We really excited to share some of our favorite destinations from our southern Arizona road trip in a handpainted Escape Campervan!
In an earlier blog post, we talked about our dip into van travel for two weeks back in February! We talked about the differences between bus and van travel, check that out if you’re curious…
Our van trip was somewhat planned but kept very flexible, just the way we like it. Our goals were eating really delicious food, hiking and running as much as we can. We wanted to explore some of the places in southern Arizona that we hadn’t been able to see yet in our bus for one reason or another.
We’ve traveled 20,000 miles over a huge portion of the United States in our big blue bus conversion and another 1,300 miles in this cool van. We’ve seen a lot of what our beautiful country has to offer as far as diversity in landscapes, communities and people (our favorite!).
Nationwide road-tripping gives us a better perspective and appreciation of the unique ecosystems, industries and the cultures. There’s something to learn everywhere you go. That’s the best part! Here goes…
We Really Love Arizona
Arizona has been our go to state when winter has a tight grip on our home in New Hampshire for the past two winters. Why?
Arizona is one of the most RV and traveler friendly states with its accessible roads, water/dump station/fuel/camping services galore. There are plenty of public land options for free camping too, our favorite. Check out some of our favorite travel apps for more information on how we find these spots.
Exploring Southwest AZ
I think we also love the southwest so much because of its EXTREME contrast to where we grew up in the northeast. We really love both landscapes so much.
The deserts are spectacular, the mountains are wild and rugged, and the plants and wildlife are so unique. It just made sense that AZ be the state we explore on a deeper level during our bus (and van!) travels.
We started with renting an Escape Campervan Big Sur model. They’re all a bit different, ours was called “Jumper.
We also connected with Arizona State Parks to gather a handful of recommendations for state parks to explore on our route. Did you know they won a National Gold Medal award for best managed parks?! After going on this trip, we’re not surprised at all.
Since we can’t fit EVERYTHING we did in one blog, we picked a handful of highlights to aid in your AZ explorations.
Here are several of our FAVORITE destinations and notes from our southern Arizona trip with Escape Campervans:
Dinner at 24 Carrots: Tempe, AZ
Since the bus was parked just outside of Phoenix and we don’t normally drive that behemoth in cities, the first night of our trip we took the van through the downtown area of Tempe, AZ and had dinner at 24 Carrots!
We so rarely go out to eat while traveling in the bus since it’s a great way to save money. It happens MAYBE once every few months. We decided to explore a few foodie spots on the van trip and treat ourselves. We could finally fit into their parking lots without worry, woohoo!
The vibe at 24Carrots is so welcoming; casual and upbeat. Chef/owner and her crew have serious culinary skills. They bring deep and interesting flavors to the table in their dishes, everything is well thought out, GORGEOUSLY presented and healthy.
We highly recommend the Topopo Nachos and the chocolate cupcakes that say “love” on them. Go ahead and get two of them! Ah-mazing.
South Mountain Hike: Phoenix, AZ
Before we left the PHX area we decided to hike nearby South Mountain with Moose! Moose went on all our hiking and running adventures with us. That’s how we choose where to go, really!
South Mountain is easy to get to and pretty close to downtown Phoenix. We called our friends @journeybyvan to see if they wanted to join with their two dogs Zuke and Mooney. They were about to head out for a hike anyway so it was perfect. They hopped into their campervan and met us at the trailhead. Moose loves their them and their doggos!
South Mountain is a 3.5 mile (with other trails & options) easy, accessible, dog friendly hike. There are great views of the city below and some fun rocks formations and side trails to explore too. It gets pretty busy on weekends, just as an FYI.
What did we bring? Our camera, Larabars, water and Moose’s travel bowl in a small pack. Use your judgement re: sun protection, snacks and additional gear needed. Always wear comfortable and supportive footwear!
Lost Dutchman State Park Camping: Apache Junction, AZ
We left Phoenix and pointed the van west toward Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction. It was only a 50 minute or so drive from PHX. What a breathtaking place!
The campground was easily accessible, super clean and could accommodate any size vehicle. They welcome everything from tents and campervans to full-size motorhomes and RVs.
It’s smart to have reservations since this park is so gorgeous/popular. We got lucky with a spot along the perimeter (highly recommend) of the park after someone cancelled. Woohoo!
Flatiron Hike + New Friends: Superstition Mountains, AZ
Part of the Superstition Mountain range, Lost Dutchman offers beautiful nature walks, wildlife, and a couple more rugged hikes.
Ben and I obviously wanted the biggest and baddest hike they have there. We decided to venture up to the iconic Flatiron peak that towers over the surrounding area. It is a 6.2 mile out and back trail.
It was a rainy, foggy and windy day and after a quick stop to chat with the rangers we parked the van at the trailhead and went for it!
We felt right at home on this hike and thought, “Are we back in the New Hampshire White Mountains right now?!”
Notes on Hiking
Rockslides and washouts can mimic a trail and be confusing for hikers on this southwest terrain. People also make their own cairns sometimes, trail markers are few and far between, etc. We’re not used to this AT ALL coming from the northeast hiking trails. Blazes and signs at every intersection are the norm in most areas we’ve hiked in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
We suggest doing research on your planned hike, speaking with a ranger for any more information you need before venturing out. Better to be safe. Always make sure that you have GPS/map resources with you. This goes for any hike, really.
The challenge picked up after a gradual uphill climb to Siphon Draw. We arrived at a water carved canyon and waterfall. The winds were so high the water was flowing backwards in one part of the stream below!
We got a little lost…
After following a wrong turn over toward another Flatiron looking butte we added some unplanned distance to our hike but no worries! We quickly hopped on All Trails and made our way back.
A mile or so later we rejoined the trail and we met another couple on their way back from also being lost. After a laugh, we decided to ascend the rest of the trail together from there! We all took another false trail again (yes, again!) onto a gnarly alternate route. I’m telling you, it’s so easy to get lost on this trail! We were all prepared and fine, even Mr. Moose!
We happily summited amidst high winds and fog that broke JUST long enough for us to catch a view below. We finished the hike with new friends and a story to share.
What did we bring? We brought our fully-weighted and supplied packs (20-28 lbs.) on this hike to train for the Appalachian Trail which we do often. It’s doable with a smaller pack of course just be prepared & remember your essentials.
Kartchner Caverns State Park: Benson, AZ
The next morning we headed South toward Benson, AZ. We buzzed through Tucson since we planned to spend more time there at the tail end of our trip. We continued on to Kartchner Caverns State Park and the tours that began our obsession with caves!
Beautifully preserved and meticulously maintained, Kartchner Caverns offers some of the most breathtaking cave formations you can imagine. They feel very ALIVE, formations still growing in real time as we walked through!
We were lucky enough to find openings in both the Big Room tour and the Rotunda/Throne Room guided walking tours.
It was warm and humid down in the caves, about 70 degrees or so. The tour guides were extremely knowledgeable and genuinely enthusiastic about the discovery and preservation of this natural wonder. Ben and I had to be right up front, of course!
Each tour was unique and interesting enough for us not to feel like one was better than the other. We highly recommend BOTH TOURS.
Photography is not allowed in the cave, which made it kind of nice to unplug and simply soak in the experience. If you’re in southern AZ this is a must see destination.
There are a couple of easy hikes/trails to run and walk in the foothills around the caverns too! We went for a run with Moose and met another full-time RV couple (Diane and Steve!) at one of the lookouts. We love those moments!
Roper Lake State Park, sort of!
After two days at Kartchner we set off Northwest to a little town called Cactus Flat and over to Roper Lake State Park. It’s a popular destination for fishing, boating, and birding.
We got on the road EARLY and caught a majestic sunrise on our drive up 191 with views of Mt. Graham and the surrounding range. That was my favorite part of the day!
Unfortunately it was about 35 degrees with howling winds when we arrived. The natural stone hot tub was closed for service. We went for a quick, sort of hilarious windy run on one of the trails and said, “Want to keep driving south?!” Bummed as we were about the weather, now we know about Roper Lake and would love to go back another time.
Road Trip Tip: Go with the Flow
Ben and I try to go with the flow of what we enjoy, especially when traveling together. It’s just less stressful for all involved! Our year of bus travels trained us well. We hopped right back in the campervan and kept going to Bisbee, AZ.
Our original plan was to visit Tombstone, AZ but we got some feedback from our amazing Instagram community that Bisbee is less touristy and more our style!
They were right!
In that moment I was so thankful for the simplicity of this van road trip vs. bus travel. I love having the space of our bus when we’re parked but in the van we could travel more miles, more comfortably and with less stress. It was a welcomed break!
When a Radio Station Makes Your Day (and your road trip)
En route to Bisbee we found the best radio station on our entire trip: 100.7 in Wilcox, AZ. Pairing experiences with music has been a natural part of my life since I can remember. Music means the world to me, it enhances moments, it is therapy, even the hilarious and nostalgic tunes!
100.7 wasn’t your run of the mill 80’s, 90’s, and today’s hits kind of station. When 100.7 says variety, they mean variety. The sets were so random we couldn’t help but love it. We’re talking Tammy Wynette, Gerry Rafferty, Smash Mouth, Bell Biv Devoe, Bob Dylan, and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Not kidding, that was the actual line up in that order. It was so good it earned a spot on our road trip highlights.
Bisbee, Arizona: Running, hills and artwork galore.
A former mining town carved into the mountains back in the late 1800s, Bisbee is a real gem in the southwest. Much of the town buildings and houses exist on steep valley hills and winding streets.
Our run (mentioned below) took us past unique street art pieces, crafty outdoor decor; colorful fences, metalwork, and a giant rose sculpture. It was like Jack Kerouac and the Banksy were on the city planning board or something, I loved it. You just have to see it!
We were so thankful to have had the campervan there too, the steep streets would have been a wee bit of a challenge to traverse and park on with the big bus.
If you’re a runner like we are, we highly suggest embarking on the iconic Bisbee 1,000 4.5 mile course. Another person in our Insta community suggested it to us (thank you!).
Bisbee’s neighborhoods are somewhat like what you’d see in a cliffside town in Greece: houses on houses on narrow streets with twists and turns galore! So, the course traverses an interconnected maze of nine staircases and 1,000 individual steps peppered all throughout the town. It’s a great way to see it all and get a workout in.
The Bisbee 1,000 is considered one of the most unique and difficult physical challenges in the country. We somehow made it a 5.2 mile loop with a couple wrong turns, naturally. If you like to run or are just in for a beautiful scenic walk through this iconic town then hit the stairs of the Bisbee 1,000.
Queen Mine Tours: Bisbee, AZ
Bisbee was built around a massive copper mine known as the Copper Queen Mine. The city started booming in the early 1900’s and has had an art & tourism revival since the mine closed in the 1970’s.
Today you can take a guided tour down into the mine and get a taste of how life was like for the miners of yesteryear.
“During almost a century of mining, 8 billion pounds of copper, 102 million ounces of silver and 2.8 million ounces of gold along with millions of pounds of zinc, lead and manganese were produced. By 1974 ore reserves had been depleted and December brought the announcement of the impending closure of mining operations in Bisbee. Phelps Dodge curtailed open pit operations that year and ceased underground operations in 1975.” Source
We hopped aboard the original rail cart that was used by miners and plunged into the mountain. Our tour guide was a retired miner himself! He was a Sam Elliot cowboy lookalike, had the best stories and in my opinion he was as much a part of the tour as the mine itself.
Miller Canyon (BLM camping): Sierra Vista, AZ
After a quick stop in at Bisbee Coffee Co. for cold brew and vegan cookies (so good), we headed out for a scenic drive toward Miller Canyon. We spent the night at a public land campsite we found on Campendium in Sierra Vista.
Miller Canyon was beautiful, very remote, almost eerie. Ben woke up to go to the bathroom and saw four sets of eyes staring back at him! At this point in our traveling days, not much phases us. It was perfect for the night and we’ll keep that location pinned in our Google maps for sure.
We caught a really cold week overall, we know this spot would be AMAZING in warmer temperatures! There are hiking & trail running options nearby.
Patagonia Lake State Park: Patagonia, AZ
Patagonia is the supreme, we mean SERIOUS birding destination (we didn’t know this before arriving!) for naturalists and hobbyists alike. The park was super friendly and clean. We landed a site that sat almost directly on the shore of the beautiful Patagonia Lake. We highly recommended reservations in advance here too.
There are dirt and paved trails all over the park to explore. We set off on a morning run up to Patagonia Outlook. We followed trails to a service road and found the trailhead on a gorgeous sloping hillside; cacti, agave and wild flowers all around us. Patagonia Outlook features great views of the valley and lake. It even has a stone bench at the top to sit and take in the scenery.
After a quick stop at Gathering Grounds in Patagonia for some coffee and tea we made our way back north toward Madera Canyon, our next boondocking camp spot. We made sure to charge up the Jackery while driving so we would have charging/power capabilities while parked for a couple days.
Madera Canyon: BLM Camping
There are some incredible hiking options in and around Madera Canyon. I’m amazed that it’s less an an hour south of Tucson!
You find everything from gradual shorter trails for families up to higher elevation challenges all within a short drive. There are free (BLM) and paid camping options available. There was still a lot of snow up on the peaks at this time (mid-February) but the lower areas where we camped were very mild, 60’s during the day, 30’s at night.
We camped at the base of Mt. Wrightson in the canyon for the night with plans to hike to the peak or something close the next morning. I knew we wouldn’t go far past the snow line because we forgot our micro spikes in the bus back in Tempe!
Miller Canyon Hiking: Bog/Kent Spring Loop
The next morning, after coffee, a green smoothie and oatmeal, we made our way to the Mt. Wrightson trailhead. We were turned away at arrival by police due to an active search for a missing person. It’s heartbreaking. They never found the elderly hiker after an exhaustive two week search effort. 🙁
At the time we were really hopeful, wished the crew well and went on with our hike at a lower elevation. We took the Bog Springs trail for a six mile or so loop around with beautiful views of the snowy taller peaks surrounding us. The nostalgic alpine forest dusted with snow reminded us of home in the northeast which we loved.
We brought our fully weighted packs just to train for our April Appalachian Trail hike but this hike is doable with a smaller day pack and the 10 hiking essentials.
Titan II Missile Museum: Sahuarita, AZ
Another must see in the Green Valley area is the Titan II Missile Museum in Sahuarita. We stopped here on a whim but it was one of our favorite experiences of the trip. This location has the last nuclear missile silo of its kind in the world!
The museum offers guided tours throughout the immaculately preserved site and missile control room. You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the heavy and quite honestly terrifying role the Titan II played during the Cold War.
Being the front of the class nerds that we are, Meag and I were selected to simulate a launch as it might have happened back in 1963. We got to sit in the captain and co-captain’s chairs (Meag was the captain of course) and go through the steps to launch a warhead, turning the original keys in the ignition ports in unison.
The thing about we love about road tripping is that you visit some obscure spots you may have overlooked otherwise, this experience was no exception.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls: Vegan Comfort Food in Tucson, AZ
We hopped back in our Escape Campervan and drove 45 minutes north to arrive in Tucson. We zoomed over to Lovin’ Spoonfuls on recommendation from another helpful follower on Insta. THANK YOU!
I saw right away on their specials board: creamy vegan mac n’ cheese with soyrizo or buffalo nuggets. SOLD! It was amazing.
Catalina State Park, Cacti and Wildflowers: Tucson, AZ
We spent the night at Catalina State Park just outside the city. You would never know Tucson is just a stone’s throw away from this natural getaway. These is my favorite kind of camping find (car/tent/campervan): you get the remote feel, hiking/running trails, nature everywhere paired with any conveniences you may need nearby.
The hiking/running/biking/horse trails around Catalina State Park feature some of the most beautiful and plentiful saguaro cacti and colorful wildflowers I’ve ever seen. The wild spearlike tentacles seemed longer and thinner than most others we’ve seen around AZ.
We ran about 6 miles each day we were there. We hopped over creeks, climbed stairs to lookouts, passed horses as we went, sun shining (finally!). It was some of my favorite runs on the trip!
Did we mention these were the best shower facilities of the entire trip? Spacious and super clean, they knew how to make the guests feel welcome!
Driving up Mt. Lemmon (from summer to winter!): Tucson, AZ
The next morning we embarked on the iconic drive up Mt. Lemmon (28 miles up, 28 miles down). This was another spot where our Escape Campervan really shined. I don’t think we would have been able to make it up the 28 mile mountain drive and back with the bus.
The mountain road wasn’t particularly steep it was one very long, slow hill.
The Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway takes you through multiple biomes starting with desert and ending in a Canadian forest zone at 9,159’. There are many pullouts along the way to snap a photo of some spectacular views and hoodoo rock formations. It was sunny and 65 at the base and a chilly WINTER day with snow on the ground at the summit.
Gordon Hirabayashi Historic Site
On our way back down, we stopped at a historic site of the Catalina Federal Honor Camp off Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway. The historic site is named after Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese American civil rights activist and inmate there back in the 1940s. He was given a formal apology and his conviction was finally overturned in 1987.
This historic site is a must see for those who want a little world history with their natural history. It was really humbling. For more information on this, head here.
Redington Pass BLM Camping: Tucson, AZ
We spent the night at a public land (BLM) spot off of Redington Pass outside of Tucson. We arrived just before sunset, made burritos (prime time road trip dinner option!) and went to bed.
The next morning, after coffee, green smoothies and oatmeal we set out for brisk 6.8 mile run straight up the pass. We like a good challenge, haha. It makes a run more interesting than simply… running straight and level. Windy conditions and the steep incline of Redington Pass added a gratifying mental challenge to our morning workout.
Tumerico Scratch Kitchen: Tucson, AZ
We started the journey back to Phoenix and made one last stop at another amazing vegan restaurant! Tumerico in Tucson was the perfect close to our food/hiking/running tour.
Tumerico’s menu is one of the most creative I’ve seen and it changes daily! They have the best authentic Mexican inspired vegan food and delicious lattés to boot! We ordered the CBD Pesto and the jackfruit tacos.
Bittersweet End to the Trip
The Escape Campervan made seeing all these places in such a short time really easy to do. It eliminated the stress of driving our big, beautiful bus and we didn’t have to pay a dime for a hotel.
It was such a treat to drive around southern Arizona but we did really miss our bus. Would we want to live in something as small as the van? No, not for us full-time, BUT, for road trips it’s great! Needless to say, we were going to miss having the van around. I’m sure it’ll see plenty of adventures ahead in and around Phoenix.
We gave the bus a big loving hug when we returned and marked the end of a great van-cation. And maybe we had dinner that night at our favorite Phoenix vegan restaurant, Green. We just couldn’t help it. 🙂
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?!
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
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!
1989 Chevy B6P
31 ft. long
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.
2017 Ford T-350 (Big Sur model)
19.8 ft. long
Seats five and sleeps up to five
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 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
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 stationwhich 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!
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
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
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
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 commission 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!
How is Living in a Bus with A Dog? We wondered this same thing before moving into the bus and wanted to share our experience so far with you!
Living in a bus, tiny home, van, or anything smaller than your average abode comes with its list of challenges, even for us humans. When you introduce a dog friend to the mix, there are other special considerations that need to be made on a daily basis.
On the flip side, there are opportunities for exponential joy in experiences shared with your four-legged friend.
So how is living in a bus and doing so nomadically with a dog? REALLY? With almost a year under our belts we can say with confidence that we couldn’t imagine it any other way. He makes it better.
Meet our dog, Moose!
Our pup is no teacup Yorkshire terrier (although one of his BEST friends is!), we named him Moose and rightfully so. He’s a 75 pound American Staffordshire terrier mix that lives and travels full time in our 165 sq/ft bus conversion tiny home.
Every dog has their quirks and every dog is different. Some days we’re like, “MAN! I wish you were a lab, labs are so easy!”
For some dogs it’s an uncontrollable prey drive, for others it’s barking at anything that moves, some can’t help but jump and basically double-punch you right in the gut with all their weight. Mmmmmmm, love that. Anyway, as dog owners we deal with these traits, train and adapt to the best of our ability and their ability and usually it’s an ongoing effort.
Traveling can be a stressful experience for humans and pets.
Traveling can take the familiarity and comfort out of life and replace it with uncertainty. Depending on who you are, this is either exciting or kind of a challenge. The latter is more often to be the case with dogs, it certainly was for Moose. Gradually, he became more comfortable and confident with this new lifestyle as we did too.
Remember, your dog reads into your energy and feeds off of that.
Moose KNOWS when we’re stressed about navigating somewhere in the bus or when we’re having a fight about something. Especially now that everything is packed into such a tiny space. He puts us in check, almost as if he’s saying, “Hey guys! What’s going on?! Is it really that big of a deal?!” and for that, we love him.
Working with your dog’s personality
Moose is a naturally nervous dog. This used to be a real challenge with new people and places. I’m not sure what went down in his first three and a half months of life but we imagine that it wasn’t exactly positive.
It’s been our mission, since we adopted him to give him a great life, to show him that new people and places can be enjoyable. He’s come a long way but in certain situations, (large groups in particular) we still have some work to do.
Sometimes you have to honor your dogs limitations and keep working through them together. Gradual exposure goes a long way. We also find being upfront and honest with new people about your dog’s personality helps a lot. There’s NO shame in that! “Hey, Moose needs a big happy hello at first with new people. We’ll give you a cookie to give him when you meet.” Something along those lines…
Find what makes your dog SMILE & do more of it.
Doing MORE of the things that makes you dog happy will help alleviate the stresses of new this, unfamiliar that all the time during your travels.
Moose is a dog dog. If there’s a dog around a new situation, we’re THRILLED because he’s IMMEDIATELY comfortable and happy. He doesn’t care about anything but playing with and getting to know the dog.
Hiking and running were also key elements to shift his nerves to excitement and energy. These activities changed his life and I guess they changed ours too. We’re REALLY lucky that he loves it as much as we do. It’s how we love to experience each new location together. It’s how we stay healthy and happy.
You need those things to share in life! Find your pack activity and do more of it.
Progress takes time.
Moose has TRULY evolved this year of living in the bus. This required a lot of work, training and patience, but it’s worth it every day.
To be honest, living and traveling in the bus has exceeded our expectations in terms of Moose’s emotional growth. Hah, I guess it has been that way for our own growth too. 🙂
You really learn what’s best as you go. At first, everything is overwhelming but you WILL catch on. If we can, anyone can.
On our first cross-country trip we didn’t stop AT ALL on long driving days except for fuel ups. It wasn’t fun for any of us. Now, we always find time for a trail run or walk now and it’s helped tremendously.
When we’re parked somewhere, we found over time that running or hiking in the morning and evening is a must, for all of us. The middle of the day we’re usually caught up working.
If we dive into work from the start, sometimes we forget to get outside and give Moose a good run and sniff. Moose keeps us on track with our physical and mental health! 🙂 “Hey guys, I NEED this!”
Routines are KEY
It really helps to stick to a few key daily routines like meal times and daily exercise. Dogs love consistency.
Try to offset any stresses with something they’re comfortable with, like a quick training session with praise or a nice long walk.
Check in with your dog often, this experience is as new to him/her as it is to you.
Our crew is what he knows and loves. We’re a team, we spend a lot of time together and it makes us all happier to know that with confidence.
We are home to him, no matter where we travel. The bus, too, is his safe place. It remains constant and comfortable even though the landscapes and people change around us constantly.
Moose was terrified of the bus at first, nervous, unsure. Just like any new thing, this is how Moose is. It took time, patience and a willingness on our part to continue trying.
Now he loves it. This is Moose’s bus. Watching this journey evolve over the past year has been a wonderful experience!
Exercise on the Road
A friend once said “A tired dog is a good dog”. That couldn’t be more true. They NEED exercise, new sights and smells, just like us humans. Otherwise we get restless and act out.
I know exercise is not a requirement to “live” but aren’t you so much happier if you’re active and healthy and get outside? We try to keep that in mind.
A lot of what we do and where we go revolves around Moose’s happiness and health, but it coincides with our goals too which is nice (running, hiking, waking up early, taking it slow sometimes).
He is part of the family. He is full of unconditional love as are we for him. He makes us smile and laugh on a daily, almost hourly basis. Which, especially on some more challenging days, is just priceless.
Travel days are more challenging, when we’re just trying to get from point a to point b. Sometimes we’ll hop on AllTrails and look up a nearby trail to go for a run/walk. We ALWAYS try to get outside, even on those long driving days.
When we’re rooted in a place for a day or more, Moose gets to run in huge open spaces, explore new smells and meet new doggo friends along the way.
The Gift of Proximity
Ben and I worked full-time jobs before 2018 requiring us to be away from home for most of the day. This is normal but if you asked Moose he prefers his life now. Moose is now with us all the time since we work remotely and online.
Our connection with Moose has strengthened over this past year from being able to spend so much time with him. We’re sure that his increased confidence and improved demeanor are in part because of this life change too.
A Few Challenges to Note
There are certainly challenges and restrictions that come with the territory of living in a bus with a dog, but Moose is worth the extra effort.
We find we don’t WANT to leave Moose alone in the bus, so we don’t do a lot of indoor activities like museums, shows, etc. — once in a while. I suppose this helps keep our budget in check too.
Many National Parks are restrictive with their pet policies, understandably so. Luckily we’ve found plenty of locations and public lands just outside of National Parks like state parks, national preserves, national forests, etc. that are pet friendly. Check out our apps blog for more information about how we find all the great spots.
We do our best to choose activities, trails and locations that are dog friendly. This also means we’ve had to say NO to beautiful places and exciting hikes because we can’t take Moose.
We’re around NEW people, locations, wildlife and situations all the time. It’s not just our safety we need to worry about. Whenever we’re in doubt or not watching closely, we leash Moose, have him on a lead or he’s in the bus with us. Sure, he’s well trained but you just never know who or what you’ll encounter.
We try to use our judgement and be courteous of others at all times.
Why we love using an E-Collar
Love it or hate it, an e-collar is the BEST piece of training equipment that we own for Moose. It’s come in handy the most since moving into the bus and traveling around the country.
Moose thrives on routines, jobs, tasks, direction. He wants us to guide him. He wants to do the right thing and be told how awesome he is after. 🙂
He had formal on-leash training with the e-collar first (heel, easy, sticky sit, etc.) and we gradually worked on his recall off leash on hikes. We’ve seen a night and day difference in his attention, response time and connection to us. It makes us feel so much more comfortable on runs, hikes, or if we’re just out and about off leash together. Just our two cents.
ONE MORE NOTE on Safety:
We also keep Moose’s ADORABLE orange bandana on at all times too, even outside of hunting season. We’re always somewhere new; it’s just easier to spot him, keep him safe and bonus, he looks super handsome.
The Good FAR Outweighs the Challenge
Living in a bus with a dog and traveling through this wild nomadic lifestyle experience is the only way we can imagine it for ourselves! Moose enhances the experience and reminds us to stay positive.
I would say that it requires more work and planning to live in a bus with a dog. Be prepared and accepting of that if you’re considering this lifestyle with a dog. They deserve that and so do you.
We love the challenge of patience, growth, taking the time to consider our pup in our decision making, and finding the best situations for the health and happiness of our pack.
Everyone is different and it’s all about finding what works and feels the best for YOU and your crew.
It’s a process, a commitment, an adventure, one we’ll never forget!
I hope our experience and tips help out in your tiny living with a pet journey!
Visit our Amazon Storefront for our pet gear and food recommendations. Just a few of the things we use and love with Moose. We have his regular food (normal activity) as well as his hiking food (lightweight dehydrated food for long hikes and backpacking) on there too!
Ben and I tend to gravitate toward unique and quiet places in our bus travels. We love landscapes that feel a bit other-worldly — mars-like rock formations, inactive cinder cone volcanos with fossil shaped caves to climb around, white sands as far as the eye can see, you name it.
It’s no surprise that White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, New Mexico was at the top of our destination list for this winter cross-country trip in our bus house.
Sometimes There’s no Substitute for Just Going There
We’ve seen pictures of White Sands National Monument but much like our experience hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim, you REALLY can’t accurately measure how spectacular a place is until you go there and soak it in yourself.
White Sands was easy to get to with our bus, no issues. The roads are in good condition and there is plenty of parking areas throughout the monument.
It’s also close enough to gas stations, major roads, and camping so no worries there. You’re not in the middle of nowhere but it feels like you are in the park. PERFECT, if you as us!
Pros and Cons of Bus Travel
Traveling in a bus conversion tiny home has its perks in that we ALWAYS have everything we need with us. Hungry? No problem. Tired? No problem. We’re essentially traveling in our entire home.
There is always more planning and adaptation involved because you might arrive to a location you’ve been dying to see and find you just can’t find parking or make it up a certain winding dirt road. Plan B, C, or D are often needed. 🙂 It’s all a part of the adventure!
Eventually you learn to flow with it and find resources that help guide you to AMAZING places nonetheless.
White Sands National Monument highlights:
Open daily (except Christmas)
Operating hours follow the sun, it seems. Closes around sunset.
$5 admission per person
Bus-Friendly (plenty of parking, roads were fine)
Free DRY (no services) camping for tents, RV or buses nearby, about 8 minutes away.
How was our visit to White Sands in the Bus?!
A highlight we will never forget.
We did what we do best, ran around and jumped a lot and tested how fast we could climb things, you know… typical Meag + Ben. Moose had a BLAST too.
We’re so excited to share the helpful travel and life apps that we use almost every day on the road as we travel the country in our self-converted bus house on wheels.
Try to consider learning to travel/live nomadically like learning a brand new job.
It’s no different. It takes time.
Ask questions, be patient, always carry and atlas and download some of these apps!
The contrast in logistical know-how and stress level between our first cross-country trip in the bus compared to how we operate now is pretty incredible. There really is NO substitute for just going there.
What do these apps we gathered for you help out with?
These gems will help in finding the best price on diesel/gas, saving money on groceries, finding free places to park/run/hike, easy investment management, photo editing and more. The random and the awesome.
I created a group on my phone, “BUS TRAVEL” where all these apps live. Game changer.
Let’s Talk Adaptation and Exploration
There is a lot of adjustment involved in the mobile lifestyle experience, or even a road trip for that matter. Give yourself time to acclimate.
You don’t often hear about the white-knuckled hour on a washboard dirt road to get to those gorgeous free camping spots out west or the Walmarts and rest stops that got you there, but that’s all part of it.
You will inevitably take wrong turns, arrive later than you’d like and have to ask around until you find what you need. Slowly things get easier and you may even be able to help others with your experience. That’s half the fun.
This learning process is not perfect or pretty most of the time, so don’t expect that your journey has to be. It’s not magical perfection. It’s effort and research and also a lot of fun.
It’s okay to change course…
I have to say it…it’s okay if you find out you don’t enjoy this type of lifestyle. You don’t have to and we’re not asking you to.
The important part is exploring your ideas, your wish list of life. You might find you’re more comfortable exploring via taking weekend camping trips closer to home or an annual road trip in a different vehicle, or that you much prefer flying places and staying at hotels.
You can explore and travel our beautiful country in A MILLION WAYS, you guys; full-time road life is our way that we’re sharing with you.
Questions and Problem Solving
We still had so many questions the day we took off south from Old Orchard Beach, Maine last January
Questions you might have (we did!):
Where can you park a bus?
How do find FREE parking?
Where do you fill up your water?
Where do you dump your gray tank?
Where do you find diesel?
Best routes for a 12′ 6″ tall bus?
Hiking routes, donut shops? I NEED THESE THINGS.
Can I handle using a composting toilet?!?!?!! (topic for another post but a worthy question!)
We learned as we drove and collected information anywhere we could!
We grew to love the daily problem solving and on-the-fly decision making inherent in traveling in a bus ( I think you HAVE to like that kind of thing in order to enjoy this type of lifestyle).
First, An Imperfect Story
I need to share this story because it offers some perspective on the mess that sometimes is a lifestyle change like we made (and you may be thinking of making…).
If we can turn THIS into an amazing experience, well, you can do just about anything.
Our target date to head south from Maine and go 100% full-time bus life was January 15, 2018. The week prior happened to bring one of the worst winter cold snaps in years; single digit temperatures, snow and ice galore.
We just barely finished our last day at our full-time jobs, which was heavy emotionally. We scrambled to wrap up five years of roots in Maine. Our bus was not done; we didn’t have hot water or running water. We just had a simple marine hand pump and a sealed bucket under the sink as a temporary gray tank. Ben was JUST getting over an awful cold, stress induced, no doubt. I had a pretty substantial emotional breakdown about our lifestyle leap amidst it all.
Overwhelmed at First.
The conversation about not going through with this journey at all definitely happened. Wild Drive Life wasn’t in the BEST shape.
We rushed to get our solar panels and battery bank installed days before leaving (one of our last projects before take off) with a friend in the BLISTERING cold. By we I mean Ben. I was inside doing some serious last minute downsizing/organizing.
It was all a bit of an exciting, liberating and terrifying mess, but we were doing our best, together.
Despite the fluster, we reached our target take off date and hit the road with smiles (after shoveling off the roof from the 12 inches of snow that fell the night before!).
This is me, us, giving you permission to be scared as hell before taking a leap in life; whether it’s a new job, a new house, city, or way of life… you’ll be okay.
We survived and you will too.
So here we are, 10 months later. The bus is finished (woooo!). Our mobile income is supporting our lifestyle.
I’m writing this blog from a beautiful, free campsite in southwest Oklahoma on our way back out to Arizona for the winter.tout
We still have so much to learn and don’t know everything perfectly so don’t feel like you need to either! Things take time.
This nomadic life experience taught us more than we ever expected and we’re still learning more every day so we can continue to help others.
So let’s share the helpful travel apps that lessened the enormous learning curve for us! We still use them on a daily basis today as we travel the country.
Enjoy, and reach out to us with any questions you have!
10 travel & lifestyle apps we use all the time as we travel the country in our big blue bus.
Grocery and every day purchase reward app. A friend of ours recently introduced us to this money savings gem. You can redeem rewards on purchases you already make at the grocery store, Amazon, etc. It requires very little effort and it’s actually really fun. It helps engage you in the purchases you make. — I just earned $0.50 cash back on Kombucha.
USE OUR Ibotta REFERRAL CODE agxpiyy to get a $10 welcome bonus!
• Trucker Path – free (fuel & parking)
You can search for gas stations and truck stops that have diesel along your route AND see the current prices at each. This is huge for planning, “Oh, we can go another 20 miles and save 20 cents a gallon, done.”
The other thing we use Trucker Path for is to search for rest stops or Walmarts to park at for free on travel days. They show current availability as posted by other app users. They also show truck stops and Casinos as well, which are other free parking options we’ve used. When in doubt about whether overnight parking is allowed when you arrive, just ask.
• Campendium – free (accommodations)
Great all around app to find free camping options around the country. I like the user reviews and photos most of all. Sometimes it’s unclear if a bus of our size could work in certain remote public lands/roads but when we see someone else has been there in a similar sized vehicle, we go for it!
• AllStays – $9.99 (accommodations)
Worth it, in our opinion. AllStays shows free and paid camping options, road grade warnings, road clearance notations and more. They also have pretty in depth notes on the camping options (season of operation, site sizes amenities, etc.) I really like having it on hand to cross reference suggestions we get about where to stay. It also never hurts to call a place to double check.
• CoPilot (RVUSA version available too) -$39 (navigation)
Co-Pilot is a navigation app that factors in your vehicle’s weight, length and height. It comes with a free trial, seven days I believe.
Steep price for an app but we feel SO much more comfortable knowing that we’re traveling on roads that are suitable for our bus. It’s not PERFECT by any means, it feels a little old school compared to Apple or Google maps but it gets us from point A to point B.
Sometimes I’ll open up directions in Co-Pilot and quickly compare them to Apple Maps. If it’s the same, I’ll use Apple Maps. It’s a great back up.
• AllTrails – free (all things outdoors)
We love having AllTrails on hand to look up hiking trails and all things outdoors as we travel.
• Roadtrippers – free (trip planning)
The Roadtrippers app is trip planning GOLD, whether it’s a long term or weekend road trip. It also helps to remember where you’ve been.
I suggest setting things up on a computer and then viewing/modifying as you go on their mobile app. It’s just easier to set up the trip on a larger screen. You can research and pick destinations/points of interest/nature related gems to add to your route and build your trip from there! Have fun.
• Gaia GPS – free (hiking)
We used this app to plan our long hike this summer in New Hampshire. It has REALLY detailed topographical trail maps, intersections, peaks, shelters, distance notes, etc. — it’s like Roadtrippers but for hiking. We used it to bushwhack our way through many a woods.
Again, I would suggest starting this setup on a larger screen and using the mobile app once you’re done.
• Wealthfront – free (investments)
We get asked about whether investments are a part of our financial equation at this stage of life while we travel and the answer is yes. We use tools like Wealthfront because it’s user-friendly and simple. We’re by no means experts, but we’ve been through a lot in the past five years!
Some people like to be more directly involved in managing their stocks and mutual funds but we prefer to set it and forget it for now. Our suggestion is to do some research and find a tool that works for you. This is one of many.