Tuesday, February 2, 2016

van life // frequently asked questions

Since I purchased my van back in 2013, I've gotten a lot of questions regarding my road trips, life on the road, and other general van questions. This post will hopefully serve to answer most of the frequently asked questions, and perhaps fuel your desire to hit the road (van or no van)! (Follow this link for a completely separate post regarding my road trip tips and tricks,)
When did you purchase your van?
I bought my van on July 15, 2013.

What kind of van is it?
She's a '91 Chevy Van 20.

How much was it?
I paid $1,500 for the van itself, and probably around $200 to transfer the title, register it in my name, and acquire new license plates.

How many miles were on it when you purchased it?
About 102,500.

Did you have to fix any problems with it?
No, not initially. Before I officially purchased it, I asked the seller if he would be ok with my mechanic giving the van a once over. The seller agreed (as most will, unless they're trying to get away with something), and my mechanic gave her a pretty good bill of health. He recommended I bring it back later in the year for another checkup, which I did. I drove this van over five thousand miles before having any major work done on her. I didn't have work done because something was broken, it was more of a preemptive tune up that included new tires, new brakes, and new exhaust. (All in all, around $1,000 worth of maintenance two and a half years after I bought her.) I depend on this ol' girl to get me from state to state, so I make sure and take care of her. Making sure she's "healthy" before a big trip usually means (*vigorously knocks on wood*) smooth sailing on the journey. A breakdown on the road would mean lots of money lost on repairs, and, since I sleep in her while on the road, money lost on lodging while she's getting fixed. (Obviously sometimes breakdowns occur even when you have done everything you can to take care. Make sure to have backup funds and a plan B for when things don't go your way.)

Right after the big purchase!  ~ July 2013.

Waiting for my new plates to come.
What kind of gas mileage does your van get?
We usually get about twelve to fourteen miles per gallon, but if we're doing a lot of highway driving it goes up to fifteen!

Do you sleep in the van every night?
I try to, yes. There were a few times when it was just was too cold and I decided to spend a night in a hotel. It wasn't the end of the world - the hotels were around $50 per night, and it was really nice to be able to fully recharge, relax, soak in a hot bath, and get reorganized after a few weeks straight on the road. To me, the whole point of traveling in the van is to be able to comfortably live in it for periods on end. I definitely wouldn't be paying for a hotel every night on top of that pretty terrible gas mileage.

But do you really come out ahead? How much money do you really save by sleeping in the van?

For example, let's say I take a four thousand mile trip over a three week period. If gas is at $2 per gallon, that means I'd spend roughly $540 on gas over the course of the trip, and $0 on lodging. Approximate total spent on gas and lodging: $540.

The average gas mileage for a car today is about 23.6 mpg. So, taking that same trip in your average car would cost you about $340 gas wise. The average cost of lodging in the USA is about $120 per night for a couple, however, I'm going to use a rate of $50 per night (the lowest I've seen in my travels) for this purpose. That's $1,050 for lodging over a three week period! (And that's assuming you're going to be able to find that low price on all your nights, sometimes the lowest I could find was around $70.) Approximate total spent on gas and lodging: $1,390.

So by my calculations, that's a possible savings of around $850 for that hypothetical three week, four thousand mile trip.

Of course, everything is relative. One needs to take into account current gas prices, gas mileage of your exact vehicle, how long your trip is going to be, ect. Maybe you'll be camping out of a car? That would definitely affect the price, too. It all comes down to your comfort level, and the amount you're willing and able to spend.

Where in the van do you sleep?
There is a bench in the back that converts to a bed, and that's where I sleep. I was surprised at how comfortable it was!

Where do you park the van to sleep at night?
I have parked on city streets, parking lots of department stores, 24 hour pharmacies, park n' rides, national parks, and beaches. I always make sure it's free and within walking distance of a bathroom area (indoors or out).

Where do you shower?
Showers are few and far between on the road, and I'm ok with that. Van life is not for people who feel like they need to shower every day, I'm just going to put that out there. When I travel the coasts, I use the showers provided near most beaches for a quick wash. I also am a YMCA member, and if I'm desperately seeking a shower I can usually find a nearby Y pretty quickly. Since I'm a member I get in for free, but if you're not most will offer you a guest pass for around $5-$10 (and then you can use all their other amenities, too!). 

Other places you may be able to snag a shower are a gym or a nearby campsite. And there's always dry shampoo, and washing the worst parts in a restroom. It's not pretty, but it'll work. Also, I have seen portable showers (like a bag with holes you fill with water), but I can't vouch for their effectiveness or usefulness as I've never tried one. Lastly, let's not forget that you can always wash off in rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and even the ocean (just please use environmentally friendly soap!).

What do you eat on the road?
I am a pretty healthy eater in general, and I try to maintain that on road trips. Before I leave I make a big batch of trail mix to snack on while driving. I also bring along a stash of granola bar type things that I get from my local health food store (but I could probably make them at home for a fraction of the cost if I really wanted to). Also, one of my favorite things to bring is baby food in those little squeezable pouches! They are packed with fruits and veggies, and they won't spoil. Bringing snacks helps me cut down on impulse junk food buys at gas stations, and fast food restaurants.

I like to hit grocery stores instead of restaurants while travelling because it's a lot cheaper, and usually healthier. My favorite grocery store buy is the salad kits that come in a bag. I also buy a day or two's worth of fresh fruit and veggies whenever I'm at a grocery. I always like to buy a fruit and veggie smoothie, too (they are usually located in the produce department).

I prefer things that don't need to be refrigerated or stored, so I usually buy things I'm going to eat right away. I like to not even bring a cooler (for space's sake, and they always seem to leak), but sometimes it's nice to have a place to cool beverages, so sometimes I do bring a small one. Personally, I don't like to cook on the road, but that's just my preference. I don't mind eating cold beans from a can to avoid lugging cooking equipment around. I usually have one crate in the back that's used to store snacks, a few cans of food (usually beans), my jug of water, and any other random food, like boxes of crackers or cereal.

Of course, I do eat out at restaurants and such (and occasionally go through a drive through, give me all of the fries). However, I like to make sure that when I do it's part of the cultural experience. I like to try things whatever place I'm in is known for. I avoid tourist traps at all costs because in my experience I find the local's favorite has tastier food for a better price.

What do you do all the time on your trips?
When I'm on the road I want to spend as much time outside as possible. National parks and beaches are my favorite. Another thing I love to do is explore different cemeteries! They're so beautiful and interesting, and most of them boast many photo-taking opportunities (like this one in New Orleans, or this one in Savannah). Simply being in a place I've never been before is really novel for me. I like exploring different cities. Each one is so unique!

When the weather is nasty (hello, polar vortex road trip of 2014!)  my favorite thing to do is to peruse a museum. It's also nice to just relax at a local library or cafes! I like to use this time to catch up on journaling, blogging (yay free wi-fi!), uploading photos to my laptop, researching upcoming destinations, and writing postcards. 

Right across the street from Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Perhaps my top road trip memory was waking up to a technicolor sunrise right on this beach.

What do you do with your van when you're not travelling?
When I'm not travelling my van mostly stays parked in the driveway. I don't use her for every day back and forth, I just use my car. I do try and get at least two or three short drives in per month, just to make sure everything sounds and feels ok. Sometimes I use her for overnight trips to a local beach, to transport boxes when I'm moving, or for drive-in movies (perfect vehicle for the drive-in, and the comfiest seats!).

How much does it cost to live on the road?
Ultimately, it just depends on where you are going, how many people are with you, how much gas you use, where you stay, and what activities you plan to undertake. Fortunately, all of these things are relatively easy to calculate before you leave. I always spend lots of time planning trips, so I know approximately how much everything is going to cost. 

How do you afford to take so many long trips?
I make travelling a priority. I've never regretted any trip I've taken, and every new place I experience leaves an impression on me that is quite priceless. I love travelling more than I've ever loved any one thing, so it's hard for me to justify spending money on anything else.

I work hard. In high tourist season I work two bartending jobs, one right after the other, most days of the week. In the winter, on the days I'm not bartending, I edit the photos I've taken the rest of the year and post them to my online shop. I also knit scarves, hats, and other little things that are carried in several local shops and boutiques.

I save like crazy. On the road, and off, I avoid little frivolous purchases, and I am extremely thrifty. 

Left // New Orleans, Louisiana. Right // About to hit the drive-in theater in my home town.

Parked near one of New Orlean's famous cemeteries.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Somewhere on the south eastern coast.
Well, are you all fired up to take a road trip now? I am! I sincerely hope my questions have helped you out. I do also recommend checking out my road trip tip post, as I said before. It has lots of other helpful road trip info! If you have further questions, you can ask in the comments below or tweet at me (@Fab_Factor), and I'll get back to you right away! Happy trails!

Monday, February 1, 2016

falling in love with winter all over again

With every passing year it seems that I grow more and more uncomfortable with the cold weather. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I finally understand all the snow birds that flit on south every time the temperatures drop and the nights stretch on forever. The cold weather always seems to make me feel helpless and trapped, no matter how bundled up I get. 

BUT. Then I went outside last night and caught snowflakes on my tongue. I came inside and the snowflakes that had fallen on me looked like diamonds as they melted into perfect tiny water droplets. When I woke up the next day and looked out of my window I immediately remembered why I want to live here forever. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016

snail mail goal 2016

I'm not a person who makes New Year's resolutions. They always seem to never work out and are most likely forgotten halfway though February. However, there are a few concrete goals I set for 2016 that seem a little more easy to wrap my head around than real generalized resolutions like "write more letters." The one I am most excited about is my goal to send 100 plus pieces of mail this year.

I have a ton of fun digging out my old stationary and letter writing accoutrement. I've also had fun picking up a few new items - like these fun gel pens (Gelly Roll), and the case made by Kaylah of The Dainty Squid.

I have already sent out seventeen letters (including some overseas to Indonesia, England, and Russia!), so it seems like this goal may be achieved in much less than twelve months! I sent cards to some old friends, family, and a couple pen pals I've had for over a decade. I posted some photos of my first outgoing batch of mail with the hashtag #penpalswanted to see if any like-minded people were out there who wanted to team up and join the snail mail revolution. I've already met some lovely ladies, and I've had some fun putting together letters for them. If anyone else is interested in exchanging snail mail, here is my PO Box address:
Indy O'Hara
PO Box 365
Fish Creek, WI 54212

Monday, December 21, 2015

seashell photography

The first time I found a seashell on the beach (when I was in Pensacola, Florida!) was quite exciting for me. Of course, I'd seen plenty of seashells before, but I'd never found any myself. Beachcombing quickly became my new favorite hobby. On that trip I walked along many beaches and collected many pretty things. I hardly found any that weren't broken, but I couldn't bring myself to toss back so many of the small pieces because they were just so beautiful, even in their damaged state.

Since I live in the Midwest, shelling is something I seldom get the chance to do. When I get home from my trips to far away beaches, I have so much fun laying out and identifying my finds. I love looking through my shell book anyways, fantasizing about how wonderful it would be to stumble upon some of the rare beauties. Nature is soooo crazy, you guys!

My shells have been boxed up for a while (so many moves!), but the other day I decided to take them out and admire them. This led to a new photo series that I am soooo into at the moment. I love being able to share the beauty of my collection, especially the broken ones. Aren't they gorgeous?

These photos and more are available as prints (and pillows, phone cases, tote bags, ect.) in my Society6 shop!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

thrift haul video // fall 2015

Hey guys! I made another video for my YouTube channel, so I thought I'd give it a share on the ol' blog. I'm still not very comfortable talking in front of the camera, but hopefully as I make more I'll become better at it.

I used to think haul videos were soooooo dumb, but I actually started to really be inspired by some thrift haul vids and the creative and stylish girls who post them. (The first thrift haul video I ever watched was one of Bunny's (grav3yardgirl). I discovered her channel through that video - she's so dang cute!) (I still think a majority of haul videos are lame, but meh, whatever.) Anyhoo, I made another thrift haul video back in the spring, and I decided it was time for another.

This haul culminates finds from a few different thrifting trips where I found a lot of amazing vintage and USA made goodies. Check it out!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lake Michigan Road Trip 2015 // Mackinac Island - The Grand Hotel

While we were on Mackinac Island we stayed at The Grand Hotel. I stayed there once before when I was about thirteen, and I was very excited to go back. The Grand Hotel truly is one of a kind, and honestly, I don't think I could stay on the island without at least staying a night there.

Ok, so I'm all about van life and road trips, not showering for long periods of time, ect. Staying in a place like this is definitely not the norm for me when I travel. Even when I do choose to spend the night at a hotel/motel, I'm all for that shady Motel 6 experience. But this trip was special, so we decided to visit the island and stay two nights at The Grand for my birthday. It wasn't cheap, and we knew this going in, because we had made reservations about a month in advance. We decided on the "Bed and Breakfast" package because it was the least expensive. It included breakfast in the gorgeous dining hall, but it didn't include the five course dinner, which is one of the things many people enjoy most while on visiting the hotel. But, alas, we are struggling artists, so we opted for the cheaper one. It cost about $700 for us to stay two nights. That, as I said, included breakfast (not a measly continental breakfast, either). That was insanely expensive for us (more than a month's rent!), but like I mentioned earlier, it was a special treat and most definitely something we do not indulge in often.

Probably my favorite part about staying here is that there is a dress code strictly enforced after about six o'clock. Men must wear trousers, jacket, and tie, and for women, a dress/skirt (or pantsuit). (Just for fun before my trip I was looking up reviews of the place, and lots of people weren't psyched about the dress code. The hotel does make a note of the rules to every guest reserving rooms, so it's not as if people aren't aware of it before they arrive. In my opinion, it's part of what makes The Grand grand.) I had soooooo much fun planning my fancy outfits. I don't lead a lifestyle where I have to dress up for an event often (ever), so this was kinda a big deal for me.
The longest porch in the world. (Actually.)
Looking down into the dining hall. Isn't that geranium carpet amazing?!
I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed that we weren't assigned to one of the crazy flowered rooms. Ours was pretty vanilla compared to most of the other ones (each room is decorated differently). We did have a view of the water, which was amazing, but our room was on the ground level, so we had to keep our blinds shut most of the time to keep the guests lounging on the porch from being able to look in.
After dinner, there's a band that plays in the ball room. We enjoyed the music and then danced the night away! Towards the end of the night, we ventured up to the cupola where there's a small bar. There's a star theme in the top room, and even the carpet is navy with stars. We were the only ones up there the night of my birthday. We enjoyed the amazing view and the pretty piano tunes. The pianist even played "Stars" from Les Miserables (keeping with the theme, no doubt), and when he finished I told him that we were big Les Mis fans and he then proceeded to play a Les Mis medley. It was kind of a surreal moment.
All dressed up on the big porch before birthday dinner. For my birthday gift, my parents gave us some money to use towards dinner one night at The Grand, so we were able to enjoy the amazing five course meal in the dining hall.
Unfortunately this was the only picture of my outfit from the second night. I'm in love with this insanely sexy leotard from American Apparel. I paired it with a gorgeous long sea foamy skirt and some pretty black heels. We took a carriage ride downtown and at dinner at the Seabiscuit Cafe (we were quite overdressed, but psh, who cares?!). We walked back to the hotel and enjoyed some more dancing in the ballroom before retiring for the night.
More of the ground floor lounging area. I adore the color of the ceiling.
My time at The Grand Hotel was something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I would definitely recommend the island to anyone looking for something fun to do in the Midwest. And I would also recommend staying at The Grand! It is worth every single dollar to have such a unique experience.

See my other Mackinac Island posts here!

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