Category Archives: Van Life

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.

Tips on Grooming Your Vandwelling Dog (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post is by dog lover Adam Conrad of the Shih Tzu Expert website. Adam is going to tell you how to groom your dog on the road. Whether you typically boondock far from professional groomers or you want to save money by grooming your pup yourself, Adam’s tips will keep your pooch looking and feeling good wherever the road takes the two of you.

You and your furry dog are on-the-go living a life of adventure. Part of reaping the joys and benefits of that beautiful life means ensuring that your pet is healthy and safe at all times.

One of the easiest ways you can be a good pet owner is to ensure that your dog is healthy with some basic hygiene and grooming tips.  It’s easy to forget about some of these basicdaily routines, but doing these things habitually not only keeps your dog healthy and clean, but also makes grooming easier.

When you’re regularly brushing its hair and teeth, your dog won’t fight these behaviors because they become a part of its routine.  Here are some of the most effective and common ways that you can affordably and easily maintain your dog’s grooming needs.

adorable, animal, animal portraitBrush Before Bathing Your Dog

Your dog lives for life on the road and adventure. That means that he or she will require some extra hair care maintenance to undo tangles and knots. It’s recommended that dogs be bathed once every three months, but this number will increase if your pet spends time outdoors.

First, start with a good slick, metal pin brush that will really get through the strands of the hair, removing all dead hair and dirt. This is the key to keeping the dog’s hair clean. If your dog has tangles, you can use corn starch in the hair to help alleviate the knots quickly and affordably.

Try to keep your dog standing when you brush him, and do it as regularly as you can. Getting him used to this behavior will allow him to become conditioned to all other grooming habits.

Next, set your dog in a few inches of lukewarm water. If you don’t have a hose, you can use a pitcher to wet your dog. You’ll want to make sure that you’re using a high quality shampoo on your furry friend.

Take care not to spray the shampoo into your dog’s ears, nose, and eyes. You can protect your dog’s ears easily by gently placing cotton balls in the entrance of his ears, so that no excess water or shampoo gets inside. Gently massage the shampoo into the hair all over.

If you’re bathing your dog in you’re rig’s sink or shower, you won’t want to clog your drains. Make sure to use a adorable, animal, breedhair plug to protect your drain from clogging.

Minimize and Maintain Shedding

Shedding is a completely normal and healthy part of a dog’s life. Depending on the dog’s breed, the size of the animal, the time of year, and many other factors, shedding may be more prevalent. One of the easiest ways you can minimize shedding is by brushing your dog’s hair regularly. The more your brush, the more dead hair will be removed and caught in the brush and not spread all over your  living space.

Use a plastic bristle brush to break up the knots. You might also consider using a slicker brush to remove loose hairs.

One of the best indicators of a healthy coat is the kind of food your pet is eating. A high-quality food source with a good amount of protein will help your dog’s coat stay healthy and minimize shedding.

If your dog is larger and the shedding seems to be unruly at times, you might consider covering your furniture to protect your living space. Vacuuming often is another way to minimize dog hair in your living space. You might also consider picking up a special hair pick-up roller that is made for removing dog hair from furniture and fabric easily.

White and Grey Long Coat DogSafely Cut and Shave Your Dog

After you’ve freshly brushed and cleaned your dog, you might want to cut its hair. If so, please make sure that your dog is safely standing on a table so that you can easily access all areas of the fur. (For more ideas on where to place your dog for grooming, see the article on the Wag! website on How to Groom a Dog Without a Grooming Table.)

You might invest in grooming shears so that you can most effectively execute the cut.

It’s best to begin cutting your animal’s hair when it’s dry, unlike human hair. You’ll want to use the sharp tip of the scissors to trim your dog’s body, specifically the more delicate parts like the face and tail.

When trimming the ears, be very careful to have the hand not holding the scissors on the hair being trimmed to ensure that you’re never cutting your animal and inflicting pain. You wouldn’t want to hurt your best furry friend! Of course, it would be easier and safer to have a friend hold the dog while you’re working on the ears. Trimming the hair around the ears is tricky even for professional groomers, who usually use restraints.

If you’re looking to shave your dog, make sure to find a quiet and open space where your dog won’t get startled. Again, make sure the dog’s hair is clean and dry. Keep the blade flat against the skin, starting from the neck and move along the various parts of the dog’s body.

Be careful where the skin is thin on your animal, like its thighs and hips. Also, make sure to use a special blade for the dog’s face and to check that the blade is not getting too hot or burning your dog’s skin.

Trim Those Nails and Protect Those Paws

How can you even tell if your pet needs its nails trimmed? As a general rule, the dog’s nails will slightly rub the Two Person With Rings on Ring Fingersground when he or she moves. If your pet’s nails are making louder noises on hard floors or getting caught on carpet, it is time to trim your pet’s nails.

Before you even think of using dog clippers or grinding down dog’s nails, first try introducing the louder noise that the tool makes. This will help your dog not to get spooked when you’re actually cutting.

If your dog has white nails, it will be easier to cut its nails until you get closer to a light pinkish portion of the nail. Dogs with black nails don’t have an easily discernible quick, which makes it a bit more challenging to do. If your dog has black nails, try your best to cut slowly until you see a full portion of the nail that is black. If you do accidentally cut into the quick, you can use styptic powder or corn starch to stop any bleeding.

Make sure that you’re clipping the nails quickly and with force. If you use dull clippers and move slowly, the nail might not clip cleanly, leaving sharp edges, or it may actually chip and split.

Your dog’s paws will require different care in the summer and winter. In warm weather, your dog is probably active and spending a lot of time running on various terrain outdoors. In the winter, your dog might be running on pavement that has been treated with chemicals and salt after snow. You’ll want to make sure your dog’s paws are cleaned so that he isn’t ingesting any of those chemicals; also check to be sure his paws aren’t chafing or cracking from the cold weather. Apply coconut oil to dry paws or consider buying an affordable pair of winter booties for your pet. (To help you pick the right winter booties for your active pooch, the American Kennel Club website has an article on the Top 10 Dog Boots for Winter & Cold Weather.)

Since your dog is spending a great deal of time outside and then coming back into your rig’s small living space, you’ll want to take extra care to clean your dog’s paws. Cleaning wipes are critical. Try to make a habit of wiping down your dog’s paws after running around outside. Remember that purchasing dog-specific wipes is important, since almost everything you put on your dog will end up in its mouth. Doing this will ensure that your dog isn’t ingesting any harmful chemicals or ingredients, and will keep your pet safe, fresh, and clean. (The Top Dog Tips website lists the Top 10 Best Dog Wipes for Light Grooming to help you decide which ones to use on your canine companion.)

Natural Ways to Keep Your Dog’s Coat and Skin Healthy

There are a plethora of easy-to-find products that are healthy for your dog and help maintain grooming. One of the most important ways to maintain your dog’s grooming is by taking care of its coat. A healthy coat is a happy dog!

Fish oil and flaxseed oil are two products that are easy to find, safe for your dog, and help maintain a beautiful coat. These oils are rich in the essential fatty acids that help promote a healthy coat for your dog from the inside out. Another great oil for dogs is salmon oil. You can drizzle these oils on your dog’s kibble or on a chew toy for your pup to safely ingest.

Does your dog happen to have a dry, scaly nose or paw pads? Maybe they simply need more water. If your dog is Close-Up Photography of a Dog's Snoutproperly hydrated and this dry, scaly skin is still persistent, try picking up some coconut oil. A little dab rubbed into the scaly nose and paw pads should create moisture and alleviate the dryness.

We’ve only scratched the surface on some of the most important DIY grooming tips for your vandwelling dog. Remember that proper and regular grooming of your furry friend is one of the most effective ways to keep your animal clean, healthy, and safe. Maintenance is key! That means that the more you keep up with it, the easier it will be. Plus, your dog will get into the habit of regular grooming and not put up a fight to let you brush it, trim its nails, or any other critical grooming technique. Happy grooming!

Adam Conrad is a dad of 5 Shih Tzu pups and the creator of Shih Tzu Expert. His passion for helping people in all aspects of dog care flows through in the coverage he provides about dog health issues like Parvo, CDV (Canine Distemper Virus), pet containment systems, dog grooming tools and techniques, and best food for dogs with specific dietary requirements. In his spare time he is an avid scuba diver and a trail runner. 

Remember, you are responsible for yourself and your dog(s). Neither Blaize Sun nor Adam Conrad are responsible for you or your pup(s). Use common sense depending on the regulations and conditions of your location.

You can read about the real-life dog grooming experiences of part-time vandweller who travels with dogs at DIY Grooming Tips for the Vandwelling Dog.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/adorable-animal-animal-portrait-blur-422212/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adorable-animal-breed-canine-356378/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-dog-pet-53564/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-person-with-rings-on-ring-fingers-792775/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-cold-cute-dog-434113/.

How to Train Your Dog to Live The Vanlife (Guest Post)

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Maker:S,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The dog days of summer are over, but at the Rubber Tramp Artist blog, we’re still sharing information about vandwelling with dogs.

I was absolutely pleased when the good folks at Gnomad Home reached out to me with an offer to write a guest post I could share with my readers. I jumped at the chance, as I love a good guest post. I was especially pleased to find out Jayme and John had lots of experience vandewlling with pups. Their expertise fits right in with the content I want to share with my readers. 

Today Jayme and John tell you how they trained their doggies to share their van life. Whether you’re transitioning a house dog into a road dog or bringing a brand new pup into your rig, these training tips can help keep your nomadic pooch safe and happy.

Once you make the jump from dreaming about vanlife to actually making it happen, all the big, scary steps you imagined seem to become easier and easier to manage. Selling your items stressed you out at first, but now you have no problem accepting $20 for that trinket your aunt gave you for your 13th birthday. Many of these transitions become more exciting than nerve-wracking, and mentally, you are more and more ready to just take off and hit the road. But of course, you can’t leave without your best furry friend! As it turns out, dogs need time to transition just as much as you do, and a well-trained dog makes for a very fun and easy life on the road.

We are currently traveling around with our two pups Nymeria (3) and Delilah (7), but believe it or not, there was a time when the dogs in our van outnumbered the humans! We recently had to put down our girl Crow (#CrowtoriousDOG) who was just shy of 17. We gave her one hell of a final year out on the road, letting her stick her paws in all kinds of waters from the Atlantic to the Pacific!

Needless to say, we know quite a bit about packing your pups and hitting the road. Here’s all of the tips and tricks that helped us get our domesticated dogs ready to live out in the wild!

Re-establish Basic Training Skills

This is easily the most important step of them all. Maybe you can get your dog to sit and stay because they know you’re about to toss them a treat while you guys are comfortably hanging out in your living room.But do they know how to sit and stay in a large vehicle when there are other automobiles whizzing around and you are trying to unload the groceries from the shopping cart into your fridge without your dog taking off down the road after a squirrel that emerged from the bushes? That’s why honing these basic training skills is essential.

The main commands we drilled into our dogs’ heads before beginning our adventure were, “Stay,” “Come,” and “In the van.” We practiced these commands in multiple situations, not just in our backyard. We would go out to the woods to practice, we would begin training in the middle of dog parks…anytime we found ourselves in a situation that was new to them, we would find time for some training.

Living on the road is rarely equivalent to hanging out in someone’s living room or fenced-in backyard. There are always distractions, noises, movements, creatures, and more going on around you at all times – that’s why it was very important to us that our dogs were familiar with responding as we expected under any circumstances.

“Stay” is probably our most used command. This helps when the doors of the van are open, when they are about to get into something we want them to stay away from, if they see a creature we don’t want them getting involved with, and more.

“Come” is perfect for when we allow them to run around off leash (which we do a lot of the time). We are always responsible about when and how we allow them to galavant off leash, which means we certainly don’t allow it in Walmart parking lots or National Parks.

But there are some areas where we do trust them off leash: when we are on BLM (Bureau of Lang Management) land or we find ourselves in National Forests – and if the area and conditions seem acceptable to our standards – we let them free! They LOVE getting to explore all of the scents and different terrains we find ourselves in. It’s almost as if you can see heaven glowing in their eyes as they leap over fallen trees and jump at the sight of a bug they’ve never seen before.

Unfortunately they can’t be off leash 24/7, and we need them to return to us from time to time. That’s when “Come” truly comes in handy. If a hiker walks near our spot and seems uneasy about the dogs, calling for them to return (and knowing that they will) makes for an easy pass on a potentially confrontational situation. Or if we are ready to roll to the next location, we just have to give a little holler and they come running back to the van, ready for the next adventure.

“In the van” is just a great, simple command for them to know. Whether we want them to seek shelter from an incoming storm, get ready to hit the road, or whatever the case may be – if we tell them, “in the van,” they hop right on in!

Build Trust with Your Dog and Let Them Run Around Off Leash

This one is VERY important to us. Our dogs have a lot of energy, and a trail run on a leash is not enough exercise for them to burn all of their juice. However, you can’t just take the leash off of your dog and expect all to go well on the first try

This is a practice that took time for us. We started training Nymeria to behave off leash when she was a puppy. There was a wooded area not too far from our house that not too many people frequented, and we were able to practice with her there. We would have her on a leash for a little bit, then let her off. Anytime she would come back to us we would make a very big deal about it, with excessive praise and even a few treats (we don’t normally give our dogs treats, but we do when we want something to be a BIG deal).

When we took in Delilah, she was a Stage Five RUNNER! If a door was even slightly cracked, she would bust right on through it and be gone in a second. In the end, what it came down to was that she was just dying to explore and check out her surroundings. After we took her in, we let her off leash in the same area where we trained Nymeria as a puppy. Naturally, Deliliah took off, and it actually took about 15 minutes for her to return. Yes, it made us nervous,but this is part of the trust. Our dogs don’t want to be away from us forever – they just want to explore. When Delilah returned, we showered her with praise and treats!

The second time we let her off leash, she still ran off to explore, but when we called her name, she immediately sprinted back to us, tail wagging and excited for a treat and some praise (granted, she is a very food driven creature!).

Shortly after this second time of off-leash exploring, we were at John’s parents house. The front door opened, Delilah began to run out, and we called her to come back. She immediately stopped, turned around and sprinted back to us! Now, anytime we go into the woods and let her off leash, she tends to stay within ear shot. Delilah and Nymeria never adventure too far, we can typically see or hear them (they each have a bear bell on their collars, as well as lights that can be turned on to a solid or flashing light), and the second we call for them they happily trot on back to us.

Enjoy Exploring the World with Your Pup!

Establishing a strong and trusting relationship with your dog is essential for an easier life on the road with your furry bestie. Nothing about living a nomadic life is 100% easy, but these tips and tricks should help make the transition from domesticated life to living in the wild simpler for you and your four-legged buddies to handle!

Jayme and John from Gnomad Home live out of their 1996 Chevy Express van they built into a tiny home with their two pups Nymeria (3) and Delilah (7). They now create free content for others wishing to pursue a lifestyle on the road whether it be full-time travel or part-time travel. They have been living nomadically since the Spring of 2017.

Remember, you are responsible for yourself and your dog(s). Neither Blaize Sun nor Jayme and John from Gnomad Home are responsible for you or your pup(s). Use common sense depending on the regulations and conditions of your location.

First two photos coutesy of the authors. Other imags courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-clouds-mountain-dog-65867/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-of-dog-248273/.

10 Things to Consider Before Adding a Dog to Your Van Life

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Last week I wrote about living my van life with dogs. Today I’ll share 10 things I think vandwellers should consider before bringing a dog into their van life or deciding to move into a van with a dog they already have.

animal, dalmatian, dog#1 Breed     Some breeds have a bad reputation because they are perceived as aggressive and are not welcome in certain campgrounds. Some breeds tend to develop specific physical ailments. Be prepared to deal with a breed’s special needs before you bring a dog of that breed into your life or decide to take it on the road.

#2 Size     Big dogs eat more, take up more space, and tend to need more exercise. It may also be more difficult to restrain a big dog or carry it if it’s sick or injured. Be sure your physical abilities match what you may be required to do for a big dog. Be sure you have the space for a big dog in your rig.

Small dogs are still dogs, not toys. Little dogs still need exercise, vet visits, and healthy food. Small dogs still need to socialize with other dogs, so be sure you have a plan for how your little dog will be able to play with other canines.

#3 Demeanor     Of course, individual dogs have different personalities. I’ve met sweet and mellow pit bulls and mean-as-hell miniature dashounds. If you’re considering adopting a dog, try to get a feel for its demeanor before you make a commitment. If I were getting a dog, I’d want an easy-going dog that wasn’t overly nervous, scared, aggressive, or headstrong and was smart enough to train without too much struggle. Chihuahua Lying on White Textile

If you’re thinking of adopting a stray, consider the phenomenon a woman I know with decades of dog rescue experience calls “better is badder.” This catchphrase just means that sometimes a dog that’s hungry and thirsty and perhaps has parasites or other health problems may seem calm and low-key, but it’s really just not feeling well. Once the dog is healthier (“better”), it’s not exactly that the dog is bad, but it may be more energetic and mischievous than it first seemed.

If you’re thinking about moving a dog you already have into van life, consider its personality. Is the dog too nervous or excited to live in a van? Does it have more energy than a van can contain? How does it feel about riding in a moving vehicle? Does it thrive under a strict routine? Truly consider what’s best for the dog before you uproot it into van life.

#4 Activity level     If you’re still working, how is a dog going to deal with being cooped up all day in your van? A highly active dog may be able to handle spending many consecutive hours in the van if you play with it strenuously before and after work, but a less active dog may be better suited to van life.

#5 Cost     Can you afford a dog? Some of the costs you will incur when you are responsible for a dog include food, treats, leash, harness, collar, poop bags, nametag, toys, food and water bowls, registration, vaccinations, heart worm tests and preventative, flea and tick preventative,  and emergency vet services.

Some of these items you may be able to get cheap (bowls and toys) or improvise (poop bags), but you shouldn’t skimp on nutritious food or health care.

#6 Vet visits     Road dogs still need to see the vet for routine health care, vaccinations, and medical emergencies. When and where will your traveling companion see the vet? Can you afford vet visits? Can you afford emergency vet care if your dog gets injured or sick? Can you take care of vet visits at your home base, or will you have to find vets on the road?adorable, animal, animal portrait

In her wonderful guest post on living on the road with a cat, Devan Winters of XsyntrikNomad makes suggestions about pet health care that applies to dogs too.

…on the road…you [can] use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores)…

Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.

Beware: I once had a heartworm test done on a dog in Kentucky and was assured that when the heartworm preventative ran out, we could get more at any veterinary clinic. Surprise! No vet in whatever state we were in at the time would prescribe the preventative without doing (and charging for) another test for heartworms. My advice to folks who travel vet to vet is to get a year’s supply of whatever preventative your dog needs whenever possible.

Also, be aware that veterinarians follow different laws in different states.

adorable, animal photography, canine#7 Spay and Neuter     If you’re getting a puppy, where will you get it spayed or neutered? Sometimes the adoption fee includes spaying or neutering the animal when the time comes, but will you be in the appropriate place at the appropriate time? Will you be able to afford to have your dog spayed or neutered? Will you be able to give your dog the post-op care it needs?

What if you decide not to get your dog spayed or neutered? Will you be able to deal with the inconvenience of your female dog being in heat in the small space of your rig? What will you do if your female dog gets pregnant? Are you willing to deal with the aggression of an intact male dog? In some states, it cost a lot more to register an intact animal. Are you willing and able to pay the added expense?

#8 Stealth     If your goal is to stealth park in cities, how will a dog affect your ability to live that way? A barking dog is not stealthy.  Even though a barking dog in a dark van doesn’t necessarily mean a person’s in there with the dog, it may draw attention you don’t want.

What are you going to do if nature calls your dog in the middle of the night? You probably won’t be able to train it to go in a bucket, and exiting your van with your dog in tow is not stealthy. Even if your dog doesn’t usually need to go out at the night, it could get sick and need to go at unusual times.

#9 Sickness     Who’s going to care for your dog if you’re sick or injured and unable to follow the dog’s routine? Is there someone in your life who’s willing to foster your dog until you’re back on your feet? How will you get your dog to the person willing to care for it?

#10 Grooming     Where will you wash the dog? What will you do if the dog gets too dirty to jump into the van animal, cute, dogand you’re not prepared to give it a bath? Perhaps you don’t want a breed that needs to be clipped, or if you do have a fur ball, you can save time and money by learning to clip it yourself. If the dog needs its nails trimmed, will it allow you to do it, or does it need to be sedated for the procedure?

Many pet store chains offer grooming services onsite, so start there if you’re on the road and your dog needs grooming you can’t handle.

I’m not trying to discourage vandwellers from having dog companions. I just want people to consider carefully what dog ownership entails BEFORE taking on responsibility for another living creature.

Blaize Sun has lived in two different vans with two different dogs, so she knows a thing or two about being responsible for another living creature. She is not currently living with a canine companion. Sometimes she sees a cute doggie and experiences a bought of puppy love, but then she thinks about never being able to spend a hot summer day in an air conditioned coffee shop, and she moves on.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-dog-fur-view-36436/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-short-coat-dog-36477/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adorable-animal-canine-chihuahua-191353/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adorable-animal-animal-portrait-animal-world-451854/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/playing-hidden-backyard-small-animal-69371/.

Road Dogs: Living Nomadically with a Canine Companion

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A topic I’ve seen come up repeatedly on Facebook pages dedicated to vandwelling is that of living on the road with pets. The folks with questions usually fall into two categories. The first group wants to know how they can help animals they already have adjust to life on the road. The second group wants to know if they should get a dog with whom they can travel and share road life.

I’ve traveled with dogs. About a year into full-time vandwelling with the man who was then my boyfriend (let’s call him WHN, short for “What’s His Name), we got a puppy. The Man had six-year-old Jerico when I met him; the three of us traveled together in my van for most of 2017. I think these experiences with dogs on the road qualify me to tell you what you may be able to expect if you decide to bring a dog into your life and rig.

I don’t feel qualified to give advice on how to acclimate a house pet to road life. WHN and I actually got our puppy from traveling kids, so the puppy had been on the road almost his whole life. At six, Jerico was a seasoned road dog when I met him. He’d hitchhiked with The Man and done urban-stealth tent camping with The Man, and lived and traveled with The Man in a small sports car. When the time came, Jerico jumped right into my van and didn’t have to adjust to anything.

What I can tell you is how my life changed when dogs moved into my van.

Before dogs, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. If I wanted to sit in a coffee shop for eight or more hours a day, I could. If WHN and I wanted to go to a music festival, we didn’t have to give it a second thought. WHN and I could go to a movie or the grocery store together in the middle of the day if we wanted. Like a couple with no children, we didn’t have to worry about anyone but ourselves.

Then we got the puppy.

Close-up of Black DogWe got the puppy in winter. We were in the Southwest United States, so the winter wasn’t brutal, and we could leave little Bruno in the van while we did other things. He never had an accident and only chewed a couple of things, so we didn’t worry about leaving him in the van until the seasons changed and spring moved into summer. Of course, life got hotter for us all, and leaving Bruno in the van became dangerous.

According to PeTA,

On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to 100 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 109 degrees in less than 10 minutes.

Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. Beating the heat is extra tough for dogs because they can only cool themselves by panting.

I’ve seen several different wannabe or soon-to-be vandwellers ask in Facebook groups how to make a van safe for a dog to stay in it during the daytime in the summer while the person is off doing other things, usually working. I’ve never seen a fully satisfactory answer. There is always a faction up in arms over the idea of a dog being left in a van during the summer who tells the writer of the post how dangerous it is to leave a dog in a vehicle in hot weather.  (The writer of the post knows it’s dangerous to leave a dog in a van in the summer, that’s why s/he is asking how to do it safely.) Another faction gives advice like leave the windows rolled down or install a ceiling vent, but I’ve never seen anyone lay out a step-by-step plan for making a van summer-safe for a dog staying in there alone for several hours at a time.

Last summer The Man and I worked at a campground store in a remote mountain location. We usually went to civilization once a week, sometimes only every two weeks. We had one vehicle (my high-top conversion van) between us so 95% of the time, we went to town together. The Man was sleeping in a tent, and he knew if left to his own devices for six or seven or eight while we were in town, Jerico—a Houdini of a dog—would have escaped from the tent, possibly through a hole of his own creation or via a zipper he busted with his snout. We had no choice but to take Jerico with us.

It was warm on the mountain, but it was scorching down in the valley. As the summer progressed, the temperature soared. Early in the season, we’d leave Jerico in the van with all the windows open and a bowl of water. Jerico takes his job as a guard dog seriously, so we never worried about anyone getting into the van through the open windows to steal anything while he was inside.

By mid-July, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone in the van, even when he crawled under the bed for the coolest, shadiest spot he could find. The Man and I started taking turns going into stores so someone could always keep an eye on Jerico. When it was my turn to stay in the van, I’d usually sit in the driver’s seat holding the door open with my foot and wishing I could crawl into a cool and shady spot.

The following are things you’ll probably never be able to do in the summer if you’re a van or car dweller with a dog: Relax in a cool movie theater during the hottest part of the day. Splash in a public pool or water park. Enjoy the air conditioning in a museum or mall. Sit in a coffee shop sipping iced lattes until the heat lets up after dark.

The other thing you may not be able to do in the summer with a dog in your rig is work. Most employers aren’t going to let you run out to your van every hour or two to make sure your dog has water and hasn’t disabled any cooling system you’ve rigged up.

Often camp host is give as an example of a good job for nomads with dogs. Being a camp host can be a good choice for people with dogs, depending on where the job is located and what the duties are.

The company The Man and I worked for last summer does allow hosts and other workers living on site to have dogs. My boss told me once that because the company is based in California, he is not allowed to ask potential employees if they plan to have a dog with them. However, if a camp host has a dog, the dog still has to be somewhere while the host is working. If it were too hot for a dog to sit in the van, a quiet, nonaggressive one could be tied up outside a restroom while its person was inside cleaning toilets, but if Bruno or Jerico had found himself in such a situation, the barking would have been incessant and woe unto anyone who approached the restrooms while one of these guys considered himself on duty.

If you’re looking for a doggy companion to share your vandwelling life and you think you might want to work as a camp host, consider what traits you want and don’t want the dog to have. If I found myself in such a situation, I’d choose a dog that didn’t bark much and certainly one without the propensity to bite. I’d want an obedient dog that could wait calmly while I completed my tasks. backlit, beach, clouds

The Man was not a camp host last summer. He and I were both clerks in a campground store. We worked the same hours on the same days, so Jerico spent his days in the van. Luckily, we could park the van outside the store where we could see it from the front door, and we had the freedom to check on him throughout the day when we didn’t have customers.

For the first month of the 2018 camping season, The Man worked as a camp host and collected access fees at the parking lot of a very busy trailhead. Jerico mostly stayed in The Man’s minivan while The Man performed his work duties. Most days were not yet hot then, so Jerico was comfortable (although bored) in the minivan with a bowl of water and the windows open.

Boredom is an important factor to consider. Even if you work in a mild climate or you can rig a cooling system in your van so your dog is safe while you’re at work, the dog is still going to be bored. If your dog mostly sleeps all day anyway, it will probably be ok in your van, but if the dog has a lot of energy and likes to run and play all day, what’s going to happen when you stick it in the van during your eight hour shift? Decrease the chances of your dog destroying your precious possessions by picking up any items you don’t want your dog to chew and give it appropriate chew toys to keep it occupied while you are gone. If you have a very energetic dog, make time to take it for a long, vigorous walk or fetch session after work and again in the morning before work in hopes of wearing the dog out so it will sleep while you’re away.

Some folks think if they order a service dog certificate and vest off the internet, they’ll then be able to take their dog wherever they go. I think more and more businesses are catching onto people pulling this trick, and I’ve seen signs (literal paper signs on the doors of businesses) prohibiting people from bringing in dogs that are not trained to perform specific tasks. I think it’s going to get more difficult to pass off a pet as a service animal.

If you want to be a nomad primarily to see the natural beauty of the U.S.A., consider that many National Parks prohibit pets on their trails. When The Man and I visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, we had to pay $10 to leave Jerico in an onsite kennel, which was little more than a bunch of wire cages in a storage room. Pets are allowed at the Grand Canyon only the South Rim. If you’re traveling with a dog, you might find yourself relegated to national forests and BLM land.

If you’re more into the music scene, please note that dogs are not allowed at many festivals. (Chochella doesn’t allow non-service animals in the campground. Boneroo also bans pets. Oregon County Fair does not allow pets on site.) After WHN and I got Bruno, we scrutinized the website of any music festival we wanted to attend before we bought tickets. If we didn’t see an announcement specifically stating dogs were welcome, I called and confirmed canine acceptance before we confirmed our tickets. It wasn’t just a matter of I don’t go anywhere my dog isn’t welcome; we didn’t have anywhere to leave him, so if Bruno couldn’t go, neither could we.

Bruno could be a pain in the neck even in places where he was welcome. He was super sweet when he was alone with WHN and me, but in public he barked incessantly at everyone we encountered. He never bit anyone, but we lived in fear of a kid approaching him while we were distracted and getting nipped. I didn’t know how to train him and WHN wasn’t interested in doing any kind of work, so it became easier to just leave Bruno in the van if we were somewhere cool enough. If it wasn’t cool enough to leave hem, one of us stayed with him. Of course, isolating him didn’t solve any of his socialization problems. Dog Looking Away

Every so often, The Man tells me I should get a dog. You’d love it and Jerico needs someone to play with, he says. I keep telling him no. As long as I spend even half a year living in my van, I can’t see trying to fit my life around a dog’s needs. I’d have to give up too much of myself, and the dog would probably suffer too.

Of course, I’m not telling folks not to get a dog or move their dog into a van. I’m just suggesting people think long and hard about how they will meet the dog’s needs, especially the need for a cool place to hang out in the summer. If your life is not complete without your dog and van life isn’t right for your dog, van life may not be right for you.

Blaize Sun has lived in two different vans with two different dogs, so she knows a thing or two about being responsible for another living creature. She is not currently living with a canine companion. Sometimes she sees a cute doggie and experiences a bought of puppy love, but then she thinks about never being able to spend a hot summer day in an air conditioned coffee shop, and she moves on.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-three-dogs-looking-up-850602/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-short-coated-tri-color-dog-879788/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-black-dog-257519/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-short-coated-dog-drinking-water-160740/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-canine-cloudy-container-218825/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/backlit-beach-clouds-dawn-531089/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/tricolor-bernese-mountain-dog-132665/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/dog-looking-away-257570/.

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.

5 Best Breeds for Van’s Life (Guest Post)

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Last week Devan from the XsyntrikNomad blog shared everything she knows about sharing a van with a cat. This week Rebecca from Pawsome Kitty lets us in on the five best feline breeds for van life.

Van life is quite cool and thrilling, but it is not made for everyone and obviously not made for all breeds of cats. Many cat breeds are generally domesticated and prefer to stay indoors, but there are some of them that would be great company on your wild adventures. Make sure to find the perfect breed that can fit your unique and fun mobile lifestyle.

We’ve listed the 5 best cat breeds for sharing your van life. Check out the rundown below.

Chausie

# 1 Chausie The size of the Chausie often gives an impression that they are big, great, and wild. However, the truth is they are a very tame breed of cats that can enjoy playing outside and can be the perfect company for your next trip. This breed has a bony structure with strong muscles, broad chests, and long legs.

They are great hunters and are very active cats. They can easily cope up with your hunting activities and will accompany you on your adventures. The Chausie is a sweet cat, but they don’t like cuddling.

American Shorthair

#2 American Shorthair The American Shorthair is known to be a stocky, muscular, and well-built breed of cats. They can easily adapt to their environment which means they can be perfect for both indoor and outdoor activities. They are natural hunters and won’t need much maintenance, which makes it easier for you to provide for their needs while you are on the road. If they get nervous, you can always get a cat carrier for them.

Maine Coon

#3 Maine Coon The Maine Coon is known to be one of the largest breeds of domesticated cats. They have a solid, rectangular, and muscular structure. Despite having longer hair than most cats, they have a soft temperament and are known to be intelligent. You’ll love that they can easily withstand harsh weather and can accompany you on all kinds of adventures.

Birman

# 4 Birman Cats The Birman cats, on the other hand, have silky and semi-long hair and small ears that make them easier to recognize. Their size varies from medium to large, and they are a very curious breed. This breed is also very intelligent and can easily follow instructions while you are on the road. They have cool tempers that make it easier for you to bring them along with you on your trips and adventures.

Abyssinian

#5 Abyssinian Last is the Abyssinian. This breed of cats is known to be spirited, loyal, and inquisitive. They are medium-sized cats that have a muscular body. They are not really the indoor type of cats and love to stay outdoors and explore nature. They love playing and investigating the world around them. They are tough hunters and easier to train than other cats.

Van life is amazing, and many people are getting interested in living nomadically. Many will ride through the mountains, go hunting, or simply enjoy life on a beautiful terrain, while sharing these special moments with their feline fur babies.

Rebecca from Pawsome Kitty describes herself this way: Yes, I am that weird cat lady with 200 cats and live in the darkest corner of the city where no one dares to go! Joking! But I am a cat lover and have two tabby cats called Toby, he’s 8 years old and Dory, she’s 3 years old.

Photos provided by author.

 

Traveling Van Cat? ( A Guest Post about Cats and Van Life)

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Basil, the author’s feline companion-in-van life. Photo provided by the author.

Have a cat and want to travel? No problem! With time and patience, most adult cats (and almost any kitten) will adjust to vanlife.

It will be harder to travel with a cat than it is to travel alone, and you will need to make accommodations for the cat’s needs and safety. There will be annoyances, inconveniences, and it will almost always require patience and a good sense of humor.  🙂  If you’re like me, it’s worth every challenge when you love your furbaby.

Know Thy Feline

Hi! My name is Devan Winters from the XsyntrikNomad blog. I am a vandweller and I have two cats. Freddie is a gregarious, hyper, and curious escape artist. He is 7 years old and kind of a doofus. (I say that with love). Basil is 8 years old and a bit of a scaredy-cat. He hisses at people who get near the van (even though they can’t see him through the tint).

Traveling with Freddie was great the first two days. He seemed relaxed and curious. On day three, an internal switch flipped, and he began to freak out. He suddenly wouldn’t leave me alone when I was driving. It was not safe.

After confining Freddie while I was behind the wheel, I quickly learned he was capable of howling for hours…nonstop. After a little more than a week, I knew he was going to struggle to adapt. Nothing I tried would calm him or keep him from desperately trying to get out of the van.  Lucky for me, my adult child is the proud parent of Freddie’s sister and was generous enough to take him in. Otherwise, he would be a very unhappy van cat.

Basil, on the other hand, freaked for the first three days, then settled in. He’s become a really awesome van cat.

After living and traveling with Basil in my van for a while, I’ve learned a few things. I hope they’ll help anyone else considering a feline companion in their van life travels.

LitterBox

Location:  I’ve found the best location is by a door-it allows easy access for cleaning. Basil’s litter box is in the front passenger floorboard. If I ever have a regular human passenger though, the box will move to a location near the side or rear doors.

Tip:  Placing the litter box as far away from where your head rests when you sleep at night is more convenient than you might think, especially if your feline is on a regular late night or early morning pooping schedule.  🙂

The Box:  Through the years I have preferred to use a plastic storage container, about the same length and width of a litterbox. You can grab a cheap one at Big Lots or WalMart. This is a particularly handy option when trying to find a size that fits in the space you have.

If you’re putting the box in the back (or think you ever will) hold on to the lid. You can create an awesome enclosed box by cutting a large opening on one end of the lid. In my experience, this eliminates kicked litter (when your cat covers his business) while minimizing tracking a bit too.

TIP:  If you do this instead of spending more money on a ‘normal’ litterbox, it’s important to make sure your container is big enough for your cat to turn around in comfortably. Pay extra attention to the height of the box if you plan to use the lid. Measure your cat’s height from the top of his head to the floor. Then add an inch or two to that measurement to determine the best height for the container you purchase. 

Litter and Tracking:  I currently use clumping clay litter, but a pellet is a good option to lessen tracking. (Basil was not a fan, unfortunately.) If you’re not using a pellet type litter, you can assume you’re going to have litter tracking issues. I have a mat by the litterbox that catches some of the litter, but I keep a hand broom right under the seat to sweep what’s tracked. Depending on your cat, you’ll find yourself doing this at least once a day.

Bonus:  If you use a 5-gallon bucket for your business, you and your feline friend can share the litter. I’ve switched to Arm & Hammer Double Duty Litter recently. The brand comes in many varieties, but this variety, in this brand, seems to clump better than my previous brand. I store it in a plastic container with a lid under my bed.   

Hairballs

Hairballs and puke happen. There is nothing worse than waking up to a puke covered blanket. Unless you wake up and step in warm puke. *gag* I have experienced the joy of both, and worse. I have nearly eliminated hairballs using SynergyLabs Richard’s Organics Flavored Hairball Remedy. It works great for Basil.

Food is a major factor in feline digestion. If your cat is throwing up more than a couple times a week, and you’re sure it isn’t a health issue, try experimenting with food. It can be costly, but I have found the premium brands are worth it for Basil. He actually eats less and his poop doesn’t smell quite as bad. I tried a few foods but found Natural Balance ( which can be purchased at most pet food stores) works for us. There are plenty of good quality brands you can buy between the cheap and expensive too.

TIP:  I keep two heavy flat twin sheets (purchased cheaply at Goodwill) in the van at all times . I can’t always wash my primary blanket right away if there is a puke situation. So whether I’m sleeping or out for the day, one of those sheets is always covering and protecting my primary blanket. (In the summer months, I use the sheet alone)  

Food and Water

This should be easy, but it wasn’t for me. Basil likes to tip his water. He’s done it for years. Depending on where you put the food and water bowls, a spill can cause quite a mess. I spoke to a vet and these are some things I learned:

Water Bowl Tipping:  In rare cases, some cats will be sensitive to taste and may not like the water you’re giving them. Try spring or filtered water instead.

The biggest cause of water tipping is this though:  If your cat puts his head in a water bowl and his whiskers touch the sides, he will often tip the bowl in an attempt to drink without scraping his sensitive whiskers.

Ethical Pet Products (Spot) DSO6932 Stoneware 4-Square Dog Dish, 5-Inch, Blue
TIP:  Buy a wide stone bowl like the one pictured.The 4-inch square shape is hard to tip, gives your cat a wide opening corner to corner, and the stone keeps the water cool.

Placement of Food and Water:  Put it where your cat can reach it easily, but not where you might step on it in the dark or when you’re in a rush. My vet also recommends keeping food and water away from the littler box.  (Who wants to eat where they go to the bathroom, right?)

TIP:  Cats actually don’t like their food and water together. By placing the bowls in separate locations, it fosters your cat’s natural foraging/hunting behavior. When you’re in a small space like a van, little things help keep your cat happy and content.

Food Storage:  As I will also be mentioning in the section on behaviors, most cats like to chew through bags. It would save space to keep a bag of cat food crammed in a corner somewhere, but I highly recommend a plastic container with a well-sealed lid (for freshness too). Trust me, it will save you a lot of frustration. Even if your cat doesn’t have this behavior now, the small space and potential feline boredom could create a bag-chewing monster.

Temperature Control

Location:  This is my first consideration, always. During summer months I stay in places like Flagstaff, AZ or San Diego, CA. My summer plans require quite a lot of research on weather in the desired area. I would do this anyway since I don’t like heat either, but it becomes way more important with a cat in tow. I look for places with low humidity and temps that stay below 90 degrees.

TIP:  Elevations of 7,000 feet or higher, the Northern CA coast, and the Pacific Northwest are also (usually) temperate options. US Climate Data and Accuweather are my go-to for historical weather data. 

Regulating the Temperature without Solar:  I have a passenger van so I have windows all around. I love my windows but the first thing I did was limo tint them. On most summer days in the mid to low 80’s (or below), if I open the back and side windows for a nice breeze, and put a sun shield on the front window, the van stays comfortable inside.

On hotter days, I put two sun shields in the front window and hang Reflectix from the top of the windows all the way around the van. I do not fasten it at the bottom so air can still flow. It keeps the van pretty comfortable. In fact, at floor level (specifically under the bed in the cubby hole Basil likes to hide in), it is noticeably cooler.  (Yes. I got on the floor and crawled under to see/feel)

Tip:  Spend several days in your van with your cat in different weather conditions and temperatures. Leave the windows and shades as you would if you weren’t there for the day.  Get a feel for what your cat is going to experience and watch them for signs of heat-related stress.   

Regulating the Temperature with Solar:  I have not installed solar or a roof vent yet so I can only speak from the experiences shared with me by others. According to those who have it, a working roof vent is great at regulating the temperature inside your van. If you can install two, one in the back and one in front, one drawing air out and one pulling air in, even better.

YI Dome Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom Wireless IP Indoor Security Surveillance System 720p HD Night Vision, Motion Tracker, Auto-Cruise, Remote Monitor with iOS
Monitoring:  I installed a camera and the ThermoPro TP-50 Digital Temperature and Humidity Meter. Using wifi, the camera is accessible through an app installed on my phone. I can maneuver the camera in the van remotely, using the app, and keep an eye on the temperature (and Basil) inside the van. This is a new set-up and I LOVE it. I got the idea from this YouTube video if you want to check it out.

Behavior Issues & A Small Space

If your cat has issues in your current home, you might feel like they’re amplified in a van. In fact, you may discover issues you didn’t know your cat had. Practice patience with them while they adjust to their new normal.

Basil discovered he likes to chew bags. Doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, if it makes a cool crinkly sound, he’ll bite and chew on the corners. From wet wipes to potato chips, he is not particular. I accidentally discovered he will not do this to a baggie. So, as much as the tree hugger in me hates using them, I put everything I can in baggies of all sizes (and I re-use the heck out of them). Anything too big for a baggie goes in a Rubbermaid I use exclusively for this purpose.

Living in such a small space, I also find myself as a bouncing off (or on) point. To prevent lots of scratches, it’s more important than ever to keep those front claws trimmed. Otherwise, scratches happen a lot.

CLASSY KITTY Door Scratcher Hanging Carpet Post with Sisal (Colors may Vary)
It’s also a great idea to find a spot for a small scratching post or scratching board. Otherwise, your seats may fall prey to their natural desire to stretch those paws and dig in with those nails!

TIP:  I strongly recommend using a sisal rope scratcher. Your cat will enjoy the cardboard style scratchers, but they will make one heck of a mess in your van!

Modifying Behaviour:  If you’ve never had issues with your cat before or are new to feline parenthood, yelling at or smacking a cat is completely ineffective behavior control. You probably already know that, but it’s worth mentioning. Cats definitely require a unique approach to discipline.  Because, you know, cats.

TIP:  A Google search is a great place to get advice but make sure you’re taking advice from a reputable source such as a vet website, the ASPCA, an animal products website (like chewy.com), etc.  

Playtime

Don’t forget your cat still needs playtime to expend energy. This is necessary for both physical and mental health. In fact, in such a small confined space, they need it more than ever. Take time every day, multiple times a day if you can, to play with your cat. Throw a ball if they fetch, wiggle a string for them to stalk, roughhouse (if your cat enjoys it), treat them with catnip toys, etc.

Cat Fur and Dander

If you’ve lived with a cat in a regular house or apartment, you already know fur gets everywhere. It’s worse in a van. Keep sheets and blankets washed regularly and shake them out between washes when you can. Basil likes to lounge in the driver seat so hair tends to collect there. A good lint removal brush or roller is essential.

FRESHLAND Lint Roller, 90 Sheets, 5 Count, 450 Sheets Total and 100% Natural Air Purifying Bamboo Charcoal Bag (200G) for Lint Removal, Pet Hair Pickup, and for Keeping Air Clean & Fresh
TIP:  I recommend the Freshland Lint Roller. It’s economical, comes with a charcoal air purifier/deodorizer, and works great. I keep mine within reach from the driver seat.  When I get out of the van to go in somewhere, I can quickly spiff myself up.  

Cat Leash Training

I keep threatening to leash train Basil, but I haven’t really tried yet. I understand it takes time and a lot of patience, but there are awesome rewards. It is best to start training them as young as possible, but most adult cats are trainable. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature, your cat will love the opportunity to explore outside with you-safely!

Tip:  Microchip! You can get microchipping done for around $45 and it’s worth every penny. Even if your cat is leash trained or not prone to escape, there are still risks, such as an accident. If a window breaks out and there is a lot of commotion, your cat just might bolt at the first opportunity. Mine would. 

Confinement When Mobile

For safety reasons, most people strongly suggest confining your cat to a carrier when you’re mobile. In an accident, your cat is secure, safe, and less likely to get hurt or run off. You’re also less prone to distraction or to have your driving affected by your cat.

In reality, most of us do not participate in this practice. For me, there is no place to fit a carrier when not in use. Even if I found an easily storable/collapsible carrier, Basil has hiding spots I can’t get to, and he doesn’t come when called. Getting him in the carrier before I go anywhere would be a challenge in itself. That said, I still consider it a best practice if you can do it.

Health Care

Finding affordable medical care for your cat while on the road is a huge challenge. It’s best to do any preventative care before you leave. Once you’re on the road, if you decide to use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores), you won’t have to keep records of everything with you. (You should always carry rabies vaccination paperwork.)

Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.

Tip:  If you travel like me, often staying in one place for a couple months at a time, take time to research local vet options. Look at Yelp and Google reviews, call to inquire about general visit prices, etc. I always start my search with AAHA Accredited Vets. The standards and guidelines they have to meet for accreditation practically guarantee you’ll get a good vet.

Something I Forgot?

I’ve tried to think of everything I wanted to know when I started, while also including answers to questions I am often asked.  If I haven’t answered something you’d like to know about, or if you want more detail on anything, please reach out to me at xsyntriknomad.com.  I will be happy to help you find the answers you need.

**Please keep in mind these are my experiences and my opinions. I’m not always right, but I took extra care to make sure any information linked is true and accurate. I will always make an extra effort to steer you in the right direction when it comes to your animal companion.

Photos (other than the one of Basil) are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those photos, you’ll be magically taken to Amazon.com. Anything you put in your cart and purchase after clicking one of those links will earn the Rubber Tramp Artist a small advertising fee at not cost to you.

How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions

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If you live nomadically, you have more freedom to visit tourist attractions across the U.S.A. From Arcadia National Park on the coast of Maine to Disneyland in Southern California, nomads can spend their days basking in natural beauty and having fun in amusement parks and at roadside attractions. Since fun often comes at a price, and nomads aren’t the only people on a tight budget, today I offer tips on saving money while visiting tourist attractions. The tips are aimed at nomads, but will be helpful for anyone trying to save money while on vacation.

#1 Visit in the off-season, Peak tourist season is usually Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend  when lots of kids are out of school, but some places (I’m looking at you, Southern Arizona!) have the opposite peak season because of the ultra-hot summers and the mild winters. Some places (like Taos, NM) have two peak seasons—one during family vacation season in the summer and another during ski season in the winter. Do some research on the places you want to visit to find out when they’re less likely to be busy.

Not only are attractions less busy in the off-season, you may find nearby accommodations and activities deeply discounted.  Some amusement and theme parks offer better deals on admission during slow times.

#2 Sleep cheap. Find free or super cheap camping near the places you want to visit. You can save a bundle by camping instead of staying in a hotel or motel. I’ve found free camping close to several national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns) using the Free Campsites  and Campendium websites. On occasions when I couldn’t find a free campsite, I’ve found campgrounds listed on those sites (like the Super Bowl campground right outside the Needles District of Canyonlands) with a nightly fee under $10.

If you want to splurge on a night out of your rig, but don’t want to spend a wad of cash, look into staying at a hostel. Available in both mega cities (several in  NYC, three in San Francisco, and the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center in Phoenix, just to name a few) and in smaller towns near ski areas (the Lazy Lizard in Moab, UT; the SnowMansion northeast of Taos, NM; the Santa Fe International Hostel in Santa Fe, NM) hostels offer budget rates on a place to get a shower and a bed for the night. Cheapest accommodations are usually in dorms, but some hostels offer private rooms with private baths and cabins.

#3 Keep your food cost down. Bring your own snacks and drinks into the attraction if you can. Most national parks and monuments allow visitors to bring in food and beverages, so stock up before you arrive and don’t pay gift shop prices for granola bars and trail mix. Many amusement and theme parks do allow visitors to bring in a limited number of bottles of water, small snacks, and medically necessary food.

If possible, cook for yourself instead of eating out. If you’re boondocking or staying in a campground, cooking for yourself will probably be part of your normal rubber tramp routine. If you’re sleeping in a hostel, use of a community kitchen is often included in the nightly fee. If you do stay in a hotel or motel and the room includes a microwave, take advantage of it to make a simple meal. Also take advantage of any free breakfast the hotel/motel offers, as well as any free coffee or tea available to start your day.

Remember: food will usually cost less in supermarkets than in convenience stores or small grocery stores, so stock up on food before you hit the road or you might end up spending a lot of money on food in a remote location.

#4 Buy all your gear before you head to a tourist attraction. Similarly, supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small town prices for sunscreen, insect repellent, propane, fire starter, and batteries by planning ahead. Save money by getting supplies before you leave civilization.

You may also 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. Top off your tank before you leave civilization.

#5 If you’re going to visit several attractions in one area, look for a bundle pass that offers access to multiple places for a one-time price.

When my host family visited Utah in the summer of 2017, they planned to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Admission to each park costs $15 to $30 per vehicle, but the Southeast Utah Parks Pass was only $55 and allowed unlimited access to the three attractions the family wanted to visit, plus Hovenweep National Monument. Because the pass was valid for 12 months, The Lady of the House used it again in April 2018 to get us into those places during our epic Arizona-Utah road trip.

#6 If the price of admission allows you to enter the attraction for multiple days, take advantage of this option. Most national parks are expensive to visit, usually $25 to $35 per vehicle (and probably more in some places), but most national parks I’ve visited have allowed visitors to enter for five days to a week after paying the admission fee. Spending $35 to visit an attraction seven days in a row is a much better deal than spending $35 to stay in the place for just a few hours. Especially if you have a free or cheap camping spot nearby, slow down and get your money’s worth by exploring a place for as many days as your admission fee allows.

#7 Find out if the place you want to visit offers birthday discounts or freebies. Out of Africa wildlife park in Camp Verde, AZ charges between $18.95 (for kids 3-12) and $33.95 (for adults, with discounts for seniors and active duty members of the military and veterans) for admission, but offers folks free visits any day during their birth month. While such birthday gifts may not be typical, it’s worth checking into at privately owned attractions.

#8 If you’re eligible for a federal senior pass or access pass, get it! The access pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are legally blind or permanently disabled. The senior pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents 62 years or age or older. The senior pass now costs $80, but that’s a one-time fee, and the pass is valid for the pass holder’s lifetime.

Both of these passes admit the pass holder and passengers (in a private, noncommercial vehicle) to national parks and other federally managed lands. These passes also provide 50% off camping fees in many campgrounds on public land. Even at $80, the senior pass could pay for itself after only a couple of visits to national parks or a few nights in a campground.

#9 Participate in activities included in the price of admission. When my friend and I visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona, we found ranger-led van tours were included in the cost of admission. We rode in a passenger van driven by a ranger while another ranger told us about the desert scenes we saw through the windows. On another day we returned to the monument and went on a hike led by a ranger. The ranger drove a group of us to the trailhead and we hiked together while the expert shared information about the plants and animals we saw.

The visitor centers at most national parks and monuments—and at some state parks too—have educational exhibits and movies. These exhibits and movies are offered at no extra charge and allow visitors to learn about the area at their own pace.

The visitor center should also have information about upcoming ranger talks or ranger-led activities. The last time I was at Sequoia National Park, I attended a free ranger talk about woodpeckers. It lasted about half an hour and was fun and informative.

#10 If you must have souvenirs, buy small, less expensive items. At only 51 cents each, pressed pennies come for a price that’s hard to beat. At the Utah national parks and monument gift shops I visited, quarter-sized tokens depicting famous landmarks were going for 99 cents each. I also found strips of six postcards at the same gift shops for $1.99 and individual postcards for about the same cost per card at a supermarket in Moab. Not only were these items the least expensive souvenirs, they take up very little of the limited space in my van.

If you’re attracted to larger (and usually overpriced) souvenirs like sweatshirts, water bottles, and coffee table books, ask yourself these questions before you buy: Do I need it? Where am I going to put it? Will I really use it? Can I really afford it? What will I have to give up in order to bring this into my life?

#11 If you’re visiting with kids, set spending limits before you walk into a gift shop or step up to the snack shack.  Offer options within the set price range, such as You can spend $5 on lunch, which means you can have a slice of pizza or a hot dog and fries. or You can spend $10 on a souvenir. Do you want the flashlight or the Smokey Bear compass?

If you and the kids are visiting national parks, collect all the Junior Rangers freebies available and do your best to convince the children the free stuff is better than anything for sale in the gift shop.

Being on a budget does not have to stop you from having fun. By planning ahead and using skills you already have as a rubber tramp (such as knowing how to find free camping and cooking for yourself) you can have fun and see gorgeous places without breaking the bank.

Blaize Sun has been a rubber tramp for almost a decade, but has been a tightwad for a lot longer than that. Blaize comes from a long line of tightwads, including a grandma who could squeeze a nickel so tight the buffalo would groan. Blaize knows how to have a good time on the cheap and firmly believes if she can do it, you can too!

I took all the photos in this post.

Security

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anatomy, biology, eyeNow that the store is up and full of merchandise, The Big Boss Man wants someone on site in the campground where it’s located every night. When the camp hosts are away from the campground during their weekly time off, guard duty falls to me.

To be fair, The Big Boss Man says, if you don’t mind to me whenever he asks me to do something extra, but it seems risky to me to refuse his reasonable request. Honestly, sleeping at the other campground is no big deal. The beauty of sleeping in my van is that I get to spend the night in my own bed no matter where I’m parked. Also, I’m reimbursed for the mileage I accrue driving back and forth between the campground where I live and the campground where the store is located. At 54 cents a mile, I’m not getting rich from driving, but at least it’s a little something to help me out.

I’m not sure what I would do if I woke up in the night and realized someone was robbing the store. The phone is in the store, so if burglars were in there, forget about calling 911 or my boss. I suppose I could get license plate number(s) and description(s) of vehicle(s) and person(s) involved, then climb into my drivers seat, start my van, and drive away to alert my boss. I suppose on my way out of the campground I could shout, That’s my purse! I don’t know you!

Before the campground opened, and I stayed there overnight to guard the store and the yurts, I parked in one of the paved accessible parking spaces. The gates were closed, and I had the only vehicle there, so I figured it didn’t matter if I parked in a reserved spot. Once the campground opened, I decided I better stay out of areas designated for folks with disabilities.

The first night I was on security duty after the campground opened, I drove through the area before parking in thehttps://i1.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/699558/pexels-photo-699558.jpeg?resize=388%2C238&ssl=1 camp host site. I knew the hosts had checked in two groups with reservations earlier that afternoon, but I saw at least five sites were occupied. The campground had gotten some walk-in campers before I arrived.

I was not on camp host duty, so I wasn’t concerned with any campers who were not checked in. The Man would patrol the campground the next morning and write permits for anyone who hadn’t been issued one by the camp hosts before they left. I hadn’t been given any permits (since I wasn’t working as a camp host), so I couldn’t have check in anyone even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.

After driving around the campground, I backed into the host site. I had a decent view of the store there, so I could see what was going on if I heard any noises in the night.

I knew I should have drawn my curtains immediately, but instead I sat in my passenger seat, pulled out my phone, and tried to catch a whiff of the store’s WiFi. I hadn’t sat there even ten minutes when I looked up and saw five people standing near my van, looking intently at me.

The youngest woman said, Hello! as soon as I looked up.

I greeted her, but I suspect I looked grim.

They would like to camp here, the young woman said, gesturing to the other people standing nearby.

Ok, I said, leaning back to speak through the open windows on the side of the van. A camp host will be around tomorrow to check them in.

Tomorrow, she echoed. Is there one site that’s not reserved?

I don’t know, I said, which was the truth.

I don’t have any paperwork, I said, which was the truth. The Man had the arrival report for the campground. I knew the camp hosts had put up a reservations card on each campsite that had been reserved for the next week. All the people had to do was walk around and read the signs to find out what sites were available that night.

The young woman continued to look at me expectantly. I’m just working security, I explained with a there’s-nothing-I-can-do shrug.

The people wandered away from my van and huddled together in the roadway, presumably discussing which campsites were available that night.

I learned my lesson that night. I no longer spend my security guard nights in the host site. I park behind the Mercantile and put up my curtains immediately. When I’m away from the host site, the campers don’t seem to consider me someone who might be able to answer their questions.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/eye-iris-anatomy-biology-8588/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.