It’s hard to believe it already came and went… Our first week of #vanlife!
In an effort to remember all the crazy shenanigans and misadventures of life on the road, I’m starting a new series called “Van Life Journal” in which I’ll be writing about our weekly adventures crossing Canada in our 1990 Roadtrek Popular (named Van Rouge The Roadtrek).
Life already moves fast enough, so this will help me keep track of everywhere we go and see. I hope you’ll join us on our journey as we step into a new way of living and traveling!
Day 1 – Leaving Tennessee
Our 1st day of vanning wasn’t actually the day we left my family in Tennessee, USA. In fact, Paul and I started our van road trip about a month earlier in Mexico, where we purchased Van Rouge.
As we waved bye to my mom standing on the lawn, I felt an overwhelming sense of bittersweetness. No matter how many times we have to say goodbyes to family and friends whenever we move, it never gets any easier.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links that may earn me a small commission should you decide to click through and make a valid purchase (at no extra cost to you). Thanks so much for your support!
Our first stopover for the night would be a spontaneous visit with a friend who we had met in Nepal in 2015-16 and haven’t seen since. As we were driving close by the D.C area anyway, we took the opportunity to catch up.
Anjali and her family kindly welcomed us, fed us with homemade South Indian curry and dhal, and even let us wash our new linen bedsheets, which had unfortunately been stained by our leaky AC not even 30 minutes after we took off that morning.
After lots of catching up from the years of not seeing one another, we headed to bed for a full night’s rest.
Day 2 – Van Rouge Goes to NYC!
Morning of Day 2 and we awake still exhausted from the previous days scrambling to get the van ready for the road trip.
We enjoy breakfast around the table and a final catch-up before saying our goodbyes. We didn’t have too far to drive that day – as our next stop would be in the Big Apple in NYC. Again we were stopping to visit a friend, this time from Mexico!
As you might know, we had been living in Mexico for the past 15 months. It’s there, in the small beachside pueblo of San Pancho that we met Glenda.
She had her own work and travel plans in NYC at the same time as we were passing through so meeting up was a must – even if just for an evening and even though we had seen her just a month prior.
We make it through New York traffic all the way to Brooklyn, where she was staying. It started to rain and to our surprise ALL our van windows were leaking, leaving water stains on our upholstery.
The three of us finally decide on what to do for an evening together in NYC. We head to the subway and into the concrete jungle (which was super exciting for me as I hadn’t been to the city in over a decade).
We randomly choose a restaurant amidst the hundreds of thousands. We ended up eating in the back garden of a cute Mediterranean restaurant. Pricey but tasty, and certainly not our everyday mealtime opportunity.
After exploring downtown Manhattan, visiting briefly Times Square and the Rockafeller Center, it was time to part ways once again.
The challenge that night for Paul and I was to find a suitable and safe place to sleep overnight in our van in NYC. But other van explorers on the iOverlander app that we use to navigate suggested parking in the Red Hook neighborhood west of Brooklyn.
It was dark and we couldn’t see much, but it was quiet so we took our chances.
Day 3 – A Trip Down Memory Lane
In the morning we woke with an insane view – The Statue of Liberty was facing our way just off the pier around the corner. To her right was the NYC skyline in clear view.
It was beautiful and a surreal kind of moment. To think that van life could mean waking up not once, but several times with insane views like this.
But before that – Paul and I had to face an uncomfortable situation. That morning would mark the first time we had to go pee in a bag in our van’s toilet. A bizarre but necessary experience and no doubt, not the last time we’ll have to do it.
We headed to the Valentino Pier, taking Yoda in his backpack with us so he could enjoy the fresh air and view of Liberty Enlightening the World. After spotting Yoda peep his head out, a man approached us apologetically to show us a picture of his two cats – both gray and resembling Yoda slightly.
Before leaving, this nice man (whose name I didn’t get) pointed us to a pop-up coffee shop just off the pier.
It was just the perfect way to start the day with a cold brew and homemade banana bread. The barista even took a few pictures of Yoda – too excited that a cat was in Somewhere Coffee.
After a quick-not-so-quick trip to the nearby IKEA, we finally make it out of crazy NYC traffic and sped on to reach Kent, Connecticut where my uncle and cousins live.
We roll up in tiny Kent – first crossing the Bull’s Bridge where George Washington’s horse fell over – and into my uncle’s mechanic shop: D & S Auto Repair.
“Are you the niece?” the man at the welcome counter asks. “Yes!” I say excitedly. He took us through to the back where my uncle was working.
I always light up seeing my uncle Doug. His immediately recognizable voice and motorcycle’s vibe reminds me of our family get-togethers at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house back in North Carolina.
We also had the chance of seeing my cousin Tim – just long enough to catch up and wish each other well before he had to go back to pour concrete in town.
Uncle Doug offered to hoist Van Rouge up at the garage and take a look. He was quite impressed – no rust and no warning signs. He was actually the one who suggested the Roadtrek was a better option than another van we were actually close to buying in Mexico. It’s thanks to him we have such a great van today!
That afternoon was spent at my uncle’s house eating crackers, cheese, and Aunt Lydia’s homemade Cowboy Candy – pickled jalapeno peppers steeped in a sweet sauce. We also took an accidental gazillion selfies on burst-mode and handpicked fresh cherry tomatoes from their flourishing garden.
The day’s plans weren’t over just yet. So we drove 2 hours more to reach New Hartford, CT where we were meeting up with my other cousin Jeff for a minor league Yard Goat’s baseball game.
Goofy as usual, Jeff always ensures everyone has a fun time. We chowed on BBQ sandwiches and loaded mac n’ cheese and sipped down some kind of nectar ale while cheering on the Yard Goats.
That night we slept like babies at Jeff’s house over in Andover. We needed our rest for what was about to happen next…
Day 4 – Wedding Crashers
A quick word for contextual purposes here – we were invited by Jeff his wife Kim to join in on the celebrations of Kim’s brother’s wedding.
We didn’t know the couple nor the family, but they were more than happy to welcome us strangers to their special day.
That morning we rolled up late to the wedding venue – which was at a beautiful beach with a lighthouse in New Haven. Everyone was helping out, getting everything ready for the evening ceremony.
We arranged flowers for ten minutes before being tasked with (or sucked in as Jeff would say) to get sandwiches for everybody at the nearby deli. An hour later (no joke) we come back with 10 foot-longs. We hungrily eat ours on the table in the van.
Meanwhile, everyone began to scatter. Some went swimming while others, like us, went to the hotel to shower and get ready. The mood and dress code of the night was beach fancy. So I happily put on my long palm skirt and barefoot jewel sandals.
The ceremony was very much a no-frill type of ceremony. No bridesmaids or best man. Just them two, and a handful of close friends and family who stood up to give a speech. It was moving and special – even for a stranger like me. And what is especially endearing and unique about this wedding was that everyone’s exes were there as a family. The connections were admittingly hard to keep up with, and everyone kind of joked about it too. But it was something this family cherished despite its subtle awkwardness.
The wedding venue featured a private carousel that was just for the wedding guest’s use. I started off the night with a glass of wine, then two, then three… then around the carousel we go. And oddly enough the very first carousel horse I hoisted myself onto was named Star. Star was also the name of my childhood horse. After taking hundreds of pictures outside for sunset, we finished off the evening with dancing and more dancing, especially as Paul continued to make his “special” gin drink.
In addition to a fun carousel, there was a pizza food-truck parked just outside. Everything was served with biodegradable cutlery and on natural palm plates (which ya know made your girl happy as we try to be as eco-friendly as possible).
At midnight the party came to a stop. Unable to drive, Paul and I crashed in our home on wheels right at the venue.
Day 5 – A Day of Rest
We woke up the next morning to scenic views of the beach and the lighthouse, along with a banging headache.
We stumble out of the van when the park staffer rode up in a golf cart and asked if we were with the wedding from last night. We answered with croaky voices and he chuckled. We weren’t technically allowed to sleep in the park, but the police never showed up.
We did our feet in the refreshing water, head to the hotel and freshen up before spending a day of rest back at Jeff and Kim’s home in Andover. Another day and night were just what we needed to rejuvenate and regain our strength.
And we would need it, as we planned to drive the 9 hours left to make it to New Brunswick, Canada.
Day 6 – Welcome to Canada
We had a full day of road tripping ahead but we were ready for it. We were at the end of our USA-portion of the road trip and finally heading to Canada.
The way was long, but Paul and I enjoyed a lunch break over in Portland, Maine. We found a scenic lookout where we enjoyed our just-bought fresh mozzarella and French baguette from a nearby Whole Foods. We paired it with a couple of our garden-ripe tomatoes courtesy of my aunt and uncle.
It was hard to believe we were at the northeastern tip of the United States – territory I had never explored before. Maine increasingly grew more rural as we ventured north to Canada with long, winding country roads and acres and acres of thick, tall forest.
It was around & pm when we made it to the border crossing at Calais / Saint Stephen.
And of course, just like in Mexico we were inspected thoroughly. But this time the guy was much nicer and had a funny Canadian French accent instead of a southern Texan drawl.
We were asked all sorts of questions about the nitty-gritty of our lives and our travels. We prayed we didn’t get any of our homemade canned goods from Doug & Lydia thrown out or our cute little succulents and aloe vera plant.
But all checked out and an hour later we were able to take off into the cold and foggy night toward Saint John, New Brunswick.
We found the Irving Natural Park just outside the city with reviews that campers can stay overnight for free. So we head there in what looked and felt like a winter night (but thankfully wasn’t). We arrive and can hear the tidal waves hitting the shore of the beach and are relieved to see 2-3 other camper vans settling in for the rainy night.
We light up our gas burners and put on a pot of water to boil. We didn’t have much in the way of food so we opened up our first can of handmade tomato pasta sauce and had spaghetti.
The night was rainy, slightly cold, but our dim fairy lights, fluffy cat, and a hot bowl of pasta kept us feeling warm and cozy.
We curl up to sleep and drift off to the sound of the crashing waves.
Day 7 – Or Should I Say Day 1?
It’s full day #1 in Canada and what do we wake up to? A sky of white fog and rain droplets on our windows. We wake up and see nothing, knowing the beach hides just behind the smoky air.
I’m freezing and still tired but it’s Monday, and we’ve got to get back to work.
We unknowingly blew a fuse trying to plug our chargers the night before, so when we tried to make breakfast our water pump wouldn’t start.
Not only was our water not working, but neither was our internet. Paul managed to connect while I fumbled to pay my phone bill.
Cold and wet, we make the trek out to the porta-potties just up the hill in the woods. It’s a typical outdoor latrine but covered in wood to integrate better into nature.
We postpone breakfast and our work plans to grab groceries and a new fuse at the stores nearby. As I go to pay for our $42.16 bill at the grocery store the credit card reader goes beep beep beep and displays “Transaction Denied.”
My other American cards wouldn’t work either and we just spent the rest of our Canadian dollars on a new fuse. So we step aside and muster the strength and patience to call customer service. After two more calls and about 30 minutes later, we combine just enough from whatever the ATM could spit out to pay the cashier.
It’s well into the late morning now and the fog has neither cleared or lifted.
We drive back to our camp spot, back up to the view of the fog over the bay, and get to work. Before we know it’s dinnertime and there’s still no hope for going outside and enjoying the view. It just wasn’t going to happen for us.
So we steam veggies and attempt our first shot at baking a sweet potato in our mini microwave. To run the microwave we have to run the generator, all for a potato. Paul and I looked at each other like, “This isn’t very sustainable…” And yet realized we had no other option since we are now living in a self-contained home on wheels.
Besides the groggy weather, our evening worked out just perfectly. With our cute fairy lights, steamed veggies, and a perfectly baked sweet potato smothered in butter and sugar, we were doing just fine for our first day in Canada. We switched on Netflix and watched our current favorite series The Good Place (you should watch it if you haven’t!).
All was well in our nano-occupied space of the world.
Tomorrow would bring promised sunshine and clouds and that’s the best I could hope for.
If you’re still reading this, thanks so much for your interest in the small details of our lives as we embark on this road trip. 🙂
I promise not to always explain the lengthy, boring aspects and instead try to share our most raw and honest experiences living the #vanlife.