I have proudly avoided camping for my entire adult life. I have fond memories of camping as a kid–both with my family and the Girl Scouts–but when I was the one doing the vacation planning, tents were out and hotels were in.
My husband, Jason, has long known of my aversion to camping, so he suggested renting an RV instead. My response was always, “hell no!”
Then 2020 came along and it seemed like everyone and their brother was turning to van life. Social media was flooded with #vanlife. Jason started to sing the praises of van life to me pointing to all the idyllic scenes on YouTube. I still wasn’t convinced.
Then I got a call from a company called roadsurfer, a campervan rental company started in Germany that recently expanded to the U.S. They offered me five days use of a campervan for no charge. I was officially out of excuses. So we reserved our campground, packed up the Volvo, and headed to LA to pick up the van.
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A Disappointing Day One
Our first day did not go well.
After receiving a 30 minute briefing on the van, we loaded all of our food, clothing, and gear inside, and then hit the road. And for the next seven hours we moved from traffic jam to traffic jam. The estimated time of five hours to Bass Lake took significantly longer. Our plan to arrive before dark and enjoy happy hour watching the sunset over the trees was dashed.
We arrived at our campground, Outdoorsy, around 7 p.m. and discovered the campground office was closed. Fortunately we found our parking pass and a map pinned to a board. Slowly we wound our way through the campground in the dark looking for our space and finally found it.
Jason skillfully backed the van into our space and we began the process of setting up for the night. I still had hopes of enjoying dinner outside until a neighbor popped her head out of her RV and said, “please be careful, there’s a bear in the campground.” We quickly hopped in the van and slammed the door shut.
At this point I was both hungry and cranky and wondering why on earth I had agreed to this trip. Where was the lobby bar or hotel restaurant? Where was my hotel bed covered in crisp white sheets? Oh that’s right, we still had to make-up our bed and if we wanted dinner we would have to make it ourselves.
So I poured myself a large glass of wine (I had brought plenty) while Jason made us sandwiches and we called it a night. Maybe tomorrow would be better.
Day Two Is Looking Up
The bed in the van was reasonably comfortable. And while I didn’t get to enjoy a sunset the previous night, I was able to watch the sunrise over the trees as we woke. There was a glimmer of hope.
I got up and made us coffee in the french press we rarely use at home which was a nice start to the day. I should mention that the van comes with a full set of dishes along with pots and pans and serving utensils. It also came with a french press, so I didn’t actually need to bring one. After making breakfast and getting dressed we decided it was time for a hike.
We drove the van to the trailhead for Lewis Creek National Recreation Trail and spent the next few hours hiking. This was a gorgeous trail winding its way alongside Lewis Creek and passing both Corlieu and Red Rock Falls. It’s a popular trail, so we didn’t have it to ourselves, but I’d still recommend it.
So here’s where the benefits of a campervan begin. It was so nice to return to the van and have a clean, private bathroom–not an outhouse–along with a sink to wash our hands and freshen up. We were both hot and sweaty after the hike, so we immediately turned on the air conditioning and cooled down quickly.
After some discussion we decided to drive back to Bass Lake and look for a scenic spot near the water to make lunch. After lunch we took a nap. At this point, both Jason and I were singing the praises of van life.
This day continued with a lovely kayaking experience on the lake, happy hour at the dock, and a delicious dinner made by my husband. The bear in our campground had moved on (or at least I assumed it had) and we were settling into van life. Maybe I was wrong, maybe hotels were overrated.
Day Three–Exploring Yosemite In A Campervan
After a successful day two we rose early on the third day to head to Yosemite, hoping to get ahead of the crowds. It had been almost thirty years since I’d been in the park and I was really excited.
We entered at the South Entrance and parked in the Mariposa Grove lot. Thankfully there’s an RV parking section here. If you’re never been to Mariposa Grove, there is a lower parking lot and a free shuttle bus that transports visitors up to the actual grove of Giant Sequoias. This is a gorgeous spot in Yosemite that I highly recommend. We hiked the Grizzly Giant Loop, took the shuttle bus back down, and returned to our van.
Once again, we enjoyed the private bathroom and the opportunity to make ourselves lunch. We opened the large sliding door of the van and enjoyed a spectacular view.
It was still early in the day so we opted to drive into Yosemite Valley. This is where our day went downhill. Jason was such a trooper driving the van the entire trip, but he found it exhausting to do along the narrow and windy roads of Yosemite. As a slower moving vehicle we constantly had to pull over to allow others to pass. And when we arrived in the valley the parking lots were quite full and challenging with a van. We spent about two hours exploring the valley and Yosemite Village and then returned to Bass Lake. Jason was tired and cranky. We were no longer singing the praises of a campervan.
Our Final Day At Bass Lake
Our original itinerary included two days in Yosemite, but we changed our plans and explored more of Bass Lake instead. The roads in this area are generally wider and easier to navigate in an oversized vehicle.
So on our fourth day we relaxed in the campground in the morning and then drove to Miller’s Landing. I’ll admit that we were getting tired of making all of our own meals, so lunch was burgers and fries at the restaurant. Then we rented a small power boat to see more of the lake.
Jason generously did all the shopping for this trip and most of the cooking. However, by the final night, he was over it. Dining out was certainly an option, but we didn’t want to waste the food we had brought. Our fourth night dining in felt cramped and dull, or as Jason called it, “groundhog day.”
Our Favorite Parts Of A Campervan Trip
Our final day was spent driving back to LA. We were both delighted to hand the keys back to the Roadsurfer staff and reclaim our Volvo.
On our drive home Jason and I listed the pros and cons of a campervan trip, so let me start with the positives.
Leisurely lunches in the van while enjoying views of Yosemite or Bass Lake were delightful. Our meals for all five days were quite healthy, especially in comparison to what we normally eat while traveling.
There can be significant cost savings by traveling in a campervan. While the daily rental fee isn’t cheap–ranging from $99 to $250–it’s comparable to the cost of hotels or AirBnB. The real savings is the food. We ate out just twice, In N Out on our drive to Bass Lake and lunch at Miller’s Landing. And we did not skimp on food. We had three full meals a day and wine or beer with dinner.
And traveling with your accommodations can be a benefit. If we needed a bathroom, we always had one, if one of us felt a nap coming on, we just parked and slept. Anything we needed, from an item of clothing to a bandaid was within arms reach.
The Downsides Of A Campervan Trip
But alas, the downsides of this experience were numerous.
Getting ready for this trip was far more work than our average trip. There was meal planning, shopping, and packing. Then there was the daily cooking and cleaning.
At the end of the trip both the black and gray water had to be dumped. This process was easier than expected, but quite frankly, I’d rather not do it again.
While the bed in the campervan was reasonably comfortable, it did not measure up to the comfort of most hotels. Getting up in the middle of the night to adjust the temperature or use the bathroom was a major hassle due to the height of the bed and cramped spaces.
And if you want to sightsee during the day as we did, maneuvering, much less parking, a campervan is a chore. We were really missing our Volvo during the day as we drove around.
What We Learned From Our Campervan Trip
I have no regrets. Life should be about trying new things and getting outside of our comfort zone, and we certainly did that. Together we mastered all the systems of the campervan. And even though we don’t plan to rent a van again, we know we could.
But our biggest takeaway from this trip was the beauty and serenity of Bass Lake, especially off season. We will definitely be back to this lovely part of California, only next time we’ll rent a cabin.