Traveling using intuition over a map can be quite exhilarating, as many times a map doesn’t tell you everything you are hoping to find when you make a pit stop on the journey. Crossing the boarder into the US was anticlimactic. I didn’t take a boat, wait on a line or drive through transformative scenery. Down a narrow road, I arrived at a small customs stop where I was asked a few questions and waved through. The officer didn’t even ask to see my pet’s papers.
The top of the Idaho panhandle is just an extension of the land I crossed from, no jarring change or noticeable alteration. Well, except when I pulled into the first gas station I saw and paid normal prices for gallons of gas, and experienced my first “Trump for Prez” sticker in a long time. Red state. I had arrived in a place that just felt angry, hostile and cold despite the noticeable temperature change. Feeling tired, I pulled into a truck stop, when I remembered one of my top lessons I’ve learned on this trip:
#vanlife parking tip:
Tired? Need to stop? Don’t like the first available looking option? Keep going, a better one is just a few miles down.
In my travelers, I’ve discovered that there is always a better town, a sweeter spot, a rest stop with running water or a sweet turn off to a spot on a lake if I keep going. I was capable of passing out in this truck stop, oozing with the sound of running Diesel engines and brightly lit in every corner, but I knew I wanted something else as my crash site for this first night back in the US.
#vanlife community seeking tip:
One search term that has brought me to some great towns? Look up “craft brewery near me” on Google, and it will take you to a spot where you can get tasty food and drink where people are usually welcoming and open. Seriously, this has worked for me a good ten times when trying to find a town that was going to be open to me Boondocking. Craft breweries aren’t just a bar in the next town. They are a cultivation of culture and local community building. Usually a craft brewer that serves food, will offer local ingredients, tasty meals that complement the beer and you can get great advice on things to do in the area.
This is derived from my old travel trick of going to a local bar to get info about a neighborhood, but that can be really tricky on the road. A regular drive bar in the wrong town can be pretty dodgy, while a craft brewer with decent reviews will be a more community minded and welcoming scene.
The first time I tried this on this four month trip, I was getting off the highway in Laporte, Indiana. No clue where to park, camp or get some nourishment, I looked for “craft brewery near me” and found Shoreline Brewing in Michigan City, IN. This place was awesome. The beer was yummy, the people were welcoming and friendly, they filled all my water tanks and jugs and let me crash in their parking lot where I had access to their WiFi can could catch up on Game of Thrones.
There is an app called Harvest Hosts which has come up with a more established version of this concept. They have partnered with wineries, breweries and farms across the country willing to make room for campers and RVs. If you decide to use it, and I recommend it highly if you’re on the road, make sure to follow the guidelines. Reserve ahead, be respectful and patronize the venue.
Sandpoint, Idaho is a gem of a town in the northern panhandle. Just 30 miles south of where I gassed up and tried to figure out my next crash spot, it’s a town with great food, nice people and gorgeous scenery. A progressive oasis in a very red state, I managed to catch a drag show here and have a meaningful conversation about the value of the Green Party with a drag king out and about. The locals have worked hard to keep the lake clean, the local businesses thriving and there is art wherever you look.
Boondocking here is easy. There are free parking lots in town, with a few fellow vans staying overnight. No one has batted and eye and I’ve been safely chilling in the same lot for several days.
Reentering the states is bittersweet. British Columbia was epically gorgeous and I could have stayed there forever. Unfortunately, I think I’d need to plan better to ensure I had workflow and better WiFi service as T-Mobile was throttling my service because I was roaming in a foreign country. That would be a major problem if I want to keep up remote work efforts. I supposed I could switch carriers if I plan on staying and working from there, but it also seemed complicated with regards to taxes, weather, long term. It would be very doable, just would need to want to relocate with more conviction and planning.
Time is crunching hard, and September is approaching. It’s time to start heading towards the east coast and I do want to cruise through Glacier National Park and see it before heading down to CO to get my car and head east to the coast I know as truly home for me.
New England for fall… here I come!