How To Navigate First Time Camper Van Trip With Autoimmune Disease

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How to navigate first time camper van trip with autoimmune disease is about empowering you to plan that firt time camper van trip, despite chronic illness. I did it, and so can you. With proper planning and preparation, you can. Here is your how-to guide for first time camper van road trip! Not only will you learn about camper van logistics, but a sample itinerary through two awesome National Parks, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, are included as an added bonus!

If you have autoimmune disease, you must go over and above the average traveler to ensure you’re prepared for travel adventures. Before compiling a packing list or creating an itinerary, your first priority is to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. Discuss with them your details for travel and your concerns, if any. Have a pencil and paper ready (or your phone notes so you always have it with you) to jot down specifics.

I have traveled to the Southwest in the summer many times now with my autoimmune diseases. Lupus, Sjogren’s, Hashimoto’s all interact with climate changes and sudden increase in temperature. However, I have taken the steps as outlined here, and travel with ease and pleasure. And taking a camper van road trip has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl!

author's childhood memory
We loved traveling in our van
author's childhood memory
That’s me! First tent camping at age 2

No doubt the call came from childhood memories of family tent camping and my dad’s converted Chevy Van camper. Nonetheless, it still took years of contemplating. I longed to make my camper van trip a reality. Finally, I went through with my adventure. I give it a 10 outta 10.

There are many great businesses that offer excellent van rentals. I am very much a price-shopper and I was sold on Travelers Autobarn. Their prices are great too, but there are lots other reasons besides cost.

First and foremost, exceptional service. Taking a camper van road trip to Death Valley (of all places!) is a big step. For example, before my trip, I made multiple phone calls with questions. A friendly voice was always on the other end helping me. They were beyond supportive!

camper van Travelers Autobarn rental for you to Navigate First Time Camper Van Trip With Autoimmune Disease

During the research process, there were so many reasons to feel intimidated. Camper van electricity, unfamiliar outlets, emptying gray water, checking tire pressure…so many new things to learn. However, there was also so many resources to teach about the process. When the time came, I was ready.

Upon arrival, the staff patiently and thoroughly showed me each feature and explained more than once. Last but not least, there were many other perks to choosing Travellers Autobarn.

Even though there were countless reasons to choose TA, free unlimited miles was the main selling point for me. In addition, I also liked the flexibility of picking up in one location and returning it somewhere else. I ended up not using that feature, but may do so in the future. Besides renting in USA, you also have the option of using Travelers Autobarn in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.

The KUGA camper van drove well. Since I drive a Toyota Sienna as my everyday car, I had experience with vans. However, the van was still an adjustment. For example, visibility from the high, built-in cabinets bolted right behind the front seats. But you get used to it very quickly. Camping in a camper van is such an exciting and freeing experience, the small adjustments are completely worth it.

Now let’s get to the itinerary! This 6-day camper van road trip takes you through the stark beauty of Death Valley and the unique landscapes of Joshua Tree. Get ready for exhilarating hiking, camping, and stargazing. It’s a journey filled with contrasting landscapes and outdoor adventures, making for an unforgettable experience in the Southwest United States.

Death Valley
  1. Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park: Approximately 140 miles, taking about 2 hours and 10 minutes via NV-160 W and CA-190 W.
  2. Death Valley National Park to Joshua Tree National Park: Approximately 230 miles, taking about 4 hours via CA-190 E and CA-62 E.
  3. Joshua Tree National Park to Las Vegas: Approximately 190 miles, taking about 3 hours via I-15 N.

140 miles +230 miles = 560 miles 


Drink double the water you’re accustomed to. Dehydration in the desert is dangerous, especially if you have any underlying health conditions (like me)

safety sign in death valley

Keep your gas tank filled. It’s mind blowing how vast these highway roads and National Parks actually are, especially if you are not used to them. Running out of gas is not fun and not safe. Only happy memories allowed!

Now for the best part – road trip!


Pick up your camper van in Las Vegas and stock up on supplies.

Guess what?! There is a take-what-you-need- pantry right there on site at the pick up center of Travellers Autobarn. Many times there are leftover supplies at the end of a trip, so return campers donate it to the next outbound camper. It’s your first taste of #vanlife and you’ll love it!

Drive to Death Valley National Park (about 2-3 hours).


Death Valley breathtaking landscape Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park is a surreal and otherworldly landscape that beckons you to explore its unique beauty. This iconic viewpoint offers a glimpse into the heart of the desert’s rugged terrain.

As you stand atop Zabriskie Point, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking panorama of undulating badlands, eroded canyons, and a palette of colors that seem to change with the shifting desert light. The soft, layered sedimentary rocks sculpted by the forces of nature create a mesmerizing display of forms and textures. Moreover,its stark, almost alien landscape reminds of the immense power of time and erosion, teaching that beauty can emerge from even the harshest environments.


Set up camp in Furnace Creek.


Death Valley sunset at Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin Salt Flats Trail is the lowest point in North America. It’s a distance of 1/4 mile to reach the salt polygons, but you can explore the flats in any length or direction you choose.

Death Valley Badwater Basin salt up close

Being famous for the lowest elevation in America, this trail is a must. For one thing, when will you ever again be able to say you hiked on calcite, gypsum, and borax?! And if you’re bold enough, you can even give the salt flats a little taste. I was tempted but did not. Secondly, this trail includes the many health benefits of salt itself. Salt has been known to improve breathing, help protect the body from infections, improve skin conditions and balance emotions. Finally, salt is also used in spiritual practice to increase the flow of positive energy. No wonder wars were fought over this powerful substance.


Death Valley hike at Natural Bridge unique rock arch

The very long, very bumpy dirt road is worth traversing to reach this remarkable trail. The road is so extremely potholed, you will only be able to move forward at 5 mph in spots. However, you will be rewarded with solitude and the beauty of Arch Rock.

Trail Specs…

The distance is 2 miles out and back. This hike is a standout because of its uniqueness compared to the rest of the geology at Death Valley. Soon after you begin the hike you may get the impression you are in Utah or Arizona with the formations and steep rising of rock. Continuing along, you find the trail is wide, clear and flat. This provides plenty of opportunity to lose yourself in your surroundings.

Natural Bridge shines in it’s uniqueness. It has multiple vertical chutes that seemed to have the ability to magically teleport visitors. Moreover, they capture the imagination with the appearance of mystical portals to other times and places.
Next, make sure you get a selfie with the 35 foot arch behind you, or ask someone to take the photo for you.
Finally, the trail dead-ends at a dry waterfall not long after the arch. Since it was getting late and looking empty, I ended my hike there shortly after the arch. On your way out, make sure to see Golden Canyon Trail or explore Artist’s Palette.


Set up camp in Furnace Creek.

When I planned this camper van trip, it was primarily around seeing Joshua Tree because it had the distinct reputation for being a sacred and spiritual place. After experiencing it for myself, I agree.

Besides having a palpable, welcoming vibe, the park seems to breathe an atmosphere of joy and peace. Perhaps it’s from the ubiquitous Joshua trees themselves, which always seem to be waving and happy to see you.

Park Specs

Entrances to the park are near Cottonwood Springs, Twentynine Palms, and Joshua Tree. Ecosystems of the park include Mojave in Colorado desert. Hiking is a fun adventure which combines rock scrambles. The large boulders are easy to climb up and find the perfect birds-eye-view for people watching in landscape viewing. Lower to the ground, boulders are perfect for snuggling into as a comfortable chair, while larger boulders, give a cave-like feeling. Not only that, but the rocks also sometimes create their own art (see below)

While the trails are well marked, it can be easy to confuse desert washes for a trail, since there may be other foot prints in the sand. Finally, the geek me loved all the informational an educational plaques displayed along the trails.

drive from Death Valley to Joshua Tree desert road


Drive to Joshua Tree National Park (approximately 5 hours).


joshua tree national park sunset

Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park is a true gem for nature-loving, camper van adventurers. Nestled within the captivating desert landscape, this hidden treasure offers not only breathtaking views but also an opportunity to connect with the spirituality of a vast and barren setting. Perhaps the emptiness that pools so much positive energy.

The winding trails and unique rock formations provide the perfect setting for hiking and meditation. Your mindful imagination will flourish amidst the rugged beauty of Hidden Valley.


Set up camp in one of the park’s campgrounds.

Full Day:

pretty purple wildflowers  in Joshua Tree

This trail, which is easily accessible and relatively short, offers a blend of history, geology, and breathtaking desert beauty. It meanders through a landscape of iconic Joshua Trees, massive boulders, and unique rock formations, providing the perfect backdrop for self-reflection and appreciation of the wilderness.

Trail Specs

The trail is relatively easy, making it accessible for solo female travelers of all ages and fitness levels. It’s a place where you can embrace the healing power of nature, and show your gratitude by always being respectful of the fragile desert ecosystem. 

One of the highlights of Barker Dam Trail is the historic Barker Dam itself. This small reservoir, constructed by early ranchers in the area. It is a testament to human determination in the harsh desert environment. Therefore, it’s a great spot to pause and ponder the resilience of those who came before.


Enjoy a campfire and stargazing in this renowned dark-sky park.


map of Joshua Tree

The Lost Horse Mine is a historical gem nestled within the heart of Joshua Tree National Park, offering a unique blend of history and adventure. As you explore this site, you’ll be transported back in time to the days when prospectors sought their fortunes in the rugged desert landscape.

Trail Specs

Lost Horse Mine takes you through the mesmerizing desert terrain. The mine itself is a well-preserved relic, a symbol of resilience and determination in the face of harsh conditions.

Trail Spirituality

Iconic Arch Rock stands as a testament to the enduring beauty and wonder of Joshua Tree National Park. A magnificent sandstone formation that seems to defy gravity, it forms a perfect arch amidst the desert landscape. As you hike towards this geological marvel, you’ll be immersed in the striking desert scenery. Joshua Trees and unique rock formations will be your companions throughout your hike.

The trail to Arch Rock is not just a physical journey; it’s a spiritual one, allowing you to connect with the ancient forces that shaped this incredible landscape. Be sure to visit at sunset or sunrise for a truly magical experience as the sun’s warm hues paint the arch in a breathtaking display of colors. For more places to hike mindfully in National Parks, read here.


Joshua Tree Cholla Cactus Garden

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a great example of the diversity and beauty of this desert ecosystem. Wander through this enchanting garden to be enveloped by a sea of Cholla cacti, their spiny arms reaching toward the sky.

More Than Just a Trail

This serene and surreal landscape is an ideal spot to appreciate the finer details of the desert’s flora and fauna. The way the sunlight plays off the cacti and the stark contrast against the blue desert sky make it a photographer’s dream! The garden is a celebration of the rich tapestry of life in the desert. It’s a place where you can embrace the idea that every living thing, no matter how prickly, has its own unique beauty and purpose.


Camper van in the park, savoring the tranquility.



Leave Joshua Tree and head back to Las Vegas (about 3-4 hours).

Travelers Autobarn Las Vegas interior supplies
Take or leave leftover provisions for the next camper!


Return your camper van and explore any additional sights in Las Vegas, like the Strip or downtown.

camper van companion author's teddy bear
My teddy bear and I made lots of memories


Wrap up your road trip with a memorable dinner in Las Vegas. My favorite is to eat by the pool and bask in all the amazing memories I just made! Or if you’re feeling adventurous and want to be driven around instead of doing all the driving, why not book a Big Bus tour? They are super fun and entertaining, and tailored to your individual interests, since you can hop on and hop off according to your whims.

Final Thoughts On How To Navigate First Time Camper Van Trip With Autoimmune Disease

Ready to hit the camper van road and make unforgettable memories? I hope so. As a well-traveled autoimmune warrior, I have traveled and hiked in National Parks Utah, Virginia, Wyoming, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, Arizona, Maine, and Nevada. Taking a camper van road trip through Death Valley and Joshua Tree with Travelers Autobarn promises to deliver not only amazing hikes, but also empowerment and self-healing.

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