This current lifestyle of mine is not unique at all, but is still uncommon enough to be interesting to the vast majority (this isn’t the 9-5, mow the lawn, make dinner, and get hitched lifestyle, after all).
I’m fortunate enough to have lived in a house in Santa Cruz where I became acquainted and connected to the van life lifestyle. Over the last several years, I’ve watched women I admire travel the continent in their vehicles (buses, vans, station wagons, even a prius!). Sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner. Because of this, I’ve picked up on some general trends on how to make it possible. And the night before I left, one of my close friends called me up to offer trajectory tips: the do’s and don’ts.
While traveling, I’ve met more fellow gypsies, vagabonds, van-lifers, travelers. All with similar insight. While there are consistent rules, there are a few things that are debate-able and wind up a very learned, personal choice.
Debate 1: Curtains
If you have followed my blog religiously, you’ll know that I left later than expected because I needed to finish making curtains with my Mom. This was with the understanding that curtains are a safety issue. While I’m glad I have them for many reasons, this is a very flexible “necessity.”
Obviously, I am an attractive young woman. This requires not only privacy for privacy sake, but privacy for safety sake. Someone could peer into the windows, see that I’m a solo female, and make the decision to harass, break in, or God knows what. Curtains can also protect against bugs, reflect light (mine have a silver side), and create a homey feel.
Several travelers, however, go without! The ones who forego curtains always have very tinted windows, and don’t seem to be sweet-blooded (mosquitoes don’t chase them). I’ve met men and women alike who say that the curtains have been a non-issue. That by the time anyone realizes they’re sleeping in their vehicle, it’s daytime and doesn’t matter.
I’ve slept a couple times (in safe locations) without curtains to give it a try. For the most part, it makes the vehicle a little less conspicuous, which is a plus. It also allows me to see out without any effort, another plus. But in the end, I prefer my privacy, shade, and an extra barrier to bugs.
Debate 2: Truck Stops and Pull Outs
So many people know that truck stops are legal places to stop for the night. Older travelers have told me that’s all they do–they stay at truck stops religiously. I’ve stayed at a few, and agree that they are a good option, but there is etiquette!
Truck drivers can only legally drive for so long, so it’s only okay to stay at truck stops if there is room. When I stay at one, I’ll sit in a spot a bit off, and watch the traffic patterns: where do trucks turn around at? How close together do they park? And then I will choose a place that is out of their way, yet still safe for me. Some travelers don’t believe in staying at truck stops at all, going instead for pull-outs, parking lots, and other places (I can’t give all the secrets now, can I?).
Sleeping in the vehicle isn’t always considered camping, so there is wiggle room here. Many people in an RV adhere to this loophole as well, and will sleep in pull-outs on the side of the road. This seems dangerous to me under most circumstances. Pull outs are often close to the road, and way too easy to get hit if a driver is sleepy and swerves. And when a pull out is further off the road, it’s often easy to get blocked in. I’ve utilized pull outs for naps and breathers, but haven’t felt good about sleeping a night in one, yet.
Debate 3: Laws
While it’s universally agreed upon that you move with a calm smile when asked to, legality around van-lifing-it is up for debate. My close friend told me “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean people are okay with it, remember that.” While another traveler told me “rules are merely suggestions.” These are conflicting messages that are both valid!
Colorado says it’s completely legal to live in your vehicle, while other states (like Arizona) differ. Neither of these states necessarily have designated spots for vehicle sleeping, though. So while it is legal in Colorado, that dispensary parking lot may not be okay to sleep in. While on the same note, it may not be legal to live out of your vehicle in Arizona, but if you vehicle sleep in an open parking lot that says “no camping,” you’re more likely to get off with zero consequence versus someone who parks and leaves their vehicle to set up camp. It’s all about common sense!
Debate 4: Waking up for Weather
This one seems to be common sense, but is still debated, for other sensible reasons.
Many travelers will check the weather the night before, and wake up before any drastic heat incline (you know that vehicles get way hotter even with cracked windows). However, some travelers are also not morning people.
So depending on the temperature, and the location of “camp,” some van lifers will roll the windows all the way down once sunlight and crowds hit, and sleep until they’re ready to get up (one person confessed to sleeping until 11 on average)!
Personally, I’m with the majority here and wake up with weather. This morning, for example, had a 9 degree temperature incline between 8:30 and 9. While I would normally get up before it ever hit 70 degrees (that’s usually 7AM or earlier), It was only to be 75 degrees at 9, so I decided to sleep past 8. And I felt it. the heat woke me up around 8:10, even with the windows further down (I woke up at 7 to roll them down more). So while I’m a night owl by nature, van life is changing that. I will opt for the afternoon nap under a tree, instead. For any of you that can sleep in a sauna without heat stroke, I applaud you despite not being able to join you.
Rules: I’ve heard these from a few people
1) DON’T DIE
2) Use common sense and instincts (Trust intuition)
3) Have fun
4) When asked to, move politely without argument
5) Don’t draw too much attention to yourself (Okay, I break this ALL the time. My website is all over my CRV)
6) Find what works for you
7) Be respectful of the land and people around you (basic courtesies here like don’t litter or peel out)
If you find yourself annoyed with the sharing of secrets, please read this blog carefully. I did not share where it is totally chill to sleep, how to blend, and what laws are malleable. This post, instead, serves as a basic insight. Not a guideline. If you’ve read this looking for more info, reach out to me via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Chatting is the easiest way to help one another. Which is always my goal. To help. That is love.