Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Louisiana and beyond

I had a great time in Louisiana but I have to say I've never driven on such terrible roads. I'm always looking for a place that screams home and even though I enjoyed myself in New Orleans it isn't on my list of places I would stay. The whole state is messy with garbage and I didn't feel 100% safe walking around. I don't understand why people need to throw their litter all over the place. It's one thing that has bothered me throughout this whole trip. Even in national parks, I can be standing in the most spectacular landscape and at my feet is a discarded bottle or can. If I had one constant gripe while traveling it would be that.

Driving out of New Orleans you can still see the remnants of both hurricane Katrina and hurricane Isaac. Off to the side of I-10 I saw a whole business area which looked abandoned so I decided to investigate. There was a theater, some office buildings and department stores all smashed and boarded up. This is what I saw.

After leaving there I came across an abandoned hospital. The doors were wide open and the place was completely empty. I had a conversation with someone about the ethics of being an urban explorer. It's an unwritten rule that you enter and leave a place without disturbing anything. I hate to see people destroying a place but on the other hand I do love the graffiti. In the case of this place it made it all the more photogenic.

Now I'm in Florida and about to take a break from the first lag of my trip to work on some pieces to send home to Argyle Fine Art. I am looking forward to staying put for a while and working on the hundreds of photographs I've taken in the last three months. It has all become a bit of a blur but I know memories will come flooding back as I go through and edit what I've recorded. I continue to thank my lucky stars for the life I am leading and don't take a single day for granted.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Trusting my gut and staying safe.

I get asked a lot if there have been times I've felt unsafe or threatened and I can honestly say I can count the times on one hand. In three months of travel I have accepted help from a lot of people and only turned down a couple. I  may have missed out on great opportunities by declining an offer but as the saying goes, I would rather be safe than sorry.

Friends have told me they don't know if they could be as trusting as I am but when you are traveling and living from moment to moment I think you may surprise yourself. The kindness of strangers is always surprising and my first instinct is often to back away and say no thanks. I have learned if I take a moment to listen to what I am being offered and watch body language I can tell if it's a threatening situation or not. Sometimes it's just a small doubt in the back of my mind that doesn't dissipate during the conversation. Like I said, I may judge wrong but so far I have trusted my gut and have had no problems whatsoever.

I think the first time I declined an offer for a shower and place to stay was from a Norwegian man I came across in Texola, Texas. We were heading to the same place and he already had a room booked there. He offered for me to meet up with him, have dinner and a shower. I did take his phone number but didn't contact him. I wasn't comfortable meeting someone at a hotel to take a shower. This seems like a no-brainer but honestly if I had a better vibe I would have gone. Most of me thought it would be harmless but that small voice disagreed. So, I didn't accept.

In Indiana, I was offered a room in a motel-turned-apartments. I stopped to take photos of the motel's neon sign and the owner just happened to be there. He struck up a conversation with me and I learned all about his family and how he came to own the motel. When he learned what I am doing he offered me a vacant room for the night. My caution voice was there then too but it was different. I have learned over the last three months the different levels of gut instincts. It's natural to be guarded with strangers. We have been told our whole lives to be careful of strangers, don't talk to strangers etc. so I think we are always a bit guarded. I have found there is a difference between my natural, ingrained defensiveness with strangers and the serious warning voice. It takes time to recognize the difference but my general rule is if the voice is accompanied by a gut feeling I decline and move on, possibly missing out on something but possibly avoiding a dangerous situation.

In Louisiana, I made a goal of photographing the abandoned Six Flags park in New Orleans. I drove around the park and scouted out where I could park that would be far enough away not to draw attention to it. I ended up leaving my van a lot farther away than I thought. I began walking and right away a car turned around with a young guy and girl and their dog in the back.  They came to ask if I had broken down and needed a ride somewhere. I immediately sized them up, looking around the car and studying their faces. I told them where I was heading and they offered me a ride. I took it. There was nothing out of the ordinary there and I felt no threat at all. On the way back to my van a guy in a beat up truck offered to drive me and I declined. I still don't know why I did but 'no thanks' came out of my mouth before I even thought about it. Sometimes it just happens that way and I don't question it.

Yesterday I decided to take a walk through the French Quarter during the day to take some photographs. Just as I crossed the street I saw two porta potties, but they were both locked. From out of nowhere a guy approaches me and wants to lead me to a hotel where I can use their bathrooms. I feel like he might be a hustler but there are so many people around I follow him. He tells me where I can find a free Thanksgiving dinner, free showers and free places to stay. He has only been in Nola for a few months and has learned the ropes. For the 3 minutes I am walking with him I am studying his face, the road names and all the shops around me. I have my hand on my purse the entire time as well. When he points to the hotel I thank him for his help and walk in the direction of the door. As I approach I can see there are door men holding the door for people and the car pulling up, filled with people who are checking in, looks pretty normal. I was thinking he was leading me to something sketchy and it actually turned out to be a nice place and a much needed pee break. I'm not saying he's not a hustler though. I met him later in the streets and he said, 'Where are you going? I'm trying to hook up with you". I simply responded with a very stern NO and he politely left me alone.

I would never suggest there aren't bad people out there but I am saying that it would be a great thing if we all just let our guard down a little and trusted more. Learning to trust your voice of caution and studying your surroundings is the best defense you have. Not being afraid to be forceful with language is another thing I've learned. Who cares if I offend some person I will never see again if it keeps me safe. I love people and my trip would be nothing without the interactions with them. In the end, they need to trust me as well. The people who have taken me into their homes or made dinner for me don't know me from Adam either so they are also taking a risk.  Thank heavens they take a chance on me because they have helped shape this journey more than they know.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Abandoned Six Flags in New Orleans.

Six Flags Amusement Park in New Orleans was so badly flooded during Hurricane Katrina it has been abandoned ever since.

A bit of history:
The park first opened under the name "Jazzland" in 2000 but it wasn't profitable so in 2001 the lease was put up for sale and in March of 2002, Six Flags purchased the lease.  The last day the park operated was August 21, 2005. Weekday operations ended a couple weeks before due to the fact schools start early in August in that region and end mid-May. The park was scheduled to open August 27 and August 28 as usual but once Katrina was forecast late on Friday to directly hit New Orleans, the weekend opening was cancelled in order to prepare for the storm and begin evacuations. After the park's drainage pumps failed during the storm, the berm retained the combination of rainwater and sea water overflow from Lake Pontchartrain caused by Katrina's massive storm surge, submerging the entire park grounds in corrosive, brackish floodwater to a depth of 4–7 feet. The floodwater was not drained for over a month. Due to the damage received, the park was closed indefinitely with no plans to reopen. (text taken from Wikipedia)

By the time I arrived it was pretty far gone. It’s been vandalized repeatedly and much of the decorations of the park have been piled up in heaps of sad garbage. Being in there was an adrenaline rush. The decrepit rides and buildings made noises in the wind and I kept thinking I heard voices. In the end, my only company was birds and flies. Many people have amazing photographs of this place. I had the opportunity to be there far after it’s prime of beautiful abandonment but I still feel like I made one other little dream come true. I read about the park just after the hurricane and have never forgotten it but I never actually thought I would get the chance to be there. Another check on my list!
turnstile booth closed attractions
IMGP0237 arcade
games IMGP0048
IMGP0046 geeks get away car
junk pile1 animal pile
ferris and red thing broken balloon
bumper dog and register tape
colored walls funhouse entrance
kids swing swings
come and slides risk 1
yosemite sam french quarter

Monday, November 19, 2012

What the hell is hashing?

If you aren't familiar with couchsurfing, it's a website where people offer to host travelers. I decided to give it a try when I knew I was going to be in New Orleans. I thought it would be a great way to see the city from a locals perspective and it would be much safer than trying to find a place to park on the streets. I'm really glad I did.

Pat answered my request and I have been parked in his backyard since Friday. Having Okie made it a bit harder to find a host and even Pat can't have animals in his place but that's the advantage to having my bed on wheels. I don't need to sleep in the house but now I have access to power and showers again, as well as having someone who is really fun to show me around.

On Saturday he asked if I want to go hashing with him. I had no idea what that was but am almost always up for something new. It sounds really silly when it is described but I'll give it a go anyway. A group of people get together and race through a trail trying to catch the hare; a person designated to run from the pack. Beer is a big part of the whole event, with one stop in the middle of it to break and drink beer. People can drink anywhere in Louisiana, in fact if you have a beer in a bar and want to go somewhere else before it's finished there's a guy at the door to give you a "to-go cup" so you can take it with you. No glass is allowed on the streets.

This particular hash took place in a swamp. It was muddy, full of thorns and swampland and ridiculously fun. These people are absolutely nuts and incredibly nice. Once everyone is out of the trail a circle of individuals is formed where people are called into the middle for various 'offenses' and are ordered to do a 'down-down'. A cup of beer is filled and you have to drink the whole thing at once. Whatever you can't drink goes over your head. Being my first hash I was the virgin. I was nervous about what they might make me do but I think they took it easy on me. Then there's food and a bonfire. Not all of the hashes are like this. Some of them take place in the city and don't involve camping, fires or fireworks like this one did. I've been told they are usually much more tame than this one was so I'm awfully glad my first one was the craziest group.

I have met so many great people here in such a short time and can hardly keep up with any of them! I think I'll stay for a little while longer. There are many abandoned places for me to photograph and I'm in a safe and welcoming place so why wouldn't I take advantage of this time? My life is pretty great right now!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The more I see the more things look the same.

The more I drive the more each town looks alike. I don’t necessarily mean the old centers of town but the surrounding areas. Each town or city is surrounded by the same big box stores all over America. They are all familiar as I see them taking over the outskirts of my home town as well. Home Depot, Walmart and all the common fast food places like McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King are the familiar facades I see every day and they are always busy. The marked “Historic Downtowns” are often quiet with few shops open. In Truth or Consequences, NM, I walked the quiet streets looking at all the vacant storefronts and saw very few people. This is pretty common in my experience. Drive a bit outside of the downtown and there are all the people in their vehicles, loading up on what they “need” from the big department stores.

I don’t go into cities very often, preferring to stay in the countryside and in small towns where I hope to get a more ‘authentic’ feel for the place. It’s a struggle when I’m in a city like New Orleans, where I will be later today, to find the less touristy places. In an attempt to experience the real Nola (what locals call New Orleans) I have found a host through Couchsurfing. It’s my first time using this site but I have heard many good things about it. The guy who has agreed to let me park in his carport is a thrift store junkie like me and he has offered to take me yard-saling tomorrow. I’m not against doing the touristy things and will be sure to see the French Quarter and take in some of the common sights but I also want to get behind the scenes a little.

In the same vein I wanted very badly to go on a swamp tour, a very touristy thing indeed. I called ‘A Cajun Swamp Man’ whom I got a pamphlet for at the tourist bureau. He wasn’t going out that day and gave me the number for Jimmy. I just happened to pull into the restaurant he launches the tour from and was lucky to be about 20 minutes early. I’m really glad it turned out the way it did because he was not only cheaper but had a much smaller boat with only seven people going. Turns out the other tour holds up to 40 people! I, of course, was the only person there traveling alone. I encounter this all the time and have learned to accept people asking where the other part of my party is. In fact, when I called they booked me in for two people.

The tour lasted about 2.5 hours and was a mere $15. Jimmy was a great guide and told us stories of his parents hunting and trapping snakes and gators for a living in the 1950s. They used very simple tools. They would go out in a flat bottomed canoe and he used a long pole to find the gators on the bottom. When he found one he’d poke and prod at it until it was angry enough to come to the surface at which time she would kill it by a hatchet to the head. Back then they were only killed for their hides so if it was too big to put in the boat they’d skin it there and throw the rest back. And if that wasn’t dangerous enough she also hunted snakes with her bare hands!

Although it isn’t alligator season we did manage to witness two of them sunning themselves by the banks of the swamp. We also saw many turtle and an amazing array of birds. I didn't quite see what I imagined I would and am going to continue looking for other swamp tours. I was hoping to get deeper in and see the huge trees growing out of the water. Still, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

 I ended the day with a big bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo at the Bayou Delight restaurant. I asked the waitress if she knew a place I could park for the night and she suggested a little spot down the road. I was worried I'd get asked to move but I didn't. I slept by a river under some hanging moss trees. It was a lovely spot.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What do I want?

Before I left home someone asked me what I hoped to get from this trip. At the time I think I said I wanted freedom and the time to be creative; to see what I'm made of.

After spending the night at the Big Thicket RV Park Okie and I went for a three hour walk in the Big Thicket National Preserve just north of Beaumont, Texas. I had been driving all day from Austin and really wanted a place to cook supper, have a shower and fall asleep. I found a pamphlet at the tourist bureau for this RV Park and decided to head for it, seeing as it would be close to our walk the next day. Well, this is one for the books. I found the place and as I drove in I noticed a lot of barbed wire around the office building, which was really their house. A small sign saying office lead me up the stairs to the front door. Arlene greeted me and I couldn't help but ask, why all the barbed wire? She said it was all forest there when they were building their house and people were stealing their supplies so they put up the fence. Then, in almost the same breath, she said it was there when they got there. I didn't press matters any further. I was too tired, hungry and dirty to care. She told me the showers haven't been open for a while so she'd have to open it for me. She very kindly swept the bugs out of the shower stall and I supplied my own toilet paper. What can I say? I live in a van, I have low standards!
Office surrounded by barbed wire.
 So, back to our morning walk. There was only one other car there when I arrived and I didn't run into the driver and his dog until we were on our way back to the van. We had three blissful hours to ourselves in the woods. It was so quiet. The morning air was chilly but it warmed up over the day. I absolutely LOVE going for walks/hikes with Okie off-leash. It makes for a much better time for both of us. She stays with me, either walking ahead or falling behind but always waiting or catching up. She stops when I do and waits for me to take my photos before continuing on.
Looking forward to seeing a swamp but the water left.

Okie waits for me to take photos.
I can't even express how happy that makes me. Recognizing that, I started to think about what else makes me happy. Would this give me the answer to what I want to get out of this?

So, number one is easy. I am happiest walking in the woods/trail with Okie, coffee in hand and camera on shoulder. I am happiest when I have the space and time to work on my art. I am happiest when I am traveling. I am happiest when I feel like I'm actively participating in my life instead of following routine and being a slave to my alarm clock. When I have finished this journey, if I finish, I want to be sure of what I want next. If I look at the happiest places in my mind I can see myself in a small house in the country, but close to a city, with a studio space, a couple of dogs and lots of nature to walk in. Oh, and the ability to travel when I need to find inspiration. Sounds ideal doesn't it?

If there's one thing I've learned it's that I can make things happen if I want them bad enough. There's nothing wrong with setting my sights on another goal (when I'm ready) that seems completely out of my reach. I didn't always believe I could pull this off but working towards it and making it reality has been a major accomplishment in my life. Hard work, sacrifice and patience is all I need.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Love affair with Austin, TX

I ended up in Austin on a whim. I left Carlsbad Caverns (really amazing by the way) and headed down to the I-10. It didn't take me long to get bored of the rushing 80 mile (130km) speed limit on the endless straight road that vanished on the horizon. I looked at the map and saw Austin was to the north and I could take a few secondary highways to get there. A friend had told me the city has a great music and art scene so I thought, what the hell.

Consequently those highways were just as dull but they did occasionally cross through a small town posted to have 1000 people or so but all I could see was the odd closed gas station or abandoned corner store. Texas is big! I pretty much had no interest in this state until I hit Austin. Now I'm in love.

 I found my way to an RV spot but they were all full for the night. A woman who lived there advised me to park on the side street, "people do it all the time" she said. So I have  been using that street as my home base for the past couple of nights and it's great because it's free! It's also parked next to a food camper serving crepes. It's nice to let the van stay put for a while and take a break from driving. It is within walking distance to the coffee shop I'm in now, a market and a huge off-leash dog park where Okie can pretend to be tough and then run under my feet if another dog shows interest. This has to be the most dog friendly place I've ever been and I it's really easy to meet people in the park with her. She's very social with people but not so great yet with dogs. We're working on that.

Austin seems like a very vibrant and friendly city. Everyone is out either jogging, biking or walking their dog. They are big supporters of the local food movement and are some of the friendliest people I've ever met. People actually smile at you when you walk by. Ok, it's probably Okie they are smiling at but that works too. Everyone I've met so far is from somewhere other than Austin. When I ask them why they moved here the answer is always something o the effect of, "It's a live-and-let-live place. Everyone is really relaxed". Unfortunately I can see some changes coming with the 100+ people I was told move here every week...or was it day? Anyway, growth of a city like this may not be the best thing, but that's how things go.

And here's the strange part. To add to the many crazy cosmic-like things that have happened to me on this trip I had a pretty cool thing happen last night. I was looking for the east area of town to visit some studios as part of their East End Art Tour. I got slightly turned around and ended up on a very lively street full of bars, shops and food trucks. Then this loud big band swing music floats up from down the street so I headed towards it. It was an event linked with an art tour put on by the Bagavagabonds. I won't bother getting into all the details of what these guys from LA did (click on the link) but it was pretty great. There was music, drink and art from local artists, all free! What they did raise from the auction of the local work was being donated to charity. And the theme of the show? Migration! It was all about artists traveling. I mean, seriously!? I immediately met Amanda who was working there and I blurted out my story to her ending with, "isn't it amazing I should end up at this event?" She agreed and became my partner in crime for the night. There was lots of beer to be had and I had a great time spending $0.

I met a couple of the members of the Bagavagabonds and our conversations left me with lots to think about. I barely slept. I am very inspired by what they put together and am so fortunate to have stumbled upon them on this trip.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Long highways make for deep thought

It's not always possible to avoid driving the interstates, unless you are driving something that can do back roads and dirt roads. If you've been following my trip you already know I can't go off-roading in my van or I have to dig myself out. Lately between destinations I have been driving long, straight highways that vanish far off on the horizon. Seventeen miles looks a lot further when you can actually see your destination on the flat landscape.

I love driving so I have that to my advantage, but even I get a little stir crazy when there's not much to see and the road goes on forever. One can only play drums on the steering wheel or have one-sided conversations with your dog for so many hours. So, I have a lot of time to think. Recently I have been contacted by a couple of magazines who want to do stories about my travels and the Barter Van. The questions they ask have given me lots to think about and reflect on. A common question is what has been my favorite experience so far. There's not one experience in particular that I like more than others. It comes down to the people I've met and how those interactions have helped shape my journey. I have always been a bit of a loner but without the social interaction and kindness of strangers it would be a completely different trip. I actually met someone once who told me they don't care about what other people do or think. I was kind of floored by that! I can't get enough of other peoples stories and have been accused of talking too much to cashiers and waitresses. I have been lucky to meet, and still be in touch with, so many wonderful individuals.

Time goes by so quickly. I can't believe I've been on the road for nine weeks already. It's a bit of a blur. In all my conversations everyone agrees that time goes by too quickly. When people ask why I finally made the decision I tell them it's about time. There's no telling I will make it to be elderly and there's no time like the present. I think I've always had this preoccupation with the passing of time and growing old. It's what propels me to do things now as opposed to waiting. I've had a number of emails and conversations with older people who commend me for doing what I'm doing and wishing they had. As much as I wish they had of too, selfishly it just reaffirms what I'm doing.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the bartering idea. The van starts conversations with people about bartering and it helps. I considered taking the magnets off until I've made some new pieces to trade and have a new way of approaching it but I like that it makes people ask questions. I still have a lot of questions myself about it but I haven't given up. As I watch my bank account dwindle I know I'm going to have to make it work. I'm just stubborn enough to make it happen.

So, I leave now to drive what's been described as one of the longest, straightest and most dull stretches of highway yet. I wish I could have an inner tape recorder to record my thoughts for further posts. I do my best thinking while staring at the lines on the road....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Phoenix, AZ to Roswell, NM

My time in Phoenix was both great and shitty. I was there for a total of nine days and in that time my bank card got shredded, I had to put my van in the shop, was painfully ill for 3 days and I caught a little boy throwing rocks at Okie. I also ate some delicious food, drank at an old tiki bar and dressed up for Halloween to watch a friends band play. I lived both in my van and in my friends house and was starting to get used to having power and hot water readily available.

I left Phoenix on Sunday and drove to Saguaro National Park where I hoped to camp for the night. I watched the sun set behind the very distant mountains surrounding the valley town. Okie and I went for a little dusk stroll along one of the park trails. I don’t know if it’s because of the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons but I love the look of the big saguaro cacti, especially the silhouettes of them against the darkening sky. Upon our return to the van a policeman/ranger  greeted me with news of my needing to move on for the night. John was one of the nicest cops I’d encounteredt. We chatted for a while about my trip and his travels with his career and when we parted he told me he was impressed with my choice. Nice man. I ended up sleeping at a Travel Stop gas station off the I-10 in

I drove for most of the next day.  My goal was to make it to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. I chose to take the scenic route through the Gila National Forest. I love driving through National Forests because they seem to always contain tree covered mountains which gives me a break from seeing desert all the time. As a person from a coastal town I miss water when I’m not around it for a long time. Before I started driving around the desert I had romantic notions of the desert landscape. I still love it and all it’s variety but I also need to see water every once in a while and don’t think I could ever settle somewhere without it. This is why I wanted to camp at Elephant Butte Lake. That and  I’ve never seen a desert lake.
EB lake 1 EB lake 3
EB lake2
"little bastards"
The one thing that annoys me to no end about going for walks, either on the beach, in the woods or on the side of the road, is what I refer to as “you little bastards”. Since Oklahoma I have been combating these devil plants, trying to keep them out of both mine and Okie’s feet. The route I chose to walk down to the water today was swarming with them and we both ended up with them stabbing at the bottoms of our feet. Once we got closer to the shore they disappeared but for a short distance I opted to carry Okie. One jabbed into her pad so deep it drew blood. When she steps on one she stops, raises her paw and looks at me. I go over and grab her paw to remove it and as I do she gently bites my thumb as if to say “Owe! But thanks!”. I can’t wait until I’m somewhere they cease to grow!

After our painful but beautiful walk we jumped in the van and got ready to head towards Roswell. I mean, who can be this close and not detour there? As I went to start the van I noticed a piece of paper on my windshield. Hmm, what could this be? A $3000 fine for being in a state park without paying?! I stupidly took my stub out of the window when I left the my campsite. I calmly explained the situation to the woman at the exit booth and she took it back saying she’ll fix it. Man! Can you imagine? It’s only a $300 fine if you get caught throwing litter out of your vehicle but $3000 if you visit a state park without paying. Wow.

Anyways, after driving through places like Truth or Consequences (named after a 1950s game show, formerly Hot Springs) and Lincoln (home of the last stand of Billy The Kid) I am now in Roswell. I’ve come into town just at dark so I plan to sleep in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s not my first choice but it’ll do every now and then. Tomorrow I'll explore Roswell and its kitschy alien gift shops. So far it looks like any other town with it’s Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, Burger King, Home Depot etc, except their McDonald’s is shaped like a UFO.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Living in a van full-time.

I've been a bit slack on the updates but it's because I have been staying put in Phoenix for the last four days or so. I foolishly left my bank card in an ATM and the bank shredded it. I've been playing the waiting game at my friends place for it's replacement so I can continue on my way. In the meantime, I will share this potentially boring, hopefully informative post.

When I tell people I'm living in a van they are very eager to see the inside. When I show them they are often surprised that I have everything I need. I was talking to someone the other day who has spent quite a bit of time living in vans and we both experience lots of questions about the everyday practicalities of living in a van full time. I thought since my site says it's also about the van-dwelling lifestyle I should dedicate a post to it.

Before I left I was a night person, going to bed between 12am and 2am but since being on the road my bedtime arrives much earlier. I tend to start looking for a place to sleep around dinner time. I don't care to drive after the sun sets because I can't see what I may be passing by. We pull into our spot for the night, be it an RV park or the side of the road, I feed Okie and myself and then if my laptop is powered up I go through my photos from the day. If that's not an option I read or write or often just sit with Okie in silence.

The mornings have virtually the same routine as home except now I spend a good 10 minutes snuggling and playing with Okie before we have to venture out into the cold. Then it's coffee for me and breakfast for her. I have a small portable butane stove and an old perk coffee pot which I either set up outside or, if I'm not somewhere I can do that, put it on the floor of the van with the doors open. There have been times finding the butane cartridges has been difficult so I've had to rig up my propane BBQ to perk my oh-so-necessary morning brew.  It turns out the pot won't perk if its just placed on the BBQ so I had to use tinfoil to concentrate the heat under the pot. It will work but it uses up a lot of propane. I have learned to drink my coffee black.... and often cold.
It is impossible to keep the floor clean. Every morning while the coffee is brewin' I tidy up. I did the same thing when I had an apartment. I put everything back in it's proper place and sweep the floor. I enter and exit the side doors so frequently that I bring in all the dirt, sand, mud and whatever little bits of nature that decides to attach itself to my shoes. I always have a small cloth hanging by the door to wipe Okie's feet off and to wipe everything off the floor and out the door. Every little thing has to have it's own spot in the van and if too many items are out of place it makes my home messy quickly. I have one shelf for food an another for dishes and such. Under the bed is the largest storage space where I keep towels and bedding, extra shoes and sneakers, BBQ, fold-up chair and table and extra supplies. Often, when I have to get to something it involves moving other items out of the way. I've gotten used to having to shuffle things around and arranging stuff so the most often used is the easiest to get to.

My food is kept in the fridge, of course, but I seldoml have power so I buy a bag of ice every day or two to keep it working like an icebox. I keep it modestly stocked so nothing goes to waste. I am now thinking I need to attach a bungee cord around the front of the fridge. Many times while driving the door has flung open sending various items tumbling out. It is important to always put the heavier things, like a jug of water, on the bottom shelf because it seems to stay put better. Just recently I absentmindedly put a jug back in on the second shelf and it came flying out on a sharp left turn sending water all over the place. It's quite hazardous when trying to keep your eyes on the road.

The sink has two containers under it; one full of water for doing dishes and the other empty to catch the drainage. I have to keep an eye on the drainage jug because if it spills over it is a disgusting, smelly mess. Think of cold, greasy, rotting food-water. It will only overflow once and you will never neglect it again. The clean water jug gets filled up any time I stay at an RV park. I recently bought a small hose so when I have the opportunity to hook up I have running water through the taps instead of using the little pumping arm to bring the water up from the jug through a smaller spout. On the counter I have fastened, with strong double-sided tape, a basket to store bread, bananas granola bars and other food stuffs which don't fit in my food cupboard. If I sit on my toilet, which has a cover making it look like a little ottoman, I can prepare meals on the counter. If I could change one thing about my van it would be the height of the ceiling. I didn't think I would mind not being able to stand but I am a tall girl and bending over all the time hurts the back.

I was never good at cleaning the bathroom when I had an apartment but I would take that any day over dealing with my portable toilet. RV parks and some gas stations provide dump sites for my Campa Potti. It is in two sections, the top one needs to be filled with water for flushing and the bottom partly filled with a cleaner/deodorizer added. I use it as little as possible but I'm very happy I have it.
I believe the bed is queen size which allows for the large amount of storage space under it but it is much larger than I need for me and the little one. I use half of the bed, against the back doors, to keep two suitcases for my clothes and dirty laundry bag. I had intentions of doing laundry in the van using the natural movement of the van while driving to agitate a bucket of soapy water. I read about this method in Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" and thought it was a great idea, however, I've never gotten myself organized enough to do it that way. I've been using laundromats, campgrounds and peoples houses. I have a clothes line in the back, stretching from one side of the van to the other where I hang my jackets and sweaters. The same line is also used to dry my wet towel after taking a shower. Before I left I bought a solar shower bag I planned on using but haven't used it yet. Instead, I have paid as little as $.50 and as much as $5.00 for a shower. In between having access to a shower I take bird-baths at gas stations and truck stops. I will never take cleanliness for granted ever again. A person only needs to go three days without a proper shower for it to feel like heaven when you finally get one.

At the fear of making this post too long I think I'll stop here. Maybe I have left out some details. If you have any other questions about my day-to-day life traveling and living in a van don't hesitate to ask. Thanks for stopping by.