I met Brent at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). I was sitting in a group of folks at the chili dinner, and I introduced myself to the one person I didn’t know. The guy said his name was Brent and he read my blog. Aw, shucks!
Brent has been a good friend to me and a big supporter of my writing since that day. From postcards sent from his travels overseas to much appreciated financial support, Brent’s friendship lifts my spirits and has gotten me out of more than one pickle. It does my writer’s heart good to know that Brent is out in the world reading my blog.
Brent writes a blog too. It’s called Brent’s Travels, and he writes about the places he goes, the things he sees, and the people he meets. I applaud Brent’s dedication to sharing his knowledge in order to help other vagabonds, drifters, nomads, rubber tramps, and travelers. Brent doesn’t mind telling folks what’s worked (and what hasn’t) for him.
Lots of things make Brent interesting (including his career as a firefighter, his strong desire to meet people entirely different from himself, and his knowledge of engineering), but in this interview I’m focusing on the fact that for four months in each of the last six years, he’s lived and traveled in three completely different rigs: a camper van, a Toyota Prius, and pickup truck with a popup camper cap. Today Brent will share the pros and cons of each of these rigs, as well as what he’s learned living and traveling in a small car.
Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): I know that you’ve traveled extensively in three different rigs. Could you tell me the make and model of each one of those?
Brent: I started out in a Class B with a Chevrolet chassis from 1994, and it was a…Coachmen. I had bought that obviously used and it was significantly in great shape but hadn’t been used in a few years so it needed to just have a few things done. [I put] about $1,000 into it and then I got on the road with that one, my first year. I did not enjoy driving it…
The next one was a 2011 Prius that I significantly engineered to live out of totally. I could do everything I needed to do in that vehicle.
RTA: What are you in now?
Brent: I’m in a 2011 Toyota Tacoma with a Four Wheel Camper, normally referred to as FWC, popup camper cap on the back.
RTA: You said you traveled in the van for one year?
Brent: I did.
RTA: And the Prius was…?
Brent: Three years.
RTA: And how long have you been in the truck?
Brent: This is my second year.
RTA: What did you like about traveling in the van? What three things did you really like about the van?
Brent: Being able to get from the front to the back just by stepping through the slot between the two front seats. Having everything basically a lot more organized because there was a lot more space. Space was plenty and those were the two things that I think were best.
RTA: What were the two or three things you really disliked about the van?
Brent: I hated the refrigerator! It was a three-way fridge and…
RTA: What does that mean, a three-way fridge?
Brent: It runs on 12 volts, 120 volts, and runs on gas. I basically used it as a pantry.
RTA: Gas meaning propane?
Brent: Propane. And I opted initially, because I did not like it, I opted for an Engle fridge that I still use today.
RTA: What didn’t you like about the fridge?
Brent: Because it consumed too much electricity on 12 volts. I never was interested in plugging in, and the [propane] you can’t use when you’re driving. It just wasn’t a convenient thing for my operation. That was really the biggest thing.
The other thing was I started doing mountains with it and it was just too
heavy a vehicle for the braking system coming down those mountains. Sometimes I was scared coming down even though I had it in low gear. It was just too heavy.
RTA: What two or three things did you like best about traveling in the Prius?
Brent: I could park anywhere. I could just literally just park it and be anywhere, a parking garage, a street. It was an anywhere kind of vehicle. All I had to do was lower the back of my driver’s seat, slide into the back [of the car], pull the lever, let [the seat] flop back up, pull the curtain across, and I was there. I was done. That was perfect.
RTA: So super stealthy.
RTA: People usually mention the gas mileage on their Prius too.
Brent: Gas mileage was excellent. I averaged…My first years I did not use heat and air conditioning, and I averaged 50 miles per gallon.
Brent: Using heat and air conditioning, it was 45 miles per gallon.
RTA: That’s fantastic. What did you dislike about the Prius?
Brent: The Prius, even coming to the RTR I had to be very careful. I came in one day, and they’d just been grading the road and they had a ridge in the middle of the road and then the brims trying to get off into the camping areas. I was scraping the bottom constantly. I went to Ruby, Arizona where there’s a ghost town. I drove all the way there from Nogales on this backroad. I had no problem. I got to Ruby, [there was] a cattle crossing and the other side of the cattle crossing had about a four or five inch drop—it was missing dirt. I [knew] that I was going to land right on the frame and I would be stuck so…I had to get out a lot and look. I decided to [go] north to Arivaca, and the river had been running across [the road] and although there was no water, the ridge that was left in the road, I couldn’t get over without hanging the center of the vehicle up. That wasn’t a big deal but it became problematic when I wanted to see sights that were outside of the normal routes that you could take a Prius, you know, the clearance.
RTA: Anything else you didn’t like about the Prius?
Brent: No. There was more to like than there was not to like with the Prius.
RTA: What do you like about your current rig set up?
Brent: The current rig…I can go down washes. Up in Utah—I go to Utah
every March, and I travel all kinds of back roads, and these back roads cross washes and sandy areas…I’ve got high clearance so I can get into places and camp for the night where other people just don’t go. It’s nice. I don’t have a sense of worrying that if there’s a little water in the wash I’m going to have a problem because the truck just goes through it.
Just as an example, going to the Valley of the Gods, coming in from Mexican Hat, there’s a water crossing there. I don’t stop to check it out to see how deep it is because I can visually [determine if the truck can make it across], but with the Prius I’d have to physically get out and measure the depth of the water to make sure I was ok…
…It was not coming here to the RTR that was the problem. It was really Utah. If I really wanted to experience some of the back country places in Utah, I needed a different vehicle. When I’m done doing all that…I kept my Prius, so I can always use my Prius.
RTA: What do you dislike about your current rig?
Brent: Obviously, when you stop or camp somewhere, you have to get out of the back to get to the front. I’ve not had a problem that way. It may just be…in my head that that’s important, but the last two vehicles, I was able to do that and I can’t do it with this one.
The other thing is that it cost me a lot more money to operate because of the gas mileage being less.
RTA: Do you feel like it hinders your ability to be stealthy?
Brent: Certainly not as stealthy as [in the Prius]. I’m a designer, and I design a lot of stuff, so I designed a bed [in the camper] that I can sleep in without having to put the top up. That works really well in parking lots and in more areas that you wouldn’t have if you had to put the top up. I can easily get in the back, and I can access my refrigerator and do everything. I just don’t have to put the top up. I actually have more room in there [without putting the top up] than I did in my Prius so it’s not a negative from the perspective of that. Having lived in a Prius, it made the transition ok, but it certainly isn’t stealthy.
RTA: Do you think that there is a perfect rig to live and travel in?
Brent: Certainly a white commercial type van is the way to go…because it gives you the room, gives you the security, gives you pretty much everything you want. Now that I’ve spent a lot of time in designing things…that would be an interesting vehicle for me to design and build out.
RTA: But maybe not the gas mileage?
Brent: It certainly wouldn’t be the gas mileage. The Prius was nice because I move a lot. I go to play disc golf downtown. I’m going out and looking at something and moving all the time, so the Prius was really important for the gas mileage. I still do that, but it cost me a lot more money. The four months I spend on the road, this is going to be my sixth year, I put on 16 to 20,000 miles.
RTA: Wow!Brent: Gas really adds up. It takes me 3,000 miles to get [to Quartzsite, AZ].
RTA: Do you think if you had a cargo van, would that allow you the clearance you need to go to these places in Utah that you want to go to?
Brent: For the most part, yes. I know people who go in there with two wheel drive cargo type vans and they have clearance enough.
RTA: I’m sure living and traveling in a Prius presented special challenges. What challenges did you face that were specific to living in a small car?
Brent: Not being able to stand up. If that’s important to you, then [a Prius] is not the vehicle for you.
I was able to totally wash up my whole body. I could heat hot water with electricity. I had a house battery so I could do everything. I could sit in the back. I had a little table that I could sit [at] and type on a keyboard. It really was vertical height [that was the challenge], if that is important. Now when I laid in bed, I could incline, but I couldn’t sit perfectly up. I had to tilt my head down to be able to actually sit on my bed…I slept on a backpacking mattress because…the height of a four inch foam would just cause more problems.
RTA: What advice would you give to someone considering living and traveling in a small car?
Brent: Make sure it is absolutely something that you know what to expect and what you want to do because there are people who would just not be happy in [those] circumstances. There’s no amenities. You have to be willing to kind of rough it.
Just swapping around things to go to the bathroom on your pail is an activity. Your pail has to be…Mine was a two gallon pail because you can’t have a five gallon pail in a Prius…
I replaced all my clothing with wicking poly clothing that dries fast, and it rolls up into such small things…because you have no space.
…The smaller the vehicle the greater your organization skills are necessary.
RTA: Good point! How would your choice of rigs be different if you were living and traveling in it full time and you didn’t have a sticks-n-bricks to go back to and use as a place to store your belongings?
Brent: Certainly a van. Certainly a van would be the vehicle. I agree with the people who have gone that route. I would want it to look plain…a plain white van.
RTA: Your other van was more like a camper van, right?
Brent: It was. It had a…this bulbous top of fiberglass that overhung the driver’s seat where you could have a double bed up there. It was this thing that was overhanging. It had the pinstripes on it from the company’s name on it.
RTA: So it didn’t feel stealthy at all?
Brent: No. It was perfectly non-stealthy.
RTA: How would your choice of rigs be different if you were traveling with another person? Would you also go for a van in that case?
Brent: I would. My pickup camper is ok for a second person. It’s not as roomy as a van. If you both need your own space, the pickup camper is limited in that regard. In a van, there’s enough separation. Someone could go sit in the front seat and someone could sit in the back. You have some level of separation. You just don’t get that in the pickup camper.
RTA: What are your three favorite things about traveling for several months each year?
Brent: Well, I live in the northeast which is notorious for cold weather…[In the desert], I get to see sun for days. I like to hike and I like to play disc golf so those two things don’t cost a lot, they’re easy to do, and there are many places to do them. I can’t say I have the same enjoyment in New England in the winter. I travel from January through April. I go home for the first mowing of the lawn in Massachusetts. It’s May 1, so [I] don’t need to be there before May 1.
RTA: You spend the majority of your travel time in the Southwest?
Brent: That’s correct.
RTA: What are your three least favorite things about traveling for several months each year?
Brent: (Long pause) Not seeing the friends that are at home, I guess. Probably that’s the top of the list. My mother’s birthday is coming up, so I’m not there for my mother’s birthday. She’s 92 this year. But I spend a lot of time with her when I am home, and she knows that…
The love of doing this exceeds all that…It just does.
RTA: Is there anything else I didn’t ask about that you feel like you want to add?
Brent: I think that it’s important to kind of have a reference for my age and the fact that I’m retired. I retired at 62½. I had no clue what I was going to do. I knew one thing: I couldn’t sit at home. I knew that I would go crazy sitting at home for the winter…I’m a very active person, so on the spur of the moment, I said, I’m just going to buy a van, and I’m just going to drive around the United States, and that’s what I did. That’s why I ended up with the Class B. It worked. It got me out. It got me going. It got me educated. I did not know about the RTR the first year, so when I got out here, it was well after it had finished…
I look forward to doing this. This is my mantra: I want to be outside; I want to be out with people doing things, having enjoyable weather.
Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-concrete-road-surrounded-by-green-grass-1461033/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/fuel-dispenser-1563510/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/welcome-to-utah-poster-under-blue-daytime-sky-954289/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/round-grey-and-black-compass-1736222/.