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.
A reminder that travel is a privilege and we have a responsibility to be put others first and pay attention.
These are uncertain times. Where should we go? What will the government do next? Will borders close? Will we have enough food and water? How will people respond and react to the unknown? Will our parents & grandparents be ok? Our family who work in police, hospitals and as emergency responders, are they safe? In this season of our lives, we are privileged to have choices. We do not have jobs and children to consider. We have the ability to self isolate in our van sure, but we still need food and gas… I am torn about what to post and what to say, I hope your social media is staying a positive place through all this. We don’t feel panic but we feel a heavy sense of responsibility right now. In being good neighbors, good citizens of the world, we have a responsibility to listen to legitimate sources like the WHO and protect ourselves and protect others. A big message has been limit unnecessary travel…and for most of us on the road, in the van life and rvlife community…
listen up that’s us…
Stay put, this might seem like a great time for a trip to wherever…it’s not. Your travels are not more important than the communities you touch along the way. This is an inconvenience to us, we’re missing out sure, but it’s so much more to so many others. Our hearts go out to everyone, people are being impacted physically, emotionally and financially, and we owe it to them to behave responsibly. Traveling is a luxury and a privilege, as part of the travel and van life communities I don’t want to spread fear, this serves no one, I want to spread the idea that, if this all amounts to nothing, you have lost very little by staying still and paying attention right now. You can use this time to catch up, rest, save money, learn something new, call your grandparents. It doesn’t matter what side of this you are on, hopefully, this all blows over and the decisions were overkill but in the meantime friends. Slow down, lay low, wash your hands and remember this isn’t just about you. Our family pretty much unanimously agrees that they want us back in Canada, and we are on board for that. So instead of finishing up our time in the south with epic adventures, we are finishing up with long driving days.
We will also self isolate for 14 days when we get back as recommended by health authorities in Canada.
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.
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 😊
January is wrapping up, and we are getting ready for a fresh start in February!
January is wrapping up, and we are getting ready for a fresh start in February!
We haven’t posted much since we arrived in Ontario, it has been tough.
We have had the van in storage for over a month, and it’s been the strangest thing.
It was a big shift adapting to living in our tiny space, and finding our flow….it was equally strange readapting to living back in a condo.
We were lucky when we headed out this way that a couple who lives in the same building as Logan’s dad offered to sublet their condo to us while we were here, and they wintered in Florida.
The concept of having more than one room, doors to close, light switches to flip…all a little foreign to us.
Some luxuries we had forgotten…. unlimited hot water and water pressure for showers, even a hot bath… a dishwasher (we only used it twice the entire time we were here) we are totally programmed to wash dishes by hand as we use them. Fluffy towels that have space to dry. A full kitchen, with a stove top and oven! A huge fridge and freezer. Being able to take our time, hang up our clothes in a closet and not have to worry about packing up again the next day…
Luxuries aside, we have missed the road. We are conflicted, there’s something nice about the structure and ease of living back in a condo, but we also feel trapped. We went from living in our campervan, to not even have a vehicle to drive.
We had family who let us borrow their vehicles for a couple days here and there, and even paid to rent vehicles to allow us to do errands, grocery shop, and generally get out.
It’s been a crazy experience being here. We remind ourselves constantly that we were here to spend time with Logan’s dad. And we did, we got about 5 weeks with him before he passed. That time is invaluable and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It’s been an emotional, exhausting, devastating and draining time. It was expensive, and just all around tough. But those negatives are overshadowed by the time Logan got with his dad when he was still here. The time we spent with his wife’s family, hours and days of round the clock hospital time.
The time we got to spend with the girls, and our niece, this experience created a closer bond. While we wish it was under better circumstances, we are eternally grateful to Logan’s dad for bringing us all together.
So now we try to start to move forward. We have a lot of great things to look forward to this year. It’s hard to be excited about things, but we are trying.
We are going to be getting the van ready to hit the road to try to catch some sunshine. We have friends who are traveling in the southern U.S. and we can’t wait to meet up with them.
We booked our flights to Ireland, making plans for my sister’s wedding. We are going to be renting a campervan for part of the trip too!
We will be heading to the East Coast of Canada for the summer and reaching some pretty remote and stunning places.
We have been out of commission for a while…and we are excited to get back on the road and share our adventures.
What are you looking forward to this year???
P.S. We have been doing some Amazon shopping for the van, and the trip to Ireland, and I will put together a short post with those items soon.
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.
Choosing a Van for your tiny home on wheels is a BIG decision. We are introducing you to our Roadtrek Zion, sharing all the details on our first Van Life home, features, prebuild vs. custom, and why Roadtrek.
We wanted to introduce you to our van and talk a little about choosing a van, and how we decided on her!
We are not sponsored or endorsed by Roadtrek, but we are going to be talking a lot about them here.
We met our van in Chilliwack, BC at O’Connor RV. We had been daydreaming about vans and researching vans, and really binging on vanlife YouTube videos to see what was out there and what it was like.
We love all the custom van builds out there, honestly, they are gorgeous and mostly what got us thinking about van dwelling in the first place. That being said neither of us is particularly handy or mechanically inclined so building out our own van didn’t seem like the right fit.
Our initial idea was a Volkswagon Rialta. we liked that they were a little roomier than a Westfalia, and had a kitchen and wet bath. Mechanical issues, costs, and standing room for Logan ended up being the main reasons we kept up our search.
We found a used Roadtrek 210 Popular online and really liked the look and features of it. So we figured going and seeing one couldn’t hurt. We drove 2.5 hours to O’Connor and went window shopping. Holy cow, RVs are insane, the dealership had everything from vans, to little $5000 trailers, all the way up to the massive half million dollar busses that are arguably nicer than any house we will ever own (leather furniture, a bar, a fireplace, two TVs) really. If you have never gone and walked around and checked out RVs it’s actually a really fun experience.
Back to the vans. We still knew very little about Roadtrek at this point. We saw the Popular models on Chevy chassis. We also got to check out the E-trek, and Adventurous models on the Mercedes chassis.
When you order a new Roadtrek you chose the chassis, and then the features to be included in your van. We did not order our van, so there are definitely things we would change. But the van was 2 years old but never owned so we were able to get a great deal on it.
When we found our Zion we loved it almost instantly.
Let’s start with the exterior the granite metallic paint job was actually our favorite of the available colors. (Though now we would be curious for the temperature to see how a white or silver van compares).
The ProMaster 3500 has a 3.6L, gas V6 engine, with front wheel drive. We may consider diesel and 4×4 in the future but again the base cost was a big factor in choosing a van. Another thing we considered and appreciate, is that we can take this van to any Dodge dealership so, along the way, we have never had an issue getting in for service. Mechanical issues are a headache, but in our minds easier to negotiate than with say a Mercedes.
The side sliding door has a Thule power step that can be locked out when we camp, otherwise it slides out when the door is opened.
There is a backup camera which is helpful. We had never used one before so it took some getting used to. We typically leave our rear windows covered so this is definitely handy.
Our van had the Continental Package. Our spare tire is hitch mounted on the rear of the van. For access to the spare this is great, but given the option, we would choose the standard under mounted spare tire. We have to lower the spare tire to access the rear driver side door. It’s a double-edged sword, we feel like its a little extra security and a buffer to protect our bumper…but it’s a hassle loading and unloading.
We have a full sized 12′ power awning. We didn’t use this much at first but now we use it often. It gives us shade on the passenger side of the van which really helps with temperature control. Easy to set up and take down. When it comes to being stealthy, awnings and air conditioners are a dead giveaway that its a camper van. But we would keep the awning its been really useful.
There is a roof mounted 11,000 BTU Dometic air conditioner. We have a love-hate relationship with this. One it puts the height restriction of the van over 9’5. Its noisy as all get out and it is right above the bed, so using it is not always fun, and at night it’s hard to ignore the sound. The draw of the ac will kill our fully charged battery in an hour. We have been in some crazy hot spots like Palm Springs, or Key West in Florida where we really needed the ac to help keep the van livable for us and Holly. We have the ability to plug in if we need to run the ac a lot.
We have Roadtreks proprietary Ecotrek power module. This now includes 2, 200 amp lithium batteries mounted under the van (there is a lot of debate in Roadtrek land about AGM vs Lithium.) We started out with one battery and Roadtrek upgraded us to two. We are almost always off-grid, so we rarely plugin, and have rarely had any issues managing our power.
We have a 280amp under the hood generator. This is essentially like a second alternator that allows us to charge our house batteries automatically when we drive.
The van has full plumbing, so we have a 36.5-gallon fresh water tank, a 23.5-gallon gray tank, and a 9.6-gallon black tank. Filling fresh water is easy, the intake is just inside the driver side door. We can also connect to city water through a valve on the rear passenger side of the van (we have never needed to).
There is a 25L7 gallon propane tank mounted under the rear of the van. We have put propane in 3 times in 10 months and we have never run out of propane. (This feeds, hot water, stove, and furnace).
We also have our outdoor shower. We have actually only used this twice, but it’s definitely handy to have.
Since we have a black tank the van comes equipped with a 12V macerator sewage dump as well as gravity dump. We have always used the macerator, we are able to dump our tanks and hit the road in about 3 minutes. We have had the cover for this area replaced twice. We aren’t sure what the answer is, but hopefully, we can find a more durable solution.
We have 2, 100-watt solar panels on the roof. This is actually only enough power to trickle charge our battery management system, so we would love to upgrade this, to power more than our batteries. Roadtreks can come with significantly more solar when you order them.
Stepping into our van the standing room is listed at 6’2 but Logan is able to stand upright with his head grazing the ceiling so this was a pretty good physical fit for us.
The cabinets are oak and the floors are laminate in ebony, and countertops are granite.
The front chairs swivel so we use the passenger seat facing back pretty much any time we are parked. There is a small table that can be installed between these seats. Though we have only used it once.
Our control panel sits right above the sliding door, we can monitor our batteries, tanks (though they are never accurate), our inverter, patio lights, and awning are all controlled here as well.
There are 6 USB ports, 6 12V DC outlets, and 8 110V outlets throughout the van.
We have a fully enclosed bathroom. Its tiny, but it works for us. Having your own toilet when traveling is so nice (no more nasty outhouses). We do use the shower. We are always surprised to hear that some people don’t but to each their own. We try to limit our water use when we are off-grid, but being able to wash off after a long hike and not going to bed dirty and sweaty is a treat. We do have wipes, but nothing beats soap and water.
Our Fantastic Fan is probably our most used appliance. It is remote control operated and has a rain sensor. This fan creates awesome airflow to help keep the van cool, and also works as our exhaust fan for cooking and showering.
Our kitchen includes a small sink, we don’t love the fold-down faucet but it allows more prep space for us to cover the sink, there is a fold up counter to extend the kitchen space. Stainless steel backsplash so cleanup is easy. There is also a 2 burner propane stove. Given the way our battery system works, I am glad to have propane vs induction. We have never run out of propane or had any issues with the stove. Though we may be interested in buying a small induction unit to try.
The storage capacity in our van is actually huge. Roadtrek did a good job of using the space well. We have food and kitchen supplies stored in the two cabinets under the sink and stove (and we stock so much food like we are Costco shoppers). The slide-out pantry is great, though we did have an extra latch installed to secure it so it doesn’t pop open while we’re driving. The large drawer under the fridge has been a pots and pans drawer, a clothes drawer, and now its an everything drawer (laptop, Dyson, first aid, sunscreen, towels, doggy bags, you name it) our closet is also used for food and coffee brewer storage.
Our fridge was another selling feature, it’s a 5 cubic foot NoreCold fridge which is pretty big by van standards (food storage is a biggy for us). We like that it sits high in the van, so we can see what’s in it, and don’t have to bend down to grab things from it. The fridge runs on 11012v so it requires the battery to operate. There is a small icebox, we would love more freezer space but we make the most of it!
Fridge cleaning day…
We have a 16000 BTU Suburban furnace with a programmable thermostat. We have used this on a few cold nights and it’s worked pretty well to keep us comfortable.
The valves for our water are tucked in a small cabinet under the fridge. We have a Girard hot water on demand system. There are some good and some bad to it. There is no reservoir like in other water heaters, so less space. It’s a heat exchanger, so you have to pass a lot of water through to get the hot water (not great when you are trying to conserve water and gray tank space).
Our 2000 watt Microgreen inverter is stored in a cabinet under the rear driver side bench seat. This allows us to run our 12V appliances and the ac.
The rear cabinets are also pretty spacious they run all the way to the rear of the van. We store all our clothes in the rear cabinets and we have a lot of clothes!! Our solar control panel is stashed up here. We also use one cabinet as an electrical supplies cabinet. Our remotes, Weboost Drive 4G X, and our antenna receiver for the tv is in here.
Our van came with a Samsung 24″ flat screen tv on a swivel mount as well as a Panasonic blue ray player. We mostly use our own external hard drive for movies, or we stream Netflix.
Our lighting in the van is LED, each light is controlled separately like a push button.
All of the window coverings and upholstery come standard in the van. It would be nice to have more options to make them a little cuter. That being said we visited the factory we met the man who makes most of it, and he does very good work. We may eventually do some DIY projects to make it feel a little more “us” in here, but really we don’t mind black and gray.
Lastly our bed. So our King sized bed is actually three pieces. The Zion comes in different configurations. Ours had the front facing power sofa (also two more seatbelts so passengers are possible). The front-facing sofa slides flat, and the two seats easily transition to cushions for the bed. The wooden panel that is used to bridge the gap under the bed is actually not big enough (we feel the hole in the middle or a sag at the foot of the bed). We will be cutting a new piece to fit it properly. We also have a 3-inch memory foam topper that we will be replacing. We leave our bed down like a bed all the time. There is ample storage under the bed, but it requires raising the bed to access it. If we were choosing or building custom, we would likely have a fixed bed and have it raised to make access easier.
So why Roadtrek?
This a Canadian based company, their factory is in Kitchener, Ontario. They have been building Class B campervans for decades.
Roadtrek offers a pretty amazing 6-year transferrable warranty. This covers all the RV components. This warranty has already replaced a cabinet, our fantastic fan motor, a macerator dump hose, and more.
Roadtreks proprietary Battery Management System is definitely great, but if you do run into problems, you need someone certified to fix it. There is a shortage of great RV repair technicians, and we were lucky enough to find one of the best in servicing Roadtreks, but not everyone is so lucky. Turn around time and back and forth with the factory leaves a lot of owners frustrated. That being said if you can book in at the factory in Kitchener, the service is incredible.
Customization is not what they are about. You have a lot of options to chose from when you order a new Roadtrek, but they are not in the business of customizing. With the growing popularity of vanlife, Class B vans, and Roadtreks in general that factory is pumping out more vans than ever. They won’t be adding in features just for you. There are the standards that they offer, and that’s it.
The price tag is high. The website lists the base MSP for a new Zion at $96,022 USD. Financing options are available at most dealerships, which is good because most people don’t have this kind of cash. These vans really are gorgeous and are built well. We think the higher price has been worth it for us so far with the warranty alone.
In our van specifically, the low clearance is the price we pay for the holding tanks, plumbing, propane, and batteries. Having a van with higher clearance would be nice for the kind of traveling we do. But we have made it work.
If you have any questions about our van or van life just let us know!