Learning to “Adult” on the Road: Van Life Logistics & Lessons
Misadventures and insights from a young solo RVer.

By: Abby Holcombe

I have been traveling solo in my Winnebago + Adventure Wagon for almost a year now. It’s been an incredible experience so far! However, this lifestyle isn't entirely new to me. Before venturing out on my own, I spent nine years exploring far and wide with my parents in their Winnebago. 

While growing up on the road is my ‘normal’ because I’ve been doing it my whole life, learning how to be an independent adult while RVing solo has been an adventure – in the best way possible. Not only am I figuring out how to budget, grocery shop, work, etc., but I am learning it all while traveling in a van! 

Learn more about Abby and see how RV life is a great fit for her training and competitions as a professional kayaker.

Abby’s Winnebago + Adventure Wagon parked at a boat ramp on the Tuckasegee River in North Carolina.

Van life is incredible, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there have been a few more added things that have made it exciting at times. Here is a look into how I’ve learned to “adult” while on the road …

Managing Logistics 

I am so grateful for all of the places and communities I have gotten to experience because of van life, but it has made figuring out adult responsibilities a little bit more complicated! Most kids my age who go off to college have the challenge of figuring out a new town with unfamiliar roads, stores, and people. But with van life, I have to figure out a new town almost every week … if not every day, depending on how much I am driving.

Abby getting ready to fill up the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) in her Sprinter.

As far as finding a place to camp, I like to use apps like iOverlander and AllStays for extra guidance when going somewhere new. I also make sure to always plan out my route on longer road trips (using the apps) to make sure I have multiple different options for where to stay, so I don’t have to drive longer days than I am comfortable with or expecting to. 

To save money, I primarily boondock or moochdock (parking in my amazing and generous friends’ driveways). Here is an article I wrote on tips and tricks for boondocking safely.

Learning to Be Responsible (the Hard Way!)

On top of managing logistics, I have a few extra weekly chores like dumping my cassette toilet, filling my water tank, and figuring out where I can stay for the night. Learning how to adult in a van has definitely had some growing pains. 

For example, I have learned the importance of keeping a close eye on all the amenities in my van (especially water and cassette toilet levels!) to avoid inconvenient or uncomfortable situations.

Abby’s van covered in snow during a storm this January in Tennessee.

One time, I let my batteries get low during a snowstorm without knowing that you can’t recharge them if they are too cold. Luckily, I was parked at a friend's house and was able to heat up the van enough to recharge my batteries and get back on the road. 

During another snowstorm, my van got a little too cold one night and my RV tank treatment froze and exploded all over the inside of my cabinet in a blue disaster. That’s definitely not something a typical young adult will experience in their first year of independence!

Picture proof of the toilet treatment catastrophe, luckily it didn’t stain anything, and it was easy to clean!

And by far the worst thing I dealt with while learning how to travel alone in a van was when I accidentally overflowed my toilet after a long day of organizing, judging, and competing at a kayak competition in Colorado. I’ll spare you the details, but it was horrific. I can guarantee you that I have kept a very close eye on my toilet and battery levels ever since those incidents.

Staying on Top of Budgeting

First and foremost, from a young age, I have been very good at managing my finances and being proactive with my spending and saving. I don’t have any debt, I don’t use a credit card, and I’ve always been super proactive by working hard and saving the money I earn to be able to afford the RV lifestyle. 

Outside of being an athlete and content creator, I also work for various brands in the outdoor industry. Having multiple streams of income and saving as much money as I can is really important to me. 

My monthly expenses fluctuate a lot depending on where I am and how much I drive. So, I always try to budget accordingly when I know I have a big cross-country drive coming up, to make sure I have the money saved up to be able to pay for it. I also try to use GasBuddy to find the most affordable places to fill up. It’s a little more difficult during longer drives, but if I have the time I’ll try to plan it out in advance. (Read more on how to save on fuel in this article.)

This is what a typical grocery haul for Abby looks like to last her a few days.

As far as budgeting for groceries goes, I try to only shop for about three days at a time. It can be inconvenient to get groceries so frequently, but I’ve found it is the best balance for me to not overfill my fridge and/or waste food. 

I also make sure to stock up on dry and canned goods (pasta, tomato sauce, tuna, corn, beans, etc.) when I see sales, just in case I am in the middle of nowhere and don’t have access to a grocery store for more than three days. Lastly, I always try to stop at stores like Sam's Club, Trader Joe's, and Aldi when available to save money on groceries. I’ve found that signing up for the rewards cards for the local grocery stores I visit is a great way to save money!

Being Okay Asking for Help

Lastly, I am also incredibly fortunate to have the support of my parents (who are fellow RVers!) as well as so many honorary ‘parents’ and good friends that have allowed me to park in their driveways, use their washer and dryer, plug in my van, and go to for support when I need it. This has helped a lot with saving money and time, plus I get to hang out with my favorite people!

Abby's van posing on the bank of a river!

I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for the world, and I am so incredibly grateful I have the opportunity to travel and chase my dreams with all the comforts of home!


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User commented on May 3, 2024 5:52 AM
Great read!