1 Month and 4,000 Miles On the Road | VanLife Update

After 6 months of exhausting work, burning the candle at both ends, we somehow met our absurd goal of finishing our van build and hitting the road on December 15th, 2023. Our plan was to drive east, across the country, to celebrate Christmas with our families in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Best part of this plan, is for the first time in 6 years, we were able to bring our dog Gregor home with us! After the holidays, we would start heading south, stopping in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia for New Years, and then eventually to Florida for the rest of the month. And after a month on the road, working from our van, AirBnb, or motel room, and exploring all of the towns we’re visiting, it has been completely worth it!

Cross Country Road Trip

Driving across the country was both exciting and truly brutal. Simply put, the longer it took us to drive the 2,100 miles, the less time we’d have at home with family. So in typical fashion, we absolutely powered through the drive in only a weekend. Friday had us leaving after work, knocking out 8 hours of driving. Rolling through Utah, Wyoming, and into Nebraska where we spent the night at a truckstop when it was 19 degrees outside. Saturday was the longest stretch, of nearly 16 hours in the rain as we finished Nebraska, touched Iowa, crossed Missouri and Illinois, and spent the night in the lot of another truck stop in Indiana. Sunday wrapped up our cross-country tour as we breezed through Ohio and even stopped in Pittsburgh for lunch, before making it to Courtney’s parent’s place for the night in Pennsylvania. It was our own version of the cannonball run, white knuckling the steering wheel trying to keep the van straight during some tremendous midwest crosswinds. But it was all worth it. Plus, it was a great time to catch up on some audio books and endless podcasts.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

After the holidays, which were awesome getting to spend with both our families, and having Gregor home to share it with us, it was onto the next leg of the trip. And for the next couple weeks, Courtney’s parents were going to join us for our journey to warmer weather down south. Our first stop was in Kill Devil Hills, in the North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A place I hadn’t been to since I was in middle school where extended family would all rent a house for one week every summer. We love the idea of moving to the beach eventually, and this was a great opportunity to break up the drive and to also show Courtney how rad of a place this town is. And even 20 years later, it’s still a great place to visit, which was a shock since it was the heart of the off season. All the local bars and breweries, like Swells’a Brewing, made that town feel incredibly welcoming, even if it was a brisk few days in December. And one day, over lunch, we even headed up to the Wright Brother’s Memorial, which now plays a much bigger part in my career than the first time I went as a kid. Even with today’s technology, it’s even more impressive to see what those two brothers accomplished in 1903. Needless to say we’re excited to make it back there during summer.

Savannah, GA

The main reason why Courtney’s parents joined us for this trip, was to celebrate her father’s 70th birthday down in Savannah, GA with us and their two friends. Over the next week, we all stayed in a beautiful old townhome off Jones Street, where Courtney and I would work during the days and join the gang out every evening and night. This was our first real sense of living and working on the road, albeit, not in the van, but a great way to ease into it. It was weird, feeling like you were on vacation in a great place, but having to work all day and not being able to experience everything you wanted. Still, each day, we’d make an effort to walk around town, through the squares, into the parks, or down to River Street, to do our best to enjoy it in a different way. We ate and drank our way around town, at places like Crystal Beer Parlor, the Rail, World of Beer, and even celebrated New Years down by the river. And when we weren’t walking around, we were running with the dog or I was riding my road bike in the warm, southern sun. And right before we left Savannah, the entire group went out to a Glass Blown Class where we all got to make either cups or ornaments from scratch. This was truly amazing to see a shape come to life from a molten piece of glass just minutes earlier. Savannah was a fantastic place, and one of those cities we always enjoy coming back to. 

Florida (Key Largo, Everglades, & Sanibel Island)

Next up, after 10 hours of driving from the top of Florida to the bottom, and one terrifying tornado alert, we made it to Key Largo where we’d spend the next few days. The last time we all were in the Florida Keys was in 2022, in July, when it was over 100 degrees outside. So this trip was already off to a great start, despite the stormy weather. While in Key Largo, you really do feel like you’re in the Caribbean, which means you feel like you should always have a frozen drink in your hand or going to some happy hour on the water somewhere. Pretty wild to think you can drive to a place like this. To celebrate Jim and my birthday, Courtney took us on a fishing charter with Captain Jason and Lock It Up Charters, where we braved the storm and were gifted with an incredible evening of fishing. Even though we didn’t catch anything worth keeping, we had a blast. Between the three of us, I think we caught 8 sharks and countless Red Snappers, making for an exciting day out in the turquoise waters of the Keys. This was also a place where I actually felt safe riding my bike for once, and also really enjoyed not having to ride with a jacket or gloves on for the first time this year. All in all, the Keys really are paradise, and being able to stay at a cottage with access to the water was unbelievable, especially when Gregor gets to go swimming in it every day.

After leaving Key Largo, we made a quick detour through a part of the country that I’ve been keen on checking out, the Everglades! We stopped into Coopertown AirBoat Rides to get a tour of the Everglades in the best way possible. This was way different than the air boat ride I took in New Orleans, as the Everglades are much more open, filled with saw grasses and mash lands. But then we headed down one of the canals, made by the Army Corp of Engineers back in the early 1900s when they thought they tried to reclaim the area and make levees, but since then, they’ve come back to try to restore the area and improve the wetlands. There we got to see what we came for, gators swimming in the water. Here we learned that gators, a fresh water animal, remain pretty dormant, unless they are actively hunting. And Crocodiles, which are salt water creatures, are actually pretty timid when it comes to humans. But overall, flying through the narrow canals on a massive fan powered boat, was a great experience.

Sadly, we couldn’t stay in the Keys forever, and our last stop before dropping Courtney’s parents off at the Ft Meyers Airport was at the recently hurricane ravaged island of Sanibel. Normally, a beach getaway for Florida’s 1%, we got to stay at a super cute motel just a few blocks from the beach. And though this was another destination that we had to work most of the time, when we clocked out for the day, we made the most of it. And the #1 thing to do on this island is definitely to go shelling. The shells that wash up onto this beach are, frankly, the most incredible shells I’ve ever seen. We could walk that beach for hours and still be amazed at the quality, and variety, of shells you could find there. It is really to the point you need a wheel barrel to come home with all the shells you could find. And when we were done shelling for the night, we could walk the fantastic paths through town to get dinner at the local Pizza shop. 

It was sad to see her parents leave as we pulled away from the departures area, but it was an incredible 2 weeks on the road, traveling through so many new places, experiencing so many new things. All while taking only a single day off work. As of right now, we are still on the road, and going to be spending almost another month bouncing around Florida and Texas, before heading back to Utah to check on our house and resupply. After that, who knows where we’ll had, but I do know one thing, we’ll be going some place warm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *