Sleep. We all do it, but where to do it?
Most people take it for granted that they know where they are going to sleep for the night, but in #Vanlife that's not always the case. Finding places where you feel comfortable sleeping while in your home on wheels is somewhat of an art form, and it takes time and practice to get good at it.
While the seasoned pros of vanlife will have you believe that there's nothing to worry about, and that 'We've never ever had problems finding a spot.' if you're new to vanlife though it's near impossible not to worry about it until you've actually pulled it off a few times. So to help ease any stress here is a list of tools that we, Heather and Curtis of Vanlife Ontario find helpful when we want to hunker down for the night!
Also, to anybody who is reading this as a new, or hopefully soon to be new vanlife person, know that everybody has their own tips and tricks they use to find their sleeping places for the night and soon you will too!
SITE FINDING APPS
Let’s talk about the obvious first. Apps like @iOverlander and websites like freecampsites.net offer users the ability to share the location of camper friendly spots where they've spent the night. Most sites like these depend on user generated data which is a bit of a double-edged sword.
Data is obtained by users regardless of where they are so these are good options no matter where in the world you travel and people who stay at these places can then leave reviews which lets you get a good idea what the place is actually like, and can keep you updated if conditions change.
However, keep in mind that because other people are contributing data you basically are trusting in these people when you set off to a chosen site. They may have overlooked no parking signs or inputted the coordinates wrong. Also, beware of the comments sections on these. Sometimes we've risked going to a place with negative reviews, only to be delighted by it, but we've also gone to a site where the contributors failed to mention that it would be a good idea to be driving a 4x4 to get there.
These resources are a good place for rookie vanlifers to start off with and we still do use iOverlander quite a bit during our travels, but when you look at the maps you can see that there are some places where camp-sites are few and far between. That doesn't mean that they're not any places to stay. In fact, most vanlifers like to keep their special spots to themselves and that really is the real downfall of these online resources; besides this is #vanlife you don't always want to sleep where others have before! You want to get out there, explore and be free, which leads us to...
A (mini) GUIDE TO DIY CAMPING
Whether you want to call it camping, overlanding, boondocking, or just finding a place to sleep in your van, at some point you'll want to blaze your own trail and find a spot all your own! Can't you just hop into your Van (bus, RV, station wagon, whatever) drive and find a place to stop when you start to feel sleepy?
Yes...buuuut that can easily lead to frustration and a lot of extra driving if things don't work out.
First, know that especially if you're full time you won't always be waking up in the glory of nature with chipmunks and songbirds scurrying around singing happy songs. If a place you've set your hopes on falls through, don't be too proud to go to a Walmart or a pre-existing place on one of the above apps, or pay for a night in a campground worst, worst case scenario. I've now marked nearly every place we've camped and would go back to on Google Maps so we can pick our way across Ontario on familiar ground, but we're also always looking for new places.
So, now to the nitty-gritty. How the heck do you find spots? This may seem like a joke but, have you tried Googling it?
That's right the number one tool we use is Google maps! Whenever you are looking for a spot for the night look for these search words around you. Trailhead, Hiking Trail, Conservation Area, Boat Launch, or other such locations. Once the searches come up, make sure your map is switched to Satellite View and zoom in on your chosen target. You can tell a surprising amount from space about a parking lot, especially if there were cars in the lot when the big eye in the sky was flying over it. If it looks promising, then click on the web link to get any additional information, such as fees, operating hours or any other policies that might make it a no go. Unfortunately, there's no sure way to learn about a site other than by going to it.
We also keep a hefty Canadian Road Atlas that must weigh five pounds in the van that has many nature reserves, conservation areas, and other road-side attractions that don't always show up on Google. Usually, once you have the name of a place you can then use the Internet to find out about it, but we've come across many sites this way. Who says print is dead?
As your adventure in vanlife continues you'll learn to trust your eyes to look for signs, literally of places to camp. Signs announcing boat launches, hiking paths, and conservation areas should be explored, if time permits. Even if you don't get to them today you can put the coordinates onto your personal Google Map so you can revisit it later!
BOONDOCKING, SAFETY, AND YOU!
Just a brief word on staying safe out there. This could be a whole post onto itself but when it comes to all our mutual safety these things can never be said too often. Many of these parking opportunities aren't maintained to the same standards as those in urban areas and can be a little rough and full of potholes and other obstacles. So keep in mind the following:
-Don't 'come in hot'. Take your time on arrival.
-Never go further down a questionable road then you are comfortable backing out of. If we doubt it we'll actually get out and scope it out on foot. Sometimes we have to go back, sometimes it's all good.
-Try to arrive before the sunsets. (Harder and harder to do in the winter) It's easier to find the perfect most level spot and you get a look at your surroundings.
-Leave room for others. Whether that be locals using the area or other Vanlifers, sharing is caring.
-Don't be a jerk! Admittedly these last two aren't really for safety, but for everybody's sake, don't litter, don't linger, and don't call undue attention to yourself.
There you have it! That's how we find the majority of our own spots. I personally think that the best way of getting spots is always from another vanlifer. Sharing in the beauty of a place, even if you aren't with them is a great way to bond with friends on the road. There are many times when #vanlife can be frustrating, so just be patient until you get your van-legs and soon you'll be telling new vanlifers where to park!
By: Curtis Diehl