It’s Officially Been a Year & a Half of Camper Life!

A year and a half? Whoa. Pop some champagne, because this sounds like a reason to celebrate!

Eighteen months ago, we hit the open road and never looked back. Well okay, that’s a lie. We’ve actually been back to where we started twice since then due to nomad logistics. In fact, that fact ties into the theme for month #18 of camper life.

It was a milestone month, but also a weird month thanks to the holidays. On the first day of it, we stuck Dragoon the RV into a storage lot in Arizona and headed out on a cross-country Jeep road trip to Georgia and Illinois.

From there, there were lots of cheap motel stays (fortunately no bedbugs, but unfortunately with plenty of neighbor noise), visits with family and friends, and a few fun national park/monument stops to break up excruciatingly long drives.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road:


Christmas Road Trip: The Eastbound Journey

  • Highlights: A chill, dog-friendly driving break at Sierra Blanca Brewing in Moriarty, New Mexico; Gorging on our favorite Torchy’s Tacos in Amarillo, Texas, not getting sick from $4 Chinese takeout in Texarkana, Arkansas; digging for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park (sadly, we didn’t strike it rich though); checking out the historic bathhouses at Hot Springs National Park
  • Lowlights: 8-10-hour days in the car; very boring stretches of road (I’m looking at you, Central Texas), the annoyance of every stranger hassling us to meet Monkey in Hot Springs, Arkansas; not uncovering any sparkling diamonds while digging in the dirt, eating too much and exercising too little

A Few Days in Atlanta 

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my best gal pal and her kiddos for the day; dinner at a great Japanese restaurant with another old friend; boba tea and Asian grocery stores; finally going for a run (in the rain, however); the expansive salad bar at Fogo de Chao which made up for my distaste for all things meat on a business partner + family dinner
  • Lowlights: Lots of rain (totally forgot what rain was after being in the desert for so long); the loudest and most annoying hotel stay ever at Studio 6 in Chamblee (seriously, who does crossfit and sings every night between 11pm and 5am?); terrible hotel pillows

Celebrating Christmas with Family 

  • Highlights: Feeling like a kid again in my parents’ house; Monkey got to stay with us!; seeing real reindeer at a reindeer ranch; some well-timed snow that looked nice but didn’t get in the way of our travel plans; card games with Mom and Dad; running on my parents’ treadmill 5 days in a row to fight the fatness; hanging out with my 94-year-old grandma; meals out with friends in the area; not having to work much at all; ummm….presents!
  • Lowlights: Blisteringly cold and below-zero temps that will never make me miss Illinois; that day when Monkey ate half a box of animal crackers left behind in my parents’ SUV

Christmas Road Trip: The Westbound Journey

  • Highlights: Drinking beer and gnoming out at Hopping Gnome Brewing in Wichita, Kansas; motel hot tubs and free breakfasts; breweries and food trucks in Albuquerque; taking a day off driving to check out El Malpais National Monument and El Morrow National Monument in New Mexico; final stops at Petrified Forest National Monument back in Arizona
  • Lowlights: Also very boring roads (This time, I’m looking at you, Kansas); all the money spent on gas

And with that, we were reunited with our home on wheels and set to dive back into camper life. The road trip (versus flying) plan went off without a hitch, but this may not have worked out so well if the weather turned crappy or the Jeep broke down. However, none of that happened, so it was great to be able to spend additional time with family and friends for the holidays and also make some random stops in Arkansas, Kansas, and New Mexico to break up the monotony of driving. And the best bonus was that Monkey could come along for it all, rather than being boarded back in Arizona like last year!

After picking up the RV from storage and crashing for one night in Black Canyon City, Arizona, we moved on to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to ring in the new year.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Ajo, Arizona: Home on the Road #58

  • Highlights: Awesome campground that actually had internet coverage so we could extend our stay from two days to seven; backcountry and off-road hikes where dogs are allowed; starting the year off with a slow pace; making it up ’til midnight on NYE (barely) by listening to podcasts and playing board games; managing to use the four hours of daily allowed generator time to charge laptops enough for working; an awesome day trip to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico for a day of eating good food and being beach bums
  • Lowlights: Only 2 dog-friendly designated trails; old people who stick their noses in others’ business; the ordeal of driving over to fresh water and dump stations every few days

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #59

  • Highlights: Swapping out stuff in our tiny storage unit here (tent camping gear now in tow!); taking care of Monkey’s annual vet appointment and dental cleaning; revisiting the one and only brewery in town; getting a lot of work done and continuing a slower pace of life; finding a campground that allows in people under 55 and that doesn’t enforce its pitbull ban
  • Lowlights: Surrounded by snowbirds everywhere you go; the insane cost of Monkey’s vet bill (but she’s worth it)


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Time passes by differently in different places. For example, it always seems to move so slowly in Central Illinois where I grew up. It also moves slowly in places like Organ Pipe where there’s really not that much to do or be in a hurry for. The slower pace is refreshing to me right now, after always feeling in a frantic hurry to get to everything all at once for the sake of checking things off a list.
  • I brought my 1984 cabbage patch, Isabelle, out of storage and she is now an active member of this camper life journey! This little lady went to college with me and survived the 120+ degree heat in a non-climate-cooled storage unit in Yuma. I think that deserves a medal and a shot of something strong. She is 33 years old, after all. She’s a little worn and dirty, but then again, aren’t we all?

  • Also, having Georgia license plates is exhausting. At this point, I’ve lived longer on the road than ever in the state of Georgia. But everyone has to have license plates, and that’s what ours say. In the west/southwest, it’s a constant barrage “Georgia?! Well aren’t you a looooooong way from home? Whataya doin’ out here?!?” If I had a nickel for every time I had to endure this exhausting conversation, I’d have a couple bucks by now.
  • We’ve been redecorating and personalizing the RV! These are the cupboards above our bed, and we printed out panorama photos to display on the otherwise-boring surfaces. I love the way they turned out!

  • We also finished our replacement DIY curtains in the living room and office. These ones actually reach down to the windowsill and block out some light.

  • Another project (that was all S and no me) was building a second workstation for the RV. It’s bolted into the dash board and slides out like a drawer. Now we don’t have to sit next to each other all day and kick each other trying to scoot out…amazing!

  • There’s still something very appealing to me about New Mexico – something rugged, mysterious, and alas….uncrowded.
  • I love campground and hotel fitness centers, no matter how outdated or tiny. There’s never anyone in these mysterious places and I can finally lift something besides resistance bands and my own body weight.
  • While in Yuma, we went to a wood carving expo and I bought this necklace – totally obsessed. It’s a carving from mesquite wood from the desert and turquoise chips with copper and a leather chain. It reminds me of the mountains I’ve been hiking in, southwest landscapes, independence, and enduring strength despite getting a little worn and rough around the edges over time. One day, when I uncover magical free time, I’d love to make jewelry, and for it to be something like this.

  • A fellow full-time RV friend of mine recently commented how non-retired/full-time working RVers have very little in common with snowbirds, and I couldn’t agree more. Living in snowbird country is pretty much like living on Groundhog Day and having the same awkward interactions and forced conversations every day. Yet we are terribly outnumbered.
  • I’d 2018 to be my year of slowing down and being more spontaneous. Living a life on the road might sound inherently spontaneous, but it’s really not. All of our homes on the road are very planned out in advance, largely to accommodate our work schedules and find some normalcy while constantly moving. However, starting the year off at Organ Pipe reminded me of a few things. #1: Slow down and stop rushing because no one else cares what I do, where I go, or how many things I check off a list. And #2: Build in time for spontaneous time. In a rare wine-fueled moment, we decided to take a day trip to Mexico the night before crossing the border atLukeville, Arizona. It was probably the best decision we’ve made all year. With a super-easy border crossing, cheaply priced everything, and perfect weather for sand and sunshine, I need more Puerto Peñasco-style days in my life.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

From Yuma, we got back into California, but this time with goals to only stop by a few key areas in order to reach Oregon by early March. Rather than spending eight or so months in California like last year, we’re blowing through a bit faster this time so we can spend spring and summer in Oregon, Washington, Canada, Idaho, and Montana.

Our first Cali stop was a quick overnight at Pyramid Lake to break up the drive to San Luis Obispo, where we’ll spend a couple weeks revisiting an area that we really enjoyed last spring. SLO has made it on our short list of possible future plop-down spots, so I’m looking forward to getting to know the area better. From here, we’re northward bound with two-week stays being standard protocol.

Thanks for sifting through my rambles for the past year and a half! I’ll close with our fortunes for the new year, courtesy of $4 Chinese entrees from Texarkana, Arkansas.


Catch up with the journey:

Southern Utah & Northern Arizona: How We Spent Month #17 on the Road

It’s looking a lot more festive in this little home on wheels! And yes, those ARE crazy-colored gnomes hanging from the ceiling.

It’s now been a year and five months of life on the road, and the wheels keep on turning. The past month was based in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The weather’s been pretty great, and the scenery has been spectacular. There’s been a lot of work to do to prepare for upcoming holiday travel, but still some fun times for exploration in the wilderness and nearby towns.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road:


Cedar City, Utah: Home on the Road #53 (continued from last month)

  • Highlights: Exploring ultra-peaceful and remote canyons. discovering crazy rock formation arches in a different part of the state, finishing more awesome handmade bedroom curtains, bike trails around town, a little snow that was still easy to hike in, surprising discovery of an Indian grocery store
  • Lowlights: Having to leave…this has been one of my favorite places to live in a very long time, minus the crappy internet and total lack of breweries (damn Utah beer laws)

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah: Home on the Road #54

  • Highlights: Being off the grid with no internet reception, secluded and super-scenic hikes at Kodachrome, day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park with a solo hike, picked up a sweet new sweatshirt, enjoying a non-traditional Thanksgiving, awesome weather
  • Lowlights: Not being able to stay here longer due to no internet for working

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah: Home on the Road #55

  • Highlights: Also having no phone reception for the holiday, soft sand that Monkey absolutely loves, peaceful state park, packing breakfast (bagels and a thermos of tea) to watch the sunrise out on the dunes
  • Lowlights: Again, couldn’t stay any longer than we did because it wasn’t feasible with work

Flagstaff, Arizona: Home on the Road #56

  • Highlights: Checking out 7 breweries (six different ones) in 5 days, food trucks, visiting Native American pueblo ruins, Black Barts’ surprisingly entertaining dinner theater show next to our campground
  • Lowlights: Cutting our stay here short because of faulty weather forecasting of 10 inches of snow that didn’t happen, not getting to hike as much as we would have liked, no campground WiFi (as typical)

Camp Verde, Arizona: Home on the Road #57

  • Highlights: Somehow getting the best campsite in the park with a great views and short trails behind us, taking advantage of “resort” amenities like a weight room and hot tub, more affordable than Sedona and less restrictive (age and dogs) than Phoenix, cliff dwellings, browsing crystal shops, working outside a bit
  • Lowlights: Crappy WiFi once again (See a pattern for this month? Data overage hell!), finding Sedona to be more overpopulated and slightly less impressive than I remembered it from about 11 years ago, calling way too many local places to try to find RV storage for our upcoming Christmas trip


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • We bought a new tent! No, I’m not on-board with full-timing in a tent like we did back in 2013 (Montana/Wyoming/South Dakota) and 2014 (Maine/Vermont/New Hampshire). But it’ll be fun to leave the RV behind and take this out for some backcountry adventures soon.

  • I’m starting to think I’ll never be satisfied living in just one place long-term.
  • I need more solo outings.
  • We finally finished all 4 bedroom curtains! Love them!

  • I really enjoy lap swimming and want to look for more community pools in future homes on the road.
  • Coffee shops sound like a fun place to work, but they’re usually not. I keep trying them when I have a lot of data-heavy work to do. But the disappointing Wi-Fi, screaming children, cackling conversations, sun glare, and wind gusts from the door tend to suck the joy out of working in weird places.

  • I started writing a couple more short stories, but I haven’t finished anything.
  • Time moves so much slower without the internet, and it’s wonderful.

  • I’ve been keeping up with meditating at least a few days per week, the only form of spirituality that makes any sense to me.
  • Every service-oriented interaction lately has been mind-numbing, exhausting, and disappointing. It’s pretty ridiculous how archaic the campground industry is and that everything from reservations to storage requires an excruciating phone call with no efficient online alternative. My intolerance for humans is at an all-time high. If I have to spell our names one more time….

  • I had to finish some Christmas craft presents this month, but looking to pick back up with guitar in January.
  • With the exception of Flagstaff (oopsie daisy), I’ve been cutting back on beer and dessert in favor of wine and nonfat yogurt with mix-ins. But now with a 16-day road trip and Christmas on the horizon, making healthier choices will be a bit rougher.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

I’m posting this a day early because tomorrow we hit the road (Jeep only) and head east! With long days of driving ahead, we’re looking to make quick and overnight stops in eastern New Mexico, eastern Oklahoma, some day-trip fun in Arkansas (Crater of Diamonds State Park and Hot Springs National Park), and then finally onto Atlanta.

We’re still officially Georgia residents for tax purposes, and there’s no way around the emissions test requirement for the Jeep to renew the registration. The camper is exempt because it’s less than three years old…whew! It’s all pretty silly, but at least we’re using this inconvenience as an excuse to see friends and business partners in town. From there, it’s on to southern and central Illinois to do Christmas up right with my family.

It’s gonna be a weird month ahead of working on laptops in the passenger seat, staying in hotels while our gas-guzzler home sits back in Arizona, and being out of our usual routine. Daily routines are something I’ve clung to while moving from place to place to maintain a sense of normalcy and stay organized with everything I need to do.

But this is a crazy time of year for everyone, so no complaining here to close out a solid 2017! Okay, enough babbling…back to work and packing with perhaps a little hot tub time in there too.

Happy holidays, and thanks for keeping up with my journey!


Catch up with the journey:

Half a Year on the Road! A Six-Month Camper Life Update

It’s a new year in a new state, but the journey continues in 2017!

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Month #6 has been a weird month. It was holiday month, which means that everything was thrown off a bit – but in a good way. It’s also been the longest we’ve stayed put in one place so far.

Places We’ve Been: Month #6

Month #6 started finished up our stay in Tuscon and then we moved up to Phoenix. A while back, we had booked flights to travel from Phoenix to Champaign, Illinois to visit my family for Christmas. So everything leading up to this moment had to work around the flight schedule.

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Since Monkey’s too big to fly, we had to board her, but did so at the best pet resort we could find in Phoenix called Tailwinds. For Christmas, we spent a few days in my hometown or Arthur, seeing family and friends and doing little-to no work. We had a Monkey to get back to in Phoenix, but our flight was cancelled due to FOG of all things. We’d packed extra food for Monkey in case of emergency, but were still anxious to collect her. So my parents graciously drove us the complete opposite direction to Indianapolis to catch the next flight out in the morning.

The Indy flight went as planned and we made it back to Phoenix, then drove to Las Vegas the same day. So in a 24-hour period, we lived in four time zones: Central, Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific. Totally exhausting, but we got Monkey back and got rave reviews about her behavior (and even a report card!).

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Phoenix, Arizona: Home on the Road #27

  • Highlights: Having dinner with my old co-worker, Maria, for her husband’s birthday bash, hot tub at the fanciest Motel 6 I’ve ever seen, short hikes around town

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  • Lowlights: Getting a traffic cone stuck under the Jeep and nearly starting a fire on the highway because of it, having to leave Monkey behind at a “pet resort” while we got on a plane

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Arthur, Illinois : Home on the Road #28

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my parents, grandma & extended family, seeing a couple of my favorite people from high school, meeting our mutual friends’ new baby, seeing “Moana” with my parents, eating at a really good Mexican restaurant that popped up in my hometown since I left, impromptu trip to Indianapolis

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  • Lowlights: Having our flight out of Champaign cancelled at the last minute, having to ask my parents to drive us to Indianapolis

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Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #29

  • Highlights: Fun pre-NYE day on The Strip, Cirque Du Soleil show that was impressive but made me feel fat and lazy, first NYE celebration with Monkey in the camper to ring in 2017, Valley of Fire State Park hiking

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  • Lowlights: Flat camper tire and cracked windshield on the drive to Vegas, Homeless people lurking around our campground and the staff doesn’t care, dental visit, crowded parking lot-style campground, no Wi-Fi

Random Ramblings: Month #6

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #6 on the road.

  • I’m obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing dishes, washing up in the bathroom, etc. They really get me through the day. Ones I’ve been listening to lately: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Undone, Stranglers, The RV Entrepreneur with Heath Padgett, Lore, The Moth, Radio Lab, Hidden Brain. New podcast suggestions welcome…hit me up!
  • Motel stays make me feel really appreciative of the little things in life. Like not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night when I’ve had 3+ beers. They’re even better when they have a hot tub, especially after a long day of hiking. Campgrounds with hot tubs are awesome too.

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  • I really have no desire to live in a place with frigid winter temperatures ever again. These snowbirds have the right idea, but stealing the idea shouldn’t require Medicare eligibility.
  • I’m super appreciative of my parents. Understandably, they were skeptical about this whole camper life thing at first. But I’ve never really been a daughter to follow all the rules. Them driving us to Indy on Christmas day night was a lifesaver. I’m seriously lucky to have them. Too bad it too me so long to realize it.
  • I can’t stand being around other campers. The second I walk outside to use the bathroom in the morning, there are people all around me. I’m feeling claustrophobic by the close proximity of campers and drained by the constant sight of human beings. (1) Old retirees with nothing better to do than chat, (2) families with kids that have no regard for anyone but themselves, and (3) homeless riff-raff lurking around campgrounds when the staff doesn’t care are really getting to me. Friends always ask me about cool people I’ve met on the trip. The honest answer is none. Admittedly, I’m in an introverted phase of life and not putting myself out there. But honestly, that’s not what travel is about for me right now and I have no regrets.

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  • This month was a BIG time for repairs. The camper needed a new tire, the Jeep needed a sensor repair and a new windshield, the husband needed hardcore dental surgery, and the dog needed yearly shots at the vet, and I needed a routine dental cleaning. Somehow this all snuck up on us at once. But it just goes to show that you don’t need to be grounded in a place to get all the practical things in life taken care of.
  • Cities are making me feel claustrophobic. Most strangers seem like an entirely different species, I’m becoming a worse driver, and stupid things make me anxious. I’m hoping to find some quiet coastal towns in California.
  • Vegas is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere so far on this trip – 19 days! Not because we are in love with Vegas, but due to so many appointments and practical things piling up all at once. At least there were plenty of distractions to take our minds off them at the end of the day.

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  • I don’t like the format of these blog posts I’ve been doing, but I can’t think of a better way to structure them.
  • We looked into upgrading the camper and would seriously love to, but I don’t think it’s going to work right now. Mostly because a two-door jeep has embarrassingly low towing capacity, so a camper upgrade would mean a vehicle upgrade too. Looked at A-Liners, which were nice (especially ones with an in-camper toilet and solid walls!), but they’re not enough of an upgrade to justify the investment right now.
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  • This is my dream house.
  • It was nice to be able to take holiday time off like the rest of the traditional working world this year. This is always an awkward time as a freelancer, but things finally slowed down for me and I finally got some much-needed chill time.
  • Also as a freelancer, I have to keep track of every invoice and pay quarterly taxes, which is a huge pain in the ass. However, I made more this year than ever in life. So many full time travelers hate on freelance writing as a way to make money but clearly they aren’t doing it right. This is something I feel really proud of since 2017 is my 4th year of freelancing!
  • I am obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt.

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  • The best reason that has come up so far for calling it quits on camper life is international travel. I feel like I’ve seen so much (but obviously not all) of this country, but so little of the rest of the world. Simply flying to Illinois for Christmas taught us how difficult the logistics are of finding a dog sitter, Jeep parking, camper parking, transportation, etc. After six months, I’m feeling the itch for international travel. This makes me amendable to finding a place to rent (somewhere) for a year so we can plop down and get slightly established so we can catch a flight to bust of America soon. This will likely be the one thing that makes me call it quits on camper life, at least for a while.
  • Valley of Fire State Park renewed my faith in Nevada hiking trails after several disappointments…what an incredible place with something different to see on every trail!img_3014
  • Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to come across a #vanlife post or some other young couple’s Instagram-perfect photos of full-time travel. I am mildly obsessed with creepily stalking other full-time campers to see what they’re up to and judging myself against my better judgment. It feels like this movement is gaining momentum, but perhaps I’m just seeking it out. But unlike so many of these other couples essentially doing what we’re doing, I’m not into going full publicity over it or trying to make money from it. That’s not my style, and I’m already stretched too thin. Also, my husband is a private person and I respect his wishes to not include his photo or name on my blog. I also have no desire to reinvent the wheel here or project an image that everything about this lifestyle is perfect. It’s not, and it pisses me off from time to time just like any lifestyle would. I’m being me, being real, and sharing my experiences as creative outlet rather than a means of self-promotion. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Looking Ahead to Month #7

TOMORROW, we’re celebrating our 6th month “full-time camper life anniversary” by crossing over the California state line and dry camping in Mojave National Preserve. This means no reservations, no electric, no internet, and only backup tank water…but hopefully some amazing scenery and hikes.

After that, we’re heading to the Palm Springs area of California, which will be totally new to me. But I will say though that California campgrounds are looking pretty expensive so far. I’m a newbie at pretty much all things Southern California, so I’m definitely excited to spend a good amount of time here. Please send any SoCal recommendations my way!

Cheers!

Catch Up on the Journey:

Gnomeville: A Local Legend in Olney, Illinois

I was born in a small town in the middle of nowhere that you’ve probably never heard of.It goes by the name of Olney: population 9,108.

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To outsiders, Olney is really only known for one thing: white squirrels. There are a couple different theories about how these albino creatures found their way to southern Illinois, but they’ve emerged as a mascot for this working class town.

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But more recently, Olney has become known for something else…something that I personally take more interest in than any sort of pale-skinned rodent. A small community of gnomes has appeared along the west side of Illinois Route 130, just south of the Richland Country Club. After a seven-year hiatus, I finally made it back to my hometown to pay them a visit.

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You know you’ve arrived when you reach the sign marked “Gnomeville,” but you might just miss it if you blink. Over the winter holiday season, I convinced my fiancée and my parents to pull to the side of the highway so I could meet these gnomes for myself. I once called this place home and now they do, so clearly we had a lot in common.

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Olney’s Gnomeville has been around for a couple years now, and Cathy Fehrenbacher, who lives across from the highway display, has served as the unofficial caretaker for the gnome village.

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“It just kind of kept growing,” Cathy said. “It’s kind of stood on its own. It’s a group effort.”

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But unfortunately, the gnomes here are starting to look a bit weathered and are in desperate need of some tender loving care. I’m currently living in Atlanta, but if I only lived closer, I’d surely take them under my wing. Hopefully someone local will lend them a helping hand and keep the quaint and quirky tradition alive. This is a place where gnomes, albino squirrels, and my relatives can all coexist in peaceful harmony. And I look forward to paying them (gnomes, squirrels, and relatives) a visit next time I’m back home.

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Have you encountered any pop-up gnome communities where you live or have recently traveled? Keep an eye out, because these little guys and gals tend to settle in some of the most unexpected places!