I was 15 when I first decided I wanted a camper van. It was the year I read Scar Tissue, the autobiography of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lead singer Antony Keidis, and I became enchanted by the idea of surf culture: long wavy hair, VW vans, colourful clothes and that hedonistic attitude of fun and adventure. Scar Tissue was actually a book about drug and sex addiction, but I guess I only took what I wanted from it.
Fast-forward another 15 years and here I am, in a van (albeit temporarily). It’s an American Ford rented from a company called Escape Vans. Each van is hand-painted with a unique US-themed scene. Ours depicts a nightime scene of San Fransisco, and it attracts quite a lot of attention (not really a good thing when we’re trying to camp stealthily on private property). Instead of the puppy that 15-year-old me thought I’d roam the world with, I’m lucky enough to be sharing this adventure with a real-life human man (the puppy will come later).
We’re beginning week 2 of #vanlife and so far we’re loving it. Although being here in South Florida, where…woah, sorry – I just got scared out of my wits by a huge sploshing sound (I’m lying in the sun by the side of a river). I thought I was about to be eaten by an alligator but luckily it was just a large pelican landing in the water. It’s a good thing I looked up because at that very moment a manatee happened to be gliding past. A manatee. An 11ft hunk of adorable muscle, a few feet from my yoga mat. I really feel like I’m in a dream!
This is the best thing about Florida: the proximity to jaw-dropping wildlife everywhere you go. I’m just south of Miami right now, in a fairly busy marina, and despite the development and human activity, the animals are just getting on with their lives. Well, they’re doing their best anyway. A lot of them are endangered – but that’s for another post.
As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by a pelican and a manitee, one of the biggest problems we’ve faced is that in Florida, campervans aren’t really a thing. You either park your huge, bus-sized RV in a concrete lot in an ugly, overcrowded RV park (which people reserve 12 months in advance), or you camp in a tent in the wilderness with no facilities at all. There’s no in-between ground.
As a result, we’re essentially on a tour of Planet Fitness gyms across the state. It’s the only place we can park for the night and shower in the morning. We encountered some hardcore vanlifers there too: they had converted a big transit van and the woman had no qualms about wondering around the car park topless.
The perk is that staying in parking lots is free, and it’s been fine! But it’s not exactly as enjoyable as pitching up at a campsite, getting the grill and camping chairs out and relaxing under the stars for the night. There’s the pervasive smell of urine for one thing, and the people come to sit in their cars and blast music at 3am, and of course the constant threat of being turfed out by security.
But all in all, it’s a nice feeling being locked up inside a van with everything you need right there. I’ve slept so well since we’ve been here.
This trip has only been possible because we both work remotely – so we’ve spent a lot of time inside the van and in various Starbucks getting our tasks done. I’ve got 3 days off now but Sims doesn’t, so he’s currently working in the van while I write this blog post outside by the river. I’m sure vanlifing is better if you have enough money to not work, because it can be a little stressful working a full day in a tiny space occupied by 2 people and a whole bunch of equipment. But it’s still a billion times better than an office. We’ve been parking at some cool locations like parks and beaches, so we can get out and stretch our legs frequently.
If we were going to live permanently in a van, it would have to be much bigger, with room to stand up and a shower and toilet. But for a trip, it’s the perfect way to get around and always have somewhere safe and comfy to sleep.