We recently returned from a three week adventure in our newly self-converted Chevy Express, affectionately named Casper. It took 8 months of blood, sweat, and tears to take this cargo van to the beautiful camper van it is today. For her maiden voyage, we traveled from Michigan to California and back. We visited a whopping 10 National Parks and various state parks along the way. Throughout our time in the van, we learned many lessons, a few of which we will share with you now!
1.The value of teamwork– Though Eric and I have always known we make a great team, living in a tiny space reminded us how valuable this truly is. If Eric was cooking, I would be tidying up the van. If I was making the bed, Eric would be backing up pictures. If Eric was driving, I would be looking up campsites for the night. Living in a van simplifies your life in many ways but it also presents a lot of unique challenges. Having a partner to share the load makes it much more enjoyable.
2. Not having a loo is really not an issue– People’s favorite question to ask when they see our van is “Where is your toilet?” Well the simple answer is, we don’t really have one, and it’s really not a problem. We do have our beloved Nalgene pee bottle (come on van-lifers, we all have one) for middle of the night potty trips and we have an emergency poop bucket (which we never had to use). For the most part though, we are either out in nature where we can go freely, or in spaces that have public restrooms. There ya go for the TMI for this post!
3. Being self-reliant is a game changer– Supplying our own power, having water on board, and a stocked fridge and pantry, meant we really didn’t have to worry about much on the road. Between 300 watts of solar, our DC-DC charger, and 200 amp/hrs of lithium ion, we had more than enough power. In fact, we cooked electrically more than we used our propane camp stove (Go Instant Pots and electric kettles!) We sprung for a 20 gallon water tank and have not regretted it. In 3 weeks, we only had to fill up 3 times, and got home with 10 gallons extra.
4. Having minimal set-up is a game changer as well– Rocking up to a camp spot and literally not having to do anything to set up camp will never get old. When we travelled to Costa Rica, we rented a truck with a rooftop tent. After dealing with putting that thing up and taking it down every day, we vowed never again. Casper is so dead simple and we absolutely love it.
5. National Parks have the best services- After visiting 10 National Parks in 3 weeks, we learned this lesson well. Having never owned an RV before, we weren’t familiar with having to use dump stations and water fills. Virtually every National Park we visited had a campground that offered these services regardless of whether you were paying for a site there. Shoutout to NPS for saving the day!
6. Never take warm showers for granted– That being said, finding showers was not as difficult as we imagined it would be. Still, when you’re used to showering daily, stretching that to 3 days while using body wipes in between can make you feel less than clean. When we did get a shower, it felt so unbelievably glorious. I’m pretty sure every time we came out of a shower we exclaimed “I feel like a new (wo)man!” Another post on van life hygiene to come!
7. Breaking out of routine makes you feel more alive- This applies to all forms of travel and it is what attracts Eric and I to explore again and again. We have been guilty of going to work, making dinner, having a beer, watching Netflix, and falling asleep on the couch, repeat ad infinitum. When you give in to routine in this way and start living on auto-pilot, you are no longer fully present and time starts to blur together. By changing up routine and spending time more intentionally, we felt ourselves waking up. We were more present, light-hearted, and all around happier. Obviously van life is not a pre-requisite for being fully present, but it was the reminder we needed.
8. Prioritizing storage space pays off royally– Casper is just shy of 70 square feet so we knew we couldn’t waste an inch of space. We wracked our brains for quite some time coming up with our layout and we can honestly say, we wouldn’t change a thing. We had more than enough space to store all of our food, cooking utensils, tools, clothes, etc. Having a dedicated home for everything also paid off. It made keeping the van clean so much simpler.
9. The United States is full of beauty- Building a van was not an easy decision for Eric and I. We debated for a long time whether we wanted to prioritize international or domestic travel. In the end we decided that the van was an investment and literally a vehicle to allow us to travel more often. This trip fully affirmed our decision. This country is truly stunning and has so many unique corners to explore. We saw everything from mountains, to desert, to ocean, in the 6,000 miles we traveled. We cannot wait to continue to explore with Casper in the years to come.
10. Life is really not as complicated as we make it– When you boil it down, all you really need in life is food, shelter, water, and connection to humans and nature. The van allows us to simplify the first three needs so that we can focus on our human and natural connections. We were able to have so many moments where we were fully present with each other and our environment. It was exactly the reminder we needed that so many of the distractions and complications in our lives are simply a human construct. We have created this crazy culture of constant connection, but we are just as capable of opting out of it.
We hope this post has inspired and enlightened you. Whatever brings you passion in life, we hope you Create Your Own Roadshow!
-Ashley and Eric