Tag Archives: RTArt Camp

Thoughts on the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

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Black letters on yellow sign read "Rubber Tramp Rendezvous"

I actually didn’t spend much time at the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

I’d planned to volunteer at the RTArt Camp and stay in that area with The Man in his minivan, but there was a misunderstanding with the main Art Camp organizer, and she didn’t save a spot for us. She tried to squeeze us in next to the portable toilets, but neither The Man nor I wanted to sleep and cook next to the shitters. Besides, we would have been camped practically within arm’s reach of our neighbors, and even if the humans had been ok with that, every little movement from either side would have probably set Jerico the dog to barking.

White banner reads "R T Art Camp" in multicolored letters.
This is the 2018 RTArt Camp banner that Coyote Sue and I painted.

The RTArt Camp was in a much better location than in 2018. It was adjacent to the road into (and out of) the RTR and very close to the main stage. I was glad it was easier to find and get to, but having the camp roped off limited the number of people who could park their rigs within the designate Art Camp area. The Art Camp organizer told me only Art Camp volunteers were allowed to stay within the camp. I wondered if this arrangement made the camp feel exclusive to people. In 2018, I had been glad that anyone who wanted to could camp near the art community; I know at least one woman camped near us because it felt like a safe space to her.

The Man and I (along with Jerico the dog) arrived at the RTR on the afternoon of January 10. We found our friend Gee staffing the check-in station, and she gave us hugs and wrote down the mini van’s license plate number. We drove to the Art Camp and parked there while trying to decide if we were going to make our camp by the shitters. We walked around the RTR a bit while trying to make our decision. We went to the main seminar area where between 300 and 500 people (I’m terrible at estimating attendance, by the way) were listening to the afternoon speaker.

We walked over to the free pile which was being curated by a fellow who could have used some customer service training. I found several cans of tuna; a couple of fresh oranges; and a nice, big zipper pouch, but I suspect all the really great scores were snatched up quick with so many people milling about.

One change with the free pile in 2019 was that is was only “open” during certain hours each day. In the past, folks could peruse the free pile any time of the day or night. The always-available nature of the free pile meant that if it rained during the night, all of the offerings got wet unless some good Samaritan ran out of their rig and threw a tarp over everything. I suspect at closing time, the free pile volunteer covered everything with a tarp to protect the goodies from the elements.

The volunteer on duty also helped keep dogs off the free pile offerings, which probably helped cut down on the amount of dog piss on the items. Covering the free pile for the night surely also kept wayward dogs from spoiling the items.

The volunteer on duty received any donations and rejected anything deemed unworthy. On the one hand, I understand not wanting to clutter the free pile with trash, but of course, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. What if something the volunteer rejected was just the thing someone needed? The guy who needed customer service training met donations with suspicion, as if he believed most people were trying to encumber him with junk.

Another change at the RTR was having a camping area set aside for event volunteers. The main entrance to this area was staffed by a volunteer acting as a bouncer of sorts. I didn’t try to get into that area alone, so I don’t know what sort of challenge was issued if someone without the proper credentials tried to get in. Having an exclusive area for volunteers seemed a little strange to me, but I’m not really sure why things were set up that way, other than hearing a volunteer say, We feel really protective of Bob. That would be Bob Wells she was talking about. If you don’t already know, he’s the host of the RTR and the force behind the Cheap RV Living website and YouTube channel. I suppose he probably does have a large enough fan base to cause worry that people might be standing outside his van day and night, clamoring to meet him.

As has been reported in numerous other places, the 2019 RTR was HUGE! It was so big, when The Man and I stood at the Love’s truck stop on the west side of Quartzsite, we could look to the east and see the many, many rigs all the way across town at the RTR. It was amazing. It was also overwhelming to imagine living among so many people, so we decided to make our camp in the less dusty, less populated BLM area near Dome Rock.

This is the view from our camp in the Dome Rock BLM camping area on the morning of January 14, 2019

From what Gee told me on the first Sunday of the gathering, everything had been running smoothly. Aside from a few rude people who stopped at the vehicle check-in station, folks had been polite to each other and the volunteers, and everyone seemed to be getting along. I was glad to know most folks had been behaving appropriately.

With such a large group camping in a wide area, having the “streets” named and signed seemed to be helpful. I’m sure people were able to meet up more easily when they could at least tell each other with some accuracy what street they were camped on.

Another way for people to find each other was by posting announcements on one of the bulletin boards near the main stage. It must have been helpful to be able to leave a note asking to meet up with like-minded people. After all, one of the reasons Bob started the RTR was to give nomads the opportunity to meet each other and make friends.

I went to the RTR primarily to help out at the Art Camp and to conduct some interviews for the blog. I spent a few hours at the Art Camp on the afternoon of Thursday, January 10, and I spent the whole day (approximately 10 am to 4 pm) at the Art Camp with a few forays into the wider RTR on Friday the 11th. On Friday, I spent most of my time organizing the supply tent. I managed to conduct five interviews while at the RTR.

I know I’ve been saying this for a couple of years, but I probably won’t attend the next RTR. I can do without the stress and expense involved in getting to Quartzsite in order to camp near strangers. I haven’t been to a seminar since 2015, I’m not interested in meeting people to caravan with, most of my friends don’t go to the RTR, and I don’t need any new long-distances friendships.

That said, I think the RTR is an invaluable resource for a lot of people. Folks considering living nomadically or beginning a nomadic life can get a wonderful education at the RTR seminars. Nomads who feel isolated and want to make connections with other people living similarly can meet scores of people at the RTR. Meeting new people can lead to friendships, caravans, collaborations, and sometimes even romance. I encourage all nomads who find the idea of the RTR even remotely appealing to brave the crowds and attend at least once.

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.

Rubber Tramp Art Community

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

If you’re headed to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) or the Women’s RTR, you might have heard about the Rubber Tramp Art Community. If you’re wondering what the group is all about or if it’s a group you might want to join, this post will give you information on how it came to be and how you can get involved.

The group’s Facebook page says,

The Rubber Tramp Art Community (aka RTAC) is an intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. We meet up to camp together along the way; creating art together, eating together, teaching each other new skills, helping each other, and just spending time together as a community.

The group is open to new members. If you’re on Facebook, joining the Rubber Tramp Art Community there is a good way to start your involvement. You have to ask the join the group, and you will  be asked to answer some questions. The intention is that members of the group will actually live nomadically and creatively. This is not just another general group for vandwellers, RVers, or other nomads and vagabonds.

If you’re at the RTR, find the Rubber Tramp Art Community and visit with members there. At this time, I don’t know where the group will be camped, but ask around. Word of mouth is a great way to find cool people and groups at the RTR.

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Meg, one of the movers and shakers in the Rubber Tramp Art Community. We had a lot of fun talking, and the interview turned out longer than I planned. I decided to run our conversation about the Rubber Tramp Art Community as a separate post at a later date.

That later date is today!

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): You’re one of the founding members of the Rubber Tramp Art Community. Could you tell me what the group is, how it came about, how you got interested? I think it was pretty much your idea, from what I remember.

Sarah Meg (SM): It wasn’t really my idea to be honest. All I did was the footwork. The ideas came from the group, and I put in the effort to make it happen.

RTA: So could you tell us first what it is?

SM: The Rubber Tramp Art Community is an intentional community for creative nomads. We like to say “nomadic artists,” but a lot of people who are very creative and artistic wouldn’t consider themselves artists.  If you’re thinking about joining and you’re creative and you’re a nomad, I would love to hear from you [via Facebook] as would anyone else who’s working on membership of the club currently.

We started out at the RTR [Rubber Tramp Rendezvous] in 2018. Sue Soaring Sun started the RTArt Camp at the RTR. You were there as well.

RTA: I was there.

SM: You’re one of the founding members as well.

RTA: I was assisting Sue. Before we got together as a group, I was assisting Sue and then other people came out and contributed as well.

SM: It’s actually kind of funny. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to find Art Camp when I was first looking for you guys, so this almost didn’t happen, we almost didn’t have the Rubber Tramp Art Community because I almost gave up [laughter] trying to find you guys.

I believe there were nine of us camped [at the RTArt Camp] who were there almost every day, helping and doing artwork together and just having a ton of fun. We had a campfire one night where we burned an incredibly toxic log, got a little loopy, and started talking about how fun it was to have art camp. One of our founding members said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we did Art Camp all the time?” I started thinking about it. I thought, “It would be awesome if we did art camp all the time, but how would that work?” Then there was a conversation over the next couple days while we were still at the RTR about how we could make a community out of Art Camp, how could this be a traveling community.

Our first idea was that it would be a community that caravanned together and was together all the time. That quickly fell through because herding nomads is like herding cats. I did not want to do that and neither did anyone else. We within two and a half months had broken off the group into smaller groups and then went to events throughout the year. Currently what we’re doing is anyone can host an event. Nobody but me has done it so far, but you guys can. Anyone in the Rubber Tramp Art Community can host an event, and if people show up, yay, if they don’t, then, hey, you had fun in the forest or the desert or the beach by yourself.

We’ll be hosting Art Camp, of course, at the RTR, and eventually, there’s been quite a bit of talk with other members about eventually making this a nonprofit for various reasons. The first reason was actually brought up in the first month when a part of our group was camping together was that we wanted to have a fund for people [in our group] who were very low income, so we could help people out. If their rig broke down, we could help pay for repairs. We didn’t know how that could work, and then we thought about selling t-shirts to put that money into the fund. So we’re working on, I’m thinking of how we could become a nonprofit. That’s our next stage, although that might take quite a while.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SM: It is a Toyota Sienna.

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

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

RTA: So you have a single bed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SM: I just picked the smallest one.

RTA: Oh, that’s a good plan.

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

 

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

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

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

RTA: Do you have a mattress or memory foam?

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

RTA: Do you have storage under the bed?

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

RTA: Oh, that’s clever.

RTA: Do you have a kitchen in your van?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: [Laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

Creative Nomad (An Interview with Sue Soaring Sun)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

*It is very cool looking. Shagalicious, baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road

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Last week I shared some ideas for filling free time for folks who don’t quite know what to do with themselves now that they own their lives. Another concern I often see expressed by the newly nomadic (or folks who want to live nomadically someday) is how to avoid loneliness while living on the road. Sometimes this concern is expressed as How do I make friends on the road? or How do I find a romantic partner on the road? Today I’ll give some tips on how to avoid loneliness while traveling the world.

Before I start with the tips, may I suggest you expand your definition of “friend”? If you only count as friends the people you see in person every week (or every month), your life as a nomad may prevent you from having friends. Expanding your definition of “friend” to people with whom you communicate regularly (whether it’s via telephone, text, internet forums, Facebook, or some other electronic means), may help alleviate your loneliness. Friends are people who support us when times are tough and celebrate with us when life if good. Seeing these folks in person is just a bonus.

#1 As I learned in Brownies, make new friends, but keep the old. Assuming you had friends before you became a nomad, stay in touch with them. Maybe they don’t entirely understand your new way of living, but if they are good, kind, loving people, don’t drop them like hot potatoes. Communicating through phone conversations, text, Skype, FaceTime, email, old-fashioned postal mail, Facebook Messenger, and however else kids these days are doing it can help you stay in touch with the people already in your life.

#2 Get out and about.  You’re not likely to meet anyone while you’re sitting in your rig pouting because you’re basket, chalkboard, coffee shoplonely. Go where there are peope to meet. If you’re in the wilderness, go for a hike (or a short walk, if that’s what you’re up for) and meet other hikers (or walkers). Go see the natural attractions that draw a crowd. If you’re in civilization, hang out at the library or a coffee shop or a park.

#3 Do what you already like to do. If you hate bars, you probably won’t have fun at one and you’re not likely to meet people you want to spend time with. (You’ll never meet anyone as nice as you in a bar, my sibling would tell me when I was in my 20s and looking for love in all the wrong places.) If you can’t stand art, don’t spend time at an art museum. If you do activities you enjoy, meeting someone will matter less.

#4 Meet up with a Meetup group. According to Wikipedia,

Meetup operates as a website providing membership software, allowing its users to schedule events using a common platform.

To use Meetup, you have to sign up for a free account, which you can do through Facebook or Google.  Once you’re signed up and signed in, you choose your location and some areas of interest. Then the website suggests some Meetups you might be interested in.

It’s very easy to change your location, so if you know (for example) that you’ll be in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon, you can find out if any Meetups you’d like to participate in are happening then and there.

I’ve never been on any Meetups, but it seems like a good way to get involved with an activity you like with people who also enjoy the activity.

#5 If you’re in civilization, volunteer. Perhaps you can help sort canned goods at a food bank or serve beans in a food line withouth too much training or a background check. Maybe you can help cook or serve free vegan food with a Food Not Bombs group in whatever town you’re in. Once I responded to an ad on Craigslist posted by a woman who fostered cats. After talking on the phone, I went to her apartment and played with cats needing socialization with humans. True, I didn’t get much human interaction myself, but playing with kitties was certainly a joy.

If you’ll be in one town for weeks or months, you can do volunteer work that involves more training and commitment. If you’re staying in a national forest or on BLM land, call the local field office and ask about group volunteering opportunities you can get involved with.

Whatever kind of volunteer work you are able to do, you’ll feel good about helping, and you’ll get to inteact with other volunteers and the people (or animals) you are serving.

Yellow and Black Church#6 Go to church. If you belong to a religious denomination, time your trips to or through town to coincide with services or Bible study. Sometimes churches offer a social time before or after services where folks can drink coffee and visit. If you’re not into traditional religion, look into visiting a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

#7 Join Facebook groups for van dwellers, boondockers, rubber tramps, vagabonds, RV dwellers and nomads of every sort. Yes, there are trolls and rude people in many of these groups. I recommend joining a bunch of groups, stick with the ones that have a vibe you like, and quit the rest.

While an internet friend is different from an in-person friend you can grab coffee with and laugh with in real time, an internet friend can certainly help allieve loneliness. Folks in Facebook groups are often also willing to answer questions about mechanical issues, van builds, and free camping spots.

Once you’ve made a Facebook friend, maybe you’ll be able to meet IRL (in real life). I’ve turned some Facebook friends into real life friends. One woman met me for a quick coffee when we found ourselves in the same area. I’ve met a second of these friends twice during successive Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and we stay in touch via Facebook. I felt an immediate connection with the third woman I met in person, and we check in via text every few months. My fourth Facebook-turned-real-life friend is a kindred spirit. We read each other’s blogs (hers is Xsyntrik Nomad), we communicate through Facebook and texts, and we meet for coffee or ice cream whenever wer’re in the same town. I’m proof that Facebook friendships can transition to the real world.

Of course, if you’re going to meet in person anyone you’ve otherwise only know through the internet, take some precautions. Talk on the telephone and pay attention to any gut reactions of discomfort or apprehension you may have. Meet in a public place. If you decide to go to this new friend’s stick-n-bricks or to go off camping together (especially in a secluded place), let someone you trust know where you’re going, with whom you’re going, and when the trusted friend can expect to hear from you again.

#8 Join the Wandering Individual Network (WIN) or Loners on Wheels and travel with other folks.

WIN’s website says,

WIN RV Singles is the premiere RV club for singles. We are an active, adventurous club for single campers and solo travelers. WIN RV Singles has circuits across the US, Canada, and Mexico. We are open to single travelers of all ages. WIN is an active club. With an average of 80 caravans, circuits, and gatherings each year, we provide activities for all solo travelers: hiking, biking, sightseeing, kayaking, zip-lining, boat tours, museums, plays, factory tours, and more.

Also note, the WIN website says,

When you travel with the WINs, it must be in a vehicle in which you can eat, sleep, cook, bathe and go to the toilet, even if all facilities are portable.

The Loners on Wheels website says,

Loners on Wheels is an RV Club of legally single men and women who enjoy traveling, camping, RV caravanning and the lifestyle of singles. We are not a matching [sic] making or dating service. Companionship and support is what we’re all about.

Three Red Hearts Hanging With White Flowers#9 If you’re looking for romantic love, join a Facebook group with “single” or “romance” or “love” or “dating” in its name. Someone in a Facebook group I’m in pointed me to a Facebook group specifically for single van dwellers (#VanLife Love, Dating & Friendship), and I found a handful of groups for single RVers who don’t want to be single anymore.

There’s also a free dating site especially for people who are fans of recreational vehicles. It’s called (unsurprisingly) RV Dating, and

[f]ree basic membership allows you to browse the site, view profiles, send flirts and modify your profile.

Perhaps some of these RV folks would be open to finding love with a van dweller or nomad of some other kind!

#10 Spend time at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and other gatherings geared toward vanners. Many van groups have regional meet ups where van folks can hang out and socialize.

The ultimate gathering for nomads, rubber tramps, van dwellers, RVers, wannabes, soon-to-bes, and folks who just want to try out the way of life is the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), held each Januaury in Quartzsite, Arizona. I’ve been to the RTR four times (2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018) and seen it change from a small gathering of a couple hundred people to a large gathering of a few thousand.

The RTR is a great place to meet people and make friends. I met Auntie M (along with a handful of other folks with whom I stay in touch) at the RTR in 2015, Gee in 2016, and The Man in 2017. (Yes, he and I owe our partnership to the RTR.) In 2018 I helped Coyote Sue organize the RTArt Camp and met many people who participated in art camp activities. I now count several of those folks as friends.

I feel confident that anyone who ventures our of his or her rig at the RTR can make at least one friend!

For more tips on finding friends, read Eldrina Michel‘s article “3 Ways for Single Full-Time RVers to Find Companionship On the Road.”

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/basket-chalkboard-coffee-shop-coffeehouse-143642/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-and-black-church-161171/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/three-red-hearts-hanging-with-white-flowers-160836/.

 

RTArt Camp (Part 2)

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What we have here is one of the early steps of preparing wool for the felted shower scrubby.

If you haven’t read the first part of my report on the RTArt Camp, you can find it here.

On the first Friday of the RTR, the RTArt Camp hosted its first workshop. A woman showed interested folks how to felt wool on a bar of soap to create a shower scrubby. Eight or so people participated, and everyone seemed to have fun.

The following day saw probably the most popular activity of the art camp. An artist staying in a motorhome with her husband just past Coyote Sue’s rig taught people how to do acrylic pour painting on canvas. More than a dozen people participated that day, and the activity was so well-received, the artist taught the pouring technique again later in the week.

On Sunday, I led the first of two activities—finger painting! Ever since I’d agreed to help with the RTArt Camp, I’d wanted to offer finger painting. I thought it would be a good activity for people who didn’t consider themselves artistic. Also, I didn’t remember doing finger painting as a child, so I thought the RTArt Camp would be a good excuse to have the experience. I’d bought a three pack of eight ounce finger paints in primary colors so we could mix, as well as three rolls of freezer paper. I had high hopes, but turnout was rather small, maybe eight people. On the plus side, one big burly guy came over to finger pain particularly because he hadn’t done it since he was a child. We got him (as well as a male New Englander friend of mine) totally out of their comfort zones.

I learned something very important about finger painting that day. It’s lots of fun to paint on the smooth, shiny side of the freezer paper; the flow is amazing. However, as soon as the paint dries, it peels right off that slick paper. I used it as an opportunity to talk about the Merry Pranksters and their belief that “art is not eternal.”

Here’s a mandala drawn during Coyote Sue’s class demonstrating an easy technique for drawing them. I’m not sure who drew this one. If you are the artist, please feel free to speak up in the comments.

Monday brought Coyote Sue teaching an easy technique for drawing mandalas. The class was well-attended, and people seemed to enjoy the process.

On Tuesday (or maybe it was Wednesday), the art camp had two classes going at once. One woman taught folks how to make beaded bracelets as a follow-up to her class on embroidering beads onto watercolor paper which happened before finger painting on Sunday. Another woman taught crochet. She was able to help beginners with the basics and give more advanced instruction to folks with experience. It was really cool to come back from town that day and see people sitting all around our tables.

Thursday was another popular day at the RTArt Camp. A monk (for real!) led a pencil drawing workshop where he demonstrated techniques for making life-like art. Probably a dozen people spent time drawing according to his instructions.

This positive voodoo doll was made by a mom on the road so she could send loving energy to her kid.

The crochet lady was at it again on Friday at a voodoo doll making workshop. She donated materials (fabric, fluff) and her expertise so people could make voodoo dolls. Several people said they were making replicas of political leaders, while one woman made a “positive” voodoo doll representing her daughter. She planned to use the doll to send her child love and Reiki healing from the road.

Saturday was my big day—collaging! Unfortunately the day turned out to be cloudy and windy. By 11am, the sun was peeking out, but the wind didn’t cease until after we got some rain. Thankfully, the wind had chased away the few participants before the rain began, and Coyote Sue and I had divvied up and packed away all the art supplies before anything got wet. The RTArt Camp was over.

Participating in the RTArt Camp took a lot out of me. Because none of us figured out how to put up an awning, we sat in the sun for at least five hours a day. Even wearing long sleeves and my hat, that was a lot of sun exposure for me. Our tables were next to the road, so we also had to contend with dust stirred up by the vehicles rolling by. Most folks were courteous and drove slowly, but too many people drove way too fast. I dubbed the second set of people “dust devils.”

While it was easier to meet people at the RTArt table because we already had something to talk about, there was more talking to strangers than I was comfortable with. Not only did I have to speak to people who were interested in what we were doing and wanted to participate, I also had to speak to people who treated us as a general information booth. I didn’t mind when people asked where the labyrinth was or where Nadia was camped; what I minded was when I politely said I didn’t know and people persisted in their questioning. I never had time to go looking for the labyrinth and Nadia never introduced herself and pointed out her rig, so I wasn’t able to offer the detailed information people wanted.

These are jars I decorated during downtime while staffing the RTArt table. I got the beads at the free pile, then sorted them according to color. The jars came from the free pile too; I decorated them with pretty scrapbooking paper and washi tape. Fun!

Several great things did come out of the RTArt Camp.

On the last day of the camp, Coyote Sue and I divvied up all the leftover art supplies, much of which was donated to us or came from the free pile. I ended up with a lot of really useful supplies other folks were done with.

The second good that came from the art camp was getting to spend time with other cool, art-centric folks. As always, I enjoyed spending time and sharing ideas with Coyote Sue, and I met three other super cool artist. I know I’m in good company when I like everyone sitting around the campfire with me, and that happened more than once at the RTArt Camp.

Probably the best thing that came out of the RTArt Camp was a nomadic intentional community for artsy rubber tramps. Different subgroups of the community camp together and make art together. Folks come and go as they please and take turn being the go-to person in the group. I haven’t camped with the group yet, but I hope our paths cross someday.

I made this lanyard from beads I got at the free pile. Do you like it? I’m willing to give it away to someone who needs it. I made it while staffing the table at the RTArt Camp.

I said in my report on the 2018 RTR that my Rubber Tramp Rendezvous days are probably over. If I stick to the decision not to go to future RTRs, that means my RTArt Camp days are over too. While I did enjoy some aspects of the art camp very much, it also took a lot out of me. I might do better camping with a small group of like-minded rubber tramps.

I took all of the photos in this post. Thanks to the artists who allowed me to share their work.