Sunday, 10 July 2016

11/7/2016 - Core advice for solo travellers in a camper van...

I've been reading a lot of information on Twitter and such about people asking if traveling solo in a camper van is boring, dangerous, lonely, etc?   Well I've done quite a few trips alone anywhere from 2 days to 46 days alone and here's my advice:

A) Basic Preparation -this is a basic list for a solo camper van trip. This is not a van design/kit out list or full list.  :)

1) Full Service - Make sure you've done a full service on your van before leaving.. this includes oil change/ fluids change, checking your tires, checking your belts, etc.

2) Cooking Gear - Even if you're to have a big stove in the back of your van, grab a small portable one as well.  There are some days when weather will be shit and you won't want to go outside and cook.  Well you can still cook inside your van, however you'll need to crack a window or two so the LPG gas smell doesn't get you sick.  Obviously when using a stove inside your van during stormy whether can pose risks.  I would suggest having a fire distinguish in your van at all times.  Make sure you also bring enough cooking fuel for the trip.  I use my 2 MSR stoves and on average burn through 1.5 L of LPG fuel very week.   However during colder weather trips, I might burn through 2 L of LPG camping fuel every week

3) Basic Food Stores - Pack a lot of canned food: vegetables, fruit, tuna, etc.  Pack a lot of pasta as well including square Ramen soup things. You can add your canned veggies to it as well as some tuna for nice meal.   The goal here is to have protein and carbs if you're going to be doing stuff outside like hiking or climbing.  Besides pasta and veggies can fill you up quite nice.

4) Water (H2O) - 20 L of water for 3 to 4 days at minimal per person. Make sure you have either a water filtration system or a simple way to purified drinking water out of the stream or lake.  A small trick I've learn is to use bleach to clean water.  Here's a nice PDF that explains it well.  Make it a habit to top off your water supply every two days at least so you're not surprised when you run out.

5) GPS and/or 2-Way two-way 5watt UHF radio - besides having maps which is obvious, you got any some way to communicate with the outside world if you're out of cell phone range and need help.  I choose a Rino 650 to resolve this need.  You can get and UHF radio installed or get a mobile device such as I did.  If you're well-off (rich) I suppose you could get a satellite phone, but they're big and bulky last time I checked.

6) Solar power - I have a 200W solar panel permanently installed on my van roof, however I always carry a spare portable 20W foldout solar panel just in the off chance that my electrical system fails. This portable one also comes in handy when you're going for a hike or camping away from your van for day or two. I chose to buy this one for all of my mobile needs.  With this Goalzero 20W panel, I can charge the car battery, my laptop, camera batteries etc.

7) Entertainment and gadgets-   let's face it if you're going to be alone in your van for a long period of time, you're going to need something to do so why not have fun with it.  

a) Laptop- If you're writing a blog, bring your laptop and write your blog off-line in Microsoft Word or any other program as such.  If your van has solar power like mine, chances are don't have a nice big house battery for keeping everything charged.  Given that, Bring an external hard drive (the portable kind) with all kinds of movies, documentaries and your favourite viewing pleasures.  You can also use your laptop to play games as well.  Your laptop obviously doubles as a small television set too so if you can find USB TV aerial, you might be able to actually watch TV provided that analog signals are still being broadcasted in your country.

b) Camera gear and GoPro - self explanatory!

c) Drawing pad, pencils and eraser or Painting gear - get creative, while your camera batteries are charging, why not to take up drawing again? Nobody's going to judge you on your work and you may become quite good at it! So whether you have a view of the mountains, a lake or an ocean beach, you might just be surprised at your skill and talent!  If you're feeling really confident of your drawings, take a picture of them one complete and uploaded to your blog when you get online! If you're into painting, I can be really fun too!  Share your passion with other people!

6) Books - how to books, documentaries, adventure guidebooks, novels, sci-fi, etc.    It's worth noting however, that with limited space in your van, you might want to consider buying a Kindle or some sort of e-reader to cut down on space.  Well I personally like reading books old-school style, books can take up a lot of space.

7) Snacks - no I'm not talking about a big bag of Doritos.  While they taste good, they take up too much space.  Eat something healthier like peanuts, Energy bars, trail mix etc.  So before you head off to your great adventure, visit a grocery store or health food store to stock up on the stuff.

B) On the Road:

1) Petrol or diesel -  whether not not you use petrol or diesel, whenever your tank is below 50% fill the bugger up especially if it's wintertime.  Push come to shove, if you're stuck in snow and it's -20° out, you can keep your van running with the heat on and sleep as long as your windows are cracked open.  With a full tank of fuel, your pretty sorted.  From my recollection, my van (which is a turbodiesel) burns about 0.5L/hr idling.  Not too bad!!! However keeping your van running while you sleep just to keep warm as a last resort.

Music/etc - I like listening to audio books while driving on long journeys alone, but that's just me.  Either way, just have a good 4-8 GB of music on your iPhone or iPod or MP3 player ready to go. You should organise your music BEFORE you depart on your trip! Be careful of listening to your new age music during darker, gloomy weather. It might put you to sleep!

Breaks/Enjoy - taking breaks while driving!  If you plan on driving 250kms in one day, take at least 2-3 breaks while driving. One of which should be a good 30 minutes for lunch.  If you're really tired at lunch, eat lunch and take an hour nap. Nice!    Or take a nice 30 minute walk around a lake for lunch. Then come back and hit the road again!  If you're tired, then make a quick instant coffee to wake you up!  

Meals - Since you're primary task is to drive and you obviously need to eat, my advice is to make several stops and eat a small meal each one.  Generally speaking on my driving days, I like to eat 5-6 small meals in this order.

Breakfast - banana, coffee, porrage
Meal 2 - apple, water, trail mix
Meal 3 - lunch- tuna sandwich, apple, water, trail mix
Meal 4 - energy bar, trail mix, water
Meal 5 - apple, water, trail mix
Light dinner - ramen soup with canned veggies

Distance - how far should we drive each day? Many people don't plan on this.  Well I do is I take a laminated map and with dry erase markers, I draw potential paths to where I want to travel.  I try to limit my driving in warmer weather for shorter distances because I personally don't drive well under hot sun.  When you reach your destination/campsite for the night, I take a permanent marker to mark where I driven from/to that day.   The general advice I gave it is, the more challenging the driving is, plan on doing less driving. I try to limit my driving to just 200kms per day unless I am in a rush.

Remember to charge your batteries/gadgets while you're driving. Also remember to record your driving with your GoPro or video camera for those special spots.   

C) Down days:

These are the days that we should look forward to especially.  If you plan yourself out well enough, you'll found a great place to park your van with a fresh water supply, hiking trails, great views, protection from the wind, and with some solitude (if that's what you're looking for!).   Try to stay there at least 2-3 days!

Music/etc - one thing I use is my Bluetooth portable speaker.  I plug it in to my 12v house battery (attached to my solar panel) and I'm unlimited power for my music needs.  Every day the sun goes down and my house battery is fully charged from the sun. Or if you're like me, most the time I prefer not to listen to music, but rather I like to listen to natural sounds like birds, the wind, and rain falling. It's soothing...

----> Leaving your van -  Eg. If you found a great spot by a mountain on a lake, go for a nice hike, bring your camera or drawing pad or painting gear.  Or bring your paper notepad and write some notes for your blog.  When you pack a day pack, pack a nice tuna sandwich, trail mix, a banana, get some water. Prior to going for really long hike of course, make sure the weather is going to cooperate. Don't be a dummy and get stuck out of the bush 10kms away from your van and get hypothermic; learn how to read the weather and pack accordingly. If you think the weather is going to be shit, then don't go.  If you go, then don't forget to bring your camera too!  Whenever you leave your van, make sure you lock it and enable the alarm system. Close all curtains as well!   Yes people can rob your van in the middle of the bush.  Don't forget your sunscreen and a light rain jacket either!

----> Hanging out in your van - If you're going to be hanging out at your van all day, you can go for a swim and in the lake or in the ocean. If you have the proper soap (as in hemp soap) you could take a bath in the lake with soap without fear of killing any fish.  Speaking of fish, if you're into fishing and have your gear, go for it; as you might catch tonight's dinner!  If you're just exhausted for any reason take a nice long nap in the middle the afternoon; leave your van door open while your van protects you from the dangerous UV rays. Or while on your van, you can update your blog the last two or three days of your trip while it's still fresh in your mind.    If you're hanging out in your van all day, you can also wash your clothes in the lake using the same hemp soap that you just took a bath with.  As many of us know, the limitation of van camping means that we have to wash our clothes whenever possible.  So if you're parked up by a nice lake on a sunny warm day, washing your clothes and hanging them out to dry is it smart move.

Nighttime - If the weather permits, try star gazing and/or star photography!  It's fun and if you're as lucky I am here in New Zealand, you'll have a nice clear sky filled with stars!  If you're not hitting the road tomorrow, then stay up late and enjoy the show!   If the weather is bad, use that time to stay warm in your van to update your blog, read a book and/or watch a movie on your portable hard drive.  Remember to charge your batteries/gadgets every night while you are not planning on driving that next day! 

Meals - When you're not driving for a few days, your options for meals are much larger (pun intended).  You can have a nice big breakfast with your eggs, bacon, and bread. Don't forget the orange juice and coffee too!  You'll have heaps of time to wash and dry your dishes. Same goes for dinner too, Took a nice big meal you deserve it!  My recommendation for lunch, keep it simple and small and have plenty of snacks in the middle such as trail mix & fruit. Don't forget to drink a lot of water too!

Maintenance - as hard as it may seem to imagine, you may need to use your down day to fix something on the van and/or air it out from being wet inside.   I was like keeping my van fresh  smelling because in small spaces, even the smallest of bad smells can seem huge. Open up your van's rear door and all of the other doors, and let the wind blow straight through.  Take out your sleeping bag, unzip it and hang on your van so it can air out as well.   Clean your van out as there is nothing worse than a nasty dirty van. A general rule of thumb is that the smaller the space, the easier it is to get dirty or unorganised.  If you're going to be outside under the sun for a lot of the day, make sure you use your sunscreen and drink a lot of water.

If you're going to have to fix something, this is the day for it.  Now I am mechanically inclined, but definitely not a mechanic.  I can probably change the oil on my van, change a tire, top off some  fluids, fix some wiring wiring issues and other minor things, but that's about it.  The more mechanically inclined you are, the better you will be off you will be while road tripping alone.

As stated above this is not a complete advice list for solo camping trips/expeditions, but you get the idea...


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