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Down By The River: A Guide To Reality Based Vanlife

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By Brendon Voelker

It’s a quarter ‘til sunrise in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You step out of bed as the day begins to break and the rays of light cascade through the windows. You flip on the hot water kettle, grind up some coffee, and prep the pour over just like that hipster at the local coffee shop. Slicing up a couple of bagels, you grab the peanut butter from the cabinet as your other half sets the table. At 7:13 on the dot you open the door to catch the tip of the sun as it crests the horizon. The cool brisk air catches you in the face as the dog runs out to take care of his morning business. The best part? It all happened in a van – down by the river.
#vanlife is something that’s taken off immensely over the past several years. Whether you’re living in a Mercedes Sprinter that looks like the result of a Pimp My Ride episode or cruising around in a sketchy white Chevy window-less work van, there’s a full spectrum of ways to live it – but it also comes with some drawbacks.

One of the biggest hurdles is finding somewhere to park. One of the most significant myths surrounding this lifestyle is that you can always park at Wally World. Well, unfortunately, that’s wrong and something that was learned after a knock to the driver’s window at 2am in Pennsylvania. As a blanketing company policy, Walmart does allow overnight parking. They realize the benefit of travelers staying on their property and the likelihood that if you walk in to use the facilities, you’ll probably walk out with a drink and snack.

As a rule of thumb, if Walmart is with a larger shopping center or plaza, you can’t park there. Typically, that land is owned and managed by a third-party. As a comparison, a mall is like an apartment complex, and the stores are nothing more than tenants. On the flip side, when Walmart owns the property, it’s nearly a guaranteed place to spend the night. In almost every case, the massive Supercenter will be accompanied by an Applebee’s, Sally’s, Starbucks, Game Stop, and an AT&T store – or another equivalent mixture. Surprisingly enough, Applebee’s has even been known to carry local and regional beers, often at a far better price than the near downtown bar.