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  • Writer's pictureEllie Friese

What went wrong on our 4 week road trip to the West Coast.

What we typically see on instagram about van life does not usually include some of the hardships or obstacles of life on the road. Sure! Traveling the world and our country is absolutely glorious and an immense privilege, but with most things done in life, there are obstacles.

Let me give you some insight to our first 3 days on the road...

  1. Solar Panels almost flying off in the Mojave desert

  2. Battery that kept our fridge and fan running kept dying

  3. Shelves kept falling and breaking

  4. Leaking Sink

  5. Dog having panic attacks in the car

  6. Final project due in the middle of nowhere with no service

Now don't get me wrong... everything on this list was fixed one way or another... after several tries.

Now you may be thinking... why was all of this not checked before we left?

Well... we left in a major rush. Three days before we were going to leave, we found out the battery was dead. Thankfully the company we bought our solar panels from has awesome customer service #thanks... and we were able to purchase a battery charger from amazon that we ended up needing multiple times on the trip in the first week.

Here is how we fixed all of these problems AFTER I had maybe one or two mental breakdowns #lol

  1. We were rookies. Pure definition of first timers on this van build. We did not install a mount for our solar panels... we glued them straight to the roof. This was not our first attempt at installing the solar panels either. Anyways, apparently one of the bolts was not properly screwed in and it ended up coming loose on our drive. We ended up fixing it by using half a role of gorilla tape, caulk, and some twine. Yes. That is how we fixed our solar panels. And mind I tell you that we have had no issues since. :)

  2. Ahhh more solar panel issues... The battery i ended up finding out, was never actually in a circuit with our solar panels. We had woken up and out fridge and vent fan had once again shut off by the morning. The battery was dead again. We charged the battery in a local Starbucks and I was able to get some studying done and have a coffee while we waited. Another 3 hours later, I read through the solar panel manual time after time. I came to the realization that an important light was never on. The light that signified the solar panels were charging the battery. So... I fiddled with the wires and ended up switch the positive and negative wire that was connected to our MPPT controller and BOOM. We were in business baby. I felt like a super woman. A genius if you will, for figuring this out!! We had had our battery die on us a few times on the trip at this point and had to get a hotel for a night because it was just too hot AND we had to throw our food out TWICE because it went bad. But alas, I fixed it and we did not run into this problem again. :)

  3. Our poor, poor shelves. These cute little cubby shelves that I painted blue to match the van and provide a little accent, well they did not stand the poorly paved roads of Alabama. We hung the shelves with command strips. Did I mention that we were rookies? I can explain. We didn't want to drill holes in the van because we had some major problems with leaks already and did not want to go down that road again. After the command strips didn't hold up, we tried gorilla tape, because it works on everything right? I mean hell, we strapped our solar panels down with it! Nope. Fell right off. Nothing wanted to stick to our little wooden shelves! Next we tried caulk. And I will admit, it was very, very shitty caulk from wWalmart. We had high hopes for this, however, our nice sticky caulked up shelves slid all the way down and fell off leaving a nice trail of half dried caulk stuck to our walls. Two actually ended up staying up and we actually only used them as a key holder for when we went to sleep. Two out of four shelves were thrown away and the other two can still be seen today, hanging on for dear life. We have some upgrades coming soon so keep an eye out on Instagram for our future van updates.

  4. The sink. We opted for a ~cheap~ sink. I had no idea actual sinks were SO expensive! Long story short... we had leaks upon leaks. Did I mention we were rookies yet? Anyways, this is one of our upgrades we will work on & test... & test... again.

  5. If you were following along on my Instagram stories, you would definitely know that Mogli was not having the best of time in the car. He has always not loved the car, but we were hoping that with more time in the car, he would begin to get over his car anxiety. We were wrong. We already had CBD peanut butter for him but it wasn't strong enough. When we arrived in California, we spent the day doing some repairs, doing a little shopping, and got Mogli an order of Trazodone sent in to a local pharmacy. Ever since then, we would give him either 1/2 a tablet or a whole tablet to him depending on the distance of our drive, or just some CBD-PB.

  6. This one is quick, but not any less irritating. While we were driving on Big-Sur, we had just passed Bixby's Bridge and time was nearing on the due date of a final project for my digital media class. If you've driven Big-Sur, you know ther isn't much service on the route. Well we definitely ran into that problem. We ended up coming up on a little town with a pub where we got a beer so we could mooch their wifi. Because we were in the middle of no-where, the connection was incredible slow. Luckily, I finally got it to upload a few minutes after the due time and some leniency from my professor.

Now, some of these inconveniences don't all sound that bad right? However, keep in mind we were driving 13-16 hours straight for 3 days, having little to no sleep, and all of these things happened in these 3-4 days of initial travel.


Luckily, this leg of the trip was over in no time and our problems were more-or-less fixed to some degree. Alas, we could get back to enjoying our time on the road. And oh boy, we did.

Looking back, we would not change a single thing. When problems pop up, they either get fixed or aren't worth fixing. I think there is beauty in both options.

Bring on all the problems! (jk)

Till next time,


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