I’ve always been a conversion van sort of gal. I’ve owned five conversion vans (4 Chevy G20s and 1 Dodge Ram) since 2010. When I decided to sell my truck and buy a van, I was pretty sure I’d buy another conversion van. Then I started seeing what used vans were actually available in the state of New Mexico.
On Craigslist I found newer traditional conversion vans and Sprinter vans on the used vehicle market, but those rigs were wildly out of my price range. If I’d had $10,000 or more in my pocket, one of those big van could have been mine. Since I only had around $7,000 in my pocket, none of those vans were to be mine.
The vans in my price range were older. I saw vans from the 90s, 80s, and even 70s advertised on Craigslist. I was unsure how wise it would be to invest in a vehicle that was more than 20 years old. My friend Brent strongly suggested that I get somethings manufactured in the 21st century. Besides just being old, the majority of full-size vans I saw that I could afford were high mileage. I saw vans for sale with 180,000; 200,000; 250,000 miles on them. How long could something with so many miles on it last before I encountered a major problem? I was really worried about buying myself a big ol’ problem (or a bunch of smaller problems) in the form of an older van.
After looking at all of the Craigslist ads for full-size vans in New Mexico and finding nothing suitable, I started looking at ads from Arizona. There were more large vans available in the Copper State, and I thought maybe I’d have to go Arizona and stay with friends while I shopped for a van there.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated everything. (What hasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic complicated?) I had received both of my vaccine shots, but none of my friends had received theirs. The last thing I wanted to do was infect anyone, especially people I care about. How could I keep everyone safe during my visit? Where would I sleep while staying with friends in order to not risk anyone’s health? Should I use public transportation to go van shopping? Would it be safe to have a friend drive me to see vehicles? How dangerous would it be for me to meet with a variety of strangers and test drive their vehicles? How would I get to Arizona anyway? My truck was sold, and there’s no Greyhound service from the town I live in. I probably didn’t want to be on a bus with strangers and their breath for 6 or 8 hours anyway.
On the second day of my ad search, I realized I was seeing a lot of New Mexico ads for minivans in my price range. I’ve always been a conversion van gal, but I started thinking maybe driving a minivan would be ok.
The biggest factor I considered when I thought about buying a minivan is that I’m no longer a full-time rubber tramp. I’m keeping my little trailer parked in the little RV park, and I’ll live in it 7 or 8 months out of the year. Because I won’t have to shove everything I own (and believe me, I am not a minimalist) into a minivan, I was able to imagine living and traveling in one for 4 or 5 months at a time.
Of course, gas mileage is the siren song of the minivan. When I interviewed The Man about why he chose to live and travel in a minivan, the main reason he gave for his decision was the minivan’s good gas mileage. After years of driving my vans and truck and getting 15 miles per gallon at best, I was ready to spend less on gas. Not only will the minivan give me good gas mileage during the 4 or 5 months when I’m traveling, I’ll save money when driving around town running errands when I’m living stationery in my travel trailer during the winters. If I want to take road trips during the spring, fall, and winter, I can do so without worrying that stops at the gas station will break my bank.
Reliability was another important minivan attribute. When The Man was in the market for a minivan, he spent hours researching the best on the market. He found the two most reliable minivans available were the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey. I figured if I got one of those van models and maintained it properly, I could probably drive it for a long, long time.
As I looked through minivan ads on Craigslist and Facebook, one in Albuquerque caught my attention. It was a 2005 Toyota Sienna with under 100,000 miles on it. It was being sold by the original owner. I sent the owner lots of questions throughout the day and he answered each one promptly. By the end of the day, I had an appointment to see the van the next afternoon.
My mechanically inclined friend drove me out to look at the van, crawled under the van to look for leaks, checked the fluids, rode with me while I drove the car, and took it out for a spin himself.
On the plus side, the vehicle seemed to be in good mechanical condition. There were no leaks. No “check engine” lights were on. The owner said the van had passed the emissions test the last time it had been inspected, about eight months prior and had never been in an accident.. The owner also said the minivan had never been his family’s primary vehicle. His family had always had another vehicle, so the minivan mostly sat in the garage except for the few times they drove it to Vegas on family trips. On the minus side, the van needed new tires, a new battery, and new windshield wiper blades. All things considered, I decided to buy the vehicle.
I had the van’s oil changed right away. I bought a new battery for it, new windshield wiper blades, and four new tires. The nice man who helped me at AutoZone confirmed what my friend had said: he neither saw nor smelled any evidence of leaks. He said the engine compartment looked very clean. The young man who put on new tires at Discount Tire said the can’s alignment seemed fine; the tires weren’t worn unevenly. I’ve driven the minivan over 600 miles in the weeks since I purchased it, and all seems well.
The minivan drives smoothly and quietly and practically parks itself. Its got more get up and go than any conversion van I ever drove. I am so relieved that I no longer practically need a ladder to get in and out of my vehicle. The air conditioner blows cold. The stereo sounds good.
I named it the Silver Streak.
I’ve pulled most of the seats out, and I’m getting it ready so I can sleep in it and live in it. I’m about to take it out on the road for the start of my summer travels. Hopefully it will hold up as well as I think it will. Stay tuned for more posts about getting the seats out and how I set everything up.
I took the photos in this post unless otherwise noted.
I recently sold my truck. I put it on the market on a Friday, and by Tuesday it was sold. It was a newish truck (2014) with a lot of nice features, including a towing package, but I’m convinced some of the things I did helped it sell so fast. Today I’m going to share tips to help you sell your vehicle quickly and for the most money.
(Note: Many of these tips could also help you if you’re selling a travel trailer, 5th wheel or motor home.)
Clean, Clean, Clean
Your first job when it comes to selling your vehicle is to clean it from top to bottom, inside and out.
The interior of my truck was covered in dog hair and New Mexico dust. I vacuumed the floor and seats and attacked all cloth surfaces with duct tape to pick up the hair. I wiped down all the surfaces that weren’t cloth (dash, instrument panels, inside of doors, seat belt hardware, steering wheel, etc.) with soapy water. I scrubbed the seats by hand using hot water with a little soap in it dispensed from an old spray bottle, and a scrub brush (actually a shower/bath brush bought at a thrift store). I soaked up the water with microfiber towels. Finally, I wiped down all surfaces that weren’t cloth with Armor All, which really improved the looks.
It may seem like my cleanup was no big deal, but it was really a massive undertaking. The process of cleaning the truck took hours and hours ad hours, and I used toothpicks, cotton swabs, and a toothbrush to get into every crack and crevice. Yes, the interior of my truck was very dirty, so it took a lot of work to get it very clean. I wanted potential buyers to see the vehicle’s interior at its very best, so I cleaned it meticulously.
I didn’t end my cleaning with the truck’s interior. I also popped the hood and cleaned out the engine compartment. First, my friend who was helping me used an engine degreaser. (Follow instructions on the can and be sure to cover anything electrical. You can watch YouTube videos on the subject to increase your confidence if necessary.) After the parts under the hood were degreased and everything dried, I used Armor All to clean the plastic parts in the engine compartment. All the cleaning improved the looks of all the components under the hood.
My final step was cleaning the exterior of the truck. Before I went to the carwash, I scrubbed the rims and used Armor All to brighten the plastic they were made from. At the carwash I scrubbed the outside of the truck and gave the undercarriage a lot of attention. Especially if you’ve driven in muddy conditions, you want to be sure to get the underside of the vehicle as clean as possible.
After washing the truck, I wiped it down with microfiber towels to prevent streaking and spotting. I made sure to clean both side view mirrors and to wipe down the outside of the windows. I also used a special Armor All product on the tires to clean and protect them.
(Note: I am not sponsored by Armor All. The company is not compensating me in any way. Heck, they don’t even know I’m saying nice things about their products. I’m just telling you what worked for me.)
Once I returned home, I climbed into the bed of the truck and scrubbed mud residue (a light orange film) left from the Northern New Mexico clay. It came off easily when I used the scrub brush, although the high pressure water from the hose at the car wash hadn’t budged it.
Finally (and we’re talking after weeks of work), the truck was clean inside and out. I hope your vehicle isn’t as dirty as mine was when you start your cleaning process.
Change the Oil
If your vehicle is due for an oil change, I believe getting one done (or doing it yourself if you can) will help you sell your vehicle. It may seem counterintuitive to spend money on a vehicle you’re about to sell, but having fresh oil and a new oil filter in your vehicle makes it attractive to potential buyers in two ways. First, it shows you’re on top of maintenance issues. If you’ve had the oil changed now, it’s a good indication (although of course no guarantee) that you’ve been maintaining the vehicle all along. Second, a potential buyer may choose to buy a vehicle that doesn’t need this maintenance over one that needs some work before hitting the open road. Some buyers will pay for the convenience of you doing the work so they don’t have to.
I had an oil change done on my truck right before I sold it. I had a new air filter put in too, for all the same reasons.
Install New Tires
New tires can be a big investment, so it’s understandable if you can’t afford to replace the tires before selling your vehicle. However, if the vehicle needs new tires and you can afford to replace them, you should consider doing so. Like a fresh oil change, new tires say you maintain the vehicle. It also saves the buyer a trip to the tire shop and the out-of-pocket expense. Of course, you add in the cost of the tires when you decide on the bottom line price of the vehicle you’re selling.
My truck had tires with under 3,000 miles on them when I sold it. I bought the tires before a road trip from New Mexico to Oklahoma and back in September of 2020. The old tires were badly worn and unsafe for a long trip pulling a travel trailer. I knew if I replaced the tires, I could recoup the money when I sold the truck. My impulse was to buy the least expensive tires available, but I ended up getting slightly more expensive all terrain tires knowing they would be more appealing to someone buying a 4 wheel drive truck.
Ideally, you’ve saved your receipts from or kept a log of repairs and routine maintenance performed on our vehicle. By presenting receipts to potential buyers, you show that maintenance was done when you say it was. Even if you do your own maintenance and repairs, you can show that you purchased oil and oil filters, air filters, etc. at appropriate times.
Do Your Homework Before Setting a Price
I found setting a price for my truck extremely stressful. Of course, I wanted to get as much money for it as possible, but I also wanted to sell it quickly. Price it too low and I’d cheat myself out of useful dollars. Price it too hight, and I’d sit on the truck for weeks or even months.
I used several free online tools to help me set my price. The gold standard of pricing guides is the good old Kelley Blue Book. (Who else remembers when we had to go to the library to find a vehicle’s Blue Book value? Now you can do your research any place you have an internet connection.) Other online pricing tools include NADA Guides, Edmunds, Bumper, Autotrader, and a host of others.
Be aware that some pricing guides are meant for consumers and some are targeted to used car dealers. Be sure that during negotiations, you and the potential buyer are using the same pricing guide.
Some people (like me) are of the mind that everyone buying a vehicle expects to be able to negotiate down from the asking price. Other people (like The Man) believe the seller should set the price and stick firmly to it. Either way is fine, but decide what method you’re going to use before you set your price. If you do plan to allow for negotiation, set your rock bottom price, the lowest amount of money you must get for your vehicle. If the buyer offers anything less than this amount, be ready to walk away.
Anyone selling a vehicle wants to get as much money for it as possible, but be realistic when you set a price. Is the vehicle really in excellent condition? According to the How Stuff Works article “How Kelley Blue Book Works” by Ed Grabianowski,
Less than 5 percent of all used vehicles fall into this [excellent] category.
The aforementioned article also says most consumer owned vehicles fall into the “good” category. Be sure to pick the right condition category for your vehicle so you can set an appropriate price.
If you overprice your vehicle, it’s going to sit around longer, and you’ll probably have to spend more time and energy answering questions about it and showing it to potential buyers. An artist friend of mine once told me you can price art to keep or you can price art to sell. The same theory applies to selling a used vehicle. If the price you set is realistic, you’ll move the vehicle more quickly.
Also, remember that the price setting tools you have at your disposal are also available to any potential buyers. If you wildly inflate the price of your vehicle, buyers who’ve done their homework will know.
Write a Good Ad
I did some research before I started writing an ad to sell my truck. One tip I saw in many articles about private car sales was to give the reason you’re selling the vehicle. Here’s the reason I gave for selling my truck: Selling because I no longer need to pull a travel trailer.
Here are some other reasons you might be selling your vehicle:
Selling because my family has grown and I need a vehicle with more seating.
Selling because my kids have left home and I don’t need such a big vehicle.
Selling because I need a work truck.
Selling because my midlife crisis requires that I drive a sports car.
Try to find a positive reason for selling the vehicle that conveys that the vehicle is perfectly fine, but you want or need something different. Avoid reasons like the truck is a gas guzzler or the motorhome is difficult to park. You don’t want to put any doubt or negativity into a potential buyer’s mind.
Another tip I got from the articles I read was to include something in the ad that makes the potential buyer imagine themselves in your vehicle. I said my truck was comfortable to drive and ride in, even on long road trips. In the mind of potential buyers, I changed my truck from a simple a work truck into a vacation machine.
Be sure to include all the basics in your ad. As a buyer, I’ve been astounded by the ads I’ve read that left out essential information. At the very least, be sure to include make, model, body style, model year, number of miles the vehicle has been driven, size of engine, type of transmission, type of fuel used, price, and whether or not you have the title.
You don’t have to stop there! Potential buyers want to know what your vehicle has to offer, so include lots of information. If your ad has no word limit, give potential buyers as many details as possible. If your vehicle has any of the following features, be sure to mention them: power steering, power/ABS brakes, power windows, power locks, cruise control, stereo/CD player, DVD player and video screens, Bluetooth capabilities, alarm system, controls on steering wheel, tilt steering wheel, power seats, back up camera, a hitch and other towing features, cold A/C, 4 wheel drive. If the interior is clean, smoke and/or pet free, and cloth seats aren’t ripped, mention those things. If your vehicle has recently passed an emissions inspection, mention that too.
The ad is also the place to let potential buyers know if the vehicle has new tires (include the mileage on the tires), a fresh oil change, new brakes, new battery, etc.
While you don’t want to discourage anyone from looking at your vehicle, you don’t want it to seem too good to be true either. In my ad, I let folks know the bed of the truck was work worn and there were some scratches and dings to the body. Of course if your vehicle has problems, you might want to disclose that information in the ad. If you know what the problem is and how to fix it, you might want to share that information as well. In an ad for a conversion van I read recently, the seller disclosed that one of the front power seats had quit working, then said what part was needed to remedy the problem, gave the price for the part, and assured potential byers that is was an easy fix.
To VIN or Not to VIN
In my research on how to sell a used vehicle, I found conflicting ideas about whether one should or should not include the VIN (Vehicle Indentification Number) in advertisements.
You’ll have to decide how you want to handle the situation. In my case, I decided not to share my truck’s VIN in the ads I posted. When I met potential buyers in person, I did offer the VIN to them so they could do additional research on their own.
I’m a believer that honest is the best policy. If a vehicle has a major problem, I think you should disclose the problem in the ad. If something that should work doesn’t (such as a window that won’t roll down, a cruise control that’s conked out, a CD player that doesn’t work, a seat that won’t move, etc.) I think you should share that information in the first email, text, or phone conversation with a potential buyer. A buyer may still want a vehicle even if it’s not in perfect condition (especially if the price is right), but if a buyer catches you in a lie, all trust will be lost. If you’re willing to try to hide little problems, the potential buyer will wonder what major issues you’re failing to talke about.
My policy is to answer all questions honestly. I also admit when I don’t know the answer. During the recent sale of my truck, I prefaced some answers with I’m not a mechanic, which I’m sure is obvious, but it reminded potential buyers that just because I thought something was true didn’t necessarily meant I was right.
Share Lots of Photos
I included photos of the following areas of my truck in the online ads: engine compartment, odometer, steering wheel, gauge panel, instrument panels with radio and heat/air conditioner controls, tires, tailgate, charge outlets, front seats, back seats in regular position, and back seats folded up.
Have you ever been shopping for a vehicle online and seen a promising ad only to find there are only one or two photos of the vehicle? It’s happened to me, and it’s hella frustrating, especially if the vehicle seems to be something I might want. If a picture is worth a thousand words, say as much as you can with photos.
I also included photos of the exterior of the truck, one of the front and one of each side. These photos showed there was no accident damage to the body of the vehicle, minimal scratches and dings, and no sun damage to the paint.
If you’re selling a converted van you should probably share photos of the bed, storage space, and any kitchen or bathroom areas. If you’re selling a motorhome, travel trailer, 5th wheel, toy hauler, etc., include photos of each area of the rig: bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, sitting area, storage space, and cab.
One tip I read online said potential buyers should be able to imagine themselves driving your vehicle. You can help them do this by including photos taken from the driver’s point of view.
Put Ads in Lots of Places
Craigslist is the old standby for online car, truck, van, and RV selling. Facebook is a newer, but maybe more popular, online option for vehicle sales. You can list your vehicle on Facebook Marketplace and any number of local and regional groups dedicated to the buying and selling of motor vehicles and other items. Other online options include the Thrifty Nickel National Marketplace and Autotrader. You can use some of these options at no charge, while others do involve a fee.
If your community has an actual physical newspaper, consider placing your ad in one or two issues. Another place to consider placing ads is the newsletter of any specialty groups of which you are a member.
Are there bulletin boards in your town? (Think library, supermarket, laundromat, senior center, Tractor Supply.) Consider making a few paper copies of your ad and hanging them around town.
Answer Requests for Information Promptly
I’m sure you’re busy. However, when you’re trying to sell your vehicle, you should probably make selling it your top priority. When someone sends you a message asking about the vehicle, answer as soon as possible. Coming across as prompt and responsible is going to give the buyer a good feeling about you. If you respond to message in a timely manner, you probably changed your oil on time too. Besides, you wan to sell the vehicle ASAP, right? You’re not going to sell it if you your lack of response discourages people from looking at the vehicle in person.
Get a Report from a Mechanic
It’s not strictly necessary to have a mechanic look over a vehicle you want to sell, but it might be helpful. After examining the vehicle, the mechanic can tell you what work the vehicle needs to have done on it now or what it will need to have done soon. You can use this information to adjust your price or as evidence that the vehicle is a good deal for a potential buyer.
I did not have my truck checked by a mechanic before I put it on the market. However, the couple who bought the truck had their mechanic look it over before we sealed the deal. We used the information the mechanic offered to start our negotiations.
Get a Carfax Report
One more thing you can offer a potential buyer is a Carfax report giving details about your vehicle’s title, mileage, previous ownership, and accidents in which it was involved.
I did not spend the money on a Carfax report, but I did offer the truck’s VIN to the handful of people who looked at it so they could order a report of they wanted. If the truck had not sold so quickly, I probably would have paid for a Carfax report to use as a selling point .
So there you have it–everything I know about selling a vehicle based on my recent experience. I hope you find these tips helpful next time you to sell a car, truck, van, motorhome, 5th wheel , or travel trailer.
Life’s been challenging in the five months since I last shared a blog post, but I still have so much for which to be grateful. The following are some of the people for whom I give thanks right now:
Just as I was on the brink of deleting my Patreon account, a new patron joined! I can’t even express how excited I was! Thank you, Rena, for your support and encouragement. I appreciate you so much.
I also appreciate Shannan, my friend of 35 years (Gulp! How is that possible?) who has an automatic PayPal donation set up to support me monetarily every month. Thank you, lady. The money is helpful, but the fact that you prioritize me helps keep me going.
Brent deserves a big shout out too. Every few months he sends me a little something to help make ends meet. He’s been a big supporter since we met at the 2016 RTR. Brent, I appreciate your advice and friendship so much. You are a great cheerleader.
Frank supported me financially recently too. Thanks for being a good friend, Frank, and for encouraging my writing. I am grateful for you.
Keith is my computer guy who makes this blog possible. Thanks Keith, for supporting my blog before it was even a real thing.
My thanks also go out to people who sent me housewarming gifts, Christmas and birthday presents, postcards, letters, books, stamps, and love. These friends include Jessica, Laurie, Tracee, Dave, Liz D., Liz J., Maggie, Jim, Nic, Betsy, Joshua, Denise, Greg, Ed, Sarah, Russ, and Christina. You folks really lift me up and help me keep on truckin’.
I’m grateful for other things too. Here are a few of the things I’m glad for right now:
I sold my truck in less than a week, allowing me to pay off some debts and buy some things I’ve needed for a while.
I bought a Toyota Sienna manufactured in the 21st century! I bought it from the original owner, and it had under 100,000 miles on it. I named it the Silver Streak.
I had an eye exam last week, and I’m waiting on two pairs of glasses to come in. I will soon see clearly, and I am so excited!
I’ve been vaccinated against COVID 19. I’ve had both of my shots and suffered only minor adverse effects. I am so grateful to have reached this milestone. I know last summer when I sat in my bed in my little trailer parked in the middle of nowhere, I feared such a day would never come. To have even this degree of protection is such a blessing.
I’ve also received my first of two vaccine shots for shingles. (I’ll get the second in two to six months.) I’m doing everything I can to protect myself against illness. I’m so glad I am able to protect myself.
I am filled with gratitude for my continued good health and the health of my loved ones.
The food pantries where I live have really stepped up. My personal pantry is stocked with beans, rice, oats, flour, peanut butter, and canned goods. I usually get milk, cheese, eggs, and butter once or twice a month. I have so many potatoes in the cupboard and bananas in the freezer. All of that bounty comes from local food banks. I am so thankful.
I’m also thankful to live in my little trailer in a nice little RV park. I probably have another two months in this desert before it gets too hot and I have to go up in elevation for a while. I’ll be so grateful to travel again.
All in all, I’m a fortunate person. Life is good. Life is good.
Thanks for reading! I’m always grateful for the folks who read my writing. If you want to offer some financial support, I would be so thankful for that too. To make a one-time donation, click on the “donate” button at the top of the column on the right. To become my patron on Patreon, click on the “Become a patron” button just under the search bar at the top of the column on the right. Folks who follow me on Patreon get extra content you can’t find anywhere else. Depending on at what level you chose to support me, you can receive email updates, letters and postcards in the mail from me, stickers, buttons, a custom made hemp bracelet and/or a collage I created.
I’ve been gone a long time. Did you miss me? I missed you. I missed being here, sharing stories with you, interacting with you. Did you wonder where I’ve been? Do you want to hear about what’s happened in my life since the last time I wrote? Here goes…
Near the end of July, my partner of almost four years and I agreed that living together (in particular) and our relationship (in general) weren’t working out, so we decided to part ways. However, due to COVID, finances, prior obligations, and our decision to sell our land in Northern New Mexico and move away, we continued to live together in the small trailer. It’s a good thing we do love and care for each other because we were stuck together for a while.
Our land sold pretty quickly. A young couple from Arizona bought it. They are in love with the area, as well as energetic and motivated. They saw my land-for-sale ad on Facebook about an hour after I’d posted it (on a Saturday afternoon) and immediately contacted me about coming to see it that day. Later that evening (after they’d visited the property for the first time), I let the couple know other people had expressed interest in buying the land. They committed to buying the property then; by Tuesday they’d given me a deposit.
The Man and I had a few weeks to purge, sell things we didn’t want, and pack what we’d decided to keep before it was time to move again. How is it that no matter how much time one has for purging and packing, it’s never really enough?
I’d decided to keep the little trailer. I talked about selling it, but The Man encouraged me to keep it. I got the trailer after my dad died so it’s not like it was something The Man and I had both put money into. I decided if I ever get sick or injured or if I live to be old, I might want this little trailer to stay in full time. Why get rid of something I might want or need some day? I began to formulate a plan.
What if I took the trailer somewhere in the desert where I could live in it comfortably warm for half the year? What if I sold the truck (which I wouldn’t need anyway if I went somewhere that didn’t necessitate 4 wheel drive) and bought a van I could travel in the other six months of the year? The more I thought about this plan, the more it made sense.
Then I had to make a decision about where to go. It came down to a decision between moving to an RV park with super cheap rent (and huge lots) but a remote location (10 miles from the nearest small town) or an RV park in town with more expensive rent and tiny lots. If I took the spot in town, I’d be only two blocks from a grocery store and within walking distance of lots of other places. After much deliberation, I chose the spot in town. As The Man pointed out, if I keep my vehicle parked except for twice monthly expeditions to the supermarket, I’ll pretty much pay my rent with the money I don’t pay in gas and higher priced groceries.
The Man offered to drive the truck pulling the trailer to whichever location I chose. I appreciated the offer and accepted it, as I had never pulled any kind of trailer ever in my life.
Once we sold the land, there was one main situation holding us back. I’d never had the trailer registered in New Mexico. The title was in my name, but was from Arizona. Before moving the trailer across the state, I wanted a valid license plate on it.
In New Mexico, any RV or passenger vehicle bought out of state has to go through a VIN inspection before it can be retitled and registered. The inspection is easy–a representative of the MVD looks at the VIN plate–but it has to be done in person. Unfortunately, when we moved to our land, I hadn’t received the title to the trailer yet. I didn’t receive the title until the trailer was already set up nice and cozy. I didn’t want to have to take apart all of our (but mostly The Man’s, to be honest) hard work to haul the trailer to the MVD.
When I realized we’d have to take the trailer to the MVD before we hit the road, I also realized I’d have to make an appointment because of COVID. When I got online early in August to make an appointment, the soonest one I could get (after checking at over half a dozen offices) was the second week of September. Even after selling the land, we’d be stuck in Northern New Mexico for a while.
We took off for the National Forest about 15 miles from where we’d been living. Phone service was intermittent, but we enjoyed the trees, cool air, and grazing cattle. We’d picked a nice spot to wait for our appointment with the MVD.
Before we’d decided to part ways, The Man and I had been discussing a visit to his folks in Oklahoma. The Man’s dad (understandably) wanted to see him. When The Man told his dad we couldn’t afford to pay for gas to make the trip, his dad offered to give us the funds we needed. Once we had the promise of gas money, we chose to go.
After we decided to part ways, we had to decide if we wanted to take the trip to Oklahoma together. We had to decide if we should take the trailer if we were both going, We discussed the idea of The Man going alone and driving the truck. We discussed the idea of The Man going alone and taking a bus. We finally agreed that the best thing to do was go together and take the trailer so we could go directly to my new hometown upon leaving Oklahoma.
On the appointed day, we (and by “we,” I mean The Man) hauled the trailer to the MVD office. Everything went smoothly, but I did have to pay several hundred dollars in taxes on the trailer (and only a $20 late fee, even though I was more than a year delinquent). Our next stop was the nearest Discount Tire location. I’d decided to buy four new tires for the truck before we made a 1400+ mile trip after the current tires totally failed the penny test. In one afternoon, I spent most of the money I’d received from selling the land. Easy come, easy go, I suppose. I’m fortunate to have had the money when I needed it.
We made it to the family home in Oklahoma in less than 48 hours. The Man and I had planned on a one-week visit, but we ended up staying just over a month!!! The bad part of the visit was that I had no phone service the whole time we were there. Somewhere east of Oklahoma City, my phone service cut out and didn’t come back until I was west of OKC once again.
Finally, in mid October, we made it to the little trailer park in the town I now call home. The Man backed my trailer into my very small lot, and we hooked up the water, the solar, and the sewage. A couple of days later, The Man left for his new adventures, and I was on my own.
What to do now? I need money to support myself and pay the rent, but I’m hesitant to get a retail position in these days of COVID. I’ve got hats and necklaces and postcards up on my new Blaizin’ Sun Creations Instagram page, and I’m going to start working on my Blaizin’ Sun Creations and Postcard Emporium Zazzle stores soon. (Be on the lookout for a Zazzle store especially for rubber tramps coming soon.) An online job would be great for me, so if you know of any online work I’d be good at, let me know.
So what, you may be wondering is the future of this blog. Who knows? What’s the future of anything? Today I’m enjoying writing, and I plan to keep it up as long as I enjoy it and have the time for it. I might have to write less when I have to work more. I also may share more guest posts, but please know that even with guest posts, I do my best to share quality content with you.
If you want to support me by being more than just a casual reader, join me on Patreon, hit the donate button to the top right of this page and drop me a few bucks, or buy something I make with my own heart and hands.
Thank you for sticking with me. I sure appreciate you.
This blog post was written before we knew about COVID-19 as a threat, before there was a global pandemic affecting us all. I’ve decided to share this post today in the hopes that it will be helpful to someone, but I don’t know if Christmas tree lots are open this year or if they are hiring.If you want to follow up on the information offered here, you will have to do your own research.
Aerin (the author of this post) and I are both in a vanlife Facebook group. When I heard Aerin was going to work at a Christmas tree lot during the 2019 holiday season, I asked if they would be interested in writing a report for my blog. I was excited when they said yes.
Working at a Christmas tree lot is one of those seasonal jobs I’ve heard are available to nomads but have been able to find precious little real information about. The information that is out there is from the perspective of RVing couples managing lots. I thought I’d do my readers a favor by sharing the insights of a vandweller who spent a couple of weeks before Christmas slinging trees.
Are you a fan of the holiday season? You know, that magical time of year when some traditions call for bringing the carcasses of dead evergreens into our homes to be the backdrop for our revelry.
I’m talking about Christmas trees.
How Did I Hear About the Job?
Well, I was just an unsuspecting nomad looking for work at the beginning of December when I spotted the post in a workamping Facebook group. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes old and had one comment so far. Usually I don’t see these kinds of posts until much too late.
Labor in a Christmas tree lot? How hard could that be?
Was Living In a Van Helpful to Get the Job?
Not really. I was looking to park onsite as part of my employment, so living in a small rig that is self-contained and doesn’t need hookups made that possible.
I could have parked elsewhere and driven in to work. There was no requirement to live onsite, aside from the managers, and the rest of the staff drove in. However, it was a selling point that I would be around in case things got unexpectedly busy and they needed someone to jump in right away. That didn’t actually happen, but it made the managers feel more secure since they were learning the ropes too, and it helped get me the job.
The person who had responded to the post before me had a large RV and was looking for something that offered hookups. This job was literally in a parking lot. One that was technically the property of the swim school next door, so space could be at a premium when both businesses were crowded. One extra vehicle of regular size was not going to crowd things.
The lot that hired me is affiliated with Valley View Christmas Trees. Valley View has lots all over the Phoenix metro area. Each lot is managed by a workamping couple who have the authority to hire staff.
From conversations with my managers, I learned that they get bonuses at the end of the season if they hit a certain threshold in total sales and keep labor costs below a certain percentage of sales. Otherwise, they are paid a flat salary, and at least one of them is expected to be working 9-9 every single day.
For me, I was labor staff. Pay was $11/hr gross. Not awesome, but it did come with several useful perks:
a parking spot for the duration of my time there
regular access to their port-o-pottie so I didn’t need to find another bathroom or use the one in my rig
unlimited water for drinking that I could have gotten straight from a hose and filtered myself (if I had a filter) but my managers were kind enough to let me use the faucet in their RV so it went through their filtration system
grocery store within walking distance
Each lot had the same five types of fir trees: Douglas, grand, Fraser, noble, and Nordmann. A big part of my job was knowing the difference and a little bit about each to assist customers. After a sale, I moved the tree to the back area and processed it for loading. This involved removing the stand, cutting a little off the bottom of the trunk so it would absorb more water once in the customer’s home, and trimming any branches as requested. Loading was either putting it in a truck bed or tying it to the roof of a car.
Tying a tree to the roof of a car is not fun. At all.
Aside from sales, my job also involved restocking. Trees that were delivered from Valley View (grown in Oregon) needed to get the bottoms drilled (for our center spike stands), stands pounded in, moved into place, twine wrap cut off, and bowls filled with water.
Most trees were in some partial state of readiness. For example, if things were slow, we might drill a bunch of trees in succession so it would be easier to restock later. Drilling takes a minimum of two people, sometimes three or more for larger trees, so getting that done all at once is more efficient.
Drilling is also not fun.
Trying to guess whether a tree is standing up straight is difficult. If the hole isn’t straight, it becomes super obvious once the tree is on a stand. Redrilling an unwrapped tree is even less fun.
My hours varied week to week depending on when the managers expected to be busy as we got closer to Christmas. Valley View does not pay overtime, so a strict cap of 40 hours also meant some creative shifting to make sure enough staff were working. The lot itself was open from 9am to 9pm every day. The managers were required to work all day every day for their salary.
Towards the end of the season, one of the operations managers for Valley View came with a sprayer so we could try painting the trees. It was a mess. We did end up with a purple, blue, and white tree though. Believe it or not, the blue and white ones did sell.
The only thing I didn’t do was cashier because managers were the only ones allowed to run the register.
The Experience As a Vandweller
I liked it overall. Technically the job started towards the end of November, but I came in a bit later. I started on December 5 and the job ended December 24, so I was working or on call for 20 days. Also, my paychecks came on time, on approximately the 15th and 30th of the month.
It is a lot of manual labor. That meant I was being paid to exercise. I am primarily a digital nomad, but it can be difficult to make time for physical fitness. I was sore a lot and developed bruises on my legs from the trees, but nothing serious.
The port-o-pottie was pumped out every week, so using it was not an issue. It never got to smelling bad. I was happy to not have to use my camp toilet or walk somewhere.
I was a paid employee of Valley View, meaning they took taxes out of my pay. This may not be a positive for everyone, but I prefer to have the money taken out now and worry less about paying it later. Also, my paychecks came on time. The first came by paper check to the lot because of a snafu, but this wasn’t an issue for me. The second check went through electronically.
Near the end of my time working at the Christmas tree lot, I found that the Crunch Fitness nearby has a drop-in rate of $5.08 (including taxes) so I got to work out and take a shower. I don’t have a shower in my rig, so this was nice.
It was cold, but never unbearable. However, I would not want to do this job any further north.
I was muddy and wet a lot of the time.
I had pine needles EVERYWHERE.
It is easiest to just wear the same outfits over and over again. I had two pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, and two vests that I cycled through so things had a chance to dry out before being worn again. I did laundry maybe twice the whole time I was there.
Since I wore my heavy work boots every day, I had a towel down as a kind of rug by the door so I could take them off and let them air out a little before the next day. They needed to air out for a full 24 hours once I was finished.
I didn’t feel comfortable setting up an outside area to cook, so I relied a lot on convenience food from the grocery store (which was a 5 min walk away). Not very healthy or frugal.
All of the above are tough in a very small space. Everything gets everywhere. I was constantly sweeping dirt and pine needles out of the van. The walls were slowly coming in with dirty clothes draped to air out in the cab with the windows open, boots by the door, and trying to keep my bed relatively clean.
I enjoyed myself. It was hard work, but I don’t mind that. I got paid to exercise, a free place to park, access to a great grocery store, and excellent managers. My hope is to work with the same couple again next season. A month of part- to full-time work with parking is a welcome thing at that time of year. The positives more than outweighed the negatives and the mehs.
I enjoyed the challenge of a new job, learning about the trees, and meeting some wonderful people. Being a vandweller was both a help and an inconvenience for a job like this, but I found ways to make it work. I learned a lot about how I use the space and made some changes.
I would definitely do this job again. It isn’t for everyone, but definitely worth investigating.
Aerin is a vandwelling nomad who has big dreams and is using a combination of frugality, zero waste, healthy living, alternative sources of income, and whatever else comes along to help achieve them. Aerin also makes masks, modular utility belts, and more at Hermit Crab Creations .
When I’d applied for the job, the application had asked about my availability. I’d responded that I was available any time except Tuesday mornings. When I had the prescreening interview over the phone, I’d told the lady from the corporate hiring office that I was available to work any time expect Tuesday mornings. During my interview with one of the store’s assistant managers, I’d verbalized that I was not available to work on Tuesday mornings. Over the eight or so weeks I’d worked at the fuel center, I’d been scheduled to work on Tuesday mornings at least three times, including on my last day on the job.
Working in the morning meant opening the fuel center which
meant getting out of bed no later than 4:15am so I could make the forty minute
drive to town and clock in by 5:45. How appropriate that on my last day of
employment I had to wake up in the dark and drive 20 miles in the dark and
start work in the dark.
I was late clocking in on my last day. What are theygoing to do, fire me? I
thought bitterly. I moved slowly while getting ready for work and left the house late. I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the morning without coffee, so I stopped at the 24 hour convenience store and bought a cup of their nasty joe. Even six packets of sugar and two squirts of nondairy creamer couldn’t redeem the stuff, but I drank it anyway.
After clocking in nine minutes late, I headed to the fuel center, unlocked the door, and disarmed the alarm. As always, I counted the cash drawer, opened the cooler and merchandisers, put out the squeegees, and completed my paperwork. Then I checked the spill buckets, cleaned all the pumps, and went back into the kiosk.
I said, Hi! How can I
help you today? about a thousand times.
Every hour, I went outside and made sure all merchandise was
pulled to the front and facing forward.
Around 10:30 the alarm system repairmen arrived.
The guy in charge of the team of two came up to the kiosk
and told me through the intercom that they were there to work on the alarm and
needed to get into the kiosk. I told him no one had informed me they would be
there, and I’d need a few minutes to confirm it was ok to let them into the
kiosk. The repairman seemed fine with my caution.
I called the managers’ office and told the person who answered the phone (managers never, ever identified themselves when I talked with them on the phone) that the repairmen had arrived and wanted to come into the kiosk. The manager on the other end of the line said the repairmen hadn’t checked in with him. It sounded to me as if he didn’t even know they were coming. Send them inside to check in, he instructed me.
I told the guy he’d have to go into the supermarket to check
in. They left, and I continued to sell fuel and cigarettes and sodas.
The repairmen returned, but no one from management let me
know it was ok to allow them in the kiosk. I had to call the managers’ office
again to find out everything was on the up and up. Typical that when I really
needed to be in the loop, I was out of it.
While the repairmen where in the kiosk, they witnessed how
difficult it was to communicate through the intercom. They heard how one older
man got really pissed off at me when I mistook his request for $20 on pump 9 as $30 on pump 10. He corrected my mistake before I even put the wrong
information into the POS (point-of-sale) system, but he spoke to me roughly. I
could tell he was mad. I don’t know if he thought I was purposely going against
his wishes, but I truly misunderstood what he said through the crappy intercom
Some people are really
rude, the younger repairman observed.
After they’d been in the kiosk about half an hour, the lead
repair guy said they had to go outside and check the alarm on each pump. While
they completed their task, I’d be in the kiosk listening to the alarm sound
continuously for minutes at a time.
The alarm was high pitched and annoying. I guess alarms are
designed to be irritating so they grab attention. Anything less terrible would
surely be ignored. While the alarm was horrible to be subjected to, I was able
to put it at the back of my consciousness. It was both at the forefront of my
reality and not there at all.
My coworker who relieved me at noon was late, as he had been late every time he’d relieved me over the past two months. This time he was only about eight minutes late instead of the 14 to 26 minutes he’d been late before. At least he didn’t pull another no-call\no-show on my last day.
I went into the supermarket to pull merchandise for the fuel center. I found all I could from the list of needed items, then brought everything up to the front for the manager in charge of fuel center replenishment to check. He was still giving me instructions on how to restock correctly, and I realized no one had bothered to tell him I’d given my two weeks notice. He obviously had no idea it was my last day on the job. I figured if no one else had told him, I wasn’t going to be the one to break the news
Oh, yeah. Right. Sure, I agreed with everything he said. I knew he’d figure out eventually that I was gone when he never saw me again.
After I dropped off the merchandise at the fuel center, I
walked back to the supermarket to clock out and turn in my name tag and pink safety
The manager I really liked was in the office working on the
computer even though she’d told me two days before that she wouldn’t see me on
my last day because she’d be on vacation.
I thought you were in
West Virginia, I said,
She turned around, and I saw she wore no makeup and had a
baseball cap pulled down low on her forehead. This woman usually wore a ton of
eyeliner, mascara, and eyeshadow, but that afternoon her naked eyes looked
young and vulnerable.
I leave tomorrow, she
said. I’m just here today tying up a few
This isn’t how you
start a vacation, I teased.
I know, she
From the moment I’d met this woman, I felt a bond with her.
Maybe it was just the connection of middle age woman working shit jobs
(although I think my job was more shit than hers). I made her laugh, which
always endears a person to me (I feel so understood when people laugh when I’m
trying to be funny), but more importantly, this woman really seemed to care. I
always felt as if she truly cared about me, the fuel center, the customers.
I just need to drop
off my vest and name tag, I explained while setting the items on the
cluttered desk where the human resources woman sat when she was in.
We’re really going to
miss you, the manager I liked said.
She told me if I ever needed a reference or a
recommendation, I should look her up. I assured her I would
Then she said, I don’t
know if you’re a hugger…
Actually, I am, I
said, and we embraced
Thank you, I told
her. From the moment I met you, I felt a warmth
from you, and this place really needs some warmth.
Then I said I’d see her when I went into the store to shop.
I walked out to my truck an unemployed woman. It was the end of an era. I
can’t say I was sad to see that door close behind me.
The white RAV4 pulled next to pump 3. I saw a woman with short white hair get out of the driver’s side of the car and walk over to the pump. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this specific customer. The fuel center was busy, and I had two repairmen from the alarm company in the kiosk with me. The customer on pump 3 was but a minor concern.
The woman in the white RAV4 must have realized that she’d parked with the wrong side of her car next to the pump. Her fuel tank–and the hole for the nozzle– was on the side of the car farthest from the fuel source.
This situation happened occasionally at the fuel center. I’m not sure how people forget what side of their vehicle the fuel tank is on. Perhaps the confusion comes from driving more than one vehicle regularly and forgetting that the fuel tanks are on different sides. Maybe the confusion occurs when a vacationer is driving a rental car and forgets the tank on the rental is in a different place than on the family vehicle. In any case, I’d seen it happen before. Usually the driver remedied the situation by getting behind the wheel and driving the car into a better position. The driver of the RAV4 had a different idea.
When I glanced over at pump 3 a couple of minutes after I saw the woman walking around the car, I saw she had taken the hose that deliver the fuel and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it over the roof of the RAV4. She’d then somehow managed to get the upside down nozzle into the opening to the gas tank so she could pump the fuel without moving the car. It was the damnedest thing.
Would you look at that! I said to the two guys form the alarm company. That lady’s got the hose stretched over the top of her car.
The two alarm company guys came over to the front of the kiosk and had a look. They agreed they’d never before seen anybody contort a gas hose the way the woman driving the RAV4 had done.
The manager I liked came into the fuel center kiosk where I
was working around nine o’clock that morning. I’d been there a little more than
When I’d done the opening paperwork, I’d seen a note stating
that the coworker who was always late for work when he relieved me hadn’t even
shown up the day before. He’d pulled a no-call/no-show, and another employee
had come in early to cover the shift.
Do you think Dylan is
going to come in today? I asked the manager. Mostly I was being nosey and
fishing to find out if Dylan had been fired.
What do you mean?
Oh no! She wasn’t even aware of what had happened the day before. Now I’d opened a can of worms. I told her the paperwork from the previous night indicated that Dylan had been a no-call/no show.
I wasn’t aware,
She grabbed the schedule and began scrutinizing it. She
didn’t realize it was the next week’s schedule she was looking at. The new
schedule had come out the day before and had been placed on top of the schedule
for the current week.
She jabbed her finger at the schedule for Friday. She
thought she was looking at today Friday and not next week Friday. While I was
scheduled to work today Friday, I had the day off next week Friday. In her
confusion about which Friday she was looking at, the manager thought I wasn’t
supposed to be working today.
Why are you here?
she asked me.
Oh Tiffany, I
replied. I ask myself that all the time
Why AM I here?
She started laughing, which is always a good response to
kidding around. Then I showed her that she was looking at the schedule for the
next week. When I pulled out the current schedule, she saw I was indeed
supposed to be at work that day.
Dylan did not get fired. I never found out why he hadn’t
shown up for work the previous day or called to let someone know that he
couldn’t make it. The next time he was scheduled to relieve me, he showed up
several minutes late, the same as it ever was.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by my friend Frank Roche. Frank is the mastermind behind The Postcardist podcast. He and I met on Instagram (you can follow me on Instagram too, @rubbertrampartist), and we stay in touch via social media and good ol’ snail mail. When Frank was looking for folks to interview for the second season of The Postcardist, I didn’t just raise my hand, I waved it around and squealed, “Me! Me! Me!”
Well, ok, the raising of my hand and waving it around and generally calling attention to myself is all metaphoric for my excitement at volunteering to do something I suspected would be really fun. I did offer myself up for an interview, and to my delight, Frank accepted my offer.
On the appointed day, Frank called me and we had a long conversation about postcards, my blog, and the state insect of New Mexico, the tarantula hawk wasp. As I suspected, talking with Frank was really fun.
If you want to hear the whole interview, you can find it on episode 75 of The Postcardist podcast. While you’re there, you can stick around and listen to conversations with many cool, nice people who love postcards as much as I do.
I took the photos in this post. Both are available as postcards. Ask me, and I’ll tell you how to get them.
I was asked a lot of stupid questions when I worked at the supermarket fuel center (aka gas station). People wanted to know why only the diesel or flex fuel light came on. (Because you lifted the diesel/flex fuel nozzle. If you lift the gasoline nozzle, the lights indicating regular, midgrade, or premium will come on.) People wanted to know why the screen on the pump instructed them to see the cashier. (Because you’re trying to use a credit card we don’t accept. The sign on each pump clearly states what methods of payment you can use.) One lady even demanded I tell her what kind of fuel she was supposed to use in her car. (Ma’am, I have no earthly idea.)
The dumbest question I got (on more than occasion) went
something like this:
Me: Hi! How can I help
Customer: I need to
get some gas.
Me [internal thought]: Duh!
I figured as much, since we’re at a gas station.
Me [aloud]: What pump
are you on?
Customer: Pump x.
Me: Great! How much do you want to put on pump x?
Customer [slowly]: Well…I
don’t know…I’m paying cash…I don’t know how much it will take.
To be fair, these customers may have been thinking back to a
day when they could tell the gas station attendant they wanted to fill up and
the attendant would authorize the pump to spew fuel into the universe until the
customer returned the nozzle to its cradle. I remember those days. I remember
when gas station customers could pay for their fuel after it was in the vehicle.
Of course, such a procedure could lead to the popular gas-n-go scam in which
the driver filled up the vehicle’s tank and drove away without paying a penny.
(I worked in a gas
station years ago, a customer told me. When
people drove off without paying, that money came out of my paycheck, he
At the fuel center where I worked, no open ended
transactions took place through the kiosk. When customers used credit or debit
cards at the pump, they could pump gas from here to eternity (or until they’d
drained their debit account or maxed out their credit card). However, if
customers brought the same debit or credit cards to me to run inside the kiosk,
I couldn’t do anything until I was told the dollar amount the customer wanted
Could you turn on pump
x? customers sometimes asked me.
Well, no, I couldn’t. The POS (point-of-sale) system was
designed to make stealing gas without the participation of the fuel clerk
virtually impossible. I couldn’t just turn on pumps and trust customers to come
back and pay for the fuel they’d put into their vehicles. Any time I authorized
a sale on a pump, I authorized it for a specific dollar amount after I had the
money on my side of the bulletproof glass.
I suppose I could have participated in fuel theft by
authorizing a pump for an amount of money I had not received. Say a friend came
to the fuel center and wanted to get $10 on pump 4 but only had five bucks. It
was possible for me to authorize pump 4 for $10 even though I’d only been given
$5. However, such thievery certainly would have come back to bite me in the
ass. If I’d authorized a pump for a dollar amount I failed to collect, my drawer
would have been short. Eventually some
bookkeeper would have noticed, and I would have suffered negative consequences.
I don’t know how other gas stations work, but my place of
employment was strictly a pay-before-you-pump place. When customers wanted to
pay cash, they had to tell me how much money they wanted to spend, which brings
us back to the stupidest question I ever encountered on the job.
A customer wanted to pay cash to fill up a vehicle. The
customer didn’t know how much money it would take to pay for a fill-up on the
vehicle in question. I told the customer I couldn’t do an open ended
transaction; I needed to put a specific dollar amount into the cash register.
What will happen if
filling the tank doesn’t take as much money as I give you? more than one
customer asked. Will you give me change?
I wanted to say, Oh,
no! If you overpay, we keep your money. We don’t give change here.
I wanted to say, Of
course we give you change, you idiot! Do you think we could get away with
keeping your money?
I wanted to say, How
is a gas station different from any other business when it comes to change?
It’s not!! If you overpay, of course you get change!
Instead, I’d say something like, Oh, yes. I’ll give you change for whatever amount you don’t use. Just
come back here when you’re done, and I’ll get cash for you right away.
To be fair, the change confusion was not a daily occurrence,
but it happened more than once during the two months I worked at the fuel
center. It was never a kid asking if they’d get their money back if they
overpaid; the person confused about paying cash and getting change was always
someone beyond middle age.
Have you never been to
a gas station before? I sometimes wanted to ask customers. How do you not know how this works?
I had to remind myself that some people may have been buying and pumping fuel for the first time after many years of having a partner do it for them. I tried to remember that the confused folks may have been accustomed to paying with debit or credit cards and truly didn’t remember how paying with cash worked. Of course some of my customers were probably just dumb or possibly from another planet.