The How-To of Rustic & Cheap Van Camping

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The word camping has come to encompass a variety of ways to create a makeshift home that will take you on the road and experience the outdoors, as you know it. It can be anything you want it to be, such as with any opportunity or experience.

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It certainly does not have to cost a lot of money; we are taking about camping after all. Even traveling today in Canada or the USA, there are plenty of ways to not make the experience about money, which definitely helps if you don’t have a lot but still seek the adventure. It can even open the experience more when you are looking for those more ‘off-the-beaten-path’ places to camp.camping_3

‘Rustic van camping’ is simplicity with your home-on-wheels, but never lacking charm whilst letting the beauty of the environment find you.

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Yes it can be done. With a little bit of research (as there are plenty of resources online to find free camping including http://freecampsites.net ),  being open to the road a bit, asking around, and a little bit of adventure (head down those side roads of highways, especially if there is a sign for a lake), you can ‘nose’ your way around and find some divine spots to camp that are free and usually pretty private.

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In most provinces and states, you are allowed to camp on forestland freely. Of course always being respectful of the land is the priority, so try to use previous used ‘spots’, and always ‘leave no trace’. It is commonly known as ‘dispersed camping’ or ‘open camping’. Check in with the local ranger station in each area, they will gladly tell you the local regulations and may point you in the right direction. Also, each area in Canada and USA usually has less commonly known sites than the state/provincial parks (and much cheaper or again free, and usually more quiet). They are often known as ‘Forest Sites’ (http://www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca for British Columbia) or ‘BLM sites’ or ‘Recreation Sites’ (https://www.bchydro.com/community/recreation_areas.html also for BC) depending where you are traveling.

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My rustic & cheap van camping endeavour began a mere week before I was due to venture off. I bought an older ‘mini-van’ with the intent to make it into a camper. This again does not have to take a lot of money, resources or skill. I bought an old passenger van for $950 (in Vancouver, Canada). Yes you can get fully-working and worthy used vehicles for that price believe it or not; low mileage is something to look for. I spent $60 on wood, made myself a bed frame with 2 folding flaps for access to storage underneath (note: I have very basic carpentry skills, anyone can do this), plopped an old foam mattress on it, added some vintage curtains and presto Ollie, my new campervan was born.

camping_13Ollie done

Ollie has been so good to me. We have found some sensational camp spots on this journey. Her capabilities are endless. She is ‘two levels’ with a cozy sleeping loft atop that also folds up into a sitting position, as well as tons of accessible storage underneath. It’s no coincidence that with the creation of my own modest camper, I can honestly say I have never had a more homier and comfortable house on wheels.

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Size and price does not matter in van camping. Quality and charm, and ‘making it yours’ does. It is my home. The adventure awaits me, and you.

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A few How To’s about making your trip less expensive if you’re on a budget:

Don’t Be Attached to Distance, Take It Slow.

It’s the journey, not the destination. With not much road to cover and more time, you will be more likely to be patient enough and open enough to find that gem of a spot that awaits you that isn’t at a provincial/state park. Plus, it obviously saves you money on gas.

Sleep at The Rest Stops.

If you’ve had a long journey and just need a place to rest and sleep, use the rest stops along the major highways. You are allowed to stay at them for at least 8 hours, with some of them having no limit. And some are really nice actually.

Take Your Road Trip Away From Urban Zones.

Venture well into the rural areas. National Forests or BLM land in the US are great for free dispersed camping

Cook Your Own Fresh Food.

Rustic van camping does not apply that you can’t eat yummy and healthy food on the cheap. Buy more non-perishable foods, but not processed to eliminate the need for so much ice if any, while keeping some fresh vegetables and luxuries in the cooler. Root vegetables like potatoes, yams, carrots, onions, and garlic last great. Some super ‘pantry’ food ideas to have that will last are lentils, quinoa, any nuts or seeds, a granola, canned coconut milk, a nut butter, and honey. And voila from that, you will have yourself some divine meals alongside some nature and a view to match.

Take Advantage of Your Resources When They Appear.

Fill up your water canister when you see a tap, wash your clothes and yourself (with biodegradable soap) when you are beside a beautiful lake or river. You can’t beat nature’s own bath.

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“It’s the journey, not the destination.”

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15 comments for “The How-To of Rustic & Cheap Van Camping

  1. Deborah Niedziela
    May 25, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Trace,
    You are one incredible woman & an inspiration to many!!!
    What an adventure your life is. Thankyou for sharing your adventure with us & keep safe!!!
    Love Deb xo

  2. August 24, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    You rock! I used to do this kind of camping for many years when i was traveling around, sometimes slinging on my backpack and hiking into the mountains and leaving my vehicle at a friends house for a while, and sometimes using the vehicle for sleeping in as i drove around. Ours places in huge usa.

    Another good trick is using hotel parking lots, if no rest area is around, and then getting showers at trucker stops, not expensive at all, and hotel parking lots are pretty safe. The trucker spots are ok too, but noisier.

    Also, in the morning slip the maid a couple dollars and she will let you take a shower in the room before she cleans it when people have checked out early. Tricks of the road! Showers were the biggest challenge. Of course there are the lakes and rivers too, but if you want a hot shower, thats a good way to get them! Truck stops and hotel rooms where the maid hasn’t cleaned the room yet, just a tip might do the trick! Or, if you are early enough, say sunrise, you can get in and out of the hotel room before anyone knows you are there, just move fast! And do it before the maids hours start at 7 or 8 am.

    Travel well! Love you!

    • the curious rambler
      September 2, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Excellent…thanks for the tips Christine. When there is a will, there is always a way :)

  3. Taylor Stutchbury
    August 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Oh Trace they just keep getting better and better.

  4. Deana
    August 23, 2014 at 5:10 am

    What can I say, your amazing. Love your blogs and travelling with you. Big hugs.

  5. Tanya Tomlinson
    August 22, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    You are so amazing!! Love living vicariously through you!
    Stay safe!!

  6. Eroca
    August 22, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Fabulous post! It summed up the joyful spirit of camping perfectly and reminded me so much of my own adventures on the backroads. My heart yearned to be out there too. Keep on truckin!

    • the curious rambler
      August 22, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Joyful is it! Glad to hear that you had so many of your own adventures Eroca. Adventures are not to go unmissed. And there is always more that awaits…

      • Eroca
        August 22, 2014 at 5:06 pm

        Oh, and the multicoloured hammock in front of that lovely view reminds me of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

  7. August 22, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    You go girl!!

    • the curious rambler
      August 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Aw thanks!

  8. Mum
    August 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    You are unbelievable!. I don’t think anyone can nurture travel more than you and can survive and enjoy life on so little.. Please be careful and stay safe. Your camper does look very comfy.
    Love you always Mum XXXXOOOOO

    • the curious rambler
      August 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Thanks. Anyone most certainly can, it’s whether or not they want to. Less work, less things, more play, more living! Xx

  9. laura
    August 22, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Again, awesome post. Thanks for the vaca! I feel more serene after reading this.

    • the curious rambler
      August 22, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks Laura. I’m always willing to take you along on an adventure :)