We’re loving our time in the United States right now, as having relied on long buses, hitch-hiking and unreliable cheap motorbikes on our journeys around Asia, South America and Europe for three years, we’ve been itching to get back behind the wheel of our own car again! We’ve both driven in our home countries and Jonathan is used to driving long distances in the UK with a lifelong dream of converting a van to include sleeping and cooking facilities.
Recently on our trip around Las Vegas we had a taste of exactly that life with the help of JUCY campers, a company created by two brothers in New Zealand in 2001 who 11 years later have recreated their success in the states with 200 vans now operating across San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Their success lies in the novel, versatile design of their combo vans that makes road-tripping in comfort and style a cheap, safe and spontaneous option for anyone planning a road-trip around these states.
The JUCY RV we picked up in Los Angeles was a converted Dodge Caravan MPV, with automatic sliding doors on both sides opening up to provide a huge amount of space for climbing in and out sitting in the van to admire the view. The fixed, forward-facing bench seat at the back of the car provided passenger seating with safety belts for use while driving and the bed folded up into a rear facing sofa to use when parked up. Under the sofa was some storage, along with some of the inner-workings, like a leisure battery with outlets for charging all your gadgets, and some interior lights. The internal table could be taken out and put away to allow the sofa to fold into a good-size double bed. At the rear of the Jucy RV, the rear hatch opened up to reveal an impressive kitchen, complete with drawers, pots, pans, kettle, gas stoves, a fridge and even a functioning kitchen sink with running water! For us though, the icing on the cake was the ‘Penthouse’ roof sleeping compartment, which starts out at only around 6-8 inches tall while folded away, then using a crank handle to wind up, expands into a full bedroom for two people, complete with a ladder to get up there too! Check out this awesome video of the roof in action.
We hope to explore much more of the United States like this in the future and after our experience with Jucy we know that camper van (or RV) life is most definitely the way to do it! Having met many other Camper Van travellers on our journey and heard their range of stories, here are the top ten suggestions of ours and theirs to share with you!
1. Splurge on Wine-tasting (Drive safely!)
San Francisco is usually most famous for its Golden-Gate bridge, trams climbing up steep hills and boat trips to Alcatraz but it is also the gateway to stunning drives through the California Wine country. Napa valley is home to many wineries easily accessed by the wine train, designated drivers can take a break from sobriety by parking up at the train station so they can enjoy sampling the countless wines on offer during the day, and on return at the station spending the night in cosy comfort before continuing on your way next day. Alternatively the route is also beautiful to drive, but just remember not to swallow the wine as you go along!
2. Go Skiing in Lake Tahoe
During colder months many ski resorts open up around Lake Tahoe, with great conditions and a lot of snow, winter road-trippers can access these resorts at their own schedule driving through the sunny winter landscape. By night the area is buzzing with lively bars, so if your camper is not as cosy and well insulated as our Jucy RV, a few après ski drinks are sure to help keep you warm. Not having to rely on public transportation and lots of space in a van for all your own ski or snowboard gear makes it easy, cheap and stress-free to add a couple of unforgettable days on the slopes to your journey.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Lake Tahoe.
3. Adventure Activities in Lake Tahoe
Winter or summer North America’s largest alpine lake is a must stop on any road-trip, offering all sorts of water sports, biking and hiking trails in the few warmer months and ice-skating and skiing during the long winter. With the outdoors activities attracting families and couples the night life is also a big draw for younger crowds. The lake sits at an altitude of nearly 2000 metres and is beaten in depth only by Crater Lake in Oregon reaching 501 metres at its deepest point. Visitors between September and Mid-October may witness the impressive salmon run in which they change colour from a grey-blue to bright red although this phenomenon also attracts, mink, bears and bald eagles.
4. Visit the Grand Canyon
We saw this iconic natural landmark on our road trip with Jucy after being on our bucket list from the beginning! Exploring the Grand Canyon can take you deep into the remote desert wilderness, so you have to make sure that you are properly prepared. With the Jucy RV, we were able to carry a full tank of about 10 gallons of water, chilled food, and dry food (plus some beer and wine!) Sleeping inside the RV, cooking dinner and experiencing the great outdoors was made a whole lot easier. There were also privacy shades supplied that you just suction on to the tinted windows, but we chose instead to keep them off so we could see the spectacular sunrise over the Grand Canyon in the morning. We especially enjoyed the expressions of other campers which changed from amusement as our green and pink van pulled into the camping space to surprise and appreciation as we cranked open the sleeping compartment.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Grand Canyon.
5. Explore “Sin City” – Las Vegas (Free parking!)
Once thoroughly overwhelmed by this expanse of natural beauty we headed back to “the Ibiza of America”, “Sin City”, Las Vegas or whatever you want to call this notorious strip of gambling, drinking, theatres and general buzz of people looking for a good time. Save your pennies for gambling by taking advantage of one of many free parking spots on the strip, just be sure there is no height restriction if you’re in a Jucy camper like us! Ours had the slimmer penthouse roof, making 7 foot, but other vans are taller. Even if you’re not a serious gambler or don’t have much budget for losing money in the casinos it’s a lot of fun just trying out the fruit machines, taking advantage of the free poker lessons on offer and taking tips from the more seasoned gamblers. I played my first ever game of Blackjack with a strict budget of $20 which I was prepared to lose, but I actually turned that into $55 – Walk away while you’re up!
6. Get married (or just pretend to) in Las Vegas
One of the most iconic Las Vegas experiences is to pay a visit to the Graceland Wedding Chapel. If like us you are travelling with your loved one, why not tie the knot in style with the help of Elvis Presley, a rented tuxedo and a little tequila?! Just be sure to stay sober enough to document the occasion for your friends and family at home! If not brave enough to take the plunge yourself it’s always funny to stop by and witness the other spontaneous or planned ceremonies taking place. Our Las Vegas wedding was an amazing experience, with the best Elvis impersonator we’ve ever seen, Elvis songs, even Elvis wedding vows!
7. Day Trip to the Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam is another great landmark that can be taken in from the comfort of your Jucy camper on a road trip in this area, known to many as one of the 20th centuries greatest engineering achievements, it also offers stunning views across America’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead. The informative tour is well worth paying $15 for but is so popular that there is always a long queue no matter how early you go. That’s where road trippers in campers like our Jucy RV have the advantage by arriving the night before, sleeping in the car and being first in line the next day.
8. Chill out at the Beaches of California
Los Angeles spoils its visitors with multiple beaches like Manhattan, Santa Monica and Venice, all great beach stops on your road trip. Santa Monica beach is highly recommended as a stopping place for the night, arrive early evening and take in the sunset with a stroll along Santa Monica pier with the possibility of even spotting Dolphins on the horizon. On the way in or out make a stop at the Hollywood sign or even sleep over next to it! On our two-day stopover in San Diego, Jonathan took advantage of the chance to get back on a surf board for the first time in 2 years!
9. Drive to the Theme parks
North of LA road-trippers can park up at the world famous 6-Flags Magic Mountain theme park. With a camper like ours, adrenaline junkies can spend as long as they like trying every hair-raising ride. We stopped off at Legoland California (Jonathan’s idea) and although they say it caters to kids up to 12 years old we didn’t see any adults not enjoying themselves! We had loads of fun posing with the amazing Lego characters and tying to choose the best of the 60 rides to try out. The new addition “Legends of Chima Water Park” was probably the highlight with its Lion Temple Wave Pool and Crocodile Swamp. Why not bring the kids along on your road-trip too!
10. Enjoy the Food while on a Road Trip!
While possibly not the healthiest food you can find in America, the best food is undoubtedly found on the road. Whether it’s a late-night roadside diner serving milkshakes and hamburgers (one to share is always plenty for us!) to the highly popular Mexican street food now adopted as a staple in most of the states. We were always spoiled for choice but also loved the novelty of having our own mini-kitchen stowed away in the rear-hatch of our Jucy camper complete with sink, pull-out gas burner, refrigerator drawer and utensils supplied to whip up our own meals on the road. Campsite life always calls for a campfire so be sure to pack some marshmallows and a maybe a bottle of something else to share. Just make sure you follow national park and campsite guidelines to avoid starting wild fires.
Note: This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the sponsorship and support of the JUCY World! Thank you to everyone we met along the way who all helped to make this such a special experience. It was an incredible road trip and I will never forget it!
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