Tag Archives: propane

Where to Go for What You Need in Quartzsite (Part 1)

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Congratulations! You’ve made it to Quartzsite, AZ. Maybe you’re going to spend weeks or months at one of the BLM Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs). Maybe you’re in town for two weeks of fun, learning, and fellowship at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Maybe you’re going to stay for one night or two weeks at one of the free BLM camping areas on your way to Yuma or Phoenix or Tucson. In any case, you’re in Quartzsite and you need some things. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, refer this handy list and let the Rubber Tramp Artist (a six-time visitor to Quartzsite) help you find what you need while you’re in town.

Food and Ice

Quartzsite has two main grocery stores, the Roadrunner Market (200 E. Main) and the Quartzsite General Store (410 E Main). Both sell ice and fresh produce and both charge small-town prices. Family Dollar (470 E. Main) and Dollar General (925 W. Main) also sell food, mostly prepackaged items, but also dairy and maybe eggs. Ice can also be found at most of the town’s gas stations, including the Love’s (760 S. Quartzsite Ave.) and Pilot (1201 W. Main).

Big Market (775 W. Main) also sells food. I have only been in the store once and was not impressed. The people who wrote reviews of this place on Yelp didn’t seem too impressed either. I think Big Market is more of a place to buy alcohol and firewood than food, but I would be glad to hear about positive experiences readers had here.

If you don’t mind buying packaged food that is recently (or not-so-recently) expired, check out the temporary “scratch and dent” food stores in town. Housed in tents, they sell everything from breakfast cereal in torn boxes, beans in dented cans, and expired everything. There’s usually one in the shopping area near the main post office, but I like the one closest to the Big Tent because their prices are low.

Free Breakfast

If you’re hungry in the mornings, go down to La Mesa RV to get free pancakes and coffee. La Mesa RV (at the IMG_4469corner of Main and Central) is in the business of selling (you guessed it!) recreational vehicles. A marketing ploy the company uses to get people on their Quartzsite lot is a free pancake breakfast six mornings a week (Monday through Saturday) from 8am to 10am.

The first time one arrives for breakfast, one must go up to the counter and fill out a card. The card has blanks for one’s name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. (I’ve never provided my phone number or email address and was never challenged about my omissions.) After the blanks are filled in, a woman working the counter writes one’s name on a nametag and hands it over. The nametag lasts all season, and one is required to wear it whenever one wants to eat breakfast.

Food Banks

If you’re poor and you need food, there’s no shame in visiting one of Quartzsite’s two food banks, the People’s Food Bank at the Isaiah 58 Project (100 S. Moon Mountain Ave) and the Quartzsite Food Bank (40 N. Moon Mountain Avenue). I’ve been treated with respect and compassion at both of these food banks.

In January of 2018 when I went to the Isaiah 58 Project food bank, they didn’t ask for any sort of ID or income verification. At the Quartzsite Food Bank, they did ask to see my ID, and I had to fill out an intake form. When they asked for my address, I simply told them I was camping on BLM land near town. At that time each of these food banks would give a person food twice a month, so it  was possible to get food every week if necessary. I would confirm current policies either in person or by telephone. (The phone number for the Isaiah 58 Project is 928-927-3124. The phone number for the Quartzsite Food Bank is 928-927-5479.)

Water

The last time I was in Quartzsite, there were water filling stations throughout town. There was a Glacier Water refill station in front of the Family Dollar and another one in front of Big Market. There was a water filling station that didn’t seem to be affiliated with any national brand near the gas station adjacent to the Burger King. RV Pit Stop (425 N. Central Blvd.) has filling stations for filtered and reverse osmosis water. Most of these water filling stations in Quartzsite charge 20 or 25 cents per gallon.

Propane

When I wrote this post (11-19-18), the RV Pit Stop website was advertising propane refills for $2.30 per gallon + tax. I bought propane there the last time I was in town and was satisfied with the service. Rose RV Park (600 E. Kuehn St. ) also advertises propane refills. Google shows Pattie’s Propane (455 E. Main St.) as a propane supplier in Quartzsite, and while I’ve passed by, I’ve never gotten a refill there. While looking for information on laundromats in Quartzsite, I also found a listing for Fill-R-Up & Corner Laundromat (10 N. Central); propane is what they “fill-r-up” with.

If you’d rather do a propane tank exchange through Blue Rhino, the company propane finder page says you can do that at Big Market, RV Pit Stop, and at the Arco gas station (185 N. Riggles Avenue).

https://i1.wp.com/www.rubbertrampartist.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/IMG_4459.jpgBooks

If you want to find reading material and possibly see a nudist, Reader’s Oasis Books is the place for you. Owned by naturist Paul Winer, Reader’s Oasis (690 E. Main) is huge and stuffed full of books and handwritten signs and pictures and shiny rocks and memorabilia. There is a lot to see in that store. The selection is broad, from 3 for $1 romance novels to military history to old-school children’s books to cookbooks to books on religion to books pertaining specifically to the Southwest. The bookmark I ended up buying (featuring a photo of Paul with his thumb up and sporting a big beard and shades; wearing multiple turquoise necklaces, a straw hat, and a bit of cloth over his privates) boasts over 180,000 titles, and I believe it. If you buy nothing else, splurge on a bookmark with Paul’s picture on it; otherwise the folks back home may never believe you.

The other place for books in Quartzsite is the public library (465 Plymouth Road). The library’s website says that folks who aren’t residents of Quartzsite can get a library card by presenting their photo ID. Using the library’s books, audio tapes, computers, videos and magazines is free.

The public library is also THE place in town to find public access computers with internet capabilities. You can bring your own laptop or tablet into the library and try to use their WiFi, but I’ve found that an exercise in frustration. In my experience, WiFi in the entire town of Quartzsite is slow, slow, slow, and it’s no different at the public library.

Forget about plugging your electronics in at the library to charge. A friend of mine did that a few years ago and told me a library worker accused him of stealing electricity. Wowza!

The Quartzsite Public Library is open Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. It is closed Saturday, Sunday, & holidays.

Mail

You can get your mail at the Quartzsite post office (80 W. Main), but unless you rent a box there (and I don’t even know if that’s possible if you don’t live in the town), it’s going to be a huge pain in the neck. You can have your mail delivered via general delivery, but that mail can only be picked up on weekdays and only during specific hours. People arrive and get in line long before they can actually pick up their general delivery mail because when the pickup time is over, it’s OVER, no matter how many people are still standing in line.

An online review of the post office in Quartzsite says, “[g]eneral delivery must be preapproved or they will return to sender immediately. Pickups can only be done from 12 to 1.” I’m not sure those two assertions are true; I’ve never heard the first one, and I thought general delivery pickup was from 11am to 1pm. If I were going to try to get my mail via general delivery in Quartzsite, I would call the post office (928-927-6323) and get all the details before I told anyone to send me mail that way.

If I were going to receive mail in Quartzsite, I would much rather do so through Quiet Times (90 E. Main). In 2017, I had 100 copies of my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods delivered to Quiet Times. I called ahead (928-927-8081) and was told exactly what address to use to make sure my packages got to the right place. For a very reasonable price (I think it was $10), Quiet Times received two (or was it three?) large boxes and held them for me until I could pick them up.

I’m not certain if Quiet Times receives mail sent through the USPS or only items sent through FedEx and UPS. I suggest you call now before Quartzsite turns into an absolute circus and find out if they provide the service you need, and if so, exactly what address you should give to people sending you mail. The folks who work at Quiet Times are very nice and patient and will be glad to give you all the necessary information.

On the day this post was originally published, I learned about another option for receiving mail in Quartzsite. A couple people in a Facebook group I’m in mentioned BCM Mail and Ship (852 W Cowell Street), which is apparently behind the senior center. One of the people who gets her mail there says customers pay a flat rate for the month, and there is no additional charge for receiving packages. Unfortunately, none of the links to BCM’s website worked for me, so all I can tell you is that the phone number for the business as listed by Google is 928-927-4213.

Showers

If you’re staying on BLM land for a few weeks and don’t have a shower set up in your rig, there are several places in Quartzsite where you can clean up. Both the Love’s and the Pilot truck stops have shower facilities, but you’re going to pay premium prices. On the upside, I’ve read that it’s ok for a couple to ask for a team shower and use one shower room at no additional charge. Also, I’ve never been hurried while showering at a truck stop or told I could use the facilities only for a limited time.

Your next option for cleaning yourself in Quartzsite is Main Street Laundromat & Showers (205 E. Main Street). I did my laundry there once, but I’ve never taken a shower at this location. A Google review from 10 months ago says a 20 minute shower costs $8 there, which is what I remember hearing at the last couple RTRs. I’ve also heard a worker does keep track of how long each customer has been in the shower room and will knock on the door after 20 minutes.

The third option for a shower in Quartzsite is a free one at the Isaiah 58 Project. I have taken showers there on several occasions.The last time I was in town, the showers were only available on weekday mornings from 9am until noon and were limited to 10 minutes per person. I’ve always encountered a line of people waiting to shower when I’ve gone first thing in the morning, but friends who’ve gone later in the morning have reported finding no line. The water is hot and the price is right, and in the past they’d even loan each person a towel if necessary. I definitely appreciate being about to take a shower for free, although I wish we could go 15 minutes instead of just 10.

This post has gone longer than I expected, and I still have lots more to share, so I’ll give you the rest of my information about where to go for what you need in Quartzsite on Friday.

I’ve not been compensated for mentioning any of the businesses included in this post. All the information shared is based on my own experiences and what I found on the internet. Please do your own research, including calling businesses to determine if the information I shared is accurate and if the services I mentioned meet your needs. You are responsible for your own self. I’m not responsible for you. I apologize for any information that is no longer accurate, but offer this post to you as a starting point.

I took all the photos in this post.

10 More Items to Make Your Van Life More Comfortable

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Like I said in my post “The Rubber Tramp Artist’s Ten Essential Items for Vandwelling,” you don’t need to get a bunch of fancy stuff before you start your van life. Just get a van, start sleeping in it and voilà!—you’re vandwelling.

However, if you do have the money and the inclination to get things to make yourself more comfortable, here are ten more items that enhance the quality of my van life.

#1 I love to drink cold water. When I’m in civilization, I fill my water bottle with ice whenever I fill my gas tank at a convenience store or eat at a fast food restaurant. In the past, I drank the ice melt from the ice containers in my cooler, but a lot of cold air escaped from the cooler when I reached in and rummaged around for the ice containers Last fall I bought an Igloo 5 gallon cooler with a dispenser. I put in a bag of ice (no problem with such a wide opening on top) and three or four gallons of water (the cooler fits in a Glacier water dispenser), and I can drink cold (or at least cool!) water for days. When the water gets too warm for my taste, I just add more ice. Easy!

#2 When I’m boondocking, I have to bring enough water with me for all my washing and drinking needs.  There are two kinds of jugs I like for storing water.

The first is the Reliance Aqua-tainer BPA free 7-gallon jug with a spout. While seven gallons of water (over 55 pounds!) is more than I can carry for more than a few steps, the spout (which can be opened and fully closed) is super convenient for handwashing. It also helps me conserve water because I can dispense the amount I need without spilling excess water on the ground. If I’m traveling alone, I usually put five gallons of water in each jug to make carrying the container manageable.

I also like the American Maid BPA free 3-gallon water jugs with handles. I can totally carry three gallons of water with no problem, so these are my go-to water jugs. They are stackable when they’re empty, saving space on the way to fill them.

EcoVessel BIGFOOT Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Tea - Fruit and Ice Infuser
#3 I’ve tried a lot of water bottles, but I’ve never found anything else that keeps drinks cold like my Eco Vessel. I’ve kept ice in mine for over 24 hours on more than one occasion (depending of course on the temperature of the liquid I’m adding to the bottle and the temperature of the air outside the bottle). It’s not unusual for me to drink all of the cold water from the bottle, then have to wait hours for the ice to melt into drinkable form. (I solve this problem by filling my Eco Vessel from my 5-gallon Igloo jug as needed.)

My first Eco Vessel was the 750ml Boulder, which I bought at a natural food store on a whim one exceptionally hot summer day. I used it (and loved it!) every day for about two years before upgrading to the 1300ml Big Foot. I still use the smaller bottle for backup. If I fill both bottles with cool water in the morning, I have plenty of cool water to drink during an 8-hour work day on the mountain.

#4 During my first six years vandwelling, I used 1-gallon propane canisters to power my stove and my Mr. Heater. (For a short time, I had a butane stove, and that was before I owned my Mr. Heater, so during that period, I didn’t use any propane at all.) In any case, until I met The Man, I used 1-gallon canisters for my propane needs. Almost from the moment we met, The Man encouraged me to use a large, refillable propane tank. His reasoning was sound: refilling a large tank is more cost effective than buying multiple 1-gallon canisters and keeps a lot of waste out of landfills. Win win!

#5 I’ve used the single-burner style stove that sits on top of a 1-gallon propane canister and found it cumbersome and unstable. Food seemed to take longer to cook on that style of stove too. (I never did a scientific experiment to test the cooking time required on different stoves, so the difference in cooking times could be my imagination.) Also, the single-burner stove didn’t work so well when connected to our large propane tank. I’ve mostly blocked the experience from my memory, but I think there was a puff of fire and unusually  quick thinking on my part when I reached over and turned the knob on the propane tank to CLOSED. In any case, we figured out the single burners are not designed to be used with the large tanks.

For several months before I met The Man, I used a one-burner butane stove. I liked its flat, stable design, but I was awfully unhappy on the occasions when I couldn’t find the necessary butane bottles at the store (including Wal-Mart once). The butane seemed to go faster than the propane in the small green containers, but again, I didn’t do a scientific experiment to test my theory.

Coleman Stove Ppn 2 BRN Ml Triton
These days I use a Coleman two-burner stove connected to a large propane tank. A half-dozen years ago, I tried two different models of Ozark Trail two-burner stoves because they were less expensive than the Coleman stoves available. Both of the Ozark Trail stoves were junk. I was never able to light the cheaper one, and the more expensive one (that I thought would be of better quality) only lit once when I tested it immediately after purchase. Luckily I’d saved the receipts and boxes for both stoves and was able to bring them both back for full refunds. I hope to never again be in a situation where I need a stove and can only afford one made by Ozark Trail.

Several Coleman two-burner stoves I’ve used over the years have been made well and all have worked great. I enjoy the convenience of being able to cook in two pans at once when I’m doing something fancier than my usual one-pan meal. I like the stability of the flat burners and the convenience of being able to fold the whole apparatus for easy transport and storage. Also, I just found out that if the regulator on the stove quits working properly, I can buy a new regulator for around $13, instead of having to spend $40+ on a whole new stove. I love a company that lets me replace parts!

(Read more about my stove experimentation in my post “Cooking While Vandwelling.”)

#6 I like to sleep in the dark, and I like to be surrounded by beauty, so I have colorful curtains to cover my windows.

My side windows in the back of the van are completely blocked with thick foam board my sibling gave me when it was no longer useful in the windows of the family home. Over the foam boards, I put up colorful curtains. At night I hang a cloth shower curtain I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center over the windows in my side doors. The driver’s area of the van is separated from my living space with heat and light-blocking curtains I got at a thrift store. The mismatched curtains give my van an eclectic, free-spirited feel.

#7 I have difficulty sleeping if I’m too hot, but my small, battery operated fan gives me just enough breeze to facilitate my slumber when the nights get warm.  I would like a fan I could run from my 12-volt outlet; such a fan would need a long cord to reach from the front of the van to my bed. Until I find the right fan for the right price, my 8-inch O2Cool brand fan works well enough.

PROTIP: It’s really worth the money to buy Duracell or Energizer batteries to run fans. I learned that while the Sunbeam batteries from Dollar Tree only last one night, the more expensive batteries last at least a week.

Schumacher Electric 140W Power Converter SI1
#8 Speaking of running things off my van’s 12-volt power outlet, I love my 140 watts Schumacher power converter. It has both a USB port and a good ol’ electrical outlet so I can charge my phone and laptop. If I don‘t need to charge my laptop, I use a smaller USB power adapter. It has two USB ports so I can charge two phones at once. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices even when I’m away from electricity.

NOTE: The small devices have never drained my van’s battery, but the large power converter did once when I charged my laptop several times in day without running the van. If I’m not driving the van, now I only use the power convertor to charge my laptop once in a day.

#9  My foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One is a gift I cherish. If I’ve got sun, I can charge my phone.  I haven’t tried to use the solar charger to charge a tablet, but I think it would handle the job. I like that it’s lightweight and folds up small and thin for storage. It’s easy to hang and easy to transport. Love it!

#10 When The Man built my bed, he made sure there was plenty of storage space under the platform. The platform is tall enough to fit large tubs under it. Now that The Man has his own van, I’ve thought about going back to a single bed, but I’d hate to lose my storage area. I’ve decided it’s better to have a roomy double bed (especially since Auntie M gave me a comfortable double mattress she wasn’t using) with room for lots of stuff under it.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

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Living on the road is certainly less expensive than paying rent or maintaining a sticks-n-bricks, but living on the road still costs money. Lots of rubber tramps and nomads survive on a fixed income and would like to see their money go farther. Today I offer you ten tips for saving money while living on the road.

Obey the speed limit and don’t waste your money paying a speeding ticket.

#1 Obey the law and avoid costly fines. I don’t like authority figures telling me what to do either, but getting a ticket is expensive. Don’t exceed the speed limit. Feed the parking meter. Don’t park in a spot reserved for folks with disabilities unless you can display the proper paperwork. Don’t park in any spot your rig isn’t supposed to be in. Don’t drive in the carpool lane (aka High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) if you’re the only person in your vehicle.

#2 Improve your gas mileage. Keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure. Don’t overload your rig with unnecessary weight. Change your air filter regularly. Driving the speed limit (or slower!) will help you in this regard too. (See Car Bibles for more tips on improving gas mileage.)

#3 Use gas price apps to find the lowest cost per gallon in the area you’re in. I’m not a big fan of driving across town to save 20 cents, but maybe you can plan your route to save on fuel. A 2014 article from CNN Tech suggests GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and MapQuest Gas Prices.

#4 If you boondock in remote areas for weeks at a time, don’t make daily trips into civilization. Go to your camping spot with supplies to last a week. Do a supply run (paired with fun town activities, if you like) at the end of the first week, and get enough of everything to last until you’re ready to move to your next destination. You’ll save money on fuel, and you won’t have as many chances to make impulse purchases.

#5 If you’re in the market for a rig think about gas mileage. A minivan will probably get better gas mileage than a conversion or cargo van. A Class B motorhome will probably get better gas mileage than a Class A. A small Class C will probably get better gas mileage than a large Class C. A Prius will probably get better gas mileage than anything else.

#6 Do regular maintenance. It will probably cost less to have something maintained than repaired, and a breakdown may require a costly tow. Even during a routine oil change, mechanics usually look around for obvious problems.

#7 Learn how to do your own routine maintenance and make basic repairs. Check and top off your fluids. Change your oil. Replace your brake pads. Change your air filter. You’ll learn more about the mechanics of your rig and you won’t have to pay someone else for the cost of labor.

#8 Compare insurance rates. Does one company offer lower prices than another? Just remember, sometimes lower cost means less protection.

Can you get a better rate by using a different address for your domicile?  I saved about $200 a year by using the address of one family member over another as my permanent residence.

Can you eliminate options to save a few bucks? I pay a little extra for roadside assistance through my insurance, but if I had AAA or God Sam Club coverage, I’d probably drop the roadside assistance option on my insurance policy.

#9 Invest in a large propane tank rather than the green one-pound tanks. I resisted this tip for a long time because those small green propane tanks are just so convenient. However, now I’m a believer in using the bigger tanks. They’re a better deal than the one-pound tanks even if you do the Blue Rhino exchange (available at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, supermarkets, hardware stores, and convenience stores). You save even more if you refill the tank at places like U-Haul, Tractor Supply, AmeriGas refill and refueling stations, and RV parks.

#10 Seek out free and inexpensive entertainment. You really can have a lot of fun for little money, especially in cities and town.

This is public art stands on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

Look at public art. I especially like murals, but sculpture can be fun too.

Public libraries often offer free admission to movies, concerts, and public speakers, and they sometimes have galleries where patrons can look at art for free. Most libraries also offer free internet access, and even if you don’t have a library card, you can sit around for hours reading books and magazines at no cost to you.

Many museums offer free admission on a designated day once a week or once a month. Plan your trip to an area to coincide with free admission to a museum you want to visit.

Parks are nice free places to hang out. Cook a meal at a picnic table. Walk around the park for exercise. Sit under a tree and read. Especially in the summer, parks often offer plays, concerts, and movies at no charge.

If you’re more of a boondocker and less of a city dweller, get out and enjoy the natural beauty where you are. It’s free to hear the birds sing. Go for a hike or a brisk walk. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Heck, watch then both. It won’t cost you a dime.

Blaize Sun has been mostly on the road since 2009. She’s traveled the U.S. with very little money, so she’s had to figure out ways to make every penny count.

Please share your favorite money saving tips in the comments.

Blaize Sun took the photos in this post.

Cooking While Vandwelling (Stoves and Refrigeration)

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None of my vans have had a built-in kitchen. I’ve used several different methods for cooking and keeping food cold. Today I’ll share what I’ve learned about stoves and refrigeration while van dwelling.

I’ve used three kinds of stoves while van dwelling: one-burner propane, two-burner propane, and one-burner butane.

The one-burner propane was my least favorite. With this kind of stove, the propane bottle sits in a round base. The burner screws into the opening on the propane canister and sits on top of the contraption.

Coleman 2000010642 Single-Burner Propane Stove

The pros of this cooking method include:

#1 The unassembled stove uses minimal storage space.

#2 It’s easy to find stores that sell propane canisters.

The cons of these stoves include:

#1 Even with the propane bottle sitting in the base, the whole setup seems precarious, especially if a strong wind is blowing while a heavy pot of beans is sitting up there.

#2 The cook needs a lighter or matches on hand to light the flame.

#3 The cook has to set up the whole contraption before any actual cooking can occur.

The last time I looked at Wal-Mart, the price on these one-burner stoves was between $15 and $20.

During the time I was fighting to heat beans and rice on my one-burner stove, my vendor friend Mr. Phoenix turned me on to a flat, one-burner stove that burned butane. I bought one of those stoves at Wal-Mart for about $20, then sold the propane stove for $5 at a flea market.

I loved the flatness of the butane stove. No longer was my pot of food up in the air, perched precariously on a burner. I also like that the stove was self -igniting. I didn’t have to fumble with a lighter or a match; one turn of the knob, and I had a flame.

What I didn’t like about the stove was finding butane. Not every Wal-Mart carried it. In one desert tourist town I had to run around to five businesses before I found the canisters I needed at the hardware store. While propane canisters tend to run about $3 each at Wal-Mart, the smaller butane bottles tended to run from $3 to $4.50. (The best deal I ever got on butane was packs of four canisters for $6 at one of those stores in a tent in Quartzsite in the winter.)

I also didn’t like the perpetually low flame on this stove. Because the flame didn’t get very high, it seemed to take forever to heat food or bring water to a boil.

I wasn’t longing for a new stove, but one day I saw a Coleman two-burner propane stove in a small-town thrift store.

My Coleman two burner stove with lid closed.

My Coleman two burner stove with lid closed.

The price? $10 I scooped it up. I don’t use both burners very often, but it’s nice to have them both when I need them.

My two-burner Coleman stove ready for cooking action.

My two-burner Coleman stove ready for cooking action.

In addition to the convenience of two burners, this stove also has stability because it’s flat. Although I do need to have a lighter or a match on hand to light it, the flame gets really high, and my food is ready to eat much sooner than with the butane stove.

After I bought the two-burner stove, I sold the butane stove to a vendor friend at the Bridge for $5. The flat stove was an upgrade from the one-burner upright propane stove she had been using.

All of the stoves I’ve mentioned so far were Coleman brand. I tried using two Ozark Trail brand stoves from Wal-Mart several years ago, and was left sorely disappointed. My ex and I were going to a music festival, so we bought the cheapest Ozark Trail double-burner propane stove. When we tried to use it before we left for the festival, it didn’t work. We exchanged it for the more expensive Ozark Trail model. We tried it in the parking lot, and it worked, but when we got to the festival, it didn’t work. We had the displeasure of eating cold soup all weekend. Since then I’ve used Ozark Trail stoves friends had, and the stoves worked fine. However, I would never buy an Ozark Trail stove at a thrift store unless I was absolutely desperate. If I were buying new and I had the extra dollars to go with a Coleman, I certainly would.

Despite the warnings on all of the camp stoves I’ve had, I do cook in my van when I need to. I prefer to cook outside on a table, but that’s not always practical if it’s dark or cold or rainy when I’m ready to cook. If I’m cooking in the van, I make sure a window is open. If it’s not too cold out, I completely open the windows on both side doors. Usually I’m just boiling water or heating beans and rice, so I don’t have the stove on for a long time while cooking a complicated meal.

I’ve never had a refrigerator in my vans either. What I do have now is an ice chest. I’ve tried several methods of storing food in an ice chest until I found something that currently works for me.

The first method I tried was simply dumping the contents of a sack of ice over the food in the cooler. As you can guess, after a couple of days, my food was floating in a sea of melted ice. My cardboard egg carton was a soggy mess and water had leaked into the container of hummus. Gross! The results were just about the same when I left the ice in the bag. The bag was riddled with holes and the water leaked out as the ice melted.

Next I bought a cheap plastic dishpan and put it in the cooler. Then I put a block of ice into the dishpan. The block melted more slowly, but if I didn’t stay on top of dumping the pan of ice melt water (which involved removing all of my food from the cooler), the water ended up out of the dishpan and in the bottom of the cooler. Of course, once water was sloshing around in the cooler, all of my food got wet, and some of it was spoiled by the water.

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Egg suitcase closed (and too much flash in the photo–sorry).

Before I hit on my current cooler method, I did buy a plastic egg suitcase in the Wal-Mart sporting goods department. In this plastic case, the eggs are protected much better than they are in a cardboard carton. In the past I sometimes lost eggs to breakage once the carton got wet and disintegrated. Not anymore! Also, the egg suitcase talks up less space than a carton. I paid under $3 for mine, and I think it was well worth the investment.

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Egg suitcase open and full of eggs.

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This photo shows my plastic Coleman ice chest and (to the right) my closed up Coleman stove. The stove does not take up much space when it’s closed.

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Here’s my current food cooling system: a Styrofoam cooler inside my plastic Coleman cooler, with ice between the two. (Coleman has not paid me to endorse its products.)

My current cooler system consists of a Styrofoam cooler in my plastic ice chest. The food goes into the Styrofoam cooler and the ice goes between the Styrofoam and the plastic. Yes, this system leaves less space for food, but I’m willing to make that trade-off in order to keep my food out of the melt water.

Food in the Styrofoam cooler.

Food in the Styrofoam cooler.

At some point, the Styrofoam starts floating in the water from the melted ice, and I can’t get the plastic cover to close. When that happens, I drain the water through the spout underneath. Sometimes ice gets under the Styrofoam cooler, pushing it up too high for the plastic cover to close, and I have to take out the Styrofoam cooler, dump the ice into a container, and reassemble. It’s a pain in the ass, but (to me) not as big of a pain as losing a container of hummus that’s now full of water.

Please feel free to post comments about what kind of stove and refrigeration system you use in your vanhome.

Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove, 22,000 BTUs
Coghlan's 511A Egg Carriers -

Staying Warm

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My #1 way of staying warm while living in my van is to go somewhere warmer when the weather gets colder. For example, in 2014, I left Northern New Mexico at the end of October and went to Southern New Mexico, where I stayed for November and December. In January 2015, I went to Arizona and stayed in various places in that state until I went to the California mountains at the end of April.

People often ask me if I stay warm enough in the van at night. Staying warm at night is not a problem. My bed is raised about two feet, so my body heat isn’t lost to the floor, and I have storage space. I sleep on two layers of memory foam, which is notorious for making people hot. I wear long underwear and socks to sleep when I need to, as well as a hat if it’s particularly cold. I have plenty of blankets, including two sleeping bags and a knitted (crocheted?) blanket stored flat under the memory foam and on hand for any really cold situation.

My bed lies across the back of the van, up against the back doors. On the side opposite the back doors, I have a curtain (a sheet I paid $1 for at a thrift store strung on a bungee cord) that I can pull for privacy. I found out early on that the curtain holds in quite a bit of my body heat. In hot weather, I often have to leave the curtain open at night so I don’t get warmly uncomfortable. When it’s cold out, I’m glad the curtain holds in the warmth.

Once I’m in bed, I’m warm. Sometimes I even get too warm and have to push the covers down for a while so I can cool off in the chilly air.

The problem in cold weather is getting out of the bed, either to get dressed and get out of the van or to move around inside the van (to tidy up or to cook, for example). Sometimes it’s too cold inside even to sit up in bed to read or write.

While I was in Southern New Mexico, temperatures were getting down in the low 30s at night. I researched how other rubber tramps stay warm in their vehicles.

One idea I found on a couple of websites was burning a candle. Candles (supposedly) raise interior temperature in a vehicle by 10 degrees. Of course, one must be careful with the open flame. (I have a lot of fabric in my van—curtains, rugs, blankets, clothing strewn about—so I have to be particularly careful not to catch everything I own on fire.) One must also be careful not to let the candle use up all the oxygen in one’s enclosed space, which can lead to death. This means one must leave a window open at least a crack when using a candle inside a vehicle.

I wondered if leaving the window open—even just a crack—negated any heat produced by a lit candle. However, I was willing to give it a try, so I walked down to one of the locally owned gift shops and bought a small (overpriced, artificially scented) candle. I tried burning the candle a couple of mornings. I (thankfully) did not catch anything on fire, but I didn’t notice feeling any warmer when the candle was burning. I decided the candle experiment was a failure.

At the time, I was staying in an RV park with electrical hookups. I considered going to Stuff-Mart and buying a small electric heater. (I think they run $15-$20.) I decided not to do that because I very seldom stay in my van in places with electrical hookups. Even a small heater would take up precious storage space when not in use, and I wouldn’t use it enough to justify having it.

The last week I was in Southern New Mexico (the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. I was lucky because I had gotten a house and pet sitting job. I stayed in a lovely warm house with a nice cat and a nice dog, and I didn’t have to think about heating the van.

During my internet research, I’d read a bit about portable propane heaters. Several van dwellers I read about swore by them. I didn’t rush out to buy one because #1 they’re a little pricey and #2 burning propane in the van causes the same concerns as burning candles.

At the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), I talked to people who used propane heaters in their vehicles.

The Divine Miss M had a Mr. Heater brand Portable Buddy heater, which was a popular choice among folks at the RTR. (I don’t know why exactly, maybe I heard someone else refer to the heaters this way, but I call this type of heater Mr. Buddy.) Miss M loved hers, said it got her station wagon plenty warm, but did stress the absolute necessity of leaving a window open a crack when using the heater inside. She assured me that the heater produced enough heat to overcome the cold let in through the partially open window.

I stored the info in my brain file for future reference. I wasn’t in the market for a heater, although on some chilly mornings in the Arizona desert, I would have welcomed a few minutes of concentrated warmth.

At one of the very last group gatherings at the RTR, during announcements, a man said he had a brand new Mr. Buddy heater for sale. He said he’d just bought it from Amazon.com for $69 ($20 less than normal price, I was told) but had found a heater he liked better at the Big Tent. He wanted to sell the heater for $69, plus another $20 or $30 for the supplies to hook it up to a large propane tank. When I went to talk to the guy selling the heater and told  him I was interested in the heater but not the accessories because I didn’t have a large propane tank, there was a grumpy old man already looking at the items. The old man snapped at me that I needed a larger propane tank because it was cheaper to buy propane that way. Rather than snap back at the old coot elder, I just told the guy with the items for sale that the old guy could buy it since he was there first.

Before I could get back to my van, the seller had come after me to say the old guy didn’t want the heater and I could have it for the $69 he’d spend on it. I bought it.

I tried it out a couple of times before I left the RTR (thanks to the bottle of propane Miss M gave me to use with it). It worked great, warmed the van quickly. It was just enough heat to get me motivated to get out of bed and get dressed. I told Miss M that Mr. Buddy was my new boyfriend!

Then I went back to the City and didn’t stay in my van for upwards of three months. Mr. Buddy was packed in a plastic storage tub, and I didn’t think much about him. Until…

It’s cold in the California mountains, even in May. Seems like the temperature starts dropping around 4:30 in the afternoon (16:30, military time) and doesn’t warm up again until the next day around noon. Sleeping is fine. Actually, I sleep better when it’s chilly and I can snuggle under piles of blankets, so sleeping is excellent. It’s the between times that are trying.

I get up early to do a check of the campground, sweep the restrooms, make sure there’s enough toilet paper. I decided I needed the warm motivation only Mr. Buddy can provide, so I’d already planned to unpack him when I heard the high the next day was expected to be only 41 degrees, and there was a possibility of snow. I pulled Mr. Buddy and his propane bottle out of the plastic crate and fired him up before I crawled into bed. In about ten minutes, the van was toasty.

When I got up in the morning to pee, I fired him up again until I warmed up. Oh yes, Mr. Buddy and I are sure to have a long and happy relationship.

I took this photo of my boyfriend Mr. Buddy in my van.

I took this photo of my boyfriend, Mr. Buddy, in my van. The propane bottle fits right in on the side.

Safety Precautions I Follow with Mr. Buddy

#1 I open at least one window at least a crack before igniting Mr. Buddy’s flame.

#2 Because there is an actual flame, I make sure no fabric is near Mr. Buddy’s front.

#3 I never leave him unattended. I DO NOT exit the van or go to sleep while Mr. Buddy is on.

#4 When I turn off Mr. Buddy, I unscrew and remove the propane bottle. Some people don’t do this, but I take this precaution so I know no propane is leaking.

While writing this post, I remembered another idea for getting/staying warm. I learned this one years ago from a New Englander in New Orleans. Drinking or eating something hot is a good way to warm up from the inside. However, when I’m cold first thing in the morning, I don’t necessarily want to crawl out of my warm bed to heat water for tea.

img_2813For my birthday, my host family gave me a Stanley thermos. It keeps water hot for a long time. I used it while working the essay scoring job so I’d have hot water for my lunch. I’d heat the water in the morning, put it in the thermos, and the water would still be hot enough at lunchtime to prepare noodle soup (ramen noodles and the like). One day I didn’t use the water for lunch, and the next morning (24 hours later) when I opened the bottle, the water was still very warm.

So this is my idea: Before I go to bed, I’ll boil water and put it in my Stanley bottle. I’ll put it next to my bed, along with my mug and a teabag. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll pour myself a cup of hot tea before I even get out of bed. Sounds lovely.

 

I did not receive any compensation for the endorsements of the products in this post. I wrote this post after I already owned the products. I just like ’em, and I think my readers might like them too.

If you click on either of the photos below, you can shop on Amazon through my affiliate link. If you do your normal Amazon shopping through my affiliate link, I receive a commission from your purchases at no cost to you!

Stanley Classic Bottle 1.1qt

Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Propane Radiant Heater