Van Dwelling with Children

When I was a kid, I always thought it was so fun to watch Married with Children. It revolves around Al Bundy and his never ending attempts to better his life which leads him right back to where he started.  In front of the T.V, with his hand down his pants. Van dwelling with children was a similar to this.

 

Before we left, Ike and I had plans to do some awesome hiking, even a muli day trek or two.  We decided to go into Canada for that reason,  we figured the weather would be cooler and more hospitable for hiking (versus Colodo, Utah, California in the middle of summer)

Van Dwelling in Banf

Gavin in Banff National Park

 

Gavin

This is the point in the story where I introduce you to my son Gavin.  He is a 85 lb, blue eyed blond haired hell on wheels.  Urban dictionary describes the term hell on wheels as a someone or something that is tough, aggressive and hard to handle. If there could be a picture to go along with this term, it would be my 9 year old son. Gavin loves anything physical.  He loves building forts, jumping off high things, swimming ect.  We thought he would love being outside with us.

 

Day 1

Here is a scenario from day 1 hour 2.  About 2 hours into our journey, we made the inevitable pit stop.  At this rest stop, there was a short hike to the top of a look out.  Ike and I looked at eachother, and said ‘hey, why not?’

 

Gavin looked at us and said “I’m not going.”

 

Of course, we kind of shrugged it off.  We were going on this adventure.  We were going to the Canadian Rockies! Banff and Jasper, the most beautiful places in the whole world! Gavin would adjust! We just knew it!  We.were.so.wrong.

Every Day After That

Here is when I explain the Married with Children analogy.  No matter the circumstances, we always ended up right back in the same spot. Gavin refusing to hike.  We go through this every day.  He would either start to hike, then 5 minutes in complain that he couldn’t go a step further, or he would refuse to hike.

 

One time,  we were hiking up a trail and he was complaining.  Another family walked up behind us and passed us.  Gavin promptly stopped being upset and started talking to this other family.  Before we knew it, he was gone- happily hiking with his new befriended family.  We knew then that it wasn’ t the hiking that he did not like , he didn’t like it because we liked it.

Ike and Gavin enjoying hot chocolate

 

 Hands in Our Pants

We really had no idea what to do with our hell on wheels.  To everyone else, we must have looked like the worst parents ever.  Or maybe not, maybe I just felt like the worst parent ever.  Leaving him sitting on a rock, crying on the side of a trail.  See, it sounds bad- right?  Poor little guy.  This is what would happen once we left him: He would stop crying after we were out of sight and figure out a way to shimmy up the side of a mountain and get to the top before we did.  The kid is completely capable, it was just the fact that we wanted to do something. So, he automatically did not.

van dwelling gavin style

Gavin has more physical capability then I ever will

Van Dwelling with Children – What Worked

At some point in our journey, we gave up our souls to Gavin.  Just kidding, but not really.  Our daily living was complicated, it took a lot of time.  Even the simplest tasks were difficult- and that was o.k, but it just wore down on us after awhile.  So, we gave up trying to hike with Gavin.  We stayed closer to roads, and enjoyed the mountains from a distance. We ate more ice cream and went swimming as much as possible.

 

Mom and Kid walking dog

Exploring at our own pace

 

 

Conclusion

Maybe settling for more ice cream and more swimming wasn’t so bad.  Maybe we weren’t on the journey to climb mountains, some mountains are internal- and those ones are just as difficult as any.  We decided that singing silly songs and dancing silly dances was o.k.  Taking time – making forts, those things are just as important as anything else.

I wasn’t going to get the awesome photographs I wanted – but I got to experience something totally unique and justifiably  crazy with my family- and that is  o.k too!

 

 

For Making at Cape Dissapointment

 

 

You can check out more of my blog posts at: https://stephshanks.com/category/travel-photography/

Living in a Camper Van

Side of a building in Calgary, Alberta

 

Living is challenging. Having a family is challenging.  Travelling is challenging.  You can see where I am going with this.  Living in a camper van with a family is challenging.

 

Before we left, I read blogs about families who live and breed while living on the road.  I thought, ‘yes we can do this!’ It’s just three of us plus a dog, it will be easy!   I even reached out to a highly recognizable photographer who lives with her husband and child in a camper van, who said “Steph, you will love life on the road!”

The truth is – I did not love life on the road, especially in the evening.

Living in a Camper Van somewhere in Manitoba

En Route, driving two vehicles from Manitoba to Montana. Ardill, Saskatchewan. Population 2.

 

Living in a camper van was hardest (for me) in the evening.  This was the time when we would have to find a place to stop for the night.  We were ‘free style’ living -as Ike would put it.  We rarely had a destination, and therefor it was hard to plan a stopping time or a stopping place.  This made finding a spot for the night difficult and  stressful.  I struggled with this feeling of inadequacy  most evenings as my brain would go into over drive.  Were we homeless?  Aren’t we too old for this? Will we be safe? Will this ever end?  Seriously, what are we doing this for?

 

 

camper van living gavin on camper

The reason why. Waterton National Parks, Alberta.

Nights Are Long

When the nightly process began, a certain thing needed to be addressed.  Our van did not have a bathroom, so ‘going’ outside was the only option.  Whether it be in campground or anywhere.   For that reason, we avoided the ever infamous walmart parking lot for sleeping.  Helpful Hint:  Walmarts are super popular among van dwellers.

 

Our quietest spots were found on dead end roads and service roads.  There were a few nights I was worried about wildfires while we were travelling through B.C, but for the most part this was the best option.  I would rather pee in the cold with a bear then pee in a walmart parking lot.

Just us, somewhere

 

Campgrounds

We had some interesting times in campgrounds.  Technically, we weren’t camping – we were living in our camper van.  Two totally different but similar things.  Campgrounds represented to us, civilization.  Families, bringing a ton of a shit for a weekend getaway.  Friends, meeting up for a week of drinking and hiking.

camper van living in canada at a campground

 

We loved and we loathed campgrounds.Campgrounds gave us bathrooms and ‘friends’ for Gavin to play with.  They also gave us very little privacy, they were expensive, and our dog always had to be on a leash.  That being said, we were always grateful to pull up to a campground that did not have the ‘campsite full’ sign.

Freecampsites.net

I couldn’t write about our nights living in a campervan without giving a shout out to freecampsites.net.  We found ourselves looking at this almost every night.  We found tons of free campsites on this site, but so did everyone else.  What I mean by this, is that most of the places we found were easily ‘findable’ but also pretty busy.  Sometimes, we would get lucky and get a good night sleep, but most of these places were at rest stops along the highway.   Rest stops were great because they generally had nice views and bathrooms, however semi trucks coming and going all night were often unpleasant.

A great view from one of our nights at a travel center.

 

Check out my last post here.  Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments!

Lake Lousie, Alberta Canada

Lake Lousie, Alberta Canada

Living in a van

I can’t believe I’m actually writing up living in a van.  Yes, I did it.  I should say- ‘we did it’.  Because unlike most van livers, we were a family of 4 living in 100 square feet.  Our family consisted of my husband, Ike, my nine year old son Gavin, and my wiener dog – Prim.

 

Living in a van is considered by some ‘the new American dream.’  Freedom of the open road,  freedom from a mortgage, freedom from the monotonous  day to day life of getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed.  We began pondering this. We loved travel, we loved adventure. I am a photographer, he is a renaissance man of sorts. We can do our jobs remotely. It will be fun we thought!

 

A Brief History

Ike and I met in 2011, and were instantly infatuated with each other.  We liked the same music, we liked the same food.  We loved drinking wine and watching movies together.  When he picked me up on our first date, he pulled up in a Chevy Silverado pick up truck.  It was a sign from heaven above that we were meant to be together.

 

At the same time that we were falling madly in love with each other, we were facing a very real dilemma.  Ike had 4 kids and I have 3.  We both had ex spouses that were not easy to get along with at all.  As luck would have it though, Ike and I shared the same idea of a big family unit. Regardless of whose kids were whose, and what it actually meant to form that family- we were willing to give it a try.

Our Wedding Day

So, in May 2013- we got married.  We vowed to eachother and we vowed to our seven beautiful children that we would do everything we could to provide a safe and structured place for them and love them unconditionally.

 

 

Flash forward to the beginning of 2017.

our house in Baraboo

 

We decided to sell the house in January 2017, once we decided this everything started to shift. We began getting rid of so much stuff that we no longer needed in order to make the house more ‘sell able.’  This was probably a pretty big breakthrough for us.  We lived in a huge Victorian house, full of our stuff.  Once we started packing stuff and donating it to thrift stores,  we almost couldn’t stop.  Getting rid of stuff felt really really good.  Empty spaces, clean spaces- all these things felt great.  So we just kept going.. and going and going..

 

Mid Spring, a decision was made, partly by Ike’s children and their wants and partly by us that they would  spend the summer with their mom.  She had recently moved to Seattle, and we really felt like the children needed to see their mom and spend time with her.  (This was a very hard and difficult time for all of us.  Words cannot express the feeling around being a step mom, maybe someday I will blog about that!)

 

In May 2017, we got an accepted offer on the house. .

 

Baby Steps Towards Living in a Van

 

As all great stories go, we had a few hiccups towards the road to camper van living greatness.  We knew we weren’t getting much from the sale of our home. And because one of our major goals was to be debt free, we really wanted an economical way to live on the road.

First, we bought a Yakima tent that fit on the top of our GMC Yukon.  We loved the idea of sleeping on the roof of our vehicle.  How efficient is that?  But, we barely got it on top of our vehicle when we learned that it leaked very badly.

Our first option was a Yakima tent that fit on the top of the yukon

 

 

We decided that maybe we could build a structure onto the back of Ike’s truck.  This was the beginning and end of this particular idea.

The beginning and endings of building a truck camper.

 

Next, we bought a truck bed camper for Ike’s truck.  This was a fairly solid investment for $700. In hindsight, maybe we got a little ripped off. But it was clean, it was dry and it worked.   After the sale of our house, we traveled in it  for 2 or 3 weeks.

Right Before we Left

 

The Open Road

The First Two Weeks

The open road right from the get go wasn’t exactly as we had expected.  First off, there was Gavin.  My nine year old son who developed a deep rooted hatred for anything that had to with hiking.  He, out of all the children,  is probably the most difficult to convince to do anything. And boy did he prove it.  We got stopped on the Canadian border and were searched.  We were eaten alive by mosquitoes one night because of a small tear in a vent.  It rained a ton.  And, we missed our home and our lives.

The Snake Pit- where we were eaten alive by mosquitoes all night.

The Van

We were driving through Manitoba July 2nd, 2017 when we came across a 1979 Okanagan camper van for sale.  We test drove it and we loved it.  We were on an adventure and this was all part of it.  We knew it had a large engine and got horrible gas mileage.  We were headed to Montana anyways, but we knew now that we would each have to drive a vehicle 900 miles now.  The first time I drove it, I started to cry.  These were not tears of happiness.  Thus, the van life started.

The Van Life Begins- July 4th, 2017.

 

 

More to Come!

 

 

Peru Photos Machu Picchu on top of La Montana

Travel Peru

Most tourists travel  Peru to see Machu Picchu or other Inca ruins, myself included.  The trip I took with my husband was 7 days, I believe we did the best we could for the time we had.  However, I find myself day dreaming about going back and spending more time- maybe a month or so there to absorb the culture. I would like to eat more ceviche, travel the sacred valley on foot and visit Lake Titikaka.  Peru is a very inexpensive place to travel in, so maybe my daydreaming will be made into reality before long

 

 

Cusco

Cusco is a one hour flight from Lima and is the best way to get to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.  We spent a couple of nights here on the end of trip and really enjoyed it.  We took a guided walking tour with Free Tours by Foot with Elvis.  Peru is known for its fair trade coffee, so we drank lots of that.  Peru is also making waves through the world with their amazing food.  Along side fresh ingrediants, Peruvians are very proud of the heritage. This makes for an awesome food environment.

 

 

Ollantaytambo

Guide books suggest to get acclamated to the altitude by heading to Ollantaytambo, so thats what we did.  I didn’t spend much time researching Ollantaytambo, so we were pleneastly suprised by this city.  The town has been built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of Inca town planning.  There is an Incan fortress on one side of the city and Incan storage units perched high up on a hillside on the other.  It is the only place where you can get to Machu Picchu by train.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular iconic sites in the world! Because of its popularity there are tons of ways that you can book a tour to it.  We didn’t have the time to walk the Inca Trail to the site, but we did hike from the main town (Aguas Calientes) to the site its self.  We woke up at 4 a.m and hiked to the trail head. From there we climbed, (and climbed and climbed), after 50-60 minutes we made it to Machu Picchu.  Hint: If you aren’t into that sort of physical activity so early in the morning, there are plenty of buses you can take to and from the town.

 

If you would like to see more travel pictures from our trip, head over to the gallery: https://stephshanks.com/gallery/peru-photos

furry iceland pony

 7 Days In Icelandic Winter

This is about my trip to Iceland. I traveled solo in December.  My journey took me all the way to an eastern fishing village called Neskaupstadur.  Along the way I saw some really amazing waterfalls, beautiful mountains and reindeer!  Because I spent a fair amount of time reading blogs of traveling in Iceland, I decided to write mine about my experience.

Iceland Car Rental

I decided to go with a vehicle.   I highly recommend getting a vehicle.  The weather in Iceland is constantly changing, its a very rugged climate –  hitchhiking or camping  (in winter at least) would have not made my trip very enjoyable.There are plenty of blogs out there that recommend this, as well as camper vans , hitch hiking, biking ect.  I picked https://lagooncarrental.is/ because of their great customer reviews on tripadvisor.  I also liked that they had free airport transport/shuttle.  Picking out a vehicle was difficult for me.  I am a mother, photographer, wife- which translates into travelling a shoestring budget. I wanted 4 wheel drive and insurance, but was unable to find anything ‘cheap.’  I was able to save a little bit of money and rented a vehicle with manual transmission and deisel fuel.  The first place you get to after you rent a car is Reykavik, so if you haven’t driven ‘stick’ before, just spend the extra and go automatic.

On a side note:I never had to use my 4 wheel drive, nor did I ever have a need for the insurance (thankfully!) But, I was glad to have it.

 

My 4 wheel drive suzuki jimni

 

Where to stay in Iceland

I was traveling solo, so my recommendations are based on that.  I booked all my rooms 24 hours in advance.  Using services like airbnb.com and bookings.com worked really well for me.  Because I had no where I really had to be except for 1 day, I was able to have the most flexibility this way.  It was also nice to be able to read the reviews and see photos of the places.  I paid between $50-$65 per night for a room.  I could have done hostels and more dorm like settings to save money, but I wanted my own room every night.  Icelanders are really nice people, and I loved staying in the airbnb’s the most.

 

 

 

What to Eat in Iceland

When I purchased my ticket to Iceland, I was unaware of how expensive everything in Iceland is. One way I was able to save money was to bring my own food with.  Because my flight ticket included 2 checked bags, I was able to bring most of the camera gear I needed, cold weather gear and food for my trip.  My food consisted of oatmeal ( I added protein powder to it in hopes of not getting hungry fast), beef jerky, almonds and a lot of cliff bars.  I did purchase some canned spaghetti, bread and peanut butter once I got to Iceland.  Also, coffee was relatively cheap.  Water is free. Icelandic people love their hotdogs, I did have one- but forgot to take a picture of it.  Bringing my food was probably the only way that I successfully saved money on the trip.

 

How I saved money on food in Iceland

 

Ice Cave Tour

Because I in December, I was able to book an ice cave tour, this was by far the highlight of my trip.  It also got me outside of the Reykavik tour bus area, which I highly suggest.  Most tour buses stopped in Vik, although I did see a few at the Ice Lagoon.  I booked my tour at http://localguide.is/.  Again, I chose them not because they were the cheapest, but because they had such great reviews online.  The weather was mild and rainy while I was in Iceland, and my original tour was cancelled, but I was given the opportunity to go on a longer excursion to a different ice cave. I am so glad I did.  Our tour guide was local (hence the name), and was super nice. There were just two other girls with me on our trip. It felt like we had the whole glacier to ourselves!

 

What to Wear in Iceland in Winter

I think the biggest thing that you need to think about when it comes to clothing in Iceland, it depends mostly on where you are headed.  My intention was to hike and get out and take a lot of pictures.  My clothing consisted of REI weather proof pants, REI waterproof jacket, water proof gloves (see there is a pattern here!), my favorite Keen hiking boots (also waterproof), multiple layers of active wear clothing and wool socks.  Most likely, if you are an adventurer like myself, you probably already have this stuff.  I did bring a winter coat and snow pants, but never used them because of the mild weather.  My backpack was what I would call ‘semi’ waterproof, so my camera gear got wet.

 

Had I been staying in and around Reykavik, I would have definitely brought nicer clothing, as Rekavik is very sheek and modern.  Lots of beautiful people in beautiful clothing. I only spent one afternoon in downtown, and that was enough for me.  I am much more in my element when I’m hiking and taking pictures.

 

What to See in Iceland in Winter For Free

Small Viking Horses (they are not ponies).  They are lovely and very sociable.  There are a lot of them, just be safe when you are crossing the road to see them.

 

Churches.  Oh gosh, they are so beautiful and some of them are set in these beautiful, majestic valleys.

 

Waterfalls. I was able to pull off and hike up to most waterfalls, for free.  The further you get from Reykavik the more beautiful Iceland really becomes.

 

National Parks. I visited Skaftafell.

 

Conclusion

Go visit Iceland! It’s a short 6 hour plane ride from Chicago International Airport. Flights are relitvely inexpensive, the people are wonderful and so is the land.  Everything does cost more, just keep it in mind when you are planning.  I recommend focusing on whats really important to you – Are you a foodie, then plan on staying in and around Reykavik. Are you an adventurer? Then go out and explore.  Photographer? Plan an excursion to the glaciers! See more images from my trip here: stephshanks.com/travel-iceland/