Living on the road we have encountered a wide range of people with varying degrees of familiarity with vanlife. You get the folks who have lived the life before and can’t wait to tell you the stories of their past. They often look longingly off into the distance that seems to represent their past freedoms and adventures. You get the folks that are currently living on the road be it in an RV, a Van, a pull behind trailer or out of the back of their Subaru and they often want to compare set ups to evaluate their own efficiency and legit factor. Then there is a third category of people. They are the ones that think you are crazy. They look at you wondering what your poor mother did to deserve this. With a level of disbelief, they ask questions to clear away some of the space between their reality and yours. How do you watch TV? How do you blow dry your hair? You don’t have air conditioning????? These amongst others are a daily occurrence. We are going to attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions below.
What did you do before you lived in a Van?
We lived in Dover New Hampshire a sleepy little town on the Seacoast. We rented an apartment downtown, walking distance to our church and some of the best local breweries. In our previous lives Ransom was an environmental engineer working for a small consulting company and Casey was a registered nurse working at the local hospital on the Telemetry floor (telemetry NOT telepathy). We both for different reasons needed a break. For me working shifts that stretched to 14 hours at times and regularly dealing with death and dying was pushing me toward either emotional breakdown or calloused, efficient apathy. Ransom’s job had him working at a desk most days and feeling like his days were spent squirreling away vacation time so we could do the things we really want to do. Collectively we both felt the need to question the American dream and to challenge the belief that much of life is spent preparing for retirement, or putting off living until you’ve made enough money, or searching for a sense of stability.
Where do you stay?
As east-coasters we have been completely overwhelmed by the abundance of free camping west of the Mississippi River. For every official pay campground, there seems to be an equal if not greater number of free but semi-established sites for the taking. Needless to say, we have been taking full advantage of these. In the US we use National Forest land and BLM land frequently. Websites and apps such as Allstays and freecampsites.net make it easy to find something in a pinch but our most successful and breathtaking experiences have been by word of mouth and often due to running into locals who were willing to drop some tips. The few times that we have needed to pay for a site (to date it has been fewer than a dozen times) it is usually because we have gotten in late, have run out of water or just need a good shower. For most of these we have taken advantage of the National Parks campgrounds and have nothing but good things to say. Well kept, clean, easily accessible and some of the friendliest staff you could ever meet. We did stay at a cheap Motel Six in Wyoming the night after Ransom nearly lost his pinky finger because the troops morale was waaaaaaaaay down. Who can say why, but showers, binge watching Chopped on TV, and a cushy hotel bed can make such a HUGE difference.
What do you eat/How do you cook?
The van has a small, but for the most part adequate and efficient, kitchen. Part of our preparation for this trip was to remove the existing 30-year-old fridge and add a new DC-powered ARB fridge. Between this and our cabinet space we can usually store enough food for 5 days. We also have along our Coleman stove which allows us to cook outside when we need a more pleasant and ergonomic experience. We don’t have a whole lot of variety when it comes to breakfast and lunch: almost exclusively our regimen is oatmeal with some sort of fruit for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. We both choose not to eat meat regularly. Prior to van life we would have chicken very infrequently and fish every couple of weeks. This has made living in a van even easier as we don’t find ourselves needing to prepare and store meat. Dinners are often quesadillas, stir fry, rice and curry, pasta, cheese plates, or any variation of eggs. We take turns cooking and doing the dishes - not too far off from our old lives.
Where do you shower/Don’t you get dirty?
Showering. One of the biggest adjustments and areas for improvement. I LOVE showering. The longest we have gone so far is 7 days and that was rough. About a month in and after several traumatic shower finding experiences we took the plunge and got a Planet Fitness membership. Its affordable and ends up being a cheaper option for us both to shower on a regular basis than the normal $5-10 showers you’ll find at campgrounds and truck stop. We have also benefited several times from strangers’ generosity. The offer of showers and laundry is an automatic win and usually turns into an ongoing friendship. Despite all these options we often find ourselves filthy. Full-on disgusting sometimes if we have been hiking and in the back country for an extended period. A cold dunk in a swimming hole or river can only do so much. So if showering is a deal breaker then van life might not be for you.
Where do you go to the bathroom?
We have become very strategic with our bathroom habits. It feels a bit like when you were a kid and your Mom forced you to try before leaving the house regardless of your need to go. Just in case. Most of the areas we camp have some access to a pit toilet, although most frequently it requires a drive. Truck Stops, Gas Stations, Visitor Centers but mostly your local pine tree or scrub brush has been our go-to.
What do you do when it rains?
Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the dry cracked earth and raging wildfires, we have not encountered much rain. The West has had an exceptionally dry summer and our rainy days can be counted on one hand. We have found it more difficult to deal with and manage the heat and sun and have had to be creative with our heat reduction especially with the dog. The van does not have AC so we are left to more alternative means such as dunking in the river, not driving in the heat of the day and ALWAYS parking in the shade. Our 8’ x 8’ ARB awning is a lifesaver in both the sun and the rain allowing us a bit more room.
How do you live without TV?
Very easily actually. To date we have not had TV or internet as a married couple. So, our precedent for TV watching was fairly consistent with our current arrangement. Walmart parking lots can offer the best cell phone reception and with an unlimited data plan we occasionally look forward to a night of Netflix. If we want to get real fancy we break out the box-wine and stove top popcorn and suddenly you have a date night!
Aren’t you afraid of Bears?
YES! CONSTANTLY. Most definitely, but we believe that intelligence is the most effective way to avoid a negative Bear encounter. Hiking in a group, making plenty of noise (K2 has her own bear bell) and being smart about how we manage our food storage/preparation and trash have all become part of our routine. To date we have only seen signs of grizzlies (scat and prints), several black bears from the safety of the Van, and one terrified black yearling when K2 and I were on a trail run.
What’s the hardest part of living in a van?
It may sound dramatic but EVERYTHING is a little bit harder living in a Van. The space is small. It’s your bedroom, kitchen, living room, leisure area, office and mode of transportation. You may have to remove ten things from a cabinet before you get to the one thing you really want (Westy owners: that back closet?? Anyone??). You are constantly setting up and taking down. The space is only large enough for one thing to be happening at any given time. So frequently one of us is left waiting for the other to be finished in order to begin. Depending on when you ask this question, the difficulty can feel overwhelming and immense. The highs and the lows are extreme and seem to happen fast, making them both intense and fleeting .
What’s the best part of living in a van?
Over the last two months we have gotten to see and experience places most people will never see in their lifetime. We get to wake up every day and either stick to the plan or throw it out the window. We have met amazing people and been able to drop everything, opting to instead spend several days getting to know them. We have been able to spend quality time with each other instead of speeding past one another on the way to work or manufacturing quality time amongst the fatigue and grind. We have been able to identify and know what is truly important to us: That relationships and experiences bring much more fulfillment than success and possessions. We have seen and know the finger prints of God more clearly in the wild and stillness of the mountains, glacial streams and prairies than in the hustle and bustle of the American dream. We don’t think that Van life is a forever thing but we are very thankful to be here now.