Tag Archives: keys

The Rubber Tramp Artist Rules of Van Life


#1 Rule of Van Life: Always Know Where Your Keys Are

I’ve misplaced the keys to my van many times. Sometimes I have misplaced the keys by locking them in the van. No good. No good.

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

Now my #1 rule of van life if to always know where my keys are. When I’m awake, I wear my keys on a long lanyard around my neck. It’s made from small, pretty blue and green glass beads. I bought it for $1 at a thrift store. I don’t have to take the lanyard from around my neck to unlock the doors, but when I do need to take it off, it lifts right over my head.

When I get out of the van, I make sure the keys are around my neck before I close the doors. It might seem as if I am patting my boobs or belly just for fun, but really, I’m making sure I have my keys. (The challenge is getting the keys immediately out of the ignition and hooked to my lanyard before my attention wanders and I exit the van without my keys.)

When I go to bed at night, my keys are within arm’s reach. If I have to drive the van in the middle of the night, I don’t have to fumble in the dark searching for them. Even when I sleep, I know where my keys are.

Rule #2 Don’t Knock Over the Pee Bucket (When It’s Holding Pee)

I’ve had a variety of pee buckets in my 4+ years as a van dweller. First there was a plastic one-

My current pee bucket with lid.

My current pee bucket with lid.

gallon ice cream tub with lid. Later I used a plastic one-quart, slightly oval shaped ice cream container with a tight-sealing cover. For a while I used a plastic storage container with a snap-on lid with a handle; that container was my favorite, but I lost the lid when I forgot to remove it from the van’s ladder (where it had been propped to air out) before I drove to work. I’m currently using a red coffee can with a snap-off cover.

I’ve knocked the pee bucket over before. While it wasn’t the worst elimination disaster I’ve ever had in the van, it wasn’t pleasant. It was so not pleasant. Now when there’s a container of urine in the van, I am very careful not to kick it or bump it or do anything to make it fall over. I certainly don’t want to drive while there’s pee in my bucket. Even with the cover on, the thing can still leak, and I do not want to deal with urine on the rug and on the floor and on the items on the floor.

Rule #3 Use Blind Spot Mirrors

The Your Mechanic website  says,

No matter how well you position your side view mirrors, there is going to be a blind spot on either side…there will always be areas that you cannot see. Blind spot mirrors are designed to alleviate this problem.

I swear by blind spot mirrors. I don’t know why all driver’s aren’t using them, whether on a van or a pickup truck or a sports car. They are inexpensive; a two pack usually cost under $10 at Amazon, auto supply stores, or any store with an automotive department. They are easy to install by peeling away paper backing covering the strong adhesive on the non-mirror side. Press the blind spot mirrors to a clean (cleanliness is crucial for proper sticking) side view mirror and get ready to see everything in your blind spot that you have been missing.

Rule #4: Do Your Routine Maintenance

Get your oil changed regularly. (The Your Mechanic website recommends every 5,000 to 10,000 miles). Check the air pressure in your tires and add air as needed. Check your fluid (oil, brake, transmission, coolant/antifreeze, power steering) levels and add accordingly. Take care of problems before they become disasters.

Rule #5: Carry Basic Automotive Supplies

I have a pair of jumper cables in my van. I believe everyone should carry jumper cables, especially if traveling to areas where it might take a long time/be impossible for roadside assistance to get to you. It’s usually fairly easy to find a helpful person to give your battery a jump start, but helpful people don’t always have jumper cables.

In addition to jumper cables, I have a jack and a tire iron. I also typically carry brake fluid, oil, and antifreeze/coolant.

Rule #6: Don’t Hit the Road Without a Paper Map

Sure, sure, GPS systems and map apps are great–if they work. I did a Google search on “did people really drive off cliff while following GPS” and came up with a whole list of GPS disaster stories. GPS systems really do lead people astray. img_7800

I’ve never used GPS, but I do tend to rely on Google Maps. I use Google Maps on my laptop to map out routes in unfamiliar cities, and I use it to decide how to get from a city (or nature area) to my next destination. Several times while traveling in California, Google Maps has directed me to roads that don’t exist or sent me well out of my way.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve been able to pull over and use the Google Maps app on my phone to recalibrate from my current location. But recently, after Google Maps sent me on a wild goose chase–out of my way–hour long–gas guzzling–circular excursion, I stopped at a gas station to figure out what I should do from there. Google Maps told me what to do, but I immediately realized it was all wrong. Highway 49 was not the same as Main Street, and the directions told me to go the same way from which I’d just come. So I pulled out my atlas and figured out where I was and where I wanted to be. Turns out a nearby highway was a straight shot from point A to point B. If I had looked at the paper map before I hit the road, I would have seen that Google Maps had sent me on a route that was never going to take me where I wanted to go

Rule #7: Stock Up on Essentials Before You Leave Civilization

Before I head out to a remote area, I make sure I have everything I need. Even if I can find a store in a small town selling the necessity I’ve forgotten, I’m going to pay more for it in a remote location. These are the essentials I make sure I have before I head out of Babylon: food, water, ice, propane, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, wet wipes, gasoline.

Rule #8: Tell Someone Where You Will Be

I have a trusted friend I text everyday if I have cell service. Before I hit the road, I tell her where I’m going. When I arrive, if I have cell service, I text her to let her know I am safe. If I change my plans, I alert her. If she doesn’t hear from me, she checks in. I know doing this won’t save me if someone decides to hurt me, but I feel more confident knowing someone will realize pretty quickly if I disappear and be able to direct a search party to a starting point.

Rule #9: Bungee Cords Are Your Friend

I’ve spent a lot of time picking up plastic drawers and tubs (and their contents) from the floor of the van. Rapid braking and sharp turns made my belongings tumble to the floor. Now I’ve got my stuff tied down with bungee cords. I buy the cheap ones, as they don’t really have to be super strong. They just have to be strong enough to keep my life from flying around as I drive.

Rule #10: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Having fun is one of the reasons we’re doing this van living stuff, right? We get to travel and see amazing places. We get to explore because we’re not tied down, not spending a huge portion of our money on rent. So don’t get so uptight and worried about what might go wrong that you forget to have fun. In my experience, a bit of prior planning (maintaining the vehicle, strapping down with bungee cords, knowing where my keys are) allows me to relax, arrive safely at my destination, and have a good time while I’m there.


I took the photos in this post.

What are your rules of van life/life on the road? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Independence Day Parking Lot Circus


The Saturday of Independence Day weekend was normal holiday busy. I sold 87 day passes, and my co-worker sold 77. Everybody in the parking lot was friendly, no one complained, and nothing particularly interesting happened.

This is the busiest day of the season, I told my co-worker. It’s all downhill from here. I was wrong.

The Sunday of Independence Day weekend was the real clusterfuck.

I arrived at the parking lot an hour earlier than usual because I wanted to be sure I had a place to park. We got busy almost as soon as I arrived.

The problem wasn’t so much that many people wanted to park in a small parking lot at the same time. I’ve handled that before. I know that if people keep moving, the great circle of parking lot life brings cars in and takes cars out so new cars can park in their places.

The problem on the Sunday of Independence Day weekend was that people were being stupid and selfish.

One would think a parking lot attendant would not have to tell drivers not to park in the roadway. However, on the Sunday of Independence Day weekend, people were parking any old where. Twice I ran down the road that loops through the lot to tell people the parking halfway in the roadway was not acceptable.

Other people had parked partially on the pavement, just barely giving cars room to roll by. Even though the vehicles weren’t in the middle of the roadway, the way they parked barely gave big pickup trucks and SUVs room to get through. I don’t think giant motor homes could have gotten through at all.

At least three times I ran toward the parking lot entrance waving my arms and shaking my head, trying to convey NO! and STOP! when big motor homes tried to pull in. I was afraid a big RV would not be able to pass the vehicles stupidly parked halfway on the pavement. Most of the motor homes that come into the parking lot are rented, and most people driving rented motor homes don’t drive them very well. I didn’t expect an inexperienced driver of a motor home to be able to back the thing up if moving forward proved impossible. It seemed better to just keep the motor homes out.

The problem with people blocking cars began right before 1pm.

In all of last season, I never saw anyone block in a stranger’s car. I saw it happen once earlier this season, when one car parked at an angle, a little too close to a stranger’s car and made it just barely impossible for the second car to back out. On the Sunday of Independence Day weekend, some people just quit giving a fuck and began parking their cars so other people couldn’t get out.

The first guy who reported his car blocked was a large Latino man. He told me he wanted to slash some tires. When I repeated this to my co-worker, he made a good point: If the man slashed the tires of the car blocking his, when the owners of the blocking car returned, the flat tires would deep them from moving the car out of his way.

The second person to complain of a blocked car was a senior citizen, bird watching white lady. She told me and my co-worker her car had been blocked and asked if we wrote tickets. When we said no, she asked if we had guns. I’m not sure how she thought a gun would help, since there was no one in the car blocking hers to wave a gun at.

Later in the afternoon, a man with an East Indian accent told me he’d parked behind another vehicle and asked me if that was ok. I told him it wasn’t ok to park behind another vehicle if he didn’t know the people driving it. He said the vehicle was parked on a log, and he didn’t think it ever left the parking lot, and he was only going to be gone about an hour. Was it ok if he parked behind it? My co-worker was gone for the day, so I was not able to leave my post at the front of the lot to see what in the hell he was talking about. (Parked on a log?) I assured him the driver of any vehicle parked in the lot had the intention of leaving and it was NOT OK to park behind any vehicle. I told him if the driver of the vehicle he’d blocked returned first and wanted to leave and couldn’t, the driver will want to fight you! He said again he’d only been gone about an hour, and I told him again it was NOT OK to block any car. I don’t know if he moved his vehicle, but no one else complained about being blocked in, so I suppose everything worked out.

In the midst of the stupid parking and more cars than the lot would hold, a different man with an East Indian accent reported that one of the cars in his party wouldn’t start. He told me they needed jumper cables. I told him he should ask around the parking lot for a set. I was afraid if I loaned him mine, they’d get lost in the hubbub and I’d never see them again, or the people would blow up their car and try to blame my equipment. Besides, I really didn’t have time to leave my post collecting parking fees to dig them out.

Some time later, a young man with an East Indian accent came up to me as I was directing the driver of an incoming car and said, Our car really really won’t start. I advised him the nearest payphone was about ten miles away at a private campground. He said they were staying at that campground. I asked him if their group had another car, and he said it did. I told him they should probably go to the campground in the other car and use the payphone to call roadside assistance.

During a slight lull in the stupidity, a man with a Spanish accent approached me to ask if anyone had turned in any keys. I told him no. Turns out a large extended family was milling about because the keys to one of their vehicles had been lost. There were questions about what would happen to the truck if they left it to go home and get a spare key. There was checking with the campground next door to learn if the keys had been turned in to the camp hosts. (They had not.) Finally, a couple of very young women came back to the parking lot, keys in hand. The heroes! I’m not sure where they’d found the keys–on the trail, maybe. The entire family was relieved and finally headed out.

Not long after that key situation was resolved, a woman approached me to pay her parking fee. Unfortunately, she told me, my husband locked the keys in the car. Do you have one of those things? I assumed she meant a slim jim, and I said I didn’t have one. I said the nearest phone was ten miles away. She said, Well, I didn’t bring my AAA card with me. (What kind of idiot gets into her car without her AAA card?) I told her she should ask around the parking lot for someone who knew how to jimmy the lock. She laughed nervously, but that worked at least once in the past.

When I left the parking lot after 3:30, there were still lots of people milling about, cars arriving and cars leaving. I hoped the people figured out the self-pay system.

I sold 122 day passes that Sunday and lost a little more of my hope for humanity.

This note--written on the back of a day pass--was found on the day after the events of this post took place. It pretty much sums up the day.

This note–written on the back of a day pass–was found on the day after the events of this post took place. It pretty much sums up the day.