#VanLife for the solo female traveller: Five lessons from the open road
Fancy getting away from it all and living life on the open road? Here are five van life lessons you need to know.
If you’re a journeyed traveller, the freedom of the open road reveals more than charming and lively destinations. It can represent a way of life – full of a sense of liberating independence, peace, and flexibility.
But, be forewarned, it comes with its highs and lows. Travelling freely shouldn’t be without its precautions.
With more restrictive travel rules limiting trips overseas, which comes as a safety response to COVID-19, an increasing number of people are looking for alternatives. Those who want to channel the excitement of the open road, and feel liberated, should consider the new alternatives like an ultra-modern, refurbished van.
Without many of the hassles of traditional travel, being in a van and touring the country as a solo traveller can open your lifestyle to new, exciting journeys and the tall tales of travel.
More and more popular, these ‘van lifers’, or travellers, represent a group of millennial women who have chosen to embrace this freeing lifestyle. It’s not just about freedoms, but also about understating the experiences.
Nowadays, these solo female travellers document their adventures through the hashtag #vanlife, which has amassed more than 6+ million posts on Instagram – a testament to its growing popularity.
Five van life lessons from the open road
If you’re hopeful that the open road can help change your life for the better, the #vanlife movement could be the perfect opportunity to discover this.
But before you go forth and journey, get prepared with these top lessons from veteran female travellers who have already been down this road before.
1) Plan campsites carefully
When it comes to journeying the open road, you’ll need waypoints, or resting stops, to connect between where you’ve been and where you’re going. The most common is a campsite. These may even become your destination.
More often remote and rustic, these sites enjoy the quiet of the woodlands, or the coastlines, or even just a faraway nook in the countryside. The likelihood is that your journey will lead to a campsite eventually, even if just for a place to rest and regather for longer trips.
When arranging for your travels, research and evaluate campsites, using these sites as familiar markers to navigate the way. You may be enticed by the open horizons, but having a safe, quiet spot to relax will ensure that you don’t quickly fatigue or become lost. Getting regular rest, though it may not seem like a high priority, should be.
When you research these sites, plan for any campsite pitching fees that will affect your budget dramatically, as price points tend to vary between counties. Not all campsites are public, with some being private, or requiring membership to gain access, especially for caravan club sites. As private sites, these may even require booking in advance.
Lastly, consider if the campsite is seasonal and, therefore, its operational times are might change at all. During the winter months, for example, some sites may be closed from public access as the caravanning season is typically a trend in the spring and summer.
Tip: Your instincts can be valuable, but balance this out with preparation and research. Camping on a private site, after all, will require a small budget, plenty of planning, and an understanding of #vanlife etiquette.
2) Privacy is limited on the road
The #vanlife, though an overwhelmingly charming lifestyle for the most part, is about travelling beyond comfort or convenience. A vacation, however, is often a quick, jet-setting trip with a clear destination and a set timeframe. When you’re in a van, plan for longer trips with plenty of appropriate kit or resources.
Treat your van like it’s your second home. It is, after all, a portable living space. Planning, when rushed, can undermine your journey. And often it’s all about preparing for being unprepared.
You’ll need the basics likes of sleeping supplies, cooking apparatus, and so on. But, often the easiest of oversights is the value, and evasiveness, of privacy. Even in a thickly wooded site, or a remote locale, privacy doesn’t always come naturally. Nor would you plan for it.
Yet, campsites are shared, public spaces, so privacy isn’t so easily obtained. Bring along curtains, blankets, blinds or blackout glass, and this should spare you some privacy.
3) Take a physical map with you
A journey should start with a map and a destination. Plenty of travels are motivated by different goals: some for the quiet relaxation of the wilderness, other for a getaway to new, exciting urban life.
To whittle down your journey, and if you’re stuck for destinations, plan backwards. Start with a likely destination, or a place you’d like to visit, and map a journey in that direction with plenty of campsites in mind.
Tracing a journey on a physical map means that you can travel more confidently, as you’ll have a hard copy backup to hand. Whereas, if you’re mapping one out digitally, like Google Maps, try to download it offline in preparation for bad signal spots.
Tip: Not every traveller knows her journey straight away, or has a destination in mind, you might even say your trip is an indefinite one. When your destination seems elusive, update your map form the road, or a you travel. Always plan for somewhere to go.
4) Shortages, spares and the importance of inventory checks
A van can feel small and, therefore, much of its precious storage will need to be reserved for key supplies and equipment. Even more challenging, the availability of supplies can seem only too short and fleeting.
Planning around opportunities to replenish your stock isn’t easy either, because you’re likely on the move. Nondescript places are hard to plan for the availability of supplies, too.
So, what do you do?
Sometimes the best tip is to seize unexpected opportunities to fill up supplies (in abundances). It’s too easy to drive by freely, but actually stopping and strategically filling up means that your journey won’t be slowed down by shortages. Keeping spare supplies as a contingency has its values, so long as the storage can sustain this.
Without proper planning, and regular inventory checks, shortages can creep up and surprise you.
Tip: Bring along a journal and jot down supplies, keeping a careful note on the level of supplies (and if you have anything spare). Doing regular inventory check-ups can keep your journey moving forward, without the worry of a shortage.
5) Find travel companions
Being on the road can be a lonely, sometimes isolating, experience. If you’re unused to traveling alone, or long stretches of quiet journeying, you may need a travel companion. This doesn’t have to mean bringing along your best friend or a close relative – we understand that plans don’t always align so easily.
Instead, a travel companion could be dog. A travel companion will not only bring energy and companionship into your journey, but a dog can help you feel safer and less alone. A dog, as a great road companion, will enjoy the outdoors opportunities along the way, including any opportunities for camping or hiking.
There’s never a limit on the sharable moments when travelling with a companion.
Jason is a fully fledged VW enthusiast, with over 20 years’ experience in keeping Volkswagens old and new on the road.
Photo by Mikel Ibarluzea