Trying the Van Life in Northwest Oregon

Oregon was calling, and I knew it was time for us to go back. The summer heat had been getting the better of us for a few months, and the cool, crisp air of the Pacific Northwest seemed dreamy. As we started to plan our next trip, we wanted to incorporate what we learned from the last time we visited. Primarily, don’t cram 2,800 miles and 49 hours of driving into a five-day trip. That meant we would need to fly, but renting a Corolla and staying in a Motel 6 didn’t seem like the adventure we were looking for. Flying with camp equipment seemed daunting, and most car rental companies don’t exactly love it when you take their vehicles into the backcountry. Then it hit me. Why not rent a campervan for the weekend?

Chris Ramm and I had been talking at length about building out a van or a truck but hadn’t been in enough of them to make a choice on what we wanted. Renting a van would let us experience the lifestyle firsthand and give valuable insight into what features would be important to include in a future build. Since we hadn’t even narrowed it down to a van or a truck, we had a lot to learn.

The research began, and we ended up choosing Roamerica for a few different reasons.

  • They have Sportsmobiles on their fleet which would allow Chris enough standing room. Since he is 6’6” this is nothing short of impressive.
  • Each van is decked out with the same kind of camping equipment that we know and love, including Primus, Rumple, and Helinox. Check out the full equipment list here if you’re curious.
  • They were incredibly professional, helpful, and knowledgeable from the moment I contacted them to see if they had any available vans.
  • The price of renting a campervan is not much different than renting a car and a hotel, plus you can save money by not going out to eat for every meal.
  • They are based out of Portland and pick you up from the airport. For free.

When the weeks leading up to our trip finally passed, and it was time to get packing, we couldn’t help but enjoy the simplicity of it. All we needed was our clothes and an overnight kit. That’s it. I think I spent more time planning and packing for a wedding we attended a few months ago.

Once our plane landed, one of the owners of Roamerica picked us up in the van we were going to spend the weekend in. We headed back to their shop to get the full tour and demonstration of all the features and sign the necessary paperwork. Campervans are surprisingly complex, so this part took just over an hour to complete.

The back seat folds down flat to create a bed. Next to that, there is a closet area with shelves to stow your personal effects. The upper area has a second bed, but the foam is much thinner—perfect for kids or just extra storage for gear while the tent is deployed.

After learning about the van, we went back inside to talk to Roamerica’s owners, Taylor and Gretchen, about our travel plans. Being experts on the area, they had a lot to offer. They asked about our hobbies and provided personalized trip advice including places to camp each night. You really can’t beat local knowledge. Taylor marked up a paper map while we talked about different ideas. Maybe he saw my eyes glazing over, or maybe he does this for everyone. Either way, the notes I took were indistinguishable about five minutes after we left, so that map was a lifesaver.

Rumor had it that Chris Cordes was somewhere nearby, so we gave him a call and met up to discuss plans for camping that evening. We still needed to grab groceries, and he needed to drive across town to pick up his girlfriend, Paige, so we parted ways with little more than the name of a road and a loose idea of where we were headed.

As we got outside of the city, we started heading into a beautiful canyon and completely lost all cell service. Since none of us had been to this road before, all we could do was hope that we’d end up at the same place that evening.

Once we turned off the highway and started heading into the recreation area, we found a bulletin board with several clips for people to leave notes for each other. The simplicity made me smile, and I scrounged around for some paper and a pen. I left his name and an arrow on two or three of these boards and hoped for the best.

The plan worked, and the timing was serendipitous. As soon as we put the van in park and hopped out, we heard his truck just a short way down the road. We turned around several times trying to find an open spot that would fit a Sportsmobile and an Excursion.

Setting up camp in the Sportsmobile is as simple as leveling the van and popping up the top. This was exciting for us because we had more time to spend enjoying the stunning scenery.

Our first morning was foggy and crisp—exactly the break from summer that we were hoping for. We continued our westward route toward the People’s Coast. From the small amount of research we did beforehand, we knew that we wanted to check out Highway 101 which runs along the coast with uninterrupted views. Those views are magical, and you can thank state legislation for protecting them. In the ’60s, the Beach Bill declared the coastline as a public recreation area and prevented it from being sold to private parties.

Oregon beaches are also unique in that you can drive along many of them. We opted out of it this time because we were in a borrowed vehicle with limited recovery equipment. But next time we head up there in our Jeep, you can bet we’ll be using sand mode. One of the more popular beaches to drive on is in Pacific City, where we got a view of Haystack Rock from the patio of Pelican Pub.

We continued on south to find our next place for the evening and were delighted to explore more dense jungle and two-track roads. Interestingly, in forests like these you don’t get the mountain vistas we are so accustomed to here in the Southwest. When you get to the top, there are, uh, more trees. Since the mountain tops were anticlimactic, we headed back down and found a camp spot tucked away in a section of forest that was so thick you couldn’t see more than 20 feet into it.

The next morning we went back to the beach to soak up the quintessential PNW fog and mist and found our zen. That’s what we named this hilariously picturesque rock cairn stacked atop driftwood. Seriously though, if any yoga studios want to pick up the rights to this image, Chris Ramm would probably sell it on the cheap just so he could brag about it.


Roamerica Rentals

Oregon State Parks and Recreation

In its most basic form, the second law of thermodynamics states that the universe tends to go from order to disorder without any energy added to the system. Sarah’s primary function is to be that added energy, preventing the world around her from going into disorder. Her main tool to accomplish this job is her trusted spreadsheets, and the people around her know that if you ask her a question, she probably has a spreadsheet put together with the answer. So, you can call her the spreadsheet queen, or the destroyer of chaos, just so long as you don’t *actually* call her without putting it on the calendar first.


  • Gretchen Bayless

    October 31st, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Great story Sarah! Love the part about having to leave a note the first night for Chris since there was no cell service. This is what we did back in the day, before cell phones:) Usually with paper plates! We love that kind of simplicity because it always seems to work out just as it should.
    Thanks for taking such great care of Delta. So happy you and Chris had a great time. We hope to see you all again soon!
    – Gretchen and Taylor