3 Tips For Camping in a Eurovan

This summer has been full of little road trips and adventures as we make up for the lack of them in 2020 and we prepare for our newest arrival coming this fall. If you haven't heard yet, Mark and I are expecting a little girl in November! We are so excited. There will be a post all about the pregnancy soon, but for now, I want to share about our Eurovan camping experience on the California coast this summer.

So for this post, I'm going to share about our trip and then at the end share a few things we learned that will definitely make next time we rent a camper van a little smoother. We started out the trip by figuring out where we wanted to go and how long it would take to get there from the van pick-up location. Easy enough! 

We rented our van through Outdoorsy from a company called Vintage Surfari Wagons. They have so many cool options to choose from if you like vintage VW busses like we do! After picking up the van, we grabbed some coffee and then hit the road. We drove north for several hours until we reached the midway point to Big Sur/Bixby Creek Bridge (our ending and then turnaround point). Here's where we made a mistake... we never booked a hookup/camping spot in advance. We thought we could just show up at a campsite and park because we weren't in a huge RV or anything like that. Boy, were we wrong. 

After trying several places, panicking a little bit, even checking to see if we could park overnight at Walmart (we couldn't because the lot was a shared lot and the other business called the cops whenever anyone did that) we both just sort of fell into a pit of defeat. What the heck were we going to do??

Now, what we ended up doing I don't recommend. So, please learn from our mistake and reserve your campsite space a few weeks/months ahead of time. We found an Amtrack station and parked there for the night, leaving at the crack of dawn. We slept terribly, argued, and ate cold pizza for dinner. Like I said, learn from our mistakes.

The next day and night were much better! We drove up the CA coast and it was gorgeous. We stopped at some scenic overlooks, took lots of photos, ate at the same restaurant that Jack Kerouac historically ate at, and saw the ocean in all its west coast glory. We were a little disappointed to reach the bridge and see lots of orange cones and construction work happening... that does not make for an ideal photo. But, we made it work.

A little backstory:

One of our favorite bands that we bonded over before we even started dating was Death Cab for Cutie. We would send each other different songs and get excited about new album releases and Mark even used some of their lyrics in his wedding vows to me! Big fans.

One of their songs is called Bixby Canyon Bridge, which I love. It's so poetic and eerily soothing. You can listen to it here. So there was definitely an emotional connection and built up hype around seeing the area that Jack Kerouac (beatnik writer) and Ben Gibbard of DCFC both referenced in such emotional ways. 

We get there. There is traffic and road work and it's loud and there are a bunch of tourists. I was a little disappointed, not going to lie. I guess we should've gotten there at the crack of dawn rather than late afternoon. But we tried to make the best of it! 

We shared headphones and put the song on and just stood there staring at the bridge and the valley and the ocean. There were a few minutes where the annoyances all melted away and I thought, "Wow, I'm finally here. And I feel nothing." It was beautiful, don't get me wrong. But I didn't feel any type of inspiration or enlightenment or whatever I thought I would feel. Ironic because the song is about how he does the same exact thing. Goes to the bridge and expects all these amazing connections to the past and what Jack Kerouac wrote about but he feels nothing. It's just a bridge that got travelers where they needed to go. 

And that's ok. That's life sometimes. We romanticize places and moments, even though they're nothing that special. 

When we left the bridge we got lunch at Nepanthe, a place that Jack Kerouac frequented when he was living in the area and writing one of his books. It was pretty good food, a little pricey but the views were incredible out on the deck where we sat. But again, no connection. Just a restaurant filled with people from LA or San Francisco looking for a little getaway on the coast. People with money to spend and fancy clothes and cars to show off. I definitely felt out of place because I got there looking for an artistic and emotional experience and it was just a nice day during our trip. 

When we headed back towards our campsite for the evening, we laughed about how excited we got for something so simple. But I'm glad that I got to experience it with Mark. He's the best travel buddy.

For our last night, we thankfully had a campsite reservation. We stayed at Pacific Dunes Ranch. It was clean and family friendly and exactly what we needed after a long day of travel. PLUS there were amazing sand dunes adjacent to it that you could climb up. We watched the sunset from the top and I think that may have been my favorite part. 

3 Tips For Camping in a Eurovan

Now for the part I'm sure you've been waiting for. The reason you're reading this post. After some ups and downs and all arounds on our trip, here are 3 things to keep in mind when you rent a Eurovan to go camping.

1. Make campsite reservations or overnight accommodations.

You do not want to be sleeping in a parking lot overnight. Its not the safest option and you could risk getting a ticket for trespassing or loitering. Each state and city has its own rules, so read up on them. Walmart usually allows 1 night stays for travelers in the parking lot but we learned that its only if they don't share a parking lot with a grouchy, "quick to call the police" neighboring store. 

When you have a reservation for the night it also gives you peace of mind because you can take a little time getting places and seeing the sights or hiking or whatever you're up to that day. You won't have to rush to find a place to camp before sundown. 

2. Give yourself more time than you need.

When you're in an area as gorgeous as the California coast, you'll want to make lots of stops. If you don't have a toilet onboard, you'll need to make bathroom stops. If you want to take a rest from driving during the day, you want to make sure you have enough time. Giving yourself a buffer of a few hours is so helpful because then you don't have to rush through the day. 

Plus a lot of national parks, coastal drives, and scenic routes have pull off points for pictures. You don't want to pass them all by because you decided to get on the road at 10 am instead of 8 am. Not to mention, what if you need to stop for gas or get a flat tire? Set yourself up for success.

3. Pack more than just your clothing. 

Yes, you obviously want to have the essentials. Clothing, toiletries, etc. BUT we found that having our own towels and a fitted sheet were super helpful because our van didn't have either. We could have added them at pick up, but for a cost. If you're able to bring your own pillow, I would as well. I wasn't able to fit mine in my luggage but thankfully I had a camping pillow that you can check out here

We also recommend picking up some groceries (check the size of your fridge or cooler in the van) so you aren't always stopping at fast food spots and eating junk/spending money. Our van had a mini fridge so it was nice to be able to have fruit and oat milk and some eggs. 

The whole trip and experience overall were so much fun and we made so many fun memories. We definitely both agreed that we would need at least a week to enjoy more of the coast and maybe go a little inland to places like Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Los Padres National Forest. We also made a pit stop in San Luis Obispo to get some coffee at Scout Coffee Co. and it was great! I wish we would've had a little more time to walk around because it was a beautiful day.


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