Category Archives: Travel

Camping Basics

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When I asked for suggestions for topics for my Wednesday posts of special interest to vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, nomads, and travelers of all kinds, my friend Laura-Marie of the dangerous compassions blog suggested I write about the basics of camping. Good idea! Camping season is upon us, so today I’ll share the steps for finding a camping spot, setting up your equipment, having a great time, and packing up to go home.

#1 Decide where you want to camp. Do you want to camp close to home, or do you want to visit a different region? Do you want to camp in a campground or hike into the back country? Do you want to camp at the beach or on top of a mountain? Do you want to camp in a forest or in a desert? Do you want to be in a remote, quiet location or close to civilization? Answering these questions will help you decide where to camp. (If you decide to camp in a forest, desert, or on top of a mountain, see my blog posts “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest,” “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Dessert,” or “Managing in the Mountains” for more tips for a pleasant camping experience.)

If the mere thought of using a pit toilet makes you gag, this might not be the right campground for you.

#2 Decide on the amenities you need a campground to provide. Do you want to rough it in a place with no amenities or stay some place with running water, electricity, hot showers, and flush toilets? Do you want to stay in a yurt with real beds? Will you be pitching a tent or staying in your motorhome, travel trailer, or 5th wheel? Do you need to take a hot shower every morning? Do you gag at the thought of using a pit toilet? Do you want to hike, fish, or collect rock specimens during your trip? The answers to these questions will also help you choose the right camping spot for you.

#3 Do research online before you hit the road. If you want to camp for free, check out both the Free Campsites and Campendium websites. These websites list free and cheap campsites across the USA and include reviews from people who’ve actually stayed in those places. Many of these camping spots are in primitive camping areas on public land, so be ready to boondock and meet all your own needs. (Not sure what it means to boondock? See my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”)

National parks, forests, and monuments often offer developed campgrounds. You can get information about and make reservations for your stay at these campgrounds at Recreation.gov. National forest campgrounds typically do not offer showers but often do offer pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Campgrounds in national parks tend to be a bit fancier and may include running water, hot showers, and flush toilets.

If you want to camp at a state park, do an internet search for the parks in the state you’re interested in that have campgrounds. State parks often have amenities like hot showers, picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and even visitor centers with educational exhibits. If you need some comforts of home while still enjoying time out in nature, a state park campground may be the right choice for you. (New Mexico has fantastic campgrounds in its state parks. You can read my posts about camping at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Brantley Lake State Park, Rockhound State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. You can also read my post about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass.)

Another camping option is a private campground. Some private campgrounds cater to Rvs while others have spots for tent camping too. Some private campgrounds prohibit car camping, so if you’re a vandweller, you may want to carry a small tent for just such occasions.

No matter what sort of campground you decide to camp in, make sure it has the amenities you need before you make a reservation or pay a fee. Get as much information as possible online before you make a decision.

#4 Pack everything you need. Where you camp will help determine what supplies you will need. If you’re not bringing an RV, at the very least you’re going to want a tent, food, and water. If you want even a bit of comfort, bring a sleeping bag. For extra comfort, bring a sleeping pad or air mattress to go under your sleeping bag. If you’re going to cook, you’ll need a portable stove, fuel for the stove, pots and pans, utensils, plates, ingredients, cooking oil, spices, etc. If you’re in a spot with no drinking water, you’ll have to bring your own. If there’s no water at all where you’re camping, you’ll have to bring water for washing too.

Other basic necessities: flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries (it’s dark out in nature, even in a campground); tarp to go under your tent; rain gear (just in case); pillow (you can get small ones especially for travel and camping); strong stakes to help hold down your tent; small shovel, hand soap, and toilet paper if you are going to be primitive camping.

(For a very complete list of items useful for camping, see my Checklist of Things to Take on the Road.)

#5 Once you arrive at your general camping destination, find your campsite. If you’re staying in a campground, the camp host will probably assign you a site, or maybe you already picked your site when you made a reservation. Ask the camp host for help finding your site, check your reservation confirmation for your site number, or look for a placard with the name of the person who made the reservation on it. If you’re in a first-come, first-served campground, look for a site that’s not too close to the (possibly stinky) pit toilets and not on an obvious incline.

If you’re boondocking, find a spot that’s been camped on before. Look for a place where the groundcover has been disturbed or where there is a fire ring made of stones.

No matter where you are camping, you want a nice flat spot for your tent. (Creeping downhill all night because your tent is pitched on uneven ground is a special kind of hell.) Make sure you aren’t pitching your tent on top of bumpy tree roots. When you find a spot that seems workable, look up. You don’t want a branch falling on your tent in the event of high winds Once you’ve found a flat spot with no dangerous branches overhead, clear away any sticks and rocks. (Another special kind of camping hell is finding you’re sleeping on top of rocks, sticks, and roots.)

#6 Pitch your tent. For a complete step-by-step guide (with pictures!) to setting up (and taking down) your tent, see the WikiHow article on the subject, but for your convenience, I’ll hit the high points here.

  • Practice setting up your tent before your trip. This step is especially important if you won’t arrive at your camping spot until after dark. This will also allow you to make sure all of the tent components are present.
  • Once you’re on your campsite and have picked a place for your tent, unpack and lay out all the items you will need to set up the tent. These items include the tent itself, rain-fly, ground cloth or tarp, tent poles, stakes, guy lines, and a mallet or rock for pounding in stakes.
  • Lay out the tarp or ground cloth where you want the tent to be. The ground cloth will help protect the tent floor from tears and punctures and keep it dry. This bottom layer should be as big (or nearly so) as the bottom of your tent.
  • Lay the tent over the ground cloth.
  • Assemble all the tent poles.
  • Put the poles through the sleeves on top of the tent. Beware: With some tents, poles of different sizes go into specific sleeves.
  • Once the poles are in place, the bottoms of the poles must be attached to the bottom of the tent. Look for pouches at the bottom of the tent the poles can fit into or metal pins attached to the tent that slide into the hollow end of the poles. As the poles go into place, the roof of the tent should lift off the ground
  • If the tent has clips used to hold its fabric close to the poles, snap the clips over the poles.
  • The bottom of the tent should have loops through which the stakes go. Put the stakes through the loops, then pound the stakes into the ground using your mallet or a rock.
  • Stretch out your guy lines and stake then down. You want your guy lines to be taut but not overstretched. Staking the guy lines will help the tent stand properly and will help the zippers slide smoothly.
  • Attach the rain-fly if your tent has one. You may want to leave the rain-fly off on a clear night, but if there is any chance of rain, put it on. Trust me, you do not want to go outside in a thunderstorm to attach your rain-fly.

#7 Set up your kitchen. Your kitchen will be one of the mostly highly trafficked areas of your camp. If your campsite has a picnic table, that’s a logical place for your kitchen.

If you’re camping in bear country, you’ll need to take some extra precautions. In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. One of the most important tips he shares is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas. If food smells attract bears, you want them as far away from sleeping people as possible.

“The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards,” Schneider advises.

Also, he says be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items (including trash, toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, etc.) in bear canisters.

#8 Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract flies, rodents, raccoons, ravens, and bears. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong. For more information about dealing with wildlife while camping, check out the great article “How to Keep Animals Out of Your Campsite” on the Camping Cooks website.

If you’re in a campground, dispose of trash in garbage cans or dumpsters regularly. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re camping in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your vehicle until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

#9 Once your camp is set up, you’re going to want to relax and enjoy yourself. Most campers love to sit around a campfire, maybe roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. Of course, before this fun can begin someone has to build a campfire. If there’s already a fire ring on your campsite, use it. Otherwise, build one with stones. Do NOT start a fire on bare ground. Also, you need a source of water, a bucket, and a shovel on hand at all times during your fire building and enjoyment.

If you are allowed, gather wood from around your campsite. Sort your wood according to size. Even if you’ve brought firewood, gather small sticks and dry leaves and needles for tinder if you are allowed to do so.

Place some tinder in the middle of the fire ring. Use sticks less than one inch around to build a teepee-like structure over the tinder. Shove balled up paper in between the sticks. Once the framework is built, light the balled up paper. You need to start your fire small, then add larger pieces of wood. Once the fire is burning strongly, you can add larger pieces. You can get more information about building a safe campfire from Smokey Bear.

Had your campfire fun and now you’re ready to go to bed? Make sure your campfire is DEAD OUT. Any time you leave your campsite, any fires must be DEAD OUT. Smokey Bear can tell you how to do this too, but briefly, pour lots of water on your fire or stir sand or dirt into the embers to bury the fire. Smokey says,

Remember:
If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

#10 When it’s time to go home, break camp.

Make sure any rain or dew on your tent has dried completely before packing. If your tent is damp when you put it away, you will have to set it up again at home so it can dry, or you run the risk of unpacking a stinky, moldy mess next time you go camping. Pack up the tent in the reverse order of setup.

Clean up your campsite. Practice the leave no trace rule of camping where you remove every hint of your presence. Pick up all trash, including microtrash. Put all trash in trashcans, or if none are available, pack out what you packed in. Don’t leave any trash in fire rings. Be a good campground steward and leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

If you piled up rocks, sticks, leaves or pine cones before you set up your tent, spread those materials out over the big bare patch where your tent sat.

If you built a fire ring, take it apart after you have determined that the fire is DEAD OUT. Disperse the rocks and ashes so their presence cannot be detected.

Don’t leave any belongings behind. Get everyone in your party to do a final walk through of the campsite to make sure everything brought has been packed up.

I hope you had a great camping experience! What did you learn that I left out? Share your camping tips in the comments below.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might encounter on a camping trip. Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in nature. You are responsible for our own self! Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp before you get there. If you plan to camp on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service land, call the field office or ranger station responsible for that place and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Heat

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World's largest thermometer shows  temperature at 91 degrees.

Summer is coming and depending on where you are, you may already be dealing with the heat. It’s important to stay cool whether you’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a conventional house. Today I’ll give you tips on staying comfortable as the mercury rises.

Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.

#1 Wear the right clothing. Unless you’re at a nudist colony, you may have to wear some clothing, but you can increase your comfort by wearing 100% cotton garments. Cotton is a breathable fabric that lets perspiration evaporate. I refuse to wear polyester in the summer because it makes me unnaturally hot and causes my armpits to smell really bad.

#2 Don’t get a sunburn. Trust me, you will not be comfortable if you have a sunburn. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF on exposed skin, or (my favorite) cover up with lightweight 100% cotton clothing. The Lady of the House swears by sun protection clothing by Coolibar. According to the comapany’s website,

Tested more than any other brand, endorsed by experts worldwide and recommended by dermatologists – Coolibar guarantees UPF 50+ protection in our fabrics from the first day our product is worn until the day your garment is retired.

#3 Wear a hat. A hat intended to keep the sun from beating on your head can go a long way to increase your comfort in the heat. Again, I like natural fibers. I also like a wide brim to help protect my face, but even a baseball or trucker cap will help protect your head.

#4 Stay in the shade. If you have to be outside when the sun is shining, stay in the shade of an awning, canopy, tree, or umbrella. When parking your rig, try to put it in a position for optimal shade.

#5 Be still. Like a desert animal, you want to remain inactive during the hottest part of the day. Exercise or do your most physically active chores in the morning or evening when the temperature is lower. During the hottest part of the day, read, write, listen to podcasts, or nap if you can. In other words, take it easy during the height of the heat.

Grey air-circulating fan

#6 Fan yourself. When you’re awake, you can use a handheld fan to make a breeze for yourself. At night use a fan run by batteries or electricity (depending on your situation) to move the air. Especially at night, I need airflow to survive the heat.

#7 Wet your clothes. If the humidity is not too high, wetting your clothes can be mighty refreshing. If I’m wearing a long sleeve cotton shirt, I’ve been known to take it off and dip it in a basin of water. If no basin is available, I’ll pour water directly over myself. As the water evaporates, cooling ensues, especially if a breeze hits.

#8 If you don’t want to wet your clothes, try the strategic application of a wet bandana. A wet bandana tied around or draped over the head can be very refreshing. Sometimes I’ll put a wet bandana under my hat. On hot nights, I’ve draped a wet bandana over my naked chest and been comfortable enough to drift off to sleep. A wet bandana draped over the back of the neck also feels good when it’s hot out.

There are products available for purchase (or you can make your own) that are supposed to help folks stay cool. Cooling towels and neck wraps are marketed to athletes and are supposed to stay cool for a long time after being dipped in water. Other items have little beads in them that absorb water and are reported to stay cool for hours. (These beads are properly called ” Super Absorbent Polymer water absorbing crystals.”) These products are well and good if you have money to buy them and space to store them. However, I’ve had success with the cooling properties of a wet bandana or even a washcloth.

Feet wearing hiking sandals in water
My feet in a cold mountain stream

#9 Soak your feet. If you have a kiddie pool or even a small basin, try soaking your feet in cool water. If you have ice, put some to your foot bath for added cooling pleasure. If I can get my feet wet (especially in a cold mountain stream), the rest of me cools off instantly.

#10 Wet your whole self. Try submerging yourself in a lake, river, swimming pool, or ocean. Take a cold shower or bath.

I once lived in Texas in a house with no air conditioning. Sometimes during the summer I’d wake up in the night totally hot. I’d make my way to the bathroom without turning on a light, get in the shower, and turn on only the cold water. The jolt of coolness left me comfortable enough to go back to sleep.

#11 Drink cold beverages.  Staying hydrated is so important when the weather is hot. In the summer, I keep my EcoVessel bottle filled with ice and water, and I carry it wherever I go. If you need a little flavor, add some lemon or lime to your cold water. You can also drink juice, iced coffee, and iced tea (herbal or with caffeine) but water is your best bet for battling dehydration.

#12 Go somewhere cool during the hottest part of the day. Hanging out in the air conditioned comfort of a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even a mall can make even the hottest day pass pleasantly. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the cool air already being cranked out by someone else’s air conditioner.

#13 Cook outside. When you cook inside, the heat from your stove warms your living space. If you have a portable propane stove, take it outside to cook your meals. You can also cook on a gas or charcoal grill. If cooking outside isn’t an option, cook early in the morning before the day heats up or late in the evening when the temperature has dropped.

#14 Don’t cook at all. Use some of the tips from my blog post “What to Eat When You Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Cook.” Eating chilled fresh fruit is cooling and will help you stay hydrated. Hummus and guacamole are light, easy to prepare, and can be eaten cold.

Winding mountain road
Follow a mountain road to a higher elevation.

#15 Change your location. If possible, go up in elevation or visit a beach or seashore.

The mountains are beautiful in the summer. For every 1,000 feet gain in elevation, the temperature drops approximately 3.5 degrees. That means if it’s 95 degrees at sea level, it will be a cool 78 degrees at 5,000 feet. (For more information about mountain life, see my post “Managing in the Mountains.”)

If the mountains aren’t right for you (or they’re too far away), go to the beach. It will be easy to cool off in the water, and the seashore tends to have a nice breeze. Even a few days in a cooler location can make the heat at home easier to bear.

So there you have it—fifteen tips for staying comfortable when the weather is hot. How do you stay cool in hot weather? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and wellbeing. Only you are responsible for your safety and wellbeing. If you are in a dangerously hot situation, please move to a cooler location Ask for help if you need to. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real and dangerous, my friends.

I took the photos in this post.

Winter Emergency Kit (Guest Post)

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

Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

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

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

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

Photo provided by the author

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

Food & Water Essentials

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

Snow Tools & Safety Items

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

Photo by amir shamsipur on Unsplash

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

To Recap:

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

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

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

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

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 2)

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Photo by Toms Rīts on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)

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

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

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

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

Try to appreciate everything.

Find gratitude in your challenges.

Keep a gratitude journal.

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

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Photo by Balkan Campers on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

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

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

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

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

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

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 1)

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Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

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

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

What Is Mental Health?

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

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

Positive mental health allows people to:

Realize their full potential

Cope with the stresses of life

Work productively

Make meaningful contributions to their communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Chris Thompson on Unsplash

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

maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule

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

making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment

establishing a calming pre-sleep routine

going to sleep when you’re truly tired

not watching the clock at night

not napping too close to your regular bedtime

exercising regularly—but not too soon before bedtime

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

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

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

The PsycomAnxiety and Caffeine” article by Maureen Connolly says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Moonrises, Monuments & Motorhomes — Journeys to the American Southwest (Guest Post)

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Joshua Trees in the Desert

Eliza Cochrane, the author of today’s post, contacted me in November of last year to ask if I would be interested in sharing her travel story which took place in April 2019. Eliza told me that she wanted to “write about the cultural differences between the USA and my homeland, England, and some of the things that really piqued my interest out in the great wide open.” Without further ado, I give you this story of one woman’s three-week journey from California to Utah.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with the American West. I don’t know how or when it came about, but I remember being enthralled by the front cover the Led Zeppelin’s self-titled DVD (which came out way back in 2003) just because it had one of the Monument Valley mittens on the cover.

I got a sudden urge to buy the album, despite the fact Led Zeppelin are an English band, and I’d never even listened to their music.

Thrills that we don’t have

Europeans have always been enthralled by the USA’s red rock monuments. Probably because nothing like them exists in Europe. Likewise, with the long stretches of roads that seem to go on forever, and which stand mostly empty — you just do not see roads like that in Britain.

I’ve always thought nowhere exists in England where the land is flat for 360 degrees. There’s always something, like a little mound of earth or a telephone cable to interrupt the great wide open. But this type of vast emptiness exists everywhere in the States.

I suppose the feeling goes both ways. I’ve heard that Americans fall in love with castles and Europe’s antiquity. A friend of mine once said, pretty poetically, that “Americans are scared of how old Europe is, and Europeans are scared of how big America is.”

A special relationship?

It’s often said that there is a “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. Raegan and Thatcher talked about it, and even Donald Trump has referred to it. I believe this stems from the fact that both countries have a shared history, but most importantly, I think it’s the language that keeps us together. 

I’ve always thought: it doesn’t matter where you are. If the language is the same, you’ll be alright. To me, language was the rope that reigned in cultures if they ever threatened to drift so far. But when I arrived in San Francisco, I found myself in an alien country, with the language a little more than a hallucination over the sights and sounds. 

Everything — from the layout of the cities to the thoughts of the people — was different. It occurred to me that San Francisco, with its Mediterranean skies, was as far away from the Mediterranean as possible — on the very edge of the New World. Even payment was different. In Europe, whenever you pay with a credit card, the waiter will hand the payment terminal over to you, and look away so the four-digit PIN can be entered. In America, I was asked to scribble down the final bill, to which the waiter took my card, disappeared into the kitchen, and then returned with the receipt. To this day I still cannot fathom why the United States isn’t rampant with credit card fraud. 

Morals, motorhomes, and mirages

Painted Ladies, San Francisco

Two days was all I had to explore San Francisco. Mark Twain once said that the worst winter he had ever spent was a summer in San Fran, but during my time there, the weather was lovely. 

A gorgeous, visually stunning city — somewhat blighted by homelessness. My hotel was in Union Square; a stone’s throw from Tenderloin. There I walked down a vista slightly terrified, as lines of men openly injected themselves with syringes. Others looked slumped and yet frozen, suspended in some drug-induced trance. People seemed to walk blithely past — including a young mother with two toddlers easily within touching distance of the men. I saw homeless men fighting invisible forces; some with eyeballs missing, and others rolling about in the street. None of the city’s residents batted an eye, and I began to feel I was going mad — like the problem didn’t really existed at all, and I must be going insane. The scale of the problem seemed, to me, a uniquely American phenomenon. Sure, we have homelessness in the UK, but I do not think the British people would stomach such a calamity. 

It was cloudy on the day I picked up my motorhome, but as I drove south to Yosemite, the weather soon cleared. California also quickly turned into a rural state, with endless farmer’s fields. I was surprised by just how much of it could have been anywhere in middle America. On the road, I feared a water pipe had burst. I could see the pale-straight road shining blue, with ripples of running water, and even the reflections of the cars driving though it in front. But the water never materialised and kept receding away from me as I put my foot down and gave chase.

Lonely America?

Even though I had my boyfriend with me, the journeys felt lonely sometimes. The biggest run was from Las Vegas to Monument Valley — the apex of the entire trip, and what I had waited for ever since I glanced at an irrelevant Led Zeppelin cover all those years ago. The total journey, one way, was seven hours’ worth of driving. After hours of driving, it begins to feel that the continent stretches on forever. And after seeing no one about and only a few cars, you begin to wonder if the country is populated at all.

At certain points, we passed through lonely little towns with no signs of people. Houses, restaurants, and farm equipment in the open. Signs of life, but no signs of people. I ask my boyfriend: “Where do these people go? What do they do on weekends? What entertainment is there?” A beautiful country, but so big… Maybe that was just the European in me, expressing itself. 

In the great wide open, you can see weather systems as they are born and as they die. That doesn’t hold for England, where the sky is much too small. At one point, under azure skies, we drove headlong into a foreboding black cloud. To our right, more blue skies over a gigantic expanse of grass. In the middle was a grey swirling cloud, slightly low. My heart sank, fearing a tornado and a great vulnerability — there being nowhere else to run. Even though I knew this wasn’t the right time of year, nor was it Tornado Alley. 

Poetic America 

I will never forget my pilgrimage to Monument Valley. On my way, I’d made several noteworthy and essential stops for any traveler in the Southwest: Yosemite National Park, Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park (and the ghost towns nearby), Furnace Creek in Death Valley (where we briefly broke down), the Grand Canyon… but none of them held more excitement for me than the Monuments.

I even splashed out for the occasion, too. Forking out $380 for one night at The View hotel. It was worth it, though. You could see the formations not just from the balcony, but from the bed. It was a wonderful thing to behold.

Sunrise over Monument Valley

When I saw them, I was struck by how they looked exactly the same as I had imagined. The sun set on the other side of the building, and I was curious to see if the desert would resemble the ocean at night. The stars came out innumerable and bright, and a meteor burned right across the open sky. Little headlights of cars poked their way through the abyss, and the desert rock crunched under the wheels, generating an echoing boom like distant thunder. The formations disappeared, but then curiously, began to take shape again. Then something I had never seen before happened. A result, no doubt, of America’s big skies… There was a moonrise. The Moon crept up, like the Sun, over one of the massifs. In the space of 12 hours, I saw a sunset, moonrise, and sunrise. 

Some thoughts and conclusions

Grand Canyon Sunset

After the epic trip from Monument Valley, America didn’t seem quite so lonely anymore. We were familiar with the return journey. The country finally seemed not so infinite. 

But what struck me was just how familiar everything seemed — outside of the big cities, at least.  At every desert tourist trap, at every truck stop, there was almost a nostalgic feeling of having stayed there before. Of course, I had been there before. In countless imaginings on TV, cinema, the Great American Novel, and in music. Critics might call it ‘Cultural Imperialism’, but there is no doubt that America is the most successful nation in the world. 

In fact, America’s media has influenced England so much, to the point where I almost feel like America has given itself away in part, to the rest of the world. So that whenever I sweat at Furnace Creek, or lose breath on a hike to a waterfall at Yosemite, or watch the moonrise at Monument Valley, I almost feel that — at those exact moments — that America belongs to me, and me only. It’s a fleeting sensation, but a powerful one all the same. 

Eliza Cochrane is a copywriter for We Buy Any Motorcaravan, and lives for new adventures out on the road. Since 2016, she has toured the United States, Canada, the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia, and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Photos provided by author.

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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Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

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?

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