Travelling Across the US in a Campervan: Sarah’s story

We’ve featured AdventureShares of all shapes and forms, but few have included all the themes of Women4Adventure. Sarah Van Remoortere’s tale of adventuring across the US in a campervan seems to tick all our boxes. She and her boyfriend landed in New York, bought a van and headed cross-country. Along the route they camped, cycled, hiked, went paragliding and did everything in between – an extraordinary adventure! Over to Sarah…

Our Adventure in a Nutshell…

At the beginning of May 2018, my boyfriend (Sebastian) and I left South Africa for the US with the intention of buying a campervan and journeying from coast to coast over 2 months.

Road trip

Sarah with her boyfriend, Sebastian.

New York: We landed in New York where for starters, we explored the city by bicycle, racing between the public bike check points, which have 30-minute limits. In total, we spent 7 hours on our bikes, going over Brooklyn Bridge with its old historical wooden panels, exploring Central Park, discovering Grand central station and riding back over the Manhattan Bridge. We also rode through Prospect Park and over Manhattan Bridge, cycling along the water’s edge. We watched the crowds of people rushing around the tall skyscrapers and enjoyed the city’s famous pizza and bagel culture, which was fantastic.

Virginia: From there we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and arrived in Virginia where we spent a week staying with family. Our search for the van started here with us navigating the fine line between cheap yet reliable. Eventually we found a campervan which was out of our league, but we decided to bite the bullet. We named her and loved her from the moment we drove away as her new owners.

Big Blue Betty was a white 1995 Chevrolet campervan. She had space for 5 people to sleep uncomfortably, a fridge that worked badly, a gas stove top, sink, water tanks, big saloon couch seats and was completely carpeted and upholstered in blue velvety suede. She even boasted a toilet!

We were impatient to start our long journey across the country, so we got Betty kitted out and cleaned and set off the very next day. Our journey started west through Roanoke and the winding hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here we found a beautiful campsite in a forest where we spent our first night in our Big Blue Betty. It rained hard that night and we quickly discovered that Betty had a few leaks – we loved her all the same. It was blind love.

Tennessee & Georgia: The drive continued from Virginia to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we met up with an old friend of Sebastian’s. Brian was the one who inspired Sebastian to start paragliding and in turn Sebastian got me hooked too. We flew together over Look Out Mountain, Dade County, Georgia. It was a surreal experience being able to fly freely, silently and so high over the forests and mountains overlooking fields and a vast landscape. Naturally, we stayed on for 5 more days…

Paragliding

Paragliding in Georgia.

Onto Louisiana: From there, we headed through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and down to New Orleans where we slept in a car park. New Orleans has been described as the most unique of all the US cities. Its cross-cultural flavour and multilingual heritage leave you feeling like you had gone back in time. We absolutely loved the French flare mixed with jazzy sounds in the streets and the delicious creole food.

Campervan

Chilling out in front of Big Blue Betty.

Texas: Our next stop was Austin Texas (yes, cowboys really do ride on horseback through the streets!) where we stayed with a good friend. He had loads of fun planned for us, including clay pigeon shooting, ziplining across Lake Travis and SUP’ing through downtown Austin. On the road trying to leave Texas (it’s a massive state!), we spent a night camping along South Llano River in State Park. Here I had wholesome alone time swimming down rapids, stalking armadillos and watching herds of deer grazing in the moonlight.

We continued our journey to Alpasa in Western Texas and then across New Mexico. Our next stop was still undetermined, so we decided to drive through the night and catch up with family back in South Africa via Skype. Miraculously, Sebastian’s brother knew someone who ended up putting us up for the night in Tucson, Arizona! It was a beautiful, deep-red, hot, dessert-like place.

Sedona: It was then off to Phoenix for a night and onto Sedona where we camped in a magical forest. The campsite was set along the mountain face and bordered a trickling stream where we ventured off on a trail run. Sedona was in fact one of my favourite spots of the trip.

Campervan

Home sweet home.

Grand Canyon: Next up was the Grand Canyon – what an unbelievable place! We didn’t spend much time there because of the crowds of tourists. If we had to do it again, we would have rather gone for a hike through the canyon.  After the Grand Canyon, we moved on and spent the night on the Colorado river on the boarder of California and Arizona.

navigation

Sebastian navigating.

California: Once in California, we stayed with friends again. Sebastian went off for about a week to do some work close to New York City and I carried on exploring California. At this point, Sebastian’s brother, Ben, had met up with us.

He had been travelling for the 8 months prior all over South America. While Sebastian was in New York, we decided to take Blue Betty up to San Francisco where we explored the city with its botanical gardens, visited a fantastic market and tasted the city’s famous Irish coffees. The next day, we drove onto Sacramento where we visited Lake Clementine for some relaxing time in the sun. The water was crystal blue, beautifully contrasted against the red wood forests.

Surfing

Surf’s up.

Home Sweet Home: By the time our journey came to an end, we had accumulated plenty of things. This meant that we had to get two 25kg suitcases, hand luggage and two backpacks on three trains, a bus and two flights to get back to South Africa. That came to 62 hours of travelling!

While we love our home in South Africa and missed our canine children, this trip was an unbelievable experience. It challenged us in unthinkable ways and brought us closer than ever. I would recommend it to anyone.

Why we chose to go on this trip…I had studied in Florida in 2004 for a couple of years and had made lifelong friendships with a few people who live in the US. It was important to me to keep those connections going. We decided that this trip would be a nice way for me to reconnect with these friends and for Sebastian to meet them too. We also came across very cheap flights from South Africa to New York City, which sealed the deal!

What I loved most about this trip… Answering this question is hard, but I would say being able to see old friends and connect with new friends. Both Sebastian and I love people and real connection is important to us.

Experiencing new places, people and their cultures really put things in perspective for me. A trip like this makes you evaluate your life and your purpose on earth. This really made us appreciate our lives in South Africa even more, giving us more verve and energy to achieve our goals and really live life to the fullest.

The most challenging part of the trip…Getting out of Texas! It’s a gigantic state. And of course the rand-dollar exchange rate.

My greatest memory of the trip… Flying over the mountains of Georgia via paraglide with my life, love and adventure part.

Grand Canyon
Greatest lessons learnt from the trip…My perspective on South Africa was funnily enough reinforced during this trip. I realised just how unbelievable South Africa is to travel through. We do not need to pay huge amounts of money to travel somewhere else. Things are in fact bigger, better and cheaper in our own country. In South Africa, we have wide open spaces, fewer people, better quality food and our locals have a huge amount of attitude and culture that we can learn from. Sebastian and I will continue our adventures, it is part of who we are, but we like it best on our own continent and outside of big cities.

My next bucket-list adventure…Our next adventure is coming up at the beginning of September. We are heading down the Garden Route in South Africa, where we will be paragliding, kite-surfing and surfing along the way.

We’ll then catch up with friends in Cape Town, before heading into Namaqualand where we’ll be hosting a festival called the Namaqualand Flower Festival. After the festival, we’ll head out with another couple in search of mountains in the area. The plan is to find a spot with perfect wind conditions, to set up camp and to paraglide, trail run, hike, kite and surf.

Tips for other women who’d like to do something like this…The best advice I have is that there will always be reasons why you cannot undertake a big adventure.  The reality however is that anyone can do it. You just need to decide and make it happen with the resources you have available. I have done several trips completely solo, camping, driving, adventuring. Being alone and doing these trips is a very different experience and most certainly one I encourage very much!

Life is meant to be lived, don’t waste it.

Follow Sarah’s adventures on Instagram: @sarahvr9

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