Vancognito https://www.vancognito.com Stealth Van Living 101 Mon, 19 Aug 2019 14:11:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.vancognito.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/cropped-vancognito-sit-logo-32x32.png Vancognito https://www.vancognito.com 32 32 VanLife and the Myth of High Cost World Travel https://www.vancognito.com/vanlife-and-the-myth-of-high-cost-world-travel/ https://www.vancognito.com/vanlife-and-the-myth-of-high-cost-world-travel/#respond Wed, 03 Jul 2019 00:52:13 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=7601 How To Go From #VanLife to Cheap World Travel Bienvenidos from Chile! Dusty and I are still on operation “Travel South America By Bus” and it got me thinking about how we view travel in North America. For most people living in Vans or RVs in the U.S., they think that travel is out of ... Read more

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How To Go From #VanLife to Cheap World Travel
van life in antofagasta chile
There were so many vans parked along this shore…

Bienvenidos from Chile!

Dusty and I are still on operation “Travel South America By Bus” and it got me thinking about how we view travel in North America.

For most people living in Vans or RVs in the U.S., they think that travel is out of the question for them because of how damn expensive it can be, but we have found that simply isn’t the case at all.

In fact, Dusty and I have been on a mission to TRAVEL CHEAP in South America since May, to Save Money.

vanlife paracas peru
This dude knows what’s up…

 

Like you, we are not millionaires.

We don’t have 120k to spend on a brand new van.

We park on the streets and BLM land to avoid fees.

We don’t buy unnecessary stuff.

And we certainly aren’t big, fancy software engineers or web developers.

We are just normal people in our late 30’s trying to grab a bit of happiness wherever we can. By heading out of the country every now and again, we are able to save on our yearly expenses.

van life iquique
And if you aren’t driving your van, you are free to take photos of shit like this.

The United States Can Be Expensive

Looking at our finances in the United States, if we are scrimping we spend about $1,100 a month between food, gas, propane, insurance and all the other stuff.

That is the tight estimate.

The “Oh shit, let’s not spend anything and really rough it” estimate.

Compare that to the $500 a month we sent in Peru last month and you’ll really start to understand just how much we overpay for stuff in the U.S.

rv and van life ballestas islands
That scenery tho!

Now, I’m certainly not saying that South America is a perfect paradise. It’s not. And no place is, but it is filled with a rich history, wonderful people, and AMAZING food.

Food Can Be Much Cheaper in Other Countries

cheap food in south america van life
There is no part of me that thought this would be good, but I was pleasantly surprised.
cheap vanlife food peru
Did you know Peru has like, 3,600 different varieties of potatoes?

 

Let’s compare two meals:

Meal #1 was in the Houston airport before we left. It was one plate of nachos with no meat, and two beers. It came to $31 plus tip. And let me tell you, it was some of the worst food I’ve ever had in my life. I have always been of the thought that no one could screw up nachos, I now know this is wrong.

Meal #2 was in Arequipa Peru. We had two glasses of wine, two bruschetta appetizers, a giant slab of pesto lasagna for me, and some plate of seafood spaghetti for Dust.

Oh, and two pieces of chocolate cake for dessert.

For $7 bucks.

Total.

Tip included.

And it was delicious!

You just can’t get stuff like that in the states.

mcdonalds south america
I hate to promote anything westernized when traveling, but “crack” flavor? Does that mean what I think it does?

You Don’t Have To Stay in an Expensive Hotel When You Travel

If you’re like me, the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word “hostel” is that scene in the movie “Hostel” where that dude has to cut that chick’s eye off because it’s popping out of her head.

It’s horrifying and kept me out of real hostels for a while because I was terrified. That is until Dusty talked some sense into me and made me stay at a few last time we were in Costa Rica.

Not only are 99% of them not filled with murderous psychopaths, but they aren’t as party oriented as you would think.

I assumed American College Students wasted at all hours, but what I saw was polite people from all over the world sharing a simple living space.

And you can always get a private room if you’re an introvert like me.

dogs in south american hostels
Some hostels even come with complimentary dogs which I think is great!

Still unsure about the whole hostel thing? Well, this is probably an obvious one, but Airbnb exists for a reason. It connects people with spare bedrooms to people who need spare bedrooms.

Again, in the U.S., Airbnb’s can get pricey, but in Chile and Peru, we pay on average of $8-$15 a night, and a lot of them include breakfast.

Not too shabby considering the average cost of a stay in the U.S. is $123 USD a night (source).

Ready To Take Your Van or RV Life Abroad?

If South America isn’t your cup of tea, maybe you hate tropical locations or just think good food is icky, there are tons of places you can explore without breaking the bank.

According to Nomadic Matt, some of the best places to go for budget travel include Central America, Cambodia, Portugal, and Thailand. 

So if you live in a Van or Rv in the U.S. and you’re on a budget, check out some of these locations. You might just find yourself spending less than if you stayed at home.

rv life paracas
The view from our $11 dollar a night private balcony in Paracas

 

Van Life and the Myth of High Cost Travel

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Van Living – Not Just For Millennials https://www.vancognito.com/van-living-not-just-for-millennials/ https://www.vancognito.com/van-living-not-just-for-millennials/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:13 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=473 As I was logging into my Yahoo account to catch up on some emails this morning, I was sucked in to this article about the naming of generations. In particular, they were discussing the changing of when exactly the cut off to Generation X started, and where Millennials began. This has always been a murky ... Read more

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As I was logging into my Yahoo account to catch up on some emails this morning, I was sucked in to this article about the naming of generations. In particular, they were discussing the changing of when exactly the cut off to Generation X started, and where Millennials began.

van living not just for millennials
Avocado Toast- The Official Meal of Millennials Everywhere

This has always been a murky subject to try and figure out, since it seems like everyone and their mother had their own definition of what a “Millennial” actually was. But this new article was making a definitive statement on the subject.

Millennials are born in 1981 and later!

And for no reason whatsoever, my heart filled with joy…I was no longer considered a Millennial.

You see, my birth year is 1980, so people my age are often lumped into several different generational groups.

Millennial, Generation X, Xennial, The Oregon Trail Generation…the list goes on and on.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with being a Millennial, they just happen to be the most picked on generation of our time. This poor group of people has been blamed for just about every problem in America today.

Bad job market? Millennials

Huge student debt? Millennials

Empty churches? Millennials

Bad marriage? Millennials

Applebee’s profits dropping? Millennials

They just can’t win.

van dwelling 60s hippies
OGs of Van Living in a Van Full Time

What does any of this have to do with van dwelling? Well, like most things blamed on Millennials, the glorification of being homeless by choice seems to be rubbing the old school “Van Lifers” the wrong way. You see, before any of these free spirited young kids were buying vans, it was the 60s hippies. They were the ones who took living in a van full time and turned it into a viable option.

With their homemade campers and anti establishment attitudes, they were the true pioneers of the movement.

The Instagram Generation

Whats happening now is that some van dwellers feel that their life style has been appropriated by the Instagram crowd to create a brand. And come to think of it, they might be right. When you think of van life, you think of some gorgeous young woman with perfect hair and makeup sitting by the open door of her van looking wistfully into the distance. Maybe her boyfriend is in the background doing yoga while his surf board lay beside him.

millennial traits homeless by choice
Bonus points if her name is Ashley…

They most likely have a dog in their diy van conversion and are graphic designers pulling in 150k a year while also monetizing their Youtube page to pay for “equipment”.

For the majority of us, we are not that cool. We live in humble vans that have what we need, and nothing more. We live normal lives, work regular jobs, and probably don’t understand how SEO works (I know I sure as hell don’t).

Most of us just did it because the American dream died. Not only do we like freedom and want to travel to that picturesque Instagram location, we also cant afford that normal life our parents had.

When I was 18, I got my first apartment. I worked a job that paid almost nothing, and I constantly day dreamed about the life I would have when I was older. Most often, I would imagine a modest house with a garden. I would probably have a dishwasher, but I would DEFINITELY have a bathtub.

Each day I sat behind a desk for 9 hours typing soil density reports, dreaming about when I finally became an adult and had nice things. I didn’t just want to survive, I wanted to thrive!

I followed all the paths to success that my parents and society laid out, and eagerly checked them off so I could get to the next step quicker.

How To Adult:

Go to College- A little later than my peers, but, Check!

Buy a Car- Check!

Get a Job- Check!

Buy the House…..?

living in a car because of the housing crisis
Too Big to Fail

I graduated college the year the economy tanked and like most people, never really recovered. Sure, I’ve been lucky enough to always have a job, but the wages that were supposed to increase with my brand new education stayed exactly where they were.

I had worked and worked, taken on mountains of debt, and was never going to finish checking things off my list.

All of a sudden I woke up at 35, and realized that the same feeling I had when I was 18 never left. I still went to a job I hated and day dreamed about “grown up” life, only now I was technically a grown up. More than fifteen years had passed and I was no closer to having that bathtub.

For some of us, living in a car or living in a camper was the only way we were able to recapture our sanity. It was a way out for us to have something close to the life we were promised. Sure, I had to readjust my priorities a bit, but it’s working out just great. Now instead of that house with the garden, it’s the time I spent in Costa Rica in the cabin with the tin roof.

Instead of the bathtub, it’s being able to sleep in and spend time with the people I love because I’m not so pressured to pay a mortgage.

I do what I want

-Cartman

If anything has changed about the new found fame Millennials have brought van dwelling, it has to be that its made it easier to live this life. We now have gadgets and websites that the hippies before us would have loved!

I think about all the times I’ve been looking for a sleep spot in a new area, and how helpful the Allstays App is. Without van dwelling being in the news all the time, I probably wouldn’t have my Pstyle pee stick that I love so much!

rv life cookware
I am all about gadgets

More interest in something makes companies invest in that thing. If there are more people that live in vans and tiny houses, and cars, then there will be more need for items that make van life easier. Things like compact dishware, portable toilet solutions, and affordable solar power.

I bet those old time van lifers didn’t have quiet, convenient solar generators!

So maybe we should back off the Millennials a little bit. They have made us Generation X’ers way more comfortable on the road, even if they do look cooler than we do! I think everyone can gain from trying out the van life, no matter the generation.

If you’re currently in that hampster wheel trying desperately to get ahead in life, try stepping off and trying something different. Just because society tells you to spend a ton on a college education, and a house in the suburbs, doesn’t mean you have to do it. You can create your own path, a smarter path that actually benefits you and not just a banker getting rich off your interest.

And if you’re a Millennial, take those pretty pictures and post them everywhere! Take your SnapChat stories and promote the hell out of them. It’s because of you guys that tiny houses are becoming more widely accepted. Its because of you that the stigma towards living in a car is starting to change.

And I thank you!

 

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read this disclosure for more information

 



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Dropshipping With AliExpress is a Scam https://www.vancognito.com/aliexpress-dropshipping-scam/ https://www.vancognito.com/aliexpress-dropshipping-scam/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:12 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=451   Like most people on this planet, I would love to sit around all day sipping margaritas on the beach while Tom Hardy rubs me down with baby oil. Unfortunately, money does not grow on trees. I have bills to pay, and things that I would like to do that require a financial investment. That’s ... Read more

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tom hardy is the reason i started dropshipping with aliexpress
The face that drops panties around the world…
Like most people on this planet, I would love to sit around all day sipping margaritas on the beach while Tom Hardy rubs me down with baby oil.
Unfortunately, money does not grow on trees. I have bills to pay, and things that I would like to do that require a financial investment.
That’s where Dropshipping with Aliexpress comes in.
 
Like I mentioned in my previous post Stealth Camping 101, living in a car, van, or RV is much cheaper than owning a house, but it’s far from free. We still have things that we need to pay for every month like insurance, gas, and the occasional overnight adventure.
 

Restaurant Life is Draining

 
My boyfriend is an actual upstanding member of society and works a full-time job 50+ hours a week. I, on the other hand, have been slacking. Hard.
 
gordon ramsay yelling at a chef
The face that has never once dropped panties…

But before you get all huffy about my newfound life of leisure, let’s talk restaurant work for a second. It’s been my life for the past fifteen years.

 Think of the show Hell’s Kitchen. Gordon Ramsay is kind of a douche, right? Well, in professional kitchens, real-life chefs act like that ALL THE TIME. Sure, he’s being dramatic for TV, but his behavior has rubbed off on an entire generation of cooks.
 
These guys think that because they can cook a chicken breast they now deserve to treat everyone else like garbage.
 
Have you ever had a steak thrown at your head? I have, and I didn’t even cook the damn thing! I was plating up a dessert in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught in the crossfire.
 
In the immortal words of Roger Murtaugh, “I’m too old for this shit”

Falling for Internet Scams

I walked away from that life back in November, and I hope to never go back to it again, which got me to thinking..
 
How the hell do I make money without working?
 
First thing I did when I got home, was to consult the internet. What I found, was a mess of multilevel marketing, and get rich quick scams aimed at moms.
 
leggings pyramid scheme
I’m not saying I’m above leggings, but I at least stick to plain black.

Because I’m a woman of a certain age, I am in a group that is often susceptible to pyramid schemes. Everyone I grew up with seems to be involved in some plot to sell shakes, wraps, oils, or leggings. The fact is, that stuff just doesn’t work.

 
Well, the leggings work...they’re just REALLY ugly.
 
I’ve seen first hand how Herbalife preyed on all my low-income Hispanic coworkers over the years, so when the women in my friend groups started having kids and began peddling Rodan & Fields, I saw through it right away.
 
Clearly, that was out of the question.
 
Next on the list was drop shipping. If you don’t know what drop shipping is, here’s a quick rundown:
  • Find a supplier with a cheap product- usually something from China
  • Build a Shopify Website to sell that product, but pretend it’s yours and charge 3x more for it.
  • Talk customers into buying the product.
  • Once a purchase is made, you buy the product cheap from China and have it sent directly to your customer.
  • Keep the difference in price.
 
Easy-peasy right? Well if you’re Sarah from Wholesale Ted, sure! You just go online and suddenly you’re balls deep in hundred dollar bills!
 
If you’re me on the other hand, you dig yourself into a logistical nightmare of Chinese New Year, and unhappy customers.
The only reason I decided to give this a go, was because there was no upfront cost. I got a free two week trial of Shopify, and after that, it was only $29 a month. Everything else was totally free. The only thing I had to pay for was the item once my customer ordered it.
 
Now, I’m not saying drop shipping doesn’t work for anyone, but for the majority of people, it’s way more hassle than it’s worth.

My Personal Experiences With Drop shipping

 
I started my site on January 24th. In the first weekend, I made 4 sales, and over $100 bucks in profit. Not too bad considering my site looked like crap. So I figured, if the sales were coming in, I should make my site as beautiful as possible.
 
fidget spinner stress
There are not enough fidget spinners in the world for that stress, Ralph Macchio

Over the next two weeks, I spent 50 hours working on item descriptions, optimizing my photos, and editing my code so my site would look flawless. But after those 4 sales guess what, I never had another sale again.

 
I am totally stumped as to what I did wrong. I followed Sarah’s advice, and spent so many hours on SEO, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. But still, the traffic never showed.
 
I was given $100 credit to use for Google Adwords when I started my site, and I know a good portion of my initial traffic came from that, which I’m ok with. What I’m not ok with, was matching that $100 and not getting 1/5th of the traffic that the first $100 did, even with using the same campaign.
 
Was I sabotaged by a fellow drop shipper hell bent on destroying the competition?
 
To top off my drop shipping experience, two of the four customers are now returning their items because the shipping is “taking too long.”

 

Customers Can Suck

 

Did I forget to mention that the shipping time associated with these orders is insane?

 It routinely takes between 2-5 WEEKS to get an item once it’s purchased. Sarah from Wholesale Ted must have really nice and intelligent customers because she seems to think that the shipping times won’t be a problem if you disclose them up front.
 
angry customer
I left retail work for this exact reason.

Not true. I have disclosed my shipping times on each item page, the shipping page, the checkout page, and on the Thank You email that gets sent when they place an order. But for some reason, I have two of four people returning items, because they are taking too long to arrive. Go figure.

 
I’m now stuck in a limbo. I still have this site up and running, hoping maybe the SEO will kick in at some point and I’ll suddenly get a huge bump in traffic for free. But now it’s Chinese New Year and apparently, everyone takes three weeks off work. Do I go back into each of my pages and amend the shipping to say 4-8 weeks? I’m confused!
 
It’s a no-win situation.
My “no cost” business venture has now cost me almost $200 in advertising, returned merchandise, and Shopify fees.
 
I can’t believe I drank the Kool-Aid.
 
I’m curious, have any of you tried drop shipping with Aliexpress? If so, have you made any money from it?
 
I’m willing to be a part of it for the long haul, but I have this nagging feeling that something isn’t right about this business model. I should have trusted the feeling in my gut when Aliexpress themselves put a hold on my credit card. It’s something they do to all new buyers apparently.
 
Eventually, I got it cleared up, but it all just feels so…wrong.
 
Maybe I need to test more products and try something different.
 
Either way, tell me about your experiences in the comments below, and let me know if you think I should just close this Shopify account completely and move on to Amazon FBA 🙂

 



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The Lessons I’ve Learned From Living in a Van https://www.vancognito.com/van-life-lessons/ https://www.vancognito.com/van-life-lessons/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:11 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=401  For a long time, I struggled with depression. From the time I was 5 years old, up until a few years ago, each day was a constant struggle to get out of bed and do something. I’m not saying Van Life has cured me, but the minimalism aspect of it probably did. If nothing else, ... Read more

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 For a long time, I struggled with depression. From the time I was 5 years old, up until a few years ago, each day was a constant struggle to get out of bed and do something. I’m not saying Van Life has cured me, but the minimalism aspect of it probably did. If nothing else, it has given me a new outlook on things.
 
For instance, I no longer go through the motions of day to day life. Instead of just following the prescribed life model of go to school, get a job, make money, settle down, etc…
 
I am finally starting to carve my own path out of this crazy world, and that is a beautiful thing!
 
In honor if my new found mental freedom, I would like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned from my life on the road.
 

Organization

 
organize on scrabble board
I will murder you over Scrabble

You know how they say making your bed is the first thing you should do after waking up? They say it for a reason, when everything is in its place, we are more at ease. Fifteen year old me would say that’s bullshit, but thirty seven year old me knows better!

 
Each item we keep in the van has to have a purpose. We no longer have room for stuff, it would drive us nuts. In addition to only saving what we need, we have to have storage solutions that make sense. For example, your deodorant should stay with your personal cleaning items. Don’t put it somewhere stupid, like your sink. That’s crazy talk.
 
Better organization leads to happier van life.
 
Like a van, a mind is also an important item to keep organized. I have learned in my old age that I need to start keeping a notebook with me at all times. My brain is constantly coming up with ideas and reminding myself about the things I need to do. That’s great and all, but those suggestions never stop. I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about something stupid, like how I needed to optimize a photo to share on Pinterest!
 
Ain’t no body got time for that!
 
Writing it all down helps me because now there’s a back up plan in place. I feel less pressured to REMEMBER ALL THE THINGS!
 
It’s silly, but it helps.
 

Nothing Will Ever Go According to Plan

 
Whatever can go wrong, will.
 
I went through a few different mechanics when I first purchased the van. I knew I was going to have to invest some money into it, and wanted the best person for the job. My thinking behind this was:
 
If I find the best mechanic there is and have him fix whatever is wrong right now, then nothing will break down when we’re on the road.
 
van life lessons
The cutest mechanic ever!

After going to three separate places, I settled on a local mobile mechanic. He would spend hours on my van teaching me everything. He was older and would bring his son along with him, and they both had so much knowledge about cars. I tried to be a little sponge and soak up as much information as I could.

 
Several hundred dollars later, and a 10,000 mile road trip looming in the distance, we said our goodbyes and he assured me we were good to go.
 
I can almost feel you laughing at me through the internet!
 
The next day I started my van up as usual and it purred like a kitten, just like it was supposed to. What wasn’t supposed to happen, however, was the shifter being stuck in park.
 
I called him immediately and he told me to force it into drive. It did not feel like good advice, but I trusted him.
 
One hundred miles later, my alternator belt snapped.
 
Turns out, his son didn’t put it on correct the first time. It needed to be adjusted a bit, but when he left it in the position it was in, every time I switched gears it would rub up against the belt. It was a stupid little mistake, but something he should have picked up on when I told him how hard it was to get into drive.
 
Moral of the story is, if we allow ourselves to relax and know that we can’t control every little thing we’ll be much happier. Fuel Pumps Fail, tires explode, engines seize, and idiot kids put alternator belts on wrong. Sometimes you do everything you can to prevent it and it happens anyway.
 

Stop Buying Things You Don’t Need

 
I am hugely guilty of this one. When I was in my early 20’s I was into shopping. Not for expensive designer clothes, but for cheap stuff that came from Ross or Marshalls. I would have a day off of work and come back with bags of matching towels sets, and random kitchen gadgets that I would only ever use once.
 
man, not living van life
Is this you?

I would buy it all under guise of “nesting”. Trying to make the apartment that my ex and I shared as comfortable and homey as possible.

 
(Caution: Bummer Alert Ahead)
 
When I found out he was cheating on me, I decided to start a new life 2,000 miles away. Immediately. I packed whatever I could fit into my Jeep Cherokee and drove away in the night. I left behind my TV, living room set, computer, dishes, and all my fun single use kitchen gadgets.
 
At first, I was devastated. Not only did I lose my stupid boyfriend, but I had lost all my stuff too.
A funny thing happened a few weeks later, I stopped caring. About the boyfriend, AND the stuff. Everything took on an air of simplicity without them, and I started to feel happy.
 
I moved in with my cousin, and she let me stay on her couch for a few weeks until I got on my feet. The ex kept all my things, and I never heard from him again.
 
I decided right then and that that I was never going to acquire more than I could fit into the back of my car.
 
People buy far more than they need in the hopes that it will fill some void in their lives. While a big screen TV can be fun, it doesn’t make up for the fact that you had to work a job you hate to earn it. Looking back on it, I definitely shopped to feel better. Not only because of the whole depression issue, but also because I was unhappy in my relationship.
 
There’s a great article that delves into this a little more, “Why we buy things we don’t need” on Medium.com. Check it out.
 

Replace the Time You Would Have Spent Shopping With Experiences

 
Think of all those things you want to do but can’t because you don’t have time. For example, going to the gym, taking up a hobby, or meeting up with a friend. When you’re able to get yourself out of that endless cycle of acquiring stuff, you’ll notice you have so much more time on your hands.
 
rv life gambling
Maybe now is the time to take up gambling.
Kidding!

I now get to spend my days walking around my neighborhood, reading, crafting, and hanging out with my friends. I have more time to do the things that matter to me. Lets face it, no one likes working, but for most, the reason they work is to make money.

 
  • Money to afford things.
  • Things that fill the hole in their lives.
  • The hole created by working.
 
It’s a viscous cycle.
 

Routine Maintenance is Important

 
You have to stay on top of routine maintenance. There is no getting around it. If you don’t check your fluids and get oil changes regularly, you risk the long term health of your vehicle. Staying on top of it, and having a schedule will limit the amount of bad things that can happen on the road.
 
I used to be the person that avoided oil changes like the plague because I hate feeling like I’m getting suckered for additional services. There’s something about a woman walking into an oil change place that makes dollar signs flash in the sky, I swear.
 
When it comes to your tiny home on wheels, you have to bite the bullet and get it done. Try not to punch the guy in his face when he shows you a dirty filter over and tells you it needs replacing (even though you just replaced yours yourself two days before). Tell him to suck it, and the actual oil change will be all you are purchasing.
 

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

 
house life van dwelling
I bet these jerks brag on Facebook ALL THE TIME.

If you still haven’t made the switch to van life, and you’re having a hard time thinking about the fact that you’ll basically be homeless, all I can say is, don’t worry about it. You can be happy, healthy, totally normal, and live in a van down by the river.

 
Most likely all your fears are brought on by what you think society wants.
 
If you are part of the Oregon Trail generation like I am, your parents probably gave you some spiel about how going to school, working hard, and being a good human would pay off. For most of us however, it didn’t.
 
My generation did the right thing, we spent massive amounts of money on college, sacrificed our sanity for our jobs, and took on loads of debt to better ourselves. What do we have to show for it?
 
Nothing.
 
If you’re one of the lucky ones that isn’t living in a basement with five roommates, and you have a house, congratulations!
 
I sincerely hope you never get stuck with a huge medical bill, or work for a company that decides to cut your position to save money.
 
Money they will just put into the pockets of a CEO.
 
Once I stopped caring about what other people thought of me and what I was supposed to be, or have, at this point in my life, I finally felt free. Quit Facebook and Instagram if you have to! Go out into the woods and take a hike, or play fetch with a dog! There are way more important things in this world.
 
For example, did you know there’s a place in Costa Rica that saves sloths? If that sounds Bad Ass to you, don’t just read a blog about it, go there and see it!
sloth sanctuary costa rica
It took everything not to grab him and run.
Since down grading my living situation, I’ve been able to do so much more with my life. I’ve sailed in a small boat through the Carribbean with an insane captain. I’ve taken a bus through Panama in the middle of the night while the children next to me sang Christmas carols in Spanish. I’ve eaten beignets at Cafe Dumonde in New Orleans.
And damn it! I’ve seen baby sloths up close.
You can do it too, don’t be scared.

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Three Epic Reasons to Buy a Van, RIGHT NOW https://www.vancognito.com/reasons-to-buy-van/ https://www.vancognito.com/reasons-to-buy-van/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:10 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=407 If you’ve been following along up until now, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that I think van life is the bee’s knees. But how do you actually do it? How do you get yourself on Craigslist to their “used van” section and get yourself to drop that money on a van? It’s simple, ... Read more

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If you’ve been following along up until now, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that I think van life is the bee’s knees.

But how do you actually do it? How do you get yourself on Craigslist to their “used van” section and get yourself to drop that money on a van? It’s simple, I’m going to give you three reasons.

#1 Glacier National Park

glacier national park
Glacier National Park, for a limited time only!

Glacier National Park might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Did you know that if we keep up with our current destruction of the planet, it will totally DISAPPEAR by 2030?!?

Luckily, we had the opportunity to go check it out two years ago and I was absolutely blown away by how beautiful it is. We ended up staying at the Two Medicine Campground since there isn’t really any free parking in the area, but we didn’t mind paying at all.

There was another group of campers there who said that the weather had been in the 80’s and clear for them all week. By the time we arrived, it was a balmy 43 degrees and cloudy. Fortunately, it didn’t interfere with the views too much and we were able to explore in between rain storms.

duasty and i before a hike in glacier national park
Look at how eager we were to climb a frigid mountain in the fog!

In addition to going on some ass kicking hikes into the clouds, we saw real-life grizzly bears.

There are few things on this earth that rival the feeling in your stomach when you realize that a grizzly bear is just on the other side of the trees and you have NOTHING TO SHIELD YOU FROM IT.

Sure, it’s not as fun as trudging to work every day. Sitting in an hour of traffic while silently hating everyone else around you. And I’m sure it has nothing on working for an unappreciative boss who belittles you every chance he gets.

But what do I know?

#2 The Johnny Cash Museum

dusty and I with Johnny Cash
This totally happened…

I don’t mean to freak you out or anything, but there is a place where Johnny Cash is alive and well. It’s called The Johnny Cash Museum, and it’s located in Nashville, TN.

johnny cash museum

This place is an amazing treasure trove of albums, artwork, poetry, guitars, and videos. I think we spent five hours here just wandering around. It gets super crowded during the day, so make sure you arrive early.

If you can afford to take time off of work, that is.

You see if you don’t have a van, and you’re responsible for paying rent somewhere, taking time off of work can be difficult. Luckily for us, we just drove our entire home straight to Nashville. We were able to sleep late, enjoy Bloody Marys and explore the rich history of Music City.

donuts from biscuit love
The Biscuit Love motto should be “sub-par food and long ass lines”

**Pro Tip-If you do get time off of work to travel, avoid Biscuit Love. We waited for an hour and a half for some not so great food. It had potential, but when you’re dealing with places as popular as this one, they make everything in huge batches and just plate it up as people come in.

You can tell when your food comes out 3 minutes after ordering and they push you to leave immediately after you set your fork down.

I expected better from you, Trisha Yearwood!

#3 Hollywood

mario lopez a reason to buy a van
Mario Lopez has one move. The “Thumbs Up”

Apparently, if you go to Universal Studios in L.A. you can see a live taping of Extra.

Why is that important?

Well, Mario Lopez is the host. He also has amazing dimples…and a firm little butt…

But besides that, they give you stuff for standing there! They know that they need people in the audience, but no one wants to stand there and watch A.C. Slater when they’ve just paid $90 bucks for a theme park ticket.

So they reward you with prizes!

I got a brand new Nintendo 3DS and a game all for standing there quietly and staring at Mario Lopez’s butt. Honestly, I would have been on board for watching a lot more Saved By The Bell if they gave out prizes like that.

To top it all off, we also ended up getting free tickets to see a Conan O’Brien taping.

conan obrien tickets
If it’s free it’s for me!

Not going to lie, it was a pretty amazing trip. Sure, it cost a pretty penny to go see those places and do those things, but because we don’t have a rent payment, we can afford it.

There is a whole world out there filled with fun and adventure. If you’re stuck behind a desk working 50 hours a week and sinking all of your money into a house and car, then you might just miss out. Sure, our lives aren’t as glamorous as yours with your big screen T.V., and King sized bed, but I think the van life suits us just fine.

For minimal discomfort, we can have a life that most people dream about, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

roller coaster candid picture
Here is a bonus picture of us on Thunder Mountain at Disney. Our faces crack me up!

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11 Vanlife Must Haves (A Helpful Illustrated Guide) https://www.vancognito.com/vanlife-must-haves/ https://www.vancognito.com/vanlife-must-haves/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:09 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=342 Top 11 Van Life Essentials If you’ve been researching stealth van life, no doubt you’ve come across tons of articles talking about how great living in a Van or RV can be and how many adventures you’ll have. Talking to actual people, on the other hand, can make it seem a lot less glamorous. But, ... Read more

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Top 11 Van Life Essentials

If you’ve been researching stealth van life, no doubt you’ve come across tons of articles talking about how great living in a Van or RV can be and how many adventures you’ll have. Talking to actual people, on the other hand, can make it seem a lot less glamorous.

But, how do you shower in a van?

You actually WANT to be homeless?

You must eat nothing but beef jerky and dry cereal!

The truth is, living in a van can be just as luxurious as living in a house, but without that luxurious “empty bank account” feeling. In the two years, we have been on stealth living on the road, we have been able to splurge on some really great van life essentials that have made our lives so much easier.

Here’s a list of our Top 11 Vanlife Must Haves!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read this disclosure for more information

#1 CampChef Camping Stove/Oven Combo-Van Life Kitchen Essentials

Since I’m an actual, real-life chef, this oven is a big deal to me.

When we first purchased the van, there was a built-in camp stove that we used for a couple of months until one day it just died. The guy that built it into the van, didn’t do the best job, and the knobs completely broke off after a month.

camp cooking
Heat stuff from all sides, not just the bottom!

To replace that, we decided to go with a fold up Coleman Camp Stove. It’s super easy to use and does the trick for making that morning cup of coffee, or a quick bowl of soup. But sometimes I need more than that!

Sometimes I will wake up with an elaborate plan in my head to make the best Eggplant Parmesan lasagna on the planet. And when that urge strikes, I am compelled to bust out the big guns with my CampChef oven. To be fair, I usually only use this when we are out in the woods. While it’s incredibly versatile, it can also make your van really hot, so we like to use it with the door open.

It’s also portable and can be used outside! It’s perfect for tailgating and van movie nights under the stars.

#2 Goal Zero Yeti Solar Power Station

This bad boy is expensive and heavy, but it has come in handy so many times while stealth van camping! As I’ve mentioned before in my Cheap DIY Van Conversions post, we use a deep cycle RV battery and an inverter for most of our daily power needs.

Occasionally, it will fail. Not because there’s anything wrong with the setup, but because sometimes the fuses on our inverter jiggle around and don’t make contact.

goal zero yeti solar
This one’s powered by the sun, Man!

Since the charging of that battery depends on driving, we usually don’t find out about the fuse issue until we have already driven for a couple of hours to reach our location. It’s frustrating and doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s a bummer.

The other issue is that sometimes you want to boondock for a week or so and just not drive anywhere. Say you want to visit a friend that has land somewhere and you have no reason to move, that’s where the Goal Zero Solar Power Station comes in.

It has the power of a generator, but it’s completely silent. It makes week long camping expeditions on BLM land so much nicer when you don’t have a big noisy generator whirring while you play Nintendo inside your van.

**Pro tip here on the price** I included an Amazon link above for you to see what I’m talking about, but when I purchased it, I purchased it through REI. Not only could I pick it up the same day in person, but I am also an REI member so I was able to get %10 back at the end of the year. On a big purchase like this, it’s totally worth it to have the membership!

#3 Alpicool 12 Volt Car Refrigerator

I have to admit, this is a very new acquisition in our van, but so far it has exceeded my expectations. I did a ton of research over the past few months about which 12-volt refrigerator to get, and for the price, the Alpicool 12 Volt Fridge can’t be beat.

plate of bacon
Well, Hello Beautiful

For a while, I was looking into the Dometic Fridge/Freezer model, but at almost $600 bucks, I think I would rather eat out every day.

The reason we finally decided to get a fridge for the van is that I am on the Keto diet. I eat a ton of protein and fatty foods which require refrigeration. Having a fridge in your van is a van life cooking essential.

Just because I can eat an entire pound of bacon in one sitting doesn’t mean I should.

The great thing about the price point on this model is that it includes an actual condenser to keep things cold. Most models at this price use a thermoelectric unit to keep your food cold. Basically, it’ll only cool 20-30 degrees below what the current air temperature is.

It’s great if you’re traveling in the cold, but the second the temperature climbs over 80, your food is no longer in the temperature safe zone. Food safety is a big deal to me since I’m not a big fan of violent food poisoning.

The compressor on this unit means it’s just like a regular house refrigerator, only a fraction of the size so it’s perfect for Van, RV, Skoolie, or Tiny House Life.

#4 Thule Rooftop Storage

In addition to cooking and playing Nintendo, the boyfriend and I also like to go fishing, crabbing, and clamming. We will sometimes wake up on days we have off together and decide to go on an excursion to the coast for an adventure, and that’s where this Thule Rooftop Storage unit comes in handy.

thule top mount vehicle storage bin
Thule-For all your stinky storage needs!

Instead of having to run downtown and dig through our self-storage space, we are able to just start driving. Everything we need for those types of adventures is already on the roof waiting to go.

I’m not sure if you know this, but it’s really easy to catch crabs with disgusting foods like rotting chicken and cat food. Those big metal crab traps have fun little storage boxes to put that stuff in, and because of that, I never, ever want it in my living space.

Nothing says “romance” like a van full of decomposing chicken.

In addition to the adventure storage, it’s great for just random storage in general. We have this Pop Up Canopy Tent that we use when we go camping to save us from the constant downpour that happens in the Pacific Northwest between the months of September and June.

rain canopy shelter
Keep that firewood dry!

We use it at least twice a month, and having it tucked out of the way makes our living space so much less cluttered.

#5 WonderWash Portable Washing Machine

Have you ever gone to a laundromat and been creeped out? And I don’t mean by the other patrons, but I mean by the actual look of the machines themselves? Sometimes they are just downright filthy and I have to wonder if they are doing more harm than good when it comes to the cleanliness of my clothes.

wonder wash portable washing machine
I like to replace the lyrics to Oasis’s hit “Wonderwall” with “Wonderwash”

We do have a laundromat in our neighborhood that, in addition to having a sanitizer cycle that cleans the machine its self, also serves beer. But when we’re on the road, this WonderWash Portable Washing Machine is way more convenient than trying to track down yelp reviews for every laundromat in the country.

I also think it does a better job of cleaning my clothes.

It works by a manual hand crank (don’t worry, it’s super easy) which means it weighs almost nothing. You will easily be able to make room for this in your van. Just hang your clothes up to dry when you’re done and that’s it! Laundry is done in under 10 minutes, and you didn’t even have to put up with sitting in a creepy room with strangers watching Dr. Oz reruns to do it.

#6 Garmin GPS Device

There are few things more terrifying than finding yourself in a really bad part of an unfamiliar town at night. I’ve followed the Google Maps directions on my phone straight into the depths of Hell more times than I care to admit.

gps unit
Use coupon code SPARKY to get the downloadable content that lets you avoid people with bleeding eyes.

After a particularly terrifying incident with a guy whose eyes were bleeding in Chicago, I decided to upgrade to a reliable GPS for my van. To be fair, the guy didn’t attack me or anything. Quite the opposite, he gave me a very sunny smile, but he had blood running from his eyes. I wasn’t prepared for that type of situation and the next day I got my GPS.

In addition to navigation in big cities, it’s also great for when you lose cell reception and can’t access Google Maps. Some of the best campsites are in the absolute middle of nowhere and it pays to have something that will tell you where you are at all times.

If you read my post Where Can I Sleep in My Van Legally, you know that I am a huge fan of the website Freecampsites.net. One of the great things about that site is that it offers you an exact Latitude and Longitude number. Since sometimes the free campsite is very close to a pay campsite, the exact numbers can help you not get in trouble. This GPS easily lets you input exactly where you need to go.

It also helps navigate you away from traffic which is a big deal if you’re driving a bigger RV or a van that’s a little taller than you’re used to. So yeah, it’s a win all around.

#7 12 Volt Fan

This 12 Volt Van Fan is more necessity than anything else on this list, and at $20 bucks, you should probably just buy it for your stealth van immediately.

For starters, vans and RVs can create a terrible case of swamp ass. If your van is insulated properly, it’ll help a little, but for the most part, as soon as it warms up outside it will start to get unbearable inside. No matter how much you crack those windows, the air inside will stagnate overnight and there’s a good chance you could end up miserable.

Cracking on van wall from condensation
Actual picture of the damage condensation can do.

Having a fan keeps that air moving which will definitely help. You could also create a knock-off swamp cooler setup pretty easily with a Styrofoam cooler, a block of ice, and this fan. I’m not saying it’ll feel like an air conditioner, but it will feel less like an oven. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll thank me.

The second reason you need this is because if you use a propane-fueled Mr. Buddy Heater like we do, you will want a way to keep the air flowing so you can keep the condensation out. We did not know about the effect propane had on condensation until it was way too late, and we are now looking at having to redo our interior.

Don’t be dumb like us, get this fan asap for both summer and winter. You’ll be glad you did!

#8 Goal Zero Torch 250

If you’ve ever been in bear country in the middle of the night and hear noises, you know how important having a flashlight on hand is. You’ll want to know right away if the noise you’re hearing outside your van is a gang of ninja raccoons or if it’s a grizzly hell-bent on your demise.

This Goal Zero Torch is solar powered, so no draw on any of your systems, but it’ll also power your small USB devices no problem.

Another reason why we purchased this bad boy, is because you can hand crank it if you don’t have any sun. Since we live in Oregon, sunshine is never guaranteed, so it helps to have a light source we can power in several different ways.

#9 A Solid Multitool

I think one of the keys to be able to live the #vanlife successfully is to know how to fix things. Not all things, I’m not saying you have to be MacGuyver, but having a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. For all the big things that could fail, like fuel pumps, there are a million other little things that could break. Having a good Multitool on hand will be a lifesaver in these instances.

multitool
Not just for Boy Scouts anymore!

For example, checking my inverter fuses. I should do it more often than I actually do, but since they are in a weird position I put it off. Now that I have a multitool, I’m able to grab them easily with pliers.

Rearview mirror lose?….BAM! screwdriver to the rescue!

Need to cut the itchy tag off your shirt?…BOOM! scissors to help you out!

Beer refusing to open and slicing the skin off of your hand?…BLAMMO! a bottle opener to save the day!

#10 Water Filter

dirty water and clean water
Take THAT, Nestle!

Ok, ok, so I bought this Survivor Filter PRO more for my upcoming international travel than for my current van life, but I still find it very helpful.

Fact is, even in the United States, you can’t always count on your water being clean. I’m not talking about drinking out of puddles, I’m talking about city water sources. The amount of bad stuff that is within the acceptable range in some of these facilities is deplorable.

I don’t mean to get all “Doomsday Prepper” but I think it’s a good idea to have something close by that will provide you with a source of clean drinking water. So sue me if I am one of those crazies that think having access to clean water is a fundamental human right.

You never know what’s going to happen in the world, better to be safe than sorry.

#11 Games!

Maybe I should have listed this one before I made my very important statement about clean drinking water…but damn it! Games are important too!

Once you start living in a van, life has a way of slowing down. You don’t come home to a house that needs cleaning, you have fewer bills to pay, you actually have time to enjoy the little things.

At first it can seem a little daunting, and you’ll feel out of place, but eventually, you will allow yourself to have fun again. Having a set of portable travel games is a great way to pass the time and keep your brain sharp. Whether it’s cards, dice or pocket Jenga, give yourself a little bit of time each day to unwind and enjoy the ride we’re all on.

van under the stars
My boyfriend takes some amazing photos…

You only get to live once, why waste it indoors paying tons of money on rent when you can go out and have fun?

 

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read this disclosure for more information

 

Items you NEED for van living

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The Inevitable Van Life Breakdown https://www.vancognito.com/van-life-breakdown/ https://www.vancognito.com/van-life-breakdown/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:08 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=224 Eventually Your Van Will Breakdown… At some point in your van life adventure, something is going to go horribly, horribly wrong. When it does, you’re going to need a backup plan. As you know, van life is very different from the life you’re used to living right now. I mean, I don’t have a shower, ... Read more

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Eventually Your Van Will Breakdown…

At some point in your van life adventure, something is going to go horribly, horribly wrong. When it does, you’re going to need a backup plan.

As you know, van life is very different from the life you’re used to living right now. I mean, I don’t have a shower, I can’t stand up in my living space, and I only own a spork for eating. But I can take my home all over the world.

free camping in the badlands
No gross neighbors here!

Have you stepped out your front door into the badlands? No? People pay millions for that type of real estate.

I didn’t even do anything special, I just drove there and parked.

While you have to put up with that jerk neighbor that barfs over their balcony railing onto your new grill, I can just drive away and find new neighbors.

But with that freedom, comes the realization that when tragedy strikes, we are basically homeless.

Our van has been a monster, and I say that with nothing but love in my heart. It’s sturdy, strong, and very heavy duty. I can’t believe how lucky we have been with this model. While nothing major has happened, we did have one small incident in the past involving our fuel pump.

free camping angels rest new mexico
Best Van EVER!

When we were purchasing our Econoline, the guy told us that there was a small leak in the fuel pump. I brought it to several different mechanics to try and fix the issue, but they could never find a leak. I did what any normal person would do, and completely put it out of my head.

We drove for six months with no issues whatsoever and eventually decided it was ok to go on our massive United States road trip. We went from Oregon, through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, then up through Canada where we popped down through Niagra Falls into New York. After that, we drove all the way south to Florida, before heading west again.

We eventually spent a wonderful birthday weekend in a hotel in New Orleans, complete with way too much alcohol and shenanigans.

getting drunk in new orleans
If someone passes you a drink called a “hand grenade” run!

I hopped back into the driver’s seat the next morning with a raging headache only to find that once I got onto the highway I couldn’t accelerate. It would just completely die out for 30 seconds, then come raging back to life. Thank God we weren’t in Monday morning rush hour traffic!

I managed to get us on to a side street and we started immediately calling mechanics. Since it was Sunday, our only option was a  Pep Boys.

After about an hour, they finally diagnosed it as a faulty fuel pump and were able to fix it, but it was going to take several hours.

Now, we REALLY lucked out here. Had “hours” been “days” we would have been screwed, stuck in an unfamiliar city with nowhere to go. Sure, we could have secured a hotel for the night, but hotels can be expensive, and if you aren’t budgeting for it, might be out of the question.

When all was said and done, we were back on the road again 8 hours later, and $400 dollars poorer.

The moral of the story is, van life can be great and can save you a ton of money, but you should always keep an emergency fund stored away, and have great insurance. You never know what could happen and being unprepared is the worst feeling in the world.

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Where Can I Sleep in My Van Legally? https://www.vancognito.com/legal-van-campsites/ https://www.vancognito.com/legal-van-campsites/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:07 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=197 Ok, so you have the van. It’s outfitted with all the coolest gadgets and you’re ready to make your fantasy Instagram dream a reality. There’s only one small problem… “Everywhere I look it says it’s illegal to park overnight, Help!” First of all, yes, it is illegal to park overnight in 99.9% of the spots ... Read more

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Ok, so you have the van. It’s outfitted with all the coolest gadgets and you’re ready to make your fantasy Instagram dream a reality. There’s only one small problem…

“Everywhere I look it says it’s illegal to park overnight, Help!”

First of all, yes, it is illegal to park overnight in 99.9% of the spots you want to. But there are tons of spots out there that you might not even think of, that are open to campers and best of all…they’re totally free!

All you have to do is a tiny bit of research and maybe make a phone call, but that’s it.

Two summers ago the boyfriend and I went on an epic three-month road trip across the United States and only paid for accommodations a handful of times. I believe we drove 10,000 miles when all was said and done.

We have stayed in some beautiful parks, camped on the edge of a cliff, and slept in a playground in Texas, all without going to jail. We just followed the main stealth camping rules. Stay out of sight, keep your van clean, and most of all be respectful.

If we can do it, you can do it too!

So I’m going to give you a master list of places to park that are nationwide. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to find one of these spots to sleep in a pinch. Some of them are nicer than others, but each has their pros and cons as I’ll explain below.

 

1. Walmart

Van camping at walmart
We’ve all done it at least once.

First up on the list is good old Walmart! I know you’ve heard of this idea before because every van camper and RV owner out there uses this resource. Seriously, next time you drive by, just check the outer perimeter of the parking lot. Most times you will see them lined with RVs.

I am not usually a huge fan of Walmart in general because of how they treat their workers and their effect on the American economy, but hey, sometimes you just have to pull over and sleep for the night. In addition to sleeping, if you’re working with a budget, you’ll find some of the cheapest foods around. It might not be haute cuisine, but it’ll fill your stomach if you’re starving.

Although their website states that they are indeed open to overnight camping, it’s always best to check with each individual store manager. Better to make a quick phone call to confirm that it’s alright to camp than wake up to someone trying to tow you, which is what happened to this guy on Reddit.

2. BLM Land

The United States is home to almost 250 MILLION acres of land that is free for the public to camp on. Located mostly in western states, this land is maintained by the Federal Government and is available for you to explore.

free camping oregon
Dispersed camping clear lake or

Since we live on the west coast, we make use of this land every weekend. Sure, it’s primitive, and bathrooms are few and far between, but it more than makes up for it in beauty. Check out my post on How to Not Smell Like a Dumpster When You Live In a Van for more information on how to keep yourself fresh as a daisy when out in the woods.

As with any campsite, leave it the way you found it if not better! Since this land isn’t managed like a campground, it’s can get trashed quickly if used by inexperienced campers, or people that just don’t care.

I don’t know how many times I’ve driven to a remote site in the woods only to be greeted with beer cans and plastic bags. Be sure to treat these areas with respect, and you’ll be rewarded with free camping for years to come!

3. Casinos

Casinos are a really fun option if you like to gamble away all that money you saved on rent by van living. Most casinos let you park in their lots for free in exchange for you spending time (and money) in their establishment.

We have a casino we often frequent on the Oregon coast that we hit up once every month or two, and we have a system for how we spend our time. Usually, we end up there in the late afternoon after a full day of exploring. We will eat at their buffet if we can get a buy one get one free deal, then drink free beers (yes, free**) while playing some video blackjack at the bar.

Sometimes on weekends there is even live music playing or some terrible karaoke which is always a fun time.

van parking at luxor casino
Not our actual view

After getting a full nights sleep in the van, I will pop back into the casino one more time for the free coffee before hitting the road again in the morning.

Casinos have tons of free perks, you just have to sort of pretend you’re spending money so you don’t get busted.

While this usually works best at smaller casinos, we did spend a couple of nights on the top floor of the parking garage of the Luxor in Vegas a few summers ago. We had a beautiful view of the strip and it was surprisingly quiet. I would highly recommend!

4. Rest Stops

Ahh…the rest stop. It sounds “restful” but if you don’t choose your stop wisely, it can be anything but. Most rest stops state that you can only park there for four hours at a time max. I have gotten away with longer stops, but I usually don’t chance it.

lawn rest stop
Fancy rest stop with food!

If it’s a quiet rest stop that just has a bathroom and some tourist information, I try to just take my four hours then leave. More often than not, they are patrolled by tow truck drivers just itching to make some money off of you. It’s too bad because these stops are usually very quiet and peaceful.

Bonus points if you have a pupper that you want to get some exercise, as a lot of these stops have fenced in pet rest areas. You can play all the rounds of fetch that Fido can handle while knowing he won’t run on to the highway.

The only time I’ve chanced a longer rest stop stay is when it’s one of those bigger off highway stops complete with a gas station and several food options.

Yes, the noise will be unbearable, but if your rig is small enough, you can pretty much park among the cars and no one will notice you. Sometimes you luck out and these places have laundry and showers too, so they’re definitely worth checking out!

Read my guide to Staying Safe While Van Living for more information on how to protect yourself at rest stops.

5. Cabelas, Cracker Barrel and Bass Proshops

Like Walmart, some big outdoor stores allow overnight parking for their guests. The upside to this is that the other campers parked in these lots are MUCH nicer than most of the ones you will encounter at Walmart.

bass pro shop
Get all your fishing gear and sleep from the same place!

Not that I’m bashing people that park at Walmart, it’s a great resource, but come on, the People of Walmart website exists for a reason. Not all of the people parking in those lots are upstanding citizens just passing through. A lot of them live full time in those lots and have a penchant for partying. You can tell because their rigs are covered in tarps, and littered with garbage. Those are the Walmart lots you should stay away from.

If you were to go to a Cabelas on the other hand, you could stock up on any outdoor gear you may need while you’re there. It’s a win, win!

Again, always check with the manager before parking.

6. Elk’s Lodge, Moose Lodge, Masonic Lodge…

These are kind of old school options that I’ve heard of others using but have never tried myself. According to the Elk’s Lodge down the road from me, they allow overnight parking if you are a member.

“What are their membership requirements?”

You have to be over 21 and believe in God. That’s it!

Since I’m not a religious person, this doesn’t appeal to me, but if it works for you, great! They have locations all over the country and seem to take good care of their members.

7. Freecampsites.net

free campsite in the badlands
Actual Campsite on the Edge of the Badlands

Far and away the best resource out there for the urban camping crowd, Freecampsites.net is AWESOME! When we took our 10,000 mile United States road trip, this website saved our asses more times than I can count.

All you need to do is put in the location you would like to stay, and it’ll bring up spots in that area that have been vetted by other campers. If you pull it up on your phone, it’ll even search by your GPS location!

The only time it didn’t work out for me was when it pointed me to an equestrian camp in Georgia that was infested with fire ants…

But that was one time, and I made sure to leave a detailed review on that situation immediately after leaving…and ant bombing of course.

Best of all the site is TOTALLY FREE!!!

free camping in georgia
Nothing says “Welcome to Georgia” like an ass full of fire ants.

I am not affiliated with these guys in any way. What I get out of recommending them, is the satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped people out, as well as adding people to the pool to find and rate campsites. That’s it!

Also, some of the sites we’ve stayed have been beautiful! Almost a crime to keep them a secret.

Allstays is an app that you save right on your phone that’s a great resource, but there is a $9.99 fee attached to it that could scare some budget conscious people away. Personally, I have them both and read the reviews on both sites just to make sure I’m staying in the best possible location.

Click here for more great ideas for FREE CAMPING in the USA!

I know it’s difficult when it comes to understanding the legalities of van camping, but hopefully, this guide helped. When first getting out there, it can be super scary not knowing where you are going to sleep, but if you check out these leads, you will always find a parking spot to call home.

 

winning a jackpot
Jackpot!

**The trick to free beer in casinos is to sit at the bar with video games on the bar top. Most casinos will give you a free beer if you put $20 into the machine. You don’t have to actually play the $20, just put it in the machine. We will usually pop a $20 in, play a hand or two, then sit there and keep drinking that free beer. If you notice the bartender giving you stink eye, just play another hand or two. At most, it’ll cost you $.25 a hand, and that’s not bad for a beer.

 

 

 

 

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The Best Free and Legal Boondocking Spots

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Cheap DIY Van Conversions For Your Tiny Home https://www.vancognito.com/diy-van-conversions/ https://www.vancognito.com/diy-van-conversions/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:06 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=183 The mission is clear. Get the heck out of your living situation and FAST. Maybe your roommate is a crazy person who flushes your socks down the toilet, or maybe you can’t stand your neighbors constant screaming.   One thing is for sure, van life has to happen immediately. Luckily, I can help! I’ve been ... Read more

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The mission is clear. Get the heck out of your living situation and FAST.

Maybe your roommate is a crazy person who flushes your socks down the toilet, or maybe you can’t stand your neighbors constant screaming.

crazy guy who doesnt live in a van
My Old Roommate Used to Lick Things

 

One thing is for sure, van life has to happen immediately.

Luckily, I can help! I’ve been in your shoes and can help you out by giving you my master list of tips for the cheapest DIY van conversions for your tiny home. Now, these won’t be the nicest options, but they will get you comfortable and out of your house with minimal effort and investment besides the cost of the van.

First things first, you’re going to want to start by cleaning some things up.

Step 1:  Gut the Van: FREE

diy van conversions
Dirty Vans Done Dirty Cheap

Get all that stuff that’s inside of it, out. Any second-hand van will come with a fair amount of other people’s junk inside. The first thing you’re going to want to do is to take all that junk out and clean down to the frame. Of course, if the interior is finished then great, skip to step 3.

If not, a bucket of warm soapy water will be your best friend. And don’t forget to sweep the floor! For some reason, every van comes standard with about 6lbs of stray nails and screws littered all over the floor. You probably will never need those and don’t want to accidentally step on them, so give the floor a good sweep.

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Step 2:  Insulate the Van: $20-$60

This isn’t going to be the in-depth insulation job you’re going to want if you have time and money, this is the “my roommate keeps licking my food and leaving dirty underwear around I have to leave this house NOW” type of insulation job.

Get a couple of rolls of this insulation from Amazon. It’s very easy to use for someone that doesn’t know what they’re doing. All you need is a pair of scissors and a clean surface. Cut the insulation to the desired specifications and stick it on.

After you cover the walls and ceiling with the beautiful silver foil, plop some down on the floor, then cover the entire thing with an area rug. Find one on Craigslist, people give that kind of stuff away all the time for free.

Step 3: Deep Cycle Battery and Inverter: $150

deep cycle rv battery how to
You’ll feel like a regular Nikola Tesla

You can skip this step if you want, but you’re going to be much more comfortable if you are able to turn on a light every now and again. If you’re van living in the winter, don’t forget that it gets dark at 4 or 5 pm. Since you might be stuck inside during those hours, you might as well be able to read or use your computer.

The best bet for doing this on the cheap is to get yourself a deep cycle RV battery and an inverter. The reason you want a “deep cycle” battery is because it can take a lot more abuse.  Standard batteries are only meant to start the car. After that, the alternator takes over. A deep cycle battery, on the other hand, can handle the load of your electronics and whatever else you need to plug in.

The inverter is the key to make that energy usable. Once you hook the inverter up to the battery, then you can plug all of your devices in with no problems.

Step 4: Get a Bed Solution: Less than $100

diy camper van bed
Plenty of space for a bed

There’s a couple of different ways you can take this depending on what you’re looking for. My van has steel beams with a slab of wood on top and a foam mattress. The great thing about that option is that it elevates the bed, and we can fit storage bins underneath.

The quick DIY version is to get storage bins, these heavy duty ones will work, and place a cheap inflatable mattress on top. As long as your mattress is properly inflated, you won’t put too much weight on any one area of the bin and you won’t break them.

Of course, you could omit the storage bins entirely, but then you would miss out on that sweet, sweet extra storage space.

Step 5: Get a Small Cooking Device $50

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thankful for the stove in my van. I am a coffee person, and I will cut you if I don’t get a cup in my hands the second my eyes open. That’s where this Coleman Camp Stove comes in handy. I have this exact model in my van and it makes a world of difference in making van life feel like home life.

I’ve had to get creative in my stealth camp cuisine over the years, so I’m telling you, it can be done. Just be prepared to eat the entire pan of whatever it is you make since you probably won’t have anywhere to store the leftovers without a fridge or cooler.

Not only will it save you grocery money, but cooking is fun!

Step 6: Toilet Time $0-$40

how to use the bathroom stealth camping
You want the truth?! You can’t handle the truth!

In my Stealth Camping 101 post, I talked about the bathroom options you have available to you when living on the road. You could get a portable toilet like the one I linked to in that article, OR you could go rogue. I know LOTS of people that do their business into bags of kitty litter, then throw it away.

It’s not the most glamorous solution, but it gets the job done.

If you feel like you need the comfort of a toilet seat under your bottom, this toilet seat snaps on to a bucket! Best of all, it’s only 10 bucks! Of course, the bucket isn’t included, but check Craigslist in the free section. I promise you will be able to find a free bucket somewhere, just look!

Step 7: Black Out Curtains $16.99

These curtains not only block out the light, but they are also another layer of insulation to keep you warm. We have a rope hung up behind the driver seats that we use to hold these curtains up. They’ve worked great for us so far. If they’re a little too long for your setup, cut them to the length you need and use the scraps to block out any windows in your living area.

Our camper van luckily doesn’t have too many windows. We only have the two over the back door, and one on the side. Makes it very easy to stay stealthy at night. It makes it hell in the summertime when we want to some ventilation though!

Step 7: Let There Be Light!   $12.99

solar lights for diy camper van conversion
Perfect for a romantic evening at home.

These adorable solar powered globe lights are the only time I’m going to suggest you using solar power when you’re low on cash. These are bright enough to make it so you can see what you’re doing, but not bright enough to give away your stealth status.

When it comes to trying to park in neighborhoods, you won’t want a 60-watt bulb blazing away inside, it’ll give you away! Instead, find a nice soft light like these and feel free to relax in your new romantic tiny home on wheels.

 

If you follow these steps for cheap DIY van conversions, you’re looking at a final cost of $430. Not too shabby!

Of course, that’s always assuming you already have the van. If you don’t, check into cheap cargo vans on craigslist. I see them for sale all the time! Usually, you can find them for less than $1,500 depending on the condition.

You don’t necessarily need to get the exact items or brands I’ve linked to. If you see a good deal at Walmart for a deep cycle battery, then grab it! I’ve just listed some suggestions of things that have worked for me.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have just moved into the van right away and not worried about all the bells and whistles that were out there. If you are still living in an apartment right now, I can guarantee that the things you think you NEED, aren’t really necessities.

Once I started living in the van, I realized how stupid it was to be worried about bathrooms, and showers. It’s all so easy to do, and I believe anyone can do it. You just have to get in the van and go!

Ready to take the next step? Check out 18 Hacks and Tips For Car Camping

 



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Staying Safe While Van Living https://www.vancognito.com/staying-safe-while-van-living/ https://www.vancognito.com/staying-safe-while-van-living/#respond Sun, 23 Jun 2019 16:51:05 +0000 https://www.vancognito.com/?p=125 Not a fan of armed robbery? Me neither. Before moving into a van full time, I had a big problem with the thought of us being robbed in the night. The city we live in is known for rampant car theft, so naturally, I was concerned. We did our best to prepare ourselves before moving ... Read more

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Not a fan of armed robbery? Me neither.

Before moving into a van full time, I had a big problem with the thought of us being robbed in the night. The city we live in is known for rampant car theft, so naturally, I was concerned. We did our best to prepare ourselves before moving in and even went so far as to install a fancy alarm system complete with panic buttons in case of an emergency. Thankfully, we haven’t had to use it yet, but something about just having it helps me sleep at night.

Truth is, there are several ways to protect yourself and your things. It takes a little bit of extra effort, but if you follow these tips for staying safe while van living, you’ll be in much better shape.

The Look of the Van

Sometimes, just the look of the vehicle we are driving is enough to keep thieves at bay. A Westfalia with surfboards on top, covered in stickers from all over the country, and a $2,000 bike strapped to the back says “I have fancy stuff, come take it!”

drugs in a van
This Van Definitely Contains Drugs

A nicely painted black van, on the other hand, looks less appealing. The fun traveling Westie is sure to have laptops and cell phones, and generators inside. With the black van, its harder to tell. Maybe it has those things, but most likely it’s just a cargo van for someone’s air conditioning business.

Most thieves are opportunistic and won’t put in the effort for something if they’re not sure it’ll pay off. So make sure you have your window coverings up and don’t leave anything that looks like it’s of any value on your front seats.

Be Ready to Drive Away if You Need To

While we are clearing our front seats of anything of value, let’s clear them of everything not of value too. In case of an emergency, you want to be able to get out of bed and drive away asap. Don’t stack things on your seat, and always know where your keys are. If a giant fight breaks out on the street you’ve chosen to sleep on, Big Trouble in Little China style, you’ll want to get out of there quick before Lopan shows up and kills everyone.

Did you start a big cooking project and make a big mess? Well, clean it up! You don’t want dirty dishes everywhere if you need to start driving on the fly. It also looks really bad if for some reason the police do decide to investigate your van in the middle of the night. A nice clean van with respectful people inside usually isn’t a problem, but if your van looks like a nightmare, they aren’t going to let you off so easy.

Situational Awareness

littered cans
If you see this, leave.

Ideally, your sleep spot should be an area you’ve scoped out in advance and feel confident about. Few people like surprises, especially when they happen while you’re supposed to be sleeping. During daylight hours, drive through the streets and see what kind of people are hanging around. Is there trash in the street? Are there broken down RVs with tarps covering them? If the answer is yes, then you probably don’t want to sleep there.

When it comes to dispersed camping in the woods, be on the lookout for beer cans, or shotgun shells, or litter. These are big signs that the destination you’ve chosen is being used as a party spot.

I remember the one time I did not heed this advice, I woke up in the middle of the night surrounded by a rave.

It came out of nowhere.

We fell asleep around 11 or so in what we thought was a deserted camp area in the woods. At 3 am we woke up to music blasting and people partying everywhere. We got out of there fast, and after returning, later on, we realized that the place was a dump. So much trash and graffiti everywhere.

Had we scoped the place out in daylight before parking, we would never have tried to stay the night.

Have Some Self Defense Items Ready

Horror movies have shown us that no matter how prepared we are, bad things can still happen. Our van is tame enough until you really take a look at the items lurking in the corners. For example, we have a huge machete, an ax, several cans of pepper spray, and more knives that I even know what to do with.

machete home defense
Not THAT Machete

We have these things not only to gut fish or chop firewood but also to protect ourselves. Honestly, I pity the person that tries to break into our van when we’re in it. They are going to be in for a rude awakening.

I’m not going to lie, if I were doing this as a solo woman van traveler, I might invest in a concealed carry license and purchase a gun or at the very least a taser. Most locations are perfectly fine, but I would rather be safe than sorry.

It’s also a good idea when looking at self-defense items to consider the legality of the items and where you plan on taking them. When we took the van on a road trip a year ago, we decided to go up through Canada and see Niagra Falls. At the border, they pulled us out to search the van and left everything as it was, except for our cans of pepper spray. My two-foot long machete was no problem, but my tiny can of pepper spray was. Go figure!

Home Security for Vans

In addition to the very obvious car alarm system, there are a few other items you can install in your van for safety. This door divider starts to get a little pricey, but you can see the logic behind it. If you are snug sleeping in the back and someone breaks in up front, they are going to have to go through another heavy locked door to get to you.

This heavy-duty padlock goes on the outside of your doors and makes sure they stay shut. They are designed to withstand the force of someone hitting them with a hammer repeatedly…let’s hope it never comes to that.

Last but not least is for when you’re away from your van and someone steals it. Having a little GPS unit like this mounted inside your van will make sure you know where it is at all times. This is something I hadn’t even considered purchasing until just recently.

Someone posted on Reddit a few weeks ago about his van being stolen. He had lived in it for years, popped into a store for a minute and when he came out, it was gone. He was pleading with people to keep an eye out for it, but I have a feeling he is never going to see it again.

My heart sunk, I felt so bad for him. For normal people that live in houses, you can get robbed, but they can’t physically take your entire house. For us vandwellers, that could very easily end up becoming reality.

Most of these security measures can get pretty expensive for the regular Joe. It’s all very useful stuff, but it’s stuff you can get away with not having if you just pay attention to your surroundings and listen to your gut. Better to find a new parking spot than risk getting robbed.

Hidden Compartments

hidden compartment in van
Hiding Your Millions

If you just have to bring grandma’s diamond ring collection with you, you’ll want a hidden compartment to put it in. I don’t know one other vandweller that doesn’t have a hiding spot somewhere. If you live in a van full time and you don’t have a separate storage unit, there’s going to be some precious items you’ll want to hide. You could get a simple lockbox, but those can be stolen unless they’re bolted down. You’re much better having a spot in the wall, or under the floorboards to ensure it stays put. If nothing else, you could also consider attaching a small box on the undercarriage of the van in a difficult to get to location.

Keep Up With Maintenance

Knowing how to change a tire when you’re stuck on the side of the road can make a huge difference, and make sure you always keep up with regularly scheduled maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations. If you make it a habit to poke around under the hood and familiarize yourself with what’s under there and what it should look like, you’ll be able to tell right away if something is wrong before you get on the road.

As a rule, you should always carry the following items in case of an emergency:

  • Jumper Cables and a Battery Starter
  • Spare Tire
  • Power Steering Fluid
  • Coolant
  • Engine Oil
  • Fix-a-Flat

…and kitty litter. My boyfriend makes fun of me all the time for insisting on carrying around kitty litter everywhere we go, but I grew up in the Northeast where sometimes snowstorms just happen. Better to have it and not need it than to not have it.

Tell a Buddy Where You Are

Not all cell phones work everywhere. Occasionally when you’re traveling, you WILL lose reception. It’s a fact of life. Make sure if you’re driving from point A to point B that someone knows where you are headed and what your route is.

I think we have all seen The Hills Have Eyes. No further explanation needed.

 

Lock Your Doors

The most important thing on this list is to lock your doors! It’s simple, it’s easy, and best of all it’s free. It’s the number one solution to staying safe while van living. Like I said above, most thieves are opportunistic. In my city, they walk up and down rows of cars at night just trying door handles. You can deter 99% of these guys by simply locking your door. Just get into the habit so it becomes second nature.

Also, continue to lock your doors even when you are out in the woods. Have you ever seen the video of the bear opening the car door for food? I have. It’s terrifying. They absolutely know how to use your handle. Just lock the door so you don’t die.

bears opening doors
Bears Will Let Themselves In

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