How We Were Inspired To Do Campervan Travels
This story is a bit longer, but let's make it short. Actually, our first trip together was done with a rented motorhome in Scotland. We liked this kind of journey so much that we decided to keep it like that whenever possible.
Next was Norway in an old V.W. T4. Then California/Utah/Arizona with Ford E350. After that, we bought our first campervan in Poland (Fiat Ducato) and finally a Dodge RAM 2500 with a camper truck on it in Canada for our most extended trip so far. It was an eight-month road trip from Canada to Alaska and then from Alaska to Florida. But Covid stopped our travel, and we had to get back to Europe.
We are going to continue this trip one day. After returning from America, we purchased another campervan – a Ranger 560 4x4 and now we enjoy European destinations.
So, as you can see, we don't travel in just one van. It's rather a habit and adjustment to possibilities and needs.
This kind of travel gives us freedom, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness. And the most important thing that no hotel can provide you – the view from our bed.
How We Choose Where To Travel Next
We travel to places with the best wildlife opportunities and the wilderness because we love animals and nature. So we mainly focus on national parks, national monuments, state parks, pure wilderness, and waterfalls.
That's why our favorite places are: Denali National Park, Katmai National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Utah Mighty 5.
We also love to hike, so it’s even better if we can join those passions. Our best hiking trails are for sure: Havasu Falls, the Subway hike, the Narrows hike, the Wave, Rattlesnake Arches, and much more. Each visited place is described in detail on our blog, providing many valuable tips on preparing yourself for such a trip.
The Typical Length Of Our Trips
It varies from a weekend to many months. Of course, the main factor is money. If we can save more or have an on-line work we can survive longer on the road. This is so simple. Our goal is to be able to work online and earn enough money to live in a van permanently.
Van Life Compared To Regular Road Trips
Traveling with a van is similar to a car road trip. We accept both forms because both of them give a similar experience.
The only difference is the bathroom or at least a flush toilet and maybe electricity that can allow us to work during the trip.
Of course, you can travel by regular car and work from Starbucks or McDonalds that we’ve also been practicing in the past. We are not fans of staying in hotels mainly because you pay a lot of money for a place to sleep and take a shower. Usually, you have no view. This is just boring sometimes, not only expensive.
But be careful – if you are renting a motorhome, the price might be higher than regular cars and hotels.
With a large motorhome, you have to consider higher costs of rental (compared to a standard vehicle), higher fuel consumption, and sometimes not so low campground costs. If you have a small campervan, you can try to camp wild for free in the BLM areas, but always follow the specific state or area rules. So, we do not exclude sleeping in hotels. We occasionally used this form and still use it when we have a short road trip.
If you have little time and a busy schedule, it's easier to travel by car. The journey by R.V., or van, especially larger, is slower.
In the low season, hotel prices are often much more favorable. Therefore, we always carefully calculate what is more profitable for us. Eventually, we recommend both campgrounds where we stayed and hotels on our blog.
These are two examples of when we needed to stay in hotels while driving in a motorhome:
During a visit to Las Vegas, it turned out that it wasn’t easy getting around the city with a camper truck. Even we did find a proper place for a vehicle, it’s more expensive than a hotel room. So finally, we found a hotel (Rio Las Vegas) with large outer parking and booked a $29/night room.
Also, when we visited New Orleans during the Christmas season, it turned out that an R.V campground is much more expensive than accommodation in a charming hotel in the city center. So we stayed in the hotel. But, for sure, it is usually much cheaper to sleep on campgrounds, especially in state parks and national parks.
Typical Costs Associated With Van Life
Ok, let’s sort it out. First of all, you need a van, so the cost can vary from $1000 to $20000 (we are not considering expensive options here). If you buy a cheap van, you must add the cost of initial renovation and regular maintenance expenses and repairs.
With the more expensive initial spending, later maintenance can be cheaper but not necessarily.
The other thing is gas. If you are moving a lot, you need more gas, but it will be the lower cost if you stay in some places a little bit longer. You can adjust it to your budget and plans or head to states with lower gas prices.
Another cost might be a place to park. It can be free (like on BLM lands, for example), through cheap state parks ($15-25/night) up to expensive campgrounds with facilities ($50+). If you plan it accordingly and are able to follow your plan, you can save tons of money here.
Of course, last but not least is the cost of food and communication. We usually shop in Walmarts or local stores when it’s cheap and use the AT&T unlimited plan ($65/month as of 2020) + some wifi in Starbucks and Mcdonald's to work during travel.
How We Mitigate Some Costs
This is sometimes tricky for us, and probably will be different for everyone. Based on our experience I can say that it’s good to have all those discounts coupons, customer cards, etc.
Also, avoid eating in restaurants and bars regularly – cook in the van. We were also using google maps to check the cheapest gas prices in the area.
It’s, of course, more affordable to stay in the state park than a regular campground. And always choose a shorter road over the faster one because you can save money this way, see more exciting things and spend more time on the road.
Some Unusual Costs Associated With Van Life
We believe that those are two things—the first initial van cost. People are reading ads and assume some prices to be paid for a van ready to go. We made the same mistake. Reality is different. If you see a cheap van with nice pictures, it probably will look completely different in real life. You should plan like a 1.5 or 2x bigger budget than you think based on the ads (this advice is based on our personal experience) or spend much more time looking for a reasonable opportunity.
Second, people assume that parking in the wild is free. It might be easier to hide with a small campervan, but the bigger the vehicle, the more difficult it is, and usually, it’s better to stay in some designated places than take the risk of a fine. And usually, wild parking is not possible near the best attractions like national parks. You have to plan it and book it to enjoy the place entirely – this cost usually is somehow overlooked.
How We Prepare For Our Trips
First of all, we study all available resources (books and online). We focus on photo opportunities, hiking options, the popularity of the place, reachability, and of course, access cost (it’s costly to access Havasu Falls, for example).
Packing for a trip is an entirely different story – it’s better to read specific articles on our blog that describe the process in all details because this topic is too broad.
Of course, if we are asked to show, let’s say 3 top things to pack with you for a road trip, it would be the perfect sleeping bag (proper for typical weather), a paper map (because electronics fail sometimes), a camera and lenses to take fantastic pictures.
In each of our blog posts, we suggest what to pack when visiting a specific place. You can also find several detailed packing lists, like Alaska Packing List, Day Hiking Packing List, or Havasupai Packing List.
But our favorite, which we recommend to anyone who dreams about a road trip adventure, is the Road Trip Packing List Essentials.
Our Favourite Memories With Travelers & Locals On Our Trips
It was a very memorable meeting with local guys in King Salmon, AK. We had to stay one premium night in this remote location (Due to flight delays), and there was nothing to do, just go to the bar. So we sat at the bar and started drinking with the locals.
They were fascinating people working seasonally in this wild area of Alaska and telling us many everyday stories that sounded like a ready-to-go movie script.
Another nice meeting was the music band Hearts Gone South and is also described wider on our blog.
Travel Apps & Websites That We Use
I believe we are not so app-oriented, but of course, I found some of them installed on my phone.
Here is the list: Google Maps, Revolut (to save on payments with different currencies), WeatherPro (to decide where to go depends on the weather forecast), FourSquare (to find best places to eat and drink), AllStays (to check if Walmart allows parking for the night), iOverlander (to find a place for a night) and Park4night (to find free places to stay for the night, but this app is more usable in Europe than the U.S.).
However, in practice, the most used website is Google.
Why We Started Our Blog
The inspiration behind our blog was simple – we just wanted to write down some notes for ourselves. And share some stories and pictures with friends and followers. Then it transformed to more information resources about places we visited with a very detailed description and only our original photos.
How We Want To Help Our Readers
We can help all readers who are planning a trip to different U.S. areas. They can read about places worth visiting, use ready-to-go itineraries, detailed hiking trail descriptions, and most importantly, see photos of the places and decide for themselves if they like it or not.
Readers can find on our blog ready-go-go Alaska itinerary, Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary, Colorado itinerary, Arizona itinerary, Oregon itinerary, Seattle itinerary, and much more.
We share lots of practical tips. What's important we know each of described places quite well. We spent a lot of time there or visited it several times in different seasons, so we have great experience and comparison.
Some Of Our Best Van Life Experiences
For sure, one of the best experiences was spending a night on Toroweap. This is an amazing place on the north side of the Great Canyon and has one of the most beautiful views of the Colorado River. But the access isn't easy.
It was one of our first trips together to the United States. The place is so beautiful that the night surprised us. We couldn't stay at the campground because it was by permit only and the park ranger told us to leave the park. The rocky, bumpy road made it impossible to return to Kanab for the night. The ranger mentioned something about the campground outside of the area. So, we entered the wooded area and started to look for the said place and wait there until morning.
Unfortunately, it was a hunting ground. The trees were hung with skins torn from the hunted animals. Some were still dripping with blood. A deer's body hung from one of the trees. It looked a bit scary. From now on, we continually analyze safe places to stay for a night in a given area in advance.
Some Of The Biggest Challenges Of Van Life
It seems that campervan traveling is spontaneous. And it can be, but then the biggest challenge for us is always to find a safe and friendly place for the night. Sometimes it can take like 3-4 hours to find a proper place. It costs us time and gas. So to overcome it, it’s good to plan ahead some options for a night. You should have plans A, B, and C.
Some Things We Wish We Had Known When We First Started
We think the most critical knowledge we wish we had before going for a serious road trip was budgeting experience.
We were assuming much too low of a budget on our first road trips or maybe spending much more than planned. It’s always a temptation to go for lunch to a nice restaurant or visit a fantastic winery, but you should think it over three times if you have planned money for this experience. If not, then what can you remove from your spending list to afford this restaurant or winery.
In general, budget planning is the most important thing. If you go spontaneously, you will get back home much faster than you think. So you have two choices – an unlimited source of money or perfect planning on your incomes and expenses during the trip. There is no shortcut here.
Our Advice To First Time Van Lifers
Again, budgeting is key! Other than that, don’t hesitate, and just hit the road. Go out of your comfort zone and adapt to permanent changes. Be mentally prepared. If not, you can be shocked how many times you will miss a hot shower, quiet place to sleep, or even a comfortable temperature.
You will be doomed to yourself. You must know how to behave in different scenarios – what to do if you have an accident? What if your van gets stolen or damaged? What if you get robbed? Are you prepared for all possible worst-case scenarios? If not, it will be challenging to find yourself in such a situation, but if you think it over before heading for a trip, you will have less stress and manage risk appropriately.
So, first-time van-travelers should plan everything step by step before hitting the road.
First-time van lifers should carefully choose places to travel, book campgrounds ahead if possible, pack appropriately, precisely schedule expenses, and reserve 10-20% extra budget for unplanned expenses.
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