Tag Archives: RTR

I Needed to Change My Life (an Interview with Ellen)

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Hands arranging fluffy mateiral next to a green bar of soap.
Felting wool shower scrubbies at the first RTArt Camp at the 2018 RTR.

I met Ellen at the very first RTArt Camp in 2018. She camped nearby and attended many of the workshops held during the two weeks of the RTR. She was pleasant to talk to, and I enjoyed her easy laugh. Some of the best times I spent that week were sitting around campfires with Ellen, learning about her life and experiences.

At the 2019 RTArt Camp, I had the pleasure of spending time with Ellen again. She allowed me to interview her and told me why she decided to live on the road full time, how she choose her rig, and what she likes most about the way she lives.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): I am here today with Ellen, and I’ll be asking her some questions about her life on the road.

So am I correct that you are a full-time solo traveler?

Ellen: Yes, that is correct.

RTA: How long have you been doing that?

Ellen: Since June 2017, so a year and a half.

RTA: What’s your rig?

Ellen: A Ford Transit Connect.

RTA: That’s pretty small.

Ellen: It’s teeny tiny. It’s basically like a minivan, but a little bit taller.

RTA: What would you say are your three biggest challenges of living in such a small rig?

Ellen: Biggest challenges are…not having a full kitchen, would probably be #1.

RTA: So you cook outside?

Ellen: Yeah. I cook outside. I can cook inside if I need to, but I don’t usually.

I don’t really have space for people to hang out, to have people over in any type of way.

And…I don’t know if I could think of another thing. I like having a tiny rig.

RTA: OK. Well tell me about that then. Tell me about the three best

Selective Focus Photography of Gasoline Nozzle

things about having the tiny rig.

Ellen: I get really good gas mileage. That was kind of on top of my list.

 I can park anywhere. It’s super stealthy, and I can park in any neighborhood or be in a city parallel parking. Any of that is really easy.

 It just keeps my life really simple. I don’t collect stuff. I avoid the free pile.

RTA: [Boisterous laughter]

Ellen: [joins in with her own laughter]

RTA: Would you say that you were a minimalist or you had minimalist leanings before you moved into your rig and went on the road?

Shallow Focus Photography of Assorted-color Clothes Hanged on Clothes Rack

Ellen: No. I don’t think so. I’ve always loved thrifting and collecting things and having projects. Maybe that’s something that’s hard about having a small rig is that I can’t set up a project and leave it sitting there. Everything always has to be put away in the right exact spot.

I think I’m not super attached to material things in general, but I don’t know if I would call myself a minimalist.

RTA: Is your primary way of dealing with living in the small space that everything has its place and always goes back?

Ellen: Yeah. Exactly. Everything that’s in there has a very specific place where it goes. Usually after a while things start to be a little bit out of place, so then [I] have to kind of unpack everything and repack the whole thing.

RTA: How often do you think you do that?

Ellen: It totally depends on what I’m doing and where I am. Maybe once a month, once every other month, sometimes, depending on the season and what I’m doing. I guess I do it on a mini level every day! 

RTA: Right!

Ellen: [Laughter]

RTA: When you were thinking about wanting to go on the road, did you already have this vehicle, or were you shopping around for vehicles? If you were shopping around, what made you decide on this rig and not something bigger?

Ellen: I shopped around for a long time as I was planning on moving into a vehicle. I looked online at a million different kinds of vehicles. Factors for me [were] gas mileage and stealthiness…the same things I said I love about it and affordability for me and reliability. My balance that I was really trying to find was something that was in my budget that I could afford that was going to be reliable. [Reliability] felt like a safety thing for me, especially starting out as a solo female…if I could, avoiding situations where I was going to be broken down or need help.

RTA: What were some of the other vehicles that you considered seriously?

Ellen: I was looking at bigger vans. I’m definitely drawn more aesthetically to like the cool, older [vans]. That was really where my heart wanted to go.

 RTA: So what year is your current rig?

Ellen: 2011…parts are super easy to get for it anywhere if I need something. It’s very reliable, but it’s kind of boring. [Laughter] It’s just a white box. It doesn’t necessarily fit my personality…

RTA: But in 20 years, it will be the hippie van of its day!

Ellen: [more laughter] That’s true. Alright. Let’s look at it that way.

RTA: What was your impetus for getting on the road? Is it something you wanted to do for a long, long time?

Ellen: It’s not really that farfetched for me. I’ve driven around the country

Brown Wooden Destination Arrow Guide

many times and traveled around the world many times. I guess as I grew older and got into my 30s, my life started getting really routine and kind of boring. I had a career and was doing all the stuff, adulting stuff. Then I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 32, and after going through that…it was just very clear to me that I needed to change my life and get rid of stress from my life–probably the #1 thing–and just to be happy. It’s really underrated! [Laughter] I just knew that this was a way that I could do it, that I could afford to not have a 9 to 5 and that I could also spend a lot of quality time with people I care about. That also felt really important to me after coming through cancer treatment. It was really clear how I needed to give more importance, more time in my life for the people I care about.

RTA: How did your family react when you told them you were going to hit the road full time?

Ellen: Oh, my family’s used to it. [Laughter]  It’s not that farfetched.

A lot of people were like “WHAT?” I think people didn’t really quite realize maybe how serious I was about it. I think people thought I was going on vacation. I think mostly people felt like I sort of deserved a break. I’d been through a lot. I’d been very sick, very sick and sort of stuck in one place for a while. I think people were happy, my family, my community and friends…It made sense to everybody.

RTA: Do they now see that at least for the moment this is the choice you’ve made long-term?

Ellen: Yeah, now I think they get it.

RTA: They see you’re serious about this; it’s not just vacation.

Ellen: Yes. Exactly.

RTA: Let’s talk about challenges and joys again. What do you think are your three biggest challenges to being a young woman solo on the road?

Ellen: I don’t know that it’s necessarily just on the road, but safety in general. It’s not really a challenge, but it’s certainly a factor. Having to think about where I am and what kind of situation I’m putting myself in and never knowing from day to day where I’m going, if I’m going places I’ve never been, I don’t know what it’s going to be like or how I’m going to feel there. So there’s a little bit of constant factoring all this stuff in.

RTA: But not anything that would be necessarily unusual if you were living in an apartment in the city? I mean, you’re in a new place…

Ellen: You mean with safety. You still have to think about that no matter where you are?

RTA: Do you agree or disagree with that?

Ellen: I do agree with that. It’s just maybe a little more noticeable, a little more prevalent

I should probably follow that up, I think…I’ve NEVER had any issues with anybody. Maybe that’s part of it too…deprogramming myself to not feel like that. Probably something I should look at.

Challenges of being a young woman on the road? I don’t know. I can’t think of anything.

RTA: What about your three biggest joys of being a young woman on the road?

Ellen: Life is really awesome! [Laughter]

White Blooming Flower Under the Tree during Daytime

I think just being outside, connecting with the land and putting myself in a position where I am really outside all the time has been really wonderful for me.

The community, the community that I’ve found here is really wonderful. I’m a person who has never really felt at home anywhere, and this community of people for me feels like home.

RTA: Do you mean the RTR community or the Art Camp community or just the nomadic community?

Ellen: It just keeps expanding for me. I think it started with coming to the RTR and getting involved with Art Camp. I’m also part of Mindfulness Camp. I have different groups around…I guess it would be the RTR crowd. It’s expanded through my whole year. My whole life [has] really sort of formed around the communities that I’ve made here.

RTA: You said being outdoors, the communities. Is there something else you want to mention?

Ellen: Also, just to expand on that a little bit—the community—I’ve always been a really shy, introverted person. Not maybe introverted, but shy, and I have just made so many connections out here. That has really enriched my life greatly. I know some people talk about people coming out on the road and isolating, but I have just had the opposite experience. I’ve made more friends in the past couple years than I have in the rest of my entire adult life. Maybe that’s because I’m amongst people I connect with, and maybe it’s just me growing. Maybe it’s this lifestyle.

Another thing that I really love…of course, just traveling, seeing new things, and getting to know this land. I try and get involved in as much as I can, so that’s really afforded me the time to go to retreats and go to different workshops and go to places I’ve always wanted to go. So I think that’s a really healing thing for me to be able to have the time, to give that time to myself to really do some deep healing work.

RTA: What is your favorite new place that you saw in 2018?

Ellen: I traveled all through British Columbia which was really wonderful, going almost all the way up to Alaska. They call it Northern BC, but it’s actually central BC, there’s just nothing actually north of it. [much laughter] They just call the central part ‘north.’ Seeing that area was really special—absolutely beautiful and the rivers there are something to see.

The first photo in this post was taken by me. Other images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-gasoline-nozzle-1537172/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-focus-photography-of-assorted-color-clothes-hanged-on-clothes-rack-1078958/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/sign-arrow-direction-travel-52526/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/wood-light-vacation-picnic-60006/.

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.

How to Have a Great Time at (or at Least Survive) the RTR

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So you’ve done it! You’ve decided to attend the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, Arizona on January 9-20. Congratulations! If this is your first RTR, you’re probably really excited and at least a little nervous too. When I went to my first RTR in 2015, I didn’t know a single person there! However, despite my shyness, anxiety, and tendency to be overwhelmed by crowds, I made friends I’m still close to today. I’ve attended  three more RTRs since then, and today I’ll share with you my best advice to help you learn a lot and enjoy yourself at this gathering of vandwellers, rubber tramps, RVers, nomads, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds.

#1 Do your research now so you’ll know what to expect when you get to the RTR. This post is a great place to start, but don’t stop here. Visit the Cheap RV Living website to learn the specifics of the 2019 RTR. If you like watching videos more than you like reading, check out the Cheap RV Living YouTube channel to get updates about the 2019 RTR.  In the last couple of years, Facebook groups related to the RTR and Quartzsite have popped up. If you’re on Facebook, you might want to join  RTR Chatter  and Quartzsite Chatter. Lots of bloggers and vloggers have written about their RTR experiences, so use  your favorite search engine to find those posts. If you want my perspective, you can read about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

#2 The desert is different from the rest of the U.S. Learn about desert conditions before you arrive. A good place to start is my blog post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.” Once you know what to expect in the desert, you’ll have better ideas for how to prepare.

#3 Be ready for sun, wind, rain, cold, and dust. Weather in the desert can change rapidly, and nights can be chilly or downright cold. It does rain in the desert, so bring appropriate gear for whatever weather the two weeks of the RTR bring.

#4 If you’re a woman, and especially if you are a female newbie, consider attending The Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR). This gathering will be held January 4-8 (before the main RTR) in Bouse, Arizona. The WRTR will be smaller than the main RTR, so it may be easier to meet people there, and smaller crowd may produce less anxiety. At the WRTR, you’ll learn things (like how to go to the bathroom in your rig!) that you’ll be glad to know once you get to the big gathering.

#5 Stock up on fresh food before you get to Quartzsite. Once you’re in town, you can find good deals on canned goods, snacks, and other processed foods at the multiple popup scratch & dent stores. However, Quartzsite has no big supermarket with low prices. Instead it has two grocery stores with small town prices. When I arrive at the RTR, I make sure my cooler is stocked with eggs, cheese, and produce. If you stay at the RTR for two weeks, you may have to pick up fresh groceries halfway through, but you can save some money by buying cheap before you arrive.

#6 Once you arrive at the RTR, you’re going to have to find a spot for your camp. You can be close to the main meeting area, or you can have lots of space around your camp, but you probably can’t do both. At the 2018 RTR, people camped close to the main meeting area were packed in fairly close to each other. Farther away, there was more room for people to spread out, but folks who had more room around their rigs had to walk a ways to get to seminars, the main campfire, and the free pile.

#7 Forget about privacy. Unless you are more than a mile from the main RTR meeting area, you probably won’t be able to camp entirely alone. Even if you’re able to maintain some space around your rig, you’ll probably still have neighbors close enough to see what you’re doing when you’re outside. No matter where you’re camped, expect drones to fly overhead and take photos and videos. At any official RTR event and even in your own camp, expect people to record and photograph you without permission. While organizers have discouraged filming, photographing, and recording without permission, they’ve also said there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

#8 Find your people at the RTR. Especially if you go alone or this is your first RTR, finding others with similar interests can make the gathering a less overwhelming place. If you’re the creative type, seek out the RTArt Camp. If you like to jam, camp with other musicians. In the past, school bus nomads have camped together, and in 2018 several box trucks parked all in a row. Sure, you might not be able to base an entire friendship on a shared love of finger painting or driving a similar rig, but some common thread will at least give you a conversation starter.

#9 Wearing a nametag can be a good ice breaker, At the last two RTRs, a few ladies had a button-making machine and were making nametags in exchange for a small donation to cover expenses. Some folks brought their nametags to the RTArt Camp to add bling to their button.

If you don’t want people to know your legal name, it’s a time-honored tradition to give yourself a road name. In any case, wearing a name badge can help folks remember you and what you want to be called.

#10 Get to seminars early to get a good spot where you can see and hear the action. The seminars are one of the most popular aspects of the RTR, especially for new folks. In 2018 I estimate two to three hundred people attended each seminar. Even with sound amplification, it must have been difficult for some attendees to hear. I’d plan to arrive at any seminar at least half an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Some folks leave their chairs to hold their places in the seminar area during the entire event.

#11 Drive more slowly than you think necessary.The BLM camping areas in Quartzsite are dusty places. Going more than 5 miles per hour on unpaved BLM land stirs up a lot of dust. Go super slow so the people whose camps you pass won’t hate you. Also, sometimes pets dash out of rigs and into the road. Going slow will help you avoid hitting any renegade pups or kitties.

#12 Bring earplugs for a peaceful sleep. Overall, the RTRs I’ve attended have been mostly quiet at night, but be prepared for the night you’ve parked next to someone who has to run a generator for medical reasons, your friendly neighbors linger next to the campfire laughing, or you want to go to bed early and the Boomers across the wash blast the oldies until 9:59. It’s not reasonable to expect a gathering of so many will be quiet when you need your rest, so have your ear plugs handy.

#13 If one of your RTR goals is to meet people, put yourself out there and be friendly.Walk around. Smile at people. Say hello. Ask respectful questions.

Feel awkward staring a conversation with a stranger? Here are some RTR specific opening lines:

  • Is this your first RTR?
  • Have you been to the free pile?
  • What kind of rig do you have?
  • Are you full time?
  • What seminar do you most want to attend?
  • Have you been to the RTArt Camp?
  • Are you going/have you been to the Big Tent?
  • Where’s the main campfire?
  • What are you plans for after the RTR?
  • Where did you get your nametag? (Make sure the person is actually wearing a nametage before you use this one.)

#14 Remember that it’s fine to go hide in your rig if you get overwhelmed. I’ve hidden in my rig so many times during past RTRs! There’s no shame in needing alone time to decompress and process what you’ve heard, seen, and learned. Close your curtains, breathe deeply, and relax.

#15 The RTR can be fun, exciting, overwhelming, educational, stressful, aggravating, and wonderful. Take care of your physical needs so you can cope emotionally. Drink plenty of water. Eat enough. Rest. Cry if you need to and laugh as much as you can. Exercise, but not a lot more than you’re accustomed to. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes so you can make it over the rocks, through the dust, and across the washes. I’ve found a walking stick really helps me navigate the rough terrain.

Whether it’s your first or your eighth Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, following these tips can help you make the most of this gathering of nomads from across North America. If you’re new to the RTR feel free to ask my any questions I may not have answered in this post. If you’ve been to past RTRs, leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every problem you might encounter at the RTR or anywhere in the desert. Only you are responsible for you! Do your research before you head to the RTR, use common sense, and think before you act.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

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/.

 

Interloper at the RTR

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I wrote about this experience at the 2017 RTR but never publislhed it because I really wasn’t as nice as I should have been. I’ve decided to share it anyway. We can all probably learn some lessons from the story. 

The 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) was crowded. There were substantially more people there than in either 2015 or 2016. I guess that’s what happens when a free event is promoted far and wide on social media.

I’d joined Auntie M’s camp across the road from the free pile. In the three days I’d been there, Auntie M had become frustrated by the crowds and the sense of entitlement displayed by some of the RTR participants. She managed to find a spot on the far outskirts of the gathering and moved out there. My friend Gee had arrived from the Midwest and spent one night across the road from us, then moved into the spot Auntie M vacated. I was waiting for a third friend to arrive, so Gee and I  staked out a space between my rig and hers with folding tables and camp chairs.

It was Thursday night, and as usual, I’d gone to bed early. I was in a deep sleep when the headlights shining through my back windows woke me. Someone had gone around the barriers and pulled into my camp on the side of Gee and me fatherest from the road. I wasn’t expecting anyone I knew to arrive that late. No one had texted me to say she was on her way; no one had texted me to say she had arrived. When I peeked out my back window, I saw the vehicle that had pulled into my camp was a large pickup with a slide-in camper on the back. I didn’t know anyone who drove that sort of rig.

I should have gotten out of bed, put on some clothes, and gone out to speak to the stranger who’d so boldly moved right into my camp. I should have told the interloper the truck was parked too close, and we were saving room for another rig. I should have stood up for myself. However, I’m Southern, and I hate conflict, and it was dark and chilly outside, so I fumed for a while, then went back to sleep.

I was up early the next morning. Gee was on her way out on a day trip, so I stretched the tables and chairs to save the spot she’d left temporarily empty.

While I was out there, I determined how the interloper had gotten in. She drove on the narrow path between our closest neighbor and Gee’s small cargo trailer. The trailer, Gee’s van, and my rig were parked parallel to the road. The driver of the pickup had come around from the back and parked on the thin strip of level ground to our left. No considerate person would have put themselves so close to us or tried to start another row of rigs on our far side.

My third friend had arrived in Quartzsite the pervious afternoon, found Auntie M’s camp, and spent the night there. She and Auntie walked into the main camp for the morning seminar. When they saw how close the interloper had parked to me and Gee, they were outraged on our behalf.

I was still undecided about what to do.

I know there is no exclusive use of public land. I could tell the driver of the truck s/he ws too close, but the BLM wouldn’t back me up on that. If I suggested the interloper move and s/he refused, I might have a pissed off, vindictive person in my camp. Perhaps it was better to say nothing and just try to get along.

It was late morning before the interloper emerged from the rig. I was talking to my friend Iggy when the woman and her tiny chihuahua came outside. She plopped down into her camp chair and tried to insinuate herself into our conversation. I was livid. I might have felt differently had she introduced herself, explained her situation, maybe apologized for being way too close. However, she did none of those things. She just acted as if it were perfectly natural to move in on strangers without so much as a howdy-do.

I replied to her attempts at conversation coldly. I discreetly (or maybe not so discreetly…I didn’t much care) moved father away from her. I was most unhappy with the situation.

While Iggy and I talked, the interloper’s dog barked and strained on its leash to meet another dog. She brought the chihuahua to meet the other dog, and as they parted ways, the chihuahua defecated just outside my camp. When the chihuahua was done, it and its person went back to the truck. I assumed she would get a plastic bag and clean up the mess, but instead she plopped back down in her chair.

I turned to her and asked, Are you going to clean that up? I figured someone was bound to step in the shit if it sat there very long.

The woman sputtered about needing to get a plastic bag, then got out of her chair, found a bag, and cleaned up the mess. I suspect she hadn’t planned on picking up after her dog.

I went back to my conversation with Iggy until we saw folks walking up to the free pile with armloads of items to give away. We decided to walk over and examine the new offerings.

Lady Nell was at the free pile, so I was chatting with her while finding a few more useful free items. I glanced across the street at my camp and saw the interloper had a visitor. Then I realized the interloper’s gentleman caller was sitting a chair I’d earlier salvaged from the free pile and promised to a friend. The nerve!

I told Lady Nell what was going one, and she and others around the free pile agreed it wasn’t ok. Both Lady Nell and  woman I’d never seen before asked if I needed backup, but I said I thought I could handle it ok.

I marched across the stree and right up to the man. Excuse me, I said coldly to the gentleman caller. That’s my chair.

To his credit, he jumped right up and apologized for offending me. I snatched the chair, folded it up, and brought it to my van. The interloper and her gentleman caller then went over to Gee’s chairs which were holding space for her rig and had a conversation about whether or not he should sit in one of those. Apparently they decided not, so they walked over to the neighboring camp and sat in the chairs there. (I found out later the interloper was friendly with the neighbor.)

Honestly, I if I had been standing there and the guy had asked to borrow the chair, I would have said yes. However, walking into a stranger’s camp and making use of someone’s gear without permission is simply unacceptable.

I sat in my van with the side doors open most of the rest of the afternoon fuming and texting with Auntie M who was even madder about the whole thing than I was. Around three o’clock, one of Gee’s friends came by, and I had a pleasant conversation with him. While we were talking, the interloper maneuvered her truck out of our camp and took off on the road out of the gathering.

When Gee’s friend and his cute dog strolled off to resume their evening constitutional, I approached the guy in the camp next door. I’d seen him talking to the interloper after her gentleman caller left.

Is that lady gone for good? I asked the neighbor

She had orignally been parked on the other side of him, he told me. When she’d come back from town the night before, she’d been disoriented (is that what kids these days are calling it?)  and accidentally pulled into my cap. She must have been quite disoriented becaues my camp looked nothing like where she’d been parked before and there was no way to accidentally pull in where she’d put her truck.

I told him she’d been too close to me and Gee, then her gentleman caller had used my chair without my permission.

Yeah, the guy said, she told me you’d read her the riot act.

Oh dear! She thought that was the riot act? That was the wimpiest riot act ever! I didn’t even ask her to move or complain about her being too close. I only asked her if she planned to clean up her dog’s poop and reclaimed my own chair.

I suppose I should have been more direct in a kind way, but sometimes I’m just at a loss.

 

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.

 

The RTArt Camp (Part 1)

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I helped Coyote Sue make this banner. I took this photo of it too!

The RTArt Camp was all Coyote Sue’s idea.

Coyote Sue’s first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) was in 2017. It was a particularly cold and rainy January in Quartzsite, and Coyote Sue found herself spending a lot of time alone in her rig working on art projects. Wouldn’t it be fun to do art with my friends at the RTR? she thought. The RTArt Camp was born with that thought.

I told Coyote Sue I would help her with the RTArt Camp if I made it to the RTR. I knew I didn’t want sole responsibility for the art camp, and for months I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend the RTR. I think it was December before I committed to being there. If I hadn’t told Coyote Sue I’d be there, I probably would have decided not to go or at least left early.

Coyote Sue discussed the RTArt Camp with the main organizer of the RTR because she wanted the art camp to be part of the larger gathering. We could have gone off and had our own gathering nearby (or far away) but that was never our intention. The organizer knew we were coming and offered to set aside space for the art camp.

Coyote Sue was on the Cheap RV Living forums for months, telling CRVL regulars about the plans for the RTArt Camp. Apparently, about 20 people expressed interest in being involved with the RTArt Camp, but at least some of those folks were stationed in the main camp, while the RTArt Camp ended up away from the main meeting area. Unfortunately, as Coyote Sue said, we just never worked out a way to coordinate what we were doing with things going on three washes away.

I arrived at the RTR before Coyote Sue, on the day before the gathering officially began. I’d hoped Coyote Sue would arrive first or that she and I could find the organizers together and learn the location of the RTArt Camp. Instead, Coyote Sue’s Class C was having problems with overheating, and she was stuck waiting on repairs 20 miles away. Claiming the art camp’s space fell to me.

Coyote Sue contacted the main organizer via email and let him know I’d be arriving without her and he should show me the area set aside for the art camp. He responded by saying no space had been saved for the RTArt Camp. He said by the time he arrived at Scaddan Wash, early birds had already set up in the place where he’d planned to put us. (I have no idea if the early birds were asked to move or even told they were in a space intended for the art camp.) We would have to secure our own location.

The camping areas around the spot left open for the seminars, the main fire pit, the free pile, and the bulletin board were already packed when I drove through. I saw a few spaces where my van would have fit comfortably, but there was not enough space for my rig, Coyote Sue’s rig, The Man’s rig, and the rigs of other folks who might want to join the camp. Even if we parked two feet from each other, where would we put our tables?

I drove around in an increasing panic for a while until The Man talked to a fellow who gave us a tip. He suggested we go to the RTR Music road and veer immediately to the left. We took the stranger’s advice and found a roomy spot for our camp. Of course, the problem now was our distance from the center of the gathering and the presence of a rather large wash between us and the main camp.

I was so happy when Coyote Sue pulled in late that afternoon. After her Class C was repaired, she’d planned to do laundry, take a shower, fill her water tanks, and spend a night in an RV park in town. However, once she got to Quartzsite, she decided she’d rather hang out with me! I was glad to hear she was fine with our location. What a joy to have a friend and co-organizer who believes things work out the way they’re supposed to and there’s no reason to get upset or stress out.

The next morning, Coyote Sue and I carefully crossed the wash, her with her cane and me with my walking stick, to make an announcement at the morning seminar welcoming folks to Quartzsite and the RTR. Instead of letting us make our announcement before the seminar began, as is usually the case with announcements, Bob launched right into talking about trash, feces, and showers. We sat there with hundreds of other attendees through Bob’s talk as well as little speeches by three agents of the Bureau of Land Management, until suddenly, in the middle of everything, Bob gave us the floor and let us tell folks about the RTArt Camp.

The first day of the RTR, we had a meet and greet at the art camp for folks who wanted to teach a class or lead an activity. Maybe ten people showed up, but that was enough to schedule an activity every day of the RTR. Several of the people at the meeting were already parked nearby, and others decided to move their rigs so they too could camp near the art camp.

Isn’t my nametag lovely? I blinged it out in the RTArt Camp. I took this photo of it too.

Coyote Sue called the idea I had on the first day “open studio.” Basically, we spread out art supplies on our two tables and invited people to embellish their nametag (or create a nametag from scratch), make a postcard, or spruce up something from their rig. Over the ten days of the RTR, many people spent some time being creative at the RTArt Camp. I think we did a good job reaching out to and engaging folks who didn’t consider themselves artists or even particularly artistic.

A lot happened at the RTArt Camp, and I had a lot to say about it…so this post was running really long. I decided to turn it into a two-part saga, so click here to read the second part of my report on the RTArt Camp,