On the road again! Just kidding. Currently in pandemic life like everyone else except without my own home to be hiding away in, so crashing with a friend and invading his life for a while in Colorado and Iowa for the time being. As escapism, going to tackle the things pretty much every person I’ve met on the road asks and will blissfully imagine myself attempting to make my teeny half bed and hoping I closed my curtains well enough while changing clothes in a busy parking lot.
- What do you do for the bathroom? Do you have a toilet in there? How do you shower? Nope, don’t have a toilet. Lots of van dwellers have cassette toilets, or even makeshift bucket setups, but I don’t have the space to spare and so far have been okay getting by without (plus not dealing with black water grossness is a plus). I use public restrooms first thing in the morning and just before parking for the night (many thanks to Walmart, Starbucks, McDonalds, Cracker Barrel, etc… I do buy something small almost every time I partake) when staying in populated areas, or restaurants or bars if I’m out already that night. When I can I use these to covertly brush teeth, wash face, and change contacts as logistics allow, but also have a sink in the van so I can get away with just being normal and using the toilet like a regular patron if there are other customers who give me weird looks. In parks and forest areas there are sometimes bathrooms, pit toilets, or portapotties somewhere nearby, but I have no problem using outside when privacy allows. I have my stash of tp, camping shovels, and thanks to a funny though actually super useful gift from my friend Jillian a bunch of dog waste bags which are the best for trail trash. My godmother gave me an emergency container/female urinal which is a convenient backup so far unused, but glad to have in case. Not too long ago I finally joined a gym, too, which is great for bathrooms and showers and internet and shames me into working out. I don’t bother showering daily or even close… I have a camp shower which I’ve only used once because until now I’ve had frequent people to visit, access to showers at campsites or gyms, and enough either real showers to get by every few days. The longest I’ve gone between showers is 7 days (hair worst on day 4, and magically nice again day 6?), and I do a baby wipe ‘shower’ in between. The upside of knowing I’ll never see most people again and having no one to impress!
- What do you eat? How do you cook? Do you have a mini-fridge? I don’t have a fridge, just a giant Yeti cooler which conveniently acts as half my bed support at night and is a great chair when using the sink. I didn’t want to deal with major battery or solar power logistics for such a relatively short time, so the trade off of having to buy ice once or twice a week is fine for me with no chance I’ll accidentally drain my car battery or something. Only once have I had a heat issue where I wasn’t sure about the status of some foods, but this was after leaving it for a week in the Miami heat and humidity while traveling so not bad really. I had one gross day where some cream cheese tipped and that liquid that separates on top dripped into the ice water, and got super yucky and stinky and pink mold galore. Blegh! Lysol wipes to the rescue, and now drain completely to clean and air out once a month. I keep some condiments in big ziplock bags, and baskets to keep most of the food above the ice/water level, and a fridge thermometer on it to make sure it’s not too hot for safety. I do have a 2 burner camp stove, a small backpacking stove, and a Solo Stove to cook with natural fuel, but to be honest I don’t cook per say all that often. I do a lot of dinners of cheese and crackers, veggies and hummus, fruit and peanut butter, and meals from local places since this is part of getting the full experience of what different areas have to offer. When I am somewhere with space to cook, I make a bunch of things like rice or beans or soup that I can store for later meals. I do make salads, sandwiches, oatmeal, and quick more assembly than cooking meals. Let’s say I was super prepared for this current moment with lots of nonperishables to pull from in my mini-pantry! My abundance of pots, pans, spice mixes, and other little kitchen items came in handy at my less than prepared Airbnb in quarantine.
- Are you making money on the road? How are you affording this craziness? Super basic answer- I saved for about a year actively and was lucky enough to have a super affordable situation for most of my time in DC relative to the average cost of living. Mooched off my godmother for a few months before hitting the road, too, which was a major help. While home for the holidays did some babysitting and pet sitting, and my hiatus nannying for friends came in handy, too. So far haven’t been anywhere for a long enough time to do any work on the road but who knows in the future.
- Don’t you get lonely? I mean, occasionally, but I got lonely occasionally at home even with friends and family around. Doesn’t everyone? I’m used to being alone and have actually been more social with strangers than usual while on the road by necessity. Along the east coast I was able to visit and reconnect with a lot of family and friends so I really haven’t had that many stretches of solo time for the most part. I’m an only child, have lived alone for a while, and being able to do what interests me without worrying about someone else’s preferences is kind of nice. A few places would have been more fun for sure with company but I do travel alone frequently so nothing that unusual. Plus with cell phones, internet, facetime, and all that it’s hard to be unconnected for long. Perfect training for current lifestyle really!
- How do you find places to stay? Do you just pull over to the side of the road or what? I totally admit that I draw upon the knowledge accumulated by others who know better and more than do I. There are a plethora of apps and websites that other users have posted good places to stay in cities, parks, public land, and wherever- my most used is iOverlander. Sometimes it’s a parking lot, sometimes an established campsite, sometimes a semi-legit spot, often great intel but sometimes out of date or doesn’t work out. I’ve found some spots on my own or sometimes just park on the street where I think I can blend in fine with no problems.
- Why don’t you get a dog for company and safety? Well, I like dogs and all (really most animals), but that’s a lot of work and a big commitment! Aside from the cost, mess, adding another body in an already small space, and potential noise making it harder to go under the radar, animals limit where I’d be able to go. They’re not allowed in certain parks and on some trails, would make it harder to visit some people’s homes, and would limit how long I could go into attractions, restaurants, and just out and about since I wouldn’t want to leave an animal in a hot or cold car for long periods and don’t have an auxiliary AC/heating system. Sorry people with cute animals on Insta feeds, not realistic for me. Gonna stick to occasional pet-sitting for now.
- What about laundry? Laundromats still exist! Crazy, right? Between laundromat visits (the detergent pods come in handy for sure here- lesson learned in Montana where I had to ask a random lady to take pity on me or sell me a capful of soap when the vending machine was broken once), I’ve been super lucky and been able to do laundry at kind friends’ and family’s homes every so often. Another added bonus of rarely seeing people I’ll see again or know is that I have little shame re-wearing semi-clean clothes a few times. Sorry, strangers.
- Do you ever feel unsafe? Very rarely. I listen to my instincts and move on if a spot feels weird or off, I don’t tell strangers I’m chatting with exactly where I’m staying, I keep aware of my surroundings, lock my doors at night and while just parked, and share my location with someone I know each night when I’m off the beaten path. I don’t have a gun because I don’t care for guns and don’t know how or trust myself to use one, but also weapons are a hassle crossing borders between states and nations so I’ll pass. I have a camp knife, some pepper spray, and flashlight next to my bed and keep the keys in easy reach at night, and made sure to leave the path from bed to driver’s seat close and open when designing the van layout so if I need to hit the road quickly I can, and try to park backed in for that reason, too. Talking to strangers is great most of the time, but here and there I get a weirdo vibe and have made my quiet way out the door and onward.
- What’s your favorite place you’ve been? Too many wonderful places to choose! Fall in New England and eastern Canada was pretty special, and a month in Florida in winter isn’t too shabby. Every stop has had some special memories so I guess time will tell what sticks out.