Category Archives: FYI

Tips for the Road Trip or Nomad Newbie

Standard

Recently a friend went on road trip covering 1,500 miles and crossing four states. It wasn’t her first road trip, but it was the first long one that she did alone. She wanted to arrive at her destination as quickly as possible, as safely as possible (in the time of COVID, no less), while spending as little money as possible. As we discussed her trip and I offered advice, I realized I had lots of tips I’d picked up from my years as a rubber tramp. Whether you’re going on a weekend road trip and plan to return to your sticks-n-bricks on Sunday evening or if it’s your maiden voyage as a full-time nomad (or even if you’re at some stage between the two extremes), these tips can help make travel in your vehicle safer, cheaper, and more enjoyable.

#1 Remove some seats, or fold them down. The minivan my friend drove on her road trip had seats that folded completely into the floor to create a totally flat surface. My Toyota Sienna did not offer such technology so I pulled all the back seats out as soon as possible. With seats out of the way, you’ll have more room for luggage, coolers, camp stove, and most importantly, space to sleep.

#2 Make yourself a place to sleep. On anything longer than a day trip, you’re going to need to catch some Z’s. (Even on a day trip, you might need to take a nap.) Camping can be fun and staying at a hotel/motel/Airbnb is a luxury I wish I could afford, but if you’re just trying to make it from point A to Point B, consider sleeping in your vehicle. With the seats out or folded away, you should have room to make a comfortable sleeping area for yourself.

My friend had a twin size futon mattress that she threw in her minivan for maximum comfort. If you don’t have a mattress that fits your vehicle, you could use an air mattress, a pad intended to go under a sleeping bag, the squishy mats that go on the floor of an exercise or play room, a yoga mat, or even a pile of blankets. If you don’t have a sleeping bag to go on top of your padding, just use sheets and blankets from your bed at home. Don’t forget your pillow.

If the seats in your vehicle don’t fold down or can’t be removed, consider using a car air bed. According to Noelle Talmon‘s article “Best Car Air Beds: Our Top Picks for Back Seat Comfort” on The Drive website, a car air bed is

…designed to be placed on top of a vehicle’s back seat to provide a more comfortable sleeping spot…

Air beds are designed to universally accommodate the back seats of most cars, including compact cars, sedans, and SUVs. A back seat bed includes two separately inflated “feet” that support the mattress, fit into the spaces in front of the seats, and contour around the console. Made out of lightweight, synthetic PVC, the beds weigh around 6 to 7 pounds…

A car air bed can be had for around $30 for a basic model, or you can spend $60 or more for all the bells and whistles if you desire optimal luxury. If you plan to spend several nights in your car, especially if you can’t get your seats out of the way, a car air bed may be a wise investment. For less than the cost of one night in a motel, you can buy yourself many night of car sleeping comfort.

By sleeping in your vehicle, you’ll not only save money (no camping fees, no charges for a hotel room), you’ll interact with fewer people if you’re dodging communicable diseases.

#3 You might be wondering where to park if you’re going to sleep in your vehicle. I wrote a whole post about blacktop boondocking you might want to check out, but I’ll give you a quick rundown here.

If you’re simply concerned with getting some sleep between Point A and Point B, truck stops, sometimes called travel centers, and rest areas are your best bets. Lots of people are coming and going at these places, and you probably won’t be the only one sleeping in a vehicle.

I prefer truck stops over rest areas because at truck stops you can fuel up, get a snack (maybe even a slice of pizza or a fresh cinnamon roll) or have a hot meal, get caffeine if you need it, use the restroom, or even take a shower. (Of course, you’re gong to pay dearly for truck stop snacks, drinks, and showers, so try to plan ahead so you won’t need such things.)

Truck stops to look for include Flying J (my fave), Pilot (now owned by the same corporation that owns Flying J), Love’s (The Man’s fave), TA (TravelCenters of America), and Petro. Beware: both Love’s and Petro have locations that are only gas stations/convenience stores and others that are truck stops/travel centers. Make sure a location is actually at truck stop if you’re looking to stay overnight.

Rest areas are shown on paper maps. (You are traveling with a paper map, aren’t you? If you have no idea why you might need one, read my post “In Praise of Paper Maps“.) Check out your route on your map to see if there are any rest areas on the way. You can also look at a map of rest areas on the Interstate Rest Areas website.

Each state has different rules about how long you can stay at a rest area, so do your research before you decide to spend the night at one. Even if you are not allowed to stay overnight at a rest area, you can usually get at least a few hours of shut-eye at one.

If you’re on a leisurely trip and think free camping (often known as boondocking) might be fun, use the Free Campsites website and Campendium to find cool places in nature to spend a night or more. Before boondocking, be sure to read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”

#4 Once you’ve decided where you will stay for the night, you might wonder exactly where to park your vehicle. On her first night at a truck stop, my newbie road tripper friend texted me, Was I supposed to park with the trucks?

The answer is no, don’t park with the big rigs unless you are driving a big rig yourself or maybe if you’re driving a giant Class A motorhome, but even then, try to avoid it. Typically there are more truckers who need to take a mandatory break than there are spaces for them to park in at a truck stop. Do not take one of the limited spots an 18-wheeler can fit in. If you’re in a passenger vehicle, park with the other passenger vehicles.

The ideal spot for your rig (in my opinion) is on the end of a row so you’ll only have a neighbor on one side. If you’re away from light shining on you, all the better as far as I’m concerned, although some people feel safer parked under lights. I’d try to avoid parking next to pet walking areas, trash cans, entrance/exit doors, or anywhere with lots of foot traffic.

Now you’re parked for the night. What next?

#5 Use your windshield sun shade to block light and provide privacy at night. We all know a windshield sun shade helps reduce the heat in a vehicle when it’s parked during the day, but it can also provide you with some privacy at night, as well as keep the light from parking lot security lamps out of your face. You may not want to hang curtains in your vehicle. Maybe the windows are tinted enough to give you the privacy you need. Since the windshield is not tinted and it’s a big piece of glass, it’s easy for people to look right in. Pop your sun shade in the windshield at night and you’ve just made your vehicle more private. The sun shade will also block the light that otherwise pours in all night and can disturb your sleep.

#6 If the windshield sun shade doesn’t give you all the privacy you need, hang some easy curtains. The side curtains in my minivan hang from bungee cords and attach to each other with clothespins. The back curtain is pinned up with clothespins. When my friend went on her road trip, she made a “tent” within the back of her minivan with sheets and binder clips. You could also cover windows with a sarong, a skirt, a sweatshirt, a bath towel, or a pillowcase. My point is that you don’t need an elaborate, permanent system to cover your windows. Plan ahead or make do with what you have in a pinch, but covering your windows can really increase your coziness.

#7 I’m a big believer in locking the doors. I just sleep better knowing no one is going to open one of my doors during the night. I can use the remote lock on my key fob to lock all of my doors from the inside of my minivan. I can then manually unlock doors from the inside as needed. Experiment with your key fob if you have one to find out what works for you.

#8 The first rule of vanlife is always know where your keys are. This is a tip for both night and day, but I always sleep better when I know I can grab my keys in an instant if I need to.

My friend the newbie road tripper was going to sleep with her keys under her pillow, but thought better of it. She worried she might move in the night and hit the button for the alarm or the one that unlocked all the doors. She found another spot that felt more secure. You will have to find the spot that works best for you, but you want to be able to reach out and grab them without much thought or struggle.

#9. We’re about to get real here. If you’re sleeping in your vehicle, having a pee bottle/jug/bucket is going to come in handy. Trust me, once all your curtains are up and you’re snuggled under blankets or in your sleeping bag, you are not going to want to find your shoes, pull on some pants, get our of the vehicle, and walk across the parking lot at 2 o’clock in the morning. A way to pee in your rig is super convenient. (For lots of info about using the bathroom when there is no bathroom, read my post “Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV.”)

People with male anatomy probably know all about this, but as a reminder, use a bottle with a lid that screws on tightly, such as a disposable water bottle, a Nalgene bottle, or a juice or milk jug. Just make sure you don’t confuse your pee bottle with a bottle you drink out of. (Yuck!)

The process is not as easy for people with female anatomy, but it can be done. Ever squat to pee when you’re out camping or hiking? What you’ll be doing is the same principle, but without a tree to lean against and into a container instead of on the ground. I use a tall plastic coffee can with a snap-on lid. Any wide-mouth, leak-proof container is a possibility. If you already use a stand-to-pee device, try using it in conjunction with your container.

In the morning when you emerge from your vehicle, carry the container into the restroom and dump the contents into the toilet.

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

#10 To save money and time, pack snacks. I mentioned liking truck stops because snacks are available there, but I can’t remember the last time I bought food at a truck stop or a convenience store. Snacks bought in those places are so expensive! If you’re going on a road trip or travel vacation, pack snacks you already have at home, or buy some at the supermarket, discount store, or dollar store before you go. You can save a lot of money by purchasing food before you hit the road.

You can save more money by not eating restaurant meals while you travel. If you have a camp store, you can stop at rest areas or city or county parks and cook meals on-the-go. There are soups, noodles, oatmeal, and mashed potatoes you can prepare with just hot water. Often you can get free hot water from coffee dispensers at gas stations and truck stops, so you don’t even have to drag out the camp stove. (If you’re not sure if the water is free, just offer to pay for it at the cash register.)

If you bring a loaf of bread and pack cold cuts and cheese in your cooler, you can slap together a sandwich and call it a picnic wherever you stop. Peanut butter and jelly works the same way. You could also stock the cooler with pizza and boiled eggs if you don’t mind eating those cold. Maybe some fruit, nuts, or trail mix eaten while you’re driving would be enough to get you through.

There are lots of options less expensive and healthier than a fast food burger and fries or a meal in a sit down restaurant. (Learn to save even more cash while on the road in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions.”)

#11 Are you a night owl or an early bird? In either case there are some real benefits of driving from dark to light.

A very wise woman shared this concept in one of the lady van groups I’m in. If you get an early start, even before the sun rises, you’ll be able to more easily handle any problems you might encounter. If your vehicle breaks down, mechanics and auto parts stores will be open in the daytime, but probably not in the middle of the night. If your tires goes flat or has a blow out, tire shops and sales locations will be open in the daytime. Driving in the daytime tends to work better for me because driving at night puts me right to sleep. Also, it’s getting more and more difficult for me to see well while I’m driving at night. I’d much rather get an early start, stop and see cool attractions along the way, and still get to my stopping point before dark.

I hope these tips for anyone just starting out on the road are helpful. What did I forget? What do you wish you had known when you were starting out? Please share your favorite road trip tips in the comments.

Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV

Standard

Content warning: urine and feces, as well as mention of excretory anatomy

Once at the RTR, I said to Coyote Sue, Folks who can’t talk about pee and poop probably shouldn’t be here. The same can be said about this blog post. If you can’t stand reading about pee and poop, this is not the blog post for you. If, however, you currently live and travel in a vehicle that does not come equipped with toilet facilities (or plan to do so in the future), this may be the blog post you’ve been looking for.

The first thing I have to tell you is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for solving the problem of living in a rig with no bathroom. A lot of factors are going to determine what system is right for you. Some factors to consider include the following: the size of your rig, your size, your physical abilities and limitations, your squeamishness level, your budget, and your location when nature calls. In this post I will share what works for me and what other folks have told me works for them. You will have to decide for yourself what works for you. You may not come to that decision without some trial and error.

One option is a portable toilet such as the Bestgoods 20L Portable Camping Toilet Travel Potty, the Thetford 92860 Porta Potti 135, the Hike Crew Advanced Portable Outdoor Camping and Travel Toilet, and the JAXPETY 5.3 Gallon 20L Flush Porta Potti. These toilets range in price from about $50 to $110 before taxes and shipping fees. I have no personal experience with the models I just mentioned, so I’m not recommending any of them. I did a Google search for “camp potty,” and those are some of the results.

I’ve never tried a camp potty for a number of reasons. They take up quite a bit of room, and can be pricey if purchased new. (For most of the time I lived full time in my van, even $50 was a major expenditure for me.) However, the portable toilets do look more comfortable than do-it-yourself options, and if the model has a storage tank for waste, it won’t have to be emptied each time it’s used. One person I encountered in a Facebook van group shared her experiences with a portable toilet she used in her van. She loved it. When the waste tank was full, she emptied it in the ladies room at the nearest rest area. I’m not sure what she did if she didn’t encounter any rest areas when she needed to dump the toilet’s tank. Personally, I don’t know if I’m confident enough to carry a waste tank from a portable toilet into a restroom at a Wal-Mart or truck stop.

Another option are disposable human waste bags. As Sarah Laskow explains in her article “These Magic Bags Turn Pee to Goo And Make Poop Portable,”

Combining the principles of kitty litter and plastic bag-based poop-scooping…these bags rely on trade-secret combinations of gelling agents, enzymes and deodorizers to sequester human waste into a manageable package.

The gelling agents almost instantly transform urine into goo…The enzymes break down solid waste, enough that the bags can be disposed of in regular old garbage cans.

A generic term for these items is WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag. Two companies that manufacture bags that can handle solid and liquid waste are Cleanwaste and RESTOP. There are many more companies that sell disposable urine bags. A search for “disposable urine bags” on Amazon yielded over a dozen choices.

Several years ago, I got a free sample of a disposable urine bag. (I can’t remember how I got the sample or the company it was from.) The bag was fairly easy to use, but did require squatting. The gel in the bag trapped odors, so my van didn’t smell like urine. The used bag was easy to dispose of discreetly with the rest of my trash.

However, I find the cost of these bags prohibitive. At 75 cents to $1 (or more!) per bag for the disposable urine bags and around $4 each for the bags that can handle solid waste too, I’d be spending a lot of money to use these things. If I used one of these bags for every elimination function, I could easily spend $8 a day. I’ll do the math so you don’t have to. At $8 a day, that’s $56 a week, $224 a month and whopping $2,688 a year! Even if I managed to use public restrooms to pee all day and make one solid waste deposit and only used one urine disposal bag each night, I could still spend $300 a year on these things! In my opinion, it’s better to leave the WAG bags to people who really need them like backpackers and mountain climbers.

Most van dwellers use a 5 gallon bucket for solid waste deposits and some sort of bottle or jar for liquid waste. (Most people are going to tell you to keep solid and liquid waste separated. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic later.)

if you’re a person with a penis, you probably know how to urinate into a bottle. (If you don’t, you probably need to get advice from another person with a penis or check out this WikiHow article.) I can offer a few tips for anyone who’s going to urinate into a container. Make sure to close the camp tightly when done and don’t confuse the bottle you drink out of with the bottle you pee in. If you’re going to dispose of a bottle of urine, throw it in a trash can, not out of your vehicle’s window and on the side of the road.

Urinating into a container might be a new experience for people with female anatomy. If you already have a stand-to-pee device such as a Pstyle, GoGirl, Shewee, or Tinkle Belle, it might be helpful when peeing into a container. (If you have no idea what the aforementioned devices are or if you need some help choosing which one to buy, check out Christina Cauterucci‘s article “You Should Be Using a Stand-to-Pee Device.”) Some women I’ve talked to use a regular funnel from the kitchen or automotive department as a less expensive urination deice option. If you don’t have any sort of urination device, you’ve going to have to kneel or squat over your container. Use a container that will held plenty of liquid and will not leak. Unless you know you will always be able to empty the container immediately after you fill it, be sure it has a tight fitting lid. Make sure the container’s opening is wide enough to accommodate your urine stream.

I use this coffee container as my urine receptacle in my minivan. I found the container on top of the trash in the dumpster where I live in the winter. It was clean, with a trace of coffee dust inside.

I like to use a 37 ounce plastic coffee container as my urine receptacle. I’ve used smaller containers, and they’ve worked, but I like to have plenty of room in my receptacle in the event I have to pee several times in the night. One woman I talked to prefers to urinate into a Pringles can held up against her body. Another urinates into a large container, then uses her funnel to pour urine into empty individual serving water bottles which she finds easy to dispose of. A large yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese container may meet your needs. I’ve often seen round plastic canisters with wide mouths and screw on lids at Dollar Tree, or perhaps you’ll find your perfect urine receptacle in the recycling bin. Different containers and systems work for different bodies, so be willing to experiment.

Any container that’s reused to hold urine can develop an odor, especially if the urine sits in the container for hours. After dumping the liquid wasted from my container (away from camp if I’m boondocking or in the toilet if I’m in civilization), I rinse it with a bit of water and let it air dry with the lid off if possible. A bit of dish soap added to the water and swished around can help cut the odor too. If an odor does develop, add a little bleach or vinegar to the container, swish it around, and let it sit for a while.

As I said before, most vandwellers and other nomads with rigs lacking toilet facilities use 5 gallon buckets for solid waste disposal. Five gallon buckets are most popular because they are easiest and cheapest to acquire.I lucked out and was given a smaller 2 (or maybe it’s 3) gallon bucket. I like it because it takes up less space in my minivan. Depending on your physical capabilities to get up from a low sitting position, a small bucket may not be for you. Another option may be a large plastic kitty litter container with a lid that snaps on securely.

You probably don’t want to balance your butt on the naked rim of a bucket. I know I sure don’t! There are a couple of ways to remedy this uncomfortable situation.

I splurged and bought a special toilet seat/lid combo designed to fit on a bucket. (The number of gallons a bucket holds does not determine if this seat will work with your bucket. The diameter of the bucket’s opening is what determines if the seat will fit. ) The seat snaps securely onto the bucket so it doesn’t slide around when in use.The lid does not seal, so odor can still escape, but it dos snap closed so it won’t flop open when moved. The seat typically costs under $15. (My bucket came with a tightly sealing lid, which I kept. If the contents of my bucket are ever particularly stinky, I can seal in the odor with the original lid.)

My two gallon bucket with removable plastic seat and lid.

The do-it-yourself approach to making a bucket more comfortable to sit on is to fasten part of a pool noodle or similar pipe insulation sleeves around the rim of a bucket. To see how this is done, watch Eugene Valkovsky‘s video “How to Make Portable Toilet Bucket.”

Once you get your bucket outfitted for comfort, you’re ready to use it. Or are you? How will you prepare your bucket for the easiest disposal of waste? There area a few different methods.

The first thing you want to do is line your bucket with a plastic bag. You can use a disposable grocery store bag, but you want to be absolutely sure it has no holes in the bottom. Also, whether you’re using a plastic grocery store bag or a trash bag, you want the bag to be big enough to bring the open end of it over the rim of the bucket and fold it down against the outside of the bucket. This will (hopefully) keep the bag from falling down into the bucket when you make your first poop deposit. I find that the plastic seat snapping over the bucket’s opening does a good job holding the bag in place.

Some people defecate right into the plastic bag, deposit their used toilet paper in there, tie off the bag, and leave it all in the bucket until it can be thrown away. Some people take an extra step and add something absorbent (like kitty litter) to the bag before using it. The kitty litter crowd tends to add an initial layer of litter to the bottom of the bag before use. After each poop deposit, another layer of kitty litter (and possibly a sprinkle of baking soda to help control odors) is added. I’ve never tried this method, but it seems to me by the time the bag is full (or even half full) it’s going to be heavy and stinky. However, as I’ve said before folks have to decide for themselves what works best for them.

As I mentioned, many people say solid and liquid wasted must be kept separate. I don’t know if this is a difference between male and female bodies or just a unique quirk of mine, but (TMI coming right up!) I just can’t seem to produce solid waste without producing liquid waste too. I just can’t seem to poop without peeing. If I have to poop and try to pee first, well, let’s just say that doesn’t work either.

What I’ve found works for me (on the suggestion of a woman who shared at an RTR women’s meeting I attended) are puppy training pads. These are the pads you get when you’re house training a puppy. I buy them at WalMart for about 20 cents each (before tax). After I put a plastic bag in my bucket, I line it with a puppy pad. The pads are supposed to hold 2cups of liquid. The pad absorbs any liquid I deposit and offers a tiny bit of protection if the plastic bag has a hole in it or if it tears.

After I finish making my deposit, I drop my used toilet paper in to the bag, squeeze as mush air as possible out of the bag, and tie it off securely. I try to set up bag and puppy training pad combo (or several combos if I’m feeling particularly efficient) in advance so when nature calls, I don’t have to waste time setting up my supplies. I drop the securely tied used plastic bags back into the bucket until I can dispose of them. (I take them out before I use the toilet bucket again.)

A word of warning: Even when it’s entirely empty, a bucket that’s held feces is going to smell pretty bad. Turns out the smell of feces cannot be contained by a regular plastic bag, and the plastic bucket soaks up the scent. Airing out the bucket when you can (like when you’re boondocking) helps, as does baking soda, vinegar, and bleach (but not all together!), but the bucket will probably never be the same.

I understand that human waste can be difficult to discuss and difficult to deal with. I hope this information about the systems I and others use while van (or car, truck, minivan, or SUV) dwelling helps you decide how to deal with your own waste. For folks who have already spent time on the road in a rig without a built in restroom, how do you deal with your waste? Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments.

I took the photos not credited to someone else.

How to Find Less Strenuous Hikes

Standard

My friend Kerri and I were recently having a direct message conversation about my life as a nomad. She asked me a question that I thought was about finding less strenuous hikes in general, although after rereading her question, I think she was asking specifically about easy hiking in Arizona. Ah, well, today I’ll share information about finding easy hikes in general, but for Kerri and anyone else who is looking for Arizona specific hiking opportunities, check out “10 Best Hikes in Arizona for Beginners” by Alyssa Ochs, “5 Easy Hikes for Beginners in Metro Phoenix” from Phoenix New Times, “10 Easy Hikes To Add To Your Outdoor Bucket List In Arizona” by Monica Spencer, “Best Phoenix Hiking Trails for Beginners” by REI Co-Op Experiences, and “7 Beginner Hikes In Arizona That Will Give You All The Views” by Briana Renee Dahlberg.

If you are planning a trip to a different state or region and want to find less strenuous hikes to accommodate kids, elders, folks with disabilities, new hikers, or anyone looking for some easier physical activity, here are some tips to help you find the adventure level that’s right for you.

Know the Limits

Know not just your limits, but the limits of everyone in your party. According to Hiking Safety Tips given by HikingintheSmokeys.com,

Keep your hiking party together by hiking only as fast as the slowest member of your group. Always take into account the ability level of everyone in your group before choosing a hike.

Be honest with yourself about what sort of hike you are actually capable of. Encourage other members of your group to be honest about their abilities too. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others for hiking slowly or only being able to go a short distance. Don’t overestimate the abilities of yourself or others. You will have a much nicer time on a short/easy hike that leaves everyone wanting more rather than pushing too hard and ending the day sore, exhausted, and grumpy.

Do Your Homework

Don’t wait to look for an easy hike after you’ve arrived at your destination. Search for the kind of hikes you want to take before you leave home.

Those lists of hikes I shared in the first paragraph? I found those by typing “easy hikes in Arizona” in the Google search bar. If you know what state or region you will be visiting, add that information to your search for easy hikes, then scrutinize the information that pops up on your screen. Who wrote each article? Did the writer actually hike the trails listed? If not, how was the information gathered? Don’t assume your definition of “easy” is the same as the author’s.

Find out the specifics of each hike you consider. How long is the trail? (And remember, however many miles it takes you to get to the end of the trail, that’s the number of miles you’ll have to walk back to your car.) What is the change in elevation between the beginning and end of the hike? How well is the trail maintained?

There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you find trails to hike before you leave home. Three helpful websites I found were Accessible Nature, AllTrails and Hiking Project.

Accessible Nature is

a collection of links to places you can go to enjoy nature with minimal obstacles. These are trails that are either wheelchair accessible or at least very easy walking. The emphasis is contemplative outdoor experiences…[There are] links to information about parts of eastern Canada, all of the states in the United States of America, American Samoa and a little about activities in the UK.

AllTrails allows searches to be filtered to find wheelchair, stroller, kid, and dog friendly hikes. All of the trails listed on AllTrails are verified by experts and reviewed by the folks who go on the hikes.

The Hiking Project website allows you to filter your search for a hiking trail by difficulty; you can choose “Easy (No obstacles. Flat.)” or “Easy/Intermediate (Mostly flat and even.)” The website says of the project,

The information on Hiking Project is crowd-sourced, contributed by passionate users excited to share their knowledge of local trails with others. Anyone can share their experiences: add your favorite trails and photos, give ratings, post comments, improve existing content and spread the word about recommended routes…We review every trail, route, photo and symbol that gets submitted.

Another way to find easy trails is to look for ones that are wheelchair accessible. The Travel Channel offers the slideshow “10 Gorgeous Wheelchair-Friendly Hikes to Try.” Author Kassondra Cloos promises

These flat, paved and boardwalk hikes all offer spectacular views that anyone can reach, whether they’re using a wheelchair, walker, stroller or crutches.

Emily Pennington‘s article “The 25 Best Accessible Trails in America”

takes surface stability, cross slope, accessible parking, and trail grade into account. [The author] interviewed experts like Accessible Nature creator Cecilia Travis and Disabled Hikers founder Syren Nagakyrie, as well as wheelchair adventurers from across the country, including Peter Littrel, Mark Irishsea, and “4WheelBob” Coomber.

While researching this post, I found several articles about wheelchair friendly trails in specific states (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado). Again , if you know you’re going to a specific state, research wheelchair friendly trails in the place where you’re going.

Read Guidebooks

Before the internet was easily accessible, hikers learned about trails from guidebooks. Guidebooks still exist and are handy to have in places with no WiFi access. REI has an extensive selection of hiking guides for a variety of states and regions in the U.S.A. If you don’t want to buy a guidebook for a place you will only visit once, you might be able to borrow something from your library. (If your local library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, ask about interlibrary loan). In any case, a guidebook should tell you about the hikes in a particular region, state or national park, or national forest including the difficulty and elevation change for each.

Ask at a Visitor Center, Ranger Station, or Other Information Center

If you’re hoping to hike on state or federal public land, make a stop at a ranger station or visitor center in the area of your desired hike before you make plans. The workers at these information centers should be knowledgeable about the area, including the hiking opportunities. Ask for the specific kind of hike you are looking for. If someone in your group uses mobility aids, make sure the person staffing the information desks knows you are looking for a trail to accommodate that person’s needs. Point out if you need a hike that is suitable for little kids. The more honest and specific you are about what you are looking for, the more likely you’ll be told about the right trail for you.

While you’re at a visitor center or ranger station, you may have the opportunity to pick up free informational brochures about the area you are visiting. If you’re offered maps, trail guides, or brochures you may want to pick them up and take them with you for further study. You might find information the worker forgot to tell you or didn’t know about. If you have access to maps, ask the ranger or volunteer to look at the map with you and show you the suitable trails.

Talk to a Local or Another hiker

Sometimes locals or experienced hikers know about trails that don’t appear in guidebooks or on websites. Sometimes they can tell you how to get to their favorite waterfall or meadow. But beware: while locals and more experienced hikers can be a great source of information, if they’re not on the same page as you about the term “easy,” you could find yourself in over your head. After all, it was another hiker who told The Man about the Sherman Peak Hike that left me lying in the middle of the trail crying.

I hope the tips I’ve offered you today help you find hikes that are just right for your stamina, endurance, and abilities. Using the internet before you go will be a big help, as will being honest about what you are capable of. As the creator of Accessible Nature Cecilia Travis says,

Everyone – regardless of age or ability needs their Nature Fix.

How to Sell Your Vehicle

Standard

I recently sold my truck. I put it on the market on a Friday, and by Tuesday it was sold. It was a newish truck (2014) with a lot of nice features, including a towing package, but I’m convinced some of the things I did helped it sell so fast. Today I’m going to share tips to help you sell your vehicle quickly and for the most money.

(Note: Many of these tips could also help you if you’re selling a travel trailer, 5th wheel or motor home.)

This is what my truck looked like right before I sold it.

Clean, Clean, Clean

Your first job when it comes to selling your vehicle is to clean it from top to bottom, inside and out.

The interior of my truck was covered in dog hair and New Mexico dust. I vacuumed the floor and seats and attacked all cloth surfaces with duct tape to pick up the hair. I wiped down all the surfaces that weren’t cloth (dash, instrument panels, inside of doors, seat belt hardware, steering wheel, etc.) with soapy water. I scrubbed the seats by hand using hot water with a little soap in it dispensed from an old spray bottle, and a scrub brush (actually a shower/bath brush bought at a thrift store). I soaked up the water with microfiber towels. Finally, I wiped down all surfaces that weren’t cloth with Armor All, which really improved the looks.

It may seem like my cleanup was no big deal, but it was really a massive undertaking. The process of cleaning the truck took hours and hours ad hours, and I used toothpicks, cotton swabs, and a toothbrush to get into every crack and crevice. Yes, the interior of my truck was very dirty, so it took a lot of work to get it very clean. I wanted potential buyers to see the vehicle’s interior at its very best, so I cleaned it meticulously.

I didn’t end my cleaning with the truck’s interior. I also popped the hood and cleaned out the engine compartment. First, my friend who was helping me used an engine degreaser. (Follow instructions on the can and be sure to cover anything electrical. You can watch YouTube videos on the subject to increase your confidence if necessary.) After the parts under the hood were degreased and everything dried, I used Armor All to clean the plastic parts in the engine compartment. All the cleaning improved the looks of all the components under the hood.

My final step was cleaning the exterior of the truck. Before I went to the carwash, I scrubbed the rims and used Armor All to brighten the plastic they were made from. At the carwash I scrubbed the outside of the truck and gave the undercarriage a lot of attention. Especially if you’ve driven in muddy conditions, you want to be sure to get the underside of the vehicle as clean as possible.

After washing the truck, I wiped it down with microfiber towels to prevent streaking and spotting. I made sure to clean both side view mirrors and to wipe down the outside of the windows. I also used a special Armor All product on the tires to clean and protect them.

These are the Armor All products I used on my truck.

(Note: I am not sponsored by Armor All. The company is not compensating me in any way. Heck, they don’t even know I’m saying nice things about their products. I’m just telling you what worked for me.)

Once I returned home, I climbed into the bed of the truck and scrubbed mud residue (a light orange film) left from the Northern New Mexico clay. It came off easily when I used the scrub brush, although the high pressure water from the hose at the car wash hadn’t budged it.

Finally (and we’re talking after weeks of work), the truck was clean inside and out. I hope your vehicle isn’t as dirty as mine was when you start your cleaning process.

Change the Oil

If your vehicle is due for an oil change, I believe getting one done (or doing it yourself if you can) will help you sell your vehicle. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money on a vehicle you’re about to sell, but having fresh oil and a new oil filter in your vehicle makes it attractive to potential buyers in two ways. First, it shows you’re on top of maintenance issues. If you’ve had the oil changed now, it’s a good indication (although of course no guarantee) that you’ve been maintaining the vehicle all along. Second, a potential buyer may choose to buy a vehicle that doesn’t need this maintenance over one that needs some work before hitting the open road. Some buyers will pay for the convenience of you doing the work so they don’t have to.

I had an oil change done on my truck right before I sold it. I had a new air filter put in too, for all the same reasons.

Install New Tires

New tires can be a big investment, so it’s understandable if you can’t afford to replace the tires before selling your vehicle. However, if the vehicle needs new tires and you can afford to replace them, you should consider doing so. Like a fresh oil change, new tires say you maintain the vehicle. It also saves the buyer a trip to the tire shop and the out-of-pocket expense. Of course, you add in the cost of the tires when you decide on the bottom line price of the vehicle you’re selling.

My truck had tires with under 3,000 miles on them when I sold it. I bought the tires before a road trip from New Mexico to Oklahoma and back in September of 2020. The old tires were badly worn and unsafe for a long trip pulling a travel trailer. I knew if I replaced the tires, I could recoup the money when I sold the truck. My impulse was to buy the least expensive tires available, but I ended up getting slightly more expensive all terrain tires knowing they would be more appealing to someone buying a 4 wheel drive truck.

Offer Receipts

Ideally, you’ve saved your receipts from or kept a log of repairs and routine maintenance performed on our vehicle. By presenting receipts to potential buyers, you show that maintenance was done when you say it was. Even if you do your own maintenance and repairs, you can show that you purchased oil and oil filters, air filters, etc. at appropriate times.

Do Your Homework Before Setting a Price

I found setting a price for my truck extremely stressful. Of course, I wanted to get as much money for it as possible, but I also wanted to sell it quickly. Price it too low and I’d cheat myself out of useful dollars. Price it too hight, and I’d sit on the truck for weeks or even months.

I used several free online tools to help me set my price. The gold standard of pricing guides is the good old Kelley Blue Book. (Who else remembers when we had to go to the library to find a vehicle’s Blue Book value? Now you can do your research any place you have an internet connection.) Other online pricing tools include NADA Guides, Edmunds, Bumper, Autotrader, and a host of others.

Be aware that some pricing guides are meant for consumers and some are targeted to used car dealers. Be sure that during negotiations, you and the potential buyer are using the same pricing guide.

Some people (like me) are of the mind that everyone buying a vehicle expects to be able to negotiate down from the asking price. Other people (like The Man) believe the seller should set the price and stick firmly to it. Either way is fine, but decide what method you’re going to use before you set your price. If you do plan to allow for negotiation, set your rock bottom price, the lowest amount of money you must get for your vehicle. If the buyer offers anything less than this amount, be ready to walk away.

For tips on how to negotiate when selling your vehicle see the Autotrader article “How to Negotiate a Used Car Sale.”

Be Realistic

Anyone selling a vehicle wants to get as much money for it as possible, but be realistic when you set a price. Is the vehicle really in excellent condition? According to the How Stuff Works article “How Kelley Blue Book Works” by Ed Grabianowski,

 Less than 5 percent of all used vehicles fall into this [excellent] category.

The aforementioned article also says most consumer owned vehicles fall into the “good” category. Be sure to pick the right condition category for your vehicle so you can set an appropriate price.

If you overprice your vehicle, it’s going to sit around longer, and you’ll probably have to spend more time and energy answering questions about it and showing it to potential buyers. An artist friend of mine once told me you can price art to keep or you can price art to sell. The same theory applies to selling a used vehicle. If the price you set is realistic, you’ll move the vehicle more quickly.

Also, remember that the price setting tools you have at your disposal are also available to any potential buyers. If you wildly inflate the price of your vehicle, buyers who’ve done their homework will know.

Write a Good Ad

I did some research before I started writing an ad to sell my truck. One tip I saw in many articles about private car sales was to give the reason you’re selling the vehicle. Here’s the reason I gave for selling my truck: Selling because I no longer need to pull a travel trailer.

Here are some other reasons you might be selling your vehicle:

Selling because my family has grown and I need a vehicle with more seating.

Selling because my kids have left home and I don’t need such a big vehicle.

Selling because I need a work truck.

Selling because my midlife crisis requires that I drive a sports car.

Try to find a positive reason for selling the vehicle that conveys that the vehicle is perfectly fine, but you want or need something different. Avoid reasons like the truck is a gas guzzler or the motorhome is difficult to park. You don’t want to put any doubt or negativity into a potential buyer’s mind.

Another tip I got from the articles I read was to include something in the ad that makes the potential buyer imagine themselves in your vehicle. I said my truck was comfortable to drive and ride in, even on long road trips. In the mind of potential buyers, I changed my truck from a simple a work truck into a vacation machine.

Be sure to include all the basics in your ad. As a buyer, I’ve been astounded by the ads I’ve read that left out essential information. At the very least, be sure to include make, model, body style, model year, number of miles the vehicle has been driven, size of engine, type of transmission, type of fuel used, price, and whether or not you have the title.

You don’t have to stop there! Potential buyers want to know what your vehicle has to offer, so include lots of information. If your ad has no word limit, give potential buyers as many details as possible. If your vehicle has any of the following features, be sure to mention them: power steering, power/ABS brakes, power windows, power locks, cruise control, stereo/CD player, DVD player and video screens, Bluetooth capabilities, alarm system, controls on steering wheel, tilt steering wheel, power seats, back up camera, a hitch and other towing features, cold A/C, 4 wheel drive. If the interior is clean, smoke and/or pet free, and cloth seats aren’t ripped, mention those things. If your vehicle has recently passed an emissions inspection, mention that too.

The ad is also the place to let potential buyers know if the vehicle has new tires (include the mileage on the tires), a fresh oil change, new brakes, new battery, etc.

While you don’t want to discourage anyone from looking at your vehicle, you don’t want it to seem too good to be true either. In my ad, I let folks know the bed of the truck was work worn and there were some scratches and dings to the body. Of course if your vehicle has problems, you might want to disclose that information in the ad. If you know what the problem is and how to fix it, you might want to share that information as well. In an ad for a conversion van I read recently, the seller disclosed that one of the front power seats had quit working, then said what part was needed to remedy the problem, gave the price for the part, and assured potential byers that is was an easy fix.

To VIN or Not to VIN

In my research on how to sell a used vehicle, I found conflicting ideas about whether one should or should not include the VIN (Vehicle Indentification Number) in advertisements.

Some authors said it is necessary to share the VIN in the ad so potential buyers can research your vehicle before making an offer. Other authors said do not put the VIN in an ad because to do so is to open yourself up to scams and fraud.

You’ll have to decide how you want to handle the situation. In my case, I decided not to share my truck’s VIN in the ads I posted. When I met potential buyers in person, I did offer the VIN to them so they could do additional research on their own.

Be Honest

I’m a believer that honest is the best policy. If a vehicle has a major problem, I think you should disclose the problem in the ad. If something that should work doesn’t (such as a window that won’t roll down, a cruise control that’s conked out, a CD player that doesn’t work, a seat that won’t move, etc.) I think you should share that information in the first email, text, or phone conversation with a potential buyer. A buyer may still want a vehicle even if it’s not in perfect condition (especially if the price is right), but if a buyer catches you in a lie, all trust will be lost. If you’re willing to try to hide little problems, the potential buyer will wonder what major issues you’re failing to talke about.

My policy is to answer all questions honestly. I also admit when I don’t know the answer. During the recent sale of my truck, I prefaced some answers with I’m not a mechanic, which I’m sure is obvious, but it reminded potential buyers that just because I thought something was true didn’t necessarily meant I was right.

Share Lots of Photos

I included photos of the following areas of my truck in the online ads: engine compartment, odometer, steering wheel, gauge panel, instrument panels with radio and heat/air conditioner controls, tires, tailgate, charge outlets, front seats, back seats in regular position, and back seats folded up.

Have you ever been shopping for a vehicle online and seen a promising ad only to find there are only one or two photos of the vehicle? It’s happened to me, and it’s hella frustrating, especially if the vehicle seems to be something I might want. If a picture is worth a thousand words, say as much as you can with photos.

I also included photos of the exterior of the truck, one of the front and one of each side. These photos showed there was no accident damage to the body of the vehicle, minimal scratches and dings, and no sun damage to the paint.

If you’re selling a converted van you should probably share photos of the bed, storage space, and any kitchen or bathroom areas. If you’re selling a motorhome, travel trailer, 5th wheel, toy hauler, etc., include photos of each area of the rig: bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, sitting area, storage space, and cab.

Imagine yourself behind the wheel…

One tip I read online said potential buyers should be able to imagine themselves driving your vehicle. You can help them do this by including photos taken from the driver’s point of view.

Put Ads in Lots of Places

Craigslist is the old standby for online car, truck, van, and RV selling. Facebook is a newer, but maybe more popular, online option for vehicle sales. You can list your vehicle on Facebook Marketplace and any number of local and regional groups dedicated to the buying and selling of motor vehicles and other items. Other online options include the Thrifty Nickel National Marketplace and Autotrader. You can use some of these options at no charge, while others do involve a fee.

If your community has an actual physical newspaper, consider placing your ad in one or two issues. Another place to consider placing ads is the newsletter of any specialty groups of which you are a member.

Are there bulletin boards in your town? (Think library, supermarket, laundromat, senior center, Tractor Supply.) Consider making a few paper copies of your ad and hanging them around town.

Answer Requests for Information Promptly

I’m sure you’re busy. However, when you’re trying to sell your vehicle, you should probably make selling it your top priority. When someone sends you a message asking about the vehicle, answer as soon as possible. Coming across as prompt and responsible is going to give the buyer a good feeling about you. If you respond to message in a timely manner, you probably changed your oil on time too. Besides, you wan to sell the vehicle ASAP, right? You’re not going to sell it if you your lack of response discourages people from looking at the vehicle in person.

Get a Report from a Mechanic

It’s not strictly necessary to have a mechanic look over a vehicle you want to sell, but it might be helpful. After examining the vehicle, the mechanic can tell you what work the vehicle needs to have done on it now or what it will need to have done soon. You can use this information to adjust your price or as evidence that the vehicle is a good deal for a potential buyer.

I did not have my truck checked by a mechanic before I put it on the market. However, the couple who bought the truck had their mechanic look it over before we sealed the deal. We used the information the mechanic offered to start our negotiations.

Get a Carfax Report

One more thing you can offer a potential buyer is a Carfax report giving details about your vehicle’s title, mileage, previous ownership, and accidents in which it was involved.

I did not spend the money on a Carfax report, but I did offer the truck’s VIN to the handful of people who looked at it so they could order a report of they wanted. If the truck had not sold so quickly, I probably would have paid for a Carfax report to use as a selling point .

So there you have it–everything I know about selling a vehicle based on my recent experience. I hope you find these tips helpful next time you to sell a car, truck, van, motorhome, 5th wheel , or travel trailer.

I took the photos in this post.

Vandweller Report: Working at a Christmas Tree Lot (Guest Post)

Standard

This blog post was written before we knew about COVID-19 as a threat, before there was a global pandemic affecting us all. I’ve decided to share this post today in the hopes that it will be helpful to someone, but I don’t know if Christmas tree lots are open this year or if they are hiring. If you want to follow up on the information offered here, you will have to do your own research.

Aerin (the author of this post) and I are both in a vanlife Facebook group. When I heard Aerin was going to work at a Christmas tree lot during the 2019 holiday season, I asked if they would be interested in writing a report for my blog. I was excited when they said yes.

Working at a Christmas tree lot is one of those seasonal jobs I’ve heard are available to nomads but have been able to find precious little real information about. The information that is out there is from the perspective of RVing couples managing lots. I thought I’d do my readers a favor by sharing the insights of a vandweller who spent a couple of weeks before Christmas slinging trees.

Are you a fan of the holiday season? You know, that magical time of year when some traditions call for bringing the carcasses of dead evergreens into our homes to be the backdrop for our revelry. 

I’m talking about Christmas trees.

Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

How Did I Hear About the Job?

Well, I was just an unsuspecting nomad looking for work at the beginning of December when I spotted the post in a workamping Facebook group. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes old and had one comment so far. Usually I don’t see these kinds of posts until much too late.

Labor in a Christmas tree lot? How hard could that be? 

Was Living In a Van Helpful to Get the Job?

Not really. I was looking to park onsite as part of my employment, so living in a small rig that is self-contained and doesn’t need hookups made that possible.

I could have parked elsewhere and driven in to work. There was no requirement to live onsite, aside from the managers, and the rest of the staff drove in. However, it was a selling point that I would be around in case things got unexpectedly busy and they needed someone to jump in right away. That didn’t actually happen, but it made the managers feel more secure since they were learning the ropes too, and it helped get me the job.

The person who had responded to the post before me had a large RV and was looking for something that offered hookups. This job was literally in a parking lot. One that was technically the property of the swim school next door, so space could be at a premium when both businesses were crowded. One extra vehicle of regular size was not going to crowd things.

The Job

The lot that hired me is affiliated with Valley View Christmas Trees. Valley View has lots all over the Phoenix metro area. Each lot is managed by a workamping couple who have the authority to hire staff.

From conversations with my managers, I learned that they get bonuses at the end of the season if they hit a certain threshold in total sales and keep labor costs below a certain percentage of sales. Otherwise, they are paid a flat salary, and at least one of them is expected to be working 9-9 every single day.

For me, I was labor staff. Pay was $11/hr gross. Not awesome, but it did come with several useful perks:

  • a parking spot for the duration of my time there
  • regular access to their port-o-pottie so I didn’t need to find another bathroom or use the one in my rig
  • unlimited water for drinking that I could have gotten straight from a hose and filtered myself (if I had a filter) but my managers were kind enough to let me use the faucet in their RV so it went through their filtration system
  • grocery store within walking distance

Each lot had the same five types of fir trees: Douglas, grand, Fraser, noble, and Nordmann. A big part of my job was knowing the difference and a little bit about each to assist customers. After a sale, I moved the tree to the back area and processed it for loading. This involved removing the stand, cutting a little off the bottom of the trunk so it would absorb more water once in the customer’s home, and trimming any branches as requested. Loading was either putting it in a truck bed or tying it to the roof of a car.

Tying a tree to the roof of a car is not fun. At all.

Aside from sales, my job also involved restocking. Trees that were delivered from Valley View (grown in Oregon) needed to get the bottoms drilled (for our center spike stands), stands pounded in, moved into place, twine wrap cut off, and bowls filled with water.

Most trees were in some partial state of readiness. For example, if things were slow, we might drill a bunch of trees in succession so it would be easier to restock later. Drilling takes a minimum of two people, sometimes three or more for larger trees, so getting that done all at once is more efficient.

The drill and drilled trees waiting to be put out. Photo provided by the author.

Drilling is also not fun. 

Trying to guess whether a tree is standing up straight is difficult. If the hole isn’t straight, it becomes super obvious once the tree is on a stand. Redrilling an unwrapped tree is even less fun.

My hours varied week to week depending on when the managers expected to be busy as we got closer to Christmas. Valley View does not pay overtime, so a strict cap of 40 hours also meant some creative shifting to make sure enough staff were working. The lot itself was open from 9am to 9pm every day. The managers were required to work all day every day for their salary.

The result of experimenting with painting trees. Photo provided by the author.

Towards the end of the season, one of the operations managers for Valley View came with a sprayer so we could try painting the trees. It was a mess. We did end up with a purple, blue, and white tree though. Believe it or not, the blue and white ones did sell.

The only thing I didn’t do was cashier because managers were the only ones allowed to run the register.

The Experience As a Vandweller

I liked it overall. Technically the job started towards the end of November, but I came in a bit later. I started on December 5 and the job ended December 24, so I was working or on call for 20 days. Also, my paychecks came on time, on approximately the 15th and 30th of the month.

Positives:

It is a lot of manual labor. That meant I was being paid to exercise. I am primarily a digital nomad, but it can be difficult to make time for physical fitness. I was sore a lot and developed bruises on my legs from the trees, but nothing serious.

The port-o-pottie was pumped out every week, so using it was not an issue. It never got to smelling bad. I was happy to not have to use my camp toilet or walk somewhere.

I was a paid employee of Valley View, meaning they took taxes out of my pay. This may not be a positive for everyone, but I prefer to have the money taken out now and worry less about paying it later. Also, my paychecks came on time. The first came by paper check to the lot because of a snafu, but this wasn’t an issue for me. The second check went through electronically.

Near the end of my time working at the Christmas tree lot, I found that the Crunch Fitness nearby has a drop-in rate of $5.08 (including taxes) so I got to work out and take a shower. I don’t have a shower in my rig, so this was nice.

It was cold, but never unbearable. However, I would not want to do this job any further north.

Negatives:

I was muddy and wet a lot of the time.

I had pine needles EVERYWHERE.

Photo provided by the author.

It is easiest to just wear the same outfits over and over again. I had two pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, and two vests that I cycled through so things had a chance to dry out before being worn again. I did laundry maybe twice the whole time I was there.

Since I wore my heavy work boots every day, I had a towel down as a kind of rug by the door so I could take them off and let them air out a little before the next day. They needed to air out for a full 24 hours once I was finished.

I didn’t feel comfortable setting up an outside area to cook, so I relied a lot on convenience food from the grocery store (which was a 5 min walk away). Not very healthy or frugal. 

All of the above are tough in a very small space. Everything gets everywhere. I was constantly sweeping dirt and pine needles out of the van. The walls were slowly coming in with dirty clothes draped to air out in the cab with the windows open, boots by the door, and trying to keep my bed relatively clean.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed myself. It was hard work, but I don’t mind that. I got paid to exercise, a free place to park, access to a great grocery store, and excellent managers. My hope is to work with the same couple again next season. A month of part- to full-time work with parking is a welcome thing at that time of year. The positives more than outweighed the negatives and the mehs.

I enjoyed the challenge of a new job, learning about the trees, and meeting some wonderful people. Being a vandweller was both a help and an inconvenience for a job like this, but I found ways to make it work. I learned a lot about how I use the space and made some changes.

I would definitely do this job again. It isn’t for everyone, but definitely worth investigating.

Aerin is a vandwelling nomad who has big dreams and is using a combination of frugality, zero waste, healthy living, alternative sources of income, and whatever else comes along to help achieve them. Aerin also makes masks, modular utility belts, and more at Hermit Crab Creations .


3 Easy Ways to Make Coffee When Camping (Guest Post)

Standard

I’m not an avid coffee drinker myself. Sure, I enjoy a caffeine buzz occasionally, especially if I’m trying to get some work done, but if I were on a camping trip and had no coffee to drink…no problem.

I know many other people feel differently than I do when it comes to having a cup of coffee in the morning. A morning without coffee could make an otherwise lovely camping trip hell for lots of folks. That’s why I was glad when Joshua Hodge, the founder of the Deep Blue Mountain outdoor blog offered to write a guest post about how to make delicious coffee while camping.

Joshua offers advice on making coffee three simple ways so even in the great outdoors, you don’t have to be without your favorite java.

Loyal fans of coffee like to enjoy the beverage everywhere from our cozy kitchens in the morning to our desks while working in the afternoons. Coffee is the thing that moves us, and without it our days can be grim

Access to coffee–anytime, anywhere we want it–should be the right of every coffee lover. However, there are some places where getting our favorite drink can be tough and troublesome. Unfortunately while on a camping trip can be one one of those challenging times for coffee drinkers.

Today I will teach you how to make coffee outdoors while camping. This tutorial will focus on more traditional and natural ways to make coffee so expect your coffee to be bold and wild.

Cowboy coffee 

Probably the easiest way to make coffee while camping is cowboy coffee. This method is for all those who value simplicity and have an adventurous spirit.

For this kind of coffee, you will only need three components: good quality ground coffee, a pot, and a heat source.

Your cowboy coffee can taste pretty awful or incredibly great, depending on the recipe you use. I think the recipe I am about to share with you will lead to coffee that will be a treat for your senses.

  • Add water to the pot and bring it to a boil – preferably using a campfire.
  • Once the water starts boiling, remove the pot and let it sit for 30 seconds. (Letting the water sit will bring it to the ideal temperature of 200°F. )
  • For every 8 ounces of water, add 2 tablespoons of finely ground beans (preferably from a local roastery).
  • Stir the grounds into the water.
  • Let your brew sit for 2 minutes then stir again.
  • Let it to sit for another 2 minutes after stirring.
  • After 4 minutes of brewing, sprinkle a little bit of cold water over your grounds.
  • Slowly pour the coffee, to keep grounds on the bottom of the pot.

Important note: Do not let the brew sit for too long,or it will get over-extracted. You will get the best aroma and taste if you pour immediately after brewing. 

Voila, your cup of Joe the cowboy way is ready, and it tastes great, doesn’t it? – If you followed the recipe, I know it does.

Cowboy coffee is ideal for camping – it is bold, untamed, and rich, with the spirit of the Old West. 

Coffee in a tea bag

This is a simple method in the form of good-old-fashioned tea bags packed with tasty grounds. You can find many delicious coffee grounds packed in bags from coffee beans coming from Guatemala, Indonesia, Ethiopia, or any other region you prefer. You can also make your own coffee bags according to Thorin Klosowski on Lifehacker.

Even more, coffee in teabags can really offer interesting combinations of taste and give specific overtones – like smoky, chocolate, or fruity. If you prefer a variety of coffee aromas and love exotic or interesting overtones, teabag coffee is an ideal option for your camping adventure.

Now, let me show you how convenient and easy it to make a tea bag coffee cuppa. It is as easy as steeping a tea bag and it works like this:

  • Put the coffee brew bag in your mug and pour hot water over.
  • Steep until you get the strength you want and then remove the bag.

The best part of a tea bag coffee is that you control the whole brewing process and dictate the taste. Additionally, most of the coffee bags are recyclable. Tea Bag coffee is simple to prepare and can almost taste as good as, say, French press coffee. You will treat yourself to a decent cup of coffee and a range of aromas if you decide to go for this option while camping.

The magnificent percolator

The third method for coffee making is using a percolator. This method is for those who don’t want to compromise their coffee’s taste, even while camping. With this method, you’ll experience the wafting smell of coffee and a bold, rich taste. With a percolater, you’ll be able to brew large amounts of coffee, so your coffee-drinking camp mates will be satisfied sooner.

Not every percolator is the same, and there are nuances when choosing the right one. I suggest checking this percolator guide to see what kind of percolator best fits your needs.

Percolators have two parts that are responsible for making the coffee: a pot and a vertical tube. Additionally, the vertical tube has a perforated basket on top of it where the grounds are held during brewing. 

The process of brewing using a percolator involves hot water (heated on a fire) going up the vertical tube and entering the basket where the grounds are. Next, water goes through the grounds, extracts soluble matter from them, and goes back into the pot. This cycle repeats until your tasty, bold coffee is ready. Many percolators have a viewing bubble which will allow you to observe when coffee gets the right color.

A percolator may need a little “getting used to” for best results. In that light, here are a few tips for beginners:

  • To determine capacity – Divide the amount of water the percolator holds by 5 and the result will be the number of servings 
  • Coffee strength – Half of a standard coffee measure will get you light coffee. Three-quarters of the measure will produce medium strength coffee. A whole measure will give you strong coffee.

Conclusion

Camping will take you far from stressful days in the city and open your senses to the wilderness. Meanwhile, your body and soul will rest, and the time spent outdoors will allow you to reconnect with yourself and nature. However, it’s not a full experience if you give up coffee.

Hopefully I’ve provided the easiest methods for a more than a decent cup of Joe on your camping trip. Choose the method that fit your needs and personality the best, and feel free to experiment.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-grill-fire-heating-up-1031139/

Some Resources for Working Against Racism

Standard
Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

Updated June 6, 2020

Since posting this article, I’ve discovered many more helpful resources. I am adding those resources to the original post.

This is not the blog post I want to write today. It’s not the blog post I want to write, ever, but things are bad right now, and I want to share some resources so each of us can work toward solving the problem.

First, a recap.

We’re in the middle of a national emergency due to COVID-19. Some states are opening up, but a lot of people are still sick, more people are getting sick, and it looks like some people are going to suffer the results of COVID-19 for the rest of their lives. Some people have been stuck at home since mid-March. Oh, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says,

current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.

On May 25, a White woman, Amy Cooper, called the cops on a Black man, Christian Cooper (no relation between the two, I’m supposed to say here) who asked her to leash her dog in an area of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed. Mr. Cooper began recording Ms. Cooper. According to CNN, Ms. Cooper approached Mr. Cooper and he asked her not to come any closer to him. He

asks her again not to come close. That’s when Amy Cooper says she’s going to call the police.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she says.

Once she reached emergency dispatch, she told the dispatcher,

“There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet,” she says. “He is recording me and threatening me and my dog…”

“I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble,” she continues in an audibly distraught voice . “Please send the cops immediately!”

Later that same day, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. You can read the whole story on the WCCO 4 CBS Minnessota website.

Photo by munshots on Unsplash

Over the weekend there were protests across the country, buildings burning, looting. A report by CNN mentions demonstrations in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York City, Denver, Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia.

So how are these events related? Trevor Noah of The Daily Show made a video explaining the connections better than I ever could. Please, if you don’t understand what this national crisis is all about, please watch this video where Trevor Noah connects the dots between the COVID-19 emergency, Amy Cooper calling the cops as a means of threatening a Black man, the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests and “looting.” This video is definitely worth watching.

If you don’t want to or don’t have time to watch Trevor Noah’s video, let me make something clear. Neither White people calling the cops on Black people and other people of color (POC) nor cops killing Black people and other people of color (POC) is anything new. It’s been happening for a long, long time. Here’s a list CNN published on December 28, 2018 called “Living While Black.” Author Brandon Griggs says,

…police across the United States have been urged to investigate black [sic] people for doing all kinds of daily, mundane, noncriminal activities.

Each item on the list (Golfing too slowly, Shopping for prom clothes, Helping a homeless man, for example) links to a more detailed report of the incident.

In the CNN article “Peaceful Protesters and Violent Instigators Defy Curfews after George Floyd’s Death” authors Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan report,

One community activist said while many protesters don’t condone violence, nonviolent pleas have “gone unnoticed for years.”

“This is what happens when people have experienced the deadliness of racism … over and over again,” said the Rev. William Barber, the Co-Chair of Poor People’s Campaign. “What we are seeing is public mourning.”

Have you seen this content that’s been going around on Facebook?

I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.

#BlackLivesMatter

This is what I am talking about today: White privilege and Black Lives Matter. Today I’m saying that we as White people need to learn about our privilege, check our privilege, and work to undo the racism the United States of America was built upon.

The number one thing I do NOT want you to do in order to learn more about White privilege and undoing racism is to ask your Black and POC friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, or acquaintances how to go about this task. Black people and other people of color have enough on their plates without having to educate White people. Do your homework. Use Google. That’s what I did to find some of these resources for you. (I found other resources on the Facebook and Instagram feeds of friends and people I follow.)

If you’re White, but don’t know how you could possibly be part of the problem, please start your journey by reading “Reckoning with White Supremacy: Five Fundamentals for White Folks” by Lovey Cooper on the Scalawag website.

White people who need help recognizing their own racism should also read and take to heart Cicely Blain’s “10 Habits of Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Anti-Black.” I found this essay assisted me in examining my own biases and anit-Black thoughts.

I found several reading lists online which share books which may help folks learn about racism and dismantle it too. Charis Books & More, an independent feminist bookstore in Decatur, GA offers Understanding and Dismantling Racism: A Booklist for White Readers. Bustle (an online American women’s magazine) shares 17 Books On Race Every White Person Needs To Read, an annotated list by Sadie Trombetta and K.W. Colyard. The New York Times features An Antiracist Reading List by Ibram X. Kendi. Even BuzzFeed News got in on the act with An Essential Reading Guide For Fighting Racism by Arianna Rebolini. Certainly you can find some resources from these lists.

If you don’t want to support big business when it comes to book buying, check out this list of of Black-owned bookstores my friend Jessica the librarian shared with me. The original list is from @worn_ware. (If you don’t live in a city with a Black-owned bookstore, contact one of the stores on the lists and ask if they do mail order.)

After this list was published, a second list was shared, telling folks about even more Black-owned bookstores across the United States.

On the Instagram post where this list was shared, worn_ware says,

list 2.0 compiled from suggestions made in the comments!! …buying a book on anti-racism from a Black-owned bookstore is cool but we – talking to fellow white people here – ALSO need to be working to dismantle the systems of white supremacy & capitalism that led us to this moment and have always been foundational to the US…

If you want to learn through listening or watching, Isabella Rosario offers up “This List Of Books, Films And Podcasts About Racism Is A Start, Not A Panacea” for NPR. Stuff You Missed In History Class has shared a huge list of podcasts (both their own episodes and those by other voices) that discuss race, racism and anti-Black violence in the United States.

Here’s a an eight page document of anti-racism resources that have been ordered in an attempt to make them more accessible. The authors say

The goal is to facilitate growth for white folks to become allies, and eventually accomplices for anti-racist work.

I was happily surprised that Ben & Jerry’s (yes, the ice cream people) are taking a strong stance against white supremacy. Their website article “Silence Is NOT An Option” says

All of us at Ben & Jerry’s are outraged about the murder of another Black person by Minneapolis police officers last week and the continued violent response by police against protestors. We have to speak out. We have to stand together with the victims of murder, marginalization, and repression because of their skin color, and with those who seek justice through protests across our country.

Other helpful articles from Ben & Jerry’s include “Why Black Lives Matter,” “7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real,” and “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration.”

If you feel like you are already an ally but want to do better, read Katie Anthony‘s essay “5 Racist Anti-Racism Responses ‘Good’ White Women Give to Viral Posts.” While this essay is (obviously) aimed at women, there’s no reason men can’t read it too and learn some things.

If you’re ready to move from learning to doing in, Corinne Shutack offers “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” Shutack says,

Achieving racial justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Our work to fix what we broke isn’t done until Black folks tell us it’s done.

If you need guidance for talking about racial and ethnic identity with inclusivity and respect, I found what the American Psychological Association had to say very helpful. Of course, when talking to and about specific people or groups, it’s important to call people what they ask to be called. If you’re wondering about capitalization, check out “Recognizing Race in Language: Why We Capitalize ‘Black’ and ‘White’” on the The Center for the Study of Social Policy website.

If you there are young people in your life, and you want to teach them about police violence, racism, and working for anti-racism, I can share some resources to help you meet those goals. Sujei Lugo Vázquez (@sujeilugo) and Alia Jones (@readitrealgood) compiled a reading list for children with topics ranging from Blackness/Ancestors/Elders to Police Brutality/Racist Attacks/Black Lives Matter/Incarceration and Whiteness/White Privilege. The folks at EmbraceRace offer a list of 31 children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance as well as other resources. If you’re looking particularly for books to help kids understand police violence, looks to the these 9 children’s books about police brutality from the Feminist Books for Kids website. .

If you want to learn more about police brutality and how to work against it, start with the Teen Vogue (for real!) article “11 Things You Can Do To Help Black Lives Matter End Police Violence” by Lincoln Anthony Blades. One resource mentioned in the above mentioned article is Campaign Zero, a group working towards ending police violence in America.

What I’ve giving you here are starting points. Start here. Keep reading. Keep studying. Keep learning.

Black Lives Matter.

A Complete Guide to Summer Camping (Guest Post)

Standard

Today’s guest post if from Harsh Paul of the DeepBlueMountain website. In the post, he’ll tell you all about staying comfortable while camping in the summer.

Summer is everyone’s favorite time for camping. There’s not much chance of being uncomfortable due to cold weather, roads are clear, and nature is at her grandest. It’s no wonder that millions of people take to exploring the great outdoors in summer. 

National and state parks and private campgrounds are practically overflowing with visitors during this season. So while you’re out camping, here are a few suggestions that might come in handy. This guide will set you up with the essentials for camping in the summer and enjoying it to the fullest.

Essential Summer Camping Equipment

When you’re going camping, you must pay proper attention to gear. Though summer camping doesn’t usually require being overly thorough, you sure can add to your comfort. The favored form of camping for the modern camping enthusiast is car camping. 

In many cases, you might be able to take your car right to the campsite, or at least somewhere comfortably near the campground. This allows the luxury of carrying more gear and equipment than what a backpacker or hiker would take along. 

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Since your car is doing the heavy lifting, you can be a bit generous with the things you take to the trip. Of course, there’s still the element of being sensible and not overdoing things. You don’t want a cartoonishly over-packed car. You may also want to enjoy a backpacking or hiking trip on the trails near the campground. Here are some essentials for your camping trip.

1) A Tent

It’s always worthwhile to get a quality, waterproof tent. You never want to be caught unprepared in rain – and this is where the quality aspect is important. Check the waterproofing of the tent and also see if the tent needs additional waterproofing and seam sealing. Depending on the specific tent, even new ones may need user intervention before they’re considered waterproof. 

Photo by adrian on Unsplash

The most important aspect, however, is ventilation. Summer weather tends to be hot and stuffy. Tents with poor ventilation are going to be hell to spend time in. Most summer or three-season tents come with a mesh body or at least a mesh roof. This helps ventilation, but there’s a limit on how much mesh you can expose before privacy becomes a concern. 

Tents that have vents, preferably at the floor and the roof are better choices. Make sure the windows and/or the door have no-see-um mesh that keeps bugs out.

2) Boots And Socks

There’s a good chance your camping trip will involve a fair amount of walking. Good shoes are especially important if hiking and/or backpacking are in the cards. You’ll need good boots that are strong, sturdy, and capable of handling rough terrain. Some heel support is necessary and waterproofing is very helpful.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Socks are also important. People often wear quality boots, but ignore their socks. If you’re going to spend substantial time on your feet, ditch the cotton socks. Socks with at least 30% wool blend are great. Performance socks made with synthetic materials and designed to offer foot support are better!

3) Emergency And Communication Devices

If you’re headed to a campground with a spotty or non-existent cellular network, think of other communication devices. A simple walkie-talkie can be sufficient for communication among your group. 

However, more sophisticated communication devices are necessary if you’re headed to a remote campground or trail. Depending on your budget, your options could be a satellite phone (expensive) or personal locator beacon (inexpensive).

4) Food And Utensils

Food, water, and utensils are an absolute necessity. If you’re carrying perishables, use them up within a day or two. Better yet, bring a quality cooler along so the perishables can last longer. Another benefit of a cooler is that it can keep your beverages cold for a long time.

Special eating utensils for camping may not be necessary if you’re car camping. However, backpackers and hikers should get specialized lightweight utensils for their travels. Don’t forget to carry along some snacks to munch during the day and to enjoy by the bonfire with the group in the evening.

5) Sleeping Bag And Other Necessities

Carry a sleeping bag and clothing that can keep you comfortable at night. Sure, we expect summer nights to be hot. However, a lot of campgrounds do see cool (and even cold) nights. Know about the campground you’ll be staying at and expected temperature so you can stay warm at night. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Other things you should have are a flashlight and a lantern with extra batteries. Necessary gear also includes sleeping pad, multi-tool, and duct tape. A small knife can be useful, but is optional.

Summer Camping Hacks For A Better Experience

1) Cooling Your Tent

There’s always a chance of getting uncomfortably hot during summer camping, so it’s useful to know how to cool your tent without electricity. A few simple ideas like selecting a shaded tent location and creatively using the tarp can help keep the tent more comfortable.

Many campgrounds don’t have electric access, so some careful planning can go a long way in ensuring a comfortable adventure without an electric fan or air conditioning.

2) Always Have A Change Of Clothes

Consider changing into different clothes at night. Clothes you wore during the day could be sweaty and slightly wet, even if they don’t feel that way. This can end up making you uncomfortably chilly during the night. 

Let your day clothes dry by removing them and keeping them inside your tent and shift into new clothes for the night. None of your belongings should be left unattended in a campground .

3) A Mosquito Mesh Is Your Friend

A tent with no-see-um mesh is necessary for comfort. With no-see-um mesh, you can keep tent windows or doors open whenever you wish, without the threat of getting invaded by bugs. However, some areas can be particularly prone to mosquitoes. In such cases, having a mosquito net or mesh will ensure a comfortable sleep.

4) Make Reservations

Modern campgrounds are busy and overflowing with visitors. Many popular locations are booked up to for six months in advance. If you’re planning a trip, make reservations. This stands true even if you’re going to a relatively quieter campground. A reservation ensures you won’t be far from home with no place to stay.

Summer is the most popular and common camping season. It’s ideal for exploring the outdoors, and this guide is intended to prepare you for the best experience. A few simple ideas and adjustments can make a world of a difference. 

Harsh Paul is an avid hiker, backpacker, and camper. When not exploring the great outdoors, he uses his time time completing home improvement projects. Currently, he’s self-isolating for a better safety and health approach.

10 Essential Items For Kids On A Road Trip (Guest Post)

Standard

While now is not really the time to take a recreational road trip with or without children, we can dream, plan, and scheme, right? If you will be traveling with children sometime in the future, today’s guest post from Cristin Howard of the Smart Parent Advice website will help you decide what items to pack to keep the little ones happy on the road. When the kids are happy, the parents are happy, and this blog post will help keep the entire family feeling good.

Planning a family road trip can be intimidating. As you prepare for your trip, your head will be swirling with packing suitcases and wondering how to keep your kids happy and comfortable for hours upon hours.

Let us help you get organized by assisting with your packing lists! Here are ten items to include in your arsenal to help make your road trip a pleasant experience for the whole family. 

Window Shade

One of the most essential road trip items for our family are window shades. Nothing makes children more upset than having the sun shining directly into their faces. Putting a shade on their window helps to dim the harsh rays of the sun while still allowing the sunlight to brighten up the car. 

Rest Stop Entertainment

Pack a drawstring bag with simple outdoor items, such as frisbees, bubbles, and a soccer ball. Any time you need to pull over to use the bathroom, encourage the kids to run around in the grass for ten minutes. This will allow them to use up some of their pent up energy.

Snacks

The day before you leave on your trip, pre-portion the snacks you want your kids to eat during the ride. This will save you from having to dig around in bags and pour and potentially spill goldfish all over your van floor. 

You can use plastic food storage containers for easily smashed snacks such as crackers or soft cookies. Plastic bags are a great choice for pretzels, veggies cut in thin strips, or their favorite dry cereal to munch on. 

Hydration

Make sure each child has a sippy cup within reach and that you encourage your child to drink regularly. You may be risking more bathroom breaks, but there is nothing worse than starting a family vacation with a constipated toddler. Staying hydrated will help their bodies to stay working efficiently despite the long hours of sitting. 

Comfort Items

I highly recommend having your child’s favorite stuffed animal and blanket handy so that when they start to whine and become uncomfortable, you can hand them their comfort items and offer to sing to them. Let them know that it’s okay to miss their beds and you’ll be there to keep them safe.

Books

While your little one isn’t likely to know how to read much yet, books can still offer hours of entertainment while they’re sitting in a car seat. In a sturdy tote bag, pack picture books for your child to look through as well as activity books.  

Some examples of activity books geared for young toddlers are: lift the flap books or any book with buttons to press (as long as they aren’t exceptionally loud for the driver). For kids preschool or kindergarten age, some great choices would be “spot the difference” or “look and find” books. 

Toys

Having a large bag full of entertaining toys is a must when traveling with a crew of little ones. I have found great success with letting my young kids offer ideas of what to pack so they can start to gain excitement for their road trip activities!

Here are a few ideas of what to include in your travel toy bag: magna doodles, puzzles, reusable sticker books, magnetic playsets, interactive steering wheels, or a variety of their favorite cars and realistic plastic animals so they can engage their imaginations.  

Gallon-Sized Zip-top Bags

You may be wondering why gallon-sized zip-top bags are a necessity on road trips. Many kids end up feeling car sick during their travels. When you suspect they are starting to feel unwell, assist them in holding an open zip-top bag and let them use it to throw up into. You can then toss the bag away at the next gas station. 

Media

If your vehicle has a built-in DVD player, you are set up for success. Kids love to watch their favorite shows, and it will make the time pass quickly for them.

If your car does not have a DVD player, you don’t need to worry. Grab some CDs full of well-known kids’ songs, and your family can sing your hearts out as the miles pass by. 

Podcasts are another great option for your kids. Sesame Street, Paw Patrol, and Story Time are entertaining, age-appropriate podcasts for your kids to listen to.

Backpack

Even though you will have bags full of car entertainment for the kids, it will make your life easier if each child also has their own toddler-sized backpack within reach. 

In the front compartment have tissues and napkins so they can help clean up their messes as they snack in the car.

In the large back section, have them choose a favorite book, a special toy, and their most loved stuffed animal. Having these items close by will allow them to have some independence during the road trip.

Don’t Stress The Little Things

Your family has been looking forward to this well-needed vacation. Don’t let the stress of having children in the car keep you from enjoying the road trip. Keep them fed, entertained, and above all, love on them as best as you can in those cramped quarters.

Cristin Howard runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase for babies and toddlers.

Physical Distancing Is Still Important

Standard

Are you still practicing physical distancing? Although many states are beginning to “open up,” physical distancing is still important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the New York Times, the Trump

administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, a 70 percent increase from the current number of about 1,750.

The projections, based on government modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases a day currently.

The numbers underscore a sobering reality: The United States has been hunkered down for the past seven weeks to try slowing the spread of the virus, but reopening the economy will make matters worse.

So yeah, it looks to me like things may go from bad to worse in the next few weeks unless folks continue to practice physical distancing.

You may wonder what exactly “physical distancing” (also know as “social distancing”) means. According to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Physical distancing means staying home, avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible…

The less time that we spend within 6 feet of each other, and the fewer people we interact with, the more likely we are to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The aforementioned website gives the following advice for practicing physical distancing:

* Avoid any places where a lot of people are together such as gatherings, parties, worship services, and crowded parks.

* Work or study from home, if possible.

* Do not have visitors over or let your children have playdates.

* Avoid health care settings – unless you need services.

* Cancel non-essential health care appointments.

* Avoid non-essential travel.

* Avoid public transport, if you can.

* Avoid close contact with people – instead of shaking hands, come up with other ways to greet people that don’t involve any touching.

I know some of these recommendations are difficult for nomads to follow, especially working from home if we typically pick up odd jobs, seasonal jobs, or house and pet sitting jobs. Avoiding non-essential travel is difficult for us too, as non-essential travel is what we live for!

According to the CNN report “This Is Where All 50 States Stand on Reopening” by Alaa Elassar,

Stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders around country are being lifted in some states.

However, please don’t take this as an indication that it is safe to go out in public and carry on with life as it once was. As Colorado governor Jared Polis warned people during a press conference the day the state’s “safer at home” order was modified (as reported on the aforementioned CNN webpage),

It’s not going to be life as normal.

Many states that are opening up still require nonfamily members to stay at least 6 feet apart. In many places, retail establishments must limit the number of people inside. Please, if you are going back out into the world, follow these requirements, and be cheerful with the employees who have to enforce these regulations.

If you are in a group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, please consider staying home (whether your home is a sticks-n-bricks, a van, an RV, or some other rig) even if the state you are in lifts its stay-at-home or safer at home order. You are safer at home, even if the state doesn’t mandate that you stay there.

(If you’re wondering what groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19, William Kimbrough on the One Medical website lists the following groups as most susceptible to SARS-CoV-2:

* People aged 60 and older

*People with weakened immune systems due to chronic illness or medications, including people with autoimmune disease or transplants who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, people with AIDS

*People with serious long-term health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and lung disease such as emphysema and moderate asthma)

If you do decide to practice social distancing by staying away from people, what can you do to keep yourself entertained? Isolation is getting more difficult to deal with as we spend more time in one place, get less stimulation, and miss our friends and family. Here are a ten activities you can do alone to stimulate your mind and body and ward off cabin fever until it really is safe to be out in public again.

#1 Write a letter or a postcard. May 3-9 is National Postcard Month, so it’s the perfect time to write a card to a friend or other loved one. If you have more to say, go ahead and write a letter.

#2 Communicate by phone. If you don’t like to write, communicate with your friends and family by phone. You can call, text, or send photos on most mobile phones available today. Use video calls to take your communications up a notch; get recommendations from Dan Grabham‘s article “Best Free Video Calling Apps 2020: Keep in Touch with Friends or Colleagues” on the Pocket-lint website. Marco Polo lets you make videos and send them to the people you want to be in touch with, but you don’t have to engage in a live conversation.

#3 Learn something new or enhance your skills. In April I shared a huge list of “Free Things to Do While You Are Hunkered Down.” From learning a new language to learning to play guitar, this list is sure to give you some ideas of activities you can engage in to keep your mind sharp even if you you’re sitting home alone.

#4 Read up on life on the road. I put together “A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives.” It’s a good place to find links to past articles that tell you everything I know about life on the road. You can also see what other people know about life on the road by reading their blogs. I give you some suggestions about blogs to read in my post “10 Blogs by Vandwellers, Nomads, Vagabonds, RVers, Travelers, and Drifters.”

#5 Keep a journal. You might feel as if nothing is happening in your life right now, but you might be fascinated to remember your thoughts and activities during this time of global pandemic one, five, ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. Also, the Positive Psychology article “83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress” by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc. says,

Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness!

Certainly we could all use those benefits in these trying times!

#6 Practice gratitude. According to the Psychology Today article “Gratitude in a Time of Pandemic” by Zachary Alti LCSW,

Gratitude practice is not only important for making you feel better psychologically during this crisis, it can also help your physical health in response to respiratory infection and in general (especially in older adults who are in a higher risk category for COVID-19).

Whether you write down the things for which you are thankful in a special gratitude journal, jot down gratitudes on your calendar, note everything you appreciate in your regular journal, or simply count your blessings in the morning or at night, being thankful will make it easier to get through these difficult times.

#7 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.

If you’re not sure how to start your medication practice, see the extensive list from The Awake Network, “Free Online Meditation Resources for Times of Social Distancing / COVID-19.” Many of these teachings, practices, and other resources are being shared at no cost.

#8 Practice yoga, which is beneficial to both the body and mind. The Thrive Global article “Yoga Poses for Stress Relief During COVID-19” by Lindsay McClelland says,

As COVID-19 continues to spread we’ve all experienced change and stress in our lives…there are things we CAN do when confined to our homes, and luckily yoga is one of those things. In addition to being a form of exercise that doesn’t take up much space or equipment, there are specific poses that can help reduce stress in the mind and the body.

If you find videos more helpful to learn how to move your body, try Daily Yoga Practice for Stay at Home Covid-19 Quarantine | Yoga with Melissa on YouTube.

#9 Spend some time in the sunshine. Even if you practice yoga or do other exercise inside your house, it’s important to get outside and get some sunshine too. In the article “Get Sunshine and Fresh Air While Sheltering in Place” on The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center website, author Whitney Christian, MD points out

Direct sunlight is our bodies’ main source of Vitamin D, which has been known to help fight off osteoporosis, cancer and depression. Even just a few minutes of sun exposure each day can help increase your levels of Vitamin D…Taking advantage of sunlight can help ease muscle aches and cramps, strengthen our bones and improve our moods…Spending time in the sun also can help you recover faster from an illness or injury. Studies show that those exposed to more natural light have quicker recoveries and experience less pain than those exposed to artificial light.

#10 Take a hike. If you can safely go outside, seize the opportunity. In the American Hiking Society article “Hiking Responsibly: Frequently Asked Questions for Hiking During the Covid-19 Pandemic” explains,

spending some time outdoors every day (we recommend at least 10 minutes) is an excellent way to take care of your mental and physical health always, especially now. 

If you live in a rural area, you might have abundant access to open space and trails. In that case, if the park or trail you want to use is open, not crowded, and within a quick drive of your home (so that you don’t have to stop for gas, restroom breaks, supplies, etc.), then, yes, visiting such places for a day hike is fine as long as you practice strict social distancing and are following the guidelines of your local government and the federal, state, or local land manager. However, right now, we can’t risk diverting emergency medical care to wilderness injuries, so we urge that you only take an easy day hike in the front country.

Avoid parks or trails that have become crowded, even if the area is officially open.  If the parking lot is crowded, there are already too many people there. Turn around and find another location or go home.  Not only does crowding make it impossible to follow social distancing, but it puts extra wear and tear on trails and other park infrastructure at a time when volunteer crews cannot be operating. 

I hope these suggestion help you continue to practice physical distancing as long as it may be necessary for you. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Stay home until the danger has passed.

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.