Homeless Women and Camper Vans

Touches of home in a van.

When my brother-in-law’s job moved him to Texas, my sister Gail became interested in getting an RV, primarily to use to visit family back home.  She didn’t like the idea of having to stay in dirty motel rooms, possibly being exposed to bedbugs and foot fungi and who-knows-what-else that might encountered in a bedroom and bathroom used by the public.

Also, they would be traveling when Mike was on vacation, so she knew they would be putting in long hours at the wheel.  And since they would be on a strict travel budget, they didn’t want to have to pay high campground fees just to park overnight.  And they didn’t want to have to eat all their meals on the road — another expensive proposition.  And finally, when they got to family’s homes, they didn’t want to have to move in on them, disrupting their household and sleeping arrangements.

So looking for an affordable RV became their priority.  They considered a travel trailer (as used ones can be bought cheaply), but then they would have to buy a pickup truck, and they didn’t need a truck for anything except towing.  It made more sense to buy an inexpensive used cargo van and convert it to their needs.

Exterior of their van

While Gail was researching ways to convert a cargo van to a camper van, she was stunned to discover that there are countless women all over the country who, through loss of their jobs or relationship breakups, were now homeless.  With no place to live, many of them were fixing up old vans to live in.

She found many websites showing how to cheaply convert a van into a mini home on wheels.  But most of them were depressingly ugly, consisting of bed frames made of 2 x 4 lumber with a mattress, and plastic drawers for storage.  So not only were these women homeless, there was no beauty — nothing girly — left in their lives.

Even worse, many of the vans had no toilet or shower facilities, making the women completely dependent on public facilities.

Attractive and supremely functional

She determined to convert her van into a pretty little space with all the comforts, like shower, toilet and kitchen.  And then she would share what she learned with anyone who was interested — whether they are building their first camper or just downsizing from a larger RV.  And maybe her ideas could be an inspiration to a homeless person somewhere, to help add a little beauty or functionality to their van.

To that end, I am working on building a page on this blog that will be permanently linked at the top, to serve as Gail’s guidelines for anyone who is interested in building an attractive, liveable, small RV in a cargo van.  I’m hoping to have the article finished in a day or two.

[On edit – the article From Cargo to Camper Van has now been published.]

Just Camping

View of our campground from the fishing pier

Another laid-back day soaking in the tranquility of Lake Blackshear.

We had wanted to go fishing today, but it was extremely breezy all day until late afternoon.  And by then, we were out of the mood, so I settled for just taking photos.

When I got to the fishing pier, a huge blue heron (I think) was sitting on the railing.  He let me get closer and closer without moving.  But finally he had enough, and with a loud, raucous RAAAACCCCKKKKKKK!!!!! he flapped his wings heavily and took off.

I think this is a blue heron. I am terrible with bird identification.

I took several photos of him, and one after he took to the air, but I was facing into the sun and he was almost the same color as the gray wood of the pier, so the photos didn’t turn out.

But later, as I was walking back to the campground, I saw him perched near the edge of the lake.  This time he didn’t wait nearly as long to take off, but I did manage to get a shot of him.

Geese

We have also seen ducks, egrets and geese here.  And many squirrels.  But no other wildlife — except for the fish that jump and tease us with their presence in the lake.

I am really enjoying our second autumn here.  At home most of the leaves have fallen, and the ones that remain are all brown.  Here there are still patches of brilliant color.

More autumn in December. 🙂

I thought I’d share a couple of small mods I’ve done to the Casita.  One is a fold-out towel rack in the kitchen that holds 5 dish cloths and towels.  It keeps them out of my way in the tiny kitchen, and also allows them to dry.  I had it in the Aliner, and it’s one thing I made sure I kept, since I’m not sure I could find another one.

The other mod was copied from Andy Baird’s Travels with Gertie website.  I put clear epoxy around the outside holes of the

Fold out towel rack

Modified shower head

shower head, leaving only the center holes open.  Now instead of a broad, soft wash of water, we get a nice, high pressure stream with no additional water usage.

Packing the Aliner – Part 2

In order to enjoy the Aliner and pack it successfully, you have to think like a backpacker.  There’s not room for “just in case items.”  You can only take what you really need, and you need to maximize usage of the items that you do take.

Think like a backpacker!

One large pan doubles as a frying pan and stew pot. A one quart stainless steel camping pot with folding handles nests inside its 2 quart mate.

I’ve found that one large skillet that can double as a stew pot, and two small nesting stainless steel camping pots are all the cookware I need.   We also have the little Weber gas grill for steaks and hamburgers, grilled veggies, etc.

aliner kitchen storage

Shows counter when we are camping, and then where we store the countertop items when the trailer is folded down for travel.

Kitchen countertop items are stowed in the sink and on the bed for travel.  Paper plates and plastic utensils are stored in the microwave.

Blankets and sheets are stored behind the pillows on the bed.

clothes storage under bed

Clothes are stored in baskets underneath the beds

Clothes are kept in baskets underneath the beds for easy access, and underwear and toiletries go in the little 3 drawer chest.  Shoes hide in a cubbyhole in front of the converter.  The electric heater by Ron’s clothes basket hides a tray of toilet chemicals.

3 drawer chest

The little drawer unit is for underwear and toiletries

A propane catalytic heater and laundry supplies, along with a plastic drawer unit for first aid supplies, water filter, duct tape, etc. all go in the rear of the camper by the little drawer unit.  Behind that are setup items like the stabilizer jacks crank, adapters, a tire repair kit, a small manual pump, etc.

Aliner linen closet

Storage for wash clothes, hand towels, and TP behind shower

Our linen closet is the long, narrow cubbyhole behind the shower.  We keep wash cloths, hand towels (used instead of bath towels), spare toilet paper in the back, and the roll in use up front.

Odds and ends like scissors, paper, pens, glue, small tools, clothes pins, needle and thread, etc. are also easily accessible in a tiny plastic drawer unit by my clothes drawer.

Finally, the TV tray is bungied to the chest for travel.  That keeps it from flying around, and also keeps the drawers from coming open.

We could use the shower for storage if needed.  But I don’t like having to drag things out of it if we stop for a bathroom break.  I like to be able to lift the wall, slide the latch, and have it instantly accessible.   So we just don’t bring items that would need to be kept in there.

Properly packed and kept neat, the little Aliner seems a lot bigger than it is.  With its high ceilings, skylights and windows, it can feel really spacious.  But if you let it get cluttered,  it will feel cramped and claustrophobic.

(See also previous post on packing the pantry.)

Aliner bathroom folded

The shower is available for storage while in transit if needed.

shoe storage

Shoe storage in front of converter

more storage in rear

More storage in rear

table bungied for travel

Table bungied to drawer unit for travel

Rainy Night in Georgia

We had planned to spend a few days fishing at Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park after we left Florida.  We arrived at the campground on Thursday, April 8th.

Rainy night in Georgia

Rainy view from our window

We only make reservations when it’s absolutely essential, preferring to stay flexible about where and when we go.

This was one time it didn’t pay off.  We didn’t realize this was spring break weekend, and every campsite was booked solid Friday through Sunday.

Also, while we were here, our water heater went on the blink.  It would light and stay lit a short while, then would go out, but the propane wouldn’t shut off.  So after relighting it and smelling propane very strongly and having the propane detector go out twice, we finally realized we were’t going to have hot water the rest of this trip.

It’s not a big deal for Ron, as he likes using campground showers.  They are much bigger and the water pressure is better.  But I like showering in the trailer, because it’s cozy, I know it’s clean, and everything I need is in easy reach.  In fact, having a bathroom and shower is the main reason I wanted this model Aliner.

So I took a cat bath with Wet Wipes.

Rained in, we spent the evening reading, surfing, and doing crosswords.

We left fairly early the next morning for home.

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