6 Vanlife Tips for Traveling the Atlantic Coast like a Local

A campervan is essentially a home on wheels, a means to travel that's part improvisation and freedom, part luxury.

With a short 6 days to spare, we decided to grab an Escape Campervan and drive the Atlantic Coast from Miami to New York. Here's a few handy tips and tricks to dive in, drink up the culture and create a memorable trip on a budget.

1. Take the long road

While I-95 is clearly the fasted and most efficient way to get from A to B, it can get monotonous and boring. Dipping off every now and then and taking a longer, windier or lesser known road lets you see small towns and end up on expected adventures. We saw Art Deco mansions along Florida's A1A, snorkeled with turtles underground at Devils Den Prehistoric Spring, found beautiful avenues of trees in the backroads of South Carolina, and an abandoned theme park along an island barely wider than the road itself and lined in dunes on the Outer Banks. 


2. Fill your fridge with a beer or wine from each state/town you visit 

I like to think of this as collecting souvenirs, postcards or stamps. You can appreciate the artwork and the flavours, sipping a cold one from the fridge when you park up for the night. The Carolinas have no shortage of good breweries to visit and by buying local you're supporting them, whilst getting to stop and chat to the brewers or the bartenders who often have great recommendations for your next port of call.

3. Check out farmer’s markets & roadside stalls or cook your own

So you've got the luxury of a little kitchen, might as well use it! You'll save a ton by cooking your own meals where possible. I always opt for fresh and package-less if its available, bring my tiny coffee grinder, and stock up on Hydroflask gear for this reason.

The Hydroflask Wine Bottle holds 25oz, or a decent bottle of vino and keeps it icy cool. I also use this bottle as a go-to water bottle when hiking as it's very light. The Hydroflask Wine Tumblers double for both wine AND coffee, and the 12oz Hydroflask Food Flask is great for left overs or berries and yoghurt for brekkie. I even tested the Food Flask by filling it with a few ice cubes and they didn't melt for two days!

You can source all sorts of tasty things by pulling into a roadside food stall. We picked up the best mangoes I've ever had in Georgia which lasted us for a few days breakfasts, including my Black rice Coconut Mango Bowl. 

When the hanger sets in, it's good to grab a bite from the side of the road. On the border of Florida and Georgia we found taste of true southern barbecue right off the highway in a gas station parking lot. You could see Malson’s big barbecues smoking next to a little red shack right when you pulled off the exit. We ordered from a window and were handed saucy piles of pulled pork, smokey ribs and chicken with homemade pickles and potato salad. 


4. Discover unique camp spots on privately owned land

Finding a place to rest for your head for the night requires a mix of preparation and flexibility. If you do your research on what areas, distances you'd like to cover in a day, you can then look at booking or finding a camp spot just a day or two before you arrive.  

State Campgrounds are generally pretty awesome, but since you're all kitted out with the gear, check out some local land - it can be more affordable, off the beaten path and easier to book last minute. We used Hipcamp to find a spot down a leafy drive on an old rice plantation in North Carolina. Our host Dave had no shortage of stories to tell or musicians he didn’t know or hadn't partied with. We explored the river walkways trying to catch the glint of a gator's eye before sundown. It was a rare opportunity to have a spot to ourselves, sleeping with just a soundtrack of birds, frogs and alligators.

5. Tune into whatever radio station pops up as you go

This one's pretty simple - Country, R&B, talkback.. it's all good. By travelling quickly you'll move in and out of service for different radio stations, you can sing along to old school rock jams you forgot even existed.

6. Talk to strangers

Whether that's another van-load of people, a women and her dog you meet on a ferry crossing, or someone you can share stories over a campfire with. Chances are you'll get a recommendation for something cool to check out, or a new pin to add to your roadmap. You can get a taste of local history first hand while gaining friends in faraway places, make plans to come back next year, or a memorable story to retell.  A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet.

Just by getting out on the open road, our whirlwind trip saw us get a taste of the Atlantic through its beaches, forests, rivers, local delicacies, southern charm and horse farms. I've never been much of a slow traveller, but there’s something liberating about traveling fast, having an adaptable itinerary and deciding as you go where to take your time.

Nothing quite allows for creativity like having the freedom to step outside, sleep and wake with the light, break your routine and really live.

Published: June 13, 2018

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Emily Hlaváč GreenExplorer

New York

A kiwi photographer building stories around food, lifestyle and travel, currently living in New York City. Always dreaming of the next mountain to climb, making a campfire a kitchen or adventure into the unknown.