Be safe, resourceful, and respectful.
Mary Halter is hardly allergic to adventure, but as a woman traveling alone, she leaves only so much to chance. Most days, she gets rolling early in the morning—“Wherever I am, I want to see the sunrise,” she says—with a clear idea of where to stop. Her small RV can fit in a conventional parking spot, which gives her lots of options, including gas stations, truck stops, and various different parking lots.
Van lifers often boondock, stationing their vehicles outside of designated areas on public lands, but for safety Halter never does. In a pinch, if she arrives after dark, she looks for a quiet neighborhood and parks under a streetlight, closing her blackout curtains. She does her best to be discreet. “I try to stay away from houses, never directly in front of them,” she says. “People don’t seem to notice me, because I’m not camping. I’m usually gone before they wake up.”
No matter where she travels, Halter knows that resources abound in the form of websites, apps, and online forums devoted to van life. Her favorite is Harvest Hosts, a membership service that functions something like Airbnb, connecting travelers with campsites at wineries, breweries, and other attractions. There is no camping fee, but the expectation is that travelers will purchase something—a souvenir, say, or a bottle of wine—before they depart.
Like most van lifers, Halter has picked up all kinds of hacks. She keeps a Planet Fitness membership so she can shower at any of those locations, though community pools and day spas are good for that as well. Laundromats exist for obvious reasons. Starbucks locations have bathrooms for customers. And when restaurants have happy hours, they tend to be sociable places that have the added perk of discounted food. Halter sometimes turns to them when she’s hungry for conversation.
On the rare occasion when the road becomes too much, when she’s weary of driving and can’t find a place to park, or simply craving sleep on a bed with a thick mattress, Halter is not too proud to stop at a motel.
“I don’t mind a little splurge now and then,” she says. “I just tell myself, ‘Think of all the money you’ve been saving by staying in your RV.’”