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My Road Trip Tips for Summer Van Life

It's that time again! My summer van life adventures are about to begin this weekend. I hope you'll follow along as my much-beloved van named Wanda and I meander around British Columbia in search of stunning landscapes, great hiking, charming small towns, and summer adventures with plenty of swimming and kayaking. Wanda is a converted Sprinter cargo van that I purchased during the early stages of the pandemic. As we've travelled around, I've learned a lot about what I need to make my road trips both more comfortable and better suited to fit what I want from my summer van life. I've updated the build, added equipment, and reorganized multiple times. My itinerary has become much looser and my knowledge and love for my home province has grown.

I'm not the glamorous #vanlife influencer-type nor am I likely to seek out experiences in the deep backcountry. I love a good hike out in the forest, pristine wilderness and kayaking on a lake but I am a "mature solo female traveller" and days of tenting or taking multi-day hikes are much less appealing. I now want a comfortable bed, the ability to store and cook a wide variety of food, a toilet/shower, power, and places to put my stuff. I don't want to drive daily and cover large distances, I'd rather linger and check out the area more thoroughly. I do love having a little town to explore and pick up supplies. I want to feel safe and I want a decent cell-phone connection.

Today's post is some of the essential learnings I've discovered along the way.

Pre-Trip Summer Van Life Planning Tips

We always have things to do before we can leave home for an extended road trip. Some of those things are obvious like packing food, clothes, and comfort items. These are things that can be gathered fairly quickly and will depend upon personal needs and preferences. There are other tasks that I have learned are important for my summer vanlife trips.

Ensure a Smooth Ride, Get a Mechanical Check

British Columbia is mainly wilderness. Yes, we have a sprawling metropolitan area around Vancouver and other urban areas scattered around but most of the geography is mountains, forests, and rugged coastlines. Cell phone coverage in some regions is only available in a very narrow band on either side of one of the main highways. Most British Columbia road trips will take you through mountain passes where it can snow even in the summer months. I make sure to renew my BCAA membership so I have a little more peace-0f-mind that I will be able to get help if I do have a mechanical issue.

Before starting any road trip, it's crucial to ensure that your vehicle is in optimal condition, that fluids are filled, and tires are examined. For Wanda, I recently went through a complete pre-travel check to address any potential issues. Even with that check, when my daughter borrowed Wanda for a quick trip a couple of weekends ago, Wanda's alternator failed. Any vehicle can develop issues at any time. Be prepared with emergency funds in the budget and a plan for a place to sleep, if your vehicle needs repair. (My daughter earned her #vanlife creds by sleeping overnight in the van in a Canadian Tire parking lot)

Equally important for any van life adventure is checking all the "home" systems before heading out. I make sure to fill the water tanks, check the electricals, take inventory and restock the van with cleaning supplies, food staples, first aid supplies, my toolbox and other essential items.

Organize Home Checks

We all have different situations that may need some consideration before taking off on an extended trip. I live alone with 3 pet birds who need daily care while I'm away, so I need to arrange pet care. I have had great success with Trusted Housesitters. The sitters I've had looked after both my pets and my home very well. A year's membership is less than the cost of boarding.

You may need to organize lawn-mowing, prescription renewals, mail pick-up, or getting the garden watered. I've learned to get these details figured out at least a month ahead.

What New Equipment will Improve This Year's Summer Van Life?

Last summer, I started making a wish list of equipment that I wanted to buy before this year's trip. I have all the basic equipment so these aren't essential for life on the road but are the add-ons that will make my life more comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable -- which is pretty essential, in my view.

Fulfilling the Wish List: Road Trip Upgrades

When I'm travelling with Wanda, she is my home and I want many of the trappings of home. My fridge, some indoor lights, and my device charging all require electricity. Few provincial campsites and recreational sites (the cheap ones) offer electricity hook-ups. The private campsites that do offer hook-ups are often much more expensive. I do have a small solar panel but when it's raining or I'm in the shade, my power may run low. I had this issue a couple of times last summer. Buying a portable power station was the first priority.

Another essential on my list was a camp oven. Wanda has a single induction burner inside that I have only used once. To keep odours and moisture from collecting in the van, I cook outside on a trusty Coleman butane camp stove. I love to cook and enjoyed the challenge of cooking healthy food with a cast-iron pan but I really wanted an oven. I chose the Coleman Camp oven mainly because it collapses and stores flat. I look forward to using it this summer with a review to be written at the end of the summer.

My morning smoothie routine was a challenge without a blender but small appliances use a lot of power that I wasn't willing to use, so I bought a battery-operated model which I hope will work better than fork-mashing. I'll review this later in the summer, after I've given it a good work-out.

BC has always had a wildfire season that is getting worse each year. Campfire bans can last the entire summer... but a cozy campfire is always an important part of my camping experience. My indulgent purchase for this season was a portable propane campfire. I'm hoping the lack of smoke and smell will make up for the lack of authenticity.

Preparing for Summer Van life: My Essentials for Keeping Occupied

Not every moment of the day will be spent being active. I will have time when I'm taking it easy but I'm not very good at being idle. There are several items that I consider essential for a comfortable and enjoyable road trip. While these items may seem small or hard to forget, they play a significant role in enhancing the overall experience. For a week or two prior to leaving, I keep a couple of large IKEA-type bags around the house where I drop items that I need to gather for my travels. When the bag gets full, I take it out to Wanda and put it away. This is how I try to ensure that I don't forget those vital bits and pieces.

As an avid photographer, I can't forget to pack my camera gear -- camera, drone, and dash-cam. From lenses and tripods to spare memory cards and batteries, having the right equipment on hand allows me to capture the stunning landscapes and unforgettable moments of my journey.

Road trips provide an excellent opportunity for relaxation and self-reflection. I've got some podcasts ready for when I'm driving. I will have my laptop (and will be blogging), I've packed a selection of books that I've been eager to read, and a list of projects I want to complete. I've also downloaded some movies that I can watch offline ensuring that I have plenty of entertainment during downtime. I also pack my flute and sheet music, which is absolutely essential for my routine.

While GPS systems and smartphone apps are convenient, I always like to have physical maps and navigation tools on hand as a backup, especially with BC's poor cell connection in remote areas. Beyond a good roadmap atlas, the best map book for exploring that I've found is Backroad Mapbooks, which includes maps and outdoor adventure information, public lands, recreational sites and forestry service roads. Navigating with a backroad map helps me discover hidden gems along the way and gives me enough information to make wise decisions.

To make my van feel more like a cozy home, I've gathered a few comfort items. This includes soft blankets, throw pillows, and a comfortable camping chair and table for relaxing outdoors. Insect-repellant coils and outdoor solar lanterns make evenings outside much more pleasant. Creating a comfortable and inviting space enhances the overall experience of van life.

Remember, your list of items will vary based on personal preferences and needs. It's essential to consider your own interests and requirements when gathering supplies for your own van life adventure.

Summer Van Life Tip: Finding a Spot to Sleep for the Night

I do not plan a road trip the way I would plan an international trip. I know that I will always have a bed for the night, so I rarely plan ahead. This can cause some challenges during the summer high season, especially since I want to road trip inexpensively. If I were to be travelling fast between specific destinations, I might be willing to spend a night in a rest stop, retail parking lot, or beside a road but that's not my ideal summer road trip. I want flexibility to respond to random local attractions, my whims, or the weather so I don't often know where I will sleep on a travel day. I am rarely wanting to drive longer than 5-6 hours, even on a travel day. My first choice will usually be a provincial park or recreational site. BC has many provincial parks located in beautiful locations. The provincial parks will have level sites, picnic tables, a fire pit, water and pit toilets at minimum, but many include flush toilets, coin showers, naturalist programs, and playgrounds for $25 - $40 a night. A handful of the provincial parks also include power/water/sewage hook-ups and may charge more.

The provincial campsites are very popular. The only way to ensure you have a site is to reserve ahead using the BC Parks Reservation System (which charges an extra $6 per night to book ahead). It is very unlikely you'll be able to reserve a spot once the summer season begins, but don't let that discourage you from heading out. Most (but not all) of the parks have a few sites put aside on a "first-come first-serve" basis. Check-out time is 11:00, check-in is 13:00. If you can get to the park close to check-in time, you are more likely to get a spot. I try to find my weekend spot by Thursday before the weekend campers hit the road.

Owl Creek Recreational Site - Penticton, BC

Recreational Sites are usually much more basic, often located down a rough road and are in more remote but amazing locations. Pit toilets may be the only amenity provided, sometimes not even that. BC Parks staff do not do daily patrols and often do not service these sites. Campers are expected, in most cases, to haul out their own trash. These sites are much less popular and range from free to about $20 per night. It is very likely that you will find a place to call home for a few days. I have stayed in several that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Chase Lion's RV Park, Chase, BC

I have also had success checking with local tourist information centers that have directed me to local campsites, often run by First Nation communities or local service groups. Every time I have used one of these campgrounds, such as Chase Lion's RV Park or Enderby's Quilakwa RV & Campground, I have had a great site at a reasonable cost.

Quilakwa Campground, Enderby, BC

I also am a member of Harvest Hosts. This is an app where wineries, farms, breweries, and other small business operations allow members with self-contained campers/RVs to stay overnight on their properties. It is expected that campers will purchase at least $20 worth of goods from their businesses. I have stayed at wineries, breweries, farms, and markets. No amenities are provided and only overnight stays are offered but, for me, each stay has been a delight. There are lots of options in the Okanagan and Shuswap areas of British Columbia but fewer elsewhere.

Celista Winery, Celista BC

My last choice would be finding a rest stop, retail parking lot, or street parking but, if travelling a longer distance or if I'm not planning to linger in an area, I will open up the iOverlander app to access a database of locations where other travellers have listed places they've found to park safely from established campsites to roadside pull-outs. For those on a tight budget, moving frequently, or only needing a parking spot for a night, iOverlander will be very useful.


My road trip will begin in the Interior Region of British Columbia. I plan on following Hwy 3 until I feel like stopping, somewhere in the Okanagan region. I hope that sharing my preparations and tips through this blog post has provided valuable insights and inspiration to fellow travellers planning on sampling some summer van life in this beautiful province. Check out posts from my previous journeys with Wanda to learn about places I've already been.

DeMille's Farm Market, a Harvest Host location in Salmon Arm, BC

Van life offers a unique sense of freedom, allowing me to embrace the beauty of nature, connect with like-minded individuals, and create unforgettable memories in comfort and convenience as I move around in my little summer home on wheels.

So, join me on this road trip through subsequent blog posts, as I spend time discovering the Okanagan and Kootenay regions. I will share my experiences, stunning landscapes, and the unexpected joys of life on the open road. Together, let's embrace the spirit of adventure and make this summer an unforgettable one.


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