RV-Free Road Trip to the Midwest & Back: A Nonstandard Month #25 of Camper Life

It’s been a long, weird month. Most of month #25 on the road was actually spent outside of the RV and in other people’s houses, a tent, and on long drives in the Jeep instead.

What do I have to show for it? Lots fun times with family and friends, a crazy number of photos (brace yourself, readers), way more miles on the odometer, and a whopping seven more state stickers* added onto our camper life map.* The West: conquered.

*Note: we only add a state sticker if we have camped overnight in a state (hotels and people’s houses don’t count, nor does just driving through) since full-time camper life began on 7/14/16.

To attend a friend’s wedding in Chicago, visit buddies in our old stomping grounds, and put in my annual summer family trip to Illinois, we decided to make a tent camping adventure out of this journey. On the way from Montana to Chicago, we camped for one night each in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Iowa. Then on the way back from Arthur to Montana, we pitched the tent in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Sure, checking states off a list is a bit arbitrary, but having silly little goals helped make the long driving days more bearable and it was fun to see parts of the country that we probably wouldn’t be visiting otherwise anytime soon.

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

Bozeman, Montana: Home on the Road #78

Back in April 2013, we stopped by the Bozeman Hot Springs for a much-needed warm-up and shower after tenting in Yellowstone National Park with no facilities and 19-degree temperatures. With fond memories of the place, we brought our RV here for two nights to treat ourselves before heading out on the cross-country road trip.

  • Highlights: Refreshing hot spring pools with live music, lovely sunsets, the chill and semi-dog-friendly Outlaw Brewing nearby, free campground breakfasts
  • Lowlights: Insanely expensive to camp here, crowded and traffic-y in town

After ditching our RV at a storage facility just outside of Bozeman, we headed east and made overnight stops in each of these places.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Monkey wasn’t a fan of braving a thunderstorm in a tent, but the storms resulted in an epic double rainbow and a peaceful hike around this crazy rock formation the next morning.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This was our second time to both Devil’s Tower and the Badlands, both areas I really get a kick out of. In between these stops, we also checked out Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore Brewing, and Mount Rushmore.

We rarely get to camp in national parks and national monuments due to the lack of RV hookups for workweek convenience and internet reception for actually getting work done. But on these road trip days, we were getting in half days at best and most of that was done in the Jeep’s passenger seat between driving shifts.

Nations Bridge Park, Stuart, Iowa

Tenting here was a bit rough due to ruthless mosquitoes and no showers yet again. Iowa: check.

Chicago, Illinois

The main reason for this whole road trip was going to my awesome friend from college’s wedding in Chicago. A couple amazing friends in town let us stay over for a couple nights and soak up the luxury of a real bed, shower, and even a couple games of shuffleboard. Monkey particularly loved this part of the trip because she got to hang out with her new best friend, Moki, and coexisted with another dog quite nicely to my surprise.

In addition to two nights of wedding stuff, we managed to squeeze in a brewery outing with a bunch of friends, brunch with gal pals, and a visit to my favorite family in the ‘burbs. It was a whirlwind of visits and conversations that reminded me that I haven’t entirely lost my social skills just yet. This was also a great opportunity to show off our four- minute and 20-second “RV Life Film Festival” trailer that my crazy-talented husband finished on the way here. If you haven’t seen this epic video and would like to, send me a quick note!

Arthur, Illinois

After the wedding bliss came to an end, it was time for a family visit a few hours further south. My parents were cool enough to celebrate my birthday a month early and planned lots of things for us to do together, including an Amish buggy ride, lunch out with Grandma, a sightseeing tour of over-sized roadside attractions in Casey, Illinois, yard games, and a backyard spa day for my Jeep.


When we set out for this trip, there a reluctant side trip to Georgia hanging over our heads. Last December, we made a special trip back to Atlanta to get an emissions test so that we could renew the Jeep’s license plate sticker and continue driving legally as nomads. Long story short, some idiot typed the VIN number wrong on the report, the DMV wouldn’t accept it, and no one would help us resolve the issue. However, that silly sticker was expiring at the end of August, so we had to take care of it ASAP.

After starting the eastbound journey, I had this strange feeling that I should make one final attempt to get out of driving all the way back to Georgia for the sole purpose of doing the test all over again. I got a different person on the phone who was strangely willing to help this time. We completed some forms, provided proof of campground stays and recent auto repairs, waited a few days, and magically, we were granted an exemption literally on the day before we would have begun the Georgia journey! What a relief not to have to waste 20 more hours on the road with two more back-to-back driving days!

Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

With Georgia off of our itinerary, we spent a few more days in Arthur and then headed north to Lake Wissota State Park in Wisconsin. Spending that extra time at my parents’ house was exactly what I needed to recharge and do nothing. Wissota was a spacious and wooded park that felt nice to call home and be back on the road again.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

I’ve been wanting to visit Minnesota really for just one reason lately: the Happy Gnome restaurant in St. Paul. This was an amazing spot all around: dog-friendly outdoor patio, 90+ beers and lots of Belgian ones, mutually agreeable food menu, and gnomes all over the freaking place. From there, we kept heading west to the tiny town of Fergus Falls to set up camp for the night at Delagoon Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Prior to this month, there were two states in the lower 48 that I had never been to: North Dakota and Idaho. After crossing into North Dakota for the first time ever, we stopped at in Jamestown to see the world’s largest buffalo and check out the roadside tourist shops.

From there, it was a Panera lunch and a brewery stop in Bismarck and then on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. By the time we rolled into the park, it was 100 degrees outside and since national parks hate dogs, so we took turns going on hot hikes and making sure Monkey didn’t melt back at the campsite.

Lewis & Clark Caverns, Montana: Home on the Road #79

After another grueling day of driving, we finally got back to our RV in storage – safe and sound. To transition back to normal life, we spent the weekend at Lewis & Clark Caverns for our last Montana home. The caves were accessible by group tour only, which was a bit annoying but totally worth it. As an added bonus, the park provided free and shaded dog kennels onsite so we could do the two-hour tour together without having to worry about Monkey boiling in the heat.

  • Highlights: Felt so good to be back home and in the mountains specifically, awesome cave tour, great dog kennels, peaceful park
  • Lowlights: Super stinkin’ hot outside, still using public showers here

Arco, Idaho: Home on the Road #80

Our first-ever visit to Idaho began in the tiny town of Arco (population 995) to check out Craters of the Moon National Monument and the atomic energy historic stuff. This was a great place to fully transition back into standard camper life because there wasn’t much to do here, making it ideal for catching up with work and settling back into normal routines.

  • Highlights: Hiking at Craters of the Moon, pulling off the side of the road to take a dip in natural hot springs, learning about the disturbing world of nuclear testing and fatal meltdowns
  • Lowlights: Not being allowed to go in the caves at Craters of the Moon because of bat drama, most things are out of business and boarded up here

This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Work, work, and more work – so much of it.

  • One out of three machines working isn’t too bad, right? Laundry on the road can be rough at times.

  • Monkey really gets a lot out of having a dog pal around. Having two goons in a camper sounds like a really bad idea, but she’ll get a dog sibling one day when camper life comes to a close. In the meantime, she’s literally the best road trip dog ever.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’re hanging out in Idaho a little while longer – Bellevue and Boise – before making our way into Eastern Oregon by Labor Day. Bellevue is a fun stop because we actually have a couple friends that live here – former full-time RVers that we met on the road last year. Then I’ll ring in the big 3-5 in the Boise area next week with apparently, some surprise shenanigans planned.

After that, we’ll try being Oregonians again in a different part of the state (the John Day and Bend areas) that promise to be much warmer and drier than our spring on the coast. Constant travel research and planning feel more tiring and burdensome to me than even before the road trip, which doesn’t bode well for keeping this lifestyle going for the long-term.

While tenting for a couple weeks was a fun adventure and reminiscent of the four- and six-week tenting trips we did back in 2013 and 2014, it feels damn good to be back in our comfy and cozy RV. The experience reminded me about all the things that make tent life harder: sharing a bathroom with strangers, walking outside to pee in the middle of the night after a few too many beers, trying to get work done, keeping devices charged, showering every three days at best, etc. It’s funny how the little creature comforts of this home on wheels make this lifestyle so pleasant and sustainable – little things like my amazing bed pillow, not having to say good morning to strangers on my way to release a morning pee, and not worrying how I’ll put in another long day of writing work. But while I’m not cut out for full-time tenting right now, I do still love it for a few days at a time so we can get off the grid in ways that RV life doesn’t allow.

On that note and before this rambling carries on any longer than it already has, I’m signing off. We have a lot more to see and do in this rugged wilderness of potatoes in month #26 and until Christmas before another RV-free road trip is in the cards.

Happy trails!

Catch up with the journey:

Curing the Post-Travel Blues with a Dose of Fantasy: A Renaissance Fair Story

I’ll be the first one to admit I’m not immune to post-travel depression. I love the excitement and the uncertainty of being on the road, but being a homebody has never really been my thing.

After spending a couple weeks on the West Coast, immediately followed by an extended weekend on the East Coast, followed by my 31st birthday, I found myself seriously struggling to settle back into routine life.

Instead of getting down in the dumps and taking the notion of “routine” too literally, I opted for a dose of fantasy instead. It was the last weekend of the Renaissance Fair in Bristol, Wisconsin, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday.

Ren1A Renaissance Fair is like an amusement park for history buffs, fantasy freaks, and costume nuts across America. The first of its kind was the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura, California, and that kicked off back in 1963. Ronald and Phyllis Patterson, both school teachers, are credited with developing the fair as a simple school project, and dozens of replica events have popped up from coast to coast since that time.Ren2Renaissance fairs are set up resemble a fair or market day during the Renaissance Era, and they do a darn good job of doing so. Actors and actresses position themselves around the fair grounds singing, playing music, and engaging with festival-goers in wonderfully awkward ways.
Ren3Unfortunately, Renaissance Fairs don’t exactly offer Renaissance Era prices. Although everything is enticing and presented in clever ways, the event is a total money suck and there’s no way around it.

Regular adult admission tickets cost $23.95, but I was able to snag an online discount for $19.99. As as you make your way through the “town,” you’ll find more souvenirs, fair games, and food and booze stands than you can shake a valiant sword at.

First stop: the hookah tent! Who would have thought that a Renaissance Fair would have a comfy spot for flavored tobacco smoking situated right next to the entrance? In this shot, I’m patiently waiting for my watermelon hookah to arrive and sneakily people-watching between the tent poles.

This was an optimal people-watching spot because the lively Bristol Pub Crawl had gathered nearby. For $35 per person, fair-goers could join a raunchy Rated R pub crawl that comes with a traveling bartender, four drink tickets, and plenty of dirty stories and jokes along the route. There were about 20 beers on tap, as well as mead and a gluten-free cider.

Maybe next year?Ren5There were plenty of trolls around for sale, but no gnomes in sight. What a crying shame.
Ren6Of all the adorable booths selling unnecessary things, this one tempted me the most. How awesome would it be to walk around drinking beer out of a horn attached to a satchel?

Alas, my better judgment won out and I talked myself out of buying one. So sadly, my mediocre beer was drank out of a plastic peasant cup.
Ren7Now this I didn’t expect to see…a climbing wall! The scene seemed to be dominated by very small human types and I winced at the never-ending line. So I simply observed the spectacle that lay before me and critiqued the youngsters’ climbing skills…harshly.Ren8For whatever reason, turkey legs are a big deal at Renaissance Fairs, and it seems almost like a requirement to messily chomp away at one. Meat on a stick doesn’t really appeal to me, so I bought one for my carnivorous boyfriend and chose an artichoke for myself.

I had totally forgotten about the whole concept of artichoke, and they really are delicious when drenched in garlic and melted butter. As are most things.Ren10A feast fit for a king and queen, perhaps? Ren11Despite the crowds and the lines, I found myself incredibly relaxed and at ease strolling around the Renaissance Fair. Performers walked timidly across tightropes, ate burning flames atop sticks, and flipped around wildly in the air.

This type of sensory overload experience was exactly what I needed to feel alive and excited about the world around me.Ren12And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.


According to pretty much every historical account in the books, gnomes weren’t around during the Renaissance. But here they were…selling mushrooms.

I asked the man behind the counter if he knew of any other gnomes lurking in the vicinity. He revealed to me that he used to run an entire shop full of gnomes at the fair. After I picked my jaw up off the dusty ground, I begged him to bring it back.

Maybe next year?
Ren13In other noteworthy sightings, someone had put together a really extensive medieval Lego village. How anyone possesses the patience for all this is beyond me.Ren15One of the most intriguing characters that I encountered at the Renaissance Fair was the Dragon Hatchery lady.

Here’s how it works: A kid puts a token into a box, it rolls around for a bit, and POOF! A puff of smoke fills the air and a dragon egg emerges into the world. I did always wonder where dragon babies came from.

Ren16It wouldn’t have been a complete Renaissance experience without attending a joust. Several sets of jousters battled it out on the field as sections of the audience joined forces and chose sides.

My section’s knight didn’t win, but I must admit he was pretty hot for a Renaissance dude. Eye candy is a form of winning, right?
Ren17 So in the grand scheme of things, my Renaissance Fair story is more about a story of coping with things staying the same and remaining unchanged. Had I confined myself to my Chicago apartment on that Labor Day weekend Saturday, I would have drowned myself in sorrows of restlessness, discontent, and probably a couple bottles of wine.Ren9

But instead, I forced myself to keep exploring and to find unfamiliar things in too-familiar places. I took incredibly fond memories away from my first Renaissance Fair, and the only thing that would have made it better is a kick ass costume.

Maybe next year?