First Night Sleeping In A Van - Doug Neill - Van Life Episode 3

First Night Sleeping In A Van

The idea of living in a van and traveling the country feels exciting and adventurous.

The reality of living in a van is something much different, and it’s time I start moving from the idealized van life in my mind to the real one underneath my feet.

Thankfully I’ve got just a bit of time for a gradual entry into that real world (or would road rules be more appropriate…?).

The latest test: my first overnight trip in the van.

On The Road

I took a wildly inefficient route from Pleasant Hill, Oregon (where I was house-sitting for my parents) up to Portland (where in ten days I have to move out of my apartment and into the van full time).

First, I headed a bit north and a bit east.

I thought I would take the opportunity to test out a new book that I had picked up: Camp Free In The Willamette National Forest. I was shooting for a campground far east of Sweet Home on Highway 20, but a downed bridge cut that trip short.

Instead of making it to the site in the book I turned off Highway 20 onto a forest service road, following the sign of a campground. Both before and after the maintained campground there were plenty of free sites up for grabs, and I picked one that was a good distance from the Highway to avoid as much noise and traffic as possible.

After parking my van I heard only one other vehicle during the time I was there.

The First Night

Since this was just a one-night trip it can’t be considered a full test of living in the van.

At best it’s a test of it’s glamping capabilities, but still – it was good to get a feel for cooking with my camping supplies, taking a makeshift shower with a CamelBak strapped to the branch of a tree, and sleeping in the van on just a sleeping pad.

And I slept pretty well. Much more comfortably than sleeping on that same pad out in a tent.

The comfort of a carpeted (and locked) van is more significant than I imagined.

The Trip Home

To battle the heat that plagued the Willamette Valley the past few days, I followed Highway 20 west to the coast, then up it to Roackaway Beach, where I enjoyed a couple of cool hours before the drive back to Portland.

If the campgrounds hadn’t all been full I likely would have stayed a night, but spending even just a bit of time next to the ocean helped ease the transition back to the city of Portland and the potentially stressful ten days that await me.

First Things To Build

Now that I’ve had the experience of a short trip in the van, I’ve identified three things that I’d like to add to it before my October road trip out to NerdCon Stories in Minneapolis.

  1. Permanent Bed. I slept fairly well on my sleeping pad intended for camping. I’ll sleep significantly better on a real mattress that’s larger than my body size.
  2. Permanent Workspace. I’m excited about building my projects while on the road, but to do so I’ll need a desk and chair setup in the back of the van to lower the barrier to getting to work.
  3. Better Storage. The van got messy quickly during this overnight trip. To spend a month on the road I’ll need some bins for storage and maybe even a bit of cabinetry as well.

Those are my priorities for the next month.

Now it’s time to tackle the move out of my apartment.

Wish me luck.


August 21st, 2016

Portland, Oregon