Tag Archives: vandwelling

Winter Emergency Kit (Guest Post)

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Winter isn’t over yet! That’s why when Gabrielle Gardiner approached me about sharing her article on preparing a winter emergency kit, I jumped at the chance. Below, Gabrielle tells you what you should have on hand to prepare for the worst should you get stranded in a winter wonderland.

Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

Life on the road is liberating and exciting, but it’s not always easy. There are countless unpredictable challenges you can face, especially in the winter. Road conditions tend to be more hazardous. Frigid temperatures can interfere with the battery and mechanics of your vehicle. You need to prepare for the worst to mitigate your anxiety about potential emergencies while traveling alone in freezing temps.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prepare for being stranded roadside in the winter. The first thing you can do is read The Survival Mom‘s article “How to Survive a Blizzard in your Vehicle.” Secondly, it’s wise to pack an emergency kit to protect yourself, if only to put your mind at ease. When you learn survival skills and feel ready for anything, even the most inconvenient or dismal scenarios won’t seem so bad. Naturally, you should still opt out of traveling during severe winter weather conditions to avoid low visibility, icy or impassable roads, and an increased risk of accidents.

Don’t know where to begin to pack your kit? Make it easy for yourself and use a checklist so you don’t forget any essentials. Try this awesome winter car emergency checklist that you can download and print here.

Photo provided by the author

Just like taking care of your mental wellbeing while living a nomadic lifestyle is important, it’s crucial to empower ourselves through preparedness. In the following sections, let’s outline some of the most important tips to keep in mind as you prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable winter season on the road. Pack the items into a big duffel bag or storage container and leave it in your vehicle all winter long. 

Food & Water Essentials

Packing a hefty supply of non-perishable snacks can be a lifesaver. Your emergency kit could include favorites like jerky, granola bars, and trail mix. When you’re stuck roadside in a pretty isolated area, the last thing you want to deal with is feeling miserably hungry. Keep in mind that whichever snacks you choose, be sure they don’t freeze easily. You won’t be happy trying to consume something that’s rock solid frozen with little chances of defrosting. Of course, water is another essential item to keep in your car kit. Again, to prevent it from freezing and being undrinkable, keep the water in a soft-sided insulated container and wrap that container in an emergency thermal blanket.

Snow Tools & Safety Items

If you don’t already have an arsenal of snow tools, you’ll want to invest in some for your kit. Buy a collapsible snow shovel so you’re always ready to dig your tires out of the snow, or in more serious circumstances, uncover your snow-engulfed car so it is visible to rescuers. Reflective triangles could help you become more visible, too. Plus, you’ll need ice scrapers to keep your windshield clear. A supply of basic tools in a toolbox could also come in handy.

Photo by amir shamsipur on Unsplash

When it comes to safety and staying warm, include an emergency thermal blanket as well as plenty of extra socks, gloves, and winter clothing layers in your kit. If your battery dies and you have to go without heat, you’ll be thankful you have the attire and protection to stay alive. You also can’t forget a flashlight, batteries, and matches for situations when you don’t have light or heat. Be prepared to treat your own minor injuries if necessary, and keep a first aid kit on hand as well.

Miscellaneous

One of the best ways to feel self-sufficient and empowered is to know how to jump your own vehicle. Otherwise, you have to rely on the kindness of strangers helping you out, or you’ll have to get a tow truck involved. If you’ve never jumped a car, you can learn how to do it. It’s not nearly as intimidating or complicated as it might seem. Take a look at the steps on how to do it here. Also, be sure to invest in some jumper cables before you hit the road.

Other key additions to your winter emergency kit: portable cell phone power banks, an emergency contact sheet (because no one memorizes phone numbers anymore), and kitty litter (even if you don’t have a cat.) Kitty litter might seem surprising, but it’s great for tires trying to gain traction in the snow. Or, you could also use sand, road salt, or snow mats to get unstuck.

To Recap:

Don’t forget to include the following in your winter emergency kit:

  • Water 
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Snow shovel & ice scraper
  • Flashlight & batteries
  • Matches
  • Emergency thermal blanket
  • First aid kit
  • Toolbox
  • Reflective triangles
  • Phone charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Kitty litter

Living nomadically is incredible, but it can be a nerve-racking and unpredictable experience sometimes. You owe it to yourself to be prepared for anything. Hopefully, this guide to putting together a winter emergency kit can help you out this season.

Gabrielle Gardiner is a digital content creator who is passionate about developing helpful and compelling stories. She calls Manhattan home but loves escaping the big city to experience nature as often as possible. 

Is The RTR Dead? (Guest Post)

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I attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and (very briefly) in 2019. Every year I was there, I met new people and leaned new things and was glad to have gone. Every year I posted a report of my experiences at the gathering. Unfortunately, in 2020 health and financial concerns kept me from attending the RTR.

I wanted my readers to know what had happened at this year’s RTR so I asked in a few van groups I’m in on Facebook if anyone would like to write a report about their experiences at the 2020 RTR. I got a couple of volunteers, and I’ll be sharing their guest posts in the upcoming weeks.

Today’s report is by Mary Ellen Telesha. I’m very grateful for her willingness to share the following perspective on this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Is the RTR dead?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this come up on social media before, during, and after this remarkable nomadic event.

I’m here to reassure you, it’s not.

What is the RTR you ask? 

Click here, for detailed information, but here’s the short version–RTR stands for Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual 10 day gathering of nomads out in the Arizona desert, founded by Bob Wells of Cheap RV Living.

The RTR, preceded by the Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR), just wrapped up its 10th annual gathering in January 2020 under balmy and beautiful Arizona skies.

In previous years the RTR/WRTRs were held out in the vast Sonoran desert, where we gathered to create an enormous temporary community. The estimate of attendees for 2019 was upwards of 10,000 participants, with free onsite camping spreading out for miles around the central presentation area. This huge number speaks to the growing phenomenon of nomadic living, and the success of the community Bob Wells has worked so hard to create.

Unfortunately, this year’s RTR was a drastic deviation from the RTRs of the past. The Bureau of Land Management, the governmental agency that manages public land out West, refused to allow another massive RTR event without a significant monetary commitment, no doubt following the precedent of Burning Man, an enormous gathering in the Nevada Desert (not related to the RTR).

In his wrap-up video of the 2020 RTR, Bob shared with his viewers that the BLM was asking anywhere from $100,000 to $600,000 to hold the event on public land this year. As he is devoted to keeping the event free, Bob was forced to come up with an alternative plan.

So, the RTR was moved to the La Paz County Fairgrounds just outside of Parker Arizona, where all of the seminars took place. As there was no camping allowed on the Fairgrounds, (except for staff and  full-time volunteers), the droves of nomads pouring into the area for the RTR spread out to camp in the surrounding Quartzsite, Parker, and California BLM areas. 

Of course, this change became a perfect opportunity for the usual naysayers to announce that the RTR is dead.

Now, I’m not a nomad newbie.

This year was my 3rd WRTR, and my second RTR.

I’ll be on the road full-time for 3 years this spring, and I’ve pretty much got my routine down.That’s not to say I’m done learning, but I don’t attend the RTR just for the education.

The nomadic lifestyle is intriguing, attracting a unique variety of humans from all walks of life. We come in cars, tents, vans, trucks, and RVs. We nomads are as varied as our rigs, yet when we get together we’re bound by the common experience of life on the road, and the stories that got us there.

I’m especially inspired every year by women who face their fears, throw their belongings into a vehicle, and drive thousands of miles for the first time, often solo, to learn and meet their fellow nomads.

Every interaction at the WRTR and RTR either inspired or educated me in some way, like the woman giving out little emergency whistles to everyone who crossed her path. What a perfect way to start conversations about safety and awareness on the road!

I was a volunteer this year, working behind the scenes as an assistant to the scheduling committee, and I’ll tell you what, the way the WRTR/RTR event came together out of hundreds of hours of volunteer work, and formidable chaos, was nothing short of amazing. 

I was also a volunteer at the “Information and Sticker Booth” on the first day of the WRTR. The energy was high, with old-timers and newbies alike thrilled to have finally made it!

Even with the added driving this year to get to the seminars at the Fairgrounds, I made it to quite a few presentations. 

One of my favorites was Mary Shafer’s severe weather presentation, (find her at WildHeartWanders.com). She taught us how to predict where a tornado is headed (hint: if it looks like it’s not moving but just getting bigger it’s headed right for you) and how to identify specific cloud formations that might impact travel. She also taught a jam-packed hour on weather apps for your phone.

I experienced Gong meditation for my third year with Harmonic Immersion – A Meditation and Sound Experience, by Gong Gypsy Michelle Angel of the Gong Temple.

One of the most moving presentations on the main stage was a discussion of depression and anxiety on the road, with a very personal sharing by Bob Wells and Joanne Shortell of the NomadChapter.org.

There was a panel discussion “Allies For Safety,” which covered the importance of nomads having each other’s backs, specifically addressing how men can be allies for women in the nomadic lifestyle.

I totally enjoyed the seminar “One Pot Cooking, No Junk” by Dr. Dorothy Adamiak ND and her husband Andy, and I’ll be buying their cookbook, 69 Pleasures, for healthy and easy-to-cook meals on the road. Healthy Ricotta cheese sauce? Oh yes!

There was even a talent show!

Although there are too many too list here, there were hundreds of free seminars, including solar experts, budgeting, making money on the road, internet service, workcamping, stealth camping, vehicle maintenance, pets on the road, and even aura reading. The seminars on the main stage were recorded, and will eventually be shared with the public on Bob Well’s Youtube channel 

So when the naysayers start throwing the BS, which they always do, I know they just don’t get it. Before the gates to the Fairgrounds were even closed I saw complaints on Youtube and other social medial outlets — about incompetent, bossy volunteers; that the RTR was dead; and all the usual BS about Bob Wells ripping us off. How anyone can believe that is beyond me. This is the first year he and his co-founder Suanne Carlson haven’t had to take money out of their own pockets to cover costs.

It’s been said that it’s easier to criticize than to organize.

Amen to that.

Mary Ellen Telesha is a nomad and author, currently traveling around the U.S. in a simply converted Chevy Uplander mini-van. She’s also a Martha Beck Life Coach, and a Reiki Master who has written two books, Wild Women On The Road: A Women’s Guide To Nomadic Freedom In The Modern Age, and the second with a more humorous take, Top Ten Lists For Nomads: The (Mostly) Lighter Side Of Nomadic Life. For more of her journey, find her at Cosmic Gypsy Nomad Life on Facebook and Instagram. 

Photos were provided by the author.


Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 2)

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Photo by Toms Rīts on Unsplash

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my series Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically, life on the road can be challenging. From rig breakdowns to loneliness, from inclement weather to lack of funds, a nomadic lifestyle can be difficult. Dealing with mental health issues can be one of the challenges of life on the road, especially without the infrastructure that may have helped keep issues in check in the past.

Last week I covered some of the physical steps you can take to help maintain good mental health (or improve your mental health if it’s not so good at the moment). From getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods to exercising in sunlight, I outlined steps you can take to keep your body and mind doing well. Today I’ll go a little deeper and share ideas for advanced activities aimed at maintaining and enhancing mental health.

#1 Have a support system in place. While you’re doing ok, set things up in advance of a crisis. Stock your pantry with healthy foods so you don’t have to think too hard about eating if times get tough. Have spare cooking fuel available too. Make sure you always have plenty of drinking water on hand. Have sleep aids (over-the-counter options like Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom SleepTabs and natural remedies like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium) available for short-term use if sleeping becomes a problem. Make a list of people you can contact for support if you are feeling down. Maybe you want to write out your mental health plan to refer to if you get too anxious or depressed to remember how to nurture yourself.

#2 Deal with stress. According to National Institute of Mental Health article “5 Things You Should Know About Stress,”

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge… can be stressful.

Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Don’t let stress build up. Deal with problems as they come. Don’t let bills, mechanical problems, health issues, and relationship challenges pile up until you have so much on your plate you think your head will explode. Believe me, I understand that hiding under the covers feels simpler than dealing with the problems of life, but most of these problems will not go away on their own. Dealing with each problem as it arises will be easier than dealing with multiple problems that have each reached a crisis point.

For more suggestions on dealing with stress in your life (and the anxiety it often brings), see Mary Elizabeth Dean‘s article “How To Reduce Stress And Anxiety In 10 Steps” on the BetterHelp website.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

#3 Meditate. The Psychology Today article “Meditation and Mental Health” by Samoon Ahmad M.D. states,

There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.

Want to reap the benefits of meditation, but you’re not sure where to begin? Read “Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits, and a Beginner’s How-to” for explanations of different meditation techniques and instructions for a simple meditation for beginners.

#4 Live in the present. Whether or not you decide to meditate, you can practice living in the moment. The Just Mind article “Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now” references author Eckhart Tolle and his idea

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. [Tolle] attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present…

Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now…

Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds…

#5 Be grateful and track your gratitude. According to the Positive Psychology article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief” by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA,

[p]sychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone.

(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)

Another article on the Positive Psychology website (this one by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc.) lists 28 benefits of gratitude including a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression; enhanced optimism; improved sleep; and reduced blood pressure.

The Mental Health First Aid article “Being Grateful Can Improve Your Mental Health” by Rubina Kapil explains that

Research has also shown that “by consciously practicing gratitude, we can train the brain to attend selectively to positive emotions and thoughts, thus reducing anxiety and feelings of apprehension.” The simple act of reminding yourself of the positive things in your life can invoke feelings of thankfulness and optimism that make managing stress, depression or anxiety easier.

The article then lists several exercises for practicing gratitude including the following:

Try to appreciate everything.

Find gratitude in your challenges.

Keep a gratitude journal.

If you need some suggestions for starting or maintaining a gratitude journal, Courtney E. Ackerman’s article “Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary” offers lots of information and guidance.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

#6 Practice Positivity. The WebMD article “What Is Positive Thinking?” answers the question this way:

[p]ositive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation….

That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.

The article says positive thinking can lead to “better mood, better coping skills, [and] less depression.” More importantly, positive thinking is a skill that can be learned! Check out the article to find out how to nix the negative and put positivity in action.

#7 Laugh. In the Psych2Go website article “5 Mental Health Benefits of Laughter,” author María Emilia Guzmán explains that when we laugh, our bodies release hormones that enhance good feelings and balance moods, while working against hormones related to stress.

When we laugh, our bodies produces endorphins, which are considered to be the “happiness hormone”. We also release the hormones dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are in charge of our motivation and balance our mood.  All of these substances fight several mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety

…laughter also combats hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are released as a response to stress, increasing our heart rate and causing general discomfort.

If you’re feeling low, listen to a funny podcast, read a funny book or article, or watch a funny movie. If you’re laughing, you might just feel better soon.

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

#8 Interact with animals. The HelpGuide article “The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets” says that studies have found the following benefits of spending time with animals:

Pet owners [sic] are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets…

Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax…

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch…Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.

If you don’t live with an animal friend full-time, consider pet sitting, volunteering at an animal rescue, or spending time with a friend or family member’s pet.

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

#9 Maintain contacts with humans, too. In the Medical News Today article “What Are the Health Benefits of Being Social?” author Maria Cohut, Ph.D. quotes psychologist Susan Pinker who says,

[f]ace-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.

The article continues quoting Pinker who says that, as a result of social interaction

dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.

Photo by Balkan Campers on Unsplash

How’s a nomad to stay connected to other people? Attend gatherings like the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the ones listed by Vacay Vans for 2020. Read my blog post “How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road” to learn more about Meetup groups, the Wandering Individual Network (WIN), Loners on Wheels, and a dating site for RVers. Some groups, like RVing Women and Sisters on the Fly, allow gals to hit the road together. Other RV groups like Xscapers and Escapees accept people of all genders and relationship statuses.

#10 Volunteer. When you volunteer, you not only get to interact with other living beings. According to the Able To website, there are 6 more mental health benefits of volunteering. Some of those benefits include reducing stress by “tak[ing] our mind[s] off our worries and putting our attention on someone or something else,” combating depression by “keep[ing] the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical,” and making us happy because “feel good [sic] hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities.”

#11 Engage in a hobby. The CBHS Health Fund website offers the article “Here’s How Finding a Hobby Will Improve Your Mental Health.” Some information gleaned from the article:

Western Australian adults…who dedicated 100+ hours a year to their [hobbies] reported significantly better mental health than those with 0-99 hours dedicated…

658 young adults took part in a daily diary study, recording how much of their time was spent on creative exercises, and how often they felt positive moods (joy, alertness, interest) and negative moods (anger, fear, contempt, nervousness, anxiety)… More time spent with creative activity produced higher levels of positive affect.

Even if you live in a very small space, you could take up photography, writing, painting on small surfaces, knitting or crocheting with limited colors of yarn, making jewelry, or bird watching.

#12 Ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. If you are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the free, confidential 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. (You can also chat with a trained crisis worker if you go to the Lifeline’s website.)

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

If you don’t know how to do something related to life on the road, go to the Cheap RV Living forums, read old posts, ask questions, and seek advice. There are also lots of Facebook groups for vandwellers, RVers, and nomads, but with Facebook comes trolls. I don’t recommend Facebook for anyone in a fragile state of mind.

#13 Use technology to your advantage and try online therapy and mental health apps. According to Talkspace,

[o]nline therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist from the privacy of your device — at a significantly lower cost than traditional, in-person therapy.

Because online therapy and mental health apps don’t require you to go into an office to see a therapist, you can connect to a counselor from anywhere you have internet access. Sounds like a perfect arrangement for nomads who may not stay in one place for long.

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Interested in online therapy and/or mental health apps but have no idea where to begin? Verywell Mind offers a list (complete with in-depth reviews) of “The 9 Best Online Therapy Programs of 2020” compiled by Amy Morin, LCSW. The Psycom article “Top 25 Mental Health Apps: An Effective Alternative for When You Can’t Afford Therapy?” by Jessica Truschel highlights mental health apps available to smartphone uses dealing with issues ranging from addiction to anxiety, depression to eating disorders. There are apps to help with general mental health, as well those intended for specific issues. Many of the apps are free, but some do come at a monetary cost.

I hope among these thirteen additional suggestions you find some ways to improve and/or maintain your mental health. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, so plan for some trial and error while you try out different activities.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please seek the help you need. If you need to speak to a mental health professional, someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) may be able to help you find resources in the area you are in.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 1)

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Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Maintaining mental health is important no matter where you live but can be extra challenging while living nomadically. Some people hold themselves up with the routine of the rat race; when that routine is gone and there are fewer mandatory activities to occupy their time, mental health problems they’ve kept at arm’s length can come crashing down. Some folks have unreasonable expectations about vanlife; when they realize living on the road isn’t an Instagram-worthy life of ease, depression can creep in. While some people choose a nomadic life so they can live in solitude, for others the lack of human companionship can lead to isolation and the problems it causes.

When you’re living on the road, you may have fewer resources to fall back on if a mental health crisis hits. Trust me, life will be easier if you maintain your mental health rather than having to bounce back after a crisis.

What Is Mental Health?

Before we work on maintaining our mental health, we should have an idea of what mental health actually is. According to MentalHealth.gov,

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Positive mental health allows people to:

Realize their full potential

Cope with the stresses of life

Work productively

Make meaningful contributions to their communities

In the name of staying on an even keel and realizing one’s full potential, today I will share tips for staying mentally healthy while traveling full time.

#1 Keep your expectations reasonable. Living nomadically is not going to solve all your problems. (Stop reading and let that sink in for a minutes, friends.) Vanlife is not always going to be waking up to beautiful locations and ladies in bikinis. Sometimes the weather will be bad, your head will throb, and you’ll find one of your tires is flat. (Sometimes all three will happen at once, but if you want some tips on circumventing the flat, see my post “10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters.”) Things go wrong no matter where or how you live.

Don’t rely solely on Instagram for your vanlife information. Read posts and join the forums on the Cheap RV Living website and/or watch videos on the Cheap RV Living YouTube channel to learn about the gritty possibilities of life on the road. Join Facebook groups for RVers and vandwellers and research showering, cooking, and toileting while living on the road. If possible, know what to expect from this way of life before embarking on the journey.

#2 Eat well. Sometimes cooking while vandwelling can be a challenge, and it’s tempting to just eat potato chips and ramen noodles day after day. Eating a well-balanced diet can help improve and maintain your mental health. According to the article “Food for Your Mood: How What You Eat Affects Your Mental Health” by Alice Gomstyn,

The connection between diet and emotions stems from the close relationship between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, often called the “second brain.”

…Your GI tract is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters, chemical substances that constantly carry messages from the gut to the brain…

Eating healthy food promotes the growth of “good” bacteria, which in turn positively affects neurotransmitter production. A steady diet of junk food, on the other hand, can cause inflammation that hampers production. When neurotransmitter production is in good shape, your brain receives these positive messages loud and clear, and your emotions reflect it. But when production goes awry, so might your mood.

The article suggests eating whole foods such as fruits and vegetables; fiber-rich foods like whole grains and beans; foods rich in antioxidants such as berries and leafy greens; fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh; as well as foods rich in folate, vitamin D, and magnesium.

If you need some ideas for healthy eating while van or RV dwelling, see my posts “How to Eat Healthy on the Road (When You Don’t Have Time to Cook)” and “What to Eat When You Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Cook.” If you’re having trouble affording healthy food, see my posts “10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)” and “10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On the Road or Not).”

#3 Stay hydrated. According to the 2018 article “Dehydration Influences Mood, Cognition” by Rick Nauert, PhD on the PsychCentral website, a

study shows that even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.

An article on the Solara Mental Health website, “Water, Depression, and Anxiety” outlines how dehydration contributes to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. The article recommends

11.5 cups (92 oz.) of water per day for women, and 15.5 cups (124 oz.) for men. If you have a hard time stomaching plain water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Avoid beverages as much as possible that contain sodium, as sodium dehydrates you: soda/diet soda, energy drinks, etc.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

#4 Avoid alcohol, especially if you’re prone to depression. The Mental Health Foundation‘s webpage about alcohol and mental health explains,

regular consumption of alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain. It decreases the levels of the brain chemical serotonin – a key chemical in depression. As a result of this depletion, a cyclical process begins where one drinks to relieve depression, which causes serotonin levels in the brain to be depleted, leading to one feeling even more depressed, and thus necessitating even more alcohol to then medicate this depression.11

Better to avoid alcohol altogether than to start a downward spiral. Best to deal with underlying issues that might be leading you to self-medicate.

#5 Get good sleep. According to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine‘s Get Sleep website,

University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.1

Photo by Chris Thompson on Unsplash

The Get Sleep website’s Adopt Good Sleep Habits page has lots of tips on eliminating sleep problems. Recommendations include

maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule

avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep

making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment

establishing a calming pre-sleep routine

going to sleep when you’re truly tired

not watching the clock at night

not napping too close to your regular bedtime

exercising regularly—but not too soon before bedtime

To find out the steps to take to accomplish each of the above recommendations, visit Harvard’s Healthy Sleep website’s page Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.

#6 Consider caffeine carefully. Caffeine can do more damage than just interfering with your sleep. According to the Everyday Health article “7 Causes of Anxiety” by Chris Iliades, MD, because caffeine is a stimulant, it can be bad news for people who already suffer from anxiety.

Caffeine’s jittery effects on your body are similar to those of a frightening event. That’s because caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, and studies show that this can make anxiety worse and can even trigger an anxiety attack. And as with the symptoms of anxiety, one too many cups of joe may leave you feeling nervous, moody, and can keep you up all night.

The PsycomAnxiety and Caffeine” article by Maureen Connolly says,

Too much caffeine can also make you irritable and agitated in situations that normally wouldn’t affect you. And if you already have increased anxiety or suffer from panic attacks, caffeine can cause these symptoms to become worse.

Of course, not all caffeinated beverages are created equal. In the article “Coffee Has Surprising Effect on Mental Health,” author Gajura Constantin explains

not all other caffeinated beverages can leave the same impact on the human brain. For instance, some caffeinated beverages like cola, can cause a higher risk of depression due to their high contents of sugar (simple carbohydrates).

Constantin also says a study conducted at National Institutes of Health indicates

People who consume four to five cups of coffee every day are likely to stay active and happy all day long, when compared to those who do not drink this beverage at all…

Coffee is considered the best mood-lifting agent due to its powerful antioxidants. It can help you initiate a fight against depression…

You should make your decisions about caffeine based upon how your body and mind react to it. If daily coffee leaves you feeling good and still able to sleep well at night, go ahead and have it. If your caffeinated beverage of choice leaves you feeling jittery, irritated, agitated, and anxious, you might want to cut it out.

Photo by Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash

#7 Get some exercise. The Help Guide article “The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise” by Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. says

[r]egular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood…Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference.

The article goes into detail about how exercise can benefit people dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, ADHD, PTSD, and trauma.

How much and how often do you need to exercise to experience the benefits? The article says

[y]ou can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.

…Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too.

#8 Spend time in nature. Don’t limit your exercise time to the gym; get outside too. According to the 2015 article “Stanford Researchers Find Mental Health Prescription: Nature” by Rob Jordan,

…the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

In a previous study…time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.

For more information on why you should go outside, read the TripOutside article “13 Remarkable Health Benefits of Getting Outdoors” by Julie Singh.

If you’re living nomadically, it might be easier for you to get out in nature than it would be for someone living in a sticks-n-bricks in an urban area. If you have the choice, head out for free camping in a national forest or on BLM land. (Not sure how to camp for free on public land? Read my post “Free Camping in the National Forest.”) Once you’re there, hike, bike, or just sit outside and bask in the beauty that surrounds you.

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

#9 Getting outside also allows you to expose yourself to sunlight. According to the article “5 Ways the Sun Impacts Your Mental and Physical Health,” getting some sun can improve your mood and help you sleep better.

Researchers at BYU found more mental health distress in people during seasons with little sun exposure…the availability of sunshine has more impact on mood than rainfall, temperature, or any other environmental factor.

Getting some sun increases your serotonin and helps you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and sun exposure can also help people with anxiety and depression, especially in combination with other treatments.

…Working in tandem with serotonin is melatonin, a chemical in your brain that lulls you into slumber and one that sun also helps your body produce…Try to stick to traditionally light and dark cycles, getting sunlight during the day so you can catch some zzz’s at night.

So there you have nine things you can do to improve and maintain your mental health. If you would like to learn about more activities you can engage in to protect your mental health, see the second part of this series.

Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please remember any outdoor activity holds some risk. Exercise can be risky too if you are not accustomed to it. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure of how much or what kind of exercise to do. The sun can burn you. Be careful out there.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Change is Inevitable

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I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about chaos for me.

Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back, and we signed the deed over to her.  We were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.

Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.

While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.

At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?

In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring life and creating art.

Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig. The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife hashtag.

While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually have some fun in the summertime.

So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange, and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.

Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: What are you in now?

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

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

Brent: I did.

RTA: And the Prius was…?

Brent: Three years.

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

Brent: This is my second year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: Gas meaning propane?

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

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

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

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

Gray Concrete Road Surrounded by Green Grass

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

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

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

RTA:  So super stealthy.

Brent: Yeah.

Fuel Dispenser

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

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

RTA: Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Utah Poster Under Blue Daytime Sky

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

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

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

RTA: What do you dislike about your current rig?

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: But maybe not the gas mileage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brent: No. It was perfectly non-stealthy.

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

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

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

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

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

Brent: That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

Round Grey and Black Compass

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

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

How to Train Your Dog to Live The Vanlife (Guest Post)

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Maker:S,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The dog days of summer are over, but at the Rubber Tramp Artist blog, we’re still sharing information about vandwelling with dogs.

I was absolutely pleased when the good folks at Gnomad Home reached out to me with an offer to write a guest post I could share with my readers. I jumped at the chance, as I love a good guest post. I was especially pleased to find out Jayme and John had lots of experience vandewlling with pups. Their expertise fits right in with the content I want to share with my readers. 

Today Jayme and John tell you how they trained their doggies to share their van life. Whether you’re transitioning a house dog into a road dog or bringing a brand new pup into your rig, these training tips can help keep your nomadic pooch safe and happy.

Once you make the jump from dreaming about vanlife to actually making it happen, all the big, scary steps you imagined seem to become easier and easier to manage. Selling your items stressed you out at first, but now you have no problem accepting $20 for that trinket your aunt gave you for your 13th birthday. Many of these transitions become more exciting than nerve-wracking, and mentally, you are more and more ready to just take off and hit the road. But of course, you can’t leave without your best furry friend! As it turns out, dogs need time to transition just as much as you do, and a well-trained dog makes for a very fun and easy life on the road.

We are currently traveling around with our two pups Nymeria (3) and Delilah (7), but believe it or not, there was a time when the dogs in our van outnumbered the humans! We recently had to put down our girl Crow (#CrowtoriousDOG) who was just shy of 17. We gave her one hell of a final year out on the road, letting her stick her paws in all kinds of waters from the Atlantic to the Pacific!

Needless to say, we know quite a bit about packing your pups and hitting the road. Here’s all of the tips and tricks that helped us get our domesticated dogs ready to live out in the wild!

Re-establish Basic Training Skills

This is easily the most important step of them all. Maybe you can get your dog to sit and stay because they know you’re about to toss them a treat while you guys are comfortably hanging out in your living room.But do they know how to sit and stay in a large vehicle when there are other automobiles whizzing around and you are trying to unload the groceries from the shopping cart into your fridge without your dog taking off down the road after a squirrel that emerged from the bushes? That’s why honing these basic training skills is essential.

The main commands we drilled into our dogs’ heads before beginning our adventure were, “Stay,” “Come,” and “In the van.” We practiced these commands in multiple situations, not just in our backyard. We would go out to the woods to practice, we would begin training in the middle of dog parks…anytime we found ourselves in a situation that was new to them, we would find time for some training.

Living on the road is rarely equivalent to hanging out in someone’s living room or fenced-in backyard. There are always distractions, noises, movements, creatures, and more going on around you at all times – that’s why it was very important to us that our dogs were familiar with responding as we expected under any circumstances.

“Stay” is probably our most used command. This helps when the doors of the van are open, when they are about to get into something we want them to stay away from, if they see a creature we don’t want them getting involved with, and more.

“Come” is perfect for when we allow them to run around off leash (which we do a lot of the time). We are always responsible about when and how we allow them to galavant off leash, which means we certainly don’t allow it in Walmart parking lots or National Parks.

But there are some areas where we do trust them off leash: when we are on BLM (Bureau of Lang Management) land or we find ourselves in National Forests – and if the area and conditions seem acceptable to our standards – we let them free! They LOVE getting to explore all of the scents and different terrains we find ourselves in. It’s almost as if you can see heaven glowing in their eyes as they leap over fallen trees and jump at the sight of a bug they’ve never seen before.

Unfortunately they can’t be off leash 24/7, and we need them to return to us from time to time. That’s when “Come” truly comes in handy. If a hiker walks near our spot and seems uneasy about the dogs, calling for them to return (and knowing that they will) makes for an easy pass on a potentially confrontational situation. Or if we are ready to roll to the next location, we just have to give a little holler and they come running back to the van, ready for the next adventure.

“In the van” is just a great, simple command for them to know. Whether we want them to seek shelter from an incoming storm, get ready to hit the road, or whatever the case may be – if we tell them, “in the van,” they hop right on in!

Build Trust with Your Dog and Let Them Run Around Off Leash

This one is VERY important to us. Our dogs have a lot of energy, and a trail run on a leash is not enough exercise for them to burn all of their juice. However, you can’t just take the leash off of your dog and expect all to go well on the first try

This is a practice that took time for us. We started training Nymeria to behave off leash when she was a puppy. There was a wooded area not too far from our house that not too many people frequented, and we were able to practice with her there. We would have her on a leash for a little bit, then let her off. Anytime she would come back to us we would make a very big deal about it, with excessive praise and even a few treats (we don’t normally give our dogs treats, but we do when we want something to be a BIG deal).

When we took in Delilah, she was a Stage Five RUNNER! If a door was even slightly cracked, she would bust right on through it and be gone in a second. In the end, what it came down to was that she was just dying to explore and check out her surroundings. After we took her in, we let her off leash in the same area where we trained Nymeria as a puppy. Naturally, Deliliah took off, and it actually took about 15 minutes for her to return. Yes, it made us nervous,but this is part of the trust. Our dogs don’t want to be away from us forever – they just want to explore. When Delilah returned, we showered her with praise and treats!

The second time we let her off leash, she still ran off to explore, but when we called her name, she immediately sprinted back to us, tail wagging and excited for a treat and some praise (granted, she is a very food driven creature!).

Shortly after this second time of off-leash exploring, we were at John’s parents house. The front door opened, Delilah began to run out, and we called her to come back. She immediately stopped, turned around and sprinted back to us! Now, anytime we go into the woods and let her off leash, she tends to stay within ear shot. Delilah and Nymeria never adventure too far, we can typically see or hear them (they each have a bear bell on their collars, as well as lights that can be turned on to a solid or flashing light), and the second we call for them they happily trot on back to us.

Enjoy Exploring the World with Your Pup!

Establishing a strong and trusting relationship with your dog is essential for an easier life on the road with your furry bestie. Nothing about living a nomadic life is 100% easy, but these tips and tricks should help make the transition from domesticated life to living in the wild simpler for you and your four-legged buddies to handle!

Jayme and John from Gnomad Home live out of their 1996 Chevy Express van they built into a tiny home with their two pups Nymeria (3) and Delilah (7). They now create free content for others wishing to pursue a lifestyle on the road whether it be full-time travel or part-time travel. They have been living nomadically since the Spring of 2017.

Check out the Gnomad Home super-detailed, informative “Vanlife How To” page — How to find camping, how to find community, how to make money on the road, and so much more!

Remember, you are responsible for yourself and your dog(s). Neither Blaize Sun nor Jayme and John from Gnomad Home are responsible for you or your pup(s). Use common sense depending on the regulations and conditions of your location.

First two photos coutesy of the authors. Other imags courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-clouds-mountain-dog-65867/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-of-dog-248273/.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) 2017

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Here it is August, and I haven’t yet published a report on January’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Better late than never?

There were a lot of people in the RTR section of Scaddan Wash in January 2017. I never did a count of my own, but I heard reports of upwards of 600 people there. I don’t know how anyone was able to arrive at a figure. Were rigs counted? If yes, how did the counter know how many people were staying in each rig? When was the counting (of rigs or people) done? People and rigs came and went througout the entire time the RTR was underway. Folks were here today, gone tomorrow, back on Wednesday. I don’t know how an accurate count could be made with all of that coming and going.

In any case, there were a lot of people in the RTR area, way more than when I attended in 2015 or 2016.

There were also more people there this time in fancy, shiny, expensive rigs. I wondered if those people had missed the tramp part of the rendezvous or the cheap in the name of the Cheap RV Living website. Mostly, I wondered what the folks with money were getting out of a gathering where people learn how to stretch their precious few dollars in order to live a life of freedom. I guess learning how to find free public land on which to boondock is the same whether one’s living in a 90s era converted cargo van or a brand new Dodge Sprinter.

So many people arrived early, there was demand for a seminar before the Rendezvous had officially begun. I sat through the beginning of that one. It consisted mostly of folks who’d never attended the RTR asking questions, and the organizer of the event saying those questions would be answered at a seminar held later in the gathering. After a while, I got tired of hearing questions I knew the answers to not being answered, so I grabbed my chair and left.

I did attend the official Welcome to Quartzsite seminar. I don’t think I learned anything new. The seminar seating was definitely crowded that morning; I’d guess there were a couple hundred people there, but I’m not so good at estimating attendance. Again, people mostly seemed to be newcomers.

Although I didn’t attend any other seminars, I did attend the two women’s meetings. Both of those meetings were also crowded. At the first one, the facilitator offered a list of questions each woman could answer by way of introduction. During the explanation of how the introductions would work, the facilitator instructed us to limit our intros to two sentences so everyone would get to speak during the meeting’s two-hour time frame. Most women were able to limit themselves, but others went on for paragraph after paragraph. Some ramblers even seemed offended when the facilitator gently reminded them of the two sentence limit.

I wondered why the longwinded women thought they were more important than the rest of us who had complied with the two-sentence limit. Did they really think the rest of us wanted to sit and listen to them drone on and on about themselves? I, for one, did not.

When I arrived the next week for the second women’s meeting, I was shocked to see a documentary film crew setting up to record the discussion. I was astounded to find most of the women in attendance had no objection to being filmed. I said I did not want to be filmed and offered to leave rather than cause a problem, but the woman doing the filming said she’d turn off the camera and sound recording equipment whenever I spoke. Despite her offer (which I believe was made in good faith), I mostly remained silent and kept my head down throughout the meeting.

It was probably my last women’s meeting in an RTR context. The new gals tend to want to discuss things I feel like I’ve already figured out–how to go to the bathroom in the van, how to feel safe, how to keep from feeling lonely. I’m not sure what things I don’t know about that I need to talk about in a women-only group, but I know we’ll never get there if we have to talk about elimination and personal safety every year. Also, if the meetings are being recorded and I don’t want to be recorded, what am I contributing while sitting there silently with my head down?

I was primarily at the RTR to promote my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. I feel like my sucess in this endeavor was limited at best.

Coyote Sue and I shared billing at a late afternoon seminar. She was to talk about selling on Ebay while on the road, and I was to talk about being a camp host and to read from my book. We got rained out. We postponed the seminar for later in the evening. We were finally able to give our presentations to a small group before the sun went down. Everyone in attendance listened politely when I read, but I think most of the folks there wanted to hear what Coyote Sue had to say.

My main reading, the one I’d promoted throughout the RTR, was a huge disappointment. Only a handful of people attended, most of them people I already knew. Again, people were attentive, and they laughed in the right places, but since I’d been hoping for a crowd, seeing less than a dozen people in the audience made me feel a little sad.

I sold some copies of the book at the RTR, but I barely made a dent in the 100 copies I’d had printed. Perhaps I should have dreamed smaller.

Because I was trying to promote my book, I’d set up camp near the main gathering spot. I was close to the free pile and close enough to pop in at morning announcement to mention my book, hats, etc for sale.  This proximity to all the action meant my privacy was often invaded, especially, it seemed, as I was trying to cook dinner in the evening. I spent quite a bit of time feeling I had nowhere to hide. Honestly, I don’t mind answering questions (even the same question for the 10th time) but maybe don’t try to interrogate me when I’m obviously busy.

Because there were so many people at the RTR, the group meals were cancelled. The chef who’d bottomlined the soup and chilli dinners in 2015 and 2016 had to work for money in 2017 and wasn’t able to attend the RTR. The main organizer didn’t feel able to make the dinners happen successfully with so many eaters on hand, and no one with experience with feeding crowds steppd up to the challenge. I didn’t hear an official statement of why the potato bake didn’t happen, but I’m guess the couple who’d hosted it in the past didn’t feel up to the logistical nighmare of feeding the teeming masses. I was disappointed the meals were cancelled because at the previous RTR’s they’d served as my prime opportunity for social interaction. (One fellow did provide a bunch of hot dogs for a hot dog dinner early in the gathering, but I didn’t attend since I don’t eat hot dogs.)

I don’t know if there’s another Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in my future. I don’t know where I’ll be in January 2018. Also, I don’t know if I can learn anything new from the RTR. If I go to another RTR, it will be mostly to visit with friends.

If I do go to another RTR, I expect there will be a lot of people there. Folks can’t expect a free event to be promoted far and wide on the internet and not get crowded. If I attend another RTR, I’m going to park away from the main gathering areas, on the outskirts, where I can cook without an audience.

I took the photo in this post.

You can read about my experiences at past Rubber Tramp Rendezvous: the first week in 2015, the second week in 2015, some thoughts on the 2015 RTR2016, the first women’s meeting in 2015, the second women’s meeting in 2015, the free pile at the RTR, and Burning Van.

Van Organization: Pockets, Clips, Hangers, and Holders

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A few days ago I promised I wasn’t going to tell folks how to organize their vans. I’ll keep that promise because I know that what works for me may not work for somebody else. I’m a huge believer in folks working with what they have and what they can get free or cheap.

Recently on a Facebook groups I belong to, someone posted a video (that I didn’t watch) about how a person could do a van build for only $384 (or whatever), which is all well and good if that’s what someone’s into. But when I got my first van, I was homeless and had just enough money to purchase the van, buy insurance, pay for license and registration, and eat for a few days. I did not have not have $384 (or $38.40) to make any improvements to the van. I had a sleeping bag to throw onto the bench seat folded down into a bed. A friend gave me a shallow plastic tub that slid under the bed and that’s where I stored my clothes. I slowly added items (such as a stove, a cast iron skillet, curtains) to my home as I could afford them. Usually I shopped at thrift stores.

All this to say a wad of cash isn’t necessary for the beginning van dweller. (I know, a wad of cash is often useful. I won’t argue that. But “useful” and “necessary” are two different things.)

I think one of my most useful skills is the ability to figure out how to use what I have, what I’m given, and what I can get for cheap. I’ve used this skill to organize my van.

Last year, the Lady of the House gave me a big piece of cloth with three pockets on it. (I think it was intended to go over the arm of a couch or recliner and hold the remote control, the TV Guide, and other items useful to a couch potato.) She thought I could maybe use it in the van to hold things. I thought it was a great idea, but didn’t know where to put it. At first I rigged it so it hung from an 18 gallon plastic tub, but whenever I took the lid off the tub, my organization quite literally crashed to the floor. Then one day I was looking at the decorative pieces of wood on one of the van’s side doors and realized I could hang the pockets there and hold them to the wood with binder clips.

In these three pockets, I keep things I use regularly. Tape, scissors, soap, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, lighters, and pocket knives are all within easy reach.

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Pockets are held onto decorative wooden pieces by binder clips. In the pocket attached to the bottom of the door, I keep rags handy, as well as the curtain I hang over my side windows at night.

(To read about how I used another set of pockets, go here:http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/25/the-free-pile-at-the-rtr/, and scroll to the bottom of the post.)

On the other side door, I’ve used binder clips to attach a dry erase board and a pad of sticky notes. The decorative wooden pieces also hold pens so I can always find something to write with. IMG_5636

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This photo shows binder clips holding up a curtain.

I thought to use binder clips because I already had them around. I somehow (I don’t remember how or when) came up with the idea to use binder clips to hang curtains in the van. Large binder clips are the perfect size to hold curtains to the pieces of wood around my windows.

I could say that  binder clips are the answer to problems with organization and everyone should attach thin, flat pieces of wood to their van and use binder clips to hang things there. But that would be silly and maybe expensive. Instead, think about what you want to hang. Then look around your van and figure out where you could hang things using inexpensive, easy to find items.

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This photo shows shower curtain hooks holding a shopping bag (on the far left, barely in the photo), carabiners, a hobo bag style purse, necklaces,and a camping mirror.

Another common household item I use to hang things in the van is shower curtain hooks. The top of the hooks fit remarkably well between the decorative wood and the wall. (My van is full of decorative wood, I am realizing as I write this.) From the bottom of the hooks I hang my mirror, jewelry, carabiners, and lots and lots of shopping bags. (I have a shopping bag holding my towel and toiletries. I have two shopping bags holding yarn and my round hat-making looms. I have three shopping bags holding dirty laundry. I have a hobo bag style purse I can grab when I need to tote around lots of stuff. All of these bags are hanging from shower curtain hooks next to the walls of the van.)

I want to brag a little about my paper towel holder. For the longest time, there was no good place to put paper towels in my van. A new roll of paper towels is fat and difficult to store. I usually just tossed rolls on top of a tub, which typically meant they were soon on the floor. But I hated to use paper towels that had been on the dirty floor. Yuck!

At the 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) (read about it here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/21/the-rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-1-2/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/24/rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-2-2/), I had a discussion with other van dwelling women about paper towel storage. Using a bungee cord was suggested, and that sort of worked. Eventually (and sometimes it didn’t take long at all), the bungee cord would come unhooked, and I’d find the paper towels once again on the floor.

I got so of my paper towels falling down, I marched into a Stuff-Mart, determined to buy a paper towel holder. Much to my astonishment, I couldn’t find one in the store. I’d been looking at thrift stores too, but no luck. Apparently people with paper towel holder don’t part with them.

A couple of days ago, I stopped at a thrift store which was closed when it should have been open. To console myself, I poked around in the free box in front of the store. In the bottom of the box, I found a metal paper towel holder, complete with screws taped to the back. Yippie!

I tried to put the screws into the decorative wood above my plastic drawers. The wood was just a little too hard. I had to postpone my project for a couple of days, but finally, finally, I borrowed a cordless drill from a neighbor and got that holder hung. I hope taking this step finally keeps the paper towels off the floor.

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I took all of the photos in this post.