Vanlife…where do we even begin? I must admit vanlife was the furthest thing from MY DREAM. After moving to California, Kevin became obsessed with the idea of living in a van, quitting his job, and traveling the country! I, on the other hand, needed convincing! But after two years of Kevin’s constant nagging, I finally caved and I must say, it’s one of the best decisions we ever made! That being said, getting into vanlife can be quite a challenge which is why we want to share with you some of our super helpful must-know tips for vanlife! We hope that this post helps newbie vanlifers, like we were, find free camping, potable drinking water, new destinations, and so much more!
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Have you ever been to the beach only to notice you forgot your towel, chair, and sunscreen? Well starting vanlife without a few must-have phone applications is kind of the same thing!
There are tons of apps that can be downloaded to help vanlifers/RVers. Apps such as The Dyrt, FreeRoam, Recreation.gov, Campendium, and more. Though all of these are great, they are not necessarily our favorites. A few apps we definitely recommend downloading for vanlife are Harvest Host, iOverlander, and Google Maps.
Though the Harvest Host application is free the membership is not. That being said, we still recommend becoming a member. Members of Harvest Host have access to a network of wineries, breweries, golf courses, farms, distilleries, museums, and other attractions that invite self-contained vanlifers/RVers to visit and stay on their property overnight. This allows campers a unique place to stay while hosts hope to receive support from guests in the form of a wine/beer tasting, farm purchase, museum tickets, etc.
Harvest Host is something Kevin and I recommend because let’s face it, sleeping in the local Wal-Mart and Cracker Barrel gets old! Not only that, supporting local businesses and meeting like-minded people are some of our favorite experiences while out on the road, so it’s pretty much a win-win!
THIS APP IS A MUST!
We cannot stress the need for this app enough! Not only does it provide users with both free and paid campgrounds, but it also shares dump stations, tourist attractions, laundromats, water fill stations, mechanic shops, and more! It’s literally like a one-stop shop for all things vanlife and overlanding!
Kevin and I found this app to be super useful while exploring the US but this app was also our go-to in Baja, Mexico! We always used it while looking for campsites, laundry services, and purified water and it rarely steered us wrong!
Google Maps is another app we 100% recommend downloading. This app is great because you can download “offline maps” ahead of time so you’ll always know where you’re going!
We found that having the downloaded maps was critical while in Baja because there were a number of times when we did not have service but needed to figure out where we were going.
Google Maps is also great because it allows users to save places to “lists.” We love this feature because we can save places that we really liked so we can recommend them to others or visit again ourselves!
This is one of those things that all vanlifers feel a little differently about. For us, water is a must…drinking water, shower water, sink water, just about all the water you can think of, HA! However, some vanlifers do well with way less water than what Kevin and I carry. It really comes down to personal preference and how good you are at conserving.
For me, a shower and sink were must-have requirements for the van. This also meant that installing a large water tank was a must as well. That being said our van carries around 41 gallons of water. We have a 33-gallon water tank that expanded to about 35 gallons (long story, HA) and a 6-gallon jerry-can.
How long does this last? 41 gallons usually lasts us about 4-7 days depending on our location and what we are doing. For instance in Baja this much water lasted about 4 days due to showering daily, cooking the majority of our food, and hydrating adequately on the beach. However, when we were on our winter snowboard adventure, 41 gallons of water typically lasted us a week maybe a little more because we ate out more, showered less, etc.
As we said above, we recommend using iOverlander to find potable safe water. iOverlander shares an unlimited number of water fill-up stations with users that are both free and paid.
Vanlife dumping and trash tips are pretty self-explanatory and don’t differ much from traditional tent camping. For the most part, pack out what you pack in unless you are lucky enough that your campsite has proper receptacles for your trash/recycling.
While on the road Kevin and I always utilized public trash/recycling bins whenever necessary. Unfortunately, through our travels, we have found that sometimes it is easier to find trash cans over recycle bins, and therefore more times than not we had to hold on to our recycling until we found the proper place for it.
As for black and grey water, we found iOverlander and a website called, Sanidumps, to be very useful!
Finding campsites and places to stay can be one of the most challenging tasks while living in your van/RV. For Kevin and me, finding a place we both liked always seemed to be a bit problematic. Though, there is always the option of staying at the local Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, or Cabelas. Finding off-grid campsites can be a little more difficult. That being said we 100% recommend downloading iOverlander and becoming a member of Harvest Host. These apps will make finding a campsite much easier and help find free places to stay in addition to established campgrounds which can fill up quickly.
Harvest Host allows you to say at local, family-owned, unique businesses rather than chains like Wal-Mart and Cracker Barrel which is why we personally like this option.
Throughout our travels, our favorite places to camp have been BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, state parks, and breweries/wineries we have found through our Harvest Host membership!
From the beginning, Kevin has loved vanlife much like he knew he would. For me, I’m surprised how much I’ve enjoyed our time on the road together.
We frequently get asked what it’s like living in such a small space and if we get tired of each other. The truth is, prior to vanlife Kevin worked from home, so really not much has changed for us. We have constantly been together, other than while I’m at work or Kevin is surfing, for years now and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Sure on rainy days, the van starts to get a little tight but I’m sure that’s everyone’s experience and not just ours.
What we didn’t realize prior to starting vanlife is how many decisions need to be made on a daily basis. Decisions like where to sleep, where to get water, when to do laundry, how many miles to drive in a single day, what we want to see in a given location, etc. For Kevin and I, we’ve found that you either have to go with the flow or you need a plan because figuring it out on the road is sometimes difficult.
Since we err more on the side of planning, Kevin and I try to plan how far we drive in a day and find a few campsites in that area prior to getting on the road. We also agree that for us it is helpful to discuss what “chores” we need to accomplish that day. For example, food shopping, laundry, getting water, etc.
To date, we have traveled the entire east coast from Maine to Key West and across the country while visiting some of the best mountains in the US. Most recently we traveled to Baja, Mexico!
Baja is by far our favorite van life destination! Like most, we had reservations about crossing the border into Mexico but it was honestly one of the best decisions we have made. We love everything about vanlife Baja. The beaches, the culture, the people, the weather, it was all absolutely amazing!
Though I’m sure some of the horror stories about Mexico are true, Kevin and I can honestly say that there was never a time we felt unsafe while traveling through Baja. So we definitely recommend it to anyone thinking about Baja!
Other vanlife destinations we’ve enjoyed are:
Though these are just a few of the places we’ve visited in our van, they are some of our favorites!
Charleston was great for vanlife while we were there! We actually parked in the city without being bothered, which allowed us to spend a lot of time exploring all the beautiful little streets/alleys and enjoy the city’s history. However, I’m not sure if parking in the city is still allowed.
As for Colorado, there is so much to do there regardless of the season. Whether you enjoy hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, etc. there is a little something for everyone. Not to mention the beautiful scenery that will surround you!
We definitely recommend checking out Northern California on your vanlife adventures as well. Not only is it full of hiking and skiing/snowboarding opportunities, but there are a number of natural hot springs to check out!
Rhode Island and Maine are two additional states we loved visiting in the van. Both states are stunning all year, but in the fall the foliage is absolutely breathtaking. There are also a number of cute towns and cities along both coasts that are worth a visit. For example, Maine’s coastline is incredible with towns such as Bar Harbor, Camden, Stonington, and more. In Rhode Island, we recommend visiting Newport, Providence, Narragansett, and Watch Hill!
Lastly, we recommend checking out UTAH. Utah is absolutely amazing with so much to see and do and so many awesome places to FREE camp! In our experience, the free camping in Utah is so of the best and it is home to a few of our favorite campsites ever!
Well, that’s all for now! We hope that these super helpful must-know tips for vanlife help you while out on the road and/or help you prepare for your upcoming vanlife adventures.
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