VAN LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
By Mary Kathryn Jackson, Bearfoot Theory’s Content & Community Manager & Full-Time Van Lifer
If you’re a full-time van lifer or RVer and have been struggling with the question of where to go – I feel you. I’ve also been in limbo for the past several weeks as the Coronavirus situation has continued to worsen. I’ve looked and looked for information online, called ranger stations and park hosts for solutions and answers – all to no avail. But, I did find a few crowd-sourced resources that offer solutions for roadlifers with different situations. So, in this blog post, I talk more about what van life in the time of COVID-19 is like, and the only options we have. Plus, I share some insights into how we can shift our perspective in an unprecedented time like this.
Side note: This piece is written for full-time roadlifers, because if you do have the option of returning to a sticks-and-bricks house, now is the time to go there. It’s not the time to head out on a road trip or to visit small rural communities. If you have the option to get off the road, then I assume you’re making the responsible decision and heading home.
So, if you’re a van lifer or RVer and have been struggling to find a place to go during COVID-19, here’s a list of options and some community resources to help you find your way!
Where Van Lifers Can Go During COVID-19 if Your Home is the Road
In all honesty, there aren’t a lot of options because the majority of state parks, campgrounds, national parks, and even some BLM lands are closed to visitors. While this puts us full-timers in a tough position, I encourage travelers to honor the wishes of the rural communities we love to travel through. It’s easier to stock up for some vans and rigs than it is for others, but at some point, you will need to re-supply. And, if we’re being frank here, if you travel from far away, you’ll most likely need to make at least one pit stop in town for gas, groceries, propane, water, etc. That’s part of the reason why so many small towns are begging people not to go to their area for the time being.
Another major concern of rural communities is how ill-equipped they are to handle a serious medical crisis like this. Due to a severe shortage of ventilators, masks, and hospital beds, these small towns will not be able to manage an outbreak if it hits their town. Visitors passing through even for a quick fill-up at the gas station can lead to a severe health crisis in a rural community that’s not able to handle it (there are reports of COVID-19 being transmitted via gas pumps!). Typically these towns thrive on tourism, but right now they are putting the health and welfare of the residents first.
So, what do we do if we live full-time on the road? Here are the best options I’m aware of if you’re seeking a safe place to park during this Coronavirus pandemic.
Park on a Friend’s Property
First and foremost – if you know of anyone, anywhere that might have a driveway or street parking space. Call them. Now, more than ever is a time for community to rise up together (from a distance). Reach out to anyone you know that might have a driveway, explain your situation, and cultivate the connection. Offer your hands to help with yard work, childcare, prepping meals, etc.
Your view might not be as beautiful. And, driveway van life isn’t wild and free like the open road. But, it’s the best choice right now. So, I encourage you to build connections in your community and cast a wide net. Be honest about your situation and see if there’s anything you have to exchange (skills or money if you’re able to). You may be surprised how willing people are to connect and open their homes in a time like this.
Our current situation for @roam.thevan. (Thankful for our aunt & uncle who opened up their driveway to us!)
Connect with People Online to Find a Place to Park during Coronavirus
Join the Facebook groups below that were created specifically for navigating van life during the Coronavirus. Group members can post whether they’re in need or have something to offer.
Then, check out this awesome resource created by a fellow van lifer, Megan Kantor. It’s an active Google directory where anyone with open space (land, driveway, spare bedroom) can list their information. This is a super helpful resource for those doing van life in the time of COVID-19.
Here are some other helpful websites that list available space to park. Some of them require fees or a work-exchange, but they’re safe options.
Is it ok to camp on Public Lands?
Is BLM land available to camp on amidst COVID-19? It’s a question most of us have been wondering. As I mentioned above, many public lands are nearby small, rural communities that have asked visitors not to come. That being said, many states actually have restrictions in place (Utah, for example). There have been many, many reports of travelers getting kicked out of public spaces. So, it’s smart to contact the offices/visitor centers and inquire about their restrictions before you make the drive out there.
Stocking up on Supplies
If you don’t have any other choice and you must go out to public lands, I urge you to stock up as much as possible to limit the number of times you’ll need to go into town. If you plan ahead and pack smart, you can probably stock up for longer than you think. To put this into perspective, I live in a 140″ WB Sprinter with my partner and we’ve successfully stocked up one month’s supply of groceries several times.
Here are some tips:
- Plan each meal for the number of days you’ll be away. Know exactly how much you’ll need to eat to be nourished and healthy.
- Buy dried/canned goods & bulk pantry items (rice, quinoa, granola, oats, beans, lentils, etc.)
- Remove the package if possible to cut down on space (recycle those boxes!)
- Use any spare space to store food. (You’ll be surprised where you can squeeze an extra can or two. Don’t forget about the floor of the front seat.)
- Pro-tip: make a note or picture of where you store everything. (Speaking from experience here – you don’t want to find a rotten vegetable later…)
Reducing Reliance on Public Facilities
If you have a toilet in your van, now is the time to be grateful for that decision. If you don’t have a toilet, you may find that many public facilities are closed, leaving you to wonder where you should go. This is another reason why, if you have the option, finding somewhere you can post up for a while is recommended. If this is not an option, make sure you brush up on Leave No Trace, so you know how to reduce your impact when going to the bathroom outdoors. If you do use public facilities, make sure to wash your hands before you get back in your van.
For water, you’ll want to be really mindful of your consumption so you can reduce how frequently you’re having to go into a town to fill up. This might mean cutting back on showers and cooking simpler meals that don’t result in a ton of dishes. When you fill up, remember that the water spigot could have germs on it, so consider using a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you’re done.
Shift Your Perspective in Van Life During the Coronavirus
I’d like to share something helpful for me that may be of benefit to you. During times of uncertainty in life, especially an unprecedented time like this, it can seem like the only thing to do is to seek answers from outside. To consult everyone else and every resource possible to find an answer, some guidance, and a solution. But, what do we do when there are no answers? How do we respond when no one knows what to do? How do we handle being in the ‘unknown’?
This can feel really overwhelming, ungrounding, and unsettling. It can also be frightening for some. Venturing into unknown territory leaves so much room for guessing, whether that’s an undocumented trail, dark water when you don’t know what’s under the surface, grieving the loss of a loved one, or totally uncharted territory like a global pandemic. It can be really intense not knowing where to go or what’s going to happen.
And, that’s okay.
It’s okay to feel uneasy in the unknown – it’s okay to feel unsettled when you’re unsure of the future. It’s okay to not feel okay. And right now, the entire world is sitting with the same feeling – which has never happened, ever.
But what’s helped me move through this uncertain time is prioritizing the things that make me feel good and finding joy in smaller moments that I might not otherwise savor. For me, that means daily movement practices, downtime to read, and working on some creative projects. But it also means finding joy in eating a delicious meal cooked with love by my partner, and sitting quietly in the sun for a few minutes each day. For you, these things might be different. My point is: make sure that each day, you take a moment to stop and smell the roses (even if they’re in your kitchen because you’re not leaving your van much.)
I encourage you to get back to the basic necessities in your life instead of focusing on all the things you “should” be doing. It’s great if you are feeling super inspired to create more and do more, and it’s also fine if you’re not. But, the non-negotiables are staying nourished, communicating with your loved ones, and doing something each day that makes you feel good. Find ways to connect with nature even from the comforts of home. And utilize the power of your busy mind to envision a healthier you, a healthier society, and a healthier planet.
So, as you’re devising a plan that’s best for you, I encourage you to also consider what’s best for the greater good. This may mean that you move differently than you normally would. But, if you have an option that imposes less of a strain on the collective right now, then I urge you to choose that. And hopefully sooner than later, you, and I, and everyone else will be able to move forward.