Welcome to new readers and welcome back to those who have been following my meanderings! I'm Lyn (aka Jazz) a retired, often solo, female traveller currently enjoying the solo summer van life in my trusty converted Sprinter van, exploring the breathtaking landscapes of British Columbia. As I continue my road trip through this stunning province, I've had the pleasure of experiencing some interesting encounters and have improved or mastered some essential skills during my month-long adventure. From times of solitude, while driving to heartwarming (and sometimes alarming) connections with fellow travellers, every day brings new stories to share.
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This blog post marks the sixth installment of my 2023 Summer Van Life Road Trip series, where I share my experiences, discoveries, and insights from this year's journey. If you've been following along, you'll have read about the unforgettable stops at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, the beautiful and refreshing Christina Lake, the picturesque and peaceful Columbia Gardens Winery, and the serene town of Salmo, BC, and my last stop at Lockhart Beach Provincial Park. Today's post is looking back at the last month and sharing some of the stories and realities of van life that I've picked up along the way. So, come meander with me as I dive into the tales of the first month of my 2023 Summer Van Life Road Trip.
Story 1: Mouse in My House!
I have spent a lot of time camping and I've become accustomed to the surprises that Mother Nature can throw my way. However, one particular night at Christina Lake provided me with a rather unique experience. Picture this: I had settled down in Wanda, my cozy van, for a peaceful night's sleep. Little did I know that an unexpected visitor had other plans.
I was in that early light sleep when I felt a scurrying sensation across my back. Startled, I immediately knew there was going to be no sleep with this intruder in my van. I could get solutions from the local hardware store in the morning but I needed that mouse to leave now. With a stroke of brilliance, I placed some nuts right by my van's door on top of a crinkly chocolate bar wrapper. I turned off the lights, eager for the cute little creature to take the bait.
Seconds turned into minutes as I waited in anticipation, the silence amplifying the sound of my own heartbeat. And then, there it was—the distinct sound of tiny paws on the crinkly wrapper. Swiftly, in a single move, I flicked on the lights and pulled open the door, revealing the adorable and frightened culprit. The poor little mouse was utterly terrified and darted away, grateful for the open door.
I was relieved and quite proud of myself for solving the problem leaving both of us safe. I had a good chuckle at the thought of what the whole episode would have looked like to an observer. I don't miss my roomie at all. Lesson learned: always be prepared for the unexpected when you're living the van life.
Story 2: Biker Under the Stars
During my stay at Christina Lake, I had the pleasure of witnessing a unique display of outdoor sleeping creativity. A few sites away from me obscured on the other side of Wanda, I noticed a lone biker who had parked his massive motorcycle. What caught my attention was the absence of a tent. He had a large plastic Rubbermaid-style storage box overturned and empty on the site and there, in the middle of the concrete pad was a queen-sized inflatable air bed, accompanied by pillows and a sleeping bag. I thought it would be rude to take a photo of his set up but it was similar to this photo but his mattress was much thicker and larger.
image: Canadian Tire
Intrigued by this minimalist approach to camping, I observed the biker's setup over the next couple of mornings. To my surprise, I found the air bed elevated on a frame, meticulously made up with sheets and blankets. The fence behind his site was adorned with flags. It was as if he had transformed the campsite into his own personal open-air oasis, embracing the freedom of sleeping under the stars to a degree I had never seen before, outside of Iceland.
Travel always reminds me of the beauty of individuality and the diverse ways people choose to travel and experience the great outdoors.
Story 3: Challenging Small Talk and Jerks Are Everywhere
I travel alone but I'm not a complete loner. I enjoy meeting other travellers, sharing some small talk and meeting potential new friends. In recent years while travelling in North America, small talk has become increasingly challenging due to the prevalence of sensitive topics and the willingness of strangers to initiate conversations about those traditionally taboo subjects of politics and religion. The potential for unpleasant encounters is much higher than in my earlier travel years.
One such encounter (there were several more) took place in the peaceful town of Salmo. While engaging in what I expected to be a friendly conversation, I found myself tiptoeing around landmines, trying not to trigger deep-rooted prejudices in the person I was conversing with. I was unsuccessful. His monologue turned racist, anti-LGBTQ+, and misogynistic within the first 5 minutes of pleasant chatter about the places on our routes. I eventually told him that he needed to leave my site as I wasn't interested in his viewpoint.
There have been multiple instances of inappropriate banter that (I believe) were intended as flirty but received as creepy. These are reminders that even in seemingly idyllic settings, conversations can quickly turn uncomfortable and it's okay to tell the person that they've crossed your boundaries and that is time to leave.
I remind myself that even though the vast majority of people I meet along the way are a friendly bunch, there are always people who test my boundaries. Solo female travellers often attract unwanted attention and a substantial amount of "mansplaining assistance" that will test all the strategies and skills we've learned over a lifetime. Luckily there are a lot more great people than jerks along the way.
Story 4: Van Life Scenic Drives
One of the many joys of my summer van life adventure is the opportunity to explore the picturesque highways that wind their way through the magnificent mountains and valleys of British Columbia. These slower, winding roads have become my preferred routes, offering breathtaking views and a sense of adventure with every twist and turn.
The route along the Crow's Nest Highway and into the Kootenays has been particularly captivating. I am more drawn to the beauty of the mountains and valleys than the hugely popular desert region of the Okanagan. This route attracts cyclists, car enthusiasts, and motorcyclists. There are also a significant number of RVs, trailers, motorhomes, and logging trucks. It is a less-popular summer playground, so there is always a sense of space and, as a bonus, it is considerably less expensive, too!
Driving along these scenic highways feels like playing a never-ending game of peek-a-boo with nature. Each bend and twist reveals a new vista, each one as magnificent as the last. The lush greenery, crystal-clear lakes, and majestic peaks never fail to leave me in awe. I feel grounded amongst the trees.
What sets these slower highways apart is the intimacy with the surrounding landscapes. Unlike the fast-paced major highways, these roads invite me to take my time and truly appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. I find myself stopping frequently, pulling over at scenic viewpoints, or finding a quiet spot to stretch my legs and breathe in the fresh mountain air.
The small towns along the way are always charming and guaranteed to have rich historic significance to the settlement and development of the province. Although few remain economically significant, there is often a local museum, a terrific coffee shop/bakery, at least one ice cream parlour and always a warm welcome and a bit of a chat.
Story 5: A Chat at the Kootenay Falls Ferry
Part of my journey required using the Arrow Lake ferry at Kootenay Falls on the east side of the lake to make a 35-minute cruise to Balfour on the west side. Although I had stayed at nearby Lockhart Beach Provincial Park the previous night to catch the earliest ferry, I got distracted by seeing a mama bear and two cubs beside the road. I stopped in an attempt to get photos but they dashed into the woods as I pointed my big telephoto lens out the window. I arrived at the ferry terminal just in time to witness the departure of the ferry.
As I waited for the next ferry, one of the employees caught my attention with her warm smile and friendly demeanour. We struck up a conversation, and it quickly became evident that we shared a common bond through our respective careers in education. This summer gig was a temporary one for her, and she was kind enough to offer me some insider tips for my journey.
We talked about our love for British Columbia, swapping stories of our favourite hiking trails and hidden gems in the area. She pointed out a couple of short trails that I would have time to explore before the next ferry.
To the lovely ferry lady at Kootenay Falls - Balfour ferry terminal, if you're reading this, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for the great conversation and the valuable recommendations. Your warmth and genuine enthusiasm for our beautiful province was a pleasure to share.
Story 6: Sharing Mac & Cheese with Australian Campers
In my first week of the trip, I was eager to test out my recently acquired Coleman camp oven and had a yearning for something cheesy. I decided to whip up a small batch of baked macaroni and cheese. As the delicious smells of the cheesy goodness wafted into their site, it piqued the curiosity of the young Australian couple in the neighbouring campsite. Soon enough, a young man named Josh appeared at the edge of my site, trailed by his partner, Paul.
Josh approached me with a mischievous smile, claiming that Paul didn't believe the enticing aroma could be his "favourite food in the entire world". We engaged in a friendly banter, with Paul asserting that it was impossible to achieve such a delicacy while camping. Intrigued, they decided to settle the debate by joining me for dinner.
On the next shopping trip, I bought a cheese grater!
Josh brought over some bread and a couple of bottles of wine, and the three of us sat around the picnic table and, later, my cozy campfire, sharing stories of our travels and adventures. Laughter filled the air as we indulged in the comforting flavours of the mac and cheese, savouring our new friendship. Despite being strangers just moments before, we became instant friends, united by a love for baked cheese and the joy of exploration.
The Realities of Van Life
Van life is not all freedom and adventure, there are unique realities and challenges to travelling this way. Although it is slightly unconventional, I've come to appreciate the ups and downs that come with living on the road.
Municipal Campgrounds are Great Value
Throughout my road trip, I've discovered that municipal campgrounds are an absolute gem for van lifers like me. These campgrounds, often located close to towns and communities, offer a plethora of benefits that enhance the van life experience.
One of the greatest advantages of municipal campgrounds is their affordability. Compared to private campgrounds, these public sites are budget-friendly, allowing me to stick to my daily budget without compromising on comfort. This has been particularly helpful for a solo traveller like me, as it means I can extend my journey without breaking the bank.
Moreover, municipal campgrounds often provide amenities that make life on the road more convenient. Hot showers and flush toilets are a common feature, allowing me to freshen up and rejuvenate after a day of exploring. Some even offer laundry facilities, saving me the hassle of finding alternative solutions for clean clothes.
Many municipal campgrounds also include free Wi-Fi, and if not it will always have a good cell signal allowing you to access the internet through your phone data plan, or hotspot device. This connectivity gives me a sense of security and the ability to access information on the go.
In addition to the facilities, municipal campgrounds tend to have camp hosts who have a wealth of local knowledge. They can offer advice about nearby attractions, hiking trails, and great places to eat, and direct you to hidden gems that might not be found in guidebooks. These campgrounds have become my go-to spots for rest, offering a comfortable respite amid my journey.
Managing Power and Water
Living the van life means mastering the art of efficient power and water management. As I travel, I'm constantly aware of how much power and water I generate and consume.
To ensure a reliable power supply, Wanda is equipped with a small 100-watt solar panel, along with a 500-watt portable NinjaBatt power bank. I have a Jackery 1500-watt power bank on its way to boost my energy reserves even further (thanks Amazon Prime sales with an additional discount!). My house batteries are solar-charged and also charge while I'm driving. The only electrical component that truly requires power is my fridge, which will shut down if my power reserves dip below 20%. To maximize efficiency, I've opted for battery-operated and rechargeable lights instead of the installed LED lights, although I do have several devices that require regular charging (and use a lot of power), such as my laptop, drone, and cell signal booster. I know exactly how much power is consumed by every device I have and make strategic decisions as to what gets charged and when. Some appliances like my induction stove top, waffle maker, A/C, and electric kettle never get used unless I am plugged in.
When there are extended periods of cloudy weather, if I'm stationary for a few days without hookups, and/or when camping in shady locations, additional power sources become necessary. As a result, I seek out places to plug in and recharge my portable and house batteries about once a week. This might include staying at a serviced campsite, finding an outdoor plug-in at a public location (I look for government offices, public parks, and tourism centers), utilizing my sister's garage while mooch-docking (a term meaning to park for free at someone's home and hook up to their residential system), or discreetly charging my portable power bank in the wash house while showering.
Water management is another vital aspect of van life. I have a 25-litre tank of fresh water and a 5-litre greywater tank for used water. To minimize my environmental impact, I only use ecologically friendly products and as little water as possible. To rinse dishes and wipe counters, I use a spray bottle filled with a mix of vinegar and water. To supplement my onboard water supply, I often take advantage of potable water stations at campgrounds and fill my kettle, saucepan, or water bottle directly from these taps whenever convenient, delaying the need to refill.
Doing laundry on the road takes more time and effort than it does at home. Laundry is typically done about every 10 days, either using my set-up at the campsite or finding a campground with laundry services. I often hand wash some of my smaller items at my campsite, although for larger loads, "real" laundry facilities are essential. I try to choose a sunny day when I'm stationary for a couple of days. With two sets of sheets, I can extend the time between "big" laundry days -- those days when I need to find a proper washer. I have accepted my inner miser when it comes to feeding coins into laundromat machines and usually hang the damp clothes for drying on a line strung between trees.
Important Van Life Skill: Organization
Efficient organization is key to managing my stuff effectively. I have a dedicated packing cube for shower items such as towels, shampoo, soap, and moisturizers and another with laundry supplies. I just grab the appropriate cube when heading to the wash house, using the bush shower or about to start laundry. Additionally, I store essential gear for setting up camp in a readily accessible container in the garage under my bed, making it easier to quickly grab what I need as soon as I arrive.
Living in a compact space also means constantly tidying up and staying organized. With limited storage, every item has its place, and I've become skilled at maximizing the available space. The additional twist requiring everything to be stored so it doesn't go flying while taking those hairpin turns, requires everything heavy to be placed low, in containers. Every door, drawer, and cupboard needs a strong lock that needs to be engaged before driving. It's amazing how quickly clutter can accumulate or how easily a lock can be missed, but with a bit of discipline, regular maintenance, and a handy checklist, I've managed to keep Wanda neat and functional.
Van Life Essential Skill: Be Adaptable and Self-Sufficient
One of the first, and most important, lessons I learned was the need for adaptability. No matter how well-planned you are weather conditions, wildfire smoke, and unexpected fumbles can quickly alter any intended route. I've had to make on-the-spot decisions to adjust my journey, rerouting to areas with better weather and air quality or finding alternative routes when a repair to my cracked phone screen was necessary. Van life requires flexibility and the ability to embrace the unexpected.
The Importance of Cell Coverage and Staying Connected
Staying connected on the road has become an essential part of van life but can be particularly challenging when road-tripping in British Columbia. As a solo traveller, having reliable cell coverage makes me feel safe.
British Columbia's remote and scenic landscapes often have limited cell service. I've found that connectivity tends to be more reliable in communities along highways and around cottage country.
To ensure I can stay connected even in areas with weaker signals, I invested in a cell signal booster. While this device uses more power, I choose to use it selectively when speeds become unbearable or when I'm in dire need of a stable connection. However, I've learned to balance my power consumption and prioritize being patient with a slower connection to conserve energy.
It shames me to note the lack of cell coverage in most First Nations communities. The seasonal residents of the cottage country are always connected. The First Nation communities deserve better. I will be advocating for infrastructure to be built to serve First Nations communities and will be supporting political candidates speaking for this issue.
As I come to the end of this blog post, I find myself reflecting on the incredible experiences and lessons learned during my 2023 Summer Van Life Road Trip through the picturesque landscapes of British Columbia. From the mouse that took a detour across my back to the challenges of managing power and water, each moment has added knowledge and stories to my journey.
Van life is a delicate balance of adventure and practicality. It requires adaptability, resourcefulness, and a willingness to embrace the unexpected. From navigating scenic drives through mountains and valleys to encountering friendly faces in municipal campgrounds, every twist and turn has brought me closer to the heart of this province
What has become abundantly clear is that, for me, connection -- both with nature and with loved ones -- is essential. While cell coverage can be sporadic in certain areas, it is a lifeline, offering a sense of security and allowing me to share my experiences with others. Living with limited resources and space has taught me to appreciate the small joys and find beauty in the simplicity of everyday tasks.
Whether you're an intrepid traveller, a curious adventurer, or simply someone seeking inspiration, I encourage you to embark on your road trip. Experience the freedom of van life, immerse yourself in the beauty of British Columbia's landscapes, and embrace the stories that unfold on the open road.
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