Site icon Common Sense and Ramblings In America

The Making And Life Of A World Traveler: Well Almost–Chapter Fourteen–Van Travel

I know one thing, vans have come a long way. The first van I road in was my cousin Gary’s van. I thought it was the coolest thing with all its leather upholstery. I guess now it would look kind of like a pimp mobile. But I know he could sleep in it and he had done so on many occasions. I guess all that matters is that it gets you from point A to B and it does so safely and comfortably. His van certainly did just that. When I look at my van today, I find that it serves the same purpose. It certainly is not as fashionable as his was but it is comfortable and it has the power to go pretty much anywhere I want it to go. I am not a rich person so I cannot afford a four wheel drive van or a van I can stand up in. It also has a roof rack that I can sit up on with my chair and take pictures. It also allows me to pull my utility trailer.

If you are planning on a road trip and you have a fully decked out van you have everything you need to not only eat but sleep in as well. So you are all ready to go. You just have to pack your clothes and food and any travel goodies you might need to complete your planned activities. Since you have more storage capacity, you are at liberty to bring more gear. Since it most likely that your power house is more powerful than the one in your car, you are also more likely to have a greater pulling capacity. So you can bring a trailer with you such as a boat, jet ski or ATV hauler or so on.

As always before going on a planned road trip, make sure your van is road worthy and that the tires are full of air and have plenty of tread. Depending on the type of van you opt for, you could spend as much or more on one than you would on a mid-range motorhome. Especially if you buy a used one and there are a lot of deals on Ebay motors for used recreational vehicles. Like anything in today’s society, recreational vehicles are prone to fads. A few years ago it was “tear drop” trailers, now it is travel vans. Frankly, I believe if you are going to drop a $100,000 on a van you might as well buy a motorhome. You will get a lot more for your money. The only advantage I can see is that because the chassis is lighter, the fuel consumption may be lower and therefore, it might be marginally more fuel efficient.

I think the increase in livable space in the RV is a much bigger selling point than saving a few dollars on gas. Also since a van is far smaller, you still may be tempted to spend an occasional night in the hotel when you are on a road trip. So where is the cost savings, I don’t really know? Since the bigger vans are overly large, they are not a viable option for a second vehicle whereas my van being a cargo van can quite easily be used for a second vehicle. I guess it depends on your budget. When you buy these custom vans you are moving out of the economical travel and into the luxury realm of travel.

I came across a van life article in the web site insider.com, entitled ” 10 things to know before traveling in a camper van, according to someone who lives in one.” by Zoe Hannah. I have copied excerpts below from the site.

Living in a camper van feels sort of like camping all of the time — I cook my meals on a small gas stove, spend a lot of time outside, and don’t have a lot of creature comforts.

As someone who loves camping, this is a great way to live, but there was a big learning curve when I started traveling in a camper van. But after a few months, I learned tricks to making van life work.

Here are some of the most important things to know if you plan on hitting the road in a camper van, according to someone who lives in one.

Buying good-quality clothing is imperative for camper-van travel because there’s limited storage space and few opportunities to wash clothes.

Since I could only afford to invest in a few high-quality things, I made sure to prioritize items that were lightweight, quick-drying, SPF-infused, and convertible (like hiking pants that zip into shorts).

One of my best purchases is my SPF hat — I wear it almost every day on the road because it helps keep my face and ears from getting burnt while also keeping my hair out of the way.

I’ve also had luck investing in items made out of materials like Merino wool, which dries super quickly and doesn’t need to be washed after each wear.

When I upgraded my van with a roof-storage compartment, I gained the equivalent of a closet where I keep luggage, extra linens, firewood, and cleaning supplies.

Since I plan on traveling across seasons, it’s nice to have extra space to store items that I don’t use every day and bulky items that don’t easily fit in my vehicle. 

My roof box also allows me peace of mind — the durability and key-locking system make it tough to break into. Plus, with less frequently used items stored up above, my in-van storage is much more accessible.

Since camper-van travel requires a lot of posting up at coffee shops and eating meals in parks, it was important for me to get a spacious, well-fitting, comfortable backpack.

This is one of the items that I end up using almost every day — and I usually have to pack it full, especially in cities where I’m not comfortable leaving my valuables unattended in my van.

I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a lot of money on a backpack, but I made sure to get one with hip and sternum straps to take the load off of my shoulders when walking around.

Even though I bought my pack online, many stores that sell outdoor gear offer free fittings to make sure backpackers are wearing their packs safely.

Many rental camper vans come with a kitchen outfitted with plates, mugs, and utensils.

Since I bought my van outright, I had to make sure to fill it with kitchen items that are easy to wash and are multipurpose, since kitchen space is even more limited than storage space.

My partner and I use titanium sporks, which are commonly used for camping or through-hiking, since they are very durable and easy to clean. 

Camping plates are also great because they help cut down the number of dishes we use since they typically have a wide lip, meaning they can be used as a bowl or plate. They also make eating on your lap easier, which is a common occurrence on van nights. 

In a full kitchen, I might use multiple cutting boards, prep bowls, eating dishes, and different utensils for each part of the process. In the van, I make sure to minimize the number of dishes I use as much as possible.

So before we cook, we make a plan for all of the dishes we’ll use during prepping, cooking, and eating.

With small kitchens and even smaller sinks, plus no running water, we have to wash everything by hand and with a hand-pump sink. Since we aim to leave no trace, washing dishes in the river is not an option.

For single-serving meals or if I’m especially tired, I’ll sometimes even eat right out of the pan.

In many places, like in New Zealand where I’m currently traveling, the weather can change on a dime. 

Rainy, chilly van days can be super cozy and comfortable — but I’ve found it’s important to be prepared. I always have my rain jacket with me because it’s pretty miserable to crawl into bed in a camper van when you’re damp from the rain.

I also use my Buff, a type of multifunctional headwear, almost every single day because it keeps my neck warm in the winter and wicks sweat in the summer.

Even on warm days, it’s nice to have a Buff or neck gaiter to cut the chill of the breeze (plus it doubles as a face covering for safety).

In a camper van, indoor lighting can be harsh, drawing in bugs and ruining a cozy vibe. And, most importantly, I can’t bring these lights with me when I need to use the bathroom or get something out of my storage compartment.

On a daily basis, I use a cheap headlamp that takes AAA batteries and is very efficient. 

I also recommend buying a few solar-powered items — even though they can get expensive, in my experience, they’re totally worth it. 

For example, my partner and I use a solar-powered lantern every night for soft, portable lighting. It recharges itself and we’ve found that some bugs are less attracted to the incandescent light, too.

Most vans come with a clean-water tank, which feeds into a hand-pump or electric sink, and a gray-water tank, which collects water from the sink drain. In vans with a toilet, a separate brown-water tank holds toilet waste.

These tanks obviously fill up, and my partner and I have learned to dump our gray and brown water every chance we get, so we never have to deal with having to brush our teeth with nowhere to spit.

It’s imperative to always use leave-no-trace etiquette when traveling in a camper van, so we check a map to find a designated dump spot as we approach cities and towns.

Generally, when we dump our tanks we fill up our clean-water tank since many dump locations and gas stations in New Zealand have a nearby drinking-water tap. 

It’s also important to read the signs at every dump and fill station — my partner and I have watched several people wash dishes in the same location that someone just poured all of their wastewater out. This is a great way to make yourself very, very sick.

I’ve had some trial and error figuring out how to charge my phone and laptop while on the road or parked in a remote camping space.

With my power inverter, I can use wall plugs in my van — but only while the van is on. Through internet research, I learned that unless I had a leisure battery, which is a second battery typically stored in the back of a camper van, I would be drawing power from my car battery if I charged things while the van wasn’t running.

Because of this, I’ve learned to carry a couple of power banks for my smaller electronics that I can recharge while I’m driving or when I stop at a public library for some WiFi.

Being able to view maps on our phones makes life on the road a lot easier.

We use Google Maps and, when we have WiFi, we download offline maps for large areas. This is a lifesaver for times when we lose phone service, and it’s also less taxing on our phones’ batteries.

In addition to downloading offline maps, I recommend keeping a paper map on hand just in case. There have been a few times where our phones have died and we found ourselves on a road that Google hasn’t quite mapped yet. 

Keeping a paper map is also great for tracking our trajectory, and we’ll likely keep it as a souvenir after our travels.

While I don’t expect my readers to give up their job and become a full time resident of their van, there are a lot of lessons that you can still take from this article.

All of the tidbits of information that I covered from the previous car travel chapter can be applied to this and the following two chapters as well. Just because your form of locomotion has changed it doesn’t mean that everything has changed.

I came across another website for van travel, travelers-autobarnrv.com. “Van Life Guide For Beginners: Traveling Around The United States In A Campervan.”

TIPS FOR CAMPERVAN TRAVEL

Traveling around in a campervan is a brand new experience to many people, so we thought we’d put together some tips to ensure that your trip around the USA with Travelers Autobarn is the ultimate, stress-free road trip!

PLAN OUT YOUR ROUTE

The United States is vast, and you won’t be the first road tripper to look at Google Maps and underestimate how long it will take you to drive from one place to another. But, while you still want to keep some degree of spontaneity in your trip, it’s ideal to have a rough idea of where you want to travel to, the route you want to take, and how long it will take you to get there. If you are going through larger cities, try to avoid rush hour traffic, or you may get delayed for hours.

Have a rough plan of where you want to go, your must-see sites, and where you plan to stay each night will help you stay on budget, be more relaxed, and have a more enjoyable trip. Bring a map of the United States too!  You never know when you may hit a stretch of highway without services, so be prepared!

BE PREPARED ON THE ROAD

Food & Water

The hotter it is, the more water you need.  You don’t want to get stuck in Death Valley National Park without water!

We recommend you carry at least 4 – 5 liters of water a day per person. You also need to think about bringing some extra water should you break down and are stuck overnight. Most supermarkets stock 10L bottles of water – so make sure you stop off to pick up as many as you need.

It’s also crucial that you pack some non-perishable food to keep you going should you break down – think cereal bars, nuts, and dried fruit. Try to avoid snacking on salty snacks – it’s just going to make you even thirstier and could speed up dehydration.

Weather – Know the forecast!

Knowing the weather forecast is extremely important!  Depending on the time of year and what parts of the country you plan to campervan through, Mother Nature may have a different plan for your road trip.  Winter months can bring on harsh temperatures, slippery roads, high winds, and road closures. Knowing ahead of time can save you from having to turn around or from being stuck in a stressful situation.

In some parts of the United States, you will need to be aware of hurricane season and pay attention to tornado warnings.  The Weather Channel app is a great way to check the forecasts before you set off on the open road each day.

Avoid unsealed roads

Although many of the highways and roads in the United States are in good condition, you may end up on a gravel or dirt road.

If you have rented a campervan or car from one of the big cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or San Francisco (to name a few), then you might find that the insurance policy you took out does not cover you when you are driving on unsealed or unpaved roads. Make sure you read the small print.

Wildlife

Parts of North America is famous for its wildlife – buffalo, grizzly bears, mountain lions, moose, elk, and deer, to name a few.

When you’re driving, be aware that collisions with these animals are frequent, as well as cows and other animals, particularly at nighttime, dawn, or dusk. If you are pulling a night shift at the wheel, then try to ensure that the passenger next to you stays awake and alert to help you watch out for any animals on the road.

And please don’t try and take a selfie with or pet the wild animals!  Not only is it against the law in certain parts of the country, but it is dangerous and could result in serious injuries or even death.

Boondocking – Dry Camping – Wild Camping

Solar panels come in very handy when you need to dry camp.  If you are running out of steam and need to pull over in the middle of the night, or you can’t find a campground for the night, make sure you are in an area that allows the campervan to be parked.  If you are in or near a larger city, it should be reasonably easy to find a Walmart, gas station, or truck stop that will allow you to use the parking lot for the night. Make sure it is 24-hours in the event you need to use the bathroom facilities.  If you are in the middle of nowhere, make sure you don’t park on private property or where there is a “no trespassing” sign.

MUST-HAVE TRAVEL APPS

GasBuddy – An excellent app for travelers on a budget!  Gasbuddy helps locate the cheapest gas near you so you can compare prices and save.  They have a rewards program that allows you to earn points towards free gas, as well.

RoadTrippers – Planning a long road trip has never been easier.  Roadtrippers helps plan out your route and gives suggestions for must-see stops along the way.  They recently launched a Plus version, which allows for collaboration with your friends who are road tripping, offline maps for when you are without service, discount offers to help save money, with no advertisements popping up while you’re trying to use it.

Google Maps or Waze – Real-time GPS apps with live traffic alerts. Both apps are popular, so it comes down to preference.

The Weather Channel – The Weather Channel app has a free version and is great for current and extended forecasts across the United States. If you are heading to a new location, make sure and double-check the weather forecast.  You may need to change your route, stop and restock your water supply, or give yourself additional time due to slippery roads.

First Aid: American Red Cross – The First Aid app is a must!  We hope you never need it, but in the event, you have a first aid emergency or need to prepare for a weather emergency, the content is preloaded, so you have access to safety tips, step by step instructions, videos, and access to 911 no matter your location.  And it’s free!

HipCamp – Hipcamp is an awesome app for finding and booking campsites, RV parks, and more.

CAMPERVAN OR MINIVAN MAINTENANCE

Remember that you are responsible for the campervan while it is in your possession. You should treat it like it is your vehicle and carry out basic maintenance checks every 300-500 miles. Basic maintenance includes checking things like tire pressure, and oil, washer fluid, and coolant levels.

If you’re driving a campervan, then make sure you know the height of the vehicle and be wary of driving into parking garages, under bridges, or low hanging branches if you aren’t sure.

CAMPFIRES

Forest fires and brushfires are unfortunately very common in parts of the United States.  They can be dangerous – so always make sure you adhere to the guidelines.

We recommend that you visit the check the fire danger rating in the area and make sure campfires are permitted where you are staying (particularly in summer).

If you start a campfire, then you must always make sure it is entirely out at the end of the night and have at least 10 liters of water nearby in case it gets out of hand.

COOKING

Just because you are camping doesn’t mean you have to stick to cups of noodles, hot dogs, or cans of beans.  Get creative and meal prep before you head out on the open road. Here are a few prep tips for cooking in a campervan.

CAMPERVANNING = MINIMALISM SO PACK SMART

It’s no secret that traveling in a campervan comes with less storage and smaller space than a motorhome.  Dollar stores are a great place to find travel-size toiletries for your road trip, and it’s easier on the budget.

Another great packing tip is to save condiments from fast-food restaurants.  If you know you are going on a campervan road trip, plan to keep any extra condiments from eating out.  Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper packets take up a lot less space than full-size bottles and don’t require refrigeration.  This not only saves space for additional packing items but doesn’t take up space in the campervan fridge.

BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS TO SAVE MONEY ON YOUR CAMPERVAN TRIP

Fuel

One of your biggest outgoings is going to be the cost of your fuel. As we mentioned earlier, one of the best apps we recommend is GasBuddy. It’s convenient for finding the cheapest gas prices in your area. Having an app like GasBuddy or Waze can assist you in not only finding a gas station nearby but also which station has the lowest fuel prices.

Food

Hit a supermarket with a grocery list in hand!

Once you have rented your campervan, you will likely be departing from one major city, so we recommend that before you hit the road, you stop by a supermarket to stock up on all the essentials (and we don’t just mean beers and sausages for the barbie!).  Have a list! We all know that we spend more money in the grocery store without a list frequently buying food or supplies we don’t need and forgetting items we do.

Buying food and supplies from gas stations and small local stores on the journey can hit your traveling budget hard.

National Parks Pass

If you plan on visiting more than 3 National Parks, then we highly recommend you invest in an annual America the Beautiful pass! The cost is $80 and gives access to over 2,000 National Parks and National Refuges.  Typically each park has around a $35 entrance fee, so an America the Beautiful pass is an excellent deal for travelers planning National Park Road Trips. If you are 62 and older, they have an annual Senior Pass that is significantly cheaper.  If you are a current, or veteran, member of the US military or if you are a US citizen or permanent resident with permanent disabilities then you are eligible for a free pass.

Exit mobile version