Tag Archives: vanlife

Up On the Roof

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I’d seen the van around town several times before. It was difficult to miss. It was a blue Chevy G20 conversion van with black plastic covering one of the back windows. In addition to the creative window treatment, the van was absolutely loaded down with items strapped to the exterior. There were at least four spare tires attached to various points on the van. What appeared to be a microwave oven sat atop two of the spares on a platform linked to the front bumper. A yellow generator was somehow held on the roof, and ratchet tie downs kept a water tank that looked like it could hold at least 100 gallons up there too. I hoped the water container was empty because 800 pounds traveling on the roof of a G20 seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to me.

I will confess, I’ve driven overloaded vans. The inside of my last Chevy G20 was packed to the gills on several occasions, but the only thing strapped to the outside was a 5-gallon gas can. I’m sure we each think our own material possessions are of the utmost importance, but why in the world was someone driving around with four spare tires, a 100 gallon water tank, and a microwave oven (!) strapped to the outside of a van? Certainly the water tank on the roof made driving in the wind more difficult and the extra weight of all the extra things decreased gas mileage.

One day while I was working at the supermarket fuel center, the overloaded van pulled up to pump 4. The driver–a man in his 60s with a white comb over–came up to the kiosk to pay cash for his fuel. He was soft-spoken and polite.

Several minutes after the van driver paid for his fuel, I left the kiosk to do my hourly conditioning of the merchandise for sale. I heard a soft voice calling Ma’am? Ma’am? Was someone talking to me? Where was the voice coming from?

Ma’am? Ma’am? I heard again.

I looked over to the blue van. The voice seemed to be coming from that direction, but I didn’t see anyone who might have been talking to me. No one looked at me expectantly or waved to get my attention. Was I hearing things? The job had me stressed out, but if it was causing auditory hallucinations, I was in big trouble.

Ma’am? Ma’am?

I looked up. That’s where the voice was coming from. A voice from on high was calling for me.

The man with the white comb over was on the roof of his van, crouched next to the generator. He’d stretched the gasoline hose from pump 4 up to the roof where he was pumping fuel into the generator. The whole setup seemed dangerous to me.

I need another $5, the comb-over man said to me while waving a $5 bill in my direction. I guess he’d misjudged how much fuel it would take to fill all his tanks.

I’m not supposed to take money outside of the kiosk, I told him. No one in authority had explicitly told me not to accept money outside of the kiosk, but it was a policy I’d set for myself. I figured only accepting money through the drawer would help keep every transaction on the up and up.

Please? the man on the roof of his van asked. I don’t want to have to climb down.

He sounded so pitiful, and I certainly wanted to minimize his chances of falling. An extra climb down followed by an additional climb up would increase the chances of a catastrophe I neither wanted to witness nor clean up after. I reached up and took his five dollars.

As I entered the kiosk, I realized the white-haired man was going to have to hang up the nozzle before I could authorize the pump to give him his additional $5 worth of fuel. He must have gotten the attention of a kindhearted stranger who hung up the nozzle for him because when I looked at my POS (point-of-sale) system, the screen showed pump 4 was available. I authorized the pump for $5 worth of fuel and put the money in the cash drawer. Then I stood back and watched the fellow on the top of the overloaded van pump the gas into his generator. I was pretty sure no fuel center spectacle could top this one.

At least the van owner was no longer part of this parade when he showed up at the fuel center.

I took the photos in this post.

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.

Not sure what sorts of exercise to do? Check out Petrolene Le Roux’s article “Top 15 Best Exercises For Depression and Anxiety” on the Home Gym 101 website. Some of the exercises covered focus on the body, while others focus on the mind.

#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.

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

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I locked myself out of this van many times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took the photos in this post.

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Don’t Touch

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This is a cautionary tale for anyone considering removing something from their rig before they know exactly what that something does.

I’d just gotten my van back from my mechanic. He’s replaced my fuel pump, and I was back in the business of vanlife.

I was house sitting for a friend, so I used the opportunity of having a parking spot to clean my van. I collected all the trash I’d let accumulate and dumped it into her garbage can. I was pleased to think how great my van was going to look after this cleanup.

While standing outside the van, I reached under the driver’s seat and felt around for any trash that had ended up hidden there. My hand connected with some sort of flat, plastic box. I wondered what it was. I didn’t remember tucking a box under the seat.

I pulled out the object, quickly realizing it was tethered by a cord to something else under the seat. I could hold the box in my hands, but couldn’t lift it more than a foot or so off the floor. If I hadn’t been standing outside the van, I probably couldn’t have pulled it out from under the seat at all. What was this thing?

I looked at the object closely. It was an inch or two thick, maybe eight inches wide, and ten inches long. It was constructed entirely of smooth black plastic, except for slightly raised letters on the top which spelled out “C-O-M-P-U-T-E-R.” Computer? What kind of computer could this possibly?

Chevy G20 van dusted with snow sits in front of a small, rocky mountain.
My 1992 Chevy G20 was not a hotbed of technology.

My van was a 1992 Chevy G20. While not a classic car, it was not a hotbed of technology either. Would something from 1992 really have a computer? Would something important to the operation of the vehicle really be stored under the seat? I didn’t think so! I decided (with no research and not much consideration) that this computer must operate no longer functioning power seat controls. Of course, neither of the seats had any buttons or knobs that might have been associated with power controls at some time in the past, but I didn’t let that detail influence my ideas about what the plastic box was for.

Anyone who’s lived in a vehicle (even a relatively roomy conversion van) knows that space is at a premium. Any little nook or cranny that can be emptied can provide a home for some more important item. I had visions of storing books under the driver’s seat if I could ditch this bulky, unnecessary (in my mind) “computer” box.

As I continued to examine the box, I found the cord was attached to the box by a plug. I simply unplugged the cord and the box was free. Easy! (I left the cord tucked under the seat, out of my way.)

Some guardian angel was looking over my shoulder that day because I didn’t throw the box into my friend’s garbage can. I can’t remember why. Maybe it was because I knew electronics aren’t supposed to end up in the landfill, and I’d decided to find an appropriate way to dispose of the thing. Maybe I had a sliver of good sense and realized it wasn’t a good idea to throw out a part when I didn’t know its function. In any case, the unplugged box stayed on the floor between the two front seats, and I wandered back into my friend’s house.

The next day I wanted to go somewhere, so I climbed into my van’s driver seat and started the engine. I immediately noticed the check engine light was on. Damn!

My first thought was that my mechanic must have caused the problem. Maybe he’d damaged something when he replaced the fuel pump. Maybe he hadn’t replaced something properly. I was going to have to call him and find out how he planned to rectify the situation.

Before I picked up the phone, I contemplated the situation further. Had the check engine light been on when I picked up the van at the repair shop? Had it come on as I drove from the shop to my friend’s house? I didn’t remember it being on. I’ve always been observant of my control panel, so I was confident I would have noticed the light had it been on previously.

I sat there and thought about what had changed since I’d parked the van at my friend’s place. Nothing really. I’d cleaned up, picked up trash, pulled the “computer” from under the driver’s seat…

Oh no! It began to dawn on me that maybe that “computer” controlled more than the movements of my chairs.

I shut off the van’s engine, then located the black box on the floor between the two front seats. Maybe this thing was more important than I’d thought.

I grabbed the plastic box and slid out of the van. I stood on the driver’s side of the van with the door open so I could reach under the seat. After some fumbling, I found the cord the box had been attached to and plugged it back in. I tucked the box under the seat, then climbed back into the van. When I turned the key in the ignition, I was relieved to see that the check engine light did not come on. Problem solved!

Apparently in 1992 vans did have computers, and they were stored under the driver’s seat!

For several years, I thought this was mostly a funny story of my stupidity that I would share on my blog someday. After all, no real damage was done, all’s well that end well, and surely I’m the only person who’d make such a mistake. Then my friend did something similar, and I knew I had to share my story as a cautionary tale.

Without sharing too much of my friend’s business, she cut some wires in her rig that she thought were unnecessary. It turned out that all of the components of her rig’s electrical system were connected and no one wire could be removed without affecting the entire system. Ooops!

My friend’s problem was more difficult and expensive to fix than mine was, but, thankfully, her rig is up and running again.

In any case, please learn a lesson from what my friend and I did wrong. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, don’t remove anything from your rig, unplug anything, or sever any cords. Maybe check the manual, do some research online, or ask a mechanic or knowledgeable friend before you start making changes that could lead to tears and aggravation.

I took the photo in this post.

In Which I Admit Ways a Travel Trailer Is Better Than a Van

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Chevy G20 high top van in the forest
I lived in this Chevy G20 for almost five years.

I was a vandweller for nearly a decade before a travel trailer came into my life after the death of my father. I enjoyed being a vandweller. I enjoyed taking my home with me wherever I went. I enjoyed a life without rent payments. I enjoyed being a renegade and a nomad.

To be honest, if I were single, I’d probably still live in my van. I was resistant to the whole idea of living in a travel trailer. My van had always been enough for me.

However, living in a van with my sweetheart was not easy for either of us. I especially need a lot of alone time, a lot of quiet. My guy likes to talk a lot and play guitar and move around. Also, he is six feet tall and simply needs room for his body. He bought a minivan in order to spend less money on gas, but can’t sit comfortably in it to carve or make jewelry.

Life was a little easier when we each had our own rig to hang out in and sleep in, but we did still suffer lots of discomforts. I was tired of cooking outside in the wind and the dust and the cold. I was so tired of constantly buying ice for the cooler and dealing with the water that always managed to accumulate in the bottom of it. Sure, I could deal with those annoyances (I think I’m a little bit tough), but I didn’t really want to.

Drawing of blue canned ham style travel trailer with yellow sun and the words Home Is Where You Park It.

If I weren’t with The Man, I would not be pulling a travel trailer. I think it’s more work than I want to do alone. However, in less than a month living in the travel trailer (when I wrote the rough draft of this post), I was already spoiled by the amenities it offered.

The number one luxury of life in the travel trailer is probably the head room. I don’t know how many times I hit my head while living in my van, and I’m not even tall! The Man hit his head even more. Ouch! It sure is nice to stand up to cook, put on pants, or simply move from one spot to another. Even with cupboards above our bed, we can both sit up comfortably. I’m sure both our brains are glad to no longer get bumped around so much.

Another perk of  travel trailer life is more storage space for our stuff. We have lots of cupboards, cabinets, and drawers. The kitchen boasts four drawers and six cabinets. There is storage under the dinette’s bench seats. The living area has four overhead cupboards. Between the sofa and the bedroom is an armoire with four shelves behind two doors and four large drawers down below. There are two short cabinets over the bed and two tall ones on each side. There is even a storage compartment under the bed! Finally, we have room for the things we own.

In addition to space for stuff, we have space for people! Coyote Sue was our first visitor. She stopped by to see our place when we were all at Elephant Butte Lake State Park using our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was nice for each of us to sit in a comfortable spot while we chatted.

We could even have overnight guests if we wanted. The legs come off the table and the tabletop sits between the two bench seats to make a platform that becomes a bed when the cushions from the seats are arranged on it. The couch folds down into a (lumpy but functional) bed. Guests here might not have the best sleep of their lives, but at least we can offer places to lie down for the night.

My favorite part of having more space is having a separate bedroom. The bedroom is at the front of the trailer and has an accordion door to hide it from the rest of the living space. (I wish the bedroom had a solid door like the bathroom does, but a folding door is better than nothing.) While The Man (and Jerico the dog too) do sleep in the bed with me (thankfully the RV queen size mattress provides room for all), the bedroom is my domain. When The Man wakes up before me in the morning (which is usually the way it happens), he can leave the room, close the door, and go about his life in the other part of the trailer. When I wake up, I can sit in the bed and write with few distractions.

I’m quite relieved to have sturdy screens over all the windows. We even have screen doors on both entrances! I know how miserable it is to live in a van and have to choose between being hot with the windows closed to keep bugs out or opening the windows to let in a breeze and fresh air and also letting in a squadron of mosquitoes or flies or no see ‘ems. I fashioned some window screens during my days as a vandweller, but my DIY efforts always fell short (and often fell down). I’m glad to have properly fitted, professionally installed screens with no holes on all the windows and doors so we can have airflow while keeping bugs out.

Blue sky with full of white puffy clouds. Tree in foreground. Lake in background.
Tree at Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

Having electricity in our home is really awesome. During a week and a half stay at Rockhound State Park, , we only had to splurge on an extra $4 per night for a campsite with electricity since we had the annual camping pass. We were quickly spoiled by being able to flip a switch and have light. It was also convenient to be able to charge our electronics by plugging into an electrical outlet in our home. We missed these luxuries when we moved to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and opted for a campsite with no hookups. When we finally got the travel trailer out on our own property, we charged our house batteries each night by running our generator for about an hour. Now we have a complete solar power system, and we get our power from the sun. The Man got our solar electric system up and running as soon as possible because once we got a taste of having electricity in our home, we didn’t want to give it up.

Most of the other advantages of living in the travel trailer have to do with the kitchen. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I do feed myself and The Man a couple of times each day, so I like to be comfortable when I prepare meals.

Cooking out of the elements is a huge perk. Cooking outside is not entirely unpleasant if the weather is nice. However, cooking outside when it’s raining or snowing or sleeting or hailing or just plain cold is a real pain in the neck.  It’s also difficult (sometimes impossible) to cook in a strong Southwestern wind. Working outside in a steady wind of 20 to 30 mph (with stronger gusts) is difficult enough, but add in the dust that is always part of a windy situation, and I just want to grab some food from Little Caesar’s or Taco Bell. Being in the trailer and out of inclement weather has been a game changer when it comes to cooking meals.

Sure I could have cooked in my van during bad weather, and at times I did boil water or heat up some leftovers. Since I’ve read the warnings on my camp stove about the dangers of using it in enclosed spaces, I always worried about using it in the van. The stove and oven in the travel trailer were professionally installed at the factory and are (ostensibly) vented properly and pose fewer risks.

Having an oven is a huge perk. I missed baking for all the years I lived in my van. When The Man and I moved into the fifth wheel and found it had a working oven, I was overjoyed. I baked pizza, cakes, brownies, treats for the dog, and cornbread from my father’s recipe. When we sold the fifth wheel, leaving the oven behind was a sad moment for me. Now that I have an oven again, I’ve enjoyed baking yummies for the whole family.

I haven’t had a working refrigerator in my home in years, since the one in the fifth wheel didn’t work and was used as a pantry. Having refrigeration in the travel trailer is a huge convenience. I no longer have to buy ice. I no longer have to deal with melted ice water. I no longer have to deal with the water that always ends up at the bottom of the cooler no matter what I do to avoid it. Can I live without refrigeration? Yes. Is life a lot easier with a working refrigerator in the house? Also yes.

Colorful drawings of travel trailers and camper vans surround the words Home Is Where We Park It.
My dear friend sent this to me. I love it! I hung it over the kitchen sink.

While some aspects of living in a travel trailer are challenging (I’m looking at you, hitching!) the advantages currently outshine those challenges. I feel so fortunate that my dad’s death has brought this travel trailer into my life.

I took the photos in this post.

The AdVANtages of Living and Traveling in a Van

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I wrote this post before The Man and I ended up with a travel trailer and a truck to tow it. If I were single, I’d still be in a van.

I’m a van gal. I bought my first van (with the not-very-nice fellow who is now my ex) almost a decade ago. We upgraded to a newer, better van several months later. We spent two whirlwind years traveling across the country visiting cities, public lands, and music festivals. When I finally left that guy behind, I was homeless for a few months until, with the help of friends, I was able to buy a Chevy G20 of my own and return to van life.

During my time as a vandweller, people have suggested I “upgrade,” especially after The Man and I got together. Yes, we would have more room in a school bus, a travel trailer we could pull behind a vehicle, or a small motorhome. However, what we’d have to sacrifice in exchange for a bit more room isn’t worth it to me. Today I’ll share what I see as the advantages of living and traveling in a van.

Winding mountain road
I was able to navigate this mountain road with my Chevy G20 van.

#1 I can navigate most any paved road (and lots of dirt roads too).  During the second year I worked in the mountains of California, the camp hosts down the road lived in a converted school bus. Halfway through the work season, a wildfire was near, and two of the three roads off the mountain were closed. The bus couple worried about how they would get their rig off the mountain if we were required to evacuate. The one open road was narrow and curvy, and they weren’t sure the bus would make it around the tight turns. I had no such concerns. I’d driven my van up and down all three of those mountain roads and knew it could make it down (and back up again when it was safe to do so) with no problems.

I’ve driven conversion vans from California to North Carolina, Kansas to Minnesota, Maine to Georgia (with lots of crisscrossing the middle of the Unite States), and I’ve never been on a paved road I thought I might not be able to navigate.  Sure there are dirt roads that have caused me concern. I’ve been on  dirt roads I had no business taking my van on, and I’ve been prepared to turn around if necessary. Anybody traveling in a rig without four wheel drive is going to run into the same trouble on some dirt roads, but my van can get around in places where bigger rigs can’t.

#2 My van is (comparatively) easy to park. Granted, I’m not great at parallel parking (confession: I can’t really parallel park at all), but most bigger rigs wouldn’t even fit in a parallel parking spot. My van only takes up one space in any parking lot or residential street. Unless I’m in a busy downtown area where I need to squeeze into the only parallel parking space on the street, I don’t have a difficult time finding a place to leave my van.

Sometimes parking garages do pose a problem for my rig. More than once I’ve been at the entrance of a parking garage before I realized my van was too tall. While that’s a drawback to having a high top, I know anywhere I don’t fit can’t accommodate a school bus, motor home, or even a tall truck camper. My van can (and has) fit into some parking garages, but rigs taller than mine probably won’t have much parking garage luck.

The low-hanging branches in this campground worried some folks in big rigs.

#3 Not only does my van offer enough clearance to allow me to park in at least some parking garages, it affords me decent clearance in general. During my time as a camp host and parking lot attendant, I saw several drivers of motorhomes freak out about branches overhanging the road through the parking lot or above a campsite. One driver of an RV insisted on backing out of the one-way loop through the parking lot rather than continue through when he realized overhead branches were going to scrape the top of his rig. I suppose buses and tall motorhomes don’t utilize too many fast food drive-thrus. In my van, I don’t often have to worry about being too tall.

#4 Not only is my van (comparatively) easy to park, it’s also (comparatively) easy to back up. I didn’t get a lot of instruction on backing when I learned to drive late in life, but especially in the last few years, I’ve had quite a lot of practice. My van didn’t have a review mirror when I bought it, and the two back windows are blacked out, so I use my blind spot mirrors on the sides a LOT. (The Man opens the driver’s door and sticks his head out and looks behind him to aid his backing abilities when he’s driving my van.) I backed into a tree last summer, but other than that little incident, I’m doing fine (knock wood).

Once another vandweller and I were looking at a van that was longer than mine. I fretted that I would never be able to back up something so big. The other vandweller assured me that once I got a feel for the dimensions of any rig, backing up wouldn’t be a problem for me. He’s probably right, but I’d be terrified backing up a big rig while I was trying to learn its dimensions. Could I learn to back up a rig bigger than my van? I know I could, but I like knowing I can do a decent job backing up the van I already have.

Of course, if I pulled a travel trailer behind my van, backing up would pose a whole new set of problems. Could I learn  to back up a rig I was pulling behind my van? Again, I know that I could, but I don’t really want to. I don’t feel the need to complicate my life with complex backing.

#5 If I need to stealth park, my van blends in. Let’s face it, a school bus is not going to blend in on a residential street, even if it’s still sporting the customary school bus orange. If it’s been repainted some cool new color, it’s really going to stand out wherever it’s parked. A small motorhome may fit in a little better, but most people who live in in a house or apartment don’t park their recreational vehicles on the street. An RV parked on the street may call a little too much attention to itself.

I don’t stealth park on residential streets a lot. If I have to be in civilization, I’d rather spend the night blacktop boondocking in the parking lot of a truck stop or a Wal-Mart. However, if the only place I can find to spend the night is a residential street, my van can slip in and look enough like a regular passenger vehicle so that no one suspect I’m sleeping in there.

All the campsites in this campground where covered with snow when The Man and I camped here in May 2017.

#6 Not only can I stealth park in the city in my rig, but I can fit in most any campsite with a parking spur. Yes, I have been to campgrounds with only walk-up tent sites. (I’m looking at you Big Tesuque!)  We were at that campground in the off-season when the entire campground was covered in snow, so we simply slept in the van in the parking lot. However, the majority of campgrounds I’ve been to have offered plenty of room to park my van on the campsites.

While I was a camp host, I saw many people with big rigs have a difficult time getting into the two smallest campgrounds on the mountain. People in big RVs often struggled to find a campsite large enough to accommodate their rigs. I’d rather travel in a small rig that allows me to take nearly any campsite available.

My van’s gas mileage is better than the gas mileage of a school bus.

#7 The Man would tell you my G20’s gas mileage stinks compared to what he gets in his minivan. He is right about that comparison, but my mileage is great compared to what rigs bigger than mine get. The Scientific America article “Teenager’s Invention Saves Fuel for School Buses” says that school “buses…only get 4 to 6 mpg.” I’m guessing a motorhome (depending on its size) gets the same sort of gas mileage or maybe a little better. That makes my 12 to 15 miles per gallon look pretty good. Of course, pulling a travel trailer would reduce my gas mileage even further.

Diesel costs more than gasoline.

At the time I’m writing this post (February 2019), diesel costs more than gasoline. Because my van runs on gasoline, I spend less on fuel than I would if I drove a bus with a diesel engine or a diesel truck I might need to haul a big fifth wheel. Also, I found out when I worked in the mountains, diesel is sometimes not available in remote locations, even when gasoline is.

#8 I’ve had some tire troubles in the past, but at least I only have four to deal with and not six. Not only do full size schoolies and some larger motorhomes have two extra tires to deal with, getting the best, strongest tires capable of handling the additional weight of bigger rigs costs a pretty penny. After reading a few articles about the cost of tires for school buses and Class A motorhomes, it seems a single tire suitable for one of these rigs can run anywhere from $100 (plus a charge for mounting) to $430, with one article estimating an upper range price of $600. Ouch!

Although I do have expensive, strong Michelin tires on my van, they’re in the under $200 (each) price range, and I’m glad to save the money two more would cost.

#9 Because my van is a regular passenger vehicle with a gasoline engine, I don’t have to find a special mechanic to work on it when I have problems. Just about any trained and competent mechanic can repair most any problem. As a bonus, The Man is able to do some of the repairs and maintenance my van has needed. He’s replaced my all of my brake pads and put in a new radiator when the old one sprung a leak.

I know folks with small motorhomes who’ve had trouble finding a mechanic with a shop big enough to accommodate their rigs. All of the vans I’ve owned, including the two with high tops, have fit in every shop they’ve been brought to.

#10 I don’t have to dump grey or black water tanks. Yes, it would be convenient to wash dishes or my hands in my van. Yes, it would be convenient to have a rig with a flush toilet. I’m sure I could learn how to dump grey and black water tanks, and with practice, dumping would become just another routine. However, at this point in my vanlife, I’m happy to be without the burden of staying aware of the levels in grey and black water tanks, finding dump stations, (possibly) paying to dump, then going through the smelly process. I’m content to wash my hands and the dishes outside and find a toilet whenever I have elimination needs. (Of course, I have a system in place for when I’m boondocking.) The lack of black and grey water tanks makes my life a little simpler.

I’m not trying to tell you what rig you should live in. I’m only telling you why I do what I do. By all means, make your own decisions based on what works best for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen: Yes, that is correct.

RTA: How long have you been doing that?

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

RTA: What’s your rig?

Ellen: A Ford Transit Connect.

RTA: That’s pretty small.

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

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

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

RTA: So you cook outside?

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

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

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

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

Selective Focus Photography of Gasoline Nozzle

things about having the tiny rig.

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

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

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

RTA: [Boisterous laughter]

Ellen: [joins in with her own laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: How often do you think you do that?

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

RTA: Right!

Ellen: [Laughter]

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

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

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

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

 RTA: So what year is your current rig?

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

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

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

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

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

Brown Wooden Destination Arrow Guide

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen: Yeah, now I think they get it.

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

Ellen: Yes. Exactly.

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

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

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

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

RTA: Do you agree or disagree with that?

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

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

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

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

Ellen: Life is really awesome! [Laughter]

White Blooming Flower Under the Tree during Daytime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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