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Vanlife Quarantine: One woman’s strategy for waiting out the pandemic

Editors note: We debated whether we should publish this post because the Covid-19 situation changes so much and so quickly.

This article was originally written back in March and we naively hoped it wouldn’t even be necessary, that the problem would be quickly solved. Not the case, obviously. 

Since Jenny has toughed out this situation with grace and expertise, we believe this is a good time to share her experience. 

Keep in mind that the first 3/4 of this post was created back in March. The update was added in late August, 2020. 

For info on how to keep your van clean and safe, please see this post

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My early experience with Vanlife Quarantine

March, 2020

Just about two weeks ago I was heading towards Moab, Utah in my van with my dog. I was seeking a beautiful place to take a break from the snow for a bit.

I stopped for the night in Fruita, Colorado, about an hour and a half from Moab, and I planned to make the rest of the journey the next day.

At this time, the Coronavirus was already making waves in the US. There were known cases here, but I was still under the impression that it was no different than the flu.

I was healing an injury and as soon as I was better, I’d be heading north again to continue chasing powder days. I’d heal up in warm, sunny Moab and then continue snowboarding.

Shortly after arriving in Fruita though, I came across several online pleas within the vanlife community urging visitors to stay out of Moab.

As schools and offices were starting to close and many colleges were still on spring break, Moab was already being flooded with tourists.

While Moab relies heavily on the tourism industry, it is also home to a small population of locals and a very small hospital.

An influx of visitors would mean their limited resources would now be shared with adventure-seekers.

I made the decision to stay in Fruita for a few more days to see what happened as everything seemed to be changing minute-by-minute.

The next morning, I saw an emergency alert stating that two of the counties I was in the week before, ski area hot spots, were experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Anyone who had visited these counties were urged to limit contact with other people, regardless of whether they were experiencing symptoms. This is when it started to feel real.

I realized we were no longer dealing with the flu and now I was at risk of getting sick.

At first, I thought living in a van would be the ideal situation for surviving a global pandemic. I was starting to realize that might not be true.

Quick reference table for campervan cleaning & personal protection

CDC:: When and How to Wash Your Hands
CDC: When and how to use hand sanitizer
Healthline: Make your own hand sanitizer
CDC: What to clean and how
CDC: When and how to wear a mask
WA State DOH: Dangers of combining cleaning chemicals

 

The realities of getting sick

I travel solo, and while that is nothing new, the thought of what my reality would look like if I got sick was starting to sink in.

The information at this time was that healthy individuals often got a mild case that did not require hospitalization. This fact was a relief considering I would be leaving a dog behind if I needed medical attention.

Even if I only got a mild case, the thought of taking care of myself and my dog while sick made me worry.

Could I still grocery shop? Would I have the strength to fill and carry my water containers? How would I exercise my dog?

I was doing my best to seek more information without overloading myself. The advice I was finding seemed to stay the same: go home.

Moab made the announcement that they were shutting down to anyone who wasn’t local. Campgrounds, hotels, and airb&b’s were not accepting check-ins and even camping on BLM land was being discouraged.

Other favorite camping destinations were doing the same. While I understood the necessity for this decision, I was worried about where I’d go if everyone pushed out visitors.

Stockpiling groceries for Vanlife Quarantine

Besides “go home,” the other advice I kept hearing was to get enough groceries for at least two weeks so that you can limit your contact with other people.

As a minimalist with extremely limited pantry space, and a fridge the size of a cooler, this was going to be difficult.

I went to the grocery store and was disappointed to find most of the shelves empty. There were plenty of fruits and vegetables, but non-perishables were all gone.

There were no canned foods, no rice or beans, and no pasta. There were plenty of cookies and chips though, and a few bags of lima beans because apparently even in desperate times, people still don’t like lima beans.

There were also no paper products or cleaning supplies. Luckily, I had for some reason abandoned my minimalist ways on my last pre-COVID shopping trip and bought bigger packs than my usual 1 or 2 rolls.

All I had for cleaning though was about 5 Lysol wipes, hand soap, and half a bottle of hand sanitizer.

My family was doing their best to offer me support from afar, so I took my own advice about Vanlife mail, and my family sent me packages of non-perishable food items to the nearby UPS store to help me stock up.

Vanlife Quarantine vansage Granby Lake Colorado view

Social Distancing

Now that I had food, I was overdue for a shower. I planned to visit the local Planet Fitness in the morning knowing that they’d likely follow the lead of most other business and close soon.

To my dismay, they had closed their doors the day before with no plans to reopen until the Coronavirus was under control.

I had already gone a week without a shower and was feeling desperate. Normally baby wipes can buy me some more time between showers, but those had also been run off the shelves at the grocery store.

I resorted to perfecting my sponge bath skills and washing my hair in a bowl. This was going to be my new normal, so I had no choice but to be flexible.

At least without a proper shower, maintaining 6ft of social distancing was going to be pretty easy to do.

Do I stay or do I go?

The words “stay home” were being used everywhere now. Sentiments of “locals only” and “now is not the time to travel,” were putting me in a tough situation.

My family is on the east coast, which was a 30-hour drive from where I was camping. I’d be crossing through many communities on the way and the journey felt daunting during such an unsure time.

Rumors were spreading that road travel was going to be restricted as states went into mandatory lock downs. The fear of being stranded in a state like Kansas (no offense, Kansas), had me worried about leaving my spot in Colorado.

Rest areas across the country were being shut down, Wal-Mart was limiting its hours, which meant it was no longer an over-nighting spot, and campgrounds were closing.

While a cross-country trek would ultimately put me with family so that a lot of the uncertainty of living on the road would be eliminated, the journey there seemed risky.

I had several friends in neighboring states offer me a driveway space, for which I’m extremely grateful.

The reality of a driveway though meant being stuck in the city, having limited access to the outdoors, and the risk of getting my generous host sick.

We “quaranTEAMed,” meaning we opened our circle up to each other, abandoning social distancing just within our group of three.

My last option was to stay in the BLM campsite I was currently occupying in Colorado. I had wide, open spaces, a dump and potable water 15 minutes up the road, and trails right out my front door.

The biggest problem with this last option was that I was alone.

I was feeling overwhelmed by trying to make a decision. It seemed there was new information every minute and I was hearing too many opinions from friends, family, and strangers.

Ultimately, I decided to stay in Colorado. This option gave me the outdoor space I needed and kept me away from others as much as possible.

I was also close enough to a big city (Grand Junction, Colorado) so I wouldn’t be negatively impacting a smaller community.

If the situation changed and I eventually needed to go somewhere else, I would be ready to do that when the time came.

Isolation

Living solo on the road comes with a lot of alone time, but I make an effort to break up the alone time by visiting friends or meeting fellow campers.

With the nationwide push to keep everyone at home, I’d be out here alone for an indefinite amount of time.

I could probably manage for two weeks, but could I really go two months without any human contact?

I have been isolated for two weeks now, and honestly; the social distancing has been intense.

There’s certainly a reason why solitary confinement is used as a punishment.

Do your part

I’m learning to adjust just like everyone else. I’m finding ways to be grateful for my situation, and for being stuck somewhere beautiful, despite missing showers and friends.

While there is no perfect solution for how to wait this out, I’m doing the best I can during this unprecedented time.

I hope you can all say you’re doing the same.

Stay healthy, do your part by staying home, and we’ll all be back to traveling before we know it.

Vanlife Quarantine Update: 9/2020

Living through a pandemic on the outskirts of society has been a strange way to experience this historical event.

I stayed on my little slice of desert BLM land for a total of 7 weeks as I watched the US respond to Coronavirus.

After a few weeks, a couple occupied the campsite next to mine and this quickly changed my entire quarantine experience.

We “quaranTEAMed,” meaning we opened our circle up to each other, abandoning social distancing just within our group of three.

We shared meals, took our pack of dogs for long desert adventures, and played bocce ball well into the night.

Near the end of those 7 weeks, spring was in full-swing and my quiet desert home was no longer quiet.

People were tired of quarantine and were making their way into nature. What was previously the best way of isolating was now putting me at risk for exposure.

I had watched the desert change from snow, to mud, to a dust bowl and temperatures were rising as we inched into May.

I was doing my best to travel responsibly, so I made the short journey back to Salt Lake City, my “home base.”

I caught up on things where I’m a “local,” then ventured back to Colorado again and have been here ever since.

I’ve been trying to stay where I can keep my distance from other campers, where I have easy access to water for bathing (to avoid gym showers), and plenty of nearby trails for exploring.

While I’ve been successful on most of these accounts, I’ve certainly noticed an influx in visitors to spots that would normally be quiet, and even mid-week brings rowdy crowds.

It seems that everyone has replaced their summer travel plans with camping.

This has made things like finding a campsite, ordering van or camping supplies, and social distancing on trails much more difficult.

While it has been nice to see so many people leaving their screens to get outside, it has posed significant challenges for those of us living full-time on the road.

From Vansage.com writer Jenny Leveille

Jenny has been traveling on the road full-time with her dog, Dakota, since September 2018.

She lives in her self-converted 2006 Dodge Sprinter and spends her days hiking, camping, mountain biking, and writing about her adventures.

She’s attempting to visit all 50 states and see all the National Parks.

You can read about her adventures on her site, here.

Check out Jenny’s Instagram, and her Facebook page about her travels.

Vansage.com author Jenny Leveille

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