Category Archives: Interview

I Knew One Thing: I Couldn’t Sit at Home (an Interview with Brent)

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I met Brent at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). I was sitting in a group of folks at the chili dinner, and I introduced myself to the one person I didn’t know. The guy said his name was Brent and he read my blog. Aw, shucks!

Brent has been a good friend to me and a big supporter of my writing since that day. From postcards sent from his travels overseas to much appreciated financial support, Brent’s friendship lifts my spirits and has gotten me out of more than one pickle. It does my writer’s heart good to know that Brent is out in the world reading my blog.

Brent writes a blog too. It’s called Brent’s Travels, and he writes about the places he goes, the things he sees, and the people he meets. I applaud Brent’s dedication to sharing his knowledge in order to help other vagabonds, drifters, nomads, rubber tramps, and travelers. Brent doesn’t mind telling folks what’s worked (and what hasn’t) for him.

Lots of things make Brent interesting (including his career as a firefighter, his strong desire to meet people entirely different from himself, and his knowledge of engineering), but in this interview I’m focusing on the fact that for four months in each of the last six years, he’s lived and traveled in three completely different rigs: a camper van, a Toyota Prius, and pickup truck with a popup camper cap. Today Brent will share the pros and cons of each of these rigs, as well as what he’s learned living and traveling in a small car.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): I know that you’ve traveled extensively in three different rigs. Could you tell me the make and model of each one of those?

Brent: I started out in a Class B with a Chevrolet chassis from 1994, and it was a…Coachmen. I had bought that obviously used and it was significantly in great shape but hadn’t been used in a few years so it needed to just have a few things done. [I put] about $1,000 into it and then I got on the road with that one, my first year. I did not enjoy driving it…

The next one was a 2011 Prius that I significantly engineered to live out of totally. I could do everything I needed to do in that vehicle.

RTA: What are you in now?

Brent: I’m in a 2011 Toyota Tacoma with a Four Wheel Camper, normally referred to as FWC, popup camper cap on the back.

RTA: You said you traveled in the van for one year?

Brent: I did.

RTA: And the Prius was…?

Brent: Three years.

RTA: And how long have you been in the truck?

Brent: This is my second year.

RTA: What did you like about traveling in the van? What three things did you really like about the van?

Brent: Being able to get from the front to the back just by stepping through the slot between the two front seats. Having everything basically a lot more organized because there was a lot more space. Space was plenty and those were the two things that I think were best.

RTA: What were the two or three things you really disliked about the van?

Brent: I hated the refrigerator! It was a three-way fridge and…

RTA: What does that mean, a three-way fridge?

Brent: It runs on 12 volts, 120 volts, and runs on gas. I basically used it as a pantry.

RTA: Gas meaning propane?

Brent: Propane. And I opted initially, because I did not like it, I opted for an Engle fridge that I still use today.

RTA: What didn’t you like about the fridge?

Brent: Because it consumed too much electricity on 12 volts. I never was interested in plugging in, and the [propane] you can’t use when you’re driving. It just wasn’t a convenient thing for my operation. That was really the biggest thing.

The other thing was I started doing mountains with it and it was just too

Gray Concrete Road Surrounded by Green Grass

heavy a vehicle for the braking system coming down those mountains. Sometimes I was scared coming down even though I had it in low gear. It was just too heavy.

RTA: What two or three things did you like best about traveling in the Prius?

Brent: I could park anywhere. I could just literally just park it and be anywhere, a parking garage, a street. It was an anywhere kind of vehicle. All I had to do was lower the back of my driver’s seat, slide into the back [of the car], pull the lever, let [the seat] flop back up, pull the curtain across, and I was there. I was done. That was perfect.

RTA:  So super stealthy.

Brent: Yeah.

Fuel Dispenser

RTA: People usually mention the gas mileage on their Prius too.

Brent: Gas mileage was excellent. I averaged…My first years I did not use heat and air conditioning, and I averaged 50 miles per gallon.

RTA: Wow!

Brent: Using heat and air conditioning, it was 45 miles per gallon.

RTA: That’s fantastic. What did you dislike about the Prius?

Brent: The Prius, even coming to the RTR I had to be very careful. I came in one day, and they’d just been grading the road and they had a ridge in the middle of the road and then the brims trying to get off into the camping areas. I was scraping the bottom constantly. I went to Ruby, Arizona where there’s a ghost town. I drove all the way there from Nogales on this backroad. I had no problem. I got to Ruby, [there was] a cattle crossing and the other side of the cattle crossing had about a four or five inch drop—it was missing dirt. I [knew] that I was going to land right on the frame and I would be stuck so…I had to get out a lot and look. I decided to [go] north to Arivaca, and the river had been running across [the road] and although there was no water, the ridge that was left in the road, I couldn’t get over without hanging the center of the vehicle up. That wasn’t a big deal but it became problematic when I wanted to see sights that were outside of the normal routes that you could take a Prius, you know, the clearance.

RTA: Anything else you didn’t like about the Prius?

Brent: No. There was more to like than there was not to like with the Prius.

RTA: What do you like about your current rig set up?

Brent: The current rig…I can go down washes. Up in Utah—I go to Utah

Welcome to Utah Poster Under Blue Daytime Sky

every March, and I travel all kinds of back roads, and these back roads cross washes and sandy areas…I’ve got high clearance so I can get into places and camp for the night where other people just don’t go. It’s nice. I don’t have a sense of worrying that if there’s a little water in the wash I’m going to have a problem because the truck just goes through it.

Just as an example, going to the Valley of the Gods, coming in from Mexican Hat, there’s a water crossing there. I don’t stop to check it out to see how deep it is because I can visually [determine if the truck can make it across], but with the Prius I’d have to physically get out and measure the depth of the water to make sure I was ok…

…It was not coming here to the RTR that was the problem. It was really Utah. If I really wanted to experience some of the back country places in Utah, I needed a different vehicle. When I’m done doing all that…I kept my Prius, so I can always use my Prius.

RTA: What do you dislike about your current rig?

Brent: Obviously, when you stop or camp somewhere, you have to get out of the back to get to the front. I’ve not had a problem that way. It may just be…in my head that that’s important, but the last two vehicles, I was able to do that and I can’t do it with this one.

The other thing is that it cost me a lot more money to operate because of the gas mileage being less.

RTA: Do you feel like it hinders your ability to be stealthy?

Brent: Certainly not as stealthy as [in the Prius]. I’m a designer, and I design a lot of stuff, so I designed a bed [in the camper] that I can sleep in without having to put the top up. That works really well in parking lots and in more areas that you wouldn’t have if you had to put the top up. I can easily get in the back, and I can access my refrigerator and do everything. I just don’t have to put the top up. I actually have more room in there [without putting the top up] than I did in my Prius so it’s not a negative from the perspective of that. Having lived in a Prius, it made the transition ok, but it certainly isn’t stealthy.

RTA: Do you think that there is a perfect rig to live and travel in?

Brent: Certainly a white commercial type van is the way to go…because it gives you the room, gives you the security, gives you pretty much everything you want. Now that I’ve spent a lot of time in designing things…that would be an interesting vehicle for me to design and build out.

RTA: But maybe not the gas mileage?

Brent: It certainly wouldn’t be the gas mileage. The Prius was nice because I move a lot. I go to play disc golf downtown. I’m going out and looking at something and moving all the time, so the Prius was really important for the gas mileage. I still do that, but it cost me a lot more money. The four months I spend on the road, this is going to be my sixth year, I put on 16 to 20,000 miles.

RTA: Wow!Brent: Gas really adds up. It takes me 3,000 miles to get [to Quartzsite, AZ].

RTA: Do you think if you had a cargo van, would that allow you the clearance you need to go to these places in Utah that you want to go to?

Brent: For the most part, yes. I know people who go in there with two wheel drive cargo type vans and they have clearance enough.

RTA: I’m sure living and traveling in a Prius presented special challenges. What challenges did you face that were specific to living in a small car?

Brent: Not being able to stand up. If that’s important to you, then [a Prius] is not the vehicle for you.

I was able to totally wash up my whole body. I could heat hot water with electricity. I had a house battery so I could do everything. I could sit in the back. I had a little table that I could sit [at] and type on a keyboard. It really was vertical height [that was the challenge], if that is important. Now when I laid in bed, I could incline, but I couldn’t sit perfectly up. I had to tilt my head down to be able to actually sit on my bed…I slept on a backpacking mattress because…the height of a four inch foam would just cause more problems.

RTA: What advice would you give to someone considering living and traveling in a small car?

Brent: Make sure it is absolutely something that you know what to expect and what you want to do because there are people who would just not be happy in [those] circumstances. There’s no amenities. You have to be willing to kind of rough it.

Just swapping around things to go to the bathroom on your pail is an activity. Your pail has to be…Mine was a two gallon pail because you can’t have a five gallon pail in a Prius…

I replaced all my clothing with wicking poly clothing that dries fast, and it rolls up into such small things…because you have no space.

…The smaller the vehicle the greater your organization skills are necessary.

RTA: Good point! How would your choice of rigs be different if you were living and traveling in it full time and you didn’t have a sticks-n-bricks to go back to and use as a place to store your belongings?

Brent: Certainly a van. Certainly a van would be the vehicle. I agree with the people who have gone that route. I would want it to look plain…a plain white van.

RTA: Your other van was more like a camper van, right?

Brent: It was. It had a…this bulbous top of fiberglass that overhung the driver’s seat where you could have a double bed up there. It was this thing that was overhanging. It had the pinstripes on it from the company’s name on it.

RTA: So it didn’t feel stealthy at all?

Brent: No. It was perfectly non-stealthy.

RTA: How would your choice of rigs be different if you were traveling with another person? Would you also go for a van in that case?

Brent: I would. My pickup camper is ok for a second person. It’s not as roomy as a van. If you both need your own space, the pickup camper is limited in that regard. In a van, there’s enough separation. Someone could go sit in the front seat and someone could sit in the back. You have some level of separation. You just don’t get that in the pickup camper.

RTA: What are your three favorite things about traveling for several months each year?

Brent: Well, I live in the northeast which is notorious for cold weather…[In the desert], I get to see sun for days. I like to hike and I like to play disc golf so those two things don’t cost a lot, they’re easy to do, and there are many places to do them. I can’t say I have the same enjoyment in New England in the winter. I travel from January through April. I go home for the first mowing of the lawn in Massachusetts. It’s May 1, so [I] don’t need to be there before May 1.

RTA: You spend the majority of your travel time in the Southwest?

Brent: That’s correct.

RTA: What are your three least favorite things about traveling for several months each year?

Brent: (Long pause) Not seeing the friends that are at home, I guess. Probably that’s the top of the list. My mother’s birthday is coming up, so I’m not there for my mother’s birthday. She’s 92 this year. But I spend a lot of time with her when I am home, and she knows that…

The love of doing this exceeds all that…It just does.

RTA: Is there anything else I didn’t ask about that you feel like you want to add?

Brent: I think that it’s important to kind of have a reference for my age and the fact that I’m retired. I retired at 62½. I had no clue what I was going to do. I knew one thing: I couldn’t sit at home. I knew that I would go crazy sitting at home for the winter…I’m a very active person, so on the spur of the moment, I said, I’m just going to buy a van, and I’m just going to drive around the United States, and that’s what I did. That’s why I ended up with the Class B. It worked. It got me out. It got me going. It got me educated. I did not know about the RTR the first year, so when I got out here, it was well after it had finished…

Round Grey and Black Compass

I look forward to doing this. This is my mantra: I want to be outside; I want to be out with people doing things, having enjoyable weather.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-concrete-road-surrounded-by-green-grass-1461033/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/fuel-dispenser-1563510/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/welcome-to-utah-poster-under-blue-daytime-sky-954289/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/round-grey-and-black-compass-1736222/.

We Decided on Freedom (an Interview with Blake and Ally)

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The Man met Blake and Ally first, while he was still working in the parking lot at the very popular trailhead on the top of the mountain. They pulled in with Blake at the wheel of their short, white (former) school bus named Gus the Bliss Bus. Ally and Blake wanted to know about the nearby attractions, so The Man sent them down to the Mercantile to get all the info from me. Unfortunately, they overshot the Mercantile by about 10 miles and ended up in a small community where a restaurant, bar, general store, and lodge stand just off the main road. They stopped at the four-in-one building where they thought they’d find me. Instead, they were promptly offered summer jobs. This is the magic of Ally and Blake. They can take a mistake and turn it into sunshine.

Later in the summer, the couple came over to our camp for dinner with me and The Man. A lovely time was had by all. The Man and I were invited into Gus the Bliss Bus and got to see the lifting of the amazing elevator bed and hear toilet system details.

A week before they left the mountain, I had the pleasure of interviewing Blake and Ally under the pines across the street from their place of employment. Unfortunately, that interview was lost when my phone was lost. Thankfully, Ally and Blake agreed to answer my questions again, this time in writing, via email.

In this interview the two of them tell about the best parts of life on the road, how they get alone time, and why they picked their rig.

Rubber Tramp Artist: Whose idea was it to hit the road?

Ally & Blake: Both really! It was a collaboration that came out of us talking about our visions of our ideal future together. We wanted to live life on our own terms which included an abundance of travel, time, and connection.

RTA: Was it difficult to convince the other person to live nomadically? How long did it take?

Ally & Blake: Convincing isn’t the right word for what happened. It was more of a “coming-to-Jesus” moment for both of us. We had talked about this lifestyle as a daydream that felt very far off. What moved us into action was that Ally’s desire to go to chiropractic school did not match up with our mutual financial goals to be debt free. We got real, evaluated what was most important to us at this time in our life and together we decided on freedom.

RTA: What work did each of you do before living nomadically?

Blake has worked a host of jobs from hotel manager to campaign manager to arts director to valet attendant. In 2016, Blake created his own coaching practice and is building a coaching company. 

Ally, had just left her job working as the marketing director at a Chiropractic clinic and was slingin’ waffles at Waffle Brothers while we built the bus.

RTA: What skills from your previous work help you in your nomadic life?

Ally & Blake: Blake can back up that bus like a BOSS!! For both of us, making connections with people is our most valuable skill.

RTA: Y’all are quite a bit younger than many full-time nomads. What do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your 30s?

Ally & Blake: Blake’s been retired since his 20’s. 😉  We are going to keep following our bliss and utilize our nomadic lifestyle to make it happen. Our future dreams include building a coaching company and retreat centers along with finding creative ways to build community, serve others, and have fun!

RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up when you left your conventional life behind?

Ally & Blake: For both of us, it was the feeling of certainty, security and Blake’s Harley VRod. And for Ally, it was the Vitamix.

RTA: What is the make and model of your rig?

Ford E450 Bluebird Microbird (A short Skoolie!)

RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a similarly sized motor home or a full-size school bus or some other sort of rig?

Ally & Blake: When we had our dog, we were going to build a teardrop trailer; however that meant he couldn’t sleep with us. Our vision expanded, and we looked at vans and buses. Finally we decided on a short bus because they are adorable and realistically we knew the engine was dependable and strong.

RTA: How did you decide on your floor plan?

Ally & Blake: First, we watched a LOT of YouTube videos. Second, we made a list of our need-to-haves. These included a shower, composting toilet, elevator bed, and a wood-burning stove.

RTA: What was the biggest challenge of your build?

Ally & Blake: Too much free beer and Blake’s worst-case-scenarios and over-planning. 😉 There are also SO many options and ways to do everything. We started with bare minimum construction knowledge and committing to one way to do something was nerve-racking and always took 10x longer than expected.

RTA: Tell me about your toilet set up.

Ally & Blake: We did not want to buy a Nature’s Head toilet because our budget did not allow for it. So we built our own! We built a wooden box that was hinged on top to allow access to the inside; we attached a regular toilet seat to the top of the box. There is also a vent from the box to the outside of the bus to keep the smell down. There is a bucket inside the box, as well as a container for urine, and a urine diverter from the UK. We use peat moss (found at Wal-Mart or hardware stores with a garden department like Home Depot) on the bottom of the bucket and use generous amounts to cover the poop. It is an intimate experience and not as bad as we imagined.

RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t spend one more minute in the bus with the other person? How do you remedy the situation?

Ally & Blake: Yes, we have gotten to that point when the bus was broken down for almost three weeks. We each took a LOT of walks. Generally we communicate very well and take alone time where one person is on the bus doing their thing and the other is hanging outside doing theirs! We have learned that we also each need more independence than that. Therefore our goal for 2019 is to get a motorcycle.

RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.

Blake says: Ally’s organization, patience and faith are amazing!

Ally says: Blake’s route planning skills, passion for beauty and adventure, and being an excellent and safe driver make him the best bus buddy.

RTA: Do you plan to expand your van family by having kids someday?

Ally & Blake: No. It’s not in the cards right now and not even another dog is feasible for us.

RTA: What are the best parts of your life on the road?

Ally & Blake: The romance of course! 😉 The thrill of seeing new places, meeting new people from all over the world, and being in touch with nature have been the best parts. This lifestyle is much more intimate on every level, and we don’t plan to get off the bus anytime soon.

You can follow Blake, Ally, and Gus the Bliss Buss @skool_of_life on Instagram.

Fear Is Often a Lack of Knowledge (an Interview with Blythe)

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Blythe is a vivacious woman in her 70s who spends part of the year traveling solo in her van and the rest of the year living in a fifth wheel in the desert. While not currently a full-time traveler, she’s nomadic and moves with the seasons. She’s spent time on the road since she was a kid with a truck driver for a dad and has crisscrossed the United States countless times in the last 30+ years.

I met Blythe at the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and found her to be a sweet and caring person. I’ve been able to visit with her more once we found ourselves spending winters in the same area. At the end of November 2018, I sat down with Blythe on a warm desert day and talked with her about her rig, fear (and the lack of it), and her advice to older women who are considering solo travel in a van.

Rubber Tramp Artist: I know that now you’re not a full-time traveler, but you are nomadic, and you travel with the seasons. What months do you do most of your traveling?

Macro Photography of Black Sunglasses on SandBlythe: In the perfect situation, it would be during the summer, but…it depends on when I’m going to the VA for appointments, when I go to see my daughter in one part of the states , and then I go on the other side [of the country] to the other daughters. It just depends on a lot of stuff, but primarily I try to do it around late spring and late summer.

RTA: Do you go pretty much the same route every year to do your visiting?

Blythe: Pretty much because I’ve been doing it for a really, really long time, but not from here so long. This is the third year [from] here.

RTA: If you go to the same places every year, how do you keep your travels from getting boring? Do you stop in different places? Are [do you have a mindset of] “I just want to get from Point A to Point B without a lot of stopping”?

Blythe: It depends on what’s going on [and] why I’m going. I stop and see my sisters in Montana . I stop along the way. I stay overnight here and there. Primarily when I go up I go the same way because it’s quick. I stop…and stay at a little lake…I stop a lot actually, when I think about it…

It used to be that I just drove a lot but I always varied everything. I traveled for 20 years back and forth from Seattle to Florida because I had one kid in Florida and two kids in Seattle. I would go to my mom’s in Montana, then I’d drop down and go to Albuquerque to see my brother…I had land in [southern] New Mexico , and I’d stop there for a week or two and relax and then I’d head to Florida. I did that for 20 years, and I did it sometimes twice a year…Otherwise, I never would have seen my grandchildren or my children…I just enjoyed myself and went back and forth.

RTA: So you started traveling often as a way to be in contact with your grandkids?

Blythe: Yeah…I traveled before that because my dad was a truck driver and he used to make me drive with him. I started out real young.

RTA: Tell me about your rig. What do you travel in?

Blythe: A Ford van. It’s one that was built specially for traveling.

It had a bed in the back that was horrible. I took that out. One of my friends and her husband and son and grandson, it took them three hours to get it out because [the bolts were] so rusted in. They finally got it out. Then I built another bed in there. Just recently I built another bed.

RTA: Do you have a kitchen in the van?

Blythe: I don’t really have a kitchen. I have [space] where I can cook if I need to, and I can cook outside of course. But [the van] is pretty big. It’s a lot bigger than the last van I had. The last van I had was a minivan. This one [her current van] is a lot more comfortable and has a lot more room.

RTA: It looks like [your van has] a bit of a high top. Can you stand up in it?

Blythe: I can because I’ve been shrinking so much. All I have to do is tilt my head a little bit, and I can stand up, which is wonderful, the only good thing about being old I can think of!

RTA: What are three things you love about your van?

Blythe: It’s a nice old van, and it’s faster than the last one I had. Before that I had a Chinook motor home. It was a ’76 and… the size of a Toyota pickup. So [the current van] is a lot bigger than that one.

I really like Fords. They’re my favorite kind.

It’s really sturdy, and it’s been flipping around for a while.  I’ve had it almost four years.

RTA: What year is it?

Blythe: It’s an ’89…It only cost me $1000. One of my friends got it in trade for horses. She called me and said, “I got a van for you!” [Laughs]

RTA: Awesome!

RTA: What are three things you’d like to change about the van?

Blythe: [Long pause] Not too much of anything, actually. I’m pretty satisfied with it. I want to keep it going for another ten years. I’ve been doing a lot of maintenance work on it. In the last month I’ve had all kinds of different things done to it. I’ve got one more thing to go and then it will be pretty well set for quite a while.

It’s got a really good motor. That’s one of the reasons I like Fords…because their motors last a long time…If there was anything [I wanted to change], I’d just change it. I get attached to my vehicles.

The minivan I had for ten years. I kept saying “This is the last trip. This is the last trip,” and it kinda just gave up finally after all those last trips.

RTA: [Laughs]

RTA: Why do you prefer to travel in your van instead of flying or taking a train or going on the bus?

Blythe: The van will go places that the train and bus don’t go. I couldn’t stop to see a lot of people. Pretty soon I’m going to start flying though because I am getting older. It’s not as much fun to drive anymore. I think if you drive your whole life and you drive a lot you get sort of tired of the whole thing.

I’m thinking about flying to Montana and then flying over to Washington and then down to Eugene where my girlfriend lives or else taking a train down there is always fun.

[Traveling in the van] is just easier because of the weird places I go…I don’t like hotels or motels. I find them really yucky. You never know who was there before you!

RTA: Do your kids worry about you when you’re on the road?

Blythe: I think they kinda do but not really because I’ve been doing it for so long…It would be different if I’d just started. I think that’s a whole different ballgame, but if your mother’s been going across the United States for the last 40 years and driving and never having that much problems, and the problems I do have haven’t been so bad Bokeh Shot of White and Gold Ceramic Angelthat I couldn’t get out of it…[The kids] get used to it.

I asked… my oldest daughter , and she said, “Oh, I know you run around with this angel on your shoulder, and I don’t think there’s anything that could get you.”

RTA: Where do you stay when you’re not traveling?

Blythe: At this RV park that we’re in right now. This is sort of new because I stay here most of the year.

I’m thinking about trying to find a place in Northern Arizona so that I can be there during the summer. I hate staying with my children more than a month at a time because I feel like I’m taking advantage of them, and I don’t like to do that. They say, “Oh, you’re not [taking advantage]. You’re not! We’re fine with it.“ They have their own lives. Why should they have their mother looking over their shoulder?

RTA: So, we’re in the desert and I’m thinking that your concern is that it gets too hot here.

Blythe: It gets pretty warm.

RTA: For about six months of the year…

Blythe: No, not six months.

RTA: Not for you because you like it really hot…

Blythe:  Yeah

[Both laugh]

Blythe: I feel good when it’s warm. Probably four months out of the year [it’s really hot].

RTA: So maybe you’re thinking of transitioning to traveling less because maybe now you’ll be flying…

Blythe: Yeah. Yeah.

Green Grass FieldRTA: So you’d want a place to go sort of in those…I think they call them in…the travel industry the “shoulder” months when it’s still too hot to be in the desert.

RTA: How did you decide on this place in the desert as your home base?

Blythe: It offers a lot of stuff that most places don’t. I don’t have to move around [because she can leave her RV on her lot all year long]. I’ve got an RV that’s pretty good size.

There’s water [where she stays when not traveling] and there’s shower houses and all kinds of stuff to do and nice people and it’s just a good place. It’s a real good place.

RTA: Before you got this fifth wheel that you have now, were you living full-time in your van other than the times you were visiting [people]?

Blythe: At times. Like I said, it’s been a long time. The first van I had was given to me because this girl’s grandmother had died. Her name was Maggie; we named the van Maggie. It had a bed in the back and a refrigerator, and a stove, and it had a little closet…I drove that until it literally almost fell apart. I used to take my grandchildren all over the place…with it. I lived in that [van] quite a bit…over the years…

RTA: Before you moved into this fifth wheel, were you living full-time in the van?

Blythe: Yeah. Except for I lived up around Seattle…I was up there 18 months this last time…It’s very, very expensive up there…Without living somewhere that’s less expensive, I had to think about every penny I spent. Every penny! Literally. I got sick and tired of that. I just thought, well, I’ll find someplace else. Then I heard about this place.

RTA: What do you like about living and traveling solo?

Blythe: You don’t have to talk to somebody about where you’re gonna go, when you’re gonna go, where you gonna eat, why you’re gonna eat. All the stuff that you have when you have other people traveling with you in your van, which I can’t even imagine, except for my grandchildren, and they’re grown now so I don’t have to worry about that.

Traveling with other people in their own vans is a lot more fun, but you still have to worry about where you’re going to meet them or if they take off and you don’t know where they went. Like I had a situation where someone took off and I hadn’t even looked at the map because I didn’t think I needed to. Then we ended up not knowing where we were going. The other person I was traveling with didn’t bring a map and neither did I.

RTA: Ooops!

Blythe: It turned out to be a lot of fun, but still…You don’t have to worry about that when you’re on your own…You just figure it out on your own.

RTA: Is there anything that you don’t like about living and traveling solo?

Blythe: [Long pause] No. I have never had fear because I wasn’t brought up with fear when I was a kid. My dad always told us there was absolutely nothing we couldn’t do. He also told us that being girls, we had to react like men to fear instead of…reacting to fear with fear like women are taught to do. React to fear with anger. That does tend to help…

I’m very careful. I never, ever take any chances. If I feel like there’s something wrong, I just get up and turn on the motor and leave…If you have any inclinations that way, you should listen to them. I always told my kids that. I was in a place in Texas and I got really uncomfortable and I thought, Oh, I already paid for it and blah blah blah…Then I thought, If I was talking to my kids, I’d say “Get out of here,” so I just got in the front and left.

RTA: What advice would you give to other older women who are considering doing solo travel in vans?

Blythe: [Begin by] tak[ing] little trips because if you haven’t done it like I have my whole life, you need to get acclimated to it. Fear is often a lack of knowledge about what you’re doing so if you do it, then you get…really comfortable and it won’t be this big scary thing. [It becomes] something that’s fun and easy to do. It is very simple to live this way. You don’t have to have electricity. You can have solar lights that charge in your window…You can even just have [lights that use batteries]. It’s not a big deal. You just have to get used to it.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. Blythe approved this version of the interview before it was published.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/macro-photography-of-black-sunglasses-on-sand-1209610/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bokeh-shot-of-white-and-gold-ceramic-angel-40878/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/america-arid-blue-boulder-434501/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-maps-american-book-32307/.

The Fear of What Could Be Wore Me Down (an interview with Dawn)

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I met Dawn at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I heard she was an anthropology student studying what her website calls the “growing culture surrounding solo female nomads in the American Southwest.” When we spoke, I found her to be intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. About two weeks after the RTR, she interviewed me for her project. One afternoon we sat in the sweet motor home she’d renovated to suit her tastes and needs. She asked me questions, and I talked about my life as a solo female van dweller. We talked and talked until after dark, and honestly, I wish we could have talked more. I didn’t want to Dawn to just be someone I’d met once or twice; I wanted Dawn to be my friend!

 When I began my series of interviews with nomads, Dawn came immediately to mind. We hadn’t been in touch in a while, and I was interested in what she was up to. I wanted to share her story with my readers, but I also wanted to satisfy my own curiosity. Had she gone native*, as we say in the anthropology biz? Had she become a solo female nomad or was she planning to start living her life that way?

Turns out Dawn had decided nomadic living is not for her, and that’s ok. Nomadic living is not for everyone. I think it’s important for folks who are contemplating a change to life on the road to consider both the good and difficult aspects of this way of life. In this interview (conducted via email) Dawn talks about the joys of renovating her rig and the hardships and stresses of life on the road, including “the fear of what was going to break next,” pets that never fully adjusted to life in the motor home, and the near constant struggle of figuring out how to survive.

 Rubber Tramp Artist: I don’t think you’re a full-time rubber tramp. To what extent do you live nomadically?

Dawn: At this point, not at all. I came home and fell into the bathtub, air conditioning, the static -ness of poo that goes away when you flush the toilet and kissed the earth. I never felt the thrill of traveling. Only the fear of what was going to break next. Which is, in hindsight, almost ridiculous. Nothing bad EVER happened.  I never was stranded on the side of the road, I never felt “endangered”. But the fear of what could be wore me down to the point of what I seriously think is PTSD from what was…five months on the road?  It’s insane intellectually.

With that sort of experience behind me I decided to face a phobia of flying this summer…and discovered, yes, I still want to live nomadically, but in hotel rooms, with a backpack, and a jet plane that takes me from here to exotic places in a few hours. I don’t want to worry about pets, propane, plumbing, leaks, gas mileage, wind, cold, heat, being alone, where to dump, where to shower…I am…a…marshmallow. I have no desire to live off grid, or with constant dirt and fear. I’m too freaking old for this crap.

RTA: Tell me about your rig. Make? Model? Year?

Dawn:  1984 Dodge 360 V8, under 75K, Mallard, Edelbrock Carb. Probably gets 7 miles to the gallon despite being 22 ft long and 2000 lbs light in the rear end.

RTA: I seem to recall you remodeled your rig. Tell me about that process.

Dawn:  I loved it. It was completely amazing. I learned so much. Unlike actually living and traveling in it –

Let me explain. I learned plumbing. I moved the water pump, replaced it, learned about pipes and connections and can now change out a faucet or a drain. It isn’t rocket science.

You know what else isn’t rocket science? Electricity. There’s 12volt and there’s blow yourself into the wall 110 volt.  There’s 30 amp and 50 amp. There are batteries, solar panels, half a dozen different sizes of wiring and fuses and tools you need, electrical sockets and solar panels…and it takes forever to wrap your head around, but when you do? You realize that there is a certain amount of self-sufficiency that has been stripped away from us–by lobbyists for the electrical industry, as in this instance.  I’m all for public safety and policies that ensure that, but on the flip side we are reduced to calling in professionals for the most minor of repairs that could be accomplished with basic skills.

You respect, you research, research some more, and then you do it.

Same with propane.

Same with construction.

I had no skills. I was a web designer that knew how to search Google and YouTube, and ask questions at my local Ace Hardware. Sometimes I paid a professional to do it. But mostly, I discovered that maintaining an RV – an entire household system plus a car – was doable.

RTA: How did you get interested in nomadic living?

Dawn:  One word – community. In the mid-2000s I talked my BF into buying a Class A and trying it. Unfortunately, his job left us circling Denver (imagine, he’d rather entertain people at a theatre than pick beets!) and that is not an RV-friendly place. Buy your pot and keep moving. But, what I discovered was a different breed of people that RV’d. No matter their religion or politics, they were always willing to lend a hand. In retrospect, living in an apartment was more isolating.

RTA: You’ve turned your interest in nomadic living into graduate studies. How were you able to do that?

Dawn:  Ah. I needed a thesis and this – studying women that decided to do this RV/vandwelling thing alone – was the only thing that interested me. So I should point out – this is an undergraduate thesis. But I am not going into more debt, at my age, to go any further with my education. So I decided I might as well go all out and make this PHD style. It has really cemented a new direction for the rest of my life writing and working with women to tell their stories. I know a lot of women did this without going into debt, but I couldn’t sell anything, didn’t have steady income being a student, so I did this by going into a lot more debt than I was comfortable with. It just kept snowballing as I found I needed this, or that (or thought I did). And, living on the road was much more expensive than what I budgeted for. Unexpected repairs, food costs, gas…

RTA: Why do you think it’s important to study modern nomads?

Dawn:  Because, look at this – this is completely outside of the norm. This is fringe culture. This is creative. This is women sticking their middle finger to not just society but gender norms and saying I’m going to live and find my life, and screw the lot of you. I love this. Women never get to do this. Ever. Look at history. It doesn’t matter if they fail at being a nomad, or hate it, or whatever. These women are authentic, powerful, and are choosing to experience liberation. I see them as journeying on a trajectory of becoming fully self-evolved. Does that make sense? As far as rubber tramps and American nomads, gender aside? It’s like the release from a pressure cooker. Our culture, and American lifestyle is deteriorating – and rubber tramps/nomads are the first edges of that implosion looking to survive.

RTA: What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned from rubber tramps?

Dawn:  The goodness of people. Ordinary people with varied religions, political beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. It is an antithesis to what we see portrayed in politics and the media. We can and are living in two different realities.

RTA: How can my readers find out more about what you’ve learned from people on the road?

Dawn: [My website]  http://www.junowandering.com – it will be a slow process, though – an evolutionary ethnography. [This website also includes Dawn’s blog where you can read about her travels.]

RTA: Do you see yourself ever living nomadically full-time?

Dawn:  Yes. But not in an RV/van/car where I have to navigate being part of the fringes. With a backpack and living wherever fate lets my head fall as a ‘tourist’, instead. Of course, this doesn’t seem practical. And, I could not do this as long as I’m responsible for pets.

RTA: What were your three favorite things about living in your rig?

Dawn:  I didn’t share it. I could move it. It felt like the center of my world.

RTA: What three things did you hate about your rig?

Dawn: Fear. Constant fear of what was going to go wrong and how I’d fix it. Fear of the weather – heat or cold, and taking care of pets. The horrible gas mileage and expense.

RTA: When I met you, you were traveling with two animal companions. How was it for you and the animals?

Dawn:  Hard.  The cat adjusted but the dog is getting older and had issues with skin infections and arthritis. I had an emergency in Quartzsite and couldn’t find a vet for 200 miles – that almost broke me mentally. It is good to be home. The dog is so much happier, as is the cat.  They like their routine and space. They adapted, but I can honestly say they weren’t happy.

RTA: Do you still consider yourself a participant observer**, or have you gone native?

Dawn:  Nope. [I haven’t gone native.] I admire the lifestyle. Rather, I admire those that live it. But, it’s not for me.  Even though I feel like a wimp saying that!! I feel like I failed some test. Living full-time as a nomad is like being a farmer. There is nothing else – there is no time or energy to be creative, to relax, to just ‘be’. Maybe, if you have a retirement income. But not if you have to figure out how to also survive. It’s constant – trying to find resources, deal with the weather and legalities of where to park, negotiate new situations, maintain both a car and a home that are constantly undergoing both earthquakes and tornadoes…

Does that make sense? Perhaps if it was like traditional nomads that traveled in familial groups? But alone? I think – I think – that there are a lot more people doing this under an illusion of what it could be, than are actually mentally cut out to live like this. Just a thought from the ‘new’ nomads I’ve met…

*Merriam-Webster defines “go native” as “to start to behave or live like the local people.”

*Merriam-Webster defines “participant observer” as “one that is engaged in a research technique in anthropology and sociology characterized by the effort of an investigator to gain entrance into and social acceptance by a foreign culture or alien group so as better to attain a comprehensive understanding of the internal structure of the society.”

Very Happy That We Did It (an Interview with Ryan and Samantha of Gone Vananas)

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Split, the Gone Vananas van

I met Ryan and Samantha (and their cute little doggie friend Mickey) of the Gone Vananas vlog when we worked together in a remote National Forest campground. I could tell almost immediately after meeting them that they were both hard workers serious about doing a good job. As the weeks of our employment passed, I also found them to be funny, kind, smart, and generous. They had been vandwellers for just shy of one year when I sat down with them to talk about choosing a rig, getting along in close quarters, what they miss about their old life, and what they love about their new one.

Rubber Tramp Artist: Whose idea was it to hit the road?

Ryan: I think it started with me. I had a conversation with my best friend about a co-worker of his that decided to quit his job and sell all of his stuff and move into a van and then go do chairlift work out in Colorado since he was a big snowboarder. That got the gears turning for me. I started doing all kinds of research on how that would look for us, what kind of van I could possibly build. Once I had enough information, I approached Samantha about it to see what her take was on it.

RTA: [to Samantha] How long did it take him to convince you?

Samantha: Oh, not long. [Laughs] I’ve lived like a nomad most of my life. I’m 32, and the van is my 35th home.

RTA: Wow!

Samantha: No question. Ready to go! Let’s do it!

RTA: What’s the make and model of your rig?

Ryan: It’s a 2016 Ram Promaster 3500 extended. It’s the biggest one that they make.

RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a typical cargo or conversion van or a minivan or a big motorhome?

This is the independent bathroom Ryan wanted.

Ryan: My grandfather is retired Chrysler, so we got his employee discount on this brand, which helped a lot. I wanted something that had enough room to comfortably live two people, and I’m 6’2” so the ability to stand up in it was really important to me. I also wanted an independent bathroom. When I added all these things up, and looked at the dimensions of all the vans that were out there, this one made the most sense.

RTA: Why a van rather than a motorhome? Was it primarily because of the discount that you were able to get?

Ryan: The primary reason was I wanted to build a rig that was stealthy and easy to maneuver in normal parking spaces and normal roads and situations. I considered a school bus conversion for only a short while. The cons of that—not being able to stealthy camp in a neighborhood and limited parking spaces—kind of shot that down for us. We wanted to camp for free essentially everywhere just by camouflaging ourselves in normal areas.

RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up when you left your conventional life behind?

Samantha: The kitchen and its gadgetry. I’m a baker. I like to bake, and I like to spread out and will make a couple

The full kitchen in Samantha and Ryan’s van. Sink. Check. Stove. Check. Oven! Check. Refrigerator. Check.

hundred dozen cookies come the holiday season. That was tricky, but Ryan was able to give me a full kitchen. I can basically do everything in there that I can in a real kitchen, with much less space.

Ryan: In smaller amounts

Samantha: [Laughs] Yes.

RTA: And so what about for you, Ryan?

Ryan: I have to say, I was really fond of my muscle car. It was my project car. It was kind of my baby. I loved having that, but at the end of the day, it was just a thing. I didn’t mind selling it because I really value traveling and experiences over stuff. It was kind of just going through the motions of being upset about it when I sold it.

RTA: What kind of car was it?

Ryan: It was a 2014 Dodge Challenger that I put a lot of time and effort and money into making it my own and looking really nice. [Chuckles] It only had 8,000 miles when I sold it.

RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t spend one more minute in the van with the other person?

Ryan and Samantha at the same time: No

Samantha: Never

RTA: Wow! That’s awesome.

[Laughter from everyone]

RTA: My next question was going to be, “How do you remedy that situation?” but…

Ryan: We’ve spent every day together since…

Samantha: Yeah. Just shy of a year?

Ryan: Yeah.

Samantha: We’re coming up on a year in the van.

RTA: Wow!

View of the kitchen from outside the back of the van. You can see a sliver of the restroom on the far right of the photo.

RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.

Ryan [to Samantha]: You wanna start?

Samantha [to Ryan]: No. You start.

Ryan: Well, I would say one, Samantha is, I guess, what they would call a low-maintenance girl. [Laughs]  She definitely isn’t very needy. She doesn’t have to have all the big, expensive stuff and house and car and all that things that…you’d hear other people need. She’s very go-with-the-flow. I guess that would be another one. Not a lot rattles her. She’s adaptable. She basically will get along with any situation. She won’t freak out if…things are going a little bit south or we don’t have a plan or something isn’t going the right way. It’s kind of tough to rattle her. Those are important things, I think.

Samantha: Ryan is very well organized and always has…some kind of plan. He knows where we’re going or what we’re doing or how we’re going to get there. [Laughs] And he is good about keeping us in minimalism. If it doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t get to come on the road with us, it’s got to have a place to go in the van. [He is] keeping us from acquiring too much more other than necessities…Also he is very handy. If something goes wrong he figures it out very quickly and fixes it. So far we haven’t had too much trouble, but the few things that we’ve come across, he’s figured it out and knew what to do and what he needed to do it and got it done right away.

Ryan: A lot of repairs in the Home Depot parking lot.

[Laughter]

RTA: So y’all are quite a bit younger than many other rubber tramps. What do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your 30s?

Ryan: We have talked a lot about that. It’s been a fluid plan as far as maybe tweaks and changes here and there. The main part has been we would like to purchase land. Where that is necessarily has changed. Right now we are considering Southern Oregon. We would like to have around 10 acres, maybe build a tiny house on a trailer, have a workshop and also a garden and a homestead and off-grid power. We kind of want a self-contained little area that we can call home when we don’t feel like traveling anymore and have a little bit of space of our own to sort of spread out.

Does that include working too?

I stood in the kitchen to take this photo of the front of the van. A door between the cab and the living area can be closed for privacy. Bedding is stashed in the area above the wall during the day when the bed converts into a sofa.

RTA: Sure! I would love to hear what your plans for work are.

Ryan: Right now I am trying to educate myself in coding and web development. It’s pretty much the ultimate way to make money on the road. I have no experience with it, but I’m learning right now the best way that I can go about accquiring the right skills in order to make a decent living while traveling whenever we would like.

Samantha: I currently make jewelry and sell it on Etsy, and [I’m] working to maybe expand that from jewelry into something else, maybe even like van-esque accessories…different storage option type upholstery items, potentially.

Ryan: It’s definitely a work in progress right now.

Samantha: Yeah.

Ryan: We don’t have a clear, defined future as to what we’re doing. We’re kind of living moment to moment. But in reality, that’s what we signed up for. That’s what we wanted. We spent the last decade of our lives in such a rigid, structured type of life that it kind of turned us off to it. We knew what we were doing every day, and it was the same thing every day, so this [living moment to moment] is kind of the intended experience that we wanted. We’ll figure it out.

RTA: So y’all travel with a little guy named Mickey.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: Tell me about Mickey. How did he take to the road?

Mickey the cute doggie companion

Samantha: Surprisingly well. Mickey even before we decided to go for van life, is a pretty well-traveled dog. He’s flown a few times, drove across the country with me. But he is a very relaxed dog, especially for his breed. He’s a Boston Terrier. But he’s just happy when he’s with us. As long as he’s with us, he’s pretty much content.

Ryan: [Sound of agreement]

Samantha: And he’s got his little space between the captain’s chairs [in the front] and he pretty much sleeps there 98% of the time when we’re on the road.

Ryan: He has a modified Temperpedic mattress for his bed.

Samantha: Yes.

RTA: [Laughs]

Ryan: Someone was throwing one away, and we just cut a piece off of it.

Samantha: Yep.

Ryan:  and made him one.

Samantha: He’s going on eight years old. He’s a bit of an older boy, so he’s pretty relaxed. He doesn’t hike, he doesn’t [laughs] do much of anything except sleep and look cute.

Ryan: He walks a half mile and plops.

RTA: [Laughs] Do y’all plan to expand your van family by having kids?

Ryan: Nope!

Samantha: No.

RTA: [Giggles] OK!

[Everyone laughs]

Samantha: There will be four-legged children in our life, I’m sure, for many years to come, but that will probably be it.

Ryan: It was something we talked about not doing before we even started this lifestyle.

RTA: What would each of you say is the best part of your life on the road?

Samantha: To wake up wherever we want.

Ryan: There is no putting a price on true freedom, in my opinion. The ability to just be wherever you want, whenever you want…I’ve never felt anything like it. I don’t want to give it up.

Samantha: Nope. Not for anything.

RTA: Is there anything else either of you want to add?

Ryan: One thing I just want to add is that I had and Sam[antha] had no experience building anything or having any idea what we were doing when we started this, and we created something that we are so extremely proud of. You can see when other people see it how astonished they are about what we built. It’s just, I think, the ultimate example of if you want something so bad, and you actually care about doing it, then you will create something beyond your wildest dreams, something you didn’t even think you could possibly do. I’m just very happy that we did it and didn’t actually listen to other people that thought we were crazy for wanting to do it. If you really want something, you can absolutely do it as long as you care the most out of everyone else.

Samantha: Yep.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

Living How She Really Wants to Live (an interview with Sarah Meg)

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Sarah Meg shows off the Rubber Tramp Artist Community flag she made.

I first met Sarah Meg at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). She came to the initial organizing meeting at the RTArt Camp and immediately made herself useful by donating materials and offering to teach classes. We met up again during the summer in the Sequoia National Forest during a Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering she hosted.

In this interview, Sarah Meg talks about downsizing, the benefits of having a minivan for a rig, and why she was drawn to a life as a nomad.

Rubber Tramp Artist: So Sarah Meg, how long have you been on the road?

Sarah Meg:   I’ve been a full-time nomad in a minivan, that I converted into a mini RV, for about a year now. Before that I was a full-time van/RV dweller, and a part-time nomad for two and a half years. I’ve been a part-time van or vehicle dweller and part-time nomad since 2001 when I got my first vehicle.

RTA: Now you’re in a minivan. Why did you decide to live and travel in a minivan instead of a full-size cargo or conversion van or some of the other things you lived in before?

SM: The van was free. [Laughter] I probably would have chosen a slightly larger van, one that I could stand up in if I had purchased it myself, but this van was free, so I figured why not try it?

When my mother died, this van was up for grabs, and so I decided to take the opportunity to try it out and make it into a tiny little home.

RTA: Does living in your mom’s minivan make you miss your mom and [feel] sad or does it make you feel close to your mom?

SM: It’s kind of cool. It’s almost like my mom’s coming along with me on my travels, and this van is the first vehicle I’ve been a full-time traveler in. Before that I was only a part-time traveler even though I was living in an RV and before that in a station wagon, and I wasn’t leaving my county where I’m from very often. I would go on trips that were about four to six months long each year where I would travel out of the area where I am from, but the majority of the year I was staying in campgrounds or in people’s driveways in the county where I’m from.

To be honest, I didn’t even know you could go full-time and not have a home base that you stayed at frequently until like a year and a half ago. As soon as I realized it was totally acceptable and normal to be completely nomadic, I did it.

RTA: So what’s the make and model of your minivan?

SM: It is a Toyota Sienna.

RTA: Is there anything in particular you like about this make and model?

SM: Supposedly, it’s the biggest minivan on the market. I don’t know if that’s true or not. All I know is I can keep one of the back seats in and up to use for sitting in and still have a bed that is 30 inches wide and six feet long.

RTA: So you have a single bed?

SM: Yeah. It’s a couple inches narrower than a regular twin bed, but it’s the same length as a regular [twin] bed.

RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in your van?

SM: Almost everything. I have a small spot in my aunt’s garage that I have a few boxes in, and I also have the middle seats that I took out of the van [which are stored there] as well.

RTA: When I met you, you had a storage compartment on top of your van and now you don’t. Why’d you get rid of it?

SM: I had way too much stuff. I was probably about 2,000 pounds over payload because I had so many things jammed everywhere in the van. I had so much stuff in the cargo topper. I realized that I didn’t need all that stuff, and that that stuff was quite literally weighing me down and making it difficult for me to get all the places I wanted to go. I drove around with that much stuff for about six months, and then I met someone who was an ultra-minimalist who also lived in the same kind of van as I do , and she encouraged me to get rid of a few things. So I got rid of about maybe 60% of what I owned, and I’ve been very, very grateful that I was willing to do that; because it’s a lot easier to travel and to live in a van if you have less things.

RTA: You felt like purging your belongings was liberating vs. feeling deprived? Would you say that?

SM: I think it was probably both. I didn’t realize that it was going to be liberating until I got rid of the stuff.  I thought it was going to make me feel deprived, I thought it was going to make me feel like I didn’t have enough, and it wasn’t until I got rid of everything and lived without those things for about a month that I realized it was much more freeing to have less.

RTA: Do you think your van is still overweight or is it where it should be?

SM:  I don’t know if my van is still overweight. I did get rid of a few more things this week so I’m assuming it’s probably under payload now. I’m hoping so because I’m not planning on getting rid of anything else.

RTA: What kind of things did you get rid of?

SM: Oh, so many art supplies. When my mom died, I inherited all her art supplies, and I tried to bring all of them with me when I left. Probably not the best idea. So I got rid of a lot of art supplies.

I got rid of a lot of just random things. There [were] a lot of things I really thought that I would need on the road that I never used. I probably had like six camp stoves, so now I have three, which is good because, you know, you need more than one, but you don’t need six. I had I think three shovels. You don’t need three shovels. You need one. So it was just stuff like that where I just had too many of each thing. My camping equipment, I had so many backups and then more backups for my backups, and that’s stupid.

RTA: How’d you decide which item of several similar ones to keep?

SM: I just picked the smallest one.

RTA: Oh, that’s a good plan.

RTA: Can you tell me more about your bed setup? How you got where you are today , how you decided on the size?

 

This photo of Sarah Meg’s rig shows her bed and the seat she left in that reclines.

SM :  I knew I wanted a bed that was as long as a regular bed because I like to stretch out as far as I can. I’m not very tall, but I still wanted a regular length for my bed. The width was determined by the fact that I wanted to keep one of the seats in the back. The seats in the Toyota Sienna , the back right seat, it reclines. So it would be like having a recliner in my tiny little van house. My bed width was entirely determined by whether or not I could keep the back seat. I measured it, and it was exactly 30 inches between the wall of the van and the seat that I left, so I made my bed 30 inches wide. I built it with a piece of plywood and some 4” x 4”s because I wanted to make sure it was sturdy.

Before I built that bed, I tried an Army cot, but it was too tall, so I couldn’t sit up all the way, and I was crouching on top of the bed. Even though I had a chair in there, if it was raining and someone came over to visit me, then there was nowhere that we could all sit down. Now I can fit-if I put a stool in there too—I can fit four people on a rainy day inside my tiny little van. I can have company.

RTA: Do you have a mattress or memory foam?

SM: I have a memory foam mattress from Wal-Mart from the kids’ department. It’s the one that goes on a bunk bed. The best way to explain it is if you ever went to camp, and those foam mattresses that were on the bunk beds at camp, that’s what it is.

RTA: Do you have storage under the bed?

Sm: Yes I do. I have some old drawers that were from a [plastic] drawer set. I just took them out of the framework of the drawer set, and I used them underneath the bed for storage. They have little handles, so I just pull the handle [to pull them out].

RTA: Oh, that’s clever.

RTA: Do you have a kitchen in your van?

SM: I cook outside. If it’s raining I have a small little stool I can put a small stove on top of it and cook inside the van, but normally, if it’s raining I just eat things that don’t need cooking or I go out to eat.

RTA: Is that why you have three stoves? One little one for indoor cooking and then an outdoor stove?

SM: Yeah so one looks like an actual burner from inside of a house; it’s one of those butane stoves and I love it because it will simmer. My other stoves don’t simmer very well. Then I have a small backpacking stove that I can use inside the van if it’s a cold, rainy day. Then I also got an Ohuhu stove because I thought they were so cool. I figured if I ever ran out of fuel, and I couldn’t get somewhere, at least I could build a tiny fire. So the Ohuhu stove is just a small, metal wood-burning stove that you can cook on.

RTA: So you used to live in an RV. Do you ever miss living in a big rig?

SM: I miss living in it, but I do not miss taking care of it or driving it around or paying for the repairs on it. But I do miss living in it. I miss having basically the size of a house or an apartment- it was almost as big as my apartment that I had moved out of. It was large, and it was nice having all that space, but to be honest, I didn’t use all the space, and I don’t know why I need two double beds and two twin beds if I’m only one person. It was obviously too much space, but I sometimes miss having a place where I can stand up inside and walk around inside.

I did recently build a 6’x10’ structure out of PVC pipe and shade cloth, but since the shade cloth has tiny holes in it I would get wet in there if it rained. But it is very nice to be able to stand up all the way and walk around inside something. It is great for shade and having people over to visit.

RTA: What do you think is the best part of living in a minivan?

SM: Being able to go anywhere and always have your house with you. With a bigger rig, you’re not necessarily going to drive it into town to just go and get something. When I had my bigger rig, I also had a small car that I would tow behind; it was nearly 40 feet long in total. It was very hard to get anywhere in that thing so I am immensely grateful for my little van home now.  I’m also really bad at packing my bag in the morning to know what I need, so it’s really nice to have almost everything I own with me wherever I go. It makes me feel like the ultimate Girl Scout or like my friend Jan says, my van is the Mary Poppins bag, I have everything with me all the time.

RTA: [Laughter]

RTA: What do you think is the worst part of living in a minivan?

SM: I can’t stand up! I can’t stand up inside the van, and that really sucks to me. It bothers me so much. I used to not be able to walk very well and I had to use a wheelchair, and so now it’s really important to me to be able to stand up and walk now that I can. Not being able to stand up in my own home just feels very restricting. That’s one of the main reasons I built the shade structure.

RTA: Is there anything else about your life as a nomad that you want to share?

SM: I just want to say that I think the reason I was drawn to this life is because I’ve always just been obsessed with camping and I’ve been obsessed with being in nature. When I found out that you could camp every single day of your life and no one was going to give you shit for it, and in fact you could make a nice Instagram out of it, and put #vanlife and everybody was going to think you were cool, when I found out this was a lifestyle choice, this was normal, that I was not crazy for thinking that I wanted to camp every single day of my life, and that it didn’t make me homeless or a bum, then I just wanted to do it all the time.

I’m really grateful there were people out there on YouTube, on the internet, and people I met while traveling who told me, “Hey this can be done all the time.” It wasn’t just the druggies and the dropouts, it was all kinds of people who were out here on the road. Knowing that I wasn’t completely an oddball and that I was normal, at least within the van dwelling community, that gave me the courage to live how I really wanted to live and not allow society’s expectations to hold me back from being full-time as a nomad.

With Sarah Meg’s permission, this interview was edited for clarity and length. After the interview was transcribed, Sarah Meg sent me changes via email.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Grateful Vandweller (An Interview with Devan Winters)

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I met Devan Winters of the XsyntrikNomad blog through Facebook, but for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly how that meeting came about. We’ve known each other for not quite two years, but now it’s difficult to remember a time when Devan wasn’t my friend.

What started as an internet friendship evolved into an in-person friendship when we found ourselves in the same metropolitan area. Over donuts we talked and laughed and comiserated. We camped together for a couple of nights right before Christmas 2017, and I was impressed by Devan’s kind and compassionate nature. It’s been a joy to see Devan spread her rubber tramp wings and fly into van life.

Devan’s a great writer too. I’ve been blessed with her contribution of two guest posts (“This Is the Story of a (Kind) Girl” and the comprehensive article “Traveling Van Cat?” about cats and van life) on this blog. Her writing ability shines through in this interview too, which was conducted via email. In it she shares her van dwelling experiences, including how she chose her rig, a recent accident that nearly resulted in her losing her van, and what it’s like to share her limited space with a cat companion.

How long have you been a full-time van dweller?

I moved into my van permanently on June 20, 2017. I ran some final errands for my adult child that morning and then drove 6 hours to southern California. I spent my first night as a Van Dweller in Del Mar, CA at a Denny’s.

How long did you want to be on the road before you got on the road?

The epiphany leading to this lifestyle happened very late in 2014. It took 2 ½ years to research, plan, and save.

What is the make and model of your rig?

I live in a 2013 Chevy Express 1500 Passenger van with a 5.3 Liter V8. (Her name is Zō)

Can you stand up in your van?

I cannot. It is one of the things I will probably change in the future if finances permit. It would be a delightful convenience, but it won’t be the end of the world if I can’t ever do it.

Why did you choose this rig out of all the available options?

So many reasons! First, I couldn’t afford a Class B. I am strangely put off by the cookie cutter uniformity of them anyway – the lines seem too perfect for my chaotic mind. 🙂 I like something with a bit of character, like the Airstream 190. However, I knew I wanted to finance and would need something newer to get a loan. I also hoped something newer would be more mechanically sound. I did a lot of research on engines, reliability, and repair trends. Once that was settled, I decided (for me) windows were a must. The end result was my Chevy Express Passenger Van!

What’s your favorite thing about living in a full-size van?

There are two sides to that question in my mind. As far as size, I can’t imagine anything smaller than full size working for me. This is the minimum space I need to be comfortable. My favorite thing though… is a feeling. When I crawl into bed at night, a sense of peace and contentment fills my soul. I feel strong, capable, and independent. And I love knowing I am not tied down to any location.

What’s most frustrating about living in a full-size van?

Right now it’s showering. I have a Planet Fitness membership so it usually isn’t a big issue. I decided to stay in Flagstaff, AZ to escape the heat this summer though and there is no Planet fitness here. The cheapest shower is $9 at the Aquaplex. My weed sprayer shower and wet wipes have become more important than ever!

Normally though, the biggest inconvenience for me is lack of power. Because I don’t have solar yet, I have to go to places like Starbucks to work (since my laptop holds a charge for 2 hours at best). I would also LOVE to be done buying ice for my cooler. Once I get solar, a 12-volt fridge isn’t far behind.

Do you travel with everything you own?

I do.  My entire life is in my van and I LOVE it.

I know you were recently in a bad accident and almost lost your van. What are the three most important things you learned from the experience?

#1 The value of emotional support in like-minded friends. I was on the scene of the accident for two hours. An officer suggested I contact someone to come pick me up. I sent a text to a long time friend I knew in the area. When he called me in response, I began sobbing about my “home.” He tried, but the conversation with him only made me feel worse. He couldn’t relate to my fears or provide the comfort I needed. In hindsight, I realize the incredible importance and value of my closest nomadic friends. No matter how much of a loner or introvert you may be, connections to others in the nomadic community are vital. When I talked to you Blaize, or my friends LaVonne and Patrick, it was completely different. I felt understood and supported in a way only a nomad or vandweller would be able to.

#2 Never underestimate the value of an emergency fund and a backup plan. I was not remotely prepared for what happened. You should begin creating an emergency fund now if you don’t have one. Calculate how much it would cost to re-establish your life if you lost everything. Keep in mind you may have to start over smaller, but make sure you save enough that you at least have a starting point in a worst case situation. Put a plan on paper with things like where you might stay, considerations for your pet, etc.

#3 Check your insurance coverage and Roadside Benefits. Look at medical, uninsured motorist, car rental, deductible, etc. My claims adjuster told me the state minimums in Arizona don’t always cover a serious accident, especially medical. Roadside assistance is also a must and you should check your plan for trip interruption benefits as well. I’ve just signed up with a new roadside assistance plan that includes reimbursement for out of pocket costs (in several situations, including an accident) for an interruption that happens at least 100 miles from ‘home’.

What should vandwellers know about insurance?

For auto/van insurance, what I mentioned above. Consult wih someone you trust to get honest answers on what the best coverage would be for you and your van. If you don’t know any insurance folks personally, check out the guy Bob Wells did a video with titled ‘Insurance For Nomads’. There is also someone who works with RVers and vandwellers on RVillage. Check the community forums there. As far as health insurance, your guess is as good as mine.  🙂 I’m hoping to find a remote job with health benefits. I know some working-age nomads use health sharing ministries and plans, but those aren’t for me.

A companion cat shares the van with you. How’s that working out?

It’s not without its challenges! It’s definitely more of a blessing than anything, but it does require special considerations. Like where I spend the summers!

Do you prefer to spend time in cities or on public land? Why?

Nature is healing for me, but I’m also a city girl. If I didn’t have to work and could do whatever I wanted, I would probably spend my time 50/50. This might sound strange, but when I vandwell in the city, I prefer to be alone.  When I spend time in nature, I often find it more enjoyable to camp with one or two other people.

What are three things you do to stay stealthy when you’re in cities?  

I keep my van very plain. No stickers or anything. The only thing identifiable on my van is the license plate. I even have 3 different styles and colors of windshield shades that I rotate to throw anyone off. I never stay 2 nights in the same place unless there is a situation out of my control. My windows are limo tinted, but when I press Reflectix into them you can kind of tell. I feel like that’s a pretty solid give away that I’m a vandweller, so don’t use it that way. If I’m on a street instead of a parking lot, I’ll roll Reflectix around the windows loosely and pin it at the top. I’d like to eventually make a curtain that goes around the van, using blackout material, with the option to roll it up or tie it to the side, when not in use. I’m not terribly crafty though so that idea will probably stay an idea.  lol

Is there anything else you would like to share?  

Just that living this lifestyle makes me happier than I can put into words. Probably why it was so devastating for me after the accident when it looked like I might have to start all over again. The idea of having to stay in one place for a couple of years to regroup was more depressing than anything else I can think of. This lifestyle suits me and I feel blessed to be able to live it!

All photos provided by Devan Winters.

Creative Nomad (An Interview with Sue Soaring Sun)

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I met Sue Soaring Sun in December of 2014. She’d seen me repeatedly at the coffeeshop in the small Southwest town where we were both wintering and intoduced herself. An hour later when we ran into each other again in the thrift store, she told me about Bob Wells’ Cheap RV Living website. I soon learned about the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and decided to attend. I guess you could call Sue my rubber tramp fairy godmother because she introduced me to vandwelling as a way of life and not just something I had to do because I had few options.

Sue is also my Sun sisiter, a fellow artist and blogger, a writer of fabulous letters, and a dear friend. She is the proprieter of Sun Gallery at 407-1/2 N Broadway in Truth or Consequences, NM. Sun Gallery is a folk art and antiques gallery which features Sue’s paintings, collages, and mosaic work.

We were in different states when I started this interview series, so I sent her questions via email. Today you’re in for a treat because you get to read her answers.

You’re not a vandweller, but you do live nomadically. How long have you been on the road?
I’ve been living and traveling in an RV more often than not since February 14, 2011.

What sort of rig do you live and travel in?
I have had Brownie, a 1984 20-foot Lazy Daze mini-motorhome, for about 14 months.

I know you’ve had other rigs.  What were they and why did you decide against them?
I’ve had a couple of Toyota Dolphin 22-foot mini-motorhomes, and they were great for when I travel solo, which is most of the time. Sometimes, though, I travel with my boyfriend, and I wanted something that would work for two. We tried a Class A for a while, but found it was way too much for either of us to want to drive, so we parked it and used it as a part-time urban home base. Last year I found the Lazy Daze which has a lot more power and is about a foot taller and wider than the Dolphin coach. Even though it’s shorter, it’s a bit more spacious. Now I’m selling the Class A. I no longer want to use it as a home base. I have an art gallery that serves that function. So I’m staying in the Lazy Daze all the time, except for if I happen to housesit or stay in a vacation rental.

What are your three favorite things about your current rig?  What would you change about it if you could?

This is how Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig to make Brownie less brown. She gave me permission to use this photo of hers.


*I love the big back windows, and my floorplan has the dinette right there. I can back up to a beautiful lake or river or other view and watch birds and other wildlife from the comfort of my table, drinking coffee and wearing my cozy slippers.

*It has more power and feels more solid than my past mini-mohos. I can pass other vehicles if necessary.

*It is very cool looking. Shagalicious, baby.

What I’d change…it is very brown inside, hence the name Brownie. I am slowly replacing brownness with color and creativity. Also, Brownie takes a lot of gas. I have to budget more carefully than I used to.

I took this photo of the RTArt Camp banner that Sue and I painted together.

How does living nomadically enhance your life as an artist?
Whoo-boy! Living nomadically goes hand-in-hand with my creativity. I’m sure when I’m old and can no longer travel, I will still make art. But so much of what I do now is inspired by what I see and the experiences I have along the road. Traveling has brought me in touch with so many other artists, and now, since the first RTArt Camp at this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), we have even started an intentional community for nomadic artists. Imagine that! I could not have predicted all that would come out of a simple idea of wanting to do art with other people while at the RTR. When I spend time camping with other artists, I am inspired. After our recent Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering, I stopped at a beautiful free boondocking site and spent five days doing nothing but paint, eat and sleep.

Does living nomadically make your life more challenging in any ways?
Yes. I have struggled in my new rig to deal with temperature extremes. This summer, I found myself unexpectedly staying in Truth or Consequences, NM, and I could not find any good way to keep my cat and myself cool in the RV. Fortunately, a friend who goes away for the summer let me stay at her house. Next summer, I will probably seek a higher elevation, as I had wanted to this year. I gradually solved my problems with cold last winter, but it took a while.

Also, it can be very inconvenient and expensive when I have to go stay somewhere else if my rig is in the shop.

Do you mostly boondock on free public land?
Yes.  I also stay behind my art gallery, in a parking lot. I can hook up to electricity there.

I took this photo of this free riverfront boondocking area where Sue and I camped together.

Under what circumstances do you pay for a campsite?
I sometimes pay for a campsite or an RV park site when I have a lot of things I’d like to get done…shower, laundry, dumping the tanks, etc.  I’ve also stayed at campgrounds when my boyfriend and I are traveling together in parts of the country where you usually need reservations, such as our recent trip to Florida. And occasionally I have friends who want to go stay at a campground, and I tag along for the fun.

Do you do much stealth parking in cities?
My Lazy Daze is built on a Chevy G30 van chassis, but it doesn’t look like a van! It’s built out into a motorhome. So no, I can’t get away with it.

Do you travel with everything you own?
No.  I rent commercial space that I use as an art gallery and studio. I keep most of my art supplies there, as well as off-season clothing and things that I only use occasionally.

Sonja Begonia in Brownie’s big back window. Photo used with Sue’s permission.

You share your rig with a cat companion. Has she been on the road with you her whole life?  If not, how did you help her transition to life on the road?
Sonja Begonia was about a year old when I got her in 2008, and I went on the road in 2011. She also has some attitude, so I could not get her leash-trained before starting to travel, as I’d hoped, nor since. At first, for her own safety, I had to keep her in a kennel while traveling because otherwise she would try to get out of the RV when we stopped, and many stops are not a safe place for a pet to get out. Now I just start the engine and she gets in her co-pilot seat.

What’s the best part of living nomadically?
I love driving six miles from my art gallery and boondocking on the bank of the Rio Grande. Or, when I’m on the road, finding an unexpected fantastic view. It’s being free to change my scenery, and to be immersed in it. I keep my gallery open very part-timey and give myself lots of time to travel and create.

Do you miss anything about living in a sticks-n-bricks?
Gardening. I like centering myself by digging in dirt. So, at my gallery, for one or two months out of the year, I create fairy gardens for sale. I am also going to get myself a dashboard/cab plant once the 100+ degree weather has passed this summer.

I don’t miss any other thing, not one. I get to experience sticks-n-bricks living occasionally, and it always confirms for me that I prefer to live nomadically.

Why I Chose a Minivan (an Interview with The Man)

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In my years as a vandweller, I’ve lived in four full-size conversion vans: three Chevy G-20s and a Dodge Ram. While I knew others lived in full-size vans, it was probably at my first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in 2015 that I realized some vandwellers live in minivans. Wow! I thought my living quarters was small, but folks who live in minivans have to make do with a bare minimum of space.

When I met The Man and he told me he wanted a minivan to live and travel in, I was surprised. Minivans aren’t very sexy! I blurted out rudely. The Man’s had been living in a minivan for a little over eight months when this interview was conducted. I decided to ask him what he likes about living in a small vehicle, what he hates, how he’s got things set up, and what advice he’d offer to other people who are considering living and traveling in a minivan.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): So my first question is, why did you decide to buy a minivan to live and travel in rather than a full-size cargo or conversion van?

The Man (TH): Ah, well, the main reason was gas mileage…

RTA: Did you ever live in or travel in a full-size van?

TH: Yes I did.

RTA: What kind?

TM: It was a Chevy Starcraft.

RTA: And how long did you do that?

TM: A couple of years.

RTA: By yourself or with other people?

TM: By myself [and] with other people. I would pick up hitchhikers and…I did a few months roll with my ex-girlfriend, we did about 3½ months in the van.

RTA: And was that difficult to live in a full-size van with other people?

TM: [long pause] You know, sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. You know, it all depended on the company.

RTA: What do you like best about a minivan vs. a full-size van? Would you say gas mileage is the deciding factor there?

TM: Well yeah, the gas mileage, but…the more I have the minivan…because my girlfriend has a full-size van…when I go to work on a full-size van, it’s really tough. [T]he things are huge, you got to  have…powerful hydraulic jacks to deal with a big giant van like that, so I think that’s another disadvantage of…having a full-size van as opposed to a minivan.

RTA: What kind of minivan do you drive now?

TM: I drive a Honda Odyssey.

RTA: What year?

TM: 2001

RTA: Why did you decide on that particular make and model?

TM: …I did a lot of research…First I bought a van and went through a terrible ordeal with it. The transmission didn’t last…When I bought it, it didn’t even last all the way home. I got the greater portion of money back for the vehicle [from the seller] for which I was very lucky…After having that experience of immediately the transmission going out, I [knew that] if I [was] going to buy a vehicle, I need[ed] to buy the most reliable vehicle or at least one of the most reliable vehicles on the road. So basically what I did was an in-depth study…and it came down to Toyota and Honda…As I was growing up…it was always Toyota and Honda were the better vehicles, and I guess things have never really changed…It was a tossup between a Toyota and a Honda…and the Toyotas were a little more expensive than the Hondas…I opted to go with the Honda which was less [expensive] but still the second best, in some instances maybe even the first best rating as far as durability, long lasting, runs for a very long time reputation.

RTA: How tall are you?

TM: I’m six foot tall.

RTA: Can you stand up in your minivan?

TM: No, I cannot stand up in my minivan. But even if I had a big giant conversion van, unless it was like one of the modern day ones like they’re making now, I still couldn’t stand up in it.

RTA: Good point! Can you sit up in your bed?

TM: No I can’t sit up in my bed, but I do have it arranged where I can make one of the corners in my minivan sort of like a place I can…One of the things about getting inside of a van seems that it takes a very long time or for me it’s taken a very long time to arrange things in such a way that it’s optimal for what I’m doing or how I want to live…One of the things I realized is that if I pack all my clothes in the back of the vehicle, I could also create a back rest. So I recently began putting all my stuff in the back because I can sit up I can…partially sit up with a back rest I’ve created with my clean and dirty clothes.

RTA: What is your sleeping arrangement?

TM: I just have a cot. I bought a cheap cot the first time, and it was a very bad mistake. I didn’t go with the highest grade cot but I did go with a mid-grade cot.

RTA: You mean the replacement cot?

TM: Yeah.

RTA: The second one.

TM: Yeah. The second cot. I had to get a better cot. [The first time] I just got the $30 one off EBay, $35 or something and that’s just not durable enough. I wanted mine a little…smaller or thinner than the one I got now, but I sleep with my dog so it’s probably a good idea that I did get a bigger one…[T]his one’s holding up much, much better.

RTA: About how much did it cost you?

TM: It cost me around, I think about 65, 70 dollars, about a $70 one.

RTA: And so you’ve taken out all the back seats in the van, is that right?

TM: Yeah, and in the Honda Odyssey, the back seat folds down into the floor so I’ve left that in place [in the floor] and I just put the cot to one side. Now…when I chose what side to put the cot on…it seemed more reasonable that I put it on the passenger side because when I usually park the vehicle, the driver door is pointed toward me so I’m always gaining access from the driver’s side so…it made more sense to put the bed over on the passenger side of the vehicle.

RTA: Describe your setup. Like do you have a kitchen, do you have a bathroom? You’ve already talked about where your bed is positioned. Where do you have storage?

TM: …Actually I have plenty of room in my vehicle now that I’ve decided to pile most of my stuff in the back…I could put a lot more stuff in there now. I only packed it up to the bottom…of my back window because I still want to have…as clear access as I can for my rear view mirror so I only stack it up that high. I have plenty of storage, but then again, I’m a real minimalist…so I don’t have a lot of things.

RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in the van?

TM: No. Not everything I own. I own a few things outside of what I travel with. I could travel with everything that I own at this point…

RTA: Do you have any sort of kitchen set up in the van?

TM: You know, I’m not a big guy on the kitchen thing and I have just a one burner…that takes a one-pound [propane] tank that you can buy at Wal-Mart and I just use the one burner and a big cast iron skillet to cook out of…I just have that back in the back in a milk crate.

RTA: And what about bathroom? Any sort of bathroom setup?

TM: You know, I’ve had bathroom setups in the past, and I would acquire a bathroom setup if I was in a position where going to the bathroom wasn’t easily accessible…I’m not opposed to—if I’m camping I’ll just go dig a hole if necessary. But for the most part only in certain circumstances do I arrange a toilet situation. Other than that I just dig a hole, or I’ll go to a convenience store…

RTA: Do you ever wish your rig were larger or are you satisfied with things the way they are?

TM: Well, you know, there’s pros and cons to everything, Of course I wish my rig was larger but then, you know, I have to think about maneuverability and really the gas…When choosing a vehicle, really what it comes down to is…what kind of lifestyle do I want to lead? Ok, I want to be a nomadic traveler. I want to do a lot of traveling. Well, then, you know, if you’re doing a lot of traveling and you’re on a budget, I would suggest…getting a minivan…But if I was a person that…wasn’t too focused in on the traveling part, just living cheaply and…staying…mostly still, well then I would opt for  a larger vehicle. But here’s where I’m at…my personal thing…if I was going to go and pay the money that  a big Chevy G20 or [some] giant conversion [van] requires in gas, then I wouldn’t…even get…a giant van. I would get, especially in my condition, the height factor here, I wouldn’t even get a van. I would get myself a small RV, preferably not like a Dolphin…preferably something with a V8 in it…And of course, that’s what I would plan on doing when I was older…and I didn’t want to do as much traveling, well then I could get myself a motorhome and then stay more stationery and fuel [wouldn’t be] such a big issue.

RTA: Tell me about your curtain setup.

TM:  Well, I’ve…got these handles…the “oh-shit” handles…

RTA: [giggles]

TM: … some vehicles have ‘em by the upper part of the door, something…to grab ahold of if you’re on some rough terrain. Well it just so happens that my vehicle has two, one at the driver’s and also one on the passenger’s… I don’t understand why the one’s there for the [driver]…Who’s driving a car while he’s got one hand on the…“oh shit” handle.

RTA: [more laughter]

TM: But anyways, I…found these extremely long bungees and [my vehicle] is also equipped with rear [seat belts] and…I was able to take those very long bungees and stretch them all the way from the front of the car to the rear of the car, attaching them around the “oh shit” handles and the seat belt…housing in the rear. When I put those up there…I could just drape things over and create curtains for like 15 bucks. It was a good deal and I think even if you didn’t have those “oh shit” handles you could just do it around your visor, you could attach these bungees around your visor…

RTA: So you attached these bungees and then you found some blankets on sale, right?

TM: Yeah, they were $2.50, and they were like…What do you call…?

RTA: Fleece. Fleece.

TM: Yeah, like fleece.

RTA: Like fleece throw blankets.

TM: Yeah.

RTA: So you just put those [fleece throw blankets] around all the windows and you have a little nest back there.

TM: Yeah. Yeah. It was a really simple, cheap solution. You gotta be creative! Gotta be creative!

RTA: When I first heard that you were interested in getting a minivan, I remember saying, “Minivans aren’t very sexy!” What do you have to say about that?

TM: I’ve never had a concern with being sexy. I guess when you know you’re sexy, then there’s no…doubt. I don’t need a van to reflect my inner sexiness that I already possess.

As far as that goes, you know, I like my van and to be quite honest with you, I think it’s [quite a bit] stealthier than a G-20. A lot of these G-20s are getting old now and…hippies are really associated with G-20s too…I don’t think they’re as stealthy as people think, but…my Honda Odyssey looks like the [suburban soccer mom housewife]  car, and I think I could get away with a lot more stealthiness that way than a person in a G-20.

RTA: Is there anything else you want to add?

TM: There’s always the donation button.

RTA and TM: [boisterous laughter]