Category Archives: Van Life

Security

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anatomy, biology, eyeNow that the store is up and full of merchandise, The Big Boss Man wants someone on site in the campground where it’s located every night. When the camp hosts are away from the campground during their weekly time off, guard duty falls to me.

To be fair, The Big Boss Man says, if you don’t mind to me whenever he asks me to do something extra, but it seems risky to me to refuse his reasonable request. Honestly, sleeping at the other campground is no big deal. The beauty of sleeping in my van is that I get to spend the night in my own bed no matter where I’m parked. Also, I’m reimbursed for the mileage I accrue driving back and forth between the campground where I live and the campground where the store is located. At 54 cents a mile, I’m not getting rich from driving, but at least it’s a little something to help me out.

I’m not sure what I would do if I woke up in the night and realized someone was robbing the store. The phone is in the store, so if burglars were in there, forget about calling 911 or my boss. I suppose I could get license plate number(s) and description(s) of vehicle(s) and person(s) involved, then climb into my drivers seat, start my van, and drive away to alert my boss. I suppose on my way out of the campground I could shout, That’s my purse! I don’t know you!

Before the campground opened, and I stayed there overnight to guard the store and the yurts, I parked in one of the paved accessible parking spaces. The gates were closed, and I had the only vehicle there, so I figured it didn’t matter if I parked in a reserved spot. Once the campground opened, I decided I better stay out of areas designated for folks with disabilities.

The first night I was on security duty after the campground opened, I drove through the area before parking in thehttps://i1.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/699558/pexels-photo-699558.jpeg?resize=388%2C238&ssl=1 camp host site. I knew the hosts had checked in two groups with reservations earlier that afternoon, but I saw at least five sites were occupied. The campground had gotten some walk-in campers before I arrived.

I was not on camp host duty, so I wasn’t concerned with any campers who were not checked in. The Man would patrol the campground the next morning and write permits for anyone who hadn’t been issued one by the camp hosts before they left. I hadn’t been given any permits (since I wasn’t working as a camp host), so I couldn’t have check in anyone even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.

After driving around the campground, I backed into the host site. I had a decent view of the store there, so I could see what was going on if I heard any noises in the night.

I knew I should have drawn my curtains immediately, but instead I sat in my passenger seat, pulled out my phone, and tried to catch a whiff of the store’s WiFi. I hadn’t sat there even ten minutes when I looked up and saw five people standing near my van, looking intently at me.

The youngest woman said, Hello! as soon as I looked up.

I greeted her, but I suspect I looked grim.

They would like to camp here, the young woman said, gesturing to the other people standing nearby.

Ok, I said, leaning back to speak through the open windows on the side of the van. A camp host will be around tomorrow to check them in.

Tomorrow, she echoed. Is there one site that’s not reserved?

I don’t know, I said, which was the truth.

I don’t have any paperwork, I said, which was the truth. The Man had the arrival report for the campground. I knew the camp hosts had put up a reservations card on each campsite that had been reserved for the next week. All the people had to do was walk around and read the signs to find out what sites were available that night.

The young woman continued to look at me expectantly. I’m just working security, I explained with a there’s-nothing-I-can-do shrug.

The people wandered away from my van and huddled together in the roadway, presumably discussing which campsites were available that night.

I learned my lesson that night. I no longer spend my security guard nights in the host site. I park behind the Mercantile and put up my curtains immediately. When I’m away from the host site, the campers don’t seem to consider me someone who might be able to answer their questions.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/eye-iris-anatomy-biology-8588/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/six-camping-tents-in-forest-699558/.

Why I Don’t Have Solar

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The title of this post is a little misleading. I do have solar panels and deep cycle batteries and an inverter to provide electricity for my fifth wheel out in the desert, but I don’t have any sort of solar setup for my van.

There was a time when I seemed to keep meeting men 15 to 20 years older than I am who liked to tell me, You need solar! without taking into account my particular situation. They had a solar setup; it was working well for them, so they thought I should have what they had. I know these guys were trying to be helpful, that they thought solar power could help me as it had helped them. However not only did I bristle at having someone who barely knew me tell me what I needed (none of them ever asked if I’d considered solar power or what my reasons were for not having a solar setup), my individual situation kept solar power off my list of needs.

Most importantly, for at least the first four years of my solo vandwelling, I simply couldn’t afford the components necessary to provide my van with solar power. Even if I could have gotten the installation done for free at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or some other van gathering, I couldn’t afford all the necessary pieces. I still live pretty much hand to mouth. Add in a van that seems to need a repair every six months or so and has needed new tires three years in a row (!), and I just haven’t had the several hundred dollars I’d need to buy solar panels and a deep cycle battery and an inverter and all the other pieces and parts I don’t even know I need.

Up until I got my fifth wheel last winter and was able to use it as a place to store some of my stuff, lack of space in my van was a huge issue. Anyone who lives in a van with every single item s/he owns knows space is at a premium. I am not a minimalist, and for most of my life as a vandweller, I could not image where I’d put a deep cycle battery. I literally had no place for such a thing.

Another factor in my hesitation to spend a bunch of money on a solar setup was my place of employment. For the last three years (and this year too) I’ve worked in a National Forest during the camping season from mid-May to mid-October. Forest = trees and trees = shade. What good are solar panels that aren’t in the sun? Not much good! I’d have to move the solar panels around all day to keep them in full sun, and my work hasn’t been conducive to such uses of my time. It never made sense to me to spend a large hunk of money on something I couldn’t use fully for at least five months out of the year.

I’ve figured out ways other than solar panels and deep cycle batteries to meet my vandwelling needs. I use solar powered Luci lights to see by at night and a small, foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One to charge my phone. I also have a 140 watts Schumacher power converter that plugs into my 12 volt power supply and allows me to charge my laptop and phone, as well as a USB power adapter which allows me to charge two phones at once. I spent about $20 on the most recent Luci light I purchased via Walmart.com, under $25 for the power converter, and about five bucks for the USB power converter at a Family Dollar store in a small desert town. I received the folding solar panels as a gift (and now I can’t find them on Amazon to tell you how much they cost my benefactor).

abstract, beach, brightDon’t get me wrong. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t get a solar setup for their van (or car or RV or truck camper or whatever). The solar setup on my fifth wheel (which was already up and running when I moved in and was very reasonably priced) is very convenient. What could be easier than flipping a switch and having a light come on? Remarkable! However, because the fifth wheel is out in the desert, the solar panels are out in the sun for hours almost every day. I don’t have to move them around to catch the sun. I don’t have to do anything to make the system work.

What I’m saying is that I don’t need an entire solar setup to live in my van. Most rubber tramps do not need an entire solar setup. A nomadic life can be lived without it. Heck, for years I didn’t have a power converter and only charged my laptop when I had access to electricity in a house, business, or library.

If you want to use solar power in your rig and can afford a full setup, go for it! However, if you’re a nomad wannabe without a lot of money to get started, don’t think you have to delay your nomadic life until you have solar panels on your roof and a deep cycle battery next to your passenger seat. Most folks actually need very little to start living nomadically. Get your rig. Move in. There you go! You’re ready to hit the road, even if you don’t own a single solar panel.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-solar-panels-159397/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bright-countryside-dawn-daylight-302804/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-beach-bright-clouds-301599/.

 

Why I Chose a Minivan (an Interview with The Man)

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In my years as a vandweller, I’ve lived in four full-size conversion vans: three Chevy G-20s and a Dodge Ram. While I knew others lived in full-size vans, it was probably at my first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in 2015 that I realized some vandwellers live in minivans. Wow! I thought my living quarters was small, but folks who live in minivans have to make do with a bare minimum of space.

When I met The Man and he told me he wanted a minivan to live and travel in, I was surprised. Minivans aren’t very sexy! I blurted out rudely. The Man’s had been living in a minivan for a little over eight months when this interview was conducted. I decided to ask him what he likes about living in a small vehicle, what he hates, how he’s got things set up, and what advice he’d offer to other people who are considering living and traveling in a minivan.

Rubber Tramp Artist (RTA): So my first question is, why did you decide to buy a minivan to live and travel in rather than a full-size cargo or conversion van?

The Man (TH): Ah, well, the main reason was gas mileage…

RTA: Did you ever live in or travel in a full-size van?

TH: Yes I did.

RTA: What kind?

TM: It was a Chevy Starcraft.

RTA: And how long did you do that?

TM: A couple of years.

RTA: By yourself or with other people?

TM: By myself [and] with other people. I would pick up hitchhikers and…I did a few months roll with my ex-girlfriend, we did about 3½ months in the van.

RTA: And was that difficult to live in a full-size van with other people?

TM: [long pause] You know, sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. You know, it all depended on the company.

RTA: What do you like best about a minivan vs. a full-size van? Would you say gas mileage is the deciding factor there?

TM: Well yeah, the gas mileage, but…the more I have the minivan…because my girlfriend has a full-size van…when I go to work on a full-size van, it’s really tough. [T]he things are huge, you got to  have…powerful hydraulic jacks to deal with a big giant van like that, so I think that’s another disadvantage of…having a full-size van as opposed to a minivan.

RTA: What kind of minivan do you drive now?

TM: I drive a Honda Odyssey.

RTA: What year?

TM: 2001

RTA: Why did you decide on that particular make and model?

TM: …I did a lot of research…First I bought a van and went through a terrible ordeal with it. The transmission didn’t last…When I bought it, it didn’t even last all the way home. I got the greater portion of money back for the vehicle [from the seller] for which I was very lucky…After having that experience of immediately the transmission going out, I [knew that] if I [was] going to buy a vehicle, I need[ed] to buy the most reliable vehicle or at least one of the most reliable vehicles on the road. So basically what I did was an in-depth study…and it came down to Toyota and Honda…As I was growing up…it was always Toyota and Honda were the better vehicles, and I guess things have never really changed…It was a tossup between a Toyota and a Honda…and the Toyotas were a little more expensive than the Hondas…I opted to go with the Honda which was less [expensive] but still the second best, in some instances maybe even the first best rating as far as durability, long lasting, runs for a very long time reputation.

RTA: How tall are you?

TM: I’m six foot tall.

RTA: Can you stand up in your minivan?

TM: No, I cannot stand up in my minivan. But even if I had a big giant conversion van, unless it was like one of the modern day ones like they’re making now, I still couldn’t stand up in it.

RTA: Good point! Can you sit up in your bed?

TM: No I can’t sit up in my bed, but I do have it arranged where I can make one of the corners in my minivan sort of like a place I can…One of the things about getting inside of a van seems that it takes a very long time or for me it’s taken a very long time to arrange things in such a way that it’s optimal for what I’m doing or how I want to live…One of the things I realized is that if I pack all my clothes in the back of the vehicle, I could also create a back rest. So I recently began putting all my stuff in the back because I can sit up I can…partially sit up with a back rest I’ve created with my clean and dirty clothes.

RTA: What is your sleeping arrangement?

TM: I just have a cot. I bought a cheap cot the first time, and it was a very bad mistake. I didn’t go with the highest grade cot but I did go with a mid-grade cot.

RTA: You mean the replacement cot?

TM: Yeah.

RTA: The second one.

TM: Yeah. The second cot. I had to get a better cot. [The first time] I just got the $30 one off EBay, $35 or something and that’s just not durable enough. I wanted mine a little…smaller or thinner than the one I got now, but I sleep with my dog so it’s probably a good idea that I did get a bigger one…[T]his one’s holding up much, much better.

RTA: About how much did it cost you?

TM: It cost me around, I think about 65, 70 dollars, about a $70 one.

RTA: And so you’ve taken out all the back seats in the van, is that right?

TM: Yeah, and in the Honda Odyssey, the back seat folds down into the floor so I’ve left that in place [in the floor] and I just put the cot to one side. Now…when I chose what side to put the cot on…it seemed more reasonable that I put it on the passenger side because when I usually park the vehicle, the driver door is pointed toward me so I’m always gaining access from the driver’s side so…it made more sense to put the bed over on the passenger side of the vehicle.

RTA: Describe your setup. Like do you have a kitchen, do you have a bathroom? You’ve already talked about where your bed is positioned. Where do you have storage?

TM: …Actually I have plenty of room in my vehicle now that I’ve decided to pile most of my stuff in the back…I could put a lot more stuff in there now. I only packed it up to the bottom…of my back window because I still want to have…as clear access as I can for my rear view mirror so I only stack it up that high. I have plenty of storage, but then again, I’m a real minimalist…so I don’t have a lot of things.

RTA: Do you travel with everything you own in the van?

TM: No. Not everything I own. I own a few things outside of what I travel with. I could travel with everything that I own at this point…

RTA: Do you have any sort of kitchen set up in the van?

TM: You know, I’m not a big guy on the kitchen thing and I have just a one burner…that takes a one-pound [propane] tank that you can buy at Wal-Mart and I just use the one burner and a big cast iron skillet to cook out of…I just have that back in the back in a milk crate.

RTA: And what about bathroom? Any sort of bathroom setup?

TM: You know, I’ve had bathroom setups in the past, and I would acquire a bathroom setup if I was in a position where going to the bathroom wasn’t easily accessible…I’m not opposed to—if I’m camping I’ll just go dig a hole if necessary. But for the most part only in certain circumstances do I arrange a toilet situation. Other than that I just dig a hole, or I’ll go to a convenience store…

RTA: Do you ever wish your rig were larger or are you satisfied with things the way they are?

TM: Well, you know, there’s pros and cons to everything, Of course I wish my rig was larger but then, you know, I have to think about maneuverability and really the gas…When choosing a vehicle, really what it comes down to is…what kind of lifestyle do I want to lead? Ok, I want to be a nomadic traveler. I want to do a lot of traveling. Well, then, you know, if you’re doing a lot of traveling and you’re on a budget, I would suggest…getting a minivan…But if I was a person that…wasn’t too focused in on the traveling part, just living cheaply and…staying…mostly still, well then I would opt for  a larger vehicle. But here’s where I’m at…my personal thing…if I was going to go and pay the money that  a big Chevy G20 or [some] giant conversion [van] requires in gas, then I wouldn’t…even get…a giant van. I would get, especially in my condition, the height factor here, I wouldn’t even get a van. I would get myself a small RV, preferably not like a Dolphin…preferably something with a V8 in it…And of course, that’s what I would plan on doing when I was older…and I didn’t want to do as much traveling, well then I could get myself a motorhome and then stay more stationery and fuel [wouldn’t be] such a big issue.

RTA: Tell me about your curtain setup.

TM:  Well, I’ve…got these handles…the “oh-shit” handles…

RTA: [giggles]

TM: … some vehicles have ‘em by the upper part of the door, something…to grab ahold of if you’re on some rough terrain. Well it just so happens that my vehicle has two, one at the driver’s and also one on the passenger’s… I don’t understand why the one’s there for the [driver]…Who’s driving a car while he’s got one hand on the…“oh shit” handle.

RTA: [more laughter]

TM: But anyways, I…found these extremely long bungees and [my vehicle] is also equipped with rear [seat belts] and…I was able to take those very long bungees and stretch them all the way from the front of the car to the rear of the car, attaching them around the “oh shit” handles and the seat belt…housing in the rear. When I put those up there…I could just drape things over and create curtains for like 15 bucks. It was a good deal and I think even if you didn’t have those “oh shit” handles you could just do it around your visor, you could attach these bungees around your visor…

RTA: So you attached these bungees and then you found some blankets on sale, right?

TM: Yeah, they were $2.50, and they were like…What do you call…?

RTA: Fleece. Fleece.

TM: Yeah, like fleece.

RTA: Like fleece throw blankets.

TM: Yeah.

RTA: So you just put those [fleece throw blankets] around all the windows and you have a little nest back there.

TM: Yeah. Yeah. It was a really simple, cheap solution. You gotta be creative! Gotta be creative!

RTA: When I first heard that you were interested in getting a minivan, I remember saying, “Minivans aren’t very sexy!” What do you have to say about that?

TM: I’ve never had a concern with being sexy. I guess when you know you’re sexy, then there’s no…doubt. I don’t need a van to reflect my inner sexiness that I already possess.

As far as that goes, you know, I like my van and to be quite honest with you, I think it’s [quite a bit] stealthier than a G-20. A lot of these G-20s are getting old now and…hippies are really associated with G-20s too…I don’t think they’re as stealthy as people think, but…my Honda Odyssey looks like the [suburban soccer mom housewife]  car, and I think I could get away with a lot more stealthiness that way than a person in a G-20.

RTA: Is there anything else you want to add?

TM: There’s always the donation button.

RTA and TM: [boisterous laughter]

 

 

Superbowl Campground

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When we planned our trip to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House and I decided to camp the night before our visit. At that time of year (early April) The Needles (Squaw Flat) campground in the southern section of the park is on a first come-first served basis, and we didn’t know if we could get there early enough in the day to snag a campsite. We looked at the Free Campsites website in hopes of finding something totally free close to the park entrance, but the free spots we found were father away then we wanted to be.

We ended up figuring things out on the fly due to a four day delay imposed on us when my van’s water pump had to be replaced. While I drove, The Lady pulled out the informational brochures she’d picked up in Canyonlands during her visit the previous summer.

There were three campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside the boundaries of the National Park. The camping fee at each was $5 a night. That wasn’t quite as good as free, but pretty dang close.

We were aiming for Creek Pasture Campground.  It was the closest campground to Highway 211 (the road that would take us into the National Park), and it seemed to be big enough to offer us hope of finding an available site.

We thought the trip to the campground would take us about five hours. We left Winslow, AZ early enough that we thought we’d get to the campground before dark. We had visions of cooking dinner, eating it leisurely, watching the sun set. I’m not sure what happened. We did stop to hand a can of Fix-a-Flat to a couple having tire trouble in the Navajo Nation, but that couldn’t have set us back more than 10 minutes. We stopped for one gas and bathroom break, but that took 20 minutes, tops. I also pulled over to take a photo of the Utah sign when we crossed the state line, but The Lady didn’t want to fight the wind, so she stayed in the van. Could my photo op have cost us more than three minutes?

After we got into Utah, the sky turned overcast. It was dusk when we passed through Blanding, and dark when we went through Monticello. I was glad the GPS lady was there to tell us when to make the turn onto Highway 211; otherwise I might have missed it in the night.

At some point after we turned onto the 211, the rain started. Suddenly I was driving on a twisty, turny, curvy mountain road in the dark and the rain. I really should be more scared than I am, I remember telling The Lady.

I saw the sign for Superbowl campground, but figured it would be full on a Saturday night. We hoped the larger Creek Pasture Campground would have a place for us.

Maybe the rain has sent people home already, I hoped aloud.

We found Creek Pasture Campground, and I drove slowly down the entrance road, then through the campground. Every campsite seemed to be taken. We saw one that appeared empty, but when I jumped out of the van to investigate, I found a tent pitched behind some vegetation. Another site appeared deserted, save for the registrations slip clipped to the pole. The departure date was the next day, and I suspected the campers had been chased off by the rain, but I had no proof. We didn’t want to risk being on someone’s site if they returned, so we decided to backtrack and check out Superbowl.

We turned onto the main road into the campground and followed it to its first offshoot. We turned down that road. Immediately to our right was a campsite. There was no car parked there, no tent pitched in the bushes, no registrations slip on the pole—in fact, no pole. I pulled the van right in, and we let relief wash over us. We had a legal place to stay for the night.

The rain continued, so we didn’t get out of the van to cook dinner. We just ate snacks and laughed a lot, as if we were at a slumber party. I fell asleep and didn’t hear another sound, but The Lady said it rained all night.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. As much as I hate driving in the dark, I love arriving in the dark and waking up to the surprise of beautiful scenery. I hadn’t had that pleasure since boondocking at Indian Bread Rocks in Arizona more than a year before, but we really lucked out at Superbowl Campground. I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing when I stepped from the van.

Of course, my photos don’t do justice to how our surrounding really looked. The rocks were red and huge and the formations so very Utah. Even the walk to the pit toilet was wonderful in such a beautiful location.

There was a sign on the information board saying the campground had been under renovation. That probably explained the brand-spanking-new fire ring and picnic table on our site. The renovations maybe also explained why the campground seemed bigger than 17 sites. Maybe it had been expanded as well as renovated.

There was only one pit toilet serving the entire campground, so there was a bit of a wait to use it, but it was decently clean on Sunday morning. There was toilet paper available, which is always a plus. The campground didn’t have a camp host, but someone was servicing that restroom.

The Lady and I took a brisk walk around Superbowl so I could try to get some good photos. As we walked around, we saw other campers cooking breakfast, packing up, and generally starting their days. Lots of campers looked young and athletic. I saw helmets in the bed of a truck, making me think the campers on that site were a group of rock climbers. I know practically nothing about rock climbing, but even I could see it would be exhilarating to climb any of the surrounding formations.

All in all, Superbowl campground was peaceful and surrounded by beauty. I was not upset to drop into the iron ranger the envelope with our $5 camping fee enclosed.

I took the photos in this post.

 

10 More Items to Make Your Van Life More Comfortable

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Like I said in my post “The Rubber Tramp Artist’s Ten Essential Items for Vandwelling,” you don’t need to get a bunch of fancy stuff before you start your van life. Just get a van, start sleeping in it and voilà!—you’re vandwelling.

However, if you do have the money and the inclination to get things to make yourself more comfortable, here are ten more items that enhance the quality of my van life.

Igloo 5 Gallon Seat Top Beverage Jug with spigot
#1 I love to drink cold water. When I’m in civilization, I fill my water bottle with ice whenever I fill my gas tank at a convenience store or eat at a fast food restaurant. In the past, I drank the ice melt from the ice containers in my cooler, but a lot of cold air escaped from the cooler when I reached in and rummaged around for the ice containers Last fall I bought an Igloo 5 gallon cooler with a dispenser. I put in a bag of ice (no problem with such a wide opening on top) and three or four gallons of water (the cooler fits in a Glacier water dispenser), and I can drink cold (or at least cool!) water for days. When the water gets too warm for my taste, I just add more ice. Easy!

#2 When I’m boondocking, I have to bring enough water with me for all my washing and drinking needs.  There are two kinds of jugs I like for storing water.

The first is the Reliance Aqua-tainer BPA free 7-gallon jug with a spout. While seven gallons of water (over 55 pounds!) is more than I can carry for more than a few steps, the spout (which can be opened and fully closed) is super convenient for handwashing. It also helps me conserve water because I can dispense the amount I need without spilling excess water on the ground. If I’m traveling alone, I usually put five gallons of water in each jug to make carrying the container manageable.

I also like the American Maid BPA free 3-gallon water jugs with handles. I can totally carry three gallons of water with no problem, so these are my go-to water jugs. They are stackable when they’re empty, saving space on the way to fill them.

EcoVessel BIGFOOT Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Tea - Fruit and Ice Infuser
#3 I’ve tried a lot of water bottles, but I’ve never found anything else that keeps drinks cold like my Eco Vessel. I’ve kept ice in mine for over 24 hours on more than one occasion (depending of course on the temperature of the liquid I’m adding to the bottle and the temperature of the air outside the bottle). It’s not unusual for me to drink all of the cold water from the bottle, then have to wait hours for the ice to melt into drinkable form. (I solve this problem by filling my Eco Vessel from my 5-gallon Igloo jug as needed.)

My first Eco Vessel was the 750ml Boulder, which I bought at a natural food store on a whim one exceptionally hot summer day. I used it (and loved it!) every day for about two years before upgrading to the 1300ml Big Foot. I still use the smaller bottle for backup. If I fill both bottles with cool water in the morning, I have plenty of cool water to drink during an 8-hour work day on the mountain.

#4 During my first six years vandwelling, I used 1-gallon propane canisters to power my stove and my Mr. Heater. (For a short time, I had a butane stove, and that was before I owned my Mr. Heater, so during that period, I didn’t use any propane at all.) In any case, until I met The Man, I used 1-gallon canisters for my propane needs. Almost from the moment we met, The Man encouraged me to use a large, refillable propane tank. His reasoning was sound: refilling a large tank is more cost effective than buying multiple 1-gallon canisters and keeps a lot of waste out of landfills. Win win!

#5 I’ve used the single-burner style stove that sits on top of a 1-gallon propane canister and found it cumbersome and unstable. Food seemed to take longer to cook on that style of stove too. (I never did a scientific experiment to test the cooking time required on different stoves, so the difference in cooking times could be my imagination.) Also, the single-burner stove didn’t work so well when connected to our large propane tank. I’ve mostly blocked the experience from my memory, but I think there was a puff of fire and unusually  quick thinking on my part when I reached over and turned the knob on the propane tank to CLOSED. In any case, we figured out the single burners are not designed to be used with the large tanks.

For several months before I met The Man, I used a one-burner butane stove. I liked its flat, stable design, but I was awfully unhappy on the occasions when I couldn’t find the necessary butane bottles at the store (including Wal-Mart once). The butane seemed to go faster than the propane in the small green containers, but again, I didn’t do a scientific experiment to test my theory.

Coleman Triton 2-Burner Propane Stove
These days I use a Coleman two-burner stove connected to a large propane tank. A half-dozen years ago, I tried two different models of Ozark Trail two-burner stoves because they were less expensive than the Coleman stoves available. Both of the Ozark Trail stoves were junk. I was never able to light the cheaper one, and the more expensive one (that I thought would be of better quality) only lit once when I tested it immediately after purchase. Luckily I’d saved the receipts and boxes for both stoves and was able to bring them both back for full refunds. I hope to never again be in a situation where I need a stove and can only afford one made by Ozark Trail.

Several Coleman two-burner stoves I’ve used over the years have been made well and all have worked great. I enjoy the convenience of being able to cook in two pans at once when I’m doing something fancier than my usual one-pan meal. I like the stability of the flat burners and the convenience of being able to fold the whole apparatus for easy transport and storage. Also, I just found out that if the regulator on the stove quits working properly, I can buy a new regulator for around $13, instead of having to spend $40+ on a whole new stove. I love a company that lets me replace parts!

(Read more about my stove experimentation in my post “Cooking While Vandwelling.”)

#6 I like to sleep in the dark, and I like to be surrounded by beauty, so I have colorful curtains to cover my windows.

My side windows in the back of the van are completely blocked with thick foam board my sibling gave me when it was no longer useful in the windows of the family home. Over the foam boards, I put up colorful curtains. At night I hang a cloth shower curtain I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center over the windows in my side doors. The driver’s area of the van is separated from my living space with heat and light-blocking curtains I got at a thrift store. The mismatched curtains give my van an eclectic, free-spirited feel.

#7 I have difficulty sleeping if I’m too hot, but my small, battery operated fan gives me just enough breeze to facilitate my slumber when the nights get warm.  I would like a fan I could run from my 12-volt outlet; such a fan would need a long cord to reach from the front of the van to my bed. Until I find the right fan for the right price, my 8-inch O2Cool brand fan works well enough.

PROTIP: It’s really worth the money to buy Duracell or Energizer batteries to run fans. I learned that while the Sunbeam batteries from Dollar Tree only last one night, the more expensive batteries last at least a week.

Schumacher Electric 140W Power Converter SI1
#8 Speaking of running things off my van’s 12-volt power outlet, I love my 140 watts Schumacher power converter. It has both a USB port and a good ol’ electrical outlet so I can charge my phone and laptop. If I don‘t need to charge my laptop, I use a smaller USB power adapter. It has two USB ports so I can charge two phones at once. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices even when I’m away from electricity.

NOTE: The small devices have never drained my van’s battery, but the large power converter did once when I charged my laptop several times in day without running the van. If I’m not driving the van, now I only use the power convertor to charge my laptop once in a day.

#9  My foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One is a gift I cherish. If I’ve got sun, I can charge my phone.  I haven’t tried to use the solar charger to charge a tablet, but I think it would handle the job. I like that it’s lightweight and folds up small and thin for storage. It’s easy to hang and easy to transport. Love it!

#10 When The Man built my bed, he made sure there was plenty of storage space under the platform. The platform is tall enough to fit large tubs under it. Now that The Man has his own van, I’ve thought about going back to a single bed, but I’d hate to lose my storage area. I’ve decided it’s better to have a roomy double bed (especially since Auntie M gave me a comfortable double mattress she wasn’t using) with room for lots of stuff under it.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

The Rubber Tramp Artist’s 10 Essential Items for Vandwelling

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I’ve been vandwelling since 2010. During most of those years, I lived in my van at least half the time. Even now that I have a home base for the winter, I still live in my van for at least six months in the spring, summer, and into the fall.

During my time as a vandweller, I’ve found some items I don’t want to live without. Today I’ll share my essentials for vandwelling. Please realize these are my essentials. Other van dwellers may find these items frivolous or useless. That’s ok! To each his/her own. I’m simply sharing what works for me in hopes that my ideas will help my readers find what works for them.

#1 The Rubber Tramp Artist’s first rule of van life is “Always know where your keys are.” I follow this rule by keeping my keys on a lanyard I wear around my neck. I made the lanyard myself with pretty glass beads and Stretch Magic. While you may not want to carry your keys around your neck, you should find a system that works for you so you can put your hands on your keys the moment you need them.

Dr. Bronner s Pure Castile Soap - Fair Trade and Organic - Liquid - 18 in 1 Hemp - Peppermint - 8 oz - 70%+ Organic -
#2 Dr. Bronner’s soap is biodegradable and gentle on the environment and is made by a company that does right by their employees and is fair to their suppliers. What more could I ask? Oh yeah. The peppermint (my favorite of the many varieties available) smells and feels amazing. I buy it in the big bottle (or better yet, receive the big bottle as a gift) and refill smaller bottles I put in bags and pockets throughout my van for quick and easy access. Not only is the soap good for washing hands, face, and body, I’ve used it to wash dishes and to hand-wash clothes. I’ve heard of people using it to brush their teeth, but I’ve never gone that far!

#3 Wipes are not just for the butts of babies. They work pretty well on my adult butt and on my armpits too. When I’m working in the woods, I have my privacy tent where I can take a jug shower, but early and late in the season, it’s too cold for me to bear being naked and wet. Other times when I’m on the road, I’m nowhere near a shower, or I want to freshen up between showers. During all those times, I use wipes. I discovered Pure ‘n Gentle at Wal-Mart. Not only were they the least expensive wipes on the shelf, they are fragrance free, hypoallergenic, and alcohol-free. Score!

#4 While I don’t worry too much about how I look (I’ve had one manicure in my whole life, never had a pedicure, and haven’t worn makeup  consistently since the 90s), I am vain about my hair. What can I say? I like some fluff, and when I’ve gone too long between washes, dry shampoo ups my hair’s fluff factor. I’ve written an entire blog post about how I love dry shampoo, but I’ll say here it too: dry shampoo can really perk up hair that hasn’t had a washing in a while. Some folks whip up their own dry shampoo, which I’ve never tried, but I do like the DIY aspect of homemade beauty products. You can find recipes for dry shampoo suitable for light or dark hair at the Wellness Mama website.

VolksRose Portable 12 Eggs Slots Holder Shockproof Storage Box for Camping Hiking - Green
#5 I got tired of eggs breaking in my ice chest, so I picked up an egg suitcase from the camping department at Wal-Mart. It turned out to be a great investment. I hardly ever have to deal with an egg that breaks in the suitcase. Eggs in the suitcase only break if I drop the suitcase really hard while I’m rummaging around in the cooler. I save money and have fewer messes by keeping eggs in their special container.

#6 I deliberated for quite a while before I bought my stainless steel camping cup, but I’ve never regretted the purchase. My cup cost around $5 from the camping department of Wal-Mart, but there are many different brands and designs available from a variety of manufacturers.

I like being able to put the cup directly on the open flame of my stove. No longer do I have to drag out a cooking pot to heat water for tea or instant soup. I keep the cup hanging in the food area of my van for quick access, but the folding handles allow me to put it in my backpack more easily if I need to carry it with me. I can eat cereal or soup out of it and drink tea, coffee, or Emergen-C from it. It’s versatile, easy to clean, and truly makes my life easier. If I were living simply, without a bowl or a pot, I would make room in my life for this cup.

MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 - Inflatable Solar Light, Clear Finish, Adjustable Strap
#7 I’ve never put solar panels on my van, but I do love my solar powered Luci lights. They require no expensive, quickly drained disposable batteries, and I never have to plug them in. All they need is the power of the sun. I have a couple that are still providing me with light despite the fact they no longer inflate. (The plastic of one was chewed up by a forest rodent, and a hole developed at the plastic’s seam of another one.) A few hours in the sun gives me several hours of light. They provide enough light to read or write by, which is crucial to me. I don’t know what I’d do at night without a Luci light.

#8 I bought my Mr. Buddy heater (more accurately called the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy) on a whim at my first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) A guy had a brand new one he wanted to sell because he’d found something he liked better. I paid his asking price, not even sure I would ever use the thing. I’ll tell you what, in the last 3+ years that heater has kept me warm on many occasions. It heats my van fast and is ideal when I want to warm up before I crawl into bed at night or before I get out of bed to get dressed in the morning. I never sleep with the heater on, and I always crack a window when I’m using it, so I feel perfectly safe.

#9 Since my welcome-to-2018 tire disaster, I keep a large can of Fix-a-Flat in my van. I’ve not had to use my emergency can, but I did give one away to some folks on the side of the road having tire problems of their own.

For about ten bucks, I at least have the chance of pumping up a flat tire and getting myself to a tire repair shop, thus saving myself the ordeal of a tow.

EPAuto Jumper Cable 4 Gauge 20 Foot Heavy Duty Battery Booster with Travel Bag and Safety Gloves
#10 Another way I stay prepared to handle my own emergencies is by keeping a pair of jumper cables in my van. It seems like every time I go through a daytime headlight area, I forget to turn my headlights off when I come out the other side, and my battery drains while the van is sitting in a parking lot. I’d be a fool to count on finding another jumper cable-owning driver willing to give my battery a jump, so I provide my own tools for the job. Also, as the owner of jumper cables, I get to be the hero when someone with a dead battery and no tools asks me for help. No matter who has the dead battery, with jumper cables in my van, I’m the winner!

Don’t know how to jump start a car? The Dummies website can help you out.

Of course, you don’t need any products in order to live in a van. To start your vanlife, all you need is a van and yourself! I started my vanlife in an old G-20 with no bed of any kind. They guy who was my boyfriend and I slept on blankets on the floor. We started out with nothing. In my next van, I placed my sleeping bag (a gift from a kind fellow I’d just met) on the back seat that folded out into a bed and called it good. You don’t have to wait until you can afford a bunch of things to start living in your van. If you want to be a vandweller, move into your van today! However, perhaps getting some of my essentials for vandwelling can help you live a little more comfortably.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Stay Safe on the Road

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I try not to sit around convincing myself that the world is a dangerous and scary place, but there can be perils asphalt, aspiration, cloudswhen going from Point A to Point B. Throw in Points C and D (and Points E, F, and G) , and things can go wrong. You don’t have to be a rubber tramp to want (and need) to stay safe on the road. These tips are useful to anyone (long-distance commuters, friends on a road trip, a family driving a rental truck to a new home in a new state) who’ll be traveling more than a few miles around town.

These tips may seem second nature to seasoned long-distance drivers, but they bear repeating as lessons to newbies and good reminders for those of us who have been living on the road for a while.

#1 Don’t drink and drive, no matter how well you think you hold your liquor. (A woman of my acquaintance who declared, but I’m from Wisconsin as a justification that she could drink a lot of beer and still drive safely got no sympathy from the Colorado State Trooper who arrested her for DUI.)

Alcohol slows your reflexes and reaction time. According to an article titled “7 Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Driving Skills

Studies show that drivers under the influence of alcohol are unable to respond to stimuli as quickly as when they are sober. Due to your impaired comprehension and coordination, your reaction time may slow down by as much as 15 to 25 percent.

Even if you don’t cause an accident, driving after drinking opens you to expenses and hassles if you get busted going through a DUI checkpoint or if you’re involved in a fender bender that wasn’t even your fault. Why risk it?

#2 If you’re falling asleep at the wheel, pull over and take a nap. Your deadlines won’t matter if you’re dead! Find a rest area or parking lot and catch some zzzzz’s.

If you simply can’t spend any time napping, roll down your window, chew gum, have a snack, and/or blast the radio and sing along. If you can spare a few minutes to pull over, stand up and stretch your legs, do some jumping jacks. If you’ve stopped at a gas station or restaurant, have some coffee or other caffeinated beverage and/or splash cold water on your face and wrists.

But for real, if you’re sleepy, get some sleep. Falling asleep at the wheel can be a bad, bad thing for you, your passengers, and other vehicles (and the people in them) near you on the road.

#3 Drive at the time of day that works best for you.

A wise woman in a Facebook group for van women I’m in likes to drive from dark to light. She gets up early, before the sun comes up, and gets on the road. She drives until mid-afternoon, then finds her boondocking spot for the night. Getting set up while the sun is still out gives her plenty of time to cook and eat dinner and relax. She goes to bed early and gets up before the sun the next morning and starts out again.

I hate, hate, hate driving at night, but I can deal with this dark to light method. I’m at my most alert in the morning, so getting an early start is good for me. Also, leaving a place I’m familiar with in the dark is easier for me than coming into a new place in the dark. Leaving a place I know in the dark means I’m not struggling quite so hard to read street signs or to decide where to turn.

Of course, if you absolutely loathe mornings, don’t try to force yourself to get up and on the road early. My friend Gee loves to drive at night because the roads aren’t so crowded. She can cover hundreds of miles before the sun comes up because night driving works with her body’s rhythms.

Aerial Photo of Buildings and Roads#4 Avoid rush hour. If I’m entering, leaving, or passing through a city, I try to get on the road at the right time to avoid the crush of people driving to or from work. If I don’t get started before rush hour, I just wait until the traffic has thinned out. I’d rather wait somewhere pleasant for a couple of hours instead of being stuck in traffic for the same amount of time.

Rush hour traffic is not just irritating. More people on the road mean more road rage, more lousy drivers, and more chance of an accident. I’d rather avoid rush hour instead of subjecting myself to the danger of powering through.

#5 Speaking of road rage…Don’t let road rage get the best of you. Sure, there are lots of bad drivers out there doing a lot of stupid thigs, but you don’t have to exacerbate the situation. Don’t try to retaliate against bad driving or teach people a lesson. Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe some of the bad driving you see comes from new drivers or drivers new to the city you’re in. If you can’t control your anger, at least control your actions.

Don’t let other people’s road rage influence your actions. Don’t drive unsafely just because someone else is doing so.

#6 Don’t drive distracted. Distracted driving is much discussed these days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.

Remember, when you’re behind the wheel, driving safely should be your top priority.

Texting and talking on a mobile phone (without hands-free technology) are two distracting tasks that get a lot of media coverage, but I wonder how many accidents each year are caused by messing with music apps or checking driving directions, the two activities that distract me the most while driving. We’ve all been distracted by something while driving—spilled coffee, a crying baby, a song  we hate on the radio, the dog wreaking havoc, a missed turn or exit, children bickering, an animated conversation with a passenger. Life happens while we’re driving, but we must learn to ignore anything that takes our attention from maneuvering our rig safely down the road.

#7 Be aware of the other vehicles on the road around you. Notice if the drivers of other vehicles on the road are driving erratically; give those drivers (who may be drunk, sleepy, or otherwise distracted) a wide berth. Stay far back from them or pass quickly and get away from them.

Slow down or move over for vehicles stopped on the shoulder, especially emergency or law enforcement vehicles.

Hearing what’s happening outside your rig can enhance your awareness. Don’t wear headphones or  blast your tunes so loudly that you drown out horns, sirens, and the early sounds of problems with your vehicle.

#8 Watch out for animals on the road. At best, hitting an animal with your rig is going to leave you shook up and with a bloody mess to clean. At worst, your rig may be totally disabled after you collide with a critter. Your best bet is to not hit an animal in the first place.

Pay attention to deer (or elk or moose) crossing signs. These signs are there because the area gets high activity of the animal pictured.

If you see a sign with a cow on it or a sign proclaiming “open range,” be prepared to find bovines hanging out on the side of or in the road. These cows may get spooked and dart out in front of your vehicle, so drive slowly and be prepared to stop. Also be aware, if you hit a cow or calf in areas of open range, the rancher is not responsible for paying to repair to your vehicle. Instead, you are responsible for paying the rancher for the dead animal.

Sometimes wild animals are not simply crossing a road, but hanging out in it. After hitting an elk in early 2013, I was told when it’s cold out, elk stand in the road because it’s warmer there.

If you do see animals in or near a road DriversEd.com advises,

don’t slam on the brakes. Keep your lane position, and sound your horn while braking in a controlled manner. Sudden panic stops are not a good idea, as they could spook the animal, causing it to suddenly dart into the path of another vehicle.

Remember, driving in a city won’t necessarily protect you from animals darting in front of your rig. Unsupervised pets may not know to avoid a street. Watch for animals whenever you’re driving.

https://i2.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/164524/pexels-photo-164524.jpeg?resize=373%2C247&ssl=1#9 Drive at a reasonable speed. Don’t drive so fast you can’t control your vehicle or stop quickly and safely in an emergency situation. You want to be able to stop in time if a pedestrian, bicyclist, pet, or wild animal darts out in front of you.

Don’t drive so far below the speed limit that other cars are piled up behind you, especially if passing is difficult or prohibited. If you’re driving in the mountains and you are slower than the other traffic, use a turn out to get off the road so the vehicles behind you can pass.

On the interstate stay in the right lane if you are going slower than other traffic. The left lane is for passing! After you’ve passed another vehicle, move back to the right.

#10 Keep your vehicle is in good working order. Breaking down on the road can be quite dangerous. First, you’ll have to maneuver your malfunctioning vehicle out of traffic and onto the side of the road. Second, your disabled rig will be stuck on the side of the road while other vehicles zoom past you until you can get your rig running or the tow truck arrives. Do your best to avoid these dangers by doing all you can to ensure your rig is running smoothly.

Gas up before you get on the road. Clean your windshield. Check the air pressure in your tires and adjust accordingly. While you’re dealing with your tires, make sure they are in good condition and be prepared for any tire disasters. Check your fluids and top off as needed. If you notice any problems, have them checked by a professional (or a knowledgeable amateur) right away.

Glance at your gauges from time to time as you’re driving. Pull off as soon as you notice a problem so you have time to get off the road before things get really bad.

Hopefully, these tips will help you stay safe while you’re on the road. Of course, this is all just advice. Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for what you chose to do or not do. You are responsible for your own self!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/road-sky-clouds-cloudy-215/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-photo-of-buildings-and-roads-681335/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/speed-limit-25-signage-164524/.

How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road

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Last week I shared some ideas for filling free time for folks who don’t quite know what to do with themselves now that they own their lives. Another concern I often see expressed by the newly nomadic (or folks who want to live nomadically someday) is how to avoid loneliness while living on the road. Sometimes this concern is expressed as How do I make friends on the road? or How do I find a romantic partner on the road? Today I’ll give some tips on how to avoid loneliness while traveling the world.

Before I start with the tips, may I suggest you expand your definition of “friend”? If you only count as friends the people you see in person every week (or every month), your life as a nomad may prevent you from having friends. Expanding your definition of “friend” to people with whom you communicate regularly (whether it’s via telephone, text, internet forums, Facebook, or some other electronic means), may help alleviate your loneliness. Friends are people who support us when times are tough and celebrate with us when life if good. Seeing these folks in person is just a bonus.

#1 As I learned in Brownies, make new friends, but keep the old. Assuming you had friends before you became a nomad, stay in touch with them. Maybe they don’t entirely understand your new way of living, but if they are good, kind, loving people, don’t drop them like hot potatoes. Communicating through phone conversations, text, Skype, FaceTime, email, old-fashioned postal mail, Facebook Messenger, and however else kids these days are doing it can help you stay in touch with the people already in your life.

#2 Get out and about.  You’re not likely to meet anyone while you’re sitting in your rig pouting because you’re basket, chalkboard, coffee shoplonely. Go where there are peope to meet. If you’re in the wilderness, go for a hike (or a short walk, if that’s what you’re up for) and meet other hikers (or walkers). Go see the natural attractions that draw a crowd. If you’re in civilization, hang out at the library or a coffee shop or a park.

#3 Do what you already like to do. If you hate bars, you probably won’t have fun at one and you’re not likely to meet people you want to spend time with. (You’ll never meet anyone as nice as you in a bar, my sibling would tell me when I was in my 20s and looking for love in all the wrong places.) If you can’t stand art, don’t spend time at an art museum. If you do activities you enjoy, meeting someone will matter less.

#4 Meet up with a Meetup group. According to Wikipedia,

Meetup operates as a website providing membership software, allowing its users to schedule events using a common platform.

To use Meetup, you have to sign up for a free account, which you can do through Facebook or Google.  Once you’re signed up and signed in, you choose your location and some areas of interest. Then the website suggests some Meetups you might be interested in.

It’s very easy to change your location, so if you know (for example) that you’ll be in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon, you can find out if any Meetups you’d like to participate in are happening then and there.

I’ve never been on any Meetups, but it seems like a good way to get involved with an activity you like with people who also enjoy the activity.

#5 If you’re in civilization, volunteer. Perhaps you can help sort canned goods at a food bank or serve beans in a food line withouth too much training or a background check. Maybe you can help cook or serve free vegan food with a Food Not Bombs group in whatever town you’re in. Once I responded to an ad on Craigslist posted by a woman who fostered cats. After talking on the phone, I went to her apartment and played with cats needing socialization with humans. True, I didn’t get much human interaction myself, but playing with kitties was certainly a joy.

If you’ll be in one town for weeks or months, you can do volunteer work that involves more training and commitment. If you’re staying in a national forest or on BLM land, call the local field office and ask about group volunteering opportunities you can get involved with.

Whatever kind of volunteer work you are able to do, you’ll feel good about helping, and you’ll get to inteact with other volunteers and the people (or animals) you are serving.

Yellow and Black Church#6 Go to church. If you belong to a religious denomination, time your trips to or through town to coincide with services or Bible study. Sometimes churches offer a social time before or after services where folks can drink coffee and visit. If you’re not into traditional religion, look into visiting a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

#7 Join Facebook groups for van dwellers, boondockers, rubber tramps, vagabonds, RV dwellers and nomads of every sort. Yes, there are trolls and rude people in many of these groups. I recommend joining a bunch of groups, stick with the ones that have a vibe you like, and quit the rest.

While an internet friend is different from an in-person friend you can grab coffee with and laugh with in real time, an internet friend can certainly help allieve loneliness. Folks in Facebook groups are often also willing to answer questions about mechanical issues, van builds, and free camping spots.

Once you’ve made a Facebook friend, maybe you’ll be able to meet IRL (in real life). I’ve turned some Facebook friends into real life friends. One woman met me for a quick coffee when we found ourselves in the same area. I’ve met a second of these friends twice during successive Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and we stay in touch via Facebook. I felt an immediate connection with the third woman I met in person, and we check in via text every few months. My fourth Facebook-turned-real-life friend is a kindred spirit. We read each other’s blogs (hers is Xsyntrik Nomad), we communicate through Facebook and texts, and we meet for coffee or ice cream whenever wer’re in the same town. I’m proof that Facebook friendships can transition to the real world.

Of course, if you’re going to meet in person anyone you’ve otherwise only know through the internet, take some precautions. Talk on the telephone and pay attention to any gut reactions of discomfort or apprehension you may have. Meet in a public place. If you decide to go to this new friend’s stick-n-bricks or to go off camping together (especially in a secluded place), let someone you trust know where you’re going, with whom you’re going, and when the trusted friend can expect to hear from you again.

#8 Join the Wandering Individual Network (WIN) or Loners on Wheels and travel with other folks.

WIN’s website says,

WIN RV Singles is the premiere RV club for singles. We are an active, adventurous club for single campers and solo travelers. WIN RV Singles has circuits across the US, Canada, and Mexico. We are open to single travelers of all ages. WIN is an active club. With an average of 80 caravans, circuits, and gatherings each year, we provide activities for all solo travelers: hiking, biking, sightseeing, kayaking, zip-lining, boat tours, museums, plays, factory tours, and more.

Also note, the WIN website says,

When you travel with the WINs, it must be in a vehicle in which you can eat, sleep, cook, bathe and go to the toilet, even if all facilities are portable.

The Loners on Wheels website says,

Loners on Wheels is an RV Club of legally single men and women who enjoy traveling, camping, RV caravanning and the lifestyle of singles. We are not a matching [sic] making or dating service. Companionship and support is what we’re all about.

Three Red Hearts Hanging With White Flowers#9 If you’re looking for romantic love, join a Facebook group with “single” or “romance” or “love” or “dating” in its name. Someone in a Facebook group I’m in pointed me to a Facebook group specifically for single van dwellers (#VanLife Love, Dating & Friendship), and I found a handful of groups for single RVers who don’t want to be single anymore.

There’s also a free dating site especially for people who are fans of recreational vehicles. It’s called (unsurprisingly) RV Dating, and

[f]ree basic membership allows you to browse the site, view profiles, send flirts and modify your profile.

Perhaps some of these RV folks would be open to finding love with a van dweller or nomad of some other kind!

#10 Spend time at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and other gatherings geared toward vanners. Many van groups have regional meet ups where van folks can hang out and socialize.

The ultimate gathering for nomads, rubber tramps, van dwellers, RVers, wannabes, soon-to-bes, and folks who just want to try out the way of life is the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), held each Januaury in Quartzsite, Arizona. I’ve been to the RTR four times (2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018) and seen it change from a small gathering of a couple hundred people to a large gathering of a few thousand.

The RTR is a great place to meet people and make friends. I met Auntie M (along with a handful of other folks with whom I stay in touch) at the RTR in 2015, Gee in 2016, and The Man in 2017. (Yes, he and I owe our partnership to the RTR.) In 2018 I helped Coyote Sue organize the RTArt Camp and met many people who participated in art camp activities. I now count several of those folks as friends.

I feel confident that anyone who ventures our of his or her rig at the RTR can make at least one friend!

For more tips on finding friends, read Eldrina Michel‘s article “3 Ways for Single Full-Time RVers to Find Companionship On the Road.”

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/basket-chalkboard-coffee-shop-coffeehouse-143642/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-and-black-church-161171/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/three-red-hearts-hanging-with-white-flowers-160836/.

 

Boondocking Near Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona

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The Lady of the House jumped out of the van and took this photo for me.

The Lady of the House and I started our epic road trip by camping outside of Flagstaff in a location we found courtesy of the Free Campsites website. We planned to visit the Meteor Crater National Landmark and Winslow the next day, so the location off I-40 was perfect for us. The free camping is in the Coconino National Forest right outside Walnut Canyon National Monument.

According to Wikipedia,

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Hopi: Wupatupqa) is a United States National Monument…The canyon rim elevation is 6,690 ft (2,040 m); the canyon’s floor is 350 ft lower. A 0.9 mi (1.4 km) long loop trail descends 185 ft (56 m) into the canyon passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 CE.

This photo shows the well-maintained dirt road into the boondocking area. I believe this is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road.

From Interstate 40, we took exit 204 as directed by Google, then turned onto Walnut Canyon Road, which we followed to Cosnino Road. When we saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument sign, we knew we were close. We arrived before dark, so it was easy to see where we were going.

We turned off of the main road (Walnut Canyon Road) onto a well-maintained dirt road, which I believe is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road. This well-maintained dirt road had no signs, but we suspected we were in the right place because we could see RVs parked among the trees.

We hadn’t gone far down the dirt road before we saw a flat spot with evidence of previous camping (a fire ring made from stones, a log fashioned into a bench). We decided that site was good enough for our overnight, and I pulled the van in between the trees.

While we were preparing and eating dinner and later while we were getting ready for bed, something mildly strange occurred. At differnt times, a couple of different pickup trucks drove like bats-out-of-hell on the well-maintained dirt road past our camp. The trucks weren’t gone long; shortly they were driving fast in the opposite direction, ostensibly back to their camps. It was as if the drivers had gone to the end of the road, then turned right around and come back. Where did they go? Why did they come back so soon? What was the huge rush? Other than these strange drive-bys, the camping area was very peaceful. We heard no evidence of partying–no loud voices, no loud music.

Campers before us made a fire ring from stones and fashioned a bench from a log. I sat on that bench to eat my dinner.

The Lady discovered this mountain view.

The next morning The Lady went for a short run and came back to tell me she’d found a mountain view and other campsites. She said she’d show them to me, so I went on a brisk walk with her.

The other campsites were at the top of a slightly steep incline. The

Rutted and rocky dirt road

problem getting to the sites wasn’t the road’s climb so much as the road’s poor condition. I was glad I hadn’t tried to take my van up the rutted and rocky dirt road.

The campsites up top (evident because of stone fire rings) were nicely tucked into the trees and deserted, which surprised me. Sure, it was early April, not prime camping season, but I thought someone would have camped up there on a Friday night. However, it seemed we’d had that entire part of the boondocking area to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the fire rings weren’t the only evidence of previous campers; folks had left trash on more than one of the sites. Also, not far from where we camped, we saw the remains of two sofas. I can’t imagine how anyone could have forgotten two couches out in the woods. Maybe it’s supposed to be a hunting blind? The Lady asked

Whoever left these couches on public land left a pretty big trace!

skeptically. I don’t think so. I think the sofas were hauled onto public land specifically for dumping! What a travesty!

Overall, The Lady and I were pleased with our free camping. I would absolutely stay in this boondocking area again.

 

What Do I Do Now That I Have All This Time on My Hands?

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I stay busy.

Between writing and scheduling blog posts, staying in touch with friends, reading, and creating art, I barely have time to wash the dishes, exercise, or meditate. However, in Facebook groups for vandwellers and other internet resources for people who live nomadically, I regularly encounter people asking for advice on what to do now that they aren’t working full-time, permanent jobs. Some people have never had free time before, so they’ve not learned how to entertain themselves. Others are fine as long as they’re moving from place to place and seeing new things, but if an injury or lack of money means they have to sit on public land or in the same town for a week or two, they’re bored out of their minds.

For all the nomads who are trying for the first time to figure out what to do with themselves and for folks who want to try something(s) new, I offer ten activities to fill your time now that you own your life.

#1 Explore the public library. As may have been evident from my post 10 Ways to Save Money on the Road, I’m a big fan of public libraries. Even if you don’t have a library card, you can probably hang out away from inclement weather; use a computer to surf the web; read books and magazines; view art; and attend free movies, concerts, lectures, and classes.

Some public libraries will issue library cards to nonresidents. If you can score a library card, you may be able to enjoy books, music, and movies in the privacy of your own rig.

I encountered this Little Free Library in my travels.

#2 Read! I’m also a big fan of reading. If you can’t borrow books from a public library, get books from Little Free Libraries. Find inexpensive books at thrift stores and library book sales. If you’re staying in a campground, check for a library in the clubhouse or office.

If you rather look at photos and read short articles, acquire magazines instead of books. Magazines can often be had at thrift stores and library book sales for 10 cents or a quarter each–if they’re not outright free. Maybe you have a friend in another town with a magazine subscription who will put together a care package of back issues and send them to you via general delivery.

If you don’t like to read, but you do like to listen to stories, consider audiobooks. How cozy would it be to lie in your bed and have a talented voice actor read you a bedtime (or nap time) story? If you like the classics, Open Culture offers links to over 900 free audiobooks. For more options, Book Riot offers a list of “11 Websites to Find Free Audiobooks Online.” These are all legal audio book options.

#3 Listen to podcasts. Similar to audiobooks, you can listen to podcasts while driving, cooking, folding laundry, or cleaning the rig. Some podcasts are educational; some are entertaining. You can learn all about finding free podcasts in a 2017 Wired article called “The Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts.”

If you’re wondering what podcasts I like, read my post about my favorites.

(Note: When listening to podcasts or audiobooks, use headphones or make sure your volume is low enough not to bother others. Folks who go into the wilderness to hear birdsong don’t necessarily want to hear what you consider entertainment.)

#4 Learn to do something new. If you’ve always wanted to (fill in the blank with an activity of your choice), but never had the time, your time has come. The Instructables website shares directions for almost any DIY project, craft, or van-home improvement project you can think of. You can learn a lot on YouTube too. I taught myself to macramé hemp jewelry, and The Man learned how to replace drum brakes by watching YouTube videos, so I suspect most folks could use YouTube to learn a new skill.

#5 Play a musical instrument. Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a lapsed musician, use your spare time to play an instrument. The Man carries an acoustic guitar in his mini van so he can play whenever he gets the urge. Coyote Sue often practices her flute while boondocking on public land. If space is at a premium, go for something small like a ukulele, a piccolo, a kazoo, or a harmonica. If you’re lacking space and/or money to buy something, remember, your voice makes music too.

(Note: As with podcasts and audiobooks, please make sure your musical endeavors don’t disturb others. When camping or boondocking on public land, let the sounds of nature prevail.)

I whipped up these postcards from collage fodder Coyote Sue sent me.

#6 Write Letters. Don’t think you have to be a great writer to wrtite letters to your friends and family. Trust me, your people will be so excited to get what I call “real mail,” they’ll barely care about what you write. If you’re too shy to write to the adults, write to the children. Kids always seem super excited to get mail.

If you don’t think you have enough to say to justify writing a letter, send a postcard. In tourist towns, I usually find postcards costing between 20 and 50 cents each. At thrift stores, I’ve found postcards as cheap as a nickel each. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to the place on the postcard. People like pretty photos, even if you’ve never seen the landmark in question.

If you need a creative project, make your own postcards like I did.

#7 Keep a journal. If you don’t much like writing, make it more like a log book where you record where you stayed, what you did, weather, gas mileage, or any information you might want to remember later. If you rather draw than write, sketch the trees, the people you meet, the critters you see.

#8 Get artsy–or crafty. Find ways to get in touch with your creative side that don’t require lots of materials or tools that take up too much of your precious space. Paint watercolors the size of postcards. Make collages. Decorate the

This is how Coyote Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig. She gave me permission to use this photo.

interior of your rig. Sketch your campsite. Make jewelry. Make your own greeting cards or postcards. Sculpt with air-dry clay. Whittle.

#9 Learn how to use the camera in your smart phone. With today’s technology, you don’t need a fancy schmancy camera to take decent photographs. Most cameras let you use filters on your photos; adjust contrast, sharpness, and exposure; crop your image; and doodle right on the picture. With all these bells and whistles, you can take a decent photo and turn it into an awesome photo. Of course, if you don’t know the basics of composition, you’ll want to learn that too, courtesy of ePHOTOzine.

A good place to start learning to use your camera phone is an article by Photography Concentrate called “Smartphone Photography 101.”

#10 Get close to nature. If you’re on public land, put on your sturdy shoes and go for a hike or a little walk, if that’s what you’re up for. Sit still and listen to the birds sing. If you’re in a city, get closer to nature in a park or arboretum. Learn to identify the trees, flowers, and/or medicinal plants in the area you’re in. At night look up at the sky and find the constallations. Paying attention to the cycles of nature could keep a person occupied for days, weeks, months, or even years.

I got close to this nature while boondocking outside Natural Bridges National Monument.

I hope this post inspires you to try some new things and figure out what fun activities make you happy as they fill your free time. Feel free to share what you do to stay busy in the comments below.

I took all the photos in this post with the exception of the one of Coyote Sue’s rig decorating endeavors, which I used with her permission.