“If you can find a better car, buy it”
During our allotted week to explore Florida, we will not be traveling South of Orlando. To discover the reason, we must first trit-trot down memory lane 2 years into the past. It was a cold, crisp and snowy February evening in our former Connecticut apartment. It was a time in our lives where we were engrossed in the nuances of our upcoming journey, but entirely naive about the reality what such a journey entailed. Lori and I were already 1 year into planning our year long cross country trip to discover America and find a new state to call home. We were mapping our route across the US, purging our possessions, and reinventing ways to do the simplest tasks.
Out of the blue, Lori glanced up from behind her computer screen, and asked, “What if we hate living in a van?”. Her question was valid, and unfortunately I was unable to offer her any reassurance! I too had asked myself the same question, and countless others thousands of times before. Lori and I have always been a very close couple, but was living in a 76 sq. ft. van for an entire year just a tad too cozy? How would we cope without indoor plumbing, and electrical outlets? How would we psychologically handle seeing only unfamiliar faces, and being in unfamiliar places day after day? After all of the planning, all of the research, all of the money we saved, all of the late night talks about our hopes and fears regarding our upcoming journey, only left us with more questions than answers.
Suddenly, I had a stroke of genius, and said to Lori, “If you want to know whether or not we will like living in a van, then let’s try it out”. Lori's forehead wrinkled in confusion, and she shot me a look I have come to know all too well. It is the look that says, “What crazy situation am I about to get myself into?”. I continued, “We could rent a van in Southern Florida, live in it for 2 weeks, and see how we do!”. It had been a particularly brutal winter in Connecticut, and granting ourselves a reprieve from the repetitive patterns of nor’easters in sunny Southern Florida seemed like a grand idea!
Immediately, we switched gears from planning our cross country trip, to planning a 2-week vacation in Florida to give van life the old college try! With the intensity of a Category 5 hurricane, Lori plotted our projected path through the sunshine state, while I diligently searched for flights and a van to rent. I did not just want to co-habitate with Lori in the back of a bare metal cargo van, and scoured the internet in search of a viable alternative! Eventually I came across a company called Escape Campervans. Escape Campervans is a company which rents Ford cargo vans outfitted with a folding memory foam mattress, a table, bedding, 2-burner propane stove, sink with running water, refrigerator, cooking and eating utensils, picnic chairs and much more. The exterior of each van is a one of a kind work of art painted by a California artist. It appears as if I had found the right place, and they had a rental office in Miami!
Around the same time, Lori had just finished developing our agenda, and a our route through Southern Florida. After picking up our van in Miami, we would drive South to Key West via the Overseas Highway, drive back across Overseas Highway to visit Everglades National Park, drive up the West coast of the state to Tampa, straight across the peninsula through Kissimmee to Palm Bay, down the state's West coast through West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale and then return to Miami. According to Google maps, the trip would be 902 miles and take 16 hours and 34 minutes to complete.
The next day, Lori and I spoke with our respective bosses to secure our time off, and a month later, we were on a non-stop flight to Miami where our chariot awaited! Lori and I were quite excited about our vacation! Although, we were still 1 ½ years from departing on our year long cross country trip, our vacation to Florida would enable us to take van life for a test drive. It was as if we had been given a glimpse into our future! It was as if we had found a loop hole in the time space continuum. It felt as if we had found a way to cheat fate, or at the very least take a peek at the man behind the curtain! I must be honest; it all felt quite naughty!
After landing in Miami, we took an Uber to the Escapee rental office to pick up our van. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a friendly older gentleman who introduced himself as Leon. After processing our paperwork, he opened the back door of the office, and we exited to meet our van and home for the next two weeks! Her name was Bubblicious, and she was beautiful! Bubblicious was 2012 Ford E-150, 4.2L, low top, 8 cylinder van, with an automatic transmission, a 35-gallon fuel tank, a snazzy paint job, and her cargo area was outfitted with all the essentials necessary to sustain a nomadic life. Leon spent over an hour offering suggestions: for overnight parking, points of interest along our plotted path, and demonstrated how to fold out the bed, fill the water tanks, set up the table, draw the curtains, and much more! Soon thereafter, Leon handed me the keys to Bubblicious, and Lori and I hopped on in. I will never forget the sense of freedom I felt as I drove Bubblicious away. It was as if a burning wanderlust was suddenly released from deep within me after being held for decades in captivity. For the next 2 weeks, there was no clocks to punch, no call bells to answer, no patients to give pills, and no snow to shovel. My only job was to live and explore!
I wish I could say our first stop on our maiden voyage into van life was dramatic and memorable. Honestly, we were both starving, so we pulled into a Whole Foods across from the rental office for a healthy brunch. This was where I got my introduction to parking a 20-foot van in a very narrow parking lot. Lori stood behind Bubblicious, guiding us into the space, and directing opposing traffic. After 8 or so attempts and fury of “HONKS” from other motorists, I finally made it into that parking space! I wish could say my parking skills have gotten better with time, but Rosie still complains about how I leave her parked. She says the other vans laugh at her when she is outside of the white lines, or her derriere is stinking too far out.
There were two purposes to our South Florida van trip. The first was a much needed and long overdue vacation, and the second was to prove to ourselves whether or not we were cut out for van life. We had a very ambitious agenda, and a lot of road ahead of us to explore. Below are a few of the pictures of the stops during our 2 weeks of vanning in Southern Florida
Everglades National Park
Billie Bobs Airboat Rides
Lori held a baby Alligator, and got very close to the mommy gator.
Sea Turtle Hospital
The only Sea Turtle Hospital in North America complete with ambulances and emergency room.
Key West Sunset Festival
Key West Butterfly Conservatory
Rated #1 attraction in Key West by Trip Advisor.
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates
Please see additional pictures below of our first 2 weeks of van life.
After driving almost 1000 miles over 2 weeks in Southern Florida, Lori and I did quite well. We loved the sense of freedom van life afforded, and successfully cohabitated in a very compact space without driving each other crazy. We even made our first meal out of the back our van, and let me tell you our veggie wraps never tasted so good! Most importantly, Lori and I had proven to ourselves and to each other, we could not only survive, but thrive while living in a van. I still remember the exact moment where we came to this realization. On our way back to the Florida mainland from the Keys, we pulled off the highway to have breakfast at Bahia Honda State Park right on the Gulf of Mexico. Lori and I parked Bubblicious right at the edge of the beach with the windows down and all of her doors wide open. We both sat there with a big bowl of cereal in hand, staring at the oceans vastness, listening to the sound of the crashing waves, and feeling the sensation of a tropical breeze blow through the Bubblicious. My normal breakfast routine consisted of woofing down protein bars as I drove back from an overnight shift in the nursing home, to drop the car off to Lori, so she can also inhale her breakfast on her drive to work. Even something as simple as breakfast was an adventure when you live in a van! Please see the pictures below of Bubblicious at Bahia Honda State Park.
Although the date of departure for our year long cross country trip was still almost 2 years away, there was no longer any doubt in either of our minds we were well suited for van life. We were no longer fearful of our upcoming journey, and returned to Connecticut with a renewed vigor, and commitment to our upcoming trip. Although spending a year in a van offered infinite unknowns, there were two things we both now knew for certain. The 1st thing was in 1 ½ years time, we would be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime! The 2nd thing was there was absolutely no way we would be buying a low top Ford cargo van. 1 year later, we fell in love with our Rosie; a 2014 Dodge Ram High Top Promaster 2500 Cargo van with a V6, automatic transmission, a 21 gallon gas tank. We rescued her from Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY, and spent
2 months doing the conversion! That 's a whole another story from another time.