#VanLife Roadtrip Across the Mighty Five
This summer, Greg and I planned our first ever international trip together. We were flying into Lisbon and renting a car to explore the Portuguese countryside plus Porto and Algarve, then flying to Morocco to climb the cliffs of Todra Gorge before heading off to camp in the Sahara Desert, and capping the trip off for a week in Spain.
Then 2020 happened, and the rest is history. Luckily we didn’t book too many things in advance, but we did end up losing money on a couple of hostels in Madrid and Barcelona, as well as some of the domestic European flights (they gave us vouchers valid up to one year, but the chances of us making it abroad before next summer in these circumstances is very slim).
So rather than cry over our scrapped Eurotrip, we did what every other American under house arrest did after three months of quarantine—rented a van and lived in isolation for a week.
Note: There’s a lot of tension regarding the pandemic and varying levels of reopening the economy. I’m a huge advocate for personal responsibility and thus follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols to the best of my ability. Fun fact: You’re just as likely to get side-eyed for wearing a mask at a campground as you are to be screamed at for jogging without a mask in the middle of an empty street. If you need me, I’ll be hiding in my apartment for the next 14 days.
8 Day Roadtrip to the Mighty Five Utah National Parks
The plan—meet up with our friends Allison and Matt, rent a van for a week, and travel to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Park over the course of seven days.
- Day One: Pick up van in Las Vegas, drive to Zion (2.5 hours from Las Vegas to Zion)
- Day Two: Zion National Park
- Day Three: Zion National Park (2 hours from Zion to Bryce Canyon)
- Day Four: Bryce Canyon National Park / Drive through Escalante Grand Staircase (2.5-3 hours scenic drive to Capitol Reef)
- Day Five: Capitol Reef National Park (2.5-3 hours to Moab)
- Day Six: Canyonlands National Park
- Day Seven: Arches National Park
- Day Eight: Return van to Las Vegas (6.5 hours from Moab to Las Vegas)
We rented our van from Australian-owned Traveller’s Autobarn. After looking at a few different companies, Traveller’s Autobarn seemed to give us the most value for our budget. Their Kuga Campervan was large enough to accommodate a queen size futon, sink + grey water tanks, propane stove, and it was tall enough to allow standing room and extra windows for a cross breeze (which is MUCH needed in the summer desert heat).
At first I was a bit worried that van life would be “better as an idea than reality,” but honestly if you’ve ever gone car camping, living in a van is a huge step up. The only creature comforts we were missing was a shower and toilet, problems easily solved with a trowel. (Just kidding. There are portable toilets and campgrounds galore around southern Utah, though I did take a bird bath in the sink a few of those days.)
Anyway, the plan was to pick the van up in Las Vegas on Friday morning, grab groceries for the week in St. George, and then head directly to Zion to scope out the area and figure out which hikes we wanted to do. However, driving took much longer than anticipated (I forgot to factor in lunch), and it was 6pm by the time we reached the Springdale area.
I’ll jump more into the details of our campsite and the park in future posts, but overall we spent a little less than $500 total to rent the van for 8 days, including a kit with bed linens and a fully stocked kitchen. Groceries for the week were about $120 total, plus more for beer, liquor, etc. The van had a 31 gallon gas tank, which we refilled 2-3 times throughout the duration of the trip.
What to Pack
Since traveling in a van basically meant bringing your house wherever you went, we didn’t have to pack too heavily. Southern Utah’s average temperature is between 90-100 degrees in the sun, but it’s a dry heat that gets significantly cooler under cloud cover.
I was able to fit all of my belongings into my 65L Osprey Aura and 28L Gregory Jade backpacks. My packing list consisted of:
- 2 sports bras
- 5-6 underwear
- 3-4 tanktops
- 2-3 shorts
- 3 pairs of socks
- 1 Flannel shirt
- 1 rain jacket
- Bar of soap
- Shampoo & Conditioner
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste
- Wet Ones
- Hand Sanitizer
- Bug spray
- Sony A7sii
- 24-70mm 4.0 Sony E-mount lens
- 80-200mm 2.8 Nikkor lens (with adapter)
- Anker PowerCore 10000 battery pack
- Macbook Pro
- Board games / Cards
Because the van was solar powered, keeping our devices charged was not an issue as long as they were charged via USB. The refrigerator was also completely powered by solar energy, which was awesome! The van required ground power for the AC outlets though, so we did not use the laptop or microwave throughout the trip.
The van windows provided a good cross breeze, so it never got too hot at night; if anything, it was pretty cold on a few evenings, but the sleeping bags we rented from Traveller’s Autobarn were good enough quality to keep us warm.
Since we also rented linens (which included 2 pillows and towels) and kitchenware (which included the necessary pans, utensils, cutting boards, and cutlery), we didn’t really need anything else. The lawn chairs that came with the rental were kinda janky, but that’s to be expected. If I had to add anything to our packing list in retrospect, it would be nail clippers and maybe more moisturizer. I already had two bottles of lotion (one with aloe) but my skin tends to shrivel up and dry in the desert, so I honestly could have used a tube of hydrocortisone.
Aside from that I loved the pacing of our trip and 10/10 would do it again!