TWO YEARS on the Road?! Camper Life Celebrates a Big Milestone, Takes a Turn.

Two years ago today, on the morning of July 14, 2016, we pulled out of a cookie-cutter apartment complex in Atlanta, Georgia with a Jeep towing a tiny pop-up camper.

The long and winding road has taken us up the East Coast, across the Southwest, up the West Coast, and into Canada. Two years, 18 U.S. states, 2 Mexican states, and 2 Canadian provinces later, here I am still living in a camper – although a much larger and nicer one than what we started with and from the middle-of-nowhere, Montana.

It’s our two-year camper-life-aversary, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. At times, it feels like the blink of an eye. At others, it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. We didn’t plan to still be doing this, and in fact, our initial plan was to just travel for a few months and then plop down somewhere in Oregon. That didn’t happen, but a lot of other stuff did, and now it’s hard to imagine life any other way.

What I’m Still Loving About Camper Life After Two Years:

  • Getting to spend time outdoors in so many beautiful places
  • Being able to work on the road just as well as I could in any house
  • Not having to be committal and settle on just one place to live
  • Less stuff and living minimally
  • Never bored
  • Getting a good amount of exercise
  • Can follow good weather

What Makes Me Ready for a Post-Camper Lifestyle:

  • Living in close quarters to strangers 24/7
  • The exhaustion of non-stop travel planning
  • Wanting to travel internationally without so many logistical issues
  • Wanting to grow plants and my own food in a garden
  • Monkey needs a yard and a dog friend
  • Wanting more time and space for hobbies and volunteering

On a hike a few days ago, the topic of this two-year anniversary came up and lead to a bold and semi-arbitrary commitment that I’d like to stick to. Either we find a place to officially cease camper life by our three-year anniversary or we force ourselves to plop down wherever we are because we weren’t decisive enough to figure out something better.

The more places that I travel to, the more difficult I find it to pick just one to stop full-time camper life and just stay there. Yet I keep mentally coming back to a few places, such as New Mexico, Utah, and the Central Coast of California. Since we aren’t geographically restricted by jobs or other obligations, the big factors in play are cost of living, availability of open land to buy, access to outdoor recreation, weather, proximity to airports/highways, and the overall vibe of a place. It looks like we’ve got our work cut out for ourselves over the next 12 months.

I can definitely say that camper life has changed me over the past two years. I’m better at my full-time job of freelance writing, I work a lot more than I used to, I’m less into being social, and I’m more introspective overall. I’m better at research, still not making enough time for hobbies, still have no patience, and am way more reliant upon getting my daily dose of outdoor time.

More on all of this later, but for now, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Month 24 kicked off with our last few days in Revelstoke, which was an awesome Canadian mountain town I will definitely visit again. On our last few days, we checked out a paddling film festival and hiked the Summit Trail at Mt. Revelstoke National Park.

Banff, Alberta, Canada: Home on the Road #74

For many people, Banff is the epitome of Canadian travel. For me? Not a fan. Sure, the Canadian Rockies are beautiful. But there are so many other parts of this region that aren’t riddled with selfie-stick wielding tourists on tour buses blocking the views and petting your dog without asking. Lake Louise and the town of Banff were both incredibly stressful, even on a Wednesday morning.

We spent a week in Bow Valley Provincial Park safely outside of Banff though that was actually very nice and chill along the river. I also wish I had gotten to spend a bit more time in the neighboring town of Canmore up here as well.

  • Highlights: Legacy bike trail, making some campground art, the surprisingly uncrowded Banff Upper Hot Springs (I guess people don’t soak in 104-degrees when it’s 85-degrees outside?), cooking outside over an open fire, watching Canadians be funny at the Canmore International Improv Festival
  • Lowlights: Crowds, people, traffic, anxiety 

Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada: Home on the Road #75

After all that chaos, I was ready for something a bit simpler…say, life on a farm? We crossed over from British Columbia to Alberta to stay at Elbas Farms near Lethbridge. Aside from the plethora of off-leash dogs that made you feel like you were living in a dog park at times, this spot was super chill.

The best part was visiting the farm’s alpacas, donkey, and sheep. This was also where we took care of an insane number of Jeep maintenance issues and also an RV oil change because the exchange rate made everything cheaper to do in Canada.

  • Highlights: Fun animal neighbors, doing art in the park, one great brewery, buying a new pair of (Canadian!) hiking boots to replace my 4-year-old ones falling apart, paying for lots of vehicle stuff
  • Lowlights: Pushing my bike towing a 45-pound Monkey in a 25-pound trailer up steep hills in the heat, one not-so-great brewery, driving an hour to Watertown National Park only to find that all the trails are still closed post-wildfire

Alberta: Wild Rose Country

Glacier National Park, Montana: Home on the Road #76

Unlike our drive into Canada, which prompted a border control search of our RV because of my pepper spray, we had no search getting back into the U.S. Instead, we had a 1.5 wait in line to get up to the agent.

From there and once safely into Montana, it was just a short drive to Glacier National Park. Unlike Banff, I absolutely loved GNP.

  • Highlights: The surprise of seeing actual icebergs in Iceberg Lake, insane wildflowers everywhere, success in having a dog sitter come in our RV to walk Monkey while we were on a long hike, driving Going to the Sun Road in the 46-degree rain and crazy storm clouds
  • Lowlights: The most expensive campground we’ve ever booked ($80/night cringe), crowded campground

Monkey’s only experience in Glacier National Park – no dogs allowed 🙁

Townsend/Helena, Montana: Home on the Road #77

Our tour of Montana continued with a stay in the middle of nowhere, Canyon Ferry, which is between Townsend and Helena. Out here, there hasn’t been a ton to actually do, which has been wonderful. Not having so many options of things to do has helped us spend time more simply outdoors and get ahead with some work in advance of a major cross-country Jeep road trip coming up.

  • Highlights: Being close to a lake to get the kayak out, finally hot weather that feels like summertime, good campground Wi-Fi, a chill day to check out Helena, National Forest trails with no one else on them, cheap brewery beer, fun cows, more gorgeous wildflowers, going to a rodeo for the first time since I was a kid – people-watching at its finest
  • Lowlights: Crowded shantytown-like campground conditions, not-so-great boating conditions with nasty lake water and unexpected waves, 90+ temps that Monkey hates

Huckleberry everything is delicious – Montana is onto something

Looking Ahead to Next Month

While we’re celebrating this two-year anniversary here in Montana, things are getting pretty nuts in month #25. We’re moving to Bozeman for a couple days and then stashing the camper in storage and heading east. We’re first on a mission to attend a wedding in Chicago and put in a family visit in SoIL.

THEN, because the emissions place in Georgia (that we made a special trip to go to last December from Arizona as a requirement to renew the Jeep’s license plate sticker) put the WRONG VIN NUMBER on the test form, we have to GO BACK.

On the day I found this out, I literally had a 24-hour panic attack. Last December’s trip to Georgia was apparently a complete waste of time, because after multiple calls and faxes to the DMV and emissions tester, the verdict is unanimous – we have to take the Jeep back to Georgia before the sticker expires in August to have another test that reflects the correct VIN number. Essentially some idiot’s simple mistake is costing us a huge hassle, wasted time, and more gas money. This is yet another reason I’m nearly ready to call it quits on camper life – the logistical nightmares of not being stationary.

But to make all of these endeavors a bit more fun, we’re packing our tent in the Jeep and planning to tent-camp in random states that we’d probably never RV in otherwise, like the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa. We’ll actually be staying in a different state every day on the way there and back in the tent, so that should be interesting! Next month’s recap will be a little unorthodox and all over the place, but a summer adventure for sure.

Thanks, as always, for those of you still following along and making all of this typing worthwhile. Happy two years to us!

Catch up with the journey:

A Steamy Tour of Western Hot Springs

Before spending a month traveling around the Western United States, my experience with hot springs was limited to a free outdoor stream I managed to find in Costa Rica. However, after dipping into near-boiling waters across Wyoming and Montana, I’ve been a bit more of a hot springs expert.

But as I quickly learned, not all hot springs are created equal. Some are situated in state-regulated bathhouses and others are tucked away along hiking trails. Some give off the vibe of a relaxing spa and others a more scantily-clad version of a college frat party. Here are a few observations and recommendations of hot springs in the Wild West:

The Boiling River

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park – Mammoth Hot Springs, MT

The National Park Service doesn’t exactly advertise The Boiling River as a public bathing area, so you won’t see any signs with arrows pointing you to it. Park your car on the east side of the road near the “45th Parallel of Latitude – Halfway Between Equator and North Pole” sign at the Montana/Wyoming state line in the park. As you walk about a half mile upstream from the parking area, you’l start wondering if this hot springs really does exist. Keep walking…you’ll be seeing clouds of stream soon enough.

hot springs

Cold water from the Gardiner River and hot water from the Boiling River meet at this point and swirl around to create a pleasant temperature. Although the National Park Service website claims the area is closed in springtime due to high water levels, we and other bathers were splashing around on April 11th when it was barely above freezing.

There’s no rangers around and the water is miserably scalding in certain parts, but it is free to get in (after you’ve paid your national park fee at the entrance, of course). I  only lasted a couple minutes in my bathing suit, but my boyfriend got a full blown shower out of it.

Bozeman Hot Springs

Bozeman Hot Springs

Bozeman Hot Springs – Bozeman, MT

If you’ve been camping in a 20-degree blizzard in Yellowstone National Park for awhile, these hot springs feel amazing. If you’re looking to relax your mind and soothe your soul, you’re better off hitting the hot tub at the Holiday Inn.

These hot springs look exactly like a public pool, and they’re just as crowded as one too. The pools are located on the outskirts of Bozeman, near Four Corners, and it costs $8.50 per adult to get in the door. You can dip into six different pools after you toss your clothes in a locker, and one of them is even outside. The inside pools are split into two sections and have different temperatures to test out.

These hot springs have pretty limited hours, so families with dozens of obnoxious children cram into steamy pools with fun noodles and inflatable arm bands. If you can squeeze into the outdoor pool after the sun goes down, you can look up at the stars and experience the extremes of hot and cold at the same time.

Chico Hot Springs

Chico Hot Springs

Chico Hot Springs – Pray, MT

Drive half an hour north of Yellowstone to Pray, Montana to experience the best hot springs in a reasonable driving distance. I was initially intimidated by Chico because it’s a day spa resort and I saw dollar signs flashing before my eyes. Believe it or not, a day pass is only $7.50 to use these hot springs.

Chico has two large pools, one set at 96-degrees and the other at 103-degrees. We liked this place so much that we splurged for a one-night stay and soaked in the hot springs for a second day. Unlike the first two springs I mentioned, these are pools that you can bring booze into….which is a huge bonus. Visit the pool-side bar for local beers and mixed drinks that you can take with you in plastic cups into the pool.

These hot springs were mostly filled with adult couples and retirees, so the atmosphere was quiet, peaceful, and relaxing. You don’t have to fight for a corner to sit in at Chico, and you can hang out at their bar and use their free Wi Fi while you’re there as well.

Thermopolis Free Public Bathhouse

Thermopolis Hot Springs - Thermopolis, WY

Thermopolis Hot Springs – Thermopolis, WY

After visiting a few hot springs in the cold weather, you’ll likely develop an addiction for all things producing steam. We traveled to Thermopolis, Wyoming simply because the name sounded warm.

Thermopolis has a free public bathhouse that is run by the state, and it feels like it. There’s a 20-minute soaking limit in these springs, which are located right in the middle of Hot Springs State Park, which is right in the middle of the town. You’re required to sign in at the front desk and stick to a brief dip to avoid reprimand. Bypass the indoor pool and hurry over to the outdoor pool, which has an awing overhead to shield you from sun and snow.

Aside from some easy hiking trails with informational plaques about the history of hot springs in the West, there isn’t a whole lot to do in this small town. So while these hot springs feel rushed, the water temperature is great and you can’t beat free entertainment.

Evan’s Plunge

Unfortunately, our hot springs tour ended on a sour note. On the drive back to Chicago, we made a point to stop on the last hot springs to be found: Evan’s Plunge. I found it surprising that a town called “Hot Springs” only had one hot springs facility, even if it was in South Dakota.

We arrived at Evan’s Plunge shortly before closing time, hoping to catch a dip before they closed their doors. We were absolutely the only people in the pool, which had a freezing temperature and a depressing 1970s theme park vibe. They claim the water is 87-degrees, but it was downright frigid compared to the other hot springs we’d recently been to. Not only was the water cold, but it cost a whopping $12.50 per person to get it.

A few teenagers showed up after we went down the slides a couple times for the hell of it. After the water temperature became unbearable, we relocated to the hot tubs, which contained no natural mineral water at all and were too hot to bear for more than a couple minutes at a time.

So if you’re planning on heading out west anytime soon, you should definitely check out some hot springs if the temperature dip a little low. My advise? Check out Yellowstone’s Boiling River for an amazing view and unique experience, and check out Chico Hot Springs to experience affordable relaxation the way nature intended.