Category Archives: Travel

Why a Motorhome?

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Green mile marker sign with a 6 on it is in the foreground. A motorhome is driving away from the camera, towards the mountains.
Why would anyone want to live in a motorhome?

In the time between selling back our land in southern New Mexico and settling on our new property a little farther north, The Man and I used our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass to bounce between Rockhound State Park, Pancho Villa State Park, and City of Rocks State Park. During the two months we state park hopped, we saw a lot of rigs come in and later leave the campgrounds. Motorhomes mystified The Man.

Why would anyone want to live in one of those? he frequently wondered aloud, then went on to list a litany of motorhome problems. The terrible gas mileage was always on the top if his list, followed by the fact that unless the motorhome residents towed a vehicle, they had to move the entire rig every time they wanted to leave the campground. Some days I’d chime in about the expense of tires (information I’d learned while doing research for the post “The AdVANtages of Living and Traveling in a Van“) and the challenges of parking and backing up such big rigs. (With the exceptions of most Class Bs, even a small motorhome is way bigger than anything most people have driven.)

One day I got to thinking about why folks might want to live in a Class A or C motorhome. Of course, every nomad’s story is different. Some people are given their rigs, either from someone who doesn’t want to mess with RV travel anymore or from someone who has passed away. While selling a motorhome that was inherited might be the best plan in the long run, doing so could take time and cause aggravation. It might be easier for someone to simply live in a motorhome that falls into their lap.

Other people specifically choose to live and travel in a motorhome, and I’ve come up with ten possible reasons why.

#1 Motorhomes can be really spacious. Depending on the floor plan, motorhomes can offer a lot of room to move around. People who are accustomed to living in a big space may have an easier transition to life on the road if they start out in a roomy motorhome.

#2 In addition to space in general, motorhomes have plenty of headroom. If luxury is never having to hit your head, motorhomes provide luxurious accommodations. For folks who are tired of vanlife because they can’t stand up in their rig, motorhomes must be quite enticing.

#3With lots of room should come lots of storage. Cabinets and pantries and cupboards, oh my! Motorhomes even tend to have closets with space for hanging clothes. For rubber tramps who aren’t ready to downsize any further, a motorhome might be attractive because there’s space for all the stuff.

#4 For travelers who want a rig akin to a conventional home, a motorhome could be the way to go. For starters, motorhomes often have a separate bedroom. Vans, of course, have an open floorplan, as they say in the real estate business, but I’m astounded by the number of travel trailers I’ve seen with the bed practically in the kitchen. For anyone who wants privacy for sleeping (or other adult activities), motorhomes with an actual bedroom can be quite appealing.

#5 Motorhomes tend to have a separate bathroom too. Pipes are already installed, so there’s running water in the sink and shower and toilet too.

#6 A person who lives in a motorhome never has to haul a camp stove outside to cook because there’s a kitchen in the rig! Not only do cupboards come with the package, as in the bathroom, pipes are already installed, so running water is a no brainer. In addition to the convenience of a sink (or even two!)  the kitchen in a motorhome usually boasts a properly vented stove and sometimes even an oven!

#7 Quite important as a safety feature for many nomads, motorhome living allows the driver to get from the front of the rig into the living space without having to go outside. Some folks don’t mind leaving their tow vehicle to enter their travel trail or fifth wheel, but lots of people appreciate the peace of mind they feel when they can stay inside and go directly to their living space. This access to the living space also means someone can hop into the driver’s seat and pull out of a parking spot at the first hint of trouble without having to step foot out the door.

#8 Having its own motor means a motorhome needs nothing to tow it, as does a fifth wheel or travel trailer. When buying a motorhome (or receiving one as a gift), one need not worry about tow packages, engine capacity, gear ratios, weight limits, or towing capacity. While some motorhome RVers do tow (an often small) car or Jeep or pickup truck behind their rig to use on short trips away from the motorhome, that sort of towing is purely optional.

#9 Folks living and traveling in motorhomes don’t have to deal with the hassles of towing, While motorhomes are large and sometimes tricky to drive, they’re only one piece of equipment. There’s no sway of one part of the rig while going down the highway. There’s no need to worry about part of the rig coming apart and rolling away. While backing up a motorhome is not without its challenges, at least there’s only one piece of equipment to worry about. (Of course, these advantages of having a motorhome go out the window if a smaller vehicle is being towed behind the rig, but as mentioned before, such a situation is totally optional.)

#10 Finally, if a motorhome is not towing anything, there’s no hassle of hitching or unhitching.  I never gave much thought to hitching up a trailer until I found myself in possession of a travel trailer. It’s a lot of work. It requires a tow vehicle to change position inches at a time to get everything lined up correctly. It’s a real pain in the neck! Upon arriving at a destination, the trailer should be unhitched so as not to put undue pressure on the tongue and tow vehicle. Of course, this means everything has to be hooked up again when it’s time to go. I can understand the appeal of a motorhome which demands no such process.

So there you have it—ten reason why someone might want to live in one of those. If you live in a Class A or a Class C motorhome, I’d love to hear why you picked it and why you like it. Also, feel free to tell us what you don’t like so much about motorhome life. I don’t have personal motorhome experience, so please share yours!

I took the photo in this post.

A History of Caravans, aka Travel Trailers

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It’s July now and the height of the summer travel season in the United States. Lots of folks are out and about with their travel trailers, but have you ever wondered about the history of these RVs that are towed behind a car or truck? Today I’m sharing a guest post from CAMP (Caravan & Motorhome Parts) all about the history of travel trailers, or caravans, as they are called in England.

Do you own a travel trailer? You may be wondering how travel trailers started out.

They originally come from the UK, and in England they are called caravans. The word “caravan” comes from the Moroccan term “karwan” which is the name of a group of desert travelers.

The caravan you own today probably has a sleek modern interior, bathroom, kitchen, HD TV and plenty more extras. However, if you go back 100 years your caravan would look completely different.

Back in 1885, Dr. William Stables purchased the first caravan ever made and called it “The Wanderer.” The same summer he bought the caravan he traveled 1400 miles across the UK powered by 2 horses.

When caravans were first introduced, they were seen as an upper class luxury, and a person needed a lot of money to buy such an item. Of course today caravans are widely accessible to people who love holidays and camping.

1919 was the year caravans started to look more like what we recognize today. People stopped using horses to move the mobile homes and progressed to using cars. This was a result of the end of World War I and people having a higher income which allowed them to buy vehicles.

Thanks to Caravan and Motorhome Parts we have a collection of the best pieces of caravan history put together in this timeline infographic. Now we can see the development of camping vehicles throughout history.

History of Caravans




Weather and the Travel Trailer

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When I was a van dweller, I didn’t give the weather a lot of thought. I didn’t

Trees Covered With Snow

like driving in the rain (never have, never will), so perhaps I’d change my departure time if it was raining when I was ready to leave. I was more concerned with ice and snow and did a better job of planning my travels in the winter, especially in the mountains. But wind? I never thought about the wind when traveling in my van.

Assorted-color Flags Under Gray Clouds

Of course, I noticed the wind when traveling in my van, especially in states with windy conditions like Kansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Especially in my two vans with high tops, I was aware of the wind. I was lucky to have never met a gust that blew me (or scared me) off the road. Sometimes I slowed down when the wind was strong, and sometimes I held on to the steering wheel tightly with both hands, but wind never changed my travel plans.

Things are different now that The Man and I are living and traveling in a tongue-pull trailer. It’s not as easy as it once was to just get up and go.

After picking up our travel trailer, we made a trip of several hundred miles to get back to our temporary home base in Southern New Mexico. When we arrived at Rockhound State Park to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, we found no empty campsites.  We ended up staying in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. The location wasn’t an ideal campsite, but we didn’t mind too much because we were in our new home. The next time we went to Rockhound, we found an acceptable vacant campsite, and The Man backed in our travel trailer.

We stayed at Rockhound for about a week, splurging $4 a night to connect to electricity. We decided to head about 100 miles down the road and spend a few days at Elephant Butte Lake State Park before setting off for our final destination. We agreed to leave on Wednesday.

We woke up at our usual time that morning, between 5:00 and 6:30. I was up first, which was unusual, but The Man soon followed. He made and drank his coffee while I wrote the first draft of a blog post. We’d done most of our cleaning and putting away the night before, so we didn’t have to do much before we left.

I was heating leftovers for my breakfast when The Man asked me if I’d be ready to go soon. I told him would be ready after I ate my breakfast and brushed my teeth.

I’d noticed the wind had been strong ever since I’d gotten out of bed, which was unusual. Even in New Mexico, the wind doesn’t typically blow until the sun is out. As I ate my breakfast, the trailer continued to shimmy and shake, but I didn’t think much about it or consider what it might mean for our travel plans.

It’s bad out there, The Man said.

What’s bad? I asked. I assumed he was talking about the wind, but I wasn’t sure.

Have you looked outside? he asked.

I shook my head, then moved to the window. When I looked outside, I realized we were experiencing a full-on dust storm. I could see nothing outside the immediate surroundings of the campground. I couldn’t see any of the buildings dotting the land that slopes away from the campground. I couldn’t see the town off in the distance. Heck, I could barely make out the mountains that I knew surrounded us. The wind carried not only enough dust to block out the human-made structures I was accustomed to looking at every day, but so much dust filled the air that the very mountains were obscured. That, my friend, is a lot of dust.

I thought about the signs I’d seen in New Mexico and Arizona, the ones that say “Dust Storms May Exist” and “Zero Visibility Possible” and “Blowing Dust Area.” I thought about the signs in New Mexico telling drivers what to do if they were caught in a dust storm and couldn’t see anything. (Pull off roadway. Turn lights off. Foot off brake. Stay buckled.) The situation we were in was exactly what those signs were about.

We’d be fools to take the trailer out in this, I told The Man.

I knew he really wanted to leave, but he agreed with me. We would be fools to take the trailer out in this.

The wind delay got me thinking about how the weather is going to affect our travels with the trailer.

You wouldn’t want to pull that trailer in the rain either, I pointed out to The Man, and he agreed he wouldn’t want to do that.

Water Dew in Clear Glass Panel

We’re going to have to start looking at the weather before we leave, I told him.

Pulling the trailer is already a challenge for The Man. (I haven’t even attempted to drive the truck with the trailer attached to it.) Keeping the entire rig in his lane, watching out for the mistakes of other drivers, letting folks enter the interstate via the on ramps all contribute to his stress. Slippery roads and low visibility would certainly add to the tension. Why drive through bad weather if we can avoid it?

Checking the weather forecast is such a simple thing. If we have internet access, it’s really easy to do. My new plan is to check the forecast for proposed departure dates as soon as we begin discussing leaving. If there’s rain or ice of sleet or snow or high winds in the forecast along our route, we’ll leave as many days earlier or later as it takes to stay safe.

The high winds lasted over 24 hours. They shook the trailer all day. I felt like I was in a boat for hours. Some gusts were so strong, I wondered if the trailer would be blown over. The wind was still shaking the trailer when we went to bed. Thankfully the air was calmer the next morning (but still quite brisk by anyone’s standards), and we were able to make it safely to our next destination.

Do you check the weather forecast before you hit the road? How bad does the weather have to be before you postpone travel? What do you find most difficult to drive in: rain, wind, snow, or sleet? Please leave a comment telling how weather impacts your travel days.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/trees-covered-with-snow-833013/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-flags-under-gray-clouds-1685842/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cars-dew-drops-125510/.

In Which I Admit Ways a Travel Trailer Is Better Than a Van

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Chevy G20 high top van in the forest
I lived in this Chevy G20 for almost five years.

I was a vandweller for nearly a decade before a travel trailer came into my life after the death of my father. I enjoyed being a vandweller. I enjoyed taking my home with me wherever I went. I enjoyed a life without rent payments. I enjoyed being a renegade and a nomad.

To be honest, if I were single, I’d probably still live in my van. I was resistant to the whole idea of living in a travel trailer. My van had always been enough for me.

However, living in a van with my sweetheart was not easy for either of us. I especially need a lot of alone time, a lot of quiet. My guy likes to talk a lot and play guitar and move around. Also, he is six feet tall and simply needs room for his body. He bought a minivan in order to spend less money on gas, but can’t sit comfortably in it to carve or make jewelry.

Life was a little easier when we each had our own rig to hang out in and sleep in, but we did still suffer lots of discomforts. I was tired of cooking outside in the wind and the dust and the cold. I was so tired of constantly buying ice for the cooler and dealing with the water that always managed to accumulate in the bottom of it. Sure, I could deal with those annoyances (I think I’m a little bit tough), but I didn’t really want to.

Drawing of blue canned ham style travel trailer with yellow sun and the words Home Is Where You Park It.

If I weren’t with The Man, I would not be pulling a travel trailer. I think it’s more work than I want to do alone. However, in less than a month living in the travel trailer (when I wrote the rough draft of this post), I was already spoiled by the amenities it offered.

The number one luxury of life in the travel trailer is probably the head room. I don’t know how many times I hit my head while living in my van, and I’m not even tall! The Man hit his head even more. Ouch! It sure is nice to stand up to cook, put on pants, or simply move from one spot to another. Even with cupboards above our bed, we can both sit up comfortably. I’m sure both our brains are glad to no longer get bumped around so much.

Another perk of  travel trailer life is more storage space for our stuff. We have lots of cupboards, cabinets, and drawers. The kitchen boasts four drawers and six cabinets. There is storage under the dinette’s bench seats. The living area has four overhead cupboards. Between the sofa and the bedroom is an armoire with four shelves behind two doors and four large drawers down below. There are two short cabinets over the bed and two tall ones on each side. There is even a storage compartment under the bed! Finally, we have room for the things we own.

In addition to space for stuff, we have space for people! Coyote Sue was our first visitor. She stopped by to see our place when we were all at Elephant Butte Lake State Park using our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was nice for each of us to sit in a comfortable spot while we chatted.

We could even have overnight guests if we wanted. The legs come off the table and the tabletop sits between the two bench seats to make a platform that becomes a bed when the cushions from the seats are arranged on it. The couch folds down into a (lumpy but functional) bed. Guests here might not have the best sleep of their lives, but at least we can offer places to lie down for the night.

My favorite part of having more space is having a separate bedroom. The bedroom is at the front of the trailer and has an accordion door to hide it from the rest of the living space. (I wish the bedroom had a solid door like the bathroom does, but a folding door is better than nothing.) While The Man (and Jerico the dog too) do sleep in the bed with me (thankfully the RV queen size mattress provides room for all), the bedroom is my domain. When The Man wakes up before me in the morning (which is usually the way it happens), he can leave the room, close the door, and go about his life in the other part of the trailer. When I wake up, I can sit in the bed and write with few distractions.

I’m quite relieved to have sturdy screens over all the windows. We even have screen doors on both entrances! I know how miserable it is to live in a van and have to choose between being hot with the windows closed to keep bugs out or opening the windows to let in a breeze and fresh air and also letting in a squadron of mosquitoes or flies or no see ‘ems. I fashioned some window screens during my days as a vandweller, but my DIY efforts always fell short (and often fell down). I’m glad to have properly fitted, professionally installed screens with no holes on all the windows and doors so we can have airflow while keeping bugs out.

Blue sky with full of white puffy clouds. Tree in foreground. Lake in background.
Tree at Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

Having electricity in our home is really awesome. During a week and a half stay at Rockhound State Park, , we only had to splurge on an extra $4 per night for a campsite with electricity since we had the annual camping pass. We were quickly spoiled by being able to flip a switch and have light. It was also convenient to be able to charge our electronics by plugging into an electrical outlet in our home. We missed these luxuries when we moved to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and opted for a campsite with no hookups. When we finally got the travel trailer out on our own property, we charged our house batteries each night by running our generator for about an hour. Now we have a complete solar power system, and we get our power from the sun. The Man got our solar electric system up and running as soon as possible because once we got a taste of having electricity in our home, we didn’t want to give it up.

Most of the other advantages of living in the travel trailer have to do with the kitchen. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I do feed myself and The Man a couple of times each day, so I like to be comfortable when I prepare meals.

Cooking out of the elements is a huge perk. Cooking outside is not entirely unpleasant if the weather is nice. However, cooking outside when it’s raining or snowing or sleeting or hailing or just plain cold is a real pain in the neck.  It’s also difficult (sometimes impossible) to cook in a strong Southwestern wind. Working outside in a steady wind of 20 to 30 mph (with stronger gusts) is difficult enough, but add in the dust that is always part of a windy situation, and I just want to grab some food from Little Caesar’s or Taco Bell. Being in the trailer and out of inclement weather has been a game changer when it comes to cooking meals.

Sure I could have cooked in my van during bad weather, and at times I did boil water or heat up some leftovers. Since I’ve read the warnings on my camp stove about the dangers of using it in enclosed spaces, I always worried about using it in the van. The stove and oven in the travel trailer were professionally installed at the factory and are (ostensibly) vented properly and pose fewer risks.

Having an oven is a huge perk. I missed baking for all the years I lived in my van. When The Man and I moved into the fifth wheel and found it had a working oven, I was overjoyed. I baked pizza, cakes, brownies, treats for the dog, and cornbread from my father’s recipe. When we sold the fifth wheel, leaving the oven behind was a sad moment for me. Now that I have an oven again, I’ve enjoyed baking yummies for the whole family.

I haven’t had a working refrigerator in my home in years, since the one in the fifth wheel didn’t work and was used as a pantry. Having refrigeration in the travel trailer is a huge convenience. I no longer have to buy ice. I no longer have to deal with melted ice water. I no longer have to deal with the water that always ends up at the bottom of the cooler no matter what I do to avoid it. Can I live without refrigeration? Yes. Is life a lot easier with a working refrigerator in the house? Also yes.

Colorful drawings of travel trailers and camper vans surround the words Home Is Where We Park It.
My dear friend sent this to me. I love it! I hung it over the kitchen sink.

While some aspects of living in a travel trailer are challenging (I’m looking at you, hitching!) the advantages currently outshine those challenges. I feel so fortunate that my dad’s death has brought this travel trailer into my life.

I took the photos in this post.

10 Blogs by Vandwellers, Nomads, Vagabonds, RVers, Travelers, and Drifters

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Thanks for reading my blog! I appreciate your support! Maybe you’re wondering what other blogs you can read that are written by vandwellers, nomads, vagabonds, RVers, travelers, and drifters. Today I’ll share with you what I know about blogs written by folks who live on the road at least part of time.

White van in the distance at sunset.
Photo provided by Devan

Xsyntrik Nomad is written by my sweet and positive friend Devan Winters, a vandweller. She writes about choosing and building a van, earning a living on the road, and sharing her vanlife with a cat. She’s a very talented writer and her posts are quirky and engaging.

Yvette Angela Assata writes Rated Rosa, and says of herself,


I am a radical Black feminist, birth worker, activist, anti-racist, a lesbian, and I do a whole lot of community organizing…


…I decided I would convert a school bus to live in, and while I was at it, travel North America. The choice to move onto a vehicle was an easy decision for me because it fits my lifestyle. Besides living in the Pacific Northwest for the past near-13 years, seeing the increases in rent and gentrified neighborhoods, watch people not able to find housing (myself included) and literally pushed out of cities and into the margins, I’m anti-establishment and a wanderer to my core.

Brenton MacAloney has been writing Brent’s Travels since 2013. He’s traveled in a camper van, a Toyota Prius, and a pickup truck with a camper that slides into the van. He says,


I like travel, meeting people, and writing about my experiences.

Meeting people is a goal of mine. In fact I will try to meet someone new everyday. I want to write about them. Who [they] are and what makes them unique.

 

Undercover Hippy Bus is about a family living in “big white ex-courier van.” The adults were tired of all the time their jobs stole away from being with their kids, so they sold off most of their stuff and now live simply and happily. They write about parenting, food, and travels.


Make Like an Apeman is about Duwan and Greg, nomads since 2011. They say,

…we sold everything, quit our jobs, rented our house (and eventually sold it), bought a sailboat, and set sail on a traveling adventure and a story that has been writing itself as we go along.

Their Instagram account (@makelikeanapeman) says they now live in a van three seasons a year and house sit in the summers.

Burly Nomads is the blog of

Miah and George, a gay couple [who recently started their] adventure into full-time RV living. We are tired of being tied down to a house that we do not like, nor want to be in. Tired of not being able to travel to places we want to see, visit with friends and family we want to visit, so we are choosing to have a life of ‘Freedom over Stability’

A cat walks on a narrow ledge below the large back window of an RV.
Sonja Begonia in Brownie’s big back window. Photo used with Sue’s permission.

The RV Artsy Life of Sue Soaring Sun is written by my friend and Sun sister. She writes about the art she creates and the places she visits with her cat Sonja Begonia while living in Brownie, her 20-ft 1984 Lazy Daze mini-motor home. Sue doesn’t update her blog often, but when she does, I really enjoy her stories from the road.

Gnomad Home is the place to go to read about the adventures of John and Jayme and their two dogs. It’s also an outstanding place to get tons of tips to make your van life easier and more enjoyable. There is an excellent section called Build Your Van with so much helpful information

all about helping you…choose your van, plan your design, install creature comforts like electricity and plumbing, and actually build out the interior of your DIY campervan conversion. [Y]ou’ll find awesome infographics, detailed information, step-by-step guides, links to helpful resources, and more.

Kaya Lindsay’s blog can be found at One Chick Travels. Kaya says of herself,

I am a writer, I am a photographer, I am a filmmaker, I am a climber, I play the ukulele and I drive long distances as a form of self-care…

I have been living in my 2006 Dodge Sprinter Van and creating content for about 2 years. I drive around, rock climb, play the ukulele 🎶 and interview badass lady travelers who are also living in vans.

Interstellar Orchard is the blog of Becky Schade who started living on the road full-time in 2012, at the age of 28. Becky says,


Here at Interstellar Orchard (IO), you’ll find:
Informational articles on how to go RVing full-time
Travelogues of my adventures to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike
Philosophical posts on how to live a happier, more fulfilling life

Don’t Forget the Tent

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Last summer while working at the Mercantile, I heard of not one, but two sets of campers who got all the way up the mountain only to realize they’d forgotten their tent. Groan.

Sandra the camp host told me the first story.

Photo of Blue and Yellow Lighted Dome Tent Surrounded by Plants during Night Time

Two couples showed up at her campground for the night. They arrived around 4 pm. Sandra checked them in and told then the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Around six that evening, one of the couples was on Sandra’s campsite begging her to open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent.

What?

Apparently as they unpacked, they realized their tent hadn’t made it into their car. They didn’t have a tent. They needed a tent. Couldn’t Sandra please open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent?

Sandra explained she could not open the Mercantile so they could buy a tent. Not only did she not work at the Mercantile, meaning she had not been trained on the store’s procedures, but the cash register was closed and there was no money in the drawer. There was nothing she could do to remedy the couple’s lack of tent.

Sandra was perplexed. She’d told them the Mercantile closed at five o’clock. Why had the people waited two hours to try to buy a tent? Perhaps they didn’t started unpacking right away, I offered. Maybe the Mercantile was already closed when they realized they had no tent.

Sandra also wondered why the couple needed their own tent. Their friends

Man and Woman Sitting Beside campfire and in front of tent during Night Time

had a huge tent, Sandra said. It was an 8 or 10 person tent with plenty of room for four adults.


Maybe the tentless couple had been planning a romantic evening that didin’t include their friends, I guessed. Sandra just shrugged. I guess she figured people hoping for a romantic interlude would have planned better.

The second story of a tentless camper came from one of the other clerks in the Mercantile. This clerk’s husband was the camp host at the busy campground down he road. One weekday afternoon, a camper approached the camp host and said he’d forgotten to bring his tent. The camp host suggested the camper drive down to the Mercantile and buy a new tent. The camper said he would do just that.

Later that day, the camp host saw the camper again. The camp host asked the camper if he’d gotten a tent. The camper said he hadn’t. He said he’d been to the Mercantile but there were no tents for sale. The camp host said all the tents that had been in stock must have sold out.

When his wife came home, the camp host mentioned the camper who’d gone to the Mercantile to buy a tent only to find there were none left. His wife assured him there were at least a couple of tents available at the Mercantile. She also told him that no one had asked her anything about tents that day. She thought the camper had gone into the Mercantile and looked around but didn’t see the tents. Not seeing any tents (and perhaps not wanting to admit to another person that he’d gone on a camping trip without one), he simply left without asking for assistance.

I wonder if the camper even made it to the store where I worked. There was a general store very close to the campground where he was staying. I wonder if he thought that was the store the camp host suggested. The general store was going through a transition of ownership and had very limited stock. I would have been surprised to know that store had any tents for sale.

Person in Blue Denim Jeans Standing Outside the Rain

Of course, people forget things. When I was in my mid-30s I went on a fishing trip without shoes.I was barefoot when I got in the car. I thought I’d put my shoes in the trunk. Apparently not. When we arrived at the lake, I found I was without footwear. Luckily my friend had a spare pair of sneakers in the car. I wore them even though they were several sizes too big.

However, a tent seems like an integral component of a camping trip, especially if the camper is not driving a motor home or a camper van and isn’t towing a travel trailer or a fifth wheel. It seems as if one is going on a camping trip and is planning to sleep in a tent, the tent would be the most important item to pack.

On this day, the cultural beginning of summer, I offer you a bit of advice. If you’re going camping this summer or any time, be sure to pack the tent. Check to make sure you have it before you leave home. Ask yourself, Do I have the tent? Go ahead and double check, triple check, and check one more time. If you find the tent is not in your vehicle with the rest of your camping gear, you’ll be glad you looked for it yet again.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-blue-and-yellow-lighted-dome-tent-surrounded-by-plants-during-night-time-712067/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-and-woman-sitting-beside-bonfire-during-nigh-time-776117/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/feet-rain-wet-puddle-105776/.

In Praise of Visitor Centers

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I like visitor centers, those places of tourist information paid for by states to let folks know all the fun things they can do while in the area. There’s a lot to like at these informational pit stops.

  • Clean restrooms Visitor centers want to make a good impression, so they tend to keep their restrooms impeccably clean. If you’re picky about restroom cleanliness, visitor centers may be where you want to stop.
  • Free beverages When I entered Louisiana from Mississippi on Interstate 20, the visitor center  I stopped at offered free coffee. It was even Community brand, a very popular Louisiana flavor. Years ago the visitor centers in Florida offered tiny paper cups of free orange juice. (Certain visitor centers in Florida apparently still offer free citrus juice to guests!) If nothing else, a visitor center is bound to have a water fountain where you can fill your water bottles.
  • Free state maps  If you’re entering a new state, a visitor center is a great place to pick up a free paper map to help you find your way around. When I looked at the free info at the visitor Center in Deming, NM, I saw paper maps New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas up for grabs.
  • Tourist brochures  Every visitor center I’ve ever been in has offered tons of brochures advertising attractions throughout the state. From pistachio farms in New Mexico to swamp tours in Louisiana, to ghost towns in Arizona, there’s a lot to do in every state. These brochures tell you where to go and what to see and sometimes include money-saving coupons!
  • State tourism guides  All states have a department of tourism and most publish a guidebook to tell visitors what’s special about their particular state. These guides typically divide the state into regions and give details about what to see and do in each region. The guidebooks may also tell about the state’s history, Native peoples, and special foods; they give a good overview of each state. Visitor centers typically have free copies of their state’s guide free for the taking.
  • Informative exhibits  If you want to learn more about the state you’re in, visitor centers often have exhibits explaining the state’s history, its Native people, the flora and fauna of the region, geologic features, and the area’s history.
  • A live person to talk with If the visitor center is staffed, don’t pass up your chance to ask questions of a local. At the visitor center in Deming, NM, a young woman and an elderly man answered all my questions about the town’s annual duck race. Most people working at a visitor center are going to be knowledgeable about the area and the entire state. Ask the worker for directions. Ask about road construction and free camping.  Ask what attractions in the state can’t be missed. Ask what food you should eat and the best places to find them. Ask about upcoming festivals and special events. Ask about the weather. If the people working at the visitor center don’t know the answers to your questions, they can find out for you.
  • A place to stretch your legs Even if you don’t need a paper map or information about tourist attractions, visitor centers are often nice places to get out of your rig for a while and walk around. If the sound of your own wheels is about to drive you crazy, get out of your vehicle at a visitor center and move around a bit outside.
  • Pet walking areas While you’re stretching  your legs, let Fido or Lassie move around too. Many visitor centers have special areas where you can walk your dog and allow it to relieve itself. (Many even offer poop bags to make it easy to clean up after your pet.) You’ll probably need to keep your pet on a leash, and you’ll definitely need to pick up any droppings.
  • Picnic areas  Many visitor centers have picnic tables or at least a bench where you can sit to have a snack or eat your lunch. Some sitting areas are even under shade structures so you can get out of the sun. If you can park your rig close enough to a table, you should be able to pull out your stove and kitchen supplies and cook a complete meal for yourself.
  • Dump stations  If you’re driving an RV with a black water tank, some visitor centers (especially if they are part of a larger rest area complex) may offer a dump station. You can find a state-by-state guide to dump stations at RVdumps.com.
  • Free water for your tanks  Some visitor centers offer free water to fill holding tanks if you have an RV or jugs if you’re living the vanlife. Pay attention to signs telling you if water is potable (safe to drink) or non-potable (not safe to drink).
  • Safe overnight parking  If a visitor center is within a rest area, you may be able to park for the night after you get your fill of tourist info. Overnight parking at rest areas varies by states, but many states do put the “rest” in “rest area” by allowing folks to park for several hours at a time. Once you grab your free state map and tourism guide, get some shut-eye before you get back on the road. If you get to a visitor center late at night and anyone asks you why you’re parking there, just say you want to get some information as soon as they open in the morning.

Now that you’ve considered all visitor centers have to offer, maybe you’ll stop in at the next one you see as you’re tooling down the road.

Bohemian Rhapsody Art Car

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Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018, looking at art cars. We’d looked at California Fantasy Van, the J Gurl art car, and Zalafayra. Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.

As you might have guessed, this car is a tribute to the rock band Queen. The art was done by Rebecca Bass and her students at Reagan High School (now known as Heights High School ) in Houston, Texas. This high school is so cool, it has an art car club on its official list of activities available to students!

Art car covered in bling with a life-size representation of Freddie Mercury holding the Union Jack flag.
Freddie Mercury lets his freak flag fly. Oh wait! That’s the Union Jack!

According to an ABC 13 Eyewitness News website (which features a video of Bass and her students creating an art car),

Rebecca Bass is famous in the Art Car community. She’s created about 30 art cars in her lifetime, almost all of them with kids.

Bass leads the art car club at Heights High School. She and her students were even in a movie! The 2011 documentary Art Car: The Movie follows Bass and her students as they prepare a car for the Houston Art Car Parade.

A keyboard projects from the back passenger side door of a meticulously decorated art car.
That’s a full size keyboard on the side of that car!

The city of Houston calls the Art Car Parade the city’s

largest free public event [with] more than 250 rolling works of art …

A fake woman projects from the torso up from a meticulously decorated art car.
I think this woman is holding bicycle handlebars. Perhaps she represents the Queen song “Bicycle Race.” That song was really popular during my childhood. “I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride my bike!” I didn’t realized until I was writing this post that there’s an official video for the song and it features naked women!

I think it’s really cool that high school students did the majority of the work on this car. While I do like Queen, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the band. What I am a huge fan of is the meticulous embellishment work done on Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow! So much bling! I don’t think there’s one inch of space on this car that’s not covered in shine, sparkle, or flash. This is my kind of three-dimensional collage.

A red guitar is attached to the driver's door of a meticulously embellished art car.
There’s a guitar to go with the keyboard. The band is almost complete.

Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have found a permanent home with ArtoCade out of Trinidad, Coloroado. The ArtoCade website calls itself

a parade!…a festival!…a party!

Art car meticulously embellished with bling.
Bohemian Rhapsody seems to belong to ArtoCade out of Trinidad, CO.

ArtoCade also has an art car museum. The information was a bit unclear, but from what I could ascertain, the museum once known as the Bizarre Car Garage had to vacate its space prior to September 2018. It seems to have relocated and been rechristened as Art Cartopia. I think admission to Art Cartopia is free. That’s my favorite price! (The information I found about Art Cartopia was on ArtoCade’s Facebook page.)

Bohemian Rhapsody detail. “Somebody to Love,” perhaps?

If you’re ever anywhere near Trinidad (a small town just off Interstate 25 near the Colorado/New Mexico border), I suggest you stop at Art Cartopia and take a look at Bohemian Rhapsody. There are so many details to look at on this car! I could have stared at it for hours.

Figures of a drummer and a woman with an ample bottom adorn the back of a meticulously embellished art car.
I’m pretty sure that’s a fat bottomed girl on the left. And look! There’s the drummer Roger Taylor on the right!

I took all the photos in this post.

10 Things to Do Before You Hit the Road

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The day has come! You’re about to hit the road. Maybe you’re about to take a weekend road trip, or it’s the first day of the rest of your life as a nomad. Maybe you’ve been sitting on public land for two weeks and now it’s time to travel to your next boondocking spot. Whatever the reason that you’re about to start driving, here’s a list of 10 things you should do, check, and take care of before you get on the road.

Brown Spoke Car Wheel in Brown Sand during Daytime

#1 Pack supplies you may need if your rig breaks down. Road disasters happen. Be prepared with roadside flares, a flashlight, jumper cables, an appropriate jack, a can of tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator (made by Fix-a-Flat and Slime, among others), a portable air compressor, and any other emergency supplies you can imagine needing. I know what it’s like to have three flat tires between two vehicles and no emergency supplies while camping on remote BLM land. I’ve encountered people with a dead battery and no jumper cables. Do everything you can to prepare for anything that might go wrong.

#2 Check your spare tire. One of the problems during the aforementioned tire disaster was that we couldn’t get my spare tire off its mount. The bolt holding the tire to the mount was cross-threaded and wouldn’t budge. It was like having no spare at all! Check your spare periodically to make sure it’s in good condition and can be removed from your mount if necessary.

#3 Stock up on supplies. Especially if you’re going to a remote location,

First Aid Case on Brown Floor Surface

have enough food and water to last you until you to return to civilization. Get ice if you’re using a cooler for refrigeration. If you take medication, make sure you won’t run out before you get to a pharmacy. Take inventory of your first aid kit and replenish anything that’s missing so you can take care of any minor emergencies. Other items you may need may include sunscreen, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, soap, toothpaste, batteries, insect repellent, propane or butane, and fire starter.

Price is another reason to stock up before you leave a heavily populated area. As I suggested in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions,” supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small-town prices if you can.

Idaho Map

#4 Consult your paper map and plan your route. As I wrote in my post “In Praise of Paper Maps,” don’t put all your trust in your GPS. Using GPS is fine, but look at your route on a paper map so you’ll know if the GPS is sending you off in the wrong direction. It’s also a good idea to have an appropriate map handy and the skills to use it in the event you lose signal or your GPS stops working in a remote location.

#5 Check the air pressure in your tires. Proper air pressure increases gas mileage and helps protect against flat tires. If the air pressure is low in your tires, use your portable air compressor (if you have one) to add air, or fill up low tires at your next gas station stop.

#6 Check your levels of oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. If any fluids are low, top them off.

#7 Plug in your electronics before you pull out of your parking spot. If you have an invertor, plug in your phone and or tablet so you can charge while you drive.

#8 Top off your rig’s fuel tank. Before you leave civilization, make sure

Person Holding Gasoline Nozzle

your fuel tank is full, especially if you’re heading to a remote location where you might not be able to find fuel. When you come out of a remote location, fill your tank as soon as it’s feasible, especially if you’re heading to another remote location. My goal is to never let my fuel gauge slip below a quarter of a tank, which means I should never run out of gas. Running out of gas could lead to needing a tow and/or a destroyed fuel tank, two things I want to avoid.

Again, price is another reason to fuel up before you leave civilization or once you return. You will probably find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it.

#9 Clean your windshield while you’re at the gas station. Trying to see through a dusty, bug-splattered windshield is not just annoying; it could be dangerous too.

#10 Once your engine has warmed up, check the level of your transmission fluid. Park on a level surface before you check. Shift through all your gears before you pull out your dipstick, and leave your rig running while you do your check. If the level is low, top off with the fluid that’s right for your transmission.

These tips are just suggestions. Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only YOU are responsible for your safety and well-being.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-spoke-car-wheel-in-brown-sand-during-daytime-53161/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/asphalt-box-color-emergency-208459/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-navigation-guide-108942/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/car-refill-transportation-gas-9796/.

Hitched

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I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.

New Mexico State Parks logo includes drawing of a sunset, trees, grass, and water.

When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.

On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump.  The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.

I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.

What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?

The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.

I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.

Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.

I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.

He just shook his head at me.

While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.

I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.

Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.

The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him  barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.

Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.

At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!

Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?”  on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.

One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”

Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.

The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”

When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.

I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?

We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.

Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.

I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!

I took the photo used in this post.