Our first two months on the road have been full of adventure. Not necessarily the adventures we were planning, but still have taken us across the map, and taught us a lot about the lifestyle we are living. Originally our plan was to spend the fall in southern Colorado, then make our way through some Utah and Arizona national parks. We ended up completely skipping Utah. We did spend a couple weeks in Arizona, but didn’t make it to any of the parks because we got called towards California right after our friends’ wedding.
We’ve spent the last month in San Diego and LA, with a couple quick trips to the East Coast for work as well. We drove as far north as Coalinga to film at Shiftsector, a half mile racing event, and then back to San Diego where we’ve been trying to post up on some of our days off when we aren’t filming to catch up on editing projects. The camper spent some quality time at the San Diego airport when we flew to Tampa and then again to Charleston this month for a couple quick film trips. We’ve found we can get away with parking in a regular parking spot if we can find one on the edge of a parking lot where we can back in the bikes over the edge. That’s one reason why we still love our decision to go with a camper in the bed of a truck and our elevated rail mount for the dirt bikes, so we are way more maneuverable than if we were in a huge motorhome or pull behind camper. Not having to trailer anything means we can actually park in one spot (imagine if we had to pay for two spots for a trailer when we park at the airport!), and California actually has highway restrictions on trailers- we wouldn’t be able to be in the left lane and would be restricted to under 55 on most highways. The camper is tiny, and we still have too much stuff packed in it, but we couldn’t imagine doing this lifestyle with any other setup. Other full time RVers told us that to be successful in this lifestyle, you have to follow the cardinal rule that every time you bring something new into the camper, you get rid of something else. We haven’t followed that rule once, and we have brought a lot of new items into the camper since we left in September, so we’re starting to be in trouble for space! The problem with being traveling cinematographers is that we are constantly adding to our gear list, and constantly needing more storage space for the footage. Its two months in and we’re still figuring out the best organization for everything. The camper is easy to clean (because it’s less than 100 sq feet), but hard to keep clean!! It’s a constant everyday task to make sure everything is in its assigned place. Sometimes we are lazy and don’t want to get something out because it means you have to take our 4 other things just to get to the one item you want. And if we try to bypass getting the other 4 things out, then we end up breaking something. Sometimes we don’t want to put it away either because we’ll just be using it the next day, but we are constantly reminding ourselves that this is our home and to live in such small spaces requires a lot of extra effort.
We are also learning that van-life can be difficult in big cities. One benefit of this lifestyle was to not pay rent, so Blake and I are not trying to pay to stay at RV resorts every night. RV resorts can be almost $50 a night sometimes! So we are trying to find alternatives for where to stay when we are in big cities. Normally we would prefer to camp in National Forest or on BLM land, but since we’ve been working so much, we’ve found ourselves in cities for quite a few weeks and wondering every night where it would be safe to park and sleep. Most people know that Walmarts allow overnight parking, but that is actually not true in a lot of big cities where the parking lots are smaller, and RVers might overstay their welcome, like on the coasts of California. We learned San Diego actually has a lot of laws that are unfavorable to full time RVers. Habitation in vehicles used to be illegal on city streets, and at some point the city actually passed a law that said that motorhomes/RVs couldn’t be parked on city streets between certain hours of the night. So we’ve been using the iOverlander app to find safe places to park every night. Other RVers post about places they’ve been able to find overnight parking where no one has complained or bothered them, and we actually found a lot of great places through the app. People have posted in the app all throughout Baja as well, so we are excited to use the app when we get to Mexico. It also tells us places where we can fill up water, refill propane, dump the waste, or local food. It’s been our favorite new app and saved us from the headache of trying to drive around each night to find a spot to park. Places we’ve parked have included rest stops, hotel lots, other shopping center parking lots like Home Depot or a Planet Fitness that allow overnight parking. They aren’t glorious by any means, but mean we get to actually sleep through the night without wondering if someone will tell us to leave.
When we imagined this lifestyle for ourselves, we thought we’d actually be out camping in the forest most of the time- hiking, dirt biking, kayaking- and didn’t think we’d really run into this issue. It’s funny because we’ve really only camped like that for maybe a week in total so far, and the rest has been in cities when we are on film projects or commuting between film projects. During the first couple weeks, we were trying to put in effort every night to find epic camp spots- which could mean up to an hour of additional driving every night just to get off the beaten path into the desert or forest. But we found ourselves often arriving to our destination late at night, and planning to leave in the morning anyway, so we had to ask ourselves if that was worth it, and in most cases it wouldn’t be (especially at our 11 MPG and $4 per gallon of diesel in California!!) So I think we’ve found our balance by accepting that not every night needs to be epic, and sometimes we need to just park and sleep so we can recharge for the next day. We know that we have so many epic adventures ahead of us when we go down the Baja Peninsula and eventually up to Alaska that we are just grateful that all the work we’ve been doing can support this lifestyle for us.
Another big hurdle of this lifestyle is receiving mail and packages! Luckily our amazing parents are receiving our mail for us back in Colorado, but trying to figure out where to ship packages is a nightmare, especially because we haven’t generally been in one spot longer than a couple days. It seems like we’ve been needing to order an obnoxious amount of stuff our first couple months on the road, for little fixes in the camper, and camera gear, and other items that help make our life easier in the camper. The options for shipping are pretty much either Amazon Lockers, or find a location to ship it to such as a hotel. We’ve been shipping items to anybody we know in the cities we’ve been visiting. USPS has a general delivery, but we try to avoid USPS at all costs and apparently using a general delivery has mixed reviews on whether the UPSP agents know how it works anyway. Hopefully as we get more settled we stop with all these purchases and have to worry about this less!
We spent any spare time we had lately getting ready to go into Mexico with the camper. We fixed the 4 wheel drive, which accidentally broke during our repair of the leaf spring this summer. We also purchased a few survival items, such as tracks to put under the wheels if we get stuck in sand, a 5 gallon can of diesel to carry with us at all times, and we have two extra 5 gallon water containers. We also added some padlocks to our bikes on the back of the camper.
We also found out that California has a law requiring a specific nozzle on propane containers, which being from Colorado, ours don’t have. So when we went to fill up propane, we ended up not being able to get our tanks filled by anyone in San Diego. This was absolutely terrible timing as well, because our propane went out while we were parked at the airport to fly to Charleston for 3 days, which means our fridge went out. Luckily, it must have gone out near the end of that trip because the food was still slightly cold, but since we weren’t able to get our tanks filled right away, we had to grab ice to stick in the fridge. What made it worse was that we couldn’t locate the nozzle we needed- not in stock at Walmart; the propane company pointed us to a Camping World, and the Camping World pointed back to Amerigas. So… we just decided to hold out another day until we get into Mexico where they will gladly fill our propane tanks.
We’re heading into Mexico to go film with Rugged Radios at the Baja 1000. Blake’s been to Baja 3 times now without me, so this is one of the places we’ve most looked forward to since its completely new to me.