How to explore North America by Van: Sophie & Austin (Aussies)

Sophie & Austin: Two Melbourne city kids taking on the wheel-estate game. Experience eager, Scenery savvy, Mile merchants, Sleepbombing and vanping our way through North America.

A bit about Bernie (The Van)

Bernie Vanders is our beloved 1993 Ford E150 Van and he is a legend.

We met at a time of desperation, having only three days until we had to leave Seattle Washington and the day prior had our hopes and dreams cut from under us when we gave back our newly purchased 1979 VW bus (she died).

Along came Bernie, shiny and not so new but reliable and a good price. Thus the history making three day renovation began.

The fit out

Humble and cosy. We made our van feel like a home with a custom made bed, storage chest, closet and pantry and some IKEA essentials. It's amazing what you can fit and how easily you can live without the things that don't.

We use solar powered lights at night and a portable solar panel on our dashboard charges our devices while we drive.

Our idea

To experience as much of North America as we can in 12 months. 

We backpacked, Air bnb'd and couch surfed our way across four Hawaiian islands, over to Canada B.C and down into Washington State. A van was key to the freedom chasing lifestyle we dreamed of. The plan was to explore National Parks, forests and remote areas of America as well as live in and experience big cities.

The van also opened us up to a community we previously knew nothing about. The Van life movement of travellers, tiny homers and new age gypsies alike. 

Where we stay

We plan our trips around National Parks and then find State Parks or State/National Forests along the way. We also Boondock in people's driveways and occasionally stealth in quiet areas.

Boondocking is something we just love. It's free, safe and legal, plus we have met so many great people. We do it through a site called boondockerswelcome and have never had a bad experience.

We try or plan our locations a week at a time, but it's not uncommon to find us in a cafe at 3pm trying to find a place for the evening. We try not to stealth unless we absolutely have to. We are on the road to have fun, not turn all the lights out at 8pm and be on edge all night. Nothing fun about police waking you up at 11pm and telling you to move on.

The greatest places we have stayed have been campsites like Indian Cove at Joshua Tree and the array of state parks and forests on the Oregon coast just off the 101.

How we fund our trip

Money: we use money everyday and it buys the things we need... But you always need more.

We saved for about a year then pooled our funds and jumped in feet first. Needless to say life on the road can get expensive so we had to work a little too. Unlike a lot of van lifers we don't have jobs that let us work on the go. We quit our jobs in Melbourne and now pick up short contract jobs along our travels.

We got jobs at Yellowstone National Park and stayed there for close to three months.

Living in a van

Aside from the obvious appeals of living on the road: pot holes, road house food and Starbucks bathroom stops; there are other things we enjoy. Such as new scenery everyday, a home on wheels and best of all the freedom to change our plans on a whim or a "that looks cool...".

As for food, we enjoy ramen and pretzels as much as anybody but we also like to eat fresh local produce. It's something we really believe in, supporting the local communities we visit. So we stock pile pasta, rice, canned soup and tuna from major supermarkets like the Walldevil and then buy fresh produce at road side stalls and independent grocers on the road. We also indulge by buying locally roasted coffee beans when we visit small independent coffee houses. We have a budget but it's never too tight for a good meal or coffee. Our motto is "go home pockets empty but stomachs full".

It's dirty business

On the West Coast we met so many cool and generous people who invited us into their homes and driveways. They also always seemed to offer us showers. Whether or not that's because we stink or West Coasters are uber polite I guess we'll never know. But we do have a camp shower. We actually find keeping clean pretty easy, really when you are in a 5x2 meter living space with another human and all your belongings there's no room for privacy let alone mess.

On the road

We have been travelling since October 2015. On the road van dwelling for seven months now.

We spent four months in the Western states of America. We loved California for its ever changing landscapes. We drove Yosemite, Sequioa, Joshua Tree and Death Valley before driving the coast and living amongst the red woods.

Utah was spectacular from Bryce Canyon and Arches to Zion .

Homes for us have been Seattle Washington, where we spent our first night in the road at Mt Rainier National Park and Wyoming was our second home. Nothing compares to living in the worlds first National Park and walking to work with bears and bison en route.

Memorable times

1. Waking up to a bison grazing next to us in Wyoming.

2. Sleeping on the edge of a cliff with a flat battery during a storm on the Oregon Coast.

3. Finding that perfect beach in Maine.


Whats next?

Who knows. At this stage the plan is head south and see what we can find, perhaps the Everglades in Florida and Big Bend in Texas. Stay tuned!

Jared Campbell4 Comments