Good ole America. Before embarking on our cross-country road trip, I really hadn’t seen much of my homeland. Drew, on the other hand, had traveled with his family in an RV as a kid, visiting National Parks and other cool places, so by the time we left for our trip he had just 8 more states to see before seeing them all. Now, after spending nearly a year living life on the road, I am happy to say that not only am I finally catching up (now Drew only has 1 left – Vermont – yay!), but we have both come to truly appreciate how much America has to offer.
We showed you how to travel across Iceland in a camper van (and we’re about to do it in Europe!), but if you’re new to life on the road, or perhaps you live abroad, it’s important to note that America has a few more regulations and a lot more regulated land, meaning that it takes a bit more research and awareness to avoid any hiccups along the road. So, without further hesitation we share with you our video and guide to traveling across America in a camper van!:
1. Let’s start with getting the actual camper van itself.
Available in all different shapes, sizes and colors, we may be a bit partial, but we believe that our 21-foot Leisure Travel Van, is the absolute most ideal. Not only does it fit into a normal parking spot with ease, but we get just over 20-miles per gallon and 6-foot Drew can stand up perfectly tall inside. I can stand up, stretch my hands above my head and practice yoga, just in case you were wondering.
We think the best solution is to purchase one, whether new or used, especially if you are planning to be on the road for more than 6 months. Auto Trader is a great resource for used campers, but if that’s out of the question, Wicked Campers, Jucy Rentals and Escape Campervans are the best (and coolest) rental companies out there.
2. But how do you afford a camper van in the first place, let alone life on the road?!
START SAVING NOW. Drew and I both have always been ones to save our money and while we were working our full-time jobs in LA we decided to continue with the trend. We knew we loved our weekend getaways and adventure gear more than that $15 cocktail or that $100 pair of jeans… though, we must admit it was all quite tempting, especially living in Americas most amazing playground!We worked hard, developed a love for one-of-a-kind consignment shop finds and always found a true sense of joy in inviting our friends over before a night out on the town. There are always little ways in which you can save money here and there and, if you keep your eyes on the prize (freedom), it’ll be a piece of cake. Read our post on how we live on $1,000 a month for more insight and ideas.
3. What about hygiene? Like, where do you shower?
This seems to be the question that all our family members have asked at one point or another. Besides our outdoor shower (which is really only appropriate in so many places) and the indoor shower (which we don’t use because our van only holds 26 gallons of water at a time and we need it to last as long as possible), we have gym memberships at Anytime Fitness!
With over 2,345 locations through out the US and Canada we never seem to be more than a day away! There are also showers at nearly every campground (keep quarters on hand, many are coin operated, especially in New England) and then there are truck stop showers, though we have never gone to one of those (they are a bit more expensive but you do get a fresh towel).
4. How do you get wifi to write and publish blog posts?
We hang out in A LOT of coffee shops and drink A LOT of lattes and tea, and we LOVE every moment of it.
Insider Tip: If we park close enough, we are usually able to stream wifi from McDonald’s, Anytime Fitness and most Starbucks’ right from our van!
We also use our iPhones as hot spots but the connection is very, very spotty and our data plan isn’t big enough to allow us to upload photos to the web. Most of the time Drew will drive and I will write posts and ideas in a Word doc until we get to a cafe where I can then put the final touches on everything. Here is a great article on using data safely while traveling.
5. Where do you park the van at night?
While most Walmart’s, and Sam’s Clubs are known for allowing vans to park overnight (if there’s a sign that says they don’t, be polite and go ask the manager), we only use these if we find ourselves driving late in the evening, simply in need of a place to rest. Our main go to is “boondocking” in hotels and unrestricted neighborhoods, though we’ve added a hospital, a church, a school and a few Tim Horton’s in Canada to the list.
Wondering how many parking tickets we’ve scored? Get ready for it… ONE. In the tiny, Bostonian town of Brookline, where there is a no parking ordinance between 2-6am, apparently there are no street signs for those.
Insider Tip: When parking in a neighborhood (which is what we do most often) it’s important to be very respectful and very quiet. We tend to get ready for bed elsewhere, so when it comes time to park, all we have to do is close the curtains, turn off the lights and crawl (literally) into bed. Oh and bring ear plugs just in case.
Our favorite place to park? Campgrounds. No tip toeing around, you can sprawl out in nature, hoist up the awning, set up camp, light a nice big campfire, slowdown the time and enjoy each other’s company in some of the most memorable of settings.
6. Get leveling blocks.
Not only is this necessary for not rolling over onto your partner every night, but in order for your refrigerator to function properly the vehicle must be level (more great info on this here). We even mounted levels in various places throughout the car in order to keep our eyes on it and make sure we were helping our fridge run properly, which we had more problems with than you could imagine. You can buy brightly-colored plastic leveling blocks but we opted to make our own from scrap wood – more economical, sustainable and incognito. One ten-foot, 2×8 board cut into four two-foot boards and two one-foot boards.
7. Check the weather before blazing your trail, and then check it again.
Before this trip we lived in LA, meaning it was always sunny, meaning we never, ever had to check the weather, meaning we had to learn the hard way a few times.
We use the app, “WeatherUnderground,” which always seems to have the most accurate and reliable forecast information. When we see rain on the horizon we prepare for a museum day or a marathon of writing and editing photos in an internet café and if there’s sun, we know we’ll be outside exploring the incredible, new world and people around us.
8. How do you deal with you know… “van maintenance”?
Well, thankfully Drew deals with this part, but about every 2 weeks we have to refill our fresh water tank and get rid of any… waste. We search “dump station” on GoogleMaps and look for nearby campgrounds, parks or gas stations (Flying J) that offer these services. The most we’ve ever paid is $15, but we’re pretty sure it shouldn’t cost more than $10, and most times it’s free. One of the worst things we’ve ever seen at a dump-station? A father and son playing with and drinking directly from the hose!!
Oh WHY!? It’s important to practice the highest form of sanitation at all times. We couldn’t bear watch them any longer.
Oh dear, the packing, our favorite part… We did a week-long trial run in The Keys before leaving on our Big Adventure, which, if you are able to do so, we highly recommend. We also have a renter’s insurance policy which covers all the items in our van should anything happen. Below is us taking inventory of all our gear just before leaving. (Confession: we maybe wrote down 20 items before getting distracted and never ended up finishing the list):
Some of the most useful items we had aboard include:
An Atlas – did you know that there are still places in America that don’t get service?! If you find yourself driving through Kansas, South Dakota, Montana and surprisingly so, a few more places, you’ll be way glad you dusted off that map and stuffed it in your dash.
Double USB car converter – this plugs right into the lighter hole, which you don’t need anyway, and if you smoke, quitting is another recommendation we suggest 😉
Wifi enabled camera – You know that CRAZY photo you captured of an elk licking your mirror?!… what if you could upload it directly from your DSLR to your phone, allowing you to immediately share your favorite, most incredible photos with your friends and eagerly awaiting Insta followers? We know, awesome right. An Ollo Clip/ LensBaby/ GoPro/ DSLR (with wifi) – If you’ve been waiting for a reason to amp up your camera gear, NOW IS THE TIME. You’re probably going to do it eventually, so why not bite the bullet and have all the best gear to capture the endless adventures, beautiful sites and unique people that lie ahead! Read our post on our fave camera gear here.
Portable battery packs for our phones – there are no outlets in nature and when in cities we find ourselves exploring and Googling things to do and places to see until all our juices have run out. Origaudio’s 10-4 can charge an iPhone up to 6 full times before needing to be recharged and it has 4 USB outlets so Drew and I can charge our phones simultaneously. You’ll also want to read up on these battery-saving tips.
A foam roller – a bit random maybe, but brilliant YES. With the amount of hiking, site-seeing, van-sleeping and everything else you’ll most likely be doing, this will become your new best friend. Tip: the 24″ fits perfectly in the “hallway” of our Sprinter van!
At least 1 BPA-free Nalgene water bottle per person – trust us, we live out of these things. Drew’s even glows in the dark so it’s easy to find at night! I place my pink, sparkly one next to his so I know it’s never too far away. WE. LOVE. NALGENE.
Paper plates and bowls – they will save you time and water. TRUST US, it’s one of the best tricks we discovered.
A small folding table and swivel seat – because this:
Miscellaneous: Clorox wipes, paper towels, toiletries bag (so it’s easy to go in and out of showering venues), mountain bikes (good for all terrains), thick blanket (for winter), re-chargeable, battery-powered fan (for summer), mini-calendar, cork board for polaroids and ticket stubs (velcro, double sided tape and sticky hooks come in handy for the initial set-up), Chapstick, sunscreen, watercolor paints, travel +art journal, laundry bag (a big one), box of granola bars and case of non-refrigerated almond milk from Costco (lasts for a good while), sun shade for the windshield, long-stem lighter, rags, rubber bands (you’d be surprised), hammock and a couple good books.
The more we travel, the more we see, the more we learn and the more places we want to go! A year on the road, which at one point felt so long, now feels like we barely scraped the surface. The longer we’re in a place the longer we want to stay, so one final word of advice, GIVE YOURSELF MORE TIME because no matter when you finish, the truth is, the “real world” will always be there and there is more to see than you could ever begin to imagine. Go Get em tiger!