As vandwellers, nomads, rubber tramps, and vagabonds, we’re on the road a lot. Driving a vehicle eventually means stopping to fuel up. After my recent (short-lived) career as a clerk at a fuel center, I’d like to offer up some etiquette tips to follow while at a gas station, truck stop, or anywhere else folks go to put diesel, gasoline, or flex fuel in a rig, tow vehicle, generator, or gas can.
#1 Know what pump you’re on before you stand in front of the clerk.
Having to back up to find the number of the tank where you want to pump your fuel wastes everyone’s time.
#2 Know how much you
want to spend before you interact with the clerk. Standing in front of the
cash register counting your money or figuring out how much is in your fuel
budget slows down everyone in line behind you.
#3 If you keep your bills in your bra, sock, or underpants, for goodness sake, take your money out of your intimate hiding place where the clerk can’t see you. Trust me, store clerks do not want to know where your money has been.
#4 Do not hand over
money with bodily fluid on it. No blood, snot, saliva, breast milk, feces,
urine, semen, or vaginal secretions, PLEASE.
#5 Do not get upset
with the fuel clerk if your preferred method of payment is not accepted. The
fuel clerk did not make the decision to reject your preferred method of
payment. The fuel clerk was probably not asked to offer an opinion. The
decision came from on high, and the fuel clerk can’t do a dang thing about it.
#6 Do not get upset with the fuel clerk if equipment isn’t working. The
problem may be user error. Politely ask the fuel clerk for assistance. Do not accuse or threaten. Remember the life lesson about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. The fuel clerk is the fly you want to catch and have on your side.
#7Do not drive like a
bat-out-of-hell in the fuel center. Drive slowly, carefully, and courteously.
People are walking around out there. You don’t want to hit anyone, and you
don’t want to incite road rage.
#8 Wait your turn. Whether
you’re waiting to get to the pump or to pay for your fuel, don’t try to get
ahead of people who were there before you. No one likes a cheater.
#9 Don’t smoke anywhere in the fuel center. Drivers should already know this, but sometimes it seems they do not. Pumping fuel has become second nature to most of us, and we forget the stuff that powers our vehicles can be dangerous. Don’t let the spark from your cigarette or cigar be the one that sets the fuel center on fire.
#10 If you spill
fuel, let a worker know. Spills happen. They’re a fact of fuel center
life. Fuel center workers have the
proper equipment for cleaning spills, but they can’t clean what they don’t know
So there you have it, ten tips for keeping any fueling area safe and running smoothly. Of course, you probably already have a firm grasp on these ideas. Common knowledge, right? You’d be surprised (and probably appalled too.)
This is a cautionary tale for anyone considering removing something from their rig before they know exactly what that something does.
I’d just gotten my van back from my mechanic. He’s replaced my fuel pump, and I was back in the business of vanlife.
I was house sitting for a friend, so I used the opportunity of having a parking spot to clean my van. I collected all the trash I’d let accumulate and dumped it into her garbage can. I was pleased to think how great my van was going to look after this cleanup.
While standing outside the van, I reached under the driver’s seat and felt around for any trash that had ended up hidden there. My hand connected with some sort of flat, plastic box. I wondered what it was. I didn’t remember tucking a box under the seat.
I pulled out the object, quickly realizing it was tethered by a cord to something else under the seat. I could hold the box in my hands, but couldn’t lift it more than a foot or so off the floor. If I hadn’t been standing outside the van, I probably couldn’t have pulled it out from under the seat at all. What was this thing?
I looked at the object closely. It was an inch or two thick, maybe eight inches wide, and ten inches long. It was constructed entirely of smooth black plastic, except for slightly raised letters on the top which spelled out “C-O-M-P-U-T-E-R.” Computer? What kind of computer could this possibly?
My van was a 1992 Chevy G20. While not a classic car, it was not a hotbed of technology either. Would something from 1992 really have a computer? Would something important to the operation of the vehicle really be stored under the seat? I didn’t think so! I decided (with no research and not much consideration) that this computer must operate no longer functioning power seat controls. Of course, neither of the seats had any buttons or knobs that might have been associated with power controls at some time in the past, but I didn’t let that detail influence my ideas about what the plastic box was for.
Anyone who’s lived in a vehicle (even a relatively roomy conversion van) knows that space is at a premium. Any little nook or cranny that can be emptied can provide a home for some more important item. I had visions of storing books under the driver’s seat if I could ditch this bulky, unnecessary (in my mind) “computer” box.
As I continued to examine the box, I found the cord was attached to the box by a plug. I simply unplugged the cord and the box was free. Easy! (I left the cord tucked under the seat, out of my way.)
Some guardian angel was looking over my shoulder that day because I didn’t throw the box into my friend’s garbage can. I can’t remember why. Maybe it was because I knew electronics aren’t supposed to end up in the landfill, and I’d decided to find an appropriate way to dispose of the thing. Maybe I had a sliver of good sense and realized it wasn’t a good idea to throw out a part when I didn’t know its function. In any case, the unplugged box stayed on the floor between the two front seats, and I wandered back into my friend’s house.
The next day I wanted to go somewhere, so I climbed into my van’s driver seat and started the engine. I immediately noticed the check engine light was on. Damn!
My first thought was that my mechanic must have caused the problem. Maybe he’d damaged something when he replaced the fuel pump. Maybe he hadn’t replaced something properly. I was going to have to call him and find out how he planned to rectify the situation.
Before I picked up the phone, I contemplated the situation further. Had the check engine light been on when I picked up the van at the repair shop? Had it come on as I drove from the shop to my friend’s house? I didn’t remember it being on. I’ve always been observant of my control panel, so I was confident I would have noticed the light had it been on previously.
I sat there and thought about what had changed since I’d parked the van at my friend’s place. Nothing really. I’d cleaned up, picked up trash, pulled the “computer” from under the driver’s seat…
Oh no! It began to dawn on me that maybe that “computer” controlled more than the movements of my chairs.
I shut off the van’s engine, then located the black box on the floor between the two front seats. Maybe this thing was more important than I’d thought.
I grabbed the plastic box and slid out of the van. I stood on the driver’s side of the van with the door open so I could reach under the seat. After some fumbling, I found the cord the box had been attached to and plugged it back in. I tucked the box under the seat, then climbed back into the van. When I turned the key in the ignition, I was relieved to see that the check engine light did not come on. Problem solved!
Apparently in 1992 vans did have computers, and they were stored under the driver’s seat!
For several years, I thought this was mostly a funny story of my stupidity that I would share on my blog someday. After all, no real damage was done, all’s well that end well, and surely I’m the only person who’d make such a mistake. Then my friend did something similar, and I knew I had to share my story as a cautionary tale.
Without sharing too much of my friend’s business, she cut some wires in her rig that she thought were unnecessary. It turned out that all of the components of her rig’s electrical system were connected and no one wire could be removed without affecting the entire system. Ooops!
My friend’s problem was more difficult and expensive to fix than mine was, but, thankfully, her rig is up and running again.
In any case, please learn a lesson from what my friend and I did wrong. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, don’t remove anything from your rig, unplug anything, or sever any cords. Maybe check the manual, do some research online, or ask a mechanic or knowledgeable friend before you start making changes that could lead to tears and aggravation.
Thanks for reading my blog! I appreciate your support! Maybe you’re wondering what other blogs you can read that are written by vandwellers, nomads, vagabonds, RVers, travelers, and drifters. Today I’ll share with you what I know about blogs written by folks who live on the road at least part of time.
Xsyntrik Nomad is written by my sweet and positive friend Devan Winters, a vandweller. She writes about choosing and building a van, earning a living on the road, and sharing her vanlife with a cat. She’s a very talented writer and her posts are quirky and engaging.
I am a radical Black feminist, birth worker, activist, anti-racist, a lesbian, and I do a wholelot of community organizing…
…I decided I would convert a school bus to live in, and while I was at it, travel North America. The choice to move onto a vehicle was an easy decision for me because it fits my lifestyle. Besides living in the Pacific Northwest for the past near-13 years, seeing the increases in rent and gentrified neighborhoods, watch people not able to find housing (myself included) and literally pushed out of cities and into the margins, I’m anti-establishment and a wanderer to my core.
Brenton MacAloney has been writing Brent’s Travels since 2013. He’s traveled in a camper van, a Toyota Prius, and a pickup truck with a camper that slides into the van. He says,
I like travel, meeting people, and writing about my experiences.
Meeting people is a goal of mine. In fact I will try to meet someone new everyday. I want to write about them. Who [they] are and what makes them unique.
Undercover Hippy Bus is about a family living in “big white ex-courier van.” The adults were tired of all the time their jobs stole away from being with their kids, so they sold off most of their stuff and now live simply and happily. They write about parenting, food, and travels.
Miah and George, a gay couple [who recently started their] adventure into full-time RV living. We are tired of being tied down to a house that we do not like, nor want to be in. Tired of not being able to travel to places we want to see, visit with friends and family we want to visit, so we are choosing to have a life of ‘Freedom over Stability’
The RV Artsy Life of Sue Soaring Sun is written by my friend and Sun sister. She writes about the art she creates and the places she visits with her cat Sonja Begonia while living in Brownie, her 20-ft 1984 Lazy Daze mini-motor home. Sue doesn’t update her blog often, but when she does, I really enjoy her stories from the road.
all about helping you…choose your van, plan your design, install creature comforts like electricity and plumbing, and actually build out the interior of your DIY campervan conversion. [Y]ou’ll find awesome infographics, detailed information, step-by-step guides, links to helpful resources, and more.
Here at Interstellar Orchard (IO), you’ll find: Informational articles on how to go RVing full-time Travelogues of my adventures to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike Philosophical posts on how to live a happier, more fulfilling life
Last week I wrote about activities to engage in when the weather is too bad to be outside. But what are van or car dwellers to do when they can’t cook outside like normal due to inclement weather? What are van or car dwellers to do if they just don’t feel like cooking? Sure, if you’re in the city, you could rely on restaurants for your meals, but doing so could get quite expensive. Of course, if you’re off boondocking in the wilderness, you probably won’t find a restaurant for miles in any direction, and you’ll have to figure out some way to feed yourself. Today I’ll give you some ideas of what to eat when bad weather (or anything else) keeps you away from your stove.
Be prepared for those times you can’t get outdoors to cook
or you just want to have a quick and easy meal by keeping nonperishables on
hand. When I lived in my van, I tried to always have crackers, rice cakes, nuts
and/or nut butter, Nutella, corn chips, dry cereal, corn or flour tortillas, canned
fish, raisins or other dried fruit, canned fruit, and shelf-stable milk in my
pantry so I’d be able to eat if I was stuck in a place where I couldn’t cook.
Usually with these staples and what I had in my cooler, I could feed myself for
a couple of days. Nonperishable foods also came in handy if I got hungry while
I was stealth parking.
If you know bad weather is coming or you will be too busy to cook for a few
days and you have eggs on hand, boil enough to get your through until you can cook again. It’s easy to get enough carbs when you can’t cook, but you’ll be glad for the protein and fat you can get from eggs. Store the boiled eggs in their shell in your cooler until you are ready to eat them.
Another food you can cook in advance of bad weather is pancakes. I’ve found pancakes stay good
for several days without refrigeration, and I find them as tasty at room
temperature as just off the griddle. If you don’t have any sliced bread on
hand, you can substitute pancakes when making nut butter sandwiches. You can
also munch on pancakes plain or with a touch of honey or maple syrup.
I can eat happily for several days on dry cereal and milk. If you don’t have milk in your cooler, use shelf-stable milk from your pantry. Fancy up your meal with fresh, dried, or canned fruit. If you don’t do dairy, plant-based milks are typically easy to find in most large supermarkets.
Yogurt with fruit and
granola makes a quick, tasty meal or snack. For a slightly different riff
on the cereal and dairy theme, sprinkle dry cereal other than granola over your
When you can’t cook, nutbutters (peanut, almond, and cashew butter, as well as sunflower seed butter and tahini) can be your best friends. Like boiled eggs, nut butters will give you the protein and fat your body will probably be craving. Also, nut butters don’t spoil as quickly as animal products like eggs and milk or yogurt from cows and goats. Some ways to eat nut butters: on bread with bananas, with crackers, spread on apple or pear slices, plopped into the hollow of a stalk of celery and dotted with raisins, spread on pancakes or rice cakes. For a little extra yum, add some hazelnut/coco spread (Nutella or a store brand version) to your nut butter concoctions. Of course, if you have jam or jelly in your cooler, you can have an old-fashioned PB&J or a more modern AB&J (almond butter) or CB&J (cashew butter).
If you eat fish, canned fish on crackers or with chips will give you a protein boost too. In a pinch, I’ve been known to eat canned tuna, oysters, salmon, or sardines on crackers with a squirt of hot sauce. A little cheese (especially, I think, cream cheese) if you have it in your cooler added to any of these combos makes the meal extra tasty.
Of course, any canned,
fully cooked food you have on hand can be eaten at room temperature if you
can stomach it. The thought of room temperature beans eaten straight out of the
can does not appeal to me, but I’ve seen The Man eat them that way with no ill
effects on several occasions. Folks who already eat beans, Vienna sausage,
potted meat, or other canned goods without the benefit of heat can continue to
eat this way when the weather is awful or there’s no time to cook.
If you have cheese in your cooler, slice some up, lay it down on crackers,
and pretend you’re at a fancy party eating cheese and cracker hors d’oeuvres If you’re a wine drinker, having some now will add to your fancy party fantasy.
Chips, rice cakes, or
crackers with dip may not be the height of nutrition, but such fare can get
you through when the weather is so bad you can’t even think of leaving your
rig. Salsa is probably your most nutritious option, but bean dip is probably
relatively healthy too. Ranch dip, French onion dip, and queso may not be
exceptionally healthy, but they may offer morale boosting comfort when you’re
stuck inside. You may want to keep at least one jar of shelf stable comfort dip
in your pantry for hard times.
Another great dip is guacamole. If you know ahead of time that bad weather is going to banish you to the rig, grab a premade tub from the produce section of most supermarkets. Guacamole requires no cooking, so you can certainly mix up a batch while sheltering in your rig. Cut open an avocado or two, remove the seed(s), and scoop the soft green middle into a bowl. Mash the avocado and squeeze a little lemon or lime juice into the bowl. Mince some garlic (one or two cloves, depending on your preference and the size of the cloves), and throw that in. Sprinkle on some salt and chili powder, then mash it all up to your desired consistency. Yippee: guacamole! You can eat it with chips or crackers or spread it on a flour or corn tortilla. If you have any leftover, store it in your cooler for later.
Hummus is also a delicious dip you can buy premade ahead of time or easily make in your rig. Open and drain a can of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), then dump them into a bowl. (If you can save some of the water the garbanzos are packed in, you may use it later to thin the mashed bean paste.) Mince some garlic and throw that in on top of the garbanzos, then add tahini, olive oil, and salt to taste. Mash it all up as smooth as you can, and add some of the juice from the can if you need to thin the paste. Be warned that this dip will probably be thick and chunky since you probably only have your own arm muscles and (at best) a potato masher to do a job usually done by a food processor. Once your hummus is prepared, you can eat it on chips; crackers; pretzels; veggies (carrot slices, celery, bell pepper chunks); rice cakes; or bread.
If you have cheese, cold cuts (traditional or vegetarian), veggies, and bread,
you can always slap together a sandwich. Add a piece of fruit or some chips and call it a meal.
If you can stand to be outside long enough to boil water,
there a few quick and easy warm meals you can prepare.
Add boiling water to instant
refried beans, stir, then let them sit (covered) for five minutes or so.
Add chips and cheese (and salsa and/or chopped avocado or guacamole if you’ve
got them) to the warm beans for an easy meal. You can also add warm beans and
any of the fixin’s mentioned above to a flour or corn tortilla and fold or
Boiling water can also be added to packaged ramen noodle soups. After sitting
(covered) for 5-10 minutes, the boiling water should have made the noodles
plump and tender. I never use the flavor packets that come with the noodles,
but you can (of course!) if you want to. I just add some soy sauce or Bragg’s
Liquid Aminos and nutritional yeast. If you have a boiled egg or canned fish on
hand, either would be a good addition to ramen.
You can also add boiling water to oatmeal—instant, quick cooking, even old-fashioned. (This is not a technique I recommend for cooking steel cut oats.) Add enough boiling water to cover the oats, stir, cover the bowl, and let sit for 5-10 minutes (less time if you’re preparing instant oats). When the cover is removed, the water should be absorbed. Old-fashioned oats may be a bit chewy, but should not be crunchy. You can fancy up oatmeal with fresh or dried chopped fruit (added before the boiling water), nut butter, hazelnut spread, raisins or craisins, honey, maple syrup, or nuts.
If you have extra boiling water, you can have a cup of hot
tea, cocoa, or instant coffee now, or store the hot water in a thermos to use
If you’re able to stay outside long enough to boil water,
you may be outside long enough to scramble an egg, heat a can of beans, warm a
couple of tortillas, or make some toast. Even a brief break in rain or sleet or
snow may give you the opportunity to prepare warm food. Eat warm food when you
can get it, and save cold or room-temperature food for later when you might not
be able to get outside at all.
You’ve got to eat, no matter what the weather or even if you’re too busy to cook. A little planning and a stocked pantry can get you through when you’re stuck in your van or can’t get to your stove for whatever reason.
The people camped next to us ran their generator all night.
The Man and I were camped at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup, New Mexico. We’d used my New Mexico State Parks Pass to get a developed campsite, which in this instance meant a picnic table and a fire ring. We’d taken a site next to people in a popup camper. Usually we wouldn’t take a spot right next to other campers, especially when there were many empty campsites throughout the park, but the site we chose was flat and had a tree providing afternoon shade. It was the best unoccupied site in all the camping areas.
I pulled the van onto the asphalt parking spur nose in. The side doors opened toward our picnic tables and away from our next door neighbors, giving us all a bit of privacy.
The Man and I spent the afternoon relaxing. In the evening we cooked dinner, cleaned up after ourselves, then got into the van for bed.
We were awake later than usual. At some point we realized we were hearing the motorized hum of a generator. The noise was coming from the site next door.
The Man asked me what time it was, and after consulting my watch, I told him it was a little after ten o’clock.
Quiet hours start at ten, he grumbled.
The park brochure clearly stated that generator use is prohibited during quiet hours. The generator was not supposed to be running, but continued to hum in the night. Despite the noise, I went to sleep with no real problem.
The Man and I both woke up early, and nearly the first thing we noticed was that the generator next door was still humming.
That thing’s been on all night! The Man grumbled.
Maybe they have a medical need, I suggested generously. Maybe one of them uses a CPAP.
The Man countered by saying the people should have stayed at a site with electrical hookups if they needed to use electricity all night.
Well, yes. There seemed to be empty electrical sites when we drove through the park. Maybe the couple didn’t want to pay the extra $4 for a site with electricity, although I think doing so would have been less expensive than buying the gasoline it took to run the generator all night. Maybe the people thought because they took a campsite in a side loop away from other people, there would be no problem if they ran the generator all night. However, if they wanted to be sure they didn’t bother anyone, they could have gone to the sparsely populated primitive camping area by the lake and parked far away from everyone else.
It’s not like we had pulled up on remote booondockers and camped next to them; we were both in designated developed campsites.
Usually I’m the complainer and The Man is the voice of reason, but on that Sunday morning our roles were reversed. The Man couldn’t let his problem with the generator next door go.
They ran it all night…It’s againt the rules…I’m going to report them to the camp host…or the ranger…I’m going to knock on their door…
I reminded him that it was Sunday. I told him the people next door were probably leaving that afternoon. The thought of them leaving comforted him a little, but he was still irritated.
People like that…They think they can do whatever they want…It’s not right…I’m going to report them…
He asked me if I thought he should report them.
I considered the question, then asked him if the generator had kept him awake the night before. He thought a moment, then admitted it hadn’t .
I told him it hadn’t kept me awake either. In fact, I had slept just fine. I told him if the generator had kept us awake and the people next door were staying another night, I would consider reporting them. But if the noise hadn’t kept us awake and they wouldn’t be there another night, what was the point in reporting them?
The Man thought about what I’d said, then nodded. He agreed.
Usually I’m the person complaining (in my head, even if not aloud) because something just isn’t right or that’s not fair.I have a strong sense of justice, of fairness, of wanting people to do what’s right for the greater good. However, I’m trying to learn to stay out of other people’s business, to stay away from drama, to embrace the attitude of live and let live. Maybe it’s not my place to be a crusader for generator justice when the generator didn’t really bother me in the first place.
I’m an indoor kid, so even when the weather is nice, I spend a lot of time in my van. Other folks are the type who say they “live out of” their vans. Sure, they sleep in the vans and store their belongings in there, but during the daytime they’d rather be outside. Sometimes those folks are out hiking or rock climbing or kayaking or just sitting in the sunshine. Those outdoor kids are often perplexed when it’s too cold or wet or windy to leave their rigs. What should I do? they often ask in Facebook van groups when faced with inclement weather. Today I will share 15 ideas for what to do on those days when even the outdoor kids can’t stand to be outside.
#1 Clean your rig.
If you’re like me, on any given day you rig could use some cleaning or at least
reorganizing. Granted, you may not be able to haul everything outside and do a
thorough deep cleaning, but you can put away everything that’s out of place, as
well as make your bed. You can also wipe down the surfaces in the front, and
perhaps use a whisk broom and small dustpan to sweep your floor.
#2 Do your laundry. If you’re in civilization, a rainy/windy/cold day is perfect for washing, drying, and folding your clothes. Laundromats tend to be toasty (all those dryers!), so you can warm up while you wait. Since you’re trying to pass the time anyway, go ahead and wash your curtains, bedding and rugs too. Once everything is washed, dried, and folded, you can remake your bed, rehang your curtains, and put all your clothes away in the proper places.
#3 Shop for
groceries. If you’re in town anyway, get your grocery shopping done. No one
will care if you walk down each aisle slowly to maximize your time in this
warm, dry place.
#4 Visit the public library. If it’s too cold to comfortably sit in your rig and
you don’t want to use fuel to run a heater, spend some time at the public library. The heater is already running there, and there’s plenty to do for free. Read books or magazines. Utilize WiFi (from your own computer or phone or via the library’s public access computers). The library might even be offering a free movie or informational talk while you’re there. Check the bulletin board or ask at the information desk.
#5 Visit a museum. If you can’t afford an expensive admission fee, look for a museum with free admission or a donation system where you decide what you can afford to pay to get in. You may also luck out and decide to go on that one day of the week or month when a pricey museum doesn’t collect a fee. Perhaps it’s a day to splurge so you can get out of the bad weather and into a place with beautiful art or informative exhibits about nature or history.
#6 Go walking at a mall. If you’re one of those people who can’t sit still, and you’re in a town or city with a mall, you’ve got it made because you can go to the mall and walk, walk, walk. No one will care that you’re not spending money, and you can get some exercise without getting cold, wet, or windblown.
#7 Work out at the
gym. If you have a gym membership, a bad-weather day is a great day for a
workout followed by a long, hot shower. If you don’t have a gym membership at
any of the places in the town you’re in, you may be able to get a day pass at a
local indoor pool, community fitness center, or YMCA.
#10 Watch movies.
If you don’t have a DVD collection at your disposal, you can rent a movie from
a Red Box for under two bucks. If you have some disposable income and a
subscription to Netflix or Hulu, you can watch hundreds of movies (and
television shows) on your phone, tablet or laptop as long as you have internet
access. If you’re in civilization, you can even sit in a warm theater to view
the feature attraction, just like we did in the old days.
#11 Cuddle. If you’re traveling with your sweetheart, bad weather gives you a great excuse to lie in bed and cuddle. Snuggle up under the covers and tell each other your hopes, fears, and dreams. Cuddling might lead to kissing, and kissing might lead to…(You might want to close your curtains before you start your snuggle session.)
#12 Nap. If you’ve followed some other suggestions, the weather is still bad, and you’re bored or tired, why not take a nap? I love a little daytime sleep, especially if it means being warm under the covers and/or hearing rain tapping on my metal roof.
#13 Plan your next outdoor adventure. Perhaps you don’t want to be outside right now, but maybe you will want to be outside as soon as possible. Use your downtime to plan what you’ll do the next time you can be outside. Grab your maps and your guidebooks and plan the route of the hike or bike ride you’ll go on when the weather clears.
#14 Write postcards.Have you been meaning to drop a line to your far-flung friends but can’t find the time? If you have to stay inside anyway, why not write out some postcards? Postcards are quicker to write and cheaper to send than letters, and if you send postcards of with pictures of local scenery, the recipients can get a feel for where you’ve been. If you’re not set on the idea of sending postcards from the place you’re visiting, you can often find inexpensive postcards in thrift stores, or you can make your own from old magazines and cardboard. If you need some postcard inspiration, give a listen to the Postcardist podcast.
#15 Sit in a coffee shop. Many of the activities you can do in your van can
also be done in a coffee shop. For the couple of bucks it takes to get a beverage, you can spend hours in a coffee shop reading, writing postcards, listening to podcasts (headphones, please!), or just people watching. If you’re suffering from cabin fever, a coffee shop is a good place to stay warm and dry while spending time outside your rig.
So there you go! Fifteen things to do when the weather’s too bad to spend time outside. What things do you do when the weather keeps you from exploring the great outdoors?
I like visitor centers, those places of tourist information
paid for by states to let folks know all the fun things they can do while in
the area. There’s a lot to like at these informational pit stops.
Clean restrooms Visitor centers want to make a good impression, so they tend to keep their restrooms impeccably clean. If you’re picky about restroom cleanliness, visitor centers may be where you want to stop.
Free beverages When I entered Louisiana from Mississippi on Interstate 20, the visitor center I stopped at offered free coffee. It was even Community brand, a very popular Louisiana flavor. Years ago the visitor centers in Florida offered tiny paper cups of free orange juice. (Certain visitor centers in Florida apparently still offer free citrus juice to guests!) If nothing else, a visitor center is bound to have a water fountain where you can fill your water bottles.
Free state maps If you’re entering a new state, a visitor center is a great place to pick up a free paper map to help you find your way around. When I looked at the free info at the visitor Center in Deming, NM, I saw paper maps New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas up for grabs.
Tourist brochures Every visitor center I’ve ever been in has offered tons of brochures advertising attractions throughout the state. From pistachio farms in New Mexico to swamp tours in Louisiana, to ghost towns in Arizona, there’s a lot to do in every state. These brochures tell you where to go and what to see and sometimes include money-saving coupons!
State tourism guides All states have a department of tourism and most publish a guidebook to tell visitors what’s special about their particular state. These guides typically divide the state into regions and give details about what to see and do in each region. The guidebooks may also tell about the state’s history, Native peoples, and special foods; they give a good overview of each state. Visitor centers typically have free copies of their state’s guide free for the taking.
Informative exhibits If you want to learn more about the state you’re in, visitor centers often have exhibits explaining the state’s history, its Native people, the flora and fauna of the region, geologic features, and the area’s history.
A live person to talk with If the visitor center is staffed, don’t pass up your chance to ask questions of a local. At the visitor center in Deming, NM, a young woman and an elderly man answered all my questions about the town’s annual duck race. Most people working at a visitor center are going to be knowledgeable about the area and the entire state. Ask the worker for directions. Ask about road construction and free camping. Ask what attractions in the state can’t be missed. Ask what food you should eat and the best places to find them. Ask about upcoming festivals and special events. Ask about the weather. If the people working at the visitor center don’t know the answers to your questions, they can find out for you.
A place to stretch your legs Even if you don’t need a paper map or information about tourist attractions, visitor centers are often nice places to get out of your rig for a while and walk around. If the sound of your own wheels is about to drive you crazy, get out of your vehicle at a visitor center and move around a bit outside.
Pet walking areas While you’re stretching your legs, let Fido or Lassie move around too. Many visitor centers have special areas where you can walk your dog and allow it to relieve itself. (Many even offer poop bags to make it easy to clean up after your pet.) You’ll probably need to keep your pet on a leash, and you’ll definitely need to pick up any droppings.
Picnic areas Many visitor centers have picnic tables or at least a bench where you can sit to have a snack or eat your lunch. Some sitting areas are even under shade structures so you can get out of the sun. If you can park your rig close enough to a table, you should be able to pull out your stove and kitchen supplies and cook a complete meal for yourself.
Dump stations If you’re driving an RV with a black water tank, some visitor centers (especially if they are part of a larger rest area complex) may offer a dump station. You can find a state-by-state guide to dump stations at RVdumps.com.
Free water for your tanks Some visitor centers offer free water to fill holding tanks if you have an RV or jugs if you’re living the vanlife. Pay attention to signs telling you if water is potable (safe to drink) or non-potable (not safe to drink).
Safe overnight parking If a visitor center is within a rest area, you may be able to park for the night after you get your fill of tourist info. Overnight parking at rest areas varies by states, but many states do put the “rest” in “rest area” by allowing folks to park for several hours at a time. Once you grab your free state map and tourism guide, get some shut-eye before you get back on the road. If you get to a visitor center late at night and anyone asks you why you’re parking there, just say you want to get some information as soon as they open in the morning.
Now that you’ve considered all visitor centers
have to offer, maybe you’ll stop in at the next one you see as you’re tooling
down the road.
It was our very first evening at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM, using our brand new New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes. On our way to the shower house, I saw a cat sitting on a rock just outside the campground.
Is that a cat? I asked, pointing, and The Man confirmed that it was.
It must belong to a camper, I said. My friend Coyote Sue travels with her cat who is allowed to leave the RV and explore the area, so I assumed the cat I saw was a traveling pet.
The Man said he thought the cat had once been a pet who had gotten away from its people and now lived wild in the park.
I didn’t give the cat much thought until we got back to our campsite and The Man suggested we put away the dishes, pots, and utensils we’d left out to dry after washing up after dinner. He said he didn’t want critters scampering over our clean dishware, and he mentioned the cat. I was still convinced the cat belonged to someone camping, so I didn’t think we needed to worry about it sullying our cooking gear. I did think we might need to be concerned about mice or raccoons, so I helped put things away.
We hung out in my van until the sun set, then The Man went off to his minivan to go to bed. He muttered something about the cat as he was getting into his rig, but I didn’t know what he was talking about until i went outside to brush my teeth. From out of the darkness, I heard not just a dainty meow, but loud feline moaning. The cat was close and it was loud. Its call sounded something like this: mmmmROWRrrrr! Of course, it didn’t make this sound once, but several times in succession.mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!
I looked around on our campsite and out in the darkness saw two glowing green eyes. The situation freaked me out. This cat sound was creepy, and the creature was close. What if it were rabid? What if it decided to attack me? I took a step toward the eyes to find out if the cat would move, and it dashed deeper into the darkness. I felt better when the cat showed fear, but I wasn’t pleased when it continued to moan just out of my sight. I stood in the doorway of my van and brushed my teeth really quick. I was glad when my teeth were clean, and I could go inside the van and shut the door behind me.
In the morning we found no sign of the cat. There was no indication it had climbed up on our picnic table or tried to gain access to our cooler or any of our kitchen tubs. We didn’t see or hear the cat at all during the day, but shortly after dark we heard it again. mmmmROWRrrrr!mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!
We thought it was checking our area for food scraps or begging for a handout. The Man thought other campers probably fed it. Between meeting our own needs and caring for Jerico the dog, we had just about all the responsibilities we could handle. Neither of us suggested we try to take in a stray cat.
The cat must have been discouraged by our lack of food offerings, or maybe it was opposed to the three dogs (and their people) that camped next door to us for nearly a week. In any case, it didn’t come around every night. We heard it a few nights during our two-week stay, but it was not a permanent fixture in our area.
The weather was awful on our last night at Rockhound State Park. The wind blew relentlessly all day, and by three o’clock in the afternoon (before we could even begin to prepare dinner), snow began to fall. Around 5pm, The Man braved the elements to cook four grilled cheese sandwiches on our Coleman stove that sat on the picnic table. I was grateful to have something rather than nothing in my belly, but it wasn’t the dinner I’d been hoping for. I wasn’t happy with the cold or the snow, and I was glad to settle down under my blankets when The Man said he was ready to go to his own bed.
Just like the narrator in “The Night Before Christmas,” I had settled down for “for a long winter’s nap” when something disturbed my slumber. I don’t know what time it was when The Man threw open my van’s side door, but i was in a deep sleep when it happened. His voice woke me right up when he asked loudly, Are you ok?
I sat up, was blinded by the light of his headlamp, and asked, What’s happening?
He continued to ask if I was ok. I’m sure my eyes were huge with surprise and confusion.
Once I stopped asking him what was happening, I began to assure him I was ok. Why did he think something was wrong?
He said he’d heard me making strange noises. He said he though I was having a heart attack or otherwise dying.
I was dreaming, I told him as I woke up a little more and remembered. My dream wasn’t scary, so I don’t think I would have been screaming or making other noises of distress. I wondered what kind of noises I could have been making that were loud enough for him to hear but not loud enough to wake me up.
You were in your van and you heard me making noises while I was in my van? I asked him. He said yes, which seemed unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to argue. I only wanted to go back to sleep. I assured him I was fine, and he went back to his minivan, leaving me to snuggle under my blankets once again.
In the morning light, The Man admitted that maybe it wasn’t me he had heard in the night. Maybe it was the cat he’d heard.
It didn’t sound like the cat normally sounds, he explained. Maybe the cat was upset about the weather, The Man conjectured. Maybe the cat was vocally protesting the cold and the snow. I thought a protesting feline was a likely cause of noise loud enough to disturb The Man while he inside his van. I doubted he would be able to hear any noise less than screaming coming from my van when he was inside his.
We packed up our gear and loaded both vans that morning. By afternoon, we were at a new state park where no half-wild felines caterwauled in the night.
The day has come! You’re about to hit the road. Maybe you’re about to take a weekend road trip, or it’s the first day of the rest of your life as a nomad. Maybe you’ve been sitting on public land for two weeks and now it’s time to travel to your next boondocking spot. Whatever the reason that you’re about to start driving, here’s a list of 10 things you should do, check, and take care of before you get on the road.
#1 Pack supplies you may need if your rig breaks down. Road disasters happen. Be prepared with roadside flares, a flashlight, jumper cables, an appropriate jack, a can of tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator (made by Fix-a-Flat and Slime, among others), a portable air compressor, and any other emergency supplies you can imagine needing. I know what it’s like to have three flat tires between two vehicles and no emergency supplies while camping on remote BLM land. I’ve encountered people with a dead battery and no jumper cables. Do everything you can to prepare for anything that might go wrong.
#2 Check your spare tire. One of the problems during the aforementioned tire disaster was that we couldn’t get my spare tire off its mount. The bolt holding the tire to the mount was cross-threaded and wouldn’t budge. It was like having no spare at all! Check your spare periodically to make sure it’s in good condition and can be removed from your mount if necessary.
#3 Stock up on supplies. Especially if you’re going to a remote location,
have enough food and water to last you until you to return to civilization. Get ice if you’re using a cooler for refrigeration. If you take medication, make sure you won’t run out before you get to a pharmacy. Take inventory of your first aid kit and replenish anything that’s missing so you can take care of any minor emergencies. Other items you may need may include sunscreen, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, soap, toothpaste, batteries, insect repellent, propane or butane, and fire starter.
Price is another reason to stock up before you leave a heavily populated area. As I suggested in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions,” supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small-town prices if you can.
#4 Consult your paper map and plan your route. As I wrote in my post “In Praise of Paper Maps,” don’t put all your trust in your GPS. Using GPS is fine, but look at your route on a paper map so you’ll know if the GPS is sending you off in the wrong direction. It’s also a good idea to have an appropriate map handy and the skills to use it in the event you lose signal or your GPS stops working in a remote location.
#5 Check the air pressure in your tires. Proper air pressure increases gas mileage and helps protect against flat tires. If the air pressure is low in your tires, use your portable air compressor (if you have one) to add air, or fill up low tires at your next gas station stop.
#6 Check your levels
of oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. If any
fluids are low, top them off.
#7 Plug in your
electronics before you pull out of your parking spot. If you have an
invertor, plug in your phone and or tablet so you can charge while you drive.
#8 Top off your rig’s fuel tank. Before you leave civilization, make sure
your fuel tank is full, especially if you’re heading to a remote location where you might not be able to find fuel. When you come out of a remote location, fill your tank as soon as it’s feasible, especially if you’re heading to another remote location. My goal is to never let my fuel gauge slip below a quarter of a tank, which means I should never run out of gas. Running out of gas could lead to needing a tow and/or a destroyed fuel tank, two things I want to avoid.
Again, price is another reason to fuel up before you leave civilization or once you return. You will probably find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it.
#9 Clean your
windshield while you’re at the gas station. Trying to see through a dusty,
bug-splattered windshield is not just annoying; it could be dangerous too.
#10 Once your engine has warmed up, check the level of your transmissionfluid. Park on a level surface before you check. Shift through all
your gears before you pull out your dipstick, and leave your rig running while
you do your check. If the level is low, top off with the fluid that’s right for
These tips are just suggestions. Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only YOU are responsible for your safety and well-being.
I wrote this post before The Man and I ended up with a travel trailer and a truck to tow it. If I were single, I’d still be in a van.
I’m a van gal. I bought my first van (with the not-very-nice fellow who is now my ex) almost a decade ago. We upgraded to a newer, better van several months later. We spent two whirlwind years traveling across the country visiting cities, public lands, and music festivals. When I finally left that guy behind, I was homeless for a few months until, with the help of friends, I was able to buy a Chevy G20 of my own and return to van life.
During my time as a vandweller, people have suggested I
“upgrade,” especially after The Man and I got together. Yes, we would have more
room in a school bus, a travel trailer we could pull behind a vehicle, or a
small motorhome. However, what we’d have to sacrifice in exchange for a bit
more room isn’t worth it to me. Today I’ll share what I see as the advantages
of living and traveling in a van.
#1 I can navigate most any paved road (and lots of dirt roads too). During the second year I worked in the mountains of California, the camp hosts down the road lived in a converted school bus. Halfway through the work season, a wildfire was near, and two of the three roads off the mountain were closed. The bus couple worried about how they would get their rig off the mountain if we were required to evacuate. The one open road was narrow and curvy, and they weren’t sure the bus would make it around the tight turns. I had no such concerns. I’d driven my van up and down all three of those mountain roads and knew it could make it down (and back up again when it was safe to do so) with no problems.
I’ve driven conversion vans from California to North
Carolina, Kansas to Minnesota, Maine to Georgia (with lots of crisscrossing the
middle of the Unite States), and I’ve never been on a paved road I thought I
might not be able to navigate. Sure
there are dirt roads that have caused me concern. I’ve been on dirt roads I had no business taking my van
on, and I’ve been prepared to turn around if necessary. Anybody traveling in a
rig without four wheel drive is going to run into the same trouble on some dirt
roads, but my van can get around in places where bigger rigs can’t.
#2 My van is (comparatively) easy to park. Granted, I’m not
great at parallel parking (confession: I can’t really parallel park at all),
but most bigger rigs wouldn’t even fit in a parallel parking spot. My van only
takes up one space in any parking lot or residential street. Unless I’m in a
busy downtown area where I need to squeeze into the only parallel parking space
on the street, I don’t have a difficult time finding a place to leave my van.
Sometimes parking garages do pose a problem for my rig. More than once I’ve been at the entrance of a parking garage before I realized my van was too tall. While that’s a drawback to having a high top, I know anywhere I don’t fit can’t accommodate a school bus, motor home, or even a tall truck camper. My van can (and has) fit into some parking garages, but rigs taller than mine probably won’t have much parking garage luck.
#3 Not only does my van offer enough clearance to allow me to park in at least some parking garages, it affords me decent clearance in general. During my time as a camp host and parking lot attendant, I saw several drivers of motorhomes freak out about branches overhanging the road through the parking lot or above a campsite. One driver of an RV insisted on backing out of the one-way loop through the parking lot rather than continue through when he realized overhead branches were going to scrape the top of his rig. I suppose buses and tall motorhomes don’t utilize too many fast food drive-thrus. In my van, I don’t often have to worry about being too tall.
#4 Not only is my van (comparatively) easy to park, it’s
also (comparatively) easy to back up. I didn’t get a lot of instruction on
backing when I learned to drive late in life, but especially in the last few
years, I’ve had quite a lot of practice. My van didn’t have a review mirror
when I bought it, and the two back windows are blacked out, so I use my blind
spot mirrors on the sides a LOT. (The Man opens the driver’s door and sticks
his head out and looks behind him to aid his backing abilities when he’s
driving my van.) I backed into a tree last summer, but other than that little
incident, I’m doing fine (knock wood).
Once another vandweller and I were looking at a van that was longer than mine. I fretted that I would never be able to back up something so big. The other vandweller assured me that once I got a feel for the dimensions of any rig, backing up wouldn’t be a problem for me. He’s probably right, but I’d be terrified backing up a big rig while I was trying to learn its dimensions. Could I learn to back up a rig bigger than my van? I know I could, but I like knowing I can do a decent job backing up the van I already have.
Of course, if I pulled a travel trailer behind my van, backing up would pose a whole new set of problems. Could I learn to back up a rig I was pulling behind my van? Again, I know that I could, but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel the need to complicate my life with complex backing.
#5 If I need to stealth park, my van blends in. Let’s face
it, a school bus is not going to blend in on a residential street, even if it’s
still sporting the customary school bus orange. If it’s been repainted some
cool new color, it’s really going to stand out wherever it’s parked. A small
motorhome may fit in a little better, but most people who live in in a house or
apartment don’t park their recreational vehicles on the street. An RV parked on
the street may call a little too much attention to itself.
I don’t stealth park on residential streets a lot. If I have to be in civilization, I’d rather spend the night blacktop boondocking in the parking lot of a truck stop or a Wal-Mart. However, if the only place I can find to spend the night is a residential street, my van can slip in and look enough like a regular passenger vehicle so that no one suspect I’m sleeping in there.
#6 Not only can I stealth park in the city in my rig, but I can fit in most any campsite with a parking spur. Yes, I have been to campgrounds with only walk-up tent sites. (I’m looking at you Big Tesuque!) We were at that campground in the off-season when the entire campground was covered in snow, so we simply slept in the van in the parking lot. However, the majority of campgrounds I’ve been to have offered plenty of room to park my van on the campsites.
While I was a camp host, I saw many people with big rigs have a difficult time getting into the two smallest campgrounds on the mountain. People in big RVs often struggled to find a campsite large enough to accommodate their rigs. I’d rather travel in a small rig that allows me to take nearly any campsite available.
#7 The Man would tell you my G20’s gas mileage stinks compared to what he gets in his minivan. He is right about that comparison, but my mileage is great compared to what rigs bigger than mine get. The Scientific America article “Teenager’s Invention Saves Fuel for School Buses” says that school “buses…only get 4 to 6 mpg.” I’m guessing a motorhome (depending on its size) gets the same sort of gas mileage or maybe a little better. That makes my 12 to 15 miles per gallon look pretty good. Of course, pulling a travel trailer would reduce my gas mileage even further.
At the time I’m writing this post (February 2019), diesel costs more than gasoline. Because my van runs on gasoline, I spend less on fuel than I would if I drove a bus with a diesel engine or a diesel truck I might need to haul a big fifth wheel. Also, I found out when I worked in the mountains, diesel is sometimes not available in remote locations, even when gasoline is.
#8 I’ve had some tire troubles in the past, but at least I only have four to deal with and not six. Not only do full size schoolies and some larger motorhomes have two extra tires to deal with, getting the best, strongest tires capable of handling the additional weight of bigger rigs costs a pretty penny. After reading a few articles about the cost of tires for school buses and Class A motorhomes, it seems a single tire suitable for one of these rigs can run anywhere from $100 (plus a charge for mounting) to $430, with one article estimating an upper range price of $600. Ouch!
Although I do have expensive, strong Michelin tires on my van, they’re in the under $200 (each) price range, and I’m glad to save the money two more would cost.
#9 Because my van is a regular passenger vehicle with a
gasoline engine, I don’t have to find a special mechanic to work on it when I
have problems. Just about any trained and competent mechanic can repair most
any problem. As a bonus, The Man is able to do some of the repairs and
maintenance my van has needed. He’s replaced my all of my brake pads and put in
a new radiator when the old one sprung a leak.
I know folks with small motorhomes who’ve had trouble
finding a mechanic with a shop big enough to accommodate their rigs. All of the
vans I’ve owned, including the two with high tops, have fit in every shop
they’ve been brought to.
#10 I don’t have to dump grey or black water tanks. Yes, it would be convenient to wash dishes or my hands in my van. Yes, it would be convenient to have a rig with a flush toilet. I’m sure I could learn how to dump grey and black water tanks, and with practice, dumping would become just another routine. However, at this point in my vanlife, I’m happy to be without the burden of staying aware of the levels in grey and black water tanks, finding dump stations, (possibly) paying to dump, then going through the smelly process. I’m content to wash my hands and the dishes outside and find a toilet whenever I have elimination needs. (Of course, I have a system in place for when I’m boondocking.) The lack of black and grey water tanks makes my life a little simpler.
I’m not trying to tell
you what rig you should live in. I’m only telling you why I do what I do. By
all means, make your own decisions based on what works best for you.