Living the Van Life!

Living the Van Life!

by Ellen Wanamaker

Library books are free, of course. What’s not free is the trip you take because you read about it in a library book and JUST HAD TO GO THERE.

Last spring I was feeling restless (like everyone else) and picked up a copy of Lonely Planet’s “The Vanlife Companion” by Ed Bartlett and Becky Ohlsen, a book about how to rent a camper van, and how to outfit it for epic rolling adventures. This book also features some ambitious road trip itineraries. Some of those were very cool but very far away: Western Australia’s Southwest Coast (amazing) and Patagonia’s Carretera Austral (also amazing). But one of the featured trips caught my eye: a five-night camping journey along route 61, which hugs the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

My family was on board, so we found a van to rent through a company called Outdoorsy. We picked up the van near Duluth, and drove along the shoreline of Lake Superior, cooking in the cute little mini-kitchen and sleeping in the funky convertible beds. We trekked to waterfalls and collected agate stones while hiking the beautiful Lake Superior beaches. It was so much fun to actually DO something that I had only read about before.

Lonely Planet has many other books about unique ways to enjoy the outdoors. One is called “Under the Stars Europe: the best campsites, glamping, and wild camping in 22 countries.” One of my favorite spots is a “tree hotel” (think fancy treehouse) in northeast Sweden called the “mirror cube” with glass walls that so perfectly reflect the surrounding pines that it’s almost invisible. Another is a glamping (glamorous camping) site in Noto, Sicily that features a luxurious tent on a platform surrounded by olive trees and hiking trails.

“The Rough Guide to the 100 Best Places in the USA” is a book that will entice you with places to visit closer to home. The photos are spectacular, and the brief write-ups give ideas for travel to big cities, small towns, national and state parks, and local attractions.

Speaking of local attractions, if you’d like a book that delves into a specific place, try the “DK Eyewitness Like a Local” books. We’ve got versions for Amsterdam, Tokyo, Paris and London, and U.S. cities including Nashville and Austin. These cute little books have obscure advice from locals about where to get brunch in Amsterdam (Teds), where to drink whiskey in Nashville (Bearded Iris Brewing), or where to find a street art enclave in New York City (Bushwick). These guides are the next-best-thing to having a best friend who lives there. Another fun and focused travel series published by Moon is the “52 Things to do” books. With these cute little books in hand, you’ll get the scoop on how to kayak the Charles River in Boston, or wander the Wabash Arts Corridor in Chicago.

I’ve enjoyed reading through a book we have called “Accessible Vacations: An Insider’s Guide to 12 U.S. Cities” by Simon Hayhoe. The author provides valuable tips for visitors with sight loss, hearing loss, learning or memory issues, autism, or mobility challenges. You can learn which museums have sensory rooms, which attractions have braille or assisted listening devices, and which stadiums have the best parking, ramps, and other helpful services.

If you’re stopping by Ames Public Library to browse the travel books, you’ll find them in the 910 – 917 range in nonfiction. Many of our travel guides are available as e-books as well. You can use the Hoopla or Libby app to obtain titles from Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel, and others. Ask a librarian if you need help downloading e-books, e-audiobooks, or e-magazines. We’re here to help - in person, on the phone, or via email or chat.

I’m thinking about some favorite memories from our Minnesota vanlife trip. Hiking in Cascade River State Park was fabulous: waterfalls, birds, huge trees, well-maintained trails. Scouring Agate Beach at Gooseberry Falls State Park was fun, and we did find a few shiny agates. Oh, and then there were the donuts. We drove our funky van to visit the World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais. And the answer is YES. They are the world’s best.