A Few #VanLife Lessons from Our First Long Trip—That Are Good to Know for Racers Who Travel!

by | Oct 27, 2022 | Lifestyle

In case you missed it, we recently got a bigger van in order to do more easy/long-term race travel and travel for training. We got a Ford Transit with the long wheel base and medium roof, which feels just about right for two people and a tiny dog who aren’t living in it full time but could comfortably live in it for a month or two. (Read more about a few of our choices so far when it comes to setup here.)

We had our first slightly longer trip in it this past week, down in the US for Belgian Waffle Ride, where I was commentating, then on to Bentonville for People for Bikes Summit, Outerbike and Big Sugar. While we’ve been staying in houses the last few days because we’re with friends/teams, the first few days in the van showed us a few important lessons/reminders as we look towards spending more time in van in the winter. Here’s what we’re learning—and I think a lot of it applies to frequent travel of any type, especially for racers.

Don’t cancel morning routines—edit them as needed

Funny enough, I was just talking about consistency in my morning routine ahead of this trip... and then, it got cold out. Like, really cold. And I had work on this trip. And we were still figuring out things like who takes DW out and who starts breakfast while in the van. All that to say, my morning routine got shot to hell for the first few days on the road, because if I couldn’t do the whole thing, I couldn’t do anything. Obviously, that is ridiculous. After a couple days of that, I started really noticing the effect not doing my routine had on me, and I realized I needed to make space for it. (Literally and figuratively.) So, I started doing an abbreviated version of my yoga flow that warmed me up and limbered me up, but only took a couple minutes rather than the usual 12-15. Not perfect, and ideally if we’re parked for a while, I can do the full version, but 2 minutes is way better than 0.

You need new food routines

My usual day includes eggs, spinach and potatoes for breakfast, homemade sourdough toast with a bowl of Greek yogurt and blueberries for lunch, and a veggie-and-protein based dinner, plus some snacks/desserts/etc. along the way. But while the snacks change, the three meals are pretty darn consistent at home. On the road… not so much. It’s significantly harder to make all of those usual things happen. For me, that means that the first few days of this trip, I was a bit off the rails. Not terribly, but with work, we were out to dinner and lunch a few times, and on the drive, we were hitting Panera/Starbucks for wifi, meals and snacks. As we do longer and longer trips, I realize I need to figure out what the new ‘stock plan’ is for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and try to deviate from it less and less. The one major win this trip? Having Athletic Greens on board, so that every morning, at least I was drinking a big glass of water and getting the vitamins, minerals + greens that I need! (We did eventually remember our favorite grocery store salad hack and utilized that, but the first chunk of the drive wasn’t the healthiest.)

Have a full setup that lives in the van, or have a checklist on hand when packing

This applies to things like electronics/chargers, kitchen supplies, bike tools and toiletries in particular. This past trip, I forgot my chargers in our rush to leave the house (long story). I even own extra cables for everything, I just neglected to get them stationed in the van! I talk a big game about the importance of a charging station for athletes, but I definitely need to practice what I preach when we’re in the van. This one is more for people spending a lot of time in their van, but when I was traveling + flying a ton for work, I also had a set of chargers and toiletries that just lived in my carry-on.

You need time apart from your travel buddy

If you’re traveling with your partner and on a long trip, you need your solo time. This is a tough one, but remember, in a normal day, even if you both work from home, you’re rarely attached at the hip 24/7. In the van? You are stepping over each other all day, every day. This also comes back to establishing new routines and rituals. Rather than Peter starting breakfast and then taking the dog out while I (if I’m being honest) putz a few minutes and then do yoga (yes, I am incredibly spoiled), we can split those chores more equally so we aren’t both trying to use the counter at the same time. We can also train on alternate schedules so we each have time by ourselves at the van versus training at the same time and getting back at the same time.

You probably don’t need everything you think you need

There is a very fine line when packing when it comes to what you need versus what’s nice to have versus what you absolutely don’t need. It’s a line that I struggle with at the best of times, and at the worst of times—a 30-minutes til suddenly out the door speed-pack situation—it yields a stuffed bag that can’t actually fit everything I have crammed in it, which leads to the result of wearing only a couple of different things over and over to avoid digging through the bag. It’s not ideal. So, edit, edit, edit! (The caveat: Especially if you’re unsure of laundry, pack ENOUGH of the things that are only one-use before they need to be washed, like chamois, underwear and run shorts. Don’t skimp on this stuff. Skimp on the things you absolutely don’t need multiples of, like hoodies.)

Nights can get cold even when days are hot

A little on the ‘duh’ side, but it was a good reminder for us that when days are moderate, nights tend to be quite cold. If it’s 60-70 during the day, it can easily be 30-40 at night, and that can be chilly if you’re car camping. Right now, we’ve opted to not insulate the van as we don’t plan to spend a lot of time in extreme climates, plus two people produce a fair amount of body heat, so a couple extra blankets are more than enough. But it was a good reminder to keep that extra comforter tucked on the shelf rather than bringing it inside to save space!

Take it out, use it, put it back immediately

Turns out, living out of the van is an adventure in constantly putting things away in specific places. No cramming stuff in random bags, no leaving stuff scattered around. The only way the van stays organized is if you’re just always tidying up. This seems to especially apply to shoes for us, since they can end up taking up a shocking amount of space if not stashed properly.

It’s freaking stressful

Is it fun? Absolutely. Is it stressful? Also absolutely. We’re realizing it takes a lot more to maintain our cool when on the road compared to at home. Sure, you’re living tiny, but that can be seriously stress-inducing, especially if you’re trying to do more work/training/life-ing than usual. So, expect the stress and focus on mitigating it. You’re not weird if you find the whole travel situation wildly stressful rather than epically fun, especially at first as you struggle to find your footing.


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