If you spend any time at all on Instagram you probably know that #vanlife is a thing. A quick search of the hashtag pulls up over three million photos of attractive people living lovely carefree lives in their decked out camper vans. It looks like paradise right? Who wouldn’t want to work four hours a week managing a website that produces wheelbarrows full of cash so they can globe trot in a sexy vintage van? Ok, they’re not all doing that, but that’s what they’d all like you to think. In any case, curiosity got the best of me and I decided I wanted to venture out to see what this world was all about. I only have one problem: I don’t own a camper van.
I did a little research on renting a camper van in Minnesota and hit the jackpot. There is a place called VanGo Automotive in St. Paul, MN that rents them. I gave them a ring and chatted with Crystal. She and her husband Jordan own VanGo Automotive and they’re just about the nicest couple I’ve ever met. They love camper vans and it was obvious that they wanted us to love them too. I have one piece of advice if you rent from VanGo – you only need to bring clothes! Seriously, the list of what’s included is impressive. They thought of everything. If you’re camping with four adults (like we were), you’ll need to bring two more sleeping bags and pillows, but that’s it. Everything else you’ll need to be comfortable is in the van.
We showed up bright and early on Friday morning and after a quick walkthrough, we were ready to hit the road. If you’ve never driven a vintage Volkswagen Westfalia I can’t recommend it enough. When you command the oversized steering wheel onto the open road you immediately feel connected to an entire generation of adventure seekers that set out with everything needed in one small package. Everything about a VW is classic, from the way they sound to the way they handle. You’ll love driving them, and you’ll especially have fun with the turning heads as you roll through town. Jordan has done an impeccable job of restoring the Volkswagen Westfalias they have for rent. It feels like you’re driving a museum.
We hummed up interstate 35W toward the great North Shore in Minnesota and loved every minute of it. We decided to drive all the way to Cascade River State Park, and then do most of our sightseeing throughout the weekend. Cascade River is brutal and breathtaking. It’s a powerful river in the spring and is a sight you don’t want to miss. Our one stop was for lunch at the Scenic Cafe, which in my opinion is some of the best food you’ll find in and around Duluth, MN. Throughout the weekend our adventures included Palisade Head, hiking at Lutsen Mountain on the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, Gooseberry Falls, and another wonderful stay at a campground called Lamb’s Resort. They’re the only campground on the entire North Shore that has campsites right on Lake Superior, which we were lucky enough to nab! The other two places you don’t want to miss are Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse and Betty’s Pies.
Here’s what I learned about #Vanlife
- Vintage Westfalias are like that quirky, needy friend that you can’t help but love. You have to check the oil. Locking them is a little tricky. You have to be gentle when you lower the pop-top. The list goes on, but man is it worth it. The four of us agreed that we wouldn’t have traded that van for anything that weekend.
- Stay tidy, stay sane. Wow does a van with four people get out of control quickly! Make sure that everyone gets into the habit of putting their stuff back in their bag like all the time.
- Bring a heavy cooler. Yes, there is a fridge that works great, but we needed a little more room for beer and food. If the cooler is robust (like our Orion), it doubles as a handy step to access the “upstairs bedroom.”
- Take your time. This is truly a situation where it’s all about the journey and not the destination. You can hit 70mph in a Westy, but 60 is so much more enjoyable. Take your time on back roads and enjoy the view.
- It handled four adults well. We all slept great and thought that there was plenty of room while traveling. The rear seat is set back far enough to where it feels like it’s own little universe. Cooking is best handled by one person, but there is plenty of room for four to hang out and play cards in the evening if it’s raining or too cold outside.
On our epic North Shore adventure, we all agreed that the #vanlife weekend should become an annual event. We didn’t have any problems at all, and if we did it felt like Jordon himself would have driven up to the North Shore to help us out. I’ve already recommended VanGo Automotive to everyone I know, and now I’m recommending them to you. Here are a few more trip pics!