Hello we are Julie and Zach Ruhl — a travel couple living out of our converted 2001 VW Eurovan! We have set off on a whirlwind road trip taking in everything that North America has to offer, focusing on amazing National Parks, scenic bike rides, and snorkel destinations.
Julie grew up in the middle of Wisconsin in a town called Wisconsin Rapids. She’s been a cheerleader her whole life, and that’s what brought her to Minnesota! She cheered at the University of Minnesota and even coached their Cheer team after she graduated.
Zach is from a suburb of Minneapolis, MN called Lakeville. He also went to the University of Minnesota. We met shortly after college.
After we met and had been dating for a few years, we both decided to go to Grad School and moved to Chicago, IL for that adventure! After 2 years, we both finished our programs and decided to set off on this road trip across North America.
We knew we wanted to set off on an adventure after we finished grad school, we just didn’t know how we were going to do it. So we did some research. What really inspired us was how many people were living the van life across North America and doing it on a tight budget.
That showed us that it was possible to live the van life and travel full time without breaking the bank. We also looked to YouTube tutorials and van tours for inspiration and help along our journey renovating our campervan.
The Great North American Journey so Far
We have LOVED our North American road trip so far! Since we started in Minnesota in December, we had to head straight south to get to some warm weather! We headed towards Florida and spent January driving the Florida coast and the Florida Keys.
From there, we went up the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida Panhandle and over to New Orleans (up and down Bourbon Street a few times…) and on across to Texas.
We spent a lot of time in Big Bend National Park hiking, camping, and stargazing (one of the best places on earth for stargazing)! Once we got to Arizona, in April, we turned north for the Grand Canyon, where we did a 4 day camping trip to Havasupai Falls, one of the best experiences of the year.
We drove through Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana hitting every National Park we could along the way. Our favorites were Grand Teton National Park and Glacier National Park!
Then we crossed the Canadian border in July and did the 4 National Parks along the Alberta/British Columbia Border: Kootenay, Yoho, Banff, and Jasper. Surprisingly, Yoho beat out Banff to be our favorite.
After that, we drove through the Okanagan Valley on our way to Vancouver, where we crossed the border back to the United States and Seattle. Zach’s brother lives in Seattle, so we were able to use that as a ‘home base’ while we did 2 trips we had on our bucket list: an Alaskan Cruise and a trip to Hawaii.
We did both of those in September and are now on our way South from Seattle! The Oregon Coast came first, followed by Crater Lake and a journey down California, where we are now.
Top 3 Destinations on our Road Trip across North America
Our best memories so far have been when family meet us! Julie’s family joined us on the Alaskan Cruise and the Hawaii trip, and Zach’s family met us in Seattle and Houston. Having the people we love around us as we experience new places together has been extremely special.
When it comes to experiencing these new places, we definitely have a couple of favourites that we would love to share with you! Our top 3 destinations are:
1) Havasupai Falls in Arizona. This place was pure magic, and gave us an even greater appreciation for the beauty nature has, especially in seemingly hidden places. Havasupai Falls is the most beautiful place we’ve ever seen in the world!
2) The Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii. The Na Pali Coast looks like a whole other world, the cliffs covered with greenery and the deep blue Pacific Ocean as the backdrop. Hiking and exploring the Na Pali Coast made us feel like kids in a candy store with all of the incredible views and outlooks. If we could live there, we would!
3) Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Specifically, the Opabin Prospect that overlooks Lake O’Hara. This overlook was our favorite single spot in all of Canada, and what made it special to us is two things: the work it took to get there and the reward at the end.
This was our longest day of hiking of the whole year, over 22 miles, and it was WORTH IT! On Opabin Prospect you get the most incredible view of Lake O’Hara from above and the surrounding Canadian Rockies in the distance. It was an absolutely wonderful reward for the long hike!
Life in a DIY Campervan and the Great Outdoors
Traveling and living in a DIY campervan is definitely something we needed to adjust to. It was not easy at first. Our first few nights, it rained heavily and all of our stuff seemed to be in the wrong place. However, we were able to tweak a few things about our set-up over the first few months and we made it much more livable.
Our van Winnie has a bed (which turns into a bench during the day), a solar panel setup (which powers lights, chargers, and a mini fridge), a sink with running water, a closet, and a rooftop deck! Really, the only thing we don’t have is a shower and toilet. Zach does 99% of the driving. Julie drove for about 15 minutes in Texas and got pulled over for speeding.
Spending time in our DIY campervan allows us to experience the great outdoors every day. We love the great outdoors, there are so many things that nature brings that we weren’t getting when we lived in Chicago. The wide open spaces and crisp, fresh air helps clear our minds and have helped us focus on what is important in our lives.
Also, maybe our favorite part, the stars. Stargazing in a place with no light pollution gives us a greater appreciation for life and our place in the universe. We are absolutely in love with the North American National Parks, we’d recommend all of them.
But, if we must, here are our top 5: Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Big Bend National Park, Zion National Park.
Some more favorites are Banff National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Olympic National Park, Arches National Park and Grand Canyon National Park!
A Shout Out to the Beautiful Alaska
We feel we need to go back for an entire summer to see all of the National Parks, including Denali, and have our “Into the Wild” moments! If anything, we had our “Into the Wild” moments in Wyoming where we were off-grid for multiple days in a row, hiking and camping in the wilderness having the time of our lives.
We can’t wait to explore the main part of Alaska, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Tips for your Road Trip across North America
Our first tip would be to make it happen in a campervan! We are so thankful that we did this adventure in a van. We’ve been able to camp for free all across the US, have been able to reach all the hiking trailheads we’ve wanted to, and haven’t really sacrificed many daily luxuries we need.
We have running water and electricity, the only inconvenience is showering (we go to Planet Fitness) and toilets (at trailheads and gas stations, or in the woods.) Also, not really a ‘tip’ but our advice is to make it happen.
It has been easier and cheaper than we thought it would be. We are spending less now per month TOTAL (gas, food, entertainment, etc.) than we spent on rent alone in Chicago. We wish we would have done this sooner.
Thanks for reading and hopefully our stories from the road have inspired you to take your own great road trip across North America!