Vanlife How to: Hygiene while living in a Van/Camper/RV/Car

vanlife hygiene

A common through that many people have when they learn of or consider vandwelling:

“How do you live without a bathroom? Where to you pee? Where do you poop? Oh my god –  Where do you take showers!?  People who live in vans must be filthy. I can’t do that!”

Ok, take a deep breath. Everything’s going to be ok. You’ll be able to poop and pee and keep yourself clean.

What I’ll cover

  • Where to pee. In cities, and out camping
  • Where and how to poop. In cities and out camping
  • How to clean your body. (You don’t need a shower. You need a way to clean your body. Forget about showers. They aren’t as special as you may think)
  • A few other small details

That’s it. This stuff is easy. Once you’ve been living in a van for a few weeks, you’ll be relieved at how simple and easy it can actually be. The things you worried about will be gone.

For women – sorry, I don’t have any specific advice on menstruation, peeing, or makeup. But don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll work out just fine.

vanlife hygiene

 

Super Brief Summary

Since this post is long, but the advice is simple, here it is very quickly for those who don’t want to read the entire post:

  • When in cities, pee and poop in toilets. Also, pee in a bottle and dump it outside
  • When outside of cities, pee on the ground. Each time you poop, dig hole 8 inches deep to poop in
  • Clean your body with a wet bandana. It works very well. Showers are for suckers.
vanlife hygiene
Hello. I’m clean, and I don’t smell bad at all!

 

Forget about bathrooms and showers.

You don’t need them.

Humans have existed for 200,000 years. Toilets have been in use for about 400 years. Indoor showers have been in regular use for about a hundred years. So that’s 199,600 years that humans have lived without toilets and 199,800 years without showers. And most of these humans were not walking around with poop all over them.  I expect most of them were quite clean. Some people or books may tell you that people used to be really stinky, but these are probably declarations made by people who think a shower is the only way to get clean. Once you experiment with simpler ways to clean yourself, stinky people will start to confound you in ways they never did before.

So. Let’s repeat it again. You don’t need showers. YOU DON’T NEED SHOWERS. And when you’re not in a city, you don’t need toilets, and in fact, it’s better for the world if you don’t use a toilet while you’re not in a city.

When it comes to hygiene while traveling, forget about trying to replicate all the things you currently do. Focus on what you need to achieve – being clean, comfortable, and healthy. You’ll find that you can accomplish those in much simpler ways than you’re used to. And you’ll probably find that it costs less, uses way less water, is better for the environment, and maybe is more fun.

PEEING – Where and How

OUTSIDE OF CITIES

Just pee on the ground. That’s it. Nothing more to it. Don’t pee in the exact same spot all the time. And walk a little ways away from your van.

IN CITIES

You generally have two options. Well, three.

1 – Pee in a bottle. Get yourself a pee bottle.  You just need some type of container that you’ve designated a pee bottle. It’s good to have one with a  wide mouth. I use a standard Nalgene 1 liter bottle that is opaque. It works very well except for those times when I really REALLY have to pee – because it’s more than 1 liter. That’s kind of fascinating to me. I used to wonder how much volume my bladder holds, and know I know.

Anyways, you just pee in the bottle, and then dump it out on the ground outside. Dump it on plants/rocks/dirt. You don’t need to worry much about people seeing you dump it out. They won’t expect that it’s pee, and even if they do, there’s not any problem with dumping out some pee.

You’ll need to clean this bottle periodically. You can put water in it, shake it up, and dump it out. You can use soap to clean it. You can just put a tiny bit of soap into it after each time you dump it out. If gets offensively smelly, you’re not cleaning it enough.

A pee bottle is a wonderful thing to have at night. It removes the need to go outside to pee, which is particularly nice when it’s really cold outside. It’s also a lot easier to just take one step out of bed and pee in a bottle than it is to walk outside.

2 – Pee in Toilets. You just find a toilet and pee in it. That’s it. There are publicly accessible restrooms all over the place. I’ve made a list below of places where you can go use the bathroom. Generally, Starbucks and McDonalds are all over the place and they keep their bathrooms clean.

Places with toilets that you can use:

  • Fast food restaurants
  • Nicer fast food restaurants or sit-down restaurants (more likely to be clean)
  • Fancy restaurants. Don’t worry, just walk in there and walk straight to the bathroom. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.
  • Hotels (nearly all hotels have public restrooms on the first floor. If you’re on the hunt for a luxurious toilet, go to a luxurious hotel)
  • Libraries
  • Courthouses
  • Gas stations (but they are generally to be avoided)
  • Grocery stores
  • Book stores
  • Coffee Shops
  • Bars
  • Some parks
  • Box stores like Wal-Mart and Target
  • Buildings on college/university campuses

These are also where you’ll poop while in cities.

In most ports of most cities, you’re never more than a couple blocks from a bathroom you can use.

“What about when I have to poop in the middle of the night!?”

You won’t. When’s the last time you had to poop in the middle of the night?

Your body has a keen way of knowing what frequency of pooping is good or acceptable, and adjusting to it. When I lived in the city, I’d poop multiple times every day. Now while I’m out camping, I never have to poop more than once a day. Your body just understands and adjusts to make things easier.

3 – Extra Option – pee on the ground. While you’re in cities, it’s still an option to pee on the ground. Whether this is a good idea depends a lot on where you are and how many people are near you. You probably won’t want to do this often. Don’t get yourself in trouble for it.

POOPING – Where and How

IN CITIES

Use a toilet. The same kind of ones where you pee sometimes.

If some day the need arises to poop inside your rig, here’s a way to do it:

  • First, you pee. In your bottle or on the ground. Get all your pee out! Of course, if you really have to poop, this isn’t all that easy, but try hard, it’s worth it. You’ll find out why.
  • Get three or so plastic grocery bags or trash bags. Put them inside each other so you’ve got three layers of bag.
  • Put a bunch of paper towels down in the bottom of the bag. Don’t be stingy with them.
  • Squat and poop into the bag. If you do pee some, get it on the paper towels. That’s why you put a lot of them in there
  • Wipe and put your toilet paper in the bag. Tie it up, if there’s enough bag, double it around itself and tie it again.
  • Go put it in a public trash can. Quickly. Probably the kind that’s outside and that a person who’s walking their dog would put their dog’s poop in.

OUTSIDE OF CITIES

Poop is meant to go in or on the ground. Once you finally poop outside, and are comfortable with the process, you’re probably going to feel particularly good and accomplished after you poop. How often do you feel that when you poop in a toilet?

Here’s what you do:

In your van, set up a “poop hike bag”. In the bag, have a little shovel. I use a small gardening trowel, like this one. Also, have a roll of toilet paper.  If you have a bag that you can dedicate to this purpose, leave them in the bag, so when it’s time to go poop you don’t have to get out all three things, you can just grab the poop bag and you’re ready to go.

Wait until you really need to poop. Also, it’s ideal to time your urinating so that you will also pee a lot when you poop. It works much better that way. If you end up leaving to poop and you have just recently peed, it’s worth bringing along a some water. So:

  • Grab your poop bag. (If you just peed lately, bring at least half a liter of water)
  • Walk off away from the van and other people. Walk in a direction where you think there will not be many rocks, or where there will be at least some spots without a lot of rocks. You’ll get used to figuring out where these places are.
  • You might as well walk quite a ways and make it into a little hike.
  • Find a spot on the ground where it looks like you can dig a hole. Generally, you want a spot without a lot of plants growing (ideally, none), and without any rocks on the surface. A place that looks like it will be easy to dig. You also might as well do it in a spot that has a nice view. I tell you what: I’ve pooped with some amazing views. Sure beats looking at a wall, a magazine, or a phone screen.
  • Get out the shovel and start digging. Dig a hole least 8 inches deep and about 6 inches wide.
  • If you run into a lot of rocks, or some really big rocks right away, consider finding a different place to dig your hole.
  • Digging the hole can be hard work, and it can take a while. It’s most difficult where there is clay or where there are many rocks. It’s the easiest in a desert area where there aren’t many rocks. Don’t skimp on the depth. Get it at least 8″ deep. There’s no need to dig any deeper than 10″. But if you’re digging in a really sandy area, the deeper the better. As you’re digging the hole, put the dirt and rocks that you dig up into a pile about 1 foot away from the hole. Don’t just throw it wherever. You’ll need this to refill the hole.  If you feel like you can’t dig a hole, consider whether it would be easier to find a different spot to dig. If it’s just hard and it will be hard everywhere, take your time and keep at it. If it is physically very hard for you, well, then you’re getting some good exercise, and you’ll get stronger. There is technique to digging, and you will also improve your digging skill and get used to what type of digging motions work well for you and how to get large rocks out of there.
  • Once your hole is ready, find yourself a solid looking stick. Get one that’s 8″ or longer, and at least twice as thick as a pencil.
  • Now it’s time to poop. Get out your toilet paper, drop your pants, and squat over the hole. Focus on having the right body position so that both your pee and your poop go into the hole, and not any of it goes on your pants or shoes. I’m generally leaning back a bit while squatted, which gets my feet ahead of me and out of the way. I’ll usually have one hand behind me to support my body, and use the other to aim to make sure I pee into the hole. I’ve wondered if I should take off my pants so I can have my legs wider, but haven’t tried that yet.
  • If you’ve done like I recommended and waited until you really needed to poop, you’ll bee able to poop quickly. That works better because it gives your pee less time to soak in to the ground.
  • Then, wipe with your toilet paper and put it into the hole. (Generally, the official recommendations are to pack out your toilet paper. I’m pretty certain that if you follow my directions, you don’t need to bother packing it out).
  • Pull up your pants
  • (if you knew you wouldn’t have to pee and brought water, now is the time to dump it into the hole)
  • Pick up the stick. Put it down into your poop and pee and toilet paper and stir it all up. Focus on mixing the toilet paper and the poop together and breaking up the toilet paper. Keep stirring and mixing it until it appears homogenious – like mud – and until you can’t recognize any of the toilet paper. It should look like really we mud at this point. Push some of the dirt back into the hole and mix that with the poop. Do a few scoops . This will help the poop break down into soil faster. When you’re done stirring, break the stick about in half by pressing it down into the hole or against the side of it. Let the bottom end of the stick (the end that has poop on it) drop into the hole.
  • Refill the hole. As it’s getting full, keep track of where the hole was. Move all of the dirt/rocks that you dug out (and some extra) onto and above the hole. You’ll have a little mount/hill.
  • Stand up and step/stomp on that hill to compress the dirt. If you didn’t dig your hole deep enough, this is the point where you’ll learn about your mistake and maybe get a dirty shoe.
  • Put your shovel and toilet paper back in your bag.
  • Think about how great you feel, and how good the dirt right here is going to feel as it gets all the nutrients and such that you just gave it.
  • Walk back.
  • Wash your hands with whatever method you use. A simple method is to get a paper towel wet and wipe down your hands, and then use some hand sanitizer.

That was a lot of writing about a simple process. I’ve included a lot of detail to allay whatever concerns or confusion you had. If it seems like this is difficult or a lot of work, don’t worry, it’s not bad. I’ve found that it actually works out very nicely as it’s a way to assure I go out for a walk every day.

vanlife hygiene
Did I just spot a good place to poop?

 

Cleaning Your Body

A reminder first – the goal here is to get your body clean. It is NOT to re-create the same methods that we’ve used at bathrooms in houses or apartments.

When it comes to finding a good method to clean yourself while traveling, here are some of the important criteria:

  • How clean you get
  • How easy or difficult it is to do
  • How long it takes
  • How much enjoyment or discomfort it may cause
  • How much water it requires
  • How much equipment you need and how much it costs
  • If there’s a chance of making a mess in your vehicle or getting water where you don’t want it
  • If you’re getting things wet, how long they take to dry
  • Whether it’s possible to use this method inside your vehicle

If a method fails badly on any of these criteria, it’s not a very good method. The best method should do well on all of these criteria.

vanlife hygiene

 

Why showering is for suckers

Or – the inefficiency of trying to recreate showers on the road

A shower requires a lot of water. In a home bathroom, a shower puts out 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute. Take a 5 minute shower, and we’re talking 15 gallons. That’s 126 lbs of water. LOTS of water.

Now, consider what happens with the water when you take a shower. Your skin is mostly impermeable, which is nice because that means it’s waterproof. So, when the water comes out of the shower-head, some of it hits your body and some goes straight to the ground. That water that hits your body mostly bounces right off or runs down you onto the ground within a couple seconds. So you’re getting, on average, about 1 second of use out of almost all the water coming out of the shower head.

This is an incredibly wasteful way to use water. When you have a seemingly infinite supply of fresh water, and it is nearly free, that doesn’t seem to matter. But when you have to carry and drive your water around, that starts to matter a lot.

To expand on the numbers and make this even more clear: If you were going to go out camping for one week, and would take one shower each day, that would use about 100 gallons of water – which is over 800 lbs and would take up a lot of space. You’re not going to haul that much water around. So what can you do? You can use less water. That would help. Maybe you use 20% as much water. That’s still a lot to carry around. Maybe you use 10% as much, that’s still a lot. When most of the water you use is going to touch your body for 1 second and fall to the ground, you just can’t win.

See – showering is for suckers.

There are other problems with showers. It is equipment intensive. You need something to store all that water in. You probably need hoses and a showerhead or valve. You’ll probably need a way to heat the water. You’ll need to only take showers when you’re in a secluded place, or you’ll probably want some kind of curtain to set up around you.

Forget about all this. You don’t need a shower. You just need to clean your body.

vanlife hygiene

 

 

You Don’t Need Soap

Soap is also something that’s for suckers. Well, not entirely. But – soap is is overused like crazy. It has been consummerized to a ridiculous extent, and an insane amount of money, time, and materials are wasted on soap.

Let’s go back to the starting point here – we’re talking about cleaning your body. Again, your skin is generally impermeable. When dirt gets on you, most all of that dirt just sits on the outside of your skin. You can use water alone (and something like your hand or a washcloth) to remove 99.5% of the dirt. Using soap, you can remove 99.7% of the dirt.  Yeah, soap is for suckers.

Soap is more useful for cleaning materials that absorb dirt – like fabrics. Cotton and other materials can soak up moisture. When they get muddy, that dirt gets ~’inside’ the fabric much more than it can get inside your skin. Soap helps remove the dirt from the fabric. (Soap essentially works by adhering to dirt, and the soap is easier to rinse away than dirt, so when you rinse away the soap, it takes the dirt with it.) But on your skin, dirt is so easy to rinse away that soap becomes nearly useless.

Does this sound surprising? I dare you to do an experiment – go without soap for one week. If you’re hesitant, you could just start by not using shampoo. Continue taking your showers, and still clean yourself. You just get your hair and body wet in the shower and rub them with your hands. You should probably rub them a bit more than if you were using soap. But since you’re not using soap, the shower is simpler, and the time you had spent managing and using the soap is replaced by rubbing yourself more. You’ll still get nice and clean. See for yourself. (While you’re doing this experiment, I still recommend using soap on the few parts of your body that get the dirtiest – like your butt and maybe your armpits and feet. Eventually, you’ll realize you don’t really need soap for those, but let’s start small here).

Ok – so – showers are for suckers, and soap is for suckers.

You don’t need a lot of products

Here’s a picture of all the hygiene products I use:

vanlife hygiene

I probably should have also included bandana and paper towels. I also have a hair clipper and an electric shaver (I also have a double edge razor but in the van I just use the shaver as I don’t need to bother with water)I’ve shared this only as an example. You may wish to use many more products or much fewer. I could get rid of everything in the bottom row (except maybe lotion in really dry areas) and be fine  – or maybe even healthier because of it. I know for sure that my body doesn’t actually need baby powder on it.

I’ve went on and on about soap and showers and product to help clear your mind of those methods that are common in a big fancy house bathroom. So now let’s go back to the goal of cleaning yourself. I’ll start out by sharing a variety of methods that would work in varying degrees. Some of them will satisfy some of the criteria I listed above but fail on others. And then, I’ll share what I’ve found to be the best method in detail.

Methods for Cleaning Yourself

First, here’s a reminder of the important criteria of body cleaning methods:

  • How clean you get
  • How easy or difficult it is to do
  • How long it takes
  • How much enjoyment or discomfort it may cause
  • How much water it requires
  • How much equipment you need and how much it costs
  • If there’s a chance of making a mess in your vehicle or getting water where you don’t want it
  • If you’re getting things wet, how long they take to dry
  • Whether it’s possible to use this method inside your vehicle

Now, as you look through these cleaning methods, consider how well they accomplish the criteria above. Most of these have some major limitations and drawbacks.

  • Bucket of water and washcloth
  • Bathing in rivers, lakes, hot springs, and oceans
  • Using campground showers
  • Using Truck Stop showers
  • Showering at the homes of friends and family
  • Showering at a gym
  • Using wet wipes or a similar product
  • Using some type of mobile shower system
  • Wiping yourself with a wet rag

The best way to clean yourself

First, I’ll try to get you excited about it by sharing how well it accomplishes the important criteria of cleaning yourself:

  • You can get very clean. 99% as clean as a full on shower with soap. Clean enough that your picky girlfriend will never take issue.
  • It is very easy to do.
  • It takes only 5-10 minutes
  • It is not uncomfortable.
  • It uses only about three ounces of water. That’s it!  (maybe more if you have a lot of hair to wash)
  • It uses very little equipment. A week’s worth of bathing equipment takes up about the size of a 12oz can.
  • There is basically zero chance of making a mess in your vehicle or getting water where you don’t want it
  • When you’re done, your body is already more or less dry (you don’t ever need to dry yourself with a towel), and the bathing equipment is all dry in an hour or two.
  • You can do this method anywhere and everywhere. You can do it inside your van with a hundred people outside and they will never have any idea.

A “Rag Bath”

This method is essentially cleaning yourself with a washcloth. It has been used for many many thousands of years. It’s been so popular because it works so well. I’ve used other materials for the washcloth and I’ve settled on bandana. They are very thin and that’s why they work well. Because they are thin:

  • They get saturated with very little water
  • They dry very quickly
  • They take up very little storage space

They also work well because they are cheap. You can buy them for $1. They are durable and they last a long time. Forget about things that you have to take out of a package every time you bath – like wet wipes. Most of those are going to leave you feeling strangely sticky and chemically, and probably with a weird unnatural smell. You don’t need a product in a package every time you clean yourself.

The Bandana Ragbath Process

If it gets cold at night where you are, it’s generally better to do this while it’s near the warmest part of the day. If you exercise each day, do this after you’ve finished exercising and let your body cool down.

If it is quite cold where you are or when you want to bathe, and you want to make it more comfortable, warm up the water you’ll use first. When it’s really cold out, the water in your van will also get colder, and it will feel very cold on your body. If you heat up the water, it can feel kind of nice.

  • Get a normal bath towel or something similar. Lay it on the floor inside your vehicle.
  • Get out a clean bandana
  • Get a cup or some water container and put at least 4oz of water in it.
  • Take off your clothes and sit down on the towel
vanlife hygiene
All ready to go, with a towel to sit on, a bandana, and some water

 

  • Fold the bandana, get part of it folded over so it’s about 8 layers thick. (see picture below). hold that part in your hand and have your fingers out and up so that part of the bandana is sort of cupped. Pour some water onto that part of the bandana. Give it some time to soak in, so that most of the water you poured is absorbed.
vanlife hygiene
Letting water soak into the bandana
  • Wipe yourself with the wet bandana. Start with your face.
  • Pour more water on the bandana when needed to that the part of it you’ll use is saturated with water. Get it wet enough so there is water/wetness on your body while you’re cleaning, but that you don’t get totally soaked. Your skin should dry on it’s own within a minute or so. If you need to towel off a lot of your body at the end, you’re getting yourself more wet than you need to.
  • Start with your face. Then clean the other parts of your body that are the least dirty. Finish by cleaning the dirtiest parts of your body. Also, if there are some parts you want to make sure you get especially clean, do those early on.
  • As you go, refold and reverse the bandana so you’re using cleaner parts of it on yourself.
  • Clean your butt with a wet paper towel
  • The last parts of your body to clean with the bandana would normally be your armpits and feet.
  • Now you’re done. Put the bandana somewhere to dry. Depending on if/how wet the towel you’re sitting on got, either put that somewhere to dry, or put it away.
  • Rejoice. You’re very clean and you barely used any water. Isn’t mother nature (or physics) wonderful? You’re so clean now and you didn’t need to buy or use any products, and it barely took any water. This is SO EASY! Now you can relax and feel clean, go to sleep and feel cozy, go on a date, have sex, or whatever else you like to do while clean.

Rule #1 – Keep your Butt Clean

It’s quite late in the post to tell you this, but here it is. The #1 rule of Vanlife is to keep your butt clean.

There is a very good documentary called Surfwise, about a man and his family who lived in a mid size RV for decades. There’s a man and wife, and their NINE children. All in the one RV. The man is fascinating. He was a doctor, he was the first person to expose people in Isreal to surfing and he got famous for it, and many of his children became world-class surfers –  literally – world champions. The first half of this documentary is about how the man and wife came to meet, and how they lived in the RV. One specific line I remember from the movie: “Rule #1 of living in the RV is:  Keep Your Butt Clean”.

You may be able to find the documentary on Netflix or other streaming services. Or, if you really want, on Youtube.

He was right – it is important to keep your butt clean. That is, by far, the part of your body that gets the dirtiest. You may want to clean it a couple times a day.

Last point on bathing

Bathe yourself ever single day. Don’t skip days. If you bathe every day you’ll feel nice and clean. You won’t get stinky.

Don’t stink up your van with dirty laundry

  • Store it in a breathable container. A mesh laundry bag works well.
  • Don’t put it in that bag while it’s wet. Let it dry first.
  • You may like to put it in the sun first. The sun’s rays can kill a lot of bacteria and actually get fabrics quite clean (other than removing dirt). This is very effective for clothes that are stinky. Leave them in the sun for a few hours and they will stink much less, or not at all. Some folks will do a sort of dry sun laundry. They put the clothes in the sun for a few hours, maybe turn them around so both sides get the rays, and then consider them clean.

Signs you’re doing something wrong

  • If you smell bad
  • If your van smells bad
  • If you’re getting sick regularly. (though this could be from other reasons)

Don’t just endure these. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  You may not be able to stay exactly as clean while living in a vehicle as when you have a house with a shower and all that, but you can very easily stay 95% as clean. Don’t just assume you’ll be dirty. And don’t accept it (Unless you don’t mind being dirty. then, you know, whatever floats your boat, buddy.)

Conclusion

Have you tried out the bandana rag bath yet? Comment to tell me what you think of it. Or – what was it like the first few times you dug a hole and pooped outside?

Vanlife How-To: Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

It’s wonderful to camp out in ‘nature’ with nice views, fresh air, places to go hike and do other fun things, and space for yourself without other people. But there will be times that you have good reasons to be in cities and towns. Maybe you’ll need some wifi and a place to get some work done, or to go shopping, do laundry, to meet people, or to spend time with friends and family. But you’re not supposed to camp in a city, right? You’re supposed to live in a house or apartment or at least a hotel. Well…. no. Camping in a city is A-OK. And in this post I’ll show you where to park and sleep in cities.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities
From a nice little park overlooking Seattle and Mt. Rainier

 

First – Some Important things

  • Actively ensure you are safe from violence, theft, or people crashing into your vehicle
  • Don’t scare people, don’t get bothered by or in trouble with police
  • Blend in as much as is reasonably easy
  • For sleeping, arrive to the spot at bedtime, leave when you wake. DO NOT STAY there into the next day.
  • Don’t keep sleeping in the same spot
  • Use blackout window covers
  • You can sleep in all kinds of neighborhoods – near houses, apartments, businesses, industrial areas, downtown, and so on. I’ll share examples from each type of neighborhood.
Where to Park and Sleep in Cities
In Encinitas, CA

Vehicle types

  • The best vehicle for stealth camping inside a city is probably a minivan or SUV. If the outside looks normal, no one would ever guess a person is sleeping inside.
  • People generally don’t notice solar panels or roof vents, but the more there are of that kind of thing, the more likely they recognize it as a camper.
  • White cargo vans are the next best vehicle.
  • Obvious RVs – (conversion vans with the stripes on them, or RVs or trailers) stand out the most, and a good deal of people will assume you’re sleeping in there.

The higher your vehicle is on the list above, the easier it is to camp in cities and blend in. If you have an obvious recreational vehicle, it’s going to be a bit tougher. But you can still do it.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities
Beach parking lot in Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA. Great place to spend the day (by coming in the morning when spots are open), but overnight parking not allowed – and it get’s weird there at night anyways

 

Block out your windows!

The most important modification for your vehicle to camp in cities is to have a way to block all light at the windows. The most common method for this is to use blackout curtains. Other methods are to paint the inside of the windows or to make some kind of insert. Reflectix is the worst method because it is commonly used by “homeless people” and down-on-their-luck drug addicts. You don’t want to look like one of those. At night, when you have lights on inside your vehicle, you should either have all your windows blocked, or you should be parked in a place where you don’t care if people notice. When I’m in the city I keep my curtains up nearly all the time, except that I take some down while I’m driving, or sometimes while I’m inside the van.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities
Parking lot behind casinos, on the strip in Las Vegas. I slept here many nights and would just keep the van here without moving it.

(This is how my van looks with the curtains up and the lights on inside)

 

Overall strategy

Blend in! While you’re parked somewhere in a city, the main thing you want to avoid is having people notice your vehicle (and you) and get scared, worried, or bothered by you. The more reasonable it would seem that your vehicle is there for a normal reason, the better.
During the day, blending in is less important. But still, here are some ways to do that:

  • Generally, no one gets bothered by vehicles in parking lots. So as long as it’s parking lot that’s open to the public, you can probably spend as much time as you want there. Parking lots that are shared by multiple business are better.
  • In residential areas, people are most likely to be bothered in neighborhoods where few or no people park on the streets. Residents who have big houses are the most likely to be alarmed by your vehicle – these folks know the cars of their neighbors, and are generally the most worried about burglaries, so they notice unfamiliar people and vehicles very quickly.
  • In a neighborhood with houses closer together where a lot of people live and where many people park on the street, residents are less likely to take notice of new vehicles. This is especially true where street parking is used so much that a resident wouldn’t normally expect to be able to park right in front of their home.
  • Coming and going at the right times, so even if someone does notice you and get bothered, you’re likely gone before anything happens (and don’t worry, what happens is not that bad. I’ll cover that later)
  • A note on exactly where you park. It’s safer to park on street where fewer people drive, and it’s safer to park a little ways in front of another vehicle – that way if someone (a drunk or distracted driver maybe) is driving along and smashes into the back of a parked car, your rig is less likely to be hit.
Where to Park and Sleep in Cities
In Portland

 

Don’t hang out where you sleep!

This one is simple and is every bit as important as choosing the right place to park. Do this:

  • At some point in the day (it could be right at bedtime), get an idea of where you want to park
  • Once you’re entirely ready for bed, drive to (or find) the spot where you’ll sleep. (You don’t have to scope out the exact spot prior to this, you just needed to have ideas/areas in mind). Park there.
  • Go to sleep.
  • When you wake up in the morning, drive somewhere else. It could be just one block away.

This way, you’ll be arriving while most people are also getting ready for bed or are asleep. You’ll be gone before most people notice or would do anything about it.

 

WHERE TO PARK – HOW TO FIND GOOD SPOTS

Residential

The main keys are:

  • Park in a neighborhood where a lot of people park on the streets
  • Don’t park in really fancy neighborhoods. Those residents are the most paranoid/worried.
  • It’s best to not park directly in front of a house. Park on a street that faces the sides of homes, or at least park in the spaces inbetween houses.

 

Residential – With Houses

Here’s a bad one. It’s too fancy:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

This one is also bad – the houses look big and fancy, and barely anyone is parked on the street. But if you really need/want, the best spot is on the side street, highlighted by the red circle.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

People who live in big houses call the cops a lot. Generally, the people who will call the police the quickest are people over 40 years of age who have big expensive houses full of expensive stuff that they have concerns about being stolen. The folks least likely to call the police about a van or camper are ages 25 and under, apartment dwellers, and lower middle-class neighborhoods and “below”.

This neighborhood below looks better. A lot of people park on the street, and it’s dense enough that a resident wont be surprised or bothered by any certain vehicle being in front of their home.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Arkansas ave would be a good place to check because less people park on that street. You’ll actually be able to find a parking spot – and one that you can drive forwards into and not have to parallel park. Plus, you’ll be parked on the street facing the sides of people’s homes. A lot of people get the opinion in their head that the length of the street front of their property is theirs, but they feel less so about a street that borders the side of their house. And they’re just less likely to notice you on the side. The spot highlighted below with the grey pin is also not right next to the house, which is better than being parked right next to it, especially when the street is this close to the house. (those are garages along the alley).

Here’s the street view of that spot on Arkansas Ave:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

 

As you can see, you’re in plain view from the house. At night, there were a few other cars also parked on this street, and since it’s area where the streets going the other direction get filled up with park cars, it will just look like you’re a normal person parking in the neighborhood like all the other cars.

Here’s another spot on the end of a block. There are trees obstructing the view of the street from inside the house. (See the grey pin)

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Here’s a street view picture of an obstruction between the house and street. The spot that has a car parked in it (with the arrow pointing at it) would be good as it probably can’t be seen from the house windows – the view is blocked by the fence and the tree.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

You don’t really need to hide. But, spots like these are much less likely to be seen by residents as “their” spot, and they are less likely to notice you, especially if you’re only there while the residents are inside and sleeping.

The picture below shows another neighborhood where a lot of people park in the street. But there’s one car directly in front of each house. In areas looking like this, the spot in front of each house is most often occupied by someone who lives there. It is, in practice, their spot. Don’t park in their spot.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Residential – With Apartments

Areas with apartments are generally easier/better than houses. With apartments, people are more used to coming and going, and they won’t recognize new vehicles. It’s best to find apartments where (some of) the residents park on the street.

This is an example of an apartment that’s not a good candidate. All the parking is in the apartment property. This is private property.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

In practice, you can likely park in there without trouble. But it’s generally better to park near apartments like this:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Note that in an area like this, there will usually be (a lot) more cars parked on the street at night. These map pictures are taken in the middle of the day while most people are at work. This street is a great candidate. If you have solar panels, the spot highlighted with the grey pin would be good – because that’s the spot most likely to get direct sun the earliest. You should, of course, be leaving very early. But if it’s a time of year where the sun comes up around 6am, you might as well be parked in a spot that’s going to get you some juice in your battery.

Here’s a street view of apartments with street parking:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

 

Residential Neighborhoods – Weird Streets

Some parts of the country have residential streets that are paved, but have some dirt or gravel area along some parts of the road that people park on. They can look like this:
map view:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

street view:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

I avoid these areas. I’m not certain, but I have a feeling those sides of the road are private property, particularly so in the areas where sometimes of the lots have yards going all the way up to the street and some lots have a gravel section next to the road like these.

 

Industrial Areas

I don’t park in these often, but it’s certainly possible. Here’s an example:
An industrial area:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Map view of a promising spot:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Street view of that spot:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Again, these are streets with the strange gravel section on the sides, so I don’t know for sure whether that’s still the street or whether it’s the property containing that junkyard. So it’s best to leave early in the morning.

 

Downtown Areas

Parking rules vary widely in downtown areas. Some places have meters that you only have to pay during daytime hours. Some places have “2 hour parking, 8am-6pm” signs. You can park in places like that. Here’s an example of a street I parked on in Carmel-By-The-Sea, a super fancy little town along the California coast:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

If you park in a downtown area, find a street that’s less busy. I parked on 8th street in the map above. A few blocks north, the street parallel to this was much busier and had people out walking around late at night (they’d been out to eat/drink), but down here on 8th street, the businesses were long closes and it was super quiet. Some of the California coast towns are tricky, and Carmel is one of those. In Carmel, there’s 2 hour parking downtown during the day. At night, only residents (with a permit) are allowed to park on streets in the residential areas. So I would go down and park at the beach during the day, and then come park downtown to sleep at night. That was a nice time :-).

One night I parked on the busy street downtown in Carmel. I don’t think I was even going to sleep there, but while I was just hanging out, some police came. They were nice and recommended that I go park in a big strip mall / business park and ensured me that I wouldn’t be bothered there.

 

Nooks and Crannies

Here’s a spot that some people camp. It’s away from any homes or businesses:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

And it’s right in the middle of a giant city, in Denver, next to downtown:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Some of the nooks and crannies like this are decent places to park. But some of them have major problems. They are away from houses and apartments and businesses, but they are not away from people. I drove down this street while in Denver this summer. There were a handful of people parked there living out of their cars – really ratty cars full of stuff and trash. And there were some vans and RVs – one that look like they haven’t moved in a year and have piles of trash around them. If you think you’d like to camp in a spot like this in order to be away from people, that doesn’t always work out, and you might end up to people you’d much rather not be near.

 

Wal-Marts

Many Wal-Marts allow overnight camping. I believe there is a way to check online if a certain store allows it or not.

This website has a list, but it is not official and does not appear to always be updated:  http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/

If you need to plan ahead, of if you prefer to just be sure whether it’s ok, call the store and ask. That’s what is recommended in the FAQ on the Wal-Mart website:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Because I don’t need to plan ahead, I don’t check that. I’ve camped in a couple Wal-Marts where it was obvious camping was allowed and I happened to be right next to it at bed-time.

If, for some reason, you prefer to just try to use Google Maps to see if camping is allowed in a Wal-Mart, sometimes you can see, like this one in Page:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

A closer view:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Those are campers. Here’s the street view:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

Be warned, this is not a reliable method. The Wal-Mart at Cedar City Utah is also a VERY popular camping site – with around 20 obvious Vans and RVs there each night, so it is clearly allowed, but the Google Maps picture shows no obvious campers.

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

There are some other businesses that allow camping. Cracker Barrel is one. In some parts of the country, there are Cracker Barrels everywhere. Again, the normal/expected practice is to call the location and ask them about it.

 

Casinos

Some casinos will either allow you to camp for free, or they won’t notice you or bother you. If you go to Las Vegas, parking at/near the strip can be complicated. There’s usually some place you can park, but that seems to change as construction projects start and and. The off-strip casinos are easy. Here’s one that I believe I slept at:

Where to Park and Sleep in Cities

At off-strip casinos (at least in Vegas) with parking lots like this, you’ll probably be fine. I’m not entirely sure what happens if you have an obvious RV/Camper though.

 

Businesses where you’re not allowed

When you’re good at blending in, if you choose to, you can often get away with parking at businesses too. I’ve done very little of this, so I don’t know all the ins and outs. I’ve parked at hotels about ten nights worth and never had trouble. Keep in mind that these are private property and they could choose to boot or two your vehicle.

I’ve not done much of this because most of the time I can easily find places to park on public streets. But if you choose to, its a possibility at many different types of businesses.

There are some where you’re less likely to stand out, such as:

  • Hotels (as long as they aren’t strict about checking the cars and acting on it.. Don’t park in a lot that’s nearly full)
  • Bars (Ones that are open late and busy late, where some customers may get drunk and then take a cab or Uber home, or find true love and go home with someone else)
  • Ones with vans. (Some businesses will have a row of white vans outside. If you have a white van, you can probably find yourself a spot)
  • Grocery stores and others where they have some overnight employees (particularly in parking lots that serve many businesses)
  • Hospitals
  • Churches
  • And so on… Basically, if there’s a parking lot, there’s a possibility. Just don’t blame me if you get in trouble.

 

Ask the Police

One option is to call or go to the police station and ask them. You can explain that you’re a full time traveler and you’d like to spend a couple days in their city to shop, eat, etc. and ask if they have any advice on where you should park and sleep overnight. I’ve had the police come talk to be four times. Three of those times, they gave me specific and useful advice on where It’d be ok to park overnight. Getting that advice from them right off-the-bat may be a good idea.

 

Fear / Nervousness

During your first few times camping on a city street or parking lot, you’ll probably have some fear, nervousness, and excitement that comes and goes a few times.

  • What if someone notices that you’re in there sleeping? — What will they do? Well, what would you do if you were walking down the street and notice someone sleeping in a vehicle. Probably nothing. And you may forget about it entirely by the next day. These days, with vandwelling becoming more and more well known and admired, if someone recognizes you, they might hope or try to make friends with you.
  • What if someone tries to rob you? That’s not any more likely to happen than if you were in a house. If someone does happen to try to break into your rig, they’re going to be spooked when they realize that someone’s inside. They’re going to run away. (This actually happened to me once when I was parked in a pretty rough neighborhood. Around 7am when I was halfway awake, someone opened the side door of my van. And I though “What!? I forgot to lock it!… Where do I have the nearest knife?… does he see me?”. He was leaning in the van and looking around, and hadn’t seemed to notice me. I just said to him “Close the door”. He did, and then he ran away.
  • It can just feel like you’re doing something wrong by ~camping in a city. But remind yourself, you only have that feeling because of society norms, and those are not even real things – they’re just made up, they’re just subjective constructs – and much of what’s normal is actually kind of stupid.
  • Once you’ve done this a few times, it will start to feel more normal and less scary. I do still get some feelings or awareness that I’m doing something very out of the ordinary, which can be a good feeling – a sort of excitement.

 

If the police come

I’ll probably make a more in-depth post about this. In short:

  • Usually the cops really don’t care about someone sleeping overnight in a vehicle. They have other more important things to worry about, and also most officers hate doing paper work and prefer for situations to just dissolve without them needing to do anything other than talk to people. If they come talk to you, it’s nearly always because someone called and asked them to, and they’re coming to make sure you’re not some home invader that’s high on bath salts with a van full of stolen stuff. If they realize you’re just a traveler that’s sleeping for the night, they’ll probably be relieved and let their guard down.
  • Be courteous to them. Do NOT act rude or defensive. You can defend yourself by choosing what you say to them, but do it in a friendly or neutral tone. For example, if they say that someone called them complaining that you’re camping there, you may choose to just say “well, I parked the van here yesterday around 10pm” (with emphasis on ‘parked the van’. Usually they won’t press the question. They usually don’t care. They’re just here because someone called the cops and all they want is for that person to not call the cops more.
  • The important thing is to help the police realize that you’re a normal person and that you’re not up to no good. The main way to do this is to speak to them clearly and concisely, to not fidget, look them in the eye, and have consistency in your answers (don’t contradict something you previously told them).
  • Often, the police are just there because someone called and complained. They’re likely to give you advice on where else to go park that you’re less likely to bother anyone.
  • Many cities have ordinances against sleeping in a vehicle or ‘camping’ in general in the city. So it’s possible for the officer to give you a ticket or maybe worse. I think this happens very rarely and, and the more put-together you and your vehicle are, the less likely it is to happen. I believe those kind of tickets are given out to problematic/long-term street campers, and maybe some here and there that are jerks rude to the officers.
Where to Park and Sleep in Cities
In San Diego

 

Conclusion

I wish you happy and easy city camping. Living on the fringes of society in this way can take some more effort (of driving around and looking for places), but is really not that hard, and I’ve found it to be easier than managing and taking care of a house. If, by living mobile you are freeing yourself from the need for a house or apartment, you are probably winning in a lot of ways – you’ll likely be living a much less inexpensive life, having an incredibly lower environmental impact, and you have some giant advantages of mobility – you can stay in town for only as long as you want, you can go where you want afterwords, and while you’re in town, if you decide you don’t like a neighborhood or a street, you can move your house in 15 minutes.

Cost of Vanlife – Spending Details – Q3 2017

Cost of Vanlife

Two of the most common questions asked of people who travel full time are: “How much does it cost?” and “How do you earn an income while traveling?”. I’ll share my spending details in this quarterly series of posts. This may help you estimate how much you’d spend living a similar lifestyle. In other future posts, I’ll share more about how I saved and invested in order to create (what I hope will be) enough lifelong income to fund all my spending.

I want to show you that a lifestyle like mine – full of travel, adventures, living in beautiful places, meeting fascinating people, and pursuing hobbies that aren’t exactly inexpensive – can be had for quite little money.

First, some clarifications

  • I will share a spending update at the end of each quarter.
  • I track and include every single dollar of spending. These updates are not just the money I spend on travel or my van, it is every dollar I spend.
  • I’ll share the total of how much I spent, and details of what I spent the money on. I’ll differentiate between spending on what I’ll call “essentials” and “extras”. If you’re thinking about how much you’d need to spend for a certain lifestyle, it’s likely my “essential” spending amounts will be more useful than the “extras”. The lists below show what I include in each category. As you’ll see, there are grey areas, and a lot of what’s in the essentials category is not truly essential. But for the sake on simplicity, this is how I’m categorizing them.
    • ESSENTIALS:
      • All Van-related costs (gas, insurance, registration, maintenance, repairs, improvements, tolls, tickets, etc.)
      • Food (including eating out)
      • Healthcare (Insurance, any services, any supplements)
      • Hygiene products, household goods, internet, clothes
      • Anything else that doesn’t fit in the “Extras” category
    • EXTRAS:
      • All spending on hobbies
      • Any extra travel (like if I fly somewhere to see family or friends)
      • Dating
      • Alcohol, tea
      • Books, movies/shows, concerts
      • Any other spending on entertainment
      • When I sell some hobby equipment, I count it here as negative spending
  • I have a more or less fixed income of around $1,600 per month. I spent a decade being a good cog in a large manufacturing machine. I invested much of my income and those investments are now the source of my ongoing income. So far, the $1,600 per month seems like more than enough to fund my lifestyle. I also earn some extra money on top of this from hobbies. I’m motivated to spend less than my income, but I’m not trying to spend as little as possible. Many other travelers are in different situations. Some work full time and need a way to find enough income to cover their spending. Some who travel have saved up some money and are spending that cash. Once they run out of money, they’ll go back to work. These last folks have much more motivation to spend as little as possible because it means traveling longer.   My income will continue no matter what I’m doing, so I don’t have those reasons to reduce my spending as low as possible. Other people who travel or live in a vehicle full time have told me they spend only $200 per month.
  • One of the reasons I’m sharing my spending is to help dispel a common misconception people are indoctrinated with from childhood: that spending money makes you happy. For the most part, there is little connection between spending money and happiness or joy. Recent data currently shows that happiness increases as income increases, but only up to $75,000/year, and then it doesn’t really make a difference. Consider for a moment that this data comes from a population indoctrinated that more money means more fun. Much of the money I’m spending is not to “buy happiness”.  It’s mostly just to exist as I do. My happiness and joy come primarily from the perspective from which I view things, and secondarily from how much I’m learning/growing and how many fun things I’m doing. Much of my spending on “extras” is to buy things that I will use and many many times. It’s not trading money for one-time happiness or entertainment. It is important to break yourself of the common misconception that spending money = entertainment/happiness. I don’t mean to say that spending money on experiences is wrong for absolutely everyone, but I do think many people spend money this way indiscriminately. I’ll surely rant on this in later posts.

Spending Update – 2017 Q3

For Q3 of 2017, my average monthly spending was $1,237.  That is a higher than I’d like, but not so bad considering the extra things I did. I spent an average of $517 per month on essentials, and $720 on extras.

(If I was really trying to spend little, I would’ve averaged under $500/month in total spending)

Cost of Vanlife

In August, I bought a bunch of coffee-making equipment. (a Flair Espresso maker, a Lido 3 E-T Grinder, and a Bellman Stovetop Steamer). I like all of these, especially the espresso maker. If you want a Flair, and it’s before 10/25/17, use code 06101702T at FlairEspresso.com to get $25 off  (and – I get a small commission) 

In September, I had the trip to Toronto and the tattoo, on which I spent $800 total. I also bought a new camera, sold my ‘old’ one,  and bought some new lenses (well, most of them are used and really old actually). The camera changes all netted out to spending $450.  I’m enjoying the new camera. It’s not as good technically as my old one, but I like shooting with it more, and now I have a MUCH wider array of lens lengths, so I can shoot a wider variety of things.

Gas was a little high in September because I drove a lot. I went from southwest Utah out to Los Angeles. Then up to Santa Barbara a couple times, and to various places in LA to buy old lenses.

All that tattoo and camera stuff made my hobby spending the highest category year-to-date.  This is, more-or-less, the way I want it (low total spending, but with hobbies at a significant portion of it). I would like to have lower hobby and total spending over the next ~6 months, and I expect to do so… probably. I might buy another fairly expensive lens.

Here’s a look at how my spending has evolved since starting full-time travel in the van:

(Those big hobby spikes are when I bought new cameras, and the tattoo)

 

Spending Vs. Income

The chart below shows how much I spent each month (the red bars) compared to how much income I had (the green bars) and a running total showing the surplus/deficit (the area). This chart starts when I started traveling full time in the van.

My income ticked up a bit in Q3, and that’s mostly because of some investment changes I made and wrote about in Q2. YAY!

Here’s the same chart, but starting the surplus/deficit from scratch at the start of the year:

(These spending vs income charts ignore the tax refund I got this year. I’m not counting that because it’s related to my full-time employment last year and won’t happen again in the future)

My YTD savings rate is 40%, not counting the tax refund, and 50% including it. (For those not familiar with what this means, it means that I’ve spent only 60% of my income, so the unspent 40% will be reinvested, which will increase my future income a little bit).

 

Q4 Outlook

I will buy health insurance for next year, and with subsidies, that should cost around (only) $500. I think I’ll also pay for 6 months of van insurance. So the fixed costs will bump up.

I might buy another camera lens, and it would be an expensive one ($750). I may also buy some equipment that I’d use in Mexico (snorkeling gear, fishing gear).

So, Q4 will probably be about as high as Q3.

If I go into Mexico for the winter, as I hope, I expect my spending will be quite low while there. But I’ll probably spend less on hobbies while there. That’s really the only way for Mexico to be cheaper for me since don’t spend much on everything else. The only thing that I expect to cost less is food. Gas is about the same there, and I’ll probably drive quite a bit (Baja is 800 miles long). Lower spending would be mainly a result of me not buying more gear for hobbies – which is likely, as I think shipping stuff there would be more complicated.

 

Stumbling Into Greatness (August Travels Part 2 – Utah)

I spent the second half of August meandering around central Utah, and found myself luckily stumbling into greatness on and near the San Rafael Swell.

Map of Travels

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

I was traveling west along I-70, just minding my own business, intending to go over to a National Forest further down the road. I saw an area to the north of the interstate that looked interesting. There was a nice plain of grass, and off in the distance, some striking canyon walls lit up in glorious warm oranges and reds.

A great thing about Utah is that almost all of the state is federal land. And you can go almost everywhere. When you see a place that looks good, you can go explore it without having to wonder if you’re allowed to.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I took the next exit and pointed Ranger towards that cool-looking area. I thought I’d go in a few miles and camp for a few days. But, “ahead” just kept looking better and better, so I kept going.

First spot – on the Bluff

Eventually I got up on a bluff, and saw a fun-looking seldom-used side road. There seemed to be a good chance of it going over to the edge of the hill, and having the kind of nice views I like, so I headed down it.

After a few miles, I came to the first established campsite. It was indeed at the edge, with a nice view, but it was occupied. Very occupied. There was an old trailer – beat up, but kept up – and still obviously in use. The resident had, probably over years, build a bunch of very nice rock benches around a fire pit. And there was something going on with cowboy boots, but I can’t remember exactly what. I couldn’t tell if anyone was home. It looked like the kind of camper that is left here year-round.  I headed on down the road to look for my own spot.

A couple miles later, with not a single established spot on the way, I got to the end of the road, and at the last possible place, there was one.  It was out at the narrow tip of the bluff. I parked by one edge and had a good view, but when I wanted a different view, I’d walk the 50 yards over to the opposite edge.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

This campsite contained an uncommon improvement – a clock. Someone had built a 15 foot diameter sun dial. And it was accurate. It was off by an hour. Who knows when it was last adjusted for whatever the daylight savings status was at the time. But it needed it now,  so I moved the labeled rocks around by one spot each, and had myself a nice clock

It seems good practice to make a big sun dial, but ironic to build one so far from any place a person needs to know the exact time.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Off a bit in another direction was a curious arrangement of rocks. It made me wonder if there is a body buried underneath. Not like a murder victim that a person needed to get rid of,  but an intentional, planned burial. It probably wasn’t, but who knows. It’d be a pretty good place to be buried. No pictures of that one.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I didn’t see a single sign of another person for the three days I camped here.  No people, no cars. Well – the one thing I could see was some kind of tower that I could spot with binoculars, maybe 50 miles away. There was a road on the other side of the river, but never any traffic. Days later, I tried riding my bike down that road and found out why – it’s really sandy.

I had no internet up here, and I was pretty productive. I think I did a lot of photo editing.

 

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

 

 

 

I drove back out to the road and went on an exploratory bike ride continuing further in the direction I was heading to get out here. It crossed the river a few miles later, and traveled through a wonderful canyon (not the one that contains the river). I passed many places to camp along the road in the canyon. So, I headed down there with the van.

 

In the canyon:

Heading off:

There are a bunch of nice campsites. I stayed in a couple and made my way through the canyon over 4 days.

The river. Indians lived in this area, either over a long period of time, or at a couple different times long apart. They made a LONG panel of rock art on a wall a few miles from this river. If I recall correctly, some of the art is from about two thousand years ago, and some of it is from about one thousand years ago.

The van looks like a tiny little speck out near the center of this picture

I finally actually tried turning my passenger seat around. I’d decided long ago that it wouldn’t work because the bolt pattern is not square. But one day out here I decided to turn it around anyway and see.

It works. Sort of. I have two of the four bolts in. It’s not totally secure. I had to remove the armrest in order to close the door – and that was a good deal of work. Those arm rests are NOT meant to be removed. Many of the bolts were welded in place after assembly. So I had to take out a lot. Even without the armrest, the seatback is in the way of operating the window crank, and rolling the window up or down requires opening the door first.

But, hey, see how cool I look?

I went on a couple bike ride through this canyon – it’s 8 miles like this – all beautiful sandstone walls and glorious green plants. The indian rock-art panel is a third of the way through. How about that – a museum stop on a bike ride out in the middle of nowhere! I didn’t take a picture of the rock art. There are some decent ones here.

This canyon is a perfect place for a bike ride. The road is smooth. The views are spectacular. I had one of the best rides of my life here.

 

 

 

While I was down in here, I recognized a van as it rambled by. It was someone I follow on Instagram. So, while on a bike ride, I saw where they were parked and stopped for a chat. I asked about nearby place – the “little grand canyon” and they confirmed it’s a good place to camp.

I was about out of food and water, so I headed into the nearby small town about 20 miles away, and then went up to the canyon edge.

 

Little Grand Canyon

And – it was another home run. I’m on a roll!

Stumbling Into Greatness

I like this better than the, uh, big Grand Canyon. You can camp right on the edge. And you can see the river. And there aren’t a bunch of loud people.

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

Stumbling Into Greatness

There’s good hiking along the edge of the canyon. It appeared pretty easy to walk down to the river, but I didn’t do so.

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

Stumbling Into Greatness

There was a strong Verizon signal up here. I even watched that one big boxing match. Live!

Stumbling Into Greatness

 

 

 

Here’s some of the Utah disappearing rain. It evaporates before it touches the ground. Seems to happen a LOT out here.

 

 

 

These camp plates are nice. I got them from Kelly Kettle. I like them because they function well as either plates or bowls. So, when I got them, I gave away my plates and bowls and just kept these. The plates are a little bit thin compared to other stainless steel plates/bowls I’ve used. They aren’t flimsy, but they aren’t the most sturdy either. That keeps them light for hiking and stuff I guess.

If you want to buy something from Kelly Kettle  you can get 15% off of anything they sell by using this coupon code I got for you: wild15. Awwww yeah.

They sent me one of their water filters – and I tested it out in Colorado. It works well, and was super handy up where there are lots of streams.

The timing of getting this filter from Sagan was nice. While in Utah, I was planning a trip deep into Escalante, including a 2+ day hike down into a river canyon that has some awesome natural bridges. I was talking to a guy at the info station in town, and I asked him how much water would be in the river. I was asking this to help me decide what type of footwear to bring. He responded “oh yeah, there will be some water in the river, so bring along your water filter and use it there”

I nodded as if that’s why I was asking, and made a mental note that I should probably get one. Then a couple weeks later, someone from Sagan emailed me asking if I wanted one of theirs. Niiice.

I like this thing. It’s small and easy to carry. The tube makes it comfortable to use – a lot more comfortable than some of the other survival water filters where you have to get your face right down by the water. It doesn’t take much  sucking to draw water through the filter and straw, so it’s really easy to use.

It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff – including arsenic, which some of the natural water sources in Utah contain (and if you drink from them without filtering it out, you’ll be in big trouble). As far as I can tell, this filter will make basically any source of water safe to drink.  It’ll be good knowing I have it in the van so that in a some case of dire emergency where I run entirely out of water, I’d have this to make it safe to drink whatever water I can find.  Plus I’ll take it along on some hikes along water sources instead of carrying a ton of water.

 

Ok – back to Utah

It was hot. It had been hot down in the canyon.  And it was still hot up on the canyon edge. So I searched for higher ground nearby, and found some 50 miles to the west.

Off I went.

And… it was another great place!

This was on the way up – going through the trees – it was getting nice and cool.

On my way up. Going through the trees. Getting nice and cool

And – starting to get up above the trees:

I messed up while moving files around and deleted most of the pictures I took up in this place, so you’ll just have to believe me that it is really nice up there.

I was up above 11,000 feet, and it was cool and crisp. Really hot weather can be draining in the van. Other than relocating, there’s no escaping it. The cool air up here felt super refreshing. Ohhhhhh man it felt good.

And, I had company. Sheep. And a sheep dog!

This dog had a vicious sounding bark from a distance, but then when he came up to me, he was more like “HAAAAYYYYY! What’s up buddy!?”

Sheep can sound odd in the distance. A big pack of them produce a lot of bleating, and it’s in a tone that can sound like people talking loudly.

They were fun to watch. It’s immediately obvious that they are very social animals. They talk to eachother a lot, The little kids call out to another and then run over to them. Groups of of family or friends hang out together. They share some similar body language with us humans.

I hung out up here with the sheep and the wind for 3 or 4 days. Then, I had a couple packages waiting for me to the south. I’d had them mailed to Springdale, the little down at the entrance to Zion, thinking I’d be down there around this time.

SOOOOO HOT

I drove straight down to Springdale in one day. And I got the packages. I’d made a huge mistake with one of the shipping addresses, sending a package to SpringVILLE Utah instead of SpringDALE. I had actually been up pretty close to Springville without knowing the package was there, and drove 200 miles south to Springville. The post office had it transferred along for me (which is something I think some/most post offices wouldn’t be willing to do), and it was there for me in Springdale the next morning.

And, it was HOT down there. SO HOT.  I searched around for higher altitude. There are some decent hills north of St George, so I was thinking about going there. But, there was a good deal of smoke rolling into the area. I checked and saw that there was a fire up north – actually also near where I had been. And a lot of smoke was making it down this way.

I didn’t want to sit down in the heat. And I didn’t want to go up higher and still have a bunch of smoke.

The next option was to carry on in my general direction – southwest. For this to work, I’d need to go all the way to the coast, because it’d be even hotter everywhere between Zion and L.A.

So, I pointed ranger southwest. And that was the end of August.

 

A question

If I made it so people could order prints of any picture on this website, do you think anybody would buy one? I’ve been doing a side project out here in California that I’d like to sell prints to people of. So I’m considering ways to do this, and one of them would be to do it through a different part of this website, but I could use the print-selling capability for the whole site. This blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic (and it’s hard to tell how much is real people vs. bots), so I’m doubting I’d sell any or many. (Other than maybe for the specific type of projects I’m doing, which would be totally different and separate from blog posts like this)

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Adventures – Part 1 – Colorado

Colorado

For the first three weeks of August, I moved southwest through Colorado from Denver. I’d done a ton the previous month Utah – lots and lots of hiking, exploring, landscape photography, and waking up at night to shoot stars. Then the family trip I went on in July that included a TON of driving also kind of wore me out. All this adventuring and traveling can wear a guy out :-D. I was ready to take it easy. So I didn’t do a lot of photography or hiking in Colorado.

 

Map of travels:

 

Frisco:

One of my friends got arrested many years ago in Frisco. He said the jail had a window with a nice mountain view.

Leadville Library

whoaaaa baby. Fancy.

Camping near Independence Pass (On the way from Leadville to Aspen)

This was the first place I stopped to camp in Colorado outside of cities. It was so rich and fertile – with plants, water, and animals all over. Lots of trees, grass, flowers, strawberries,  deer, marmots, birds,  and streams in every canyon. Once the snow melts away up here, this land provides an incredible surge of life.

It was also pretty cold up here! I’d put on more clothes or take off clothes every hour or two.

I found a beautiful place to camp. Just spectacular.

This place filled me back up – with energy, wonder, creativity, and new ideas.

 

Spot near Ouray

Ouray is a cool town. It is touristy, but it’s good. There are really steep rocky mountains shooting up on three sides of the city. I guess there’s some hot spring pool on one end of town that I didn’t check out. The downtown strip is nice. There’s a bookstore there with a very good selection of  books on outdoors subjects.

There’s also a road just outside Ouray with places to camp within walking distance of town. I found myself one and set up there for a week. It was great being able to stroll into town when I felt like it. That gets me the best of both worlds – I can stay put camping somewhere and not have to move the van, I can go for hikes from there, but I can also go into town to get food, get rid of trash, and go to the library if I want to use my computer on a very cloudy day.

I’d been looking for some books on foraging edible wild food. They can be hard to find in bookstores, but a store in Ouray has many, so I bought a couple. Now I need to forage $60 worth of food just to break even on the 3 books I’ve bought.

There were a lot of plants with berries out where I was camping. Here’s the first plant I identified: Serviceberries. They’re tasty.

 

At age 35, I’ve started drinking Coffee

There was really no need to. I’d been perfectly happy without it all my life. I always like how it smells but don’t like any of the bitterness that a lot of coffee has.

Sometimes in coffee shops I’d get tired of drinking tea, because the tea they have is often crappy, or they don’t know how to make it right, and coffee smells so damn good. So I started trying lattes. And man, they can be nice. Of course, if you know me, you know that if I’ve started drinking coffee, I’m certainly going to start making it myself.

 

So, here is one of my earliest attempts at making a latte. I’ve started out using an Aeropress, some old (Expired!) Starbucks coffee that I ground at the at a tiny grocery store in Ouray,  and frothing milk by shaking it in a jar.

Over the next few months I’ll be trying out some different equipment, and seeing if I can make real and good espresso myself in my van in the middle of nowhere. I’ll let you know how it goes. I know a lot of you will need to have your precious coffee while traveling 😃. (as I write this, on 9/8/17, I’ve gotten a nice grinder, a manual espresso maker, and a stovetop milk steamer. I’m halfway through my first bag of coffee using these, and I can make a latte significantly better than Starbucks. I still have a lot of testing and learning to do.)

If you know of really good coffee roasters in the southwest corner of the U.S. (CA, AZ, UT, NV), please tell me about them.

 

Another Campsite:

I hung out in Durango for about a week. It’s a nice town. Then I camped a bit to the west off of highway 161, but didn’t find a great spot:

Patreon Account:

When I was visiting and talking with my family in July, some of them urged me to start up a Patreon account and see how interested people were. For those not familiar, Patreon is a platform where folks who enjoy the creative output of people can give them a few bucks per month or per podcast or whatever, and sometimes the creator gives those supporters access to extra material.

So, I’m trying it out. You can see my Patreon profile here. I’ve enjoyed sharing my travels and photography here and on Instagram, and I will continue doing so just the same.  On Patreon, I will be sharing more:

A map of all the places I’ve camped:

  • It shows every place I’ve camped, outside of cities. These are nearly all completely free places to dispersed camp. They are spots where you’ll have spectacular views and likely have your own space, away from other campers.
  • I update this each month with the new places I’ve camped. I’ll be exploring more parts of the western U.S and filling in more areas with awesome places to camp.
  • For each campsite, I share these details:
    • A subjective rating of how good it is (x/5)
    • A picture of the campsite or area
    • The type of land this site is on (BLM, National Forest, etc.)
    • Notes and details describing the site and the area
    • Whether it has a Verizon cellular signal
    • The altitude
    • Road conditions on the way to the campsite
    • If I’ve made a blog post containing pictures or details of this site or area, a link to it.
  • There are currently over 50 campsites documented on the map (as of August 2017). Most of them are in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Here’s what it looks like:

How-to articles for living and traveling in a vehicle or camper:

  • These are thorough and detailed articles showing you how to start traveling, and how to live very well on the road.
  • Most posts are over 3,000 words and have many pictures.
  • Here is a link to a free post, so you can see what they are like:
  • I expect to publish one new How-To Post each month
  • These are the posts I’ve published so far:
  • List of future How-To posts:
    • Using My Maps and Google Maps to save locations
    • Logistics of Full Time Travel – Getting Mail and Packages
    • Logistics of Full Time Travel – Residency
    • Exercising anywhere, without a gym
    • How to live well and have fun while spending little money
    • Vehicle Type choice for living and/or traveling in
    • How to deal with the police
    • Cooking and eating healthy and tasty food in a van
    • How to drive – for better fuel mileage and longer life
    • Finding WIFI in cities
    • Making Money while Traveling
    • Avoiding Trouble in Cities
    • Key Lessons for van interior building
    • How To Be Well-Prepared when Going Camping
    • How Not to Die While Camping
    • (and I’m open to requests and suggestions)

 

I’ve posted about it a couple times on Instagram and have a few patrons so far. If you’d like access to these extras, or if you’d just like to throw a couple bucks my way per month because you like what I share, here’s where to do it.

Moving on – into Utah:

I never got excited about the eclipse to make sure I was in the right part of the country for it. The moon blocks the sun for a bit and it gets sort of dark. Ok. That seems a lot less spectacular to me than a nice sunset or seeing a lot of stars. The eve of the eclipse, I did look at the coverage map compared to the direction I’d be traveling, anyways, and decided to move on earlier than I would have in order to get a bit more north where there would be a little more coverage. So I went up to Moab the day of. I think there was about 85% coverage there, which, it turns out, is quite underwhelming.

 

 

May 2017 Adventures

May 2017 Adventures

In May I spent some time camping with my brother, found my favorite campsite so far in all of my travels, and played around with the drone and video editing. I went to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, further up the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend, and Zion National Park. Wow!

MAP OF TRAVELS

May 2017 Adventures

I started out the month in Las Vegas. I’d been there to meet up with friends who flew down from Portland. I had a wonderful time with them.  I drove from Vegas to Sedona to meet my brother. On the way, I stopped for a night in Flagstaff. That city really has a pull on me. I like it a lot. It’s an awesome place to spend some time during the summer.

SEDONA – WITH MY BROTHER 

My brother, Brandon (@thetinglytraveler ), realized he had multiple sclerosis in 2015.  He was having a standard successful American life: a stable job that he was very good at and was promoted to manager, a nice house in Denver with a sweet garden, time and money for his hobbies

If I understand correctly, the biggest challenge he had (other than now M.S.) was all the stress at work. He was extremely loyal to his company, and thus ended up having a lot of responsibility and stress there.

After his diagnosis, he changed his life quickly. He Started eating healthier and running, and lost excess weight he’d been carrying for years. He found a wonderful girlfriend. He started thinking about how to reduce his stress at work.

House prices had went up a lot in Denver. Brandon sold his house in Denver and moved in with his girlfriend. Then, they sold her house. They both quit their jobs. They got a truck and a travel trailer. They’ve been traveling around the U.S. the last few months.

They expect to choose an area to buy some land and start a homestead. He’ll probably work more. I expect it will be in a technical role that he enjoys.

I’m proud of my brother, and I’m excited for them.

We crossed paths Sedona and camped together.  It was nice camping with them and catching up on their travels so far, trying to give each-other things that we no longer use and don’t need (neither of us were successful at offloading much of anything), comparing ideas of places to travel to, sharing some meals, going on a hike, and so on.

May 2017 Adventures

 

May 2017 Adventures

 

May 2017 Adventures - Sedona

 

May 2017 Adventures - Sedona

Remember that drone that Dan of Big Ox Little Bird gave me a few months ago? I had a heck of a time getting a charger and batteries for it. I’d gotten the charger after about a month, and one of the batteries I ordered didn’t arrive in Phoenix until after I’d left the city. (The other never did).  When my brother passed through Phoenix, he picked it up from me from my cousin before heading north to Sedona. So, I finally got to use the drone. It’s a lot of fun.

May 2017 Adventures - Sedona

This was the first video I recorded with it. I wasn’t even checking the exposure and the sky is all blown out.

We had loose plans to travel together for a while. We weren’t sure how long it would work out, as we have our own sort of speeds of movement, and they would need to go back to Denver fairly soon. We made plans to go up to the Grand Canyon next. I got itchy feet about a day earlier than they did, and headed up there. it was useful for me to go first as I could scope out potential campsites for them. Their trailer doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance, and their dog is scared of other dogs and people. So – I could go check what the roads were like and try to find a campsite that’s a bit secluded from other campers.

The next day, after they ran errands and started heading up, they had trouble with their trailer. Something with the wheel bearings – I believe not having quite enough grease and basically burned up. So they were stuck down a bit south of Flagstaff for a few days.

GRAND CANYON

I camped in the National Forest south of the Canyon. I ended up staying in 3 or 4 different spots. I’d drive over to the canyon each day, and then just go to a different spot. At the spots nearest to Tusayan, there was a lot of low flying helicopters, so I only stayed there one day.

I didn’t really like taking pictures of the canyon. It’s so huge that the other side is all hazy. When shooting with a wide lens, it’s basically all the same and just blends together and looks flat and boring. I did go shoot there during sunrise one morning. I didn’t think I got much of anything, but I did end up with one picture I really like (the first one).

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

 

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

 

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

After a few days, there was some cold weather approaching. I didn’t know when my brother would get the trailer fixed and head up, and I wouldn’t be of any help if I went back down there. I wasn’t crazy about the canyon, so I headed off to a really cool campsite that my brother found on Instagram

ALONG THE COLORADO RIVER

This was my favorite campsite of all my travels so far. It’s on some BLM land that goes right up near the edge of the canyon. It’s near the old site of Lee’s Ferry, and it’s quite remote. It’s only like 10 miles from Page as a bird flies, but it’s 50 miles of driving.

I stayed here for about two weeks. I ended up making 3 trips into page. One of those was an extra trip to go buy a 1.5mm hex key. A hundred miles for a $.10 tool.

Why? Well, I was flying the drone a lot, and realized it had a problem. The gimbal was shaking around a lot. With a little research online, I saw it was likely because of a certain set screw not being tight enough. I needed a 1.5mm hex key to tighten it. I have a ton of hex keys in various sizes. I had a 2mm, and I believe a 1mm. But no 1.5. I wanted to fix it while I was still camping out here because it was an awesome place to record drone footage. Tightening the set screw did fix the gimbal vibration issue. So, then I had to re-record all the clips I’d gotten so far.

I have a lot more pictures from here, and an incredible nice drone video, but I’ll save it for a specific post about the spot. Here’s a taste of it:

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

 

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

 

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

I was flying my drone a lot and one evening I was sorting through clips and editing them together. The way I had my van parked, the setting sun would shine in through a window and reflect on my computer screen, so I had my curtains up. Those curtains sort of blocked out my view of the sunset.

While editing, I glanced out the front windshield and noticed a bloom of color on the clouds. A brilliant pink.

I jolted out of my seat, grabbed my camera bag and tripod, and scurried over to the edge of this canyon. I only had about 5 minutes before it faded away

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

PAGE & HORSESHOE BEND

I shot there at 3 different times. Here’s a picture from the first time. Yep, looks just like all the other Horseshoe Bend pictures.

 

May 2017 Adventures - Horseshoe Bend

I wasn’t that crazy about this place. The view is nice. There’s just so many people coming in and out and taking the same pictures. It’s sort of a zoo. At one point while I was set up and shooting, an old Asian lady who couldn’t speak english thrusted her camera into my hands and gestured for me to take a lot of pictures at different zoom ranges. I think she was scared to go up to the edge.  That was actually kind of nice because she had a Sony a7 and I’d been wondering what it was like to use their electronic viewfinders.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

After a couple weeks near page, I figured I should get on into Utah. I’ve never been to southern Utah, and I’ve been looking forward to it a lot.

I drove back through Page and then to Zion National Park.

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

I drove through the park – on that road that goes through the south end. WOW! It’s an incredible drive. It’s a continual stretch of amazing views – literally the whole way, other than while inside the two tunnels you go through. The next day I hiked up Angel’s Landing.

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

I’ll probably have a bunch more pictures to share from Zion. I spent a couple days walking around the canyon and shooting.

PLANS FOR JUNE:

It’s gotten hot, and I’ve left Zion.  I’ll come back again at the end of the summer or in the fall. I have a loose idea of where I’ll go next – maybe something like what’s shown below. This whole stretch from Cedar City to Zion looks super remote. The towns on the way are extremely tiny. I haven’t researched actual places, so if you know the area and have any suggestions, please share them!

 

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels

I spent most of my April in Arizona. A few incoming packages took longer than expected, and kept me near Phoenix longer than I wanted. I camped up north of Phoenix along Highway 87, and also near Sedona. Then I headed over into Nevada to meet some friends in Vegas.

Here’s everywhere I went in April (starting in Phoenix)

April 2017 Travels

SPOT WEST OF 87

(33.94633,-111.45529)

There’s a nice little group of spots to camp just a couple miles off hwy 87. I’ve camped here three different times. This last time, I went down to a spot that’s a bit off of the road and behind a hill. I’d never seen until midway through my second time camping there when I noticed that a few people went back there. It’s a little hairy getting there (the road is slanted sideways), and it’s really hard trying to find a flat spot down there.  But it’s nice though.

April 2017 Travels
You can see the van down there near the middle of the picture

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

PHOENIX AGAIN:

I drove back into the city to pick up a package, and stayed for a few days. I watched the last few hours of the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race online. That’s always a fun race to watch.

SEDONA

During two of my three vehicle living test trips, I spent time in Sedona. It was one of the places where I decided I wanted my current lifestyle. I’d been looking forward to going back. I tried to go camp in the exact same place I did the first time there, but it was occupied. I ended up camping in three different spots

1 – Southwest of Sedona: (34.68848, -111.86182). 

This is one of the spots that a guy at the visitors center recommended. It was ok, but not very good as far as campsites near Sedona go.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

2 – West of Sedona – Forest Service Road 525c. (34.879, -111.94486)

This was close to the where I’d camped on the test trips.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

It’s close to the Robber’s Roost – a cave overlooking the way into Sedona. Robbers and bandits, used to hide out here when they had some heat. From the cave, they could see people approaching from far away. Also, while in the cave, you can hear people from below very well.

Robber's Roost

Robber's Roost

 

3 – “Base Camp” – Forest Service Road 525 (34.82324, -111.90566)

I went into town in the afternoon, and didn’t leave until it was starting to get dark. I didn’t want to sleep in Sedona, so I came out to this spot – just about the first place you can camp on 525 when coming off the highway. Many people stop here and then find another more secluded spot somewhere along 525 or 525c and move to it.

I stayed here one night. Some balloons landed nearby.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

4 – Forest Service Road 525 (34.8682, -111.90365)

Near the north end of where you can camp on 525 is closer to the hiking and biking action. A lot of the spots on 525 can hold many rigs and end up being communal spots. There were 3-5 other groups present while I was there.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona
My campsite is in this picture, over towards the right

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

The weather was absolutely perfect in Sedona and I was enjoying being there. After about a week, I was getting itchy to move on though. I had plans to meet some friends in Vegas at the end of April, so I found a place to camp on the way there.

LAKE MOHAVE – Telephone Cove

(35.23068, -114.59371)

Telephone Cove has free camping. And others, I believe. It’s a pretty nice stretch of beach. The pictures below don’t show it, but it was a bit crowded here because there was some kind of boys’ camp going on at the other end of the beach.

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

Then I got itchy feet and drove to Vegas early.

LAS VEGAS

Parking lot behind the LINQ – (36.11835, -115.16655)

Street with parking near the Link/Ferris Wheel/Westin/Cromwell (36.11631,-115.16643)

I went out to Vegas 9 days before my friends would getting there. I’m not entirely sure why I went so early other than that I felt like moving on from where I was previously. I spent the first weekend at the strip and it was fun. I’m very used to going places and doing things by myself, but I’ve only been to the strip when it was with friends. This time, on my own, it wasn’t quite the same.

Camping on the Las Vegas Strip
This was a good place to park the van. It’s a big parking lot for the LINQ casino/hotel. It’s temporarily free until after they do some kind of construction project. There is a ton of security patrolling the lot and it’s well lit. You have to not make it obvious that you’re sleeping in a vehicle though or security will tell you not to.

After 3 or 4 days at the strip, I went and hung out around other parts of the city. Vegas isn’t all that nice. The UNLV Library is really really nice though. I go to a lot of city/county libraries, and sometimes there are too many bums there. Really stinky ones. At this library on UNLV campus, it was only students. Everyone’s clean. Everyone’s nice. The wifi is good. And it’s beautiful – I mean, just look at this place:

April 2017 Travels - UNLV Library

I think I’ll start hanging out around campuses more when I’m in cities.

My friends arrived the next weekend. While waiting for them in the airport cellphone lot, I did the following:

  • Ate dinner
  • Moved water from my big reserve jug to my smaller jugs that I normally use
  • Repaired my sandals (Sewed part of the velcro back on one)

Once my friends arrived, I drove them to their hotel on strip, and we hung out at the strip that night. The next day we went to their pool, walked around the strip, went to the pool again, and then went to Fremont Street to gamble a bit and walk around. I think we had more fun at Fremont street than on the strip. It’s smaller and sort of simpler. You don’t have to spend 10-15 minutes walking to go from one place to another like you often do on the strip. We also walked past what’s probably considered the normal end of the Fremont street area (on the east end) and continued. There are some fun weird/hipster type places there.

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
On Fremont Street. (Downtown Vegas)

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
My friend is a champion of making stupid faces

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Gold Digger

The last day they were there we went over to a thrift store (a Buffalo Exchange north of the strip – it is a good one), and then back to some casino where we had lunch. Then they headed back home, and I was ready to get out of that city.

Wow. When I put all the places I went in one month into one post, it sure looks like a lot.

PLANS FOR MAY

  • Go meet my brother and his girlfriend in Sedona
  • Go to Grand Canyon
  • Go through Northern Arizona and into Southern Utah

Exploring Arizona 4 – New Friends

New Friends

I went back to camp at the same area as two trips ago – the place where it rained for two days while I was there. This time, I had 6 days of absolutely perfect weather there. Also, I met some new friends.

I had been wanting to find a place near Phoenix to camp – somewhere still down in the desert but not all messed up with trash, noise and shooting. I asked on the CheapRVLiving.com forums and members there recommended a place just southwest of Phoenix. I was excited to go there.

My mom visited Phoenix for over a week, and I stayed in the city then. After she left the city and I was ready to go camping, it was hot in Phoenix, so I decided to go up in elevation rather than the hot desert spot.

Campsite:

New Friends

 

Mom’s Advice:

My mom said I should post more pictures of myself here. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, but never of myself. When I looked at my Instagram Feed after she asked, I noticed I hadn’t posted a picture of myself for many months. I suppose some pictures of me would make it more personal and more interesting. So, I took a few of myself on this trip. More coming in the future. My grandma once told me I could be a male model. She’s probably the most biased person in the world, and that was like 15 years ago.. Anyways,… here’s a start:

New Friends

New Friends

New Friends

The Weather

I don’t see how it could get any better:

  • ~75 degree highs
  • ~55 degree lows
  • Slight breeze
  • Sunny nearly all day every day

Bike Rides

I went for two bike rides along the Forest Service Road I was camped by. The road goes about 8 miles into the forest, eventually hitting a wilderness boundary and hiking trailhead. I rode out and back both times  and it was fucking amazing. I recorded some more footage with the GoPro. It really doesn’t do the views justice.

Someone recently asked if I record any different views while riding so I tried turning the camera around. It works pretty well, and now you get to look at my crotch a bunch 😛

 

New Friends from Instagram

I met a couple name Dan and Cindy and they camped with me for two days. Dan had sent me some messages on Instagram. Him and Cindy live in Tuscon and had a trip planned to go to Havasapai falls at the Grand Canyon. I was pretty much on their way, so they stopped to hang out a while.

You can find out a bit about them at:

I’m just going to post a picture of my journal entry from the day after we parted. My handwriting has really went downhill since I stopped working. I used to write a lot by hand at work, and since I quit, I’ve done very little. If I start posting journal tidbits like this regularly, that will give me a good reason to improve.

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting
The blurred part is nothing bad. It’s just something about them that I’m not sure whether they want shared publicly.

New Friends

 

New Friends

 

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting

 

New Friends

 

New Friends

Before Vandwelling: Test Trips

This post is a bit of background for some upcoming posts about Exploring Arizona. Arizona holds a special place in my heart and my imagination. In 2014 and 2015, I went on three vehicle camping test trips to help me decide whether or not I wanted to live in a van, two of which were in Arizona. I also took long scenic drives on backroads between Phoenix and Flagstaff a few times.

Approaching Retirement

At around age 29 I decided to ramp up the amount of my income I saved. This would allow me to retire much earlier than most people. At first, I expected to be able to retire by age 40. Then I reduced my spending further and thus saved more each year while also reducing my net worth retirement target. I ended up retiring at age 34.

I expect that over the rest of my life, I’ll spend my time in different phases that last  2-10 years each. Some of the phases I’ve had in mind are below Some phases could happen concurrently.

  • Living in a van and traveling around the western US
  • Living in other countries (Southeast Asia, and/or Latin America)
  • Living in a shack/cabin in a remote area with access to some kind of nice terrain (Mountains, coast, etc.)
  • Bicycling a ton
  • Living in a small town for a while
  • Living in a big expensive city by means of some uniquely cheap housing (like living in someone’s guesthouse in exchange for a bit or work or just so they have another person around)
  • Living on a sort of homestead/compound
  • Doing some entrepreneurial projects
  • Working some fun jobs
  • Improving the world in some way
  • Very deep/serious romantic relationship(s)
  • Bicycle touring
  • Slow travel internationally
  • …. and others

As I approached retirement, I wanted to decide which to do first. I’ll share in another post all the details about the various reasons I decided to live in a van. For this post, I want to describe the test trips I went on to get a feel for what it would be like to live in a vehicle.

 

Test Trip #1: Sequoia National Park

Starting in 2013, I traveled a lot for work. I went to different factories. Many of them were in small towns surrounded by thousands of square miles of farms. Or in medium/large cities that are also surround by thousands of square miles of farms. But sometimes I went to more interesting places. In the fall of 2014 I went to a factory near Fresco, CA. That’s close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. So I made that my first test trip.

I worked there during one week. Tuesday through Thursday. Instead of going home after the factory visit on Thursday or Friday like usual, and flying to the next location the following Monday, I stayed out in California the whole weekend and on Monday flew straight to the next work location. This gave me 3.5 days to go do my own thing. I brought along my camping and outdoors gear.  I found a first-come-first serve campsite fairly high up in King’s Canyon that would have open spots when I could get there.

I had a wonderful time. Just driving through these National Parks is a treat – let alone camping and hiking there. Camping among 200 foot tall sequoia trees was wonderful. A hiking trail passed near the campsite and I explored it in both directions. I saw a bear while hiking. And more while driving. I was really cold when the temperature dipped near freezing overnight. The last day I went for a hike at lower elevation and drove through Sequoia NP again – through dropping temperatures and freezing rain. I had a splendid time.

Driving through Sequoia, there are a ton of places calling out for to you to stop and soak in the view

 

My original version of “Cowboy Cuisine”. It’s gotten a lot better now :-D. That’s tea in the bowl

 

 

This is the hiking trail near where I camped. I saw a bear within a couple hundred feet of here. It was running along and making a TON of noise in the brush and sticks on the ground.

 

Test Trips
Pretty darn nice place to sit and read Meditations

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips
My Campsite

 

Test Trips
My vehicle setup

 

Test Trips

 

View from high in Sequoia. Just off the road

Test Trip #2: Coconino National Forest – Near Sedona, AZ

In 2015 I started going to Flagstaff, AZ for work. I’d fly into Phoenix and drive up to Flagstaff for a few days. Some of my trips there were with another person, in which case we’d ride together from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and I couldn’t go do my own thing. My first trip there by myself was in April, so I made that my second test trip.

I drove up to Sedona, went to the National Forest Visitors Center, and learned about dispersed camping. I camped out on the Forest Service roads ~5 miles northwest of Sedona. Again, I had a wonderful time.

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Hiking. This trail goes up the Mongollon rim and higher. And just on a walk, you can see many many different types of plants

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

I bought my van a few weeks after this second test trip.

Test Trip #3: Coconino and Tonto National Forests

I went back again in May and made and did the same thing. For my drive from Phoenix to Sedona, I went up highway 87 to Payson, and drove about 30 miles along a Forest Service/Fire road that traverses the top edge of the Mongollon rim. There are many campsites along the rim.

Test Trips
At the rim edge

 

Test Trips
One of the wonderful campsites along the rim. Past the edge you see in the foreground is basically a cliff of a few hundred feet

 

Test Trips

After my work week, I went to the same area near Sedona as the first trip, but it was cold this time. I went over into Tonto N.F. where I could go a bit further south and to lower elevation. I camped in a little valley south of Payson, I believe right here. That hiking trail up the road (Barnhardt) is pretty good.

When my days were up and I needed to head back to Phoenix, I drove over to check out Roosevelt lake, and saw the old native dwellings there

Test Trips

 

Test Trips
Entrance to this area (A National Monument) was free the day I came because there were a bunch of bees at the dwelling. You couldn’t go all the way up there though. Some rangers(? or I don’t know what?) were stationed on the trail as far as visitors are allowed, to stop them from going further. Since they had nothing else to do, I asked one of them about 50 questions. It was fascinating. And it was very impressive how they knew so many details about the people who lived here (and many times I asked “how do you know that?”).

By chance, I drove the Apache Trail to get back to Phoenix. I was just looking for a fairly direct route, and that’s the one. I was blown away on the drive! The Apache TrailI follows the Salt River from what is now Roosevelt Lake to Apache Junction (what is now a far east suburb of Phoenix). I assume the original real Apache Trail followed the river all the way. The road now goes over a pass that’s 500 or 1000 feet up above the river. I stopped many times on to take in the view, and to imagine myself back there, retired, camping, soaking in the area and letting days pass as they come with no schedule forcing me to push through the area in just one afternoon.

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips
What a nice place to camp, huh?

 

Test Trips

I made another trip or two to Flagstaff by myself in 2015. I was already busy building the van, so I went home to work on it rather than spend extra days in AZ. I drove the Apache trail again:

Test Trips
Roosevelt Lake

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

 

Test Trips

Result of Test Trips:

I could’ve easily done test trips in my car somewhere near my home. Since I was already traveling for work, I took the opportunity to do them in beautiful places. These three test trips all went very well and cemented my decision to build and live in the van as my first post-retirement phase of life.

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, probably many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around the U.S. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

I’m writing this post from Fountain Hills, AZ, which is a Suburb in the far northeast corner of Phoenix. I’ve made two trips out of Phoenix so far. I’ll tell you about them soon. Can you guess where the first trip was?

Cost of Vanlife – my first six months

Cost of Vanlife

People often wonder how much full-time vandwellers spend. I’ll share my cost of vanlife over the first 6 months. My average monthly spending was $2,100. This is quite high for me, and much higher than I expect going forward. Control of ones finances is a critical skill in order to live the kind of life they want. I’ll be posting more on this blog about my spending, my income, and sharing some advice on how to move both of those in the directions you want, and most importantly, how to save your money (your life energy) and win your freedom.

Cost of Vanlife: my first 6 months of spending

I’ve read that it’s common for people to increase their spending for a while after retiring – particularly those who launch right into long term travel. Well, me too. I’ve been a naughty boy. The chart below shows how much I spent each month (the red bars) compared to how much income I had (the green bars, with income shown as a running 3 month average to smooth it out), and a running total showing the surplus/deficit I have (the light red area, which goes negative).

Cost of Vanlife

It’s not all that bad. I bought some expensive camera gear in October. I spent more than usual on gas in August and September. I spent more than usual on health insurance in September and December. If all goes as planned, my spending will be quite low in 2017.

Here are some more details on my spending:

Cost of Vanlife

Some of what’s in the “Essentials” category was not actually essential – like using a lot of gas. But to keep it simple I didn’t try to separate ‘extra gas’ from ‘normal/essential gas’.

Cost of Vanlife

The camera spending was a huge bump. If I hadn’t bought that, my average monthly spend would’ve been about $1,100.

The fixed costs were high in September and December from paying health insurance premiums. In September I paid for the rest of 2016, and those were expensive because my income in the first half of the year prevented me from getting subsidies. In December, I paid premiums for all of 2017. I (expect to) get a lot of subsidy because of my low income. Thanks Obama.

Cost of Vanlife

Looking forward, I expect lower spending on hobbies, gas, and fixed costs. I’m hoping to spent $500-$1000 in many months. Maybe even below $500 a few months.

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Back in August I spent two weeks in Seattle. It seems July and August are the perfect time to go there. 

A week with an old friend

An old friend of mine from college live in a suburb south of Seattle with his wife, toddler, and purse dog. I spent a week hanging out with them / at their house. It was great seeing my old friend, getting updates, new stories, old stories I hadn’t heard, etc.

We spent a day doing tourist stuff. This was at the locks – there was some live music and sort of a car show

Two Weeks in Seattle

Gasworks Park:

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Near the Space Needle:

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

We stumbled upon this outdoor movie set up and ready to go. We had to wait a bit for it to get dark and start

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

A week in the city

Then I spent a week on my own hanging out in various Seattle neighborhoods. I really like Seattle. It has some normal nice aspects cities can like being in good shape, relatively clean, feeling safe, having young people, etc. But one thing I really liked is that it doesn’t feel spread out. There is a lot of water that prevents this – the sound on the west side and lake Washington on the east. So all of Seattle that is ‘in the city of Seattle’ is between those bodies of water. Once I was in that area, there was very little reason to leave it. When I drove from one side of the city to the other, it took 15 minutes or less. Contrast this with a city like Denver that has no geographic boundaries. It has developed into a sprawl now covering hundreds of square miles. When I’m in Denver I end up with reasons to go from one side of the metro area to the other, and end up driving a lot.

After spending 10 days or so bumming around Seattle, I felt like I could spend an entire summer in the city without even leaving. The weather was nearly perfect while I was there. From what I hear, that perfection doesn’t last long.

Real estate prices are crazy there. I spent some time in a two million dollar house in Capital hill that was definitely nice, but that would cost $250k in the midwest. I also saw a basement studio apartment that was really small and not that nice, for which rent is about $1,000 per month. wow. So, I don’t think I’ll ever live in Seattle unless my net worth grows much quicker than I expect, or if I find some kind of alternative living arrangement. 

Given that I haven’t been there any time other than summer, I’m not even sure how much I’d want to actually live there. Anyways, Seattle is awesome during the summer. 

Volunteer Park

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Parked by lake Washington

Two Weeks in Seattle

I spent three afternoons on Madison Beach.

Two Weeks in Seattle

Met a nice girl up here at Kerry Park

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

Two Weeks in Seattle

I had a wonderful time over these two weeks in Seattle :-D. Up next, camping and hiking in Olympic National Forest, and then on to Portland. 

The Last First Day, Camping in North Clorado

The Last First Day Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

July 18 was my last first day of being retired and traveling in the van.

(note: I started traveling full time in July 2016, and started this blog in December. I’ll be catching up on these trip reports for a while, so the post dates and dates of when I was actually there will me many months off)

 

I bought and started making my van into an Adventure Mobile in April 2015. Since finishing the van around March 2016, I’ve had a number of what felt like “First Days”. The first was moving into the van. I did that on March 25. Then I sold my house and drove the van out of St Louis for good – that felt like a big first day. Then I finished up some work in Iowa and could drive the van west to Colorado. Then I had my first camping trips (of this year) in Colorado. Then I had the van in and around Denver for 3-4 weeks – what felt like a transitional period.

I had my last day of work July 15. Within a couple days, I made my preparations to embark – to leave Denver and head northwest. This time, there would be no more going back to work. There would be no more ‘launch days’. This was it – this was the Last First Day.

 

 DRIVING NORTHWEST

I drove north from a Family member’s house near Denver and then west on Poudre Canyon rd. I went up to camp near Old Roach, in what I believe is part of Roosevelt National Forest. The drive up 103 (from 14/Poudre Canyon rd, to Hohnholz lakes) was wonderful. I loved it. It had a lot of open spaces and ranch land. I prefer that over dense trees you can’t see beyond.
dsc_4860

 

dsc_4864

 

dsc_4866

 

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

 

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

 

HOHNHOLZ LAKES

I wanted to jump in for a swim, but when I stopped at one (lake #2) it was cloudy and felt too cold, and the next (#3) had an extremely muddy and silty bottom and I just didn’t feel like swimming then. So I carried on into the National Forest  and found a camping spot.

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

 

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

 

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

There was a mostly smoldering fire west of this part of Roosevelt NF. You can see the smoke in the picture above – straight ahead of the van at the horizon. The next day I drove through the smoke and saw some area that burned very recently.

The Last First Day Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

This place and this day felt like a dream come true. I guess that’s because it was!

 

 

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

 

Heres a video showing parts of the drive:

 

 Campsite for the night

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

When I laid down to go to sleep and turned the lights off, I noticed some lightening off in the distance. This group of clouds was lighting up at least once per second. It didn’t photograph well because the lightning was just within the clouds; you couldn’t see any bolts, and because there was a full moon.

Holmholz Lakes, CO, in Roosevelt National Forest

 

 SAND DUNES! In Colorado!

I never knew there were sand dunes in Colorado until my brother told me so. Actually, when I told him where I was going, he asked “oh, will you go to the dunes?”. I probably said “huh? What dunes? SAND dunes?”.

I camped just one night in Roosevelt NF and the next morning I drove west out of the NF land and south to the sand dunes. I was surprised by how sandy they actually are. The sand is fine, soft, and deep. I almost got the van stuck a couple times.

Driving to the Sand Dunes in Northern Colorado

 

San Dunes in Colorado

 

San Dunes in Colorado
Up next, Wyoming….