I am solidly into my second year of vanlife. Here are 10 more things I’ve learned since last time

  1. Spraying swampy sockfeet with 90% isopropyl at the end of a night means you have fresh socks to put away in the morning after they’ve dried. Actually, a spray bottle of hefty alcohol is pretty much a must. I use it to clean my cookware, sanitize my pstyle, clean my greasy phone, and on and on.
  2. Chicken noodle soup in a pot, heat to simmer, kill the flame, sprinkle some dehydrated mashed taters, stir, cover, wait a bit. Bam. Cheap, salty, satisfying comfort roadfood in about 5 minutes.
  3. The little touches (for me: having a few flavors of artisan bitters, keeping spices around, hand-rolling cigarettes, having a zippo filled and at the ready, stocking a bar of excellent dark chocolate), add an immense polish to an otherwise pretty grungy, simple life. Oh, and if you’re gonna bother with it at all, always buy the expensive beef jerky. Don’t skimp on the tortillas, either – they are a great staple and can be used to wrap up damn near anything, but not if they tear and taste like cardboard smeared with dog shit.
  4. Relatively-full, mid-range hotel parking lots are excellent places to park for a night, especially if you roll in nice and late. One time I managed nearly an entire week at a Days Inn in St. Augstine, in part because it was bike week, I had the motorcycle on the rack, and I blended in. I like La Quinta too; and these hotel parking lots are usually a little less interrogation-room lit than truck stops or Walmarts — which both tend to have birds trying to get laid at all hours of the night from the lights being so fucking bright.
  5. These sorts of hotels are also excellent places to refill water jugs, camp shower bags (also a must), and bottles — A lot of them have outside spigots for the maid service workers. Same for ice — many hotels with outdoor room access also have ice machines that are outside.
  6. http://freecampsites.net
  7. AAA is a requirement, and completely, 150% worth every penny. I’ve used it at least twice a year since I left, from towing to running out of gas on the highway. I will ride without insurance before I will ride without AAA. Seriously; don’t even fuck around with not having it.
  8. Bella Stinkbutt is now at 210k miles (from 180k when I got her), and all told in gas, repairs, maintenance, towing, insurance, registration — has cost roughly $.40c a mile. She has gotten anywhere from 11 to 14mpg highway in the time I have had her, and been towed so many times from breaking down on me I’ve lost count. I make anywhere from $15k-$18k a year, and for the last two have spent half of it, before taxes, on my vehicle. When the van needs repairing, it’s rarely less than $800. This is not a cheap life. Far from it. Don’t let the trust fund couples in their reliable $60k rigs fool you. It costs money no matter what way you go.
  9. Speaking of the #vanlife social media complex and their $60k rigs, one of the big lessons I’ve learned after doing this for a while is how fucking lonely the hard times are when you don’t know anyone else who is doing it. When I am stranded in bumfuck with a blood curdling estimate while already in thousands on emergency credit, I don’t have any pals to talk to who will actually understand what going through that in your house with all your shit is like. I suggest doing a better job than I have of networking with other itinerant people, and establishing a support network of others in similar situations.
  10. It’s true what they say, about travel and prejudice. Having spent most of my adult life in the charmed self righteous liberal mecca bubble of Seattle, I had a lot of notions about the midwest and the south. Those few notions I still hold have taken on a much different shape than they once did, and there is context to them I didn’t have before. Hit the road with humility and openness. Everybody’s looking for something.