I recently spent three weeks on the road traveling in New Mexico and Colorado.
I went from Taos to Taos Ski Valley to Tres Piedras, all in New Mexico. Then I went to Colorado, where I visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Crestone, and Alamosa. Back in the Land of Enchantment, I camped in the Carson National Forest near Tres Piedras for three days. Next I visited museums, thrift stores, and a friend in Santa Fe. From the capital city, I went to Moriarty, the three sites of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, the Very Large Array, the Box Recreation Area near Socorro, the Catwalk National Recreation Area, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. I also shopped in nine thrift stores in four towns.
Along the way, I mostly camped for free. I only paid for a campsite once, when I stayed at the Piñon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Otherwise, I spent my nights boondocking at no cost.
In the next few weeks, I’ll share with you where I went, what I learned, what I saw, and where I stayed. Stay tuned for all this great new content.
I had a terrific time during my three weeks of travel. It was fun to be back on the road. However, I am glad to be at my home base, settling in for the winter. It also feels good to write blog posts again. I hope you will enjoy hearing about my adventures as much as I enjoyed living them.
It’s a tough time to be a nomad because we’re all grounded right about now.
If we’re not hunkered down at our home base, we may be staying with friends or family members. Some of us may be self-isolating in a still-open campground or while boondocking on public land. In any case, we’re not out and about as much, not able to see new things or visit new places.
If you want to be productive while you practicing social distancing, I’ve compiled this list of Rubber Tramp Artist blog posts of particular interest to nomads, vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, RVers, drifters, and travelers of all kinds. You can use these posts to learn about everything from safety on the road and how to prepare for disasters to how to deal when the weather is bad and how to train your canine companion for life on the road. Especially if you are just beginning your nomadic journey, these posts can help you prepare for a nomadic life.
So here we go. Browse this list to find posts you missed and posts you want to revisit so you’ll be ready when it’s time to get back on the road. (I’ll also include some photos from my travels for your viewing pleasure.)
If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about with this coronovirus and COVID-19, check out the post Living Nomadically in the Time of COVID-19 for information about what the pandemic we are currently experiencing means to individuals and to all of us.
Before you hit the road, familiarize yourself with the basics of living nomadically. From lingo to budgets and all the preparation in between, these posts will help you get ready to go.
I hope this post helps you pass the time and sends you on your way to so much good information. If you read all of the posts listed here, by the time you come out of self-isolation you will be totally ready to hit the road.
If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.
Winter isn’t over yet! That’s why whenGabrielle Gardiner approached me about sharing her article on preparing a winter emergency kit, I jumped at the chance.Below, Gabrielle tells you what you should have on hand to prepare for the worst should you get stranded in a winter wonderland.
Life on the road is liberating and exciting, but it’s not always easy. There are countless unpredictable challenges you can face, especially in the winter. Road conditions tend to be more hazardous. Frigid temperatures can interfere with the battery and mechanics of your vehicle. You need to prepare for the worst to mitigate your anxiety about potential emergencies while traveling alone in freezing temps.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prepare for being stranded roadside in the winter. The first thing you can do is read The Survival Mom‘s article “How to Survive a Blizzard in your Vehicle.” Secondly, it’s wise to pack an emergency kit to protect yourself, if only to put your mind at ease. When you learn survival skills and feel ready for anything, even the most inconvenient or dismal scenarios won’t seem so bad. Naturally, you should still opt out of traveling during severe winter weather conditions to avoid low visibility, icy or impassable roads, and an increased risk of accidents.
Don’t know where to begin to pack your kit? Make it easy for yourself and use a checklist so you don’t forget any essentials. Try this awesome winter car emergency checklist that you can download and print here.
Just like taking care of your mental wellbeing while living a nomadic lifestyle is important, it’s crucial to empower ourselves through preparedness. In the following sections, let’s outline some of the most important tips to keep in mind as you prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable winter season on the road. Pack the items into a big duffel bag or storage container and leave it in your vehicle all winter long.
Food & Water Essentials
Packing a hefty supply of non-perishable snacks can be a lifesaver. Your emergency kit could include favorites like jerky, granola bars, and trail mix. When you’re stuck roadside in a pretty isolated area, the last thing you want to deal with is feeling miserably hungry. Keep in mind that whichever snacks you choose, be sure they don’t freeze easily. You won’t be happy trying to consume something that’s rock solid frozen with little chances of defrosting. Of course, water is another essential item to keep in your car kit. Again, to prevent it from freezing and being undrinkable, keep the water in a soft-sided insulated container and wrap that container in an emergency thermal blanket.
Snow Tools & Safety Items
If you don’t already have an arsenal of snow tools, you’ll want to invest in some for your kit. Buy a collapsible snow shovel so you’re always ready to dig your tires out of the snow, or in more serious circumstances, uncover your snow-engulfed car so it is visible to rescuers. Reflective triangles could help you become more visible, too. Plus, you’ll need ice scrapers to keep your windshield clear. A supply of basic tools in a toolbox could also come in handy.
When it comes to safety and staying warm, include an emergency thermal blanket as well as plenty of extra socks, gloves, and winter clothing layers in your kit. If your battery dies and you have to go without heat, you’ll be thankful you have the attire and protection to stay alive. You also can’t forget a flashlight, batteries, and matches for situations when you don’t have light or heat. Be prepared to treat your own minor injuries if necessary, and keep a first aid kit on hand as well.
One of the best ways to feel self-sufficient and empowered is to know how to jump your own vehicle. Otherwise, you have to rely on the kindness of strangers helping you out, or you’ll have to get a tow truck involved. If you’ve never jumped a car, you can learn how to do it. It’s not nearly as intimidating or complicated as it might seem. Take a look at the steps on how to do it here. Also, be sure to invest in some jumper cables before you hit the road.
Other key additions to your winter emergency kit: portable cell phone power banks, an emergency contact sheet (because no one memorizes phone numbers anymore), and kitty litter (even if you don’t have a cat.) Kitty litter might seem surprising, but it’s great for tires trying to gain traction in the snow. Or, you could also use sand, road salt, or snow mats to get unstuck.
Don’t forget to include the following in your winter emergency kit:
Snow shovel & ice scraper
Flashlight & batteries
Emergency thermal blanket
First aid kit
Living nomadically is incredible, but it can be a nerve-racking and unpredictable experience sometimes. You owe it to yourself to be prepared for anything. Hopefully, this guide to putting together a winter emergency kit can help you out this season.
Gabrielle Gardiner is a digital content creator who is passionate about developing helpful and compelling stories. She calls Manhattan home but loves escaping the big city to experience nature as often as possible.
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
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
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?
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
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?
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?
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: 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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
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
Ellen: Life is
really awesome! [Laughter]
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
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 Man met Blake and Ally first, while he was still working in
the parking lot at the very popular trailhead on the top of the mountain. They
pulled in with Blake at the wheel of their short, white (former) school bus
named Gus the Bliss Bus. Ally and Blake wanted to know about the nearby
attractions, so The Man sent them down to the Mercantile to get all the info
from me. Unfortunately, they overshot the Mercantile by about 10 miles and
ended up in a small community where a restaurant, bar, general store, and lodge
stand just off the main road. They stopped at the four-in-one building where
they thought they’d find me. Instead, they were promptly offered summer jobs.
This is the magic of Ally and Blake. They can take a mistake and turn it into
Later in the summer, the couple came over to our camp for dinner
with me and The Man. A lovely time was had by all. The Man and I were invited
into Gus the Bliss Bus and got to see the lifting of the amazing elevator bed
and hear toilet system details.
A week before they left the mountain, I had the pleasure of
interviewing Blake and Ally under the pines across the street from their place
of employment. Unfortunately, that interview was lost when my phone was lost.
Thankfully, Ally and Blake agreed to answer my questions again, this time in
writing, via email.
In this interview the two of them tell about the best parts of
life on the road, how they get alone time, and why they picked their rig.
Tramp Artist: Whose
idea was it to hit the road?
& Blake: Both really! It was a collaboration that came out of us talking
about our visions of our ideal future together. We wanted to live life on our
own terms which included an abundance of travel, time, and connection.
RTA: Was it difficult to convince the other person to live
nomadically? How long did it take?
& Blake: Convincing isn’t the right word for what happened. It was more
of a “coming-to-Jesus” moment for both of us. We had talked about this
lifestyle as a daydream that felt very far off. What moved us into action was
that Ally’s desire to go to chiropractic school did not match up with our
mutual financial goals to be debt free. We got real, evaluated what was most
important to us at this time in our life and together we decided on freedom.
work did each of you do before living nomadically?
Blake has worked a host of jobs from hotel manager to campaign manager to arts director to valet attendant. In 2016, Blake created his own coaching practice and is building a coaching company.
Ally, had just left her job working as the marketing director at a Chiropractic clinic and was slingin’ waffles at Waffle Brothers while we built the bus.
RTA: What skills from your previous work help you in your nomadic
& Blake: Blake can back up that bus like a BOSS!! For both of us, making
connections with people is our most valuable skill.
RTA: Y’all are quite a bit younger than many full-time nomads. What
do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your
& Blake: Blake’s been retired since his 20’s. 😉 We are going to
keep following our bliss and utilize our nomadic lifestyle to make it happen.
Our future dreams include building a coaching company and retreat centers along
with finding creative ways to build community, serve others, and have fun!
RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up
when you left your conventional life behind?
& Blake: For both of us, it was the feeling of certainty, security and
Blake’s Harley VRod. And for Ally, it was the Vitamix.
RTA: What is the make and model of your rig?
Ford E450 Bluebird Microbird (A
RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a similarly sized
motor home or a full-size school bus or some other sort of rig?
Ally & Blake: When we had our dog, we were going to build a teardrop trailer; however that meant he couldn’t sleep with us. Our vision expanded, and we looked at vans and buses. Finally we decided on a short bus because they are adorable and realistically we knew the engine was dependable and strong.
RTA: How did you decide on your floor plan?
& Blake: First, we watched a LOT of YouTube videos. Second, we made a
list of our need-to-haves. These included a shower, composting toilet, elevator
bed, and a wood-burning stove.
RTA: What was the biggest challenge of your build?
Ally & Blake: Too
much free beer and Blake’s worst-case-scenarios and over-planning. 😉 There are
also SO many options and ways to do everything. We started with bare minimum
construction knowledge and committing to one way to do something was
nerve-racking and always took 10x longer than expected.
RTA: Tell me about your toilet set up.
Ally & Blake: We did not want to buy a Nature’s Head toilet because our budget did not allow for it. So we built our own! We built a wooden box that was hinged on top to allow access to the inside; we attached a regular toilet seat to the top of the box. There is also a vent from the box to the outside of the bus to keep the smell down. There is a bucket inside the box, as well as a container for urine, and a urine diverter from the UK. We use peat moss (found at Wal-Mart or hardware stores with a garden department like Home Depot) on the bottom of the bucket and use generous amounts to cover the poop. It is an intimate experience and not as bad as we imagined.
RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t
spend one more minute in the bus with the other person? How do you remedy the
& Blake: Yes, we have gotten to that point when the bus was broken down
for almost three weeks. We each took a LOT of walks. Generally we communicate
very well and take alone time where one person is on the bus doing their thing
and the other is hanging outside doing theirs! We have learned that we also each
need more independence than that. Therefore our goal for 2019 is to get a
RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other
person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.
says: Ally’s organization, patience and faith are amazing!
says: Blake’s route planning skills, passion for beauty and adventure,
and being an excellent and safe driver make him the best bus buddy.
RTA: Do you plan to expand your van family by having kids someday?
Ally & Blake: No.
It’s not in the cards right now and not even another dog is feasible for us.
RTA: What are the best parts of your life on
& Blake: The romance of course! 😉 The thrill of seeing new places,
meeting new people from all over the world, and being in touch with nature have
been the best parts. This lifestyle is much more intimate on every level, and
we don’t plan to get off the bus anytime soon.
You can follow Blake, Ally, and Gus the Bliss Buss @skool_of_life on Instagram.
I met Dawn at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I heard she was an anthropology student studying what her website calls the “growing culture surrounding solo female nomads in the American Southwest.” When we spoke, I found her to be intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. About two weeks after the RTR, she interviewed me for her project. One afternoon we sat in the sweet motor home she’d renovated to suit her tastes and needs. She asked me questions, and I talked about my life as a solo female van dweller. We talked and talked until after dark, and honestly, I wish we could have talked more. I didn’t want to Dawn to just be someone I’d met once or twice; I wanted Dawn to be my friend!
When I began my series of interviews with nomads, Dawn came immediately to mind. We hadn’t been in touch in a while, and I was interested in what she was up to. I wanted to share her story with my readers, but I also wanted to satisfy my own curiosity. Had she gone native*, as we say in the anthropology biz? Had she become a solo female nomad or was she planning to start living her life that way?
Turns out Dawn had decided nomadic living is not for her, and that’s ok. Nomadic living is not for everyone. I think it’s important for folks who are contemplating a change to life on the road to consider both the good and difficult aspects of this way of life. In this interview (conducted via email) Dawn talks about the joys of renovating her rig and the hardships and stresses of life on the road, including “the fear of what was going to break next,” pets that never fully adjusted to life in the motor home, and the near constant struggle of figuring out how to survive.
Rubber Tramp Artist: I don’t think you’re a full-time rubber tramp. To what extent do you live nomadically?
Dawn: At this point, not at all. I came home and fell into the bathtub, air conditioning, the static -ness of poo that goes away when you flush the toilet and kissed the earth. I never felt the thrill of traveling. Only the fear of what was going to break next. Which is, in hindsight, almost ridiculous. Nothing bad EVER happened. I never was stranded on the side of the road, I never felt “endangered”. But the fear of what could be wore me down to the point of what I seriously think is PTSD from what was…five months on the road? It’s insane intellectually.
With that sort of experience behind me I decided to face a phobia of flying this summer…and discovered, yes, I still want to live nomadically, but in hotel rooms, with a backpack, and a jet plane that takes me from here to exotic places in a few hours. I don’t want to worry about pets, propane, plumbing, leaks, gas mileage, wind, cold, heat, being alone, where to dump, where to shower…I am…a…marshmallow. I have no desire to live off grid, or with constant dirt and fear. I’m too freaking old for this crap.
RTA: Tell me about your rig. Make? Model? Year?
Dawn: 1984 Dodge 360 V8, under 75K, Mallard, Edelbrock Carb. Probably gets 7 miles to the gallon despite being 22 ft long and 2000 lbs light in the rear end.
RTA: I seem to recall you remodeled your rig. Tell me about that process.
Dawn: I loved it. It was completely amazing. I learned so much. Unlike actually living and traveling in it –
Let me explain. I learned plumbing. I moved the water pump, replaced it, learned about pipes and connections and can now change out a faucet or a drain. It isn’t rocket science.
You know what else isn’t rocket science? Electricity. There’s 12volt and there’s blow yourself into the wall 110 volt. There’s 30 amp and 50 amp. There are batteries, solar panels, half a dozen different sizes of wiring and fuses and tools you need, electrical sockets and solar panels…and it takes forever to wrap your head around, but when you do? You realize that there is a certain amount of self-sufficiency that has been stripped away from us–by lobbyists for the electrical industry, as in this instance. I’m all for public safety and policies that ensure that, but on the flip side we are reduced to calling in professionals for the most minor of repairs that could be accomplished with basic skills.
You respect, you research, research some more, and then you do it.
Same with propane.
Same with construction.
I had no skills. I was a web designer that knew how to search Google and YouTube, and ask questions at my local Ace Hardware. Sometimes I paid a professional to do it. But mostly, I discovered that maintaining an RV – an entire household system plus a car – was doable.
RTA: How did you get interested in nomadic living?
Dawn: One word – community. In the mid-2000s I talked my BF into buying a Class A and trying it. Unfortunately, his job left us circling Denver (imagine, he’d rather entertain people at a theatre than pick beets!) and that is not an RV-friendly place. Buy your pot and keep moving. But, what I discovered was a different breed of people that RV’d. No matter their religion or politics, they were always willing to lend a hand. In retrospect, living in an apartment was more isolating.
RTA: You’ve turned your interest in nomadic living into graduate studies. How were you able to do that?
Dawn: Ah. I needed a thesis and this – studying women that decided to do this RV/vandwelling thing alone – was the only thing that interested me. So I should point out – this is an undergraduate thesis. But I am not going into more debt, at my age, to go any further with my education. So I decided I might as well go all out and make this PHD style. It has really cemented a new direction for the rest of my life writing and working with women to tell their stories. I know a lot of women did this without going into debt, but I couldn’t sell anything, didn’t have steady income being a student, so I did this by going into a lot more debt than I was comfortable with. It just kept snowballing as I found I needed this, or that (or thought I did). And, living on the road was much more expensive than what I budgeted for. Unexpected repairs, food costs, gas…
RTA: Why do you think it’s important to study modern nomads?
Dawn: Because, look at this – this is completely outside of the norm. This is fringe culture. This is creative. This is women sticking their middle finger to not just society but gender norms and saying I’m going to live and find my life, and screw the lot of you. I love this. Women never get to do this. Ever. Look at history. It doesn’t matter if they fail at being a nomad, or hate it, or whatever. These women are authentic, powerful, and are choosing to experience liberation. I see them as journeying on a trajectory of becoming fully self-evolved. Does that make sense? As far as rubber tramps and American nomads, gender aside? It’s like the release from a pressure cooker. Our culture, and American lifestyle is deteriorating – and rubber tramps/nomads are the first edges of that implosion looking to survive.
RTA: What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned from rubber tramps?
Dawn: The goodness of people. Ordinary people with varied religions, political beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. It is an antithesis to what we see portrayed in politics and the media. We can and are living in two different realities.
RTA: How can my readers find out more about what you’ve learned from people on the road?
Dawn: [My website]http://www.junowandering.com – it will be a slow process, though – an evolutionary ethnography. [This website also includes Dawn’s blog where you can read about her travels.]
RTA: Do you see yourself ever living nomadically full-time?
Dawn: Yes. But not in an RV/van/car where I have to navigate being part of the fringes. With a backpack and living wherever fate lets my head fall as a ‘tourist’, instead. Of course, this doesn’t seem practical. And, I could not do this as long as I’m responsible for pets.
RTA: What were your three favorite things about living in your rig?
Dawn: I didn’t share it. I could move it. It felt like the center of my world.
RTA: What three things did you hate about your rig?
Dawn: Fear. Constant fear of what was going to go wrong and how I’d fix it. Fear of the weather – heat or cold, and taking care of pets. The horrible gas mileage and expense.
RTA: When I met you, you were traveling with two animal companions. How was it for you and the animals?
Dawn: Hard. The cat adjusted but the dog is getting older and had issues with skin infections and arthritis. I had an emergency in Quartzsite and couldn’t find a vet for 200 miles – that almost broke me mentally. It is good to be home. The dog is so much happier, as is the cat. They like their routine and space. They adapted, but I can honestly say they weren’t happy.
RTA: Do you still consider yourself a participant observer**, or have you gone native?
Dawn: Nope. [I haven’t gone native.] I admire the lifestyle. Rather, I admire those that live it. But, it’s not for me. Even though I feel like a wimp saying that!! I feel like I failed some test. Living full-time as a nomad is like being a farmer. There is nothing else – there is no time or energy to be creative, to relax, to just ‘be’. Maybe, if you have a retirement income. But not if you have to figure out how to also survive. It’s constant – trying to find resources, deal with the weather and legalities of where to park, negotiate new situations, maintain both a car and a home that are constantly undergoing both earthquakes and tornadoes…
Does that make sense? Perhaps if it was like traditional nomads that traveled in familial groups? But alone? I think – I think – that there are a lot more people doing this under an illusion of what it could be, than are actually mentally cut out to live like this. Just a thought from the ‘new’ nomads I’ve met…
*Merriam-Webster defines “go native” as “to start to behave or live like the local people.”
*Merriam-Webster defines “participant observer” as “one that is engaged in a research technique in anthropology and sociology characterized by the effort of an investigator to gain entrance into and social acceptance by a foreign culture or alien group so as better to attain a comprehensive understanding of the internal structure of the society.”
I met Ryan and Samantha (and their cute little doggie friend Mickey) of the Gone Vananas vlog when we worked together in a remote National Forest campground. I could tell almost immediately after meeting them that they were both hard workers serious about doing a good job. As the weeks of our employment passed, I also found them to be funny, kind, smart, and generous. They had been vandwellers for just shy of one year when I sat down with them to talk about choosing a rig, getting along in close quarters, what they miss about their old life, and what they love about their new one.
Rubber Tramp Artist: Whose idea was it to hit the road?
Ryan: I think it started with me. I had a conversation with my best friend about a co-worker of his that decided to quit his job and sell all of his stuff and move into a van and then go do chairlift work out in Colorado since he was a big snowboarder. That got the gears turning for me. I started doing all kinds of research on how that would look for us, what kind of van I could possibly build. Once I had enough information, I approached Samantha about it to see what her take was on it.
RTA: [to Samantha] How long did it take him to convince you?
Samantha: Oh, not long. [Laughs] I’ve lived like a nomad most of my life. I’m 32, and the van is my 35th home.
Samantha: No question. Ready to go! Let’s do it!
RTA: What’s the make and model of your rig?
Ryan: It’s a 2016 Ram Promaster 3500 extended. It’s the biggest one that they make.
RTA: Why did y’all choose this rig rather than a typical cargo or conversion van or a minivan or a big motorhome?
This is the independent bathroom Ryan wanted.
Ryan: My grandfather is retired Chrysler, so we got his employee discount on this brand, which helped a lot. I wanted something that had enough room to comfortably live two people, and I’m 6’2” so the ability to stand up in it was really important to me. I also wanted an independent bathroom. When I added all these things up, and looked at the dimensions of all the vans that were out there, this one made the most sense.
RTA: Why a van rather than a motorhome? Was it primarily because of the discount that you were able to get?
Ryan: The primary reason was I wanted to build a rig that was stealthy and easy to maneuver in normal parking spaces and normal roads and situations. I considered a school bus conversion for only a short while. The cons of that—not being able to stealthy camp in a neighborhood and limited parking spaces—kind of shot that down for us. We wanted to camp for free essentially everywhere just by camouflaging ourselves in normal areas.
RTA: What was the most difficult thing for each of you to give up when you left your conventional life behind?
Samantha: The kitchen and its gadgetry. I’m a baker. I like to bake, and I like to spread out and will make a couple
The full kitchen in Samantha and Ryan’s van. Sink. Check. Stove. Check. Oven! Check. Refrigerator. Check.
hundred dozen cookies come the holiday season. That was tricky, but Ryan was able to give me a full kitchen. I can basically do everything in there that I can in a real kitchen, with much less space.
Ryan: In smaller amounts
Samantha: [Laughs] Yes.
RTA: And so what about for you, Ryan?
Ryan: I have to say, I was really fond of my muscle car. It was my project car. It was kind of my baby. I loved having that, but at the end of the day, it was just a thing. I didn’t mind selling it because I really value traveling and experiences over stuff. It was kind of just going through the motions of being upset about it when I sold it.
RTA: What kind of car was it?
Ryan: It was a 2014 Dodge Challenger that I put a lot of time and effort and money into making it my own and looking really nice. [Chuckles] It only had 8,000 miles when I sold it.
RTA: Do either of you ever feel like you can’t spend one more minute in the van with the other person?
Ryan and Samantha at the same time: No
RTA: Wow! That’s awesome.
[Laughter from everyone]
RTA: My next question was going to be, “How do you remedy that situation?” but…
Ryan: We’ve spent every day together since…
Samantha: Yeah. Just shy of a year?
Samantha: We’re coming up on a year in the van.
View of the kitchen from outside the back of the van. You can see a sliver of the restroom on the far right of the photo.
RTA: I’d like for each of you to tell me three traits that the other person has that makes for a great vandwelling partner.
Ryan [to Samantha]: You wanna start?
Samantha [to Ryan]: No. You start.
Ryan: Well, I would say one, Samantha is, I guess, what they would call a low-maintenance girl. [Laughs] She definitely isn’t very needy. She doesn’t have to have all the big, expensive stuff and house and car and all that things that…you’d hear other people need. She’s very go-with-the-flow. I guess that would be another one. Not a lot rattles her. She’s adaptable. She basically will get along with any situation. She won’t freak out if…things are going a little bit south or we don’t have a plan or something isn’t going the right way. It’s kind of tough to rattle her. Those are important things, I think.
Samantha: Ryan is very well organized and always has…some kind of plan. He knows where we’re going or what we’re doing or how we’re going to get there. [Laughs] And he is good about keeping us in minimalism. If it doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t get to come on the road with us, it’s got to have a place to go in the van. [He is] keeping us from acquiring too much more other than necessities…Also he is very handy. If something goes wrong he figures it out very quickly and fixes it. So far we haven’t had too much trouble, but the few things that we’ve come across, he’s figured it out and knew what to do and what he needed to do it and got it done right away.
Ryan: A lot of repairs in the Home Depot parking lot.
RTA:So y’all are quite a bit youngerthan many other rubber tramps. What do you plan to do with the next 40+ years if you’re essentially retired in your 30s?
Ryan: We have talked a lot about that. It’s been a fluid plan as far as maybe tweaks and changes here and there. The main part has been we would like to purchase land. Where that is necessarily has changed. Right now we are considering Southern Oregon. We would like to have around 10 acres, maybe build a tiny house on a trailer, have a workshop and also a garden and a homestead and off-grid power. We kind of want a self-contained little area that we can call home when we don’t feel like traveling anymore and have a little bit of space of our own to sort of spread out.
Does that include working too?
I stood in the kitchen to take this photo of the front of the van. A door between the cab and the living area can be closed for privacy. Bedding is stashed in the area above the wall during the day when the bed converts into a sofa.
RTA: Sure! I would love to hear what your plans for work are.
Ryan: Right now I am trying to educate myself in coding and web development. It’s pretty much the ultimate way to make money on the road. I have no experience with it, but I’m learning right now the best way that I can go about accquiring the right skills in order to make a decent living while traveling whenever we would like.
Samantha: I currently make jewelry and sell it on Etsy, and [I’m] working to maybe expand that from jewelry into something else, maybe even like van-esque accessories…different storage option type upholstery items, potentially.
Ryan: It’s definitely a work in progress right now.
Ryan: We don’t have a clear, defined future as to what we’re doing. We’re kind of living moment to moment. But in reality, that’s what we signed up for. That’s what we wanted. We spent the last decade of our lives in such a rigid, structured type of life that it kind of turned us off to it. We knew what we were doing every day, and it was the same thing every day, so this [living moment to moment] is kind of the intended experience that we wanted. We’ll figure it out.
RTA: So y’all travel with a little guy named Mickey.
RTA: Tell me about Mickey. How did he take to the road?
Mickey the cute doggie companion
Samantha: Surprisingly well. Mickey even before we decided to go for van life, is a pretty well-traveled dog. He’s flown a few times, drove across the country with me. But he is a very relaxed dog, especially for his breed. He’s a Boston Terrier. But he’s just happy when he’s with us. As long as he’s with us, he’s pretty much content.
Ryan: [Sound of agreement]
Samantha: And he’s got his little space between the captain’s chairs [in the front] and he pretty much sleeps there 98% of the time when we’re on the road.
Ryan: He has a modified Temperpedic mattress for his bed.
Ryan: Someone was throwing one away, and we just cut a piece off of it.
Ryan: and made him one.
Samantha: He’s going on eight years old. He’s a bit of an older boy, so he’s pretty relaxed. He doesn’t hike, he doesn’t [laughs] do much of anything except sleep and look cute.
Ryan: He walks a half mile and plops.
RTA: [Laughs] Do y’all plan to expand your van family by having kids?
RTA: [Giggles] OK!
Samantha: There will be four-legged children in our life, I’m sure, for many years to come, but that will probably be it.
Ryan: It was something we talked about not doing before we even started this lifestyle.
RTA: What would each of you say is the best part of your life on the road?
Samantha: To wake up wherever we want.
Ryan: There is no putting a price on true freedom, in my opinion. The ability to just be wherever you want, whenever you want…I’ve never felt anything like it. I don’t want to give it up.
Samantha: Nope. Not for anything.
RTA: Is there anything else either of you want to add?
Ryan: One thing I just want to add is that I had and Sam[antha] had no experience building anything or having any idea what we were doing when we started this, and we created something that we are so extremely proud of. You can see when other people see it how astonished they are about what we built. It’s just, I think, the ultimate example of if you want something so bad, and you actually care about doing it, then you will create something beyond your wildest dreams, something you didn’t even think you could possibly do. I’m just very happy that we did it and didn’t actually listen to other people that thought we were crazy for wanting to do it. If you really want something, you can absolutely do it as long as you care the most out of everyone else.
I met Sue Soaring Sun in December of 2014. She’d seen me repeatedly at the coffeeshop in the small Southwest town where we were both wintering and intoduced herself. An hour later when we ran into each other again in the thrift store, she told me about Bob Wells’ Cheap RV Living website. I soon learned about the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and decided to attend. I guess you could call Sue my rubber tramp fairy godmother because she introduced me to vandwelling as a way of life and not just something I had to do because I had few options.
Sue is also my Sun sisiter, a fellow artist and blogger, a writer of fabulous letters, and a dear friend. She is the proprieter ofSun Gallery at 407-1/2 N Broadway in Truth or Consequences, NM. Sun Gallery is a folk art and antiques gallery which features Sue’s paintings, collages, and mosaic work.
We were in different states when I started this interview series, so I sent her questions via email. Today you’re in for a treat because you get to read her answers.
You’re not a vandweller, but you do live nomadically. How long have you been on the road?
I’ve been living and traveling in an RV more often than not since February 14, 2011.
What sort of rig do you live and travel in?
I have had Brownie, a 1984 20-foot Lazy Daze mini-motorhome, for about 14 months.
I know you’ve had other rigs. What were they and why did you decide against them?
I’ve had a couple of Toyota Dolphin 22-foot mini-motorhomes, and they were great for when I travel solo, which is most of the time. Sometimes, though, I travel with my boyfriend, and I wanted something that would work for two. We tried a Class A for a while, but found it was way too much for either of us to want to drive, so we parked it and used it as a part-time urban home base. Last year I found the Lazy Daze which has a lot more power and is about a foot taller and wider than the Dolphin coach. Even though it’s shorter, it’s a bit more spacious. Now I’m selling the Class A. I no longer want to use it as a home base. I have an art gallery that serves that function. So I’m staying in the Lazy Daze all the time, except for if I happen to housesit or stay in a vacation rental.
What are your three favorite things about your current rig? What would you change about it if you could?
This is how Sue has been decorating the inside of her rig to make Brownie less brown. She gave me permission to use this photo of hers.
*I love the big back windows, and my floorplan has the dinette right there. I can back up to a beautiful lake or river or other view and watch birds and other wildlife from the comfort of my table, drinking coffee and wearing my cozy slippers.
*It has more power and feels more solid than my past mini-mohos. I can pass other vehicles if necessary.
*It is very cool looking. Shagalicious, baby.
What I’d change…it is very brown inside, hence the name Brownie. I am slowly replacing brownness with color and creativity. Also, Brownie takes a lot of gas. I have to budget more carefully than I used to.
I took this photo of the RTArt Camp banner that Sue and I painted together.
How does living nomadically enhance your life as an artist?
Whoo-boy! Living nomadically goes hand-in-hand with my creativity. I’m sure when I’m old and can no longer travel, I will still make art. But so much of what I do now is inspired by what I see and the experiences I have along the road. Traveling has brought me in touch with so many other artists, and now, since the first RTArt Camp at this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), we have even started an intentional community for nomadic artists. Imagine that! I could not have predicted all that would come out of a simple idea of wanting to do art with other people while at the RTR. When I spend time camping with other artists, I am inspired. After our recent Rubber Tramp Art Community gathering, I stopped at a beautiful free boondocking site and spent five days doing nothing but paint, eat and sleep.
Does living nomadically make your life more challenging in any ways?
Yes. I have struggled in my new rig to deal with temperature extremes. This summer, I found myself unexpectedly staying in Truth or Consequences, NM, and I could not find any good way to keep my cat and myself cool in the RV. Fortunately, a friend who goes away for the summer let me stay at her house. Next summer, I will probably seek a higher elevation, as I had wanted to this year. I gradually solved my problems with cold last winter, but it took a while.
Also, it can be very inconvenient and expensive when I have to go stay somewhere else if my rig is in the shop.
Do you mostly boondock on free public land?
Yes. I also stay behind my art gallery, in a parking lot. I can hook up to electricity there.
I took this photo of this free riverfront boondocking area where Sue and I camped together.
Under what circumstances do you pay for a campsite?
I sometimes pay for a campsite or an RV park site when I have a lot of things I’d like to get done…shower, laundry, dumping the tanks, etc. I’ve also stayed at campgrounds when my boyfriend and I are traveling together in parts of the country where you usually need reservations, such as our recent trip to Florida. And occasionally I have friends who want to go stay at a campground, and I tag along for the fun.
Do you do much stealth parking in cities?
My Lazy Daze is built on a Chevy G30 van chassis, but it doesn’t look like a van! It’s built out into a motorhome. So no, I can’t get away with it.
Do you travel with everything you own?
No. I rent commercial space that I use as an art gallery and studio. I keep most of my art supplies there, as well as off-season clothing and things that I only use occasionally.
Sonja Begonia in Brownie’s big back window. Photo used with Sue’s permission.
You share your rig with a cat companion. Has she been on the road with you her whole life? If not, how did you help her transition to life on the road?
Sonja Begonia was about a year old when I got her in 2008, and I went on the road in 2011. She also has some attitude, so I could not get her leash-trained before starting to travel, as I’d hoped, nor since. At first, for her own safety, I had to keep her in a kennel while traveling because otherwise she would try to get out of the RV when we stopped, and many stops are not a safe place for a pet to get out. Now I just start the engine and she gets in her co-pilot seat.
What’s the best part of living nomadically?
I love driving six miles from my art gallery and boondocking on the bank of the Rio Grande. Or, when I’m on the road, finding an unexpected fantastic view. It’s being free to change my scenery, and to be immersed in it. I keep my gallery open very part-timey and give myself lots of time to travel and create.
Do you miss anything about living in a sticks-n-bricks?
Gardening. I like centering myself by digging in dirt. So, at my gallery, for one or two months out of the year, I create fairy gardens for sale. I am also going to get myself a dashboard/cab plant once the 100+ degree weather has passed this summer.
I don’t miss any other thing, not one. I get to experience sticks-n-bricks living occasionally, and it always confirms for me that I prefer to live nomadically.