Our featured vanlifer Vanessa has been travelling in her van Van-essa for over 2 years. Vanessa loves the outdoors and is a keen trail runner and has climbed a fair few mountains! Check out her Instagram at @vanessa_chav to see incredible photos of her outdoor adventures.
Originally from Columbia and now living in the USA Vanessa has witnessed the inequality in accessing outdoor trails and the like for BIPOC individuals and is working to improve this, search #DiversifyOutdoors on social media for more information.
Vanessa is a keen forager, and uses foraged food when cooking in her van. Read on to find out what our featured vanlifer likes to eat when travelling in self-built van, Van-essa.
What is your favourite feature of your van?
All of the cozy nooks and places to sit.
What has been your favourite experience in your van so far?
I really enjoy the simplicity and freedom I’m granted through van life. My favorite experiences include being able to sleep at trailheads and waking up before dawn for big mountain climbs. Afterwards I feel like I float all the way down to my van and everything I need is there waiting for me! Another favorite experience is being able to forage for mushrooms in the spring and early summer. This year I had great luck finding golden river morels along the Yellowstone river. I was able to forage, clean, and cook them all from my van! I really enjoy being on the road and being independent — especially when I can cook better foods than I would find at restaurants!
What has been your worst experience in your van?
I have faced my fair share of build-out and maintenance nightmares! My van does this terrifying thing where the check engine light comes on and a start countdown commences. Basically the van starts counting down from 10, and once it gets to 0 it will no longer start. Car maintenance issues are always stressful, but even more-so when the car also happens to be your home! It’s helpful to have a plan or a friend that will let you crash at their house in case the van is having issues.
Describe your van kitchen setup
Unfortunately my dream van kitchen has not been built yet! We have been building our van in segments for the sake of cost/time. Right now I have a Dometic fridge/freezer, a toaster, an Ikea kitchen island cart as a counter and storage, and a NEMO Helio pressure shower as a sink. I use an MSR camp stove for cooking, which I have to assemble every time I want to cook. It is all functional but I am definitely hoping to improve the situation by getting a Dometic stove and a foot pump sink!
What is your favourite van kitchen accessory and why?
Definitely the toaster. I love making toasts and it is such an easy and convenient way to heat things up! Especially considering my stove situation. I use the toaster for bread, croissants, tortillas, and more. I recently discovered I can make grilled cheese sandwiches by flipping the toaster on its side and sliding in some bread with slices of cheese on top. It’s genius!
What is your favourite thing to cook in your van?
My favorite things to cook in the van are mushrooms that I forage myself. It’s so exciting to incorporate them into decadent pastas, stir-frys, omelets, and toasts. Because I mainly live in my van during summers I also like to eat lots of fresh foods and non-cook meals. I inhale salads with veggies from my friend’s garden, avocado and lox toasts, and smoothies! It feels so good to take advantage of our short growing season and eat as locally as I can!
Have you had any cooking disasters in your van?
I’ve had a few particularly messy experiences with beets…the problem is they stain EVERYTHING. When your bed is two feet from your kitchen, things get messy real fast! I’m also working on storage solutions for fruits and veggies that don’t go in the fridge. Right now I keep those items on my bed but it’s not always the most stable. Last summer one of my avocados rolled away and went missing for a few days…luckily I found it before it went bad!
Do you have any first hand funny van life stories to tell?
I spent most of the spring down by the Yellowstone river — such a nice place to sleep. It was my first spring in the area and I was shocked by how much the river was rising from all of the snowmelt. One night my partner and I slept at a familiar fishing access site. At about 5am we heard a knock on our van and the sheriff announcing himself. I was prepared for the regular “you can’t sleep here, please park somewhere else” conversation. Much to our surprise, when we opened the van door we found that the van was IN the water. The river had risen so much overnight that our parking area had turned into a steady stream, and was continuing to rise! Needless to say we were very thankful that the sheriff woke us up. If not, we would have probably kept sleeping and maybe even washed away!
You can catch up with Vanessa through the social media links on her profile.
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