John: In this post we go over some of what happens on a typical day. We both worked on the post and we’ll do our best to let you know who’s typing what.  As always we look forward to questions and comments. By now I’d say I’m an expert on van living, including: typical camping (think state parks), dry camping (no water or electricity), and stealth camping (how many people can say they camped on the streets of Manhattan!?) I’m also super knowledgeable when it comes to solar powered systems, and energy usage. Heidi knows all about cooking, dealing with some guy named John, and living in super small spaces. You wanna live in van, or just have questions?  Ask away!

Heidi:

John and I naturally have different sleep schedules, which allows us each to have a bit of alone time in the van while the other is sleeping. I get out of bed first, and have the morning to listen to the news and knit or write on the blog, while he stays up reading about tiny homes and technology news long after I am asleep.

When I get up, I put up this blackout curtain to separate where John is still laying in bed trying to fall back asleep and the rest of the van where I am busying myself.

When I get up, I hang this blackout curtain to separate where John is still laying in bed trying to fall back asleep and the rest of the van where I am busying myself. To hang the curtain, a gear tie hooks into the bedding cabinet on the right, a bungie attaches over the toaster oven and a clothespin finishes the job.

I have headphones in my ears all morning, listening to NPR’s Morning Edition if we have a data connection or if there is a local NPR affiliate, otherwise I listen to NPR podcasts. I really value this morning time before John gets up as my time to be alone and catch up on current events.

All the windows are covered in blinds when we sleep, but I find it very depressing to be inside a room with the blinds down during the light of day.

All the windows are covered in blinds when we sleep, but I find it very depressing to be inside a room with the blinds down during the light of day.

I open all the blinds to let in the light.

I open all the blinds to let in the light.

I grind my coffee in this awesome Porlex stainless steel travel coffee grinder and brew in the ridiculously slow V60 ceramic dripper. John doesn’t drink coffee, so I just need to make one cup for the day.

I grind my coffee in this awesome Porlex stainless steel travel coffee grinder and brew in the ridiculously slow V60 ceramic dripper. John doesn’t drink coffee, so I just need to make one cup for the day.

I eat yogurt with some form of oats/granola for breakfast. I have had this same breakfast about 97% of the mornings for the past 11 years.

I eat yogurt with some form of oats/granola for breakfast. I have had this same breakfast about 97% of the mornings for the past 11 years.

Once my coffee is nearly ready, I set up the table so I can eat on the counter and set my computer on the table. I sit in John’s chair all morning, once I finish breakfast I listen to the news and knit or work on the blog.

Once my coffee is nearly ready, I set up the table so I can eat on the counter and set my computer on the table. I sit in John’s chair all morning, once I finish breakfast I listen to the news and knit or work on the blog. 

After an hour or two John arises.

I'm up and dressed, but clearly not awake yet.

John: I’m up and dressed, but clearly not awake yet.

Heidi: Before John eats breakfast, he packs away the bed.

John:

This is a long process.  I’ll try to keep the description shortish.

The bed’s top most layer consists of two sleeping bags. Our two camping sleeping bags are zipped together to make on large one. I get chilly at night and use them on my side of the bed. Heidi is like a hot water bottle and doesn’t need them. You can see the them in the left (where I sleep) in the picture below.

This is what the bed looks like before.

This is what the bed looks like before I start to put it all away.

Stuff the bags in our camping gear cabinet.

Stuff the two camping sleeping bags in our camping gear cabinet.  Don’t look at my florescent green undies, instead focus on the sleeping bags going in the cabinet.

Moving Heidi's pillows

Moving Heidi’s pillows

In the closet they go!

In the closet they go! Heidi: I don’t know how he manages to fold the foam mattress top, kingsize sleeping bag with velroed-in sheets, and three pillows in this closet.

Moving my pillows out of the way.

Moving my pillows out of the way.

I move them to the front seat to be out of the way.

I move them to the front seat to be out of the way.

Next I fold up our big sleeping bag.  This a giant one that we both fit it.  It's only for the van.

Next I fold up our big sleeping bag. This a giant one that we both fit it. It’s only for the van.

It's has be be as small as possible to fit in our tiny closet.

It has to be as small as possible to fit in our tiny closet.

In the closet it goes!

In the closet it goes!

What the bed looks like now.  The white pad is a inch thick memory foam mattress.

What the bed looks like now. The white pad is a inch thick memory foam mattress.

You guessed it... It gets folded up too.

You guessed it…the pad gets folded up too.

In the cabinet it goes!

In the cabinet it goes!

It's getting pretty tight in there.  We've got one more pillow to stuff in.

It’s getting pretty tight in there. We’ve got one more pillow to stuff in.

Heidi hands me the smaller of my two pillows.  The largest of my two, and last remaining pillow does not fit in this cabinet.

Heidi hands me the smaller of my two pillows. The largest of my two, and last remaining pillow does not fit in this cabinet.

In it goes!

In it goes!

I use a gear tie to ensure the cabinets don't ejected the many contents.

I use a gear tie to ensure the cabinets don’t eject the many contents.

There are three sleeping pads left.  Two of them need to be deflated before I can put them away.  They also need to be inflated every night!

There are three sleeping pads left. Two of them need to be deflated before I can put them away. They also need to be inflated every night! Heidi: We added these to our bed composition after a few months on the road, when the bed foam started deteriorating.

Unscrewing the value so I can deflate them.

Unscrewing the value so I can deflate them. 

Rolling them up together.

Rolling them up together.

the last remaining pad gets folded.

The last remaining pad gets folded.

I then use a gear tie to hold the bundle together.

I then use a gear tie to hold the bundle together. 

Time to covert the bed into couch.  I engage the switch.

Time to covert the bed into couch. I engage the switch. Heidi: That colorful knitted thing hanging from the key is a whale cat toy I made – John liked it so much that we kept it instead of giving it to a cat.

Because the motor is not super strong I need to assist it with the first bit.  I press the up switch while pulling on the bed so it starts to fold.

Because the motor is not super strong I need to assist it with the first bit. I press the up switch while pulling on the bed so it starts to fold.

Bed is now couch!  The cup holder flips down when I convert the bed.

Bed is now a couch! The cup holder flips down when I convert the bed.

Flip up the cup holder... as you can see there's still a lot of stuff on the floor, that used to be under the bed.  We need to put all this away now!

Flip up the cup holder… as you can see there’s still a lot of stuff on the floor, it used to be under the bed. We need to put all this away now!

The mattresses get jammed here, out of the way.

The sleeping pads get jammed here, out of the way.

Looks like this.

Looks like this.

Hang the bags of extra food on this.

Hang the bags of extra food on this hook.

All the remaining items go here.  Heater, backpack, and blackout shade.

All the remaining items go here. Heater, backpack, and blackout shade.

Get my last pillow from the front seat.

Get my last pillow from the front seat.

Put it here.  Sadly there's no other good place for it.

Put it here. Sadly, there’s no good place for it.

Now we need the table!  Let's do this!

Now we need the table! Let’s do this!  I insert the table post.

Grab it from the front.  Note: We do have two of these, but by the time I get up Heidi is usually done with it.

Grab it from the front. Note: We do have two of these, but by the time I get up Heidi is usually done with it.

Slap on the table, and *BAM*.  Bed made.  It's as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, ... 52!

Slap on the table, and *BAM*. Bed made. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, … 52! 

You can clearly see this is a pain!  Don’t forget I get to make the bed back up every night.  Including inflating both air mattress.  This minor inconvenience is worth doing to for the awesome adventure we are having.

Heidi:

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And now he can eat breakfast, usually cereal with a side of BBC or computer geek news.

After John is finished eating, I turn on the water heater, wait 10 minutes or so, then wash the dishes. We have to be very mindful about the water and grey tank levels, which this displays for us.

After John is finished eating, I turn on the water heater, wait 10 minutes or so, then wash the dishes. We have to be very mindful about the water and grey tank levels, which this monitor displays for us.

I usually forget to turn the water heater OFF until John says “Are you done with the water heater, Heidi?”

I usually forget to turn the water heater OFF until John says “Are you done with the water heater, Heidi?” 

After the dishes are washed up, we continue with our day. If we are camped for multiple days, this may mean going for a hike or a bike ride. If we need to drive, then we get busy packing everything up and strapping everything down.

John drying and putting away the dishes in preparation for driving.

John drying and putting away the dishes in preparation for driving.

The kitchen in driving mode - dishes put away, cutting boards and knife strapped down.

The kitchen in driving mode – dishes put away, cutting boards and knife strapped down.

Seats faced forward for driving mode. There is generally a lot of stuff stored behind the seats when they are in camping mode (which is in front of the seats for driving mode) that has to be secured in the back before takeoff.

Seats faced forward for driving mode. There is generally a lot of stuff stored behind the seats when they are in camping mode (which is in front of the seats for driving mode) that has to be secured in the back before takeoff. 

Before we drive off, we go through our Departure Checklist, which John insisted on calling a “Poop Sheet”. I don’t agree with the usage of this term, which dictionary.com defines as “a circular, list of instructions, press release, etc., providing information about a particular subject”.

Our departure checklist. It’s undergone a few modifications since we created it; for instance, when we made this in August, using the heater never even occurred to us.

Our departure checklist. It’s undergone a few modifications since we created it; for instance, when we made this in August, forgetting to turn the heater off did not occur to us.

Unless we are hiking and have lunch on the trail, we stop for lunch in the van.

I usually have leftovers.

I usually have leftovers, heated up in the toaster oven.

Collapsible salad spinner! I never would have guessed this existed until I saw it in Macy’s when we were purchasing kitchen supplies.

Sometimes I make salad in the collapsible salad spinner. Collapsible salad spinner! I never would have guessed this existed until I saw it in Macy’s when we were purchasing kitchen supplies.

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John is virtually a vegetarian since I am and I prepare a majority of his meals, but he also keeps a supply of deli meat for sandwiches.

On a day of errands, we may go grocery shopping. Since January, we have made a habit of stocking up so we don’t have to make so many runs to the grocery store. Every time we go, we have more food that does not fit in a cabinet or the fridge and we need to find auxiliary storage for.

We store extra dry goods and canned goods in bags in the back. John has to move these down to the floor every night to make the bed, and hang them back up in the morning.

We store extra dry goods and canned goods in bags in the back. John has to move these down to the floor every night to make the bed, and hang them back up in the morning. 

The dish drain works for extra food storage.

The dish drain works for extra food storage.

The sink also works for extra storage while driving. The pressure cooker fits in there perfectly, too, for when I am soaking beans for the evening.

The sink also works for extra storage while driving. The pressure cooker fits in there perfectly, too, for when I am soaking beans for the evening.

Or we might do laundry. Most of the clothes we wear are wool, so we hang dry them. We have three clothes lines strung over the bed and about a dozen collapsible hangers.

John feels like he is laying under sock stalactites when the laundry is drying above the bed.

John feels like he is laying under sock stalactites when the laundry is drying above the bed.

RV-specific errands include filling propane, finding a water source and dumping the tanks. Since our first time filling the propane when we drove all over the state of Vermont, we haven’t had any trouble finding places. Usually we stay at campgrounds with dump stations often enough to empty our black tank, but we have also dumped at a sewage treatment plant and a gas station with a free dump station.

John:

In my research before I bought the van I discovered one of the pain points full-time RVers had was the black tank. Many people complained of smell, and issues with dumping. I am happy to say we haven’t had these issues, at least very much. I attribute our success to having a small black tank, and keeping it clean. We empty it every week or so and do extra black tank flushes.

Heidi:

Every few weeks we have to find a place to fill our propane tank, which runs our refrigerator as well as our stove (the generator also runs on propane, but we only use that enough to make sure that it works). The propane tank is installed at an angle, so John often has to pull up on leveling blocks to create enough space for the hose to attach. This was a particularly extreme example.

Every few weeks we have to find a place to fill our propane tank, which runs our refrigerator, water heater, room heater and stove (the generator also runs on propane, but we only use that enough to make sure that it works). The propane tank fill valve is installed at an angle on the underside of the van, so John often has to pull up on leveling blocks to create enough space for the hose to attach. This was a particularly extreme example.

A dump station is really just a hole in a square of concrete with a hose to rinse off spillage. John dumps the tanks and I help on the inside by filling the toilet for some black tank rinsing, pouring in the black tank treatment chemicals and cleaning the bathroom.

A dump station is really just a hole in a square of concrete with a hose to rinse off spillage. John dumps the tanks and I help on the inside by filling the toilet for some black tank rinsing, pouring in the black tank treatment chemicals and cleaning the bathroom.

dump1

Slide the sewage hose out of it’s holder.

dump2

Ready to dump… as soon as the hose goes in the sewer.

 

At the end of the day, be it a driving day or a fun day, once back at the van I prepare dinner. John offers to help, but with such limited space in the kitchen I find it easier to let him relax and read about tiny homes while I work on the food preparation.

At the end of the day, be it a driving day or a fun day, once back at the van I prepare dinner. John offers to help, but with such limited space in the kitchen I find it easier to let him relax and read about tiny homes while I work on the food preparation.

Heidi cooking up delicious food, as usual!

John: Heidi cooking up delicious food, as usual!

Not only does Heidi cook 99% of our meals, she does it with a smile!

John: Not only does Heidi cook 99% of our meals, she does it with a smile!

Every three days I make yogurt. The first step is heating the milk, which I generally do at night and then have to stay up late while it cools down enough to add the starter because most times I forget to heat the milk earlier in the evening.

Every three days I make yogurt. The first step is heating the milk, which I generally do at night and then have to stay up late while it cools down enough to add the starter because most times I forget to heat the milk earlier in the evening.

The sink is small compared to a lot of our dishes, so water gets everywhere when I wash the dishes. John is really unhappy about the water damage on the cabinet below the sink. I rarely let him wash the dishes because I don’t agree with his “clean enough for camping” philosophy in regards to the dishes.

When I start nodding off, John gets to work making the bed.

John:

I’m not about to make the bed again and take pictures.  You’ll just have to scroll up to the bed packing section and imagine me doing it in reverse. 🙂 

Heidi:

In the morning, the yogurt is ready for that same breakfast that I eat everyday.

In the morning, the yogurt is ready for that same breakfast that I eat everyday.

The inside of our home stays the same, but the outside is constantly changing. We move about twice a week. For the first five and half months, we had one constant in our surroundings: everywhere we went squirrels were throwing stuff at us from trees. Once we entered the desert, we didn’t even see trees or squirrels anymore. We are not in one place long enough to really get to know it or the people that live there. Traveling like this has some advantages and some disadvantages.  We’ll share our thoughts in a future post.

10 Thoughts on “Van-Dwelling Part 2: A Day in Our Life

  1. Eddie Cheaz on March 15, 2014 at 11:48 pm said:

    I have the same toaster oven at work which I share with meat eaters. What do you use to remove any meat sizzle stains?

    • Heidi on March 16, 2014 at 9:52 am said:

      Hey Eddie,

      I am sorry to say that I can’t help you. I personally purchased all the kitchen gear so I could reign over it and forbid the cooking of meat. So I don’t have the particular meat-sizzle problem, but if I did I would spray it with vinegar, let soak, then take a scouring pad to it.

  2. Emma Erickson on March 16, 2014 at 2:42 pm said:

    I want to learn…and I will try to show you pics of when my family traveled in our “bus” w/ eight in 1958…

  3. Meet sizzle stains, actually blackened grease, is taken off with a basic oven cleaner. However one caveat, do not use easy off on aluminum.
    I continue to be amazed at the patience of both of you to go through these daily routines. I am in and out of my kitchen in 30 minutes having prepared, eaten and put away everything. I guess that’s because I have to work. However Heidi you do have me inspired. I have been baking bread several times a week. And cooking big one pot meals that last me several days. Tonight I made paella. That’s a little longer than 30 minutes from start to putting it away.

  4. I forgot to ask. Heidi what books are you carrying with you? As a book lover myself I am completely interested in this.

    • Oh, what a difficult question…I have a pile of books that I want to read, in theory, because I want to know the information that is in them. Books on environment, natural history, climate change and the science of food/cooking. But inevitably what happens is I spend all my serious brain power on keeping up with current events and learning about the parks we are in, so when I have time to read books, I want fun books (fantastical and engaging stories) and not these serious books. This is actually the problem John has with my books – that there are a lot of them and I have hardly read any. Lately I’ve been reading a collection of Thoreau essays called “Walking With Thoreau” which gives an interesting picture of the northeast in the mid-nineteenth century. I’ve also been reading the book “Salt”, but I think I am ready to give up on that one. At the Grand Canyon Library (there is a whole town of hotel staff in the park, so the state runs a library inside the park) I picked up a fun book from a give-away shelf. The book was “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin; after finishing it I googled the author and found her blog, which is now my favorite blog.

      Maybe I should turn this question around to you – do you have any fun books to recommend?

  5. I can really relate to what you said. I have tons of books on psychology and neurobiology. But I’m busy reading books and Ireland in English history to prepare for our trip now. And then when I get too bogged down with information I’m reading silly fiction. So many books so little time!

  6. Louisa Treskon on March 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm said:

    Wow. Just wow. Thanks for documenting all that. When you mentioned the investment of time it takes to put things away, I had no idea it was like this! I imagine that you didn’t come to these processes all at once, but was more of a trial and error? Thanks for sharing.

    • Heidi on March 19, 2014 at 6:06 pm said:

      The making and unmaking of the bed has been an evolution as the foam degrades; everything else has been pretty much the same since the beginning, except we get better at it over time.

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