I Lived in a Cabana Van for a Week—Here’s What It Was Like

Stuck in my condo throughout the early days of the pandemic, I handed the time by watching van lifers on YouTube. I watched them convert vans into tiny houses and drive them from place to position. Some used their autos to discover their residence nation whereas others shipped theirs abroad for worldwide street journeys. These vans are a lot greater than transportation—they’re additionally kitchens, loos, eating rooms, dwelling rooms, workplaces….

I fell in love with the concept of getting a tiny residence on wheels that you possibly can take any and in all places. The flexibility to only decide up and go appeared like a dream. You needn’t pack suitcases, board a airplane, or test out and in of motels. Simply inventory your van with meals, manage your garments and toiletries into drawers, and head out whereas bringing alongside all of the comforts of residence. It is next-level glamping.

Personally, I really like entering into nature, however I am not into tenting. I’ve no want to sleep in a tent on the bottom and pee in a shared outhouse. So tenting in a van is one of the best (and solely!) possibility for me. Someday, I hope to have one in all my very own. However within the meantime, I have been dying to strive it out. So when I discovered Cabana, an organization that lets you hire luxurious camper vans, I jumped on the probability to check its providers.

The logistics of van life

Pictured: A Cabana spriner van/Micah Casella

From RVs to Airstreams, there are many camper van choices, however transformed sprinter vans have turn out to be fashionable over the previous couple of years as a result of they’re compact. You do not have to fret about parking a 40-foot RV—as an alternative, you may get a van that is somewhat over 20-feet lengthy (just a few toes longer than a big pick-up truck) and transfer it round with ease.

I rented a tricked-out sprinter van outfitted with a sink, stovetop, fridge, bathe, bathroom, mattress, and closet. There are additionally photo voltaic panels on the roof, offering you with ample electrical energy to cost gadgets, and warmth and funky the van. With pickup out there in Los Angeles and Seattle, Cabana vans are excellent for as much as two folks to discover the west coast.

Reserving/selecting up your van and beginning the journey

Reserving and planning a van journey via Cabana is extremely easy. You possibly can decide to only select your dates, lock in a van, and do the planning your self; you possibly can guide one in all Cabana’s pre-planned journeys that embrace the price of a van and a full itinerary; or take a quiz so Cabana’s concierge crew can see what you are fascinated about after which plan a (complimentary) customized journey.

Beginning your journey is much like utilizing a carshare service like Zipcar. When you guide, you will get the handle of the pickup location. When it is time to your journey, head to the lot and use the Cabana app to unlock your van and begin your journey. Inside you will discover the keys, and directions on the right way to do every thing from turning on the AC to establishing the kitchen.

Driving the van

Residing in New York Metropolis, I do not drive typically. So the concept of spending seven days driving round California in an enormous van freaked me out somewhat. However as soon as I received behind the wheel, I noticed it wasn’t that tough. It positively feels totally different than driving a automotive, however you get used to it fairly rapidly. It has massive facet mirrors and a backup digicam so you possibly can see your surrounding very nicely. It additionally comes geared up with a mobile phone holder on the dashboard so you possibly can see your GPS with ease.


Cabana vans function a snug, queen-size mattress that stays stationary behind the house, so that you needn’t fear about establishing your mattress at night time. My favourite a part of sleeping in van like that is that with the mattress within the again, you will have an ideal view out of the again home windows. On our first night time, my boyfriend and I received to our first campsite after darkish, so we did not actually know the place we had been or what the surroundings was like. Waking up and taking the covers off the home windows in the midst of the desert exterior of Palm Springs was breathtaking. I cherished having the ability to simply keep in mattress and absorb our environment.

Cooking and consuming

Whereas the within of the van is residence to a sink, fridge, and scorching water kettle, cooking is dealt with exterior. Head to the again of the van, open the doorways, and you will find a kitchen that pulls out from beneath the mattress geared up with a sink, a two-burner propane range, counter house to prep, in addition to cookware, and compostable dishware and utensils.

Having the kitchen pull out of the again is an incredible house saver so there’s extra room contained in the van. Nonetheless, it may be a bit inconvenient, particularly if the climate is chilly. Contained in the van, the passenger seat swivels round to face the middle, a bench pulls out of the facet of a cupboard, and there is a pole that lets you arrange a tabletop, creating the right eating house for 2. However, should you’re staying at a campground, there’ll possible be picnic tables arrange the place you possibly can get pleasure from your meal exterior.

Utilizing the lavatory

The lavatory is teeny tiny and homes a showerhead and a bathroom. Utilizing the bathroom is easy—you simply go and flush such as you would some other bathroom. The identical goes for the bathe, besides the house is far smaller than your normal bathe. Plus, there is no separation between the bathroom and the bathe so when you suds up and get clear the bathroom shall be very moist. However, with the assistance of the exhaust fan, it dries comparatively rapidly.

The bathroom empties right into a black water tank beneath the van whereas sink and bathe water empties right into a grey water tank. On shorter journeys, you needn’t fear about emptying these. You may get three to 5 days price of use out of the bathroom earlier than the tank fills relying on how a lot you utilize it. And there’s a digital monitoring display within the van that lets you control how full the tank is getting.

As a result of I had a van for seven days, I did find yourself having to empty the tanks on day 5. That is one thing you do at a campground, and you may see indicators displaying you the place and the right way to do it. The expertise was humbling, to say the least, however not practically as gross or tough as I believed it might be. I mainly needed to pull a hose from a storage tube beneath the van, connect one finish to the van and the opposite to a particular pipe within the floor on the campsite. Then I opened a valve to empty the black tank (the tank with every thing you flushed down the bathroom) after which the grey tank (the tank with the water drained from the sink and bathe). The instruction guide has nice instructions and a pair of gloves so I may keep clear throughout the course of. However, it was tough. I by chance created a large line of vans as a result of I could not determine it out and an angel of a human who was driving the van behind me got here to assist me.


As a result of the van is small, packing mild is a should. However, you possibly can nonetheless convey an honest quantity of stuff—my boyfriend and I every introduced a carry-on-size suitcase and a backpack. The van options two pull-out cabinets to retailer baggage and a closet full with a rod and hangers. There are additionally two drawers beneath the mattress, and we used one to accommodate pantry items and one other to accommodate our toiletries and different objects we needed inside simple attain like a candle and a bluetooth speaker.

Whilst you’re driving, your objects have to be stowed away so they are not flying throughout the again of the van. Every door and drawer incorporates a particular deal with that clicks into place so they do not open whereas the automobile is in movement. So long as these are all correctly closed earlier than you pull off, your objects will stay protected and safe.

What the journey was like

Pictured: Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree Nationwide Park/Micah Casella

Spending every week touring round California in a van was really a dream come true. I began my journey in Los Angeles, and the lot was a brief stroll to a Dealer Joe’s and a Goal so my boyfriend and I had been in a position to top off on meals and different necessities like tissues and sunblock earlier than we hit the street. Scorching tip: Convey a string of Christmas lights with you to make the van really feel homier.

Then we headed to our first cease: Palm Desert. We parked on the Lovelight Tentsite & Automotive Tenting web site and had such an incredible time. The campsite has an excellent cool and eclectic vibe. Attending to know the host Mikey, his three cute canines, and his tortoise was a lot enjoyable. The campsite was about half-hour from Palm Springs, so we drove there to buy and go to dinner earlier than heading for 2 nights in Joshua Tree Nationwide Park the place we stayed on the Jumbo Rocks Campground.

That is simply the best place I’ve ever been. The rocks had been certainly jumbo, and I felt like I used to be on Mars. We went on hikes, went into city to go thrifting, and took so. many. photos. Whereas we had been within the park, we had zero cell service, forcing us to be tremendous current and simply get pleasure from our environment. It was superb.

For the final three days, we stayed in Dana Level, a seaside city in Orange County. For the primary night time, we actually parked on the facet of the street exterior of our good friend’s condo, and spent the opposite nights proper on the water at Doheny State Seashore. We backed into our parking spot so we may simply open the again doorways and hop into the sand. I cherished attending to lie in a comfy mattress whereas watching the waves crash on the shore. It was really essentially the most surreal and magical expertise.

Would I do it once more?

Staying in a Cabana van solely strengthened my want to have my very own van. I received to expertise all of those new, beautiful locations from my very own little slice of residence. I cherished that I did not should commute from a resort—I used to be dwelling proper within the thick of nature. In fact, you get this with any tenting expertise, however, like I stated, I am not a camper. Van tenting is the one sort of tenting I’ve ever thought-about, and it was a wonderful expertise. After an extended drive, I knew that mattress was simply 4 toes away. And I all the time had entry to meals and a bathroom that was all mine. Regardless of the place we had been, we had our personal little house to return to and that felt extraordinarily grounding.

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