We started traveling in our van August 2016 and have so far climbed the west coast from south to north and back down again. It’s what we fondly refer to as the first leg of our trip. It was invigorating, inspiring, and wonderful. It was also challenging, at times exhausting, and nearly always unfamiliar. While these sensations can be disorienting if you’re tired or road-weary, it’s ultimately really exciting to feel yourself growing and learning as both an individual and as a couple. So far we’ve learned a lot about living in a van — hopefully that trend will continue — but here are some of our main takeaways from life on the road these past few months. Things we’re still trying to internalize and remind ourselves of every day.
1. Don’t buy everything before you go
We were convinced that we needed each gadget and gizmo necessary for van life upon initial launch. While we definitely needed the right fridge, solar setup, and battery system, we had no idea what we would discover needing en-route… such as a portable heater, late-night toilet option, trashcan, and dog-barrier. Van life is a process of discovery on many levels, and you really won’t know what’s missing until you find yourself in a pickle. We’re also constantly shedding things we thought would come in handy one day. If you haven’t used something within the first 3 months of travel (emergency kit excepted), chances are you never will and it’s just taking up precious space.
2. Linger, savor
When we first moved into the van, we were on a schedule. We had to go from southern California to Vancouver in time for our friends’ wedding in just a couple of weeks. We didn’t necessarily sprint up the coast, but we moved quickly to ensure that we’d arrive on time. Later, on our way back down the coast, we were no longer on a set schedule. However, we found ourselves slightly antsy, always on the move, and constantly trying to figure out our next stop. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy where we were at the time, but we came to find that we weren’t allowing ourselves the luxury to stop and really get to know a place over the course of a few days. Instead, we were packing our stops with sightseeing, hikes, and breweries (uh, awesome!), when we could have spread our schedule out a bit to allow for longer mornings, longer hikes, and maybe an extra beer here and there. Moving forward, our goal is to deeply discover more of fewer places, instead of only a little of many places.
3. Know what you need to be happy
I’m not only talking about creative fulfillment, or jokes, or encouragement. I’m talking about the basic things that keep you feeling good. For me, that’s fresh food, a good night’s sleep, a shower once every couple of days and adequate exercise. I’ve always known these things are important to me, but until we started traveling, I didn’t realize how much. To feel clean, freshly rested, nourished, and properly exercised is the best feeling. Setting these things as a priority makes all the difference in our outlook and energy level.
4. Be prepared
… for anything — bad weather, a leaky roof, no easy place to camp. Also be ready for utterly perfect weather, the perfect campsite to come out of nowhere, and for feeling wildly inspired, grateful, and alive. Van life is anything but boring. Each day is an adventure. There are frustrating surprises here and there, for sure, but for the most part, you’ll be showered with delightful surprises. The trick is to go with the flow, celebrate the unpredictability of it all, and explore each twist and turn together. Van life begs flexibility and asks us to be open. Open to possibilities and choices and tasty eats and starry skies; open to a life of possibility that is meant to be savored and celebrated.
5. Be respectful
When looking for a place to stay for the night, we try to be stealthy and aware of where we’re parking — for our own safety and out of respect for the community or neighborhood we’re staying in for the night. So far we’ve not received a knock on the window in the middle of the night asking us to move along, or even had anyone say anything to us about where we’re parked. When we’re stealth camping in a town or city, we do our best to avoid loud neighborhoods, major roadways, or dark and dicey parts of town. Our best options are usually tucked away residential neighborhoods, or quiet, day-use parts of town. We try our very best to go unnoticed at night, parking in front of tall hedges, or walls without windows so as not to jump out of the van and into full view of someone’s kitchen window or front yard. If a neighborhood parking spot isn’t panning out, we look for quiet, commercial areas — outside of a place of business that closes early and opens late. The goal of stealth camping for us is to find a convenient, safe, quiet spot for the evening while not imposing upon anyone. We’ve seen plenty of vans parked in really obvious and exposed spots and a) they must not sleep well and b) they are giving van-lifers a bad reputation! By nature, van lifers are traveling through a community, and, just like visiting a park or trail, we try to leave each place better than we found it. Our hope is that residents of each community can be intrigued and excited by our van life, wanting to engage in a conversation with us, rather than being turned off or skeptical of the lifestyle. Alternatively, at the very least, they won’t ever know we slept in their frontyard!