Tag Archives: nomads

Locked Out! Ten Tips for Preventing a Lockout and for Dealing with the Situation if It Happens

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I locked myself out of this van many times.

I’ve locked myself out of my vehicle several times. It’s happened in the city, and it’s happened in the middle of nowhere. It’s bad enough when a person living in a conventional dwelling in a town or city locks themselves out of a vehicle, but those folks usually have resources to help them deal with the situation. They may have friends, neighbors, or family members available to assist. Even if they don’t have roadside assistance coverage, they may be able to find a reasonably priced locksmith to unlock the vehicle. If all else fails, they may be able to take a bus or walk to where they need to be, whether that’s work, home (where someone else who lives there might be able to let them in to get a spare key), or a friend’s house.

Nomads often find themselves in situations without a helpful local support network to turn to for help. Rubber Tramps often have to rely on themselves or the kindness of strangers. My tips for preventing, preparing for, and dealing with a lockout can help you get through this challenge of life on the road.

#1 Admit to yourself that a lockout if bound to happen. While some people are convinced that thinking about a negative event will cause that event to happen, I’m convinced that thinking about a negative event will allow me to prepare for it. Think about the ways you can prepare for a lockout. Think about how you will handle a lockout if it occurs in different locations. How you handle a lockout in the city will be different from how you handle it in a remote location. How you handle a lockout if you have roadside assistance will be different from how you handle it if you don’t have that kind of coverage.

When I was a full-time vandweller, I wore my keys around my neck on a long lanyard made of beaded Stretch Magic cord.

#2 Know where your keys are. When I was a full-time vandweller, my first rule of van life was Always know where your keys are. I wore the keys to my van around my neck for years. I found them a lot easier to keep tabs on when they were on my person. The keys hung around my neck until I put the starter key in the ignition. As soon as I parked and turned off the engine, the keys went back around my neck. Before I got out of the van, I physically touched the keys to make sure they were where they were supposed to be.

If wearing keys around your neck doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Just make sure when you exit the vehicle, you know where your keys are before you lock the doors. Don’t ever assume the keys are where they are supposed to be; physically check before you lock.

#3 Keep a spare key in something you always take with you. If you always carry your purse or backpack or wallet or case for your sunglasses with you, keep a spare key there.  That way, if you leave your main set of keys on the dashboard or in the bed, you’ll have a spare with you. Of course, if you leave the purse or backpack or wallet or sunglass case behind, the spare won’t be able to help you if you lose your keys or lock them inside your rig.

#4 Hide a key under your rig. Some nomads swear by this trick, although I’ve never done it myself. Many department stores and hardware stores sell little boxes that hold a spare key. The boxes have a magnet on them to hold them to the metal underside of a vehicle or motorhome. I’ve always been afraid the box would bounce off on a bumpy road, and I’d be left keyless in my time of need. I’ve been assured the magnets on the boxes are very strong. If I were using this method of protection, I would determine the strength of the magnet before hitting the road and maybe add some additional magnets for added protection against losing the box and key.

Another way to hide a key under a rig is by taping it to the frame. If I were going to do this, I would use Gorilla Tape (the strongest I’ve found) to attach the key in an out-of-the-way place. I would use plenty of tape and make sure the key was firmly attached.

My biggest fear about hiding a key under my rig is that a knowing thief could come along, find the key, and steal my not just my ride, but my home too. When hiding a key under a rig, you’ll want to find the sweet spot between making the hiding place too difficult for you to get to but not making it difficult enough to thwart a thief. Find the best hiding place you can and don’t tell anyone you don’t trust completely where it is.

#5 If you stay in one area, leave a spare key with someone you trust. Maybe another nomad could keep a spare key for your van on their key ring or in their rig. Maybe you have a friend or relative in town who could hold onto a spare for you.

#6 If you’re traveling with other people, get one of those folks to carry your spare key. When I traveled with Mr. Carolina, I had copies of keys to unlock the van’s doors and start the engine made. I put those keys on a ring and had him carry them.  Later when The Man and I began traveling together, I handed the keys over to him. I never locked myself out when I traveled with either of those guys, but if I had, the spare keys they carried would have made the lockout no big deal.

#7 Have roadside assistance that covers lockouts.Roadside assistance may not help you if you are in a remote location, but it can be a lifesaver if you’re in a city when you lock yourself out.

When I lived full-time in my van, I had roadside assistance through my insurance policy. Now that I drive a truck that I don’t live in, I still have roadside assistance through my insurance policy. I pay less than $40 a year for roadside assistance that covers towing, opening a locked vehicle, changing a flat tire, jump starting a dead battery, and delivering fuel if I run out.

Other organizations that provide roadside assistance, including lockout services, include the American Automobile Association (AAA), the Good Sam Club, and the Better World Club, and the Paragon Motor Club. (To learn more about the companies mentioned above and others, check out the RV Living Now article “Best Roadside Assistance Plans for RVs.“)

Compare plans before you sign up for service. Cost is not the only factor you should consider.  Some plans only cover RVs, so if you’re a vandweller, be sure the plan you are considering will cover you. If you spend most of your time in remote locations, make sure the company you chose will actually dispatch a service person if you are far from a city. For example, AAA won’t provide services if the repair person has to drive on a dirt road to get to your rig. Before you spend any money, know what services the plan you’re choosing provides and how many times per year you can use the services.

#8 Know the phone number to your roadside assistance provider. Having roadside assistance isn’t going to help if you can’t contact the dispatcher. Keep the phone number to your roadside assistance provider in your wallet or program it into your phone.

#9 Keep your phone on you. On two occasions, I not only locked my keys in my van, but I also left my phone inside. Luckily the number to my roadside assistance provider was in my wallet, and I’d brought my wallet with me. I had to beg the workers at the Goodwill Clearance Center where I was shopping to let me use the office phone to make the call. I understand wanting to leave the phone behind sometimes, but it can be a huge help in the event of a lockout.

#10 Plan ahead for breaking into your rig. What would you do if you were in a remote location and had no phone service to call for help or couldn’t afford to pay the fee for a locksmith to make the long trip to where you were? What if you locked your phone in your rig and couldn’t call for help?

During our last summer working on the mountain in California, The Man managed to lock both his keys and Jerico the dog in his minivan. When I returned to the campground after work, he had been trying for hours to break into the vehicle. He tried using the radio antenna, a screwdriver, and a metal marshmallow roasting stick to unlock a door, but couldn’t get anything to work. We went back to the Mercantile and used the phone to call a tow service in the closest little town. The dispatcher said she could send someone to pop the lock, but charges would begin to accrue when the locksmith started the drive up the mountain. It was going to cost hundreds of dollars to get the minivan open, and The Man didn’t have roadside assistance on his insurance policy.

We returned to the campground, and The Man was determined to get into the minivan. Finally, he took the handle mechanism off of one of the sliding side doors and was able to finagle the latch to get the door to open. Jerico was happy to be free, but The Man was sad he’d damaged the door handle beyond repair.

A good Samaritan popped the pin out of the hinge so I could get into the van after I locked my keys inside.

On another occasion while I was traveling alone, I locked both my keys and phone in my van. I was on the brink of trying to bust a window when a good Samaritan used a hammer and chisel to remove one of my van’s side doors from its hinges. Once the door was off its hinges, I was able to reach in and unlock the door.

What I’m suggesting here is that you think about how you would get into your rig before you actually have to do so. Is there a window you could shimmy through if it were open? Is there a window you could pry open if necessary? Could you pop the lock with the right piece of long metal? Could you remove a door from a hinge if necessary?

Breaking into your own rig should be a last resort, but have a plan for doing so if it’s ever necessary.

So there you have it, ten tips to help you prevent a lockout or deal with it once it happens. Any other ideas? Please share them in the comments section below.

I took the photos in this post.

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Checklist of Things to Take on the Road

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White Rv on Road

First of all, let me say that nobody needs to get a bunch of fancy stuff before starting life on the road whether in a van, car, motorhome, truck camper, travel trailer, or fifth wheel. There’s nothing wrong with being a minimalist because you’re more comfortable that way or because you can’t afford to spend a lot of money on gear. This list is not meant as a shopping list or list of must-have items. I put this list together to help nomads plan ahead, to help folks think about what equipment might increase comfort for a weekend or a lifetime on the road. Feel free to cross out the items you’ll never use and add in the items I forgot. Make this list your own and use it any way you want or ignore it completely. Think of it as helpful advice, suggestions from a long-time van dweller, not as commandments you are compelled to follow.

Kitchen

*stove   *fuel for stove   *lighter or matches for lighting stove   *water for drinking and washing   *jugs for water   *cooler for perishables   *ice for cooler   *perishable food   *canned goods and other non-perishable food   *herbs and spices   *salt    *pepper   *at least one pan for cooking (I use cast iron skillets)   *at least one pan with lid for cooking grains/boiling potatoes/etc. *measuring cups *storage containers for leftovers *clips to seal bags *bowl *plate (although you can typically get away with using just a bowl)   *fork/spoon/spork/knife   *stainless steel cup   *knife for food prep   *cutting board   *water bottle   *can opener   *spatula/turner   *soap for cleanup *dishtowels   *rags   *paper towels

Bathroom

*toilet paper   *wet wipes   *pee jug/bucket   *container for defecation  

Closeup and Selective Focus Photography of Toothbrush With Toothpaste

*plastic garbage bags to line defecation container   *cat litter/peat moss/puppy training pads for defecation system   *hand and body soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap for most any washing need)   *washcloths   *towel   *shower shoes   *shampoo   *conditioner   *dry shampoo   *feminine hygiene products   *toothbrush   *toothpaste   *dental floss   *mouthwash   *razors   *shaving cream   *witch Hazel   *cotton pads or cotton balls   *supplies for contact lenses *small shovel (if you’re going to dig a cat hole while camping on public land)

First Aid

Person Holding White Hand Wrap

*prescription medications *med history sheet *copies of written prescriptions *copy of eyeglass/contact lens prescription *spare eyeglasses or contact lenses *self-adhesive bandages   *ace bandage   *large gauze pads   *medical tape   *rubbing alcohol   *hydrogen peroxide   *antibiotic ointment   *cough drops   *decongestant   *cough syrup   *vitamin C supplement   *over-the-counter pain relievers   *tweezers   *instructions for removing a tick   *cotton swabs   *mole skin *aloe vera gel for burn/sunburn relief

Laundry Day

*quarters   *laundry bag   *laundry detergent   *stain remover   *bleach   *fabric softener/dryer sheets

Clothing

*socks   *underwear   *bras   *sunhat   *sturdy shoes   *comfortable shoes to wear at camp   *jeans or other sturdy pants   *long and short sleeve shirts   *nice outfit   *shorts or cool-weather skirt   *swimsuit   *water shoes   *handkerchiefs   *jacket and/or coat   *warm hat   *warm gloves or mittens   *long winter underwear   *scarf   *pajamas   *special clothes for any sports you participate in

For the Rig

*tire gauge   *jack   *tire iron   *jumper cables   *can of Fix-a-Flat   *portable

Brown Spoke Car Wheel in Brown Sand during Daytime

air compressor   *oil   *gas jug   *emergency flairs   *coolant/antifreeze   *brake fluid   *transmission fluid   *roadside assistance coverage   *owner’s manual *Chilton or Haynes manual   *log book

Basic Tools

*hammer   *Phillips-head screwdriver   *flat-head screwdriver   *adjustable wrench   *Allen wrenches   *pliers *open end wrenches *socket set *Drimel *wire stripper *box cutter *portable drill with screwdriver and drill bits *work gloves  

For Your Comfort

Red Lens Sunglasses on Sand Near Sea at Sunset Selective Focus Photography

*sunglasses   *lip balm   *lotion   *sunscreen   *walking stick   *insect repellent   *sleep aid   *ear plugs   *sleep mask   *12 volt fan   *brush   *comb   *hand mirror   *flashlight or headlamp *batteries for flashlight or headlamp   *solar lights   *mattress/camping pad/foam pad/hammock   *sheets   *blankets and/or sleeping bag   *pillow   *curtains   *portable heater   *fuel for portable heater   *flyswatter *reading material   *music (radio/phone/MP3 player) *deck of cards

Pet Supplies

*bowls for food and water *leash *collar *food and treats *toys *grooming supplies * prescription medications *vaccination and other medical records

Miscellaneous

*invertor   *phone charger   *phone   *GPS system   *paper maps   *driver’s license   *passport *emergency contact information (displayed prominently) *proof of insurance   *insurance company’s phone number *vehicle registration   *AAA or Good Sam’s membership card   *roadside assistance phone number   *spare key(s)   *12 volt extension cord   *camera   *travel journal

What important things do you take on the road that I’ve forgotten to include here? Let me know by leaving a comment below. If I think your suggestions have broad appeal, I might just add them to this list!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-rv-on-road-2580312/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-bristle-brush-clean-298611/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-white-hand-wrap-1571170/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-spoke-car-wheel-in-brown-sand-during-daytime-53161/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunglasses-sunset-summer-sand-46710/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford E450 Bluebird Microbird (A short Skoolie!)

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

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

RTA: How did you decide on your floor plan?

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

RTA: What was the biggest challenge of your build?

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

RTA: Tell me about your toilet set up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

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Living on the road is certainly less expensive than paying rent or maintaining a sticks-n-bricks, but living on the road still costs money. Lots of rubber tramps and nomads survive on a fixed income and would like to see their money go farther. Today I offer you ten tips for saving money while living on the road.

Obey the speed limit and don’t waste your money paying a speeding ticket.

#1 Obey the law and avoid costly fines. I don’t like authority figures telling me what to do either, but getting a ticket is expensive. Don’t exceed the speed limit. Feed the parking meter. Don’t park in a spot reserved for folks with disabilities unless you can display the proper paperwork. Don’t park in any spot your rig isn’t supposed to be in. Don’t drive in the carpool lane (aka High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) if you’re the only person in your vehicle.

#2 Improve your gas mileage. Keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure. Don’t overload your rig with unnecessary weight. Change your air filter regularly. Driving the speed limit (or slower!) will help you in this regard too. (See Car Bibles for more tips on improving gas mileage.)

#3 Use gas price apps to find the lowest cost per gallon in the area you’re in. I’m not a big fan of driving across town to save 20 cents, but maybe you can plan your route to save on fuel. A 2014 article from CNN Tech suggests GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and MapQuest Gas Prices.

#4 If you boondock in remote areas for weeks at a time, don’t make daily trips into civilization. Go to your camping spot with supplies to last a week. Do a supply run (paired with fun town activities, if you like) at the end of the first week, and get enough of everything to last until you’re ready to move to your next destination. You’ll save money on fuel, and you won’t have as many chances to make impulse purchases.

#5 If you’re in the market for a rig think about gas mileage. A minivan will probably get better gas mileage than a conversion or cargo van. A Class B motorhome will probably get better gas mileage than a Class A. A small Class C will probably get better gas mileage than a large Class C. A Prius will probably get better gas mileage than anything else.

#6 Do regular maintenance. It will probably cost less to have something maintained than repaired, and a breakdown may require a costly tow. Even during a routine oil change, mechanics usually look around for obvious problems.

#7 Learn how to do your own routine maintenance and make basic repairs. Check and top off your fluids. Change your oil. Replace your brake pads. Change your air filter. You’ll learn more about the mechanics of your rig and you won’t have to pay someone else for the cost of labor.

#8 Compare insurance rates. Does one company offer lower prices than another? Just remember, sometimes lower cost means less protection.

Can you get a better rate by using a different address for your domicile?  I saved about $200 a year by using the address of one family member over another as my permanent residence.

Can you eliminate options to save a few bucks? I pay a little extra for roadside assistance through my insurance, but if I had AAA or God Sam Club coverage, I’d probably drop the roadside assistance option on my insurance policy.

#9 Invest in a large propane tank rather than the green one-pound tanks. I resisted this tip for a long time because those small green propane tanks are just so convenient. However, now I’m a believer in using the bigger tanks. They’re a better deal than the one-pound tanks even if you do the Blue Rhino exchange (available at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, supermarkets, hardware stores, and convenience stores). You save even more if you refill the tank at places like U-Haul, Tractor Supply, AmeriGas refill and refueling stations, and RV parks.

#10 Seek out free and inexpensive entertainment. You really can have a lot of fun for little money, especially in cities and town.

This is public art stands on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

Look at public art. I especially like murals, but sculpture can be fun too.

Public libraries often offer free admission to movies, concerts, and public speakers, and they sometimes have galleries where patrons can look at art for free. Most libraries also offer free internet access, and even if you don’t have a library card, you can sit around for hours reading books and magazines at no cost to you.

Many museums offer free admission on a designated day once a week or once a month. Plan your trip to an area to coincide with free admission to a museum you want to visit.

Parks are nice free places to hang out. Cook a meal at a picnic table. Walk around the park for exercise. Sit under a tree and read. Especially in the summer, parks often offer plays, concerts, and movies at no charge.

If you’re more of a boondocker and less of a city dweller, get out and enjoy the natural beauty where you are. It’s free to hear the birds sing. Go for a hike or a brisk walk. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Heck, watch then both. It won’t cost you a dime.

Blaize Sun has been mostly on the road since 2009. She’s traveled the U.S. with very little money, so she’s had to figure out ways to make every penny count.

Please share your favorite money saving tips in the comments.

Blaize Sun took the photos in this post.

10 Fundamentals for Boondockers

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So you want to save money by camping in a place where you don’t have to pay? Perhaps you want to see natural beauty that might not be present in a private campground. Maybe you need a little more elbow room than you can get in a commercial RV park that’s more like an RV parking lot. For free camping in scenic locations with plenty of space between you and the next rig, you might want to try boondocking (also known as “dry camping” or “primitive camping”).

If you’ve never been boondocking before, it might seem complicated. Where can you camp legally and safely? How can you find the good spots? Should you stay in a town or venture into the wilderness? Have no fear! In this article, I’ll cover ten fundamentals of boondocking so you can make decisions about where to go. I’ll also give you suggestions that will help you have a great time once you get where you’re going.

#1 Before you head out, determine how long you want your boondocking experience to last. An overnight stop on the way to somewhere else will be different from a relaxing two-week stay in nature.

#2 For an overnight stay, decide on the town where you want to take a break and look into what businesses in the area allow overnight parking. Businesses to check into include Wal-Mart; truck stops (Flying J, Pilot, Love’s, TravelCenters of America, Petro, and Bosselman, plus independently owned truck stops); Bass Pro Shop; and Cracker Barrel. Always call a business ahead of time and ask if overnight parking is allowed. If you’re going to be told no, it’s better to know ahead of time than to wake up to a knock on your rig at 2am.

If you can’t find a business that will allow you to park overnight, check for free camping in town or county parks. I’ve camped for free at the county fairgrounds in Blue Earth, Minnesota and the town park in Vermillion, South Dakota.

If all else fails, look online or in your atlas (you are traveling with a paper atlas, right?) for highway or interstate rest areas. Some states have limits on how long folks are allowed to stay in rest areas (when I was traveling in California in 2012, it was eight hours), and there may be signs saying “No Camping” (which I interpret as “don’t pitch a tent”) but as their name states, rest areas are there so drivers can rest and avoid accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. (The Interstate Rest Areas website has a complete state-by-state breakdown of overnight parking rules.)

There are also apps available so you can find out on your phone what rests stops will fill your needs. The free USA Rest Stops app helps find rest stops on interstates as well as U.S. and state highways.

#3 If you’re staying in a business parking lot or at a rest area, know parking lot etiquette. Keep bodily fluids out of the parking lot. Keep your pet(s) under control and clean up after them. Dispose of trash properly. No yelling or honking in the middle of the night.

Most National Forests offer plenty of places for boondocking.

#4 For longer stays, do plenty of research before you set out. Read blog posts written by other boondockers. There’s lots of public land in the United States where people can camp for free. Look for Bureau of Land Management areas, Bureau of Reclamation land, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and Corps of Engineering land where boondocking is allowed.

Gazetteers show public land and the roads that will take you to remote, secluded locations. Benchmark Atlases show elevation, and DeLorme Atlas & Gazateers are also highly respected. 

#5 For both overnight and extended stays, the Free Campsites website is your best friend. This website allows you to search for free and cheap campsites by typing a location into a search bar. Once you have a list of camping areas near your destination, you can look at the details for each area. Folks who have actually camped in the area can leave reviews and photographs. Once you pick a spot, you can click on a “get directions” link which will take you directly to Google Maps to help you navigate to your destination. I’ve camped in free campgrounds across the United States that were found through Free Campsites; I can’t say enough good things about the website

#6 If you’re boondocking on public land, be prepared to have no amenities. Boondockers must be ready to provide their own electricity from solar panels or generators or to do without. Boondockers must carry in their own water for drinking and washing. Most boondocking areas offer no showers, no toilets (pit, flush, or otherwise), no dump stations, and no trashcans. Before you set out, prepare to take care of all your needs while on public land.

I left nothing but footprints.

#7 Practice “leave no trace” camping while on public land. Camp where others have camped before you, not on pristine land. Pick up your microtrash, and don’t leave trash in your fire ring. If you pack it in, be prepared to pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints.

#8 Research fire bans and fire permits while you’re still in civilization. If you plan to have a campfire, find out if it’s legal to do so before you get out of internet range. If you need a fire permit, get one before you go out into the wilderness. A ranger might not be sympathetic to ignorance of a fire ban or need for a fire permit while writing you a ticket for your illegal campfire.

#9 Don’t park too close to other boondockers. Give everyone plenty of elbow room, especially if you have pets or a generator you’re going to be running a lot. People go out into the wilderness for quiet and solitude, not to be under the armpit of another boondocker. If you’re scared to be out in nature alone, park where you can see other people without being right up on them.

#10 If you’re out in nature for an extended period of time, don’t forget to have fun. Watch a sunset. Take a walk. Relax and enjoy your free camping experience.

I took this photo while boondocking on public land.

I took all of the photos in this post.