Earlier this June, Berty and I went on a road trip down the Pacific Coast living in a van for 10 days. Some highlights included exploring the Oregon Coast, Point Reyes National Seashore, exploring Yosemite, and visiting the Painted Hills. We worked with a new camper van company called Caravan Outfitter, which converts Nissan cargo vans into modern day adventure vans. Perfect for a trip like ours!
Van life for us was busy. If we weren’t taking photos, we were driving to our next destination. We learned a lot about how we travel together and what life would be like if we really were living in a van. Overall it was a fantastic experience. We came out on the other end with fun memories and great respect for people who live like this full time!
9 Lessons We Learned Living In A Van
1. We Didn’t Need As Many Things As We Thought
We’re proud to say we used most of the things we packed. However, there were a few items that we could have easily left at home. We didn’t need things like our water sanitizing pen, hammock, or our extra utensils (one set was enough). Our camping chairs were sorely unused because we weren’t in the same place long enough to hang out in them. If you find yourself on a road trip, consider where you will be and pack accordingly. A trick I use is to pack everything we think we need, and take away a least 5 items. If it’s a luxury, you most likely won’t use it.
2. You Can See A LOT In A Short Amount Of Time
With all your essentials already in the car 24/7, packing and repacking for each destination doesn’t exist. Some days we woke up, crawled into the front seat, and started driving. It’s that easy to just go. On the days we drove 500 miles, it didn’t feel that long considering all the potential stops along the way. In order to make the most out of all this driving time, we mapped out our route, and made sure to stop and see something every 50-100 miles.
3. You Can Never Have Too Much Water
It was essential to almost every part of our journey. We chose to buy a giant pack of water from Costco before the trip. Halfway through, we already cleaned out our supply. Staying hydrated during our trip helped us keep up our energy for long car rides and challenging hikes. We also used water for cooking our meals and cleaning our dishes. Don’t pack the car without it! To save on waste, next time we are going to buy a huge carton of water instead of individual bottles.
4. Our JetBoil Was The MVP
We used it for everything. We made morning coffee, cooked pasta and cup-of-noodle dinners, and cleaned our dishes. If you are going to invest in any type of camping cookware or appliance, this should be the first thing on your list. It’s easy to use and takes up little space in storage.
5. It’s Easy And Convenient Sleeping In A Van
While you may not have all the luxuries of your regular bed, it’s pretty awesome waking up to new scenery every day. The Caravan Free Bird model we used has a full-sized bed in the back, which was a perfect escape after long hiking days. It also came in handy on the nights we didn’t have a camping reservation or scheduled place to sleep. We would find quiet place in a safe part of town, park, lock up, sleep, and be on our way by 6am. It’s also extremely convenient if you want to catch the sunrise in a certain location. Berty and I would frequently wake up as early as 3am, climb into the front seat, and be on the road by 3:15. Easy!
6. We’re In Charge of Our Own Adventure
We had several planned stops during our road trip. However, towards the end, we left it open ended. We decided to tweak a few details here and there, and ended up making a stop in a completely unplanned city. A good thing about living in a van is that you can essentially park it anywhere and sleep for the night. Because we were extremely mobile, all it took was a turn of the steering wheel for a whole new adventure.
7. We Saved Money Making Our Own Meals
Besides the few trips to In-N-Out (how could you not in California??) we made most of our food. We went to Costco and got a huge case of muffins, popcorn, snacks, instant noodles, and water. We also brought packages of ready made tortellini and ravioli from Trader Joe’s. These were easy to prepare and boil with just water. We had a mini fridge in our van, which helped us keep things like milk and eggs cold, too. Making our own meals not only saved us time, but a lot of $$! We decided we would rather use our money to pay for experiences that eating at a restaurant. But that’s just our preference!
8. Budget And Plan For Gas Expenses
We were lucky to be driving around a brand spanking new car, so maintenance wasn’t an issue for us. However, driving 5+ hours each day can really drive up your gas bill. We recommend sitting down before your trip and writing out a realistic budget. This means knowing how many days you’ll be gone, how far you will drive, and the average gas prices in your area. Budget a little extra for side trips! Keep this money in an envelope or with a responsible friend. When you plan for this necessary expense beforehand, you’ll less likely be stranded with no money!
9. It’s Super Easy To Connect With Other Road Trippers
Along our route, we kept seeing the same group over and over again. Turns out, they were making a lot of the same stops as us! We quickly connected on Instagram and met up a few more times throughout the week. Meeting them was really natural and easy because we understood each other’s van lifestyle. There was another encounter with a couple driving a van – we stopped on a Highway 1 pullout to eat dinner, and this couple was doing exactly the same thing! Meeting others living in a van was easy because we could relate to the (although temporary, for us) nomadic lifestyle. If you love making new friends, van life is definitely for you!
Have you ever experienced traveling / living in a van? Where did you go? What lessons did you learn? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
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