Category Archives: Van Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen: Yes, that is correct.

RTA: How long have you been doing that?

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

RTA: What’s your rig?

Ellen: A Ford Transit Connect.

RTA: That’s pretty small.

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

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

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

RTA: So you cook outside?

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

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

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

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

Selective Focus Photography of Gasoline Nozzle

things about having the tiny rig.

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

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

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

RTA: [Boisterous laughter]

Ellen: [joins in with her own laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTA: How often do you think you do that?

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

RTA: Right!

Ellen: [Laughter]

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

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

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

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

 RTA: So what year is your current rig?

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

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

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

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

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

Brown Wooden Destination Arrow Guide

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen: Yeah, now I think they get it.

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

Ellen: Yes. Exactly.

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

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

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

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

RTA: Do you agree or disagree with that?

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

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

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

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

Ellen: Life is really awesome! [Laughter]

White Blooming Flower Under the Tree during Daytime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change is Inevitable

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I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about chaos for me.

Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back, and we signed the deed over to her.  We were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.

Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.

While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.

At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?

In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring life and creating art.

Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig. The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife hashtag.

While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually have some fun in the summertime.

So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange, and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.

Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.

What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes

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If you keep up with my blog, you know that recently my partner and I bought some land in Southern New Mexico. We didn’t do our homework until it was too late. After we bought the land, we realized we weren’t allowed to live in the land in a van, RV, school bus, or any other temporary dwelling. Today I’ll share what I learned from the experience so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

In several vandwelling/nomad groups I’m in on Facebook, people often bring up the idea of buying a small piece of inexpensive land in a rural location and using this as a home base. It seems they think, as my partner and I did, that property owners can pretty much do whatever they want on their own land. This is not always the case! Before you buy any land to use as a place to park your van or RV, do your research.

If you’re looking at ads for land online, read the whole thing very carefully and be sure to scrutinize the fine print. When my partner’s sister looked at online ads for land in the county where we were, she found several that were aimed at snowbirds who wanted a place to park an RV for the winter. Near the bottom ad, she found information on the limits placed on parking an RV within the county. If you only want to park your van or RV on a piece of property for 245 days a year (or whatever the actual limit is), great! However, if you want to leave an RV on the land year round while you go off exploring in a smaller rig, you need to know about these sorts of time limits.

The same sister told us that years ago, she and her partner were considering purchasing land in a remote area of Wyoming or Montana. There was lots of land available, but upon close scrutiny, she found the parcels had to either be left empty or a house had to be built there within a specified time period. If you have no plans to build a house, be sure you’re not buying land where building a conventional dwelling it the only way you’ll be allowed to live on your property.

Don’t automatically trust what the person you’re buying land from tells you can be done on the property. While I don’t think the woman we bought land from way trying to mislead us, I’m not so sure about the guy who sold the land to her.  She said she asked him if she was allowed to camp on the property and he told her doing so would be no problem. While she only camped on the land a week or two at a time once or twice a year, keeping her within the limits of the of the county ordinance that says an RV can be on undeveloped property for 30 days out of a year, she was breaking the subdivision covenant which says a temporary dwelling on the property can only be utilized while a house is being built. Maybe the guy who sold her the land wasn’t exactly lying. Maybe he’d been misinformed or assumed. In any case, don’t assume what you are told about a piece of property is true. 

Talk to a realtor if possible. I suspect realtors are held to higher ethical standards because they are professionals. I also suspect realtors are better informed than your average Joe trying to sell off some property. On the other hand, realtors are people too. Some of are unethical. Some are lazy. Some are misinformed. So while I might use a realtor as a source of information, I would use that information as a starting point for my own research. I wouldn’t unquestioningly believe everything that came out of a realtor’s mouth.

Speaking of realtor’s, a former realtor gave me some after-the-fact advice in a Facebook group. She said,


you definitely always want to check restrictions both on the deed and county/city. Also make sure you have legal access to the property. And don’t just go by looks. It may look like there’s a nice access road only to find out that’s not actual[ly] yours legally to use. And as mentioned above make sure there’s no zoning restrictions that would prevent what you want to do.

Doing an internet search on the particular area or subdivision you are interested in can alert you to any controversy surrounding the use of the land. What are landowners complaining about? Do their complaints relate to what you want to do with the land you purchase? Complaints don’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy land, but learning about controversy may allow you to go into a deal with your eyes wide open.

Talk to county officials (or folks who work their offices) who can tell you about ordinances, subdivision covenants, and land use restrictions. If you don’t know who to talk to, try the county recorder’s office, the county clerk, the county assessor’s office, or the office of county planning and development. If you call the wrong office, the person you talk to can point you in the right direction.

When you talk to the appropriate county worker or official, explain what you want to do on your land. Be clear and honest. I know sometimes we vandwellers and nomads have to be vague about how we live our lives because bureaucracy is not set up to accommodate people like us. However, I can assure you that it’s NO FUN to buy a piece of land and find out later that you can’t do with it what you intended to. I believe it’s better to find out before you plunk down your money that you’re not allowed to do what you have in mind with the property you are about to buy.

You may have better luck finding a place to accommodate you if you primarily want to own a piece of land to use as your permanent address, but not to live on for several months out of the year. Maybe your plan is to visit the land once or twice a year and live out of your van there for a week or two while you relax or do repairs and maintenance on your rig. This plan may go over better in a rural area than would a scheme to park on old RV or school bus there for long periods of time. I suspect the reason the woman we bought the land from got away with camping there over the course of several years was because she didn’t go there often and when she did, she didn’t stay long.

The bottom line is, know what you’re getting into before you lay your money down. We were lucky; when we realized we couldn’t do what we wanted with the land, the seller returned our money, and we transferred the land back to her. Most people who find out they can’t do what they want on their land will not be able to report this sort of happy ending.

Changes in My Life (and What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes)

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Blue sky and wispy grey clouds over sandy land dotted with scrubby bushes.
This is the land The Man and I bought in Southern New Mexico.

The last time I posted an update on my life, it was about how The Man and I were buying land in Southern New Mexico. Well, that was fun while it lasted.

We found the land on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning in February. In reality, The Man did all the work. He used printouts of maps of the area provided online by the county as well as the Google Earth app to find our approximate spot. We knew our lot was the fifth one from the corner, and we knew each lot was just over 100 feet wide, so we used a long tape measure to figure out just where our driveway should go.

The wind was blowing, as we’d been warned it would. This was no little breeze but a strong New Mexico wind. With the wind came dust, and we were out in it with nothing but our vans for protection.

We had a big cabin-style tent we’d used for two summers when we worked in the mountains of California. The Man started setting it up, but before he could stake it down, the wind caught it and blew it around. The Man said the tent was not going to work. We agreed we needed a place for storage as well as somewhere to get out of the wind and dust in order to cook. We drove the 15 miles to Wal-Mart determined to buy a tent.

There was quite a bit of choice on the tent aisle at Wal-Mart. We immediately eliminated anything too small to use as both a storage shed and a kitchen. We also eliminated anything that did not allow The Man to stand upright inside. Next, we eliminated any cabin-style tents because The Man did not think that design would survive the wind.

A large dome tent set against blue sky and grey clouds.
Biosphere 3 before The Man reinforced it by tying the poles together where they crossed and using the rope as extra guy lines.

The tent we bought had no rain fly. Instead, tent material zips down over mesh panels. Essentially there are windows in the ceiling that can be unzipped and opened for ventilation or zipped closed to keep out the elements. At first The Man was worried about the lack of rainfly, but later realized it was a good design for windy conditions. If there had been a rainfly, wind would have gotten up under it, creating stress on the whole structure.

The tent is big and similar to a geodesic dome. I named it Biosphere 3.

The tent has ten poles to give strength to the structure. The poles cross at points around the tent, increasing stability. The poles are color coded and have to be added in a specific order. It is a base camp tent, something to be set up then left alone for a week or two. In other words, it is a real pain in the ass to pitch this tent!

The tent came with regular metal stakes. The Man said those stakes weren’t going to hold against the New Mexico wind. We’d bought earth auger type stakes when we bought the tent, but we found those stakes didn’t work in the sandy soil where we were. (They weren’t worth a damn, The Man says.) We had a few large tent spikes Auntie M had given us before we left Arizona, so we used all we had to hold down the tent. The Man thought the tent needed even more stability, so we drove back to Wal-Mart to get more tent spikes and rope.

The Man ended up tying rope around each point where poles crossed. He then used that rope as a guy line which he staked using a tent spike. These extra guy lines gave added stability to the tent.

On Monday we went to the county building to transfer the land into our names and pay the taxes on it. The Man asked one of the county workers about any restrictions on the land. She directed us to a website where she said we could find subdivision covenants for the subdivision where our land was located.

Yep, our land was in a subdivision even though in reality we were in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and no amenities. The last three roads we took to our place were unpaved. There were no electric lines anywhere near us. We had no running water, no well. We had no mailbox, and I was confident there was no home delivery of mail. Our nearest neighbor was no closer than a quarter mile away, and we were pretty sure no one was actually living in that house. To say we were living in a subdivision was comical, except it was true.

Our plan was never to build a house. The Man and I thought building a house would be too much work. We really only wanted to be on the land six or seven months out of the year, in the winter. We wanted to buy an inexpensive travel trailer or fifth wheel or even an old school bus and leave it on our property while we were off earning money in the summer. We planned to stay in whatever dwelling we had during the mild New Mexico winters.

On Wednesday I went to the library to work on my blog while The Man went to the lapidary shop to cut stones. When he came to pick me up around noon, he said we should look at our subdivision covenants. We found the PDF file with the covenants for our subdivision, but that’s where the searching began.

The county worker had warned us that the covenants for the different blocks of the subdivision were not in any particular order. It looked like money had been spent to scan the pages and get them online, but no one had been paid to organize the pages beforehand. We had to wade through over 160 pages of documents before we found the covenants for our area.

The covenants were very specific. House could be no smaller than 600 square feet. Houses could be no more than one story. Garages could only hold two cars. No signs could be placed in the front yard except for “for sale” signs of specific dimensions. So many rules! Near the bottom of the page of the covenants pertaining to our land, we found the rule that would change our lives.

No temporary dwellings (“no trailers, no tents, no shacks,” the document specified) and no “privies” were allowed on the land, except during the construction of a house. Any house under construction had to be completed within six months. We were not allowed to do what we wanted to do on our land.

When we explained the situation to friends and family, several said, But if there’s nobody out there, can’t you get away with it? Who’s going to complain?

The problem was, we didn’t know who might complain or when. We did not want to pull a camper or a bus out there and then have to move it a month or six months or a year later. We did not want to live our lives wondering if today would be the day the sheriff showed up to kick us off our land. We were looking for stability, not uncertainty.

(Before we left town, The Man met a fellow who’d parked an RV on his own piece of property. After living there for three years, someone from the county showed up and told him he was in violation. He couldn’t get the trailer off the land within the allotted time, so he ended up spending eight nights in jail. When he got out of jail, he had to scrap the RV because he couldn’t afford to park it anywhere else.)

We were devastated. We felt as if our new life had been ripped away from us. Even if we wanted to build a house, there was no way we could afford to complete a 600 square foot dwelling within six months. We’d need permits and materials. We’d have to dig a well. We’d have to put in a septic system. We’d have to pay to have electrical lines run out to land.

What are we going to do? we asked each other.

The Man insisted we had to call the woman we’d bought the land from and let her know the situation in hopes of getting our money back. My Southern upbringing had me cringing at the idea, but The Man insisted. You call her, I told him, so he did.

As soon as The Man explained the situation, she offered to return our money. I have your money right here, she said. I haven’t spent any of it yet.

Getting the money back was a relief, but we still didn’t know where we were going to live.

The Man’s sister suggested we find a piece of property that wasn’t part of a subdivision. Maybe we could do what we wanted to do on a piece of unrestricted land.

The sister (who is a wizard at finding things online), quickly found ads for land for sale in our area. She gave The Man a phone number to call. He ended up having a long conversation with a realtor who shared some very interesting information.The county has a human population of 24,078 and over 90,000 subdivision lots. Most of those lots (90%, I would guess)  are empty. The Chihuahuan Desert is not for everyone, the realtor said when The Man asked why so few people are living on the land they own in these subdivisions.

The realtor then told The Man that an ordinance that applies to all property in the county limits the time an RV can park on undeveloped land to 30 days out of a year. If land is developed with electricity and septic, an RV can park on it less than 300 days a year. (The number of days was around 250, but I don’t remember the particulars.) When The Man asked why the county would not let people live in an RV on their own land year round, the realtor said county officials think such living arrangements would be bad for the economy.

At that point, we gave up on the whole county. We decided to each buy a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and stay in state parks in the southern part of the state until it was warm enough to go to Northern New Mexico where local government believes letting people live simply on their own land is good for the economy.

The land as we left it, after The Man had cleared an area for the tent and our vans.

On Wednesday I’ll share with you what I learned from this land-buying fiasco so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

I took the first two photos in this post. The Man took the last one.

In Praise of Paper Maps

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Person Holding Pen Leaning on Map Near Cup

According to the National Day Calendar website, April 5 is National Read a Road Map Day. To prepare us for this holiday, today I’ll share with you my ideas about why GPS isn’t enough, make suggestions about what maps to use depending on where you’re going, and give you tips on where to find help if you need to brush up on your map reading skills.

When did everyone become dependent on GPS and a computerized voice telling us when to turn left?

My dad was a salesman during the early years of my life. When he went out looking for clients, he used paper maps to find them. When I was very young, we moved to a major metro area. My dad had not a single paper map, but an entire large, thick book that showed each neighborhood, each street, each back alley. The book was laid out with some mysterious logic I still fail to understand which involved flipping to a whole new page in mid trip. How did my father possibly read that map while driving? I can only assume he studied the map and planned his trip before getting into the driver’s seat and stopped in a parking lot to consult the map any time he had to confirm his route or start over and figure out new directions.

In 1998 I found myself at a music festival with a need to get back to my home base sooner than planned. I didn’t have a car and didn’t drive. I was facing a multi-day Greyhound bus adventure, but a friend of a friend of a friend pointed me in the direction of a woman who was headed to the same city as I was. She had an open passenger seat and room in the back of her pickup for my gear. After she accepted me as her passenger, I found she also had a TripTik Travel Planner from AAA. Does anyone remember these customized booklets that AAA members could request from the local office? AAA members could get request directions to a specific destination and the local office would provide turn-by-turn instructions. I spent a lot of time holding that booklet from AAA, as I was immediately promoted from passenger to navigator.

(True confession: I still managed to send us off in the wrong direction, despite the turn-by-turn instructions in my hand. In my defense, we were in the outskirts of Chicago, and the proliferation of road signs had me befuddled. Luckily the driver quickly saw the error of my ways and got us back on track ASAP.)

I can’t remember exactly when I learned about MapQuest. Perhaps it was in the very early years of the 2000s when I got my first laptop. Maybe it was before that, and I’d use my computer at work or go to the public library to get my directions via the World Wide Web. I do remember finding directions online and either printing them or writing each step out by hand. MapQuest let me down multiple times (including on so many occasions on a single trip to Missouri that I grew convinced that no employee of MapQuest had ever driven one mile in the Show Me State), until I swore to never use that website again. Now I’m a Google Maps gal.

The first time I heard a talking GPS navigator was 2009. The parents of the

White Android Smartphone Inside Vehicle

guy who was then my boyfriend flew into the major city where we lived and rented a car because the guy and I didn’t have one. The car’s talking navigation system seemed to be more trouble to me than it was worth. We asked it to take us to tacos; instead it took us in circles as we tried to find a taco stand that apparently didn’t exist. I feared we would be directed to drive off a cliff or through a river.

Until I met The Man, I never let the navigation lady in Google Maps talk to me. I’d get directions from Google Maps, then write them out on a piece of paper I’d clip somewhere on my dash so I could refer to the instructions as I drove. I soon agreed with The Man that listening to the Google lady is easier than writing everything out, but it sure is a wrench in my system when she decides to send me on a wild goose chase. (I call them “wild Google chases.”) Why does the GPS lady get confused? Doesn’t her job require her to be omniscient?

And yet, I often wonder how our society got around before Google Maps or other GPS technology. When I think hard, I remember as a teenager having to ask friends how to get to their houses before my mother drove me over. Invitations to birthday parties often included small hand-drawn maps. Vacationers used road maps and those AAA TripTik booklets (if they were so fortunate as to be AAA members–my family never was). When folks got lost, they’d stop at a gas station and ask the worker for help.

Yes, I do appreciate GPS technology. I use it often. I’ve made friends with the Google Maps lady who guides me from inside my phone. (I call her Megan.) But for goodness sake, no matter how convenient GPS technology is, don’t forget your paper maps and don’t forget how to use them.

There are a few types of paper maps that you may need during your travels. Be sure to get the right map for the job!

(I’m going to assume you’re traveling in the U.S.A. since that’s where I’m writing from. I’ve you’re traveling in a country other than the U.S.A., I‘d love for you to leave a comment describing how your use of maps is different from the suggestions I’m giving here.)

Map of the World Book Laid Open on Brown Wooden Surface

For your day-to-day driving on the interstate and highways, use a decent road atlas. Rand McNally makes a good one. You can buy these bound sets of maps at bookstores or even Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart also sells a Rand McNally road atlas that shows the location of every Wal-Mart store in the U.S. This atlas would be a great investment for anyone who plans to spend a significant number of nights in Wal-Mart parking lots.SimplyRVing made a YouTube video all about this Wal-Mart atlas and how it can help you on the road.

If you’re planning your travels ahead of time, you can order an atlas online or through a local, independent bookstore. (Believe me, an independent bookstore will appreciate your business!) An atlas will show you the main roads to get you from town to town. The maps often show rest stops and campgrounds, as well as state and federal public land. Many of them also show basic maps of major cities and the most popular National Parks. If you purchase an atlas that covers all of North America, you’ll get maps of Canada and Mexico too.

If you’re only traveling in one state or region and you don’t have the space

Two People In Vehicle Looking At The Map

(or money) for an atlas, you can probably get by with one or more state maps. You can sometimes find state maps in bookstores or Wal-Mart stores, and you can certainly buy them online. However, state maps are typically available for free at visitor centers or by mail if you contact the state’s tourism office ahead of time. I was recently in the visitor center in Deming, NM where there were free maps available for New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.

(If you want to request free paper maps and other tourist information, the USATourist.com website offers a page with links to all the tourism offices in the USA.)

Sometimes a stand-alone state map will be more detailed than a state map in an atlas. It may show you county roads and tourists attractions. A state map may also include basic maps of major cities within the state.

If you want to explore a state thoroughly, especially if you want to boondock for free on public land, you may want to invest in an atlas or atlas and gazetteer for the state you are exploring.  These bound maps of individual states break the entire state into blocks, then enlarges each block to show not just county roads but also forest service roads, old mines, campgrounds, public land, historic sites, hunting zones, and more. Having a state atlas or atlas and gazetteer combo is a good plan if you want to find free camping areas that are off the beaten path. The two most popular brands are DeLorme and Benchmark.

Photo of Gray Concrete Road in the Middle of Jungle during Daylight

If you’re going to spend some time in a National Forest or BLM area (especially a popular one), you may be able to get a map from the local ranger station. These maps will show Forest Service roads, natural attractions and landmarks, and campgrounds. These maps will also save you from buying a gazetteer if you don’t really need it because you’ll be boondocking primarily in one part of the state. (The map of the National Forest I worked in for four seasons cost $20, but the ranger station may have free handouts that will get you where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies.)

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time in an urban area, you may want to get a good map of the city where you are based. Gas stations or Wal-Mart stores may have city maps, or you can order them before you hit town, if you’re the type to plan ahead. If you get to a city and need a free map of the area, try the local chamber of commerce. You don’t have to say you live in your van (if doing so makes you uncomfortable) when you explain you’re new to the area and need some help finding your way around. You could also go to the public library and print out some maps of the city that show the parts of town you plan to frequent.

Once you have your map, don’t just stick it in the pocket behind your seat and forget about it. Get that baby out and study it! Trust me, the best time to pull out your map is not when you are already lost.

If you’re using GPS to get to your destination, compare the route the

Person Holding Map of Usa

computer gives you to your map. Does what the GPS tell you make sense? Some camp host friends punched “Sequoia National Park” into their GPS, and after following the instructions given, found themselves turning down what seemed to be a dry riverbed. Oops! Had they consulted a map before the trip, they would have seen there was no reason to leave the pavement to get where they were going.

I’ve had Google Maps send me on wild Google chases even in cities and towns. Once when on the interstate, driving through the metro Los Angeles area, the Google Maps lady routed The Man onto Sunset Boulevard. Why? Why? Why? Google Maps often sent me on strange, roundabout routes through Porterville, CA. In any case, using a paper map to get familiar with an area before a trip can help do away with this type of nonsense. Simply being familiar with street names and the lay of the land can help make recovery a little easier if the GPS starts spewing incorrect information.

If you’ve never learned to read a road map or your skills are rusty, no shame! You can find lots of map-reading help on the internet. The Beginner Driver’s Guide will give you an informative overview of what different components of a map mean and how to use them. wikiHow has a thorough two-part article on “How to Read a Map,” including how to understand a map’s layout and how to use a map to get where you’re going. If you’d rather watch a video, there are several on YouTube dedicated to teaching folks how to read maps.

However you go about sharpening your map-reading skills, do it before you get on the road. Trying to interpret an unfamiliar map while trying to drive and read street signs is no easy task and could be a recipe for disaster.

GPS is quite helpful in getting you where you’re going, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your navigation toolbox. Make sure you have the correct paper map for the particular journey you’re on, and know how to use it so you can reach your destination with less worry and stress.

As always, Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. Do your research and decide for yourself your best course of action.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/activity-adventure-blur-business-297642/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/smartphone-car-technology-phone-33488/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-maps-american-book-32307/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-gray-concrete-road-in-the-middle-of-jungle-during-daylight-775199/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-close-up-fingers-focus-590133/.

Elder

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It’s not much of a story, really. The Man and I picked up an elderly Native man in Gallup, NM and gave him a ride downtown. It was a small kindness.

We’d left Flagstaff early, before the sun came up. We’d had coffee, but no breakfast. Somewhere after Winslow I announced I’d be pulling into the first Taco Bell we came to. The Man was agreeable. We both like the potato, egg, and cheese Fiesta Potato grilled breakfast burrito Taco Bell sells in the morning. It’s a lot of breakfast for a buck.

Close-up Photo of People Holding Usa FlagletsI think the Taco Bell was off the first eastbound I-40 exit to Gallup. I took the exit, and soon we saw the sign proclaiming the town “The Most Patriotic Small Town in America.”

What does that even mean? we wondered. Who decides such things?

After doing a little research, I found out the distinction was based on a contest sponsored by Rand McNally in 2013-2014. Ken Riege nominated Gallup in that category and did a lot of work to help the town win the honor. You can read the whole story of the contest on the I Am New Mexico website.

We saw the elderly hitchhiker just after we saw the sign. He was obviously Native, with short hair and clean clothes. I though about stopping to give him a ride, but we were only going to the Taco Bell, which wasn’t even half a mile past where he was standing. I hoped some other driver would stop for him and take him where he needed to go.

We had quite an experience at Taco Bell. None of the “open” signs were lit. Was the dining room open? Was the Black And White Photo Of Clocksdrive-thru open? Why was there only one car in the parking lot? Why was caution tape crossing each of the dining room windows? What time was it? Had we experienced a time change when we entered New Mexico? Wasn’t the time in New Mexico an hour ahead of the time in Arizona? It was past 7 am in Arizona and New Mexico, so the Taco Bell dining room should have been open.

Just go through the drive-thru, The Man suggested.

I wanted to order inside for several reasons. I wanted to use the restroom and add ice to my water bottle. I wanted to eat in peace, without Jerico the dog sad-eyeing my breakfast and silently begging for a bite. Also, since the window on the driver’s side of my van doesn’t go down, a trip through a drive-thru is a major hassle. I have to open my door and usually put the van in park and get most of the way out to pay for my purchase and receive my food. It’s a real pain in the neck. But I didn’t know what else to do because the dining room did not appear to be open.

Turns out, we had simply stopped at the slowest Taco Bell I’ve ever seen. There were no customers inside, making it look like the place wasn’t even opened. (The caution tape on the windows was actually part of the Halloween decorations.) No other customers were ahead of us in the drive-thru, and none pulled up behind us. I’m pretty sure the one car in the parking lot belonged to the one worker who took our order, prepared our food, bagged it, handed it to me, took my money, and made change. I guess while Gallup, NM is a hotbed of patriotism, it’s not a hotbed of Taco Bell action, at least not for Saturday morning breakfast.

Once we had our food, I drove around the front of the restaurant and parked on the side of the building. I pointed the nose of the van so the sun wouldn’t be in our faces, and we ended up looking toward the interstate. I could see the hitchhiker was still standing on the side of the road.

No one’s picked up that old man, I said.

We finished our breakfast, and I told The Man that we should go pick up the hitchhiker and drive him wherever he needed to go. We weren’t in any hurry, and The Man and I both think it’s important to help people when we can. The Man agreed that we should help the hitchhiker.

I said I was going into the Taco Bell to use the restroom and put ice in my water bottle. When I come back, we’ll go get that man, I said.

When I returned to the van, The Man was gone. At first I thought maybe he had gone into the Taco Bell to use the restroom too, but when I looked out the windshield, I saw him and the hitchhiker walking on the side of the road, heading towards me. The Man had gone to talk to the hitchhiker to make sure he seemed safe and to find out where he needed to go. By bringing the hitchhiker back to the van, he also saved me from having to make a U-turn and find a place to pull off the road where we could safely load the fellow into the van.

The Man ushered the hitchhiker into the front seat, and he and Jerico sat in the back. I asked the hitchhiker where he needed to go and he said, Just downtown.

I told him I wasn’t familiar with Gallup, and he pointed down the street that ran in front of the Taco Bell, in the direction away from the interstate. No problem, I told him, then proceeded to back the van over one of the parking lot barriers. The van was fine (it’s a beast, after all), and if the hitchhiker was worried about my driving abilities, he didn’t let on. I guess hitchhikers take what they can get.

Route 66 Printed on RoadAs I was driving, I realized we were on Historic U.S. Highway 66 (Route 66). According to the Legends of America website,

Known by several names throughout the years including the “Mother Road,” “Main Street of America,” and the “Will Rogers Highway,” Route 66 served travelers for more than 50 years, before totally succumbing to the “new and improved” interstate system.

Established in 1926, road signs began to be erected the following year, but, it would be several years before the 2,448 mile highway would be continuously paved from Chicago to Los Angeles.

I have a mild fascination with Route 66 and fantasize about driving at least the Arizona portion of it, so I was glad for the historic detour we were on.

It didn’t take us very long to get downtown. It was fun to see a part of Gallup I’d never seen before. (I’ve been through Gallup a few times, but never hung out there and hadn’t spent any time away from the I-40 corridor.) The downtown area looked cute, and I saw a sign for the Rex Museum, a place I’d like to visit. (The Rex Museum’s website says,

Once a brothel and later a grocery, the museum building houses exhibits detailing a wide swath of local history, exploring the culture of the area’s earliest inhabitants, mining and railroad activities through to present-day Gallup.)

The hitchhiker didn’t seem to want to talk much. I made some chitchat, and he gave brief answers to my questions, but I think we had some cultural differences regarding small talk. He did tell me where he wanted to get out, and I was able to pull into an empty parking space so he could safely climb from the van. He thanked us politely and we went our separate ways.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-people-holding-usa-flaglets-1449057/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-photo-of-clocks-707676/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/drive-empty-highway-lane-210112/.

Baby Bovine

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I was alone in my van, driving up from Babylon after two nights, a full day, and a morning in the heat. I was tired because the heat had kept me from getting good rest.  It was early afternoon, full daylight, and although my van is a lumbering beast, I was making good time up the mountain.

Most of the road was well-lit by the sun, but where tree branches hung over the asphalt, shadows darkened the edge of the road. With my sunglasses on, it was sometimes difficult to see what was lurking in those shadows.

Crews were out felling hazard trees. The tree cutting had been going on for almost two months, and still there were dead and dying trees for the crews to take down. I slowed to a crawl when I saw workers on the side of the road and obeyed the signs demanding “slow” or “stop.”

I’m generally a cautious driver, and I tend to be even more careful on mountain roads. However, I almost had big trouble that afternoon.

I was taking a curve, and the road immediately ahead of me was deep in shadows. I was maybe going a little faster than I should have been. Maybe I had looked off to my left, or maybe I was daydreaming a little. I don’t remember what I was doing before I realized something was lurking in the shadows, but I do remember the panic and fear I felt when I realized something was out there.

Brown Cow in Green Leaf Grass during DaytimeIt was a calf, and it bolted. Instinct caused me to swerve into the other lane to miss hitting it. At first I didn’t think I had swerved fa r enough, and I worried I might hit the calf with the back of my van. Then I saw the calf running in the direction I was going and knew it was ok. I stayed in the wrong lane long enough to bypass the calf, then swung the van back into my lane.

Once I was away from the calf, I thought about the way I had swerved the van into the other lane without even looking to see if another vehicle was there. Luckily there wasn’t a vehicle in that lane, but what if there had been? What if someone had been coming from the opposite direction and had plowed into me because they were traveling too fast to stop?

I silenced my worried thoughts. It wouldn’t do any good to work myself into a panic over something that was finished. Just be more careful, I reminded myself.

What really mystified me was why that calf was alone. The bovines in that area usually hung out in groups of half a dozen or more. I occasionally saw a grown cow alone, but never a baby. I think I would have seen a grown cow more easily in the shadows. I certainly would have been going slower had I seen a cluster of cows on the road or by its side. In any case, the baby’s mamma was not there doing her job, and she and I both nearly paid the price.

I listened to my own advice and was more careful the rest of the way back to my campground. I especially slowed down and took a good look any time my side of the road was cloaked in shadow.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-cow-in-green-leaf-grass-during-daytime-51950/.

Eleven Places Where Nomads Can Look for Temporary Work

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I see some version of this question posted over and over again in Facebook groups for van dwellers, rubber tramps, nomads, full-time RVers, and other folks who live on the road:

How do you guys make money?

Folks who aren’t living off retirement funds, disability benefits, or inherited money are probably going to have to work at least part time to pay the bills. Even people who live simply still have to feed themselves and put gas in the tank, so what’s a broke nomad to do?

If you don’t want to settle in one place long enough to take on a permanent position, getting a temp job while on the road will put money in your pocket.

Here’s a list of ten places to look for work that will last a few days (or maybe a few weeks) and allow you to earn the funds to get you down the road.

#1 Good ol’ Craigslist

While staying temporarily in major cities, I’ve been able to find plenty of short-term jobs through Craigslist ads. Thanks to Craigslist, I found a weekend gig selling lemonade at an ostrich festival, filled a position handing out cookie samples at a grocery store, got paid to help a woman set up her garage sell, was financially compensated for participating in physical and mental health studies at a major university, made a few bucks sitting on two mock juries, and got a dog sitting job that led me to getting paid for cooking and cleaning house for the dog’s person. I look under the “etc / misc” header in the jobs column, then skip down to look at the categories under “gigs.”

#2 Bulletin Boards

Look for bulletin boards around town. I often see them at libraries, grocery stores and laundromats. If you’re in a university town, look around on campus for bulletin boards. Any time I see a bulletin board, I scour the flyers for job opportunities. In Taos, NM one spring, The Man answered an ad I spotted on a flyer at the natural foods store and got a two-day job helping an older couple move. In addition to getting paid, he was fed lunch too!

#3 Help Wanted Signs

When I was in Moab, UT in April of 2018, there were help wanted signs all over the place. The Family Dollar (or was it the Dollar General?) had a help wanted sign on the front door. The mom and pop grocery store had a help wanted sign in the window. This recruitment method told me these stores were getting a little desperate to hire workers because things were going to get busy soon.

If I had been looking for a job in Moab, I wouldn’t have just applied at the places where I saw actual help wanted signs. The signs were a clue to me that the whole town was going to need workers in the very near future. If I had been looking for work in Moab, I would have stopped in at any place I might be interested or qualified to work in and asked to fill out an application.

Of course, a help wanted sign has the potential to lead to a job that’s going to last more than a day or two. That’s ok if you’re looking for something longer term. In a tourist town, a business might only be hiring seasonally, which may be perfect for you if you’ll want to move on when seasons change.

I recently learned of another way to earn money from help wanted signs. Job Spotter by Indeed is an app which allows people to earn points for taking photos of help wanted signs. The points can be exchanged for gift cards. The Penny Hoarder website has an article by with all the details. From what I’ve read, no one is going to get rich from the Job Spotter app, but if you are in a town where help wanted signs are posted, you could earn yourself some gift card credit this way.

Selective Focus Photography of Magazines#4 Local Newspapers

It might not even be worth looking at a big city newspaper for a job, but sometimes newspapers in smaller towns are kind of a big deal. If you’re in a small city or town, check out the help wanted section, either online or in the physical newspaper. Like to read a printed version of the newspaper, but don’t want to spend money? Look around for a discarded copy at the coffee shop you’re hanging out in, or ask at the local library if they have a copy available to the public.

#5 Word of Mouth

If you’re in a place where you know people or if you’re the outgoing type, talk to people and let then know you Smiling Person Holding Gray Stainless Steel Canare looking for work. If you overhear someone talking about needing to hire someone for a short-term job, introduce yourself. I’ve gotten some of my best pet sitting gigs because a friend of a friend was going out of town needed someone to care for the dogs.

#6 Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade Groups

In the small town where I spend my winters, people use the local Facebook buy/sell/trade group as a kind of electronic community bulletin board. Group members post about everything from bobcats harassing their house cats to tamales for sale. I’ve seen members post about needing help with yard work for an afternoon or weekend, and recently someone was looking for a person to clean her house regularly. If you’re spending some time in a small town and want very short term work, you may see if the community uses their buy/sell/trade group this way.

#7 On the Radio

KTAO 101.9 FM in Taos, NM has an on air “swap meet” called Trash and Treasures.

Listeners can call up and buy, sell, or trade any item or service that is not a live animal, business, or anything inappropriate…

Black and Silver Cassette PlayerA person in Taos with a skill could call Trash and Treasures and announce the desire to work to the entire radio audience. There’s a limit to how often a person can make such an announcement, but as long as the rules are followed an individual could offer yard work, house deep cleaning, dog walking, mural painting, or whatever skill one has to share.

I’ve heard that this sort of radio bulletin boards exist in small communities across the United States, so ask around if you’re in a little town.

#8 Remote Locations

If you’re already in a remote location (while camping, hiking, fishing, or doing some other outdoorsy activity) and would like to stay longer but are running out of funds, ask any businesses in the area if they’re hiring. Last May, the restaurant/bar/general store down the road from where The Man and I worked on the mountain hired two sets of people (a married couple who live in a short bus and a couple of guys traveling together) who were just passing through. All the folks worked through the busy season, then headed out after Labor Day.

The Big Boss Man needed another worker at the parking lot and ended up hiring a woman who’d come into the Mercantile and asked the other clerk (who also happened to be the Big Boss Man’s wife) How do I get a job up here? She’d been living in her car in the town at the foot of the mountain, and needed money for the next leg of her journey. She worked for a couple of months, which helped out the crew on the mountain, then moved on at the end of the season with some coins in her pocket.

Businesses in such remote locations are often in dire need of workers, so if you’re there and would like to stay for a while, ask around to find out if anyone needs help.

#9 Construction Sites

I’ve never tried this myself, but I’ve been told there’s potential for short-term work at construction sites. Have tools Man Wearing Black Denim Pants With Carrying Hammer on Holsterand skills? Track down the boss at a construction site and offer your services. If the crew is short and on a deadline, you might get hired on the spot. If you have a pickup truck and the ability to haul construction waste to the dump, you might get paid to perform that service.

#10 Temp Agencies

If you’d prefer to get jobs through more formal channels, try a temp agency, also known as a staffing agency. When I worked for Manpower, I got jobs supervising equipment at a dog food factory, packing jewelry into boxes, washing dishes in a school lunchroom, tallying votes after a local election, and removing staples from financial documents. Most of these jobs lasted just a day or two, and I was assured I was free to turn down any job for any reason.

Other well-known staffing agencies include Kelly Services and Addeco. A Glassdoor article by entitled “14 Great Staffing Agencies to Help You Kick Start Your Job Search” recommends other temp agencies to consider. The agencies listed in that article include the following: Integrity Staffing Solutions (office/clerical, professional and industrial staffing) and PrideStaff (office support, finance and accounting, light industrial, legal support, telemarketing, and customer service).

#11 Online Job Boards

Look online for websites with job boards like the one on the Your RV Lifestyle site. The jobs listed on this page range from camp host to grounds maintenance staff to janitor to blogger. Some of the positions are short term, while others seem to be long term or have no set end date.

If you’re interested in getting a seasonal job at a campground, check out my post “10 Steps to Getting a Job as a Work Camper at a Campground.”

I hope these ideas will help you find work if and when you need it. Remember, this post is a starting point; get out there and do your own research! Blaize Sun is not responsible for you! Only you are responsible for you!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cash-close-up-dollars-545065/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/advertisements-batch-blur-business-518543/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/marketing-man-person-communication-362/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-cassette-player-159613/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/hammer-craftsman-tools-construction-8092/.

Fear Is Often a Lack of Knowledge (an Interview with Blythe)

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Blythe is a vivacious woman in her 70s who spends part of the year traveling solo in her van and the rest of the year living in a fifth wheel in the desert. While not currently a full-time traveler, she’s nomadic and moves with the seasons. She’s spent time on the road since she was a kid with a truck driver for a dad and has crisscrossed the United States countless times in the last 30+ years.

I met Blythe at the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and found her to be a sweet and caring person. I’ve been able to visit with her more once we found ourselves spending winters in the same area. At the end of November 2018, I sat down with Blythe on a warm desert day and talked with her about her rig, fear (and the lack of it), and her advice to older women who are considering solo travel in a van.

Rubber Tramp Artist: I know that now you’re not a full-time traveler, but you are nomadic, and you travel with the seasons. What months do you do most of your traveling?

Macro Photography of Black Sunglasses on SandBlythe: In the perfect situation, it would be during the summer, but…it depends on when I’m going to the VA for appointments, when I go to see my daughter in one part of the states , and then I go on the other side [of the country] to the other daughters. It just depends on a lot of stuff, but primarily I try to do it around late spring and late summer.

RTA: Do you go pretty much the same route every year to do your visiting?

Blythe: Pretty much because I’ve been doing it for a really, really long time, but not from here so long. This is the third year [from] here.

RTA: If you go to the same places every year, how do you keep your travels from getting boring? Do you stop in different places? Are [do you have a mindset of] “I just want to get from Point A to Point B without a lot of stopping”?

Blythe: It depends on what’s going on [and] why I’m going. I stop and see my sisters in Montana . I stop along the way. I stay overnight here and there. Primarily when I go up I go the same way because it’s quick. I stop…and stay at a little lake…I stop a lot actually, when I think about it…

It used to be that I just drove a lot but I always varied everything. I traveled for 20 years back and forth from Seattle to Florida because I had one kid in Florida and two kids in Seattle. I would go to my mom’s in Montana, then I’d drop down and go to Albuquerque to see my brother…I had land in [southern] New Mexico , and I’d stop there for a week or two and relax and then I’d head to Florida. I did that for 20 years, and I did it sometimes twice a year…Otherwise, I never would have seen my grandchildren or my children…I just enjoyed myself and went back and forth.

RTA: So you started traveling often as a way to be in contact with your grandkids?

Blythe: Yeah…I traveled before that because my dad was a truck driver and he used to make me drive with him. I started out real young.

RTA: Tell me about your rig. What do you travel in?

Blythe: A Ford van. It’s one that was built specially for traveling.

It had a bed in the back that was horrible. I took that out. One of my friends and her husband and son and grandson, it took them three hours to get it out because [the bolts were] so rusted in. They finally got it out. Then I built another bed in there. Just recently I built another bed.

RTA: Do you have a kitchen in the van?

Blythe: I don’t really have a kitchen. I have [space] where I can cook if I need to, and I can cook outside of course. But [the van] is pretty big. It’s a lot bigger than the last van I had. The last van I had was a minivan. This one [her current van] is a lot more comfortable and has a lot more room.

RTA: It looks like [your van has] a bit of a high top. Can you stand up in it?

Blythe: I can because I’ve been shrinking so much. All I have to do is tilt my head a little bit, and I can stand up, which is wonderful, the only good thing about being old I can think of!

RTA: What are three things you love about your van?

Blythe: It’s a nice old van, and it’s faster than the last one I had. Before that I had a Chinook motor home. It was a ’76 and… the size of a Toyota pickup. So [the current van] is a lot bigger than that one.

I really like Fords. They’re my favorite kind.

It’s really sturdy, and it’s been flipping around for a while.  I’ve had it almost four years.

RTA: What year is it?

Blythe: It’s an ’89…It only cost me $1000. One of my friends got it in trade for horses. She called me and said, “I got a van for you!” [Laughs]

RTA: Awesome!

RTA: What are three things you’d like to change about the van?

Blythe: [Long pause] Not too much of anything, actually. I’m pretty satisfied with it. I want to keep it going for another ten years. I’ve been doing a lot of maintenance work on it. In the last month I’ve had all kinds of different things done to it. I’ve got one more thing to go and then it will be pretty well set for quite a while.

It’s got a really good motor. That’s one of the reasons I like Fords…because their motors last a long time…If there was anything [I wanted to change], I’d just change it. I get attached to my vehicles.

The minivan I had for ten years. I kept saying “This is the last trip. This is the last trip,” and it kinda just gave up finally after all those last trips.

RTA: [Laughs]

RTA: Why do you prefer to travel in your van instead of flying or taking a train or going on the bus?

Blythe: The van will go places that the train and bus don’t go. I couldn’t stop to see a lot of people. Pretty soon I’m going to start flying though because I am getting older. It’s not as much fun to drive anymore. I think if you drive your whole life and you drive a lot you get sort of tired of the whole thing.

I’m thinking about flying to Montana and then flying over to Washington and then down to Eugene where my girlfriend lives or else taking a train down there is always fun.

[Traveling in the van] is just easier because of the weird places I go…I don’t like hotels or motels. I find them really yucky. You never know who was there before you!

RTA: Do your kids worry about you when you’re on the road?

Blythe: I think they kinda do but not really because I’ve been doing it for so long…It would be different if I’d just started. I think that’s a whole different ballgame, but if your mother’s been going across the United States for the last 40 years and driving and never having that much problems, and the problems I do have haven’t been so bad Bokeh Shot of White and Gold Ceramic Angelthat I couldn’t get out of it…[The kids] get used to it.

I asked… my oldest daughter , and she said, “Oh, I know you run around with this angel on your shoulder, and I don’t think there’s anything that could get you.”

RTA: Where do you stay when you’re not traveling?

Blythe: At this RV park that we’re in right now. This is sort of new because I stay here most of the year.

I’m thinking about trying to find a place in Northern Arizona so that I can be there during the summer. I hate staying with my children more than a month at a time because I feel like I’m taking advantage of them, and I don’t like to do that. They say, “Oh, you’re not [taking advantage]. You’re not! We’re fine with it.“ They have their own lives. Why should they have their mother looking over their shoulder?

RTA: So, we’re in the desert and I’m thinking that your concern is that it gets too hot here.

Blythe: It gets pretty warm.

RTA: For about six months of the year…

Blythe: No, not six months.

RTA: Not for you because you like it really hot…

Blythe:  Yeah

[Both laugh]

Blythe: I feel good when it’s warm. Probably four months out of the year [it’s really hot].

RTA: So maybe you’re thinking of transitioning to traveling less because maybe now you’ll be flying…

Blythe: Yeah. Yeah.

Green Grass FieldRTA: So you’d want a place to go sort of in those…I think they call them in…the travel industry the “shoulder” months when it’s still too hot to be in the desert.

RTA: How did you decide on this place in the desert as your home base?

Blythe: It offers a lot of stuff that most places don’t. I don’t have to move around [because she can leave her RV on her lot all year long]. I’ve got an RV that’s pretty good size.

There’s water [where she stays when not traveling] and there’s shower houses and all kinds of stuff to do and nice people and it’s just a good place. It’s a real good place.

RTA: Before you got this fifth wheel that you have now, were you living full-time in your van other than the times you were visiting [people]?

Blythe: At times. Like I said, it’s been a long time. The first van I had was given to me because this girl’s grandmother had died. Her name was Maggie; we named the van Maggie. It had a bed in the back and a refrigerator, and a stove, and it had a little closet…I drove that until it literally almost fell apart. I used to take my grandchildren all over the place…with it. I lived in that [van] quite a bit…over the years…

RTA: Before you moved into this fifth wheel, were you living full-time in the van?

Blythe: Yeah. Except for I lived up around Seattle…I was up there 18 months this last time…It’s very, very expensive up there…Without living somewhere that’s less expensive, I had to think about every penny I spent. Every penny! Literally. I got sick and tired of that. I just thought, well, I’ll find someplace else. Then I heard about this place.

RTA: What do you like about living and traveling solo?

Blythe: You don’t have to talk to somebody about where you’re gonna go, when you’re gonna go, where you gonna eat, why you’re gonna eat. All the stuff that you have when you have other people traveling with you in your van, which I can’t even imagine, except for my grandchildren, and they’re grown now so I don’t have to worry about that.

Traveling with other people in their own vans is a lot more fun, but you still have to worry about where you’re going to meet them or if they take off and you don’t know where they went. Like I had a situation where someone took off and I hadn’t even looked at the map because I didn’t think I needed to. Then we ended up not knowing where we were going. The other person I was traveling with didn’t bring a map and neither did I.

RTA: Ooops!

Blythe: It turned out to be a lot of fun, but still…You don’t have to worry about that when you’re on your own…You just figure it out on your own.

RTA: Is there anything that you don’t like about living and traveling solo?

Blythe: [Long pause] No. I have never had fear because I wasn’t brought up with fear when I was a kid. My dad always told us there was absolutely nothing we couldn’t do. He also told us that being girls, we had to react like men to fear instead of…reacting to fear with fear like women are taught to do. React to fear with anger. That does tend to help…

I’m very careful. I never, ever take any chances. If I feel like there’s something wrong, I just get up and turn on the motor and leave…If you have any inclinations that way, you should listen to them. I always told my kids that. I was in a place in Texas and I got really uncomfortable and I thought, Oh, I already paid for it and blah blah blah…Then I thought, If I was talking to my kids, I’d say “Get out of here,” so I just got in the front and left.

RTA: What advice would you give to other older women who are considering doing solo travel in vans?

Blythe: [Begin by] tak[ing] little trips because if you haven’t done it like I have my whole life, you need to get acclimated to it. Fear is often a lack of knowledge about what you’re doing so if you do it, then you get…really comfortable and it won’t be this big scary thing. [It becomes] something that’s fun and easy to do. It is very simple to live this way. You don’t have to have electricity. You can have solar lights that charge in your window…You can even just have [lights that use batteries]. It’s not a big deal. You just have to get used to it.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. Blythe approved this version of the interview before it was published.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/macro-photography-of-black-sunglasses-on-sand-1209610/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bokeh-shot-of-white-and-gold-ceramic-angel-40878/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/america-arid-blue-boulder-434501/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-maps-american-book-32307/.

New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass

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The New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass, is a great deal for anyone who wants to spend more than month exploring the state and staying in the campgrounds of its state parks. The Man and I both bought New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes in the fall of 2017 and camped at several of the state parks campgrounds separately and together.

I’ll tell you everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass (abbreviated to NMSPACP in the rest of this article) so you can decide if it’s right for you.

As of late November 2018 when I’m writing this article, the fees, permits, and rentals page  of the New Mexico State Parks website gives the following price breakdown for the pass:

Sunset in the day use area at Brantley Lake State Park.

New Mexico Resident (Proof of New Mexico I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $180

New Mexico Resident *Senior, 62+ (Proof of Age and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $100

New Mexico Resident *Disabled (Proof of disability required.) $100

Out-of-State Resident (Proof of I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $225

If you lose your annual camping permit, no problem! You can get a replacement for only $10.

If you are a resident of New Mexico with a disability, there are several things you can use to prove  your disability to the satisfaction of the folks at the New Mexico State Parks. See the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page to find out what documents you need to get your reduced-rate permit.

Primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park

Permits for seniors and folks with disabilities can only be purchased at the New Mexico State Parks’ Santa Fe Office, located at 1220 S St Francis Drive #215 or at any  New Mexico State Park Visitor Center. The passes for New Mexico residents and out-of-state residents can also be purchased online. I purchased my pass in person at the visitor center at Leasburg Dam State Park, so I don’t know if there are any extra charges for buying the pass online.

If you have a NMSPACP, you can camp in any primitive camping area (usual cost: $8 per night) or on any developed camping area with no hookups (usual cost: $10 per night) in a New Mexico state park for no additional charge. According to the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page,

Primitive campsites offer no special facilities except a cleared area for camping. Sites may include trash cans, chemical toilets or parking.

Primitive camping also offer no designated sites. You’re basically boondocking when you camp in a primitive area at a New Mexico State Park.

I’ve camped in primitive camping areas at Caballo Lake State Park, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and Brantley Lake State Park. In both of those parks, primitive camping was lakeside. I also witnessed primitive camping next to the lake at Bluewater Lake State Park. Although the primitive areas offer few or no amenities, campers are welcome to venture into other areas of the park and use the water spigots, restrooms, showers, and dumpsters if such facilities are available. (To find out what amenities are at each park, take a look at the printable New Mexico State Parks brochure.)

The developed camping areas typically offer a fire ring and a picnic table. Sometimes the developed areas offer

This is what the developed campsites look like at Brantley Lake State Park. Beware: At this park, ALL developed sites have electric hookups, so if you plan to stay in the campground, you’re going to have to pony up $4 a night, even if you have the NMSPP.

shade covers too.These campsites tend to be in campgrounds, closer to toilets (either flush or pit, depending on where you are) and sources of potable water. I’ve stayed on developed sites at Brantley Lake State Park, Percha Dam State Park, Elephant Butte State Park, Rockhound State Park, Leasburg Dam State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The Man spent some nights at City of Rocks State Park; while I have visited that park during the day (and think it’s a gorgeous place), I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there.

Your NMSPACP does NOT provide for free electric or sewage hookups. If you have the annual camping permit and want an electric hookup, it will cost you an additional $4 per night. A sewage hookup if you have an annual camping permit will also cost an additional $4 per night. If you have the annual camping permit and you want both an electric and sewage hookup, that will set you back $8 per night. New Mexico State Parks do not charge for water hookups where they are available.

According to the New Mexico State Parks page devoted to camping,

Sunset over Oliver Lee State Park.

Campers may reside in a park for a maximum of 14 days during a 20 day period. Campers shall completely remove camping equipment and gear from the park for 7 calendar days during the 20 day period.

Here’s what that means if you have a NMSPACP. You can stay in any New Mexico State Park for up to 14 days, then you have to leave that park. However, you can go directly to another New Mexico State park and stay there (for free if you camp in a primitive area or on a developed site with no hookups) for seven days, then turn around and go back to the park you left a week ago.

If you wanted to save money on gas, you could stay in an area where there are state parks not too far from each other (such as Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Caballo Lake State Park, and Percha Dam State Park or Rockhound State Park, Pancho Villa State Park, and City of Rocks State Park) and go in a circuit from one to another, staying two weeks at each.

This was my view of Caballo Lake when I stayed in the primitive camping area of the state park.

The NMSPACP is good for only one vehicle per site. I called the New Mexico State Parks main office to make sure I understood this point correctly. I was hoping that even though The Man and I have separate vehicles, we could share one pass. No go! However, when we were camping together at Leasburg Dam State Park, there was only one developed campsite with no hookups available, and we were allowed to have both of our rigs on the site with no problem. (Note: I had a Chevy G20 and the man had a Honda Odyssey, so both rigs fit easily on the site, facilitating our sharing of the space.)

I bought my NMSPACP early in November 2017. When I bought it, the park ranger gave me a sticker to attach on my windshield. This sticker showed that I was a pass holder and it gave the expiration date of my pass. At the time I purchased my pass, there was space for the month and the year the pass expired. (The passes may be configured differently, depending on when you read this post.) My pass said it expired 11-18 (November 2018). I didn’t think to ask at the time, so I again called the New Mexico State Parks main office to find out if that pass expired on the first day of the month noted on it, or the last day. The answer: the last day! So even though I’d bought my pass early in November 2017, it was good through the last day of the month in 2018.

The campground at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.

I think that’s everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass. If you have questions on topics I didn’t cover, I strongly encourage you to call the New Mexico State Parks main office at 505-476-3355. I’ve called the office several times with questions and the woman who answered the phone was always exceptionally pleasant and helpful. Talking to her was always a joy.

The information included in this post is subject to change, especially the information on prices. Blaize Sun is not responsible if the information she gave you is no longer applicable when you read this post; this information is a starting point. Everything was correct to the best of her knowledge when the post was written. You are strongly urged to call the New Mexico State Parks office or check internet sources for updated information.

So much cool at City of Rocks State Park.

I took all of the photos in this post.