If there is one thing I know how to do, it is living out of a vehicle. For all the hiking, backpacking and other adventure, I have lived to of a vehicle more. Because how do you get to rad places with all of the gear you might need? By driving. So much driving. All of the driving.
I don’t know why then, it never crossed my mind to write a post about it. You may recall my post Photography Project: Vanlife. Well, as it turns out, that project just needed some finessing and a little more time than I gave myself before. But something similar to the original plan is going to be happening soon and I am amped. So with that in the works, and some time to prepare, I figured now was a good time to share what I’ve learned from road life. From little things to bigger things, personal tips to more general tips- if you plan to spend some extended time in a vehicle, read this! It might make it a whole lot more fun.
- Always have water. 5+ gallons. There is no reason not to. You should be drinking a lot of water anyways, so by bringing 5 or more gallons, you don’t have to worry about water much for a few days. It’s a big relief to not have to think about! Plus if the car breaks down or something... you just never know. Bring a lot of water and keep the containers full.
- Bring food for 2-3 days. Road life means stopping to get food from gas stations and cheap places to eat sometimes. So bring a bunch of food that you cannot get from a rusty spoon or a gas station. You wont be passing Targets and Walmarts too much either, so really- favorite crackers, yogurts, bars, treats and beverages. You’ll miss them and crave them.
- Bring more jackets than you think you’ll use and less clothing than you think you’ll wear. Layering is really important. So bring some clothing you know you’ll wear- I say two full outfits per week (plus a workout outfit and a comfy outfit and something to sleep in) should do it. But for jackets, you’ll want a thin and light option all the way to the warmest option available. Gloves and hats can go in this category as well.
- Bring a notebook and a few writing utensils. For jotting down places to see, directions, ideas. Journaling and all that kind of stuff too.
- Find the bathrooms you like. All gas stations are different and have unique bathrooms. Sounds dumb, but if you’ve travelled via car much, you know what I mean. My favorites are Loves, Flying J’s, Casey’s and Holidays. McDonald’s also have great bathrooms. Generally speaking, the smaller the gas station, the less you’ll want to use their bathroom. Especially in tiny towns. I promise.
- Bring a bunch of toilette paper. For when there is no place to stop. Parks, lakes, truck stops... these paces have outhouses at the very least. But sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need to just pull over, step out and pee. That’s normal- just remember to leave no trace and bury that TP!
- Get into podcasts or audiobooks. Music will get tiresome. So will talking. So will silence. Predownload some stuff that interests you so that those long stretches of road go by a little quicker.
- Bring books or magazines. For the same reason as above, you’ll be happy you did.
- Stop to stretch. Any time the car stops and a door opens, get out and stretch. Jump around, touch your toes, d some karate. Your legs and back will thank you.
- Workout! Resistance bands, kettlebells, a yoga mat, etc. None of them take up much room and you’ll be happy to stay in shape even though it might feel like you’re sitting constantly. It feels nice to get a few swings of the kettlebell in between pit stops.
- Keep the car clean. It gets messy and dirty really fast. Be sure to have a dedicated trash bag and empty it every chance you get. When you’re getting gas, clean up the windshield and reorganize that mess you’ve made.
- Don’t wear shoes in the car. Go barefoot or rock slippers.
- Take photos. It’s easy to forget many places you drive through, even though they might be very beautiful. Snap some shots to remember the places you’ve been- even if the car is in motion and you think they wont turn out. It’s about the memories, not the photo quality.
- Stop driving if you are too tired or don’t feel “all there”. Pull over the vehicle. Eat a thing and go to sleep for a couple hours. Everyone on the road thanks you.
- Essential oils. They make the car smell good and they do good things. They can help with headaches, help to wake you up or relax you, they can be antibacterial. Lots of uses for them. My car always has: peppermint, lavender, Chill Pill blend and a tea treat/lavender blend. I have used them all frequently.
- Plan to stay at hotels. Even if you hate hotels and have no money. Save enough money for three hotel nights over the course of two weeks- or 6 nights per month. That’s generous, but its better to plan for it and end up with extra money than to drain the money you have on unexpected hotel stays. Let me tell you why you’ll stay at low budget hotels for a night out of the blue: A big bed. A shower. A break from the car. Free breakfast. Decide to stay somewhere a bit. Just because. This was a big mistake I made when we first started this lifestyle and it would always destroy our budget.
- When you stay at a place with continental/free breakfast, take a ton of that with you. Tiny jellies and peanut butters, little boxes of cereal, muffins, bagels, etc... take that shit with you. You’ll be so happy to have different food. Plus free!
- Don’t get too attached to your plan. Plans change. Road life is just a bunch of plans going various ways. So stay flexible, or at least willing to be flexible. As a very type-A planner sort, this one was hard for me at first. But shit happens.
- Always top off the tank. Sometimes you’ll have half a tank and stop to pee. Just fill up the gas. You will never regret this. What you may regret is not filling up and then driving an hour just to realize no gas stations exist for three more hours. You can also keep extra gas with you, but that’s a personal choice. For most things, I just like to keep the tank full.
- If you’re traveling with someone, BE HONEST! About everything- how you feel, what you think, what you need. And try to be forthcoming about it. Road resentment and road anger are unpleasant. Honesty nips it in the bud.
- Wet wipes are your friend.
- Keep these things on top of everything so they’re easily accessible: bathroom stuff, some snacks, camera, light jacket and hat, reading/work materials, shoes and wallet. No one likes to dig around for basic things.
- Bring a tent. It’s great to change things up- some nights in the car, some in a tent and very, very few in a hotel. Having a tent is excellent and it means you can go backpacking if you want!
What are your tips for life on the road? What have you learned is important to prioritize? Shoot me a message, I’d love to hear more ideas!