We’re living through some scary and unpredictable times right now. A global pandemic is unfolding before our eyes at a rapid pace, and everything seems like it’s changing with each passing day.

People from all walks of life are or will be deeply affected by this. And it’s getting a whole lot more difficult for us dedicated travelers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts – full time or part time – to enjoy our hobbies, or even to live our daily lives as we know them.

But if we’re going to get through this, we need to make some changes to how we live for a little while. And we need to make these changes for the good of our local communities, our country, and our larger global community.

In this post we break down what you should do as this pandemic begins to sweep across the US. It’s our responsibility to not only stay informed as things develop, but also listen to public health officials and take any actions asked of us.

How we act now will directly affect how we’ll be able to move forward. If we do what is best for all of us, we can come out the other side a stronger and more resilient community.

What We’re Facing

This crisis is rapidly evolving and things are changing all the time. Many of the resources that allow us to sustain life on the road are being shut down, and things will continue to get more and more challenging out there.

Bars, restaurants, and retail stores are closing down nationwide. Festivals, concerts, and events are being cancelled for the forseeable future – including just about every vanlife gathering on the calendar for this year.

Several US states are on lockdown, and some have shut down their state parks and state park campgrounds. Faced with an influx of unwanted visitors, outdoors communities like Moab are closing their gates to outsiders.

At this point we have no idea how long this crisis will last, but it will likely get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. Several European countries have shut down everything but grocery stores and pharmacies, and have implemented national lockdowns and travel restrictions. This is a vision of what we could be facing here in the US in the coming weeks.

So what’s a nomad to do in the midst of all of this chaos?

What Should You Do?

Van sitting in a driveway

The best thing you can do right now is get somewhere safe, and get off the road. Put those travel plans on hold, don’t move around unnecessarily, and stay put.

If you have somewhere to go, if you have a place to shelter, if you know family or friends or a good samaritan who is willing to put you up for an indefinite amount of time – GO THERE. AND STAY THERE.

You’ve heard all the guidelines regarding self-isolation and social distancing. This is really important advice for all of us to follow right now. It’s equally important for us nomads to stop traveling – once we get somewhere safe – so that we don’t become unwitting conduits for Coronavirus.

Now is the time to stop traveling, hunker down, and listen to public health officials. If – and only if – we band together as a nation and as the awesome nomadic community that we are, we can slow the spread of this virus and prevent a worst-case scenario.

What If You Don’t Have Somewhere to Go?

If you don’t have a safe place to go – or if your spot is not realistic for you to get to from where you are – here are some resources.

Note: When accepting a camp spot from someone you don’t know, make sure to trust your gut and leave if something doesn’t feel right.

Can’t I Just Boondock Until This Blows Over?

vanlife boondocking on public land

Your first thought might be to go off boondocking in the middle of nowhere – and we totally get that impulse.

But don’t assume that boondocking on public land is the safest place to be long term. And make sure you’re considering the stress that you’re putting on the resources of small rural communities near your camp spot.

There are a few reasons why boondocking could end up being a bad idea:

  • If you happened to be exposed to Coronavirus prior to going off the grid, you could find yourself becoming ill when you’re somewhere inaccessible and far from a medical facility.
  • If you’re boondocking near a smaller rural area, you’re putting pressure on the resources of that area in a time of crisis. You’re taking stock from their grocery stores, you’re potentially carrying the virus into that community, and if you get sick or injured and need medical attention you may be putting undue stress on the facilities there.
  • With how this is evolving, there’s a real possibility that boondocking hotspots may close their doors to out-of-towners, as has already happened in Moab and its surrounding counties. Combined with the closure of many state parks, this could mean that remaining boondocking spots may become overcrowded – which totally defeats the purpose of going off grid for social distancing.
  • We may eventually see the closure of all public lands camping areas, and if that happens you would be forced to travel and find shelter when the situation is even worse than it is today.

Again, the best thing you can do right now is to get off the road and find somewhere safe to hunker down.

But if you decide to try to ride this out on public lands, make sure to take some basic precautions:

  • Find a spot that has cell service. You will need to stay in contact with friends and family, stay aware of what’s going on, and be able to call for help if needed.
  • Make sure you’re regularly checking in with someone who knows where you are, and consider notifying the local ranger station (Forest Service, BLM, or whoever it may be) of your presence.
  • Make sure you have enough emergency supplies. Stock extra water and nonperishable food, stove fuel, a radio, flashlights, soap, hand sanitizer (if you can find any), and basic sickness items like cough drops, tissues, etc. Don’t hoard, but make sure you can survive for a decent period of time without relying on a store.
  • Make an emergency plan. Know the locations and phone numbers of the nearest hospitals, health clinics, ranger/police stations, and pharmacies.

Please Be Responsible and Consider the Larger Implications of Your Actions

In a crisis such as this, there are all kinds of moral implications to our personal decisions. We all need to be aware of the kinds of stresses we’re putting on the system as a whole, and we all need to do what we can to reduce any unnecessary impacts until we can get through this.

Even though some National Parks, beaches, and other attractions may still be open (as of this writing), we highly advise against visiting them right now. When you travel to a park (or anywhere, for that matter), you’re passing through places on the way to your destination. You’re stopping for gas, you’re getting groceries. You’re taxing resources that locals need, and you may be bringing infection along with you.

And, with National Parks specifically, Park Service employees are currently being overwhelmed with increased visitors who don’t know how to listen to instructions. This is not a good situation. Many of these employees double as wildland firefighters during the summer months, and judging by the past few years we will need these people to be healthy and fresh once fire season gets going.

The best thing you can do right now is get somewhere safe, and get off the road. Put those travel plans on hold, don’t move around unnecessarily, and stay put.

If you have somewhere to go, if you have a place to shelter, if you know family or friends or a good samaritan who is willing to put you up for an indefinite amount of time – GO THERE. AND STAY THERE.

Now is not the time to be road tripping. Now is not the time to be crowding parks and other outdoor destinations. Now is not the time to be using the resources of small rural communities and gateway towns near wilderness attractions.

Now is not the time to be engaging in extreme sports or dangerous activities. If you happen to injure yourself, you’ll be putting unnecessary stress on a medical system that is already overwhelmed dealing with Coronavirus patients.

Why Are These Steps Important?

It may not always feel like it, but you’re having a huge impact just by sitting around in one place and following the instructions of public health officials.

Even if you are not sick right now, even if you’re young and healthy and feeling invincible, you can still carry Coronavirus and spread it to others without manifesting symptoms. And those you spread it to may be more vulnerable to serious complications.

This isn’t only about avoiding getting sick ourselves. This is about doing our part as citizens and community members to not spread this virus any further. We have a responsibility to our families, friends, neighbors, communities, country, and planet to halt this as much as we can.

If we don’t take strong action NOW, we’ll see a huge spike in Coronavirus cases that will overwhelm our healthcare system (see graph above). At this point, our hospitals would be way beyond capacity, people would not be able to get healthcare for anything not virus-related, and we would see a surge in needless deaths.

But, if we all take this seriously and follow instructions, we can “flatten the curve” – spread cases out over a longer period of time so that our hospitals don’t get overloaded. And this would literally save lives.

This is a time when we need everyone on the same page, and we need coordinated collective action to get through this with a minimum of damage.

Staying Sane While Hunkering Down

So now that you’ve found a safe place and you’re staying put and staying inside – what are you supposed to do?

First off, stay positive! Don’t go down the rabbit hole of reading negative news reports, and don’t let yourself spiral into despair. And believe it or not, self-isolation can be a great opportunity to learn new skills, establish new routines, and work on improving yourself.

Maintaining your health is very important. Establish a healthy daily routine (we highly recommend the Best Self Journal for setting goals and starting a routine). Maintain good nutrition and get enough sleep. Stay active as much as you can.

Start a new hobby. Learn a new skill. Write a letter. Write a story. Call your friends. Call your family. Make some art. Begin a yoga practice. Begin a meditation practice. Start an online business. Learn an instrument. Write a poem. Write a song. Read a book. Read another book. Hell, read ALL the books!

It’s also perfectly okay to slow down and take some time to do nothing at all. A crisis like this can be pretty traumatic, and you may not even know how you’re being affected. So if you have the ability, be sure to take as much time as you need to maintain your mental health during all of this.

We can do this! We will get through this! And as long as we do our part, maintain social distancing, and listen to our public health officials, we will come out of this stronger and more resilient than before.

Important Resources