ADVERTISEMENT

#VanLife: how a pandemic affects life on the road

By Martha Anderson
June 9, 2020
Van Life, Halle Homel
What happens when you’re ordered to stay home but your home is a van?

#VanLife. It’s been all the rage for a while now. Living in your van or car can provide freedom. Freedom from rent, freedom from the mundane, and often most importantly, freedom to travel the country.

But what happens when a pandemic hits, bringing travel to a grinding halt? What happens when you’re ordered to stay home but your home is a van? I spoke with two people for whom van life is the norm and learned some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted their community.

LhDcdZsALcGzS8RHVtxqCItlgHYl2zzUNQ6fgov5J2lY2jI7Yb03XhD-Hsl2vryaJx8P42THXWJDCXLYIk3v-tk89elp8RrUBYfC9wQk_ruL240RtF9AuXx4LQy94n0PBr1_N6ix

Jen Nielsen, @jolly_jen, in the 2009 Toyota Matrix she calls home six months out of the year.


Where to Go?

When COVID-19 hit the fan in March 2020, going “home” to parents or friends was an option for some vanlifers, but not all. For many, traveling across the country to stay with friends or family would do more harm than good because they would be putting not only themselves at risk but every person they came in contact with along the way. Additionally, those who normally have someone to go to might not have that option anymore if those individuals are at a high risk of being seriously harmed by the virus. Then there’s the fact that some people don’t have friends or family they can stay with at all.

So what were vanlifers to do? Well, many of them chose to self-quarantine by camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or National Forest land. It was something they knew how to do safely, it stopped them from traveling, and it meant they would only be close to other people when they went into town for food or gas.

There were a few problems, however. One of these was time limit restrictions, usually 14- or 16-day limits in these areas. To make matters worse, some locations even closed down for people who were from outside the county. Halle Homel, a full-time vanlifer, summed up the situation in a blog post on her site: “We rely on public lands to be able to live in our homes when we have no other options [...] But lately, BLM and Forest land has been threatening closures too, and for those of us who live on the road, I have to ask the question: where are we supposed to go?”

A part-time vanlifer named Jen Nielsen experienced this problem first-hand. She quarantined in Utah on BLM land for a while before receiving an order to leave. Then she packed up her car and headed next-door to Colorado where she quarantined on more BLM land until she had to leave after 14 days. The constant need to move clashed with her desire to be responsible, shelter in place, and come into contact with as few people as possible.


Harrassment

Being a vanlifer during this time had other negative effects, one of those being in-person harassment. For example, Jen was yelled at by a local for having out-of-state plates while in Colorado.

Cyber harrassment was also a problem for many vanlifers who document their adventures. Halle was active in sharing her experiences online during this time and faced backlash. On Instagram, she would post photos of her secluded campsites and in exchange received negative messages from people telling her to go home.

wv9JAv9J_O7DzWO1qQ3TpK2up2J9sC-PAN7feaxUWWhcfKo7oX0WslqFYoXDlcoDpzJ2aJBv7o3xibvVJ_j-wg93QLyPMhCitTRnFk_jWKtGE7Ey1sUatumMXBXrV0muoWpBlaM4

Halle Homel, @halleswanderingsoul, sitting on top of her van in California.


Tips for Van Life Travel Moving Forward

As restrictions now let up and tensions regarding the pandemic subside, vanlifers are starting to move again. With assistance from Jen and Halle, I gathered a few tips for helping vanlifers do so safely.

1.Plan ahead: Do your research to make sure campgrounds, roads, and recreation areas are open before you head there. Also, utilize apps like iOverlander, a community-based tool, to find a place to sleep before moving.

2. Seek out unpopular areas: Many national parks are being slammed with visitors as they reopen, which makes it difficult to social distance while exploring these locations. Focus your travels on less well-known areas of the country.

3. Avoid bad roads: As there are less people traveling than normal, there are also less people going down remote, unpaved roads. Therefore, if you get stuck on one of them, there’s a smaller chance that someone will pass by and help you out of the mud. Furthermore, these roads are often in no-service zones, so being unable to call for help may leave you stranded.

4. Consider your route, not just your destination: Routes leading you through large cities should be avoided. Not only does this allow you to evade the crowdedness that’s synonymous with these cities, but it also gives you the opportunity to support the economies of smaller communities.

Finally, I want to encourage you to share your own tips for traveling safely during this time in the comments below! This new environment is a tricky one to handle, but if we all help each other out, it doesn’t have to be dangerous.


Martha Anderson is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a graduate of Kennesaw State University.

Keep reading
Road Trips

Return of the Great American Road Trip

Imagine you and your loved ones have a cooler packed of food, and clothes for a week in your car. Air conditioning on, singing to music, enjoying the open road. Take a minute and close your eyes. Do you feel freedom? There is sun shining on your face, COVID-19 worries in the rearview mirror, and the open road ahead of you. The great American road trip is a pastime that took off in the 1950’s, when there was rapid growth in families owning cars after World War II.These families commonly traveled U.S. Route 66 which ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Any families taking road trips in the 50’s were doing something right. Not only did a road trip enable these families to choose who they wanted to go with, plan a trip specifically for themselves, and put money back into the economy after World War II, they also started a tradition that would revive itself time and time again. It’s been 70 years since road trips became an American tradition and in 2020 the tradition will be back again and coming in strong. COVID-19 took away how we used to travel. The Department of Labor reported that in just 10 weeks over 40 million people applied for unemployment. The financial hardship many families find themselves in, along with COVID-19 restrictions, has severely limited travel plans in 2020. The way they may be accustomed to traveling will no longer be an option and they will look for different ways to spend their time and explore somewhere new. If you’re looking for a cheap vacation the answer is: road trip. AAA reported national gas prices in the month of May as an average of $1.97, almost a dollar less than this time in 2019 ($2.82). Traveling by car is cheap and convenient; whether you choose to go somewhere in state or out of state, the current gas prices will be worth the drive. When the American economy is in shambles, we are encouraged to spend money to help rebuild our economy. Road tripping enables Americans not only to spend their money on necessities but on fun activities. Stopping by local restaurants or businesses to have a new experience raises tourism and will help money flow to small towns and businesses. Places like the Grand Canyon will open up bringing in people to see its beauty, buy souvenirs, eat at their restaurant and still have the ability to create a social distancing environment to make everyone feel safe. Where should we be going on our road trips? Anywhere out of the ordinary. “The key is to find a place everyone isn’t going to,” said Cindy Richards, editor-in-chief of TravelingMom.com. Now is the time to convince your loved ones to join you on that obscure trip you’ve always wanted to go to. A trip to Buena Vista, Colorado gives many outdoor recreational activities, no matter what season. Social distance as you kayak down the Arkansas River, go rock climbing, scramble up Turtle Rock, or find your own adventure. Camping at national or state parks gives you plenty of time to bond with your loved ones, explore a new area, see and experience new things. The best part about a road trip is how the experience brings everyone closer together. Each activity you do together, every conversation you have, even the arguments you have about where to go next or what to do, allows you to learn a little bit more about the other person, how to compromise and work together as a team. Even though you may be bummed that your flight to Brazil was canceled or that cruise you were planning on taking, COVID-19 may be a blessing in disguise. Americans now get to explore their own country, something many of us don’t do. America has some of the most beautiful and unique geologies in the world The road trip will bond us for life, create memories to last a lifetime, and an experience that will keep us planning the next one. Are you planning a road trip? Click here to see Budget Travel’s road trip itineraries. Sam War is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a senior in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

Road Trips

RV Sales Skyrocket Due to the Coronavirus

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, Americans have been looking for a way to get out of their homes and start truly living their lives again. As summer arrives, travel enthusiasts are finding that one of the hardest parts of the pandemic is that the list of places to travel is shorter than ever. It is even more disappointing for those who had trips already planned and were forced to cancel plans they had been looking forward to for so long. Airlines, cruises, and hotels have limited access or closed indefinitely, and that has inspired everyone who is eager for an adventure to think outside of the box. With group gathering guidelines limiting the number of places that are open for guests, getting outside and participating in outdoor recreation activities is one of few safe options left. Streets, parks, lakes, beaches, and trails have become most people’s new favorite places. Memorial Day is normally the weekend that kicks off the summer season, and this year it was especially important because it coincided with many places relaxing their stay-at-home orders. As a result, mass amounts of people are suddenly interested in purchasing some new toys to enjoy after weeks of being in lockdown. All over the country, RV sales have skyrocketed. RVs are the perfect way to get out, take a trip and enjoy the outdoors while still safely social distancing. Renters or buyers have the guarantee of their RV being a clean and safe place. Charrier and RV Masters’ owner, Tim Switzer, explained that RVs have become so popular in the past few weeks because the buyers or renters will still have control of their environment. “You’re sleeping in your own bed, you’re using your own bathroom,” Switzer said. “You don’t know who was in a hotel before you so it’s your own germs and your own choice of cleaning.” You can’t have that guarantee with airplanes, buses, cruise ships or any other public transportation. RVs have everything anybody could ever need in a quarantine. With an RV, the biggest risk of exposure to COVID-19 is the gas station. This has become such a big deal that some RV lots are struggling to keep enough RVs on hand for people to rent or buy. Scott Jones, owner of Access RV in Utah, even went as far to say that this was the busiest they have ever been in the 25 years his business has been open. American Family RV in Salem and Chesapeake, Virginia have doubled their sales in the past two months. Reno, Nevada has seen a 130% increase in RV sales compared to this time last year. In Kenner, Louisiana, there has been a 170% jump. Some people have even begun calling RVs “COVID campers.” It seems everyone has the same idea, no matter what state they live in. RVs are also helping frontline healthcare workers There are other uses for the RVs amid the Coronavirus though too. RV companies or owners have started offering up their RVs to first responders, nurses and other essential workers who cannot go home in fear of spreading the virus to their families. There is a Facebook page called “RVs 4 MDs” started by Emily Phillips and Holy Haggard in Texas. Since its founding on March 24, it has grown to more than 20,000 members all over the nation that have come together to help match available RVs with those in need of a way to self-isolate. RVshare and RVs 4 MDs created rental agreements and insurance to protect both the renter and owner of the RV while the frontline worker uses it. RVshare has even waived all booking fees for parties who rent through the platform. Even in such a difficult time, people have found a way to extend a helping hand. And from across the country at that. Now, essential workers can go to their “home” parked right outside their real home. Though it is not the same, it is better to see your family in the window only feet away than not at all. A temporary home could save hundreds of people from the virus. Another reason sales have increased is because hurricane season is approaching. According to Tim Switzer, some people use RVs as their form of evacuation when there is a storm warning. Having an RV is an easier and more homey way to pack up the necessities to leave in a scary situation while still having a safe and comfortable place to live. Living in a global pandemic has been a confusing time but it is beautiful to see that people are still able to find the good. Where some found a loophole to travel restrictions, others found kindness in an unexpected place. The virus, though scary and lonely, was not strong enough to keep people from spreading love or exploring the stunning places the nation has to offer.Haley Beyer is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a senior in journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Road Trips

How to Make Sure Your Car Is Ready for Your Next Road Trip

Budget Travelers know that some of the best (and most affordable) vacations are road trips. With the chance to enjoy scenic highways, jaw-dropping national and state parks, cool small towns, and mid-size cities, the “great American road trip” is one of our favorite warm-weather rituals. Are you ready? Not so fast. AAA sure got our attention when it announced that it expected to rescue 7 million American drivers during the summer months. According to AAA, more than 60 percent of American families hit the road on vacation, and an estimated four out of 10 drivers are unprepared for emergency breakdowns. The top reasons for roadside emergencies are fairly predictable: Are you one of the two-thirds of American drivers who don’t test their car batteries? Are you the one in five who has no idea how to change a tire? Are you one of the four in 10 who don’t carry an emergency kit onboard? Here, AAA's common-sense three-step road-trip preparation list: 1. GIVE YOUR CAR A CHECKUP You know the drill: Schedule a maintenance checkup in advance of your trip. Check the oil, fluid levels, battery, and tires. Sure, this seems obvious, but chances are you haven't done it yet, right? 2. CARRY AN EMERGENCY KIT Auto science is not rocket science: Pack a mobile phone and charger that can plug into your car, flashlight (with fresh batteries and backups), a first-aid kit, basic tool kit (including tire-pressure gauge and adjustable wrench), windshield wiper fluid, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, and snacks for both humans and pets. Assembling an emergency kit may seem like a hassle. You know what's an even bigger hassle? Being stuck on the side of the road without any of the things on this list. 3. DON'T GET LOCKED OUT Carry extra car keys, always take a moment to grab your keys before exiting the car, and check the batteries on keyless-entry remotes and smart keys and keep them protected from water and other hazards. Some drivers find that establishing consistent car-key habits (you might even call them rituals) helps them keep track of their keys. For instance: Always store keys in the same place, say the word "keys" out loud before leaving your vehicle, and change batteries on remotes at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time.

Road Trips

Road trip the Southeast on a budget

If you’re looking for a road trip that delivers some of the highest highlights of the Southeast, we’ve put together a peerless itinerary that takes you from the biggest city in North Carolina to the oldest city in America, with plenty of good eats, arts, and natural beauty along the way. Start your engine! Charlotte Your Southeast road trip begins with a taste of Charlotte, North Carolina. The largest city in the “First in Flight” State, Charlotte offers a menu of contemporary Southern cuisine like the exquisite BBQ at Midwood Smokehouse, several important art collections including the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and the unique Levine Museum of the New South with its focus on events after the Civil War. A stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a must for racing enthusiasts and newbies alike. The winding Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's best drives © Pierre Leclerc Photography / Getty Images Boone & Blowing Rock From Charlotte, you’ll head north (don’t worry, we’ll get you down to South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida eventually) for about two hours on I-77 and US 421 to the scenic Boone and Blowing Rock region. The epicenter of beauty here is the stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway that passes through the region on its way from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, boasting seemingly endless hiking trails and scenic overlooks. Don’t miss the chance to witness living history with the costumed actors at Hickory Ridge Museum, and get to know the flora of the Boone area at its namesake Daniel Boone Native Gardens. In nearby Blowing Rock, spend the day at Ultimate Adventure park with zip lines and other out-of-this-world pursuits. Rest your head at reliable lodging like the Inn at Crestwood, in Boone, with rooms starting well under $100/night. The shops and restaurants in Asheville's Grove Arcade is a can't-miss experience © MilesbeforeIsleep / Shutterstock Asheville The drive from Boone to Asheville, less than two hours south on US 221, takes you into the heart of one of America’s hippest small cities, brimming over with culinary delights (including a delicious and imaginative vegan scene), craft beer, and vibrant local arts. But the great outdoors will most likely dominate your Asheville stay, including canopy tours, hot air ballooning, and zip lining. After hours, we recommend an evening at Well Played, a unique “board game cafe,” and a well-earned sleep at the Residences at Biltmore, starting at under $120/night. The illuminated Falls Park Liberty Bridge in Downtown Greenville at night © Kevin Ruck / Shutterstock Greenville About an hour and 15 minutes from Asheville on I-26 East and US-25 South, Greenville, South Carolina, beckons with an exceptionally walkable downtown that boasts cool shopping, artist studios and galleries, and great food (including the Greenville BBQ Trail Tour). Start your morning with a cup of coffee at Falls Park before you traverse the Liberty Bridge, a 345ft-long span over the Reedy River. A variety of comfy motels offer rooms at well under $100/night, and for a little over $100/night you can get a room at the Hyatt Place Greenville/Haywood. Alpharetta From Greenville, head south on I-85 for about two hours and 15 minutes and discover Alpharetta, Georgia. Explore more than 750 acres of parkland, try some of the 200+ restaurants like Cabernet Steakhouse or Chiringa with its coastal cuisine. Be sure to set aside your evening for music at one of the world’s finest jazz clubs, The Velvet Note. Savannah's Forsyth Park Fountain during the early evening © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock Savannah A four-hour drive from Alpharetta on I-75 South and I-16 East brings you to the uniquely charming city of Savannah. Take your pick of activities, including strolling along Bull Street from square to square to Forsyth’s Park discovering the city’s decidedly European flavors; visit the Savannah College of Art and Design with its exceptional SCAD Museum of Art; and for more art, both classic and new, visit the Telfair Museum, in Savannah’s Historic District, and the Jepson Center. Dining options include fresh oysters and shrimp at Bernie’s. Bunk down for a night or more at the Old Harbor Inn, with rooms under $150/night and worth every penny. Spanish Renaissance architecture at Flagler College in St Augustine © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock St Augustine Once you succeed in bidding adieu to Savannah and its charms, head south on I-95 about two hours and 45 minutes to discover the oldest city in the US. St Augustine, Florida, was founded in 1565 by Spanish settlers and delivers an experience that feels a world away from the beach towns and theme parks we associate with the Sunshine State. Explore the iconic Castillo de San Marcos, spend some time getting to know local history at the city’s exceptional museums, and enjoy a diverse menu that reflects St. Augustine’s native, colonial, and immigrant cultures (try Collage Restaurant for its international menu and romantic setting in the Historic District). Book a room at the utterly charming Villa 1565, starting under $125/night.

ADVERTISEMENT