Van Life: Test phase

I can’t even count how many years now that I’ve been dreaming of van life at this point. When the idea first started I plotted my thoughts into a Pinterest board early on never thinking Brad would consider a smaller space and being confined to the limitations of van life.

It wasn’t until recently he started getting into watching YouTube video about van lifers and van build outs.

With COVID-19 still going on, renting vans and building vans has become the norm and we weren’t quite ready to jump right in and commit to 1.) a new vehicle payment and 2.) a full buildout on top of our full time job.

Instead we decided to look into rental options for a trip to “test” van life. The only problem was finding one to rent since everyone else was doing the same. We stumbled across Native Campervans who has several locations for pick up and drop offs: Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Denver.

Scheduling was a big challenge so we worked together to find dates that a van would be available and we could take off to make it work. We rented a Biggie Van for 9 days from Denver returning to Denver.

Even though we didn’t originally want to stay in Colorado, this forced us to plan accordingly and after all the whole point of the trip was to test out van life and not necessarily the destination(s). Let’s just say this was a totally different way to plan a trip!

Van Onboarding

Native Campervans made this such an easy process with a video tutorial and additional information about the van that wasn’t featured on the website. They’ve opted for a contactless pick up which went well and quick. Check out the onboarding video here

Next stop was Walmart where we loaded up on groceries and a few extra amenities to make the experience a little more convenient and comfortable. Below is a list of items we got for van use:

  • Blanket
  • Rug
  • Candle
  • Command hooks
  • Shower caddy (metal)
  • Mirror
  • Dog bed
  • Tissues
  • Egg crate
  • Water filter hose

Some of these items were probably not necessary, but we found them to make all the difference in the world, especially the blanket, rug and egg crate!

Life in the Van

Despite smaller living quarters and minimal storage space the 3 of us we’re pretty cozy. Though we didn’t have a shower or toilet option inside the van we did plan ahead by bringing a gravity shower (that we only had to use one time) and converted a small water jug into a “pee only” toilet. You may be wondering how I peed in a jug; a simple and life altering solution: tinkle belle.

Meals were easy and fun to make in the van; since we had a propane stove top with two burners and water, there were several boiled and sautéed meals filled with vegetables! Fridge small was small but not too limiting. The van is extremely vegan and vegetarian friendly. Even though Brad and I aren’t on limited diets we decided to forego meat for this trip, minus bacon and what ever meat we ate outside of van meals (which wasn’t much).

Driving was kind of interesting but not as noisy as we anticipated. In fact we we’re pretty impressed that most all our stuff didn’t go flying everywhere but we also made sure to keep the van pretty clean and tidy. There also only one occasion we had stuff fly off the countertop but that was because someone on the freeway slammed on their breaks. To our surprise the Turning radius on this 19 foot long van turned way better than my 4-Runner.

Sleeping was quite comfortable with the addition of the egg crate and extra blanket. One night it dropped to about 28°F outside, inside the van was around 58° because our heater wasn’t working properly. I must say that when we build our own the bed won’t be as high. Poor Daisy couldn’t jump up on the bed and getting down from the bed wasn’t hard but more of a stretch than anything. Brad got the lucky back sleeping spot next to the doors which was fine on the nights it wasn’t as cold (No insulation in the door panels).

Cleaning or keeping the van clean is a must! The space is super small and your “main” entrance is a sliding door where most of the dirt is going to accumulate. This is basically your living space, thankfully Native Campervans provided a small hand broom and dustpan! Sweeping every other day helped.

My favorite part of van life was the constant view change! One hour you’re looking at trees, the next mountains, lakes, valleys, etc. you not only have the front of the van views but also that big “entrance” sliding door also doubles as window with side views that made it feel like you’re looking into your very own backyard in a way. For instance when we stayed in Mesa Verde, we chose a campsite that we could pull into a parallel position. Our door opened to the rock formations, our fire pit and our neighboring campers were hidden by large bushes. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Trust me, it was!

Parking, Overnights, etc.

First and foremost this is the most challenging part of van life because you can’t just park anywhere. It’s illegal to park on the side of roads in many places across the U.S. We are still learning about places to park and stay overnight and you can often stay places for a fee. KOA’s and RV parks are usually the number 1 places to choose with options of hook ups, showers and laundry facilities on property. We stayed at a fair share along the trip and even spent one night parked in a parking lot over looking Blue Lakes (not sure if we were allowed to but we didn’t see signage saying otherwise). BLM is always a safe bet and costs $0. You also have the option of Walmart or Bass Pro shop parking lots.

Most importantly is to make sure you have window coverings and be mindful of where you are at all times. Wild animals, quiet hours, etc are key factors to remember.

Would you do it again?

100%! This was such a great experience and one that we are so glad to have done because it really solidified our plan to build our own. We found so many useful things about this rented van and some we wanted to modify to make better or even omit.

This isn’t for everyone and maybe not even for long periods of time. It takes lots of planning and patience. If you’re not comfortable in the space you’re in now, imagine it getting smaller! If you are comfortable with that idea than this might be for you. It will certain encourage you to think more minimally, but I think we could all use a little bit of that!

If you decide to rent with Native Campervans I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

Share these pinable images below with someone who is considering van life.

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