Hipcampout Summer Series: Van Life at Cuyama Badlands

A motley crew of adventurers descended upon the Cuyama Badlands last weekend for the fifth Hipcamp x Eddie Bauer campout: Van Life. The event took place on the legendary Song Dog Ranch just outside of New Cuyama, CA.

We spent the day on Saturday exploring the ranch and learning about the property from our extraordinary hosts, Jim and Ben, who entertained us with their stories while handling the grill. After breakfast, we took a field trip to Quail Springs Permaculture Center.

Quail Springs gave us an amazing tour of their land which led us into a handful of their impressive natural building houses made of clay and straw. The stewards of Quail Springs Permaculture strive to “live for the land – not just with it or from it” and offer permaculture and natural building courses throughout the year. We all left their land feeling inspired and refreshed.

After a delicious lunch, a quick trip to cool off in the New Cuyama town swimming pool, and a visit to the spectacular Trujillo Horse Ranch in the afternoon, we passed the torch to our friends at GoWesty and other Van Lifer’s to share their knowledge of van living with the group. Here are some of the takeaways from the GoWesty team and Ira Wolf, a talented musician who just came off of four months on the road touring in her Westfalia van name “Ruby.” Enjoy!

Tips from the road, by GoWesty

At GoWesty, we’re excited to see more and more folks embracing the American tradition of road-tripping. The VW camper offers a unique driving experience, helping people to slow down, soak in the outside world, and spend time making memories with friends and family. Here are some #vanlife tips for the road:

1. Take it slow. Van life offers the opportunity to hit the byways and the dirt roads you’ve always wanted to explore. Sure, it might take longer to reach your destination, but that’s the fun part. Slow down and enjoy the ride. And when you get tired, just stop and pop the top!

2. Be prepared. Take the time to create a list of spare parts, and consider it a worthy investment. Double-check that your spare tire isn’t flat. Make sure your jack is accessible. A fire extinguisher is essential gear on the road. Carry the tools you’ll need for roadside repairs. Always have plenty of water.

3. Get zen. Let’s face it: If you drive a VW camper, you’re going to break down. It’s not a question of “if,” but a question of “when.” Take a deep breath and assess the situation. Recognize that, even when you’re broken down, you’re at home in your camper! A good attitude is what makes van life doable, and it’s the difference between folks that drive brand-new SUVs and those that drive VW campervans.

4. Always ask. The best way to find a prime camping spot—assuming you haven’t booked a sweet Hipcamp location—is to ask a local. People love to share information about their secret spots, especially with the right crew. And you’re driving a VW camper, so you’re definitely the right crew!

Tips from the Road, by Ira Wolf

Living in a van for five months means experiencing the world in a completely different way. You meet an entirely unique set of people, realize what is truly a necessity and what isn’t, and see parts of the country/world that you never knew existed. There is a lot of trial and error that goes into van-life, and I’m going to share a few tips on what I found to be the most helpful.

1. Setting Up The Space – Personalizing the van was fun and made living in it more comfortable. Adding small drawings and photos, putting real sheets on the bed, and attaching colorful lights around the roof added to the atmosphere and made it ‘home’ more than a vehicle. I also found it was important to give every item I owned it’s own space. Living in a van can be a tight fit and if you’re not careful, it gets messy fast. I found myself downsizing my belongings quickly. Learning to carry only the necessities and having a place for everything helped keep things tidy and my mind less anxious.

2. Van Life Hacks – There are certain aspects of van life that can be tricky. Three main issues are powering, showering, and camping. I stayed powered in the van with an auxiliary battery that charged off of my alternator. I could also plug the van straight into an outlet to charge up the extra battery if needed. For my smaller devices I used solar panels and chargers from Goal Zero, which was really helpful in not draining the van power. I joined a gym with locations across the country for $20/month just so I could use their showers. If I wound up in a town where I couldn’t find my gym, YMCA or community centers were another option. When I was really out in the woods, I’d settle for a river or lake to rinse off. I did a lot of camping on National Forest or BLM land, where it’s free, but there generally is a lack of facilities. I also ‘camped’ in front of friends houses, or in driveways of people I met along the way, and when all else failed, I almost always could find a Walmart parking lot to park in overnight. Although I prefer to camp in the outdoors I found that even if it’s a bit noisy, the 24-hour security, use of restrooms, and the occasional endeavor inside for Oreos made Walmart a suitable stop for a night.

During the colder months, having a small propane heater and a good sleeping bag was crucial. I chose not to leave the heater on overnight, and bundled up in layers to sleep which kept the cold at bay. In summer months down south, the heat of the desert was harder to escape. Baby wipes in the fridge became my best friend, and I carried a couple extra gallons of water at all times since I was sweating most of it off anyway. I drove in my swimsuit a majority of the time and I bought a small fan that I left on at night, but overall I would just suggest not being in the desert (like I was) in the middle of July.

3. Mechanical – I’m not much of a mechanic, and thankfully I had access to the incredibly knowledgable crew at GoWesty for any and all questions that ever arose. Even so I found that it is so important to keep on top of maintenance and mechanical issues no matter how small. When your home is your vehicle, it’s better to fix a problem that seems small than to end up stranded on the freeway.

Oh, and always stop for gas early. It turns out there are a lot of places in the U.S. where you can drive for more than 100 miles and not see a town. After a few hikes to gas stations I quickly learned to carry a gas can and never skip the opportunity to fill up.

4. Comfort Zones – Forget them. Get as far away from them as you possibly can and it will be worth every moment of uncertainty. Talk to people, make new friends, or spend some time by yourself and reflect if that feels foreign. Get dirty, change a tire, change your oil, learn things, laugh about the low points. Climb mountains and swim in lakes. Write down everything everyday if you can. Take photos and draw pictures, even if you’re a terrible artist. Sing and dance and do yoga and eat something that looks weird. Mainly, try new things. Van life introduced me to some of the most wonderful people and places because I chose to escape my small bubble for a bit.


Eddie Bauer, our incredible sponsor represented once again. If it wasn’t for them none of these weekend campouts would be possible, so….. a huge THANK YOU to them! Remember to follow @eddiebauer and #liveyouradventure for inspiration for your next outdoor adventure. In addition to their ongoing support through funding and resources, they were generous enough hook us all up with great tents and goodie bags filled with camping essentials. Cheers!

Thanks to GoWesty for bringing the soul and spirit of Van Life to the event. The event would not have been the same without you guys! Be sure to check them out and if you’re at all thinking about becoming a “Van-Lifer” yourself, they are the people to talk to.

Union Wine Co, Fort Point Beer, and Stumptown Coffee, spoiled us again with delicious drinks to enjoy throughout the weekend.

Be sure to check out Fort Point’s Westfalia Red Ale which was a perfect addition to the Van Life themed event.

Klean Kanteen made everyone’s day by hooking up every guest with a stainless steel bottle and cup, making staying hydrated much easier in the desert heat. Thanks!

Ira Wolf played her beautiful songs around the campfire on Saturday night. Check out her music here! Such an incredible performance.

Guest astronomer, Justin Stevick, blew our minds when he set-up his telescope and schooled us on the stars, planets, and constellations. Thanks man! (See what we were seeing with this videofrom Scott Lahn.)

Thanks to Lodge Cast Iron for the dutch ovens to cook with and to Coleman for providing the coolers to keep all of our drinks cold!

All photos taken by Hipcamp photographer Ezekiel Gonzalez. Check a few more of the highlights below!

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

Recent Posts

What makes a good Hipcamp Extra?

We’re so excited that you’re interested in adding Extras to your Hipcampers’ experiences! Extras allow Hosts to offer Hipcampers customizable…

4 weeks ago

Top Hosting Tips for This 4th of July Weekend

The 4th of July—stars and stripes, good eats, and hopefully, a fully booked campground! This is one of the year’s…

2 months ago

Support Local Makers: Shop Goods Made by Hipcamp Hosts

Hipcamp Hosts take pride in their land, caring for it and sharing it with the Hipcamp community. But beyond their…

2 months ago

Hipcamp Host COVID-19 Safety Standards

The health and safety of our community is our top priority during the novel coronavirus pandemic. With that, we’ve created…

3 months ago

How to Recreate Responsibly During COVID-19

The health and safety of our community is our top priority during the novel coronavirus pandemic. With that, we’ve created…

3 months ago

10 Ways to #LeaveItBetter in Honor of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary

Now more than ever, it’s important to appreciate the time we get to spend outdoors and care for our environment.…

4 months ago