I traveled in a camper van for the first time. Here are 9 things that surprised me on my 10-day trip through the Pacific Northwest.

Ashley probst smiling selfie (left), mercedes sprinter van in snowy weather (right)
I went into my 10-day van trip with low expectations, but it ended up being incredible.Ashley Probst
  • I spent 10 days traveling between California and Oregon in a Mercedes Sprinter van.

  • We had to stop for gas more than I expected, and a full tank cost about $200, which added up.

  • The scenic views from the RV parks we stayed at overnight were the best part of the trip.

When I set out on a 10-day van trip through the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea what to expect.

Ashley Probst hanging off the side of the camper van
It was my first time taking a van-centric trip, and the experience was far better than I expected.Ashley Probst

Experiencing new forms of travel exhilarates me, especially because I never know what to expect.

Before I set out on my first van-centric road trip from San Francisco to Portland and back down the Oregon Coast, I had a vague understanding of life on the road.

During my 10-day journey, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of my preconceived notions about van travel were wrong.

Our Mercedes Sprinter van was a top-of-the-line vehicle with impressive amenities, and a lot of fellow travelers stopped us to compliment it.

outside of camper van in woods
The van's owners were on a two-year waitlist to get the vehicle.Ashley Probst

Throughout the journey, I kept track of the number of people who asked about or commented on our 2022 Mercedes-Benz Beast MODE 4x4 Sprinter van. It averaged out to at least one person a day.

The van is one of the best, most in-demand vehicles on the market. We borrowed it from my friend's parents, who were on a waitlist for about two years before buying it.

Before I knew the specific type of van we had, I didn't expect our home base to have many amenities. But I was impressed by the air-conditioning, heating system, mini fridge, and pop-up shower.

Overnight spots at RV parks were easy to book, and some looked out at stunning scenery.

camper van parked in spot (left) and stairwell leading to beach (right)
At many of the RV parks, there were incredible views of the landscapes along the coast.Ashley Probst

I'd never stayed in an RV park before, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

Everyone I met at the various parks was friendly, inquisitive, adventurous, and, most importantly, joyful. The charming communities came as a pleasant surprise.

Many of the parks also offered scenic views. My favorite one was a grassy campsite located directly across the street from a stunning beach on the central Oregon Coast. Another was beside a river and decorated with gnomes, Bigfoot statues, and other mystical trinkets.

People outside of the RV parks were friendly to us, too. Other RV or van drivers frequently waved at us on the road, especially if they were also in a Mercedes Sprinter.

I was nervous about operating the huge van, but parking and driving ended up being a breeze.

Ashley Probst driving the camper van
When I drove the van for the first time, I was surprised by how easy it was to operate.Ashley Probst

I was so intimidated by the van's size that I was hesitant to get behind the wheel. When I finally did, I realized how easy it was to operate.

It didn't take long for me to get comfortable driving the van, and the backup camera with projection lines made parking a cinch.

Driving the van and keeping an eye on our speed required a lot of awareness, but the process was otherwise simple.

Additionally, I felt safe in the van regardless of the weather conditions since it was fully equipped to navigate city streets and go off-roading on mountainous terrain or icy roads.

The van had so much storage space that some of it went unused.

back of camper van with belongings in trunk
We didn't have any trouble fitting our belongings in the van.Ashley Probst

I wasn't able to see the size of the van until the day we hit the road, so I was amazed by the amount of storage space inside.

Not only was the back built to hold two bikes, but the interior had so many pockets, drawers, and cabinets that quite a few went unused.

We filled others with miscellaneous items that we didn't end up needing during our trip.

We didn't have a bathroom in the van, but it didn't hinder the experience.

Ashley Probst brushing teeth left, shower on right
The van didn't have a bathroom, so we stopped at RV parks and friends' homes to shower.Ashley Probst

Before taking our trip, we decided to remove the van's toilet, which was essentially a bucket.

Maintaining it would've been more effort than it was worth, and I was grateful that we didn't have to move a toilet every night to make space for the convertible sofa bed.

I planned on using the van's fresh-water system to brush my teeth and shower. But because it wasn't flushed out prior to the trip and contained traces of antifreeze, I wasn't able to use it.

Thankfully, I had access to public restrooms along the way, as well as private facilities at friends' homes and RV parks. I also invested in travel-size dry shampoo.

I was surprised by how few pieces of equipment we needed to cook on the road.

pan cooking meet outside of van
We had all the tools we needed to cook meals and didn't end up needing fancy kitchen appliances.Ashley Probst

Though the van didn't have a full kitchen, we still cooked.

Our portable battery, hot plate, and pan were the only tools we needed to make satisfying meals.

The vehicle needed to be refueled more frequently than I anticipated, and we ended up spending around $1,000 just on gas.

ashley probst filling up the van's gas tank at station
The van's gas tank cost $200 to fill up all the way.Ashley Probst

Using the Sprinter van as both our mode of transportation and accommodation helped us save a lot of money, but the trip still wasn't expense-free.

Gas prices were exceptionally high during our trip, and the van took diesel fuel, which is usually more expensive than regular gas.

A half-tank of fuel cost around $100. We stopped at the halfway mark each time so that we didn't have to drop $200 every time we filled up.

We refueled the van around 10 times, spending approximately $1,000 on gas alone. But it was still significantly less than we would've paid for a 10-day stay at an Airbnb or hotel.

Thanks to my mobile hotspot, I had no problems working remotely on the road.

ashley probst smiling (left) and open laptop (right)
I had to work during our trip, so I used a mobile hotspot from the van.Ashley Probst

One of my conditions for going on this trip was that I needed to be able to work remotely. I went on the trip expecting to have trouble working from the van, but I didn't.

I didn't have a consistent Wi-Fi connection when we were driving, but I was able to tap into my iPhone's hotspot.

I also scheduled my virtual meetings for days when I knew I'd have a stable Wi-Fi connection.

The van felt incredibly spacious when it was clean.

inside of van with dog
There was plenty of space inside of the van for us to comfortably spend time inside.Ashley Probst

Since we were traveling in a small space, it didn't take much for it to feel cluttered. But the van felt rather spacious when it was clean.

We could swivel the front seats around and fold the spare bed into a couch to create a lounge area that comfortably fit four people and one dog. There was plenty of room for another person or animal to join as well.

The ceiling was also quite high, so we didn't have to hunch over to move around the cabin.

That being said, the main walkway was too narrow for me to pass through when I was facing forward, so I had to turn sideways to make my way through it.

I went into this trip with a lot of concerns about van travel, but most of them were unwarranted.

Ashley Probst smiling out of van window
I really enjoyed my first van trip and would take another one in the future.Ashley Probst

Before leaving for this 10-day road trip, I was concerned about finding overnight parking, being confined to a small space, overspending on fuel, losing internet access, and more.

Shortly after setting out on the journey, I realized that many of those worries were unwarranted.

Because I was prepared for the worst-case scenario, the pleasant surprises actually made the road trip more enjoyable. The key was to go in with realistic, if not low, expectations.

Though I could've done without having to refuel so often and would've liked to shower on board, the experience was amazing overall.

Don't let preconceived notions deter you from new destinations or forms of travel. After all, you never know what you might discover.

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