AAA’s Matt Forrest takes a camper van for a spin
I was skeptical when Cabana offered to let me test out one of their posh camper vans — a so-called “boutique hotel room on wheels.” For me, camping means sleeping in a tent. The comforts of an RV always have struck me as outdoors cheating. With this bias in mind, my wife and I took a Cabana to the Olympic Peninsula, but intentionally put minimal effort into planning our adventure to test the touted flexibility of a van adventure.
Our first stop was Heart ‘O’ the Hills campground near the base of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, but beyond that, we weren’t sure exactly where the road would take us. Here’s what we liked best about our time in a Cabana this past June.
The Sleeping Experience
Sleeping in a tent has been the worst part of camping for my family: they find it cold and uncomfortable no matter how cozy a setup is. The Cabana’s memory foam mattress was at least as nice as our mattress at home. Despite the warm weather, the combo of a roof-mounted fan and a slightly cracked window kept the temperature pleasant. After our first night, my wife told me, “That’s the first time I’ve ever slept well while camping.” She also noted that it felt much safer to be in a locked van at night, versus a thin-walled tent.
No More “Cold Walks”
Tent campers know what I’m talking about: those morning and evening walks to the campsite restrooms, usually in pajamas, when it’s so chilly that you can see your breath. Cabana eliminates this entirely. It has a toilet, sink and shower. We could wake up, wash our faces, brush our teeth, take a shower, use the restroom, all without opening the doors. I didn’t miss the cold walks one bit.
No Set Up/Take Down
Although I enjoy setting up a tent and organizing gear, the unplanned nature of our trip benefitted from the setup-free nature of the Cabana. On our second evening, we were having difficulty finding an available campsite; we eventually stumbled upon a hidden gem, Dungeness Recreation Area in Sequim. Even though it was late, instead of rushing to get a tent pitched before dusk, we simply parked the Cabana, put up the privacy curtains and set the parking brake.
The Freedom to Explore
We tend to rent at an Airbnb for road trips or weekend getaways, but they can limit one’s freedom to explore. You’re either tied to a single-base location, or you need to plan your route beforehand and rent places along the way. The Cabana is more flexible, allowing for unexpected stops, such as the charming Crescent Beach RV Park just west of Port Angeles.
Everything Has its Place
Despite our best efforts to travel light, packing our vehicle for a camping trip always seems to devolve into a devilish game of camping-gear Tetris. Forget trying to find a specific piece of equipment or clothing until we’re fully unloaded at the campsite. In the Cabana, we had a dedicated, organized place for everything: shelves for our luggage, a rack for hanging coats, a drawer for food and snacks, plus a mini refrigerator. We knew exactly where all our stuff was located.
I don’t drive large vehicles or tow trailers often, so the thought of maneuvering a big RV is a little intimidating. The Cabana was surprisingly nimble. It is not quite as easy to drive as a large SUV, but comparable, with pretty good side visibility. It zipped around quite easily in tight turns while I was staking out available campsites on the shores of Crescent Lake. Navigating busy parking lots and finding parking were a snap, too.
Fuss-free On Short Trips
Because our trip was only two nights, we didn’t need to empty the toilet “cassette” or fill the water tank. The batteries also last a long time, so we never worried about plugging in to power or limiting our use of electronics or the heating system. It did feel like a personal boutique hotel room on wheels because we didn’t have to mess with any of the hassles normally associated with RVing. Of course, if we took a longer trip, we would have needed to empty the toilet, fill the water tank or plug-in, but the instructions were clear on how to perform these tasks.
Not everything about our Cabana experience was perfect. But the two days my wife and I spent exploring the Olympic Peninsula in a Cabana were a joy overall, and changed the way we look at RVs and camper vans. I won’t be retiring my tent and sleeping bag any time soon. The Cabana, however, fills a wonderful niche between camping and staying at a hotel or Airbnb. When we’re craving some adventure or looking to explore a new region — without so much preplanning — we wouldn’t hesitate to rent a Cabana again.
–Written by Matt Forrest
Disclosure: Cabana provided Matt Forrest with a two-night rental free of charge for the purposes of writing this piece for AAA Washington. Cabana and AAA Washington also have an ongoing business relationship. See AAA special offers and discounts on Cabana camper vans.