I Lived in a Cabana Van for a Week—Right here’s What It Was Like


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Stuck in my condo in the course of the early days of the pandemic, I handed the time by watching van lifers on YouTube. I watched them convert vans into tiny houses and drive them from place to position. Some used their autos to discover their dwelling nation whereas others shipped theirs abroad for worldwide highway journeys. These vans are a lot greater than transportation—they’re additionally kitchens, loos, eating rooms, residing rooms, places of work….

I fell in love with the thought of getting a tiny dwelling on wheels that you possibly can take any and in all places. The flexibility to simply decide up and go appeared like a dream. You need not pack suitcases, board a aircraft, or test out and in of inns. Simply inventory your van with meals, set up your garments and toiletries into drawers, and head out whereas bringing alongside all of the comforts of dwelling. It is next-level glamping.

Personally, I like moving into nature, however I am not into tenting. I’ve no want to sleep in a tent on the bottom and pee in a shared outhouse. So tenting in a van is the most effective (and solely!) possibility for me. At some point, I hope to have one among my very own. However within the meantime, I have been dying to strive it out. So when I discovered Cabana, an organization that means that you can hire luxurious camper vans, I jumped on the probability to check its companies.

The logistics of van life

Pictured: A Cabana sprinter van/Micah Casella

From RVs to Airstreams, there are many camper van choices, however transformed sprinter vans have change into fashionable over the previous few years as a result of they’re compact. You do not have to fret about parking a 40-foot RV—as a substitute, you may get a van that is a little bit over 20-feet lengthy (just a few ft longer than a big pick-up truck) and transfer it round with ease.

I rented a tricked-out sprinter van outfitted with a sink, stovetop, fridge, bathe, rest room, mattress, and closet. There are additionally photo voltaic panels on the roof, offering you with ample electrical energy to cost gadgets, and warmth and funky the van. With pickup accessible in Los Angeles and Seattle, Cabana vans are good for as much as two folks to discover the west coast.

Reserving/selecting up your van and beginning the journey

Reserving and planning a van journey by means of Cabana is extremely easy. You may choose to simply select your dates, lock in a van, and do the planning your self; you’ll be able to e-book one among Cabana’s pre-planned journeys that embrace the price of a van and a full itinerary; or take a quiz so Cabana’s concierge group can see what you are enthusiastic about after which plan a (complimentary) customized journey.

Beginning your journey is just like utilizing a carshare service like Zipcar. When you e-book, you may get the handle of the pickup location. When it is time on your journey, head to the lot and use the Cabana app to unlock your van and begin your journey. Inside you may discover the keys, and directions on the right way to do every part from turning on the AC to organising the kitchen.

Driving the van

Dwelling in New York Metropolis, I do not drive usually. So the thought of spending seven days driving round California in an enormous van freaked me out a little bit. However as soon as I obtained behind the wheel, I noticed it wasn’t that troublesome. It positively feels totally different than driving a automobile, however you get used to it fairly rapidly. It has massive facet mirrors and a backup digicam so you’ll be able to see your surrounding very effectively. It additionally comes outfitted with a mobile phone holder on the dashboard so you’ll be able to see your GPS with ease.


Cabana vans characteristic a snug, queen-size mattress that stays stationary at the back of the house, so that you need not fear about organising your mattress at evening. My favourite a part of sleeping in van like that is that with the mattress within the again, you may have an ideal view out of the again home windows. On our first evening, my boyfriend and I obtained to our first campsite after darkish, so we did not actually know the place we have been or what the surroundings was like. Waking up and taking the covers off the home windows in the course of the desert exterior of Palm Springs was breathtaking. I beloved with the ability to simply keep in mattress and absorb our environment.

Cooking and consuming

Whereas the within of the van is dwelling to a sink, fridge, and sizzling water kettle, cooking is dealt with exterior. Head to the again of the van, open the doorways, and you will find a kitchen that pulls out from beneath the mattress outfitted with a sink, a two-burner propane range, counter house to prep, in addition to cookware, and compostable dishware and utensils.

Having the kitchen pull out of the again is a tremendous house saver so there’s extra room contained in the van. Nonetheless, it may be a bit inconvenient, particularly if the climate is chilly. Contained in the van, the passenger seat swivels round to face the middle, a bench pulls out of the facet of a cupboard, and there is a pole that means that you can arrange a tabletop, creating the proper eating house for 2. However, when you’re staying at a campground, there’ll possible be picnic tables arrange the place you’ll be able to get pleasure from your meal exterior.

Utilizing the toilet

The lavatory is teeny tiny and homes a showerhead and a bathroom. Utilizing the bathroom is easy—you simply go and flush such as you would some other rest room. The identical goes for the bathe, besides the house is way smaller than your commonplace bathe. Plus, there isn’t any separation between the bathroom and the bathe so when you suds up and get clear the bathroom will probably be very moist. However, with the assistance of the exhaust fan, it dries comparatively rapidly.

The bathroom empties right into a black water tank beneath the van whereas sink and bathe water empties right into a grey water tank. On shorter journeys, you need not fear about emptying these. You will get three to 5 days value of use out of the bathroom earlier than the tank fills relying on how a lot you employ it. And there’s a digital monitoring display within the van that means that you can control how full the tank is getting.

As a result of I had a van for seven days, I did find yourself having to empty the tanks on day 5. That is one thing you do at a campground, and you may see indicators exhibiting you the place and the right way to do it. The expertise was humbling, to say the least, however not almost as gross or troublesome as I assumed it could be. I mainly needed to pull a hose from a storage tube beneath the van, connect one finish to the van and the opposite to a particular pipe within the floor on the campsite. Then I opened a valve to empty the black tank (the tank with every part you flushed down the bathroom) after which the grey tank (the tank with the water drained from the sink and bathe). The instruction e-book has nice instructions and a pair of gloves so I may keep clear in the course of the course of. However, it was difficult. I unintentionally created an enormous line of vans as a result of I could not determine it out and an angel of a human who was driving the van behind me got here to assist me.


As a result of the van is small, packing gentle is a should. However, you’ll be able to nonetheless convey an honest quantity of stuff—my boyfriend and I every introduced a carry-on-size suitcase and a backpack. The van options two pull-out cabinets to retailer baggage and a closet full with a rod and hangers. There are additionally two drawers beneath the mattress, and we used one to deal with pantry items and one other to deal with our toiletries and different gadgets we needed inside straightforward attain like a candle and a bluetooth speaker.

Whilst you’re driving, your gadgets must be stowed away so they don’t seem to be flying throughout the again of the van. Every door and drawer includes a particular deal with that clicks into place so they do not open whereas the car is in movement. So long as these are all correctly closed earlier than you pull off, your gadgets will stay protected and safe.

What the journey was like

Pictured: Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree Nationwide Park/Micah Casella

Spending every week touring round California in a van was actually a dream come true. I began my journey in Los Angeles, and the lot was a brief stroll to a Dealer Joe’s and a Goal so my boyfriend and I have been capable of top off on meals and different necessities like tissues and sunblock earlier than we hit the highway. Sizzling tip: Convey a string of Christmas lights with you to make the van really feel homier.

Then we headed to our first cease: Palm Desert. We parked on the Lovelight Tentsite & Automobile Tenting web site and had such a tremendous time. The campsite has a brilliant cool and eclectic vibe. Attending to know the host Mikey, his three lovable canines, and his tortoise was a lot enjoyable. The campsite was about half-hour from Palm Springs, so we drove there to buy and go to dinner earlier than heading for 2 nights in Joshua Tree Nationwide Park the place we stayed on the Jumbo Rocks Campground.

That is simply the good place I’ve ever been. The rocks have been certainly jumbo, and I felt like I used to be on Mars. We went on hikes, went into city to go thrifting, and took so. many. footage. Whereas we have been within the park, we had zero cell service, forcing us to be tremendous current and simply get pleasure from our environment. It was wonderful.

For the final three days, we stayed in Dana Level, a seashore city in Orange County. For the primary evening, we actually parked on the facet of the highway exterior of our good friend’s condo, and spent the opposite nights proper on the water at Doheny State Seashore. We backed into our parking spot so we may simply open the again doorways and hop into the sand. I beloved attending to lie in a comfy mattress whereas watching the waves crash on the shore. It was actually probably the most surreal and magical expertise.

Would I do it once more?

Staying in a Cabana van solely strengthened my want to have my very own van. I obtained to expertise all of those new, attractive locations from my very own little slice of dwelling. I beloved that I did not must travel from a lodge—I used to be residing proper within the thick of nature. In fact, you get this with any tenting expertise, however, like I mentioned, I am not a camper. Van tenting is the one sort of tenting I’ve ever thought-about, and it was a superb expertise. After an extended drive, I knew that mattress was simply 4 ft away. And I all the time had entry to meals and a bathroom that was all mine. Regardless of the place we have been, we had our personal little house to return to and that felt extraordinarily grounding.

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