To GPS or not to GPS

I guess it was time.  Maps are getting harder and harder to find.  Although, after a couple of weeks with “Naggy” (as we’ve named it), I’m still not fully sold on our new Garmin GPS.  I think it’s really more that I resent needing it… but deep inside, I know that it’s become a necessity in today’s world.

Living this simple (and modest) lifestyle these days, we’re always on our guard against acquiring things.  After all, when you’re living in a van, you just don’t have room for extra “stuff.”  What we do have has to be deliberate, functional and practical.

Granted, by most people’s standards, a GPS falls in that category.

We decided on a lower-end version of the GPS, as we really don’t care about all the bells and whistles. (Remember, we’re aiming for a simplified lifestyle… not one filled with modern complications.)  We wanted something that would: 1) tell us where we are if we get lost, 2) help us find our way to our destination.  That’s all we needed.  Of course, it came with a few other features, but we haven’t really used them yet.


(This is the version of GPS we purchased – click the image to see pricing,)

Our first experience with “Naggy” was a bit frustrating, but offered some good “lessons.”  First off, it didn’t come with instructions.  It would seem that you have to download the instruction manual from the web.  Now, that might not seem like a big deal to most people.  But, we were on the road when we bought it.  We don’t have “fancy phones” so our internet access is limited.  To say that this was frustrating is a bit of an understatement.

First lesson:  If you’re buying an electronic item while traveling, plan to have/find internet access shortly thereafter (if you’d like to have the instruction manual available).

Our next destination was a free camping spot near Pensacola.  The campground’s a park on Florida Fish & Wildlife land, and we weren’t sure what it was going to be like.  Additionally, we weren’t yet comfortable with the GPS.  So we did some internet research ahead of time, and noted the GPS coordinates for the campground.

As a backup, we wrote down actual directions from the free camping website that introduced us to the campground.  We’re so very glad we did.  By the time we were near the campground, it was dark. The main road nearest to the campground was under construction and wasn’t well lit.  Access to the side roads was sketchy, to say the least.  Our GPS kept trying to rout us to roads that weren’t there, or that we couldn’t get to.

IMG_2175

The packed sand road to the campground.

So, we followed the written directions instead.  Once off the main road, the secondary road was packed sand.  The GPS still tried to route us through side roads – but these roads were unmaintained and sandy.  (Keep in mind that this driving was all happening after dark in an area we’d not been before. )  Had we taken any of those routes, I’m convinced we would’ve ended up stuck in in the sand in a remote section of the jungle (in the middle of the night).  This is what earned it the name “Naggy.”

garmin misdirection

The Garmin directing us to take an unmaintained sandy road into the jungle.

Lesson Two:  It’s a good idea to have backup (written) directions, especially if you’re traveling to a remote area that’s unfamiliar.  

Lesson Three:  Don’t just follow the GPS’s instructions blindly.  Assess the situation.  They’re not always right.  If what it’s directing you to do looks questionable or risky, you might consider an alternate route.

All that said, we have used the GPS more, and have found it handy under most circumstances.  I don’t like Naggy, but I’m glad we have it.

BUT, we still (and will likely always) prefer printed maps.  Our favorite is by far the Delorme Gazetter maps (one map book per state). Click the image below for pricing and info.

They’re very detailed and have nearly every road you could imagine shown for the entire state. We’re working on acquiring a full set, based on the states we travel to.  (But that’s going to take a while.) Plus, with so many printed items going “out of print,” we want to have a set before they disappear.  They’re a good backup, and give you confidence and a sense of independence when you’re on the road.

Car Won’t Start? This Easy Roadside Fix Might Work

Bypass the Solenoid, if Your Car Won’t Start

With our gypsy living lifestyle, we’re often traveling (or staying) in remote places where the nearest auto mechanic is far, far away.  As you might imagine, the need to learn about fixing our vehicles is an important part of our new life.  (We are aspiring to be as independent as possible, after all!)

Thanks to a recent necessity, we learned all about our van’s starter solenoid. It was a good lesson, and one worth sharing in case it helps you.  The solenoid is an inexpensive part (around $10 or so for a replacement part from an automotive parts store) that you can easily replace yourself.  The solenoid acts as a bridge that transfers electricity from the battery to the starter. (The car only uses it when you’re trying to start the vehicle.)  So, if you try to start your car but it won’t turn over, it might be that the solenoid’s gone bad.

As it was explained to us, there’s a sort of logical trail you follow to see where the trouble is.

First, make sure that your battery isn’t the trouble. You’ll know this by trying to jump start the car.  If the jump start doesn’t work, then it might be the solenoid that’s bad.  If you have a battery gauge, you can check to see what amount of charge your battery has instead of jump starting it.  The battery should have at least 12.5 volts, for the battery to start the car.  If your battery is below that, try jump starting the car.

If that’s not it, time to try something else.

If the car doesn’t make any noise at all when you turn the key (no clicking, etc.) there’s a good chance that the solenoid has gone bad.  (If you hear clicking, it’s probably either the starter or alternator that’s the problem, at least as it was told to us.)

The hardest part in this whole process for us was finding the solenoid.  It wasn’t where the vehicle’s repair manual said it should be.  It wasn’t where the nice fellow at the automotive parts store said it could be.  It wasn’t where the references online for our vehicle said it should be.

How to Find the Solenoid:

Instead, we recommend saving yourself time and frustration by finding the solenoid this way:

  1. Locate the vehicle’s battery

    3 find cables

    Find the battery and follow the cables coming out from it to the solenoid

  2. Locate the red and black wires leading out from the battery
    solenoid_LI
  3. Follow the wires, they will lead you directly to the solenoid (although, sometimes it’s on the other side of the vehicle).

How to Bypass Your Car’s Solenoid:

Note: To bypass the solenoid, you’ll need a flat-head screwdriver.

Step 1:  Place your key in the ignition and turn to the “on” position

Step 2:  Locate the solenoid (do not touch it, as there’s electric current now live from the battery).

Step 3:  Touch the tip of the screwdriver to the bottom bolt sticking out of the solenoid.

 

touch bottom bold_LI

Touch the tip of the screwdriver on the lower bolt.  Keep your hands clear, as there’s live electrical current there.

 

Step 4:  Keeping the tip of the screwdriver against the bottom bolt, lean the screwdriver so that the metal shaft also touches the top bolt at the same time.  (This creates the bridge for the electricity to flow through).

lean to touch top bolt too_LI

Lean the screwdriver against both bolts at the same time.  This should start the car.

If the problem is the solenoid, your vehicle will start itself as soon as you bridge both bolts.  (I’m always startled at the noise of the car trying to turn over, and have to try a couple of times before the car starts.)  You can now drive on down the road.  But you may need to use this process to start the car again once you park somewhere.

(We’ll have another post soon about how to replace the solenoid yourself.)

If bypassing the solenoid doesn’t work, it’s probably time to call the tow truck.

How to Make Coffee While Boondocking

Good news my java-loving friends!  You do NOT have to give up your coffee for van camping, boondocking or gypsy living. (Living-simply doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you love, but you may have to be a little creative about it.)

For making our coffee while van camping, we wanted something we could use on the propane campstove (instead of another gadget to carry around).

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Our two-burner propane campstove

First, we debated getting a stainless steel percolator style coffee pot.  Something like this (picture below):

coffee pot

Percolator Style Coffee Pot for Van Camping

Benefits to this coffee pot: you can also use it to heat water for other uses and you don’t need coffee filters.

Making coffee with it is pretty simple:

  1. Add water to the coffee pot
  2. Add coffee to the filter container (the basket on the stem)
  3. Place the stem/container inside the coffee pot
  4. Place the lid securely on the pot
  5. Place the pot on the camp stove (or camp fire, or burner, or whatever you’re using).
  6. Once it starts to boil/percolate, turn the heat to the lowest setting that will still keep the coffee percolating.  Let it percolate 7-10 minutes, depending on how strong you like your coffee
  7. Remove coffee pot from heat and enjoy

On negative (which is ultimately why we decided against this method of making coffee), is that you do have to pay attention to the coffee a bit as it brews.  It is possible to burn or overcook the coffee.  Since we aren’t fully awake until after coffee, having to pay attention to it while it brews wasn’t an enjoyable option for us.

So instead, we decided to use a French press to make our van camping coffee.  It’s a bit simpler even than the coffee percolator, and you don’t risk burning the coffee.

Making-Coffee-2

To make coffee with a french press:

  1. heat water (I use a tea kettle)
  2. place the desired amount of coffee in the bottom of the French press
  3. add the boiling water
  4. cover by adding the lid (but do not press the handle down yet)
    Making-Coffee-5
  5. let sit for the desired amount of time, depending on how strong you like your coffee(4 minutes is the generally recommended time)
  6. press the handle slowly down (this strains the coffee through the mesh filter and pushes the grounds to the bottom of the coffee pot)
    Making-Coffee
  7. enjoy

To clean it – just empty out the used grounds.

Note:  If you’re someone who prefers to have a fancy coffee mixed drink each morning, this probably won’t work for you.  Your best bet will be to find places to van camp or boondock near a coffee shop!

As for us – hubby drinks his coffee black.  I like mine mixed with cocoa, almond milk and raw honey (my version of a mocha).

I do have to say that there’s nothing quite as amazingly peaceful as waking up naturally (without an alarm clock) in your cozy van, then enjoying a cup of coffee in the quiet of nature.  I hope you get to experience that decadence yourself soon!

Van Home Improvement Project – Privacy Curtain

You have no idea how many people look in your vehicles.  It didn’t even occur to us how exposed our life was until when, on our last seasonal job, other staff members regularly asked us about things we had going on in our van.  That’s just human nature.  And we do live a strange lifestyle, even among other seasonal employees.  I can’t blame them for being curious.  Not that there’s anything to hide, but when you’re living in your van, that’s like having people regularly peeping inside your home’s windows.  While there are always trouble makers out there looking for things they can take, I don’t think that most of the folks looking in your vehicle are malicious, just curious.  Still, it feels a bit invasive and uncomfortable.

Van Privacy Curtain 6

Finished Van Privacy Curtain, View from Front of Van

So, our simple van home improvement project:  Add a privacy curtain behind the driver/passenger seats.

This project was so easy and inexpensive.  Of course, you can go more upscale, but our cheap solution suits us just fine.  We’re choosing to live simply and frugally.  We don’t need fancy new things.  We don’t need them to be perfect.  We just need them to be reasonably attractive and functional.  This fits the bill.

I used:

  •   1 set (2 panels) curtains from local thrift store     $4
  •   2 small eyelet screws (approx. $1)
  •   clothesline (I already had some extra, so just cut piece to size)
  •   additional:
    • thread*
    • measuring tape
    • sewing pins
    • sewing needle
    • ironing board
    • iron
    • electric screwdriver & small bit
    • screwdriver

Note:  I do keep a sewing kit, but didn’t have brown thread.  At the fabric store, spools of sewing thread were fairly expensive.  Since I didn’t need much thread for this project, I decided to go with embroidery thread (you can get a skein of it for around 50 cents).

Here’s what you do:

  1. Figure out where you want the curtain to hang.  Try to picture it finished and in place first.  Is it going to be in the way of anything where you want to put it?   (Also, make sure you have the seats in the positions you usually keep them, or else you’ll end up accidentally putting the curtains where they bug you by bumping your head).
  2. Mark the spot that you want to place the eyelets.  We put immediately behind the driver’s seat (at the top of the vehicle’s interior), and one behind the passenger’s seat.  Try to get them at the same height, if possible.  (Measure the distance to the ceiling for each one, and make them exactly the same).
  3. Our old van is a conversion van, so it has nice solid wooden trim.  We anchored the eyelets to the trim.  In the trim,  we drilled a small hole in each place marked in step 2.  (These holes should be smaller than the width of the eyelet screw that you’ll be using).  This makes it so much easier to screw the eyelet in, vs. if you didn’t do a “starter hole” first.
  4. Screw the eyelets in.  You may find it easier to thread a screwdriver through the eyelet hole, and turn the screwdriver.  (This is a little more cumbersome than just using your hand to screw it in, but it is much easier on your hands.)
  5. Measure the length that you’d like the curtains to be. (Chances are the ones you bought are too long, and need shortened.)
  6. Hem your curtains.  I don’t have a sewing machine these days, so I sewed them by hand.  But admittedly, I
  7. was a bit lazy in my approach.  I didn’t cut the curtains to size.  Instead, I just folded the bottom up until it was the right length.  Then ironed and measured them to make sure the fold was even.  Then pinned the fold in place.  Then did a basic running stitch to secure the hem (see this for how to do a running stitch).
    Van Privacy Curtain 4Finished View of Curtain Hem (Front)

    Van Privacy Curtain 5

    Finished View of Curtain Back – My lazy fold over version

  8. Since my hand sewing isn’t as strong of a stitch as machine stitching, I did a 2nd row of running stitch to reinforce the hem.
  9. Attach the clothesline securely to one of the eyelets.
    Van Privacy Curtain3
  10. Thread your clothesline through the curtain loops.
  11. Pull the clothesline as taught as you can make it, and attach the loose end to the other eyelet. (Your curtains will sag some, no matter what you do. But try to get as much slack out of the line as you can, or they’ll really sag.  You don’t want any slack in the line, or your curtains will sag too much).
    Van Privacy Curtain2
  12. viola! You’re done.

Van Privacy Curtain1

Too bland for you?  Pick brighter curtains! Or embellish plain ones to suit you… tie dye them, embroider them, sew patches on them, whatever you heart desires! (I’ll probably embellish these later, but for now, just wanted them in place.)

Van Camping First Aid Kit Item: Bentonite Clay

One of the more unusual items I keep in my first aid kit:  Bentonite Clay (also called a healing clay)

You probably know of bentonite clay as an ingredient in facial cleansing masks.   But it also has amazing healing properties.  (It only took one time using it to convince me that it’s something I didn’t want to be without.)

Let me demonstrate.  I recently had a run-in with some cedar trees.  It seems that I’ve developed an allergy to them.  Within a matter of 10-15 minutes after my exposed arms and hands brushed the bushes, I was covered in itchy and painful blisters.

IMG_1544 (2)

I first tried washing my hands and arms.  While probably helpful in removing the offending substance, it didn’t provide any relief.  Then I tried lotion… which made it worse, actually.  So washed again, and then coated my hands and arms with a paste of water and bentonite clay.  Aaah… instant relief!  (In my experience the clay works immediately, and provides much more relief than even the over the counter cortisone creams.)  Within a matter of 15 minutes or so, the itching was nearly gone and the swelling on the blisters had gone down significantly.

I use the healing clay on any sort of skin inflammation including rashes, spider bites, insect bites, pimples, boils, splinters, and even for infected cuts.

It’s very easy to use.  It will be in a dry powder form when you purchase it.  Simply take a little and mix it with water. (Mix it in your hand or in a small non-metal container.  The clay shouldn’t come into contact with metal.)  Stir it to form a smooth spreadable paste.  Coat the affected area with the clay paste and let it dry thoroughly.  As the clay dries, it draws out impurities from your skin.  Wash the clay away, and repeat, if necessary.

Bentonite clay is made from volcanic ash and is fully of health-giving minerals.  It reportedly produces an electrical charge when hydrated that helps draw out and absorb toxins.   Healing clays tend to contain health-supporting minerals such as: silica, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium, and iron.

Besides as a treatment for skin ailments, bentonite clay is also commonly used for:

  • a soothing and nourishing body bath
  • as an ingredient in oral health recipes (for teeth, gums, etc.)
  • taken internally as a detoxifier and nutritional supplement
  • taken internally to help with digestive troubles, nausea, diarrhea, etc.

*Note:  Especially if you’re using it internally, you’ll want to make sure you have a high quality clay that’s been approved for internal use.

Ancient cultures took clays internally as a regular part of their diet to ward off digestive distress and food-born pathogens.  (Although, I’m not entirely convinced that long-term regular internal use is a good idea.)

If you’re into scientific papers, here’s a rather interesting read on a study done with using clay internally to battle antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens, but the US Library of Medicine:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2413170/

Additional information on healing clay uses:

I love that there are so many practical uses for this product, but haven’t yet explored them (aside from as a skin treatment).  I think I may try a home-made tooth powder with it next.  Even if I never get beyond its use as a skin treatment, it is well worth keeping around.  You’ll be very pleased with the instant relief that you get with it’s use on skin irritations. Just try it once and healing clay will forevermore be a staple in your first aid kit.

Gypsy Van Living – Don’t Forget A First Aid Kit!

Having a Good First Aid or Medicine Kit Can Make (or Break) Your Trip

I’ve found that there’s a common thread among those of us who adventure out to do this van living (or even just van camping): The desire for a reasonable amount of independence and self-sufficiency.

Safety’s always something that’s been important to me.  Not that you don’t take risks, but that you take calculated risks and are prepared for emergencies.  In other words, don’t hide from life, but be as prepared as you can be in case the unexpected happens.

Even before taking up this gypsy lifestyle, we’ve nearly always chosen to live in fairly remote areas.  Places where, if you needed cough syrup in the middle of the night, you were just out of luck.  So, keeping a supply of the most common medicinal items and first aid items on hand has always been important to me.  Rarely do we need them, but it gives me peace of mind knowing that I do have them available.

Fast forward to gypsy living in a van.  Some folks choose to stay around habituated areas.  For those, this wouldn’t be such a crucial requirement.  These days, if you’re in a populated area, you can almost always find a pharmacy that’s open.  But, hubby and I are happiest out in the wilderness, far away from the things of man.  So that means that even minor medical issues can be a big inconvenience.  It also means that the first aid and medicine kits are even more important than usual.

For some of you, this independence idea (as it relates to medical occurrences) might be new.  You may be used to running to the doctor for everything. If so, you’re among the vast majority of people in our mainstream culture today.  But, for those in my age-group, or older… that’s a modern mindset.  We grew up dealing with most of our minor illnesses or emergencies ourselves.  We saved the doctor’s or Emergency Room visits for things that were true emergencies, couldn’t be treated at home, or that could have bigger and more dangerous health implications.

You will have to decide what you’re comfortable with, and stock accordingly.  At a bare minimum, I’d highly recommend finding and keeping a good first aid reference book on hand in your van.  (It wouldn’t hurt to give it a quick glance over from time to time, so that you have a general knowledge of first aid practices.  You never know when you’ll need them… even in modern life.)

There are a plethora of pre-packaged first aid kits that you can purchase.  Alas, they’re not generally robust enough for my tastes.  However, if having a first aid kit is new to you, they’re a good place to start.  You can always add to them, as needed.

When planning your Van Camping First Aid Kit, think ahead about:

  • What kind of medical attention does your family commonly require?
  • What kinds of places do you tend to visit… what would you expect there in terms of medical needs?  bug bites?  poison ivy?  blisters?  cuts?  sunburn? fishhooks in the fingers? etc.
  • What do you need in case of a bigger emergency?
  • Do you have any age-related concerns that should be planned for?  (We’re middle aged, but I like to keep Aspirin and Cayenne oil in case of a heart-attack..  Hopefully our lifestyle will avoid such a thing, but it’s not unknown for people our age to have them.)

Note:  Of course, the idea is that for major medical issues, your goal would be to stabilize the condition until you can get to professional medical help.

Yes, I suppose I’m a bit of a worry-wart.  But the good news is that even worriers can get out and enjoy this lifestyle, with a little careful planning ahead of time.  Hopefully I’ll never need to use the kit for anything significant.  But, if I have a properly stocked first aid kit (and medicine kit), I have comfort and peace with adventuring in remote places.

Plus, this life of ours isn’t always about us.  It’s good to think about others, and I like the idea that I’m also prepared to help others we may come across in their hour of need.

Stay tuned… I’ll work up a list of items I’ve found to be invaluable.  (Please feel free to share your suggestions in the comments!!  We’d also love to hear about any experiences you had that we can learn from!)

Beyond the Regular First Aid Kit Items: