I’m not sure when I started dreaming about weekend van adventures or where the idea came from. Was it because…
- I don’t like packing and it takes me weeks to fully unpack from weekend adventures, so storing all my gear in the van ready to go sounds nice?
- With multi-destination passes like Epic and Ikon, deciding where to rent or even buy a ski condo felt too limiting?
- I took a ski mountaineering class in 2018 and we had to meet at the dino lots (local carpool lots) at 4:45 am, but I envied the people who could sleep at the trailhead instead?
Early in our relationship, I mentioned to Jacob my weekend adventure van idea, and he wasn’t really into it. Then in Spring 2019, I bought a twin mattress to fit in my Subaru so we could sleep at a trailhead and get an early start, and maybe that was the breaking point for Jacob? That a van seemed like a better idea than my makeshift solution? Either way, we started talking about it more seriously in Fall 2019. We started by looking at used camper vans – some had everything we wanted but had way more miles for the price. Others were more reasonably priced but were missing features we cared about like electricity or heat. And some were just impossible to actually get to Colorado (it turns out it’s really hard to import a van from Canada).
After a ton of research on vans both used and companies that do build outs – we decided to go with Dave & Matt Vans, they truly do build camper vans “with everything you need and nothing you don’t at a price you can afford.”
Before you buy a car, you test drive it… before you buy a camper van, you rent it for a weekend? That logic made sense to us!
We were lucky to be selected as Dave & Matt Vans ambassadors. In addition to getting to try the van out, we have the opportunity to share our story with you and help you prepare for your own weekend rental van trip
One of the main reasons we want a camper van of our own is for ski adventures, so originally our trip was planned for March. But then, COVID-19 happened… so we postponed for a few months until May when we felt safe going a little father from home. This trip helped us realize that camper vans are a great way to travel safely during COVID-19 and we can’t wait to do more of that when we get our van later this summer. In this blog, we’ll share with you our tips for safe van travel during COVID-19, planning, packing, and what we learned for our build.
Traveling safely via van during COVID-19
- Do your research, don’t go places with restrictions on visitors. Look for dispersed camping sites, you’ll see more people if you go to an RV-park or paid campsite.
- The van is built for off-grid adventures… so plan to be off-grid for the duration of your trip. Yes, this will take more planning and packing (which is why we made a list), but it will make sure you keep yourselves and others safe. We only had one purchase during the weekend, which was to fill up the van with fuel before returning it. Be realistic about your adventures and try to limit your gas fill-ups. We had a weekend of fun all on one tank of gas!
- Bring your masks! You should have a mask even when hiking, put it on before you pass others on the trail, even if they don’t have one. It is respectful and will protect both you and them.
Planning your trip
- During normal times, decide the activities you want to do, check the weather and find a spot to park. During COVID-19 times, be sure to check the restrictions each county has put in place.
- If you don’t find the information online, you can usually call a local ranger station or the local public health department. For Colorado, we’d recommend starting with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment and you can explore the local variances.
We wanted to go someplace a few hours from Dave & Matt Vans so we could get some experience driving the van on different types of roads. We looked at the weather for the weekend, and realized it was going to rain most of the weekend so figured we wanted to go someplace that had hiking but also just nice mountain views, in case we were stuck “inside” due to storms.
We’re a big fan of freecampsites.net, we will decide on an area and then just explore the campsites around it on the map. We know there are also other options if you don’t mind a paid campground and want to have a guaranteed spot like at a KOA, an RV Park or Hipcamp. Hipcamp is probably your best bet if you want something more secluded.
Packing for your trip
I will admit, I always like to be prepared and so I do tend to overpack. I curb this habit by making a list. When I share the list with Jacob, he’ll then point out if anything is unnecessary or we will pack it all and then tailor it for the next trip based on what we learned.
Packing for a van trip is more like camping than staying in an Airbnb, because you need to bring mostly everything with you. The key differences are that you don’t have to worry about how things will stay cold (you have a fridge for that) and you know you’ll sleep comfortably (you’ll have a mattress.) We did like having “back-ups” such as an external battery to charge our phones or flashlights/headlamps just in case – I did end up leaving the water pump on for a while by accident, so it was good to have back-ups so we didn’t have to worry about draining the battery in the van. Since we didn’t want to have to stop for anything, we brought extra water in addition to 7-gallon water tank the van comes with. We brought a growler filled with water which we kept cool in the fridge for drinking and an additional 3-liter water carrier. At the last minute, I also grabbed my Steripen in case we ran out of water and needed to purify more.
Here is my post-trip updated packing list, feel free to download it and customize it. Let me know if there are any must-haves you think we left off.
A quick overview:
- Bedding – We opted for a comforter and sheets, since that is what we will use when we own a van, but you can easily just use sleeping bags.
Happy to have: We threw in a spare blanket from my car when we packed the van, we used it with some tape to block the windows at night.
- Kitchen – You can absolutely get by with not cooking for a weekend. We knew we wanted to have hot food and opted for a camp stove so we could have a better chance at controlling the temperature, but a Jetboil could be an option.
Happy to have: Don’t forgot dish soap, a dish towel and a sponge. A trivet is helpful to protect the wooden counters. Also, think about how you’ll get your semi-clean dishes home on your final day. We recommend bringing a bag to toss them in
- Bathroom – This is personal but important, what will be your approach? We went with a bucket with a luggable loo top and wag bags. The bucket was my best friend for evening pees so I did not have to get out of the warm van to pee at night. Yes, we brought a shovel as back up, but in order to leave no trace, wag bags are the way to go. Make sure you plan in advance, Wag Bags are actually pretty difficult to procure right now. You’ll want to call around to your local outdoor stores or order online in advance. And, just like when camping, wipes are your best friend! No shower, no problem, just do a once over with wipes. (Our van actually will have a shower since that is a must-have for Jacob.) Also, don’t forget all the basics like first-aid kit, hand-sanitizer, and toothbrush/toothpaste.
We didn’t need: The shovel or an extra jar that I brought to store the pee. We were somewhere it was okay to dump the urine out and I even washed the bucket a couple times. I did leave the extra jar on the list just in case.
Added: Poo-Pourri, we didn’t need it this trip but we have met van-lifers who swear by it. Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap is great both as hand soap and for cleaning dishes
- Clothes – Here you can see the difference between how Jacob and I pack – he is definitely a minimalist, I like to be prepared for any situation.
Happy to have: Our slippers for inside the van – especially when it rained most of the day, it made it cozy inside. My winter hat, great for the mornings, I liked opening the door for fresh air but it was a little chilly.
- Electronics – There is not an A/C (wall plug) in the rental van but there are USB chargers, so that’s perfect for charging phones, kindles, etc.
Happy to have: Our extra battery pack and my flashlight after I left the pump on and drained the battery a bit. It was nice to not have to worry.
We didn’t need: I brought my laptop thinking I would get some work done… I didn’t, I just relaxed all weekend.
- Food – I planned out each meal and brought a variety of food. I wanted to be over-prepared so we wouldn’t have to stop. We brought leftovers from the week and reheated them, and we made eggs both mornings.
Happy to have: Snacks since we did have a “road trip” part of our trip – 2.5 hours to Gypsum and then 3 hours each way to and from our campsite.
- COVID-19 – Remember your mask and disinfectant wipes.
Happy to have: Our masks when we passed others on the hiking trail.
- Other – Any games, books or gear for your activities you may want to have with you.
Happy to have: Plastic floor mat for our shoes since it was a muddy weekend.
Added: Duct tape, (we had made a sheath for our knife and used the bit of tape from there) as we mentioned, we ended up taping up our extra blanket and also our quick dry towel as a window covering. We highly recommend having a plan for how you will cover the side windows at night if privacy is important to you - if you have the lights on it’s very easy to see right into the van.
What we learned for our build
It was awesome to be able to rent the same van setup we will be buying from Dave & Matt Vans. If you’re thinking of having a van built by them, we highly recommend renting first for a weekend. It helped us decide things we do and don’t want – some examples:
- It is so easy to drive and park the 136 wheelbase ProMaster, we are definitely going to go with that length. Being able to fit it in regular parking spots is a big benefit.
- We originally thought we wanted the overhead bed storage, but we don’t want that now. We are too tall, and it would be uncomfortable for us. Instead we’ll add some cupholders and mesh pockets for books and phones.
- Jacob still wants a shower in the van (he was a good sport during our weekend getaway though) – so we’ll be buying the new Dave & Matt Vans shower add-on vs. building our own.
- We are going to add the Lagun Table System, as we want to have the extra counterspace and make-shift dining set up – perfect combo with the double swivel chairs. We ended up eating on the bed quite a bit.
- We had thought we may want to go window-less, but after a weekend with the standard windows, we want to have one on the kitchenette side. Being able to put the faucet out the window and use the screen proved handy quite a few times.
- We’ll be adding an inverter so someday when we do work in our van, we can charge our laptops. Also, we’re thinking of finding a low wattage microwave for the convenience for breakfast or post-skiing lunches.
- The storage bench was the perfect hiding place for the toilet and a nice step to get to the bed.
- We absolutely want two fans. We weren’t sure before the trip, but it was nice to keep the van cooler when we went for a hike. It’s also great for ventilation when cooking.
I also learned that all my dreams of weekend van adventures definitely came true and I absolutely loved laying on the bed reading and looking at the view. Can’t wait until we have our own – this trip definitely gave us a taste of what is to come!