Buslife/Vanlife: Our Two Week Escape Campervan Test Ride

Buslife/Vanlife: Our Two Week Escape Campervan Test Ride

wild drive life

One of the unexpected highlights of our last trip across country was our two week running and hiking tour around southern Arizona in a hand-painted Escape Campervan rental.

As you know if you’re riding along at @wilddrivelife — Ben and I spent most of the winter living in and around the southwest U.S. in our 31 ft. bus home. We did a mix of off-grid boondocking on public lands, staying with friends, family and amazing hosts (now friends!) that we met through social media.

This particular experience provided some unique perspective on the differences between traveling in our bus and a smaller, newer van to help others in their search for a nomadic vehicle/home.

What about the bus, though?!

wild drive life bus

Don’t worry! We love our bus. Our main goal in this campervan test ride was to explore travel ease and feel in a smaller vehicle. We wanted to visit several state parks, a few vegan restaurants, work remotely and of course hike and run. Most of all we wanted to gain some perspective in order to better answer other’s questions about nomadic living/travel.

Here are some of our observations and a few notes about how different traveling in a van and a bus can be — they’re both worth exploring!

Van + Bus Travel — Let’s Explore

escape camper vans arizona trip

We had the campervan test trip idea in January, right around our one year anniversary of living and traveling full-time in our bus.

We joined a meetup north of Joshua tree with several other buses and vans to celebrate New Years and it got us thinking, “We love our bus but I wonder how we would feel about traveling around out here in a van!”

Limitations on the Road

The years of work we put into our bus home make it very personal and close to us, our story and this chapter of life. It’s a part of us.

As much as we’ve enjoyed the thousands of miles traveling around the county in our bus, driving a vehicle of this size (31 feet) or larger poses its limitations and stresses on the road.

Being the “Why not?” kind of people that we are we decided to experiment. Through our research we found these cool adventure vans for rent at Escape Campervans in Phoenix. They have rental depots all over the country but their PHX location was just a few miles away from where we were parked at our host’s house in Tempe. Perfect!

Vehicle Specs.

buslife vanlife pros and cons
Our bus is older, longer and taller. They both have so much character!
2nd photo of us courtesy of Maine Homes & Design

Our Bus: 

  • 1989 Chevy B6P
  • 31 ft. long
  • 20,000 lbs.
  • Seats two and sleeps two with an awesome dog named Moose
  • 10 mpg. average
  • Solar & shore power. It’s our house.
  • FMI on our bus click here.

Escape Campervan:

  • 2017 Ford T-350 (Big Sur model)
  • 19.8 ft. long
  • Seats five and sleeps up to five
  • 19 mpg
  • Small battery bank for fridge & lights.
  • Minimalist but perfect for weekend getaways.
  • FMI on the campervan rental amenities click here. Use code WILDDRIVE10 for 10% off the daily rate for our Mavericks and Big Sur models at all locations in the US and Canada. Certain restrictions apply. Subject to availability.

Unique as the drivers inside!

escape camper vans trip
I loved our “Jumper” model scene of mountains, trees and people diving off the ledges.

Escape Campervans are packed full of character on the outside. We’re used to getting looks driving our bus around and not much changed when we switched to the Big Sur “Jumper” van from Escape. It brings people joy when they see it and we really LOVE that positivity. 

Escape collaborates with artists to hand paint every vehicle in a different way, with a unique personality/vibe/scene — it’s one reasons we were drawn to them in the first place. You get waves, honks, peace signs, and the occasional knock on the window, “Hey, cool van, man!” Spreading positivity, our favorite.

Bus vs. Van – Ease of Travel

escape camper vans and bus travel

The size, weight and length of your travel vehicle are all factors that determine WHERE you can drive and park safely. Travel in a bus our size or larger has its limitations, frustrations and occasional stresses that just don’t exist as much with your smaller size car or van. There are pros and cons to each depending on YOUR preferences.

We read road signs more intently than ever when we drive the bus. We plan routes according to clearances and road weight limits, and so on. There’s a lot more to it.

During our two week van trip, we traveled about 1,300 miles on a variety of road grades without thinking twice about it which was a great mini break.

What did we bring with us?

With the bus we just GO because our whole lives are in there. I imagine that’s how it is for vanlifers too.

Escape Campervans provides the necessities like linens for the pull out bed, dishes, cups, essential pots and pans, a dish towel, etc. — They fill the 5-gallon water tank before you leave the rental depot.

We kept it super simple. We are well trained from bus life, hah! Our advise is to stick to nutrition, water and the activities you plan to pursue.

We brought our backpacks, hiking boots & gear and an MSR water blatter to fill up with potable water at state parks; the more the merrier. We always bring a couple water bottles for quick fill-ups here and there. Water is important to us if you haven’t noticed!

We brought our favorite easy to prepare foods: big loaded salads (arugula, tomatoes, carrots, avocado), pasta/veggies, sandwich fixings (repurposed the salad stuff here too) and a lot of dried fruit/nuts/oatmeal for the in between time. We also really love simple ingredient bars like Larabar (well priced on Amazon!) and GoMacro.

We also brought our Jackery portable power station which was more essential than we thought to keep things running! It kept our devices charged up for work/play, powered our fan at night at our immersion blender for smoothies!

Hilly Roads

bisbee arizona

The artsy old mining town of Bisbee, AZ is a basically a collection of winding HILLS and backstreets. The bus would have struggled there but the van said, “No problem!” It’s an INCREDIBLE day trip idea and you should add it to your list!

We CAN go to a lot of these more challenging places with our bus, yes, but with the van the stress factor was pretty much zero for two weeks. It felt like we were driving around a standard SUV.

With the van we never worried about if there was going to be a place to turn around or if there was a monstrous downhill ahead packed full of hairpin turns. We just said, “Yeah, we can go there!” without worry. Adventure on.

Road Speed & MPG

van and bus comparison road speed

It was a treat to be able to go +70 mph again in the van. With the bus we typically average about 58 mph. We don’t mind that at all to be honest, we take things a little slower and adjust our plans accordingly. The van was a welcomed, worry-free treat to drive.

Fuel was cheaper with the van, always something to consider when choosing your travel or full-time living vehicle. We like to hunt around for deisel stations with the best prices/easy access for our bus too, which takes patience. With the van (gasoline) we could go to any station without worry of being able to fit.

Quiet, Smooth Ride

escape camper van rainy day
We had a lot of rain on our trip BUT we made the most of it!

We almost forgot how QUIET vehicles other than the bus are to ride in! Our 30 year old diesel engine is noisy and our belongings rattle around. We talk wicked loudly over the hums and rumbles and have grown to love how quirky this all is. It has character!

HOWEVER, the whisper quiet van was a joy to adventure around in for two weeks. It’s something to consider when shopping out your nomadic abode; age, size, and complication of build factor into the noise while driving.

Comfort & Simplicity

wild drive life escape camper van trip
Ben, likely making a fart joke.

As far as comfort goes our bus takes the cake in that it’s our HOUSE. We built it ourselves. We have everything we need to be out in the boonies for an extended period of time.

There’s something to be said about the simplicity of a van like this, especially on a shorter trip vs. living full-time. We enjoyed getting down to necessity for a couple weeks: a comfy bed and kitchen in a reliable and snazzy looking vehicle. That’s all we needed! I could see these vans being a perfect option for family and friends on short outdoor adventures together — WAY better and more memorable than getting hotels!

Let’s GO!

escape campervan kitchen
The kitchen area of the campervan is accessed from the back.
There’s a small fridge and 2-burner propane stove.

With the van, we felt our get up and go time was sliced in half. We could wake up, make our coffee and green smoothies, travel to a trailhead, slap on our gear, and go on a hike or run.

The prep list is a bit longer in the bus: let her warm up, check the fluids, address any mechanical issues, stow away things that might fall over, etc. There’s more certainty, peace of mind I guess, with a newer vehicle — that’s just something to consider.

There’s no worry about setting up camp outside after you park as there would be with car camping. It’s all right there in the van which we loved! You park, you pull the bed out, you cook something tasty in the kitchen out back, and you’re ready for bed. It’s simple, comfortable, clean and easy.

Organization

campervan organization

Things get messy and cluttered FAST in a small space.

What I really liked about the Escape van was all the storage space throughout the vehicle. We stowed things under the seats and filled the drawers under the pull out bed. It kept things pretty neat and tidy, like we’re able to achieve in our bus.

Ben and I appreciated those features on this trip. Our car used to get WICKED messy with car camping. It’s super important to keep tiny spaces neat, at least it is for us, we go a little crazy otherwise. It’s the little things. 🙂

Here’s a bit more insight into the campervan amenities:

Photo from Escape Campervans

So, will we switch to a van?

Well, yes and no. We loved our experience, it provided us with a reminder of how much love we’ve put into our bus and how much we appreciate where it’s taken us in the past three years.

It would also be REALLY nice to have a van for shorter trips and weekend adventures moving forward. I’m pretty sure Ben and I will add that to our lineup in the next year or two as we build a home base in New Hampshire.

There’s something for everyone.

ben and meag
Rain didn’t stop us from hiking and running our butts off as planned.

Many people swear by their vans for full-time living and love them fiercely. They couldn’t imagine traveling around in a behemoth like ours. To that I say, AWESOME! Other couples and families LOVE their full size bus and thoroughly enjoy the adventure that is touring around in a vehicle of that size. To that I also say, AWESOME!

The beautiful thing is that there’s something for EVERYONE in the overland vehicle/tiny home world. It’s all about deciding what YOU want your day to day to look and feel like. Chances are you can find something to accommodate your budget and goals. Oh, the options are endless!

Thanks for reading and thanks to Escape Campervans for providing us with the opportunity to try out one of their campervans for two weeks.

USE CODE WILDDRIVE10 at Escape for 10% off the nightly rental rate.

Restrictions apply, depends on availability.

We wrote another blog about all the places we visited and our experiences along the way on our southern AZ van road trip itinerary blog. Stay tuned for that. Enjoy and reach out with any questions.

This post contains affiliate links which means we earn a small commision for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. It helps to support our writing, speaking and volunteering efforts here at Wild Drive Life. Thank you!

Honda + Jackery HLS290 Portable Power Station Review

Honda + Jackery HLS290 Portable Power Station Review

Ever since we got our Jackery Explorer 240 lithium battery portable power station earlier this winter, I’ve developed a small obsession with off-grid portable power options.

292 Watt-hour energy storage

The Honda by Jackery HLS290 is the latest portable lithium ion portable power station release from Jackery and it features a partnership with Honda which is super exciting. We recently had the chance to test it out!

From Jackery: “The HLS290 provides safe, quiet, mobile power to go places wherever your adventure takes you. Now you can charge up activity electronics such as drones, cameras, smart phones, and a host of other recreational equipment. The HLS290 is solar-ready and designed for an active outdoor lifestyle. Plus it also serves as a reliable power source in case of emergency.”

Meanwhile, Back in New Hampshire

portable power options winter weather emergencies

We have 356 Ah of battery bank in our off-grid bus conversion slash tiny home. That gets us pretty far. However, we recently made our return to our favorite place in northern New Hampshire which happens to also be the second cloudiest county in the country. Winter is also still in full swing. Yay! Less solar means more planning and exploring our other options.

We already love the Explorer 240 by Jackery so we had a feeling we would appreciate having their new model around as well.

We had a little snow squall for a couple days that dumped 12 inches on our solar panels. With no power coming in to charge our batteries (we’re also not traveling right now) we have to be extra cautious of our usage. Luckily our Explorer 240 just got a new buddy for us to hang out with and test, the brand new Honda by Jackery HLS 290.

Tested by Ben and Meag

wild drive life product testing

We’ve tested all of the products we mention in this blog with the exception of the E160. We love researching, testing and figuring things out, especially when it comes to low impact living and off-grid living. That is EXACTLY how we built our bus and our lifestyle over the past few years. Nothing fancy, we’re just curious by nature! Always learning and improving…

First, Let’s Go Over a Few Jackery Favorites

We incorporated Jackery into our day to day lives and outdoor activities for the past couple of months (the HLS290 was the latest addition this month!) to see what works and where so we can share our favorites with you.

Jackery + Honda HLS290

Price: $399 (Even more power! This is their brand new release and partnership with Honda!)

honda by jackery hls290 review

Highlights: Same design & benefits as the E240 with more power and a design partnership with a well rooted and trusted brand, Honda. At only 9″ long and weighing just 6.6 lbs — the 290 is also super portable! We brought it on a couple Jeep trips already.

Jackery Explorer 240

Price: (on sale!) — $249 + an additional $15 off with Amazon coupon.

jackery explorer 240

Highlights: Versatility! Car camping, weather emergencies, off-grid or tiny living power options, etc. (these benefits go for all models, really!) — It has a solid amount of power and doesn’t take up a lot of room in your living space (6.6 lbs and 5” wide and 8” tall, with an easy-carry handle). You can read our last blog about the Explorer 240 for more information.

Jackery Explorer 160

Price: (on sale!) — $139 + there’s an additional $20 off with the Amazon coupon.

Highlights: This is the smallest, most portable and most inexpensive option in the bunch. It also has a cool built-in flashlight. To me I see this rocking in a car camping adventure or just on hand at home as a quick grab backup. It cannot support devices over 100w. We have not personally tested this one.

Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh

Price: $25 – $35

jackery bolt portable charger

Highlights: Portability! I have to mention the next two on our list because we’re taking them on our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. We’ve been testing this teeny portable power bank for the past couple months and it’s perfect for keeping our phones charged on hikes or on the go.

Jackery Armor Waterproof Charger

Price: $27.99 + an additional $5 off with Amazon coupon

jackery armor portable charger

Highlights: Waterproof! I love the durable design on this portable power bank. Both this and the Bolt charge your phone REALLY quickly, twice as fast as a standard iPhone charger.

Great for Challenging Weather Conditions

Now that we’re pretty certain we’ll build roots in northern New Hampshire after we hike the Appalachian Trail this summer, we want to know as much as possible about our off-grid power options in a cloudy place like the White Mountains! 

On cloudier stretches of weather, we’re able to avoid tapping into our bus batteries that power our absolute essentials like the fridge, water pump, toilet fan, and lights. We can run the blender for smoothies in the morning, charge our devices, and power our white noise fan all night while we sleep, all off Jackery lithium battery portable power stations.

When the 240 is discharged to 20% we can switch to the HLS 290 until the next sunny day comes around. 

When we’re pulling in lots of solar and our batteries are fully charged in float mode, we plug in the Explorer 240 and the HLS 290 to optimize the sun’s power and charge them back up.

Portability for our Bus (home) and our Jeep

jackery portable power station
Charging up the Jackery while we have lots of SUN on our solar panels.

Our bus is our FIRST build. It was a Sherrif’s department mobile command center beforehand the electrical was already setup for that purpose. We made use of their setup so our outlets are not in the MOST convenient locations. Sometimes we’ll charge up our laptop on the dining table or nightstand with the Jackery instead. Portability, baby!

Another benefit to these easy to transport power systems is we can now leave one in the bus and take the other with us in our Jeep Wrangler. 

We generate our income online. Our laptops, phones, and camera are our livelihood. So if we’re out and about and need power, Jackery is there for us. I just brought the 240 with us to a meeting in North Conway the other day. It was perfect to charge things on our way through the mountains in the Jeep!

Affordable Power Options for All

portable power options off-grid

Adventuring isn’t the only viable reason to own one of the new Jackery Explorer HLS290s or another product in their lineup; they’re also great in an emergency situation.

Typically in the US we lose power a few times a year averaging between 2-4 hours at a time depending on the state. With standby generators costing between $4,000-$10,000, the Jackery power stations are a much more affordable solution for those who don’t live in areas that need to worry about freezing temperatures during outages.

If you’re not ready for that level of investment, it’s a nice way to have some options available!

How to the 240 & 290 Models Compare?

jackery explorer power station honda review

Now, after owning both the Honda series and the Explorer series it was only natural to want to compare the two. Unboxing, there isn’t much difference.

They both offer pure sine wave output, both come with a two-year warranty, both use lithium ion technology, and as far as the 240 and 290 go they both have all the same input and output ports. 

Major differences… the 240 is orange and the HLS is red. I know, that’s huge. 🙂 Of course the most obvious difference is the the 290 has a slightly larger capacity (it’s in the name). 

Overall Consensus: We love the Jackery lineup. There’s something for most of your needs.

Honda Partnership – Pretty cool!

honda by jackery portable power station review

So aside from the increase in capacity, which in my opinion is pretty impressive considering they are the same dimensions and weight, what’s the big deal here? Well, it’s what’s going on behind the scenes that’s really intriguing to me. Honda, a juggernaut in the portable power world, has partnered with Jackery. What does that tell us? 

One: Jackery is just rocking it right now. A company that’s only been around since 2012 has made such a splash in portable power supply technology that they’ve attracted Honda. Enough said.

Two: A partnership with Honda only further solidifies the quality of these products. Jackery’s products have always shown nothing but excellence, and now they have the seal of approval from a company that’s had their hands in things all the way from humanoid robots to formula one racing. I think I trust them. 

And Three: having a relationship with Honda can only mean great things in Jackery’s future. With the launch of their new 1500W power station coming mid 2019 (I hope I can get my hands on one of these!) it’s clear Jackery isn’t slowing down anytime soon. I have no doubt they will only continue to innovate above and beyond to better battery technology.

Their collaboration has already shown in the Honda series that they can pack more power into the same space without any weight increase. Rumor has it that Honda is working on new fluoride ion technology that could succeed lithium ion batteries in power, weight, and affordability. Possible partnership here some day? Hope so!

That’s all for Now!

Moose helps with our blog by being a top notch model and comic relief.

We hope our research and testing of these adventure and off-grid lifestyle products helps YOU as embark on your journey. Whether you’re looking to adventure out there in the wild or have reliable emergency backup solutions, these guys won’t let you down.

This is a sponsored post and does contain affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through our blog, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Our affiliate relationships help to keep us rolling and writing helpful tips, posts and more for YOU. That’s why we’re here. Thanks so much for your support!

NEWS: The New Homesmiths Series & Cleveland Film Fest

NEWS: The New Homesmiths Series & Cleveland Film Fest

We have some really exciting news to share here at The Wild Drive Life!

Apartment Therapy (AT) launched a new six episode mini-documentary series called “The New Homesmiths” and Ben, Moose and I are a part of it!

Our episode is also an official selection at the Cleveland International Film Festival!

The New Homesmiths

Dear Jenna Photography
wild drive life

The inspiration behind creating is often times to inspire ourselves and others to think, reflect and connect; to start a conversation. This series is no exception. 

Rebecca Blumhagen, Director of AT Originals reached out to us last fall to share the series concept and ask us to take part. US?! REALLY? 🙂

Her and her team aimed to dig deeper into the heart alternative living with The New Homesmiths. They focus on the people and their real stories which is what we try to do with the words and images we put out there to the world too. We were honored they thought of us and didn’t hesitate for a second to say YES.

The six episodes (released every Tuesday starting on March 20) introduce you to several creative and inspiring people who defined their own sense of home, comfort and success for themselves in all sorts of spaces — even an airplane! Subscribe to their YouTube to watch the first episode and tune in for the rest over the next few weeks.

Who Knew Iowa would be so memorable?

The crew in our bus!

We met Rebecca and her crew at her family’s farm in the middle of Iowa, where she grew up. What a beautiful, peaceful place! It was a perfect spot to meet after visiting our friends in Michigan and Minnesota.

We may have just breezed through Iowa otherwise but now the state is connected to a great memory for us. Traveling for us evolved to be RARELY about places, it’s about the people we meet.

The positivity and natural connection we felt with the whole crew on that chilly day of filming was a highlight of our trip, of our whole alternative living experience to date, really.

This experience meant a lot to us because we felt for the first time, after several blogs, articles and interviews over the past couple of years, our story was being told in a way that resonates on a much deeper level.

YES, we live in a 1989 Chevy B6P bus conversion, YES it’s full of reclaimed lumber and YES we’re off-grid, — BUT WHY did we do this, what has this experience brought out in us, as individuals and partners? Rebecca told THAT story so well.

Our Episode: “We Live in a Prison Bus”

We were asked recently if we, at this stage in our experience, could ever go back to the way that our lives were before, which were really comfortable. Without hesitation we said no. Not because there’s anything wrong with what we had going on before, but it didn’t feel this close to US as things do now.

We’ve seen and felt too much in the three years since buying this old bus and paying off our debt. We’ll always live deliberately and encourage others to do the same, whatever that means and looks like for THEM. If we’re able to continue to grow with open hearts and acceptance for ourselves and others, well, that’s a win! 🙂

The episode goes live on Tuesday, March 26 on Apartment Therapy’s Youtube channel.

We discuss the WHY behind our alternative living journey in our prison bus conversion and the hard work we put in to create this period of flexibility in our lives.

Subscribe here to be notified and watch ours and other episodes!

Cleveland International Film Festival Selection

wild drive life the new homesmiths
Dear Jenna Photography

Rebecca called us on our two-week van trip in February to share the other bit of GREAT news about our collaboration. The mini documentary episode featuring Ben and I is an official selection at the Cleveland International Film Festival!

Woah!

We didn’t expect this at all but were happy to delay our Appalachian Trail thru hike by a couple weeks to attend the event later this month.

The Wild Drive Life

It is weird that I would do this all over again in a heartbeat?!

“After making some drastic lifestyle changes and paying off 100k worth of debt in three years, Ben and Meag purchase a prison bus, renovate it into a tiny home, and set out to traverse the country to discover what they want to do with their newfound freedom.”

Screenings of “The Wild Drive Life” are scheduled for April 1 and 2 in downtown Cleveland, OH. We’ll be there! If you’re in the area, please come see us! We may also be scheduling a meetup and/or Q&A, stay tuned on our Instagram for more details.

Home is…

healthy eating food rules wild drive life
Our home is a reflection of US. It has its quirks but it’s OURS. Rachel Halsey Photography

Apartment Therapy embraces the fact that home looks and feels differently to everyone and so do we. I’ll never say that everyone should live in a bus or travel full time because there is no one right way to live well.

In 14 months and 20,000 miles we built the community and network we were missing in our stationary lives before the bus. We peeled back the layers with the goal to discover WHAT we wanted to do next and WHERE.

Ben and I strive to share a message of writing YOUR own story, however that may look and feel, we’re all different. Whether it’s entrepreneurship, the 9-5, living large or living tiny, travel or rooting yourself in a community — there is SOMETHING for everyone at any stage of their journey to choose, pursue and learn from — to find themselves in.

Beyond the Hashtags

Ahhh, sweet memories…

Tiny living is often over glamorized on social media. Sometimes you’ll see other ways of living talked down about in the process which breaks my heart. One size does not fit all.

We’re all on our own paths and all we can do is make the most of what we have to work with. I think my Dad used to tell me that! He was right.

Still, on a daily basis we’re presented with filtered images of perfection paired with little substance regarding the WHY and HOW behind the scenes.

This is another reason why discussions like the ones in these six episodes are SO needed! Live and let live.

For all it’s faults, there are so many deeply POSITIVE aspects to social media and that’s what we choose to focus on. We’ve met forever friends through these platforms and I’m sure more to come in the future. So, THANK YOU, all the truth speakers out there for opening up these deeper conversations that prove we’re all doing just fine.

Keeping it Real

Full bus, full hearts!

Diving into this community in a face to face way proved that different as we all are, we’re in the same boat of life just taking it day by day. Let’s break down those walls. We can learn something from everyone!

We’re very conscious of what we put out there because I’ve felt that dark cloud roll in after absorbing too much of the seemingly unattainable images of perfection online. Have you?

I encourage you to take a break from the squares, connect with yourself and others away from the screen. In the past six months, I gradually adjusted the online portion of my day to reset these feelings. We don’t post as often but what we do post means a lot to us. I’ve unfollowed the stuff that doesn’t resonate or add to my life without any hesitation. I limit my screen time and have since felt much better. You have to do what you have to do!

Phew! I really had to share that, thanks for reading. 🙂 Questions or just want to chat about how you’ve been affected by social media? Email us!

What’s Next for us?

If you trace back a few years — all I’ve EVER wanted to do is to positively impact others with my work and to be my goofy self. I know that sounds super vague, but, it’s the truth and Ben, thankfully is on a similar path with me, with his own individual passions.

That focus has been a guide for us all year. The WHY was already set, it’s a matter of deciding WHAT (which I think we’ve done!); bridging our passions to create something together. In the past couple months we felt a real tipping point in our clarity around what we want and where, which was our original goal in traveling around in our bus in the first place. STAY TUNED BECAUSE IT’S SO GOOD…

wild drive life

The New Homesmiths Premiere — March 26 on AT’s YouTube

Cleavland Film Festival (and our six year wedding anniversary!) — late March & early April. To buy tickets for our screenings, click here.

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike — April to August-ish, Georgia to Maine. Check out our top gear list so far here.

We’re going to wait a wee bit longer to share what venture we’re focusing on after our hike. IT’S SO GOOD THOUGH, we promise!

Thank YOU for your love and support in Ben, Moose and my journey for the past few years. We’re so glad you’re here with us.

Healthy Eating Inspiration from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

Healthy Eating Inspiration from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

One of my favorite healthy eating & food reads is Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. It’s quick, insightful and full of reminders about how we could improve our eating habits. Some tips are more basic, some may resonate with you more than others, and some may really surprise you. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in embarking on a more whole-food way of eating in a simple and practical sense.

Shop well, cook well, eat well.

Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual is a straightforward base of healthy eating inspiration to start some conversations with yourself and your family. The rules in this book apply both at the grocery store and in your kitchen. Think of it as a friendly little voice reminding me of a few key rules that REALLY matter in the long run!

I purchased a copy of the book, read it the same day and passed it on to a friend shortly after. Spread the good food love!

Conversations about Food, Real Food + Health

healthy habits wild drive life
Moose keeps us motivated to get outside and stay active.

What can I do to improve the way I’m eating now? What rules can I implement progressively in the future? I like structure when it comes to the basics that keep my body and mind going. That said, we’re all human so please please please, give yourself a break. Remember that quality & source matters. A homemade maple syrup & fruit sweetened chocolate cupcake is a lot different than a processed, preservative laden, store-bought cake. I feel the best I ever have in my life but I still eat tasty vegan treats and homemade pizza without batting an eye. Quality & ingredients matter.

Small, healthy habits make a difference

green smoothie every day
Our simple, daily morning green smoothie recipe! I keep our setup simple for travel with an immersion blender.

Don’t have time to make your own protein powder, here’s a great organic protein powder option.

Improving and maintaining your health is a process, a commitment; it requires effort on a daily basis. Small efforts add up to big change too. Drink a big glass of water first thing when you wake up, 30 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis, etc.

I’ve seen the effects of that in my own life over the past few years. Building, living and traveling in our bus slowly stripped our day to day down to the basics. It illuminated a lot of areas that needed work and for that I’m really thankful.

On the other side of this, negative unhealthy behavior can have the same cumulative effect. Before 2016, I definitely drank more than I should have, I said yes to foods I knew would make me feel bloated, phlegmy or just bad about myself the day after. I hit a breaking point late that year and made some big changes, getting back to basics and working up from there.

GOOD FOOD + QUALITY SLEEP + 30 MINUTES ACTIVITY DAILY + LOTS OF WATER

Honor what works for YOU

vegan protein powder recipe nutrition wild drive life
Another product of experimentation in the bus kitchen! Check out our homemade vegan protein powder recipe.

Pollan breaks down the food world into manageable, tangible rules to live by and use as a guide when we’re making choices about food purchases, preparation, and consumption. When people ask me where to start with their quest for healthier eating, well, I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

There are groups of rules in the book that will stick out to you more based on where you’re at in your health & wellness journey and what you’re looking to accomplish. There is something to guide and help just about everyone.

Here are the 7 rules that resonated most with me and I LOVE to live by them:

pollan food rules healthy eating inspiration
Highly recommend this read for healthy eating inspo.

 “Avoid food products that contain more than 5 ingredients.” This is an every day all day rule for me. Sticking to it in the grocery store will not only save you money, but will work to completely change the way you eat. If you can’t purchase processed foods with a laundry list of ingredients in them, you won’t have them available to you at home, and you won’t eat them. I choose instead to dream up homemade ways to create satisfying snacks and treats at home, or opting for simpler things like fruit.

“Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names.” This one sounds counterintuitive, but the removal of fat in food products doesn’t automatically make them healthy. The idea that it’s been processed to have the natural fats removed should be a clue that this isn’t something you want to be eating. Usually these fats have been replaced with high levels of sugar and simple carbohydrates. Fats are not our enemy! There are plenty of sources of GOOD, high quality fats in a balanced, whole food diet that our body needs to process vitamins. Think avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish.

“Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.” I love this one! REALLY think about it, and try to do this today. It’s a fun challenge that makes you reassess what you’re eating, and perhaps do a little research into it’s natural state, can’t find it? Well, you may not want to eat it. I recently searched chia, spirulina, cashews to get a better understanding of their natural state.

“Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” This ties into #1 above. I LOVE sweets, but I don’t love what the junk food manufacturers throw into store bought products. Make it yourself! Your body (and wallet!) will thank you. You may also find you’re not eating sweets or snacks as often because you have to make it yourself. Win win.

“Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.” Listen to your body and your mind, not just the latter. Listening to the physical signs of hunger to cue when to eat helps us to eat mindfully rather than mindlessly. Challenge yourself to wait, listen, and become in tune with your gut!

“Cook.” That’s it. I don’t want to hear from ANYONE that you can’t cook. You absolutely can, we all can. It’s worth the work and it doesn’t have to take more than an hour a day to create great things. It’s all about how you approach it. Prepare, put some music on, involve your partner or family, make it a fun experience.

“The banquet is in the first bite.” All of these rules combine to create (as my Dad used to say) “Food that makes you go, WOW!” Real food, fuel for your body and mind, sustained energy, a delicious experience, a memory, so much wonderful positive potential in the very first bite! Enjoy it.

Where do I start?! Staple dinner idea/thoughts…

Breakfast pretty much stays the same on a daily basis. We start with a green smoothie, water and coffee then we’ll make a protein/fruit oatmeal. Lunch is typically leftovers turned into a wrap or sandwich, nothing glamorous.

Dinner is where the magic happens. I try to make dinners that are healthy, satisfying and special but also only take 30 minutes or less to make. We have a life too! My suggestion to you if you feel like you don’t have time to improve your eating game during your busy week/life is to pick a few STAPLE MEALS that you can change up and keep interesting with different ingredients.

Let’s start with burritos. Soak in the basics and modify flavors, veggie and protein combos to your heart’s content. We’re sticking to Pollan’s food rules here, keep it simple and delicious!

healthy burritos eating habits
One of a hundred random variations on burrito night I’ve made. This food style is my favorite because the options are endless. Broccoli and a pesto cashew cream on top.

BURRITOS/TACOS/BOWLS –

Staple Ingredient Shopping List:

  • Tortillas/wraps (flour, brown rice, lavash – look for an option without hydrogenated oils) try your best to stick to the 5 ingredient rule, but… if you can pronounce/picture everything, you’re in the clear.
  • Rice (jasmine, red, brown, basmati, short grain, ANY) my tip here is to add 1 tbs. of Better than Bouillon vegetable or mushroom broth to the water while cooking the rice (purchase at any store near in the soup aisle). So so good.
  • Beans (black, pinto, garbanzo, kidney – stock up on a variety of canned beans for quick & easy use). Drain, add a bit of water and heat over medium high & don’t forget to add homemade taco seasoning (recipe below!).
  • Veggies (peppers, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, avocado it’s all good. Mix up cooked & fresh)
  • Salsa (homemade is the best but for quick & easy meals, stock up on a few jars, I love Newman’s Own organic — it’s simple, delicious and inexpensive)
  • Raw Cashews for vegan sour cream! (soak 1 cup of cashews in water overnight. Drain and blend with 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp. nutritional yeast, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tbs. lemon juice, 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar and 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard – salt & pepper to taste)
  • SPICES for homemade taco seasoning! = chili powder, cumin, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, paprika. MIX 1 tbs. chili powder + 1/4 tsp. each of: garlic, onion, oregano, paprika. Add 1 1/2 tsp. cumin and 1 tsp salt. Done.

ROUTINE:

Aim to make enough filling for dinner ritos + lunch the next day. Food prep possibilities! Always circle back to saving money, right? 🙂

Fill the bottom 1/3 of the tortilla with rice, beans and a mix of sautéed and fresh veggies. Season every layer, taco seasoning, fresh herbs. Add sliced avocado, salsa, vegan sour cream (recipe above), sprinkle roasted sunflower seeds, hemp seeds or nutritional yeast. The options are endless.

Fold the left and right sides in toward the filling. Lift the bottom up and over the filling, tuck and roll your burrito. It doesn’t have to be pretty because it’s wicked delicious. Wrap leftover burritos Chipotle-style or add a layer of parchment inside if you don’t want your food touching foil.

The ingredients above can be used in a buddha bowl style dish sans tortilla, tacos, etc.

Would you like more inspiration/recommendations from our bus kitchen?

Check out our Amazon Influencer Page for lifestyle gear, kitchen tools and staple food items we’ve purchased on Amazon.

Jackery Explorer 240 Portable Power Station Review

Jackery Explorer 240 Portable Power Station Review

Living off-grid in our bus conversion taught us a deep appreciation for so many practical simplicities; a full water tank, a freshly stocked fridge, a full tank of diesel, or a full charge on a device that helps us generate mobile income and keep living the DIY lifestyle we enjoy!

All of these simple pleasures make us feel more secure. It helps to be appreciative of the little things! For us, expanding our off-grid capabilities is a never ending endeavor and the Jackery 240 Explorer portable power station is a welcomed addition to our collection of power options. The BEST part is it’s portability.

jackery explorer power station
You can charge anything anywhere! Recharge via your solar or 12V DC charger in your car.

We received the Jackery Explorer 240 portable power station shortly before starting our two-week van trip experiment and it was ESSENTIAL to us during that time. So, we wrote this blog to spread the love!

Jackery was awesome enough to send us a complimentary charging station and sponsor an Instagram post. They did not pay us to write this review blog, we simply wanted to because this power station rocks — it exceeded our expectations. The opinions and experiences we share have and always will be genuine Meag & Ben honesty regardless. Anyhoo — we wanted to share that with everyone. 🙂

About the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240

The “240” in the name stands for 240 watt-hours, which pretty impressive for just over 6 lbs. of battery. The lithium ion battery means light weight, zero maintenance (aside from charging, duh), long life and a higher discharge capability. At only 5.19” x 9.05” x 7.67” in dimension it’s extremely portable and easy to stow away in a bus, van, car (car camping!), tiny home or regular home for that matter.

Jackery sells through Amazon and their products are available with free Prime delivery!

jackery portable power station 240 battery review
You know how much we love sharing the good deals. 🙂 Check it out here.

The smaller 167wh model is also an option as well.

You can plug virtually anything (200W or less) into the Explorer 240. It has 2 USB, a 12v DC, and a 110 AC output and will charge almost any electronic device multiple times. Each output can be toggled on or off with the press of a button to conserve battery life.

The LCD status screen is a handy feature. It shows exactly what watts are coming in when charging and how much is going out when a device is plugged into it. It also displays the % of battery life left, no conversions no math.

How do you charge the power station?

We charge our Jackery in the bus through our inverter (basically the sun charges our batteries via solar panels on the roof, that goes through an inverter which we’re able to plug into and charge things…). We’ve also charged our Jackery in the 12V port of a rental van recently, same would go for charging in a car or van. Easy peasy.

Optional Jackery Solar Panel

You could also charge Jackery products through a regular wall outlet or with Jackery’s optional add-on solar panel. Lots of options!

Bus Life Travel Experience (2018 – 2020) 

bus conversion portable power station
When you forget to charge your laptop all day, no worries!

We have 600w of solar on the roof, 356 Ah of battery bank, and an 8000w Cummins generator (this came with the bus!), that’s a lot of off-grid power already. So why add another battery to the mix? For anyone who has off-grid systems they know it’s not just about what you’re plugging in but when you’re plugging in.

During the day, when we’re pulling in a lot of solar, is the time to be charging devices and running appliances. Typically we have more solar coming in than we tend to use but that’s the Arizona desert. Not every location has this level of abundant sun. At night or when we’re parked in a cloudy/rainy weather for a while we have to be a bit more conservative about our usage, that’s where the Jackery shines. 

We also spend a lot of time back home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire! Did you know that the Mt. Washington area (where we met and love to be most) is the second cloudiest place in the country, INCLUDING ALASKA?!

Soooo… we like to have options and backups.

Update 2020 — We’re now renovating a house in New Hampshire rather than traveling in the bus, and the Jackery still comes in handy on an almost daily basis!

Less Waste if we have Excess Solar

mobile lifestyle jackery portable power
Moose is working equally as hard here. AT BEING ADORABLE.

As I said earlier, we tend to pull in more solar on a sunny desert day than we use. We try to charge all of our devices during the day to avoid plugging in at night, but even after two laptops and two iPhones there’ still plenty of solar to go around.

The Jackery takes a good 7-8 hours to fully charge which makes it a great solar dump for when our batteries are in float mode. 

This means when our AGM batteries are fully charged we are still bringing in electricity from our solar panels that just gets wasted. The Jackery is able to capture it and act as a power source at night, during a stretch of cloudy weather, or when we’re away from the bus. This has and will continue to help us optimize the overall efficiency of our power capabilities. 

Yes, we could just add to our battery bank with another AGM battery or two, but the versatility and portability of the Jackery 240 makes it worthwhile. It brings something to the table that bulky batteries cannot. Ever try to move a 178 Ah AGM battery? It’s heavy, very heavy. Not only is portability out of the question, but you’re also adding more weight to your vehicle. In a bus that’s probably okay, but if you’re living in a van you need to be careful about every pound you add. 

Portability & Versatility

jackery explorer 240 power station review
This is Ben and I’s attempt at the “super casual I’m so happy laughing face” you see all over social media. HOW DID WE DO? 🙂

We recently went on a 2 week van trip with an Escape Campervans. We’re calling it our “vancation”, a test of a smaller, quieter, more maneuverable vehicle than the bus. We talk more about the destinations and experience here.

Anyway, we took the Jackery 240 with us and it was an absolute dream to have. We charged it while we drove from place to place in the 12v port of the van. We had enough power for blending smoothies in the morning, grinding coffee, charging all our devices, and even powering a small fan overnight for that sweet white noise. 🙂 All without it being discharged past 40% each night. Not too shabby at all!

Overall This Jackery Provides a Great Backup Power Source

solar power bus conversion
Soaking in the solar and charging our Jackery.

2020 Update: We’ve had our Jackery Explorer 240 for two years now and we’ve really enjoyed having it.

This post contains affiliate links which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and make a purchase, this is at no additional cost to you and it keeps us writing, researching and sharing on Wild Drive Life. As always, we only recommend products we love and use personally. 

Vegan Basil Pesto and Vegan Parmesan Cheese

Vegan Basil Pesto and Vegan Parmesan Cheese

Adapting a traditional pesto recipe to be vegan-friendly is pretty simple, we just need to find a substitute for parmesan cheese! Typically you make a vegan parmesan cheese with raw cashews but I’m loving the nutty, less sweet hemp hearts version I made here.

Start to finish you’re investing about 15 minutes of your time in exchange for yummy dinner prep, a tasty vegan sprinkle cheese alternative and bragging rights. “LOOK WHAT I MADE!”

I also argue that this pesto is just as delicious if not tastier than the traditional pesto. A bunch of fresh aromatic basil, garlicky rich olive oily goodness with notes of a nutty, cheesy guilt-free parmesan, served over ANYTHING — YES. Let’s do this. I LOVE PESTO.

I can’t count how many variations of this weekly dinner staple of ours I’ve made since my first vegan pesto rendition a few years ago. There are no rules! Sometimes I use different nuts (walnuts, sunflower seeds). Sometimes I add leafy greens or avocado, different spices (sage, oregano, smoked paprika), you name it, I’ve tried it. It’s still vegan pesto at it’s finest. I’ll get into variations later…

Our Amazon shop has a handful of our essential kitchen tools/ingredients I reference below. Thanks in advance for reading & for your support of our blog!

Basic Vegan Pesto Method

vegan dairy free pesto
I couldn’t get a good picture of the ingredients in my smoothie cup, sorry! How pretty is this though?! Raw cashews, fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, mmm…

This section is so short. Get this — I add all the pesto ingredients in my stainless steel smoothie cup and mix it up with my immersion blender for 30 seconds or so until combined. Done. If you have a blender, you can use that. If you have a Vitamix, I salute you. Can I have it? No? That’s okay I guess… I really do love the simplicity and portability of an immersion blender for now.

Keep Things Simple & Versatile

I’m a big fan of recipes that involve throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl or blender and mixing it up into tasty things really fast. I’ll try to keep sharing versatile recipes you can incorporate into your day to day to keep healthy plant-based meal prep a sustainable venture.

PRO SAUCE TIP — Mix the finished pesto with vegenaise in a 2:1 ratio (2 parts vegenaise, 1 part pesto) in a small glass jar. BOOM — VEGAN PESTO MAYO FOR SANDWICHES! You’re welcome.

vegan pesto mayo vegenaise
2 parts vegenaise, 1 part vegan pesto = BEST DIPPING SAUCE AND SANDWICH FRIEND ON THE PLANET.

Do I have to serve this with Pasta? What if I eat Gluten-Free?

NO worries. Endless possibilities! I’ve served this pesto over traditional pasta, gluten free pasta, roasted spaghetti squash, zoodles, a veggie and rice bowl (rice, beans, sautéed veggies), mixed with some vegenaise and slathered on a marinated tempeh sandwich — you name it. The world is your pesto oyster.

A Quick Round of Applause for Nuts

I recently read an article about plant based diets in Eating Well’s “What to Eat for Life” special edition. There were a lot of golden tidbits of research in there but one piece was that nuts are one of the key elements that makes a plant-based diet so beneficial. Nuts and legumes contain little saturated fat and are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats which have been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol.

Doesn’t Pesto have to have pine nuts?! Why are you so un-fancy, Meag?!

No. You don’t need to use pine nuts. They’re tasty, sure, but dang they’re pricy. More power to you if you want to spring for it but other nuts are so much more versatile and useful to have on hand. They can be used for a million other recipes and snacks. So stock your pantry, or tiny cabinet if you live in a bus like us with a variety of nuts!

I try to purchase in larger quantities online for a slightly cheaper per pound price. My favorites are raw cashews, raw walnuts, raw almonds and pecans for the sweet treats. I loooove pecans + dark chocolate + coconut together. Recipe for another day…

Tell me more about that Vegan Hemp Heart Parmesan Cheese Recipe?!

vegan parmesan cheese hemp hearts

I included the recipe for that magical concoction below too. It features nutritional yeast (a deactivated yeast LOADED with vitamin B; it has a nutty, cheesy flavor), spices, dried onion and hemp hearts — YUM.

It couldn’t be easier to make, plus it involves ART sort of! All the ingredients are mixed up sand art style (where you at 90’s kids?!) in a 24 oz. ball jar. I prefer the tall 1 1/2 pint size ball jars, love ’em. They’re a top 10 must-have item in our bus kitchen and life in general. We make our overnight oats, drink water and coffee, store fresh food, dried spice mixes, leftovers, sauces — basically everything happens in ball jars on this bus. I digress…

I typically make a big batch of my vegan hemp heart parmesan cheese and keep refilling a small shaker jar as needed, so… often. IT GOES ON EVERYTHING, people. EVERYTHING! 🙂 

hemp heart nutritional yeast parmesan
Thanks, Ben’s hand! I love saving glass spice jars and reusing them for this and other spice blend concoctions.

What are Hemp Hearts (Seeds) and why do you like them so much?

Hemp hearts (or seeds) are the seeds of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa. Yes, they are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana) but they’re a different variety. They contain only small trace amounts of THC (less than 1%).

Hemp hearts are a staple in our plant-based kitchen because they have a delicious nutty flavor and are considered a complete protein. They are a source of all nine of the essential amino acids which is REALLY great news for vegans since we don’t consume animal/dairy products.

Hemp hearts are also rich in essential fatty acids (3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3).

They can be sprinkled on or added to so many dishes. They’re not a main source of protein by any means but they’re a welcomed, healthy addition!

Feel free to adjust this Pesto Recipe!

I full on encourage you to add, subtract and adjust my vegan pesto recipe to your heart’s content as I do on a regular basis with zero shame. Don’t let the recipe bind you. It’s meant to be a base structure/ratio to play with; also proof that pesto is wicked easy to make at home.

Wild & Free Style of Cooking

If I’ve cooked a meal for you, you know my style is pretty wild and free. I’m always up to try different flavor combinations and have a habit of making the same dish but in a million different ways.

If I’m going to share my recipes I need to pepper in a bit of empowerment around cooking skills in general because that’s where the magic happens — outside the recipe!

Meag Tip: Focus on mastering 3-5 staple meals/flavors. Rather than attempting to learn 100 recipes (not sustainable), learn five foundational meals you can build off of and get creative with.

Start with pesto night!

Pesto is a favorite go-to meal for me because you can modify and amplify flavors and ingredients in so many ways. It works for so many diets and it never gets old. You want to look forward to what’s on the dinner menu, crave it and be thankful for it’s healthy benefits as well.

vegan basil pesto parmesan cheese recipe
I like recipes that I can make quickly with things I have on hand. I might find NEW staple ingredients out of experimentation — like nutritional yeast and hemp seeds. I always have them on hand now!

Vegan Pesto Recipe Possibilities:

CREAMY PESTO VARIATION: Add a half cup of unsweetened regular soy or almond milk (reduce olive oil to 1/2 cup). This one reminds me of those Pasta Roni sides I used to eat entire boxes of after school when I was 14. SO GOOD but SO BAD. Not this! 🙂

GREENEST GREEN VARIATION: Sneak in A BUNCH of healthy, dark leafy greens in this vegan pesto base, for ex: add a handful of organic baby spinach, kale or arugula. The kids won’t know the difference.

AVOCADO VARIATION: Add an avocado (reduce the olive oil here since avos have their own oily richness). Pack in those good fats! This one won’t last as long (1-2 days) in the fridge after blending it up though because of the avocado.

TUSCAN VARIATION: Add a 4-6 sun-dried tomatoes and eight kalamata olives. One of my personal favorites…

I hope you enjoy these simple plant-based eating ideas and recipes and please make them often! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions! Tag us on Instagram @wilddrivelife when you create some of these delicious things at home!

Sending love to all. Treat your body and mind well today and always.

♡ Meag

vegan pesto with hemp heart parmesan cheese
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vegan hemp seed parmesan cheese recipe

Vegan Hemp Heart Parmesan Cheez

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes

Description

My quick & easy non-dairy parmesan cheese mix is a delicious topping on so many dishes and perfect for vegan pesto. With just a few ingredients it doesn’t take long to make either. I make a big batch in a ball jar and keep refilling a small spice jar with a shaker top as needed. Easy peasy.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes (I call it nooch :))
  • 3/4 cup hemp hearts (seeds) (look for non-gmo)
  • 1/4 cup dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a ball jar sand art style.
  2. Screw cover on and shake!
  3. Store in the ball jar at room temperature or fill up a small spice jar with a shaker top to make serving easier.

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This post contains affiliate links which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and make a purchase, this is at no additional cost to you and it keeps us writing, researching and sharing on Wild Drive Life. As always, we only recommend products we love and use personally.