The Ultimate Adventure Vehicle (Is The One You Already Have)

Van life can be awesome. Just check out the hashtag. I would not balk if some dirtbag-loving, river-running fairy godmother bestowed me with a fully-customized adventure rig. If someone has some outstanding genie wishes to offload, send them my way. Until then, I have figured out the Golden Rule to having a grand old time in whatever sort of vehicle you have: make it work.

The Ultimate Adventure Vehicle (Is The One You Already Have)

The best way to have a fun road trip is to go. You can sleep in your car, in a tent, in a motel if there turns out to be a blizzard in bear country, or on top of a picnic table at a campground if the ground is too dewy and rocky. Just go.

The Internet is replete on how to live your #bestlife with #vanlife. As professional river guides, we spend the summer living out of our vehicles, which are often low on the Instagram echelon of worthiness. Making it work in anything from an ultra-cozy Toyota Camry to a slightly more accommodating Ford F150 takes creativity, flexibility, and fun – all of which you learn on river trips.

If you have the chutzpah and the cash to spring for a brand-new Sprinter, go for it. The fantasy dream-build I concocted on Mercedes-Benz’s website cost about $55,000. That’s only 55 times more expensive than the 2001 Honda Odyssey minivan I bought in 2017 after an unfortunate accident in which my 2000 Subaru Outback (held together by bumper stickers and grime) was totaled by a deer crossing the road in broad daylight. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get to the other side.

If you don’t have the cash to go all-in on a Sprinter van, go for a road trip in whatever wheels you own. The scenery does not care about the newness of your chrome.

The Ultimate Adventure Vehicle (Is The One You Already Have)

Kathy, my trusty minivan, lasted almost exactly one year. Lest you think my mom-style van life was stifled, I present you with an abbreviated trip log:

The “Hotyssey”—as I fondly called Kathy—hummed from Idaho’s panhandle to the Utah Basin and Range. Together, we plowed on to Arizona’s high desert, before heading down to the real desert, and then back up to the top of Utah and down again, across mountain passes and along winding rivers. Warbling though windy Wyoming, we pressed through Colorado, back down to Arizona’s famous uplifted plateau and down-cut canyon, and up and back to the Snake River Plain twice.  Kathy chugged along for endless hours, always en route to the next kayaking adventure, until she just couldn’t go any further and her alternator died outside of Bliss, Idaho.

The Ultimate Adventure Vehicle (Is The One You Already Have)

So, what do I shove all my schnadle in now as I putter around the Western U.S.? A 2005 Subaru Outback. What else?

The ultimate adventure vehicle is the one you already have. Enjoy the ride. You can have fun no matter where you go, no matter what you drive. Grab some questionable coffee from a gas station, buckle up, and join the legions of people enjoying our public lands. I’ll be the one in the Subaru Outback full of bumper stickers. Or the Toyota Tacoma with the topper. Or the Honda Civic with a roof rack. Or whatever junkyard reject I’ve duct-taped and Gorilla-glued together (true story). Look for the girl with a smile on her face and a backseat full of dirt.

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