Many have pushed aside city escapes for getting out into nature, the trend is to get into the wild and the perfect way to do that is van life or a road trip. However, if you don’t feel like you are ready to take the plunge and buy a van, there are many amazing options to enjoy the outdoors while maintaining your comfort. When I decided to go to California this spring I knew I wanted to road trip to see some of the amazing natural landmarks, national parks, and get a little taste of what van life would be like out West.
So when I found Cabana Vans I was ecstatic and learned from first hand experience that this is the best van life rental to see what life in a van is like. They had just opened two locations in Los Angeles, California, expanding from their home base in Seattle, Washington.
I only had a few days to experience the Cabana lifestyle, but it exceeded my expectations wildly. Shelter in place and being able to have everything I needed on the road without having to think of much was the perfect way to experience wild camping for free outside of National Parks such as Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park was a perfect introduction to what van life could be like on a more permanent basis.
What is Cabana Vans?
Cabana Vans is your luxury hotel room on wheels. It allows you to just pack up some clothes, grab some groceries, and hit the road to have an epic road trip adventure. It allows you to easily acclimate to van life by making sure you have enough power, water, and amenities of a hotel room at your fingertips.
There is nothing to worry about, other than what beautiful place you will wake up in. But you barely have to worry about that since they have a concierge service that will help you plan the perfect trip. The whole process was simple to book, pick up, and offered the easiest rental pick up process I have ever seen. Also, Cabana is the best van life rental because they have unlimited miles for your road trip!
Van Life Essentials
There are a few van life essentials you would have to worry about when renting from other outfitters that are not standardized like the Airbnb of van life rentals Outdoorsy. That is not something you have to worry about with Cabana vans. Everything was easy to use, simple, and there was enough water and a self-contained electrical system that allowed you to camp off the grid and wild camp right outside of some of the most beautiful national parks! The best van life rental is turn key, runs off the grid, and isn’t complicated for weekend warriors or those trying out something new.
Cabana makes sure all your van life essentials are available and include: a Dometic drawer style 30 Liter refrigerator, kitchen area with a stove, sink, and coffee maker. There is also a shower, toilet, and a very comfy bed that can fit two just fine! The swivel seat and lagun table mount to be able to create more seating area/dining space.
Before You Build Your Own Camper Van
I bought a van before I tested out a fully functional camper van. However, I had gone camping before long term and loved being able to wake up closer to nature. I found that after watching thousands of van life videos on Youtube I was ready to take the plunge. But for some, they may want to test out what life in a van is like before they buy one for themselves or even test out what type of van they like.
Ford Camper Van
Cabana vans make a standard Ford camper van with the Ford Transit Van. I enjoyed the feeling of testing out how a different type of van drives and with everything built out. The Cabana vans were beautifully designed and made me feel like I was in a hotel on the road. There was the perfect amount of storage. Also, Cabana is eco-conscious making sure they use the most sustainable products in their vans. Also, they are standard so you know what to expect across the fleet of Cabana vans, which is why I deem them the best van life rental company.
Why you should choose Cabana Vans for your next road trip?
I was looking for a van with unlimited miles because I was going to cover a lot of distance over a short amount of time. A road trip from Los Angeles, to the Alabama Hills, through Death Valley, the Mojave Desert, and finally Joshua Tree/ Palm Springs, California. Most companies give you 200 miles a day or 300, but Cabana vans give unlimited mileage which is a game-changer in van life rentals.
Also, the ease of check-in was unparalleled in car rentals. I just downloaded the Cabana app, unlocked the car from the reservation I made through the phone and was off to the races.
Cabana Concierge- 5 Star Service at the Best Van Life Rental
Many challenges come to van life that someone trying it for the first time may like help navigating. If you use Cabana Concierge they can plan out an entire itinerary as well as tell you the best places to park overnight with sick views!
Also, there are many free resources and Van Life Apps that can help make life easier on the road for your trip.
My Cabana Van Life Experience- A Road Trip Exploring National Parks and Southern California
After spending a while in Los Angeles it was time to hit the road with Cabana. I was able to have a contactless pickup experience in West Hollywood one of two locations to pick up your Cabana Van in Los Angeles. It was about a three-and-a-half-hour journey to Lone Pine, California, and the Alabama Hills where I would spend the night on the bureau of land management land.
What is the bureau of land management land you may ask?
Well, BLM Land island you can stay on for free! Wild camping is amazing out West and I was so glad to have a van for this road trip with everything I needed at my fingertips. I found a spot with some distance from others wild camping in the Alabama Hills. BLM land and other camping spots I found for this trip came from iOverlander a very necessary van life app.
Day 1 Exploring the Alabama Hills
On the way to Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, I saw these beautiful colorful cliffs and decided to stop to check them out. (One of my favorite reasons for road trips, spontaneous roadside stops). I was glad I stopped because it was Red Rock Canyon, State Park. The golden hour here was perfect before continuing on the road to Lone Pine, California. Lone Pine reminded me of an old western movie a few shops, restaurants, a saloon, and a grocery store.
It was time to stock up on food, drinks, and some supplies for the journey into the Alabama Hills.
What are the Alabama Hills?
The Alabama Hills is an area of Bureau of Land Management Land, which should be a National Park in my opinion. This is a hidden gem that most people blow by on their way to Death Valley. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and close to the Inyo Mountain range the Alabama Hills offers adrenaline outdoor junkies a place to explore with natural arches, rock climbing, mountain biking, and more there is more than enough to keep you busy here for a few days.
Maybe you even recognize the undulating hills, eroded rock formations, and arches from the movies. The main road out to the campsites is called Movie Road and for a good reason. Many movies have been filmed in Alabama Hills including Django Unchained, Iron Man, and Gladiator to name a few.
My favorite part was waking up to the view of Mount Whitney the tallest mountain in the contiguous USA. The trailhead to the John Muir Trail is also located near Lone Pine/ Alabama Hills so this is a perfect spot for those looking to do some mountaineering. However, I was there to relax, enjoy some wild camping in my Cabana Van, and enjoy the insane views of the Sierra Nevadas as I took the Mobius Arch trail loop.
Day 2 From Lone Pine to Death Valley National Park
Before heading off to Death Valley National Park from Lone Pine, California it was time for a stop to stock up on water, gas, and food. There are very limited places to stop for water or gas within Death Valley National Park so it is always better to be well prepared. The drive between Lone Pine and Death Valley is sparse, but when you enter the largest national park in the USA you will see how quickly the landscape varies.
I thought I entered into a different world. From winding roads to steep drop-offs into canyons that looked like they went straight down to the center of the Earth, it was an interesting drive. As we stopped by the first gas station and area with campgrounds, I asked them about camping in the park. They said there were areas that as long as you were off the road by 2 miles you were fine to wild camp. Take that with a grain of salt, but I ended up finding a spot on iOverlander that was just outside of the park and had a flat area to park and there were other campers there too and a lot of space.
Mini-Guide To Death Valley National Park 24 Hours
I would lie if I told you I saw everything in the short amount of time I had at Death Valley National Park. However, I can tell you I saw a lot in a short amount of time and it gave me a taste of exactly what I would do if I go back with my own van one day.
Arriving at Death Valley from Lone Pine on 190, some of the first sights you will come across are Darwin Falls (a little bit of a drive off the route) and Father Crowley Overlook with some insane desert panoramas. Stopping for a coffee in the middle of a desert with overlooks like this is what makes Cabana vans nice. I don’t need to run back to a hotel to have a rest because our hotel room is always with us!
After a much-needed pick me up, it was off to the races to get to see some of the park’s highlights before sunset. Next on the agenda: Badwater Basin the lowest point in the United States. There is also a Furnace Creek Visitors Center near a few campgrounds where you can stop for information, however, I already had a plan I wanted to tackle and limited time. On the way to Badwater Basin was the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which was worth the photo op and they even allow you to board down them with a boogie board or snow board if you want!
There are many things to see but Badwater Basin is interesting to stand in because it is the lowest point in North America and the United States at 282 feet below sea level. It is a stark contrast to seeing Mount Whitney the highest point in the contiguous US only 80 something miles away.
Not so far away is the Racetrack where you can see a natural phenomenon where erosional forces cause large rocks to fall to the playa- dry lake bed- and the rocks move strangely. Many say the phenomena are caused by rain, the slick surface it creates on the playa, and the strong wind in Death Valley.
BE CAREFUL! The road is rough and jagged in places. Many people get flats and we didn’t want to risk it so we passed Racetrack.
Sunset and Golden Hour in Death Valley
However, we moved on to one of the highlights of Death Valley National Park- the Artist’s palette and drive. This was an amazing loop drive that brought color to Death Valley. This spot was perfect at golden hour, and then after maybe you can even rush to Zabinski Pointe like we did to catch the final moments of sunset. Another amazing viewpoint for sunset or any time of day is Dante’s view.
Finally, just outside of the park, I pulled over on some BLM land to call it a night before heading to Joshua Tree National Park. Not going to lie pulling up in the dark to a wild campsite can be a little intimidating. However, having a van life rental with everything in it like a shower, toilet, and food made it so we could stay safe inside until sunrise.
My favorite thing in this location was watching the stars. Nothing is surrounding Death Valley, National Park. So being able to sleep right on the edge of the park and camp was a treat for stargazing. There was zero light pollution.
Day 3 – Mojave Desert Drive, Pioneertown, California, and Joshua Tree National Park
Waking up to another beautiful sunrise mountain rising in the distance, with zero people around me gave me the perfect example of what van life could be like for me. I love people and visiting new cities as well as learning about other cultures, however, sometimes I love to explore nature. When I visit a National Park I always like to get there as early as possible or for sunset. There is no better way to do this, than with a van. A camper van gets you close to nature, comfortably, safely, and has all the amenities of a home or hotel on the road with Cabana vans.
It was a long drive with amazing desert vistas through the Mojave Desert, however, it brought me on to part of Route 66. Roy’s Cafe and gas station in Barstow was one of the only places to fill up the tank. The gas was expensive, but it is a must-visit if you are driving on this stretch of Historic Route 66, very retro. It is a gift shop, a historic motel/gas station, and a cafe. After a quick Route 66 photoshoot, it was back on the road to our first stop near Joshua Tree, Pioneertown, California.
What is Pioneertown?
Pioneertown is an Old West town that was made for Hollywood and the movies. If you come here you will find a movie set that functions as a town with shops, restaurants, and a hotel. It is used for commercials, photoshoots, commercials, and movies. It is worth a pit stop.
A 30-minute drive later, and it was time to explore Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is amazing to camp in if you get a coveted spot. However, there are plenty of BLM parking spots or wild camping spots just outside of the park. What makes Joshua Tree so special? The Joshua Tree and also is the place where two deserts meet, the Mojave and Colorado.
Here is my day trip guide to Joshua Tree National Park:
Stop at Hidden Valley Nature Trail an easily accessible trail that is a short hike, but takes you through amazing rock formations. I even saw some people bouldering. Next up was Cap Rock Nature Trail, a short trail that offered great views of the famous trees with a backdrop of huge rock formations.
Also, have you gone to Joshua Tree without a picture with Skull Rock? It was hilarious to see the number of cars pulled on the side of the road for a picture here. But I of course joined in on the fun.
After a failed attempt to see Keys Ranch, which can only be seen by a guided tour. I had some fun driving down the backroads on non-pavement that allowed us to get a more wild natural look of Joshua Tree.
Then I took a hike to the famous Arch Rock Nature Trail to see the famous loop. I ended up loving climbing around the rocks.
Watch the sunset at the Cholla Cactus Gardens. It was pretty beautiful to have coffee in my Cabana Van as we watched the sunset.
Day 4- Palm Springs, California and Returning The Best Van Life Rental in California
On the last day, I woke up to a beautiful day in Palm Springs, California for breakfast at the Starbucks Reserve. If you don’t know already I am addicted to coffee. I know you need more time to visit Palm Springs, but I am glad I went because it cemented the fact that I need to make another trip here. Maybe a joint Palm Springs and Coachella trip?
But there were so many restaurants, FREE PARKING for the van, and beautiful palm tree streets. While here we drove around, checked out the Robo lights an art installation at an artist’s house, and got some amazing coffee at Starbucks Reserve. Driving back to West Hollywood to drop off my Cabana Van, I had a mixture of emotions. I was so happy for the time I had in the van, but it was too short. It only made my passion for pursuing van life stronger.
Want to see what life in a van is like with the Best Van Life Rental Company?
The journey of building a van is long, expensive, and if you decide to build it yourself with no handyman experience- grueling. But I know in the end it will be worth it because it will be customized to my wants and needs. Cabana Van is the best van life rental company because they have everything meant to be off-grid, easy to learn and use, and can give you a feel of what van life would be like before you take on the journey I am in the middle of. While it is great for a vacation, I do believe it is a worthwhile experience to travel, camp, and live out of a van once in your life.