I'm a city girl who experienced van life for the first time. Here are 12 things that surprised me most.

Anneta in the Camp Hox van
I recently went on my very first camper van trip. Here's what surprised me most about the experience.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider
  • I have almost zero prior camping experience, but recently went on my very first camper van trip.

  • I spent three days traveling the California coast, stopping in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, and Paso Robles.

  • I was shocked by how comfortable the van was, and the experience taught me so much about van life.

I recently went on my very first camper van trip, and the experience was full of surprises.

Anneta and Kristen with Camp Hox Van
Me and Kristen before our camper van experience.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I booked my trip through "Camp Hox," a three-night journey organized by The Hoxton hotels that uniquely combines nature with luxury.

My $1,200 "California Coast" trip took me from Los Angeles to Paso Robles and finished with a one-night stay back at The Hoxton in downtown LA.

With almost zero prior camping experience, and after spending the last 10 years in big cities, I knew I was in for an adventure. My time at "Camp Hox" — which you can read all about here — taught me so much about van life, road trips, hidden gems, and the beauty of the great outdoors.

Here are 12 things that surprised me most about the experience.

The camper van was much smaller than I expected.

Camp Hox van
The camper van, which we nicknamed "Cabana Hannah."Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

When I first heard about Camp Hox's luxury camper van experience, I imagined that it would involve a huge RV — or maybe one of those cool school buses that #VanLifers always seem to be renovating.

So when my friend Kristen and I walked out of The Hoxton in downtown LA to see our home for the next three days, I was shocked to find that our van was fairly average-sized.

And the Cabana van, which Hoxton partnered with for its California trips, is actually barely bigger than a standard SUV. It measures nearly 20 feet in width and 10 feet in height. That means it can fit into any standard parking space, which proved very helpful on a road trip with a lot of sightseeing breaks.

But despite its compact size, the camper van had plenty of storage space.

Storage in Camp Hox van
There was plenty of storage space in the closet.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The night before our trip, I called Kristen in a panic and asked if it was extremely stupid to bring a rolling suitcase on a camper van trip. I didn't own a duffel bag and, unless I wanted to try and stuff three days' worth of clothes in a small backpack, my carry-on luggage was the only option.

Kristen, who was flying to LA from San Francisco, admitted that she was doing the same. But, to our surprise, it wasn't an issue at all. Our van featured two pull-out drawers in a closet that could easily fit two standard-sized suitcases, plus a whole "gear garage" under the bed that was clearly designed to fit plenty of large items.

I stored my luggage there instead and loved that I had a separate place to put my bag so Kristen and I weren't on top of each other when we were trying to get ready in the mornings — an experience I've had many times with friends and strangers in cramped hostels.

And there were a number of surprising amenities thanks to some very clever use of space.

Table for food prep in the Camp Hox van
This hidden fold-out table was perfect for cooking prep.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

A fold-out table hidden behind the passenger seat gave us extra space to prep for cooking. It was also the perfect size to hold the burner stove that Camp Hox provided, allowing us to cook breakfast or late-night ramen inside the van when it was chilly on the farm.

There was also a hidden chair that pulled out from under the sink, while the passenger seat had swiveling capabilities, creating an entire dining space inside the van that you'd never expect at first glance.

I thought these clever storage hacks were such a smart way to save space in the camper van — which you can find a full tour of here — without sacrificing comfort.

While the drawers' lock buttons sounded obvious in concept, we had a surprisingly hard time remembering to actually use them.

Snack Drawer Camp Hox
This snack drawer almost impaled us multiple times.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

To keep the drawers in place while on the road, all we needed to do was simply press down on their lock buttons. But, on more than one occasion, we sent the snack drawer flying off its own rails after forgetting — oops!

The camper van also drove far smoother than we expected.

Driving Camp Hox Van
Kristen behind the wheel.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Kristen, who was behind the wheel, has driven vans for big trips in the past — including in New Zealand — and told me our camper van was much easier to handle.

Unlike bigger vans, our Cabana didn't feel like it was wobbling every time the wind changed directions. And Kristen said she felt relaxed driving it for hours at a time, and on different types of terrain.

And I couldn't believe how cozy the bed was.

Camp Hox van bed
I couldn't believe how comfortable the bed was.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I didn't expect much from a bed in a van, but the 8-inch memory foam mattress was surprisingly comfortable.

The "camper queen" size meant it had the width of a regular queen-size mattress, so there was plenty of space. And the four super-soft pillows, plus a plush comforter and knit blanket on top, made the entire bed really cozy. I could've easily slept on it for weeks and been happy.

Despite sharing a tiny space with the toilet, the shower didn't actually feel claustrophobic.

Bathroom in Camp Hox van
Our van's toilet and shower.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The 24-inch by 26-inch bathroom was definitely small, but the bamboo flooring was a smart way to keep our feet out of pooling water during showers. And the protective case around the toilet paper dispenser (thankfully) did its job.

I also appreciated that, since the toilet had a five-gallon capacity, we didn't have to worry about maintenance. I'm not quite ready for that van life experience yet!

Camp Hox gave us an awesome snack drawer, but I was surprised that no salt and pepper had been provided.

Snack drawer in the Camp Hox van
The snack drawer provided by Camp Hox.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

It was an important reminder that packing salt and pepper on a trip where cooking is going to be required is always a smart idea. And, next time, I definitely won't forget the hot sauce.

The carefully curated Camp Hox itinerary took us to so many great spots, from a delicious taqueria and gorgeous beach to a local store and farmer stand.

Food from  La Super-Rica Taqueria
Our food from La Super-Rica Taqueria on East Beach in Santa Barbara.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The fear I've always had with these sorts of trips is that you'll end up in tourist traps, or simply at spots that have a partnership with the organizer.

But it was obvious to me that the Camp Hox itinerary was created with the help of locals. I'm already planning my next visit to La Super-Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, and I loved that one of the stops was Finley Farms Honors Stand, a small market on the side of the road filled with fresh produce in Santa Ynez.

And I quickly fell in love with Paso Robles, a hidden gem for wine lovers that's way cheaper than Napa.

Paso Robles LXV Wines
Our tasting at LXV Wine in Paso Robles.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

While I've dined at the famous Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo as a kid (pink champagne cake, I'll never forget you), I'd never been to nearby Paso Robles before my camper van trip.

And I loved the small but charming wine country, especially Tin City. The industrial park features more than 20 wineries within walking distance from each other, highlighting small and independent winemakers offering tastings at just $20 per person.

It's such a fun and affordable way to sample and learn about different grapes and blends, and from people who are more than happy to sit down and explain why you should give orange wine a chance.

"It's like sorority row, but with wineries," Kristen marveled as we walked around before our first tasting appointment.

And the food in Paso Robles was not to be missed.

Paso Robles Alchemist Kitchen food
Our dinner at The Alchemists' Garden.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Kristen and I had an incredible dinner (and zodiac-themed cocktails) at The Alchemists' Garden in downtown Paso Robles.

We also checked out Brown Butter Cookie Company, a local favorite that my New York friends couldn't get enough of when I brought back bags of cookies as gifts during a recent visit.

But what surprised me most was how much I loved the camper van experience, which allowed me to experience my home state in a completely different way.

Anneta at Windrose Farm
Me hanging with one of the horses at Windrose Farm.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I'll be the first to admit that I love a luxury hotel or resort. There are probably very few movie clips that speak to me as strongly as Kevin McCallister gorging himself with room service at The Plaza in "Home Alone 2." I did not think van life was something that'd ever really appeal to me.

But getting to watch the California terrain change from the window of our van as we passed through the beaches of Santa Barbara and Malibu to the beautiful farmlands and vineyards in Santa Ynez and Paso Robles was breathtaking. I loved waking up in the mornings on Windrose Farm and feeding apples to the horses near our campsite before making big scrambles with fresh veggies and eggs.

And getting to sit under the stars for hours and actually watch them sparkle? That's not something you get to see in any big city.

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