the vanual report
It has been one year since we tucked our lives into a tin can and set out to explore the US. We launched one year ago today on April 27th, 2018. We’ve put together this report to share a few anecdotes, fun stats, video, and little moments from 365 days of living in the van. We hope you enjoy!
We love to track things; it really scratches that type-A itch. Fun fact—once, as a kid, Brandon counted every step he took until he crossed 5,000; phones do that automatically now! Here are a few things we’ve counted over the last year…. enjoy!
GPS Data from nearly every minute of the last year
We’ve traveled 26,282 miles through 33 states, from Oakland, CA to where we are currently in Kentucky. Thats roughly one-tenth of the way to the moon! It took 1,785 gallons of gas to travel that far, costing us around $4,800. Driving isn’t the only way we move though. We’ve hiked 169 miles of trails, and biked 20 miles—5 of those at the Grand Canyon, and 15 in the Everglades.
Miles Hiked by Place
Where did all of those miles take us? We visited 33 National Parks, 12 National Monuments or historical sites, and 7 National Forests. We’ve also visited 12 wildlife refuges and state parks. Thats a lot of natural beauty! Some of our new favorite Parks are Shenandoah in Virginia (the meadow!), Big Bend in Texas (the wildlife!), and Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado (that pegmatite!). One national forest we can’t wait to revisit is Rio Grande in Colorado, and the National Monuments that we can’t wait to return to are Craters of the Moon in Idaho and Dinosaur in Colorado/Utah.
On the urban side, we spent more than a day in 62 cities. Telluride, CO and Bozeman, MT and Tucson, AZ are by far our favorites. We have explored 4 cave systems, and 3 of the 4 US desert systems. We visited 39 museums, zoos & cultural centers, and 43 roadside attractions. One of our favorite oddities is the the worlds largest anatomically-correct lobster in the Florida Keys. The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT is a hidden gem, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History/Art in Pittsburgh is a must-see.
The smallest city we visited was Baker, NV with a population of 68. The largest was Los Angeles, CA coming in at just under 13 million residents.
We’ve stayed at 33 campgrounds, 25 dispersed spots (BLM, or free camping on government land), 18 parking lots, and 7 hotels/Airbnbs. Big shout-out to all the Cracker Barrel parking lots across the US for being a second home to us (and free!). We have showered in 57 different places; some far better than others. The truck stops have been surprisingly luxurious to shower at (one had a hot tub, and no we didn’t indulge), but pricey. There’s just no way to know how many public restrooms we’ve used! We stopped by 27 laundromats to clean our laundry along the way. We visited 3 hospitals and 1 dentist. Brandon lost 4 teeth, and had 1 artery repaired. Together we have had 8 haircuts (not counting the 2 terrible ones Lindsay gave Brandon with a cordless beard trimmer).
Number of Nights by Place
Everything in our living space is powered by the solar panels on the roof. On average we generate around 300 watts of power per day, which adds up to around 109 kilowatts of free power for the year. That’s enough to power a MacBook continuously for 113 days, or a hair dryer for 2.5! Or, just enough for our super efficient fridge, overhead fan and LED lights that have never had an issue. Including drinking and for dishes, we use around 2.4 gallons of water per day. The temperature inside of the van has reached a high of 102°F 🔥, and a low of 5°F ❄️. Brrr! The hottest temp we’ve actually slept in is 80°F, and low was 25°F (neither were fun). We have used about 15 small canisters of propane to cook our meals and to make our coffee (and managed to find recycling centers for all of them!). Mmmm coffee….
Our Pins and Patches
Highest Driving Elevation: 12,183ft, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado ⛰
Lowest Driving Elevation: Florida coast at 0ft. 🏝
Furthest South: Key West, Florida 🐢
Furthest East: Narragansett, Rhode Island 🐟
Furthest North: Bozeman, Montana 🦖
Furthest West: Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California 🐙
Traffic Violations: 1x speeding ticket in Minersville, Utah 😬
Oil Changes: 4x in Twin Falls, ID, Ashland, KY, Crowley, TX, and Cocoa Beach, FL 🔧🧰
We listened to countless podcasts and songs, and did a lot of reading along the way. A few of our favorites:
We usually read the Wikipedia article aloud to each other about the city or National Park we’re entering. It lends a foundation to the experience while you're there. Other memorable articles:
Tesla in Telluride, CO (hydro power and alternating currents)
History of the Civilian Conservation Corps - The Roosevelt depression-era program for young men that built many of the existing National Park facilities and infrastructure.
Millionaires Row and the Wonderland Hotel in the Smokies - Where the idea for Smoky Mountain National Park was born.
George Masa - A Japanese photographer with rich history in the Smokies
What a year it has been! We’ve had some nice life events along the way. Brandon accidentally stabbed himself in the wrist with an Xacto chisel within the first two weeks of the trip, hitting a majority artery and scaring Lindsay and his mom to death. Thankfully he didn’t bleed out and made it to the ER quickly. He was carving a spoon at the time, which is fodder for many jokes from the family. The spoon was to be a Lovespoon, which is an old world tradition of carving a spoon before marriage. The spoon was never finished—but Brandon did finally propose in September (yay!). After 8 years in the corporate world, Lindsay transitioned from in-house creative to being a freelance designer/illustrator. We became Minnesota residents (not really, but kind of)!
Exploring the National Parks was only one of our reasons for hitting the road. We also wanted to spend time with our family and friends, who have decided to scatter themselves all over creation. We spent nearly half of the year staying with our parents, relatives, and loved ones. Seeing them has been almost as good as seeing all of those trees and rocks.
We’ve met so many people over the year. Making lunch in a van parked in a parking lot invites all sorts of people over to chat. We’ve kept log of them too! Every person we’ve talked to for more than 5 minutes, or made an impression, has been recorded in a little notebook that we keep. Some of the most common questions we get are:
“Are those solar panels on the roof?” (Usually middle-aged men)
“Where do you, you know, go to the bathroom?” (Usually middle-aged women)
“What about showers?!” (Usually anyone that lives in a house)
“What do you do for money?” (Everyone)
Talking people through what we’re doing always reminds us of how lucky we are to have the space to do it. Here are a few encounters that we remember often:
Remember This - I was standing on a roadside look-out in Zion when a middle-aged man walked up next to me with a pair of binoculars. He continued looking around at the landscape, and after a moment he asked, "are you a hiker?" I said that I loved to hike, but today we were just driving around. He told me he had been driving from Texas and asked me if we had done any hiking in Zion. When I said yes he asked, which hikes? What did we see? Was it beautiful? He said that he had always dreamed of hiking the Southwest but that he couldn't anymore because of a medical condition. He had a pretty serious stroke some time ago which took away his short term memory and most of the mobility in his left leg. He was afraid to explore because he got lost and confused easily. He told me he had been driving from Texas and stopping at every lookout. "With these", he held up his binoculars, "it almost feels like I'm out there, walking around". It was a sobering reminder that often we take for granted not only our working bodies, but our memory as well. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, not even our remembered experience. I talked with him about hiking and the southwest for a while before getting back in the van and driving. A couple of miles later, we stopped at another look-out to make lunch. While we were eating our wraps, the same man pulled up and got out with his binoculars. I smiled at him and nodded. After a moment he walked over to us and said, "are you a hiker?"
Superintendent Krumenaker - While in Big Bend National Park, a Park Ranger started talking to us in a parking lot not too far from the Mexico border. He asked us about our journey, talked to us about Great Bend’s going-ons, and shared some of his favorite parks in the NPS network. We didn’t know at the time, but that ranger was the superintendent of Big Bend (i.e. head honcho). We asked him about working at the park, and what it was like interacting with over 230 miles of the US-Mexico border. He said that it really wasn’t as bad as the news likes to paint it. The park system works closely with Border Patrol and has a good relationship on both sides of the border. He told us that the biggest problem they’ve been having is the overgrowth of a non-native species of cane. It was a great conversation and an eye-opening look at something that is so prominent in the news.
Ed & Anna - During our long stay at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a young-50’s couple from Bend, OR approached us. Ed & Anna were also doing the van thing (though theirs was an extra-long, extra-tall Mercedes Sprinter Ed had snagged at a super deal). Both were ex-postal workers who had F.I.R.E.’d (financial-independence-retire-early) themselves into early retirement and were exploring the country a bit; both were super characters. Those two could TALK and we were happy to trade tips and places to stay for several hours into the night. They recommended tons of places that we should visit and stay, and we wrote each one down; including some of our favorites like Baked in Telluride and the free camping around Grand Teton. After a couple of days chatting, we went our separate ways, each heading a separate direction across the US (us west, them east). Two months and thousands of miles later, we were walking the campground at Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and who pulls up in their Mercedes, but Ed & Anna. What are the odds? We spent another fun night talking until way past sunset and trading recent adventure stories.
one Second everyday
At the beginning of the trip we both started recording a second of video every day using the app 1SE. You can choose to watch the year from Brandon’s or Lindsay’s perspective, or you can lean into it and watch both; we won’t judge you.