Tag Archives: van life

Basura

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I had come down from the mountain for supplies. It was hot and dry in the valley, and I was dog dead tired. I had one more stop to make before I could head back to higher elevation, cooler temperatures, and the last few hours of my day off from my work camper job.

I went into the 99 Cents Only Store, where some prices were a lot less than 99 cents and some prices were substantially more. I perused the bargain baskets in the front of the store, cruised down the aisles of beans and other canned goods, and grabbed the best looking produce at the best prices. When I got up to the cash register, I told the worker that I wanted two sacks of ice, and I even remembered to extract them from the freezer in the front before I hit the exit door.

I pushed my cart over to my van, which I had parked at the edge of the parking lot. My 1994 Chevy G20 conversion van was a hulking beast and easier to park in places where there were no other vehicles around. I preferred to park easily and have farther to walk to a store’s entrance rather than fight to maneuver into a tight parking space.

This time, there was no car parked on the van’s passenger side. I threw open the side doors, as much to gain access to the interior as to let the parched air escape. I climbed into my van and lifted the lid of the ice chest. Yuck. I’d forgotten to empty it before I left camp. The ice had melted completely and left the cooler half full of water. In the water floated some small broccoli florets that had turned limp and yellow before I could eat them and stray bits of cabbage that had been jostled from the most recent head. At the bottom of the cooler lay the waterlogged plastic ice bag left behind when the ice became liquid. I had to get all of this out of the cooler before I could put the new ice and groceries in.

I pulled the plastic bag from the bottom of the cooler. The water it sat in was tepid and smelled a bit sour. I let the water drain from the bag and into the cooler. When most of the water was out of the bag, I threw it onto the floor of the van. The drops of water clinging to it weren’t going to hurt anything and in the heat of midday would probably dry before I was ready to throw it away.

Next I had to dump the water from the ice chest. I figured since any vegetable matter floating in the water was natural, it was ok to let it fall onto the asphalt. If some bird didn’t eat it right away, it would decompose soon enough. I lifted the cooler and wrangled it to the open doors. I lowered it to the floor of the van, then slowly tilted the container so the water drained onto the ground.

The Man likes to joke that you can always tell when hippies have been in a parking lot because there’s at least one wet spot on the ground. On this day, the big wet spot I left had plant matter in it too.

Once I got the cooler back in place, I wiped it out with a couple of paper towels, then loaded in the two slippery and deliciously cold sacks of ice. After that, I carefully placed the eggs and milk and orange juice and produce and whatever other cold groceries I had that day into the chest.

Some time after I had the cooler and the ice in, but before I’d packed in the groceries, a car pulled in next to my van. Why the driver decided to park next to me instead of elsewhere in the vast parking lot will always remain a mystery. I glanced out and saw an older Latina lady getting out of here car.

When I looked out, I also saw the plastic ice bag I’d left on the floor of the van had made an escape. I suppose the desert wind had kicked up while I was busy packing the cooler and sucked the bag right out of the open doors. I’d have to pick it up from where it had landed on the ground before I pulled out of my parking spot.

I wasn’t the only one who had noticed the bag on the ground. My parking neighbor took a look around and saw the plastic bag as well as the huge wet-but-rapidly-drying spot dotted with limp, yellow broccoli and waterlogged bits of cabbage. I saw her shake her head and say under her breath (but loudly enough for me to understand her completely), Basura.

I don’t know if she saw I was white and thought I wouldn’t understand what she’s said, if she didn’t care if I understood, or if she wanted me to know how she felt. In any case, I’d studied enough Spanish to know that basura means trash and that she wasn’t happy with the mess I’d made.

Why the Rubber Tramp Artist is Driving a Minivan

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A silver Toyota Sienna is parked in a parking lot.
My new minivan. I call it the Silver Streak.

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.

My last conversion van was a 1992. Did I really want something that old again?

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.

Checklist of Things to Take on the Road

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White Rv on Road

First of all, let me say that nobody needs to get a bunch of fancy stuff before starting life on the road whether in a van, car, motorhome, truck camper, travel trailer, or fifth wheel. There’s nothing wrong with being a minimalist because you’re more comfortable that way or because you can’t afford to spend a lot of money on gear. This list is not meant as a shopping list or list of must-have items. I put this list together to help nomads plan ahead, to help folks think about what equipment might increase comfort for a weekend or a lifetime on the road. Feel free to cross out the items you’ll never use and add in the items I forgot. Make this list your own and use it any way you want or ignore it completely. Think of it as helpful advice, suggestions from a long-time van dweller, not as commandments you are compelled to follow.

Kitchen

*stove   *fuel for stove   *lighter or matches for lighting stove   *water for drinking and washing   *jugs for water   *cooler for perishables   *ice for cooler   *perishable food   *canned goods and other non-perishable food   *herbs and spices   *salt    *pepper   *at least one pan for cooking (I use cast iron skillets)   *at least one pan with lid for cooking grains/boiling potatoes/etc. *measuring cups *storage containers for leftovers *clips to seal bags *bowl *plate (although you can typically get away with using just a bowl)   *fork/spoon/spork/knife   *stainless steel cup   *knife for food prep   *cutting board   *water bottle   *can opener   *spatula/turner   *soap for cleanup *dishtowels   *rags   *paper towels

Bathroom

*toilet paper   *wet wipes   *pee jug/bucket   *container for defecation  

Closeup and Selective Focus Photography of Toothbrush With Toothpaste

*plastic garbage bags to line defecation container   *cat litter/peat moss/puppy training pads for defecation system   *hand and body soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap for most any washing need)   *washcloths   *towel   *shower shoes   *shampoo   *conditioner   *dry shampoo   *feminine hygiene products   *toothbrush   *toothpaste   *dental floss   *mouthwash   *razors   *shaving cream   *witch Hazel   *cotton pads or cotton balls   *supplies for contact lenses *small shovel (if you’re going to dig a cat hole while camping on public land)

First Aid

Person Holding White Hand Wrap

*prescription medications *med history sheet *copies of written prescriptions *copy of eyeglass/contact lens prescription *spare eyeglasses or contact lenses *self-adhesive bandages   *ace bandage   *large gauze pads   *medical tape   *rubbing alcohol   *hydrogen peroxide   *antibiotic ointment   *cough drops   *decongestant   *cough syrup   *vitamin C supplement   *over-the-counter pain relievers   *tweezers   *instructions for removing a tick   *cotton swabs   *mole skin *aloe vera gel for burn/sunburn relief

Laundry Day

*quarters   *laundry bag   *laundry detergent   *stain remover   *bleach   *fabric softener/dryer sheets

Clothing

*socks   *underwear   *bras   *sunhat   *sturdy shoes   *comfortable shoes to wear at camp   *jeans or other sturdy pants   *long and short sleeve shirts   *nice outfit   *shorts or cool-weather skirt   *swimsuit   *water shoes   *handkerchiefs   *jacket and/or coat   *warm hat   *warm gloves or mittens   *long winter underwear   *scarf   *pajamas   *special clothes for any sports you participate in

For the Rig

*tire gauge   *jack   *tire iron   *jumper cables   *can of Fix-a-Flat   *portable

Brown Spoke Car Wheel in Brown Sand during Daytime

air compressor   *oil   *gas jug   *emergency flairs   *coolant/antifreeze   *brake fluid   *transmission fluid   *roadside assistance coverage   *owner’s manual *Chilton or Haynes manual   *log book

Basic Tools

*hammer   *Phillips-head screwdriver   *flat-head screwdriver   *adjustable wrench   *Allen wrenches   *pliers *open end wrenches *socket set *Drimel *wire stripper *box cutter *portable drill with screwdriver and drill bits *work gloves  

For Your Comfort

Red Lens Sunglasses on Sand Near Sea at Sunset Selective Focus Photography

*sunglasses   *lip balm   *lotion   *sunscreen   *walking stick   *insect repellent   *sleep aid   *ear plugs   *sleep mask   *12 volt fan   *brush   *comb   *hand mirror   *flashlight or headlamp *batteries for flashlight or headlamp   *solar lights   *mattress/camping pad/foam pad/hammock   *sheets   *blankets and/or sleeping bag   *pillow   *curtains   *portable heater   *fuel for portable heater   *flyswatter *reading material   *music (radio/phone/MP3 player) *deck of cards

Pet Supplies

*bowls for food and water *leash *collar *food and treats *toys *grooming supplies * prescription medications *vaccination and other medical records

Miscellaneous

*invertor   *phone charger   *phone   *GPS system   *paper maps   *driver’s license   *passport *emergency contact information (displayed prominently) *proof of insurance   *insurance company’s phone number *vehicle registration   *AAA or Good Sam’s membership card   *roadside assistance phone number   *spare key(s)   *12 volt extension cord   *camera   *travel journal

What important things do you take on the road that I’ve forgotten to include here? Let me know by leaving a comment below. If I think your suggestions have broad appeal, I might just add them to this list!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-rv-on-road-2580312/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-bristle-brush-clean-298611/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-white-hand-wrap-1571170/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-spoke-car-wheel-in-brown-sand-during-daytime-53161/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunglasses-sunset-summer-sand-46710/.

Lingo

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If you’re a newbie attending the Women’s RTR at the end of the week or the RTR in the next two weeks, you may hear a lot of new terms. For the sake of public education, I decided to run this post from January 2016 again after revising and updating it.
/ˈliNGɡō/

noun

informal humorous

the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people

I hate lingo. When folks use specialized language, it feels like a separation to me–us vs. them. If you understand the specialized words I use, we have something in common and we are insiders. Those people over there who don’t understand what we’re talking about? They must be outsiders, and good riddance!

I know lingo also makes communication easier for people who share knowledge. Like pronouns, lingo saves us from having to use full descriptions every time we talk. But lingo is often exclusionary, even if folks don’t mean to use it that way. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I will now explain some of the lingo I’ve encountered while living my life on the road.

Airstream–A brand of travel trailer made from distinctively shiny metal, with curves instead of corners.

I boondocked on this BLM land.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–Government agency that administers public land, especially in the Southwest. There is so much BLM land where folks can boondock/dry camp for free.

Boondocking–Staying somewhere (often public land) for free. Some people use boondocking interchangeably with dry camping, while others differentiate between the two and use boondocking only in relation to public land. To learn all about boondocking, read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.” My friend Coyote Sue calls dry camping in a parking lot blacktop boondocking .

Canned hamA trailer, usually vintage, in the shape of a can of ham on its side.

CasitaBrand of a particular style of lightweight travel trailer.

*Class ARV that looks like a bus with a flat front nose; motor home.

*Class B–A van with the comforts (shower, toilet, kitchenette) of an RV.

*Class C—motor home with a van nose and an overhead cab with a bed.

CRVL–I saw this twice at the RTR and had no idea what it meant, until I saw it spelled out in tiny letters at the bottom of a sticker. CRVL stands for Cheap RV Living, a fantastic online resource for anyone living on the road, no matter what kind of rig is involved. There’s also a Cheap RV Living YouTube channel for folks who’d rather watch videos.

I did some dispersed camping on Bureau of Reclaimation Land in New Mexico, and this was the view of the Rio Grande from my campsite.

*Dispersed camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds; sometimes called primitive camping or boondocking.

Dry camping–Camping with no hookups, sometimes used interchageably with boondocking.

*5th wheel–Trailers which hook to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck.

Full-timer–Someone who does not have a sticks-n-bricks house; someone who lives on the road all the time.

*House battery–A deep cycle battery used to run household items in a rig.

Motor home–An RV that has a motor in it so it can be driven; a motor home can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C.

Mr. Buddy–A brand of heaters which run on propane and are very popular with vandwellers and rubber tramps.

Nomad–According to Merriam-Webster, this is a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory; an individual who roams about.

Part-timer–Someone who has a sticks-n-bricks house where s/he lives at least sometimes; someone who lives on the road sometimes, but also lives in a stationary home sometimes.

PopupA type of towed RV that can be collapsed for easy storage and transport.

The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico is public land.

Public Land–Land owned by a local, state, or federal government. When rubber tramps and other nomads talk about public land, they typically mean land open to (usually free) camping. Public land can include city or county parks, fishing lakes, BLM land, Bureau of Reclamation Land, National Forests, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national seashores and lakeshores.

Primitive camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds. In primitive camping areas, there are no water, sewage, or electrical hookups and usually no toilets of any kind, no water, no ramadas, no picnic tables, and no metal fire rings. Primitive camping is sometimes called dispersed camping. Folks boondock or dry camp in primitive camping areas.

This was my rig during one part of my life as a full-time rubber tramp/vandweller.

Rig–What one drives and lives in. My rig is a conversion van. A rig can be a cargo van. A rig can be a pickup truck with a slide-in camper. A rig can be a car or an SUV.  A rig can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C motor home. A rig can be a combination of a tow vehicle and a travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer or a 5th wheel or a tear drop or a popup.

Rubber tramp–The Urban Dictionary says a rubber tramp is a “person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.” Not all folks at the RTR would consider themselves rubber tramps.

RTArt Camp–A camp within the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, The RTArt Camp is a place within the larger gathering for nomadic artists and creative nomads to come together to share skills, create art together, have fun, and build community.

Rubber Tramp Art Community (RTAC)–An intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. Members of the group meet to camp together, create art together, teach each other new skills, help each other, and spend time together as a community.

So far, I’ve attended four RTRs.

Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR)–A winter gathering in Quartzsite, AZ for folks who live on the road (either full-timers or part-timers) or who want to live on the road. At the RTR there are seminars about living on the road and opportunities to meet people and hang out with friends. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Also see Cheap RV Living for more info about the RTR.

RV–Recreational vehicle. RVs include motor homes, 5th wheels, and travel trailers.


Shakedown–a practice trip taken before a longer trip. (According to Wikipedia,, this term comes from “shakedown cruise,” which “is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested.”)

*Snowbird–Someone who lives in cool places in the summer and warm places in the winter, traveling as the seasons change. Snowbirds can travel north to south or from low elevation to to high elevation and back again.

Solo–Traveling alone, usually said in regards to a woman. The assumption that most women travel with men is often made, so a distinction is sometimes made when a women travels alone. I’ve never heard anyone asking a man if he is solo or hearing a man describe himself as solo.

Stealth parking–Living in one’s rig (especially in a city) without others knowing one is living in one’s rig. Check out Cheap RV Living for “Bob’s 12 Commandants for Stealth Parking in the City” and “Stealth Parking Locations.”

Sticks-n-bricks–A conventional home, although it doesn’t have to be made from wood and bricks. A sticks-n-bricks can be an apartment or a manufactured home, or a house made from adobe or stucco or straw-bale. A sticks-n-bricks isn’t mobile.

Teardropa streamlined, compact, lightweight traveltrailer, which gets its name from its teardrop profile. They usually only have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear.

Toad–A vehicle towed behind an RV. I guess because the vehicles are towed, people started calling them toads. People in big motorhomes often pull a vehicle behind the motorhome so they can park their rig and use the smaller vehicle to drive around for errands and exploring.

Tow vehicle–What one uses to tow one’s travel trailer.

*Travel trailer (TT)–Travel trailers hook up to a hitch and are pulled by a tow vehicle. Travel trailers vary greatly in size. Most people use the travel trailer as living quarters and don’t live in the tow vehicle.

During my time as a camp host, I cleaned this pit (or vault) toilet many times.

*Vandweller–A person living in his/her van who wants to be there.

Vault (or pit) toilet–Non-flushing toilet sometimes found on public land; basically a tall plastic toilet set over a hole where the waste products sit until they are pumped out.

*All or part of starred definitions come from How to Live in a Car, Van, or RV by Bob Wells. I highly recommend this book to anyone contemplating or starting life on the road.

What lingo dealing with life on the road do you know that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment with other terms you hear rubber tramps and van dwellers and RVers toss around.

I took all the photos in this post.

How to Train Your Dog to Live The Vanlife (Guest Post)

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Maker:S,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The dog days of summer are over, but at the Rubber Tramp Artist blog, we’re still sharing information about vandwelling with dogs.

I was absolutely pleased when the good folks at Gnomad Home reached out to me with an offer to write a guest post I could share with my readers. I jumped at the chance, as I love a good guest post. I was especially pleased to find out Jayme and John had lots of experience vandewlling with pups. Their expertise fits right in with the content I want to share with my readers. 

Today Jayme and John tell you how they trained their doggies to share their van life. Whether you’re transitioning a house dog into a road dog or bringing a brand new pup into your rig, these training tips can help keep your nomadic pooch safe and happy.

Once you make the jump from dreaming about vanlife to actually making it happen, all the big, scary steps you imagined seem to become easier and easier to manage. Selling your items stressed you out at first, but now you have no problem accepting $20 for that trinket your aunt gave you for your 13th birthday. Many of these transitions become more exciting than nerve-wracking, and mentally, you are more and more ready to just take off and hit the road. But of course, you can’t leave without your best furry friend! As it turns out, dogs need time to transition just as much as you do, and a well-trained dog makes for a very fun and easy life on the road.

We are currently traveling around with our two pups Nymeria (3) and Delilah (7), but believe it or not, there was a time when the dogs in our van outnumbered the humans! We recently had to put down our girl Crow (#CrowtoriousDOG) who was just shy of 17. We gave her one hell of a final year out on the road, letting her stick her paws in all kinds of waters from the Atlantic to the Pacific!

Needless to say, we know quite a bit about packing your pups and hitting the road. Here’s all of the tips and tricks that helped us get our domesticated dogs ready to live out in the wild!

Re-establish Basic Training Skills

This is easily the most important step of them all. Maybe you can get your dog to sit and stay because they know you’re about to toss them a treat while you guys are comfortably hanging out in your living room.But do they know how to sit and stay in a large vehicle when there are other automobiles whizzing around and you are trying to unload the groceries from the shopping cart into your fridge without your dog taking off down the road after a squirrel that emerged from the bushes? That’s why honing these basic training skills is essential.

The main commands we drilled into our dogs’ heads before beginning our adventure were, “Stay,” “Come,” and “In the van.” We practiced these commands in multiple situations, not just in our backyard. We would go out to the woods to practice, we would begin training in the middle of dog parks…anytime we found ourselves in a situation that was new to them, we would find time for some training.

Living on the road is rarely equivalent to hanging out in someone’s living room or fenced-in backyard. There are always distractions, noises, movements, creatures, and more going on around you at all times – that’s why it was very important to us that our dogs were familiar with responding as we expected under any circumstances.

“Stay” is probably our most used command. This helps when the doors of the van are open, when they are about to get into something we want them to stay away from, if they see a creature we don’t want them getting involved with, and more.

“Come” is perfect for when we allow them to run around off leash (which we do a lot of the time). We are always responsible about when and how we allow them to galavant off leash, which means we certainly don’t allow it in Walmart parking lots or National Parks.

But there are some areas where we do trust them off leash: when we are on BLM (Bureau of Lang Management) land or we find ourselves in National Forests – and if the area and conditions seem acceptable to our standards – we let them free! They LOVE getting to explore all of the scents and different terrains we find ourselves in. It’s almost as if you can see heaven glowing in their eyes as they leap over fallen trees and jump at the sight of a bug they’ve never seen before.

Unfortunately they can’t be off leash 24/7, and we need them to return to us from time to time. That’s when “Come” truly comes in handy. If a hiker walks near our spot and seems uneasy about the dogs, calling for them to return (and knowing that they will) makes for an easy pass on a potentially confrontational situation. Or if we are ready to roll to the next location, we just have to give a little holler and they come running back to the van, ready for the next adventure.

“In the van” is just a great, simple command for them to know. Whether we want them to seek shelter from an incoming storm, get ready to hit the road, or whatever the case may be – if we tell them, “in the van,” they hop right on in!

Build Trust with Your Dog and Let Them Run Around Off Leash

This one is VERY important to us. Our dogs have a lot of energy, and a trail run on a leash is not enough exercise for them to burn all of their juice. However, you can’t just take the leash off of your dog and expect all to go well on the first try

This is a practice that took time for us. We started training Nymeria to behave off leash when she was a puppy. There was a wooded area not too far from our house that not too many people frequented, and we were able to practice with her there. We would have her on a leash for a little bit, then let her off. Anytime she would come back to us we would make a very big deal about it, with excessive praise and even a few treats (we don’t normally give our dogs treats, but we do when we want something to be a BIG deal).

When we took in Delilah, she was a Stage Five RUNNER! If a door was even slightly cracked, she would bust right on through it and be gone in a second. In the end, what it came down to was that she was just dying to explore and check out her surroundings. After we took her in, we let her off leash in the same area where we trained Nymeria as a puppy. Naturally, Deliliah took off, and it actually took about 15 minutes for her to return. Yes, it made us nervous,but this is part of the trust. Our dogs don’t want to be away from us forever – they just want to explore. When Delilah returned, we showered her with praise and treats!

The second time we let her off leash, she still ran off to explore, but when we called her name, she immediately sprinted back to us, tail wagging and excited for a treat and some praise (granted, she is a very food driven creature!).

Shortly after this second time of off-leash exploring, we were at John’s parents house. The front door opened, Delilah began to run out, and we called her to come back. She immediately stopped, turned around and sprinted back to us! Now, anytime we go into the woods and let her off leash, she tends to stay within ear shot. Delilah and Nymeria never adventure too far, we can typically see or hear them (they each have a bear bell on their collars, as well as lights that can be turned on to a solid or flashing light), and the second we call for them they happily trot on back to us.

Enjoy Exploring the World with Your Pup!

Establishing a strong and trusting relationship with your dog is essential for an easier life on the road with your furry bestie. Nothing about living a nomadic life is 100% easy, but these tips and tricks should help make the transition from domesticated life to living in the wild simpler for you and your four-legged buddies to handle!

Jayme and John from Gnomad Home live out of their 1996 Chevy Express van they built into a tiny home with their two pups Nymeria (3) and Delilah (7). They now create free content for others wishing to pursue a lifestyle on the road whether it be full-time travel or part-time travel. They have been living nomadically since the Spring of 2017.

Check out the Gnomad Home super-detailed, informative “Vanlife How To” page — How to find camping, how to find community, how to make money on the road, and so much more!

Remember, you are responsible for yourself and your dog(s). Neither Blaize Sun nor Jayme and John from Gnomad Home are responsible for you or your pup(s). Use common sense depending on the regulations and conditions of your location.

First two photos coutesy of the authors. Other imags courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-clouds-mountain-dog-65867/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-of-dog-248273/.

10 Ways to Stay Safe on the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://i1.wp.com/images.pexels.com/photos/164524/pexels-photo-164524.jpeg?resize=373%2C247&ssl=1#9 Drive at a reasonable speed. Don’t drive so fast you can’t control your vehicle or stop quickly and safely in an emergency situation. You want to be able to stop in time if a pedestrian, bicyclist, pet, or wild animal darts out in front of you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I stay busy.

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

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

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

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

I encountered this Little Free Library in my travels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good place to start learning to use your camera phone is an article by Photography Concentrate called “Smartphone Photography 101.” Once you have the basics down, take your photography skills to the next level by following the suggestions Rebecca Moses offers in her article “Finding Your Inner Photographer: Making the Most of Your Camera.”

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

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

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

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

 

Update on the 2018 RTR

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It’s just not the same, I heard a variety of people say about the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).

Well, no, it wasn’t the same.

This year wasn’t the same as the first RTR I attended in 2015. That year, the people who’d been attending since the early days of the gathering were complaining—or at least observing—that the RTR wasn’t like it once was.

The biggest change is always the increase in attendance. In 2015, when maybe 100 people were at the RTR, founders of the event remembered fondly when only 40 people attended and everyone sat around the fire together and shared food at community meals.

The community meals were one of my favorite parts of the RTR in 2015 and 2016, but they were left off the schedule in 2017 because the group had grown too large for anyone not experienced in cooking for crowds to prepare soup or chili for everyone. No one stepped up to the challenge, so that avenue of socializing was no longer available to me and others who used the excuse of food as a good reason to gather and mingle.

I’ve heard varying estimates of how many people attended the 2018 RTR. I’m sure Bob Wells put up a video on his You Tube channel where he names a figure. A New York Times article about this year’s Rendezvous said the BLM estimated the number to be over 3,000. Even without knowing exactly how many people attended over ten days, I can tell you, the 2018 RTR was huge!

The RTR was already huge the day before it officially started.

I was working with my friend Coyote Sue to make the RTArt Camp happen. Unfortunately, Coyote Sue was stuck 20 miles up the road with her broke down Class C, so the task of finding the space set aside for the RTArt Camp fell to me. When Coyote Sue contacted the main RTR organizer to say I’d be arriving first, she was told no space was being held for the art camp because when the organizers arrived, early birds had taken the area that was supposed to be for us. (I have no idea if those early birds were asked to move or even told they were parked in an area intended for a planned RTR activity.)

Because no space had been held for the RTArt Camp, The Man and I were tasked with finding a good spot. It was before noon on the day before the gathering began, and people were already packed in pretty close. There was no space to accommodate several rigs plus several tables anywhere near the main seminar area.

I was growing increasingly stressed. I could handle claiming a spot that had been earmarked for me, but finding and staking out a spot on my own was not an easy task. I was really worried about picking a spot Coyote Sue was going to hate. (I shouldn’t have worried. Coyote Sue is always easygoing and believes things work out the way they’re supposed to. She is a pleasure to work with, and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting her with the art camp.)

Thankfully, The Man talked to a guy who gave us the tip to immediately veer to the left after we pulled onto the music camp road. We took his suggestion and found a roomy spot in an area that wasn’t too crowded. The RTArt Camp was about a five minute walk from the main gathering area, but the necessary crossing of a quite deep wash kept some artsy folks, especially folks with disabilities, away.

Coyote Sue and I went to the seminar on the first official day of the RTR to make an announcement about the activities going on at the art camp. Literally hundreds of people were gathered to learn the basics of the RTR in particular and Quartzsite in general. Instead of letting us make our announcement first, Bob made us wait until sometime in the middle of his presentation. I hadn’t planned to stay for the seminar, but because I was there, I got to hear some of what Bob told the masses.

After asking everyone in the audience to turn off their recording devices, he said he wanted to be the only person recording and posting videos of the seminars online. Then he asked people to request permission from other folks before taking their photo or including them in videos. He pointed out that some people are in situations where it is unsafe for their image to appear online, but then said if keeping one’s image off the internet was a matter of life or death, folks in such a situation should probably leave because their safety could not be guaranteed.

Bob went on to talk a lot about how all of us there were part of a tribe and how we should be kind to each other and kind to the earth. He said he was happy to see all of us, whether we’d been on the road for 20 years or if the night before was the first time we’d slept in our car. He said we all needed each other and the most important part of the RTR was meeting people and making friends. It was an inspiring little speech, and I left feeling good, although I was happy enough to get the heck out of there after Coyote Sue and I finally make our announcement.

As in years past, the free pile was a highlight of the RTR for me. This year I was much farther from it than in years past, so I was able to check it less often. Still, I found lots of great stuff, including several bags of mostly glass beads and colorful plastic “jewels.” I took what I wanted and donated the rest to the RTArt Camp. I also got an orange t-shirt, an orange striped cloth tote bag, a bright pair of sneakers, a pair of Minnetonka moccasins (which I immediately lost, never to see again), and an easily rolled up sleeping pad from Land’s End. The Man got a really nice, large backpack (so he left his too-small Kelty backpack in the pile for someone else to enjoy), a Nalgene water bladder backpack, and a warm Carhartt jacket in pretty good condition. Jerico wasn’t left out; we got him a soft bed and a thin blanket so he can sleep comfortably and be covered but not get too hot. I didn’t find as much food as I did in years past, maybe because I was being picky about what I grabbed. (I could have acquired ten pounds of white rice, but I’d rather eat brown.) I did get a hug bag of caramel kettle corn, a can of garbanzo beans, and a jar of vegetable spice.

Privacy did turn out to be a huge concern. For one thing, even in our less densely populated area, there were lots of people. Sometimes after dark it would have been easier to squat outside to pee, but there was too much potential of being seen from the rigs all around. I wasn’t so much shy as concerned with offending people who didn’t want to accidentally see me with my pants down.

About a week into the gathering, an old guy with a drone made camp across a small wash from us. He flew his drone for hours each day. The buzz the device made was irritating, and friends camped nearby reported the man flew the drone right into or hovered over their camps several times. We assumed the drone had a camera, but we didn’t know if he was taking photos or video and if he was, if he then posted the media online.

One evening as I was cooking dinner, a young man walked into our camp with a recording device. Can I record that? he asked as he pointed his device towards the potatoes frying in the cast iron skillet.

Sure, I said, as long as you don’t record me.

I found out later that he did record me. He recorded me saying don’t record me, and put my face up on the internet saying those very words.

He apparently was recording other women too, voicing over disparaging comments about the women, then sharing those videos on the internet. My friends said he was also recording the seminars and posting them online along with his comments, despite Bob’s request that folks not record and post the seminars. When my friend contacted the RTR organizers to let them know what this guy was doing, she was told don’t let it bother you. I understand if the organizers felt there was nothing they could do to stop the guy (although I don’t know if any of the organizers sought him out to discuss his behavior), but the response of don’t let it bother you seemed to me and my friends as if the concerns weren’t being taken seriously.

One afternoon a woman approached the RTArt Camp table with her camera pointed at us. When Coyote Sue told her not everyone sitting there wanted to be in the photo, the woman went on a diatribe about how we were at a public event and we couldn’t expect privacy. She said at a public event, anyone could legally take our photos. She went on to say she understood our concern because someone had tried to film an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she’d been in at the RTR, and she’d had to shut that down.

The facilitator of the women’s meeting asked that no on record the meeting (video or audio) or take photos of the folks there. Hopefully, no one disregarded her request. She also asked that if and when men approached the group, someone get up and gently explain a women-only meeting was taking place. Instead, the men who approached the group were met with shouts and jeers. They know. They know, women muttered when men approached, believing men where purposely trying to eavesdrop and infringe on our privacy. Maybe that was the case with a few of the handful of men who walked up to our group, but I think most were just clueless. It would have been kinder—and far less disruptive to our group—if, as the facilitator had requested, one woman had quietly stood up, explained to the interloper what was happening, and requested he leave.

The first women’s meeting was huge, by the way. There must have been two or three hundred women there. The facilitator reported it was the first RTR women’s meeting where everyone in attendance did not get the opportunity to speak. Instead, new women introduced themselves, then women with lots of experience introduced themselves.  After an hour of introductions, the large group broke up to give everyone a chance to mingle. I mingled by carrying Lady Nell’s chair back to her camp and then helping some women with disabilities coordinate rides. I’m not very good at mingling with strangers.

So no, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is not the same. It will never be what it once was. It was a backyard picnic and now [it’s a] state fair, Auntie M said about the RTR. I think the gathering can still be a good place for people to learn how to live nomadically, and—probably more importantly—meet other nomads. For folks who don’t mind crowds and the possibility of having their faces recorded and shared on the internet at every turn, the RTR can be a great place to learn and network. However, I’m pretty sure my RTR days are over.

Garbage Can

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I do reuse plastic grocery store bags for garbage, but I don’t always want a plastic bag crinkling in the van. Also, a bag holding only a few light items sometimes gets caught by the wind and the contents are dumped on the floor. Even having to pick up a few items–especially if they’re nasty–after they’ve already been disposed of once can get be really annoying. I wanted a trash can, but I didn’t have room for even a small one meant for a bathroom. Something meant for a desktop might have worked, but I didn’t find anything adequately small at any thrift shop.

The Man was eating a lot of oatmeal at the time, so he had to dispose of an empty oatmeal container every couple of weeks. Those containers were sturdy, had a lid, and wouldn’t take up too much space. I thought one would work great for my trash can needs, so I snagged the next one The Man emptied.

Of course, a plain oatmeal container wasn’t good enough for me; I had to decorate it. I grabbed my supplies: my accordion file stocked with images cut from magazines and catalogs and intented for collages, scissors, The Man’s spray adhesive, and peel & stick adhesive laminate.

Since I didn’t want to spend hours on the project, I used big images. I cut the pictures to proper size, then one by one sprayed the adhesive on the back side, then stuck the image to the oatmeal container. I didn’t measure anything, just held pictures up to the container and eyeballed things. I wasn’t very concerned with straight edges either. This project was a quick one. I just wanted to pretty-up something practical; I didn’t need perfection. (I find I need less and less perfection in my life.)

[amazon template=image&asin=B002AS9NBW] My final step was to cover the container with sticky-on-one-side clear peel & stick adhesive laminate. I brought this product at a fairly small Wal-Mart. I’d used clear Contact brand paper before, and found it would eventually peel off my project. Upon investigation of the products available at the Wal-Mart, I found the Contact brand clear product was labeled “repositionable” which means “non permant.” I found Duck Brand peel & stick laminate; it was labeled “permanent.” That’s what I used for this project, and I haven’t noticed any peeling.

The clear sticky paper could be skipped, but it served two purposes on my project. First, it protects the cardboard the container is made from and the paper clippings glued to the cardboard. Second, the spray adhesive left sticky residue on some of the clippings, so the clear covering keeps the residue from attracting dirt and keeps me from touching stickiness whenever I touch the container.

With about an hour’s time commitment, I used mostly items that would have otherwise gone to the dump to make something attractive and functional to enhance my van life. (The spray adhesive and protective clear film were investments; those supplies will be used for many future projects.) For pennies, I got a pretty little trash can in just the size I needed.

This photo shows the result of my garbage can project.

I took the photos of my supplies and the end result. The photo of the Duck Brand peel & stick laminate is an affiliate link from Amazon. If you click on that link, I get a small advertising fee on anything you buy from Amazon during your shopping experience.

(Guest Post) How I Picked Up Seasonal Jobs to Support My Campervan Lifestyle, and You Can Too

Standard

Van life, while cheaper than traditional lifestyle, is still more expensive than I first thought it would be.

One very real and somewhat harsh reality that came to light early in my van journeys, is the need for cold, hard cash.

When I first set out, I had $500 saved as a cushion. I thought with the lack of a rent payment I would be able to go without a job for a couple of months. However, I was wrong.

I realized pretty quickly I needed to pick up a job to feed myself as well as to buy gas to get us back to our campsite after each day of adventure.

Finding a Job

Leverage your experience and plan carefully

My partner had some experience with the van lifestyle, and he suggested that table waiting was a valuable skill for landing short term work.

Since I had several months to prepare for life on the road, I took a job at Applebees to round out my food service experience and insure that I’d be able to find good gigs in the towns we planned to stay in.

This strategy paid off very nicely when I was hired at a swanky joint to wait tables. This job covered all my expenses while working just a few hours per week. Best of all it left my days free to play in the mountains.

My partner was also able to land a job in a restaurant as a host. Toward the end of our time in Colorado, when the seasonal work at the restaurant dried up, he picked up a short-term day job cutting down trees for fire mitigation.

Location, Location…

How easy it is to find a job depends on where you put down temporary roots. For example, it will be easier in a tourist town than in an unknown small town.

Additionally, the economy of the area should be taken into consideration. I spent time living in Estes Park, CO, and it was quite easy to find a job.

However, in Joshua Tree, California, a smaller, less traveled town, I could not find a job to save my life.

… and more about location

Before you hit the pavement to look for work, consider that it’s most convenient to work close to where you park and sleep. I mean, one major reason for this lifestyle is to avoid a nasty commute! When looking at jobs, pay close
attention to travel logistics.

But sometimes that is not possible, or that otherwise perfect job will require some daily travel. If you will be using some type of public transportation, try to get work near a bus or train stop.

Another option is to plan to camp and work in an area that’s bicycle friendly. Even if you don’t normally pack a bike in your van, a used one can be acquired easily in most areas and then sold, given away or carried along to your next destination.

To improve your options, raise your standards

If you hate working in a certain industry such as retail, fast food, ect. do not even give this type of business a second thought.

I reached that point with the restaurant industry long ago. It took some effort, but as I upped my standards for the type of work I was willing to do, I started getting better jobs.

Craig can help

Craigslist is a great place to find some temporary work. My partner used to find odd jobs on Craigslist regularly. He found jobs as a mover, a construction worker, and a maintenance man.

Sometimes, a small job on Craigslist leads to longtime work. Other times, you want to run the opposite direction. Either way, it’s often tax-free money, and a networking opportunity!

It’s not what, but who you know

Keep in mind that most business owners don’t fill positions via ads, but by networking with people they already know.

One of the absolute best ways to network for any job is to decide on the industry you want to work in and meet people who are already working there. This is not always easy to do on the road, but it can be done.

Here are a few quick and simple places to network for short or longterm jobs

  • Others you meet at the camp area. Find the folks who’re up early and heading to work and pick their brains.
  • On the trail or other outdoor activities. Strike up conversations and ask folks about how they’re supporting their travel passions.
  • Local coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Talk to the barista, bartender and waitstaff and strike up conversations with other patron.
  • Go to the types of businesses where you want to work, and meet people who already work there. For example if you want to pick up landscaping work, get to know the local nursery and plant supply. Into horses? Head to the tac shop. Willing to walk dogs? Go to local pet stores and veterinarians and introduce yourself. Comfortable with computer hardware? You get the idea.
  • Meetup.com groups related to your industry. Make friends in the industry you want work in.

Tips For Nailing The interview

in a what?

I’m not advocating for outright lying…however, it is best to avoid telling your potential employer you live in a van. If you must say something, do it after you are hired.

I personally did not tell my employer I lived in a van until I had to. This was something my boyfriend warned against, based on some bad experiences, so I listened.

If asked about your living situation, a good response is to say you are camping/staying at a friend’s place until you find a rental. If you know someone in the town, this conversation can be avoided by using their address on the application and for mail.

Clean living

Showering before your interview should be among the first things on your mind. You can find showers at local outfitters, gyms, and laundromats. At the very least the confidence boost will help with the interview.

Leave your crew behind

This one will be obvious to most of you, but… my younger self had to learn it the hard way, so I’ll share this misstep.

While it may be tempting to bring in your peeps for support, it will backfire. Even bringing your crew just to wait inside (or even within eye sight) is a bad move because it rings immature. Honestly, it is just as bad as bringing your parent along!

Dress to Impress

Always dress nicely for interviews. If you don’t have any business or business casual clothing with you, try to bum from friends or buy something from a thrift shop. I know living in a van does not always jibe with dressing to impress, primarily because storing nice clothing takes up space.

Obviously if the job requires decent clothes you’ll have to buy them anyway. If not, get something decent for interviews and then donate them once hired.

Point is, don’t have “I live in a van” written all over yourself when you show up for an interview.

Scheduling and freedom

The most important thing for most rubber tramps is finding a schedule that works with their lifestyle. Finding a place that allows for flexibility is important.

When I lived in Colorado, I found a place that would work around my climbing schedule. When you go in, feel out the management and try to work out the best possible schedule for you.

You may need to interview at more than one place, so don’t be afraid to tell a potential employer you will think about their offer. I have found businesses near National or State Parks to be more accommodating.

Get paid what you’re worth

Always try to negotiate pay, no matter what industry. It won’t always work, especially with seasonal jobs. However, playing a bit of hardball can be worth your while. Once I was hired onto a position making $3 more than they offered, just because I asked.

Of course this depends on your level of flexibility, expertise, the availability of other workers in the field you’re applying for and other factors.

Keep in mind that many employers will respect you more if you are reasonably assertive and show you can take care of yourself.Try this line: “I plan to give this job my all, and to help you be as successful as you can while I’m here. In light of that, (plus my experience, my education, my talent…) I feel I’m worth $x per hour.”

Breaking up: Leaving your short-term position

I would never suggest lying to an employer about how long you intend to stay in a position. I also feel there can be gray area here, such as with jobs that tend have a very high turnover rate, where an early exit can be easily justified and even expected.

During the interview the fast food manager is going to talk about career opportunities and long term benefits, but no one (not even that manager) is going to be surprised when you leave that job within 3 months.

Of course in any tourist town, how long you stay will resolve itself as much of the available work will be short term.

 Bridge burning

As for non-seasonal jobs where the expectation is that you stay long term, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to fib about your long-term intentions. Ask yourself how this will impact your future work in the particular industry.

Obviously, if you’re applying in a professional situation where your long-term reputation is at stake, consider your actions carefully. Will the stress of maintaining a lie be worth a few bucks? Did you land the interview through a relationship that will be damaged if you don’t stick around? Would it make more sense to be honest and risk not getting the gig, in hopes the employer will hire you anyway?

Pros have options

Consider my partner’s advice from the top of this article. Acquire a skill that pays well and is appropriate for short-term, seasonal, or gig work.

A girlfriend and fellow van lifer, upon arrival in any town, peppers local bulletin boards, power poles, and Craigslist with fliers for pet sitting and dog walking. She’s got a list of referrals as long as your arm and she gets repeat business whenever she visits those towns. No fibbing required.

Another friend is a computer hardware wizard. He can build you a gaming box that will blow your mind, assemble a network for a small business or repair your laptop, and his skills are applicable anywhere he lands.

Simple math for nomadic income

The formula here is to have a skill that pays well, is in reasonably high demand, plus your willingness and ability to promote yourself when you need work.

I’m not saying you should starve, or even miss out on road adventures to avoid lying to an employer here and there, but do some careful thinking and planning to set yourself up for the best possible work life while van traveling.

Share your campervan work life stories

We’d love to hear your thoughts on finding seasonal work as a campervan traveler, and we’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Please drop your comments or questions below and we’ll do our best to answer.

Thanks for reading.

When she’s not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh from VanSage.com is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry.

Photos from Joshua Tree National Park courtesy of the author.