Tag Archives: nomad

The AdVANtages of Living and Traveling in a Van

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I wrote this post before The Man and I ended up with a travel trailer and a truck to tow it. If I were single, I’d still be in a van.

I’m a van gal. I bought my first van (with the not-very-nice fellow who is now my ex) almost a decade ago. We upgraded to a newer, better van several months later. We spent two whirlwind years traveling across the country visiting cities, public lands, and music festivals. When I finally left that guy behind, I was homeless for a few months until, with the help of friends, I was able to buy a Chevy G20 of my own and return to van life.

During my time as a vandweller, people have suggested I “upgrade,” especially after The Man and I got together. Yes, we would have more room in a school bus, a travel trailer we could pull behind a vehicle, or a small motorhome. However, what we’d have to sacrifice in exchange for a bit more room isn’t worth it to me. Today I’ll share what I see as the advantages of living and traveling in a van.

Winding mountain road
I was able to navigate this mountain road with my Chevy G20 van.

#1 I can navigate most any paved road (and lots of dirt roads too).  During the second year I worked in the mountains of California, the camp hosts down the road lived in a converted school bus. Halfway through the work season, a wildfire was near, and two of the three roads off the mountain were closed. The bus couple worried about how they would get their rig off the mountain if we were required to evacuate. The one open road was narrow and curvy, and they weren’t sure the bus would make it around the tight turns. I had no such concerns. I’d driven my van up and down all three of those mountain roads and knew it could make it down (and back up again when it was safe to do so) with no problems.

I’ve driven conversion vans from California to North Carolina, Kansas to Minnesota, Maine to Georgia (with lots of crisscrossing the middle of the Unite States), and I’ve never been on a paved road I thought I might not be able to navigate.  Sure there are dirt roads that have caused me concern. I’ve been on  dirt roads I had no business taking my van on, and I’ve been prepared to turn around if necessary. Anybody traveling in a rig without four wheel drive is going to run into the same trouble on some dirt roads, but my van can get around in places where bigger rigs can’t.

#2 My van is (comparatively) easy to park. Granted, I’m not great at parallel parking (confession: I can’t really parallel park at all), but most bigger rigs wouldn’t even fit in a parallel parking spot. My van only takes up one space in any parking lot or residential street. Unless I’m in a busy downtown area where I need to squeeze into the only parallel parking space on the street, I don’t have a difficult time finding a place to leave my van.

Sometimes parking garages do pose a problem for my rig. More than once I’ve been at the entrance of a parking garage before I realized my van was too tall. While that’s a drawback to having a high top, I know anywhere I don’t fit can’t accommodate a school bus, motor home, or even a tall truck camper. My van can (and has) fit into some parking garages, but rigs taller than mine probably won’t have much parking garage luck.

The low-hanging branches in this campground worried some folks in big rigs.

#3 Not only does my van offer enough clearance to allow me to park in at least some parking garages, it affords me decent clearance in general. During my time as a camp host and parking lot attendant, I saw several drivers of motorhomes freak out about branches overhanging the road through the parking lot or above a campsite. One driver of an RV insisted on backing out of the one-way loop through the parking lot rather than continue through when he realized overhead branches were going to scrape the top of his rig. I suppose buses and tall motorhomes don’t utilize too many fast food drive-thrus. In my van, I don’t often have to worry about being too tall.

#4 Not only is my van (comparatively) easy to park, it’s also (comparatively) easy to back up. I didn’t get a lot of instruction on backing when I learned to drive late in life, but especially in the last few years, I’ve had quite a lot of practice. My van didn’t have a review mirror when I bought it, and the two back windows are blacked out, so I use my blind spot mirrors on the sides a LOT. (The Man opens the driver’s door and sticks his head out and looks behind him to aid his backing abilities when he’s driving my van.) I backed into a tree last summer, but other than that little incident, I’m doing fine (knock wood).

Once another vandweller and I were looking at a van that was longer than mine. I fretted that I would never be able to back up something so big. The other vandweller assured me that once I got a feel for the dimensions of any rig, backing up wouldn’t be a problem for me. He’s probably right, but I’d be terrified backing up a big rig while I was trying to learn its dimensions. Could I learn to back up a rig bigger than my van? I know I could, but I like knowing I can do a decent job backing up the van I already have.

Of course, if I pulled a travel trailer behind my van, backing up would pose a whole new set of problems. Could I learn  to back up a rig I was pulling behind my van? Again, I know that I could, but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel the need to complicate my life with complex backing.

#5 If I need to stealth park, my van blends in. Let’s face it, a school bus is not going to blend in on a residential street, even if it’s still sporting the customary school bus orange. If it’s been repainted some cool new color, it’s really going to stand out wherever it’s parked. A small motorhome may fit in a little better, but most people who live in in a house or apartment don’t park their recreational vehicles on the street. An RV parked on the street may call a little too much attention to itself.

I don’t stealth park on residential streets a lot. If I have to be in civilization, I’d rather spend the night blacktop boondocking in the parking lot of a truck stop or a Wal-Mart. However, if the only place I can find to spend the night is a residential street, my van can slip in and look enough like a regular passenger vehicle so that no one suspect I’m sleeping in there.

All the campsites in this campground where covered with snow when The Man and I camped here in May 2017.

#6 Not only can I stealth park in the city in my rig, but I can fit in most any campsite with a parking spur. Yes, I have been to campgrounds with only walk-up tent sites. (I’m looking at you Big Tesuque!)  We were at that campground in the off-season when the entire campground was covered in snow, so we simply slept in the van in the parking lot. However, the majority of campgrounds I’ve been to have offered plenty of room to park my van on the campsites.

While I was a camp host, I saw many people with big rigs have a difficult time getting into the two smallest campgrounds on the mountain. People in big RVs often struggled to find a campsite large enough to accommodate their rigs. I’d rather travel in a small rig that allows me to take nearly any campsite available.

My van’s gas mileage is better than the gas mileage of a school bus.

#7 The Man would tell you my G20’s gas mileage stinks compared to what he gets in his minivan. He is right about that comparison, but my mileage is great compared to what rigs bigger than mine get. The Scientific America article “Teenager’s Invention Saves Fuel for School Buses” says that school “buses…only get 4 to 6 mpg.” I’m guessing a motorhome (depending on its size) gets the same sort of gas mileage or maybe a little better. That makes my 12 to 15 miles per gallon look pretty good. Of course, pulling a travel trailer would reduce my gas mileage even further.

Diesel costs more than gasoline.

At the time I’m writing this post (February 2019), diesel costs more than gasoline. Because my van runs on gasoline, I spend less on fuel than I would if I drove a bus with a diesel engine or a diesel truck I might need to haul a big fifth wheel. Also, I found out when I worked in the mountains, diesel is sometimes not available in remote locations, even when gasoline is.

#8 I’ve had some tire troubles in the past, but at least I only have four to deal with and not six. Not only do full size schoolies and some larger motorhomes have two extra tires to deal with, getting the best, strongest tires capable of handling the additional weight of bigger rigs costs a pretty penny. After reading a few articles about the cost of tires for school buses and Class A motorhomes, it seems a single tire suitable for one of these rigs can run anywhere from $100 (plus a charge for mounting) to $430, with one article estimating an upper range price of $600. Ouch!

Although I do have expensive, strong Michelin tires on my van, they’re in the under $200 (each) price range, and I’m glad to save the money two more would cost.

#9 Because my van is a regular passenger vehicle with a gasoline engine, I don’t have to find a special mechanic to work on it when I have problems. Just about any trained and competent mechanic can repair most any problem. As a bonus, The Man is able to do some of the repairs and maintenance my van has needed. He’s replaced my all of my brake pads and put in a new radiator when the old one sprung a leak.

I know folks with small motorhomes who’ve had trouble finding a mechanic with a shop big enough to accommodate their rigs. All of the vans I’ve owned, including the two with high tops, have fit in every shop they’ve been brought to.

#10 I don’t have to dump grey or black water tanks. Yes, it would be convenient to wash dishes or my hands in my van. Yes, it would be convenient to have a rig with a flush toilet. I’m sure I could learn how to dump grey and black water tanks, and with practice, dumping would become just another routine. However, at this point in my vanlife, I’m happy to be without the burden of staying aware of the levels in grey and black water tanks, finding dump stations, (possibly) paying to dump, then going through the smelly process. I’m content to wash my hands and the dishes outside and find a toilet whenever I have elimination needs. (Of course, I have a system in place for when I’m boondocking.) The lack of black and grey water tanks makes my life a little simpler.

I’m not trying to tell you what rig you should live in. I’m only telling you why I do what I do. By all means, make your own decisions based on what works best for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: What are you in now?

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

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

Brent: I did.

RTA: And the Prius was…?

Brent: Three years.

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

Brent: This is my second year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: Gas meaning propane?

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

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

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

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

Gray Concrete Road Surrounded by Green Grass

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

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

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

RTA:  So super stealthy.

Brent: Yeah.

Fuel Dispenser

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

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

RTA: Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Utah Poster Under Blue Daytime Sky

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

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

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

RTA: What do you dislike about your current rig?

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: But maybe not the gas mileage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brent: No. It was perfectly non-stealthy.

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

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

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

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

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

Brent: That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

Round Grey and Black Compass

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

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

What Is a Rubber Tramp?

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I first heard the term “rubber tramp” in 2010. The guy who was my boyfriend at the time and I were talking to a young woman traveler. We told her we lived in our van and traveled around.

Oh, you’re rubber tramps, she said enthusiastically.

I was new to the lingo of traveling kids, so I asked my boyfriend later what she meant. He said a rubber tramps was a particular kind of traveler who lived in a vehicle. The rubber in question was that on the vehicle’s tires. As for the tramp part, well, he didn’t have to explain that.

According to an answer given by Belarafon on enotes, a homework help website, in regards to the book Into the Wild, a rubber tramp is something of the opposite of a leather tramp.

Brown and Black Leather Work Boots on Brown SurfaceA rubber tramp has a car or other wheeled vehicle, and travels on the rubber tires. A leather tramp has no vehicle, and travels on foot, shoes often being made of leather. The distinction comes from both ease of travel — a rubber tramp is more able to decide destination than one who relies on hitchhiking — and and an unofficial status: rubber tramps are sometimes seen as “less valid” than leather tramps because their vehicle is viewed as a luxury item.

Of course, I’ve never in my whole life heard of anyone referred to as a “leather tramp.” Nobody calls them that, The Man exclaimed when I shared this definition with him. You’d just call them a bum!

According to the Cyber Hobo website, people who consider themselves tramps might not like The Man referring to them as bums. The Hobo Terms page says a tramp is “[a] migratory non-worker” while a bum is

[a] non-migratory non-worker; [a] worthless or dissolute loafer who would rather beg than work for goods or services; [l]owest in the “hobo hierarchy.

The Cyber Hobo also weighs in on the definition of “rubber tramp.”

Rubber tramp – A tramp who owns a car, usually rusted out and undependable. They spend a lot of energy begging for gas money, but also provide transportation to other cities to bums, hobos and tramps for a fee. In a sense, they become a nationwide “taxi” service for transients.

I’m not sure where this definition originated (Cyber Hobo gives no sources), but I don’t know anything about rubber tramps being any kind of “nationwide ‘taxi’ service.” Personally, I have never charged a bum, hobo, tramp, traveler, hitchhiker, or dirty kid for a ride. I have accepted gas money from riders in my van, but I’ve never expected or demanded a fee from anyone I’ve let ride with me.

The Man says that in his experience, while rubber tramps may not charge folks a fee for a ride, there is an expectation of riders contributing to the common good. Each rider is expected to pitch in by flying a sign or panhandling for money and food or gas jugging and everyone sharing the fruits of the labor.

Did you know there is a Nomad Wiki which gives “info and tips for nomads about shoestring budget traveling”? I didn’t either until I started working on this post. The Nomad Wiki glossary gives the same definition of a rubber tramp as Belerafon did on enotes: car or other wheeled vehicle, rubber tires, possibly less valid because vehicle is seen as a luxury.

Of course, we have to check in with Urban Dictionary to see how kids these days define “rubber tramp.” Three definitions are shared.

[Top definition by RYM~Taistealaí with 154 thumbs up votes and 32 thumbs down votes] A person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.).  They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.

[Second most popular definition by Starwatcher with 21 thumbs up votes and 153 thumbs down votes]  A person that lives in, and creeps around in a vehicle that looks like it’s barely held together with rubber bands, chewing gum, and chicken wire. They’re often seen parked in the back of supermarket parking lots, or hanging around public parks, alleys, shelters, welfare offices or liquor stores.

Most of the time, the person also looks as completely worn out as the vehicle does.

[Least popular definition by Follow your wanderlust with only 6 thumbs up votes but 0 thumbs down votes] A person that lives full time in their RV or Van and works and lives on the road to explore and follow their wanderlust.

I couldn’t find any information as to when the term “rubber tramp” was first used either verbally or in print. I know somebody keeps track of that sort of thing, but I sure couldn’t find anything online. I suppose I should put a reference librarian or an an etymologist on the case.

I also want to point out that not all people who travel in vehicles or live on the road appreciate being referred to Man With Luggage on Road during Sunsetas “tramps.” In the United States in the 21st century, the word “tramp” often has a negative connotation. According to Wikipedia, “tramp” has become something of a bad word.

Like “hobo” and “bum,” the word “tramp” is considered vulgar in American English usage, having been subsumed in more polite contexts by words such as “homeless person” or “vagrant.”

At the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I noticed many people referring to themselves and others as nomads. “Nomad” is a fine word, and I use it myself. Some definitions of the word (like the first one from Merriam-Webster) reference seasonality and a defined territory, but others (like the second one from Merriam-Webster) only refers to roaming about. Other synonyms I like for “rubber tramp” are van dweller, vagabond, traveler, rambler, and wanderer.

As for me, when I renamed my blog, I chose to call myself a rubber tramp because I didn’t want to sanitize my situation. While I do like those synonyms that I listed above, I thought “rubber tramp” conveyed some grittiness, conveyed my poverty and hand-to-mouth existence. I don’t feel like I have to pretend I’m anything more than I am: a woman with a van (and now a 40+ year old beat up stationary fifth wheel in the desert for winter living), thrift store clothes, and scavenged art supplies.

Photos of vans were taken by me. Other images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-black-leather-work-boots-on-brown-surface-60619/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-with-luggage-on-road-during-sunset-163688/.

Lingo

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If you’re a newbie attending the Women’s RTR at the end of the week or the RTR in the next two weeks, you may hear a lot of new terms. For the sake of public education, I decided to run this post from January 2016 again after revising and updating it.
/ˈliNGɡō/

noun

informal humorous

the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people

I hate lingo. When folks use specialized language, it feels like a separation to me–us vs. them. If you understand the specialized words I use, we have something in common and we are insiders. Those people over there who don’t understand what we’re talking about? They must be outsiders, and good riddance!

I know lingo also makes communication easier for people who share knowledge. Like pronouns, lingo saves us from having to use full descriptions every time we talk. But lingo is often exclusionary, even if folks don’t mean to use it that way. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I will now explain some of the lingo I’ve encountered while living my life on the road.

Airstream–A brand of travel trailer made from distinctively shiny metal, with curves instead of corners.

I boondocked on this BLM land.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–Government agency that administers public land, especially in the Southwest. There is so much BLM land where folks can boondock/dry camp for free.

Boondocking–Staying somewhere (often public land) for free. Some people use boondocking interchangeably with dry camping, while others differentiate between the two and use boondocking only in relation to public land. To learn all about boondocking, read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.” My friend Coyote Sue calls dry camping in a parking lot blacktop boondocking .

Canned hamA trailer, usually vintage, in the shape of a can of ham on its side.

CasitaBrand of a particular style of lightweight travel trailer.

*Class ARV that looks like a bus with a flat front nose; motor home.

*Class B–A van with the comforts (shower, toilet, kitchenette) of an RV.

*Class C—motor home with a van nose and an overhead cab with a bed.

CRVL–I saw this twice at the RTR and had no idea what it meant, until I saw it spelled out in tiny letters at the bottom of a sticker. CRVL stands for Cheap RV Living, a fantastic online resource for anyone living on the road, no matter what kind of rig is involved. There’s also a Cheap RV Living YouTube channel for folks who’d rather watch videos.

I did some dispersed camping on Bureau of Reclaimation Land in New Mexico, and this was the view of the Rio Grande from my campsite.

*Dispersed camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds; sometimes called primitive camping or boondocking.

Dry camping–Camping with no hookups, sometimes used interchageably with boondocking.

*5th wheel–Trailers which hook to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck.

Full-timer–Someone who does not have a sticks-n-bricks house; someone who lives on the road all the time.

*House battery–A deep cycle battery used to run household items in a rig.

Motor home–An RV that has a motor in it so it can be driven; a motor home can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C.

Mr. Buddy–A brand of heaters which run on propane and are very popular with vandwellers and rubber tramps.

Nomad–According to Merriam-Webster, this is a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory; an individual who roams about.

Part-timer–Someone who has a sticks-n-bricks house where s/he lives at least sometimes; someone who lives on the road sometimes, but also lives in a stationary home sometimes.

PopupA type of towed RV that can be collapsed for easy storage and transport.

The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico is public land.

Public Land–Land owned by a local, state, or federal government. When rubber tramps and other nomads talk about public land, they typically mean land open to (usually free) camping. Public land can include city or county parks, fishing lakes, BLM land, Bureau of Reclamation Land, National Forests, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national seashores and lakeshores.

Primitive camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds. In primitive camping areas, there are no water, sewage, or electrical hookups and usually no toilets of any kind, no water, no ramadas, no picnic tables, and no metal fire rings. Primitive camping is sometimes called dispersed camping. Folks boondock or dry camp in primitive camping areas.

This was my rig during one part of my life as a full-time rubber tramp/vandweller.

Rig–What one drives and lives in. My rig is a conversion van. A rig can be a cargo van. A rig can be a pickup truck with a slide-in camper. A rig can be a car or an SUV.  A rig can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C motor home. A rig can be a combination of a tow vehicle and a travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer or a 5th wheel or a tear drop or a popup.

Rubber tramp–The Urban Dictionary says a rubber tramp is a “person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.” Not all folks at the RTR would consider themselves rubber tramps.

RTArt Camp–A camp within the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, The RTArt Camp is a place within the larger gathering for nomadic artists and creative nomads to come together to share skills, create art together, have fun, and build community.

Rubber Tramp Art Community (RTAC)–An intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. Members of the group meet to camp together, create art together, teach each other new skills, help each other, and spend time together as a community.

So far, I’ve attended four RTRs.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR)–A winter gathering in Quartzsite, AZ for folks who live on the road (either full-timers or part-timers) or who want to live on the road. At the RTR there are seminars about living on the road and opportunities to meet people and hang out with friends. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Also see Cheap RV Living for more info about the RTR.

RV–Recreational vehicle. RVs include motor homes, 5th wheels, and travel trailers.


Shakedown–a practice trip taken before a longer trip. (According to Wikipedia,, this term comes from “shakedown cruise,” which “is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested.”)

*Snowbird–Someone who lives in cool places in the summer and warm places in the winter, traveling as the seasons change. Snowbirds can travel north to south or from low elevation to to high elevation and back again.

Solo–Traveling alone, usually said in regards to a woman. The assumption that most women travel with men is often made, so a distinction is sometimes made when a women travels alone. I’ve never heard anyone asking a man if he is solo or hearing a man describe himself as solo.

Stealth parking–Living in one’s rig (especially in a city) without others knowing one is living in one’s rig. Check out Cheap RV Living for “Bob’s 12 Commandants for Stealth Parking in the City” and “Stealth Parking Locations.”

Sticks-n-bricks–A conventional home, although it doesn’t have to be made from wood and bricks. A sticks-n-bricks can be an apartment or a manufactured home, or a house made from adobe or stucco or straw-bale. A sticks-n-bricks isn’t mobile.

Teardropa streamlined, compact, lightweight traveltrailer, which gets its name from its teardrop profile. They usually only have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear.

Toad–A vehicle towed behind an RV. I guess because the vehicles are towed, people started calling them toads. People in big motorhomes often pull a vehicle behind the motorhome so they can park their rig and use the smaller vehicle to drive around for errands and exploring.

Tow vehicle–What one uses to tow one’s travel trailer.

*Travel trailer (TT)–Travel trailers hook up to a hitch and are pulled by a tow vehicle. Travel trailers vary greatly in size. Most people use the travel trailer as living quarters and don’t live in the tow vehicle.

During my time as a camp host, I cleaned this pit (or vault) toilet many times.

*Vandweller–A person living in his/her van who wants to be there.

Vault (or pit) toilet–Non-flushing toilet sometimes found on public land; basically a tall plastic toilet set over a hole where the waste products sit until they are pumped out.

*All or part of starred definitions come from How to Live in a Car, Van, or RV by Bob Wells. I highly recommend this book to anyone contemplating or starting life on the road.

What lingo dealing with life on the road do you know that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment with other terms you hear rubber tramps and van dwellers and RVers toss around.

I took all the photos in this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same with propane.

Same with construction.

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

RTA: How did you get interested in nomadic living?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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