During the trip and since returning home I have gotten a lot of similar questions from people which has inspired the last and final post, FIVE TIPS FOR LIVING IN A VAN.
1. LETS TALK MOOLAH.
This trip has been something I have been thinking about for a very long time. And I probably browsed craigslist once a week for a camper van for approximately two years before I actually bought one. I think when I had a Tinder account, the only thing that was written in my description was “currently in the market for a camper van.” So it was essentially mostly what consumed my thoughts.
Originally, I thought I was going to invest in a work van that I would rebuild myself. I was on my way to shoot a wedding last summer and was cruising down Gratiot Ave. when I came up on the vamper driving next to me. There was a for sale sign in the back window so I sped up and slowed down repetitively until I got the drivers attention and flagged him to pull over. After briefly viewing the van my heart knew that this was it. I handed over a deposit and brought my van home the next morning.
I am super fortunate that my work is seasonal, which makes it much easier to get away for an extended period of time, but as a home owner and student loan ower, I had to make sure I had enough cash to travel and still pay all of my bills back home. I was very adamant about saving money and likely overworked myself all summer just to make sure the goal was met. I actually exceeded the goal by 2.5 times because I was not going to let anything prevent this adventure from taking place.
To give you a better idea of how much the trip realistically costs I have created a table for you below (six years of business school, and this is how I use it, van-expense graphs). Realistically, this is affordable, sleeping on the side of the road is totally free.
A few things to note: Gas is super inexpensive right now, which was a huge blessing when driving 10,000 miles. If prices would have been over $3-$4 a gallon, this spreadsheet would look a bit different. I personally, spend a lot of money on food. As a vegan and preferred organic eater, my groceries likely cost much more than most travelers. Like the kids cooking ramen noodles off of their car engines, I’m going to assume their food budget is much less. I also spent money on things like a National Park pass, campgrounds, Disney World, and other activities, but again, this is really up to the individual and all unnecessary.
2. BUT LIKE, WHERE DID YOU SLEEP?
Well, in the van, duh. But the truth is, you can’t just park overnight anywhere, it is actually illegal in a lot of places and becomes even more strict the further west that you go. So predominately I slept in Pilot Travel Center parking lots. Yes, truck stops. They allow travelers to park for free and they even have this super awesome app for your phone where you can view all of the locations, check the number of parking spaces they have, price of gas, and so forth. I used this app to plan every single day. I would check it in the morning to see how many locations where near and on the way to my destination so that I would know where I was going to sleep. It was exciting to pull into a lot late at night, and then wake up in the morning in the middle of the mountains or the desert and actually see the surroundings. Everyday a new horizon.
Pilots also have things like laundry and showers. Nice showers. Totally serious, I was super skeptical at first, but when I walked into my first shower I took a picture it was so nice. Typically showers cost $12.00, which can add up if you are using them daily, BUT, I was able to talk one employee into giving me a “Professional Driver Reward Card,” intended for truck drivers, where for every 30 gallons of fuel you buy, you get a free shower. After I received that card I did not pay for one single shower. Hopefully Pilot never finds out. When I couldn’t find a Pilot nearby I would sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot, who also welcomes RV’s and overnight vehicles, or a rest stop. But really, Pilot stations are everywhere, and just to show you how everywhere, here is map. The United States is under all of those red pins, I promise.
When I wasn't staying at a Pilot, Wal-Mart or rest stop I was either camping, sleeping in a hotel (three times) or staying with a friend. Social media played such a huge role in connections. I would post about being in a certain location and people, some that I hardly knew, would reach out and invite me to come and park or stay with them. I truly had friends all across America. It was very uncommon for me to be within a 400 mile radius and not have a contact. I did post this image earlier on Facebook with a matching mushy caption, but here is a look at some of the beautiful faces that opened up their homes.
3. MY MOST FAVORITE PLACES:
Everyone has asked this. So what was your favorite spot? Hands down, the Redwood Forest. I loved it so much I went twice. Visited, then drove all the way up to Vancouver, and then had to come back. I think I may have had some high expectations (shocking) for some places which would occasionally leave me disappointed. For example, the Hoover Dam. I kept walking over this bridge hundreds of feet in the air waiting for the dam to appear, when really, I was staring at it the entire time. For some reason I had this vision that I SWEAR I saw on Wheel of Fortune when I was younger of thousands of gallons of water crashing over this dam and Pat Sajak was standing directly on top of it. Apparently that is not at all the Hoover Dam. It is just a large wall of cement. Really, that was all.
But the Redwoods continuously took my breath away. I don’t think I could have imagined a feeling of being so small and being surrounded by such old, gigantic, majestic trees. If I really do ever go completely wild and off the map, that is where you will find me. With Sasquatch.
I know I already mentioned this in one post regarding big cities, but once you’ve seen one, really you have seen them all. At least from my perspective. Miami, Denver, Nashville, Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake City, all the same. If I had to choose what my favorite new city was, or one that I would visit again, it would definitely be New Orleans.
4. GOTTA GET OVA YOURSELF.
I learned this pretty quickly during the planning process. When I started to tell my friends or family what I wanted to do you could see the judgement pass over their faces. Except for the few that knew it was totally rad and couldn’t have been happier for me. High-fives to them. I was no longer the respected community professional shaking hands and posing for pictures with politicians. I was a woman, crawling out of the back door of a van at 9:45am, much later than all of my peers starting work, with unbrushed teeth and untamed hair, finding my way into a gas station to the nearest toilet. Good Morning.
Once someone asked me if I was homeless, immediately offended and tempted to point my finger down to my expensive name brand boots, I just smiled and shook my head no. Anytime we were dealing with authority we were drilled with questions about illegal substances. The van was thoroughly searched on the way in AND out of Canada. The room of individuals pulled aside consisted of two middle eastern families, one Indian woman, and us. The woman scooted closer to me on the bench and said “I get pulled over every time I cross, they say its random…bullshit it’s random.” The Border Patrol Officer had to ask us four times if he was going to find any marijuana, ecstasy, PCP, cocaine, Molly, prescription pills, needles, things I’ve never heard of, etc.
Both shaking our heads and gritting out teeth “No sir, No sir, No sir, please don’t touch my underwear and put everything away nicely.” It made me angry, I felt as if I was being judged and mistreated, I wanted to yell “I am more educated than you! I make more money than you!” But I didn’t. I learned to let it go. If you live out of your van, your are automatically profiled, and I had to get over myself. At the end of the day, I really don’t care what these people think of me anyway.
5. IT WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH.
“The primitive man had to fight every day not to be hungry. And the modern man has to fight every day to be hungry.” —Dorian Paskowitz, Surfwise
No matter how long of a vacation you have planned, or how many destinations you plan to see, it is never going to be enough. Even after being on the road for nearly four months, there was a lot I felt like I still missed. I think the trick is rather to just continue to stay hungry.
As the trip was starting to wind down, my friend Wendy asked me "do you feel more settled?" And the truth is, I don't. I told her that I feel content. That I recognize that I am going to have a restless soul, but I know how to feed and balance that restlessness. I do feel more experienced, I have now visited almost every major city or landscape that I have desired to see in the United States. When people talk about their travels, I may have something to add. I know that I won't be home for long before setting out on another adventure. (Mostly because I will leave again twelve days after returning home to travel back south for work and play, with said friend, Wendy). Hopefully continuing to push my limits of comfort and checking more places off of the bucket list.
So no, while I don't feel settled, or like I am going to be able to return home and become a wife and start making babies (sorry Mom), I do feel fulfilled. Which is much better than settling anyways. I have probably said this twenty times throughout blog and social media posts, but this truly was an amazing and perfect adventure. I hope that the stories and images have inspired others to take off and travel. To spend time alone, to be motivated to make dreams happen.
If you are not incessantly thrilled with any aspects of your life right now, make changes. Fight for it. We only have so many rotations around the sun and we need to make them awesome. Thank you for following this journey, many blessings and much love to you all.