A Year in a Camper: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

Living in a CamperExactly one year ago, we took the big leap to buy an RV and start a cross-continent road trip. 25,901 miles through 42 states and 3 Canadian provinces later, we can say it’s been an absolutely life-changing experience. We’ve hiked glaciers, scuba dived a barrier reef, roamed with buffalo, slept in rain forests, wine tasted in vineyards, made snow angels on the continental divide, chased a total solar eclipse, and had adventures every single day. A camper offers freedom like we’ve never seen before. But life’s not always Instagram-worthy, when you’re living in a 104-square-foot camper without air conditioning with the same person 24/7 and relying on a 33-year-old vehicle for your mobility and shelter. We’ve had our share of breakdowns of the motor (and the mind) living in a camper, but we’ve also learned a ton and are feeling stronger than ever! For our first anniversary with Buddy the Camper, we’ve come up with 10 beautiful benefits and 5 ugly truths about life in a little RV.
 

Vintage Charm

Toyota Sunrader BrochureFirst, we have to give major credit to Buddy. An endearingly misproportioned child of the 80s, our little Toyota Sunrader has solar panels that allow us to go off the grid, a 22RE engine that gets 17.86 miles to the gallon, just enough rust to keep away the burglars, and so much character he finds friends wherever we go. Back in 2016, we almost partnered with an RV company who wanted to give us tricked-out rig. Sure, it would have been free and shiny new, but we wouldn’t have gotten a fraction of the high-fives, honks, and hugs. People literally go out of their way in a parking lot to ask us about Buddy, share a story about their quirky uncle that had a similar Toyota, or tell us about their own dreams to take the Great American Road Trip. This camper evokes a nostalgia in people and sparks priceless interactions, and for that we thank you, Bud!
 

The Camper Community

A Year in a CamperSince the beginning of our HoneyTrek (Jan. 2012, for those who are new here. Welcome!), we’ve been a member of Couchsurfing, a world-wide community that opens up their homes to travelers for the love of cultural exchange. Little did we know there are similar communities for RV-ers! Boondockers Welcome has over 1,200 hosts in the States who offer up a piece of their land or driveway simply to help and meet cool travelers. Our first BW experience was at one of the most fantastical ranches owned by a pair of Nascar decal designers that made Buddy a custom logo! (Read the full story here, it’s pretty incredible). Then there’s Harvest Hosts: a network of organic farms and wineries that host RV-ers in exchange for buying some of their fresh produce or libations. (Okay, twist our arm!) We’ve stayed at a winery in British Columbia, a veggie farm in the Everglades, a craft brewery in Louisiana, and have over 500 more to choose from across the continent!

The Bad: People outside the RV-loving community sometimes think you’re a hippy or trailer trash.
 

Access to Wilderness

Access Road Salmon Glacier BCWhile we were backpacking around the world and taking public transit everywhere, we didn’t realize how tethered we were to cities. Without a car, it’s harder (cost, time, gear, etc.) to get deep into the wild. And while having an RV might not sound like “getting back to nature,” we’ve spent over 200 nights of the last 365 staying in national forests, state parks, BLM land, and pure wilderness. A small camper makes it easy to get remote and call so many beautiful places home…from sleeping at the toe of a massive glacier in British Columbia to the shimmering expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats. The craziest part is that we rarely know where we are going to camp until around sunset, when we pull up the Ultimate Campgrounds app, a database of over 33,000 camping locations (9,348 of them completely free), and find an awesome spot along our route. If you’re into camping, get that app!

The Bad: When you go this remote, you sometimes feel like you’re starring in the next Blair Witch Project.
 

Dinner & a Boondock

Living in a CamperIf we’re not near lovely wilderness or need to sleep in a civilization for some reason, we’ll find a fun restaurant or bar to boondock. We’ll go in for dinner and before ordering the second round of drinks, we’ll ask them if we can park in their lot overnight. We are currently at 100% yes-rate (we’re patrons giving extra business and the lot would just sit empty, right?). We did this recently in Houma, Louisiana and when we asked “Teenie” the big boss lady of the Jolly Inn & Cajun Dance Hall if we could stay the night, she said “Girl, of course! You’re always welcome here. Next beer is on me.” We spent for the next two hours chatting over local brews and learning all about zydeco, shrimping, and the decades of shenanigans that took place on that dance floor.
 

Table with a View

RV picnicsLife’s is a literal picnic when you drive through the wilderness with a full kitchen. We always try to find a campsite with incredible views for dinner and breakfast, but either way, we know we’ll find them by lunchtime. When we see a gorgeous place between 11am-2pm, we’ll pull over and cook something to savor it all.
 

Buddy Bar

CamperLife
Over the past six years, we’ve been guests in over a hundred homes around the world–from Norway to Japan to Tanzania to Nicaragua–and experienced a humbling hospitality. We may not have much to offer with our 104-square-foot camper, but we are so excited to finally host! We love having friends over to gather around our little table, listen to music, and serve them a happy hour! Buddy Bar can open on any given street, so keep an eye out for a party…we just might invite you in! Case in Point: we had some friends over for drinks while parked in downtown Toronto and we got a knock on the door. It was this Bahamian couple decked out for the club, “Is there a party in here?” Not knowing them from Adam, we said, “Heck yea. Come on in!” They were both so tall they had to hunch to fit inside, but there’s always room when you’re having fun. P.S. Lots more Buddy Bar photos in the friends collage below.

The Bad: Tinted windows can only do so much and interior lights at night turn Buddy into a fishbowl. No doubt passersby have seen us in our underwear.
 

A City Suite

Boondocking in Austin Texas
On a Friday night in Austin, New Orleans, San Francisco, or Miami, you can’t expect to find an affordable place to sleep on short notice. Watch us! We spoke about the benefits of being a quirky old camper, but being small is half its virtues. At just under 21-feet long, Buddy can fit in a normal parking space or parallel park on a crowded downtown street (even without power steering! Yea, Mike :). For the thrill of it, we try to be in cities on a weekend and camp on the fringe of the best bar-hopping neighborhood. There’s no drinking and driving when your bed is parked outside, and the money you saved on a hotel can cover almost* any bar tab. (*If you ever meet us in person, ask us about the โ€œPappy Von Winkle Nightโ€)

The Bad: Thinking you’ve found a great city boondocking spot, only to find out it’s directly in front of a gay discotech that closes at 4 am (and the last person to knock on your camper door while singing and laughing is at exactly 5:25 am).
 

Kayak at the Ready

kayaking north americaEven when we had a 1,100-square-foot apartment and a backyard, we didn’t have the space to store a kayak or the energy to load it up for regular trips. Our kayak stays on the roof rack at all times so it’s ready for adventure the moment we see a lake or river of our liking. We’ve paddled in springs with manatees, bays with dolphins, bayous with alligators, and lakes reflecting the Rockies and Cascades. Plus, when you have your own boat you can often have the water to yourself. We were at Jacques Lake, one of the most photographed places in Jasper National Park, and by day it was packed with kayak rentals. When the shop shut at 5pm, we had the iconic lake to ourselves in the twilight.
 

Breakdowns: The Dark and Bright Sides

RV repairs
Seeing smoke billow from your hood, your gauges drop to zero, and your engine spontaneously shutdown on a highway is never a good feeling. Buddy has had dozens of issues that have sent Mike under the hood and a couple major breakdowns in need of intervention. There was a point in British Columbia that we spent 8 days out of 16 at three different mechanics. Though let us tell you, breakdowns often turn into some of the most memorable parts of a trip. Spending the week at the McCarthy GM of Prince Rupert, sharing coffee breaks and life stories, we bonded with the Rupertites. When the manager heard we would be celebrating our 2,000th day of the HoneyTrek in his parking lot, he surprised us with an ocean-view hotel suite and a bottle of champagne with a handwritten note. We’ll never forget Kevin, Marnie, and the McCarthy crew…especially since that repair improved our gas mileage by 12.67%!
 

Reconnecting with Family & Friends

HoneyTrek Family and FriendsPerhaps the greatest joy of having a house on wheels has been visiting our family and friends all over North America. We have literally visited every single member of Anne’s family across seven states….some we hadn’t seen in years! We’ve been able to visit friends too sick to leave their house or that have too many toddlers to make it downtown, but we were able to come to them with a little wine and sunshine.

To all our friends and family we’ve seen along the way…Kelly F., Mark F., Bill T., Liam F., Parker F., TJ R., Carolyn R., Brian M., Laura M., Amanda M., Anna Kate V., Jeff R., Jeff S., Chris E., Kat F., Pat H., Al S., Cindy S., Lindsey S., Josh S., Bobby T., Meagan T., Beau T., Ryan H., Chelsea I., Andrew C., Kat M., Willie W., Megan W., Becca F., Lindy M., Kristen G., Will R., Blaire K., Lisa G., Alex P., Cassie H., Emma R., Evan A., Ben C., Miranda C., Merissa S., Aaron N., Slopes N., Rich M., Shelley M., Bill M., Chris S., Hillary S., Sarah F., Bill O’D, Melissa L., Bubba, Frosh, Kate C., Will B., Allie B., Maisie B., Vallie C., Steven C., Mike C., Chris C., Mary Jo C., Andy C., Bret L., Mary G., Reg B., Bob B., Billy P., Susie P., Steve C., Dana C., Jeff A., Lyn A., Marylee B., Steve B., Allison W., Blake E., Ashley M., and Chris D….so glad we hang out with you and Buddy! And to all those we missed…we are coming around again, so shoot us an email and let us know where to point the camper ๐Ÿ˜‰
 

Top Adventures and More to Come!

HoneyTrek The World's Longest Honeymoon
HoneyTrek decal courtesy of our Boondockers Welcome hosts, Coyote & Angel
For our top adventures from the first eight months on the road, see our 2017 year in review and for our latest road trip blogs, check out our 1,500-mile journey from Key West through the Everglades and upthrough the Panhandle. HUGE love and thanks to everyone for coming along for the ride. Join us on Facebook and our dailyInstagram Stories for our upcoming adventures across the South and Southwest!

19 thoughts on “A Year in a Camper: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

  • April 13, 2018 at 3:32 pm
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    What an adventure you two are on! Isn’t it wonderful to meet communities that “get you” and can pitch in and help when you need it? Let me know if you decide to come through Birmingham and need a place to park and a hot shower. I don’t cook but I can order like you wouldn’t believe!!

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    • April 13, 2018 at 3:52 pm
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      Mia, I feel like travelers tend to be awesome people so we’re lucky to be in such good company! We didn’t know much about RVers but turns out they are also a lovely bunch! You are too sweet…would be fun to meet you and see those ordering skills ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  • April 13, 2018 at 7:28 pm
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    Right on guys! This summer for me come hell or high water. I could do without the breakdowns though – I had enough last summer with Big Red to last me a lifetime, so I am choosing carefully – either a Class C and sell Big Red and Annie, or a new-to-me tow vehicle and Annie, and still sell old Big Red. BC mostly I think.

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  • April 14, 2018 at 3:44 pm
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    My parents live in their RV and follow the warm weather across the US. I stayed with them for 2 months and very much enjoyed discovering America that way. Great post, great insights and representation of what it’s really like!

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    • April 14, 2018 at 7:37 pm
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      That’s awesome your parents RV full time and that you joined them for a couple months! As somebody who gets RVing, we’re so glad you thought our insights were on point!

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  • April 14, 2018 at 5:42 pm
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    OMG, you are starting like we did, after getting married, in 2009! Our never-ending honeymoon finally ended in 2017. All our tales in a book now, Carolina: Cruising to an American Dream! Hope you publish yours, too!

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    • April 14, 2018 at 7:35 pm
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      Wow…how haven’t we met before?! Just checked out your book, so cool! We put out a book about our travels and favorite destinations around the world, Ultimate Journeys for Two. We should swap!

      Reply
  • April 14, 2018 at 6:28 pm
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    Living in an RV for a year is impressive, Iโ€™m not sure I could do it. Lots of positives, but the small space would seem confining. Being so close to the wilderness sounds awesome, but Iโ€™d have to agree, no watching scary movies!

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    • April 14, 2018 at 7:32 pm
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      Debra, I wasn’t sure I’d last a year but now I can’t wait for more! Small space is all perspective too…we used to live out of a backpack so this now seems quite luxurious ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • April 15, 2018 at 8:26 am
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    I couldn’t help but smile reading through this post, it bought back memories of my 5 months traveling and living in a camper van through New Zealand. So much of what you mentioned rang true for me too, one of the best things was just finding or stumbling on a scenic spot, parking up and making that my spot for the night, I love the buddy bar idea ๐Ÿ˜€

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  • April 15, 2018 at 10:06 pm
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    This was a really good post. I love all of your advice about boondocking. Buddy is exactly the type of camper I would love to travel in. Actually, a newer version without the mechanical issues but 22′, decent mileage, and solar power are huge plusses. I would love to have our kayak with us wherever we roam. There is nothing worse than pulling up to a beautiful body of water and not being able to explore it at wil.

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    • April 16, 2018 at 1:20 am
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      Awesome. So glad you enjoyed it! Old Toyota campers (Sunrader, Dolphin, Itasca, etc.) are tanks and a few hiccups are inevitable when you do 26,000 miles in a year! Highly recommend it, plus the solar panels and the kayak ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • April 16, 2018 at 5:36 am
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    A year already. Wow. I can’t believe how time has passed. Looks like overall it was a very good move. Keep going guys and get that bus down under!

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  • April 16, 2018 at 12:13 pm
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    A year in a camper was a heck of an adventure! I can’t imagine myself doing it, I’m not good at troubleshooting if something breaks down. You gave a balanced view of an RV life – its pros and cons. These will serve those giving it a go in good stead. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your adventures and this bit is my favourite:
    “The Bad: Tinted windows can only do so much and interior lights at night turn Buddy into a fishbowl. No doubt passersby have seen us in our underwear.” Good you have your underwears on ! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • April 16, 2018 at 1:05 pm
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    I can’t tell you how much I love this! We lived in a 36 foot pull behind camper for 7 years with 3 kids, a cat and a dog, plus the two of us. We traveled someplace, built a building for someone and then moved on to the next place. I homeschooled my kids during those years. They were some really fun, great years. The closeness was sometimes not awesome, but mostly, it was fantastic. It took a whole year after we moved into a real house before my kids would sleep in their own rooms and not with each other. They are adults now and still have sleepovers. Don’t be afraid to do this with kids.

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  • April 16, 2018 at 2:57 pm
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    I love Buddy! Heโ€™s got tons of personality. The access to wilderness areas is one of the things that make RVโ€™ing attractive for me. I mean, sleeping at the toe of a glacier with no-one else around sounds awesome. I wish I could pop in for happy hour in the Buddy Bar.

    Reply
  • April 17, 2018 at 9:28 am
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    I loved the tag line – world’s longest honeymoon. I am feeling jealous looking at the adventures and good times you guys are having. Owning a camper and driving together a year is our dream. Hopefully we will do it.

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  • April 17, 2018 at 3:10 pm
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    Ahh, I loved reading this Mike and Anne – Troy and I have seen glimpses of your Camper life, but you really articulated the experience well in this post. Amazing! The opportunity to see your family all over the country (and ones that couldn’t travel), and doing it with Buddy – the camper that now has his own persona. Love the kayaking on a whim – anytime that it feels right. (Good tip about Jasper – and finding alone time there – on your kayak! Goes to show how amazing and welcoming people are in the world – when you can literally open your doors wherever you are. Love it Love it…

    Reply

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