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If you join an online group, or watch YouTube videos about van dwelling it's easy to get the idea that the lifestyle is all beautiful sunsets, great food, friends, and adventures. But that's only a part of it...and generally a small part of it. It's the part people like to show others because the rest of van life can be aggravating, lonely, boring, and exhausting - especially if you're a solo camper.
You still have laundry, shopping, cooking, and unless you're staying long=term in a campground or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or boon docking, there's water to replenish, your porta-potty to empty, the van or car to clean and so on. You may be living the dream, but you're living it out of a vehicle and there are challenges to that!
Loneliness is the major threat to many women - especially older women whose children are grown, and the nest is empty. Chances are not a lot of your friends or family approve of your decision to live in your car, and they don't mind telling you that. It's hard to go from a house or apartment to being mobile when your friends aren't. It doesn't take many months of doing everything alone to feel even more isolated. That's why it's a good idea to start forming friendships online before you actually hit the road. That will give you a group of like-minded women to share your highlights, and your down moments with.
Look into joining organizations that have group caravans and events you can look forward to attending. Some groups are exclusive to women, others are all-inclusive:
Women Only Groups
While a vast majority of women's group include heterosexual, lesbian, and transgender women, there are a few faith based groups for women with a more conservative membership. Regardless of your religious, spiritual, or lifestyle choices, please don't make camping, RVing, and van dwelling into a hate-filled drama. We're all on a different path and should be left alone to pursue that path.
The groups below may have a lot of descriptive information, or not much, since I posted primarily according to the information I found on their websites. Please click on the name and explore the sites yourself if you want more information! Try searching the city/state/region where you're located for smaller, more local groups as well. There are hundreds of small groups - too many to list here - that can be found on FaceBook and other social media platforms. These are just to get you started.
Sisters On The Fly is the largest women's only outdoor group in the country. They have events all over the country, here's a list. They have different chapters for different parts of the country and the women who belong to SOF are very active and a fun group! Membership is $70 USD a year and grants you exclusive access to their conversations, calendar of events, activities, member directories and community of support. While most groups focus on the camping aspect of van dwelling, there are plenty of groups who like to talk about the living in your vehicle aspect. They sort of blend together, so find one who's culture and members best suit you.
RVing Women - http://www.rvingwomen.com/ RVing Women is a community of women who travel independently. Some are retired and travel full time. Others are still working and attend weekend rallies.
If you are new to RV travel, go to one of their rallies to see what they're all about. Meet other women, see their rigs, and hear how they travel. If you are more experienced, you can always learn more about driving and maintaining your RV. As you travel, use our member directory to find support. Founded in 1991, RVing Women is the only international support network solely for women RVers. They have more than 2,000 members so you're bound to find someone you can become friends with! Some members travel alone, and others pair up, or travel in small groups. Their interests are diverse, but they share the common cultural experience of being female. RVing Women chapters hold monthly rallies during the travel season. Each fall they have a national convention, rotated among eastern, middle, and western United States. RVing Women's events are restricted to women 18 and older. We want women to develop skills and friendships in that special atmosphere of a women-only space. Sometimes they use male instructors, technicians, or service providers who display positive and helpful attitudes toward women.
Solid Rock Outdoors Ministries - Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries (SROM) is a premier Christ-centered deep wilderness ministry. SROM’s mission, in the context of technical deep Christian wilderness expeditions, is to birth and grow mature Christ followers, sons and daughters of light who become loving and loyal disciples who make disciples of all nations. At SROM, the wilderness is a context for discipling sons and daughters of God to be influential leaders in their communities and circles of influence. Our programming activities include backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry cooking, alpine and backcountry living, and authentic community building. SROM's classes take place in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and desert southwest with courses and trips conducted in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona in locations such as Rocky Mountain National Park, Wind River Wilderness, and Grand Canyon National Park. According to their website, SROM is the only wilderness ministry accredited by the Association for Experiential Education. SROM is the only faith based organization to offer the industry leading Leave No Trace Master Educator Course. View our upcoming wilderness courses and get excited about your journey to become closer with God.
Outdoors With Her - If you love the outdoors and the idea of hitting the road in a van, RV, or SUV or car to hike, fish, hunt, and camp, this may be a great place to start. Not really an organization, this site was created in 2016 by Pennsylvania native Laurel Monaghan. Laurel is an avid angler, hunter and travel connoisseur and wants to meet and share her adventures with like-minded women. Laurel's vision behind Outdoors with Her was to merge fly fishing, hunting, and traveling into one platform. Whether it's fishing, hiking, or hunting, by sharing her adventures and love for the outdoors, Laurel's greatest hope is to inspire others, giving them the confidence to get on the water and in the field.
Women on the Road - This is a website/blog by Leyla, a woman who has traveled the world solo since she was 15 years old. She has a deep collection of articles, tips, insights, and a newsletter with information for the newbie as well as the experienced traveler.
Women's Camp - Women's Camp is just what it sounds like, a camp for women who missed out on, or miss the experience of "going to camp." What began as a retreat for Maine Girl Scout leaders over 30 years ago has evolved into an adventure open to all women, 18 years of age and older. They hold seasonal camping events at affordable prices ($45 a night, about the cost of staying at most campgrounds) so you can get away from it all, guilt free! To keep costs low, their events are held at Girl Scout properties. Most are complete with indoor and outdoor sleeping accommodations, hot showers and lots of activities. Your camp fee includes lodging, meals and some activities like arts and crafts, canoeing, book club, hiking, singing, relaxing, camp fires, and card and table games. Planned activities may vary with each event but no matter what, there is always something for everyone.
The Women's Wilderness Institute - If you're traveling with a daughter(s) you might want to check these women out. They're an outdoor how-to group, so you can take classes and learn to do the wilderness/camping things you may not have picked up on before deciding to hit the road.
All Inclusive - Groups for men, women, families
Van Dwelling Meetup Groups - This site truly is dedicated to VAN dwellers. This website lists all the meetup groups around the county that cater to vandwellers of all ages, genders, and lifestyles.
Escapees - I've been a member of Escapees since almost the year it began! They are one of the best organizations out there and I highly recommend them. They're your "community on the road." They offer everything from mail forwarding services, roadside assistance, rallies, classes, and anything related to living the RV lifestyle. The Escapees RV Club is also one of the oldest, largest and most loved RV membership organizations in the world. They provide a total support network for all RVers, regardless of their travel style, type of RV, or experience level. Escapees are united by their shared love of travel and exploration. They like being independent, self-reliant, and sometimes even a little unconventional. They believe in sharing their knowledge and experience, and caring for our fellow members. And most importantly, they enjoy being part of a community of like-minded folks.
Don't Wait to Buy a Van - Use What You Have
So, if you're just getting started, don't sink a lot of money into your set-up. Like many women, if you're forced into living in your car because of financial issues, homelessness, escaping an abusive situation, or just taking time out to decide how you want to live, the minimalist approach is best. You can actually get all the things you need to start van/vehicle dwelling for $100 or less.
Mattress or cot or bed $15 to $30.
Cooler $10-$30 (look around at flea markets, garage sales, and Facebook Marketplace for used ones)
Porta-potty $FREE to $30. This can be a 5-gallon bucket, or a more elaborate porta potty like the Reliance (above).
Pillow and sheets $5 - $20 (use what you have or check Goodwill)
Sleeping bag $20 - $40 Walmart, Goodwill, or use what blankets etc. you already have.
You can also use Rubbermaid or other bins and tubs to hold your clothes and food/cooking items. Don't worry about getting everything you need before you hit the road. All you really need is a comfortable bed and covers/pillow. You can add items as you find them, and as you need them. You'll eventually want to have window covers so you can sleep/live in your van in a stealthy fashion, but take your time. Go to YouTube and search for "vandwelling" to see what others have done with their vans. Some $10 black sheets from Walmart will cover the entire interior of any vehicle if cut into the right shape/size. You can use cardboard cut to size and spray painted black on one side (or covered with fabric) if you're really on a budget.
The whole point is, just get out there and do it. Even if you just drive down the street to try sleeping in your car in the local Walmart, or going to a nearby state park where you park in your car in an official camping area, just go! See if you like it. See what you need. The important thing is, you're out there!