There are a lot of nitty-gritty details that go into making #vanlife work, especially when it comes to non-blogging work (i.e. how do you handle a client phone call or manage teams while on the road, and still find time to enjoy your travels?).
When it comes to striking work-life balance in a van, these are the keys 🔑:
Finding Places to Work
My best solutions for actually getting productive work done, so I could have time to explore and enjoy our travels
I am a BIG proponent of using a schedule to make sure you actually get the right work done. This is the only way I’ve found to make sure you have time to explore and actually enjoy travelling. While travelling, I typically tried to get to work early in the morning so I could have the afternoon and evening to hang out with my boyfriend and explore, when more of the bars, tours, museums, and other fun stuff was open.
Once you’ve got your schedule worked out, you need to make sure you have the right environment to get your work done.
Things I needed to work productively:
☑️ WIFI, WIFI, WIFI
☑️ Electric outlet(s) — for charging my laptop and phone
☑️ Quiet places for conference calls
☑️ Comfortable work space
☕️ Coffee shops seem like the obvious choice for working on the road. But they often have unreliable internet, and it’s nearly impossible to have a client call in a coffee shop.
One option I found that worked well was big public parks. For example, the Charleston waterfront park has Google WiFi. It’s fast, free, unlimited internet in a beautiful park with plenty of benches. I worked on video editing and had several client calls here.
I found similar options in most big cities, and in a surprising number of smaller towns, too. Give it a search on Google before checking out a coffee shop.
Here’s why: these projects are often sponsored by first-class internet providers, whereas your local coffee shop is likely checking an obligatory box (i.e. doing the bare minimum) with their WiFi, so the quality of connection is typically better in these free public spaces (plus you often get more privacy with your data).
Starbucks is not the bastion of good WiFi we’ve been sold.
Actual corporate-run Starbucks locations have amazing WiFi, but there’s absolutely no way for the average person to search for “non-franchised Starbucks locations” in any map that I’ve found. Those franchised locations, like the ones at Target or in the airport, don’t have the same connections. In fact, they often barely have connections at all.
I’ve become a hunter of electrical outlets in Google Maps pictures.
I haven’t found a better way to do this. Even with 2 separate batteries solely for device charging (vs. the one that starts our van), our van lacks the power to charge and recharge my laptop and phone for a full day of work without draining down.
Don’t underestimate the value of charging your laptop while you work. This is something public parks almost never have. 🔋 If I decide to work on the road long-term again, I’ll invest in several batteries and charge up my laptop’s batteries when I have the chance, so that I have back-ups. 🔋
Finding Safe Places to Sleep
#HomeIsWhereYouParkIt but not every parking space makes a good, safe place to sleep in your van.
We were bothered by groups of cops knocking on our van at 1 A.M. just to “let us know they couldn’t legally ask us to leave, since we were on private property, but that sleeping in your van overnight was not legally allowed in this city.” You’ll want to avoid that, as well as more insidious people that will try to take advantage of you.
Since it will be nearly impossible to camouflage that you have all of your favorite (and most expensive) items with you in the van, you will become a target for criminals.
The best resources I can recommend are:
⛺️ FreeCampSites.net to find places to camp at — look at the recency of reviews here, and know that asking for permission first is always the best bet. This will help you find not only places in the cities, but places in the middle of nowhere, including Bureau of Land Management areas, and better yet, you’ll find notes about whether you need four-wheel drive to access, water/bathrooms, etc.
🚚 The Vanual’s Guide to Sleeping and Safety and these 12 commandments for stealth parking in a city will help you learn how to make it a safe and uneventful evening when you overnight in a city. Don’t feel like you need to always pay for or drive out of your way to a camping site — you’ll waste time and money you don’t need to.
If you feel totally overwhelmed with this process, feel free to send me a private note.
I remember being so scared when we first set out that we would have trouble finding spots to sleep. It did take some time, but now I can spot good places easily.
We even stealth overnighted in downtown Vegas the other night — and it went perfectly! In a city that makes it money from tourists (and their hotel stays), this is a big win.
Certain places are more van-friendly — typically, though, wealthy places are not. Gated communities or even ritzy neighborhoods are not the places you want to push your luck. If you can find a country club within 5 miles on Google Maps, I suggest picking somewhere else.They view van-dwellers as “undesirables.”
What has surprised me is that San Francisco is super van-friendly. Of course, it’s harder to find a flat surface to park there, but you won’t have to worry about angry cops there — and that’s a big win in my book.
Finding Places to Explore
Finding things to do and see in a new town every day is hard work — do not leave this to chance.
By far the part we underestimated was the amount and effort it takes to not spend your trip bored and frustrated that you don’t know what to do. Perhaps you’re fine with just seeing parks and campgrounds; in that case, good on you, skip this section. But we wanted to travel the country and be tourists for a month, and that takes work and planning.
I highly recommend you plan out at least 5 good things you want to do in each city/area in a note in your phone before you go.
We didn’t do that.
Instead, we used Yelp, Expedia, our memories, and crowdsourcing to find experiences. It helped that we traveled down from the Northeast to Florida and then across the country out to California. These were places I had mostly been to before, so I could use childhood memories and family members for recommendations.
It wasn’t nearly as awesome as we wanted because we didn’t do a good job planning this part.
We thought the stress in this trip would come from not having showered everyday or trying to find places to wash our clothes. In reality, it was what to do with our days.
Every couple of weeks, splurge for the nice RV park with the beautiful pool and showers, or the expensive dinner out. Remember, this is meant to be a fun adventure!
Are you planning a#VanLife adventure? Tell me about it!
I’d love to hear about your plans or experiences with living in a van, RV, or other tiny home full-time. We’re definitely planning to buy a new rig and do this again in the future.