Q&A with Overlander Monique Song

When life throws you lemons, you make lemonade. So when full-time overlander, global traveller and YouTuber over at Overland Lady, Monique Song, had her Toyota in the shop for repairs, she reached out to us at Karma Campervans to see if she could give the #Vanlife thing a go. Luckily, we were able to line her up with one of our fully converted Ford Transit campervans for her personal test run and to see if travelling in a campervan more often would be her cup of tea (or jar of lemonade). We caught up with Monique after her trip to see how it went and where she’s headed next.

1. You’re clearly an avid traveller. How has the COVID pandemic affected you, and what have you done to scratch the travel itch?The strict definition of “Overlanding” is prolonged vehicle-based self-sustaining travel to places with cultures different than hometowns. Often crossing borders and spanning for weeks, months, or years. COVID obviously wiped out all of that with border closures. Many travellers had to postpone their trips, return to their residency, or even leave their vehicle in a foreign country in the case of taking a flight back across the ocean. I was in a very similar scenario. Except when COVID first began, I was in China. I can’t think of a better time to travel to China than early 2020. The day I landed at Beijing International Airport, the Chinese government announced the disease could transmit between humans. From there, I witnessed the fast progression of cities came to a halt. Other countries started to shut down flights to and from China. One after another. One day after the US announced their flight cancellation, the Canadian government finally decided the same and encourage all Canadian travellers to return as soon as possible. I had to book a transfer flight from Japan to come back to Vancouver. It was only less than a month after I was back, Canada “sunk” as well. I lived the life of an indoor plant for a few months like everyone else. In summer 2020, BC restriction started listing by stages. I went on a few short trips in BC and eventually was able to make it out to Banff twice and Calgary once. The day I returned from Calgary in November 2020, BC shut down again. So  I’ve been following the guideline and remained local. Luckily we have an abundance of tranquil nature on the Mainland Coast to scratch our itch. 

2. What did you do to prepare for your BC campervan trip? How did you pick the spots you’d overnight at? Did you feel safe? 

Since I am already familiar with camping or sleeping outside of home supplies, I didn’t need to prepare much in terms of gear. I simply transferred most of my belongings from my car to the van. Minus the sleeping gear and utensils – Karma has got that all sorted in a more luxury format!

As for camping spots, out of the three nights I was in Karma Campervan, I had only really planned for one. Finding a camp spot was not so much a concern with my 4WD. But with a larger van, I had to consider trail accessibility. Karma’s website has several blog posts about camping recommendations around BC, which helped get me started. I used a combination of maps to decide on my camping spot. Backroad Mapbooks have a list of campsites. I also used Gaia GPS loaded with the Top Notch Navigator map layer to decide on the final route. The Top Notch layer suggests the spot was 2WD accessible, has a washroom, open for fishing and boating, which are good signs for paddleboarding. Except I didn’t end up doing it due to the temperature.

The other two nights were what makes the campervan shine over 4WD! The night before I reached my camp, I was too tired to keep driving. So I pulled into a truck stop by the highway. Tucked away behind the trees, I parked among semi-trucks and spent a night there. I never appreciated rest stops until having an enclosed camper. I can sleep whenever I want! All I need to do is shutting down the engine.

On my last night- I parked in my school’s parking lot!  I enrolled in a summer school to learn something fun and useful. Monday’s class starts at 7 am. So I arrived at school 12 hours before class start. Slept in the parking lot and be ready for school in no time. I was also able to “come home” during breaks. The campervan allowed me to stay close to wherever I need to be. Mountains or cities!

3. Ok let’s talk gear – what do you always take with you when you travel? What did you forget on this trip you wish you had? And what would you recommend other Karma Guests remember for their campervan trip?

The places I travel to usually don’t have cell reception. So I keep my ZOLEO satellite communicator close to me. Remote travel comes with lots of potential dangers. As a solo female traveller, there’s also tons of worry from people close to me. Having a form of off-grid communication allows me to keep my family’s mind at ease. It also acts as a form of SOS system in case things go pear-shaped.

Fortunately, I didn’t forget to bring anything. In fact, I was over-prepared! The van has so much storage space. I stuffed the “garage” area with a chainsaw, axe, shovel, extra jug of water, and my inflatable paddleboard—all of these I didn’t use. There was no worry for space, so I brought everything I could think of. However, my trip was short as I only spent two days and one night in the wild. If my trip was longer, these would definitely come in handy.

As for Karma’s guests, you don’t really need to worry much since the booking confirmation comes with a checklist of items to bring. The list includes basically everything you need. If you are going on longer trips, however, one tip that only those who travel long-term will tell you is to bring a nail clipper! It’s such a small mundane item that most of us overlook. But when your nails grow out of your comfort zone, you’ll thank me for this. Ask me how I know…..

4. What do you suggest people cook to keep things delicious but simple at the same time? Any secret family recipes to share? 

I am a pescatarian which means my diet does not include meat. This forces me to stay away from mainstream junk food. I tried to be creative by switching up different types of seafood each meal. My go-to is prawn and salmon for protein choice, with a side of broccoli which I often tend to cook too much and became the main. Broccoli is very filling for its fibre content.

My trick for making them tasty is all in the spice. I use a combination of salt, pepper, garlic powder (or fresh garlic), paprika, cayenne pepper, and cumin (cumin is basically my secret sauce. Bring up the smoky BBQ taste without using a BBQ grill). Cook the broccoli with heaps of onion will complete the flavour profile. You can stir fry them using the propane stove and cooking pan provided by Karma. I went lazy and used an air fryer, which requires an extra power source. It’s not a family recipe. But rather, my random discovery. I wasn’t good at patiently crafting a meal. So I tried to stir fry everything I see in a pot all together with all the spice I had in the pantry. Not to mention it minimized the number of dishes I had to clean. It turned out surprisingly delicious, so I kept the “recipe”. Nothing in this meal you don’t recognize. Not like package foods with ingredient lists straight out of the Periodic Table or chemistry lab that you can’t even read.

5. Do you believe in Karma? What are some ways people can give back to themselves or to others to earn Karma now and in the future? 

I believe in Karma to a degree. To put it more accurately, I believe that one is their own making. Where you are is the result of what you have done. A huge part of this can be in the subconscious without us realizing it. But no one is more accountable for our current state than ourselves. I don’t think kindness out of pure acting can do much long-term good unless the person eventually becomes one with kindness intrinsically. Acting kind for future gain is manipulation. By being a good person and doing the morally right thing, you earn the future you deserve. What people call “bad Karma” – my rationale is that the person would have consciously or subconsciously done something previously that put themselves in this place.

I think, in order to “earn good Karma”, we need first to put faith in others. Believing that people are nice and kind directly relates to how we interact with them – we become nice and kind in return. It’s the unknown concern and defensiveness that put us on alert. It’s like a layer of film that prevents us from interacting genuinely. Instead, we throw tricks and try to one-up others. That’s when we build ourselves a network of unhealthy connections – bad Karma.

The same goes for treating non-human items, like how we behave in the wild where no one’s watching. For example, littering and not following fire ban rules can eventually lead to the area being ruined or closed off altogether, which we can no longer enjoy – bad Karma. Keeping it tidy and leave the place better than you found it. It will stay for years – good Karma.

Basically, just keep in mind that “you are your own making”. Holding a strong internal locus of control will generally lead us to behave towards a better, more fulfilling future.

6. What’s your next adventure

There are going to be lots of short weekend trips during my schooling time. As for the next “big” adventure, I’ve been dreaming of heading up to Tuktoyuktuk for the longest time. With international border restriction still in place, crossing Canada vertically or horizontally seem to be the best bet. Heading into the Arctic Circle would be a trip for a lifetime!


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