Top 5 things to know before vanlife. Less is more, slow down, pack warm, and plan for the unexpected.
Our first days with Cedar Fox were spent in the hospital. I was recovering from a c-section and we wanted to make sure that breastfeeding was established before we went home. The four days we spent in the hospital blur together, days into nights, and nights into days. (Read Cedar Fox’s birth story)
Our plan had always been to co-sleep with Cedar, but the hospital doesn’t allow babies to be in your bed, they’re supposed to sleep in their own little bed. Which makes sense since the beds are small, and in my case I couldn’t feel half my body, but it didn’t feel right. For ten months my baby was growing inside me and now all of a sudden he’s not allowed to be next to me! Cedar sleeping in his own little bed didn’t last for long. That first night Adam rolled Cedar’s bed right next to me so he’d be close, and I’d be able to touch him even with my limited mobility. I was very hyper aware of Cedar so I got very little sleep that night, waking at every sound and movement he made.
By the next night the anesthetic had worn off so I was able to sleep on my side. After nursing, Cedar fell asleep next to me and Adam stayed up to watch us so that we could sleep skin-to-skin. Adam and I would take turns holding him skin-to-skin after I nursed so he didn’t sleep in his “own” bed again while we were there.
During our stay at the hospital we had a lot of help from our midwives, lactation consultants and nurses to establish breastfeeding. We seemed to be figuring things out, I did have a few bad bruises around one of my nipples from the first night, but he seemed to be getting on better, and there was very little pain when I was nursing. We could also see that I was producing colostrum, but we wanted to make sure that Cedar was latching well because it could be harder once my milk comes in.
We were discharged on the 5th. Cedar had lost 5 oz, but was within the 10% weight loss expected after birth, and I was feeling more confident about breastfeeding. Plus, I knew that our midwife would be coming to our place the next day, so if I needed anything I knew I had people there for me. Before we left, our midwife let me know that it would be normal to feel overly emotional in the coming weeks, that I may be laughing one minute and crying the next. That all those pregnancy hormones my body was used to are gone now with the placenta and as my body is reeling from that, it’s flooded with a whole new set of hormones that come with my milk, which should be in in a day or two.
I hadn’t really thought about how emotional the postpartum experience can be. Of course I’d read that it could be, but the reality of it didn’t really hit until I was in the midst of it. Before, I was just looking forward to holding my baby and focusing more on preparing for birth then I was for postpartum. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough for the first couple weeks after we got home, both emotionally and physically. I was grieving the loss of the birth I hoped to have, recovering from major surgery, seriously sleep reprieved, and having a really difficult and painful time breastfeeding.
I didn’t find myself getting overly emotional until we were home for a few days. I would be looking at Cedar, and get totally overcome and start crying. One time Adam asked Caeden to leave the bedroom and I started to cry hysterically because I felt bad that he would have to sleep alone. Despite all my wild emotions, were were enjoying these beginning days with Cedar. We were both spending a lot of time skin-to-skin boding with him, cozied up in blankets except for when we left the house for lactation consultant appointments. It wasn’t without challenges though, mainly one challenge: breastfeeding (Read about our I almost Stopped Breastfeeding).
Before van life was a reality for us, we had already purged our lives of any and all unnecessary items. Things that took up space, clothing we never wore, kitchen items that serve only one obscure purpose. We decided that we had certain criteria that any new product had to have in order to buy it.
These criteria were: Would it be going in the van with us? Does it serve multiple functions? Is it made to last? Do we feel like the company is ethical or sustainable?
Obviously not everything can meet all of those criteria, but it’s the list of things we thought about for every purchase we made before moving into the van.
The following items are OUR Top 10 Must Haves for Van Life. They may very well be different then what you’d chose, but for us, we can’t live without them.
1. 3 QT INSTANT POT
We love our instant pot and can easily recommend this to anyone living in a van or a house or anywhere! It’s a rice cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer… Well I think you get the picture. It has multiple functions, uses only 700watts of power, and with it’s pressure cooker abilities means that you can basically cook anything in under 30 minutes. We use ours at least once a week, making chilli, curry, lentils, rice, etc.
2. Berkey Water Filter
Before we moved into the van we knew we wanted to have some kind of water purifications system. After a lot of research we decided to go with the Travel Berkey. The Berkey system can be permanently set up on our counter unlike a lot of bag filtration systems, and it removes over 200+ harmful contaminants including bacteria, viruses, pesticides, heavy metals, etc. which means that we can essentially get drinking water anywhere!
3. Hydro Flask
Following along with recommendation #2, is having somewhere for that water to go. It doesn’t matter to us what container you choose to drink your water out of, just that you don’t use disposable bottles. Find a reusable bottle you love and always have that with you. We love our double walled, vacuum insulated bottles because it keeps our water cool all day, which is amazing when we we’re hiking in the desert! It also keeps hot things hot because who likes cold tea?!
We love our smoothies. Having our vitamix was a priority for us, we even made sure our solar system could handle this one appliance that’s how important it was for us. We have had other high powered blenders before but nothing can compare to a Vitamix. Not only does it fulfil our smoothie needs, but Vanessa often make banana ice-cream in there, as well a cashew creams and fruit sorbets.
5. Patagonia synchilla & nano puff jackets
Both of us found these jackets on sale and we LOVE them! Adam has the Synchilla Fleece and Vanessa has a Nano Puff Jacket. Everyone needs something comfy and we love what the Patagonia brand stands for and represents. These are purchases we knew we’d only need to make once. Both can also serve as an insulating layer under a rain jacket making a good combo for cold weather.
6. Marley Bluetooth Speakers
Our van speakers suck. We could have upgraded the factory sound system, but the thought of spending thousands to upgrade was not at all appealing. We decided to go with a simpler solution: portable bluetooth speakers. We looked at a couple different options and settled on these Marley speakers for a couple reasons. We liked the way they looked, they has one of the best water resistant ratings, and the sound out of them is great.
7. Manduka Yoga Mats
A yoga mat or pilates mat definitely comes in handy while on the road. It’s small and easy to pack up and you can roll it out on an old blanket and get a quick workout in. It also fits perfectly in the “hallway” of our van so if need be we could have a little yoga sesh wherever we like.
8. Wandrd bag
We needed a bag that served multiple purposes. We needed a camera bag that could hold more than just camera gear but could also be a regular bag as well. The PRVKE21 by Wandrd was the perfect bag for us. It holds all our camera gear when we need, but the '“camera bag” compartment can be removed, then we can us it as a regular backpack, or a combo of the two.
9. Coffee Dripper
We’re not BIG coffee drinkers, but every now and then we do like a really good cup of coffee. Sometimes, you can’t beat a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning. That being said, we didn’t want anything complicated or big in the van so this simple little coffee dripper works perfect. We use undyed bamboo disposable strainers on the road, but if we’re in an apartment we have a reusable one. Not to worry if you’re not a big coffee drinker, you can you this for loose leaf tea as well.
10. Amazon Kindle ereader
Vanessa loves to read, so when we moved into the van and she had to give up her precious book collection, getting an eReader was a must. She decided to go with the Amazon Kindle and has been enjoying it, and the access to great books since.
It's crazy to think about all the things that have happened this past year. From where we started to where we are now. If you've been following along from the beginning you know that last year we finished the full renovation of our house and sold it. We then immediately, and I mean immediately went out and bought a Sprinter van and built it out. It took us about 1.5-2 months to build out our van and hit the road.
We left in October and for 5 months we travelled all over the western states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Utah, and visited 18 National Parks. It was so amazing, and we met so many wonderful people. People who saw our van and wanted to see it, people who had been following our journey online and invited us to stay or visit or have coffee, other van lifers, and travellers; our paths crossing just for a moment in time. The memory of these places and people will always stay with us.
Now we're back in Canada, and we've just finished building out a second van for someone else to adventure in. Now, we're thinking ahead to the transition to apartment life as we wait for the arrival of our baby this December. We love our van and the tiny house we've create in there, it's familiar and comfortable and home to us unlike any apartment has ever been. It might be a challenge for us to make that transition, but we've never shied away from challenges, and we know this will only be temporary. That's right, we are planning on continuing our travels with our baby. We love this life we've intentionally created and we can't imagine not sharing it with our child, so we will be hitting the road in the new year with Caeden and the baby along for the ride. What that looks like and when we'll leave is yet to be determined. Right now we're enjoying time with family and getting excited for baby's arrival.
There's a different kind of silence in the desert. It's something you would never think of, but when you spend any time in the desert you realize it's like living in a vacuum. There is true silence in the desert. No birds chirping or crickets and even the wind is silent as it flows over the dry sand.
We have been in the van for over 2 months now. We are settling into #vanlife and the ebb and flow of the day. Our mornings are related and easy going. Our voice of where to go and what to see is totally open: one day its a beautiful hike, the next its stroll downtown in a new city.
We have met lots of interesting people along the way so far. There are so many people living the freedom of van life but their reasons for hitting the road are all different.