Week One Day One of Van Life January 28, 2021. The Big Day. The day we for real, for real, start full time van life!! We had already dumped our sticks and bricks belongings in a storage unit after a cross country trip, but now we were starting real van life!
By no means were we prepared. We threw our stuff in the van and took off. Our van looks more like a traveling crack house than a glam van, but we don't care. Eliza is beautiful regardless. She just needs some gussying up. She'll get it eventually.
We went to get the vent cover installed only to find out we purchased the wrong vent cover. At least we got to play with a ridiculously cute puppy at the shop.
We jumped back in the van headed south- again. This time for a while. We stopped at Walmart to grab curtain rods, then hung curtains for privacy. (We already had the curtains.) Spring rods work great!
We took a quick detour through the wildlife refuge in Gridley. Then we drove to Santa Nella, CA. We stayed at Love’s travel stop. It was the best decision! No one bothered us and we felt safe. The only problem was that the loudspeaker blasted “Customer Number X, your shower is ready. Please proceed to shower number Y” very loudly, every 5-10 minutes from 3:30 am until we left around 7:30. We bought gas and breakfast, and headed out again.
We were - and are- so happy. And I must say, I have never felt so free in my whole life! All of those things you hear and read about van life or RV life being liberating are true. It's amazing.
Day Two We kept heading south, going toward Joshua Tree. We read on their website that some campgrounds were opening today (covid). We were not in a hurry. We stopped to shop a single burner, a mini coffee pot, and some food. We exchanged our other brand mummy sleeping bags for Coleman ones, and took a side trip to the hot springs.
We stopped at a farm that had a sign that read "Yes, we are open," but there was no one there. We walked around for a while, then figured we should head out before anything weird happened. Darn, we were looking forward to fresh fruits and veggies.
We arrived at a hot springs and found out that it would cost $45 for 6 hours of sitting in the spring and in the spring pool. We had no interest in getting wet. We were barely out of the cold, stormy weather that had invaded California for the past five days and didn’t want more water! We settled in for the night at the Flying J in Bakersfield.
Day Three We were so excited to see a parking lot filled with overnight parkers in the morning! When we had gone to bed, there was only one other camper there… a truck with a 5th wheel. In the morning, there were so many!! We felt like we were a part of some secret traveling community.
We also found out that our battery bank won't power a coffee pot or a single burner. We did learn, however, that it will power a single serving smoothie blender.
We made it to Joshua Tree and paid our $30 fee at the main Visitor site. The attendant told us there was free camping at Black Rock, so we drove 25 minutes to get there. The Black Rock ranger told us no free camping (it was $25/night), and to head to some address on Sunfair. We drove a half hour to the address only to find out it was a private camp ground at $30 per night. The private campground host told us to drive three miles that way and go left to BLM land.
We drove three miles and turned left. We quickly noticed it was private land and decided it would be rude to poke around. I (Mel) went to make a u-turn and get off the street. And got stuck. I tried the extra plywood and cardboard we had with us, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find any rocks. Only more sand.
Ugh. We ended up calling roadside assistance. The driver called me to tell me State Farm would cover the additional cost of four wheel drive so I’d have to pay $249 when he arrived. I agreed then called State Farm. State Farm said that was not right because I am covered and should not have to pay anything. I was still on the phone with State Farm when the driver arrived. She told him that she had already canceled them and had found another provider. The driver left. We waited for the second driver. He was very nice and got us out pretty quick.
After all of that, it was dark and cold and we were so over Joshua Tree. We drove to Love’s Truck Stop at Lake Havasu City, AZ. We arrived there late, around 1 am, parked and went right to sleep.
Day Four We love Love’s. The place is so clean and organized and the people are friendly. And, I got free coffee in the morning. There were a handful of cars, vans and RVs when we arrived late last night. Everyone was quite respectful except the person who pulled up right next to us in a glammed out van. I think they must have had a generator or something. It sounded like a very, very loud vacuum. After about an hour of hoping it would stop, I moved the van to the other side of the parking lot. Things were fine after that. The Lake Havasu State Park was going to charge us $20 for the day or $35 to camp. We went to Rotary Park instead. It was free. And beautiful. We walked across the London Bridge twice and explored the boardwalk area. It was a great day!
Day Five Wow! Day five of full-time van life!!! It was cloudy, cold and on-and-off raining, so we put beautiful vinyl flooring in the van (in the Home Depot parking lot) then did work and school work.
We are learning to look for great parking spots. So far we’ve parked at the community park, a few parking lots and in a parking lot of an abandoned real estate office. We have only parked in these places during the day. We haven’t ventured off of official travel stops during the night yet.
We were in the van all day and the day flew by! We were busy. We stayed at Love’s again at night.
Day Six We hid behind the Staples parking lot and sealed up some cracks in the floor using caulking. While the floor is click lock, we are not flooring installers. And, this is our first time trying such a task. Sooo, not all of the planks fit perfectly. We wanted the caulking anyway so that we could guard against grimy build up in the little in between cracks that would be there regardless of skill level.
The weather was beautiful! We would have rather been doing something lake-related, but we want the van to be built.
Day Seven Lake Havasu was gorgeous! 77 degrees in early February. (Yay!!) Kate did homework by the beach. I ran into issues because my computer battery died and our portable power box was not working. We went to a few places with no luck. No indoor seating due to covid or no customer access to electrical outlets. Even at the library- they had the books roped off and all of the seating pushed against the wall with signs. Why were they even open?
We called around until we found a place- the Turtle Grille – who was open, had indoor dining, and would seat us near the outlet. Yay! That server was tipped well. I was late getting payroll in and he saved the day! (We discovered several days later that Burger King had both dine-in and an electrical outlet.)
Single mom and kiddo set out on a nomad, van life, roadschooling lifestyle. Watch the beginner diy van conversion, first time homeschooling, first time build, first time on the road experiences, newbie family van life adventures unfold.
We will share van life travels and tips to encourage other people to get out and explore the open road.