Let’s say you’re interested in trying the #Vanlife. Maybe not as a permanent residence or even in a van necessarily, but you’d like to explore more and slumber somewhere other than your house. Maybe it’s the call of the wild, the crackling of a campfire and the smell of burning marshmallows that pulls you in. Maybe it’s the bucket list of places that you’ve yet to see with your kids, or maybe you just want to sleep so close to Walmart that you can go shopping within 50 feet of your pillow. Whatever the reason is, to help you on your journey I’ve compiled a list of things I find incredibly useful as a solo adaptive Vanlifer.
Plan Your Escape
Whether I’m sleeping outside of a friend’s house or in the middle of Nowhere, Alaska, I always think about how I can reach help if needed. Having communication is one of the largest safety nets we can easily obtain these days. Yes, a cell phone works great but what happens if you lose signal? The Garmin inReach line is a great solution. The inReach ($349) has GPS with Garmin maps, in case you’re directionally challenged like me, and a satellite-driven, two-way messenger (subscription required). It can sync with your phone so you can text someone or simply notify the nearest search and rescue with your coordinates if you’re in serious trouble.
Pack Your ‘Oh Sh*t’ Bag
Let’s face it, there are certain medical things that I can’t just pick up from a CVS. These items, such as medication and toiletries, need to be acquired ahead of time. I tend to pack a back stock of catheters, suppositories, UTI meds, general first aid supplies and of course a tube patch kit for that one nasty thorn.
Pushing offroad is difficult as a quadriplegic! I can wheelie for a bit but not for miles on end. The FreeWheel ($599) has been a godsend in my worldwide exploration. The FreeWheel attaches to my chair’s footplate and lifts my casters off the ground, allowing the front end to roll over grass, gravel and dirt. It’s easily removable when you don’t need it and doesn’t take up that much room to store. It’s definitely one of those things that’s better to have and not need rather than need and not have.
I’m only as strong as my weakest link, and that’s often my strength. I may be able to push eight miles on flat ground, but put me on some of the hills in San Francisco and I’m lucky to go eight feet. The SmartDrive MX2+ (contact insurance) has been a game changer! What I love about the SmartDrive is it attaches to my current manual chair, is easily removable when I don’t want it, can do curb drops and is super compact for storing/charging in the van. It’s effective in grass but not great in sand, mud or snow. There’s a bit of a learning curve, and you need to be paying attention, but having the power makes everything more enjoyable.
Design for You
When designing your van, remember that small details can make a big difference for accessibility — take the time to think about every task you’ll need to do and how to set things up to facilitate independence and efficiency. For example, the height of the bed in my van was critical for transfers and my overall independence. How high can the platform be in order to easily get in bed WITH a cushion and foam topper included? Where should light-switches and plugs be located for best access? Where are some hard-to-reach areas and what can you do to make them easier? Drawers? Loops on handles? Pull out counters? Etc. …
Keep it Simple
If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned that not all mobility equipment is built to be as reliable and maintenance-free as it should be. I’ve had vehicle lifts leave me stranded on more than one occasion, only to find the problem was some computer issue or safety sensor malfunction. Because of this and a laundry list of other reasons, I went with a Superarm lift from Handicaps Inc. It’s not for everyone but was as simple a full-sized vehicle lift as I’ve seen available here in the United States. It also takes up way less space and works as a swing/pull-up bar for those interested (though I don’t think it says that in the manual).
Have you ever tried to sleep somewhere that is uncomfortably hot? It’s not fun. Being a quadriplegic with difficulty regulating temperature, it’s vital that I can stay cool. A simple, battery-operated fan can make a huge difference but if you want one step up, check out a Maxxfan (prices vary). The Maxxfan is installed through the ceiling of your vehicle and can either push air into the van or suck air out. Having air circulation helps pull the heat out of the car along with the wonderful smelling dog breath.
• Garmin inReach, buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/592606
• Freewheel, gofreewheel.com
• SmartDrive MX2+, permobilus.com/product/smartdrive-mx2-pushtracker
• Superarm, handicapsinc.com/superarm-lift-models
• Maxxfan, maxxair.com/products/maxxfan/maxxfan.php