Tuesday, February 2, 2016

van life // frequently asked questions

Since I purchased my van back in 2013, I've gotten a lot of questions regarding my road trips, life on the road, and other general van questions. This post will hopefully serve to answer most of the frequently asked questions, and perhaps fuel your desire to hit the road (van or no van)! (Follow this link for a completely separate post regarding my road trip tips and tricks,)
When did you purchase your van?
I bought my van on July 15, 2013.

What kind of van is it?
She's a '91 Chevy Van 20.

How much was it?
I paid $1,500 for the van itself, and probably around $200 to transfer the title, register it in my name, and acquire new license plates.

How many miles were on it when you purchased it?
About 102,500.

Did you have to fix any problems with it?
No, not initially. Before I officially purchased it, I asked the seller if he would be ok with my mechanic giving the van a once over. The seller agreed (as most will, unless they're trying to get away with something), and my mechanic gave her a pretty good bill of health. He recommended I bring it back later in the year for another checkup, which I did. I drove this van over five thousand miles before having any major work done on her. I didn't have work done because something was broken, it was more of a preemptive tune up that included new tires, new brakes, and new exhaust. (All in all, around $1,000 worth of maintenance two and a half years after I bought her.) I depend on this ol' girl to get me from state to state, so I make sure and take care of her. Making sure she's "healthy" before a big trip usually means (*vigorously knocks on wood*) smooth sailing on the journey. A breakdown on the road would mean lots of money lost on repairs, and, since I sleep in her while on the road, money lost on lodging while she's getting fixed. (Obviously sometimes breakdowns occur even when you have done everything you can to take care. Make sure to have backup funds and a plan B for when things don't go your way.)

Right after the big purchase!  ~ July 2013.

Waiting for my new plates to come.
What kind of gas mileage does your van get?
We usually get about twelve to fourteen miles per gallon, but if we're doing a lot of highway driving it goes up to fifteen!

Do you sleep in the van every night?
I try to, yes. There were a few times when it was just was too cold and I decided to spend a night in a hotel. It wasn't the end of the world - the hotels were around $50 per night, and it was really nice to be able to fully recharge, relax, soak in a hot bath, and get reorganized after a few weeks straight on the road. To me, the whole point of traveling in the van is to be able to comfortably live in it for periods on end. I definitely wouldn't be paying for a hotel every night on top of that pretty terrible gas mileage.

But do you really come out ahead? How much money do you really save by sleeping in the van?
Absofruitly. 

For example, let's say I take a four thousand mile trip over a three week period. If gas is at $2 per gallon, that means I'd spend roughly $540 on gas over the course of the trip, and $0 on lodging. Approximate total spent on gas and lodging: $540.

The average gas mileage for a car today is about 23.6 mpg. So, taking that same trip in your average car would cost you about $340 gas wise. The average cost of lodging in the USA is about $120 per night for a couple, however, I'm going to use a rate of $50 per night (the lowest I've seen in my travels) for this purpose. That's $1,050 for lodging over a three week period! (And that's assuming you're going to be able to find that low price on all your nights, sometimes the lowest I could find was around $70.) Approximate total spent on gas and lodging: $1,390.

So by my calculations, that's a possible savings of around $850 for that hypothetical three week, four thousand mile trip.

Of course, everything is relative. One needs to take into account current gas prices, gas mileage of your exact vehicle, how long your trip is going to be, ect. Maybe you'll be camping out of a car? That would definitely affect the price, too. It all comes down to your comfort level, and the amount you're willing and able to spend.

Where in the van do you sleep?
There is a bench in the back that converts to a bed, and that's where I sleep. I was surprised at how comfortable it was!

Where do you park the van to sleep at night?
I have parked on city streets, parking lots of department stores, 24 hour pharmacies, park n' rides, national parks, and beaches. I always make sure it's free and within walking distance of a bathroom area (indoors or out).

Where do you shower?
Showers are few and far between on the road, and I'm ok with that. Van life is not for people who feel like they need to shower every day, I'm just going to put that out there. When I travel the coasts, I use the showers provided near most beaches for a quick wash. I also am a YMCA member, and if I'm desperately seeking a shower I can usually find a nearby Y pretty quickly. Since I'm a member I get in for free, but if you're not most will offer you a guest pass for around $5-$10 (and then you can use all their other amenities, too!). 

Other places you may be able to snag a shower are a gym or a nearby campsite. And there's always dry shampoo, and washing the worst parts in a restroom. It's not pretty, but it'll work. Also, I have seen portable showers (like a bag with holes you fill with water), but I can't vouch for their effectiveness or usefulness as I've never tried one. Lastly, let's not forget that you can always wash off in rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and even the ocean (just please use environmentally friendly soap!).

What do you eat on the road?
I am a pretty healthy eater in general, and I try to maintain that on road trips. Before I leave I make a big batch of trail mix to snack on while driving. I also bring along a stash of granola bar type things that I get from my local health food store (but I could probably make them at home for a fraction of the cost if I really wanted to). Also, one of my favorite things to bring is baby food in those little squeezable pouches! They are packed with fruits and veggies, and they won't spoil. Bringing snacks helps me cut down on impulse junk food buys at gas stations, and fast food restaurants.

I like to hit grocery stores instead of restaurants while travelling because it's a lot cheaper, and usually healthier. My favorite grocery store buy is the salad kits that come in a bag. I also buy a day or two's worth of fresh fruit and veggies whenever I'm at a grocery. I always like to buy a fruit and veggie smoothie, too (they are usually located in the produce department).

I prefer things that don't need to be refrigerated or stored, so I usually buy things I'm going to eat right away. I like to not even bring a cooler (for space's sake, and they always seem to leak), but sometimes it's nice to have a place to cool beverages, so sometimes I do bring a small one. Personally, I don't like to cook on the road, but that's just my preference. I don't mind eating cold beans from a can to avoid lugging cooking equipment around. I usually have one crate in the back that's used to store snacks, a few cans of food (usually beans), my jug of water, and any other random food, like boxes of crackers or cereal.

Of course, I do eat out at restaurants and such (and occasionally go through a drive through, give me all of the fries). However, I like to make sure that when I do it's part of the cultural experience. I like to try things whatever place I'm in is known for. I avoid tourist traps at all costs because in my experience I find the local's favorite has tastier food for a better price.

What do you do all the time on your trips?
When I'm on the road I want to spend as much time outside as possible. National parks and beaches are my favorite. Another thing I love to do is explore different cemeteries! They're so beautiful and interesting, and most of them boast many photo-taking opportunities (like this one in New Orleans, or this one in Savannah). Simply being in a place I've never been before is really novel for me. I like exploring different cities. Each one is so unique!

When the weather is nasty (hello, polar vortex road trip of 2014!)  my favorite thing to do is to peruse a museum. It's also nice to just relax at a local library or cafes! I like to use this time to catch up on journaling, blogging (yay free wi-fi!), uploading photos to my laptop, researching upcoming destinations, and writing postcards. 

Right across the street from Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.


Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Perhaps my top road trip memory was waking up to a technicolor sunrise right on this beach.

What do you do with your van when you're not travelling?
When I'm not travelling my van mostly stays parked in the driveway. I don't use her for every day back and forth, I just use my car. I do try and get at least two or three short drives in per month, just to make sure everything sounds and feels ok. Sometimes I use her for overnight trips to a local beach, to transport boxes when I'm moving, or for drive-in movies (perfect vehicle for the drive-in, and the comfiest seats!).

How much does it cost to live on the road?
Ultimately, it just depends on where you are going, how many people are with you, how much gas you use, where you stay, and what activities you plan to undertake. Fortunately, all of these things are relatively easy to calculate before you leave. I always spend lots of time planning trips, so I know approximately how much everything is going to cost. 

How do you afford to take so many long trips?
I make travelling a priority. I've never regretted any trip I've taken, and every new place I experience leaves an impression on me that is quite priceless. I love travelling more than I've ever loved any one thing, so it's hard for me to justify spending money on anything else.

I work hard. In high tourist season I work two bartending jobs, one right after the other, most days of the week. In the winter, on the days I'm not bartending, I edit the photos I've taken the rest of the year and post them to my online shop. I also knit scarves, hats, and other little things that are carried in several local shops and boutiques.

I save like crazy. On the road, and off, I avoid little frivolous purchases, and I am extremely thrifty. 

Left // New Orleans, Louisiana. Right // About to hit the drive-in theater in my home town.

Parked near one of New Orlean's famous cemeteries.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Somewhere on the south eastern coast.
Well, are you all fired up to take a road trip now? I am! I sincerely hope my questions have helped you out. I do also recommend checking out my road trip tip post, as I said before. It has lots of other helpful road trip info! If you have further questions, you can ask in the comments below or tweet at me (@Fab_Factor), and I'll get back to you right away! Happy trails!
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12 comments

Panty Buns said...

The blouse you're wearing in that third photo is beautiful - I love that style! You look beautiful in that outfit you're wearing in the sixth photo too, wearing the floral crown - and in the other photos of you as well.
Your van looks great, especially for her age. For a couple of years decades ago I had a van (not a nice one like yours) with a mattress in the back, but I never travelled the way you do. Kudos on your travelling. Somehow I've turned into a nervous nellie, though I do still like cold vegetarian baked beans from a can and also fruit cocktail. Do you carry water with you in addition to parking near places with running water or rivers lakes etc.? I love seeing your pics and reading of your adventures.

http://www.full-brief-panties.blogspot.com/

Sarah Albertson said...

I think van life sounds so exciting and adventurous! It's something I would love to give a try someday. I love reading about your trips and experiences while traveling in your van.

Kiss & Make-up said...

It must be so much fun to travel around in a van like this!

May Cho said...

Gosh, life on the road in a van sounds like such fun! I'd love to be able to do that one day but I'm absolutely terrified of driving, lol. I love how comprehensive this was. Thank you for sharing.

May | THE MAYDEN | bloglovin'

Eleanor said...

Your van is so cool and vintage, I love it!
The Lipstick, The Girl and Her Wardrobe

Sarah Bristow said...

Wow I am so glad I found this post!! It all sounds so so cool! Your photographs are gorgeous too :) I would love to do this for a year of my life or something :)

Sarah xxx www.whatsasssays.com

The Dragonfruit said...

You are officially one of the coolest people I know. For real, this is the DREAM! Well, maybe not for everyone, but for me it is! I love how you went for it, got this van, and use it for travel <33 So inspiring!!

Laura Jones said...

this was such an interesting post:-) i'm often thinking about how i'd like to try van life, even though i'm not sure if it'd be for me in the end. i don't even have a driving license, haha! but once i do, it's definitely something i'd want to do. at least for summers and it'd be a great way to get around in europe and see lots:-) it does seem like such a happy way of life and you definitely make it sound very appealing! xx

Monique | WritingMonique said...

Oh my! Amazing! I loved reading this, and I really love the van!

Hannah Cornish said...

Ahh this is so flipping cool! You must have some amazing adventures in your little van. Utterly beautiful photographs, too :)

hannatalks

Phoebe said...

Your van looks heavenly, Indy! Does she have a name?

You're definitely right in saying that most sellers should agree to let you get a second opinion. We've narrowly avoided buying a few (most likely dodgy) cars because the seller didn't provide any paperwork showing the van was in good condition, and didn't agree to let a friend check it over! Super suss!
If you're going to be traveling long distances, and especially living in it, you want your vehicle to at least be in decent shape.

I'm going to be buying a mini portable shower - I'll let you know how it goes :) I've used what we Aussies call a "bush shower" a few times, and they've been ok. Only downside is that you can't control the water pressure, and actually have to boil the water and then add some cold in to get a decent warm shower!
Hopefully the newer portable showers are a bit more user-friendly.

Gorgeous photos, too! I particularly love the one of the sunset through the front window <3

LC said...

You van is fab and so are the pictures. I'm uber jealous. My parents have just bought a caravan and am considering "borrowing" it when I go home for some cross-country trip around Australia... haha.

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