Van Life FAQ’s: The Most Commonly Asked Questions About Van Life & RV Life

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?

Vanlife FAQ's

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?

van life realities

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?

van life freedom

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?

van life destinations

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.

van life northwest territories

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.

Email us: lifeasweroamit@gmail.com

Or comment below👇

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Van Life Travels: An update and reminder during uncertain times surrounding the Coronavirus

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.

Sending Love from the road,

Kira, Logan & Holly🐾

Follow us on Instagram for updates

The Realities Of #Vanlife Chapter 1: Tideline To Alpine

The realities of life on the road from full time travelers

The first guest in our series on the realities of van life from full time travelers is an old friend from before life on the road.

Amanda has been living this lifestyle for over 6 years. She is an avid through hiker and inspiring solo female traveler.

Follow her journey:
IG: @tidelinetoalpine

Website/Blog: www.tidelinetoalpine.com

Reminiscing on many years of living in a van with my dog Frank it has become clear that the common perception of #vanlife often misses the truly best thing about it. As much as I enjoy the travel and gorgeous places I call home, the interesting community, and independence of it there is something even better. Free Time. By choosing to live a simple, low cost lifestyle I have the freedom to choose to keep my time for myself instead of trading it for a wage. Having more free time than I always know what to do with means I can focus on personal growth, creative pursuits, and spend ample time with loves ones. For me this is far better than the pretty views and open roads (which are also great).

On the flip side there are endless little struggles that rarely make their way onto social media. Dealing with moisture, mechanical problems, and bad weather are all less than ideal, but manageable with lots of free time. On the road there is nothing that irritated me more than waiting for late mail to arrive when I want to leave a town. This has happened many times and I can’t stand it. The days or sometimes weeks drag on, and I feel helpless living at the mercy of the postal system.

There is a lot about vanlife both good and bad that I was not expecting when I handed in my last apartment keys, but one thing stands out most. Over the 6 years I have lived in a van I have watched as more, and more places get red listed (meaning you can no longer park there overnight). Each year there are less options, and more newcomers who don’t yet understand the consequences of their actions on the road. So, for those who are entering vanlife please respect the places you call home, respect locals, and always practice Leave No Trace practices. Try to leave spots better than when you arrived, and be very discreet when stealth camping (or if it’s unclear whether or not you can be there). Conduct yourself as if you will be living in a van for the rest of your life, and as if you will return to each place you stay. We will all have a easier time enjoying the good things about vanlife if we are responsible as a community. And remember, it only costs as much as you decide. For me it’s not about the van, it’s about what living in a van allows me to to do.

The Realities Of #Vanlife Chapter 2: Carey On Vagabond

The Realities Of #Vanlife Chapter 2: Featuring Carey On Vagabond

Chapter 2 of The Realities of #Vanlife features our good friends Irene, Dave, and of course their girl Pistol. These three were our biggest inspiration when deciding to hit the road. They have been full time for 3 years and are currently finishing their new van build!

You can check them out for amazing vanlife content and resources

IG @Careyonvagabond

https://www.careyonvagabond.com/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeM0xEsKuci2uIuK6Vi7fmQ

Vanlife Resources fulltime travel

When people find out we live and travel full time in our van the reactions are varied and so are the questions. Some find it bizarre but more often than not people are intrigued and want to learn more. We should sit down sometime and put together a list of our most commonly asked questions and our answers. When we do we will put that on our website.

Vanlife Resources Realities of #vanlife

One of the most common questions we are asked is what is our favorite and least favorite thing about van life.

There are definitely things we love and don’t love about it but we are happy to report that the things we love far outnumber the things we don’t.

One thing we have to say before we talk about what we like and dislike is that there are many ways to live and travel in a van. None of which are right or wrong. Each of us has to find our own way and live the life that works for us.

The thing we love most about our life is the freedom we have. The freedom to live when and where we want. To travel as little or as far as we want. To chase the weather we like. To find new adventures and see something new nearly every day. Meeting amazing people everywhere we go that often become lifelong friends. Meeting up with these friends again all over the continent, planned or not.

The thing we like least about this life is leaving our family and friends behind in our hometown. We’ve found the best way to deal with this is to not take time with family and friends for granted. When we lived near family we would make plans together and something would often come up and there would “always be tomorrow.” Life’s just to short to live or think this way.

In the end, we had to find a way to balance all the things important to us in life and just do the best we can.

Full time Resources of #vanlife carey on vegabond

It’s hard to give advice to someone considering van life since there are so many ways to approach it and everyone likes something different. I guess I would say be flexible because sometimes things won’t go as planned. We have learned to roll with it and look at each day as a new adventure. Even after three years of full-time van life, we are still learning new things every day.

To Continue The Realities of #vanlife series check out Chapter 3 here!

The Realities Of #Vanlife Chapter 4: Drifter Journey

Chapter 4 in our Series The Realities Of #vanlife features our friends Jess & Greg who have been full time since 2018!

Our friends Jess and Greg have been on the road fulltime since 2018! They balance working and freedom and have been sharing realities in Vanlife since the get go! We have included links back to a couple of great articles they have written. Be sure to check them out and go follow their journey:

IG@Drifter.Journey

www.drifterjourney.com

When it all started, we wanted to live in a van so that we could travel and do more things. We wanted to hike and bike new trails, soak in new hot springs, eat more tacos, check out new National Parks, you get the idea. Being able to do all of those things, and more, is definitely one of our favorite things about vanlife. In the last year, we’ve been all over the United States, and several other countries as well. We finally visited several places on our bucket list including New Zealand and we couldn’t be more thrilled about our adventures to come.
But there’s so much more to it than that. Living in a van and traveling has given us the opportunity to join a family of nomads that we didn’t even know existed. When we struck out on the open road, we had no idea that we would meet so many amazing people and end up with lifelong friends and travel partners.

Caravanning with other nomads is a really fun way to travel and we enjoy spending time with other people that have a similar take on life. We finally found a community that “gets us.” Not only do we have a nomad family, but we’ve also found a ton of people to mountain bike, climb, hike, and camp with!
The absolute freedom that we experience while living in a van is, by far, our favorite thing about this lifestyle. Since our living expenses are minimal, we don’t have the financial burdens that we used to have. Without a mortgage or a stationary job, we have the freedom to travel and do as we please. Being able to make choices for our own happiness rather than our obligations is something that we’re incredibly grateful for. It’s a characteristic of this lifestyle that we didn’t expect, but has become very important to us.

On the other hand, vanlife isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. We’ve written an entire post about the Real Worst Things About Vanlife. The short answer to that question varies by the day. It depends on the challenge we’re up against that feels insurmountable at the time. For us, there’s not one thing that bothers us all of the time, but there are a few things that tend to come up often.

One of the worst things that happens regardless of where we are is clutter. Keeping the van tidy is usually a lower priority than adventuring, so it can get out of control quickly if we don’t stay on top of it. The unfortunate nature of living in such a small space with two people and all of our gear is that sometimes there isn’t a place for everything. As much as we wish we could keep the van clean all of the time, it’s just not realistic. There are times when the clutter causes us anxiety and frustration. Mostly because we have a pile of stuff that gets shuffled all over the van throughout the day because it’s in the way. A tidy home is a happy home!

In addition to that, finding a level camping spot can be a chore. Just when we’ve found a good camp site, it will take us another 10 minutes to find a level spot. Even worse, sometimes we have to break out the leveling blocks and try to level the van manually. We know it sounds like a petty thing to be annoyed with, but we’re usually tired and hungry when we’re looking for camp. We both need shirts that say, “I’m sorry for the things I said when we were setting up camp!”

In the end, there’s so much more to vanlife than this short list. Vanlife is a lifestyle. Nomadic, minimalism is a movement. It’s a way to choose your own path and experience the freedom and happiness that comes with it. There are highs and lows, both of which feel extreme compared to the spectrum of “normal” life. The best experiences always outweigh the worst and we are more resilient for it. We’ve put together some Advice for Couples New to Vanlife for Go-Van that will help any couples who are looking to vanlife together.
Our advice for aspiring vanlifers is to get used to spontaneity and lack of control. Finding a routine might be difficult, but that’s part of the journey. You will be challenged, but you will grow. It’s true that vanlife or nomadic living isn’t for everyone. It requires sacrifice and hard work to maintain. But for those that are drawn to it, it can be the most rewarding life imaginable.

Looking for more tips and tales from real full time vanlifers get the here!

The Best Resources For Finding Free Camping

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!

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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.

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**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.

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The downside:
Being user fed, it doesn’t include everything only places other users have been and contributed the information.

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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.

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BLM/ National Forests /Wildlife Management/ LTVA (U.S.A).

These are a few of our favorite things! Public lands are one of the best ideas ever! These options are:
-typically free
-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

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Click Here for BLM

For National Forests Click Here

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Crown Land/ Forestry and Recreation Land in Canada

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.

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BC AB SK MB ON QC NB PEI NS NL YK

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Walmart/Cracker Barrel/Cabellas/Bass Pro Shop

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!!

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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.

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**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.

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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).

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Freecampsites.net

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.

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Park Advisor

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.

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Campendium

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.

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Memberships We Use

After 2 years on the road, we have tried a few things, here are the programs we use.

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Passport America

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

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Boondockers Welcome

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

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Harvest Host

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!

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We hope these resources for finding free camping help you plan your next trip!

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If you’re interested in wild camping we wrote about our Epic Trip in the True North to the Arctic Ocean here

The Best Money-Saving Apps For Life On The Road

Van Life Resources ~ The best money saving apps for fulltime travelers

Here are some of the best money-saving apps and cash back programs we use while traveling full-time!

Definitely use them whether you travel or not these money-saving apps are useful for everyone

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Gas Buddy:

This app provides current fuel prices at gas stations in Canada and the U.S. so you can plan ahead and avoid paying top dollar. American users are also eligible for discounts and free fuel offers!

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Get Upside

Fuel is one of our biggest expenses after 2 years on the road and 90,000kms (almost 56,000 miles). Every penny we can save in fuel adds up! Get Upside offers cash back that can be deposited to your PayPal account. The app is user-friendly and allows you to chose between different stations and different fuel grades. Just chose an offer, fill your tank, and snap a picture of your receipt! Earn an extra $0.15/gallon bonus when you sign up with our referral code: A2KEH

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Shell Fuel Rewards

This one’s a no brainer! Shell isn’t always the cheapest station, but we have come to rely on them. They are found from coast to coast, so it takes the guesswork out of finding fuel. The rewards program starts you off at $0.05/gallon discount at all Shell stations. You don’t need to carry a card you can use your phone number! Their app is also straight forward and easy to use, it also makes tracking your fuel spending easy. You can also earn extra fuel discounts when you make in-store purchases (if it’s a snack and fuel stop you could easily triple your savings!) Sign up here and Never Pay Full Price For Fuel again!

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Rakuten/Ebates

We use the American and Canadian versions of this cash back program. Hello online shoppers, this app is for you! Cash back offers on everything you buy online! From your favorite housewares stores, to shops like Sephora, save money planning your next trip, flight deals, hotels, car rentals ( we cleaned up booking our Ireland trip in 2019!) and of course Amazon !! If you are traveling or building out a van you are likely doing a lot of your shopping on Amazon so start earning cash back on the stuff you are buying anyway! Easy to use just head over to the app, find your store and you will be linked directly to their site (your purchases are still from the store, this program just tracks the purchase and gets you cash back! They have also started offering some instore offers, so honestly, there’s money to be saved any time you shop.
You can get a $10 bonus cash back for signing up when you use our affiliate links!

U.S.A shoppers click here

Canadian shoppers click here

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Fetch Rewards

This user-friendly app offers a super simple rewards program! Scan receipts from grocery purchases to earn reward points. Then redeem your points for great stuff like gift cards and prepaid credit cards!! Earn 2000 bonus reward points when you use our referral code: 3WURW

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Ibotta
We use this cashback app for groceries, but they have offers on a lot of different stores and branded items. Easy to use just check the app for offers before you shop, scan your receipt and start earning cashback! Get started by clicking here!

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Thanks for checking out these money-saving apps, never leave money on the table, happy savings to you!!!

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We also wrote about ways to Stick To Your Budget While On The Road click here to check it out!

Renting A Car In Ireland ~ Resources For Planning Your Trip

Renting a car for your visit to Ireland? We share our experiences based on our travels in 2019 to help make it easier for you!

Renting a car in Ireland and Tips for planning your trip!

Car rentals are a whole other process in the Republic of Ireland. We had a really hard time finding up to date information online when we were planning our trip. The general consensus seemed to be the insurance is expensive, and the roads are narrow. We also had a tough time getting accurate information from the rental companies themselves. Calling their customer service often lead to someone in North America who knew as much or less than we did.

Why am I sharing this?

If you are anything like me arriving jetlagged in a new country on no sleep doesn’t prepare you for the car rental line-ups. The general confusion and being inundated with questions and options at the counter. There is enough to focus on, like driving on the left hand side in a manual transmission. Showing up with your license and credit card and getting the hell out of there and finding caffeine and a warm shower is more ideal. So I have put together information from my experiences and research as of 2019.

Lets start with the lingo:

CDW

Collision Damage Waiver is the basic insurance that is required for car rentals in Ireland (covers the car in an accident, not the driver), the cost varies from about €7/day and up in to the €20 range on typical rentals.

Excess

Excess is essentially a deductible for the CDW insurance and is held in the form of a deposit. With basic CDW the excess deposit was around €2000.

To lower this Excess deposit you can chose to pay non refundable amounts to ‘Reduce your Excess’.

This is pricey for sure, and there is really only one work around.
Rental companies will not accept third party insurance in lieu of the CDW. However you can purchase third party to get reimbursed if you end up making a claim. The car rental company won’t deal with them for you. They will accept letters confirming insurance through your major credit card. This letter has to clearly state that you have coverage in the Republic of Ireland. After confirming with the insurance department at Visa I had no problems getting this letter.

Here is where is gets interesting

Most of the rental companies will accept this letter. However, even with this letter they require a refundable deposit of €5000 to decline the CDW they are selling. The deposit of €5000 held on that same credit card that has the letter, and is paying in full for the rental. That seems to be the going rate after checking with a several rental companies. If you go this route make sure you have enough space on that credit card to cover: the full cost of the rental, extra deposits, and the €5000 hold.

A note about reducing your Excess:

We chose this route with our campervan rental, and it seemed like a good idea. We paid €600 to reduce our excess deposit to €2000.. great right? Stay with me here… so now I have paid €600 non-refundable to lower my deposit. In the event of an accident the rental company will still keep the necessary funds up to the total excess deposit. So if there was €600 damage (say a windshield) they keep that from your excess deposit….at this point I would be out €1200 for €600 in damage.

So if you have the room on your credit card or can have your limit increased for your trip…it actually costs you less in the long run even if the worst should happen and you have to make a claim.

What about your insurance back home?

I went back in forth with ICBC who I will say is not the best, I also contacted other private insurers. It was like I was speaking another language when asking about insurance to drive in the Republic of Ireland….
In the instance of the camper van rental, a rental agent tried to tell me not to worry. If the there were any damage costs, I could always claim back that money with my own insurance back home….not the case. Also that “rental insurance” on your credit card needs to be understood clearly, Visa’s coverage does not include RVs, large passenger vans, cargo vans, or luxury vehicles. So ask those questions very specifically when you are inquiring about insurance.

Since our experience was different with 4 vehicles and three rental companies, let’s recap. The two cheapest options we found at the time of our trip: Easyrent, and Budget Rentals.

Budget Car Rentals

We had a €2000 excess deposit held on my Mastercard. This did not show up as a payment so no conversion fees were applied…and over the course of 21 day rental the funds were still accessible on my card. The shuttle service from the airport was simple and direct. The checkout was quick (though they do to try to sell you more insurance at the time of rental, the basic CDW does not cover windshields, mirrors or tires, and even some of the higher tiers didn’t include them)

The Experience:

There was no walk through, we were given a carbon slip with markings of existing issues with the car, and told to go check it out on our own and just take pictures of any other issues….our page had three issues marked to start, we took about 40 pictures and a walk around video just in case. We had two vehicles from Budget and the normal state seems to be scratches on the sides, hubcaps, and mirrors. (Chalk it up to alot of first time left hand drivers on Irelands very very narrow roads).

The return process was equally easy. We showed up they did a walk through and we were on the shuttle in minutes. They were never really clear on what kind of damage they look for (so I documented every little scuff just in case)

Our second vehicle with Budget was an easy exchange. We were in Dublin (and flew to Scotland for three days) the little hatch back we received was basic, and making alot rattling noises. I called budget, and asked about exchanging the vehicle, they were happy to oblige. I also asked if I could keep the vehicle parked in their secured lot over the weekend as it wouldn’t be in use (saved me doing two separate rentals with two deposits, also saved me parking costs).

Upon pick up the process was the same, a self guided walk around, pictures of all the scuffs and scratches, and we were on our way in a small s.u.v. The return was just as smooth the second time, a quick walk through and they called us a cab to our next destination.

Easyrent

We booked this through carrentals.ie and learned a couple of good though annoying lessons. When we arrived at the offsite pickup/drop off location the office was full and every customer had the same issue….”I bought Excess Reduction when I booked online, but now at the counter Easyrent is still taking the €2000euro hold.” We took a chance and bought the excess reduction when we booked as this was just for one day it seemed simple, we were flying out the next day and wouldn’t leave with a huge hold in our credit card. We were wrong.

If you are booking with a travel site (think carrentals.com, Expedia.com or Booking.com), you are not buying ‘their’ insurance. You are buying third party, and that means if you need it, you have to claim any incidentals back through this other company….this does NOT lower any of the fees or deposits with the actual rental company, it actually has nothing to do with the rental company.

The deposit they held at Easyrent went through as a charge on my card and I was told it could take up to 6 weeks to reverse it after I returned the rental. The girl at the counter was not friendly and her response to my concerns as “you should read more clearly next time”. This hole process was never communicated clearly, and not just to us as was obvious from the crowd of stressed out renters pleading with their credit card companies and reservation companies to help them….

So what’s a traveller to do?

Price compare for sure, talk to your insurance and credit card providers but there’s more…

This is a sneaky little tip:

When searching online, search the “.ie” sites.

Budget.ie

Enterprise.ie

Europcar.ie

sixt.ie

thrifty.ie

avis.ie

The .ie sites are the Ireland domains and they price differently. They build the CDW into the cost of the rental automatically and it is less expensive.

Here is our example:

When we rented through Budget our rental cost ended up being under €400 for 21 days (our Excess deposit was €2000, + €100 for a fuel deposit). After hours on the phone and online, this was a pretty great deal!

My parents rental was booked using Aeroplan points, their options were to buy CDW from the rental company, decline it and leave the €5000 Excess deposit, or pay to reduce…..they paid over €400 to have full coverage on their car, their rental was for a week!

When calling, find the toll free number for their Ireland customer service or at minimum a European customer service. The most accurate information for renting a car in Ireland is from the location directly. (Speaking with a 1-800 agent from more than one company actually led to even more confusion as they don’t always actually know the policies for Ireland)

All in all the rental costs in Ireland were actually very reasonable (probably cheaper than home). Preparing for the deposits and holds is important, and unavoidable without buying insurance right from the rental company, so plan ahead to avoid being caught off guard at the counter. Decide what kind of coverage feels right for you.

One more suggestion is to use Ebates/Rakuten when booking your tip whenever you can. We earned hundreds of dollars in cashback when we booked our trip. Check out Rakuten/Ebates and other money-saving programs for travel here.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for renting a car in Ireland? Please share your experience with us!

Planning Your Visit To Big Bend National Park In Texas

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.

Big Bend National Park Van Life Travel Resources

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 National Park Van Life Travel Resources

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!

The Window

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.

Visit Big Bend National Park

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.

Visit Big Bend National Park Travel Girls

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.

Star Gaze
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.

Stock image

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.

Visit Big Bend National Park Van Life

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.

Cottonwood Campground

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.

Backcountry Spaces

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.

Visit 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.

Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail

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.

Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail van life dog

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.

Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail Birding, Free Camping,  Vanlife

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.

Birding, Louisiana, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife

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.

Birding, Louisiana, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife

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.

Birding, Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife

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.

Birding, Louisiana, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife

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 them here

Birding, Louisiana, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife

Also, this was the first time we saw warnings in the south for Bears!

Lorraine Park

We discovered that there is a Parish Park system that is made up of small parks with limited sites for RVs and campers.

Birding, Louisiana, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife, Travelling with pets

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.

Birding, Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife, travelling with pets

Holly Beach

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.

Beach Camping, Louisiana ~ Off The Beaten Trail, Travel Tips, Free Camping,Wildlife Refuge, Vanlife, traveling with pets

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!