In just a few weeks husband-Jeff, Peppermint the basset hound and I will be heading out to live full-time in our Honda Odyssey minivan. I’m excited, scared, a bit anxious, a bit dreamy and pretty much cannot wait to hit the road!
Since we decided to move into a van down by the river last November a lot has changed for our little family. We’ve sold, stashed or trashed our belongings — downsizing from living in a 4,500 square foot farmhouse, an antique shop and coop for our flock of charming chickens to a minivan that (before we removed the seats) could seat 6. We’ve visited friends and family in Minnesota, Virginia and Florida.
And we’ve researched. A lot. FInding out how to best prepare — physically and mentally — for a drastically different lifestyle.
To be fair, this isn’t as much of a change for us as it might be for others. Jeff spent 15 years working in the field, overseeing crews of tree-planters — many of whom spent a good part of the year on the road following the work and living in their vans. There was a few times Jeff even threw a cot in the back of his truck and joined the ranks of car and van dwellers. I’ve never lived in anything with wheels other than a trailer when I was five years old, but I’ve had two fathers who were proud owners of school-buses converted to campers and when I was much younger, my family lived in an off-grid farmhouse in Northern Minnesota.
So far, most of the people who’ve heard what we’re up to are… curious. I’m sure there’s a few who think we’re bonkers. They’ve kept that to themselves. But the others have questions. Here’s a few of the most common ones…
So… are you really going to live in your minivan?
Yes, yes we are. We have a Honda Odyssey. There were originally two rows of seats in addition to the front driver and passenger seats. We removed those and left them in storage in Minnesota. The last row of seats folded down into the floor, which, when removed left us with a nice, deep well for extra storage in the very back of the van.
We’ve set up a dry kitchen in the very back of the Odyssey that is made from an Ikea shelf and small wire three tier shelf. If you’ve ever seen a teardrop trailer, that’s a little what our kitchen is like. We can access everything from the outside of the van by opening up the back hatch door (ours flips up like a Dolorean, not out like a car door). We created a ‘backsplash’ from a piece of plywood that adds a backing to the ‘kitchen’ area and a bit of stability.
Our bed takes up the rest of the van. Jeff built a platform and we found a super comfy futon mattress that has independent coils and is 8” thick and equivalent to a US full or double mattress. We also have a nice piece of foam donated by neighbors of Jeff’s mom for a bit more padding. We can just barely sit straight up on the mattress without having to hunch over. We built the platform after picking out totes so we knew how high the platform would have to be – there’s enough room for six 16×24” totes that are around 7” tall for our clothes, shoes and toiletries.
Where will you shower and go to the loo?
Ah yes, meet one of the things that I’m still feeling a lot of anxiety over! We won’t have any sort of portable loo with us to start with, although we did design our shelving in the kitchen area to have room to bring one along for when we are camping completely off-grid. Basically, think about going on a long car trip — we’ll go where you’d go on that kind of trip. Public restrooms and campgrounds when we decide to splurge.
Also, ladies, if you have not met before, may I introduce you to the Shewee?
For showering, first we’re just going to have to get used getting by without daily showers. We’ll be buying a membership to Planet Fitness, a favorite in the living-on-the-road set. There are bajillion locations in the US and a monthly pass is only $20 with guest privileges (so we can go to the gym to shower together with just one membership.)
Obviously, we’ll go to the gym together. Not shower together.
We’ll supplement Planet Fitness showers with truck stop showers (around $10), bird baths, wet wipes and we’re thinking of getting a solar shower — an ingenious contraption that’s basically a black bag of water that you hang outside to let the sun warm up and then rely on gravity for the water pressure.
We’ve got our eye on two tents to make life a bit easier. First, a 8×8 dome tent made to attach to a minivan. This will allow us to cook out of the elements if it’s raining, add on an ‘extra room’ for longer stays, stake out our campsite if we take off in the van (it’s detachable from the van) and provide privacy for washing up.
We’re also considering a smaller personal privacy tent — big enough for a makeshift restroom if we are truly roughing it out in the wild.
Where will you stay?
We’ll be staying at a mix of paid campgrounds and free spots with a bit of what’s called ‘stealth camping’ mixed in. There’s a lot of camping areas that are in the $10-$25 range (many national or state parks), with private options that can range up to $140 a night for the super ritzy RV resorts.
For free options, there are the store parking lots that most folks know about that are cool with overnight parking — Walmarts, Cabella’s, Costco, Cracker Barrels and more welcome overnight campers. Casinos are good places to park overnight as well. There’s also federally owned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land — a lot of it out west — that’s free to camp on, although there are limited facilities.
Folks in the RV/van world call this kind of camping ‘boondocking’ and there are a lot of apps, websites and Facebook groups devoted to sharing information on good places to boondock.
Finally there’s a variation of boondocking where one parks in not-really-meant-for overnight parking places. This more stealthy parking relies on blending into the surroundings and not hanging out for too long. A lot of folks just park in residential areas, church parking lots, hospitals and other spots where it’s totally possible the police might come knocking in the middle of the night to see what’s going on. This type of ‘camping’ is more common when hanging around a city or on long haul trips where all that’s needed is a bit of sleep.
How will you get mail?
There are businesses set up to help folks who live in RVs (or vans) and boats without a fixed address manage their mail. Most full-timers establish residency in one of the states where there is no state income tax — Florida, Texas and South Dakota being the three most common states for that sort of thing. We are establishing our domicile in Florida, since we have family in the state. There is a registered postal agent called St. Brendan’s Isle that manages our mail for us for $13 a month. They provide a physical mailing address and everything gets sent to them. They’ll let us know when we have mail and send it to wherever we’d like for a small fee. They also have scanning services for an extra $7 a month so we can just read everything in an email-like inbox. Jeff and I get so little physical mail that we didn’t opt in for that.
For the all-important Amazon orders on the road, there are Amazon drops that are often in gas stations and places like that. So I’ll be able to feed my newly-formed skincare habit.
How will you make money?
Folks new to the blog might not know my full background, but I have had my own marketing business, Patty Brower Communications, for the past few years, so I’m already location-independent and heading out on the road is not a big deal. We did have some extra concerns due to my work. First we are investing in a somewhat pricey solar power system before we even head out. A lot of full-time vanlife folks install hardwired solar systems that link in the vehicle battery and a ‘house’ battery. Since we don’t intend to stay in the minivan for too long (we’ll either settle down or if we love the life, upgrade to a slightly larger van) we didn’t want to invest in a system that’s ‘linked’ to the vehicle. We rejected a traditional generator due to the noise and smell. Instead we will have a 400 watt Goal Zero Yeti power pack that has ports for USB, 12 volt (cigarette lighter style plugs) and regular 110 volt (house style plugs.) We also have a 100 watt solar panel that folds into a briefcase for stowing away and then unfolds into a kickstand to soak up the sun. The unit will be great to run our laptops, phones, fan and lights and will be able to be recharged with about eight hours of sunlight.
Our other concern while out on the road is internet service. We already have Verizon, which has great coverage and allows our phones to be used as ‘hotspots’ for our laptops. To start with, we’ll rely on our Verizon service supplemented by plenty of coffeeshop stays — we’ve budgeted almost as much for coffeeshops as for grocery shopping. Over time, we might find that we need more data in which case we’ll get a second data plan from ATT and mix it up. Our reliance on data will keep us a bit closer into civilization than we might otherwise prefer, but it’s worth it to have the flexibility to wander while we work!
Jeff will also be supplementing my marketing work along the way. We are still running the Three Snugbugs online shop and will be heading back up to Snugbug central (Minnesota) a few times a year to pour soaps and candles. He’ll also be looking for work opportunities along the way and diving into photography, something he’s got a talent for and has wanted to focus on for a while.
How do we keep up with you?
My mother requested I install Find My Friends before we left, so she could keep tabs on us. Since most of ya’ll don’t have that option, catch up with me on (my favorite) Instagram, connect on Facebook or if you’d like to meet up in person let me know! We’ll be wandering from Florida through Texas, the southwest, up the west coast and then around through Glacier National Park, South Dakota and over to New England. Or we might completely change our minds and go elsewhere…
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Wow! Sounds like a great adventure. I wish you all the luck in the world. I see why you couldn’t keep Biscuit?
Are you heading souther?
this is just fascinating! Thank you for answering questions! That tent that covers the car is amazing! Definitely plan a soujorn to San Antonio… you can visit with Fussy, our chicken, if you’re missing your flock (she had a sister, Bessie, who died…but she now hangs with the feral cats on our property and wanders between the neighbors and seems just fine).
I just found your blog from link over at Odyssey Camper blog. Looking forward to following along on your travels.
Awesome! Welcome 🙂 we were so happy to find Odyssey Camper when we were planning out our build! So happy to ‘meet’ you 🙂