Van Life – The things they don’t tell you!

Many enter into a full time RV life, or “Van life”, without the background to know what they are truly getting into. This way of life, may be nothing new to anyone that has camped through-out their lives.  But the endless duration of being bound to the road, may have never been their experience either?

Though this option for a way of living life, has certainly been glorified by Hollywood, recently.

Many even sell their life long homes to finance a rig with all the bells and whistles.  Then they set off on the road thinking everything will be wonderful and beautiful.  They ignore the big difference between camping for a weekend, or a couple of back to back weeks.  Verses finding one’s self camping and relocation for weeks, months, or even years.  They don’t even have a home base to return to, and take a breather.

Perhaps it has been a lifelong dream they attempt to fulfill?  Many will not communicate the true picture of this way of life.  They may only boast of the good part of this lifestyle?

Others set off on this lifestyle in their younger years.  They are out to live a life of adventure.  They set off trying to accomplish this lifestyle on a minimalistic shoestring budget.  They throw some camping gear into a vehicle and off they go.  No real plan.  They plan on finding odd jobs along the way when they run out of cash.  They are basically living one step up from being truly homeless.  They don’t think about things like winter that will eventually come.

Then there is a whole large group of those in between.  They buy or build a rig within a budget.  They have a means of income.  They set off to live a life on the road.  But many soon find out this type of life is nowhere near what it has been glorified to be.

During the Covid epidemic many have taken to the road as a way of living.   While there may be a romanticized view of life on the road, the true nature of this life is seldom represented factually.  They forget to mention the bugs, the dirt, rains, cold, too hot, constant living in a confined space, sickness or health concerns, and taking pets on the road with them.

For an example.  Those attempting to live on the “Cheap”, means they are overnighting at locations with a higher risk to their safety, or at least less pleasant surroundings.  Spending your nights in an Interstate Rest Stop or Walmart parking lot of an unknown part of a City.  Well that is not close to my idea of being safe or even pleasant.

Trucks stops with many people around 24/7, are a step up (safety wise) from a rest stop or Walmart.  But then you have to often deal with noise.   Sure, a truck stop is doable in a pinch here and there.  But do you seriously want to spend your time in one night after night?  This is a far cry from the vision of endless campfires or coastal vistas out your open window I envision.

More and more, safety is a major concern.  With increased crime, travelers are often a target if you put yourself in the wrong situation.  Fringe areas of larger cities often look safe during daylight hours.  Being a non-local you may find nightfall brings out an unanticipated scary element.  “Ignorance is bliss” mentality can get you into a serious situation.

Over-nighting in remote areas with no one else around can be equally as hazardous.

Attempting to eliminate personal risks, leads to more acceptable forms of “camping”.  Over-nighting where there is some form of supervision.   Safer nightly destinations like state or federal campgrounds that are supervised by some form of law enforcement, such as rangers.  Or commercially run campgrounds or RV parks.   But they are not free for the most part.

With the recent interest in camping.   RVing, and living the Van Life type of scenario, many are finding such campgrounds full.  If it is a popular destination with those awesome views everyone is seeking…competition for a site is exponentially increased.

Reservations systems are replacing “first come, first served” options.  All of which now require advanced planning, making reservations, having a credit card, etc.  That’s if you can even find an opening.  While smart phone apps can help locate such opportunities.  All of this leads back to a cluttered, regimented tech life.  The type of life, many were attempting to escape.

Places that used to charge something nominal like $5 or $10 a night are mostly gone.  RV type parks with all the amenities are easily getting $50 -$100 a night.  At the same time they are filling all their sites.

Those with rigs in the longer length range are finding it even more difficult to find a space in any type of organized campground.  If your rig is older or unsightly to any degree, you may be turned away or asked to leave.

If you park your rig overnight, in the wrong public area, and attempt to sleep.  You can expect to get ticketed for violating an ordinance that is often not posted, or the sign is missing, bent over, etc.  Some states or localities are more strict and on top of enforcement, than others.

Many have embraced boondocking.  It’s the “hippie” movement of our current time.  Camping in dispersed open area’s that have no rules against it.  Western USA often has open BLM land that snowbirds flock to.  They seek refuge to “winter over” where it is as warm as can be.  To socialize with like minded spirits.

Then in early spring as the area starts to warm up, these “full timers” disperse to other parts of the country where daytime temperatures are acceptable.   Perhaps even moving with the seasonal changes.  Often traveling to visit, stay, or update with family and friends.

Boondocking comes with its own joys.  Sometimes you can enjoy it as a solo rig out in the middle of the open desert.  Or “on the Road people” can enjoy grouping up with friends or acquaintances.  In fact, some areas of the USA desert southwest have huge communities spring up, creating relatively safe harbor for the winter months.   Quartzite, Arizona is one of the more well-known locations.  The area gets an influx of tens of thousands boondocking on open desert.

Boondocking also comes with its own set of un-pleasantries to be considered.   You don’t get to escape chores just because you hit the road and started traveling.  There is always something to be concerned about and worry about.  Are the solar panels keeping the batteries charged up, are we conserving our water well enough? Not to mention you might not have hot water unless you boil it?  Body wash-up in a bucket or pan…or perhaps you can enjoy the luxury of a solar shower bag?

If you aren’t keen on washing up in cold water.  Running out of water in the middle of a shower.  Or things like having to hole up in a small space during bad weather.  You might not want to sell the farm to purchase your rig.

You will find yourself thinking…. Are my waste holding tanks getting filled up?  Did I plan when and where I will legally dump them?  Paying to dump holding tanks is often met with at least a $10 fee.  Though at times, many campgrounds include that in their overnight camping fee.

Please don’t tell me you are the type that finds it acceptable to dump holding tanks out on the ground.  Believe me those types are out there.  I have tried to set up where they decided to dump their black tanks.  It stinks as bad as that mentality that goes with it.

Unless you are hand washing your dirty laundry in your sink.  You will have to factor in the time, means, money, and perhaps routine trips to a laundromat.  RV parks on occasion can be more economical if you do your laundry in their laundromat, dump the rigs holding tanks, and fill the rigs water tanks, all while paying for one night to stay over.  RV Parks often come with more amenities such as a pool or even a small store.

Many new to hitting the road “full time”.  Especially the “full timers” that have no home base to ever return to.  They often fail to think about things like, mail, doctor records, prescriptions, etc.  In this era of Covid even getting vaccinated if you are so inclined.  Living a mobile nomadic life,  moving from state to state. Erects many hurtles you must constantly clear.

Living this carefree lifestyle often comes with the unexpected.  A vehicle often breaks down.  You are basically going to have to leave your house and many possessions in the hands of a mechanic, repair shop, or their holding area.  If you have the means to rent a vehicle and get a place like a hotel, in this interim time, it may not be all that stressful.   If you are living on a shoestring and there is an expensive repair facing you.  Or you are out in the middle of nowhere with no hotel or rental vehicle available.  That can certainly elevate your stress or put you in a strange and often helpless situation!

Finally….  There is always the finality of life itself.  A consideration for a couple living such a lifestyle, that should be well thought out and planned for, well in advance.  What happens to a spouse or partner, should their companion be hospitalized long term, or pass away un-expectantly?  Pre-event thinking and planning applies to a solo person also.

Reflecting as a life long camper and traveler.   I have seen many negative changes to what I used to call “camping”.  The masses have discovered what I once knew as the best places to escape to.  But I am still out there trying to enjoy a campfire, sunrise or sunset, and that odd fellow traveler that brings with him/her the joy of their stories, experiences, and potential friendships.



Lets hear about your camping!

Cargo Conversion Trailer (CTC) in camping mode

In our neck of the woods….a.k.a the desert southwest.  Our season for camping anywhere close to home, all but shuts down June through August.  Its just too dang hot not only during the day, but also at night.

Us desert dwellers often hole up for the summer and become armchair campers.  Or we try to find something suitable at an elevation over 8000ft to get out of the heat

We are 180 degrees out of phase with much of the rest of the country who often times embrace camping the summer months.  Most campers find the 3 summer months the prime season.  Kids are out of school, all parks are open….. prime vacation time.

As for us, our first official scheduled event after our summer lull, comes up the middle of September.  An annual camp-out that includes a Nevada State Park Sponsored Dutch Oven Cooking competition.  It attracts about 50 cooks and 250 food samplers.  It fills the campground….and many bellies!

Send us some of your summer photos camping with your DIY project.  Also include a small write up of where, and the details.  We would enjoy sharing your experiences with our readers and subscribers.

See our Contact Us page for email info.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada –  Annual Dutch Oven Cook-off