never been to this park. While it is a big trip to visit Big Bend, it is well worth it.
Regardless of how much time you have, this park needs to be seen. Next time you’re planning a trip to Texas: fill your tank, stock up on food and water, make reservations and get your butt to Big Bend National Park.
We hope these suggestions help. Keeping in mind that we are restricted traveling with our dog, temperature control is always an issue and as in most national parks, dogs are not allowed on trails.
We would love to hear your experiences and tips from visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas.
While planning your visit to Big Bend National Park in Texas we have another great suggestion for you! Check out our post on Free Camping In Junction, Texas.
So excited to share this free camping in Junction, Texas!
We have now made the journey across southern U.S several times. We have taken different routes but often find ourselves at some point on Interstate 10 in Texas. It is a long stretch from San Antonio to El Paso or from the Guadalupe Mountains to the Gulf coast, and finding free spots along the interstate can be a little underwhelming.
Fort Stockton Walmart & Dominos Again…
Most of the spots you find along the way come in the form of rest stops, picnic areas, truck stops and Walmarts. We have stayed at the Walmart in Fort Stockton on 3 separate occasions now. Rest stops in Texas are also really nice and well maintained. We appreciate these types of stopovers to break up a long driving day and rest our heads for a night. But they aren’t really the places we hope to camp along the way.
Our most recent trip from the Guadalupe Mountains along I-10 heading East brought us to the little town of Junction, Texas. This sleepy little town lies on the shores of the Llano River.
We were fortunate to make it to Junction and have a few quieter days to enjoy our free campsite and explore the town.
There are several options for camping around Junction. These included Llano River State Park and a few RV parks. We were stoked to find a super picturesque free spot right on the river.
Schreiner Park is a county park located on the west bank of the South Llano River. The park allows 3 days of free dry camping!
The park offers: an outdoor community pool, the home of the women’s softball team, beach volleyball courts, playgrounds, a huge picnic area, and a massive community smoker.
This area was devastated earlier this year by flooding, and we did see some of the aftermath. The city park across the river as well as the RV Park were being repaired.
But as far as free camping in Texas goes this spot was pretty perfect.
When we arrived most of the pull-through spaces with covered picnic tables and barbecues were actually being used by locals. So we opted to pull right along the bank of the river. I think the park is actually more dedicated to day use, but no one seemed to be spending time in the area we parked.
We enjoyed hot Sunny days with the park basically all to ourselves. Got to take a few dips in the river to cool off. Long walks with Holly, and she loved swimming in the river. Park workers, as well as police randomly made rounds throughout the day so we always felt safe. Every time a local drove by they smiled and waved.
The park is clean and well kept. There are restroom facilities that leave a little to be desired, but if you need a free washroom this park has it. Covered picnic tables and BBQs are scattered through the park.
The pool was not open while we were here but if the timing worked out it’s $2 to use the public outdoor pool and I would assume that there are showers available here.
While you’re here pop into town grab a bite at the local diner, visit quaint local shops, take a scenic drive, grab an ice cream cone and slow down. Don’t forget to take your camp chair over and cheer on the Eagles Ladies Softball Team!
If you enjoyed this info on Free Camping in Junction, Texas check out our visitor guide to Big Bend National Park
Full-Time Van Life Travel: Louisiana has so many hidden gems!
Visiting Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail. Last year we saw New Orleans and Natchitoches in Louisiana. Both offered amazing history and culture (and a visit with my rad cousin). It was awesome, but this year we decided to take a slower quieter route through the south.
Logan has been really enjoying birding this year, it is something he has always been in to. Now with decent binocs and a new spotting scope he is stepping it up a little.
So we found some new great spots. We experienced a quiet, wild and beautiful side of Louisiana. This trip included almost 100 birds species, and some amazing free camp spots.
Big Branch Wild Life Refuge
Our first stop. There is no fee to visit the refuge that is located just outside of Slidell, north of New Orleans.
For birders, Pelicans, Egrets, Herons, and other waterfowl are out in full force. A highlight was seeing the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, which is rare and considered endangered.
There are boardwalks and trails throughout the refuge. Access was easy, narrow paved roads lead to large gravel lots. No garbage or toilets so these areas are pack in pack out.
We also drove south of Lacombe and watched the birds put on a show during a gorgeous sunset. We boondocked at a boat launch which is also an area where manatees can some times be spotted, though we didn’t see them.
Our spot was quiet but buggy, as we learned that is to be expected all along the water and bayou areas.
Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge
Tucked way off highway 10 just east of Lafayette. Driving out to this spot was a little intimidating. You are in hunting territory.
Trailers and hunting cabins have a real backwoods vibe to them, we even saw hog heads mounted on someone’s fence posts.
That being said the reserve is really beautiful, it is a forest on the banks of the Atchafalaya River. It was very quiet overnight. Our free spot backed onto the river. Practically perfect except for hunters we hear shooting in the morning. Update** There are designated free campsites in the WMA please find themhere
Also, this was the first time we saw warnings in the south for Bears!
We discovered that there is a Parish Park system that is made up of small parks with limited sites for RVs and campers.
This little park outside of Bell City and Hayes has 9 spaces with power and potable water. It also offers shower, washrooms, and a dump station…for $12 per night!
The park has a boat launch and backs onto Lacassine Bayou. Owls, gators and the chance to see manatees. This park was perfect.
You are tucked away, it felt like a bit of a locals secret. The park is next to the Lorraine Bridge which is a historic spot. A resilient little bridge that has been knocked down and rebuilt to connect two parishes several times since the 1800s.
Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge
This was an interesting loop drive with birding aplenty, and gators galore. Whistling ducks were a highlight during our visit.
The loop is an unmaintained dirt road and it is overgrown in a lot of spots. Bumpy doesn’t begin to describe it, we actually drove on the grass in certain parts, following the lead of vehicles that were way better equipped to handle it.
From Lacassine we wandered down to Rutherford Beach, it is a pretty popular boondocking spot. Our experience was short and not great. It was intensely foggy and buggy. Beach camping and porta-potties, for free. But our van actually got overrun with mosquitoes and we had to high tail it out of there. We spent the night casino camping and clearing out the van in Lake Charles.
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge
We stopped off and did a couple of walks through this refuge. This is part of the Creole Nature Trail. We spotted some Rosette Spoonbills but missed the local gators. Definitely, a nice spot to stop and check out.
Our last night in Louisiana we boondocked at Holly Beach. There is hard-packed sand at the end of the road, it was super quiet, and we only had one neighbor. It was free and with no one around Holly finally got to run and play in the water.
The downside to this area on the gulf coast is being able to see the offshore oil rigs.
Next stop Texas!
Tell us some of your favorite places in Louisiana!
Van Life – On the road again, our first week back on the road, heading to Mississippi
We are finally Back On The Road & Mississippi Bound!
From Ontario to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in 3 days.
Well, we did it. We watched for a “warm” gap in the weather and went to pull the van out of storage the first day we saw above freezing temps.
Our experience storing the van overall was pretty good, sadly it ended up being insanely expensive. The storage facility only offers seasonal contracts, so we paid for Sept-May even though the van only ended up being there for just shy of 2 months. It was a price we paid for the peace of mind of our van being tucked away indoors and warm.
So we brought the van back tot he apartment and cleaned it out properly, every cupboard drawer, and surface was cleaned (still soo much dust from NWT, I think it is in the walls, and have no idea yet how we will get it out. Holly was at a boarding facility we were testing out for Ireland. So for a few glorious hours, the van looked shiny and new, and predominantly free of dog hair😍.
We organized all of the cupboards, some slight changes from last year, but overall the system we have seems to work. It is insane how much food we store in this van.
Everything fit nicely, and I am especially happy with my clothes cupboard. I included our new packing cubes in our last post, but honestly, they make my heart happy every time I open my clothes cupboard.
After cleaning and packing the van, we cleaned the apartment and dropped off the keys, and said goodbye to our temporary home. Picked Holly up and hit the road.
Our first stop was at Logans mum’s house. We packed up all our winter gear from our time in Ontario, vacuum packed them and are storing them in her basement. We also stocked her fridge and freezer. We had done a Costco shop not too long ago, and now had way more food than we could fit in our fridge, and some items we knew couldn’t cross the border. One last yummy supper with the family and we were off.
Our First Night On The Road:
We slept our first night at an “On Route”, these are the top-notch rest stops along the 401. We were still winterized so we didn’t have running water in the van. Being close to 24-hour restrooms was nice 👌. Also having Tim Horton’s and Starbucks in the morning is a treat.
The next morning we carried on and crossed the border in Windsor.
This was our first time being stopped and inspected at the border.
They didn’t like hearing that we were not working, and we were traveling for 2 months (though we have crossed three other times, and they never seemed too concerned). We were also honest about the food items we had in our fridge and thought we had remembered to unload everything, that was a no-no.
We had to put Holly in an outdoor kennel, and head into the building. The border guards were mostly friendly and helpful to the people they were dealing with, ours wasn’t, but that’s just luck of the draw. The guards who inspected our vehicle took a few cherry tomatoes, avocados, and peppers…they were from the U.S and we didn’t think anything of it. They let us know that we hadn’t told them about those items and that the fine for lying to them about food is $300. Thankfully they knew weren’t trying to hide anything, so we got off with a warning.
Tip: They suggested making an itemized list of the contents of the fridge and freezer next time. In all honesty, we usually don’t cross with any food in the fridge, that big Costco shop, and the sudden change in weather left us overstocked…we will empty the fridge next time.
The silver lining in all of this is that Holly did amazing. Our biggest fear since day 1 of traveling has been Holly. She has a history of being reactive, so we worried about her having a meltdown at the border. She sat so calmly and sweetly in that little kennel and watched the guards searching our van without making a peep. She looked super sad, but overall that was a huge win. The training we did with her in B.C has been life-changing.
We watched the weather along 3 different routes south. The first day made it as far as Kentucky, the rain was insane! We were staying out of the freeze that seems to be affecting everyone right now, so that was good. We thought we would visit Mammoth Caves National Park, and do some bourbon tasting, but the majority of Kentucky was under flood warnings. With freezing temperatures two days away.
The next morning the driving conditions were horrible and we switched routes twice. We actually had to pull off the highway a couple times because the rain was so heavy we literally couldn’t see. We are from the PNW and have never seen rain like this.
Our route took us towards Memphis, we made a quick stop, and then straight on to Mississippi…and 75° weather! We forgot about the humidity in the south! We instantly delayed, picked up a couple of brochures at the visitor center, where we were greeted with “Y’all are so welcomed here, Y’all are a long way from home! Welcome to God’s Country”. Southern hospitality is real folks.
**Side note, rest stops in Mississippi have free dump stations!
We decided to stay in a state park for the night, we wanted to camp, we needed access to water and sewer so we could finally de-winterize our tanks. So we chose George P. Cossar State Park. Full hookups for $30. Free showers and they even have laundry facilities. The campground was amazing, right on Enid Lake. Huge sites, quiet, and the day we arrived, almost empty! We found out later that the weekend was fully booked out, event though temperatures were dropping again, I kid you not, “it’s ‘coon huntin’ season”. It is a very real thing, and all fill up for it.
Our first time de-winterizing wasn’t too bad. We drained all the antifreeze from the lines and fresh tank. We added water and bleach, flushed all the lines, and the water pump, and drove around the park to slosh it all around, and left it overnight. The next morning, after a perfectly quiet sleep, we drained again and added fresh water to rinse. We added some vinegar to the fresh water this round, one more rinse and it should be good to go. We started using the water for flushing, and washing dishes, man did I miss having our washroom!!!
From there we made our way to Pass Christian down some of the craziest backroads (thanks Google Maps). We got in after dark, which we usually try to avoid, but we knew the spot we would be sleeping from last year). The Walmart in this town is beach front…so we arrived after dark, walked the dog, went grocery shopping, late dinner and off to bed. I think this Walmart has the most beautiful view of any Walmart. It is a quiet spot, not a ton of RVs park there and it’s tucked away on the coast.
So here we are now on the Gulf Coast, we are excited to be back and have more time to spend. We don’t really have a plan, but we will likely head towards Texas first. We are checking out Gulf Islands National Sea Shore as it was full when we were here last time. Logan is in bird nerd paradise. His list for the year is already around 100, and we were in Ontario winter for the first month.
I should start off by telling you that when it comes to traveling in a van, less is truly more. We have put together our list of the best van life gear for our fellow travellers.
To be honest we often cringe a little when people ask us what they need, or when we hear or see folks telling people what to rush out and buy for their van or RV. The reality is you will find what you need, and what works best for you. Use as much of your own stuff as you can. Don’t rush out to buy things until you know your space and needs.
We really do still use a lot of items that we packed from home. When we started we thought when we started out that we would be rushing out to find all the collapsing items that have become synonymous with tiny living. But the reality is we needed less than we thought. One example I will give is a collapsible laundry hamper…yes they serve a purpose, and to each their own, but we are glad we saved the $10, and headache of finding a home for it constantly. We use an old pillowcase from home for dirty laundry, it works as a bag to transport the laundry to the machine, it is washable, it is compact, and when it’s empty it takes up no space, and it cost us nothing…
My little rant aside, there are definitely some items that we have grown to love, rely on, and found pretty essential in our van life adventure. We are sharing them here, we find this stuff useful and hope you will too. You can click any of the images below to get more information on these items.
1) Quick Dry Towels
We actually can’t imagine vanlife without these towels. We have two sets of multiple sized towels. We use them for everything. They are lightweight and dry fast so we can hang then on 3m hooks in the van. They work for drying ourselves off and miss Holly too. We also use them for dishes and cleaning. They are anti-microbial so they don’t get that funky smell that regular towels tend to take on. They are easy to wash and dry and take up little space in the van. We so miss big fluffy towels sometimes but honestly, these are so practical we couldn’t do it without them.
2) Packing Cube Set
These are quite possibly my new favorite thing. There’s no doubt that when you move into a van, you downsize your wardrobe to the essentials. We have never really considered ourselves minimalist but it comes with the territory of tiny living. Even after downsizing numerous times, my clothes cabinet has been a point of anxiety for me from day 1.
Enter Packing Cubes. These are such a great way to keep organized. A big glass of wine and a folding tutorial from Marie Kondo have turned my clothes cabinet into my little point of pride. Staying organized is so easy with packing cubes. Underwear, bras, shirts, pants, tanks, shorts, and socks each have their own cube.
No more digging through the cluttered cabinet of doom! These cubes are compact, lightweight, washable and have handles for ease of moving. The best-added bonus is that these cubes are great for organizing luggage…so we will be able to pack efficiently for our trip to Europe!!
3) Neoflam Midas Pots and Pans
We actually found this set through fellow vanlifers. We have a two burner propane stove, and love to be able to cook our own meals inside.
This set from Neoflam is great because the handle can be removed. This feature makes them easy to nest and store in our tiny kitchen. The lids are great for preventing a mess. They are also non-stick, and easy to clean (the colors are also fun). We have actually downsized to 1 pot and 1 pan, they can both fit on the stove at the same time, and cover our cooking needs perfectly.
4) No Rinse Bathing Wipes
We are lucky to have a shower in our van, and while it’s tiny, we love it. That being said, we still have to conserve water and worry about finding dump stations, so van showers are typically short and sweet. When we had a house we showered every day, and some days twice. So this has been a big change for us. Not every day needs a shower, but we like going to bed feeling clean.
We use gym showers, and try to check in to parks with hot showers every now and again. Of course, swimming in lakes and rivers is awesome whenever you can.
No Rinse Bathing Wipes are also a good van life tool to have, after a day of hiking, no one wants to smell stinky feet. We have used everything from baby wipes to dude wipes. Finding wipes that are gentle on your skin, that can wipe away any grime from the day, can help freshen you up on non-shower days.
5) Dr. Bronner’s Mild Liquid Soap
I am happy any time I can find this magical stuff on sale. It is a little pricier than some soaps, but, it’s natural, it’s biodegradable, and it’s multi-purpose which is a necessity in a van.
You can use Dr. Bronner’s for dishes, and to make your own cleaning products. I know a lot of folks may disagree, but I will say I don’t find it cuts grease as well as say Dawn dish soap (so we usually have a little bottle on hand just in case). But otherwise, it is on par with regular dish soap, without all the nasty chemicals.
Other uses include body wash and shampoo! I love the lavender Dr. Bronner’s for this, and a little goes a long way. It doesn’t bother my skin, which seems to get more sensitive as time goes on.
Again one bottle that can be used for so many different things, is a must for van life.
6) GSI Outdoors Infinity Plates & Bowls
We started out with our old dishes from home and quickly learned a few things…Regular dishes are heavy, we were constantly worried about them rattling and breaking, and we really only need enough dishes for the two of us.
We quickly made the switch to these lightweight camp dishes instead. They are super easy to clean and very lightweight.
We no longer worry about breaking dishes. This brand from REI is great because you can mix and match and buy individual pieces, so we didn’t end up with extra dishes we don’t need. I know plastic dishes don’t sound great, but these GSI Outdoor Infinity plates and bowls are BPA-Free, and they nest so they don’t take up too much room in your cabinets.
7) Klean Kanteen Wide Vacuum Mug with Cafe Cap
These are two of our most used items in the van. These insulated vacuum mugs are must-haves for road-tripping and camping. They are super insulated so they work for keeping your drinks hot/cold all day. They don’t hold smells, so you can switch from coffee to tea, to water, to wine and back again without weird flavors. We also love that the lids come apart so you can clean them thoroughly.
8) King Camp Chair
Camp chairs are a necessity for vanlife. The way we travel has landed us in some amazing places, and the goal of this lifestyle is to live out of the van as much as possible. We hauled around our old Roots camp chairs from our homeowner days (they were literally falling apart when we replaced them.) We wanted something that was comfortable and compact. These chairs are a less expensive take on the chairs at REI/MEC. They are mesh and quick dry. One arm has a cup holder, essential for beers around the campfire. They assemble easily, although when brand new the material is tight, and a little muscle is needed. The high back is super comfy, and this chair supports Logan’s 6’3 frame.
9) Mattress Topper
Our van actually houses a king-sized bed! How lucky are we? We use this space for sleep, and for lounging. Our bed is not a fixed bed, it converts up into a sofa and two seats. Because of the way we travel we have opted to leave the bed down and made up all the time. This space has to be comfortable, for the amount we use it. When we first started out I think we slept two nights on the folded down bed, and then popped into Walmart to buy a mattress topper.
This round we opted for a Lucid 4″ Gel Memory Foam Topper. So far sleeping on this is a dream. It is very soft though and being memory foam sitting on it can really sink you in. The best option for us would probably be a proper mattress but the layout of the van, as well as our need to access the storage under the bed, has us opting for the mattress topper.
The Weeboost Drive 4G-X! We picked this game changer up after 1 month of cell service frustrations.
This cell booster was super easy to install, no drilling into the van. The antenna is low profile so you can’t see it peaking over the roof, and it adds no height.
The booster works by grabbing any cell signal that’s available and boosting it through a receiver that is installed in the van. As an example any time we have 2 bars, the Weeboost usually tops us up to full bars of signal. It has bumped us from 4G to LTE. If you rely on the internet for pretty much anything, you want one of these. It works with any cell carrier. Remember it will boost a signal…if you are in an area with no signal, this won’t create one for you.
11) National Geographic Road Atlas Adventure Edition
We use our Google maps for GPS almost exclusively. The van does have a TomTom system in it, but it drives us crazy.
Google maps helps us with directions and finding specific locations, but we love having a physical map to refer to. (Not to mention Google Maps has a fun tendency to send us down some of the craziest roads.)
This National Geographic Road Atlas has a map of all the National Parks, and it includes side roads, public lands, historic sites, monuments, and campgrounds.
We also love using this Atlas to document our travels, we go back and trace the routes we have taken, so it’s practical (works without cell service) and is a cool keepsake from our time traveling.
We use this pretty much all the time. Reflectix is an inexpensive option for insulation. We have cut pieces to fit all of our rear windows. This has helped with keeping the van cool or warm depending on where we are. It also helps with blacking out the van, which makes sleeping so much easier. There are some great ideas out there for making these a little cuter or covering them to be more decorative or stealthy.
13) NOCO USB Charged Battery Booster
We picked this little guy up at the start of our journey. We don’t ever worry about a dead battery, we have only had to boost once and it worked like a charm. We charge this booster from a USB port while we drive, and it gives us peace of mind knowing it has more than enough juice to boost our battery. It also has a flashlight, and extra ports so it can be used to charge other devices. Multi-use, and there in case of emergencies, this booster is great and takes up very little space.
14) Air compressor
I wish I could say we didn’t need this, but again in case of emergencies, this little fella is a life saver. It plugs in through our 12V DC outlets so we can use it for all 4 tires easily. It kept us topped up when we had a slow leak up North. Another time we really needed this was getting stuck… we have gotten stuck in sand more times than we are proud to admit. One trick for getting out of that sticky situation is letting some of the air out of your tires… you will want to make sure to have an air compressor to top them back up when you get out so you can drive away safely.
What are some of your favorite essentials for traveling in a van or RV?
We are participating in the Amazon affiliate program, which means that if you click on a product in one of our posts and purchase something, we get a small commission at no added cost to you. We only link to products that we have in fact used ourselves. I also don’t want to blindly send you shopping.
The goal here is to give some helpful suggestions and start you on your way to researching what works best for you 😊
Finding wifi on the road can be a challenge, here are some ideas to help you stay connected
Staying connected and finding wifi on the road…
Working while traveling full time requires that we are connected. So we have come up with some suggestions for finding wifi on the road:
*Our first stop in a new place is usually a visitor center. We like to get a lay of the land, and tips on what to see in the area. Often times they have reliable (though basic) wifi. Typically for emails, checking and messages.
*Most of your favorite coffee shops have wifi, Starbucks isn’t your only option, but they are still pretty reliable.
*Many restaurants, especially chains (think fast food locals) have wifi, and usually, you can access the signal from outside their 4 walls.
*Walmart, yep we’ll just say it, sometimes we camp in stunning locals with breathtaking views, and sometimes, we are camped out in a Walmart parking lot. These guys offer wifi in all their stores and we have even been able to upload and download on this connection.
Thankfully in this day and age wifi is becoming more and more accessible, but sometimes it means thinking outside the box.
*Recreation centers (maybe catch a workout and shower),
*Many retail stores,
*Park visitor centers,
*Laundromats (multi-purpose visits are an added bonus)
If RV parks are more your style, many offer free wifi. We have also encountered some that charge for wifi, restrict website access(no Netflix and chill here) and time limits are often placed.
Lastly having your own hotspot. You can cover your bases by working with multiple service providers, signal on more than one network is ideal. Our cell service is through AT&T and we will be purchasing a Verizon Hot Spot. As long as we are in service areas with the help of our weeboost this should cover our data needs!
If you have any suggestions for staying connected on the road we’d love to hear them in the comments!
Even we questioned our decision to downsize into a campervan as much as everyone else. We were lucky. We have great family and friends. Our jobs, the gym, life was easy.
What about our jobs? How will we get along in this small space? Where will my clothes fit (I miss our walk-in closet)? Will we have what we need? Saying goodbye to our nice new house, our dishwasher, his and hers sinks, I loved our shower. Will I even like living in such a tiny space?
I would definitely never have categorized myself as a minimalist before, in fact, I have always had a really hard time letting things go. No alarm clocks, no cable, no wifi. I would also not call myself a girly girl, but the idea of giving up the girly things that had taken up space in my life… No more straightening iron, curling irons, cabinets full of makeup, lotions and potions, my washroom at home was like visiting a Walgreens or a Shoppers Drugmart, I had variety and options for everything I used.
Everything about home life was simple, lights everywhere, a long hot shower, a bath maybe? A big stocked fridge and freezer (we actually had two) laundry whenever you wanted, and our comfy sectional to curl up and binge watch Netflix.
You definitely give up some of those creature comforts when you move into a van. But pretty amazing things happen just outside of your comfort zone.
That all being said our van has everything we need and then some, but there was definitely an adjustment period. Finding the spots to store our things. Being creative with groceries, and learning the “van shuffle”. But we love it. We have spent all but two nights in this van over the past 10 months (two nights the van was in the shop). There’s been exciting moments, and stressful ones for sure.
Yes, we still miss those creature comforts sometimes, but the freedom we have created is priceless. Without question, worth it. We have removed so much stress in our lives, it’s actually hard for us to envision what life was really like before we hit the road. For me the change is monumental, I was taking medication daily for inflammatory issues, and haven’t needed them since our second month on the road. I was a borderline insomniac, and now, for the most part, I sleep and sleep well. I will admit I have gained a few pounds, my activity level is totally different then it used to be, and that’s ok.
This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone but here are 7 things we love about van life.
1. We abide by a “no plan” plan, which means we rarely know where we will end up
In 10 months traveling around North America, there have been gorgeous beaches, stunning red rocks, forests, canyons, old cities, small towns, big cities, ghost towns, museums, three oceans, you name it. There have definitely been some spots that were less idyllic, rough neighborhoods, rough roads, and Walmart parking lots. But when you create room for the unexpected, more often then not you are rewarded with amazing experiences and a great view…
Taking a dip in the Arctic Ocean was a stellar reward for making it up the Dempster Highway (over 900km of gravel roads) every morning of that trip, we just agreed we would go as far as we could, and if we had to turn around, so be it. But we didn’t, and it was worth every minute driving that crazy road.
2. You create Freedom, and it’s a game changer
When we left home one of our first rules was, NO ALARM CLOCKS. For the first time since we met, our time is our own. We don’t have a schedule to stick to. Sometimes we sleep in late, some days we are up at the crack of dawn. It shouldn’t seem so strange, but we fall asleep when we are tired, and we wake up when we are rested. Goodbye insomnia! The knowing that there is an alarm waiting to go off in a few hours was definitely a source of my sleep deprivation.
No rigid schedule means, we can catch a music festival without asking for time off. Lunch at the beach? Sounds great. We can plan our days however we like. If we want to take Holly on an epic hike we can start when the weather cooperates, and we can keep her comfortable and happy.
If we don’t like the weather, we escape it!
We basically lived like snowbirds this past winter, and really, its was a dream. We woke up to snow our first night in Olympic National Park and decided it was pretty and all, but we were done with it. We made our way south and nestled in near Palm Springs with the toasty warm weather. We watched the weather again to plan our trip to Utah, and got to enjoy the red rocks with a dusting of snow, in t-shirt weather! We even took advantage of a sunny day when we convinced my folks who were visiting to randomly road trip to the Grand Canyon with us. There was some grumbling over how cold it got at night, but again, we got a sunny clear day, and the chance to experience an awe-inspiring spot with mum and dad.
3. It’s the friends you meet along the way…
The happiest benefit of traveling in our van has been the incredible people we meet. I would honestly say that we are a little reclusive, so this one kind of caught us off-guard. Since being on the road we have actually formed some really strong connections with new friends. A big part of it is likely that we are meeting fellow travelers mostly. Travel is a great shared interest. Sitting around a campfire, hearing stories of the places they have been and adventures they have had is pretty much the best.
We have met a variety of people, young, old, families, friends, couples, single folks too. Fellow full timers remind us we aren’t crazy for living this way, and even though we came from totally different places, and backgrounds, we all chose this lifestyle (or maybe it chose us) It is definitely a common denominator that we all wanted more time, and more adventure in our lives.
Our friends Cheryl and Jeff from Sarnia, Ontario, who also sold their place and a lot of their things to full time in a travel trailer. They have documented their adventures ever since on YouTube, we became fast friends when we finally met in Alabama of all places. They hosted us with Cheryl’s mom in Sarnia, Ontario and let us join in on our first family dinner in months.
Dave and Irene whom we idolized on YouTube before taking the leap into the van. We felt nervous and excited to meet them in person in Arizona, even though we rolled in after dark to our remote camp spot, they came out with their pooch Pistol and greeted us with open arms (which is great, because it turns out, I am a hugger) We hit it off instantly, the boys even wore matching clothes. They actually interviewed us for their YouTube channel, they are total naturals, we were awkward as could be. These guys have taught us so much about our tiny home on wheels and inspired us to hit the road. We camped out, shared a campfire, and though we joked about it, I am fairly confident that Logan and Dave will be lifelong hiking buddies, while Irene and I will be the traveling support crew having our own adventures.
We met another famous YouTube couple Joe & Kait when we saw them in the parking lot at the gym in Tuscon. These guys took time out to meet us, and have yummy dinner at Chipotle. We later found out they had sadly lost their fur baby that very same day. They still included us in their day, and they didn’t even know us. These guys are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to van life and RV living, they are also successful digital nomads, and we really can’t wait to meet up with them again.
We also met some traveling friends from Switzerland, two couples, both on very epic and very different adventures.
Claudia and Jann are on a 6-month multi-continent tour, and we met them over a Muskox burger in Tuktoyuktuk. We also met Mirjam and Stefen in Yukon, and they were on a 6 week holiday and chose to see the crazy remote areas of Northern Canada. These guys reminded us again how big the world is, and how little we have seen. We felt like we had known them forever, even though we are from very different worlds. We shared Mirjams first Caesar in Dawson City while enjoying a Cancan show. We shared our first Muktuk experience in Yukon with Jann and Claudia, and had a great campfire with their first S’mores! We will be seeing them next year when we travel to Europe!
This was a long one, but it is really the big one. For people who really keep to ourselves, we feel so incredibly lucky to have met these and other new friends along the way. I honestly feel like it is exceptional for an adult to meet other couples and all make friends, and all genuinely enjoy spending time together. We have learned from all the people we have met along the way, and created some of our favorite memories, and I think this is pretty special.
4. There is a learning curve
They say growth happens outside of your comfort zone…
Have you dumped RV tanks before? Well until my first time, neither had I. My first time was in Oregon in a crazy rainstorm (picture me standing with my feet submerged in water, while the wind was howling and blowing someone’s awning off their rig) It was almost as romantic as it sounds 😉
Parallel parking a 22-foot van on a crowded city street in San Francisco…challenge accepted.
Why have we not had hot water in the van in a month?? Reaching out to new friends, and even manufacturers, and Roadtrek constantly, because, our valves don’t look like everyone else or the ones in the manual.
Trying to understand what lights and indicators mean when something isn’t quite right in the van, thank god for Google and YouTube.
You learn a lot about the places you visit, the history, and the culture. We dive hard into bedtime documentaries and reading about every new place we visit. We want to understand more about what we are seeing, and how things came to be. You are constantly reminded that the world is big, and you are in fact very small, and that’s ok. The places you go and people you meet are inspiring as hell, and that basically fuels the desire to keep seeing more.
And of course, you learn a lot about each other. It’s actually surprising how much you’ll learn, we have been together for almost 8 years, and are happy to report we haven’t run out of things to talk about yet. We didn’t even need driving music for the first few months of being on the road, we just talked. Being together 24/7 in a tiny space is testing, sometimes its downright hard. But you find out so much about each other, you start learning all those isms, you embrace being in a tiny space with nowhere to hide. You even get used to listening to your partner singing along to your driving playlist.
5. You consume less, you get by with less, and you are happy about it!
So I mentioned earlier, that I have always had a hard time parting with things. We were those people who were working hard to fill that new house with things. I was never a girly girl, but my cosmetic department stocked cabinets would have told you otherwise.
We downsized our lives dramatically. Seriously we went from a three bedroom townhouse with a yard and two car garage, to under 100 square feet of living space. We packed all the things we thought we would need into the van, and have made a few purchases along the way. Here is the crazy thing, we still have too much stuff!!
I stressed so much about clothes because this wasn’t packing for a vacation, it was packing for life. But in reality, I wear the same handful of outfits most of the time. I live for leggings, loose tops and things that breath for hiking. I have little use for cotton (it gets smelly and wrinkles), I have an ever growing love for merino wool.
I have had two occasions on this trip where having something a little cuter or fancier might have been nice, such as our nights out in Vegas. My one pair of jeans and only semi-dressy sweater did just fine, and my feet thanked me for walking in my Nano’s instead of crazy high heels.
I actually get frustrated with my clothes cabinet, because even though I have donated and given clothes away, it is still packed with too much, and things I don’t wear. I live in a tiny space! That cabinet is about to get overhauled and reduced big time. The two takeaways I have about clothing are: Less is more, and we do laundry super regularly so I am never going to run out. What the hell was in my walk-in closet back home??? The second is if it wrinkles, and that is a problem, it basically has no business being in a van.
Our kitchen has been downsized too. Again we had all the cool little gadgets, appliances (though I miss my dishwasher) all the dishes (though we never entertained guests for dinner) we had 5 different vessels for brewing coffee! Okay, we still dedicate a lot precious real estate in the van to coffee, but that how we start every day. The rest of our kitchen has continuously changed. We switched to camping dishes and stopped worrying about our plates and bowls rattling around on a washboard road. We each have one spoon, one fork, and one knife. We have one pot, and one pan (and they are almost never used at the same time) we love one pot meals, and doing dishes is not an option, it happens as soon as we are done eating, so again, less is more.
Our next change will be installing a water filter. The biggest and saddest waste for us on this trip has been bottled water. We should be able to drink the water from our holding tank, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea. We have been using bottled water, and refilling with potable water as best we can. Despite our best efforts and our fondness for recycling, this consumption just doesn’t work for us anymore. We also learned that several states do not have recycling in place, and in the U.S and Canada you are charged bottle deposits by the bottle, but many places do not have bottle depots where refunds are offered. It’s not like its a big expense, but saving money is a perk of this lifestyle, those deposits ad up to $4/case sometimes and that is a slow drain on our budget that we are happy to put a stop to!
6. Your relationship is bound to change
When we were working full time, by the time we were both homes we were usually bagged. We were like most people, more than happy to change into comfy clothes, get on the couch and binge watch Netflix. While I am all about the Netflix and chill, we basically ignored each other. All we wanted was more time together, but the time we did get was being wasted.
We are also both pretty strong headed individuals. If I am not happy, there’s a pretty good chance I am not hiding it well. Logan, on the other hand, gets quiet, or so I thought. When we lived in a big house and had hectic schedules, we could hide, hang out in your room, head to the gym, go for a drive or stay late at work (boo). If there was a problem, it could get pushed aside and avoided if we wanted.
For better or worse that has all changed. I will never ever claim to have the perfect relationship, but if you want to practice dealing with your own shit and patience in dealing with someone else’s, van life could be for you. If one of us or both of us is upset or just having an off day, there is nowhere to hide. We will talk about, fight about (oh yeah, it still happens), laugh about it, cry about it, whatever needs to happen, happens. There is really no space in our tiny home for extra drama, so if its something dumb (and really it often is) you learn to let it go. Sitting pouting and staring out the window on a driving day, is a laughable offense, punishable by loud off-key sing-alongs.
Privacy is kind of a thing of the past. We do all the things in that tiny space, so you learn to get comfortable in your own skin in a hurry when there is always someone else around. Having a washroom in the van is amazing, (and I may never own a vehicle without a toilet in it again) but kicking your partner out to use it, is a habit that dies fast and hard.
You also understand the actual value of alone time. We recharge in different ways. Logan has logged 65 KM hiking in the last week (yes, we are okay, I have been there for some, but not all of it). When he needs alone time, he gets outside, and he loves it. I do not take it personally at all if he wants alone time, to check out a trail, go birding, or be alone and read even. I again love to black out the van, and watch a girly movie, or read. My recharge or alone time is my little escape, and Logan is more than happy to oblige. We joke that our van has many “rooms”, if we are stuck inside on a rainy day I may hang out in the bedroom, while Logan is 3 “rooms” away in the “living room”.
The short version here is this, you definitely get a lot closer. You learn patience for dealing with your own shit and your partners. You will have more energy to devote to each other when it’s not being expended on work and everyone else’s drama.
The silver lining in my mind when it comes to this relationship piece is that if you get to stay with someone forever, in the end, it is likely just the two of you. So hopefully that person is your best friend, and someone you can handle being alone with, in the best and worst of times.
7. You become a creator
This seems like an accidental byproduct of traveling. We take thousands of pictures and hours of video of all the places we see.
It seems like everyone we meet is in the same boat. We frequently have retired seniors handing us business cards with their contact info and social media handles.
We had the opportunity to speak with a class about social media and traveling at NSULA. They had great questions and a lot of great feedback for us.
We have met an entire community online of people like us who are traveling full time in vans or RVs. They are creating amazing content and sharing their stories and experiences. Social media can be a little freaky, but this is definitely a positive.
The ability to monetize the content you create has also become a very common thing. It’s no wonder many of these people, who are spending way more time then you think (seriously, it’s actually a lot of work editing videos, and photos and writing posts) will eventually make some money from it too. Digital Nomads are everywhere because they can be. The internet and social media are for more than just scrolling. If working online sounds interesting, check out our post.
We are still finding things we love about vanlife, and we still have a lot to learn. We would definitely recommend it to anyone, maybe not full time, maybe rent a camper for a weekend, or your next holiday, and see where your tiny home on wheels takes you.
We set a monthly budget for ourselves when we were getting ready to hit the road. While we can’t say we nail it every month. We have done pretty well overall. Here are 5 things that have helped us stick to budget on the road:
We set a monthly budget for ourselves when we were getting ready to hit the road. While we can’t say we nail it every month. We have done pretty well overall. Here are 5 things that have helped us stick to our budget on the road:
1. Stock up:
Meal planning and knowing what you need before you head out will go a long way in your budget. Groceries and supplies are often at a premium in remote places.
so if you stock up, it can save you some serious bucks in the long run. Also preparing your own food and coffee is much more budget friendly than grabbing food on the go.
And of course, never go shopping on an empty stomach! Planning ahead keeps random snack purchases to a minimum.
Technically this refers to being out in the “boonies”, but these days it’s usually associated with free camping. We do pay to camp pretty regularly as well, but we have gone a month or more at a time without paying to camp, and that really helped our budget. There are several apps out there like Ioverlander, Wikicamps, Park Advisor and websites like freecampsites.net. These are user fed with comments, photos and info about free spots. You are getting peoples honest opinions, for better or worse. We love BLM land while travelling in the U.S many areas allow free dry camping for up to 14 days. Remember this is typically dry or wild camping so there likely won’t be facilities, pack it in, pack it out. I will mention Walmarts here as well, many do offer free overnight parking for RV’s, I did say many, not all. We see folks ignoring the signs for overnight parking pretty regularly. If you need to overnight at a Walmart or any other business and you aren’t sure about their rules, check with them first (this may save you from a knock on your door in the middle of the night asking you to move)
Are you into exploring National Parks and visiting National Historic Sites? Our America the Beautiful National Parks Pass paid for itself in Utah alone. The cost of admission to most National Parks is around $30. This pass cost us $80. It has more than paid for itself in 22 National Parks, dozens of National Historic Sites, and National Monuments. We bought the Parks Canada Pass as well, and the price tag is a little higher, but with the number of National Parks, and Historic Site visits it has also more than paid for itself.
4. Points Cards and Memberships:
We have points cards for groceries, gas, and drugstores. The points we earn through our regular purchases have gained us free groceries, supplies and gas. We are members at MEC and REI, and have used those memberships for gear along the way. We also stay in RV parks from time to time, so our Membership to Passport America and Good Sam have earned us discounts that more than covered the cost of membership.
The biggest single expense in our travels has been fuel. We have spent more than one third of our budget on gas! So we do the best we can by using the GasBuddy website and app to find the cheapest gas on our trips. At least we can plan ahead and avoid overpaying for gas. Every penny we save adds up when it comes to fuel. Gas prices are often super inconsistent and vary a lot from station to station and town to town. Our second piece in fuel savings is fuel economy. We aim for the sweet spot and use cruise control whenever we can, we have contests to see who is the more “efficient” driver.
If you have tips for saving on the road, we would love to hear them!