Van Life- Exploring with an RV

RV at Badlands National Park, Nevada

We took a 10 day cross country road trip exploring with an RV (recreational vehicle) and it was a valuable experience in considering Van life. We thought an RV was going to be more glamorous than living out of a van, but we were wrong. Our experience actually made us feel like there was a lot of wasted space, unnecessary conveniences and a cumbersome drive.


We are currently researching our own van design using the Mercedes Sprinter so all of our comparisons are focused on what we already know about this van. (Other van models are comparable to the Sprinter and won’t vary much in comparison to a standard RV.) Check out our Van Life series for more info.

Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho

RV Size

The RV we chose to explore with was a standard 25′ model and much larger than our proposed Sprinter van. We were faced with many limitations due to its size and class as a vehicle. We did plan for RV friendly roads when mapping out our routes, but we were caught a little off-guard by having to stick to commercial highways in some states. This added some time and extra traffic to our journey. Things to consider:

  • When renting an RV from a company it will have Commercial Plates. Many states will have restrictions for commercial vehicles on certain types of roads. For example; New York State Parkways do not permit commercial vehicles of any kind (or any RV’s due to the low bridge clearances).
  • Many states have bridges and tunnels with restrictions on vehicles that have propane tanks on board. You may have to change your course or pull over and turn off your propane tank before entering.
  • You can expect to pay an increased toll for an RV even if it only has two axels because it is taller in height than a standard vehicle.
  • A typical van (ie; Sprinter) will not have the same limitations since it is smaller in size and class and can avoid commercial highways if it has passenger plates.

Parking an RV

RV parked, Grand Teton National Park, Overlook, Wyoming

Parking the RV was an issue in many areas. We didn’t fit in parking garages and often had to park just outside towns or cities and walk in. Most of the state and national parks we visited also had limited parking for RV’s. You could only park in certain lots/areas and there were specific designations for parking a limited number of oversized vehicles. We were fortunate to travel during a shoulder season and find parking at these locations, but they were still close to full. The smaller size of a typical van gives you the freedom of parking in more common areas and parking garages if needed. In crowded areas and inclement weather a van can definitely be more convenient.

Gas Stations

Gas stations did not always accommodate the higher vehicle height or width of the RV. When you are driving out in the middle of the country, your fueling options can become few and far between if you’re not on the main highways. Yellowstone National Park was especially tight. The filling stations were old and our RV took up the entire space between both pump lanes. We received some ugly glares from fellow tourists, but we had no other option and they would just have to wait. (Driving only one day in Yellowstone was 150 miles for us and we only explored about 20% of the park roads. Our RV barely got 10 miles per gallon so we definitely wanted to fill up before heading through the mountains in the evening to our overnight accommodations.) Based on our research, a van can double that gas mileage and it will easily fit into those tight fuel lanes.

Road Restrictions with an RV

One last disappointment on size was the vehicle restrictions on certain wildlife viewing roads in the National Parks. The best roads to see wildlife were unpaved, narrow and winding. We were prepared for the bumpy ride in the RV, but we were not allowed due to size. An RV is too wide to share the road with oncoming traffic. I’m sure you’re thinking that we could’ve just pulled over to let vehicles pass through; but if so, then you have not traveled to these areas before. Once we crossed over the Mississippi towards the west, the roads we encountered did not have shoulders or guard rails and often dropped off to a gully, ravine or canyon. Exploring with an RV is tough! (Note: There would have been more restrictions if we were towing or had a larger RV.) The standard RV is almost two feet wider than the Mercedes Sprinter van!

wildlife crossing, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Conveniences and Space

RV Bathroom Accommodations

Our RV came with a bathroom that included a toilet and shower. These are some of the biggest items of contention in designing a van due to limited space. It was a great experience for our van design to have a toilet and shower in our RV. We had already researched the pros and cons of adding them, but the first hand experience really solidified our decisions.

fold down sink in a Winnebago bathroom

The toilet in the RV was really cumbersome to use. It was on a pedestal so you had to step up on the shower base to sit on it. The bathroom is also really tight on space so there’s not much room to maneuver getting on to the toilet. In addition, none of us could stand straight up in the shower. Our traveling family ranged from 5’3” to 5’10” and none of us found it comfortable to use the shower or the toilet. Now add in having to maintain your water supply, monitoring your grey water level, and having power for the water pump; it all becomes quite a hassle.

Squeezing the bathroom in this way left them no room for a sink, not even a fold down sink (pictured example) on the wall. However, once you exited the bathroom you had a sink with storage and a mirrored wall cabinet. This seemed like a poor use of space being outside of the bathroom since the kitchen sink was three feet away.

Adding a bathroom into an already minimalistic van is a difficult decision. We had much more room in our RV and we felt really uncomfortable. We avoided using the RV bathroom whenever possible; so I’m confident to say we can eliminate the full bathroom from our van design.

RV Kitchen Accommodations

pug with coffee, rv traveling

We enjoyed our kitchen in the RV and used it daily. It definitely took up more square footage than what would fit into our van design and we learned a few things.

  • A refrigerator box with a top lid is more appropriate for a vehicle and will, overall, keep the food coldest. A refrigerator with a front swing door takes up more space and isn’t as big as you think it is. Additionally, a front swing door will not stop the food that moved around while driving from spilling onto the floor when you open it.
  • Propane stoves can take up a lot of space and make a lot of noise while driving. The clanging of the metal components while driving and the issues of propane restrictions on some roads is enough to make us choose another option. Our van design will include an electric induction cooktop which helps with space, noise and driving safely.
  • Lightweight unbreakable dishes that stack are the best choice for a moving kitchen. It will also be a much quieter ride if you limit the metal utensils, pots or pans. (Imagine placing your kitchen items in a child’s wagon and pulling it on the road. Whatever noises you hear from the vibration of the road surface is what you will hear in the RV, but multiplied from the speed.)
  • Counter space makes cooking and other tasks much easier. The RV offered a decent amount of counter space, but our van conversion will not have the same square footage to utilize. We will definitely make sure we have pull out counters in our van design.
On the road, Badlands National Park, NevadaNight Road View, Big Horn National Park, Wyoming

Additional RV Accommodations

Overall, we were surprised at the use of space in the standard size RV. We expected to be far more comfortable in this larger vehicle; using it as a stepping stone towards the smaller sprinter van. By the end of our trip exploring with an RV, we all agreed that next road trip we’ll take a smaller vehicle.

  • An air conditioning unit is unnecessary and uses a lot of energy. We found the air conditioner was needed in our RV while we were traveling in August for a good night sleep and to keep the dogs cools. However, this was mostly because the RV was designed to rely more on the AC than on the fan. If there had been more than one fan and they were of better quality, we would not have needed the air conditioning.
  • The windows were another factor in keeping cool. We were surprised at the small size of the window openings considering the square footage of the vehicle. The windows were sliders which meant only half of the window could be open at any one time. It was impossible to get any airflow into the vehicle from the windows, not even a cross breeze. This is an important lesson we will take with us into our van design.
  • We did not expect to be so uncomfortable sleeping! This was one of the biggest reasons for our choice to go exploring with an RV; we would have beds. It was really disappointing to have such a large vehicle and not be able to lay flat on the beds. Again, our family ranges from 5’3″ to 5’10” yet none of us could fit comfortably on a bed without laying diagonally. A couple of nights I actually choose to sleep on the floor so I could stretch my legs. Our beds were advertised as full and queen size, but not one of us could lay flat from top to bottom. This made it really difficult to have two people share a bed; so…no, this vehicle did not sleep 5-6 people comfortably as advertised. We were a family of four and we were miserable. I was concerned about designing a comfortable sleeping space in our van conversion, but this experience really showed me some “do nots” to avoid.
  • Something we really didn’t consider until our experience was the distance of the passengers. We’ve driven thousands of miles in our Subaru and could always communicate with every passenger in the vehicle. It’s nice to share moments while driving on the highway or even get someone’s attention to look out the window quickly. We lost this close connection in our RV. The only people who can see out the front window of an RV while sitting are the driver and co-pilot. Even with seating to the sides and rear of the vehicle, it was difficult to share in the same moments; especially when their windows were on the opposite side as yours. It was also really difficult to have a conversation with the back passengers due to the distance and enormity of the vehicle shell. This is something we will definitely consider more seriously in our van design.

Let me know what you think. Have you spent several days exploring with an RV? How did you like it? What would you need to take with you into a van?

I love camping, tire cover

Taking the Scenic Route Across the US

Our family is no stranger to scenic road trips across the US. The summer before last, we drove close to 4,000 miles from Long Island, New York to Key West, Florida. We drove round trip in our Subaru Crosstrek making our way along the East Coast with planned stops to visit old friends and explore life. There was no shortage of family antics, mom jokes, and photography along the way. This was the best experience I could have ever planned for our family bonding and now I have the opportunity to do it once more.

2020 is quite possibly the worst year to plan a family trip; but we have a member of our family relocating to California, my daughter. She is grown and working at a high level job with her newly acquired PhD, but the jobs for her field are in California–3,000 miles away. Taking her dog on a plane is not an option and we are suckers for a road trip, so here we go!

Driving from the East Coast to the West Coast is a much bigger endeavor than driving along the same coast. We will be covering close to 4,000 miles just going one way. We want to make the most of our journey and be as comfortable as possible so we rented an RV. We’re super excited to explore more states in the US and enjoy the beauty of what each one has to offer.

I’ll be posting photos daily on Instagram so you can follow along. Our itinerary is intense and it will be an amazing road trip if we can stay on schedule. We’ll be driving through thirteen states in ten days in varying climates and terrains. Going across the country is very different as we leave the East Coast’s lush green forests and head into the desert and mountainous terrain of the West. We also have the added concern for the number of wildfires currently plaguing California. We will have to stay vigilant with any park closures and changes in course; above and beyond the closures along the way for Covid-19 precautions.

Safety and scenery are our primary focuses. We will spend all of our overnights in our RV, prepare and eat the food we bring, and sanitize after venturing in the outdoors and at public stops. The RV helps us prioritize safety by having its own kitchen, toilet, and shower. We’re feeling really good about venturing across the US with our collection of stylish face masks and abundance of cleaning supplies. Our protocols and choices of outdoor stops give us the confidence of staying safe while enjoying the scenic route we designed.

Our Scenic Cross Country Itinerary from New York to California

  • Day 1, Aug 27th- Overnight Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio
  • Day 2, Aug 28th- Overnight Illinois Beach State Park, Illinois
  • Day 3, Aug 29th- Overnight Oasis RV Park, South Dakota
  • Day 4, Aug 30th- Overnight Oasis RV Park, South Dakota
  • Day 5, Aug 31st- Overnight Cody KOA, Yellowstone, Wyoming
  • Day 6, Sept 1st- Overnight Dubois Wind River KOA, Wyoming
  • Day 7, Sept 2nd- Overnight Fort Running Bear, Idaho
  • Day 8, Sept 3rd- Overnight Crater Lake Mazama Village, Oregon
  • Day 9, Sept 4th- Overnight Fort Bragg, California
  • Day 10, Sept 5th- Overnight Berkeley, California
  • Day 11, Sept 6th- Overnight Berkeley, California
  • Day 12, Sept 7th- Flight Home to New York

  • We wanted our first stop to get us past the major congestion of the tri-state area (NY, NJ, PA) and the Finger Lakes are on our bucket list.
    • Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Peninsula
      • The Ledges, Beaver Marsh, Brandywine Falls, Blue Hen Falls
    • Columbia Park, Bay Village
      • Hidden waterfall and Lake Erie.

Michael Jackson’s Childhood Home, Gary (How can we resist? I’m seriously looking for my old Michael Jackson Thriller doll from the Grammy’s to bring along!)

We’d love to stay longer in Indiana, but I-90 only passes through a tip of the state. We’ll definitely be back one day soon to explore and spend time with family that reside further into the state.

  • Illinois Beach State Park, Zion
    • Lake Michigan (Another Finger Lake for our bucket list!)
  • Chicago
    • The Bean and a Deep Dish pie (New Yorkers can’t resist comparing pizza wherever we go and we hear this is a real contender!) As an added bonus, we’re connecting with a friend of mine from high school. I hope he’s as good a tour guide as my bestie from Georgia!
  • We would love to see more of Wisconsin, especially near Lake Superior; but we need to stay on schedule and only drive through enough to stay on I-90.
  • Mars Cheese Castle, Kenosho (Two Words- Cheese Hats)
  • Pinkie the Elephant, Deforest (We cannot resist novelty architecture!)

We would also love to explore Minnesota more, especially the northern part; but we need to stay on I-90 and only graze the bottom.

Jolly Green Giant, Blue Earth (More novelty architecture and a great place to stretch our legs.)

  • This is a very long state and we need some driving breaks.
    • Sioux Falls Park, Sioux Falls (You know we cannot resist a waterfall.)
    • Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose (Giant crazy sculptures–right up our alley!)
    • Al’s Oasis, Tacoma (We are also suckers for traditional tourist traps. It seems like a cross country road trip right of passage.)
    • Man Walking Skeleton Dino Sculpture, Murdo (You know we have to take pictures of this! You’ll thank us when you see it on our Instagram.)
    • Oasis RV Park, Interior (We wanted a spot as close to the Badlands as we could get to view the spectacular night skies. This is another bucket list item.)
    • Badlands National Park (We will officially be bad-ass after we drive through the Badlands.)
      • Badlands Loop Rd- 14 Overlooks
      • Sage Creek Rim Rd for wildlife viewing (especially Prairie Dog Town!)
      • If we’re motivated enough, we really want to catch a sunrise and/or sunset in the park.
    • Wall Drug, Wall (They had us at Giant Jackalope, but we’re looking forward to the free ice water and photo with mini Mount Rushmore in this tourist oasis. I’m sure you will find all of us in the arcade enjoying the shooting gallery after we eat some homemade donuts too.)
    • Chapel in the Hill, Rapid City (This is a bucket list item other Instagram accounts have flaunted.The beauty of this chapel is its location, but I am also drawn to its Scandinavian lure. I will definitely be adding to my gnome collection if their gift shop is open!)
    • Dinosaur Park, Rapid City (We might be a little too old for this one, but we added it as an option in case we have extra time and want to take photos with novelty dinosaurs.)
  • Big Horn National Forest, Dayton (We can not pass up on an opportunity to see these mountains even if we just drive the scenic byway.)
  • Devil’s Tower National Monument, Devil’s Tower (It’s so big and famous, we couldn’t miss it. To be honest, I’m just thinking “Close Encounters,” but my kids have no idea.)
  • Cody KOA, Yellowstone, Cody (A nice rest here before we tackle Yellowstone in a single day.)
  • Yellowstone National Park, NE Entrance, Yellowstone (Bucket list park.)
    • Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Midway Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb Overlook, and maybe Canyon Village (These stops will be dictated by the amount of traffic we have to endure inside the park. Wish us luck!)
  • Dubois Wind River KOA, Grand Tetons, Dubois (We’ll get to view the Grand Tetons at night and in the morning!)
  • Grand Tetons National Park
  • I would not have guessed that Idaho would have so many spectacular waterfalls, but then no one seems to know that New York has over 2,000!
    • Shoshone Falls Park, Twin Falls (We need to see this “Niagara of the West.”)
      • We would ideally love to see Perrine Coulee Falls in Centennial Park and drive along the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway as well, but time will dictate how much we can do here. It would also be amazing to find a hot spring to soak in!
    • Craters of the Moon National Monument (This sounds like a great place to explore, but it’s only an option if we have more time than we expected.)
    • Fort Running Bear, Mountain Home (It’s a long drive to Oregon so we’ll need to rest. We should be able to see more spectacular night sky views at this location since it is at the edge of Sawtooth National Forest.)
  • There are so many places in Oregon we want to explore, but we only have time for one.
    • Crater Lake Mazama Village, 569 Mazama Village Dr
    • Crater Lake National Park (We’ll explore the Rim Drive and the Overlooks.)
  • The beautiful state of California has numerous places we want to experience, but the current fire conditions may send us straight to our final destination. We’re praying that the fires stop before they ravage too much of the rare beauty here. Climate change is real, people. Do your part to minimize the effects on the environment.
    • Redwood National Forest (The Redwoods are a sight my son has never seen. I’m hoping they are still there for him when we arrive. As of this post, the historically old giants at Big Basin Redwoods State Park have already been devastated.)
    • Route 101
    • Westport Union Landing State Beach, Westport
    • Fort Bragg Village (A nice stop to spend time with family living in the area.)
    • MacKerricher State Park Glass Beach, Fort Bragg (Another bucket list item from Instagram and a trifecta of things we can’t resist–seaglass, beach, ocean.)
    • Point Arena Lighthouse, Point Arena (What’s a trip to a coastal town without a lighthouse visit?)
    • Schooner Gulch State Park
      • Bowling Ball Beach (Another Instagram flaunt and trifecta for us, but we need to get here at low tide to see the “bowling ball” rocks.
    • Pt. Reyes National Seashore, Pt. Reyes Station (Currently, this park is closed due to the wildfires. We’ll keep it as an option since it offers a chance to see whales, elephant seals, a lighthouse and even earthquake trails.If we had a full day here we could hike to the secret Alamere Falls and the even more secret Secret Beach!)
    • Berkeley (Our final destination!)

We’ve Skipped Some States!

Yes, we’ve skipped past New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania! We spend a lot of time exploring the Northeast since we live in the area, so we zipped right through these states to reduce our travel days. If you would like to see where we’ve explored and posted from other states, search an area in Categories on the side menu. (States are listed under Long Distance since our blog is focused on New York.)

Van Life Research

If you’ve been following along then you know Van Life has been on the horizon. We are definitely using this experience of living and traveling in an RV for ten days to help with our research in building our own van for longterm travel. Check out the Van Life series in our Categories menu under Tiny Living or start here….

Wish Us Luck!

We always love hearing from you on our blog, social media, and even “old school” email! Send us a shout out during our trip and let us know how much you like each stop we post. Have more suggestions? We are always looking for more ideas. Road trips can be unpredictable.

Travel Tip to Make the Most of Every Adventure

You can never be too prepared! We always have a base plan with layers when we travel. Our base plan is the bare minimum we need to do to achieve our final goal. Our scenic route across the US is open to several variables including wild fires, social distancing, road construction, business closures, and more. We may encounter some of our itinerary items are no longer an option once we reach the area. Doing additional research and adding more options to our itinerary allows us to divert when needed and keep our days productive.

Van Life Design Choices Part 1: Personalization

Making design choices for your van conversion can be exciting and difficult at the same time. The popularity of van life has given us a wide variety of lifestyle options and brands to choose from, but your choices are limited. It all boils down to the interior square footage and weight limits of your vehicle. Once you have those factors, it’s a matter of need vs. want and then adding some personalization to match your budget.


Budget is a top concern, but functionality and comfort have to be high on the list as well In design choices. There are many van conversion stories that begin with “I only had $3000 for the conversion” and end with “now that I’ve had to live in my van for 6 months, I plan to make some updates.” My goal is to plan out a realistic conversion for my lifestyle and aim to raise those funds from the start. I want to avoid cutting corners on comfort and practical features.

Vehicle of Choice

The Mercedes Sprinter is my vehicle of choice as decided in Starting the Conversion Van Process. It has an interior square footage range of 59-86 feet (length range 123-180”, width 69”) and a height of 6’3”. A new Sprinter Cargo Van that includes some premium features starts the budget at about $64,000. This is a hefty price tag, but it is offset by reducing my living expenses. I plan to live in this van for at least six months out of the year for travel. If I keep it as my primary vehicle I won’t need my car. Six months of just rent and car payments currently adds up to $15,000 for me so I consider this a realistic budget item and investment.


In my research to map out a floor plan, I realize I need to figure out my personalization first. Important items like plumbing, wiring, and framing need a basic map before you decide on the size and location of furniture modules. Here I include some items I plan to incorporate into my build and why they became primary decisions.


It’s important to know the weight of your materials, design items, and accessories. Your vehicle is designed to carry a maximum load for safety, fuel efficiency, and mechanical reasons. The Sprinter Cargo Van selected for this budget model has a payload of 5919 lbs. I need to know what I’m adding to this vehicle and where I can minimize the weight. The best case scenario is as little added weight as possible to increase fuel efficiency.

Radrunner Electric Utility Bike

I really love the idea of this bike for short local travel when my van is parked. It’s a great option for quick local stops and avoids having to find parking for a large vehicle. This fun alternative will also save me some fuel while enjoying the ride. This bike comes in a variety of options to customize for my needs.

  • This adds 128-146 lbs. for two bikes and about 50 lbs for the rack.
  • Total increase to the payload is about 200 lbs. with added hardware.
  • I will also be increasing my budget with two bikes and the rack by at least $3000.

Packing Cubes

I love the idea of using packing cubes for storing and organizing clothing. They are lightweight and come in a variety of sizes and uses. These will lower my payload by reducing doors and drawers in the built-in furniture. I can now plan an open shelf with an elastic net for keeping my organized packing cubes in place.

  • This will probably only reduce my payload by 10-20 lbs., but everything counts.
  • The cost of the packing cubes and the elastic net will most likely balance out the savings from the drawers, doors and hardware I am replacing.


The wiring goes in with the framing so I want to make sure I have my added items planned before the furniture modules are added. Items that require large batteries, hubs, power stations or more need to be built into my plans right away.

The Cargo Sprinter Van I priced for my budget already comes with navigation, a multi-media touch screen, a 12V power outlet by the driver’s seat, and an AGM battery.

Wireless Internet

I will definitely want to add WiFi so I can work remotely, stay in contact with the world, and have access to entertainment. Using my phone as a mobile hotspot is not the best option. There are alternatives such as a Mobile WiFi hotspot and a built-in vehicle WiFi Hotspot.

  • Built-in vehicle WiFi Pros— offers the best signal strength and often offer other features such as vehicle diagnostics, roadside assistance, impact detection, and more.
  • Built-in vehicle WiFi Cons— not portable and will be limited to its immediate area. It is also going to be behind in technology updates as these items are more difficult to update.
  • Mobile WiFi Pros— portable for you to take outside of the vehicle and is usually up to date with the latest technology for better service.
  • Mobile WiFi Cons— does not offer any additional features and may not always have the best signal strength.
  • Both options require a device purchase and subscription to service, but a built-in vehicle hotspot will cost you extra for installation.
  • Neither of these choices will affect my payload.
  • The premium features selected for my van already include most of the additional features of built-in WiFi and I like the Portable option of a mobile hotspot. My choice will be Mobile WiFi.
  • My budget will increase by the cost of the device which can range from $0-$240 based on what my current provider offers. I will also increase my monthly living expenses budget by $25 for an unlimited data plan.

Solar Power

Solar power seems like a very practical solution to a lot of the electrical needs in van lifestyle. The Goal Zero Yeti should be able to handle the lights, fan, fridge, and charging of my devices based on its specs and reviews. This power station has the ability to charge on solar power, the vehicle’s 12V power outlet, and a wall outlet.

This is a more expensive option to a generator or extra van batteries, but this is one item Van Lifers make a top priority or upgrade to. Generators are noisy, smelly, and require to be refueled. Running off of additional van batteries can be tricky and involves a lot more electrical wiring and knowledge. Van battery wiring can also be dangerous if done incorrectly and those batteries have a shelf life.

In addition, I am planning this van experience to spend more time outdoors and travel. Van Life practices self-sufficiency and reducing your ”footprint” on Earth. Solar power brings me one step closer to these goals.

  • Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station— $1900
  • (2) 160 watt Solar Panels (320 watt)— $350
  • Mount Kit $20, Wires & Etc— $20
  • Solar Power will increase my expenses by $2400 more and add about 100 lbs to my payload.


Windows & Fan

I really like the idea of having vented windows. These add more airflow to stay cool, reduce moisture, and keep the air smelling fresh. This van is a living space and open windows are a must-have for me.

The Sprinter models come with solid glass windows in a variety of options. The Cargo model selected has fewer windows which allows me to add some vented windows to my build. I have the choice of sliders, crank outs, and lifts.

Along with some vented windows, a roof fan is a priority. Roof vans help circulate air and also play an important role in keeping the van cool on hot days. The majority of Van Lifers were content with a good quality roof fan to keep cool versus adding the expense and clutter of an air conditioner.

  • These items range from $100-600 each
  • I like the larger open feel of the sliders and I’d like to get 3 if possible— $1500 total
  • Additional materials to install the windows (urethane, edge modeling, tape, primer)—$100 each
  • Maxxair 6200K Roof Fan Vent— $250 plus $100 for additional installation materials totals $350 (Note: this also adds a need for electrical wiring.)
  • I don’t have the weight on these items or the parts of the van body that will be removed for their installation. I’m going to consider it an even swap for the payload until I get closer to the build.
  • The budget will increase by $2150 if I can install myself (or with a little help from some friends).

Porta Potti Thetford Model 565e

The bathroom is one of the toughest decisions in a tiny van. I decided against a formal bathroom to maximize my use of space. With that being said, I was not ready to give up on a toilet. Many Van Lifers post about going ”au naturale” and only keeping a shovel handy for their relief in nature. They keep a Bio Bag handy in case of emergency. I am not ready for this kind of sacrifice, but I applaud their commitment to living free.

The Thetford Porta Potti Model 565e is a fresh water flush with two compartments that separate the clean water from the waste. The waste compartment is easily removed to dump into a standard toilet. (No need for a waste station.) It is rated as having a comfortable seat height and a large bowl. It holds 5.5 gallons of waste which is about 56 flushes.

  • Additional Features: battery powered electric flush, 3 yr warranty, level indicator
  • Height 17.6”, Width 15.2”, Depth 17.7”— Weighs about 14 lbs empty
  • Fresh Water Hold—4 gallons (8.34 lbs per gallon)
  • Prices ranging form $115-200 depending on the Dealer
  • This Porta Potti will add about 50 lbs to my payload and up to $200 to my budget.


Now that I have these personalized items selected, I’m ready to move forward on size and placement of the furniture modules. My next post will reveal my choices and their layout in my floor plan.

  • The total addition to my payload with these personalized choices is 390 lbs.
  • The total increase to my budget is $8,000 bringing the current budget total to $72,000

All of these choices are based on best case scenario and financial flexibility. The cost for this build is rising and I will definitely want to keep it under $90,000. This certainly sounds like a lot of money, but a professional converted van with similar features averages $200,000.

Do you have any pro tips or ideas that can improve my experience or budget? Comment below.

Classic Volkswagen Van, George Hodan on publicdomainpictures

The Battery—Exploring NYC’s Origins at its Oldest Public Space

Battery Park, aka The Battery, is a piece of history lasting four centuries that tells the story of New York, its people, and the beginnings of our diverse nation. Our family has had the privilege of visiting this park several times over the past two decades to see the Statue of Liberty, mourn after 9/11, and celebrate the new carousel. You could easily overlook its importance if you didn’t know any better, but I’m hoping this post will motivate you to get to know it better.


Jump to the section of your choice or read through…

The Monument Walk

SeaGlass Carousel

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry

Visitor Info & Family Rating

Brief History

Times Square, NYC, Friday rush hour during Covid 19 quarantine

At one point in time, Manhattan’s earliest inhabitants were Lenape and Munsee Native Americans. They used the area of Battery Park for hunting and fishing and established a trade path from here through Manhattan going north. Today, you would know the wide or broad path they used as our modern Broadway.

It is believed that the negotiations to “buy” Manhattan were conducted at what is now Battery Park. The Lenape lived as stewards of the land and believed they were merely sharing it with the Dutch.

The Dutch West India Company built their administrative headquarters, Fort Amsterdam, in 1626 at The Battery. It was a short time before the British came and took over. In 1665 New Amsterdam became New York and eventually by 1714 the fort was renamed Fort George.

After the Revolutionary War, the fort’s remains were demolished (1790) and The Battery became a public promenade. But, of course that was also short-lived, and by 1807 New York City was preparing for British Invasion and war. Five new forts were built to protect New York Harbor. (Castle Clinton at The Battery, Castle Williams on Governor’s Island, and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island still remain standing today.) During the War of 1812 the nation saw a lot of battle, but none at the West Battery (Castle Clinton).


History Fast Track

  • In 1815 the West Battery is renamed Castle Clinton in honor of the governor of New York and former mayor of New York City.
  • By 1823, it is decommissioned as a military base and leased to the City of New York which transformed it into a cultural center.
  • From 1855 to 1890 it became America’s first official immigration center.
  • In 1896 it is renovated and reopened as the New York Aquarium; until 1941, when plans for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel would warrant its destruction. The demolition was halted by protestors, but all that was left by then were Castle Clinton’s historic stone walls.
  • The federal government took it back and declared it a National Monument in 1946 under Truman.
  • By 1966 Castle Clinton is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The National Park Service stepped in during the mid 1970’s with restoration and a public re-opening.
  • In 1986 the site becomes a concession for transportation tickets to the restored Statue of Liberty. In 1990, Ellis Island is open to the public too. (Millions of people pass through Castle Clinton every year to visit these sites!)

Battery Park had become a bit of a disaster by 1994 so The Battery Conservancy was founded to “rebuild and revitalize the park and its major landmark, Castle Clinton National Monument.” In 1996 the Battery Promenade is rebuilt with a new seawall railing. Funding was procured in 1998 to begin plans for turning Castle Clinton into a performance venue. But…


On September 11, 2001 Battery Park became a survival route for people fleeing Manhattan and an emergency staging site. Lower Manhattan is devastated and all plans to enhance the park go on hold. In rebuilding the city, the park fights for its preservation. The Battery Conservancy leads the fight and saves Battery Park’s woodland from the new South Ferry Subway Station construction.

By 2005, Battery Park is full of life with community programs and new amenities. In 2015, the New York City Park’s Commissioner reinstates the historic name “The Battery.”

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The Monument Walk

The Battery is an interesting walk through history. There are 22 historical memorials located within its 25 acres and they can all be seen along The Monument Walk. You are certain to have a relative or friend that endured at least one of these experiences honored in these memorials. Our family had three and it was nice to connect a little bit with their history. I’ve highlighted some of my favorites, but listed all for a brief overview.

American Merchant Mariners Memorial

This sculptured monument was inspired by a photograph of victims from an American merchant ship in World War II that had been attacked by a submarine. The man in the water is reaching up to grab the hand of another merchant mariner on a lifeboat for rescue. It is dedicated to all merchant mariners who served America from the Revolutionary War up to the present day.


Castle Clinton National Monument

This historic structure is already discussed in my Brief History; but it’s so interesting, here are a few more cool facts:

  • As The West Battery (1807), it was originally built on an artificial island only 200 feet from the tip of Manhattan. (Later in history, much of lower Manhattan was extended using man-made landfills which included the connection of this artificial island to the mainland.)
  • When it was Castle Garden (1824) it housed an opera house, theater, exhibition hall, restaurant, beer garden, and rooftop promenade.
  • From 1855-1890 over eight million people had arrived in America through Castle Garden as an immigration center. (Check out castle to search for someone!)
  • The original manifests recording the names of the immigrants, the original brownstone walls, and the historic landscape of The Battery still remain today.
  • In 1896 it was transformed into The New York Aquarium, one of the nation’s earliest public aquariums, which welcomed 2.5 million visitors annually until it closed in 1941.
  • The Castle is currently in use for historic education and as a concession to purchase tickets for Liberty and Ellis Islands.

East Coast Memorial

This sculpted memorial is impressive in size and presence. It honors 4,601 missing American servicemen who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean while fighting in World War II. The large granite walls keep a record of each of the deceased with their name, rank, service, and state engraved on the surface. The powerful sculpture of the bronze eagle gripping a laurel over a wave symbolizes “mourning over the watery grave.”


Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque

Lady Liberty on her 11 pt. Star Pedestal

“The New Colossus” poem by Emma Lazarus was written to raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. This memorial plaque features her poem as does the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Poem excerpt: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

New York Korean War Veterans Memorial

“The Universal Soldier” honors military personnel who served in the Korean War. The form of a Korean War soldier is cut out of black granite steel forming a silhouette that allows you to view the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island through the monument.

The Immigrants

This sculpture represents the diversity and struggle of immigrants in New York City. Multiple ethnic groups and eras are combined with expressive poses—an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, and a worker.


Bronze Sculptures Throughout the Park

  • John Ericsson—Swedish-American engineer and inventor who designed the ironclad warship, the Monitor, which revolutionized military maritime technology.
  • John Wolfe Ambrose—a poor boy who immigrated to New York from Ireland and rose to prominence as an engineer and developer, most notably the deepening and widening of the channels leading into New York Harbor making New York the “greatest seaport of the world.”
  • Giovanni da Verrazzano—In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first known European to have entered New York Bay and the first to have seen what we now call The Battery. The bronze sculpture of the explorer stands tall on a pedestal above a female figure that represents Discovery.
  • Coast Guard Memorial—in memory of the men and women of the United States Coast Guard who served their country in World War II.


Different Memorials Throughout the Park

  • Fort George Memorial Tablet—This marker recognizes the southwest bastion of Fort George (originally Fort Amsterdam). The fort was demolished after the Revolutionary War.
  • The Battery Cannon—This cannon was placed at The Battery in 1914 after it was exhumed from the corner of Broadway and Exchange Alley in 1892 and presented to the City of New York.
  • Castello Plan Monument—This three-dimensional bronze relief map of The Castello Plan, a 1660 map of New Amsterdam, sits upon a natural boulder for a glimpse into the history of lower Manhattan. “All 317 houses extant at that time are delineated on the map, many with the gardens and orchards that supplied food to sustain the first settlement.”
  • Marine Flagstaff—This Flagstaff, dedicated in 1955, commemorates the maritime history of The Battery.
  • Jerusalem Grove—The people of Jerusalem presented this gift of fifteen cedar trees to the people of New York City in 1976.
  • Netherland Monument—commemorating the Dutch establishment of New Amsterdam, this granite sculpture depicts an exchange between the Native Americans and the Dutch. 
  • Norwegian Veterans Monument—made of Norwegian coastal boulders, the pink granite honors the brave sailors of the Norwegian merchant marines who lost their lives during World War II and who considered their port of call, New York, as their home.
  • Peter Caesar Alberti Marker—the first Italian settler in the area we now call New York presented by the Italian Historical Society of America.
  • Salvation Army Monument—commemorating the arrival of The Christian Mission representatives from England who arrived in New York City via Battery Park in 1880 to establish The Salvation Army in the US.
  • Walloon Settlers Memorial—the Walloons were natives of the county of Hainaut in Belgium who fled to Holland to escape religious persecution. They were unwelcome in Holland and petitioned the Dutch West India Company to come to New Amsterdam and settle in the Dutch colony arriving in 1624.
  • Wireless Operators Memorial—this fountain and markers honor those wireless operators who lost their lives at sea while performing their duties. It is decorated with a carved array of seashells and foliage and inscribed with the names of the deceased. The first name inscribed in the granite is the radio operator aboard the R.M.S. Titanic, Jack Phillips, who perished when it sank on April 15, 1912.
  • Admiral George Dewey Memorial—This plaque commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Manila Bay fought on May 1, 1898.

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SeaGlass Carousel

The SeaGlass Carousel was added to the park in 2015. It pays homage to The Battery’s original New York Aquarium which closed in 1941. The pavilion is shaped like a chambered nautilus which houses 30 massive fiberglass fish that are “designed to recall the bioluminescence found deep in the ocean.” The underwater atmosphere is created by using LED color-changing lights and light projectors producing a water effect.

This one-of-a-kind carousel lacks the center pole of a traditional carousel and instead uses four different turntables driven by electric motors in the floor below. This design gives an outrageous effect of the fish swimming in and out of each other. Out of the thirty fish in the carousel, twelve are stationery and eighteen move vertically as well as spin.

YouTube video of the carousel in motion: Emily Mae Hood channel

  • Open 7 days: 10 am – 10 pm
  • Tickets $5 on site Only
  • Enter across from 17 State Street

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Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

People on Spiral staircase inside Statue of Liberty

Visiting Lady Liberty and Ellis Island is a top-rated adventure which begins right here in The Battery. Whether you book your tickets online or at Castle Clinton, you will begin your journey across the water at The Battery where the ferry departs. Our family was fortunate to visit more than once and even climb to the crown of Lady Liberty. You could easily spend an entire day or longer if you wanted to take advantage of every amenity, especially if you’re looking to do some family tree research. After all, eight million immigrants came through Castle Garden and twelve million came through Ellis Island!

Our review on visiting the Statue of Liberty

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Staten Island Ferry/ Peter Minuit Plaza

This plaza is named for the director of the Dutch West India Company who “purchased” Manhattan Island from the Lenape tribe of Native Americans. The Staten Island Ferry is one of the last remaining remnants of the New York City ferry system that connected Manhattan to its future boroughs before the bridges were built.


The ferry mostly accommodates commuters, but it’s open to all pedestrians and cyclists. You could take the ferry and explore Staten Island a bit, but be advised that Staten Island is not completely walkable. Fortunately, you can find transportation in the form of buses, trains, ZipCars and Ubers if you plan ahead. There are some beautiful Victorian neighborhoods and interesting spots to check out here.

The ferry is also a popular destination for a scenic tour of the harbor and even a Saturday night date spot. You will float on by the Jersey City skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which can be terrific views day or night. Many movies and television shows have used the ferry for scenes as well (Working Girl, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Spider Man: Homecoming, and more).

  • open 24 hours
  • free fare
  • ferry departs every 15-30 minutes
  • ferry travels 5.2 miles
  • ride is about 25 minutes long
  • entrance to new South Street subway station here and at State Street

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Visit The Battery

Park Amenities

This 25 acre park is one of the oldest public spaces still in continuous use in New York City and it plays an important role in the community thanks to The Battery Conservancy.

  • 199D0307-CD4F-4972-9911-6461CB0329D8The largest perennial garden in North America—195,000 square feet
  • The largest collection of mature trees in lower Manhattan.
  • The Bosque Fountain—35 water jets in a 60 foot wide spiral fountain for cooling off and having fun (open seasonally)
  • The Battery Bikeway—part of the 31 mile loop that encircles Manhattan, it connects the Hudson River Parkway to the East River Esplanade.
  • The Grand Oval—200 acres of lawn with 300 movable chairs (open May through November)
  • The Battery Labyrinth—a meditative walk created by The Battery Conservancy to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11
  • Eateries—a waterfront restaurant and two farm-to-table outdoor garden cafes offering full views of New York Harbor and Lady Liberty

Things to Know

  • The Battery is free and open to the public every day
  • Great resource:
  • Address: State Street and Battery Place, New York, NY 10004
  • SeaGlass Carousel nautilus pavilion at The Battery,The SeaGlass Carousel charges $5 per ride per person. They accept cards and cash.
  • Leave plenty of time for security and travel for the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island ferries
  • There is little to no parking available on the street. If you’re driving in it is best to secure a parking garage in advance and plan out the walking distance so you are prepared. If you take the train, you can ride the subway straight to The Battery at the new South Street station.
  • Public restrooms are available
  • WiFi is available at the Bosque Area and the Ferry Landing.
  • Dogs are welcome on a leash, but encouraged to stay off the lawns and flower beds. We won’t list this as “dog friendly” only because it is really limited to what your dog can do here other than walk through.

Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️


Cost– This is a low cost adventure. Your biggest cost is travel. You can add a ferry ticket, carousel rides, and a bite to eat if you want to make a big day out if it. A family of five could enjoy the day for as little as transportation or as grand as adding $165 for a tour of Liberty Island, food and the carousel.
Parking & Transportation– Mass transit is always your best bet in Manhattan. The South Street subway station is right at the park. There are parking garages, but they fill quickly. Plan ahead and reserve a spot in advance; also, map out where your parking garage is located so you can plan the walking distance. City blocks can be much longer than anticipated.
Location– The history of the park exists purely due to its location. It is a great spot with beautiful waterfront views. It can be a hike to get to since it is at the lowest tip of Manhattan, but it makes up for it in all of its amenities.
Day Trip or Overnight– This is a day trip unless you can afford an overnight stay. There are many hotel accommodations and plenty of things to see and do all over Manhattan if you wanted to make it a longer stay.
Experience– The Battery is a unique experience due to its history and wide variety of offerings. Our family has enjoyed exploring the park on several occasions as it has grown and changed into the beauty it is today. This is a terrific experience for young and old to celebrate together for its unique history that most likely relates in some way to your own history.
Combination– The variety of things to do at The Battery could easily keep you busy all day. If you simply stop by for the Monument Walk or a ride on the carousel, you could venture north and enjoy more of lower Manhattan. You are in walking distance to Rockefeller Park, the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, One World Trade Center, the Irish Hunger Memorial, Teardrop Park, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Fearless Girl, Charging Bull, and more (all within a fifteen minute walk).

Tip: For more reviews on nearby adventures select “Manhattan” or “New York City” in the Browse Topics menu.

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The Battery, NYC, Pinterest, Manhattan, New York
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