Wow! The Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest is one of the nicest places I’ve ever camped, and there were no fees!
In September 2021 I was traveling from northern New Mexico to southern New Mexico. Temperatures were still high in the southern part of the state, so I was taking my time and seeing the sites in places where temperatures were pleasant.
I was looking for a place to stay between Datil and Silver City, New Mexico. I’d been camping in the Cibola National Forest, but my spot wasn’t ideal. I was literally miles from the pavement and it had been raining off and on for almost 24 hours. I was nervous about the road to civilization becoming too muddy to navigate. I was afraid more rain would make it difficult to get out of the forest, so I left while the road was still solid.
I checked my paper road atlas and found a town called Reserve between Datil and Silver City. I put “Reserve” into the search bar on the Free Campsites website and found Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest. There was no charge to camp in the campground, its description sounded nice, and the reviews were positive, so I started heading that way.
The scenery on the drive was pretty, but nothing jaw dropping. Honestly, I was excited to see a new part of New Mexico. I really enjoy seeing new places, even when they’re regular gorgeous and not stunningly gorgeous.
Apache Creek Campground is located approximately 12 miles northeast of Reserve on the south side of New Mexico Highway 12. Just past mile marker 19, turn south onto Forest Road 94 (Cox Canyon Rd.). Apache Creek Campground is located on the right side of the road.
I was really pleased when I pulled into Apache Creek Campground. The road through the campground is dirt, but hard packed and not likely to wash away unless a true natural disaster strikes.
The campground, at 6575 feet elevation, is surrounded by trees. There are trees at each campsite, sure to provide some shade. Tree identification is not one of my strengths, but I definitely saw pines and other evergreens as well oaks and other trees with leaves changing from green to yellow.
When I visited, there were 10 campsites in the campground. Each site was flat and quite spacious. It seemed to me an RV 30 feet and under should be able to find a spot to park at Apache Creek Campground. Any campsite should be able to accommodate a couple of vehicles and three or four tents. When I pulled in, I saw only two occupied sites. One was being used by tent campers, and the other was occupied by a pull-behind trailer and the big truck that towed it.
While some sites were visible to other sites, there was a good amount of space between sites. Even if the campground was full, everyone would have enough distance between themselves and other campers to not feel as if they were constantly sitting in their neighbors’ laps. Also, the trees on and between sites helped increase the feeling of privacy. Campsites aren’t lined up in a row or around a central area. The road through the campground meanders, giving the entire camping area a less civilized and a more natural feeling.
In addition to the campsites being large, each one had an old-school wood and metal picnic table and a manufactured metal fire ring. Most of the sites also had a bench made from logs.
A pit toilet in one of those concrete, Forest Service-issued buildings was at the front of the campground. Thankfully, the door on the building closed properly and locked. The restroom was also stocked with plenty of toilet paper. It could have used a cleaning, but it was by no means disgusting. (The campground has no host, so whoever cleans that toilet has to drive in to do so.)
What the campground doesn’t have: hookups of any kind, running water, drinking water, or trash pickup. Come with everything you need, and pack out your trash. Even without trashcans, this campground was very clean during my visit. It would be wonderful to keep it that way.
The night I spent at the Apache Creek Campground was absolutely quiet and peaceful. Even though there were other campers nearby, I never heard even a peep out of any of them.
I considered staying at this campground a few nights, but the complete lack of cell phone service there sent me on my way. I hadn’t told any of my contacts where I was headed, and by the time I arrived at the campground, I was out of the range of my service. I didn’t want my people to worry about me, so I left in the morning and moved closer to Silver City. I was glad to have phone service later in the day.
I dream of going back to Apache Creek Campground and spending a week or two in nature with few distractions and lots of trees.
In the little over a year since I bought my Toyota Sienna, readers have asked me to share photos of how I set up the living space. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to do so, but today is finally the day! I hope my setup can give folks some ideas for setting up their own vehicle for living and travel.
An important thing to keep in mind as you read this post is that I am NOT a full time vandweller. I was a full time vandweller for many years, but now I have a small travel trailer that stays in a small RV park in a small desert town. The travel trailer is my home base and home for part of the year. During the hottest part of the spring, summer, and fall I house sit and/or travel to cooler places. If I were living in a van full time, I would not have chosen a minivan as my van home. I have known people who lived full time in minivans (and even a few who lived full time in a Prius), but that life is not really for me. Where would I put all my art supplies?
The first thing I did to set up the living space in my Sienna was to take out most of the seats
For a while I left in one of the seats in the back row. It folded down completely flat, so I used it as part of the floor. I thought it might come in handy if I ever had to transport two passengers. The Man and I jokingly referred to it as “the punishment chair.” It would have been a pretty miserable place to sit on a long road trip. No one ever sat in it, and when The Man offered to build me a bed, it came out.
Taking out the seats was a bit of a struggle, even though the seats in the second and third rows were designed to come out and go back in. I read the manual repeatedly and tried following the directions, but I really struggled. Of course, there were tricks that the manual didn’t spell out. Thankfully, kind souls who’d figured out the tricks made YouTube videos showing how they removed the seats from their Siennas. I will be eternally grateful to those YouTubers.
The seats in the second and third rows of seating were latched into the floor in such a way that they could come out when desired and later go back in. This system makes it possible for seats to come out for hauling big items or in the case of vandwellers, creating living space in the back of the van. Unfortunately, the latching system leaves gaping holes and chunks of metal in the van’s floor. To solve this problem I ordered two packs of the 1 inch ProsourceFit Exercise Puzzle Mat. I chose bright blue to give my space a pop of color, but the mats also come in black. The mats are available in both 3/4 inch and 1 inch thickness, but I chose the 1 inch thickness so I could pad the floor well and protect myself from both the deep indentions and the metal pieces.
The exercise mats I used on the floor are pricey. The mats come in packs of six which are currently going for $49.99 at Walmart. The six mats cover 24 square feet which wasn’t quite enough to cover the whole floor of the van. I had to buy two packs. If you can’t afford to spend that much on floor covering, you could try other things like rugs, blankets, memory foam, or polyurethane foam from a mattress topper cut to size. Figure out what works for you to meet your needs without going over your budget.
My first bed in my minivan was made from two heavy duty 40 gallon tubs. I had one already, so it made sense to buy another one and put them together end-to-end to make a sleeping platform. I then put a piece of memory foam on top and called it a bed. The upside was I had plenty of space for storage inside the tubs. The downside was that sleeping on top of the tubs wasn’t always very comfortable. I had to carefully position my body over the gap between the two tubs, and the two inch memory foam wasn’t nearly as supportive as a real mattress.
Late last year when The Man was around for a visit, he offered to build a bed for my van. I bought all the wood, and he built me a very sturdy bed with room for storage underneath. It’s more narrow than a regular twin size bed so I can maximize space in the back of the van. It’s barely wider than I am. Instead of a mattress, I sleep on an piece of 3 inch Allswell brand memory foam mattress topper that was cut to size. (I bought this mattress topper for the bed in my trailer but when I was given a larger topper, I repurposed the Allswell one for my van.)
Because I wanted an area for storage under the bed, it’s too tall for me to be able to sit up in it. This detail would be difficult to deal with if I lived in the van full time, but it’s I can handle it since I’m only in the van part time. I bought a low-to-the-ground folding camping chair I can use in the van for when I want to sit up to read, write, or work on art projects.
Even with storage under the bed, I knew I’d need a place to keep things I use everyday and need to get my hands on quickly. I bought a plastic three drawer storage unit. Unfortunately, the choice that best fit my needs at the one and only place to buy something like this in the town where I live had wheels. Thankfully, the wheels sink into my exercise mat floor cover, and the storage unit does not roll around in the back.
In the top drawer I keep underwear, socks, masks, soap, face cleaner, washclothes, the case for my eyeglasses, my sleep mask, and other odds and ends. The middle drawer holds cooking and eating necessities like silverware, fuel for my stove, a cutting board, snacks, small spatulas, and other utensils. The bottom drawer holds items for creating collages and other art supplies.
When I slept on storage tubs, my cooler fit perfectly in the back of the van, on the floor created by the folded down “punishment chair.” When The Man built the bed, I had to lose that folded down seat and the floor it created. The cooler had to move up front and now sits between the front passenger seat and the bed.
I love, love, love pockets for organizing in the van. One of the best gifts I’ve been given for my minivan is a large set of pockets my sibling found at a thrift store in a large city. The 10+ pockets made from sturdy fabric allow me to store toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, zip ties, garbage bags, scissors, wipes, air freshener, clothes pins, incense, lotion, and other essentials neatly and close at hand. This pockets are so great! If you can’t find anything like mine, a shoe organizer with pockets might do the trick.
When I need some privacy in the van, I hang curtains. The curtains in the front are on a curtain rod that stretches across the car, but the other curtains hang on bungee cords, or I pin them with clothespins when I need them. I find it easier to hang the curtains when I need them instead of leaving them up all the time.
The front curtains were bought new. They are heat and light blocking curtains. I bought the least expensive black heat and light blocking curtains at Walmart, and they work well. I couldn’t find curtains that were short enough, so I did have to cut them to the appropriate length. All of my other curtains came from thrift stores. Half of my curtains are not curtains at all but large pieces of fabric that do the job.
You may have noticed that I don’t have my stove set up in my van. I seldom cook in the van. If I’m going to cook when camping, I set the stove up on a picnic table if I’m staying on a developed campsite, or I set up either my large or small folding table to use as a cooking area. If I set up the big table, my cooking table also holds my seven gallon water jug with dispensing spout. (The photos in this post were taken while I was on an overnight trip, so I brought water in a one gallon jug and left the seven gallon container at home.) I don’t like cooking in the van because I’m concerned my clumsiness is going to cause everything inside to go up in flames. I have used my stove to heat water in the van during inclement weather, but if I can’t cook outside I rather eat snacks than try to cook in the van.
I have more storage at the rear of the minivan, in the depression left when the folding back seats were removed. I keep my stove (shown in case with unfortunately placed upside down stickers), sleeping bag (in black compression sack), bucket, puppy pads (in green pouch), and tote full of handmade hats for sale under the bed. On the other side (not shown) I have my tote full of items for sale, my suitcase display of hemp necklaces, tall folding camp chair, small folding table, and sunshade umbrella. The low-to-the-ground folding chair fits between my camp stove and the hatchback door.
I think that’s everything I have to say about the set up of my minivan. Was there something you wanted to know about that I missed? Feel free to leave questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Thank you for reading. I hope this post was worth the wait.
I stayed one night at the Bighorn Campground in the Gila National Forest in late September 2021. As I stated in my report on the campground, it was a basic free national forest campground with a pit toilet and a few campsites each with a picnic table and a fire ring. If I had driven through during the daytime and not stayed the night, I might have even said the place was boring. However, once the sun went down, I did experience some excitement there.
I’d eaten dinner and cleaned up and gotten into my van. I’d left the sliding door on the driver’s side of my van open, hoping to stay awake long enough to do some stargazing. Darkness was descending, but the last light of day lingered. I stood in the open doorway and saw a lone, bright star (probably a planet—Venus, dare I guess?) in the sky.
I heard a rustling on my campsite, a noise larger than a mouse or a bird or a ground squirrel would have made. What the heck? I could still see the outline of the picnic table, but the fire pit had disappeared. Of course, the fire pit was where the noise seemed to be coming from.
I grabbed my Luci lantern, but it was not up for the job of illuminating outside of its immediate surroundings. I ditched Luci and grabbed a powerful flashlight I’d been given over the summer, hoping it would do the trick. I turned it on, and that sucker was bright!
I shined it around the campsite and caught movement by the picnic table. What was that? Was it a bear? No. Thankfully it was not a bear out there in the darkness just beyond my van. It was a javelina!
I shined the light around some more. No, it wasn’t a javelina. It was TWO javelinas.
I aimed the light to the far side of the fire ring. Oh no! It wasn’t two javelinas. It was THREE javelinas!
Holy shit! I exclaimed, probably loud enough for everyone in the campground to hear.
I was surprised by the first javelina. I was shocked to see the second one, and astounded to see the third. I don’t usually see large animals when I’m camping, and I’d never seen a gang on my campsite before.
Holy shit! I said loudly at least once or twice more.
According to the commentary “Javelina: What Are They, and Where Can You See One?” by Ross Morgan on the Santa Fe New Mexican Website,
Javelina, also known as the collared peccary because of their white collar around the neck, stand 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 60 pounds…
Javelina prefer mesquite habitats with an abundance of prickly pear cactus but can also be found in semi-desert canyons, cliffs and watering holes near cactus. These animals are primarily herbivorous, animals whose primary food source is plant-based, and like to travel in small family groups feeding on roots, insects, fruits, bulbs, beans, worms, invertebrates and reptiles.
I’m not good at estimating size, but based on medium-sized dogs I’ve known, I’d say these critters weighed 30 to 40 pounds.
I kept the bright light shined on them. I couldn’t look away. I usually think animals are cute or cool, or at least I appreciate the chance to observe them. These javelinas…I thought they were just ugly, and I did not feel fortunate to have them in my campsite.
They were shaped strangely, and their wiry fur didn’t cover much of their skin. Their little eyes shone red in the beam of my flashlight. Maybe they dredged up some memory of the evil pig in the Amityville Horror, but I didn’t like them. I particularly didn’t much like being so close to them.
I realized they were congregating around the fire ring. They were snuffling through the trash previous campers had left there. I’d noticed before a few black bananas sitting on the top of the burnt pile of garbage. I hadn’t investigated closely enough to determine if the bananas had been burnt too or if they were in the late stage of decay that borders on rotten.
I saw one of the javelinas grab a banana in its mouth and run off from the other two toward the brush at the edge of the campsite. This action was minimally cute.
One of the two left behind walked away from the fire ring, closer to the picnic table and closer to my van. When I saw it was giving me the side eye, I worried that I might be in danger. I got fully into my van and closed the door. That was enough wildlife observation for me for one night. I hope the guy who’d ridden up on a bicycle at dusk hadn’t left food in or around his tent to attract them. I imagine having javelinas invade one’s tent would be an unpleasant experience.
Javelina occasionally bite humans, but incidents of bites are almost always associated with people providing the javelina with food. Javelina can inflict a serious wound. Defensive javelina behavior may include charging, teeth clacking, or a barking, growling sound. Javelina may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog.
I don’t think I was actually in danger since the javelina didn’t charge but just strolled closer. However, I think getting in the van and closing the door was a safe move.
If you encounter a javelina while camping (or even in the city if you’re in Tucson or possibly some other places in the U.S. Southwest), here’s what you should do, according to the aforementioned Arizona Game and Fish webpage:
Scare off animals by making loud noises (bang pots, yell, stomp on the floor, etc.); throwing small rocks in their direction; or spraying with vinegar, water from a garden hose, or large squirt gun filled with diluted household ammonia (1 part ammonia, and 9 parts water). The odor of the ammonia and the nasal irritation it causes will encourage the javelina to leave. Avoid spraying ammonia in the eyes as it may cause damage even at this low concentration. Ammonia should not be used around wetlands because it is toxic to fish and amphibians.
If the animal is confined, open a gate, have all people leave the area, and allow it to leave on its own. If it is still there the following day, contact a wildlife control business…
If you see javelina while walking your dog, avoid going near the javelina and quickly take your dog in a different direction.
I read for a while after I closed the van’s door on the javelina gang. I turned off my light around 9 o’clock and promptly fell asleep. I woke at 1am to the sound of a steady rain hitting the top of my minivan. There was some lighting and I heard thunder too, in the distance. I drifted back to sleep.
At 4am I woke up in the midst of what in the Southwest is sometimes called a male rain. Raindrops were pounding on the roof of the van. Lighting flashed so close and so bright, it was as if the paparazzi were shooting photos through the curtains covering my windows. Thunder boomed loudly, so close I felt the van vibrate around me. The storm stayed on top of me for an hour.
At 5am, I gave up all hope of getting back to sleep. I dressed by the light of my Luci lamp, all the while hearing a noise vaguely like the one a propane heater makes. The rain had stopped, so I decided to go outside and investigate the sound. When I opened the door to the van, the sound intensified, and I knew exactly what it was. The sound I’d been hearing was rushing water!
I grabbed the powerful flashlight and used it to navigate to what the day before had been a bone-dry arroyo. Now it was a rushing river moving fast enough to make a big noise. It hadn’t just been raining over me but upstream as well.
I decided I was ready to go. I didn’t see any reason to sit in the dark for another two hours when I was dressed and wide awake. I grabbed the few things I had left out overnight and threw them into the van. I slid into the driver’s seat and drove off into the dark.
A note on spelling: Some sources use “javelina” as both the singular and the plural of the word. Other sources add an “s” to the end of the word to make it plural. I’m following the lead of Tucson Weekly in the editor’s note “A Matter of Style” by Jimmy Boegle who says
the Official Tucson Weekly Style is that the plural of javelina is javelinas, with an “s.”
In my own writing, I made the word “javelina” plural by adding an “s” to the end. In quoting others, I did not change the way they made the word plural.
I’ve camped off of Forest Road 64J near the Tres Piedras rocks several times, first in late August 2020, again in early May 2021, and on two occasions in September 2021. Before I camped there, The Man and I visited a few times to hike around the rocks and get some time away from home during the pandemic locked down spring and summer of 2020.
This camping spot is about 40 miles from Taos, NM and just outside the community of Tres Piedras. Don’t get too excited about the town of Tres Piedras because it’s tiny. There’s a post office, a meeting place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Chili Line Depot which offers food and lodging. There’s no fuel for vehicles for sale in Tres Piedras, and if you’re looking for a major supply run, you’ll wan to go to Taos or Antonito, Colorado (31 miles away).
What Tres Piedras does have is a National Forest Service ranger station, cool giant rocks that folks who know what they’re doing can climb, and free camping.
The free camping area is off Highway 64. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll pass the ranger station, then look for a sign on the right that say “64J National Forest.” The next road on the right (a dirt road) is the one you want to turn onto. f you’re coming from the west, directly across from the road you want to turn down is a brown sign that reads “Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome Ahead.” The sign is quite weathered. One way to know you’re on the right road once you turn is the ginormous green water tank. If you’re coming from the east, you can definitely see it before you turn.
About that sign that says “Visitors Welcome…” As of September 2021, the visitor center at the ranger station was still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were several bulletin boards outside the ranger station offering lots of information about the surrounding area, but I couldn’t pick up a map or say hi to a ranger while I was there.
There is a trail that goes from the side of the ranger station and crosses road 64J and picks up on the other side. I walked the trail from the ranger station to 64J once during my evening constitutional. It was not very exciting. The most exciting thing I saw while walking the trail were some animal (cow?) bones. I did not take the trail after it crossed 64J, so I don[‘t know what it’s like over there.
Once you turn onto road 64J, find a flat and empty dirt spot off the road and among the pine trees to camp on. There are spots to pull over all along the road. If you go all the way to the end before the road splits, you will see a couple of sites with picnic tales and three or four fire pits constructed from rocks. These are sort of designated camping spots, but everything is quite informal back there.
64J is a pretty good dirt road. The last time I was on it, there were some ruts and wash boarding, but I was able to easily navigate it in my Toyota Sienna minivan.
If you make a very sharp left turn onto the less defined road right before you come to where the road Ts, you can follow it back and find places to camp right next to big rock formations. Picturesque! While these rock formations are big and cool, when you see these, you haven’t really seen anything yet.
If you take either of the more well-defined roads to the left at the T, you will find more places to camp, and before too long come to the Tres Piedras rocks. Calling them “rocks” is something of a misnomer. These are not just a few little rocks or even some boulders. This is a massive rock formation. Rock climbers climb these rocks. They are very, very big!
The access to the rock formation is on private property. I’m unclear as to how the far the private land extends, but the land owner allows folks on the private land in order to get to the rocks. However, there’s a fence, so you’re not going to be able to drive your rig right up to the rocks to camp or for a photo opp. Park or camp elsewhere and walk through the access gate to get to the rocks.
This area of Carson National Forest is grazing land for cattle. When The Man and I spent a week right off road 64J in the travel trailer in late August of 2020, there were cows all over the place. If you see cows here or on any public land, don’t harass them. The cows have every right to be there. In fact, the cows are the paying customers, as someone has bought a permit from the forest service to graze them there. Also, you don’t want to get between a mamma and her calf. Cows are typically calm and docile, but they’re also big and protective of their young. If you don’t hassle the cattle, they’ll likely leave you alone.
I’ve seen wildlife in the area too. Peregrine falcons nest in the crevices of the rock formation during some parts of the year, and The Man and I saw some flying around the first time we visited. In the camping area where the fire pits and picnic tables are, I’ve seen woodpeckers and robins and bluebirds and bluejays and other birds I couldn’t identify. Although I’ve heard coyotes yip and howl in the distance, I haven’t seen any while camping near Tres Piedras. While I was writing the rough draft of this post from the comfy warmth of my bed, I saw something in my peripheral vision. I looked out of the van’s side window and I saw two deer off in the distance walking among the trees.
I’ve never known the camping area to be crowded. (Of course “crowded” is a subjective idea. My “not crowded” might be your “too much.”) Even on Labor Day weekend of 2020, the place was mellow. There tends to be a mix of folks sleeping in tents, vans and minivans, small motorhomes, and pull-behind travel trailers. I’ve not seen any really big Class A motorhomes or 5th wheels parked nearby.
I think it’s not crowded because it’s quite a ways from Taos, where most of the action in the area is. Also, I’ve noticed campers tend to gravitate to water, and there’s no stream or lake near the Tres Piedras rocks. That’s ok with me. I’d rather have peaceful bliss with few neighbors over a crowded body of water any day (or-especially-night).
My cell phone signal (provided by Verizon) was weak in the area and sometimes disappeared entirely. When I tried to have a voice conversation, I could hear the person on the other end fine, but after a few minutes, she said my voice was breaking up. Outgoing texts were sometimes delayed, but eventually went thought. Internet access was best in the early morning. I didn’t try to stream anything.
Other than a few picnic tables and fire pits, camping in this part of the Carson National Forest is a true boondocking experience. There are no hookups and no toilets. There’s no running water, no drinking water, and no showers. There are no trash cans, so prepare to pack out all your trash.
On 64J road, you may find yourself–like I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this post–alone with the breeze, the trees, the gentle tapping of a woodpecker, and deer in the distance.
I had come down from the mountain for supplies. It was hot and dry in the valley, and I was dog dead tired. I had one more stop to make before I could head back to higher elevation, cooler temperatures, and the last few hours of my day off from my work camper job.
I went into the 99 Cents Only Store, where some prices were a lot less than 99 cents and some prices were substantially more. I perused the bargain baskets in the front of the store, cruised down the aisles of beans and other canned goods, and grabbed the best looking produce at the best prices. When I got up to the cash register, I told the worker that I wanted two sacks of ice, and I even remembered to extract them from the freezer in the front before I hit the exit door.
I pushed my cart over to my van, which I had parked at the edge of the parking lot. My 1994 Chevy G20 conversion van was a hulking beast and easier to park in places where there were no other vehicles around. I preferred to park easily and have farther to walk to a store’s entrance rather than fight to maneuver into a tight parking space.
This time, there was no car parked on the van’s passenger side. I threw open the side doors, as much to gain access to the interior as to let the parched air escape. I climbed into my van and lifted the lid of the ice chest. Yuck. I’d forgotten to empty it before I left camp. The ice had melted completely and left the cooler half full of water. In the water floated some small broccoli florets that had turned limp and yellow before I could eat them and stray bits of cabbage that had been jostled from the most recent head. At the bottom of the cooler lay the waterlogged plastic ice bag left behind when the ice became liquid. I had to get all of this out of the cooler before I could put the new ice and groceries in.
I pulled the plastic bag from the bottom of the cooler. The water it sat in was tepid and smelled a bit sour. I let the water drain from the bag and into the cooler. When most of the water was out of the bag, I threw it onto the floor of the van. The drops of water clinging to it weren’t going to hurt anything and in the heat of midday would probably dry before I was ready to throw it away.
Next I had to dump the water from the ice chest. I figured since any vegetable matter floating in the water was natural, it was ok to let it fall onto the asphalt. If some bird didn’t eat it right away, it would decompose soon enough. I lifted the cooler and wrangled it to the open doors. I lowered it to the floor of the van, then slowly tilted the container so the water drained onto the ground.
The Man likes to joke that you can always tell when hippies have been in a parking lot because there’s at least one wet spot on the ground. On this day, the big wet spot I left had plant matter in it too.
Once I got the cooler back in place, I wiped it out with a couple of paper towels, then loaded in the two slippery and deliciously cold sacks of ice. After that, I carefully placed the eggs and milk and orange juice and produce and whatever other cold groceries I had that day into the chest.
Some time after I had the cooler and the ice in, but before I’d packed in the groceries, a car pulled in next to my van. Why the driver decided to park next to me instead of elsewhere in the vast parking lot will always remain a mystery. I glanced out and saw an older Latina lady getting out of here car.
When I looked out, I also saw the plastic ice bag I’d left on the floor of the van had made an escape. I suppose the desert wind had kicked up while I was busy packing the cooler and sucked the bag right out of the open doors. I’d have to pick it up from where it had landed on the ground before I pulled out of my parking spot.
I wasn’t the only one who had noticed the bag on the ground. My parking neighbor took a look around and saw the plastic bag as well as the huge wet-but-rapidly-drying spot dotted with limp, yellow broccoli and waterlogged bits of cabbage. I saw her shake her head and say under her breath (but loudly enough for me to understand her completely), Basura.
I don’t know if she saw I was white and thought I wouldn’t understand what she’s said, if she didn’t care if I understood, or if she wanted me to know how she felt. In any case, I’d studied enough Spanish to know that basura means trash and that she wasn’t happy with the mess I’d made.
Content warning: urine and feces, as well as mention of excretory anatomy
Once at the RTR, I said to Coyote Sue, Folks who can’t talk about pee and poop probably shouldn’t be here. The same can be said about this blog post. If you can’t stand reading about pee and poop, this is not the blog post for you. If, however, you currently live and travel in a vehicle that does not come equipped with toilet facilities (or plan to do so in the future), this may be the blog post you’ve been looking for.
The first thing I have to tell you is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for solving the problem of living in a rig with no bathroom. A lot of factors are going to determine what system is right for you. Some factors to consider include the following: the size of your rig, your size, your physical abilities and limitations, your squeamishness level, your budget, and your location when nature calls. In this post I will share what works for me and what other folks have told me works for them. You will have to decide for yourself what works for you. You may not come to that decision without some trial and error.
I’ve never tried a camp potty for a number of reasons. They take up quite a bit of room, and can be pricey if purchased new. (For most of the time I lived full time in my van, even $50 was a major expenditure for me.) However, the portable toilets do look more comfortable than do-it-yourself options, and if the model has a storage tank for waste, it won’t have to be emptied each time it’s used. One person I encountered in a Facebook van group shared her experiences with a portable toilet she used in her van. She loved it. When the waste tank was full, she emptied it in the ladies room at the nearest rest area. I’m not sure what she did if she didn’t encounter any rest areas when she needed to dump the toilet’s tank. Personally, I don’t know if I’m confident enough to carry a waste tank from a portable toilet into a restroom at a Wal-Mart or truck stop.
Combining the principles of kitty litter and plastic bag-based poop-scooping…these bags rely on trade-secret combinations of gelling agents, enzymes and deodorizers to sequester human waste into a manageable package.
The gelling agents almost instantly transform urine into goo…The enzymes break down solid waste, enough that the bags can be disposed of in regular old garbage cans.
A generic term for these items is WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag. Two companies that manufacture bags that can handle solid and liquid waste are Cleanwaste and RESTOP. There are many more companies that sell disposable urine bags. A search for “disposable urine bags” on Amazon yielded over a dozen choices.
Several years ago, I got a free sample of a disposable urine bag. (I can’t remember how I got the sample or the company it was from.) The bag was fairly easy to use, but did require squatting. The gel in the bag trapped odors, so my van didn’t smell like urine. The used bag was easy to dispose of discreetly with the rest of my trash.
However, I find the cost of these bags prohibitive. At 75 cents to $1 (or more!) per bag for the disposable urine bags and around $4 each for the bags that can handle solid waste too, I’d be spending a lot of money to use these things. If I used one of these bags for every elimination function, I could easily spend $8 a day. I’ll do the math so you don’t have to. At $8 a day, that’s $56 a week, $224 a month and whopping $2,688 a year! Even if I managed to use public restrooms to pee all day and make one solid waste deposit and only used one urine disposal bag each night, I could still spend $300 a year on these things! In my opinion, it’s better to leave the WAG bags to people who really need them like backpackers and mountain climbers.
Most van dwellers use a 5 gallon bucket for solid waste deposits and some sort of bottle or jar for liquid waste. (Most people are going to tell you to keep solid and liquid waste separated. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic later.)
if you’re a person with a penis, you probably know how to urinate into a bottle. (If you don’t, you probably need to get advice from another person with a penis or check out this WikiHow article.) I can offer a few tips for anyone who’s going to urinate into a container. Make sure to close the camp tightly when done and don’t confuse the bottle you drink out of with the bottle you pee in. If you’re going to dispose of a bottle of urine, throw it in a trash can, not out of your vehicle’s window and on the side of the road.
Urinating into a container might be a new experience for people with female anatomy. If you already have a stand-to-pee device such as a Pstyle, GoGirl, Shewee, or Tinkle Belle, it might be helpful when peeing into a container. (If you have no idea what the aforementioned devices are or if you need some help choosing which one to buy, check out Christina Cauterucci‘s article “You Should Be Using a Stand-to-Pee Device.”) Some women I’ve talked to use a regular funnel from the kitchen or automotive department as a less expensive urination deice option. If you don’t have any sort of urination device, you’ve going to have to kneel or squat over your container. Use a container that will held plenty of liquid and will not leak. Unless you know you will always be able to empty the container immediately after you fill it, be sure it has a tight fitting lid. Make sure the container’s opening is wide enough to accommodate your urine stream.
I like to use a 37 ounce plastic coffee container as my urine receptacle. I’ve used smaller containers, and they’ve worked, but I like to have plenty of room in my receptacle in the event I have to pee several times in the night. One woman I talked to prefers to urinate into a Pringles can held up against her body. Another urinates into a large container, then uses her funnel to pour urine into empty individual serving water bottles which she finds easy to dispose of. A large yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese container may meet your needs. I’ve often seen round plastic canisters with wide mouths and screw on lids at Dollar Tree, or perhaps you’ll find your perfect urine receptacle in the recycling bin. Different containers and systems work for different bodies, so be willing to experiment.
Any container that’s reused to hold urine can develop an odor, especially if the urine sits in the container for hours. After dumping the liquid wasted from my container (away from camp if I’m boondocking or in the toilet if I’m in civilization), I rinse it with a bit of water and let it air dry with the lid off if possible. A bit of dish soap added to the water and swished around can help cut the odor too. If an odor does develop, add a little bleach or vinegar to the container, swish it around, and let it sit for a while.
As I said before, most vandwellers and other nomads with rigs lacking toilet facilities use 5 gallon buckets for solid waste disposal. Five gallon buckets are most popular because they are easiest and cheapest to acquire.I lucked out and was given a smaller 2 (or maybe it’s 3) gallon bucket. I like it because it takes up less space in my minivan. Depending on your physical capabilities to get up from a low sitting position, a small bucket may not be for you. Another option may be a large plastic kitty litter container with a lid that snaps on securely.
You probably don’t want to balance your butt on the naked rim of a bucket. I know I sure don’t! There are a couple of ways to remedy this uncomfortable situation.
I splurged and bought a special toilet seat/lid combo designed to fit on a bucket. (The number of gallons a bucket holds does not determine if this seat will work with your bucket. The diameter of the bucket’s opening is what determines if the seat will fit. ) The seat snaps securely onto the bucket so it doesn’t slide around when in use.The lid does not seal, so odor can still escape, but it dos snap closed so it won’t flop open when moved. The seat typically costs under $15. (My bucket came with a tightly sealing lid, which I kept. If the contents of my bucket are ever particularly stinky, I can seal in the odor with the original lid.)
The do-it-yourself approach to making a bucket more comfortable to sit on is to fasten part of a pool noodle or similar pipe insulation sleeves around the rim of a bucket. To see how this is done, watch Eugene Valkovsky‘s video “How to Make Portable Toilet Bucket.”
Once you get your bucket outfitted for comfort, you’re ready to use it. Or are you? How will you prepare your bucket for the easiest disposal of waste? There area a few different methods.
The first thing you want to do is line your bucket with a plastic bag. You can use a disposable grocery store bag, but you want to be absolutely sure it has no holes in the bottom. Also, whether you’re using a plastic grocery store bag or a trash bag, you want the bag to be big enough to bring the open end of it over the rim of the bucket and fold it down against the outside of the bucket. This will (hopefully) keep the bag from falling down into the bucket when you make your first poop deposit. I find that the plastic seat snapping over the bucket’s opening does a good job holding the bag in place.
Some people defecate right into the plastic bag, deposit their used toilet paper in there, tie off the bag, and leave it all in the bucket until it can be thrown away. Some people take an extra step and add something absorbent (like kitty litter) to the bag before using it. The kitty litter crowd tends to add an initial layer of litter to the bottom of the bag before use. After each poop deposit, another layer of kitty litter (and possibly a sprinkle of baking soda to help control odors) is added. I’ve never tried this method, but it seems to me by the time the bag is full (or even half full) it’s going to be heavy and stinky. However, as I’ve said before folks have to decide for themselves what works best for them.
As I mentioned, many people say solid and liquid wasted must be kept separate. I don’t know if this is a difference between male and female bodies or just a unique quirk of mine, but (TMI coming right up!) I just can’t seem to produce solid waste without producing liquid waste too. I just can’t seem to poop without peeing. If I have to poop and try to pee first, well, let’s just say that doesn’t work either.
What I’ve found works for me (on the suggestion of a woman who shared at an RTR women’s meeting I attended) are puppy training pads. These are the pads you get when you’re house training a puppy. I buy them at WalMart for about 20 cents each (before tax). After I put a plastic bag in my bucket, I line it with a puppy pad. The pads are supposed to hold 2cups of liquid. The pad absorbs any liquid I deposit and offers a tiny bit of protection if the plastic bag has a hole in it or if it tears.
After I finish making my deposit, I drop my used toilet paper in to the bag, squeeze as mush air as possible out of the bag, and tie it off securely. I try to set up bag and puppy training pad combo (or several combos if I’m feeling particularly efficient) in advance so when nature calls, I don’t have to waste time setting up my supplies. I drop the securely tied used plastic bags back into the bucket until I can dispose of them. (I take them out before I use the toilet bucket again.)
A word of warning: Even when it’s entirely empty, a bucket that’s held feces is going to smell pretty bad. Turns out the smell of feces cannot be contained by a regular plastic bag, and the plastic bucket soaks up the scent. Airing out the bucket when you can (like when you’re boondocking) helps, as does baking soda, vinegar, and bleach (but not all together!), but the bucket will probably never be the same.
I understand that human waste can be difficult to discuss and difficult to deal with. I hope this information about the systems I and others use while van (or car, truck, minivan, or SUV) dwelling helps you decide how to deal with your own waste. For folks who have already spent time on the road in a rig without a built in restroom, how do you deal with your waste? Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments.
I remember how excited I was when I got my first logo. I came up with the concept for the design myself, then asked my friend Samantha Adelle to draw my idea. The logo showed a happy sun waving with one hand and driving a conversion van with the other. That happy Sun was me! I put the logo onto stickers and buttons and even postcards.
Recently I bought a new cooler to go in my minivan so I can keep perishable foods while I travel. The cooler looked mighty plain, so I went through my art supplies to find stickers I had stashed away. I stuck on those stickers and some new ones I had won in Instagram giveaways. The cooler started looking better, but there were still lots of empty spots in need of decoration.
At about the same time, I came across The RV Sticker Club on Instagram. According to the group’s feed, The RV Sticker Club is
I started hitting up folks featured by The RV Sticker Club, asking if they wanted to trade stickers with me. Most said yes!
I hadn’t thought about my logo for a long time, but I did think about it as I stuffed stickers into envelopes to send across the U.S.A. and even around the world. I still liked the logo a lot, but there was no denying it didn’t adequately reflect my van life anymore. That sun was driving a big ol’ conversion van, while my rig is a minivan. I decided I really needed a minivan on my logo.
I contacted my friend Richard Hoffkins of Cajun Van Travelers. I met Richard on Instagram quite a while back. We’ve exchanged our logo stickers, and he’s sent me some others that he’s designed. He does good work! I asked him if he could revamp my my logo and he agreed!
I had some ideas for Richard. I knew I wanted to feature my Toyota Sienna in the logo. I sent him some photos of my minivan for reference. I also wanted my van to be out in nature on the logo. I thought a desert scene would be good because I live the desert. Also, a lot of RV stickers show mountains and tall trees, so I knew a desert scene would set me apart from the crowd.
It didn’t take long for Richard to offer me six design options, and it didn’t take me long to pick the desert scene I liked the most. I wasn’t keen on the font used on the scene that I liked, so Richard put together six font options for me to choose from. It was fun to make some choices. Soon I had a logo I really love.
Do you want to see it? Do you want to see my new logo? Ok. Here it is.
Isn’t it great? I think it’s really cool.
I’m working on getting stickers with that design on it. When I have them, I’ll be sure to let you know.
What do you think of my new logo? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
I’d seen the van around town several times before. It was difficult to miss. It was a blue Chevy G20 conversion van with black plastic covering one of the back windows. In addition to the creative window treatment, the van was absolutely loaded down with items strapped to the exterior. There were at least four spare tires attached to various points on the van. What appeared to be a microwave oven sat atop two of the spares on a platform linked to the front bumper. A yellow generator was somehow held on the roof, and ratchet tie downs kept a water tank that looked like it could hold at least 100 gallons up there too. I hoped the water container was empty because 800 pounds traveling on the roof of a G20 seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to me.
I will confess, I’ve driven overloaded vans. The inside of my last Chevy G20 was packed to the gills on several occasions, but the only thing strapped to the outside was a 5-gallon gas can. I’m sure we each think our own material possessions are of the utmost importance, but why in the world was someone driving around with four spare tires, a 100 gallon water tank, and a microwave oven (!) strapped to the outside of a van? Certainly the water tank on the roof made driving in the wind more difficult and the extra weight of all the extra things decreased gas mileage.
One day while I was working at the supermarket fuel center, the overloaded van pulled up to pump 4. The driver–a man in his 60s with a white comb over–came up to the kiosk to pay cash for his fuel. He was soft-spoken and polite.
Several minutes after the van driver paid for his fuel, I left the kiosk to do my hourly conditioning of the merchandise for sale. I heard a soft voice calling Ma’am? Ma’am? Was someone talking to me? Where was the voice coming from?
Ma’am? Ma’am? I heard again.
I looked over to the blue van. The voice seemed to be coming from that direction, but I didn’t see anyone who might have been talking to me. No one looked at me expectantly or waved to get my attention. Was I hearing things? The job had me stressed out, but if it was causing auditory hallucinations, I was in big trouble.
I looked up. That’s where the voice was coming from. A voice from on high was calling for me.
The man with the white comb over was on the roof of his van, crouched next to the generator. He’d stretched the gasoline hose from pump 4 up to the roof where he was pumping fuel into the generator. The whole setup seemed dangerous to me.
I need another $5, the comb-over man said to me while waving a $5 bill in my direction. I guess he’d misjudged how much fuel it would take to fill all his tanks.
I’m not supposed to take money outside of the kiosk, I told him. No one in authority had explicitly told me not to accept money outside of the kiosk, but it was a policy I’d set for myself. I figured only accepting money through the drawer would help keep every transaction on the up and up.
Please? the man on the roof of his van asked. I don’t want to have to climb down.
He sounded so pitiful, and I certainly wanted to minimize his chances of falling. An extra climb down followed by an additional climb up would increase the chances of a catastrophe I neither wanted to witness nor clean up after. I reached up and took his five dollars.
As I entered the kiosk, I realized the white-haired man was going to have to hang up the nozzle before I could authorize the pump to give him his additional $5 worth of fuel. He must have gotten the attention of a kindhearted stranger who hung up the nozzle for him because when I looked at my POS (point-of-sale) system, the screen showed pump 4 was available. I authorized the pump for $5 worth of fuel and put the money in the cash drawer. Then I stood back and watched the fellow on the top of the overloaded van pump the gas into his generator. I was pretty sure no fuel center spectacle could top this one.
I attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and (very briefly) in 2019. Every year I was there, I met new people and leaned new thingsand was glad to have gone. Every year I posted a report of my experiences at the gathering. Unfortunately, in 2020 health and financial concerns kept me from attending the RTR.
I wanted my readers to know whathad happened at this year’s RTR so I asked in a few van groups I’m in on Facebook if anyone would like to write a report about their experiences at the 2020 RTR. I got a couple of volunteers, and I’ll be sharing their guest posts in the upcoming weeks.
Today’s report is by Mary Ellen Telesha. I’m very grateful for her willingness to share the following perspective on this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this come up on social media before, during, and after this remarkable nomadic event.
I’m here to reassure you, it’s not.
What is the RTR you ask?
Click here, for detailed information, but here’s the short version–RTR stands for Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual 10 day gathering of nomads out in the Arizona desert, founded by Bob Wells of Cheap RV Living.
The RTR, preceded by the Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR), just wrapped up its 10th annual gathering in January 2020 under balmy and beautiful Arizona skies.
In previous years the RTR/WRTRs were held out in the vast Sonoran desert, where we gathered to create an enormous temporary community. The estimate of attendees for 2019 was upwards of 10,000 participants, with free onsite camping spreading out for miles around the central presentation area. This huge number speaks to the growing phenomenon of nomadic living, and the success of the community Bob Wells has worked so hard to create.
Unfortunately, this year’s RTR was a drastic deviation from the RTRs of the past. The Bureau of Land Management, the governmental agency that manages public land out West, refused to allow another massive RTR event without a significant monetary commitment, no doubt following the precedent of Burning Man, an enormous gathering in the Nevada Desert (not related to the RTR).
In his wrap-up video of the 2020 RTR, Bob shared with his viewers that the BLM was asking anywhere from $100,000 to $600,000 to hold the event on public land this year. As he is devoted to keeping the event free, Bob was forced to come up with an alternative plan.
So, the RTR was moved to the La Paz County Fairgrounds just outside of Parker Arizona, where all of the seminars took place. As there was no camping allowed on the Fairgrounds, (except for staff and full-time volunteers), the droves of nomads pouring into the area for the RTR spread out to camp in the surrounding Quartzsite, Parker, and California BLM areas.
Of course, this change became a perfect opportunity for the usual naysayers to announce that the RTR is dead.
Now, I’m not a nomad newbie.
This year was my 3rd WRTR, and my second RTR.
I’ll be on the road full-time for 3 years this spring, and I’ve pretty much got my routine down.That’s not to say I’m done learning, but I don’t attend the RTR just for the education.
The nomadic lifestyle is intriguing, attracting a unique variety of humans from all walks of life. We come in cars, tents, vans, trucks, and RVs. We nomads are as varied as our rigs, yet when we get together we’re bound by the common experience of life on the road, and the stories that got us there.
I’m especially inspired every year by women who face their fears, throw their belongings into a vehicle, and drive thousands of miles for the first time, often solo, to learn and meet their fellow nomads.
Every interaction at the WRTR and RTR either inspired or educated me in some way, like the woman giving out little emergency whistles to everyone who crossed her path. What a perfect way to start conversations about safety and awareness on the road!
I was a volunteer this year, working behind the scenes as an assistant to the scheduling committee, and I’ll tell you what, the way the WRTR/RTR event came together out of hundreds of hours of volunteer work, and formidable chaos, was nothing short of amazing.
I was also a volunteer at the “Information and Sticker Booth” on the first day of the WRTR. The energy was high, with old-timers and newbies alike thrilled to have finally made it!
Even with the added driving this year to get to the seminars at the Fairgrounds, I made it to quite a few presentations.
One of my favorites was Mary Shafer’s severe weather presentation, (find her at WildHeartWanders.com). She taught us how to predict where a tornado is headed (hint: if it looks like it’s not moving but just getting bigger it’s headed right for you) and how to identify specific cloud formations that might impact travel. She also taught a jam-packed hour on weather apps for your phone.
I experienced Gong meditation for my third year with Harmonic Immersion – A Meditation and Sound Experience, by Gong Gypsy Michelle Angel of the Gong Temple.
One of the most moving presentations on the main stage was a discussion of depression and anxiety on the road, with a very personal sharing by Bob Wells and Joanne Shortell of the NomadChapter.org.
There was a panel discussion “Allies For Safety,” which covered the importance of nomads having each other’s backs, specifically addressing how men can be allies for women in the nomadic lifestyle.
Although there are too many too list here, there were hundreds of free seminars, including solar experts, budgeting, making money on the road, internet service, workcamping, stealth camping, vehicle maintenance, pets on the road, and even aura reading. The seminars on the main stage were recorded, and will eventually be shared with the public on Bob Well’s Youtube channel
So when the naysayers start throwing the BS, which they always do, I know they just don’t get it. Before the gates to the Fairgrounds were even closed I saw complaints on Youtube and other social medial outlets — about incompetent, bossy volunteers; that the RTR was dead; and all the usual BS about Bob Wells ripping us off. How anyone can believe that is beyond me. This is the first year he and his co-founder Suanne Carlson haven’t had to take money out of their own pockets to cover costs.
It’s been said that it’s easier to criticize than to organize.
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.