Category Archives: Travel Trailer Life

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)

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

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

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

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

Try to appreciate everything.

Find gratitude in your challenges.

Keep a gratitude journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

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

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

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

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Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 4: How to Give Away What You No Longer Need

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Today’s post is the last in a series on how to eliminate material possessions and let go of things you no longer need. Today I’ll tell you what to do with all the stuff you don’t want anymore but weren’t able to sell. Sometimes it’s easier for me to give things away when I know they will continue to be useful, that they will go to someone who will cherish them and continue to put them to good work. Instead of feeling sad about getting rid of things, I try to be happy that they can now enhance the life of another person.

Of course, you can pack all your donations into cardboard boxes and make one big drop off at thrift store. Some thrift stores will even come to your place and pick up the things you’re giving to them. Call your local Goodwill, Salvation Army Family Store, Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store, or Savers to find out if you can schedule a pick up.

Not sure which thrift store you should support? Check out the article “This Is Where Your Thrift Store Dollars Are Really Going” by Sharon Meira to help you decide which of the players in the thrift shop game should get your stuff. The article will help you answer the following questions:

What is the cause that your favorite bargain basement cares about most? Is the company religious? Is the business, in fact, profiting from your purchase, or are those dollars going back into a mission? Where do unsold clothes end up? 

Please remember that thrift shops can’t accept everything you might want to get rid of. You can find some guidelines of what not to donate to thrift stores in the article “25 Things Your Local Thrift Store Doesn’t Want You to Donate” by Andréana Lefton.

If your town has a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, you can donate items there that a regular thrift store may not accept. According to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore website,

Habitat ReStores are independently owned reuse stores operated by local Habitat for Humanity organizations that accept donations and sell home improvement items to the public at a fraction of the retail price.

The ReStore FAQ says the stores

tend to accept household items or building materials [including]…furniture, appliances, TVs, lighting, doors, windows, plumbing supplies, flooring, [and] hand and power tools.

Other items I’ve seen at ReStores include lumber, paint, fasteners, bricks, pavers, roofing supplies. My local ReStore also accepts artwork, plates, mugs, silverware, and kitchen gadgets.

Some churches and community organizations hold yearly or twice yearly rummage sales. If the organizers of such events have storage space, they may be able to accept your donation weeks or months before the event.

Shelters for people and animals are often in need of items you no longer want. If you’d like your extras to help homeless folks, see if anything you are donating is on this list of “10 Product Donations Homeless Shelters Need” from the Invisible People website. Women’s shelters are always in need too, so you may find something you want to give away on the list of “12 Simple Things You Can Give To A Women’s Shelter That Will Drastically Change Lives” by Grace Eire. If you would like to help animals, see if anything you don’t need anymore is on this list of “10 Items to Donate to Animal Shelters” by Wendy Angel. You can also call a shelter in your community and ask if they can use items you want to give away. Remember, like thrift stores, shelters don’t want trash. Find another way to get rid of items that aren’t in very good condition.

What should you do with the things that aren’t good enough to donate? You could send all that stuff to the dump, but we know that is a poor choice for the planet. Instead of trashing items in rough shape (or if you’d rather skip donating to thrift stores and community organizations for whatever reason) offer these things to individuals. Sometimes things might be so worn that they’re not worth paying for, but a purpose can be found for them when the price is “free.” There are several ways to offer your discarded belongings for free.

If you are a member of your local Freecycle group, you already know about giving to other members. If you don’t know about Freecycle, the Freecylce Network website explains it’s

a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers…Membership is free.

You can also post ads to give away free items on Craigslist or local Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. Some neighborhood apps like Nextdoor also allow members to post freebies.

You can also invite friends, neighbors, and family members to come over to your place and take whatever of your leftovers they want. If all else fails, drag all your unwanted items to the curb and prop a big sign that reads “FREE” in front of the whole bunch. You might be surprised how quickly things disappear, even things you thought no one would ever want.

If you have books that haven’t sold, you can list them on BookMooch if you have time to carry them to the post office and money to pay the shipping cost. If you need to jettison books quickly, donate them to your local Friends of the Library group for an upcoming book sale or drop the reading material off at a nearby Little Free Library.

Letting go of your possessions may be difficult at first. You may feel as if you are tossing out a lifetime of memories. Feelings are ok and valid–give yourself permission to feel your emotions, but don’t get bogged down. Keep your eyes on the prize of freedom–freedom to travel, freedom from clutter, freedom to live simply and inexpensively.

Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 3: How to Sell Things You No Longer Need

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My last two Wednesday posts have dealt with making decisions about what you will no longer need when you begin your new life on the road. Let’s say you’re at a place in your downsizing process where you have a big pile of things you no longer want or need. How do you get all the stuff out of your life? Today I’ll give you a long list of where to sell all the material possessions that didn’t make the cut.

Where to Sell Things

We’ll assume you want to sell as much of your stuff as possible for the highest prices possible. Let’s face it, money is helpful, and the money you get from selling your belongings will hep fund your upcoming adventures. You’ll probably end up having a garage sale or yard sale, but you might get more from your high-end items if you sell them through other venues.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Or course, if you have very high-end items (jewelry, art, antiques, or anything worth more than $1,000 according to Consumer Reports), you may want to have such items appraised. You may decide to sell those items through an auction house or online auction site.

If you have items that are worth less than $1,000 but are still a bit fancy for a garage sale, list them on Facebook Marketplace, a local Facebook buy/sell/trade group, or Craigslist. I’m thinking of items like appliances; designer clothes, shoes, or handbags; furniture; tools; and collectibles. I suggest when selling to individuals accept only cash and don’t hold anything for anyone. Cash talks…and you want this stuff gone ASAP.

If you’ve never placed an ad on Facebook, see the article “5 Tips for Selling on Marketplace, Facebook’s Version of Craigslist” by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal. Before you start meeting up with strangers, you may want to review ADT’s “7 Tips for Staying Safe on Craigslist;” these tips apply to any situation in which you are selling items to people you don’t know.

Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

If you’re not tech savvy, you can also place ads for larger items the tried and true paper way. You can run ads in your local newspaper or free newspapers like the Thrifty Nickel. You can also make flyers detailing the items you have for sale and post them around town.

Even if you don’t meet up with any scammers while selling on Craigslist, Facebook, or through paper ads, be prepared to deal with flakes, weirdos, and pushy people. For a brief time when I was selling unwanted belongings through Facebook, people asked me to hold items for an indefinite period of time, to deliver items, and/or to take less money for items I’d already slapped rock-bottom prices on. No, no, and no were the answers I gave. I still ended up selling almost everything I wanted to get rid of. I recommend you remain polite but firm.

If I were sorting through my possessions, I would list items on Facebook or Craigslist or place classified ads as soon as I decided to sell them. You can include anything you don’t sell this way in your garage sale. Putting money in your pocket while you are still purging will feel good, as will seeing empty spaces in your home.

Another idea for selling better quality items is to bring them to a local consignment shop. Keep in mind, most consignment shops don’t pay immediately for your belongings. The shop displays your items for you. If your item(s) sells, you get a percentage of the money collected. The shop gets a percentage of the money too. Your items may sit in a consignment shop for a long time before they sell. Be sure you understand a shop’s terms before you leave items there. (How long will they keep your items? What percentage of the sale will go to you? Will they mail you a payment check if you’re not in town when an items sells? How often does the shop pay?) A consignment shop may work for you if you don’t need money in a hurry and don’t have the time or patience to sell through Facebook, Craigslist, or newspaper ads. If you’ve never sold at a consignment shop before, check out the Money Crashers article “How to Make Money Selling on Consignment – Tips, Pros & Cons” by Jacqueline Curtis.

Did you know some pawnshops buy items outright? I didn’t know this until I was in my 30s, but it’s true. A pawnshop might be a good place to sell tools, electronics, musical instruments, high end jewelry, CDs, and DVDS if you don’t want to go through the hassle of selling to individuals.

If you don’t mind packing up and mailing items, there are several website where you can sell your things. Of course, you have to go through the listing process and shoot decent photos, but you might get more money by selling online than you could get locally. If you want to see what online selling opportunities you have in addition to eBay, read the John Haselden article “Top 11 Other Sites Like eBay: eBay Selling Alternatives 2019.” Keep in mind selling online is like selling at a consignment shop in that your items may sit for a while, and you won’t get money until items sell.

Trying to sell clothes? I trust Teen Vogue to be real when it comes to telling me the best places to sell clothing online. Hint: Poshmark is the first online clothing resale site listed in the Teen Vogue article “13 Best Apps and Websites to Sell Clothes Online” by Krystin Arneson, Sierra Tishgart, and Kristi Kellogg.

If you want to sell handmade goods, craft supplies, or vintage items, you can do that on Etsy. If you need some help getting started on Etsy, see the Money Crashers article “How to Sell on Etsy and Set Up a Shop – Tips on What to Sell” by Mark Theoharis.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

If you want to sell off your DVD, Blu-Ray, and/or CD collection, check out the Well Kept Wallet article “12 Best Places to Sell Used DVDs (As Well as Blu-Rays and CDs)” by Josh Patoka. If you’re looking to sell books online, get some tips from Chloe Della Costa‘s article “5 of the Best Places to Make Money Selling Used Books Online.”

If you don’t want to go the online route for selling books, try to sell them at a local used bookstore. (Some bookstores will also buy CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs.) Some bookstores only give store credit or give you a higher dollar amount if you choose store credit over cash. If you end up with store credit, sell the credit for cash. If your book collection is large enough, some used bookstores will send an employee out to your home to choose the books they think they can resell. Once the employee makes their choices, they will pack up the books and take them away.

As your departure date nears, consider having a garage sale. If you won’t start living nomadically until the fall or winter, consider having two sales, one at the beginning of the yard sale season and another at the end of the season. That way you have two opportunities to sell, and you don’t have to feel pressured to have all your sorting and purging done by an early date.

If you’re not sure how to set up for a yard sale, see the article “Ten Tips To Have a Successful Garage Sale” on the Penny Pinchin’ Mom blog. One thing not mentioned in that post is having a great location. If your location isn’t conducive to getting a lot of yard sale traffic, ask a friend or family member with a better location if you can have your sale at their place. Yes, you will have to lug your stuff across town, but you’ll sell more in an area with more traffic or better parking options.

What to do if you can’t find yourself a good location for your sale? Pack everything up and head to a local flea market or swap meet. For a fee, you can have your sale in a place where there are sure to be shoppers. Never sold at a flea market or swap meet before? Read the Via Trading article “101 Hints & Tips for Flea Market Success.”

After you’ve done your best to sell off your belongings, you’ll probably still have items left. Now comes the time to give away the rest. Next week I’ll give you ideas about how and where to give away everything you didn’t sell.

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Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 2: What to Keep & What to Toss

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A few months ago when I asked for suggestions for blog posts of particular interest to nomads, rubber tramps, full-time RVers, vandwellers, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds, a couple of people asked me to write about paring down belongings in order to get ready for life on the road, or, more broadly, how to let go. Last week I gave ideas about how to organize your purge and how to decide if an item was no longer necessary for your life on the road. Today I’ll cover specific categories of items and give you my ideas about what you might and might not need.

Clothing

I can commiserate with folks whose closets and drawers are full of clothes. For someone who’s not a fashion plate, I do tend to have a lot of clothing. Although most of what I wear comes from thrift stores and free boxes, even when I lived in a van I usually had more than I needed.

Some time back, I read an informative post on the Interstellar Orchard blog about how the author (a full-time nomad) coordinates her clothing to make the most of her wardrobe. You may want to read the post “RVing Wardrobe” to learn how she puts her clothing together so a few pieces make several outfits.

A friend of mine who travels extensively for half of each year replaced his wardrobe with quick drying clothes that fold small for easy storing. If you don’t have extra money for a complete new wardrobe, by all means, use what you have. However, if you have funds set aside for this life transition, an easy-to-store wardrobe might be a good investment.

Whether you can afford new clothes or not, you are probably going to have to get eliminate some of your current wardrobe.

As you purge clothing, consider the one-year rule I mentioned in part 1 of this series. Anything you haven’t worn in a year probably should go.

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Be ready to try on items as you sort. Toss anything that doesn’t fit your body into your “sell” or “donate” container. Sure, you might lose weight on the road, but you might not. Do you really have room in your rig for a second “maybe” wardrobe? In my experience (even as a plus size woman who wears XXL), it’s fairly easy to pick up clothing in thrift stores when your old ones don’t fit.

Keeping your wardrobe to a minimum may mean you have to do laundry more often, but using less space for clothing may be be worth spending two hours in a laundromat every week or so. I like to keep a two-week supply of socks and underwear. These small items are easier to store than outerwear. I can wear the same skirt and shirt for a week, but I do like to change my socks and underwear every day. I could get by with three shirts, three skirts or pairs of pants, and 14 pairs of socks and 14 pairs of underpants. At the end of two weeks, I’d put on my last clean clothes and wash everything else. This bare minimum may not work of you and that’s ok! You just need to decide what your minimum is.

Before you settle on your on-the-road wardrobe, ask yourself some questions. Can I wear the same outer garments for more than one day? How many days can I wear clothes without washing them? Would I feel better about rotating the clothes I’m going to wear again rather than wearing them several days in a row? Would I feel better about wearing garments multiple times if I could air them out between wearing or squirt them with Febreze? Do I really need to wear a nightgown or pajamas to bed, or could I sleep naked or in underpants and the t-shirt I’ll wear tomorrow? Everyone will answer these questions differently. That ok! We each must decide what works best for our individual situation.

If you will spend winter somewhere cold, you’re going to need more clothing. I like the thin but warm long underwear by Cuddl Duds. If you are carrying a puffy coat for winter wear, you may be able to store it in a compression sack when not in use. You could also store bulky winter clothes in those plastic bags that you roll to push the air out of. I’ve used several different brands of such bags and they always seem to rip or come apart at the seams, but they’re really great while they last.

Shoes

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

I own way too many pairs of shoes, although in my defense, all but my red cowgirl boots were free or cost under $5. You will probably need more than one pair of shoes in your life, but again, think about how little you can get away with.

You need at least one pair of sturdy shoes for daily walking around. You’ll save space if your everyday shoes can also be worn when you go on a hike or brisk walk. For example, I’ve worn Keen sandals as my everyday shoes; they were also great on casual hikes and walks through the park. Currently I have a pair of L.L. Bean hiking shoes (courtesy of the magic of a free table) that I wear when I’m running errands but which also carried me through a natural landmark, three national parks, and a national monument.

You’ll also need a pair of shower shoes. I recommend you don’t skip shower shoes. The space you save by doing without a pair of shoes you can wear in the shower of campgrounds, gyms, or community swimming pools will not be worth it if you pick up some foot nasties. If you’re really tight for space, your shower shoes can double as slip-on shoes to put on quickly if you have to go outside your rig in a hurry. I have a pair of Crocs I can wear in the shower and wear outside my rig when I don’t feel like putting on and tying my regular shoes.

Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

It’s nice to have a pair of rain boots or other waterproof shoes to wear when the ground is wet. Again, it’s great if one pair of shoes can do double duty. I had a pair of Keen boots that were waterproof. I wore them as my daily shoes and my hiking shoes, and I didn’t need something different in the rain or snow.

You may need a pair of dressy shoes if you dress up and go out or if you plan to interview for a job or work in a place that requires footware other than hiking boots and flip flops. Every pair of shoes you own should be comfortable. There’s no sense hauling around shoes that hurt your feet. If any of your shoes are uncomfortable, set a goal to replace them as your budget allows.

Jewelry

If you’re one of those people who likes to have different jewelry to go with each outfit, eliminate jewelry as you eliminate clothing. If you do keep jewelry, find a way to store it that takes minimal space. Instead of using a jewelry box, use a jewelry roll or a jewelry burrito made by a traveling gal.

Bedding

I recommend you have two sets of sheets, each set comprised of a flat and a fitted or two flat sheets. Matching is optional. You should also have two pillow cases for each pillow. With two sets of sheets and pillowcases, you can strip the bed on laundry day and immediately put on fresh sheets. After the dirty sheets are washed, you only have to store one set.

You’ll also need enough blankets to stay warm in the climate you’re sleeping in. A rectangular sleeping bag can be unzipped and used as a comforter; on a really cold night, you can zip the bag and sleep inside for added warmth. (If you need more tips on staying warm, see my post “15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Cold.”)

Bathroom

Can you get by with one towel? Microfiber towels are great! They fold up smaller than a regular bath towel and dry quickly. I have a “hot yoga” towel my sibling bought for me at a thrift store. I like it because I can wrap it around my whole self but fold it smaller than a conventional bath towel. It dries faster than a conventional towel too. (For help picking a microfiber towel, see the Traveling Lifestyle article “7 Best Microfiber Towels for Backpackers & Light Travelers” by Viktor Vincej.)

Kitchen

If you need new kitchen equipment, look for collapsible items like dishpans, measuring cups, funnels, and strainers. Get an adjustable measuring spoon instead of a set with different sizes. Instead of a kettle, heat water in a metal cup or in a saucepan which can also be used in regular meal prep. A bowl does double duty holding wet and dry food. Have only one cup, bowl, and set of utensils for each person who lives in your rig.

Tools

Be honest with yourself about what tools you will actually use while you are on the road. Once your rig is built out the way you want it, you probably won’t need power tools unless you plan to use them to make money. If you do need a building tool at some point, check into renting before you buy.

If you’re going to do repairs and basic maintenance or your rig, pack the right tools to complete the job. Some auto parts stores will loan you tools when you buy parts from them. Autozone, Advance Auto Parts, Pep Boys, and O’Reilly Auto Parts all have loaner tool programs. Deposits are required, but you get your money back when you return the tools.

Books

I collect books from free piles, BookMooch, and Little Free Libraries, always with the intention of reading them and passing them on someday. I also have several books that I want to keep forever. All this to say, I may not be the best person to tell you how to live without books! However, even I know some ways to minimize the physical bulk of your reading material.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash

If you have an e-book reader, you can read lots of books and periodicals without using up a lot of your precious space. You can also read on your phone or tablet. Free-Ebooks.net, Project Gutenberg, BookBub, and many other websites offer free e-books.

If you own a stack of reference books, maybe you can get rid of them and find the same information online.

Some people (me!) would rather read a book made from paper instead of relying on electronics. A real book doesn’t run out of battery power, isn’t likely to be substantially damaged if dropped, and can be found free or cheap at library book sales, garage sales, Little Free Libraries, thrift shops, or from BookMooch. If you do want to read physical books, keep only a few on hand, donate each one after you’ve read it, and only pick up one book to read when you rotate out the one you’ve finished.

Music

Do you still have a CD collection? While easier to store than LPs or cassette tapes, CDs can still take up quite a bit of room. I advise you to transfer your CD collection to a computer, then put those files on your phone or MP3 player. Once your music is stored, you can ditch the CDs. Another option is to keep the CDs and store them on a spindle or in a binder and ditch only the cases.

There are also many sites that let you stream music for free. The How-To Geek website offers a list of “The Best Sites for Streaming Free Music.”

Movies

If you have a DVD collection, most everything I said about CDs applies to you too. Jettison the DVDs or at least the cases.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

There are so many ways to watch movies for free online! Check out the following articles to help you get free entertainment: “The 9 Best Free Movie Apps to Watch Movies Online,” “How to Watch Movies Online for Free–Legally,”and “19 Best Free Movie Websites.”

You can also pay for streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go. Maybe a friend or family member will share their password with you if they already pay for one of these services

If all else fails, rent a movie from Red Box. Did you know you can return a Red Box movie to a Red Box in a town other than where you rented it?

Photographs and Letters

Scan or take digital photos of all the photographs and letters you want to save. Save the digital copies on a thumb drive, tablet, or external hard drive. Send your printed copies of the photos to the people in them or to people who love the people in them. If no one in your family wants to be the steward of ancestral letters, maybe you can donate the originals to an archive or museum.

Financial Documents

We’ve probably all wondered how long we should keep bank statements, check stubs, and copies of our tax returns. Do you really need to pack all of that stuff with you when you leave your sticks-n-bricks? The Finra article “Save or Shred: How Long You Should Keep Financial Documents” will help you decide what is safe to ditch before you hit the road.

Collections

It’s going to be difficult to have a collection while living in a small rig. If you must collect, try small things like pressed pennies, national park tokens, matchbooks, or postcards. If you live in a larger rig, perhaps you can choose the best specimens from your collection and find creative ways to display them.

Craft Items

If I knew how to downsize craft items, I would do it myself. Limit yourself to one tub of craft items? Only do tiny crafts? Really, you’re on your own here.

I hope my suggestions help you make decisions about what possessions are worth incorporating into your life as a nomad and which should find a new role with someone else.

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Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 1: First Steps

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Chevy van parked on street under streetlamp
Photo by Julian Schultz on Unsplash

You’re going to do it! You’re going to move out of your sticks-n-bricks home, hit the road, and live nomadically. The problem is, you have so much stuff. How are you going to fit everything you own into your rig? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re probably not going to be able to take everything you own with you on the road. If you’re living like the average American, you probably have more possessions than you can shove into a van, car, truck camper, pull-behind trailer, or even a large motorhome or 5th wheel. Today and for the next three Wednesdays, I’ll share my ideas for purging your material possessions as well as what you should keep for life on the road.

You’re lucky if you can purge before you leave your conventional home. Whether you’re hitting the road in a week, a month, or a year, your first step will be to cull your possessions mercilessly. You will need to look at every single item you own and decide whether it has a place in your nomadic life. Overwhelming? Yes. Necessary? Also yes.

Small camper parked immediately to the side of a dirt road
Photo by Leo Foureaux on Unsplash

Be prepared to go through the culling process several times. You may think you’ve done a great job by selling and donating 50% of your material possessions only to find you still have 75% more things than will fit in your rig. You may stuff your rig with belongings and after a week or a month (or a year!) decide you can no longer live with all the material possessions you’ve crammed into your space. That’s ok! Downsizing may be an ongoing process for a long time.

Many people have written books or developed systems designed to help other people declutter and organize. Some of these people have good ideas, but remember they are trying to help you live better in a conventional sticks-n-bricks home or an apartment. Such methods are not intended for people planning to move into a van or RV, much less a car or an SUV, and won’t be presented with folks like us in mind. By all means, look into the methods available, but be prepared to pick and choose the tips that will work for you.

Some systems for organizing will be based on you buying things. You may be advised to buy baskets, storage cubes, drawer organizers, dish racks, or any number of other things. There’s no shame in not wanting to or being able to rush out and buy more stuff. Think about what you already have that might work before you buy anything. Maybe you own storage containers that would work for what you want to do. If not, maybe you can build what you need. Have a look at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore or other thrift shop for items you can use before you buy new things.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Recently there has been a lot of talk (and many jokes) about a method for purging that encourages people to discard all items that don’t “spark joy.” Joy is great. I’m all for joy. When it comes to clothing, jewelry, shoes, and decorations or knickknacks, sure, jettison anything that doesn’t spark joy. However, some items are utilitarian, and you may only experience joy when the object allows you to get things done. You may not feel joy from your tire jack or can opener until you change a flat or open a can of beans, but you still need to carry those items with you every day.

Another school of thought is that you should only keep items that serve multiple purposes. When I lived in my van, almost nothing I owned served more than one purpose. A potholder is only a potholder, a spoon is only a spoon, and a can of Fix-of-Flat is only a can of Fix-a-Flat. Yes, an item that serves more than one purpose is great, but I suggest you take this “multi-purpose” advice with a grain of salt.

When you’re ready to start your culling process (and it’s never too soon to begin), I suggest you take it one room at a time. Get some containers to hold the items you’re going to get rid of. I suggest you use 18 gallon plastic tubs, but cardboard boxes or large garbage bags work too. Don’t fill overfill your containers; you want to be able to move them when necessary.  

Label one container “trash.” Into this tub you will put items no one wants, such as used razor blades, sticky rubber bands that have lost their elasticity, dry ink pens, and outdated medication. (Please dispose of old medication properly.)

Label the second container “sell.” Into this container you will put everything you think you might be able to sell. You probably want your wallet to be as fat as possible when you hit the road, so try to sell as much as you can. You may be surprised by what bargain hunters at yard sales will buy! Whatever you don’t sell, you can donate later. (In the third post in this series, I’ll give you a list of places where you can try to sell your belongings.)

Label the third container “donate.” Into this container you will put the things you want to give away. If you already know you want to give the quilt your grandmother made in 1926 to your great-niece, go ahead and put it into this container. During your first go round, you will probably have more items in the “sell” container than in the “donate” container, but as things don’t sell, move them over to “donate.” (In the fourth post in this series, I will give you lots of suggestions about where to donate things.)

As you fill containers, put all of the items you want to sell together in one area. Put the containers holding items to give away in another area. Don’t get the items mixed up. Having the containers labeled will (hopefully) keep you from getting confused. Keep these containers away from items you’re not tossing.

Interior hallway of a storage unit facility
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Label another container “storage.” Into this container you’ll put items you don’t want to get rid of but you don’t want to carry around in your rig. I suggest you put as little as possible into this container!!! I am mostly opposed to storing belongings. If you’re paying for a storage unit, you’re basically letting your money float off into the wind. Before paying for storage, ask yourself how difficult it would be to replace the items you’re thinking about storing. Also, how much would it cost to replace the items? Could you replace the items with less expensive or used items? If the items are easy to replace and would cost less than the equivalent of a couple month’s storage fees, consider ditching the items and replacing them later if you need to.

Think about how far from the stored items you’ll be if you need them. If you stay in the same town as your storage unit, it might make more sense to store some belongings. If your spare forks are in New Jersey and you’re in Oregon when you need a replacement, paying the monthly fee to house the spares has been pretty much pointless.

If you’re planning to pay to store family heirlooms, you may want to ask yourself why. Are you saving the items for a family member who can’t take them now? If that’s the case, let the family member pay to store them! Are you sure the family member really wants the items? Perhaps the family member can’t take the items because they don’t want them. Now would be a good time to have a frank discussion about the expectations surrounding the responsibility for family possessions, who wants to inherit what, and who could care less. Maybe everyone in the family would be happy to sell the heirlooms and split the money. Maybe everyone would be fine with giving the heirlooms to a third cousin once removed who’d really, really like to have them.

Even if you don’t have to pay for storage because you’re keeping some things at a friend’s or family member’s place, consider what a headache this might turn out to be. What if the person storing your belongings moves? Will that person resent having to move your things too? What if there is a fire or flood and your items are destroyed? Are you belongings covered under your friend or family member’s insurance? What if you and the person storing your things have a fight? Will you ever see your belongings again? I have stored my possessions with individuals, but I suggest you avoid doing so if you can.

If you want, label one more container “to deal with later.” Into this container you’ll put items like CDs you want to copy to your laptop or external hard drive, letters and photos you want to scan, and financial documents you need time to look through. Again, I suggest you don’t put too much into this container.

Next week I’ll give you specific information about what I think is worth keeping and what I think is better left behind. I’ll cover categories like clothing, shoes, bedding, books, crafts, and tools. In the meantime, I’ll give you some general suggestions for how to decide what should stay and what should go.

sweaters and shirts on shelves in a closet
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As you go through each room where you’re currently living, look at one item at a time. For practical items (clothes, umbrellas, kitchen gadgets), first use the one-year rule. If you haven’t worn or used the item in at least a year, toss it directly into the “sell” or “donate” container. If you haven’t worn or used an item in a year, you probably won’t suddenly need it while you’re living in your van or RV.

If an item passes the one-year test, consider if it is practical for your new lifestyle. Can you even run a stand mixer, bread machine, or microwave oven off the power system in your rig? Do you need a pair of strappy high heels while you’re exploring national parks? If you’re not going to use an item, don’t carry it out to your rig.

As you consider items, ask yourself if you could make a life change that would make the item in question obsolete. Could you get a haircut that leaves your hair easy to style, thus doing away with your need for a curling iron, hairspray, and barrettes? What if you stop coloring your hair and left behind boxes of hair dye kits? Might now be the time to limit the amount of makeup you wear so you need to lug around fewer cosmetics? Could you do most of your cooking in one cast iron skillet instead of dragging around an assortment of pots and pans?

Think about items of which you have multiples. Do you need all of them? Must you have 5 (or 8 or 11) plain black t-shirts? Do you need several pairs of flip flops? How many hair scrunchies can one person use? Can you made do with one pair of winter gloves? Do you need multiple pairs of reading glasses or sunglasses? Pick your favorite of what you have many of and jettison the rest. Having a couple of spares of small things like glasses is fine, but don’t go overboard.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

For some items, it is a good idea to consider the joy they bring. If you’re going to have one bowl, sure, use the one that makes you happy. If your wardrobe is going to include only three t-shirts, choose the ones that fit best, look good, and feel most comfortable. If you’re going to allow yourself one book, make sure it’s one you really want to read.

If it helps you get rid of things you can’t possibly take with you anyway, think about the joy another person will get when they use an item you give away. Another hiker will appreciate the backpack you can no longer use. Your sibling may love to have the fancy cloth your mom put on the table every Christmas. Your spare blankets will bring warmth to homeless folks during the winter. Just because an item is no longer a part of your life doesn’t mean its usefulness is over.

Some items will be easy to toss into your “sell” or “donate” containers. Others will be a struggle to part with; it’s ok to sit with those decisions for a while. Just remember, living nomadically will bring benefits that a Def Leppard t-shirt or a food processor never will. Watching a beautiful sunset or seeing a full moon rise over the ocean will make your nomad’s heart soar. Traveling with the weather so you miss the worst of the heat and the cold is freeing in a way all the shoes in the world can never be.

If you’re a nomad, how did you downsize before you hit the road?

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

Free Camping in the National Forest

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US Forest Service logo sign

Last week when I shared my post about free camping near Quartzsite, Arizona, a lady in one of the Facebook groups I’m a member of mildly chastised me for not mentioning free camping in national forests. I explained that the post I had just shared was specifically about free camping in southern Arizona where there is no Forest Service land. She said when she started living nomadically she didn’t know about free camping in national forests, so she was trying to alert others to this public-land camping option. Fair enough. Oh her behalf, today I will share information about free camping in national forests for all the new nomads who don’t know it exists.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the Forest Service, their mission is

To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. 

brown metal sign reading Carson National Forest Information Visitors Welcome
Carson National Forest is in New Mexico.

Just how much public land is under the control of the USFS? What exactly is the USFS responsible for? According to the Free Campsites website the U.S. Forest Service

administers the 175 national forests and grasslands in the United States. They are responsible for regulating logging, grazing and mineral rights on these lands as well as maintaining roads, trails, campgrounds and law enforcement in the area. The forestry [sic] service offers many developed campgrounds as well as a large number of ‘official’ dispersed camping sites.

What exactly is dispersed camping? It’s also known as primitive camping, dry camping, and boondocking. The Fishlake National Forest webpage says,

Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets.

(If you’re new to boondocking, be sure to read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers, which will help you through every stage of the boondocking process.”)

Smokey Bear stands next to a sign that reads Fire Danger Moderate Today! Prevent Wildfires
Smokey Bear is probably the most famous Forest Service Employee.

What I’d like to be able to do–what would be easier for me and you–is to give you some general rules for boondocking on Forest Service land, then direct you to a website with more details. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find such a website or any standard rules for dispersed camping on public land managed by the Forest Service. I searched the main Forest Service website and found nothing. This lack of centralized information was confirmed for me on the Barefoot Theory blog which says,

For information on camping on USFS locations across the country you have to check with each ranger district directly.

Apparently each national forest is managed as one or more ranger districts. Each district is managed differently according the challenges facing each area. An area with a lot of visitors might have more restrictions than a place were few folks go.

I looked at the information given about dispersed camping in five different National Forests. While the webpages for Fishlake, Coconino, and Deschutes National Forests gave explicit rules for dispersed camping in those places, practically no information was shared about the Sequoia and Carson National Forests. What’s a potential boondocker to do in order to learn about the rules and regulations in a particular area?

Dirt road leads between evergreen trees
Dispersed camping area in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona

The best thing to do is call or visit the Forest Service office nearest to the area where you want to camp. The employees at the office can tell you everything you need to know to stay in compliance with any restrictions in the dispersed camping areas.

Maybe you’re so new at boondocking on Forest Service land you don’t even know what questions to ask. That’s ok. I’ll guide you in the right direction. The following are some questions to ask the person staffing the desk or the phone in the Forest Service office nearest to the area where you want to camp.

How long can I occupy a campsite? When I leave, how far away must I travel before I am allowed to set up a new camp? How long do I have to wait before I can once again occupy the original campsite?

How far away from the road must I camp? Do I have to stay within a certain distance of the road? How far should I camp from a water source? How far away must I camp from a developed recreation area?

May I have a campfire? Do I need a fire permit if I am going to have a campfire? Where can I get a fire permit? May I gather down and dead wood for my campfire?

Is there anything else I need to know about camping in your district of this national forest?

Brown wooden Lincoln National Forest sign with a roughly drawn Smokey Bear on it

Now you know there aren’t any hard and fast rules for camping in national forests, that each area has different regulations. All well and good, you might be thinking, but how do I go about finding Forest Service land to camp on in the first place? I’m glad you asked!

From the U.S. Forest Service home page, you can select a state, then choose a forest or grassland in that state to learn more about. You should be able to use such a search to find out what ranger district oversees the area where you want to camp.

Both Campendium and the Free Campsites website mentioned above list free camping spots in national forests. Campendium has a “National Forests” tab at the top of the page. By clicking on the tab, you get a menu of links to each state. Click on a state and you get a list of national forests in the state. Click on the name of the forest and you get a map showing the camping options in the area. On the Free Campsites main page, type the name of the national forest in which you would like to camp in the “enter a location” bar.

Forest Service outhouse with snow on the ground all around it
Free camping at the Big Tesuque Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest

If you have a smartphone and don’t mind investing in an app, the Ultimate Public Campgrounds app might be for you. For $3.99, this app helps you find “tens of thousands PUBLICLY-owned camping locations in the United States and Canada,” which of course would include dispersed camping on U.S. Forest Service land. (Shout out to the Barefoot Theory website article “The Ultimate Guide to Finding Free Campsites in the US” where I found information about this app.)

The Wand’rly website offers a very extensive article titled “Free Camping in the National Forests of the United States.” The article provides state-by-state national forest information and lots of links so you can learn more about different areas.

If you’re more the paper map type of person (and even if you’re not, read my post “In Praise of Paper Maps” to find out why I think you should go old school at least sometimes), you can use your atlas or state highway map to find national forests in the area where you are or to where you will travel. Public land is usually green on maps, and national forests will usually be labeled with the name.

waterfall
Nobe Young waterfall in the Sequoia National Forest.

Also check out the maps of individual national forests produced by National Geopgraphic. Those maps tend to be very complete and show forest service roads as well as local attractions.

The Forest Service itself also offers map options, both electronic and paper. First, check out the Interactive Visitor Map online. The USFS says the map

provides the public with an online view of Forest Service roads, trails, recreation sites, wilderness areas, and wild & scenic rivers. 

Also available is “A Guide To Your National Forests” a

free brochure showing locations of national forests and grasslands along with contact information. A large map of those regions (PDF, 14.3MB) is also available.

Because both maps are available as PDFs, you can print out a copies to view at home or take with you on the road.

The USFS also sells forest visitor maps, national forest atlases, and wilderness maps. These maps can be bought at National Forest Map Store, U.S. Geological Survey Store, many Forest Service offices.

Maps are also available for purchase as georeferenced PDFs on Avenza, for use on mobile devices.


Forest Visitor Maps for each national forest and grassland provide forest-wide information on attractions, facilities, services, and opportunities.


National Forest Atlases are full color atlases…available for many of the forests in California.


Wilderness Maps are topographic maps that show natural features such as mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, rivers, and vegetation using contour lines depicting elevation gain or loss.

Las Petacas Campground is a fee area, but it only cost $6 per night to camp there.

The Forest Service also provides topographic maps free as Geo-enabled PDFs and as paper copies available for purchase at some Forest Service officesU.S. Geological Survey Store, and some retail outlets.

Motor vehicle use maps are available from the Forest Service and are very important to National Forest boondockers. These are the maps that “identify those roads, trails, and areas designated for motor vehicle use.” These maps are available three ways

Once you arrive in the national forest of your choice, here are a few things to know as you drive around looking for a campsite, courtesy of the Deschutes National Forest.

If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that’s been used before… If there is no existing campsite, then follow these Leave No Trace guidelines:


Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damaging or killing plants and grass. Do NOT camp within 200 feet of any water source…Don’t camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow…Don’t try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite.

Once you find your perfect spot for camping, follow these guidelines (also courtesy of the Deschutes National Forest) to minimize your impact on the natural environment.

Dispersed camping means no bathrooms and no outhouses…[so] extra care has to be taken in disposing of human waste. To dispose of feces, dig a hole 6 inches deep and AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE (creeks, wetlands, springs, or lakes). When you’re done, fill the hole with the dirt you dug up and take your toilet paper with you to dispose of in a proper waste container.

Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground, it could easily get into the local water source and contaminate it.


Empty built-in or portable toilets at sanitary dump stations.

Wash your body, dishes, etc., and dispose of waste water AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE. Do not use ANY soap directly in a water source. Use biodegradable soap.

If you need more information about how to handle life in woods, see my post “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest.”

campfire in metal fire ring

Most campers want to have a campfire while out in nature. If you are planning to enjoy a campfire, follow the rules shared by the Coconino National Forest.

[C]heck if you are in an area with campfire restrictions

Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Make sure to bring at least 6 gallons of water (preferably 10 gallons) and a shovel to completely extinguish your campfire. Burn all wood and coals to ash.

Extinguish campfires completely by generously dousing with water and stirring with a shovel. (video)


Never leave a campfire unattended. It is illegal to do so…You could be held liable for any firefighting/restoration costs that result from your abandoned or unattended campfire. Make certain your campfire is dead out, wet and cold to the touch, before leaving your campsite.

Now that you know the basics of dispersed camping in the national forest, get out there and give it a try. National forests belong to you and me and all of us, so enjoy them every chance you get.

A banner shows Smokey Bear waving. Text reads "I'm concerned about Wildfires" with an image of a fire and a tree.

The information in this post was correct at the time it was written. Please consider this information a starting point for your own research and not the final word on any subject. There are risks associated with camping, especially camping in areas off the beaten path. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you. Please think before you act.

I took the photos in this post.

Free Camping near Quartzsite, Arizona

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long-term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) located along the Colorado River in Arizona and California. La Posa (North and South, on either side of Highway 95) is the LTVA closest to Quartzsite, AZ. As I stated in the LTVA post, it costs $180 for a seasonal LTVA permit, good from September 15 to April 15. If you just want to stay at an LTVA for two weeks, you can get a permit for $40. (To learn a whole lot more about LTVAs, read my post about the Long-term Visitor Areas.)

Wait a minute!  you may have thought when you read the LTVA post. I heard there was free camping on BLM land near Quartzsite.

Well, you were right about that! There is free camping on BLM land all around Quartzsite. Sometimes people get confused because both LTVAs and free camping are on BLM land. The difference? After paying the permit fee, one can camp at an LTVA all season (or move among the LTVAs at no additional charge), while camping is allowed on the free spots for only 14 days within a 28 day period.

According to the Free Campsites website, free camping locations on BLM land in the immediate Quartzsite area are Plomosa Road, Hi Jolly, Dome Rock Mountain, Scaddan Wash and Road Runner. In addition, there are other free camping areas on BLM land within 20 miles of Quartzsite in Ehrenberg, AZ, as well as within 40 miles near Bouse and Parker, AZ. If you want to go a little further (about 75 miles), there’s also free camping on BLM land near Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Although there is no cost to camp on the BLM land near Quartzsite (other than La Posa North and South LTVA, of course), a permit is required. Getting the permit is no big deal. Each camping area has a camp host who issues permits. Simply stop at the camp host’s campsite and ask for your permit. The camp host may ask to see your driver’s license or ID. The camp host will write your name, address, and license plate number on the permit. You will get one copy to adhere to your windshield and the host will keep the other copies for the BLM’s records.

A BLM ranger might hassle someone camping on any of these free camping areas without a permit. I believe a ranger could even issue a ticket to someone camping without a permit, but I don’t know anyone this has happened to. But why risk? The permits are free and easy to obtain.

Once you get your permit, you are allowed to camp in the area for which the permit was written for up to 14 days. In the past, people have stayed on free BLM land near Quartzsite for much longer than two weeks, but in the last few years rangers have started cracking down on these long-term stays in the short-term camping areas. After two weeks, some people simply move to a different free camping area near Quartzsite and get a new permit, but technically, doing so is not permissible.

One can camp for free on most BLM land that is not an LTVA for 14 days within a 28 day period at no cost. One can move 25 miles away and camp on BLM land for free (if allowed) for 14 days. One can return to the original camping spot on the 29th day since the first day of camping. A BLM website explains it in detail this way:

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14 day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

(Camping rules for BLM land may vary according to the ranger district. Always check the camping rules for the particular BLM ranger district in which you want to camp.)

The free BLM camping areas near Quartzite are totally undeveloped. Like on most other BLM land in the Southwest, these public lands open to free camping require boondockers to provide for their every need. (If you don’t know the first thing about boondocking, see my post on the “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers“.) You may find a fire ring made of stones left behind by previous campers, but otherwise you are on your own. You will not find a trash can or dump station in any of the free BLM camping areas in this part of Arizona. Plan to pack out anything you pack in. Don’t look for picnic tables, pit toilets or electrical hookups because there are none. The lack of running water means you can forget about flush toilets or hot showers. (To find out where you can find a hot shower and other amenities see my post “Where to Go for What You Need in Quartzsite.”)

All sorts of folks camp in the free BLM camping areas in Quartzsite. I’ve seen plenty of RVers in motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels of all different sizes and conditions. There’s no shortage of vandwellers out there either, in everything from Roadtreks to minivans, converted cargo vans to old-school conversion vans. Skoolies make an appearance too, both full-size and short buses. Travelers stay there in truck campers, and I’ve witnessed literal car camping out there too. Some hardy souls brave the wind and chilly night to camp in tents.

Whatever one’s living situation, there are rules to follow while staying on the public land. Be quiet during quiet hours, typically 10pm to 6am. Comply with any fire ban and do NOT gather any native wood lying on the ground. (Hopefully I don’t have to tell you not to cut down or in any way damage plants growing on BLM land.) Keep your pets leashed and under your control. (This is for your pet’s safety, as coyotes in those parts have been known to snatch unattended dogs.)

If your rig does not have toilet facilities, it is allowable to dig “cat holes” for your elimination needs. According to the Tread Lightly! website,

Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole six to eight inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to pack out your toilet paper.

However, there’s hardly any privacy on the BLM land set aside for free camping near Quartzsite. You’re in the desert out there, not the forest, so it won’t be easy to find a tree to hide behind. You can set up a privacy tent, but be aware that the winter wind can be fierce out there. I recommend you set up some sort of elimination facility in your rig. (If you have never camped in the desert before, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert” to get more advice on doing it right.)

If you don’t mind being a little farther away from Quartzsite, you have a couple of other options. According to the Free Campsites website, there is dispersed camping on BLM land on Gold Nugget Road east of Quartzsite. It doesn’t seem like a permit is required to stay there. You can also camp for free in the Crystal Hill area of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, about 8 miles south of Quartzsite on Highway 95 at milepost 95. Camping there is limited to 14 days during any 12-month period.

What if you don’t want to camp on the public lands near Quartzsite? Do you have other options? The answer is yes!

There are two truck stops in Quartzsite, a Love’s and a Pilot. I have stayed overnight at both Quartzsite travel centers. One year after the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) I wanted to stick around for a few more days for the PowWow gem and mineral show. I’d already reached my 14 day BLM limit, so I stayed in my van at the Love’s for a couple of nights with no problems. On another occasion I stayed in town using the internet to schedule blog posts until after sunset and didn’t want to try to find my campsite after dark. I spent that night in the Pilot parking lot, again with no trouble. I’ve seen plenty of other vans and truck campers parked overnight in those travel centers too.

So yes, it’s true, you can camp for free on BLM land near Quartzsite, but technically only for two weeks before you have to move down the road, at least for a little while.

I took the photos in this post.

Getting Your Travel Trailer Ready to Go

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Brown sign reading Rockhound State Park
Welcome to the Rockhound State Park campground!

Whether you’ve been staying in a campground or boondocking on public land, when it’s time to leave, you have to prepare your travel trailer for the journey. While getting the trailer ready is not a complicated procedure, there are steps that must be taken in preparation for your trip. Use these tips as a checklist to make sure you’ve done everything that needs doing before you hit the road.

#1 Lower everything on the roof. Bring down antennas. Close vents.

Hose connected to campground water spigot in background. Thick black electrical cord connected to campground electrical box in foreground.
Unhook water and electricity connections before you leave.

#2 If you’re at a campground, disconnect utilities. If you have a hose hooked up to the sewer, dump your black and grey water tanks one last time, then put away your sewer hose. Unplug your electrical connection and put away the cord. Unhook your water hose from the city water connection and from the trailer as well. Be sure the hose is drained and put it away.

#3 Retract your awning completely.

#4 Pull in all slides.

#5 Pick up and put away any equipment (rugs, chairs, tables, grills, tools, hoses, etc.) you have outside.

#6 Consider dumping contents of fresh water tank if water will be easy to replace at your destination. Especially if you are close to your maximum weight, you might want to travel without the extra pounds a tank full of water will add.

#7 Make sure stove and oven are turned off.

#8 Make sure all faucets are turned off.

#9 Make sure all interior and exterior lights are turned off.

#10 Make sure heater and air conditioner are turned off.

#11 Close windows.

#12 Latch interior cabinet doors and close drawers securely.

#13 Put away anything sitting on counter tops, tables, or floors. You don’t want any objects sliding, flying, or crashing while the trailer is in motion. We find storing larger items in the bathtub or on the bed keeps them secure during travel.

#14 After all chores are done inside and everyone has exited the trailer, close the exterior door(s) securely and lock up.

#15 Move steps to the travel position.

#16 Hitch trailer to tow vehicle. (If you need more information about hitching a trailer to a tow vehicle, read my post “Hitched.”)

#17 Connect stabilizers and install sway controller. Made sure all components are in their proper positions and all pins are installed.

#18 Plug in cord that controls trailer’s lights.

#19 Check inflation of trailer’s tires. Add air if necessary.

#20 Remove chocks from wheels.

Green camping chair sitting alone in the sunlight.
Don’t leave your chair behind. Do a walk-around before you go.

#21 Walk around rig and tow vehicle for a final inspection. Are any belongings outside the trailer? Are all utilities unhooked? Are all windows and vents closed? Is the awning retracted? Are all antennas down? Is the campfire dead out? Are steps secured for travel? Is campsite clean? Make sure everything is picked up, put away, closed, latched, and ready to go.

#22 Check lights on the back of trailer to make sure all are working properly. Check running lights, brake lights, right turn indicator, and left turn indicator.

There! You’ve done it! You’ve gotten your travel trailer ready for the road. You can start your trip confident that you’ve taken care of everything that needs to be done before you begin your journey.  For tips on general trip preparation and how to get your tow vehicle ready to go, see my post “10 Things to Do Before You Hit the Road.”

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer for getting a travel trailer or fifth wheel ready for the road? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photos in this post.

Black and Grey Water Tanks

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I thought emptying our travel trailer’s black and grey water tanks was going to be absolutely disgusting, but it’s turned out to be not such a terrible job. If you’ve had an RV for a while, you’re probably an old hand at emptying your tanks, but if you’re new to RV life, I may be able to offer you a few tips on how to do this task quickly and efficiently.

If you’re squeamish about bodily waste and gag at the thought of getting your hands dirty, wear gloves. You can pick up boxes of nitrile or vinyl gloves pretty cheap at Harbor Freight. The Wal-Mart pharmacy department and most drugstores carry latex gloves; Wal-Mart usually also has disposable gloves in the paint department. Of course, single use items have a negative environmental impact, so you can do your part for Mother Nature by wearing heavy duty, reusable kitchen gloves when you’re emptying your waste tanks. After you’ve done your dumping, store your gloves with your sewer hose so you can always find them when you need them.

Speaking of sewer hoses, longer is better. When we bought our sewer hose, The Man and I agreed 10 feet of hose would be plenty. If I had known then what I know now, I would have purchased a hose that was 15 or even 20 feet long. Our hose has never been too short, but we have had to stretch it to its limit to get it to the drain a couple of times. Sometimes it’s challenging to pull the trailer to within ten feet of a dump station drain. If we had a longer hose, The Man wouldn’t have to work quite so hard to get the trailer quite so close to where we need it to be.

While shopping for RV accessories, we saw the special, expensive RV/marine toilet paper that’s supposed to break down quickly. We contemplated buying the special toilet paper, but decided against it. We already bought the cheapest toilet paper any store offers, and The Man had read testimonies online from people who didn’t feel the need to use special toilet paper in their RV toilets. BIG MISTAKE! We ended up with toilet paper not breaking down and clogging our system. Now we do not put ANY toilet paper into our toilet. Used toilet paper gets put in a covered wastebasket next to the toilet. We line the wastebasket with a plastic bag, and when the bag is full it’s removed, tied shut, and disposed of with our other trash.

We still have not tried the special RV/marine toilet paper. After dealing with the clog, we decided not to take any more chances. From our lives as vandwellers, we were already accustomed to dealing with our own waste, so a little toilet paper in the garbage can doesn’t disgust us. Dealing with toilet paper in a garbage can is a LOT easier than dealing with a clogged black water system.

Our travel trailer has an indicator to tell us how full our black and grey water tanks are. At the touch of a button, lights indicate if our tanks are empty, ⅓ full, ⅔ full, or full. When we picked up our travel trailer, the indicator said the black water tank was ⅔ full. The fellow who serviced the trailer said he’d emptied the black water tank, but later we wondered if he’d forgotten to do so. He also told us that sometimes a piece of toilet paper stuck in the tank can trigger a sensor and tell you the tank has waste in it when it doesn’t. Because we didn’t want the extra weight of a full black water tank while traveling or the problems caused by petrified poop in the tank, we were determined to make sure the tank was empty. After using enzymes in the tank, adding 5+ gallons of water, and dumping three times within five days, our indicator finally showed the tank was empty. Yay!

However, after using the toilet only a few times, the indicator showed the tank was ⅔ full again. Weird and impossible! Coyote Sue (a veteran of a number of motorhomes and pull-behind trailers) told us that most people with older RVs don’t rely on the holding tank indicators, but instead develop an understanding of how long they can go between dumps. Coyote Sue also keeps a logbook where she writes down where she stays each night, what she likes or dislikes about the place, and when she dumps her tanks. I’ve started keeping a logbook of our own, so I can look back and see when we dumped our tanks. We know if we dumped Sunday (for example), there’s no way we’ve filled the black water tank by Wednesday, no matter what the indicator tells us.

During our endeavor to completely empty our black water tank, I discovered that enzymes are not just to solve problems, but to prevent problems too. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I stood in front of the RV toilet system enzymes display in Wal-Mart. There were at least a dozen options to choose from, including liquids and powders that had to be measured and poured, premeasured liquids in little bottles, and toss-ins which consists of powder in a membrane that breaks down to release the powder (a lot like laundry pods, I suppose).  A sign at the dump station at Rockhound State Park prohibited the dumping of formaldehyde (and a handful of other chemicals I’d never heard of), so I chose a liquid labeled “natural” and “no formaldehyde.” I also bought a measuring cup set at the Dollar Tree so we could divvy out the right amount every time and have a cup that was dedicated to only this job. (To my chagrin, The Man simply pours into the toilet the amount of enzymes he thinks we need at any given time without bothering to measure.)

Bottle of RV Digest-It holding tank treatment in foreground. Mountains and clouds in the background
This is our second bottle of RV Digest-It. This is the brand of enzymes I prefer to liquefy the solid waste in our black water tank.

After we emptied the first bottle of enzymes (I think the brand name was Thetford Campa-Chem Natural RV Holding Tank Treatment) we bought Unique Camping & Marine RV Digest-It brand at Ace Hardware. It costs us upwards of $13 per 32 fluid ounce bottle, but the instructions call for 2 ounces as the regular dose, instead of the 4 ounces per dose called for with the product I purchased at Wal-Mart. Since we use less of it, I think it’s worth spending a little more. Also, it seems to do its job, which definitely makes it worth the money.

None of the enzyme products I’ve seen say how often they should be used, so we turned to Coyote Sue for advice again. She said she adds an enzyme product (I believe she uses toss-ins) after dumping her tank, then again about a week later. She typically travels alone, so she may need to add enzymes (and dump) less often than The Man and I do.

We’re not really campground people, although we did stay in one for a week while working on the road to our property. Our campsite included hookups to electricity, water, and sewer. I’d already read about proper sewer hookup procedure, but the host at the campground reminded me of what to do. While hooked up to the sewer at a campground, keep the black water tank closed until it is ⅔ full or until you are ready to dump before leaving. If you leave the tank valve open while connected to the drain, the liquid will drain away each time it’s added to the tank and not be there to help flush out the solid waste. Your sewer hose will get clogged if you leave the black water tank open, the camp host put it delicately while wrinkling her nose. I wonder if she knew this from personal experience or from watching other campers.

Whether dumping into the sewer drain at a campsite or at a dump station, dump the black water tank first, then the grey water tanks. The grey water should be less gross than the black water and will help wash the black water grossness away. After dumping and disconnecting your sewer hose, you can use fresh water to give the hose a good rinse, making sure all waste water goes down the drain.

So there you have it: everything I’ve learned so far about maintaining an RV’s grey and black water tanks.

If you have RV experience, what tips can you offer a newbie like me? Please leave a response in the comments below.

I took the photo in this post.

A History of Caravans, aka Travel Trailers

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It’s July now and the height of the summer travel season in the United States. Lots of folks are out and about with their travel trailers, but have you ever wondered about the history of these RVs that are towed behind a car or truck? Today I’m sharing a guest post from CAMP (Caravan & Motorhome Parts) all about the history of travel trailers, or caravans, as they are called in England.

Do you own a travel trailer? You may be wondering how travel trailers started out.

They originally come from the UK, and in England they are called caravans. The word “caravan” comes from the Moroccan term “karwan” which is the name of a group of desert travelers.

The caravan you own today probably has a sleek modern interior, bathroom, kitchen, HD TV and plenty more extras. However, if you go back 100 years your caravan would look completely different.

Back in 1885, Dr. William Stables purchased the first caravan ever made and called it “The Wanderer.” The same summer he bought the caravan he traveled 1400 miles across the UK powered by 2 horses.

When caravans were first introduced, they were seen as an upper class luxury, and a person needed a lot of money to buy such an item. Of course today caravans are widely accessible to people who love holidays and camping.

1919 was the year caravans started to look more like what we recognize today. People stopped using horses to move the mobile homes and progressed to using cars. This was a result of the end of World War I and people having a higher income which allowed them to buy vehicles.

Thanks to Caravan and Motorhome Parts we have a collection of the best pieces of caravan history put together in this timeline infographic. Now we can see the development of camping vehicles throughout history.

History of Caravans