A cozy place, but not just anywhere

Cozy Ford Transit Campervan in the forest at Silver Springs Campground, Washington

Our van is super cozy, especially when we’re in the upstairs bed loft. But being comfortable and cozy while campervanning isn’t as easy as it might seem. We rarely like to fully plan our travels, usually opting for spontaneity when possible. But when it comes to vanlife, that can create some real problems. 

You can’t just park a van anywhere and get some sleep when you get tired of driving. First of all, while not as huge as a typical RV, it’s bigger than a normal car and that makes parking a little more difficult. Second of all, it’s actually illegal in a lot of places to sleep in your vehicle. Unless you’re on specific public lands (e.g. BLM or National Forest), a campground, or an RV park, you’re probably not supposed to sleep in your van there. We also didn’t intend to pursue vanlife to be stealth camping vanlifers relegated to sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots or truck stops.

That means, as much as we love to avoid planning, we pretty much always find ourselves researching campgrounds, RV parks, or the occasional BLM open camping area. For the most part, we want to be comfortable, and that increases the necessity to reserve a nice campground in advance. RV Parks are usually the fallbacks and BLM lands are last resorts (unless really special like Alabama Hills or Trona Pinnacles).

Sometimes, we get lucky with a first-come, first-served spot. This night, I think we found one of our favorite campgrounds.

Silver Springs Campground near Mt. Rainier National Park is straight out of a fairytale. It’s unassumingly nestled along a forest drive, just at the edge of the northeast entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park. There’s green everywhere: fallen logs covered in moss, hundred foot tall pines swaying lightly in the breeze, scattered ferns and chartreuse ground cover. A small creek runs through the center of the campground, and numerous walking paths snake their way around the forest. As we pulled into an empty site for the night and the day started to fade, we decided to roam around the surrounding area with our dog, Tiger, enthralled by the lushness of the forest, the ground spongy beneath our feet.

Tiger dog standing on tree stump surrounded by lush green forest.
Tiger loved roaming around the lush green forest of Silver Springs Campground.

Turning back to look at to our campsite in the forest blue hour called to mind the reason why we built our van. It was there, our own cozy little space that we made together, embraced by the cool green forest — a funny looking sanctuary in a beautiful, but foreign place. It was a perfect memory to be captured in a photo.

I’ve been actively working on a large format photo project. I’ve been shooting my photos with a longer 105mm telephoto lens, stitching together multiple exposures into large mosaic panoramas. While I’ve mostly intended to use the method for making ultra-high resolution panoramas of the night sky for our Lonely Speck blog, I’ve started to use it to shoot everything. The results are massive photos like these, the full resolution of which have over 100 megapixels of detail and a unique “large format” look otherwise only possible by using a large format film view camera like a 5×7 or 8×10.

I’d be lying if I said vanlife was all fun all the time. There’s a lot of stress involved around this thing we’ve put so much work into. Literal blood, sweat and tears have gone into our van project, and now that we’re on the road, we’ve encountered a lot of the challenges that are often overlooked, like somethings as simple as where to park for the night. But then we get to experience many moments like these and we remember why we did it. 

VanLife Chronicles

Stay tuned for more #vanlife updates and photos from the road in our VanLife Chronicles blog post series.

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About the Author

Ian Norman
In March 2014, Ian and Diana called it quits on their traditional American lives and set out to explore the world. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, they document their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

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