Life on the Road

Here is a glimpse into what living on the road looks like for us. We live out of our camper van, our Red Tail Lodge, for a good portion of the year. If you’re contemplating living on the road or just curious what it is like, we hope this blog will help you. Instead of talking about the places we’ve visited or the activities we’ve participated in, we’ll describe our daily routines. So here is what a typical day looks like for us.

In the morning, we either wake up to an alarm or wait until we naturally wake up. We only set an alarm if we need to be somewhere at a particular time that day. One of us will crawl out of bed, get dressed, and head out to the restroom. Whoever wakes up first is usually the one who will get up first, but sometimes it becomes a short discussion like the Chip and Dale chipmunks, especially when it’s cold outside. “I’ll let you get up first.” “No, no, that’s OK, you can get up first”. While one of us is making a bathroom run, the other one will crawl out of bed and get dressed. Taking turns just gives us a little more elbow room and more privacy while we get dressed.

After getting dressed, Right Buddy (RB) will put her suitcases, laptop bag, and jackets back up on the bed. If Left Buddy (LB) is using a suitcase, it will go back up on the bed as well. However, he usually uses the shelves above the bed for his clothes.

One of the first things we do is pull back the curtain and take the two large window shades out to let the light in and allow us to enjoy the surrounding view. Next we get out the electric tea kettle (paid link) to heat up water for coffee and hot chocolate. Using an electric tea kettle is much easier than getting out a stove to heat up water.

RB will make herself a breakfast of either yogurt with granola cereal topped with fresh blueberries, or hot instant oatmeal with dried fruit, sugar, and cinnamon using hot water from the tea kettle. If she remembers, she’ll add some powdered milk to the oatmeal to make it a little creamier. RB also takes a vitamin in the morning along with hot chocolate. She would prefer to have juice instead of hot chocolate on most mornings, but we don’t have room in our fridge. LB always has instant coffee with powdered milk and sugar in the morning, but rarely eats breakfast. If he does eat breakfast, it is either a granola bar or instant oatmeal. We use powdered milk because we don’t have room in our fridge for milk or cream. Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes, replacing the 28 liter fridge (paid link) is on our list for next season.

If there is time in the morning, RB will take notes on her laptop for the blog about what happened the day before. Otherwise, she’ll take notes later in the day.

After breakfast, RB will wash her breakfast dishes using the left over hot water in the tea kettle. Then we’ll both brush our teeth. RB uses an electric toothbrush in the morning and a manual toothbrush at night.

RB normally brushes her hair outside, weather permitting, to reduce shedding hair inside the van. LB appreciates that. He gets tired of finding long hairs around the van. Thank goodness we don’t travel with a cat or dog! The reflection from one of the van windows makes a great mirror for putting RB’s hair up.

What happens next usually depends on what we have planned for the day.

If we’re going on a hike, we’ll get out our backpacks from the back and pull our hiking boots and trekking poles out from under the shelves. We usually only need to make minor changes to our packs, like adding our rain jackets, granola bars, apples, and full water bottles along with grabbing the Garmin inReach Mini (paid link). Then we are ready to hit the trails. When we get back from the trail, everything goes back in its place.

If it is a biking day, we take our bikes off the rack in the back and pull our bike bags and helmets off the shelf under the bed. Water bottles are loaded into holders on our bikes. Rain jackets either go into our bike bags or our day packs on our backs along with any extra water bottles if needed. LB has a nice compact bike pump (paid link) in his bike bag that works well to pump up our tires before we get started on our ride. When we get back, we just reverse the process and put everything away.

If our plan is to kayak, we’ll drive over to where we’re going launch our boat. Our preparation includes getting everything out of the large tote in the back, inflating the kayak (paid link) and seats, attaching our water bottles and the dry sack containing our van keys, assembling the paddles, and grabbing our life jackets (paid link). After we’ve had our fun on the water, we hose down the kayak using the water nozzle at the back of our van. The kayak then sits in the sun to dry off before wiping it down, rolling it up and putting everything back inside the tote.

If we’re just walking around town or touring an attraction, we usually grab our small day packs, loading them with rain jackets and a water bottle. When living in a small space, it’s important to stay organized and put things back where they belong when you are done with them. Otherwise, chaos creeps in pretty quickly.

About once a week we plan a resupply day. That usually involves stopping at a grocery store, doing laundry, and taking showers. For a grocery store visit, we just grab our shopping bag from behind the passenger seat. When we come out of the store, we load the groceries directly into the van where they belong, such as into the fridge, into the hanging vegetable bag, onto the shelves, or into the drawers in the back. For laundry, we grab the clothes hamper from behind the electrical cabinet, the laundry detergent from the drawers in the back, and the coins from the glove compartment. Showers involve stuffing clean clothes from our suitcases or shelves above the bed into a bag, taking our towels off the clothes line under the bed, grabbing our flip flops from the shoe bag under the bed, and getting our toiletry kits from above the sink. Many of the state and national parks that we’ve stayed in have coin showers, so we’ll need the coins from the glove compartment again. Private RV parks typically don’t charge for showers, but then the cost of their camp sites are usually higher than state and national park campgrounds. We’ll usually plan for staying at a campground with showers about once a week. Truck stops have showers that can be used for a small fee, but we have not used them yet.

On days that we don’t have access to showers, we’ll typically wash up at the sink in the evenings. If it has been a few days or we’re particularly hot and sticky, we’ll wash our hair in the sink. The high faucet and deep sink make this pretty easy.

On occasion, we’ll shower outside using the spray nozzle at the back of our van. Shower curtains protect the inside of the van from water and a tarp strung across the back doors give us privacy.

LB added magnets to the back of a small mirror (paid link). He sticks the mirror to the outside of the van when he shaves using a small electric razor (paid link).

If it is a driving day, we pack everything up and hit the road. Packing up involves taking out all the window shades, bringing the door mat in, putting the tea kettle and tissue box away, returning the container and cutting board to the sink, turning the passenger seat back around, putting the camp chairs back in the van, putting the cargo net back on, filling up our water bottles for the ride, turning on the Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS paid link), and checking our camp site for litter. We always strive to leave our site cleaner than when we found it.

Some other items on our check list include turning off the fan, air conditioner, or Espar heater if any of them are on, taking out the window vents if we had put them in, and disconnecting and putting away the electrical cord if we connected to shore power. In addition, we’ll turn off the WeBoost, our Verizon Jetpack, and the water pump. We also will clean the windshield with our squeegee (paid link) so we can take smudge-free pictures and video while driving down the road. Usually when we are leaving a campground is when we empty our trash, dump our gray water, and refill our fresh water tanks.

If the drive is boring, then RB will work on her laptop writing blogs or editing photos while we’re heading down the road. If it is a scenic drive, then RB is usually grabbing her camera (paid link) and taking pictures and video out the van windows of the scenery flying by.

Every now and then, we schedule a work day where RB works on blog posts and videos while LB does some IT work for his consulting company.

Lunch is usually a picnic lunch at a rest area, small town park, at our camp site, or in the van wherever we happen to be at lunch time, depending on what the day’s activities were and the weather. Lunch usually consists of lunchmeat sandwiches, tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole, hummus and flour tortillas, salad, carrots, celery, or leftovers. If we get tired of lunchmeat sandwiches, we’ll sometimes make chicken salad sandwiches or peanut butter and honey sandwiches. When we pull Cokes out of the fridge, we replace them with warm Cokes from the back because we normally only have room for two Cokes in the fridge at a time. Usually we don’t have many dirty dishes at lunch, so we put them in the plastic bin under the bench seat and wash them with the dinner dishes in the evening.

When we arrive at a camp site, we decide whether we want to level the van or not. If it isn’t too bad, we won’t bother, as long as the head of the bed is higher than or approximately level with the foot of the bed. Nothing in the van requires it to be perfectly level. We use a level to check the side to side pitch and the front to back slope. The leveling blocks we initially used were the yellow Camco Heavy Duty Leveling Blocks (paid link). After one and a half seasons, the plastic blocks were cracked, broken, and falling apart. We now use the Beech Lane Camper Levelers (paid link). They are heavier and are more expensive than the Camco blocks, but we’re hoping they will hold up longer.

The things we normally do every time we arrive at a camp site are put the door mat out, turn the front passenger seat around, take down the cargo net, put the front shade in, and get the camp chairs out. It we’re at a camp site with electrical hookups, we’ll plug in. Depending on the weather, we may put in more shades to keep the sun out, put in the door window vents (unpaid link) for more air circulation, turn on the MaxxAir Fan, turn on the air conditioner, or turn on the Espar Heater (unpaid link). The next priority for LB is to check the cell service to see if we get a better signal with AT&T using our phones or using Verizon with our Jetpack, with or without the WeBoost (paid link) turned on.

Dinner is the only meal we actual cook. It may be a meal cooked in the InstantPot (paid link) inside the van, cooked outside on our butane stove (paid link), or a combination of the two. RB tries to plan the meals a week at a time which helps with only buying the supplies we need for the week so everything fits in our small fridge. However, we may switch which day we cook a meal, so we are not cooking outside in bad weather or cooking something that requires a long time in the InstantPot when our batteries are low and we don’t have shore power. We’ll eat outside if the weather permits, either in our camp chairs or at our camp site picnic table. Dessert is a piece of Dove dark chocolate, unless we’ve had our fill of sweets due to an ice cream stop earlier in the day.

After dinner is when we wash not only the dinner dishes, but also any dishes from lunch. Then we usually hang out at the campground, perhaps going for a walk around the grounds.

RB likes to stretch out in the evening on her exercise mat (paid link). The mat shown in the picture is a yoga mat, but RB switched to a larger exercise mat which she likes better. She has not stretched as often as she would like. Sometimes it was because it was either too wet or cold outside, but other times she just forgot or remembered after we were already settled inside the van for the night. This is something she plans on making more of a habit next season as she feels so much better afterwards.

Every evening, RB offloads all the photo and video footage from the day from her camera, our iPhones, and our GoPros onto an external hard drive (paid link). She then copies all the footage onto another external hard drive as a backup. Having a backup in case of a hard drive failure makes RB feel more comfortable.

After getting some more work done in the evening, we’ll take some time to relax before going to bed. If we have a good cell signal or wifi, we’ll watch some YouTube videos. Otherwise, we’ll listen to some podcasts, that we had previously downloaded, on our wireless speaker (paid link).

Our bedtime routine consists of making one last trip to the restroom, brushing our teeth, putting the rest of the window shades in, pulling the suitcases and coats off the bed, and crawling into bed.

That’s what living on the road is like for us. Your routines and travel style will probably be different from ours, but hopefully this post gave you some ideas. When you spend more time on the road, it becomes less like a vacation and more like daily living with chores like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and doing dishes. However, it is still a wonderful experience that we are planning to continue doing for the foreseeable future. What are your plans? Are you considering hitting the road?

Check out our related video: Life on the Road