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Van Life: The Ultimate Guide To Your First Roadtrip

Thinking about renting a van and finally giving #vanlife a try? Hear it from someone who was in your exact shoes just a year ago!


The first time I found out about vanlife, I was still in college and I saw this beautiful photo, by @divineontheroad, of a cozy tiny home set up inside a van, with two widely opened back doors overlooking the magnificent Grand Tetons. All I could think about was how bad I wanted to try this, so it quickly became a new obsession of mine. I was fascinated by the idea that home can be anywhere you go, and every time you open those back doors you have a completely new unique scenery to take in and explore. Such a lifestyle might not be for everyone, it requires many sacrifices, but one thing I knew for sure is I had to at least try it once.

Few years later, here I am finally having breakfast with my husband and our pup, with our van back doors widely opened overlooking the magnificent Grand Tetons that I once saw on that photo. Traveling across the country together, overcoming plenty of challenges along the way and exploring all of these incredible places that I would so often only hear about, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and if you are somebody who is also dying to get a taste of that kind of lifestyle but is uncertain of where to even begin, then I hope reading this will provide you with all of the information you need to get started and will inspire you to take that leap and make your dream a reality too!

 

Step 1: Where Can I Rent A Van?

Before committing to becoming a full-time vanlifer down the line, I wanted to try this kind of lifestyle first, even for just a little bit. I wanted to make sure that any decisions I make in the future I base off of my own experience and avoid any expectation vs. reality type of scenarios. I had to know what's it really like living in a van every single day, what are some of the less obvious downsides, what things are most and least important to me (like having an outdoor vs. indoor shower, or having a fixed bed vs. fold out bed), how does it feel sharing such tight space with your pets and etc. That's why we decided to first rent a van, and had embarked on almost a month long epic adventure together.

After weeks of researching, the company that seemed to hit all of our boxes was Boho Camper Vans, located in Phoenix, AZ, just minutes away from the airport. They have plenty of vans available for rent, all vary in size and price. Their camper vans are equipped with running water, outdoor shower, portable gas stove, privacy curtains, memory foam mattress bed, cookware, fridge/freezer, camping chairs, folding table, and on top of that, their vans have an absolutely stunning interior!


There are many factors that ultimately will affect your decision, here's an article I found useful when I had to make that decision myself. It lists 22 CAMPER VAN RENTAL COMPANIES FOR YOUR US ROAD TRIP

Step 2: Where Should I Go?

If you are not sure yet where you'd want to go, then feel free to follow our steps. Following this route you will see 5 most iconic National Parks in the US, 3 National Monuments, 4 Canyons, 1 Crater, 6 different States and so much more.




Our Brief Itinerary:


Day #1
  • Arrive at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, AZ

  • Pick up the van from Boho Camper Vans (Drive: 6 mins | Miles: 3.5)

  • Travel from Phoenix to Ash Fork, AZ (Drive: 2hrs 35mins | Miles: 153)

  • Stop for groceries

  • Stay overnight at Canyon Overlander campground ($20 per night)



Day #2
  • Travel from Ash Fork, AZ to Moab, UT (Drive: 7hrs | Miles: 405)

  • Make a stop and visit Monument Valley (Visit: 2hrs | Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle)

  • Make a stop at Forrest Gump Point (Stop: 15mins)

  • Make a stop and visit Valley of The Gods (Visit: 35mins)

  • Arrive at Moab, UT

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stay overnight at Dowd Flats RV Park ($50 per night)



Day #3
  • Drive from Moab, UT to Arches National Park (Drive: 10mins | Miles: 5.2)

  • Visit Arches National Park (Visit: 5hrs | Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Travel from Moab, UT to Gateway, CO (Drive: 2hrs 8mins | Miles: 62)

  • Stay overnight at MyGateway campground ($50 per night)



Day #4
  • Travel from Gateway to Fort Collins, CO (Drive: 6hrs | Miles: 356)

  • Make a stop and visit Denver, CO (Visit: 1hr 30mins)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stop for groceries

  • Arrive at Fort Collins, CO

  • Stay overnight at Shady Grove At OwlTree Farm campground ($30 per night)



Day #5


Day #6
  • Travel from Fort Collins, CO to Devils Tower, WY (Drive: 5hrs | Miles: 326)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stay overnight at Belle Fourche River Campground (Free | First-come, first-served)



Day #7
  • Visit Devils Tower National Monument (Visit: 3hrs | Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Travel from Devils Tower National Monument to Hulett, WY (Drive: 15mins | Miles: 10.5)

  • Visit Hulett, WY (Visit: 1hr 30mins)

  • Return from Hulett, WY (Drive: 15mins | Miles: 10.5)

  • Stay overnight at Belle Fourche River Campground (Free | First-come, first-served)



Day #8
  • Travel from Devils Tower, WY to Bozeman, MT (Drive: 6hrs 42mins | Miles: 408)

  • Visit Bozeman, MT (Visit: 1hr 25 mins)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stop for groceries

  • Stay overnight at Walmart Parking Lot in Bozeman, MT (Free)



Day #9
  • Travel from Bozeman, MT to Yellowstone, WY (Drive: 1hr 26mins | Miles: 78.6)

  • Visit Yellowstone National Park (Visit: 8hrs | Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Travel from Yellowstone National Park to Gardiner, MT (Drive: 10mins | Miles: 3.5)

  • Visit Gardiner, MT (Visit: 2hrs)

  • Stay overnight at Gardiner, MT (Free)



Day #10
  • Travel from Gardiner, MT to Jackson Hole, WY (Drive: 4hrs 10mins | Miles: 152)

  • Visit Yellowstone National Park (Visit: 8hrs | Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Visit Grand Teton National Park (Visit: 4hrs | Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Arrive to Jackson Hole, WY

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stay overnight at Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center (Free)



Day #11
  • Visit Grand Teton National Park (Visit: 2hrs | Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Visit Jackson Hole, WY (Visit: 2hrs 25mins)

  • Travel from Jackson Hole, WY to Salt Lake City, UT (Drive: 4hrs 56mins | Miles: 268)

  • Make a stop and visit Bear Lake State Park, ID (Visit: 1hr 40mins)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stop for groceries

  • Stay overnight at Walmart Parking Lot in Salt Lake City, UT (Free)



Day #12
  • Visit Homestead Crater Mineral Dome (Visit: 1hr | Entrance Fee: $28 per person)

  • Travel from Homestead Crater to Bonneville Salt Flats (Drive: 2hrs 20mins | Miles: 151)

  • Visit Bonneville Salt Flats (Visit: 2hrs)

  • Return from Bonneville Salt Flats to Salt Lake City (Drive: 1hr 32mins | Miles: 111)

  • Watch a movie at Redwood Drive-in Theatre (Tickets: $10 per person)

  • Stay overnight at Walmart Parking Lot in Salt Lake City, UT (Free)



Day #13
  • Travel from Salt Lake City, UT to Cannonville, UT (Drive: 4hrs 23mins | Miles: 280)

  • Stay overnight at Ranchito Feliz campground ($40 per night)



Day #14
  • Travel from Cannonville, UT to Bryce Canyon National Park (Drive: 23mins | Miles: 17.3)

  • Visit Bryce Canyon National Park (Visit: 4hrs | Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Return to Cannonville, UT (Drive: 23mins | Miles: 17.3)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stay overnight at Ranchito Feliz campground ($40 per night)



Day #15
  • Travel from Cannonville, UT to Zion National Park (Drive: 1hr 34mins | Miles: 84.4)

  • Visit Zion National Park (Visit: 6hrs | Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle 7-day pass)

  • Return to Cannonville, UT (Drive: 1hr 34mins | Miles: 84.4)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Stop for groceries

  • Stay overnight at Ranchito Feliz campground ($40 per night)



Day #16
  • Travel from Cannonville, UT to Phoenix, AZ (Drive: 7hrs 12mins | Miles: 439)

  • Make a stop and visit Horseshoe Bend (Visit: 1hr | Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle)

  • Make a stop and visit Antelope Canyon (Visit: 1hr | Tour: $90 per person)

  • Make a stop and visit Glen Canyon Dam (Visit: 1hr)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Arrive at Phoenix, AZ

  • Stay overnight at Phoenix, AZ (Free)



Day #17
  • Drop off the van at Boho Camper Vans (Total Price w/insurance: $3,480 + Security Deposit: $1500)

  • Stop for gas (approx. $60 for full tank)

  • Fly back to New York, NY


Step 3: Where Can I Find Campgrounds To Stay Overnight?

There are definitely some free and legal options for parking your campervan overnight, for example, most Walmart stores allow RVs, van-dwellers and car campers to sleep in their parking lot overnight. However, staying overnight at a Walmart's parking lot is not always ideal, there is very little privacy and you don't get to wake up to the beautiful scenery around you, but you do still get to make friends this way and exchange some incredible adventure stories.


When I began planning our vanlife trip, I discovered this app called Hipcamp. A lot of vanlifers find it very useful and recommend it when searching for a campground to stay overnight.

Hipcamp feels very similar to Airbnb, yet instead of booking a house, you book a campground. You plug in the location, dates, add your specific filters and then you get plenty of options to choose from, all vary in price and the amenities that the campsite can offer, like, hot shower, toilet, portable water, campfire, picnic table, etc. There are some free BLM lands, National Forests and National Park campgrounds that are listed as well, but most of the time those will be booked way in advance, especially during peak season. So if you are hoping to book those, make sure you do that way, way in advance to secure the spot you want! Overall, I really enjoy Hipcamp because it saves you the time and headache of trying to find a place to stay overnight last minute, you can read other people's reviews and see if they had a pleasant experience staying at that places, and you can choose a campsite that has the amenities that you might need.


Step 4: What Should I Bring With Me?

When you rent a van from Boho Camper Vans, your rental includes a number of essential items that you need to enjoy the great outdoors. Most of their vans include:


features:

- 2 front area seats/belts

- full-size bed

- sofa seating area

- 315ah house battery bank w/ 380 watts of solar panels

- outlets (110 & USB)

- dometic 75L electric fridge

- 6" memory foam mattress

- intake/outtake roof fan

- passenger swivel seat

- 25 gallon water tank

- outdoor shower (not heated)

- electric sink & butcher block kitchenette

- LED lighting & dome lights with dimmer switch

- interior slide out butcher block countertop

- shore power hookup


kitchen: pan, pot/lid, plates (2), bowls (2), coffee mugs (2), cutting board, utensils: fork, spoon, knife (2 sets), large cutting knife, small cutting knife, pot holder, hot pad, scissors, spatula, can opener, tongs, wine key, matches/lighter, french press, portable stove w/ 1lb propane canister

bedding/linens: mattress protector, sheets, comforter, pillows (2), extra blanket, towel set: bath/hand (2)

cleaning: toilet paper (1 roll), paper towels (1 roll), trash bags (2), dish sponge, dish cloth, wet wipes, dish soap, dust pan/broom

garage: water refill hose, folding table, camping chairs (2), dog bone inverter adapter

van features: Verizon Roadside Assistance, dashboard air conditioning, backup camera, bluetooth music connection

extras: first aid kit, tire gauge, privacy curtains, phone holder, adventure journal, headlamp, selfie stick, playing cards, hand-held mirror


While renting with Boho Camper Vans makes it much easier to get started with your vanlife adventure, there are still a couple personal essentials that you should bring along with you. When packing clothes, try to prepare for all possible weather events. Think of each day in terms of layers that you can add on and strip away. On top of that, you should also bring:


clothing: sun blocking cap, wool socks, 2 pair of shoes, rain jacket, sunglasses, flip flops, swimsuit

toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, Advil/Aspirin

electronics: flashlight, lantern, portable charger

security & safety: roadside emergency kit, pepper spray

miscellaneous: portable toilet & waste bags, axe/hatchet, shovel, bug spray, bear spray, hand sanitizer, sun screen



 

I hope that reading through these steps got you hungry for your own roadtrip! And if you still have any questions or want help personalizing your own vanlife itinerary, go ahead and leave a comment below or send me an email, I'd be happy to plan your dream adventure!





Comments


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Hey there! I'm Anastasia and I'm 26 years old. I was born in Russia, studied in England and live in US. I've been traveling my entire life and have planned all of my crazy adventures. Planning can be a super exciting, yet equally an overwhelming process to begin. I started this site to help get you started wherever you are in the journey.  

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