A first-timer’s guide to a van road trip as solo female travelers

In June 2021, I got my driver’s license, and a month after I got a car, a little Peugeot 206 all red. As soon as my new car was in my pocket, I had only one idea in my head: To go on the road with it!

So I decided to get it done! With the help of videos on Youtube and my imagination, I started a little notebook where I wrote down what I needed and wanted that would fit in the space of my vehicle. My car being small, everything had to be thought out to be optimized as much as possible.

Once the calculations were done, it was time to move on to the construction! For that, I salvaged or bought some wooden boards, and hey presto, it was on! I made a few mistakes and had to tweak my cutouts by hand but I finally got it just the way I imagined it.

✳️ To start the first van trip in earnest

Within a week it was ready to go on a van trip and I was off on an adventure, by the Atlantic Ocean! Not too far from my home, in a place where I used to go, just to test my layout and to be able to go back more easily if something went wrong. This first week allowed me to see what was and wasn’t right, what I needed to revise or redo (my shutters for example), what I needed to provide more of (water supplies for wild places), or what I could get rid of (I had taken way too many clothes).

✳️ New experiences with traveling with my van

1. I can discover new experiences every time during the van trip

Once the adjustments were made, I was off on my adventure again, in the city or in more remote places, for two days or ten, in winter or summer, with sun or rain, the main thing being to go. I discovered new places, went to places I knew by heart, and slept in forests and commercial parking lots. I went to the beach, I went hiking, I went to concerts and on top of that, I admired lots of sunsets and starry skies.

2. Solo van trip makes me independent

I met all kinds of people along the way, especially curious people wondering how my layout was made and how this 1m72 girl could fit in such a tiny car. By the way, many people told me I should be careful, going off alone, being a woman, but I tried to listen to their words as little as possible so as not to parasitize my motivation. I once had a bad encounter (a man hovering around my car in the late afternoon but I sent him packing and that was it). And on the contrary, going alone has strengthened me and made me want to travel alone even more. There is nothing stopping me anymore!

Each compartment has its function! One for hobbies (computer, books, etc), one for laundry (to be adapted according to the seasons), one for hygiene products and laundry, one for the (mini) food reserve, and finally one for the kitchen.
Once each compartment has its cover, the whole thing forms a large box spring! I only have to lower my passenger seat to be able to stretch out my legs. It serves as storage and as a bed base.

3. I love the fact that I can travel anywhere and anytime.

What I like most of all with this kind of adventure is that I feel really free (if we put aside my addiction to gasoline and it’s not a very eco-friendly aspect). I can go where I want and when I want, change places, stay there for several days or finally move 5 minutes after settling down! I’m like a turtle who moves quietly within his house. Plus, I don’t have to answer to anyone since I organize myself as I wish and it’s much cheaper than going to hostels or hotels. Of course, I don’t have the comfort of a van or a camper, but simplicity and resourcefulness suit me just fine!

I haven’t done any long road trips for various reasons, mainly financial and family, but I do plan on going on a long trip one day! Maybe with this car or maybe with another one, I’ll see but going on an adventure for several months and/or in a country other than France tempts me a lot.

✳️ Tips to think about before starting your first solo van trip

▪ Water

Each time I go, I take a 10L water reserve in order to be a minimum of autonomous if ever there is no drinking water point where I venture. I use this water for drinking but also for cooking and washing. Until now I was rather lucky because I always found water in free access! then my reserve was useful to me “in more” (for example the night when I have the laziness to go to the water point).

▪ Food

To cook, I stock up on food before leaving (not too much either because I don’t have much room in the car or a fridge so I don’t want it to spoil!). I also take a lot of starch (pasta or rice) because it’s the easiest to store and it provides me with the most energy, perfect for hiking! For vegetables, I have fresh ones at the beginning of the trip and then I eat canned vegetables. I have all kinds of seasoning (oils, spices, etc) so I eat with many different tastes, it avoids me to get bored even if I eat for several days a row the same vegetables.

Good meals that feel good after a day of hiking or at the sea! Or simply to start the day well. I always try to have a little bit of stock at the beginning and then I go to the local markets to fill up!

▪ Stove

I use a stove that I bring with me with several gas bottles in reserve, it is used to make hot meals (but I make very few since I leave more often when it is hot, I feel more like a salad than soup!) or to make myself tea or hot chocolate for breakfast. And I am always careful when I light my stove to make sure that no sparks fly, especially when I am near shrubs or other trees, so as not to start a fire.

▪ Hygiene

Speaking of washing, let’s talk about my hygiene!

Before my very first departure, I bought a portable shower: it’s a kind of big bag that you fill with water and that has an opening tap.

The problem with the portable shower is that it has to be held up so that the water flows out. Except that all alone, it is not very practical. So I finally decided to simply take — a glove! Yes, the dish and laundry basin also serve as my sink (so three in one!). So since I can’t always get water under pressure, I put water in the basin and wash with a glove, which is more than enough for a daily wash.

▪ Wash the dishes and clothes

As for the dishes, I have a basin and a Marseille soap, which I also use to wash my clothes! Yes, two in one. The advantage of leaving with few things is that the dishes and the laundry are quickly done. I always take enough clothes with me but I like to wash them as I go along so that I don’t have too much dirty laundry accumulating.

When it’s not raining, I can leave the trunk wide open (and with the doors open, the draft dries my laundry faster).

▪ Wash hair

To wash my hair, I use solid shampoos without harmful products for the environment and I sprinkle my hair with water once (by tipping the basin on my head), then I lather my shampoo, and finally, I rinse using my basin again (hence my 10L water reserve).

▪ Take a shower

The most complicated issue for me is privacy during my shower. As my car is small, I can’t get inside and wash away from any prying eyes. To remedy this, I always put myself close to vegetation and park precisely so that I can hide between it and the car. I usually wait until the evening or wash early in the morning, so that I don’t run into anyone when I’m butt naked.

However, when I go in the summer, there is no problem washing next to my car in my bathing suit; everyone in the area is in their bathing suit! On the other hand, when the temperature is colder, not only I don’t have hot water (I don’t feel like heating it and I got used to cold water anyway, it dynams me!) but I don’t feel like taking off my clothes to wash so I go faster than the summer to not be too cold for too long.

✳️ What else do I bring to the van trip

▪ Clothes & Books

Concerning the things to choose, I think it’s very personal and very different depending on where I decide to go and for how long. In my case, I initially brought too many clothes and as I finally do my laundry as I go along, the following times I limited myself to only a few tops and bottoms. On the contrary, I decided to take more books at the following times because I don’t use my phone or my computer too much during my trips and I like to read at night before going to sleep!

▪ Solar battery

By the way, to charge the batteries, I have a solar battery that I use for my cell phone and I charge it up fully before I leave. If ever it is empty, I recharge it while driving (I recharge it rather than my phone because it lasts longer!).

▪ Laptop converter

For my laptop, I had bought a converter to put on the cigarette lighter but it failed me very quickly.

▪ Camera

For my camera, I didn’t have a solution to recharge the battery of my reflex because I need a plug on the mains. It was the biggest black spot of my trips. But I just changed my camera for a hybrid (which can be charged directly) so I could charge it like a phone with my solar battery.

What I love most of all is the journey of the van trip and not the destination, so it doesn’t matter where I put my luggage (well my car) as long as I discover new things along the way. I really recommend this way of traveling if you can, it’s really fantastic because you take the time to discover what’s on your way, and even close to your home you rediscover new things, while simply traveling with little.

Emma Couloudou is from France. She loves to travel around the world and meet people. She likes discovering new cultures and new ways of living. Also, she loves taking photos. Her trip will continue to Alexandria soon! Do you want to follow up on her next trip? Then find her in the NomadHer community. She is waiting for women travelers to share their travel stories and inspiration right now! You can connect to her through the NomadHer community now!

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