Van life for many conjures up images of cramped spaces, rough living and eating out of a tin can, however van life does not have to be ‘squished’ and space limited.
For our latest adventure our vanlife consisted of a 30ft luxury RV, fitted out with expandable rooms, a full fridge and freezer and a separate bedroom and ensuite, the complete antithesis of the perceived idea of ‘living in a van’.
We had picked up our Roadbear RV in Denver, USA, and had roughly planned a route that would take us nearly 2000km, through 6 states and through 4 National Parks.
Covering this many miles and this distance meant lots of driving to get from one point to the next, and having the RV that we could stop and take a drink, have something to eat or even take a rest whenever we wanted was a real asset.
A few things we learnt from our few weeks of vanlife.
Biggest is not always best:
We loved having the huge RV but with only two of us travelling, we probably could have done with something a little smaller. Many of the pullout or parking places in the National Parks didn’t cater well for anything larger than 25ft. Although the US has an amazing road system that caters for vehicles the size of our RV. there were roads where it was a challenge and it took a little pre planning. Another major consideration was wind, when travelling through so areas there wind was…. Amazing, scary and dangerous, the bigger the van the more you get shoved around.
Don’t be fooled by reputation
Yellowstone National Park is the 8th largest National Park in the States covering over 2 million acres, yet it was my least favourite. Finding places to stay here was impossible and to leave the park for a night meant over an extra hour’s drive each way. It was also incredibly crowded, and we visited during the end of the season, supposedly the “quiet time”.
Although we had wanted to spend more time in the Yellowstone area, the weather at the end of September became inclement and we really weren’t prepared for the cold. Keeping an eye on the forecast meant we could stay ahead of the colder wet weather and we changed our route to suit. In a two week period we experienced highs of 31degrees down to highs of 5degrees Celcius and varied our travel plans to keep away from the worst of it.
Do your research:
Although we had data on our phones we were often without internet due to the remote locations we were visiting. So the fact that we had done most of the research before we went made it a little easier.
Despite some solid planning before we left there were also so many places we simply “stumbled” across that turned into highlights; the Grand Teton’s being one of them. The Tetons had not been on our radar, but it was simply one of the access routes to Yellowstone and the one we chose to take. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip (more on that in the next issue).
Regardless of the amount of online research you may have done before your visit, nothing quite beats a stop at the local information or visitor centre. They have the most up to date information on track conditions, places to hike, etc and they also held valuable information about “boondocking”, or free camping as we like to call it.
Give yourself time:
Although all trips have to follow some sort of time schedule so you don’t miss your return flight, make sure you give yourself time when planning to stop for the unexpected. We came across so many interesting towns that we wish we had more time to explore.
We would have been best to cover less distance so we could have spent more time exploring each place. However, it’s always a compromise, but one to keep in mind when planning.
We did get to enjoy a couple of days at the end of our journey basing ourselves in the town of Loveland, just south of Fort Collins. We embraced the local life by hiring bikes and exploring the craft breweries of Fort Collins and the vineyards of Loveland and it was a great way to end our travels and a beautiful part of Colorado.
Bad can also be good:
Badlands National Park, on the eastern side of South Dakota, was a real find. We almost didn’t get the extra distance but I think when you come from the green of New Zealand, seeing something like the Badlands is truly unique and different. Hiking in the area is fantastic, as is the photographic opportunities, although beware of rattlesnakes and make sure you carry plenty of water. Simply being in this unique environment was worth the drive.
Not all is created equal:
It seems that some States are abundant with outdoor adventure activities and simply gorgeous scenery, whereas others’ seem devoid of anything for miles and miles. You could spend months exploring Colorado, for example, as there are so many amazing and varied places within this State. On the other hand, Wyoming boasts the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in the north-west of the State, however the majority of the area is covered in large plains and is so sparsely populated that the towns are spread a long way apart.