BY ALYSE MGRDICHIAN
While many people prefer to travel by plane, boat, or train, a highly popular form of sightseeing is road-tripping. For starters, it allows you to slow down and take the scenic route, enjoying each place you pass through instead of flying over (or past) it. A road trip takes lots of planning and intentionality, though, and this tends to scare people away from trying it (me included). So, I was very excited to have the opportunity to speak with Ben and Roxy Dawson, a couple who has traveled all over the U.S. in a van and, based on their experiences, written a practical guidebook—The Falcon Guide to Van Life: Every Essential for Nomadic Adventures.
With three (now four) years of van life under their belt, Ben and Roxy decided to pen a guidebook of practical tips and advice in 2020. Why? “The internet is an incredible place,” they tell me, “but it’s also overwhelming and unorganized. We wanted The Falcon Guide to Van Life to be a one-stop shop for anyone looking to learn more about van life. The book has information for the nine-to-fivers looking to completely change their lifestyle (or just do trips on the weekends), and it also has information for the veteran van owners who know the ropes, but may need a fresh road trip or two. Our aim was (and is) to provide organized and accessible information for anybody interested in this alternative lifestyle.”
Listening to them talk, I found myself wondering what the logistics of them writing a book were, since they live out of a van and are always on the road. “Well,” Ben tells me, “we worked with Falcon Guides, who pitched the idea to us. We jumped right on board in February of 2020—we all know how that year went! We had big dreams of van living from Italy to the Netherlands starting in May 2020, writing from the European countryside for the whole summer. Romantic, right? Turns out, Europe was the last place we could go, and even our van lifestyle in the U.S. wasn’t such a great idea either. Thankfully, we were able to find a more permanent home at Roxy’s mom’s place in the foothills of Colorado, where we stayed and wrote while the pandemic raged around us. While it would’ve been nice to be on the road, the stable internet, cool breeze, and consistency of staying in one place were much appreciated.”
Curious about what travel tips they might have, I asked Ben and Roxy what their advice is for people looking to go on either a short-term or long-term road trip (without giving away too much of their book, of course). “For short-term trips,” Roxy tells me, “we suggest to stay mindful and in the moment. We’ve found that the quickest trips are usually the one where more things can go wrong in a shorter amount of time, specifically because you’re trying to see all the things, drive quickly, and live each day as fully as possible. Because of this mindset, the opportunity for curveballs to clobber your plans happen more often than not. Remembering to stay present, roll with the punches, and always be open to change will make shorter trips far more enjoyable.”
“And with long-term road trips,” Ben adds, “carve out a loose itinerary. Decision fatigue is real, and it gets old immediately, leading to a fight with your partner or a low night alone. Pick a main destination and a few stops on the way, then let those wheels spin. Also, if you’ve never gone on a road trip before, try a shorter one first! Even one night in your van can help you realize what you forgot and what you shouldn’t have brought.”
Knowing what to pack is an integral part of road-tripping, since a missing item can result in either a U-turn back home or an out-of-the-way trip to the store. When asked what they can’t live without on the road, Roxy responds: “My favorite item, hear me out, is our hand-held espresso maker. Ben makes fancy coffee drinks every morning, and I appreciate the small touch of luxury every time he hands me my mug. That, and our pressure solar shower. Give me a coffee and a shower and I can travel for years.”
Luxury was definitely something that hadn’t crossed my mind before as a necessity, but now that I was thinking about it, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. Intrigued by this, I then asked them, what is something that people may not intuitively think to bring, but that is absolutely necessary? “Well,” Ben says, “it’s not a thing, but an action. Always download offline maps of the place you’re traveling to from Google Maps, and then grab the offline maps of the entire area around it as well. Roxy and I have gotten out of so many potentially dangerous situations by having an offline backup—your “blue dot” still shows up and is connected to satellite, so you can navigate as you go. This is the first thing we do when heading off on any trip, even when we’ve been to the destination hundreds of times before.”
What, then, are the pros of van life? “The main pros,” Roxy tells me, “are the most romantic ideals everyone thinks of when they think of ‘van life.’ Incredible vistas while you scramble your morning eggs. The freedom to sleep at trailheads, next to mountain bike playgrounds, or near slot canyons. The ability to visit friends and family when it’s convenient, not squeezed in on a long weekend. Also, my relationship with Ben has never been stronger. Traveling brings out the best in both of us, and traveling for four years together has created a bond we will cherish for the rest of our lives.”
What about the cons, then? “The cons are there,” Roxy admits, “but they’re less concrete. The biggest con, though—and Ben and I have screamed this from the mountaintops—is the loss of community. Your friends and family are living their lives together without you. Birthday parties get missed. Milestones and celebrations are only viewed through Instagram stories. It’s very hard to be on the other side of the country and see your friend group growing together, and knowing you’re missing out on that.”
Roxy’s overall description of long-term van life, to me, seems adventurous and sobering in equal measure. When you’re free to go off and travel to your heart’s content, you have the opportunity to see incredible new places, gain new experiences, and build new memories that a normal nine-to-five job would never allow you to do—however, in the process, you lose the community and social support (or, at least, the proximity of the support) that you’d previously had.
When considering whether or not van life is for you, it’s important to weigh out the pros and cons—it’s a big decision and, if you know how to emotionally and physically prepare for that lifestyle, then it could very well be worth it (as has been the case for the Dawsons). While I’m not itching to live out of a van at the moment, Ben and Roxy’s adventurous spirit is definitely contagious, and talking to them has made me want to see new places and try new things. Hopefully their guidebook will have the same effect on you!
In closing, if you’re looking for some inspiration on where to travel next, we included the six destinations in North America that, for Ben and Roxy, have been the most memorable.
About the Authors:
Ben & Roxy Dawson are content creators who, for the past four years (and counting), have been living out of and traveling across the U.S. in their van. Mixing their van life with their professional life, they partner with various outdoor companies, taking marketing photos for them and representing them at festivals across the U.S. Currently, they are exploring Wyoming’s hard-to-reach backcountry trailheads so they can rewrite Hiking Wyoming, which details the best hiking spots in the state.
You can find Ben and Roxy on their personal website (www.benthereroxythat.com) or on Instagram (@meetme_onthe_mountain, @roxyjan_).
Article originally Published in the August / September 2021 Issue: Summer Reads.