Wal-Mart, Vans, and the NYT

George Etheredge for The New York Times


During our summer trip, we spent quite a few nights in Wal-Mart parking lots. We realized very quickly that some “RV Parks” are just parking lots with dump stations. Since we didn’t need dump stations, Wal-Marts worked very well. They have 24 hour security, bathrooms, and all the van necessities, such as ice and propane. Overall, Wal-Mart’s policy saved us hundreds of dollars and allowed us to stay in a safe place. We didn’t meet many people (most people kept to themselves), but that was fine. 

The New York Times published a photo essay of Wal-Mart’s overnight policy. Right now, it’s the top trending story on their site. You can read it here


Our fall has been great, and it has been very busy. Tim has traveled to San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and we visited Pennsylvania. We are very excited to have a break next week. Hope everyone is well. 


Hurricane Irma

We’ve had a busy August and start of September. I started a new job (going well) and Tim has begun a new semester. 

We decided to leave Tampa ahead of this serious hurricane. The storm is huge and unpredictable, and gas/food shortages were widespread in Tampa on Tuesday. We are currently north of Atlanta, staying at a hotel. We are planning to head west to Nashville tomorrow. Our hope is that we will remain out of the storm’s path and return to Florida via the western panhandle when possible. 

We left this morning at 3:30am, and drove for 12 hours to Atlanta (the drive would usually take about 7). Most of the rest areas were closed because they were filled to capacity. We were able to find gas but we also carried a gas container with us (lesson learned driving from MA to PA after Sandy). We were glad we left when we did, because it seems that the window to leave is closing. 

Our thoughts are with those who remain in Florida. We will update the blog as able.

New Adventures

Tonight, on a rainy Monday evening in downtown Boston, we sold our beloved van, Ranger. 

Ranger was made for adventure. He is a true camper van. He carried us over 8,000 miles, from Florida to Texas, throughout New Mexico, up to Colorado, into Wyoming, across Montana, home to Massachusetts, and back and forth to Maine. He did it all with no complaints, with only a flat tire and a cracked oil pan. Amazing, considering he is a 15 year-old car with 166,000 miles. 

As we spent more time out West, it became more and more apparent that our current location (Florida) makes it very difficult to camp as we did this summer. Most campgrounds are expensive and reservation-only. The Everglades are too far to visit frequently. To leave the state, we have to drive four hours north. Shipping the van is cost-prohibitive. Although Ranger never gave us cause to worry, we knew repairs are inevitable. It was also sad to think of Ranger just sitting in our garage, unused. 

After a lot of thought and deliberation, we listed him online on a VW classified site called The Samba. They focus on older specialized VWs. We had waited a couple of weeks without responses, so we had decided to drive Ranger back to Florida and go from there. 

However, last Wednesday we received an email from an interested party. We told him that we had planned to leave for Florida soon, so he came and test drove on Wednesday. He said he had other vans to see and would be in touch. On Friday he made an offer but later said he couldn’t make a decision. We were disappointed, but decided to resume our plans to drive home. However, on Friday evening during the HMA Summer Party (as Tim was eating a lobster), we received a call. He was back in and willing to pay for an inspection at VW the next day. We met him at VW and waited for an hour while the service team inspected the van. 

One hour later, the service manager appeared. He called the buyer over, but we were in earshot. “Well,” said the manager, “This is always the tough part.” 

We leaned over to hear the report, feeling a little nervous. What would they say? We had just had a look-over in Billings, but who knows?

He continued, “Good news for you though, because there is nothing wrong with this van. If you brought it in for an oil change I would not be able to find anything wrong with it. It is in great condition. Great tires, work has recently been done, the body is in great shape, this is a great van!”

What a glowing review! From a dealer, no less! We were proud of Ranger, and proud of ourselves for negotiating the repairs at time of purchase and doing the appropriate repairs at Billings. We were leaving Ranger better than we found him, and that felt good. 

We also sold some of our camping equipment, which was a win-win for the buyer and for us. He gets high quality gear researched for Ranger, and we don’t have to ship it home to Florida (we are flying home later in the week). 

Ranger will be heading back West on a three-month road trip to various music venues throughout the country. We are happy for his new buyer. As we signed the paperwork tonight, he said, “I am so excited. This is a kick-ass van.”

Yes it is. 


Some favorite photos of Ranger are below:

Readying Ranger for departure in early May (with my homemade screens and curtains!)

Ranger in Artesia, New Mexico 

Ranger at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico 

 Naptime in Ranger at Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Ranger in Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico 

Ranger atop the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado 

Ranger at Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming 

Driving Ranger home, Montana 

It may seem a little silly to be sad about selling a car, but Ranger is special. We would not have been able to do this trip without him. He was the perfect car for us–not too big, not too fancy, just right. The decision was hard, but it was the right one. We are excited for his next adventures, and for ours. Thank you for the memories and for keeping us safe, Ranger!

Thank you all for following along this summer. We hope you enjoyed our journey. Your support means a lot to us. We will write a retrospective entry with things we learned and would recommend to others. We will also be checking in here from time to time, especially when we are traveling. Stay tuned! 

✌🏻️and 🚐,

Ali and Tim 

Maine, Heading South 

Last week, we drove up to Maine. Pat is now home and doing well, and we had a great time visiting with Rick, Denise, Michael, and Madeline. On the way back to Massachusetts, we stopped at Bowdoin, Diane’s beautiful alma mater:

We did some shopping in Freeport and Kittery. We really need new clothes. In between trading in my old Patagonia fleece for a new one (you can read about the Worn Wear program here), we ate generous scoops of Ben and Jerry’s “One Love” ice cream (whoa) and browsed the L.L. Bean campus. The below moose were found with their antlers locked together and their battle is reenacted in the store:

Maine was beautiful, even (especially) in the rain:

We have enjoyed a month in Massachusetts and are set to head back to Florida this weekend. We will be stopping in Pennsylvania to see our friends. We haven’t been in Bryn Mawr for over two years and we are excited to see our friends, their children, and our old haunts!

We have been away from Florida for nearly three months and we are excited to return to our home. Below are some of the things we are looking forward to:

  1. Our house, which we love and appreciate 
  2. Seeing our friends and neighbors 
  3. Finding Sig! 🐾🐾
  4. Grocery shopping
  5. Daily smoothies
  6. Palm trees 
  7. Coffee setup 
  8. Meaningful work
  9. Getting back into a routine 
  10. Driving small cars!

We are sad to leave Massachusetts, but we will be back frequently this fall. We are so happy that we have had the time to travel the country and see friends and family. 

Please keep your fingers crossed for a safe journey south. If all goes well, our buddy Ranger will have carried us 10,000 miles in less than three months! 

Talk to you from the road! 🚐 ✌🏻️


As we drove across the country, we decided to change our plans a bit and head home to Massachusetts. The ride was mostly uneventful. Ranger is clean and resting, as are we!

We are going to do a couple of shorter New England trips before we head back to Tampa. I will write some posts about our most important gear and tips for camping in BLM/Forest Service lands over the next couple of weeks.

Thanks for following our journey so far!

On our way!

We left South Dakota, which was beautiful. Here’s a view from our campsite out of the Badlands:

We were aware of the long drive ahead of us, and as much as we would have liked to spend time in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, we were feeling the pull of the East. Here are some photos from Ranger:

We stopped at Notre Dame to stretch our legs:

And made our way to Cleveland this morning:

before arriving in Pennsylvania.

We hadn’t been in Pennsylvania since our move in 2015, and it was nice to see some familiar signs. 

We crossed into New York this afternoon and indulged in Wegmans and Polar Seltzer. 

We are officially back East! Very happy, with a renewed respect for our Eastern roots!!!

Ranger in the Badlands

Good news, everyone! Ranger is back on the road. The staff at Billings VW worked overtime on a Friday so we could head out of Montana. Woo! We drove to Gillette, Wyoming for the night. On the way, we caught a beautiful sunset in the rearview as we left the West:

We woke up this morning and drove to Badlands National Park. The combination of rock and prairie is so interesting. It definitely had more of a Midwest feel to the park. We watched a film in the visitor center, drove the scenic hour-long route through the park, and did a couple of short hikes. 

It was very pleasant in the park, with a steady breeze and the crowds weren’t bad at all. The Badlands are known for their fossil labs, and you can watch scientists at work. Due to erosion, the Badlands will disappear as we know it in 100,000-500,000 years. 

We are staying at a nice campsite outside of the Badlands. We have about four to five days of long drives ahead, so please keep your fingers crossed for us and our buddy, Ranger. We are considering taking a couple of days in the Adirondacks and Vermont on our way home, weather and Ranger permitting. That would put us home in Massachusetts on July 5. We will keep you updated!

Ranger in Billings, Part II

We received a call from Debbie this morning. Ranger’s parts had not arrived. She had warned us that overnighting parts to Billings does not always mean “overnight.” We remain cautiously optimistic that they will be in tomorrow.

In the meantime, we are enjoying Billings. Everyone has been very friendly here, asking us, “What are you doing today?” and then providing us with advice and recommendations.

We went to an enormous outdoor/sporting goods store and took some funny pictures:

I tried to fool Foz into thinking I caught this big trout, but he immediately dismissed it as a “phony.”

We had decided to trade in Ranger for a Wrangler, until we realized there was no back seat. 

We were (understandably) nervous while hiking in bear country, but here Tim looks like he is posing with an old friend. No bear spray necessary!

All in all, Billings is a good place to wait out Ranger’s repairs. We are especially fortunate that we have the loaner car (rocketship) to get us around town. 

Thanks for your support. 

To be continued (again)…


Ranger in Billings

We scheduled an appointment for Ranger’s oil change in Billings, Montana. We decided to go to VW, in case there were other issues that needed to be addressed. We are in the middle of the country and cannot depend on unknown independent mechanics (as wonderful as they can be) in random places, and would like to get the work done as quickly as possible. 

We had been waiting for about an hour when Debbie, the service advisor, came over and said, “Guys, you need to come and take a look at your car.”


We went into the service bay, where Ranger was visibly dripping oil. Turns out the oil pan had cracked. The serpentine belt, which had been approved before we left, was worn, cracked, and needed to be repaired. It also turns out that 14 year-old VW vans have parts that can sometimes only be found in Sacramento or L.A. It became readily apparent we were not leaving Billings today, or possibly until early next week. This puts a little dent in our planning, as Ranger is our temporary home and we were really hoping to be mostly East before the July 4th travel weekend. 

We waited and mulled over our options. Meanwhile, Debbie was working her magic to have the parts overnighted and we were told the work should be done by tomorrow. We were provided with a loaner 2017 Passat (Tim calls it a rocketship) and we are staying in a comfortable hotel (With internet! And a shower! And real beds!). 

Also, what are the chances…

We pulled into the VW dealership and saw Ranger’s long-lost, green Eurovan cousin. We have seen many white Eurovans but never a green one. We were told that it has 500,000 miles on it. Makes Ranger seem like a baby. 

We are grateful that we didn’t have a major issue on a random highway with no cell service, grateful that Debbie went out of her way for three hours, grateful that we have a loaner car, grateful that we can stay in a very comfy hotel, and grateful that we can keep going tomorrow (hopefully!).

Keep your fingers crossed for us, and Ranger. 

To be continued…


We left Grand Teton yesterday morning for Yellowstone. We had planned to stay in the park until Friday, but we ran into some roadblocks (literally). We were set to stay at Lewis Lake Campground, which is a non-generator site that rarely fills. Unfortunately, it was not listed on the NPS website that it was closed. Lower Yellowstone is a loop, and we opted to travel the less busy side of the loop to avoid the Old Faithful traffic on the other side. We saw some beautiful aspects of Yellowstone, like Yellowstone Lake:

We also spotted some of Foz’s friends grazing in the hills:

Most of the campgrounds at Yellowstone are reservation only (filling months in advance), so we continued forward. There was a sign for 10pm-7am roadwork, but since it was 9:30am, we figured we were fine. However, they had one-lane, one-way road for 20 miles. By the time we arrived at the last campground in Yellowstone, we had been driving for over 2 hours in the park! Even the bison were stopped for construction:

But, we made it! We grabbed the second to last campsite available and ate lunch in the shade of the visitor center. Take a look at our lunch companions! 

We went for a short hike through Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs, which were beautiful. You have to remain on the boardwalk to avoid being scalded by the water and acids that lay just below the surface, as illustrated in the below warning sign:

It started to thunder, so we went to the General Store for a cone of Montana Moose Moss ice cream (verdict: very good). We mailed a postcard from the Yellowstone post office:

We then returned to Ranger and fell asleep. We made dinner and caught a beautiful sunset from our campground:

Amazing! We stayed up for a Ranger evening program on the history of campfires at Yellowstone. 

Fun and informative!

We wrestled with our decision to leave Yellowstone early. It is such a stunning and enormous park. However, in the end, we knew that we would better enjoy it in another season. With the roadwork, it would take us at least 2-3 hours one-way to drive to the Old Faithful area of the park. The park as a whole was extremely busy, and since the road would be closed until 7am,  we would be driving into the chaos with limited parking options (there are no shuttles). We were happy to see the animals that we did, happy to see some beautiful sights, and happy with our ranger program. 

We would recommend visiting Yellowstone during its “shoulder seasons” of April-May or October, based on what Yellowstone employees told us. The spring and fall are much less crowded and there is a lot to see. The height of Yellowstone’s season is mid-July through mid-August, when over 90% of their visitors arrive. As one employee in the General Store told us, “If we can see the floor, we aren’t busy. We don’t even try to get into the park in June, July, or August.” 

All in all, the Yellowstone that we did see was beautiful and we hope to visit it again! 

We are currently in Montana, enjoying a brief spell out of the van as Ranger has his oil changed. We are heading east!

Talk soon!