Van Life [Part 1 of 2]


Let’s face it. Getting out of the house to do anything these days is tough. Even a trip to the grocery store involves careful planning and prep. Especially with kids. And a vacation?! Many of us are daydreaming about how to get out of the house in a way that is manageable.  Being able to combine wide-open outdoor spaces with the adventure and excitement of travel is a win. Being able to Zoom for work and the kids’ school while you’re on the road is a double win. 

Enter the Camper Van.

Why This Trip?

Since last March we’ve been laying low like many folks.  Even under normal circumstances we are homebodies. And years ago our seasonal work schedule blerged into 12 months, 7 days a week. We fit in some family vacations here and there, but always to places where we could stay connected and plugged into our jobs. I started feeling anxious during vacations when I had so much to do and guilty for taking time off. 

Recently, however, after months of being stuck at home—working from home, schooling from home, playing from home, binging Netflix from home—we made the decision to finally get out of the house and hit the road… in a Camper Van! It turns out this is the perfect solution to my vacation anxiety and guilt. The Camper Van is something we can use for work and for embarking on a family adventure. 

We have worked hard for years to provide camp opportunities for kids to get outside and connect with nature. The Trackers Earth Camper Van provides the opportunity for families and individuals to access nature beyond our programs. It is available for rent on, a great place to find a vehicle to carry you towards your next adventure. 

Why a Camper Van?

It’s Easy — Having everything you need in the Camper Van makes for an easy get-away. I’ll be the first to admit that my level of organization and pre-planning for family events is pretty casual. I guess it’s my way of cutting myself some slack. In a Camper Van, it only takes a few minutes to grab sleeping bags for the kids, bedding for us, and a small overnight bag. All meals and bathroom breaks are self-contained and on our own schedule. Even the destination can be flexible. In the Camper Van, you can comfortably stay in an RV Park or a designated camping area (with or without hook-ups… meaning access to water, sewer, or electricity). Having a friend’s place as your destination guarantees a parking spot for overnight camping. Unlike a trailer you tow, you don’t need a special car or trailer hitch. A Camper Van is very compact. Just pull into your campsite and you’re ready to go. 

It’s Accommodating — With a family of five, sometimes our options for travel are limited. Whether it’s space in a hotel room, cost for air travel, or finding something suitable for both younger and older kids. We discovered that a Camper Van is something families of varying sizes can use comfortably and safely. It is easy to drive, has enough seatbelts for six people, and comfortable sleeping spaces for all. We also save $ on meals because we’re mostly making our own in the Camper Van!

Everything Has A Place — Since March, we’ve started a lot of well-meaning home projects. That has resulted in lots of stuff everywhere. Reorganizing seems like a never-ending task. In the Camper Van, everything has its place: the table, food, utensils, backpacks… everything!). Since there is a finite amount of space, you can’t really overpack. Do double check your kids’ bags and remove things deemed necessary that really aren’t (like craft projects involving 10,000 beads, etc)!

It’s Flexible — Getting away can be hard. We work every day and need to stay mostly connected with emails, phone calls, and meetings. With the Camper Van, even if you have 2 days (0.5 for getting there, 1 day for adventure/exploring, 0.5 for getting home), you can create an amazing and special trip within a limited schedule. If you see something cool while you’re driving—like scenic byways, roadside attractions, hidden hiking trails, and local restaurants/food carts—you can easily shift your plans and check it out. If you drive longer than expected or not as far as you planned, it’s pretty easy to find a spot on the fly where you can park for the night. Just check your map or your favorite camping site app and call ahead. 

You Can Stay Connected — With access to a good cellular connection, working and schooling from the road are achievable, too! Other than a few locations and passes, we had a decent cell connection throughout our travels. A cellular booster in the Van helps get better reception in many (not all) hard to reach places. Remember, it’s good to stay connected but it’s also good to disconnect when you can. Really take a break.

It Has A Bathroom!!! — Have I mentioned the bathroom? My favorite feature of the Camper Van is the bathroom. More specifically, the toilet. Going to the bathroom on a road trip has never been easier. It is amazing how often kids pee. Even with ample warnings of “last chance to use the bathroom” or pleading to “at least try” it’s mind-boggling how quickly an I-don’t-have-to-go turns into an urgent matter! With the Camper Van’s little bathroom, any parking lot, pull-out, or viewpoint becomes a bathroom break opportunity.

It’s Kid-Friendly — Our kids love the Camper Van. So much so that they’ve dubbed it “Lava.” Partially for its cool red color and partially because they just “lava” it! The kids can sit up near the cab with us while we’re driving and listen to our podcasts or lurking in the background of conference calls. If they want more private quiet space to read, nap, or whatever, there is a large bench seat in the back that fits two with room to spare. Not to mention (again!) the food and bathroom are. Right. There!

Kids Love It!

The Camper Van is more than just a  kid-friendly way to have an adventure. There are tons of kid bonuses to traveling in the Camper Van. 

A Fun, Mobile Classroom — Shhhh! Don’t tell our kids, but everywhere we go we look for learning opportunities. With COVID-19 we had to bypass many wonderful museums and indoor experiences (which gives us good reasons to go back!). But that hasn’t stopped us from doing some hands-on learning while exploring wildlife parks, seeing geological formations, discovering local history, and even learning on-the-road navigation (those are called “maps,” kids!). Bringing a few field guides, maps, and naturalist books give the kids something to do en route and after visiting different sites. 

Fun Food Adventures — Let’s face it, treats and road trips go hand in hand. Whether it’s finding the best ice cream shop on the coast, stopping by a 5-star fish & chip food cart, or partaking in a local delicacy, everyone loves checking out new food stops! Picking up a meal locally and eating at the Camper Van table is a great way to nosh on the road, away from other people, and sheltered from rain or cold.

Pop-Top Bedroom — The lofted sleeping area gives kids a private space to nest & play. There are views all around and the ladder up is just cool. It’s like having a really convenient treehouse right inside your car. The super sturdy sleeping area offers the adventure of tent camping, with the coziness and comfort of a cabin. And I don’t have to pitch a tent in the dark or the rain! This makes for a hassle-free bedtime. Just pop the top and nudge the kids into their fun treehouse bed. Sleeping bags make it even easier. 

A Change of Scenery — Getting out of the house to explore new places is awesome. We have been stuck at home since March, not just isolating from friends and family, but the kids haven’t even been to the grocery store in almost a year! For them, walking down a new sidewalk, trying unusual food, or looking at different scenery out the window is more fun than ever before. 

The Joy of Planning — Planning for a future trip while still at home is great fun all by itself. We watch nature documentaries about places we want to visit and the animals that live there. We pour over maps (my kids are really into maps, atlases, and globes) and give the kids a voice in where we want to go. They are actually helpful when it comes to planning, plus it gives them something to look forward to. This makes them more invested in the less-fun things like packing. And it’s so neat when we get to experience something the kids have, up to that point, only seen on the TV or read in a book.

Camping Firsts… Made Possible By the Van

I’m an Oregonian and though I’ve visited many areas of this great state, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. In a place that goes from the ocean to the high desert and crosses two mountain ranges, I realize it’s time to get out and explore! I am a pretty outdoorsy person in a family that loves nature. But I have to admit to something: during our first trip with the Camper Van, I actually camped at a legitimate camping spot for the first time as an adult with children. First. Time. Ever. 

Sure, I camped as a kid, and we camp in our backyard, but this was different. We pulled in, put cash in the envelope, dropped it in the box, and got our ticket. Then we popped the top for the kids’ bedroom, made our bed on the main floor “suite”, and started simmering a healthy, well-planned dinner of packaged ramen. Stepping out into a beautiful campsite (this one happened to be on the Colorado River in the shadow of the Wingate Cliffs of Arches National Park) I took in the view and relished the crisp fall evening. Then I realized we forgot firewood. 

Oh well. It’s warm and cozy in the Camper Van!

Do it Better Next Time

It was so easy to travel and camp in the Camper Van that we only have a few things we plan to improve for next time.

Pack Firewood — We totally forgot firewood and kindling. This is ironic because we teach thousands of kids how to build fires at our camps. Not every campsite has firewood or allows campers to harvest firewood from the sites. We have a shed full of firewood so paying $ for a bundle seemed silly. We did, though, and were thankful. Next time we’ll pack some. Also, some campsites do not allow wood fires. We saw some cool RVs with charcoal and gas firepits. Possibly something to consider for future trips. 

Get Enough Cereal — We don’t have cereal often, so we made it a special Camper Van thing. We discovered that some cereal brands have way less actual cereal in them than they appear to have. We ran out. Not good. Choose a cereal box that can feed your family for at least 2 breakfasts. There won’t always be a store nearby. Otherwise, someone is going to be stuck having a sandwich for breakfast. 

Dial-in the Freezer — In Lava, freezer setting #5 gives you melted ice cream, but setting #7 freezes everything in the fridge. Figure out your fridge/freezer situation ahead of time, or leave the ice cream at home. It is very sad to discover melted ice cream cascading down the inside of your fridge, or that all your carefully packed groceries are frozen solid. 

Bring Small Treasure Containers — Whether it’s a tiny rock or a pinecone, treasures found on a road trip need to be stored in small containers. Otherwise, you end up like us, with rocks stuck inside booster seats and leaf fragments everywhere. By the middle of the trip we had some extra plastic food containers that worked, but next time, I’ll pack a box, bag, or jar for each kid where they can stash the amazing treasures they are bound to find. 

Arrive During the Day — Several times we rolled into an RV park or campsite after dark. As tempting as it is to drive all day and get to your camping spot at dinnertime, it’s much better to arrive at your overnight destination during the day. Then you can see your campsite and have time for a walk to explore the beautiful place you drove hours to get to.  Often camp hosts close up or even leave after dark. Being able to check-in with a staff person who works on site is much less stressful. Plus, if you don’t have a reservation and you’re hoping to get an open, non-reservable site, it’s much better to get there on the early side. Many popular destinations fill up quickly even in the offseason, and savvy travelers arrive early to claim a spot (often just before check out time). 

The Takeaway

Our family gives travel by Camper Van 10 thumbs up! My anxiety about leaving the house for a few days was alleviated. We were able to disconnect from our daily routine yet stay connected to work and school. And traveling by Camper Van in the off-season (i.e. not summer) is amazing— crowds are small, campsites are open, weather is great (I prefer cold/rain to hot/dry), and best of all there are no bugs!  

More than that, our Camper Van adventure made me remember how much I love seeing different places. Being able to visit beautiful new nature sites, parks, and national forests with the kids made it even more awesome. Kids ask great questions and allow us grown-ups to delve deeper into discovery without feeling silly. It’s nice to skip down a trail, run along the beach, eat ice cream for lunch, gape at awesome geological formations, collect agates, track ants and lizards, climb boulders and otherwise just kick back and enjoy time with the family. 

No matter where you live or where you want to go, a Camper Van can make it easy for you and your family to get there and have a blast doing it!