We’re Back Home! Preparing For Next Trip

Well that didn’t take long. We were home for a few weeks and it’s time to prepare the van for another trip. This time we’re heading out to NC’s Outer Banks or OBX. After being in the Winnebago Travato 59K for 3 months during our last trip to Florida we thought we’d like to make a few changes or mods to the van before heading out again.

So we proceeded to remove the microwave and put a cabinet in its place, remove the roof basket and bag and replace it with a Thule cargo box, change the color of our refrigerator from silver to black and we added chalkboard inserts to the pedestal at the sliding door so we could doodle out little messages. And since so many asked how we really plan trips we also documented how we use RV Trip Wizard to plan our trips and how we used it to plan this 3-week trip to the OBX.

You can watch the video here:

Routines In A Small Space Help

So like every old couple we’ve developed our little routines. We get up and start our day with a simple cup of coffee, we make the beds, eat breakfast and walk Maggie. We try to get a few chores done everyday and we try to get some excercise too. And we try to learn something about the area we are in. In other words we try to create a sense of normalcy… sameness… routine. We’ve learned that that sense of routine helps make it feel more like being at home on the road as opposed to being on vacation in a van. Not that there’s anything wrong with being on vacation in the van, it’s just that that is not a sustainable way of living for months and months at a time. You get tired and burnt out if you give in to the “Got To See, Got To Do EVERYTHING” mentality.

When you live life in a van the time you spend together is a precious. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have daily chores and routines. In fact it’s those routines that give us a sense of peace and sanity in our van. Whether it’s making coffee, making the beds, driving to the next location or dumping the tanks, planning our next few days, walking Maggie or watching another beautiful sunset… each plays an important of life together in our van. You see, routines in a small space are really important. Without them life is full of haphazard occurences and sometimes chaos… and chaos in a such a small space causes stress and anxiety. We try steer our van and our lives together away from both of those… isn’t that why we chose a life in a small camper van anyway. Oh yeah… and the most important routine? We laugh… not the LOL kind of laugh but the old fashioned laughing about the small, crazy things in our life that we’re blessed to live together.

Now that’s also not to say that we don’t go out and splurge on activities or great meals, because we do. It’s just we try to not fall into the trap of doing that every day. If you’ve been on a cruise ship then you know the mental fatigue that comes from waking up and going, going, going all day long until you crash and sleep frantically and then get back up and do it again… every day until they push you off the ship and load in a new batch of folks that will do the same thing. But those that work on the ship… their life is different because they’ve learned that that breakneck pace is just not healthy for weeks or months at a time. The same thing applies to living in a van on the road. Sure you could do something big and fun and expensive every day (if you had the health and wealth to pull that off) but we choose not to do that.

What we share with you is usually those big things that we do each week. We sometimes share the mundain things too, like walking Maggie, making coffee, grilling out but most of the time we share the things we think we’d be interested in seeing if we were you the viewer. Same with this week’s video. We hope you enjoy it and we’d love to hear from you about how you travel for extended periods. What’s your pace when you’re out there? For us we try to keep a healthy balance between constant fun and a normal life.

Verizon’s New Prepaid Unlimited Hotspot… Is It Working For A Van Life Couple?

When you live out of your van on the road it makes life so much better when you can reliably connect to the internet. That’s why we were so happy to buy a Verizon MIFI 8810L and try out their new Prepaid Unlimited plan. We’ve been doing that for a month now and have found it to be really good when it works. Every now and then the devices get kicked off, a known issue, but other than that it has truly been unlimited and unthrottled. A make-me-happy thing for this connected couple living in a Travato 59K van.

In this video we show you not only how we make use of the unlimited plan and the hotspot, we also show you how all that is made better with a Wilson WeBoost and the cherry on top is connecting the 2018 Roku Premier Streaming Stick to it and setting the resolution to 720p… almost like being at home.

Learning To Sleep In A Camper Van

When you choose to live in a 21 foot camper van, a Winnebago Travato 59K in our case, you have to do things to make it as comfortable and efficient as possible.  Not everyone would believe that we could sleep on these beds for 3-4 months at a time but thanks to a few changes we can easily do just that.  When you’re living in a Travato you have the choice of a 59K or a 59G.  In this video we not only show our bed modifications but also discuss why we thought the 59K was a better fit for our travels over the 59G, even though the under bed storage of the 59G fits our lifestyle a little better.

When we first purchased our Travato we thought using sleeping bags would be the best way to make the most of the space. Sleep in them at night and stuff them in the pillow cases during the day and you have a couch instantly. So we went out to Dick’s Sporting and bought 2 mummy bags. We both hated them and the next day packed them up and headed back, swapping them for square sleeping bags. They worked pretty well but we still had a hard time getting them up around our chins like a blanket so we headed back to Dick’s and bought oversized square bags. I nearly broke my neck as mine almost slid into the floor that first night… they were just too big for the bed. So, you guessed it, back to Dick’s we went.

This time we left there and went to Bed Bath and Beyond and bought a mattress topper, sheets and a comforter. The passenger side bed takes a Trin XL and the drivers side bed takes a regular twin bed. That combination worked for several months, especially for Lynn’s side. Owen’s side had a section in the middle of the bed where the hinge for the under bed storage opened left no room for the Frollie bed “springs”. That plus the fact that you could feel the hinge was not comfortable. So when we decided for sure that we were committed to this van lifestyle and we were definitely going to sell our 5th wheel RV we took the memory foam mattress topper off of that bed and proceeded to cut it in half and put them on the beds in the Travato. Whew! That did the trick. The only issue that remains is the beds are now way too high to comfortably use as couches during the day since the toppers add another 3-4 inches to the height. But that’s an acceptable compromise for us.

So if you are wondering about whether you can sleep comfortably in such a small camper van, we think the answer is a definite YES! You may not end up creating your sleeping solution the same way we did, but if you keep searching you’ll find something that fits you nicely!

Here’s the latest video:

Finding Your Travel Rhythm In A Nimble Camper Van

We Love Being Nimble

Our Travato camper van. that Lynn and I absolutely love, has allowed us to be more and more nimble. That’s a good thing… well kind of. It’s so easy to setup and leave, literally taking just a few minutes, that we have begun more and more staying at a spot just one night… a van trip one night stand if you will.

There are lots of advantages to this:

    1. You get to cover more ground/miles. Many times “getting to the destination” is the goal and the fewer nights stayed along that route means getting there sooner. When we were traveling to the Grand Canyon in a 5th Wheel two years ago we just wanted to get “there” and then explore. We were traveling so far and had a limited window of time that it made sense to drive, sleep and drive.
    2. You have more opportunities to find perfect campsites. Since you are staying at so many sites that increases the chances that some of those sites will be perfect, adding to your list of “man we are going to go back there” places. Keep in mind though, it also increases the chance of finding duds.
    3. You don’t have to travel as many miles in one day. Because you’re not “wasting” travel days by sitting still you can meet your destination arrival goal date and drive fewer miles per day.
    4. What a freedom it is. There’s a feeling of freedom that comes from picking up and heading out every day. The gypsy caravans must have experienced that same feeling. It just feels good. That “what’s over the horizon” feeling compels us to want to go see and having the freedom to do that is a great feeling.

Turns Out Nimble Can Be Tiring

So even though there are great reasons to spend the night and keep driving we have found that for the most part it is not the perfect way to travel for us and our lifestyle. On our recent trip to Northeast Florida to escape the mountain cold and just get away before Thanksgiving we started out with a stay a night, drive and stay a night attitude. By the 3rd night we just looked at each other like “what are we doing?”. This feels more like being a truck driver than a couple who has the freedom to explore at their leisure. So we sat down and reevaluated our approach because for us this one and done stays has a lot of let’s say non-positives.

For us they are:

    1. It is freaking tiring. You get up, eat breakfast, make sure the van is ready to roll and then start driving. My brother is a truck driver and one of my best friends was a truck driver. They talk about keeping the passenger door beside the white line and seeing the world through the windshield. Well, for us, just seeing the world through the windshield isn’t always what we want. There are advantages to looking out the windshield to see this big country as we drive. But for the most part, we prefer to get out and walk around and experience places instead of just seeing them as we drive by.

    2. There’s no time to enjoy today’s destination. By the time you arrive at your next destination it is easily 3pm. Once you find your place for the night and get comfortable, wintertime short days mean you maybe have 1-2 hours to enjoy the area. Forget going to parks or attractions. The best you can do is disconnect and go out to dinner and go back to go to bed because like we just said, you’re freaking tired. One or two days of this is fine, but the more days you do this the more the accumulation of being tired of it builds up.

    3. It multiplies the stress of having to find a campsite. Let’s face it… nobody likes calling around or poking around on the web to find the “next” campsite. We live in the eastern side of the US and dispersed camping sites are few and far between so for the most part you have to book a place to stay. While just staying one night increases your chance of finding a place to stay, it also increases the stress level because every night you have to determine where you are going next and then do the work to book a site. 
    4. Hidden gems stay hidden. Even if you manage to find time to work in a hike at a park or a paddle board trip at nearby water, there’s usually a gem or two in the area that will remain hidden if you just stay a night or even two. On our trip to Florida we discovered Ft Clinch State Park, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip, on our 3rd morning of waking up in Saint Mary’s because we had time to ask the question what do you want to do today. When you are driving every day you never get to ask that question and those hidden gems never get discovered. By the way, Ft Clinch State Park will be the star of our next video.

Finding Our Rhythm

It took us a while, but we have found our rhythm for traveling in our camper van. Granted it is much different than the rhythm we used to travel in our 5th Wheel, where we would stay in Florida for 4-5 months at a time at one location. It took getting frustrated and tired of doing the extreme of hopping around every day to teach us how we currently prefer to travel in our Travato 59K van. We say currently because that’s the thing about being nimble, you can and should always be evaluating what worked on a trip or journey and learning from the things that could have been better.

So with that in mind, here’s what we are going to try to do as we plan our next trip:

    1. Travel less miles per week/month and stay in almost all of our stops along the way at least 2 nights, preferably 3 nights. Sure we won’t get to travel as far or check off as many big bucket list items, but we’ll enjoy the ones we do check off even more and they’ll be days that we get to add an item to the bucket list and then check it right off because we found another gem.
    2. Bad weather days = travel more. Why waste bad days sitting inside the van at a location? So when it’s raining or unseasonably cold or windy we’ll just plan to put in more miles on those days. One night stays on these days that we couldn’t really enjoy an area anyway at the moment seem smart. But, driving in rain itself is tiring so that too may need to be be re-evaluated.  [Edit:  A fellow van traveler (Max) told us how much he loves spending time in the van when it’s raining… the reading, cooking and relaxing… well, I agree. On our trip to the Smoky Mountians we had rain on a few of those days and come to think of it they were great days.  Crap this planning thing is hard… may have to re-evaluate that one already.]
    3. Spend extra $$ on premium sites just once or twice each month. It’s not financially wise to stay on premium sites every night. In the video that accompanies this blog we found we loved the Big Wheel RV Park. The first night we stayed on a pull-thru site that was nice. When we pulled in after closing going back home we chose the same site. But when we decided to stay there for 2 additional nights instead of continuing our one-night-at-a-time trip we chose a different, less expensive, but as it turns out, better site. The pull-thru full hookup site was $45 per night, not a bad price for what you got. But because we are in a small van we were able to take a site with just electricity that was right on their little pond and it was only $25 per night. It was more private, had a better view and it was a great price! But there are times when we plan to spend extra money to be on the ocean, lake or bayou just because we want to get the most out of those stays.
    4. Look for hidden gems. Every pin we drop on a route usually has an associated “we want to see this or do this” attraction. It could be a body of water, a special hike, a national park or even a relative or close friend. Staying 2-3 days each leg allows us to do those planned “reasons” for choosing this location as well as find one or two hidden gems like Ft. Clinch State Park.
    5. Just Putting In Miles Days. Because we are self contained and have solar, a generator and all the comforts of home when we are not plugged in, we can stay at cheaper or even free places along the way. These kind of days will help the budget and help justify splurging on the days we really want to make the most of great locations. So we hope to “stay on the cheap” on the nights we are just sleeping so we can drive, which hopefully will allow us to not feel so bad about staying right on the water in Key West a few times even though it might be close to $200 a night. Only time will tell if we can convince ourselves to really feel that way though.

What Works Best For You?

Right now, as we zig zag around this round world in our Winnebago Travato, that’s how we hope to spend our travel days. One thing is for sure… that will change. That’s the great part about being nimble, both with our lives and our mode of transportation. We’d be interested to hear what works best for you as you travel? Take a few minutes and leave us a comment about what you’ve learned as you’ve traveled.

Until next time, safe, happy, non-stressful yet challenging travels to you and your family.

The Gem We Found In Saint Mary’s, Georgia – Crooked River State Park