Wherein, on this day, our one year anniversary, your intrepid travelers dispense with the niceties of traveling full-time and give you the benefit of their experiences in short, easy to digest, thoughts about van life. "Van Life" is used loosely here, please don't mistake us for those lovely model types you may have come across who post on Instagram (#vanlife) and appear to be straight out of central casting for an Abercrombie and Fitch ad, have svelte physiques, and appear to lead extremely charmed existences on the road. We're pretty, just not that pretty and yes, it's a pretty charmed existence, if you're realistic about expectations. 😎
This is where folks with disposable income who have stars in their eyes about what it might be like to travel full-time in a luxury vehicle like the Leisure Travel Van, meet two people who have actually been doing it for a year. Make no mistake, full-time travel in the LTV is over-the-top great, if you first do your due diligence and then wrap your privileged head around what you're actually about to do.
We have no home base, that is, no physical place to which we return after yet another great adventure on the road seeing all the sights. Our only home is Miranda, our 2019 Unity Island Bed. We don't yet know where we may end up when our travels end, but for us, that's part of the appeal. We do have a 5x20 storage unit with stuff we increasingly can live without.
Our children, our two sons, who have just recently graduated university, had two quite different reactions when we announced our intentions to hit the road. One thought it was a very cool idea and was jealous. The other, "Well, that's the craziest fucking idea I've heard recently." (Please note, we don't condone that kind of negative review regarding our very adult intentions, but as a parent, whaddaya gonna do, right?)
While the crazy fucking idea son is the only person who actually voiced that opinion about our impending travels aloud, you can bet he wasn't the only person we told who thought it so. You may view their two very different reactions as two ends of the a continuum regarding full-time travel, as in, yes please, traveling full-time sounds like a great dream to me. The other end being, no, you both are surely out of your fucking minds and, by the way, which one of you conjured up that particular brand of craziness. I need to know in case it's contagious or hereditary.
Use what you will, ignore what you will. Let common sense prevail.
1. Living in an LTV is camping. You're not going to be living in a condo or apartment on wheels, you are going to be camping. I have likened it to backpacking in the Ritz, but at the end of the day, it's camping. If you want all the comforts and security of a bricks and mortar home, stay home. It's actually that simple. You spent all that money so you can camp in style, but make no mistake, you're still going to be camping.
2. Consider the limitations of living in a small space before you buy. Melanie likens living in the LTV to her dorm room in college. She slept and sometimes ate in her dorm room, but she lived outside the dorm space on campus and elsewhere. Consider whether you actually like the outdoors and all the kinds of weather that entails. Melanie walked to church in the rain today.
3. If organization is your thing, living in a small space on the road shouldn't be too much of a stretch. For example, our clothes are in packing cubes and we basically know what's in each cube, dishes are washed and put away within a reasonable period of time each and every time they are used, avoiding a cluttered sink and galley/living area. I have a list of what's in each bin in our pass-through and basement storage areas on my laptop computer making it easy for me to locate anything I need easily, though I pretty much know where things are now. You need far less than you believe you do. Far less.
4. If you think washing your cloths in a laundromat is below your pay grade, reconsider living on the road. We were staying at an RV Park in Fredericksburg, Texas and I was doing our laundry in their laundry room. A woman who was there with me doing her clothes quipped that she sure missed her washer and dryer. I told her my take on it was that the life I was able to live on the road made the few hours I might spend in a laundry room every few weeks worth it. Well, if you look at it that way, she said. Indeed.
5. Make sure all food that needs to be and/or should be stored is properly packaged. Empty your trash regularly to avoid uninvited varmints. No, really. Dispose of the trash daily and properly. Vacuum the floor, too.
6. Put maintenance reminders on your smart phone. Check the batteries, if you have ones that require maintenance, lubricate the steps, flush the black tank, etc. Know all the regular maintenance schedules required and just do what is required or have someone do it for you. The refrigerator won't defrost itself.
7. Consider ditching the tow car and getting electric assist bicycles. The state of the art of amazing. I consider our bicycles one of the best decisions we made before we started traveling. I can easily run errands and we really like checking out new places on our bikes. Many cities are bicycle friendly with great bike lanes. Try to be in reasonable physical shape when you begin travel and exercise regularly.
8. Set a reasonable number of miles per day for traveling and stay at least two days in any given location. For us, that's no more than 200 miles. That's not etched in stone. We've traveled 500 miles in a day to avoid staying in 95 degree temperatures with no electrical hook up and a generator that needed service before. We've gotten to a campground and immediately decided one night was maybe too many. If you travel every day, you'll soon begin to wear yourself out.
9. Wrap your head around conservation and you're on your way towards being happy camping in the LTV. Learn to use less water, less electricity. Use public restroom facilities and campground showers when possible. I didn't pay all that money to do what your talking about, you might think. Yes. Yes you did. That may not suit you, but if not, stay home and take that nice long shower, use the dishwasher and your own washing machine, just don't kid yourself about what's being promised you by LTV. It's camping, high-end camping, but it's a very different lifestyle than living in a bricks and mortar home.
10. We chase weather. What that means is we try not to be in locations where the outside temperatures are either too hot or too cold. During the past year we experienced both. If we have to choose, we prefer too cold. When it's too hot, you can't take off enough clothes to be comfortable, too cold, layering clothing works just fine for comfort.
When it's hot, you're forced to run the air conditioner, even when traveling down the highway. Once the ambient temperature outside reaches around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, you might as well stop the van, crank up the generator, and turn on the air conditioner. Running the air conditioner is not a bad thing per se, it works very well, especially during daylight hours, but sleeping while the AC is running is challenging, at least for us, because of the noise.
Too cold presents another set of problems. LTV will tell you the vans are 3 season vehicles and that's pretty much the case, notwithstanding, what I just mentioned about the heat. When the temperatures begin to drop below freezing, the van becomes vulnerable to freezing pipes and tanks.
We have heated black and grey water tanks, the fresh water tank is located beneath the bed (which doesn't make it completely safe when it freezes, but helps), but there are at least two additional areas that are vulnerable to freezing temperatures, the service bay and macerator pump. We spent a few nights where the temperatures dipped just below freezing and one night when the temperature dropped to 19 degrees. I keep a shop lamp in the van with a 60 watt incandescent bulb in it. I placed the shop lamp in the service area where the outside shower is located. The shop lamp kept the ambient temperature in the service bay in the 40's Fahrenheit all night.
Any problems you may have with freezing temperatures will most likely occur should the temperature not move above freezing after a reasonable amount of time the next day. I am not, however, advocating you not be concerned with freezing temperatures and/or avoid them. LTV's are 3 season vehicles.
11. Consider a Planet Fitness Black membership. We use it for both exercise and, more often, showers.
12. Peruse our resources page. Follow people who have been traveling full-time and have blogs and YouTube Channels that will give you some really valuable insights. Due diligence is important before you jump.
13. Be mindful of connectivity issues. Because Melanie has part-time job we, travel in support of her non-profit organization and she needs to be connected via the internet. Check out Technomadia before you buy anything related to being connected on the road, including options offered by LTV. The Technomadia folks make a living assisting people with connectivity issues.
Composed with all the seriousness and sarcasm I could muster. See you on the road.
October 19, 2019
On the 27th of this month Melanie and I will have spent a year's time living and traveling the United States of America in our home on wheels, Miranda. As I type this, I'm in the mountains of north Georgia visiting with friends, Melanie is currently traveling out of country on a work-related trip. What a year it has been.
To give you some idea of the kind of year we've had, we have parked Miranda in 123 distinct places and traveled through 32 states. By the time October 2019 has expired, Miranda is likely to have close to 25,000 miles logged on the odometer.
Over the next few days leading up to our one year anniversary, I hope to type in some thoughts about our year in Miranda.
People ask periodically, what place(s) are favorite(s).
For me, the Grand Canyon, Big Bend and Acadia National Park are difficult to beat when it comes to scenic places to play. I also enjoyed my time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, Austin, Texas, Tucson, Arizona, and crazy middle-of-no-where, Marfa, Texas. No particular order.
My favorite camping spot was Overlook Campground, Chinle, New Mexico. Remote and beautiful. As with many things like a camping spot, timing is an essential element. I've read reviews of Overlook Campground campsite complaining of the locals, the noise and, if I remember correctly, some unsavory characters. There was one other camper at Overlook when we were there. He was a traveling artist and we bought a rock painted like a dog head from him. Al, named after the artist, is our pet rock dog who lies on the floor on Melanie's side of the van. He's a good boy. Really quiet too. No barking. I do imagine, however, he'd pack a vicious impact on someone's head, if such a thing ever became necessary. Guard dog rock.
He's been missing Melanie too. Jus' sayin'.
Melanie tells me that highlights for her include, in no particular order of preference, Lake Michigan (Monroe, Grand Haven, Ludington and Traverse City) shore towns, Big Bend National Park, Acadia National Park, Cleveland, Ohio, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Vermont. I can't disagree. It has been and continues to be difficult to choose which experience and where might be considered "the best."
A Checklist is Necessary
I'm sitting in a KOA campground in Natural Bridge, Virginia this morning having coffee and breakfast pondering our travels. In case you will wonder, no, I will not be taking in the actual Natural Bridge located nearby this time through. I may never take it in and, of course, will most likely be missing something extraordinary. The town is called Natural Bridge. It must be something. Such is life on the road. It's not just a vacation and sometimes one simply doesn't feel very touristy. Right now another cup of coffee sounds better.
Melanie is traveling in the Middle East for work and has been away since October 11. I miss her for many reasons but one of them is having her around to run through our RV pre-departure checklist before we move each time. It's a ritual, it's the mundane stuff of travel, but we've found that skipping it, skimming it or ignoring it will cost you.
Going through it without her makes me miss her all the more, especially since I'm generally the one reading out items as she checks to make sure they are done, except for items performed outside the vehicle like tire pressure. I have no one to blame except myself if something isn't right, at least for two more sleeps anyway.
Since I've been a backpacker all my adult life, having a checklist for this kind of camping was a natural thing. Backpacking often puts you miles away from a trailhead and miles away from some essential item you may need for survival. My brother (from another mother) and life-long backpacking friend, John, is the master of the backpacking checklist. He'd spreadsheet every item (weigh it too) and then we'd discuss who would bring and/or carry what items. The checklist was always one of the essentials when planning a backpacking trip. While we now know pretty much what items of clothing, kitchen wares, etc. we need and use, the following is maybe the most essential check list for van life.
Blue Jobs and Pink Jobs
We're back in Summit, New Jersey at our friend, Diana's home. Melanie is back from the Middle East.
Never was the concept of teamwork more apparent than recently when Melanie was away for a few weeks. Moving and operating the van became a much slower process with me checking the Pre-departure list twice at times.
Before we purchased Miranda, we traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to test drive a Leisure Travel Van. I was in touch with Don Klassen, Territory Sales Manager for Leisure Travel Vans, and he agreed to allow us to drive the van in which he was currently traveling.
He jokingly (sort of) told us that if we were to purchase a van we'd have to make a list of "blue and pink jobs." Melanie quickly picked up on the reference and replied all van jobs would be blue jobs. She was along for the ride.
While there are no gender-specific jobs, no list of Steven or Melanie jobs, each of us has things we perform to keep Miranda, and our lives, running smoothly. It's the proverbial well-oiled machine at this point.
Location, Location, Locations
Over the past year, Melanie, Miranda and I have spent days and weeks in a variety of locations from National Parks to driveways of friends (where we are now), State Parks, and locations using services to which we subscribe.
Because of Melanie's work, some of our best locations have been staying with people (and new friends) who are affiliated with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. We've made new friends and chuckled about what people who haven't any idea about us or Miranda, but have offered a place for Miranda to park sight unseen, think before we actually show up. I mean, two people from Alabama traveling full-time in an RV coming to visit. Cousin Eddie and Christmas Vacation may come to mind.
We use Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts, two services for which we pay a yearly fee and for which we can then stay a night or two without incurring a fee. Each service has something unique to offer and we generally utilize these services when we don't necessarily need to have power, water or sewer connections.
The driveways of friends are also places we like. They offer a chance to catch up with friends both new and old.
We've also stayed in the parking lots of Bass Pro Shops a few times. They don't offer anything with the exception of a security patrol because of the boats they have on site. While both Cracker Barrel and Walmart parking lots are available, we've never had to or chosen to stay with them.
Each location has something to offer and all of them are essential to our enjoyment of full-time travel.
The Year Ahead
We leave Summit Monday, October 28th, and after events in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island we'll drive south to North Carolina to visit friends, Tennessee, to visit our son, and then head towards the southwest for winter.
Our current plan is to move into Nevada, California and work our way up the west coast then come spring move across the top of the country. Watch this space.
Steven and Melanie