After three years of sleeping with two adults and 3 dogs in a tiny little van, it is safe to say we have gotten quite good at it! We know not only how to scout out the best campsite but also how to get the best sleep once parked and ready.
We decided to pass on some words of wisdom for new vanpeople or to those who simply suffer from insomnia. These are our recommendations for those wondering how to fall asleep easily in a different city every night. Let’s face it, sleep deprivation can negatively affect every single aspect of your life. Sleep is something we take seriously. A lack of sleep can be a dangerous thing when living van life. When you are in close quarters with anyone for an extended period of time, a good night’s sleep will make it much smoother.
1. Don’t Fight Mother Nature
Your usual routine of staying up as late at night and sleeping in even later the next morning won’t fly in your camper. Instead, .you will find yourself adjusting to mother nature’s schedule. The best time to sleep may have been closer to midnight for you before, but when living in a camper, you will feel far more rested if you stick to the sun’s schedule.
Whether you are a full time RVer or are just going on a short camping trip, you are sure to find yourself running out of things to do when the sun goes down and being woken up early by the sun peeking through your windows.
This new sleeping schedule can be a bit of an adjustment and one you may not be willing to make – but trust us, going with it is much better than fighting it. Getting your body in tune with nature will help to make it so you have a good night’s rest. It will also help you to make the most of your day.
2. Find Flat Land
Finding even ground is likely something you have never thought about when in a car – that is until you are considering sleeping in your vehicle. You will know you are a true vanlifer when you find yourself always looking for the most even terrain to park on. You can cheat the system by bringing along a couple of short pieces of wood. If you find an ideal campsite but it’s not flat, you can drive up on the wood to level your rig.
Pro tip: If you are prone to snoring, finding level ground will do even more for your night’s sleep as you will be more comfortable inside and stomach sleeping.
While finding flat land is the dream, it isn’t always realistic. While you will want to aim to find as flat as possible, it is also important to consider the side where you are putting your head. If you can’t find perfectly flat ground, which you commonly can’t, you will want to make sure that the area where you put your head is at the slight incline. Having your head slightly higher will likely not bother you as much if you even notice a difference.
It is important to never find a position where your feet are higher. This will cause the blood in your body to pool in your head as you sleep and can be incredibly uncomfortable. If you are sleeping with another person in the car as we do, tilting to one side at an angle is also not ideal. With this, you will find yourself rolling into each other (and not in a good way) all night long.
We always keep a couple extra throw pillows in our van too so we can correct any problems we may feel. If we aren’t quite flat, a few strategically placed pillows can leave us much more comfortable.
3. Outfitting Your Van
To me, it is very important to get comfortable wherever I go. Whether I am staying in a hotel for a night or moving into a new home, I make sure to fully unpack all of my stuff to make myself feel as homey as possible. I think almost everyone can agree that they get the best sleep when they are at home so why not bring home with you wherever you go?
This is important no matter how long you are staying in your RV for. Bring your socks, duvet, pillows, throw pillows, sleep masks, essential oils, slippers, comfy pajamas, or anything else you enjoy using along with you. Make your camper feel just as cozy as your home does.
Being comfortable is important whether this is your home for a night or your home for life.
We see so many RVers using scratchy blankets or even sleeping bags as their bedding and we just don’t get it. There are so many things we bring with us to make it as comfortable as possible. We have our nice fleece sheets lining the bottom, a fluffy duvet on top and a whole whack of pillows everywhere. We drink our tea out of nice homey mugs and make sure to bring all of our creature comforts with us.
Check On Your Curtains
Darkness is very important for getting a good night’s sleep. This is especially important when you’re in a camper as you will have much more exposure to external light sources. No one wants to be woken up by headlights shining through your windows. If you have to sleep in a parking lot you’ll want to be able to park directly under lights without them shining into your eyes.
We would like you to learn from our mistakes and NOT outfit your van with super cute but thin blush curtains. Instead, go for something either a bit darker in color to block out the bright lights or line your curtains so that you can keep the sun (and the heat) out longer. If you have to have lighter curtains sew a thicker material onto the back so they have a better chance at blocking out unwanted light.
Invest In Screens
If there is one piece of advice we could scream from the rooftops it’s to invest in some screens for your tiny home! No matter what season you are traveling in, vans get HOT and even being able to crack your windows a tiny bit can do wonders for increasing your comfort levels. Being able to do this without being swarmed by bugs will give you a much better sleep.
In the hot summer months, we sleep with all our windows completely opened and the air flow between them is so welcomed. We do this even on cooler nights because with three dogs and two people, having some new fresh air be able to come in is always welcomed.
4. Bedtime Routines
We take bedtime routines seriously, probably due to our increase in age. Gone are the day’s where we launch ourselves into bed in yesterday’s clothes and makeup still on. Today’s nighttime routines have evolved into a much lengthier process of self care and home cleaning.
While this may seem obvious, too many people struggle to get to sleep for the fact that they simply aren’t tired. It is no secret that time moves quite a bit slower when you are camping and living out in the bush, so much so that you may find yourself too relaxedand in turn not tired by the end of the day.
Never underestimate the power of a good hike, brisk yoga, or a long swim. While it may seem counterintuitive to get your heart racing before bed, it can help put you to sleep. There is no better sleep than when you are physically, and mentally, exhausted. While it is best to do this during the day as you will not be left with a sudden burst of endorphins, we have found evening strolls to be effective as well. Get outside and run, walk, bike, paddle, or hike. Whatever you decide, this is the best natural sleep aid we have yet to come across.
We often get questions about which essential oils are best and why we use them. We rely heavily on essential oils in every aspect of our life and couldn’t be happier with the effect we have found from them.
While there are more and more companies popping up selling these products, we have always really liked using Sage products. The sleep well blend as well as the tranquility spray is something we use almost every single night. We bought a mask from them as well that we regularly add some essential oils to in order to get the best night’s sleep.
Meditating is a nightly routine for both Myles and I that we take part in almost every single night. This looks a bit different for everyone but whether you are clearing your mind while lying in bed or intently seeking out a spot to do some mindful meditation, it can have great positive effects on your sleep cycle.
We have a Spotify playlist full of meditation music that we fall asleep to quite often. We now associate the music with sleeping and no matter what we are doing we start to feel sleepy the moment we hear the tunes. I combine this with some mindfulness exercises like stretching or light bed yoga. Nothing puts me to sleep quite as well as warm and stretched out muscles.
You may be wondering how to meditate but worry less about how to and just do what feels right for you.
I like focusing on awareness and fall asleep every single night analyzing every inch of my body from the hair on my head to the tips of my toe. I visualize the body part and consciously think of it melting in relaxation. Most nights I don’t get through my body before I drift into a calm and deep sleep. Others I know can’t meditate with anyone else around as they find it too distracting and instead go to seek out a quiet private spot.
If you have decked out your rig for long term use, chances are you have thought ahead and have some energy efficient LED lights for indoor use. While these are great options, they don’t provide the best lighting for inducing a deep sleep. Light can play a big role in making you tired which is why we bought some warm fairy lights that run on rechargeable batteries. This causes less strain on our eyes while still allowing us to navigate our way through the van.
While ideally, you should not be using your cell phone or computer right before bed, it isn’t necessarily the most realistic thing. Whether you are setting your alarm, planning your next days route or simply checking up on your Instagram feed, the reality is our generation uses their phone up until the moment they fall asleep.
To help make this a bit better, we make sure that our screens brightness setting is always turned way down and that we have a blue light filter on, a setting called eye comfort on our phones. All of these things help make us still able to fall asleep even after using our devices.
How do you ensure a good night’s sleep in your camper? Do you incorporate any of these tips into your nighttime routine?
British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places in all of Canada. We’re not just saying this because both of us grew up here, we did some thorough exploring before giving this title. After travelling around all of North America we have come to appreciate this part of the world even more than before. A road trip through BC offers some of the most scenic drives in the entire country.
An adventure lovers paradise, this province has everything from stunning coastlines, tall mountains, lush forests and a whole lot of wildlife. Where else can you scuba dive the depths of the ocean in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon? I mean, don’t actually do this because you are sure to get some altitude sickness… but, like, you COULD.
As BC natives and globe travellers, we’ve undoubtedly spent more time in this province than anywhere else and now consider ourselves experts. Below we have put together our favourite road trip through southern BC. This ultimate road trip guide is designed for people who are looking to get away for about a week.
All in all this road trip adds up to about 1,000 km of pure joy and the open road. We recommend allowing 5-10 days for this trip in order to be able to really soak in all the sights.
Best time to ROAD TRIP: Summers are known to be road trip season – and for good reason. This specific route is much better in the summertime. With many lakes, fresh fruit stands, hot summer sun and the best access to wineries, the months of June – mid-September are the best for this kind of trip.
The roads are MUCH safer at this time as you will be climbing some steep mountains. Make sure you have a reliable vehicle to take you on the trip. While you can plan a BC road trip in the winter months, it becomes a lot more dangerous with icy, snow-covered roads. Be aware that BC roads mandate winter tires on most highways between October 1st and April 30th.
While the best road trip through BC is in the summer months, be sure to consider the many natural effects that happen in these months. May – June typically experiences a fair amount of flooding. Late July – September typically sees wild forest fires. Be sure to check out what’s going on before you leave as there may be some changes needed to your route. These restrictions often lead to fire bans as well.
Starting Point: Vancouver
As most people are coming from Kelowna, let’s start our trip there. If you are coming from out of the province, you will be likely flying into Vancouver’s main airport: YVR (Vancouver International Airport). There are many places you can rent a car or motorhome for this trip.
If you are not interested in renting a car (you really should, it will be MUCH cheaper) there are buses that will take you this route as well but these routes aren’t as affordable and flexible as other parts of the world.
Pro Tip: Skip the expensive and long cab ride from the airport to the city and instead jump on the Skytrain. The Canada Line will take you right from Richmond (the city YVR airport is in) and drop you right downtown for a fraction of the price.
This is a small town nestled in the mountains located about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. After leaving the hustle and bustle of the lower mainland, Chilliwack will be a welcomed introduction to the huge farmlands and gorgeous mountain views you can expect from the rest of BC.
Chilliwack has one major draw to it: an amazing resort community called Cultus Lake. This area has so much to offer and is a great vacation spot for families. Here you will find BC’s best waterpark: Cultus Lake Waterslides. As the name suggests, there is also a beautiful and warm lake that is a must-visit. Provincial campgrounds and privately owned lakefront cabins, many of which offer AirBNB, are in the area.
Take the Vedder Road exit off of Highway 1 to get to the last rest stop before Hope (another half hour away). You can use this time to stretch your legs, grab some snacks and fill your gas tank. Chilliwack is often home to the cheapest gas in the lower mainland so we recommend taking advantage. For those who aren’t Canadian, you will need to take this time to grab a Tim Hortons coffee. You can’t do a Canadian road trip WITHOUT Timmy’s.
Pro Tip: When driving through the Hope area, be sure to stop at the Othello Tunnels. Some old railway trestles weaving into the rocky landscape have been repurposed into some stunning hiking trails.
Manning Park (PAID)
Distance From Vancouver: 218 km
Just following Hope the road forks allowing you to veer off Highway 1 and get onto Highway 3 which cuts east across the province. Taking this will get you to Manning Park – a small mountain community in BC that sits inside a protected provincial park.
You can find accommodations for the night at Manning Park. This is a popular area for cross country and downhill skiing in winter and a beautifully scenic stop in the summer. Here you will find a mixture of campgrounds, airBNBs, cabins and hotels to choose from. While you may be able to snag something last minute, we recommend booking these in advance as things fill up quickly. Tucked into the mountains, be sure to pack layers no matter when you visit as temperatures can stick quite cool year-round.
The best way to see this area is to get out of your car and explore on foot (or ski). Extensive hiking trails allow you to get deep into the wilderness to explore. Bring your bike along, or rent some cross-country skis, and make the most of this beautiful landscape.
When you’re ready to leave you will want to keep driving east on Highway 3. This road is long, windy and often single-laned but incredibly worth it as you will be immersed in some breathtaking beauty.
Note: If you are wanting a free night of camping try using this area as a place to get out and stretch your legs. Hike the trails and go play outside for a bit before continuing another 50 minutes for a FREE site in Princeton.
For those of you who are looking to cut some costs and still get a great camping spot on the river, try heading to Princeton for some free camping! This spot has half a dozen campsites all sitting right on the water. You will find fire pits, picnic tables and even outhouses in this area. You can even drive your vehicle practically right on the beach making this spot perfect!
Note: Free camping spots all work on a first come first serve basis so you can not make reservations. Don’t worry though as there are many PAID campsites in this area that are just as beautiful so if you can’t score a free site you will have no problem still finding a place to park your RV.
Be warned, the town of Princeton doesn’t offer a ton in terms of city needs – it has a couple of gas stations, a booster juice and a Save On Foods (grocery store) to gather supplies. The real draw here is the outback that you are submerged in, the free camping sites and the many amazing biking trails close by.
On your way out of town, be sure to keep an eye out when driving through the tiny town of Keremeos as you will be wanting to take a turn south to head towards Osoyoos rather than directly towards Penticton.
Pro Tip: If you are looking to make this trip a bit shorter, skip over Osoyoos and head straight to Penticton.
Osoyoos is a popular beach town located close to the USA-Canada border. From a wine drinker’s point of view, this town is a MUST SEE. Osoyoos weather is desert-like (read: hot and dry) making it GREAT for growing wine crops.
In Osoyoos and the slightly northern town of Oliver, you will find countless wineries where you can sip on your favourite wines for CHEAP. This area is a great place to gain some flexibility with your road trip as most of the wineries in the area don’t require appointments or reservations and welcome drop-ins. Just keep in mind most are only open from 10 am-2 pm.
Note: Osoyoos isn’t a very dog-friendly city. Most of the beaches don’t allow dogs, there aren’t any dog off-leash beaches and most local restaurants don’t allow your furry friend to join you on the patio. With that being said, there are many great hiking and biking trails in the area for you to bring your pups.
If you are visiting through the summer months be sure to hit up the MANY fruit stands in the area. Fresh, delicious fruits, veggies and honey are in abundance in the whole Okanagan region. For this reason, buy for the day and then keep driving to the many other fruit stands or U-picks along the way. There are also many campsites around this area if you don’t want to stay in Osoyoos hotels.
One of our favourite cities in the Okanagan, Penticton has that quaint picturesque small-town feel with all the big city conveniences you could need. You’ll find big parks, tons of greenery, off-leash dog beaches and two big beautiful lakes. There is WiFi just about everywhere in this town if you are like us and working nomadically. (Look for the one named Shaw Go rather than Shaw Open).
This town is most famous for its lazy tubing down rivers. While there are many places on this trip where you will have the opportunity to laze on a river, this is by far the most popular place to do so. Bring a floaty and jump into the Penticton canal and join the river floating fun. Penticton weather in the summertime makes for floating heaven. You can even rent tubes and get shuttle buses to return you upstream taking all the guesswork out of your experience. They really make it easy to have a great day.
This town is built in between two lakes. The north lake, Okanagan Lake, is a much more sophisticated area. With beachside bars and million-dollar houses, this is the site where you will find expensive 5-star Okanagan resort hotels. At the south end of the city, you will find Skaha Lake which offers a large park and a much more laid-back young beach vibe. You will find more bed & breakfast style accommodations here and places to rent paddleboards, windsurf boards and kayaks.
Get your camera ready and be prepared to make A LOT of stops on the road between here and Kelowna. Your whole ride will be driving alongside one big beautiful lake: Okanagan Lake. There are plenty of spots to pull over along this drive to take lots of photos or stop for a picnic along the water.
While this is mostly a drive-through town you will want to drive REAL slow. This area is absolutely stunning. There are many pull-offs here for you to get the best selfies. Tons of fruit stands give this small town a lazy beach bum vibe that you are sure to love.
Another small drive-through town, Peachland is located a few minutes outside of Kelowna, the next big city. Worth a stop, this small town is small and lazy making it a great spot to stop on your road trip. Rent some paddle boards and head to the beach or lace up your shoes to a secret waterfall, Hardy Falls. We really do love summertime on the water.
There are some great off roading trails in this area up Brenda Mines Road that can take you to some great lakes and free camping sites. Our favourite in the area is heading to Headwaters Lakes or. Silver lake campground. If you’d rather adventure on foot than by vehicle, head to Pincushion Mountain. This short 3.4km hike starts off with a bang as you climb steep slopes and staircases to tread up the mountain. Keep with it as the steep climb levels off pretty well along the way and delivers some world class views once you get to the top.
Kelowna, our hometown, has turned into a mini Vancouver with all the conveniences you get with a big city, and yet a Hawaii-like tropical feel. Kelowna has the best of every world and is the best summer destination in BC. This lakeside city offers the longest summers in Canada and so much to do.
The city is so full of life and has an unbeatable outdoorsy vibe. Kelowna’s population is growing as many people are moving away from Vancouver’s buzz and Alberta’s flatlands. Think lakeside living, delicious wineries and excellent boutiques… oh and a CHEAPER PRICE TAG.
Soak in Okanagan Lake while searching for the Ogopogo, hike the beautiful hills, indulge in some lakeside dining and take on a wine tour. We specifically loved Quails Gate Winery in West Kelowna. This place is quite upscale and you can taste it in the wines. We also loved Meadow Vista winery. This is a really small winery with honey-infused wines!
This is a great place to visit for bachelorette parties or for fun nights out. Packing your days with tours through the vineyards and your evenings with lakeside restaurants is easy in this area. For those who like some entertainment, Kelowna offers some great nightlife at local hotspots like King Taps, Craft Beer Market, Social 242 and even Gotham nightclub. I had my bachelorette party in the city and there was tons to do!
In between Kelowna and Vernon you will find yourself driving through a city called Lake Country. As the name suggests you’re in store for stunning water views every way you look. This town doesn’t offer much in terms of city life as you will find only a few restaurants that aren’t associated with a vineyard. It does, however, offer some amazing lake country wineries all with their own stunning views. If you are in this area you do not want to miss a trip to Gray Monk Winery. Sitting perched on a cliff-side this winery offers delicious wine and views you won’t want to miss.
When driving through Lake Country the highway takes you past Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake. When the weather is clear, these lakes glisten with turquoise waters that will have you thinking you’re in paradise. If you have time on your trip, we recommend crossing the hill to the west side of Lake Country where you will find access to Okanagan Lake. Driving down Cars Landing Road will reward you with amazing views and many white sandy beaches.
Vernon keeps with the Okanagan trend of offering a ton of sunshine, lakes and laid back vibes. Kalamalka Lake is an absolute must-see when coming to this area. Point your car straight to Kalamalka beach and thank me later! While here, rent some paddle boards or go for a hike through the rocks to find some great cliff jumping. You don’t have to travel far for lunch as you will find some lakeside restaurants and convenience stores to give you fuel. If you have a dog along with you, instead head towards Okanagan Lake’s Kin Beach. They have a dog-friendly section of their beach that your pup will love. O’Keeffe Ranch is a great local farm that offers a ton of activities for the whole family.
For those that are looking to soak in some luxury, we recommend the beautiful hilltop spa of Sparkling Hill. This is a great luxury destination in the Okanagan where you will find steam rooms, saunas, and even an igloo room. If your itinerary allows, we recommend staying at least 2 nights here to be able to fully enjoy the experience and make the most of all the activities on site. They even have dog-friendly rooms!
Heading north from Vernon you will drive past the small town of Armstrong to get to the town of Enderby. While this may look like just another small town, it packs a punch with tons of things to do. The drive to Enderby will take you past the Log Farm which is a great place to stop, especially for those travelling with kids. This eclectic farm is filled with fun activities your whole family will love. On arrival, you will be greeted by some massive dinosaur statues and a whole array of fun figures. There is also a mini petting zoo on-site with animals that you can pet and feed. The most iconic animals are the goats that have a bridge they can walk over that you drive under as you enter the site. Inside you will find a farmer’s market-style store that sells all sorts of goodies (try the pie!!!).
This tiny town may not look like there is a lot to do, but looks can be deceiving. The town is home to a quaint outdoor flea market where locals sell homemade goods. If you like hiking be sure to check out the Enderby Cliffs. While this hike is longer in duration it offers a good amount of tree coverage and switchbacks help to make it not feel as steep. This is one of our favourite hikes in the Okanagan. Not only are the views from the top of the cliff unlike anything else in the area, the path on the way up makes you feel like you’re trekking through a tropical paradise.
One of the greatest draws to the area for locals is the Enderby river. While Penticton offers a city float, the Enderby river offers a more remote float as you weave leisurely through expansive farmlands on your way into town. If you have to pick just one spot to float down a river on this list, Enderby should definitely be the one! As soon as it turns dark, head to the must-visit Starlight Drive-In Theatre. This is also a great place to do some stargazing on a clear night.
If you like wide-open spaces and large lush farmlands this area will not disappoint. Located a short drive from Armstrong, another small town in the area.
From here you are faced with two options. You can drive north for another beautiful city: Salmon Arm or you can drive west and have a more rural experience in the hills of Falkland.
Option 1: Highway 1 Through Salmon Arm
If you are wanting to stick to the small cities and lake vibes then heading north towards Salmon Arm and driving Highway 1 is the way to go. Once reaching the small green town of Salmon Arm you will be greeted by yet another large lazy lake, the Shuswap Lake. There is a lot to do in this area for adventurers. Some of our favourites are white water rafting, zip-lining or renting some kayaks and paddleboards for a lazy day on the water. In fact, this is one of the more popular spots locals like to hang out.
Option 2: Highway 97 Through Falkland
If you’d rather wind your way through farmlands and have a more rustic nature-filled experience, taking Highway 97 through Falkland and Monte Lake is a great route. There are tons of places to camp in the area as you drive through a couple of small farm communities.
The town of Falkland is known in the area for the annual Falkland Stampede that draws in a fairly big crowd every spring. You will know you have reached the town when you can see their iconic Canada flag displayed up on the mountainside. Hiking up to this flag will lead to some rewarding views. Heading north up Falkland Chase Road will take you to some great outback areas where you can set up camp. On your way, you will pass Pillar Lake, a popular fishing lake.
Further north you will pass through Westwold where you will find the Westwold General Store – try their donuts and thank me later! A little ways further you will find an area called Monte Lake. This area draws a crowd of rock collectors who frequently dig near the lake for precious rocks and gems.
Another great place to float down the river, Kamloops is a town that is almost guaranteed to have sunny weather and a whole lot of wind. There are tons of hiking spots in this area including treks to Kenna Cartwright Park and Peterson Creek. Dog owners will enjoy a trip to Pioneer Park, a large off-leash dog park that even has an off-leash beach.
Note: If you have some time to spare, driving an hour and a half north to Clearwater will take you to Wells Gray Park. This is one of the best-kept secret places in BC’s interior which we consider a much see! There are so many impressive waterfalls in the area. With camping nearby, rafting and some great places to canoe on the lake, this is a must-see spot for those that can afford the time.
A sharp turn south along the Coquihalla highway will take you to the city of Merritt. This will be the last stop on your travels. While the town of Merritt isn’t packed with entertainment, the surrounding area offers some great backwoods camping.
When heading back to Vancouver, be sure to take advantage of Chilliwack’s cheaper gas on your drive-through – this often saves us about 10 cents a litre compared to prices in the city.
If the sudden and crippling burst of traffic hasn’t already shown you, you’re back in the city once again. Be sure to use this time to look over your vehicle as this was a long road trip.
Have you wanted to take a road trip across BC? Tell us your favourite areas in the comment section below.
These last two hectic weeks have been the ride of a lifetime. I find that it is easier going into van life blindly your first time rather than living it for a year and a half, leaving it and then coming back. That is for one reason: EXPECTATION.
Selling our SUV marked the last thing on our To-Do list before finalizing our Spanish visa and jumping on an airplane to a life of more unknown than either of us realize. While we couldn’t be more excited, we find ourselves clinging to every single second of this van life to a point of feeling disappointed when it isn’t going the way we imagined.
You see moving to a slower paced life on wheels is more of an adjustment than you may realize.
Sure, there’s the space constraints and the lack of a toilet (which is most people’s concern). In reality, that stuff is nothing. You learn that quickly with some organization and indoor/outdoor living. The hard stuff may not be what you think.
These are the top 5 things that you wouldn’t expect to be an adjustment when living van life:
1. Slowing your BRAIN
Our first night back at life in a van Myles looked at me and said “well, now what”. We laughed because this is not the first time we have felt that way. Unwinding can be a difficult thing to master. But once you get it, it’s hard to go back. So hard in fact that most of our friends get frustrated that we are late for EVERYTHING. (Sorry everyone!)
No longer do you have this beautifully taken advantage gift of overhead lighting. Well, you do, but far less than ever before. While nighttime can turn into meaning fire time, generally speaking you begin to wind down as the sun does. In turn, you also wake up a great deal earlier to take advantage of all the beauty the sunlight brings. This change in sleeping patterns takes some adjusting but really becomes the most wonderful thing.
Waking up with no more alarm clocks: YES PLEASE!
3. Getting used to being on display
While we intentionally put ourselves on display on occasion, as with our various social media handles, we are on display for more than just that. We live in a van that gets A LOT of attention. It also is surrounded with windows and to top it all off it looks a bit like a clowns car when the two of us and 3 dogs all jump out.
Just about every single time we stop, be it for gas or in a “secluded spot” we have at least one person come to talk to us. Something we love, but oftentimes it’s done when we have a mouthful of toothpaste, are feeding our dogs, or changing our clothes.
4. Being a slave to mother nature
When you live in a big house, if you don’t like what is going on outside of you simply don’t look out the window. How many times have people gone about their day without even noticing what the weather outside looks like? Well, NOT IN A VAN. With so many windows, dogs and only so much square footage you learn to get outside.
Needless to say, tarps become our friend. If you find yourself waiting for those picture perfect sunny days, chances are you are not going to like living in a camper. Instead, learning to embrace no matter what mother nature throws your way will take you to new highs.
5. Understanding that where you are is not where other people are
Once you’ve gotten used to living a camper lifestyle it can be really quite hard to go back. While you are not in a rush and perfectly happy driving in the slow lane, taking naps in the middle of the day, reading for hours on end and just being, you will find this is a concept most people don’t understand and won’t like. We aren’t in a rush.
So many times WE ARE THOSE PEOPLE that you’re honking at for driving too slow, yelling at for making conversation with the barista at Starbucks, holding up a parking spot because we are in absolutely NO RUSH. Time slows down but realizing that everyone else’s time doesn’t can be a challenge.
The problem is, we know our time is limited. We know we have only 5 short weeks to enjoy this lifestyle and we so badly want to skip past steps 1-4 and jump straight to 5. Well, here’s to ENJOYING our next few weeks living van life with as minimal expectation as possible.
Did our list surprise you? Or unlike us, did you expect to have these challenges when living a camp-based lifestyle? We’d love to hear if anyone else experiences this when they take extended camping trips and how you turned into vandwellers.
Summer is just around the corner which means one thing… CAMPING SEASON!!! If you are anything like us, you are counting the seconds until May long weekend where it is finally acceptable to start camping. Just kidding, we are camping in April in the middle of a snowstorm.
Even if you don’t have an 80’s van like us there are many things to think about when summarizing your rig. This is especially important if you are starting your camper for the first time after a long winter. It’s much easier to do repairs in your driveway than stranded in a campground.
For those with a camper rather than a trailer, paying attention to the engine is important. Checking that everything is in order before firing her up will save you money and a headache later. Nobody wants a bigger auto repair bill just because they were too eager to get on the road.
The first thing you should do is check your vehicle’s oil level. When you take out the oil dipstick check the colour of the oil. Even though we changed our girls oil before we sat her, we found her oil looked really dark again so we had to change it again when summarizing. We recommend not changing it in the winter when she’s going to sit and instead give her fresh oil once the weather warms.
How Often To Change Oil? Around 3000-5500 kms – depending on your vehicle and oil type. If you use synthetic oil you’ll be on the higher end of this spectrum.
We all know that low oil can cause havoc, but a high level of oil can do the same. It can put added pressure on the gaskets which can cause them to stretch and even blow out. Our old van has a system that burns off excess oil. This is great, but can be scary. We filled our oil too full and were alerted to this by a huge trail of white smoke coming out of our tailpipe. Luckily, my mechanic diagnosed this without charging me anything.
Oh how many horror stories we’ve heard about owners of old campers not checking coolant levels properly and facing a blown gasket because of it. Do yourself (and your wallet) a favor and check your antifreeze levels!! Not just the overflow tank but also the main reservoir. Yes, some cars have two tanks!
What is coolant for?
It essentially allows your car to run hot without it overheating. Coolant fluid has a higher boiling point than water which allows your vehicle to stay cool even when idling in stop and go traffic..
If your van blows some smoke when you first fire her up don’t worry this is normal. Water can accumulate in the tailpipe which will show as white smoke.
Is antifreeze the same as coolant?
Essentially yes. This liquid essentially changes the boiling and freezing point of your engine so you can drive in hot and cold temperatures without ruining your engine.
There are two main types of coolant: concentrate and premixed. The concentrate type requires you to add water when you add it to your car. Most people will just add tap water, but this can add minerals or deposits to your cooling system. It may seem over the top but we have used distilled water instead of tap water. The premixed solution is great if you are on the road and need a top up.
How to check coolant level?
Simply find the right tank in your engine bay and see if the liquid level is in the proper range. This will be indicated on the outside of the tank.
If our van ever starts acting up the first words out of Samara’s mouth are “time to change the spark plugs”.
While it may not be the actual cure all that she thinks, more times than I would like to admit I humor her and change them and she is right – the van fires up perfectly. Even before the spark plug wrench is out of my hands she’s in the drivers seat ready to fire up old Gurt.
It may be because we drive so much, or maybe these old vans just go through spark plugs faster than other vehicles. But it seems that changing spark plugs on our van really is a cure all.
How much are spark plugs?
If your rig is idling rough try changing them. It should cost less than $20 and can do a lot for your van. Spark plugs for our van (a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon)
How to replace spark plugs?
Changing them is easy and only requires a ratchet. All you need to do is unscrew them from their socket. The head of the plugs should be relatively clean without any debris. If you find them to be dirty or black it is time to change them.
When replacing them make sure you don’t tighten them too much as they can break off into the head of the engine. We tighten them by hand and only use the ratchet to snug them up.
When to change spark plugs?
We find we get between 3,000 and 5,000 km out of our spark plugs which is MUCH less than most vehicles on the road. We justify this because she is both old and we ask A LOT from her. Gurt burns a little rich so she uses up spark plugs rather quickly but this is to be expected on a van that’s pushing 35 years.
What do spark plugs do?
Spark plugs are what ensure your cars engine runs smoothly. They create sparks which ignite the gasoline to move the pistons in your engine. When they get dirty they don’t fire properly which can cause your engine to misfire or run poorly. This can significantly reduce your gas mileage and cause issues if left for long term.
It is worth checking the integrity of your timing belt (sometimes called a serpentine belt). After prolonged sitting they may start to deteriorate, something that is relatively easy to fix if you catch it.
Trust us, the worst feeling is having a belt that breaks when you’re miles away from the nearest town, let alone an auto parts store. We now always travel with a spare timing belt after this happened to us.
One of the biggest timing belt symptoms can include timing belt noise. If your camper is making a high pitched squealing noise when it first starts it may be time to check your timing belt health.
A broken belt can also cause more damage than you can imagine. I’ve read horror stories of people’s belts breaking and snapping spark plugs or even fuel lines. Luckily when ours broke we were quick to pull over and shut the engine off.
What is a timing belt?
A timing belt is a band that controls a specific area of your car. On our van it’s job is to keep the alternator running properly. When our belt broke our car battery stopped charging. If we continued to drive like this our battery would have died as it wasn’t charging.
How much does a timing belt cost?
These don’t cost much at all. In total ours costed less than $20. Ever since ours broke we make sure we have an extra one on hand so we can replace it before it gets too worn.
Timing belt replacement
Replacing your timing belt can be as easy as loosening a bolt and moving a wheel. Our van was incredibly easy to replace once we figured out the configuration. It will have to wind around some pulleys in a specific pattern – it’s worth googling if your belt broke.
You may need a timing belt tensioner when you’re replacing yours. This tool essentially helps you loop the engine belt around the pulley and to tighten it when you’re finishing the job.
Going Through Your Campers Interior
If you have an older camper like us, you may have some moisture trapped inside. This can be seen in condensation on inside of windows. You can air it out by opening the doors and windows – and popping your top (if you have one).
How to stop condensation on windows?
The first thing you’ll want to do is seal up the leaks you have. There are also moisture bags you can get that will absorb moisture out the air. This will get rid of moisture before it turns into mold and mildew. Throwing a couple of these in your camper when winterizing it is ideal. You can also use an RV dehumidifier which essentially cleans the air inside your camper.
If you seem to have more moisture that normal you may have a leak. It’s very common for older trailers and campers to have cracks in their roof that let water in. Windows are also a huge weak point. When we first got our van it has a cracked skylight lens cap (among many other rough spots) which was letting water pool and drip onto our carpet. These can be a simple fix if you catch it soon enough.
Since leaks usually happen on the roof you can simply run a bead of outside silicone on the issue. The best part is you don’t have to be too neat or tidy since nobody will likely see it.
If you can’t find any leaks on your roof but still think that is an issue check your window and door seals. This is another common place where water can enter. Older vehicles have old seals that can dry out and crack which can let water in.
First Start of The Season
The first time you fire your vehicle up let her warm up before you rev the engine. The more time that has passed since you started it the longer you should wait. Oil will settle and if you rev her before the oil has a chance to circulate you can cause damage to your pistons.
Ideally, it is best to lift your van up so that it is not sitting on it’s tires throughout the whole winter. We know, more than likely this wasn’t done but keep in mind how harsh prolonged sitting is on your tires.
This can affect not only how your camper drives but also things like fuel economy. It can be common to have to inflate your tires air pressure after it’s been sitting a while. Tires that don’t have enough air in them can wear the tire tread quickly and cause your gas to empty faster than normal.
The brakes on your car is one of the most common auto repair people make. There are many components of your braking system including: calipers, brake drums, disc brakes, brake pads and brake rotors.
You may find your brakes make weird noises when you drive your camper for the first day. This is very common and will likely go away but it is wise to give them a once over (even just a visual inspection). Most brake shops will give your car a free brake inspection.
Make sure you don’t have any rocks or debris between your pads and rotors. If you have the tools you may want to take a tire off to check how much of your pads are left. It’s really not that difficult and can save you from having to pay a shop to do it. Brake pad change cost can be steep if you go to brake service shops around you.
With summer fast approaching (well, not fast enough) we recommend getting a jump on camping season by getting your rig ready. This will save you a lot of time and money down the road and can leave you and your family having a summer you will never forget. If you haven’t already, check out our our post on how to find the best free campsites. We have traveled full time for almost 2 years and have only paid for about 5 nights!
Are you getting your camper ready for its first trip of the year? Let us know your yearly routine in the comment section below!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means we may get a commission if you make a purchase. Our opinions are our own and we only share what we believe you’ll find helpful. We also use all the products that we have links to. You can even see them in the photos we post.
With a year and a half on the road, we were left with quite a few crazy stories. One even involved a tornado. This is that story..
Gurt had sat in an auto wrecking/repair shop for 8 years before we found and saved her. In this time, she withered away quite a bit. Accumulating some rust, a smashed back window, a lot of mold and a watered down gas tank (which caused the tank to rust).
We got her for a steal of a deal, mainly because she had sat taking up space in this wreckers yard. That low $1,500 price tag doesn’t mean that she was cheap. Any westfalia owner knows how much these little vans end up costing. In total $5,000 was spent getting her engine rebuilt and fuel pipes replaced before we hit the road.
Oh, how the spending didn’t stop there.
About a month and a half into our van-living we started to notice that the gas tank wasn’t working. We thought it may have been the crappy gas we were buying in America so we started fueling with premium (an expensive and virtually useless switch). We would hit the gas pedal and hardly move. I’m not talking our usual 60 km/hr, I am talking we literally didn’t move.
Ok, so we have a car that we KNOW something is wrong, and we are typing our little fingers away so that we can take what we know is going to be an expensive hit at a repair shop. Stuck in middle of nowhere Ohio we decided to head into a bigger city where we can find a mechanic for cheaper. All we needed was a full tank of gas….
After fueling up and hitting the road we noticed the sky start to get angry. Moody weather is my favourite weather – bring on
the thunder and lightning. A couple seconds further of driving and we find ourselves in a cold downpour. As our van has minimal heat we got incredibly cold quickly. So, we decided to stop in at a rest stop for some coffee.
The rest stop was so crowded it was hard to find a parking spot, our first warning (that we completely ignored). I jump out of the van with the dogs for some amazing photos of the lightning not even phased by the downpour of rain (our second warning).
I’m from Vancouver, what’s a bit of rain?
In a matter of seconds Myles is RUNNING back outside (with no coffee in hand) screaming for me to get the dogs in the car. He doesn’t love wet dogs dancing in the rain as much as me for some reason.
I follow him into the incredibly cramped rest stop where I find tons of people gathered around TVs. Apparently we had unknowingly drove right in the middle of a tornado. No not one tornado but three.
It is worth noting that our little van doesn’t have radio so we travel basically everywhere completely blind – something we typically love.
People were huddled in blankets with their dogs everywhere. The coffee lineups were out of this world (of course this is what we were worried about).
Not wanting to stay inside helpless, we realized we had all of our gear in our van, literally everything that mattered most to us, hell it was our home. The mobility the van offered to us was our favorite thing about this lifestyle. We weren’t going to give that up for a simple tornado, or three…
Still not fully convinced of the severity we thought “naw we got this, its a bit of rain.” Oh, how young and stupid we were.
Minutes later we hit the road again ready to speed past this tornado and get to a safe zone. Yes, we thought we could outrun this tornado. About 15 minutes down the road the weather started to get really bad. This is when we started to actually feel nervous, so I got out of my chair to get our portable radio hoping I could tune it to some weather reports. As I get to the backseat Myles pushes the gas and it stops working.
After a couple seconds of pure panic and only a couple choice words I jump out of the now stopped car to see if I can see anything (luckily no tornado in sight). It’s not some light rain at this point, it’s like standing under a waterfall.
So there we are on the side of a busy highway with only a small shoulder in the worst conditions in terms of visibility in a WHITE van. I open the door and our panicked dogs follow me out. I truthfully don’t think I have ever screamed so shrilley for them to get back in the car in my life. Luckily they all listened and hopped back in. They are so comfortable in the van and were completely oblivious to our circumstances.
It took me about 5 seconds to realize the problem. The DOOMING problem….
When we had filled gas up this morning, we must have forgotten to replace the gas cap. Water had been filling in our gas tank this whole time. Lost somewhere on the highway I had to think fast as it was filling more with every second. In the pouring rain I shout for Myles to pass me a ShamWow, yes, the absorbent towel you’ve all seen on the terrible infomercials. I stuff it into the tank to hopefully plug the whole and I climb back in. Problem solved, right?
Myles turns the car on and pushes the gas. With some stroke of luck we are able to get her going.
Every couple seconds the gas stops working and we have to pump it a few times in order to get going again. Moving at probably close to 30 km/hr we were out running a tornado (barely). I honestly think it was dumb luck, but we’ll call it outrunning…
About an hour down the road we pull into a Starbucks to steal their WiFi. Oh yes, it is definitely worth mentioning that at this point we didn’t have an American cell phone plan. Not the best scenario when facing a tornado.
Literally zeroways of contacting anyone.
A quick google search and we found the closest mechanic. Unfortunately for us they weren’t open. So we logically decided to sleep in his parking lot over night so we could see him first thing in the morning.
The next morning we woke up to some guy knocking on our window. We watched as he laughed at our ramblings of all that happened the day before.
A couple hours and many hundreds of dollars later, we drove away with a new gas tank, a new fuel pump and filter and a serious need for a nap. After all the stress we had just experienced we looked up to realize it was a beautifully sunny day. So we got our dogs in the van and did what we do best, headed to the beach.
Have you ever been caught in a bad weather situation? Let us know in the comments below.
One of the many great things about a road trip is that it is easy to bring your furry friends along. Sure you can bring dogs on a flight too but this is typically expensive and very stressful on your dog. During a road trip they get to spend their time doing their favorite thing – hanging out with you. Just as traveling with kids or any other dependents, there are some added things you should consider.
1. Take Extra Care While Packing
Seeing you pack is an immediate stressor for a dogs. Anyone who has ever moved while having a dog knows the guilt you feel seeing your pup so stressed about the boxes.
When making your road trip packing list and getting your suitcase out and packing, you will notice your dog sticking closer to you than normal. If they’re anything like ours they may even fall asleep inside your bag. Yup, we found our 70 lbs Labrador curled up in one of our bags. It is important to reassure them by giving them lots of treats and lots of extra love.
2. Keeping Consistencies
When packing for your road trip make sure to pack your pup’s toys from home. While road trips are intended to be fun, they can add a lot of stress to your furry friend. Bringing along a lot of home securities will give your pup comfort. Using their food dish from home, bringing some of their favourite toys and packing their bed along will mean the world to them. They don’t know where you are going or what is happening so bringing these familiar items is sure to give them comfort.
3. Before You Go, Get Your Pup Comfortable In A Car
If your pup doesn’t usually accompany you in the car, taking them on an extended drive right away may not be a good idea. Getting your pup comfortable with car rides will increase their happiness and make it so you can both enjoy your trip. This can start with just allowing your dog to sit in the car or feeding him in the car.
Lots of dogs associate car rides with vet trips so showing them it isn’t scary is important.
Start taking your pup on lots of little trips in the car with you before you go so they can get comfortable. We love giving our pups soft bones to chew on while we drive so they can keep busy and happy.
4. Don't Forget The Dog Food
Not only is the familiarity of having their own food brand important, but switching brands of food can be really hard on their stomachs. Packing extra before you go will ensure your dog has a good time on the trip too.
5. Do Some Research Before Leaving
We recommend you always keep your dog up to date on their vaccinations. This can be even more important when travelling. Before you go do your research about possible irritants for dogs. Even if you aren’t going that far different regions can have unknown irritants.
We got to California and after almost all of us got bitten with ticks we learned that Northern California is riddled with them. Luckily none of us have seemed to fall victim to any diseases ticks can transmit.
A simple trip to the vet for a flea and tick treatment gives our pups added protection.
6. Sensitive Paws
On that same note it is important to be aware that your pups paws are sensitive little things. There are lots of things that can harm your pet out there such as hot pavement, salt in the winter time, glass and sharp rocks. Especially in new environments where you are less aware of what is around it is crucial to be aware of your surroundings.
Scan the area before you let your pups run wild to check for any potential hazards. We recommend bringing tweezers and keeping them accessible while routinely checking their feet for cactus, thorns and sap.
Dogs are naturally den animals and typically love dark secluded areas (for about five minutes until they are ready to be pet again). When living in such small quarters it is easy to trip over each other.
Without meaning to the dogs often get in our way. With that we find it important to give them places that they know they can go without us bothering them. Even if it means popping the top and putting Freckles (the brown coloured dog) on the second bed while we cook (which he loves). Bella loves to curl up in the front seats and stick her head out every once in a while. Roxy needs to be on top of you, because she is, after all, a lap dog.
8. Water, Water, Water!
When starting a road trip you always pack yourself tons of food and drinks (if you don’t, start. No road trip is complete without road food.).
At home, your dog is used to getting a drink of water whenever they feel like it. Being in a car this may not be the case.
If your rig doesn’t allow for you to constantly have a dish out for them it is important to remember to offer them water often.
Especially on hotter days, make sure your pup is well hydrated.
It is important for you to let your best friend take a break from sitting in the car. Especially if your dog is bigger and can’t move through the car with ease. They get stiff too. Allowing them to run through a park or stop to throw a ball (Roxy loves her glow-in-the-dark ball) and tucker them out will mean the world to them. One of the best parts about road trips for dogs is smelling all the new scents in new areas. Being outside and hearing different noises with new scents and different scenery will do a lot for your pup’s mental stimulation, tiring them out quicker.
Most people are dog lovers (apparently not everyone, although I am yet to understand these people) but it is important to keep your dog under control and always pick up after them. Besides keeping the parks and green spaces clean, it is the only way cities will keep allowing our friends in all the places we love to go. Go to your local pet supply store for cheap doggie bags that are biodegradable.
Get your dog tattooed or micro-chipped (preferably the latter) and then on their collar, write what you have done.
Our pups all have up-to-date tags on their collars, and they wear their collars 100% of the time. We make sure to include their name, and our phone number and instead of address (because we no longer have one) we wrote “tattoo in L ear from BC” or simply “microchipped”.
This ensures that if the worst-case were to occur, the chances of being reunited are high.
Our smallest one has her ear that always stands straight up tattooed, which has the added benefit of making her look bad-ass. It might cost a little extra money, but it is definitely worth it in the long run.
We’ve run into a lot of, what we think are, stray dogs on our travels and if they had any way to contact their owner it would make it way easier to reunite them with their owner.
Going on a road trip? Leave us a comment about what worked for you.
More and more people are turning to life in a tiny house. Regardless of if yours has wheels or not, living in that small square footage takes some adjustment, especially with dogs. The realms of this lifestyle are forever expanding as more and more people are testing the limits.
Us, we are testing the limits by cramming five bodies into one van.
It is true that vanlife would be worlds easier without our three rascals. More space, less stuff, and the ability to go anywhere we choose without second thoughts. Our dogs do limit us, a lot, but they also add an unbelievable amount of happiness to our life.
We decided to let you in on the things we’ve learned about how to make life in a van more livable with your pup.
Crossing the border
When crossing the US Canada border with your dogs the only vaccination they care about is against Rabies. All you have to do is go to your vet and get the paperwork. They will give you a piece of paper with the dogs information along with a rabies tag and a sticker off the bottle they used.
If this is the first time your dog is getting its rabies vaccine it will last for one year. After that it will be every three years you have to redo it. It is a simple shot. Your dog will become docile the night of their shots but recover quickly. Use this time to shower them with treats and extra love.
Do you need a passport to go to canada?
Yes! You do.
Every time we cross we hand our passports along with the dogs paperwork. This significantly reduces the border wait times. We cross the border a lot and it is never an issue for us. The guards rarely check the piece of paper and have never made a big deal about the dogs.
This is the only, and by far the biggest, negative of living in a van with dogs. As your van/bus/car becomes your home there is no safe place to leave your pup while you are gone.
This presents a problem at simple things like the grocery store as well as more crippling things like National Parks and must sees like Antelope Canyon. I’m going to be real, this is the hardest part of having dogs in a van.
Our recommendation: when getting your dogs their Rabies vaccine, get them vaccinated against a couple other common illnesses such as kennel cough so you can opt for some doggy daycare. Ask your vet about which vaccines kennels require to board them. That extra hundred dollars will be well spent ensuring you are not sitting beside the Grand Canyon without a way to go see it.
It may sound silly but giving our dogs a bedtime is CRUCIAL. This is mainly true when we have new people with us, or are having a fire and staying up well into the night. When our dogs get tired, they get grumpy.
We don’t have a time but it is easy to see when the pups are starting to bark or get grumpy. Putting them in the van gives them the safe place they need in order to go to sleep. They feel more comfortable and are able to make their own bed and relax. We load our bed and floor with blankets and pillows so they have the comfiest sleep possible.
Let them out, a lot
This is by far the best part of having a dog. On driving days or days where you find yourself in a cement heaven let your pups out, a lot.
For us this has been great and has helped us to see parts of the world we would otherwise have not seen. We have had some of our greatest experiences in areas where we never would have expected to go. We stopped to give the dogs a break and rounded a corner to be surprised by a crystal clear lagoon or met some amazing new people.
This is by far the best part of vanlife with dogs. They inspire you to get outside more.
I can’t tell you how important this one is. Our dogs are our best friends, we want to keep them safe. We spend almost all of our time in completely foreign areas in which our dogs don’t know. Our dogs are pretty used to it, but the longer we stay in a place the more confident they get and farther they stray. Even if we stay in a place for only a few minutes we make sure to bring out the dog beds for them to get comfortable.
We definitely free range parent more so than most dog owners. We let our dogs roam to their heart’s content as they have mastered the rules of not going on the road and not going out of sight (they know just how dependent they are on us). That isn’t to say something still can’t go wrong.
Not too long ago, we had a horrible day when our one pup Freckles chased a bunny and ended up getting stuck or lost. We lost him for about 9 hours. The whole time we spent scouring our desert landscape thinking only the worst. We notified animal shelters and anyone we thought could help us.
It was an absolute nightmare. That reaffirmed that despite how good your dogs are, accidents happen and it is so unbelievably crucial to work hard to avoid them.
We have our dogs have a microchip and tattoo with their all of our information on their dog tag. We make sure that their collars are always on (except our lab who gets skin reactions – she’s micro-chipped though) and their info is up to date.
Our bed is not that big. When you couple that with three dogs that like to cuddle, you are left with no room to move. Roxy is a spooner. She lays length-wise like we do. Freckles likes to find a space near our legs while Bella usually sits on our head. Right before we go to sleep we like to spend some family time. We usually watch a movie or TV show with the dogs on the bed.
But when it comes time to actually sleep we rearrange the dogs. Our front passenger seat swivels and faces backwards. This has quickly become Freckle’s favourite spot. We put a blanket on the floor, with two pillows under it, for Roxy. Bella is small enough that she can fit on the bed with us. She doesn’t usually sleep on the floor since she thinks she needs four times the room she actually needs. Even though we have a lot of bodies we make it work.
When it gets really cold we bring the dogs on the bed for safety. We’ve slept in some frigid temperatures where the dogs needed to stay warm. When this happens Freckles and Bella end up under the covers near our feet while Roxy assumes her spoon position. It keeps us all warm and safe.
Road tripping with dogs has added endless rewards to our life and with these tips it can in yours too. Let us know how you find traveling with your dogs in the comment section below.
The USA is full of amazing cities that seem to not get the recognition they deserve. When we were living in our old Volkswagen Westfalia van we travelled with little to no plan. This meant that we also had little to no expectations about the cities we visited. It took us a while to slow down and get a feel for the top US cities that we were driving through.
When we head towards a destination I couldn’t tell you if it was going to take us the 8 hours google maps says or 8 days. Truthfully, I couldn’t even tell you with any sort of certainty that place is even where we would end up.
This way of living has made it so that every day, and every city, is a complete surprise.
Sometimes that bites us in the butt and we end up in cities like Stockton without even realizing it. Other times, we find these amazingly vibrant cities that we never would have expected.
This has allowed us to be completely and totally surprised with a lot of cities. Keeping in mind that we aren’t the biggest city people, our list of the top cities may surprise you.
Kansas City, Missouri
Perhaps it was our pure ignorance that associated Kansas with wheat fields and more cows than people. Ok, that isn’t entirely true. Kansas is one wheat field after the next but Kansas City is a surprisingly young vibrant city.
For those who have traveled through the middle states in America you are well aware of the massive nothingness that is there. That may be why we so quickly fell in love with the young vibrabt vibes of the city.
The city is like a mirage in the desert. Moving from east to west driving through the states changes from forests with no large cities to wheat fields – until you reach Kansas City. It’s streets are tree-lined, restaurants are lit with glowing lights and their transportation system is green and amazingly maintained.
This city is incredibly urban with modern architecture, a great Italian district and an incredibly artsy feel. The vibe of this city is upbeat and artsy.
Driving through on a Thursday night we were pleasantly surprised with how lit up the city was. With string lights hanging from tree to tree and the downtown streets full of hundreds of people enjoying the bars and nightlife, the city felt energetic.
Ok, ok, so this one isn’t a huge surprise. If you know anything about us you know we LOVE Colorado. The laid-back, health-conscious vibes combine with the mountains, rivers, and hot springs to create a truly magical place.
Sure, Denver is nice, beautiful even, but head a little way north and you get to Boulder. It is a much smaller city while still having everything you could want and need.
With hundreds of awesome parking and camping pull-outs, this area is just one big outdoor playground.
Boulder is tucked into a beautiful canyon with winding rivers and areas for the best rock climbing, slacklining, kayaking, and biking. If you are an outdoor lover you will be very pleasantly surprised.
The drive to go anywhere north or west of Boulder is insanely beautiful with winding roads with endless gorgeous scenery. You feel tucked away into another world. If you are an outdoorsy person Boulder is the place you want to add to your bucket list.
Admittedly, the city here isn’t much to write home about. Sure, it has nice shops with that great forward-thinking Colorado mindset, but the landscape surrounding this city is where it is really great.
Myles and I had a great experience at University so the young vibrant Uni vibe of this city really resonated with us. Taking a tour through this University you see all the beautiful brick buildings mixed in between endless walking trails and water features.
Throughout the town are old buildings with beautiful architecture situated right along the lake. The streets are full of people playing road hockey and beer pong. For a cool way to see the city hop on a beer biking tour. Basically a mobile bar, this pedal bike holds roughly 20 people and tours you through the city drinking along your route.
We were there in the summer and it was beautiful. Nights were long and sunny with people playing on the lake and soaking up the sun.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Utah has quickly become my number one favourite state in America. Weird, because previous to visiting here I couldn’t name 3 cool things about it: Zion, Moab and …..
The drive south to Salt Lake City was full of so many colours. We were ‘oohing” and “aaahing the entire drive – there was always something catching our eye. Almost every field or patch of grass is flooded with beautiful wildflowers giving it the most beautiful array of colours.
There are a few hidden gems around the city. The Homestead Crater combines two of our favourite things: Hot Springs and scuba diving. You can soak in the water or rent a snorkel and take a look under the water.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are another great place in Salt Lake City. The fastest cars come to this alien-looking place to prove their top speed. It can even look like you are walking on water at times as the flats glisten.
There are tons of lakes and rocky canyons around making this an excellent place to go with dogs or on a road trip. Given the extremely hot temperatures (we were sitting in 38 degrees almost every single day) the many water features were godsends.
The city itself is beautiful and is sandwiched between a mountain range and the salt lakes. Be careful if you drive though, the roads are horrible. Our car bottomed out a few times on potholes and speed bumps.
It’s no secret that California is one of the most beautiful states in the USA. Monterey is a small town on the coast of California just south of San Francisco. You are able to pull off the road and sit feet from the beach. Waves crashing all around you, pelicans on the rocks and old Victorian-style inns add to the charm of this place.
The shops downtown are situated along the water and have been built along one strip making it easy to park and walk around. There are loads of jewelry stores and restaurants where you can enjoy a nice meal with a view.
Pro Tip: The Fisherman’s Pier is a great place to go if you love animals. If you go to the very end and peer under the walkway you will see some of the fattest sea lions ever. They love sunbathing on the support beams and will greet you with a grunt.
Just a short drive south (literally one exit on the highway) is a little place called Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s like a land straight out of a fairy-tale. Streets don’t have names, house roofs are made from wood and have intricate designs and fences are made from sticks. The beaches are also out of this world.
White sandy beaches seem to always be a stone’s throw away. The entire beach along the shore is this beautiful white sand only seen in movies. Keep in mind the water is cold. There are people surfing but are wearing wet suits.
All of the places on this list were complete surprises to us. I am sure as we keep exploring this beautiful Earth our lists will forever change but for now, these are our top spots.
Have you been to any of these cities? Let us know what you thought of it in the comment section below.
Ahh summer, a time of year full of BBQs and beaches. Longer days spent outside soaking up some much needed vitamin D. That hot weather is amazing, especially after a cold winter.
Summer is unfortunately also the time of sun burns and heat stroke. This is especially true if you are traveling in a van with three dogs and no air conditioning. Your pup feels that heat too, maybe even more so than you.
These pups add nearly endless rewards in our life. They encourage us to see and stop more and they are our most loyal companions. But, they are also horrible hinderers.
While they are incredibly worth it, summer time is hard with dogs. When it is hot you will see all five us curled up under a tree trying to get some shade.
Here’s a list of our tried and tested ways to keep the dogs safe and cool. Well, cooler.
Seek out air conditioning
If you are like us and your camper/home does not have air conditioning finding some air
conditioning is a great option. While you won’t be able to stay long, even just a short trip to air conditioning so the pups can reset works wonders.
This isn’t an easy task as most stores have no pet policies. Check for pet friendly signs, or more often just check that there is not a “no dogs” sign.
While it is typically based location to location, some of our favourite air conditioned pet friendly stores are:
Any pet store
Walmart (only some and in our experience only the ones in America)
Barnes & Noble → read for hours and keep your dog cool, yes please!
Seriously, I bought ours about 5 years ago and I still can’t sing enough praises about it. Not only does it keep our house way cleaner, it keep our pups worlds cooler.
This brush may look mean but trust me – it will change your life. It helps get the dog’s undercoat as well which makes them way cooler. In the summer when it gets hot we have to brush our dogs way more, up to about 2-3 times a week.
Luckily it doesn’t take too long and our dogs act like they’re at the spa enjoying every second.
One of the hardest parts about living in the van with dogs is that there is no where to put them when we want to go do stuff. From shopping to sightseeing these little buggers can definitely be restricting.
Our van is our home and with that we know everything about it, including how hot it can get when it is all closed up. We also know how to combat this with windows open and parking under shade.
We (well Myles) is a risk taker and basically just brings the dogs in everywhere and waits to see if someone complains. It seems to work for us as we have only ever been stopped once. The only thing is that you obviously can’t do this with places that have or serve food, except weirdly Walmart.
It is only safe to leave your pups in the car when it’s cool outside. Oftentimes this will mean in the late evenings. No matter how cool it is, we open almost every window in the house. There are blankets for them to crawl under if they’re too cold.
When we just run in for a quick item we make sure the house is set up properly including a full bowl of water. It is essential to park under a tree in nearly every parking lot regardless of the temperature. .
We are those weird dog parents that think our dogs would rather have a chance at seeing a squirrel than stare at a brick wall.
We have heard so many horrible horror stories of people leaving their poor dog in a car in the heat. This really shouldn’t be a thought anymore.
While this only applies to one of our dogs and getting her shaved is a summer essential. Oddly our smallest dog, a Chihuahua cross, has the least tolerance to heat. In the summer we face a constant battle to keep her cool.
Getting her shaved makes the world of a difference. Cutting the area around her mouth and stomach is the most important. Being a Chihuahua, Yorkie, Maltese cross her hair doesn’t actually get that long or thick but she still can’t handle the extra bulk.
Pro Tip: If your dog has a nice coat that you don’t want to cut, try just cutting their stomach. You won’t be able to tell and they will be able to put their bare stomach against a cool ground.
Wet your pet
An obvious choice but man, so useful. In summertime we typically have a spray bottle that we use to soak our pups,
especially their stomachs. They actually don’t mind getting wet for the most part but even when they do, they feel noticeably better afterwards.
We try to do all our walks and hikes in the morning time so they stay cool with much success. Sticking near rivers and lakes we try to throw our dogs in even if they don’t want to. This brings their core temperature down and helps them to cool off quicker.
Do you have any summer tricks for keeping cool that we missed? Let us know in the comment section below.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means we may get a commission if you make a purchase. Our opinions are our own and we only share what we believe you’ll find helpful. We also use all the products that we have links to. You can even see them in the photos we post.
You have heard me write probably more than you need about how amazing this life is. It’s true, I am in love with it. The freedom to travel, the unbelievable places we visit and the memorable people we meet along the way. I try to keep it real and never gleam over the fact that oftentimes, especially in cities or on rainy days, it’s claustrophobic as hell and cleaning is a constant battle. But I never really talk about one of the biggest battles in this life. The truth is, this one leaves me vulnerable and I am sure you’re not here to read about the down times. Regardless, here it is.
Vanlife is lonely.
I know, I am constantly beside Myles, how can it be lonely. I am always writing about how we meet and talk to new people every single day, that doesn’t sound lonely. Well, it is. It is weird to me that my life feels so very on display that I never have privacy and yet still feel lonely.
Myles said to me one day “you know you’re great and all but I wish I had another opinion.” How true those words are, it actually shocked me. I may have been thinking it, but hearing him say it aloud reaffirmed just how lonely this life gets sometimes.
There are some things I just don’t want to talk to Myles about, you know those things you need a girlfriend for. Well in this life, I can’t just show up at my best friends door. If I have a question, Myles opinion is the only one I get. Sure, it is a great opinion and one I value more than any other, but sometimes you just crave a friend.
While we still have our friends, texting them isn’t as good as the real deal and sometimes it gets to us. We have learned that one of the best ways to combat this is to get a WiFi plan and message our friends whenever we start to feel lonely (sorry Courtney for the constant chatter).
We tend to feel less claustrophobic in this life and generally just worlds happier in the forest, but the downside of this is that we lose our reception and therefore our lifeline to our friends. Doing things independently, such as taking our dogs on a hike, even for a short time typically fixes this as we come back breathless from explaining all the cool things we found.
A side effect from this loneliness that has both good and bad repercussions is that we have learned about each other on such a deep level. This has brought us closer than we ever could have imagined but also caused some strife. I know what Myles is thinking by a mere face twitch now.
From someone like me who seems to never shut up to someone like Myles who is a man of few words, it is interesting to me that at times he feels the affects more than I do. I believe it is because I am constantly either chatting his ear off, telling long elaborate stories to the dogs or writing so much that my fingers feel they may fall off. Sure I may drive him nuts or look crazy when sitting on the grass talking to Roxy but for me it works.
Every life has pros and cons but for me the freedom I feel and the ever changing backdrop is a pro that far outweighs any con I am yet to find.