What I Did Wrong
- Not Obtaining A Piss Container/Bucket Up Front: This should have been the first item that I bought — once I became a van owner. However, I still woke up some mornings in the beginning and tried to make it to gas stations. After doing this a couple of times, I quickly obtained a piss container and a $5 bucket from home depot and a plastic toilet seat cover from Walmart. Because I was raised in the country in rural Georgia and never had an indoor bathroom, I had no issue with relieving myself in this manner. I made it a point to buy garbage bags and double or triple them up and just dump every day or two. I use baking soda for the smell and have went up to 5 or 6 days without dumping because of it.
- Not Obtaining A Wash Basin Upfront: I can’t believe since coming on the road the last six months, because I go to gyms quick often, I haven’t had any desire to go to a hotel or a family member’s home to take a bath. Before coming on the road, I wasn’t a fan of showers and was taking 3 baths a day, but you will get used to your new lifestyle fairly quickly out here on the road. I feel really pampered when I go to the gym and as long as you feel you are nurturing and pampering yourself — you will be okay. After obtaining a piss container/bucket, buying a basin to wash up in will be essential. Having a clean body will make this lifestyle more doable. I did not go out and buy a wash basin until maybe a week. At first, especially when I traveled, I made it a point to use sinks in gas stations to wash up. I remember the first time I went 7 days without being in the gym or taking a bath. It was indeed a new day for me, but after growing up without running water and using a tin tub to wash up, I realized quite quickly that this lifestyle was indeed doable. I did not even want to take showers at truck stops initially, but now (at $8 to $15) — besides gyms, truck stops especially Pilots/Flying J’s, are some of my favorite places to wash up.
- Not Buying A Power Box (Jackery 500) Upfront: I had been looking at different power boxes for months, even before I got on the road, but I was overwhelmed with what to buy. The reviews on Amazon and YouTube.com was so confusing until I actually put my choice on the back burner — while I concentrated on other things. This was a big, big mistake that I would regret later on. After 90 days (3 whole months), I had no other choice but to make this purchase. I had the money from the very beginning, but just did not know which to buy. After the Jackery 500 went on sale on Amazon for $400 instead of $500, I jumped at the chance to buy it. It took me a couple of more weeks to test it to see if the two main appliances (a “Blender” I bought from Amazon.com and my “Steamer” I bought from Walmart) would work with it. I had my doubts after continuing to watch several more reviews. Both were very inexpensive so I felt I really did not have anything to lose, however, I knew I needed to change the way I was eating and eat more healthier. After trying both out I was quite surprised that they both worked and really happy that I would no longer have to depend on being around grocery stores at meal times and that I would be able to prepare my meals more naturally (juiced and steamed) on the road.
- Not Buying Lights Upfront: Before getting on the road, I had given away several lamps (small and large) before leaving my apartment because I did not know that I would be able to use these with my power box (Jackery 500). Not having a power box for 90 days also gave me a reason not to purchase any kind of lights. I had to literally depend on my phone flashlight the first couple of weeks of van life so I was fumbling around in the dark most nights and even tried to get everything done before dark. Eventually, I did go into Walmart to the camping section and found a great selection of camping lights that I put throughout the van. These looked just like regular socket lights back home on the wall so I was quite pleased with my purchase.
- Not Buying Containers or Plastic Drawers Upfront: I was inundated with so many decisions that I did not want to buy anything for the van until I got my bed in it. That decision put me back several days. I eventually had to make a decision and was just hoping it was the right one. Because my bed was so low to the floor, I would have had to buy special containers to put under my bed so that lead me to just purchase plastic containers and dressers to put upfront, until I was ready for my permanent build. This left nothing under the bed so luckily that space came in handy when I had to store more supplies for #Corona (toilet tissue, paper towels, more food, etc.).
- Getting Gas When Tired: One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was to pay attention to what I was doing especially when I got gas. Most RVers and Van Dwellers should get gas the night before if they plan on having a big trip the next day. So after I took a nap at a grocery store and was about to go into my #StealthCamping spot for the night, I got gas. Because I was tired, the backside of my van scrapped against one of the yellow barriers at the gas station. Again, the van was so big and long and it stuck out everywhere, so initially, I had trouble parking it. But after that fiasco, I paid more attention especially when I was around gas stations. Luckily the damage was not that bad.
- Not Knowing My Van Height: Well like most RVers or Van Dwellers, until I bought my van, I never paid attention to signs that tell you the height when you can drive. These signs are not just posted on freeways before you get to low hanging bridges, they are posted on most places where there is some type of cover — even at fast- food driveways and car washes. I went into a car wash one day and realized the top of a pole that they had there was scraping the top of my van when I came out. I got out and look around and figured out the last time I was there, I actually went in another side — that was higher. Luckily, it was a low-hanging pole that I don’t believe did any damage up there, but I won’t know until I have my Maxx Aire Deluxe fans or solar installed and then hopefully they will cover the damage.
- Not Knowing Tag Procedures in My State: I bought my van in Atlanta instead of Texas, but had my #HomeState address in Texas so that posed a big issue for me enjoying my van life initially. The tag office gave me the run around from the very beginning and because the car dealership where I bought the van in Atlanta had horrible customer service, my tag experience was not very well. The car dealership had to send temporary tags to me twice. The first time I ended up driving without tags (expired tags) for a few days so I was at risk to get a ticket. After I finally received the tags, I found out from the tag office that they would have mailed them to me if I had to move on to another state, but yet even after going to this office and calling on the phone, they never told me this. After spending 80 days in Houston waiting on my tags, which was the closest big city to Livingston, TX, where my address was located, I just wanted to be out of Houston.
What I Did Right
- Bought the Right Vehicle: Many RVers and Van Dwellers have regrets after purchasing either a van or RV. Many go on to another vehicle within the first 1 to 2 years, however, up until 1 to 2 months of getting on the road full-time and ‘teaching from the road’ in my new youtube platform, I was #TeamRV (Class C) instead of #TeamVan. I am very satisfied with my purchase. Many times I #StealthCamp and there are so many vehicles out there that look exactly like my commercial Dodge Promaster 3500 Cargo Van. So unless they are writing down tag numbers this has allowed me to be able to park at many more places.
- Do a Temporary Build First: Some people are fortunate enough to be able to obtain their van then build it out permanently before getting on the road, but I did not have this luxury. Despite conducting 7 months of research on youtube, google and reading books, I just did not have all the pieces for the puzzle to be able to build out my van permanently upfront. I needed more time to think about what I really wanted to include in the van so I am glad I waited.
- Bought the Hooks and Bungee Cords from Walmart: My expertise was never building anything out so I knew when it came to building out my van, there wasn’t much that I would be able to offer. However, one of the best — if not the best choice I made was buying the hooks and bungee cords from Walmart and putting them throughout the van. Because it was a Promaster Cargo Van, it already had the holes to place the hooks in so until I can get a permanent build-out (hopefully, by fall 2020) or a next stage setup — including 2 Maxx Air Deluxe Fans, Controller, 2,000 to 3,000 Watt Inverter, 2 AGM Batteries, and Refrigerator — my temporary setup will work just fine, however, I will need to follow 70-degree weather around the country.
- Bought the Jackery 500 Power Box: There are all types of power boxes out there. It was a great decision to buy the Jackery 500 power box as my first power box. However, if I had waited I would have been able to buy the Jackery 1000, which would have been even better.
- Did Not Use Propane: I knew from day one that I did not want propane in my van. However, I just did not know how I would stay warm or even eat without it. It took 90 days for me to figure out the best and correct way to eat without propane when I bought my powerbox (Jackery 500) and I told you above how I spent many nights freezing because I refused to put propane in my van. Unlike other van lifers who use propane to cook with and to keep warm, many buy the Mr. Buddy Heaters (that comes in 3 sizes) or the Olympian Wave 3 (or 6) Catalytic Heaters, I wasn’t certain if propane actually leaked off some type of poisonous heavy metal. If you have to crack windows and let air in when you use propane and these types of heaters then naturally there is some type of toxin or poison in the air so this is what I was trying to avoid. My goal was to look at my new lifestyle and still incorporate my healthy habits and to me having good air quality around me was very important.
- Put Reflectix Around My Ice Chest: Putting reflectix around my ice chest was indeed one of the better decisions I made. Now instead of getting ice every 3 to 4 days, I can actually do this every 6 days.
- Put a Comfortable Bed in It: One of the first things a car dweller, vanner or even RVer should look at is their bed and ask themselves — “Will It Be Comfortable?” I am so glad I was able to bring my bed with me. I thought about it for months and had I gotten the type of RV (Class C) that I wanted, there is a good chance that I would have had to cut off the ends of my mattress. Once I went #TeamVan, then I had no doubt that I could bring my comfortable bed with me.
- Bought A Sleeping Bag/Long Johns: Because my lease at my Senior Apartments in Orlando ended on October 1, I had no other choice but to start my journey off in cooler weather. However, I do prefer cooler weather over hotter weather any day so I have no regrets starting out in the Fall/Winter months. The only time I really remember camping out was in the military over 40 years ago so because I was very inexperienced when it came to camping, I had no idea that a Sleeping Bag and Long Johns (Cuddl Duds) should have been one of my first purchases. It took almost freezing to death in Houston — to realize that so again if you decide to get out here on the road, a Sleeping Bag and Long Johns (Cuddl Duds at Walmart) are quite essential to this lifestyle especially if you start your journey off in cooler weather.
- Used the Verizon Mi-Fi (Jetpack): There were several options on the table for me to be able to get on the internet, but this one seemed fairly easy. My goal was to always be around an area (city or rural), where I could get online so I am satisfied choosing this option. I have had very little issues with not being able to use it with my laptop, tablet, and phone.
- Stockpiled Supplies: Even before Corona hit on Mar. 3, 2020, I was pretty much stockpiling supplies especially water, toilet tissue, paper towels, baby wipes, garbage bags, detergent, bath cloths, batteries (double and Triple A’s), healthy foods, packaged foods for emergencies, vitamins and supplements, etc. so it is always good to have a fresh, supply of goods on hand.
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Cathy Harris is a #VanDweller living ‘The Good Life.’ Her blog website is www.SimpleLifeRVing.com. She is also an Empowerment and Motivational Speaker, Advice Columnist at DearCathy.com, Non-GMO Health and Wellness Expert, Business and Love Coach and Self-Publishing Expert and the author of 26 non-fiction books at www.AngelsPress.com. Her books cover topics such as family and community empowerment, health, youth and adult entrepreneurship, writing/publishing, workplace discrimination, whistleblowing, government, law enforcement, domestic and international traveling, politics, media, beauty, car buying and selling for women, aging/retirement – just to name a few. She offers seminars, workshops, and consultations at www.CathyHarrisInternational.com.