On April 13th 2017, we took the big leap to buy an RV and start a cross-continent road trip. 82,368 miles through 50 states, 6 Canadian provinces and two Mexican states later, we can say it’s been an absolutely life-changing experience. We’ve hiked glaciers, scuba dived a barrier reef, roamed with buffalo, climbed in rainforests, slept 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 36-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 anniversary with Buddy the Camper, we’ve created a video about the history of our RV journey and come up with 10 beautiful benefits and 5 ugly truths about life in a little RV.
First, 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 a 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! See our camper renovation and tour video.
The Camper Community
Since 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 2,000 hosts in North America 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 (15% off via our link): 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 1,100 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
While 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 400 nights of the last 1,000 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, the road can get so gnarly that a night’s rain can wash it away and you have to rebuild it with makeshift tools. See this hysterical video on “Boondocking Gone Wrong.”
Dinner & a Boondock
If we’re not near lovely wilderness or need to sleep in 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 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 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
Life’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.
Over the past nine 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. Of course, the pandemic has temporarily closed Buddy bar to the public but it’s grand re-opening is hopefully happening soon.
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
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 “Pappy Von Winkle Night”)
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
Even 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
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%!
Note on the ways we stay safe:
– Good Sam: This is like the AAA of RV roadside assistance.
– Allianz All Trips Plan: Our annual travel insurance covers us for a slew of things–from trip delay to emergency evacuation.
– Progressive Insurance: One of the most affordable and extensive plans for RVs.
Reconnecting with Family & Friends
Perhaps 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…Caz M., Craig M., Bobby T., Meagan T., Beau T., Matt K, Kelly F., Bill T., Liam F., Parker F., Kristen G, TJ R., Carolyn R., Brian M., Laura M., Amanda M., Anna Kate V., Jeff R., Leah M., Jeff S., Chris E., Kat F., Pat H., Al S., Cindy S., Lindsey S., Josh S., 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 😉