Frequently Asked Questions
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This FAQ is here to answer all of your pressing vanlife related questions. If you have any questions that you would like addressed, please contact us and we will do our best to create resources with you in mind.
How do you travel safely during a pandemic?
When we do travel, a lot preplanning and research happens way before we set a date to leave. Covid19 cases, mandates, popularity of the area, etc, are top priorities we research to ensure we’re prepared and are able to comply. Especially when it comes to where we’ll be able park/live while we’re visiting. Lately, we’ve been saving our travels for visiting family when times allows it.
I personally cut back a lot, especially initially. I actually had a contract job that provided housing at the start so I was actively struggling with the reintegration to indoors when it started. It really bummed me out because it was up in the Bay Area and I had looked forward to using it as a good starting point to get up to the PNW. When the lockdown started, I tried to make a run for Lake Tahoe but the ski resort literally closed as I pulled into the parking lot. That took a lot of wind out of my sails, then when I got back to the Bay Area, several of my dog park friends got $1000 tickets for being at the dog park after a warning. I’ll pay a $60 parking ticket like nothing happened but I wasn’t educated enough on coronavirus and everyone was taking it so seriously that I just stayed isolated. Once the job ended I drove back across the country on my yearly trek to visit family but I didn’t make all of my normal stops. Most of them were museums and centers that were closed anyway but I did make it to a bike park and it wasn’t a bid deal to wear a mask on the lift and town. While I was here things seemed to get worse back in LA. My job also closed brick and mortar stores and shifted us to live chat support. That sounds great until you find out theyre sending you a desktop. Since then, I’ve just been getting tested regularly and traveling between family homes on the east coast. I’ve taken some smaller trips but its freezing over here so there really isnt much appeal until the weather gets warm or California pulls it together and I find a position that doesn’t take 100% of my daily solar.
I wear a mask EVERYWHERE I go in public. Even the small towns that don’t require them I still wear it. Wash your hands. Living out on public lands, I’m usually with my little group of friends who are almost never in contact with other humans. It’s a lot safer than being in a city going about your normal life.
n Mexico, there are less restrictions than US but many places require you to wear mask. We wear masks whenever we go out to any public space; downtown, local markets or cafes / restaurants. We don’t go to overly crowded spaces like bars or clubs. We are also careful about camping in a street of rural areas, as some small towns refuse outsiders coming in because of Covid. We always ask for permission by talking to the local people or the police.
Traveling safely during the pandemic has been a whirlwind of experiences. At the beginning, we hunkered down on BLM, only going to replenish supplies every two weeks. We saw no one but the wildlife. After a few months we made our way back southeast towards our hometowns. Now we feel very safe as we are staying with a host while rebuilding our rig and really go no where except for grocery and building supplies. It is definitely hard not seeing friends/fam in the capacity that we want but we value social media for these reasons even more these days. When we were traveling this past year, we checked every governor mandate for each state so we knew what we were getting into.
How do you use the bathroom while on the road?
We’ve set up a mini bathroom in our van that provides pretty much everything we would need if we find ourselves camping in a place that doesn’t provide those amenities. Considering the majority of our time is in the city, we opted for a 3 gallon waste porta potti by Thetford that’s easily emptied out into a regular toilet when needed. Our shower set up includes a tub (which was originally meant for our dogs) and our Big Kahuna that holds about 5 gallons of water and comes with a pump and pressured shower head. To save as much space, a lot of our items (sinks, laundry basket, shower tub, etc are collapsible and easy to store.
I have a composting bucket toilet. I wanted a natures head but they were so expensive that I tried to build my own and it works well enough for me and its just a single garbage bag instead of however you have to clean the real ones and empty the pee. I wasn’t down. This is just a bucket from Home Depot, sawdust in the bottom, plastic bag, sawdust in the bag, reliant makes a toilet seat for a bucket and there you go. I get sawdust from hardware stores and then you just do the biz and cover the biz and when its like half full, tie the bag up and toss it out. It never smells or looks like anything but a bucket of sawdust when done properly. Having a toilet is the reason for my upgrade from the Element to the Promaster though. Without a toilet, you can’t really park wherever you want because in the morning you need to hit a bathroom. In LA the public bathrooms are locked until a certain time of morning but also… theyre terrible… I know the best ones obviously but the goal isnt to stay near the best bathroom so having your own eliminates worrying about it… not to mention an upset stomach or urge to go in the middle of the night.
In my Honda Element, I would dig a hole outside. We as humans have been doing that for over 150,000 years. It’s pretty normal. If I’m in a city, I’ll find a Starbucks, gas station, fast food joint, Walmart etc. In the bus I have now there is a natures head composting toilet that I use if there’s campers out n about. When I was living in the woods in Bend, Oregon I would head to the nearest trailhead since they had pit toilets. Thats about it, I made a video on pooping outside on my Instagram as well.
Gas stations, restaurants and cafes, public bathroom (you pay $0.25 for each use) or… nature..Yuko uses a female urination device (pee funnel) when we’re on the road.
We have several ways we use the bathroom while on the road. We decided against a toilet in our rig the first build as to save space. It was not a real problem as there are plenty of public facilities all around the country and we spent most of our time on BLM/national forest land where we used the leave no trace methods for doing our business. We have decided to upgrade our new rig with a compost toilet mainly for when in cities at certain hours and when we travel outside the country as bathrooms are not necessarily readily available in certain countries. We want to feel completely comfortable/self sufficient in our new home. Peeing in a jug is getting old!
How do you access clean drinking water during the pandemic & shutdowns?
Before the pandemic/shutdowns we use 3 and 5 gallon refillable bottles. Every week we would take them to the grocery store and use their refill stations. Luckily a few weeks before shutdown, we invested in a Berkey Water filtration system that allows us to use potable water sources to ensure our water was healthy to drink and cook with. We pretty much rely on both systems now days.
I’ve always kept gallons of water that I refill in the machines. My sink also runs off of a seven gallon container that I usually fill with the machine but I have been forced to just buy the jugs if I can’t find an operational refill machine.
Water. I have a 46 gallon tank aboard my bus and I’ve found campgrounds to be the best. Gas stations will have potable water sometimes as well and using the iOverlander you can find the ones that do. When I was in my Honda Element I would take my 7 gallon blue jug you can get at Walmart and fill it at a water station which is usually outside most grocery stores. Also as for filling my bus with water I highly recommend an RV water filter which screws onto the water spigot. Better be safe than sorry.
There is no complete shutdown in Mexico. We usually purchase water from water purification stations, which cost about $0.50 for 5 gallons. We actually wrote an article about how we get purified drinking water in Mexico – https://asobolife.com/drinking-water-in-mexico/
Accessing clean drinking water during shutdowns definitely was harder. We typically fill at National parks’ potable water stations or check I-overlander for free potable water sites but during shutdowns, we did have to just pay for jugs for awhile/fill up at friends’ houses.
How do you work online with limited WiFi access & service?
This questions a bit tough, since there’s not just one answer. We pretty much cycle through our options to find which one works best for where we are. We’re still working on optimizing our internet service or access. Currently we just pay for all of our tablets and phones to have their own internet services. So if we don’t have access to wifi, we plan to be in areas where we have cell service when we need to work. If we do have access to open wifi, we use a signal repeater and VPNs to secure the network a little more. Luckily, as city dwellers, we have a few spots we rely on for wifi access. .
Right now I have to stay near someone that I know so that I can stop by and work. My primary personal internet access in the van is an iPad with a cellular connection. I have a computer but mainly only use it for editing videos or the sims so I don’t need a dedicated hot spot yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to break free from the desktop soon and then I should be able to upload what I need for work with a hotspot.
There is Verizon coverage almost everywhere now and I use a MiFi Jet Pack. Some spots are slower than others and with that I use OpenSignal to test the upload speeds, which you can download to your phone. I work for Tiny Home Tours on YouTube so I’m always uploading gigabytes of footage, so when the service is slow and I know I have to upload something, I’ll head into the nearest town where the signal is stronger and let it rip. 80% of the time I can stay at camp and do my work. The MiFi Jet Pack is a game changer. Before the pandemic and while I was in my Honda Element I would be at Starbucks almost everyday for a few hours then go about my day. Also one last tip, you can send files n such to your phone via airdrop or email and upload stuff with your normal LTE coverage. I use to do that when I would upload podcasts to Podbean for clients or YouTube videos and even uploading big videos to the google drive app. Worked very well.
I work as much as possible offline in our van (creating graphics or writing) and we usually find cafes to upload our files or to do work that needs to be done while online. We also purchased local Sim cards in Mexico, which are cheap and easy to recharge when you need more data.
Abi and I work online by going to coffee shops and breweries when in cities. When off grid, we use our 4G WEboost which uses satellite to pick up weak signals and makes them stronger, wherever we are. We really enjoy it and have found it 95 percent effective in most off grid sites. Currently, we are fortunate to have WiFi at the home we are staying at during our rebuild. We did have trouble in Baja, Mexico, uploading our YouTube videos. In the future, we may consider added options for when traveling into South America as we are upgrading our power bank.
How much does vanlife cost?
For me, van life specific costs about $1000 a month. I bought my van new from a dealership in Virginia that was getting rid of the last years models for about $26k out the door. I had already been living out of my Honda Element in LA and I intended to drive this back out to California for more space, surf for a while longer, and then sell it for more than I bought it for with the west coast inflation. I took the shortest time/highest payment option, so my payments are $550 for 4 years and that ends in October so I don’t think I’m going to sell it anymore :). I’m a whole adult so my insurance is only like $65/month, Planet Fitness is $20/month (when its showers are open). Then I always a few hundred is for staying busy so gas, activities on rainy days, spontaneous road trips. I can’t say I keep great tabs on those expenses. I just spend it because I know I have it. I’m not a wilderness van lifer so I was able to keep my normal pre van mall job and just transfer it to California so I dropped down to part time and still feel like I can do whatever I want financially. There are certainly places where the dollar goes further than Los Angeles but in general I would say it takes about $1200 max to live and eat comfortably and anything else is just me spending money on a good time… or a student loan.
When I first started out, May 2019, I was in a camper ($1900) that I pulled with my truck. That cost WAY too much for the amount of income I had. I spent maybe $4000 with campgrounds, food and gas. After 5 months I had to be honest with myself and recognize I needed to be more mindful of my financials. I purchased a Honda Element for $2500 and maybe put about $1500 back into it over the span of a year and sold it to break even. Luckily, the nomadic lifestyle can cost as much as you want. ’Vanlife’ which I feel should be called vehicle dwelling, can be as affordable as you want it. Not everyone can afford a new Promaster, Transit or Mercedes and they find other means to support their plan. I have friends that live in cars, SUVs, A-Frame campers, Scamps, old 1980s vans etc. Most of them keep a budget well below a few thousand dollars. Skoolies are an affordable endeavor as well, most builds can cost about 15k with the purchase of the bus. At the end of the day, you need to do it YOUR way.
In general it cost roughly 50usd per day for 2 of us while we’ve been here in Mexico. Most of this budget goes to gas. Here is an article that we wrote answering all of your vanlife financial questions.
Vanlife costs vary based on each nomads’ needs and lifestyle. You can live vanlife on a very tight budget or you can live luxuriously. Abi and I fall some where in the middle. We save money for months at a time and then hit the road for months at a time, not having to have steady jobs. This allows us to enjoy the freedom this life offers without being equally focused on digital nomadism. We spend roughly $1400-$1800 per month for us and our two dogs. This includes all expenses (ie. Fixed bills, food, fuel, memberships, entertainment) we also have our savings where we keep emergency funds. If you own your vehicle outright and don’t make vehicle payments, you basically pay no rent. Stopping to work for blocks of time then makes our money go way further. So far on our journey, we saved for a year while building out our first build and didn’t work for a year and a half. Now we are rebuilding/working this winter and will live off our savings for hopefully another year or two to come!
Lifestyle preferences determines your vanlife budget, and we are minimalists. Here’s a little breakdown: Gas costs depend on if you’re hypermobile, or stationary in a city or campsite. We are relatively stationary, but spend a decent amount of time exploring local and national parks, so our monthly gas is $250 per month. Vehicle insurance is approx. $120. Food costs also depend on your dietary needs. As vegetarians who cook three meals per day and enjoy fresh produce, we spend $500 each month. Van maintenance and park fees ccasionally add $100 per month, and sometimes we need new outdoor gear or indulge in self-care. But we try to trade, thrift, and re-purpose as much as possible.
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