At just 24 years old, Elliot Chau is beyond his years when it comes to professional experience. A travel photographer, Elliot is passionate about broadening his horizons by experiences new cultures, which he documents on his website and social media. Hailing from Ottawa, Canada, he has a desire to bring people to places they themselves might not be able to and experience life to the fullest.
What is your all-time favorite place to campervan in the US?
Ah, there are so many! I don’t think I can name just one. California has to be one of my favorites overall places; there are so many national and state parks all within a few hours of each other, so you could spend a few days or even a week or two bouncing from one spot to another. If I could suggest a route, it would be to visit Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Alabama Hills. Or you can drive up the PCH, which is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire world.
What spot is on your bucket list to campervan in the US?
I would love to spend a few weeks campervanning across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona! I’ve visited Utah and Colorado before but only got a glimpse of what there is out there! I’ve never been to New Mexico or Arizona, and there are a couple of places that I would love to visit, such as White Sands National Park and Antelope Canyon.
What is your go-to campervan meal?
I’m a sucker for pasta! When I’m on the road, I rarely have time to cook, so I like to make my meals as simple as possible. You can grab pasta from any grocery store and a small jar of sauce. My go-to is gnocchi with pesto! If you’re feeling fancy, you can even top it off with some pre-cooked Italian sausage or meatballs and parmesan cheese. Having a TAB campervan with a fridge really comes in handy!
What is the top tip you’d give to people who don’t campervan often or are headed out on their first trip?
Reserve a campground early! As fun as it is parking on the side of the road and calling it a night, having a campground to go to with showers, bathrooms, water, and electricity makes life a lot easier.
How we recommend you visit these places
Death Valley National Park
Starting from LA and renting a campervan, there is the best way to experience Death Valley. A place that lives up to its name, having a self-contained home on wheels for your trip is essential for visiting Death Valley. Death Valley can get to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer (~38 C) so park your campervan in the shade if possible!
While it depends on how much rain Death Valley receives, if there’s a good bloom, you do not want to miss wildflower season in Death Valley.
Death Valley wildflowers have three main seasons:
Mid-February to mid-April: best for lower elevation wildflowers (under 3000 feet/914 meters)
Earl April to early may: best for wildflowers at 3000-5000 feet (914-1524 meters)
Early May to mid-July: best for mountain wildflowers at 5000-11000 feet (1524-3352 meters)
Also, make sure to check out Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level! Look out for the “snow” in the basin (which is actually salt)!
What else is in the area?
Answer: a whole lot!
You have the twin parks of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park in the surrounding area. If you haven’t gotten your fill of the desertscape yet, head towards Mojave National Preserve. If you plan to spend a night or two in the preserve, consider camping at the Afton Canyon campground. Most of the sites in the Mojave National Preserve are, as you might expect, fairly primitive. If that simplicity is what you’re looking for, you’ve found the right spot!
If you choose this route, Joshua Tree is a pretty logical next step if you’re inclined to keep heading south. If Mojave sounds a bit too desolate for you, rest assured there will be plenty of people and attractions near Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree is a very popular spot with locals and travelers alike, so make sure to either grab a reservation ahead of time or get there early.
If you choose to just get there early, Joshua Tree has plenty of fun places to eat and shop, as well as a few world-famous attractions that are worth a picture or two! The Jumbo Rocks campground is a great option that can be reserved and lets you experience all of Joshua Tree’s unique charm.
If you don’t have a reservation or are deciding to head to Joshua Tree on a whim, fear not! The Joshua Tree Lake campground is a great overflow option for those who couldn’t get a reservation. While it’s a good option and an enjoyable spot, make sure you’re comfortable driving your campervan if you plan to attempt this. As long as you’re careful, most people should be fine, but there is plenty of sand to potentially get stuck in. Bring a set of skills or a pair of shovels (or traction boards if you have access to them)! On the whole, people out there are likely to be friendly and willing to help, so don’t stress too much!
White Sands National Park
Don’t let the fact that White Sands is located on a missile range worry you too much. While it may be intimidating to see the range on a map, it is perfectly safe to recreate (provided you are responsible, of course)!
If you aren’t quite ready to get out of your campervan, White Sands National Park has an eight-mile-long (13 kilometer) scenic driving route to get you acquainted with the park. There are plenty of opportunities to take pictures and visit roadside attractions as well. It’s worth it to allow at least an hour for this experience, but you’ll probably want to allot more to properly enjoy it.
If you’ve had enough of the campervan at this point and need to move, White Sands has a unique opportunity: summer sledding! If you didn’t bring your own sled to this desert campervan trip, the gift shop has some available for purchase. It’s worth the price of admission to be able to sled down the white sand dunes, so take the time to experience it!
If you plan to stay overnight, the Sierra Vista campground is a great place to park your campervan and enjoy the desert’s night sky.
What else is in the area?
Home to the bighorn sheep, San Andreas National Wildlife Refuge is not far away. Make sure to call ahead as they have previously restricted public entrance.
If you feel like heading into town, New Mexico’s happiest city, Las Cruces, isn’t too far away. You won’t be short on options for good places to eat! Check out Borderland BBQ or The Shed.
If you plan to stay overnight near the city, there is a KOA campground towards the outskirts where you can spend the night.
Good luck on your travels!
If you rented your campervan in LA, you have the option to drop it off in Las Vegas if your travels don’t take you back to Southern California just yet!
Thanks to Elliot for taking the time to sit down with us! If you’re interested in learning more about Elliot and his work, you can check out his blog.
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.