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By Scott Gillespie

With international borders largely closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there’s never been a better time for travel-hungry Americans to get out and explore the endless natural wonders of our own great nation!

So earlier this year, when our family had to cancel our backpacking plans throughout Southeast Asia, we decided to embark instead on a totally new type of adventure. We sold off nearly everything we own, loaded up our family car, and set off on a cross-country road trip to discover the very best of what America has to offer!

Man siting on top of an Escape Campervan

How We Learned About Escape Campervans

It was during the first week of our travels that we were introduced to Escape Campervans. I remember the moment vividly. We were getting ready to go for a hike in the Grand Tetons when a brightly-colored van pulled up alongside us, and it was like love at first sight! 

Our two young boys became instantly obsessed with its fun paint job while my wife and I began fantasizing about the freedom we could enjoy by ditching the car for a short time and trading it in for our first attempt at #vanlife. With a two-week gap in our existing travel plans ahead of us, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a shot, so we immediately jumped on it!

After picking up our Big Sur Campervan from the Portland rental location we began our two-week itinerary across the Pacific Northwest. Our travels took us from Glacier National Park to the Olympic Peninsula and then proceeded down the Pacific Coast Highway until we reached our final destination in San Francisco. 

It was a fantastic experience for everyone in the family, but as with every new adventure, it was not without its fair share of challenges. So that got us thinking – what advice could we share with other families who are preparing to embark on their first campervan experience that would guarantee an epic introduction to vanlife? 

So without further ado, here is our list of the top 3 lessons we learned from our own family vanlife adventures with Escape Campervans:

Father and son sitting next to an Escape Campervan

Lesson 1 – Plan, But Don’t Over-Plan

As is the case with any type of travel planning, it’s always great to have some sort of itinerary that offers general guidance as to where you’re headed and when. This is a great way to make sure you’re maximizing your time and not missing anything important along the way. But with that being said, when traveling in a campervan, a huge part of the adventure is the freedom it affords you to literally escape to anywhere without a single plan at all – and there’s something truly liberating about that!

On our recent family vanlife adventure we made the rookie mistake of reserving the majority of our campsites in advance, not knowing what we’d be able to find once we got out on the road.  Don’t get me wrong, the campgrounds that we stayed in were all fabulous and offered some truly great amenities. 

But when you’re traveling in a van, you really don’t need all of that. Rather, what we found is that you can often save money and have greater access to beautiful camping spaces by either waiting to grab a first-come, first-served site or just boondocking in a location that’s convenient to where you want to spend your time. Nearly every day we’d drive by vans and other RVs that had pulled off on the side of the road to sleep alongside the ocean, a  crystal-clear lake, a snow-capped mountain, or some other beautiful landscape, and each time we wished that we had left ourselves that option as well.

Escape Campervan on the Pacific Coast highway

Another Reason Not To Over-Plan

Sometimes when you’re out exploring you discover a place that you fall in love with and you just don’t want to leave. This happened to us when we visited the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. 

After driving almost 2.5 hours from our campground to get there, we quickly realized that one day just wouldn’t be enough for us to experience everything that we wanted to see and do in that area of the park. So in a spur-of-the-moment decision, we opted to forego our second-of-three nights at our original campground to be able to camp in the rainforest instead. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it was money that was unnecessarily spent on an unused campsite at our original campground.

Lastly, as is the case with just about any type of plan, things will inevitably come up along the way that will force you to have to make changes on the fly. Fortunately, campervans are perfectly equipped to accommodate for these types of situations, but it becomes much more complicated the more locked-in your plans are. This happened to us when we set off on one of our longest drives of the trip. 

After a wonderful morning hiking in the North Cascades, we got a later-than-planned start to our drive out to Glacier National Park. Shortly into our long trek, a fatal motorcycle accident forced a 3+ hour shut-down of the entire highway, further complicating our already-delayed drive. Fortunately, being in the campervan allowed us some flexibility for the time we spent on the side of the road. We got the boys out of their car seats for a little while to play in the back, fixed up an easy dinner, and then folded down the bed so the boys could eventually fall asleep. 

By the time we finally got back on the road, we knew there was no way we were going to make it to Glacier in time for our next reservation. So instead of trying to drive through the night, we decided to pull off into a rest stop to sleep for several hours before finishing out the remainder of the trip the next morning.

With its incredible range of precipitation and elevation, diversity is the hallmark of Olympic National Park. Encompassing nearly a million acres, the park protects a vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. Come explore!

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Olympic National Park is open 24 hours a day year-round, although some roads, campgrounds and facilities are open seasonally.

Hours:

Olympic National Park

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

Escape campervan on a tree lined road

Lesson 2 – Minimize Your Time on the Road

When you have the freedom in a campervan to travel just about anywhere you want to go, it’s easy to get overly ambitious and try to see and do too much in a relatively short amount of time. This certainly was the case for us with our chosen itinerary. In a matter of 2 weeks, we drove over 3000 miles trying to make the absolute most of our time in the van. Sure, we visited some pretty incredible places along the way, but spending so much time behind the wheel made it nearly impossible to enjoy all the other cool amenities that the van has to offer, from its cooking capabilities to just being able to chill and relax in some pretty spectacular locations. 

So if you’re ok with using the van primarily as a vehicle, then go ahead and create an ambitious itinerary like we did. You’ll definitely drive comfortably! But if you’re wanting to feel like you actually got to experience the essence of what vanlife is all about and get to relax a little along the way, then we’d highly recommend slowing it down and minimizing the amount of travel you do throughout the trip.

Campervan with a kitchen

Lesson 3 – Pack as Efficiently as Possible

This may not come as a surprise to anyone, but when you’re living out of the back of a van, storage space is at a premium. As a result, packing efficiently is the most important thing you can do to live as comfortably and clutter-free as possible throughout your trip. This begins before the trip even starts with the creation of your packing list. Our encouragement here would be to think carefully about each and every item you put on your list to determine if it’s truly essential or just a luxury. 

Pro tip:

You’ll be much happier with your overall campervan experience if you just leave the non-essential stuff at home.

Escape Big Sur campervan

When it comes to clothing, we’d also encourage you to consider whether you actually need to bring a new outfit for every day of the week or if you’ll have opportunities to wash your clothes along the way and could re-wear them to conserve space. We did this on several occasions throughout our trip and still found that we overpacked when it came to our clothing.

And lastly, when it comes to actually packing for the trip, we discovered packing cubes to be the best way to conveniently store our belongings in the campervan. Not only did they help keep our clothes organized throughout the trip, but they also fit perfectly into the drawers provided in the van. In contrast, we had a much more difficult time storing the large duffel bag we brought with us, and it became a constant hassle that we wished we didn’t have to deal with. 

Book A Campervan And Give Vanlife A Try

So if you’re new to vanlife and want to make the most of your first adventure when you book with Escape Campervans, we encourage you to take these lessons to heart, and by doing so we can almost guarantee that your experience will be an epic one that you’ll not soon forget!

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