A hundred degrees. That was about the average daytime temperature we were dealing with when we drove through Idaho on the way up to Montana.
We were only three days on the road when we pulled in to camp next to this view for our first free night of vanlife camping.
It felt impossibly lucky that we found this campsite wide open, at dusk, after striking out at three riverside BLM camping spots in Little Salmon River. (We were over being picky at this point and just wanted to find somewhere to camp before dark.) Better yet, this spot was a safer distance from the road than the full options and had its own picnic table, a flatter place to park, and clean toilets (vault toilets, yes, but pretty premium for free camping).
Perhaps I should thank the arse of an RV camper who planted his generator in the middle of the dirt road to that third BLM camping spot along the river. If it wasn’t for him we’d never have found our gem just five minutes further down the highway: a lonely lakeside campsite on the opposite side of the highway and this small lake with an awesome south-facing view.
I was feeling a bit anxious and relaxed at the same time. Minutes before I’d been ready to give up and consult my hotel apps for alternate options, but from the moment we spotted the picnic table and toilets, it appeared this campsite had all the fixin’s for a restful night’s sleep. Quickly it became apparent that this night would set the bar for all future vanlife stays.
(For the record, we used neither the picnic table nor the toilets during our stay, but they represented a thoughtfully cared for place to park our home for the night and have become a feature to celebrate at any campground, free or otherwise.)
At dusk we were still in the nineties.
We even ran the air conditioner for awhile after parking to keep Tiger cool. I set up my camera and tripod to capture the scene before us at blue hour. We took the drone for a quick flight and took Tiger for a walk in his new boots, and we were back in the van with the AC on again afterward.
I was afraid we were in for a hot night, but I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by cool air when we opened the door to shoot the Milky Way.
We cracked open a beer and got our first real taste of what we’d expected vanlife to look like, with the van parked next to a magical view for the night, sliding door open with Tiger resting comfortably in his bed, satisfied that his humans are safe and in full view.
We’ve been on the road in the van for over two weeks now, camping in a variety of spots — everything from nice RV resorts with clean hot showers to national park campgrounds filled up with summer tourists, from California to Alberta.
We’re learning a lot about what our expectations are for vanlife.
I’ve found it easier to know what I’m not looking for rather than what I am hoping to find. We’ve even once asked for a refund at a 4.9-star rated RV park when we found it didn’t live up to our vanlife standards.
We don’t yet have a recipe for the perfect place to park — there are so many factors to consider not just for our own comfort and safety but also for Tiger’s — and we’re often settling for what’s acceptable rather than perfect.
For now, if I get to be picky, it’s clean showers or a killer view or we keep driving. When it comes to campsite views and #VanLifeGoals, this lonely lakeside campsite sure set the bar high.
If you’re a fellow campervan traveler, what’s your strategy for choosing where to camp for the night? Do you plan your stays in advance or roam freely? Any tips are greatly appreciated!
Stay tuned for more #vanlife updates and photos from the road in our VanLife Chronicles blog post series.
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