3 things I wish I'd known before I tested out van life on an epic 13-day road trip

3 things I wish I'd known before I tested out van life on an epic 13-day road trip
  • I knew that a 13-day trip in a campervan would involve plenty of lessons learned.

  • But there were a few things I wish I'd known before the 3,000-mile journey.

  • Finding parking spots was easier than I imagined and daily tasks took more time than expected.

Like any trip or adventure, I went into my recent 13-day van trip across the American West with expectations, fears, and assumptions.

By the time I had wrapped up the 3,000-mile trip in my rented campervan, there were a few things that I wish I'd known before the journey.

For starters, finding camping spots was less stressful than I imagined

The author's parking spot on the Bureau of Land Management land.
The author's parking spot on the Bureau of Land Management land.Monica Humphries/Insider

As I hit the road for my 13-day van trip, I couldn't shake my stress.

While I had reserved some campsites for the trip, on a handful of nights I had no clue where I'd park for the evening.

I feared finding last-minute parking spots would be a nightmare. I was worried I would deplete my camping budget too early on in the trip. And my biggest concern was that I just wouldn't be able to find a safe spot to sleep.

Thankfully, my fears didn't come to fruition. Finding campsites, parking lots, and places to rest was far easier than I had imagined.

Apps and websites like iOverlander and FreeCampsite.net made looking for camping spots easy. There, I could see maps, reviews, photos, and suggestions on where I could — and couldn't — park.

In cities, I turned to the parking lots of places like Cracker Barrel and Walmart for quick, overnight stops. And out West, I relied on Bureau of Land Management land, which is land free for public use.

Simple tasks take more time and are less convenient in a 75-square-feet van

The author fills up her water tank at a filling station.
The author fills up her water tank at a filling station.Monica Humphries/Business Insider

In my apartment, if I want to shower, I get up and walk to my bathroom.

It's a different story in a van.

If I wanted to shower, I had to find a nearby gym, RV park, or gas station that offers showers on Google Maps, then drive there, pack up all my toiletries and belongings, and of course pay to access the shower.

What was once a simple task became an afternoon adventure. And showering was just one example.

Assessing how many groceries could fit into my mini-fridge took planning. Filling up my water tank required money, time, and research. Dumping my grey water tank also wasn't simple.

What were easy tasks outside of a van, required time and effort inside one.

Thankfully, van life had its benefits. I experienced new places, met people I would've never encountered, and learned more about myself — which was all easily worth the extra effort of everyday tasks.

I learned too late that traveling slowly is the way to truly experience van life

Business Insider's author watches a sunrise in Joshua Tree, California.
Business Insider's author watches a sunrise in Joshua Tree, California.Monica Humphries/Business Insider

I wandered around La Posa in Quartzite, Arizona, surrounded by hundreds of rigs.

Massive RVs with pullouts were stationed in the desert along with campervans, truck campers, minivans, tents, school buses, charter buses, travel trailers, and converted ambulances. Any vehicle I could imagine found a temporary home on this swath of public land.

There was so much to see and so many people to talk to. But my schedule only included one full day in Quartzite, and I missed opportunities to meet the range of people living on the road.

The same thing happened in Joshua Tree, California. I had a lengthy list of places I wanted to see and felt rushed as I popped around the national park and the region's small towns.

By the end of the trip, I was exhausted. I questioned if this lifestyle could be sustainable long-term. Then I realized that it wasn't a problem with van life — it was a problem with my pace.

In 13 days, I covered 3,021 miles and six states.

It was more of an adventure than a trial run at the lifestyle — which was my original purpose for the trip.

By traveling fast, I didn't have a chance to experience the solitude that often comes with van life, and I didn't have room for spontaneity.

Looking back, I wish I had traveled slower. That way I could've truly experienced the destinations I was visiting and taken the time to get to know the people I encountered.

Next time, I won't be in such a rush.

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