Honestly we are loving our new lifestyle but Vanlife isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Of course we love sharing beautiful images and videos on social media but we also want to share the other side to this life as well. So here is a story of some of our joys as well as our mishaps while traveling in New Orleans.
Day 1 - Wednesday
Our first day in NOLA was pure excitement. Upon arrival, driving the colorful city blocks, we were struck with signs of all things Cajun and heard the streets come alive with jazz. I was pumped. This is what I had expected to experience.
We started out by doing the most touristy thing: Bourbon street. We took the advice of IOverlander and found an awesome overnight parking spot just a few blocks from the French Quarter. We threw leashes on the dogs, grabbed the cam and started walking to Bourbon Street.
The first thing we see were tons of rainbow flags. For us, this is so soothing. There is something beautiful traveling as a gay couple in the USA, how you can be in a state that politically/socially opposes you and yet a few hours of a drive later, arrive upon a totally different culture that welcomes you with open arms. This aspect of the journey is just as important to me as the sightseeing.
Comforted, we continued trotting along the rugged sidewalks, the smells of boudin & beignets filled our noses as we passed people sipping daiquiris in big bright to-go cups. (Yes my friend, drinks to go 😊). As if to tell a tale of raucous festivities, Broken Mardi Gras beads littered the ground and hung from the beautiful balconies and electrical wires overhead. Then comes blocks of fine art galleries, artists painting live street scenes, little boys drumming on plastic buckets, seasoned musicians playing saxophones and a younger 5 piece band playing some of the coolest folk-funk I’ve seen. We got our beignet fix at Cafe du Monde and then later our mighty buzz from the 3 for 1 beer deals popular at most every bar in the Quarter. This town is alive and we soak in the culture.
Day 2 - Thursday
The following day we wake up early to the sound of crashing thunder. Lighting flashes filled the van as giant drops of water hit the roof. We didn’t yet know this was part of a major storm that would last a full 48 hrs. Mind you, our van is 15 years old and in spite of our best efforts to fix, it still finds crevices to leak in rain. We decide to move and found covered parking under a dingy overpass. It wasn’t the best area but we needed to get out of the rain. Without sun, we must conserve power as our batteries will quickly drain. So there we sat the whole day, in the rainy gloom, making the best of it and enjoying the time to disconnect, playing games, doodling, doing stretches, drinking wine and people watching. We saw several drug deals (it’s kinda scary when they park so close to us and don’t know we’re watching them from behind our limo tint windows) and even witnessed a homeless lady squatting to pee right outside our van! I guess she thought she was in a good hiding spot. It is interesting how this big blue box we live in has become our live cam TV for Discovery Channel, Entertainment Tonight and Law and Order.
After spending the whole stormy day leak free under the overpass, with night time setting in and the rain subsiding, my per-usual worrying mind started expressing itself. I run scenarios in my head. *The sound of a car door slam* they are going to come knock on the van door. * The sound of faint conversation* two people are plotting how they are going to rob us. All the while, Abi is chill as a cucumber, blocking out any white noise going on in the world around her. Next I hear the sound of a hammer. Dink, dink, dink. Every 5 minutes or so for about an hour. I brace myself and think “do I look out one of our curtains to see what I think will be a mass execution?” I finally peel back the smallest piece of curtain to see a man putting up signs. Ok, a sigh of relief comes over me. I then go into our cab to make out what one of them says and I see a P with a slash through it. I shake my head and say Abi, we’ve gotta move. The man was putting up no parking signs all over the place. In my flight-or-flight fashion, we started up the engine and began to leave. As we pull up closer to a sign we read, “ No parking Friday the 5th from 3pm - Sat the 6th until 4pm for filming”. It was Thursday, we’re fine to still park here but because I had already made a big stint to Abi I was still set on leaving. Once we got to the nearest Walmart, I felt safe again. (As a Vanlifer, Walmart went from a place I loathed to homebase). We got settled in bed, I dozed off and fell into a deep sleep. Around 4 am, I was startled awake yet again by the mighty crash of thunder and mega drops of rain. All I could think, as I stuffed towels into leaky crevices, was that my semi-sleeping wife was rolling her eyes saying this is your fault. I was mad because I knew she was right. There was NO REASON for us to leave the shelter of the overpass. Needless to say I got the lesser sleep that night.
Day 3 - Friday
Morning arrives and I was ready to let yesterday dissolve and begin today’s mission of finding a mechanic for a small repair (ball joint replacement). We get up, have coffee and begin our search. We spent the whole morning searching online and making phone calls to various mechanics. The rumors are true. No one wants to work on Sprinter vans, especially one as old as ours! We finally found a place and drive over, luckily they are very nice and helpful. Unfortunately, their shop has no waiting area and is located in an industrial area with nothing nearby. We decided to walk to the nearest place that was dog friendly with a covered patio since the rain was still hellish. Apparently that nearest place was over 4 miles away and we ended up walking almost 2 hours on crappy, muddy roads. As we trudged along, we told ourselves it was worth it because this place happened to have the impossible burger, our favorite plant-based burger. We finally get to our destination and are greeted by our brand new server, Her first day to be exact, who can’t answer any of our questions. Ok, no worries universe, we’re laughing inside. We excitedly ordered our burgers only to have our virgin server inform us that they were out. Moment of silence. We decided on a basic B salad and some less than average nachos, of which the cook forgot the black beans and told the server he didn’t think we would notice. Another moment of silence. I almost forgot that the server had no idea what wine they had to even try to give Abi a clue as to one she was describing. She also asked me if I wanted fries or a salad with my salad, thinking it was a burger. Mic drop. After eating we called an Uber because the mechanic shop was closing and we needed to get back to our home. However we didn’t realize that while we were eating, a festival was setting up on the street outside and blocked off the roads. We ended up running back and forth four times through this Italian festival to find our Uber because he had trouble with the road closures. I started letting my frustration take over quite a lot but I calmed down once we got in the car because the man was super nice and we had a great conversation about dogs. 15 minutes into the ride Abi informs the driver that she felt the route didn’t seem right. Sure enough Abi had put in the wrong address as there were 3 mechanic shops with the same name and we ended up taking about a 35 min Uber ride instead. Universe, but why? At this point of the hideousness that was today, I just shut down. I was mad at Abi and I felt terrible about it but I couldn’t control my current build up of frustration. Once we got back to the shop they informed us that they only got one ball joint done because they had to heat around it to get it off because it was frozen. The labor took double the time so they were going to have to charge us extra and we would need to wait until Monday now to come back and get the other one done.
Day 4 - Saturday
So here we are. After 2 full days of rain, Saturday’s forecast looks promising: no rain! We started our day at Audobon park, went on a run with the dogs and enjoyed some tree time (necessary after a few days in the city). We left the park and headed towards Planet Fitness to shower, stopping along the way to skate, check out cool murals and shops. As we walked into PF, we laughed to ourselves when the front desk guy said “enjoy your workout” because, and for the first time yet, we were only going to shower. Perhaps he noticed because he gave us an interesting look as we walked out 20 minutes later in dapper outfits and sped walk to our van. It was great. We strolled the French market for a vegan muffuletta (yum!) before walking down vibrant Frenchman street where music wafted out of every nook and cranny. In front of a bar called the Spotted Cat, We stopped in our tracks and practically melted upon hearing this female singer. We popped into the bar and settled in with a drink to listen to the rest of her set. After that we strolled down to Bachannal, an awesome wine and jazz bar, and finished the night playing pool at a local dive bar. Today was truly a blast and the nightmare of the prior two days vanished.
Day 5 - Sunday
We’re sitting in an artsy coffeeshop, sipping chai, finishing this blog and contemplating the last few days. It’s overcast this morning with a forecast of… guess what?… rain. It’s okay, we’ll make it through and we’ll even find ways to be thankful for it.
The point of this story is that while it may seem to everyone that this is a vacation for us... it’s not. This is our new normal life and life has its chores, its ups and downs.
I had spent the last two years researching van life with Abi. We purchased the van with such tenacity. I was so elated I had found my person I wanted to spend my life with and more over that she wanted to take this wild ride with me. It was a long two years of working our asses off and spending our two days off a week together working on the van. There were so many highs and lows and literal blood, sweat, and tears shed to get to this exact point. I remember how overwhelming the idea was to actually build this thing out. Even more overwhelming was the idea of leaving my friends and my comfortability behind for a jump into the unknown. But dammit we did it. We’re a little over two months in and now the thought of living the way I was before the van is foreign to me. So are the last two days because they are gone. Highs and lows will happen. We will remember the amazing days and we will quickly laugh at the trying ones. I’d like to end this with a poem very dear to me. It’s one that I’ve always admired but can now let it truly invade my bones:
“The difference between an ordinary life
and an extraordinary one is only a matter of perspective.
Pull the blinds, look around you,
it is a weird, wonderful world and you do not require
a ten-digit savings account to immerse yourself in it.
Travel down long winding roads
without a destination in mind,
climb a mountain and shout your heart out,
into the void, kiss strangers, make love,
skinny dip in a lake, get lost and lose yourself
(these are two separate things). explore the
wilderness (particularly the one within), think less of destiny
and more of the moment right here.
Because in the end, as you reflect back on your long life
in that hospital bed, surrounded by all of your family
and friends, fame won't matter, nor will the extent of your wealth.
You are only the sum of the stories you can tell. “
- Beau Taplin
Words by Natalie Rodriguez.
Photography by Abigail Marie Rodriguez.
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