September 21, 2020

One Van, One Cat, Two Humans - Van Life Roadtrip to the PNW

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Van Life Road Trip from Arizona to Washington and back to Arizona

What to do if your van breaks down….


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For the next 20 days we would be living in a hotel or be tent camping with the cat. Many hikes were all of a sudden not really do-able with our schedule for where we were staying. We had decided to stay not too far from the mechanic since initially the stay was only supposed to be a week long. I am still very happy with the hikes we got to do, the folks we got to meet and during covid having a shower on hand at all times was not really a bad thing. During our hotel life we bounced around Mt Rainier scouting out locations off of the beaten path, Olympic National Park for a sunrise session and the Snoqualmie forest for some epic lake hikes. My favorite hikes this year were the ones we got to see the mountain goats on, the ones that were super challenging and of course the ones to those insane sunset views up in the mountains! Towards the end of our hotel time we headed up to the San Juan Islands again to visit my sister and have a nice slow, relaxing couple of days having coffee at the Salty Fox and looking for whales and foxes. Before we knew the van was done! Woohoo! We picked her up and was told she needed an oil change and filter changes after 500 miles. We stayed close by and explored Port Townsend so we could take Luna back to the same shop. All seemed well so we were all set to leave the PNW for Moab, UT. Our first stop heading south was back to the Hostel in Seaside to catch up with an old friend. I loved that we got to start and end this trip on the beach by a campfire! Once we got to Salt Lake City the engine light came on. This was all starting to remind me of last year with the old van all too much. We called the folks we had a warranty through and they said we would be good until getting back to Flagstaff where a mechanic could actually look at it. False, lol. We had to get a rental car while we were in Moab, we already had a hotel because Moab in August is way too hot for a cat in a van lol. Luckily after our elopement we made it safely and smoothly back to Flagstaff where a mechanic was able to replace a plug and she’s been golden since taking us all through Northern Arizona.

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The 2020 Road trip from Arizona to Washington was pushed back this year, you guessed it, due to covid! This year you may notice we are in a new van, well new to me! If you missed the last couple of travel/van blogs note that we sold the first van, moved into an apartment in Sedona for a while and then moved into a new van that we built out during covid. We (Bill, myself and the cat) got all of our ducks in a row and left in July from Flagstaff, Arizona. We stopped in California for some hikes in the Red Woods National Forest and around the San Francisco Bay. Last year we drove from North Carolina and did a lot of the northern states, I was very excited this time to drive up the Oregon Coast. The coast line of Oregon is one of the most beautiful areas in the states, in my opinion. I was very excited to scout out locations for future elopements (stay tuned for a blog on this!). Our first night in Southern Oregon did not disappoint. We arrived in time to change into a dress and nice clothes so we could take self portraits to show all of you the potential here. We bounced around all different locations in the area taking photos, scrambling up rocks and smelling the salt air, I never realize how much I miss the ocean until I am back at it! At the end of the evening the sky turned blood-orange and all you could hear was the waves crashing into the rocks, it was 100% one of my favorite evenings on the trip. We made our way up the coast, checking out different areas over the next couples of days. We ended back up in Seaside, Oregon, one of my favorite towns from my trip here last year! We stayed at one of my favorite, quirky Hostel’s to meet up with old friends, kayak and be in walking distance to the beach and town. Soon we were on our way to Olympic National Park to check off a bucket list item, camp on the beach! We scouted the best beach for it in between epic hikes in the park, couple’s sessions and exploring the area. We hiked in at 10pm, yes because we were getting as much as we could out of our time in the park! Set up camp, a fire and had marshmallows and wine as we watched the tide come in to the rocks protecting us from the ocean.

After the Olympics we headed to Mt Rainier National Park for some scouting prior to some elopements that were in the coming week! Sadly, my van broke down on one of the mountain roads. She wouldn’t turn over and we were on the side of the highway. A bus-life friend came by to see if they could help, no luck. After waiting a while got her to turn over and started heading back towards town. It was a Sunday, no mechanics open. The next day was my birthday and we had rented an Airbnb for a couple nights in Seattle. We drove her as far as we could and pulled off on an exit. We called a tow truck to take her to shop near the Airbnb and a friend to give us a ride to our Airbnb. We decided to enjoy the evening in town until we would know something the next day. My birthday morning arrived, we walked with Indy downtown to grab breakfast and coffee in Queen Anne. Upon returning back to the Airbnb we got the worst news you can get (in my opinion), she needed a new engine. I immediately went into Heck No mode and started researching new vans, trucks with camper tops, Suvs with travel trailers. My partner and my parents talked some sense into me and we got a plan into action to replace the engine. We had to take Luna to a different shop since the first shop wouldn’t do the job, so we towed her again. We rented a car and got a pet friendly hotel. Our trip instantly drastically changed.

Some of the deeper stuff (you know how I do these van life blogs lol)

- This year looks a little different in van life. Last year it was just me and two cats, then one cat. This year my partner, Bill, has been traveling with me. It is definitely so much easier to have two people. It helps with driving, finding a place to eat, stay, etc. It’s also great to get to share so many of these epic places and experience together. Two people traveling in one van that was built out for only one person for sure has its challenges, but again we were in a hotel for the majority of this trip and upon have the van back if we weren’t driving we were hiking or exploring a new area. There is also a huge difference between being a single female in van life and traveling with a male partner when it comes to safety. Last year I was extremely cautious of where I camped/parked for the night. I would mostly only stay on forest service/blm land. Bill when I met him had always mostly stayed within cities. It was nice to have more options for camping this year and feeling safe doing it. One of my favorite places we camped on the way up to Oregon was just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, somewhere I am not sure I would of stayed alone, but it was so beautiful to be there at sunset and sunrise. This is even true when it comes to hotels, a lot of pet friendly hotels aren’t the best ones you want to stay in and not being alone in those situations is totally different.

- What to do if your van breaks down and not in a cute way…. Do not panic. It is hard, it is your home and your car. It’s also scary if you’re not in a town that is not where you know a lot of folks. Do your research on where you are taking your van to get worked on. Do make sure you have AAA and/or towing covered in your insurance. Think through rationally your options and have patience. If I could do it all over again with our schedule and the things played out my advice would be if you had any major work to stay in the area the mechanic is for at least a week and driving it all sorts of conditions, highways, stop and go traffic, etc. Always know you can book a rental car, place to stay, etc. If you have a pet and you break down be prepared and find a pet friendly hotel. If your van won’t be in the shop too long consider camping to save money and still be able to live that outdoor lifestyle. The one day we tent camped with Indy was such a refresh from being in a hotel for us. We would have tent camped more, but Indy slashed out tent open protecting us from the wild animals outside out tent the first night, aka another house cat lol.

- In the original build of my van we went with flex solar panels just due to the shape and size of my roof. We learned on this trip that this was a bad plan lol. First if you are using flex solar panels be sure to buy from a really good company. Then you want to be careful how you install them, you do not want flex solar panels to get too hot for it will ruin them, so an air gap is great or not a black fiberglass top lol. Otherwise the build has been super functional so far. Considering we had two van-lifers and one van for this trip we took everything out of my van we knew we wouldn’t need like the cat’s home-made air conditioner, winter clothing, my storage box and put it in Bill’s van so he would have room to move in the things he would need on the trip and the van still feel homey without clutter.

Photo taken by: Lexi Hungerford

Photo taken by: Kayla Norne Photography

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I love van life for so many reason, but one of the biggest reasons is the ability it gives me to be a local to an area for a while and scout. This way I can provide couples with knowledge and tips in the areas they may be looking to elope! I am based out of Sedona, Arizona but I travel often to Utah, California, Oregon and Washington. If you are looking to elope in Zion, Moab, the Oregon Coast, Smith Rock, Olympic NP or Mt Rainier NP reach out! I’d love to chat! Questions about van life? Drop them in the comments I am always happy to share more about us, traveling with a cat or answer or questions I can.

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2 comments on “One Van, One Cat, Two Humans - Van Life Roadtrip to the PNW”

  1. Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.

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