converting to the #vanlife

I’ve been wanting an old VW van for years now. Two summers ago I started looking online a bit more seriously but of course it was still just out of curiosity. I had been entertaining the idea of having one so that when I came back to the US to visit I would have something to live in and travel in. Flash forward to March and I get a message saying that my dad and a buddy of his had purchased a mint condition ’83 Westy from Colorado. My dad’s friend Peter mostly wanted it for tailgating U of M football games seasonally and my dad just thought it was a fun thing to have. I almost lost my mind when I got the photos and saw the new purchase! Since I now had free reign to use it as long as Peter wasn’t needing it I decided that I would drive her around when I came back towards the end of the summer.

I found out about 2 months before I got back stateside that it was a manual. Something my father failed to mention in the beginning, surely on purpose because there is no way he could forget that I still couldn’t drive one because he tried to teach me when I was 15. He came home from work one day and said, “meet me in the car in 10 minutes”. When I opened the driver’s side door he was sitting in the passenger seat with a full face snowmobile helmet on. Haha, really funny Dad! I probably stalled it about 5 times just leaving the driveway and about 8 miles down the road stalled it out on a left hand turn, got stuck in the middle of the road, panicked when the cars lined up, and bailed into the backseat in a fit of tears and stubborn teenage hormones. Dad had to get out of the car, walk around to the drivers seat, the whole while wearing that ridiculous helmet and waving at the traffic apologetically. I refused to ever try again because it was “too hard” and I “wanted an automatic”. Today I would kill for that Subaru Outback, but 15 year old me thought differently.

So what’s a girl to do when she gets her dream van at the age of 28 but it happens to be a manual? Well put her pride away, laugh, and get behind the wheel obviously! Then naturally a week later take it across the country to Burning Man in Nevada! Nothing forces you to learn quickly like a cross country roadtrip! So I’m back in the States, finally stumbled across some BM tickets, and now have 3 days until I embark. My boyfriend taught me how to drive a 6 speed jeep deep in the jungle of Mexico, so I was a little bit familiar and knew the basics already. But nothing had prepared me for this old lady! She’s a finicky 4 speed with gears that can be very tricky to drive, let alone find! As my father told me, “if you can drive this thing, you can drive anything”. I have spent the last few days practicing on hills, taking mom to lunch, driving to friend’s houses, and just generally driving around trying to get comfortable. I’ve learned that I tend to drop the clutch much too fast, which has gotten some laughs and cheers when pulling out of busy gas stations with 2 hops and a peel out before we start rolling. I’ve been laughing uncontrollably when I have to wave people around me because I can’t find first gear and it’s still revving itself in neutral. Oops!

I spent yesterday driving around with a girlfriend who knows how to drive a stick and learned living in a busy city. It was raining out and we spent the whole day doing laps through town and parking in my parents or my brother’s driveways. We would just hang out in the van, laugh, and talk about all the things we could do to it. I’ve got a solid list going to get her Burning Man ready and it all hit me yesterday how absolutely amazing and in love with the van I am. I’m still trying to come up with a name for her but we are convinced it’ll come when ready! I’m doing the drive out by myself and since I don’t want to drive at night, and am trying to avoid the majority of mountains (although I will have to cross the Rockies at some point, regardless) I’m feeling comfortable with my planning and giving myself ample time to get to Reno where I’ll pick up my buddy from the airport. I have friends along the way to stay with and can pull over and sleep in the bed anytime I need to. It’s beginning to feel like home and I haven’t stopped smiling for the last 2 days!

Today we take the first big haul 45 minutes out of town to Brainerd, MN to stock up at Fleet Farm and Home Depot. The girls have been helping me come up with a list of “van necessities” along with totes to get organized. So we are going shopping and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of laughs along the way in stop and go traffic as I maneuver the van around town less than flawlessly. Wish me luck!

Since I’ve been back in the States I stopped in San Diego for 5 days to visit my sister then flew back into Minneapolis where my parents picked me up and we spent 5 days in northern Wisconsin at the cabin on Lake Superior. It was such a nice way to unwind. Now I’ve been back in my hometown for the past 10 days catching up with family and friends and now packing for Burning Man. It’s gonna be an adventure, I’ll tell you that much! Don’t forget to follow me on instagram @theramblingmermaid and snapchat at smilelotsplz. I will keep you up to date on all the funny things that are going on, as well as my progress on the van! Much love.

Best Travel Novels of 2016 Thus Far

I’m sure you’ve gathered at this point, but I LOVE to read. When all other kids were spending their summers at sports and recreational camps, I was either at a scuba diving/sailing camp in the Caribbean, or opting for Quantum Learning Camp. Yea, you read that right. I spent the better part of the summer learning to read over 1,000 words a minute, efficiently study and take notes, and listen to classical music while I do it, a habit I have yet to break. My favorite part of the year was when the Book fair happened and there was a running joke in 5th grade about how at least 2 minutes of wait time meant that I would pull a book out and start reading. Needless to say, I’m still a bookworm and I’m proud.

I’ve read almost 20 books since the New Year and since people are constantly asking me what I’m reading I thought I would compile a list of my favorites. I’m usually juggling 3 books at a time- something serious, something light, and something fiction. I’ve always loved poetry and used to write a lot of it as a kid. This year I discovered feminist poets like Rupi Kaur, Warsan Shire and Nayyirah Waheed. Some of it is political, but most of it is completely relatable. The poetry ranges from topics like being an immigrant to breakups. I have their books on my kindle and have been flicking through them over and over the last few months. I’m sure you’ve heard about Warsan Shire at this point, she was the spoken word behind Beyonce’s new song Lemonade. Although I’ve never been a Beyonce fan, sorry Bae, I’m glad she go the word out about female writers like them. For the male equivalent read whiskey words & a shovel by r.h. Sin.

I also love travel novels, obviously! The two standouts would be Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche, an Australian who moved to San Francisco for a year in her early 20’s. She fell in love with an Argentinian man who dreamed of sailing the world and overcame her fear of sailing and seasickness to join him on the adventure. And, Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert, about a woman and her husband who dream of raising trilingual children. They embark on a mission to raise their kids speaking Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin. It’s a story after my own heart as I’ve always had this idea, if for some reason I decided to have children… but that’s another blog post!

My favorites of the year are-

the odyssey

The Odyssey:  written by Homer and probably one of those novels you have always heard about but never read? Yea, me too! But read it because it’s a classic for a reason. I absolutely loved the gods and goddesses in this story. If you’ve ever been slightly interested in Greek or Roman mythology, you’ll dig this storyline. The main character goes on an epic journey on his way home to his wife and son.


Islands in the Stream:  written by Hemingway and considered one of the greatest love stories of all time. Although I wouldn’t call it a love story, I’d call it a damn tragedy to be honest. But none the less, it’s a great read and is now a strong contender for my top 10 favorite books of all time. There is sailing, exotic beaches and cats involved. What’s not to love? On my sailing crossing from the British Virgin Islands to the Bahamas I wrote down the following quote,

“I’m going to get out of town for awhile.”

“You’ll be taking yourself along wherever you go.”

“Yes. But I won’t be taking a lot of other people I know with me.”

“That means you can leave, but still gotta deal with yourself.”

At least they’re right about something- no matter where you go and how far you run, you still have only you at the end of the day. We’ll always have to answer to ourselves. Do yourself a favor and sit by the water and read this classic before summer is up!

harry potter

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:  written by J.K. Rowling and an all around reminder of my childhood. I was an absolute Harry Potter fanatic as a kid, I would preorder every upcoming novel and I’ve read them all at least 3 times. Although this book is written in a screenplay format, which originally turned me off, it’ll still put you right back to your youth and you’ll remember all the reasons why you loved Harry Potter and all his adventures to begin with. I read it on the plane last week from San Diego to Minneapolis. It’s short enough to be an easy read but I teared up with nostalgia during certain parts.


The Heart of Darkness:  written by English/Polish author Joseph Conrad circa late 1800’s, it gives a beautiful representation of London at the time. It follows one narrator’s story about a voyage up the Congo river in Africa. He writes about the similarities between “civilized” people and savages drawing upon questions of imperialism and racism. He writes poetically and the opening scene is so descriptive you can picture what London must have looked like at the time, coming up the Thames river.


My Travel Must Haves

Kindle: I know I rant and rave about my Kindle all of the time but it really is the best travel companion for a bookworm like me who would legitimately try to bring all of my books with me if it wasn’t for modern technology. It’s also super convenient when someone at your hostel mentions a great read and instead of trying to remember the name of the book, you simply log into a wifi connection and it’s downloaded and ready to read within minutes.

Face wipes: Sometimes all it takes to feel fresh on long hall flights or bus rides is a good hand washing and a refreshing face wash. If that isn’t possible you can always substitute hand sanitizer and face wipes. Not to mention planes can be a haven for sickness so get a leg up. Being sick while traveling, alone and far from home is miserable. Trust me.

Kleenex tissue: I can’t tell you how often this has saved me. Long bus rides in foreign countries where there often isn’t toilet paper in most public restrooms. This may be manageable as a male, but as a women it makes you feel less than clean. I’ve also used it to put up to my nose when traveling through stinky areas of big cities.

Menstrual cup: I have used diva cup and now Luna cup, both are great products and similar. You can take this online quiz to see which is right for you here. Many countries don’t have tampons, especially in remote areas. The cup literally changed my life and the way I look at my periods, I recommend it to all of my friends. It’s comfortable, convenient and doesn’t produce waste. No more carrying around bulky pads or tampons, not having one when I need one, or hunting them down in various countries.

My journal: In case you hadn’t already figured this out, I love to write. My journal is full of restaurant or market recommendations from fellow travelers, addresses, language translations, recipes, travel tips, random rants, quotes and poems I like and things that inspire me. I keep it in my shoulder bag so I’m always ready to write something down.

Headlamp: From packing last minute things as quietly as possible early morning in the hostel to reading on a train, a headlamp has helped me dig for things more than once. I have gotten many impressed looks from strangers when they need a light and I randomly whip it out of my bag. A bit nerdy but you will be surprised how often it comes in handy.