Traveling Solo in a Post-COVID19 Nation
I should say, it's not really "post-COVID19", given many precautions are still very much in effect. But it's no secret that COVID-19 quarantine posed new problems for the whole country and forced us into new routines. Some for the better, some for the worse. But one of the communities highly affected but not overly talked-about was the van life community. And if they were talked about, it was to either mistakenly say how lucky they were to be “away” from it all, or it was to tell them to leave your town.
It seems as full-blown quarantine started winding down, the van life community received some media coverage on how tough it actually was during quarantine. I’m new into living solo female van life and have been on the road for three months. My launch date was set back by a month due to quarantine, so I guess you could say I sort of have a "quarantine van build"– since that became a thing on social media.
My first impression of living in a van will forever be marked with the echoes of quarantine life. While there are a few silver linings to the experience, overall it has made this new lifestyle transition a little tougher. With that being said, I’m going to share how life on the road is a little different in a post COVID-19 world.
Banned from Staying in Tourist or Small Towns
At the height of quarantine, some towns were putting up signs telling van dwellers to leave. In one Facebook van group, a woman said a passing car yelled at her. She was pulled over in her van fixing a tire, when she heard, “get out of our town!” from the passing car. It made her feel pretty uneasy.
It’s understandable why small towns wouldn’t want new visitors–and realistically, it is the safest option for everyone’s health. But van dwellers may be hours away from the nearest big city (which doesn’t really want them visiting either). But this doesn’t change the fact that van dwellers need a way to restock on supplies like food, water and gas.
Van Meetups Are Cancelled for 2020
I know, you're probably thinking "cry me a river, my Dave Matthews Band concert was cancelled too!" But the difference was that I was relying on these gatherings to create a network and support group. Van life can be lonely and can feel unsafe at times; there's no better fix than to make good friends who are in the same boat–err, van–as yourself.
I’d been researching all sorts of van, RV, and nomadic-living meetups across the country. Some were tailored to just female vanlifers, others were tailored to certain activities (ie hiking). As the country dove deeper into quarantine, I watched as more and more hosts began canceling their events. This could put off making a real network of friends for at least a year, depending on how long quarantine lasts.
I've been relying more heavily on Instagram to find and meet new people. But it puts a lot more pressure on meeting up one-on-one, rather than happening to meet at a large gathering. I believe the silver lining here is that I'll just know that many more attendees that much better already by the time I am at these events, making for a more meaningful experience.
No Sit-Downs in Coffee Shops or Restaurants = No Free Wi-Fi or Friend-Making
Again–you're probably saying, "uh duh, this applies to all of us, not just van people!" Problem is, some van people straight up solely rely on recharging their devices and using WiFi from public places. I dropped $275 on a portable battery because my laptop charging in my van would run my batteries dry too quickly, but I had nowhere else to plug in.
I've spent many hot afternoons sitting in my van in a Mcdonald's parking lot, snagging their free WiFi but unable to go inside. It'd be great to leave doors open to allow more air circulation in the van, but I don't want random passersby getting a full look into my setup. Overall, these are small problems to have. But they are the realities of a post-COVID van life world. Most people do van life with the intention of not spending that much time in their van. However, when you subtract the ability to lounge at coffee shops or even restaurants, you get a little stir crazy sitting in your van.
Public Restrooms and Popular Attractions are Closed
It’s inconvenient that some of these types of places are closed, no doubt. But I’ve found myself in some questionable locations for the night when I was originally banking on a main attraction as my sleeping spot–only to realize it was closed. I’ve also become a master of peeing outside because of all the closed public restrooms I’ve run into!
The silver lining here is that it’s helped make me be more proactive at researching an attraction or camp spot before heading there. Initially, I’d use the iOverlander app to read reviews of a sleeping spot. But, most of these reviews were left before COVID-19 and the places had closed since then. Now, I check the dates on reviews and make sure I’m at my sleeping spot well before dark.
And–this is just funny–you know how some restaurant drive-thrus have height limits for vehicles? They enforce these with the big metal bars that hang horizontally over the drive-thru menu. I’ve had to pass up a Starbucks and a few other restaurants because my van was too tall and would’ve hit the metal bar, but I also couldn’t order inside because the indoor dining area was closed!
Your Only Reprieve From Being in a Van is to Be Outside
Thankfully it’s summer and it’s the best time to be outside! That being said, I’ve also found myself wandering around a Wal-Mart simply because I needed a break from the heat but couldn’t go see a movie or do something more fun indoors.
Life can feel a bit isolating when you spend so much of your day in a tiny home. You count on those coffee shop breaks or attraction visits to mix things up and get a change of scenery.
But the positive I see from this whole experience is that I’m that much more prepared to be living solo female van life. These times test your loneliness and safety thresholds to the max, and I can appreciate, and learn, from that.