Travel without Google Maps would not be the same and driving your own home across the US without mapping and an instant encyclopedia and guidebook in your hand would be different too. As you can imagine there are a million apps for every aspect of van travel offering free campsites, state arks and all the needs you can envision or imagine.
We found this spot by chance, driving the back roads of Wisconsin meandering across the state vaguely toward the North Woods. It was seven in the evening and we were thinking about stopping for dinner before adding. few more miles before sleeping. In the event we stopped, ate and slept in this handy little pull out.
If you want to find it look for Bowler, Wisconsin on Google Satellite view and take the road south out of the village. On the east side of the road a small crescent will appear. We drove by, I spotted the space, pulled a U- turn (love the Promaster's turning radius!) and stopped.
RV travelers call it boon docking, which means parking for free in a space not equipped to offer any facilities: no trash no water no electricity. which are all craved by certain RV travelers. For us we have plenty of battery power not to need plugging in and we have a large water tank for fresh water. Our sink drains to a tank so we leave no trace after we pull out of our boon docking spot.
Rusty likes boon docking as he can get out and mooch around in the woods unfettered and while we eat he will happily sit outside alongside the van and watch the world go by. In an official campground with neighbors dogs are welcome but always tied up for obvious reasons.
There are disadvantages to traveling by van, even for us as experienced as we are in small boat living. The space is SMALL. We are not thin so moving around inside is a ballet. Everything has to be pit away. Every door must be locked and checked before driving. Ventilation is critical especially as Custom Coach adds superb levels of insulation inside their builds. Using the toilet, even though it is in its own chamber is a more or less public event. Dust and dirt migrate inside the van all the time. We vacuum and brush all the time and Rusty contributes his own flame colored fur to the mix.
We have learned a lot about small space living in our two weeks on the road and there are certain features we will change. I'm getting taller sitting head room by going back to the factory at the end of the trip and having them insert a taller cupboard above my couch. $700 maybe but it will be so worth while. Layne pulls out all her cooking requirements. She cooks. We eat. We wash up. We dry everything. We put it away. If we skip a step chaos ensues. Every single living function has to be thought out and planned. Improvisation leads to uncomfortable living. Developing the routines is exhausting on the road.
Anyone who has lived in a vehicle knows these realities and we have learned nothing we were not aware of, its just a slight shock to face the complexities once again. Coronavirus has made things harder. For instance our plan to buy day passes at gyms to exercise and use their showers has gone by the board. Rather than showering in the van which is complex and messy we try to find outside showers. For instance truck stops are popular expensive ($12) and clean. At our Harvest Host stop they offered showers for free and we grabbed the opportunity.
Harvest Host is one of those apps that for $80 a year lists farms, wineries, distilleries, breweries and other attractions that offer a free space to park with no amenities but they expect you to do a tasting and a purchase to support their small business. It is a fantastic deal and is turning into great fun.
I am a worrier by nature and I worry for my dog and my wife in this life. Rusty is adapting as we go getting more comfortable and creating his own routines while my wife has a very clear understanding of what works and what needs to to change. She gets fierce when I ask her if she is okay with this lifestyle and she forces me to stick to sensible routines so we don't slip into the ever present possibility of chaos.
I would never recommend you do what we have done. If you think this might be for you let the idea mature in your mind and if you can't stop yourself go ahead and contemplate living in a van, or a small RV, or a trailer, or a big RV or a gnarly overland four wheel drive SUV with a tent on the roof. If you do move forward give yourself lots of time to adapt. Don't expect to move out of house be it ever so small and love living in a. narrow short corridor space. Plan to do as we do, take weekends, vacations and short trips to get used to the life. In two years we'll have the kinks worked out, our routines will be set and when we take to the road full time we will be as ready as we can be.
The thing of it is we love to travel. I have ridden motorcycles across Africa, I took the Great Siberian Railway across the USSR. My wife who has seen all of South America and Europe dragged me on a. three week car tour of Eastern Europe in 1995. A few years ago we took. chance and drove through Montenegro, Bosnia and Albania shortly after the Civil War ended and before modern democratic Europe had extended their influence. We sailed at the turn of the century from San Francisco to Key West with two large dogs. All this to say we find adapting to van life not to be a breeze. We can see the future and we know it will be good.
An infestation of mosquitoes last night set my wife to grunting and scratching. Our first portages potty was horrible leaky failure and though I don't mind cleaning toilets having it drip down my leg as I took the tank away to empty it marked a low point in van life for me. I cleaned like I was inventing sanitation for the first time. Waking to the patter of rain and a stuffy cabin with a dog anxious to go for a walk leaves one wishing one were at home with door I could close. Those feelings pass and success comes in the form of finding. wayside toilet where I can empty the new potty cleanly and efficiently. Watching my wife humming to herself (off key) and listening to the radio while she prepares dinner in some unlikely wilderness is almost as good as watching Rusty go nuts on a. trail new to him.
I don't miss riding my motorcycle. Odd but true. I like rolling down the road with my family and my things and knowing I can sleep anywhere I can park. We can mooch dock in friends' driveways or we can check freecampsites.net or we can boondock in the woods (iOverlander) or we can stay at businesses that let you park in exchange for a meal (there's an app for that!) and if it rains I turn on the windshield wipers.
I miss Key West some days but I am learning to enjoy cooler temperatures and summer greenery and meandering with no fixed destination. I met a guy (six feet away) riding to Montana on his BM motorcycle and it turns out he has a winter home in Key West near the cemetery. I wanted to invite him back to the van until the pandemic intervened. That will be a new reality which I hope will come as soon as scientists can offer it to us. Until then we all do what we can and being able to travel by van seems like a big sometimes messy stroke of good fortune to me.Your mileage may vary considerably.