People Living Free = Happy People

Need-Rat-Race

As I’m writing this the 6th annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is in the history books and as I’ve told you before, I think it was by the far the best ever. Without any question it was the largest one yet; it’s nearly impossible to get an accurate count but my guess is somewhere between 150 and 200 free people showed up. That sounds like  huge number of people (and it is!) but when we are scattered across such a large chunk of desert it really isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Normally with that many people you’d expect conflicts and problems over some minor issue but we are not your typical group! Everywhere you went in camp you saw little groups of people smiling and laughing with each other. If I were going to summarize the whole thing I’d say it was 150 very happy and carefree people joining in the desert for a great time full of fun, laughs and smiles!!

Why are vandwellers so happy?

Having found a way out of the rat race, much of the fear, rage and frustration that is part of the American Dream has drained  away from us so we can gather together and actually enjoy each other and nature. That’s because the stress of living by the time-clock as wage-slaves is gone, leaving behind a sense of peace and contentment. It’s a joy to be around people like that and little issues that would usually become big problems stay little and aren’t magnified out of proportion by our stress addled heart and mind.

I think there is a very important lesson in how happily and trouble free we are able to live at the RTR and the simple lesson is that free people are happy people. When we threw off societies noose of being wage-slaves living to buy more stuff and paying a huge amount of money for a house to warehouse it in, everything in our lives changed. Suddenly we were free to go where we wanted when we wanted and for whatever reason we wanted.

That kind of freedom makes it very easy to be happy!

However, there are still limits on our freedom. Many of us have Social Security or pensions so we don’t work at all, so of course we are relaxed and happy! But lots of us still have to work at jobs so we have enough money to be comfortable, but even then we work less than we ever did before and as soon as we’re done we can move to a new place. Just when we’re starting to get really sick and tired of a job and a location, it ends and we can move on to either a new job or time off from work. Our freedom is still limited but it’s more than enough to elevate our whole lives into a much higher plane of happiness.

The American Dream at work.

The American Dream at work. Why doesn’t he change? He has no idea there might be another way.

Who do you think is happier, a person who is stuck at a job for the rest of his life or a person who only works 3-6 months a year and at two or more different jobs in different places?

I think it’s obvious that generally the second person is much happier. I worked at the same job for 30 years and I promise  you that I was much, much happier after I left there and became a camp ground host in a National Forest. Working at a job I liked for 6 months a year was a thousand times better than working at any job knowing I was stuck there for decades to come!

wage-slave-matrixIt’s true that by living in a van we do lose many comforts other people think are essentials, but we gain so much freedom that to me it’s a tiny price to pay. When I try to tell people that they usually can’t even begin to understand what I’m talking about. They can’t imagine how wonderful freedom is because many have never experienced it and aren’t even aware of how little freedom they have; that they are slaves of the “System.”.

 

Slaves to What? The Marketplace.

It’s true that there are no laws forcing us to work or telling us where we must work, but there are unwritten Laws of the Marketplace that are more powerful than any written laws. The simple fact is if you don’t work you won’t have money to buy food or shelter.  The more money you need the less freedom you have to make choices so it’s societies goal to make you need the most money possible.

In modern countries we are forced to stay in our unhappy wage-slave lives by laws that make living any other way very difficult or impossible. For example, there are many laws in place that force you to live in a physical house because that makes you a slave to the marketplace. As any vandweller will tell you, once you aren’t living in a stick and brick house, in many ways you become an outlaw and have to skirt around the edges of the law and even sometimes break the law. By forcing us to live in a house they make us slaves to the Laws of the Marketplace.

Houses require a lot of money to live in and the only way to get money is to work. Everything in our society acts like a funnel to force us into being wage-slave drones trudging our way to work every day and being productive.

One of the most powerful funnels is advertising in the various media. We’re constantly subjected to propaganda that very effectively convinces us to want and buy the latest and greatest thing. The more things we buy the bigger house we need and the more dependent we are on the Laws of the Marketplace. We become slaves to our FICO Score and Landlord.

Our propaganda training begins at birth, and never ends.

Our propaganda training begins at birth … and never ends.

Like good dogs, we’re kept locked up by an invisible electric fence that shocks us every time we try to stray out of our good, respectable lives. We’re so brainwashed we don’t know the shock was put there to control us, we thinks its normal and natural. Unless you’re a vandweller and have found a way out of the marketplace you are basically a slave, forced to stay where you are by manipulation and having all your other choices made impossible.

Granted, for most of  us it’s a reasonably pleasant slavery and we’re given an amazing amount of freedom within the slave system. You can work at the job of your choice in the place of your choice; you can advance up the ladder or coast along at the bottom–but you WILL contribute to the system that is enslaving you! Refusing to do so will mean you will be punished, at the minimum you’ll be sentenced to a life of poverty and discomfort

We’ve found just about the maximum freedom and joy possible to modern people by living in our vans. By being free from rent, house or utility payments we’ve found a way to live with the minimum amount of work as a wage-slave but still maintain a decent amount of comfort, convenience and pleasure. Even if we have to work it’s much less than ever before and often it’s at jobs we somewhat enjoy.

Conclusion:

Most of us get the winters off and that allows us to gather in the desert at the RTR. The reason we’re all so happy is we’ve found just about as much freedom as we can have in such an un-free world! That means smiles, laughter and friendship dominate our lives much more than frowns and fights–like they used to in the bad old days as a wage-slave for life.

What about you, are you ready to make some changes? Would you like to be as free as possible even if you have to give up some comfort to get it? If so, the life of a Nomad may be for you!

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP AMAZON.COM

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Posted in Inspiration-Spirituality, Security/Safety Versus Freedom, Vandwelling Philosophy

Annual Quick Trip to Algodones, Mexico

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A group of us caravanned down to Algodones, Mexico in January 2016 and parked in the Indian parking lot and walked across the border. Incredibly, we all lived to tell about it! Of course Cody has to be in the middle of everything! He waited in the van, I’ve never crossed the border with a dog.

Like most of you, I live on a fairly tight budget and three things that will bust it wide open are 1) dental work, 2) needing eye glasses every year and 3) prescription drugs. When I was younger none of those things were a big problem because I was healthy and working so I had insurance coverage. But at 60 I’m reaping the reward of too many  years of neglect on my teeth and my eyes change enough every year to need annual exams and glasses. In the US those things are so expensive that they used to put a big dent in my savings every  year … but not anymore.

Seven years ago I made my first visit to Algodones, Mexico and discovered just how cheaply I could get those things in a very pleasant and safe environment; I’ve gone back at least once every winter since then because they cost pennies on the dollar compared to what I would pay in the US.

Last December I developed a tooth ache so I made a fast trip down to the dentist. To show you how cheap things are there, here is a list of my costs on that trip:

Algodones-2015-cost

Granted, that’s still a big chunk of money but if had I gotten those things in the USA I’m certain it would have been well over $5000 which would  have wiped me out. Because I know I’m going to go down to Algodones every year I set aside $100 a month for the trip, so this year I had money leftover. In years when I don’t need any dental work except a cleaning, I get to move that money into my emergency fund, growing it even bigger, or I can get an implant to replace one of the teeth I’ve lost–I’ve replaced two so far.

For those young people out there, I hope we old-timers can serve as an example to warn you to take very good care of your teeth when you are young so you don’t have to go through as much pain when you get older. I’m afraid it’s a “do as I say, not a I did situation.

I think telling people about the tremendous savings available at Algodones is so important I do a post like this every year. I know you may get tired of hearing about it but it’s only 1 out of more than 100 posts I do a year so it shouldn’t be too painful for you. I also host a seminar at the RTR about Algodones so everyone there knows about it while they are so close. It’s only a 100 mile drive from Quartzsite to actually walking across the  border into Mexico and it’s one of the main reasons this is my winter camp

I’d guess I’ve saved more than $20,000 in the last 7 years by getting such cheap medical care. But the truth is I couldn’t afford that much and would have had my teeth extracted once the pain became unbearable–I simply can’t spend that much money on dental. I consider Algodones a god-send for those of us living on tight budgets.

My friend Will (in the Toyota camper) came along and stopped at Dr. Francos to see if they could fit him in and they could. It was a very successful trip for him.

My friend Will (in the Toyota camper) came along and stopped at Dr. Francos to see if they could fit him in and they could. It was a very successful trip for him.

I understand how reluctant many people are to cross the border because there is so much fear about traveling to Mexico, but after 7 years of visiting and, dozen of trips, I know just how easy and safe it is.  There’s always a lot of interest in putting together a caravan to go down as a group but it has never happened before. However, this year one of the crowns I had put on in December had a high spot on it so I needed to go back and get it ground down a bit. I’m too busy during the RTR to go so I had planned to go down after it was over. Because of all the interest in caravanning, and I needed to go anyway, this year I announced that we would all caravan together after the RTR on January 26 when I went to get my crown ground down.

While I as there I also shot a video of how to travel into Algodones, you can see the video here:

If you don’t see the video above, click or cut and paste this into your browser search bar:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhzwL_NshZw

The caravan trip went fairly smoothly and I was glad we did it. There were a few wrinkles to work out but those were my fault because I didn’t have a clear plan for everyone to follow. It went well enough that I’ll plan to do it after every RTR but in the future I’ll have a detailed plan and even maps for people to follow.

If you’re interested in more details about a trip into Algodones, here they are in a nutshell:

  1. You need a passport to get across the border. However, if you have a current passport but forgot it, you can still get through with just a drivers license.
  2. You can drive across but walking is much faster and easier. It costs $6 to park in the Quechen Indian Tribe parking lot and walk 5 minutes to be into Mexico. By far the best way!
  3. There are lots of great camping spots nearby if you need to stay overnight or longer. You can stay at the Quechen Casino for $3 a night or there is free land on the road along 186 toward the border. I usually stay on free, 14 day  BLM land near Pilot Knob LTVA off Exit 164 on I-8.
  4. I only go in the winter so my dog waits for me in the van. I’ve never taken my dog across and can think of no reason why I would.
  5. Entering Mexico is easy and painless by foot, they don’t speak to you in any way.
  6. It’s extremely safe and cheap once you are in. Many snowbirds in Yuma drive across just to have lunch.
  7. Getting there early is always best! If you’re early enough your glasses and crowns will both be done by that day and you can leave with them. If you get there later in the day they may not get done until the next day.
  8. Lots of places are closed on Saturday and Sunday so weekdays are best. Once the weather turns hot the crowds will be gone and you’ll be all alone.
  9. While getting in is super easy, returning to the USA means going through a border check which is usually very quick and simple. However, after noon the line starts to build and by 2:00 pm the line can be quite long. I’ve stood in line for 2 hours waiting to get back into the country. If you leave before noon there will probably be no line.
  10. No prescription is necessary for prescription drugs. You probably can’t get controlled substances at all.
  11. You are only allowed to buy 3 months at a time of your prescriptions and only allowed to bring back drugs for your personal use. If someone else is with me and they aren’t bringing medications back, I ask them to carry 3 months worth for me. I did that this year and got 300 days worth of drugs in one trip.
  12. There are hundreds of street vendors lining all the streets and they are somewhat annoying. I just remember they are hard working people just like me trying to provide for their families. I’m polite, friendly but firm with them. They all seem pretty convinced I’m Santa Claus and that I need to get a haircut!!!!

So there you have it, my annual report on Algodones, maybe you can travel across the border with us next year!

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP AMAZON.COM

Algodones-Map-640-2016

 

Posted in Budget, Camping Locations

How to Cope With Traffic Stops and Asset Forfeiture

 

One of the questions that comes up all the time is the question of how to handle traffic stops  and should we be worried about asset forfeiture? That’s very relevant to vandwellers because we spend more time on the road than most people and are also carrying everything we own in the world in the vehicle with us–and sometimes that includes fairly large sums of money. So how do we carry money and documents in a vehicle and not risk asset forfeiture?

Let me say first thing that the risk to any of us is very low and the chance of you ever needing anything in this post is very unlikely but with asset forfeiture in the news I want to at least address it. Here is a very good quote from the ACLU explaining what it is and how it works:

“Police abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws has shaken our nation’s conscience. Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

“Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.”   https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police-practices/asset-forfeiture-abuse

We’ve had a lot of discussion about this on my forum, and one of the members there is a retired police officer and he wrote in this excellent post explaining the laws in his former state and explaining how to best avoid being a victim of unjust asset forfeiture. If you’re interested in the topic, I’d suggest reading the whole thread, but if not this post is found here:    http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/Thread-Hiding-Places-for-Valuables?page=3

“For an officer to find money, they’d have to initiate a search which generally requires a warrant, unless you give permission for a search. There are issues of officer safety which – depending on the state and circumstances – can permit the officer to check the passenger compartment near the occupants for weapons.

On a traffic stop, which is generally when you’ll be talking to an officer, you have to provide a license. It’s reasonable he ask questions to confirm you’re identity. ID photos aren’t the greatest, and information – such as addresses – often change. So confirming ID and information on a license is a reasonable request. You are not required to answer questions, but answering these makes things go more smoothly, and shows you are cooperating. Answering any other questions is up to you. Permitting a search of your vehicle is up to you. (Don’t do it!!!!)

It’s the officer’s job to ask questions. You’d be surprised how often a question like, “Do you have any drugs in your car?” Gets an answer like “Well, I got a little weed here.”  Often, the questions are just casual and part of the officers Standard Operating Procedure. If they don’t ask, they don’t get info. When someone says ‘No’, the automatic follow up question is, “Do you mind if I check? ” A very good answer to that is “Not today officer, I’d just prefer to get on my way’. There have been a lot of successful – and substantial – drug interdiction’s completed because officers asked a series of simple questions.

About Asset Forfeiture – an officer cannot legally seize your assets just because you have a lot of money.  If he finds money and drugs, or illegal weapons, money can be taken as evidence in a trafficking charge.  The legal assumption is if you have a certain quantity of drugs, they’re for sale and not just for personal consumption. The easy solution to that is don’t carry drugs and lots of money. Or any other contraband. Problem solved.

If you carry money in a locked container in the vehicle, secure the container in a part of the car you can’t reasonably reach without leaving the vehicle, or at least the front seat.  Under the back seat for instance. If the vehicle is ever searched without a warrant, you are not required to unlock the compartment. Just advise, “It contains personal items – nothing illegal “- and you don’t wish to open it. He may try to wheedle you a bit – “If there’s nothing illegal, why won’t you open it?” – but just remain politely firm. Often he’s just going through the motions.

The only way an officer can legally get into a locked container, without your permission, is with a search warrant from a judge, and he needs reasonable suspicion of a crime to get that such as he sees something, smells something, or you say something that sounds like an admission. Even if the driver of the car is arrested for something, the car can be inventoried before being towed off the roadway or over public property, but they cannot search into locked areas of the car or locked containers without a warrant. If there is reasonable suspicion, they can get a warrant while the car is on the impound lot, then do a complete search. An inventory of property in a towed vehicle is not a search, but contraband found in an inventory can be used as a basis for charges.

A lot of info you may never need.  Short answer- keep money locked in a container that is secured to the vehicle somehow.  Mine has a cable system looped though the rear seat frame. With proper tools, the cable could be cut and the box removed but it would take a thief time. It prevents the box from being casually removed for any reason. Make it so it’s not visible – under the rear seat, for example.  Politely refuse to answer questions not relevant to the stop, and don’t give permission for searches. Don’t offer to unlock locked containers. Just advise it’s personal, or business related material, and there’s nothing illegal inside. If you want to be more forthcoming, that’s fine, but not necessary. No need to extend the conversation.

Keeping transactional records with cash is a good idea and will help alleviate any suspicion should an officer get into the locked box by whatever means. Also remember, once the officer concludes the reason for a traffic stop, he cannot detain you further. He hands you a ticket, a warning, or says “I’m just giving you a warning,” the reason for that stop is over. If he continues asking questions, politely ask, “Excuse me officer, but am I free to go?” The answer should be ,”yes”. Officers have a reasonable amount of time to conclude a traffic stop. They cannot extend that stop for investigative purposes without reasonable suspicion – the smell of marijuana, for example. But they must provide the reasons for extending the stop to you and, ultimately, to a judge.

Hope this info helps.  But also remember, cops are human and make mistakes. There’s a lot to know, and no one remembers everything. Search and seizure should be something every officer has down pat, but not always. Also, some shouldn’t have the badge they’re wearing. Just don’t provide them with any type of justification that can be used against you. Firm, but polite. You’re probably being recorded. The officer knows this as well. If the officer makes a mistake, and conducts an illegal search, that can be handled later in court. Yea, it can be really inconvenient for you, but still don’t act in a manner that provokes and can be used against you. Best advice I can offer.”

How to Handle Traffic Stops

I’m not a cop or lawyer so I’m not qualified to advise you, but I found an excellent article on what to do during traffic stops so I advise you to read it and follow his basic rules, especially since they agree with the advise given above by a former cop. Read the article here: http://riskology.co/traffic-stop/

Here are his three basic rules quoted from that article:

  1. “Be polite and respectful.  A bit of class and respect will take you far in life, and it will make the next steps easier for you.
  2. Verbally resist demands.  Never, ever resist physically, but do resist verbally and respectfully until it becomes clear you’ll be arrested if you don’t comply.
  3. Do not answer questions. No matter what an officer tells you, you are never compelled to speak to the police or answer their questions without a lawyer present. You may think that being helpful and answering questions (even friendly ones) can help your cause. You’re wrong.”

Basically, after giving him your license, registration and proof of insurance you don’t answer any of his questions unless they relate directly to the reason he stopped you. Every time he tells you to do something you ask him why and then do it in a way to thwart his next step. You never answer any of his questions. Refuse in a polite and friendly manner and tone but refuse all the same. This sentence should be your response to his every question not directly related to the traffic stop:

“Officer, I respectfully choose to not answer any questions today.”

“Early in your interaction would be a good time to tell the officer you respectfully choose not to answer questions today. He’ll probably be annoyed, but that’s life!

If at any time during your stop you feel pressured to answer a question, don’t. You are protected by The Constitution’s 5th Amendment from testifying against or incriminating yourself. You cannot get in trouble for refusing to answer a question.

It’s very important that you do not ever lie to a police officer, so the best option is to always politely decline to answer. I cannot stress enough how awkward this will feel. You may be made to think that you’re digging yourself into a lot of trouble, but you aren’t.

Not answering is the safest and smartest way for you to handle questions from the police even if you have nothing to hide.”

If the officer asks you to step outside your car, take these actions:

“Once you leave your car, there are a few very important steps to take to protect and clearly communicate your rights:

  1. Roll your window all the way up.
  2. Lock the doors.
  3. As you exit, say very clearly to the officer: “I do not consent to any searches of me or my property.”

The courts have ruled that a traffic stop can only go on so long before it becomes an unreasonable search and seizure, so there is legal limit to how long you can be pulled over on the side of the road. Since you aren’t answering any of his questions, all he legally can do is write you a ticket or arrest you.

“This phrase is this most important one that you will need to remember any time you’re being stopped by the police:”

“Officer, am I being detained, or am I free to go?”

“Hopefully, any traffic stop you’re involved in will not require it, but this simple question can make everything a lot more clear for you, and will force the officer to get to the point rather than continue to ask probing and escalating questions.

Why does this work? Because for an officer to legally detain you, he must have probable cause that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. Granted, “probable cause” is a pretty vague requirement and easy for a determined cop to get around, but asking the question, “Am I being detained?” can save you time and trouble.

In any interaction with the police, you are either in one state or the other: being detained or free to go. There is no in between.”

If you broke a traffic law, it’s reasonable he detain you for that stop, but if you haven’t done anything else, then he’s bluffing and searching for something. By asking if you are detained, you’re calling his bluff: put-up or shut-up. If you’re ever told that you’re being detained, your very next words should be that you want a lawyer and then not another word.

It’s very unlikely you will ever need any of this info, but it’s better to have it and never need it, than to one day need it and not have it.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP AMAZON.COM

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Posted in Fear, Planning for the Future, Security/Safety Versus Freedom

Photos from the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, Wyoming

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As you may know, I spent the summer of 2015 exploring the Rocky Mountains and most of that time in Wyoming. I got so far behind in my posts that I never did finish telling you about those summer travels. As I’m writing this the east coast of the U.S. is being hammered by a strong winter storm so I’m hoping that you might enjoy seeing some photos of summer wildflowers in a truly beautiful mountain setting! Hopefully it will bring some slight relief from a world of cold and blowing snow!

snowy-purple-flwrs-BEST-001

In my last summer travel post I told you how to get to it and where to camp so I won’t repeat any of that here, check out that post for that information (find it here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/camping-in-the-snowy-river-range-scenic-byway-wyoming/. Covering that information didn’t leave much room for the many photos I took of the Snowy Range and I was so impressed with its beauty that I really want to share them with you, so this post is mainly to display some of the photos I took there.

snowy-reflection-rocks

I judge my travels by how often I’m forced to stop and take photos and, wow, I was forced to stop many, many times! In fact beautiful subjects were so common that I ended up just parking the van and walking down the road and around the lakes for miles at a time. I’d walk 50-100 feet and suddenly there would be a totally new vista to work as a photo subject.

snowy-lake-reflct-cody-nice

One of the things I’m constantly looking for in a composition is a beautiful foreground, middle-ground and background. The stronger they each are, the better the photograph. If you can add some great lighting and color then your photo is elevated from a snapshot to work of art. As you look at these photos, notice how often there is a distinct and attractive foreground, middle-ground and background.

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What makes the Snowy Range so spectacular is that the three elements are everywhere. The mountain ridge runs east-west nearly the whole length of the road and provides a constant, fabulous background for your shots all day.  The best comparison for it is the Grand Tetons which are the single best background in the country and are very visible and usable as a background for about 20 miles. While they are much prettier than the Snowy Range they run north-south which means  they are only in good light for half the day.

snowy-yelow-lake-reflection

But the mountains as a background are only part of what makes a great photograph, the foreground and middle ground are nearly as important. In that regards the Snowy Range is superior to the Grand Tetons. The base of the Grand Tetons is predominately high plains sagebrush  with a few beautiful spots scattered around. While they make spectacular photos, they have become so commonplace that very often our reaction is “Oh well, another pretty picture of the Tetons in the same old place.” 

snowy-stream-lake-mntns

On the other hand, the Snowy Range is not well known and there are surprisingly few photographs of it in general circulation. That’s very odd because it has such great foregrounds from end to end that you can’t hardly throw a rock without finding a great composition. It’s full of little lakes, streams, forests and trails that give you an endless variety of combinations to put in your foreground and middle-ground. The wildflowers were a little past peak when I was there but they were still wonderful and I’d have to say they were just as good as the Tetons or even a little better.

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While I would never suggest skipping the Grand Tetons (I’d be happy to visit it every year for the rest of my life) I would also highly recommend making it a point to see the Snowy Range, even if it meant skipping the Grand Tetons one time. You won’t regret it!

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

One problem I had all summer was being able to stay in these remote areas long enough before I had to go into town and buy ice for an ice chest. To solve that this summer I’ll have a 12 volt compressor fridge. Here is a video reviewing five different models:

If you don’t see the video above, either click or cut and paste this link into your browser:

//youtu.be/gZzBdj67gb0

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

CLICK HERE TO SHOP AMAZON.COM

Wyoming Benchmark Road & Recreation Atlas
DeLorme Wyoming Atlas & Gazetteer
Wyoming Backroads – An Off-Highway Guide to Wyoming’s Best Backcountry Drives

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Posted in Adventure, Photography, Wyoming

Renting a Camper Van with a Roof-Top Tent: Off-Grid Living

The rental van and its roof-top tent. Every pece of campig gear you see in these pictures came with the van as part of the rental price.

The rental van and its roof-top tent. Every piece of camping gear you see in these pictures came with the van as part of the rental price.

As you probably know, the popularity of this website has brought me some notoriety and because of that I was in a documentary about vandwelling that turned out really well called “Without Bound.”  Last month at Thanksgiving I had a second film crew come into camp  to start work on a second documentary. The director, Lars, is a German national who has been living in France for the last 20 years, and the cameraman, Michele, is a Frenchman; both spoke fluent English.

Michele in back of their van.

Michele in back of their van.

However, this blog isn’t about them, it’s about their rental camper van! Adventurous people, like filmmakers, travel all over the world traveling, exploring, partaking in extreme sports and making documentaries and rental agencies have sprung up to support them with inexpensive rental camper vans. They were in a rental camper van that I thought was so cool I just had to share it with you. There are two things about it of interest to us:

  • It’s cheap enough that most of us could afford to rent one of their vans and try it out for awhile to see if vandwelling is really for you. Vandwelling sounds wonderful, and most people fall in love with it, but it isn’t for everybody–renting a van to camp out of can help you decide if it’s for you or not before you uproot your whole life and jump in with both feet. You could even fly into Los Angeles and rent one there to visit the RTR!
  • They were in an older Astro van with a very good layout and a roof-top tent. Included in the rental price was every camping article that you could need to camp in comfort, stove, pots and pans, plates and utensils, chairs–everything!! All you had to bring were your clothes, sleeping bag and personal items. I’ve got to admit the tent was very cool! It took just minutes to set up and take down  and yet it provided total protection for the weather and from crawling or walking predators that might be interested in you.

First, let me tell you about the rental agency. They have offices worldwide but only two in North America which are in Los Angeles and Vancouver, which makes sense because they are both major hubs of the film industry and international tourism to North America.  The one in LA would work very well to fly into and rent a van to come to the RTR! Their website is here:  http://www.wickedcampers.com/  and rental information for the Los Angeles office is  here; https://secure.rentalcarmanager.com/sslwicked/WickedCanada133/CANStep2.asp?refid=&URL=.

All this camping gear came with the van, even the propane. The backseat of the Astro goes in and out very easily so they used it as outside seating.

All this camping gear came with the van, even the propane. The backseat of the Astro goes in and out very easily so they used it as outside seating and to gain space inside the van. When it comes time to put the tent away, you’ll be glad you have the step-stool.

Lars and Michele putting the back seat back in. With two people it was easy, alone it would have been difficult.

Lars and Michele putting the back seat back in. With two people it was easy, alone it would have been difficult.

Of course they aren’t the only camper-van rental, there are others for about the same price and they all have pros and cons. I’ve got to admit the roof-top tent would really appeal to me  because it gives you the whole van opened up. It was a joke with Lars and Michele that Lars snored, but after a few nights it wasn’t funny anymore so Lars slept in the tent while Michele slept downstairs in the van. They were friends before the trip and wanted to stay that way! There are several other places to rent camper vans and I did a quick search and found these, but you’ll have to do your own research and see which works best for you:

  • http://www.lostcampersusa.com/ these were the cheapest of any I looked at.
  • http://www.escapecampervans.com/?lang=en They rent minivans and full size vans and also have offices in Las Vegas and the East Coast.
  • http://www.jucyrentals.com/vehicles/jucy-champ.aspx they offer minivans and roof tents.
  • http://www.campervannorthamerica.com/rates.shtml  nicer but more expensive
It comes with a well designed kitchen in back that's stocked with water jugs, pots and pans and plates and utensils.

It comes with a well designed kitchen in back that’s stocked with water jugs, pots and pans and plates and utensils.

With the back seat out, it's very large and open. Even the coolers came with the van.

With the back seat out, it’s very large and open. Even the coolers came with the van.

Mainly in this post I want to focus on the tent and the advantages it offers, which are a lot! At the bottom of the post are a lot of photos and a video showing them packing the tent away. Here are some of the main advantages I see:

  • Safety from predators: In some parts of the world, and even some places here in America, that is a serious issue and many people will sleep better being that far off the ground. As long as you never, ever have food in the tent, most animals should just ignore it.
  • Bug protection: With a van you are constantly opening and closing the doors so its very easy for mosquitoes and flies to get in. But with the tent you just get in once or twice a day and keep the netting zipped up otherwise. So flying insects shouldn’t be an issue. It should also be much better for things like mice, scorpions, snakes, brown recluse  or black widow spiders. While some of them still can get into the tent, being further removed makes it less likely and safer.
  • Room for gear and hobbies: Many sports, hobbies or jobs require extra gear that vans just don’t have. But if you can get rid of the bed by sleeping up on the roof in the tent, that opens up a lot of space in the van. Obviously Lars and Michele had brought a lot of camera gear and that took up lots of room, without a bed downstairs, they had enough room for it.
  • Plenty of room during bad weather: When you’re stuck inside by bad weather, more space is better because you can be more comfortable and can do more things.
  • Privacy: if there are two of you, it lets you get away from each other if you need to.

But roof-top tents have their disadvantages as well:

  • They are very expensive: Because they are intended for a small market, overland world travelers, who demand only the highest quality, they are very expensive. The cheapest I found was $700 but I wouldn’t trust it’s quality.   There were a couple at $900 but most were $1500 and up. I would budget a minimum of $1500 for one and expect to pay $2500 for one that would last me a long time.
  • Wind can make sleeping in it difficult: In a bad enough wind the van will be rocking and the tent itself will be flapping and shaking, as well as cold. That might force you into the van for sleep.
  • Set-up is inconvenient: Even though it was remarkably easy, it still took about 30 minutes for the two of them to put it away and doing that every time you needed to take a trip into town would get old fast. Scroll to the bottom of the post for pictures of the process of packing the roof-top tent away. It’s surprisingly easy and setting it up is as easy or even easier.
  • Getting in and out of bed is inconvenient: for sure I’d want a pee-pot in it with me because a trip outside at night to go to the bathroom will be an adventure! It wasn’t hard at all to get in and out, but neither was it easy! Also, if it’s raining you have to leave the dry van, go out into the rain and climb the ladder to get into the tent. In a hard enough rain that could leave you very wet when you got to bed.
  • Durability: The tent seemed very well made and very high quality, but over a period of time the wind will take its toll on it as will rain. Much worse are the damaging effects of the suns UV rays which eventually will destroy all fabrics. So both on sunny and rainy days the tent is slowly being damaged, and on windy days it’s being damaged even more quickly.  A high quality tent like this one should easily last a few years or it may last decades, there’s no way to know. But you know for certain that some day it will need to be replaced.
  • It makes installing solar very difficult. Unless you  have a full-size van, the tent takes up the whole roof, leaving no room for solar. Even with a full-size van it leaves you with a shadow to contend with.
  • It will cut your gas mileage and kill your stealth. The tents are big and impossible to miss either by law enforcement, nosy neighbors or the wind.
The tent is very large and comfortable. Except for in the very worst weather you could sleep well here.

The tent is very large and comfortable. Except for in the very worst weather you could sleep well here.

Conclusions

1) I love the rentals and think more people should consider them as an alternative. If for some reason you can’t go full-time but still long to travel, they may be perfect for you. You can keep your economy car as a daily driver saving a lot of money on gas every year and fly into the place you want to explore and rent a camper van. That way you will save on gas getting to the area and on wear and tear on the vehicle. By the time you factor in the cost of buying, maintaining, insuring and operating a second van or RV as a travel vehicle, I think they rental camper vans might be competitive cost and convenience wise.

2) If you are considering a roof-top tent for a full time nomad vehicle, I don’t recommend them. While we are all different and have different needs, unless you are an Overland World Traveler I can’t see a good reason to full-time with a roof-top tent. There main advantage is safety from predators, but in the USA our main fear is bears and they offer no real protection from them. A bear can pull that thing down in a second. You do get away from snakes and scorpions but honestly they are a very low risk and not worth all the disadvantages and price of one of these things.

There are people for whom a tent offers enough advantages to be worth the hassles, but a high quality mountaineering tent can be bought for around $500 and offers almost all the advantages and few of the disadvantages of a roof-top tent. The MSR Fury has an outstanding reputation as able to handle any weather: MSR Fury Mountaineering Tent  North Face makes a reasonably priced Mountaineering tent that will stand up extremely well to a vandwellers us: The North Face Mountain 25 Mountaineering Tent  as does Mountain Hardwear: Mountain Hardwear Trango Mountaineering Tent 2-Person 4-Season
Here’s why a mountaineering tent would be better:

  • They cost much, much less and are made just as well or better. They are built with severe mountain storms in mind where your life depends on your tent and tent failure is a death sentence. Therefore they will last longer.
  • You’ll sleep better in wind and rain in a tent on the ground than you will in a roof-top tent. You can park your van to be a wind break for a tent on the ground and being lower it will be hit by less wind, plus, the ground won’t rock under you but the van will. The geodesic and aerodynamic design of mountaineering tents will flap less and hold up better.
  • You don’t have to take it down every time you go into town. That alone makes them a better choice for me.
  • They pack much smaller and won’t take the whole roof leaving you room for a storage rack or solar.
  • It still leaves you the van empty without a bed giving you much more room for gear and comfort. In fact, if you put a gear rack on the roof instead of the tent, you will have less stuff inside than you would have with a roof-top tent because more can go up top.

Scroll to the bottom of the post for pictures of the process of packing the roof-top tent away. It’s surprisingly easy and setting it up is as easy or even easier.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

We shot a video of them packing up the tent so you can see it in action:

If you don’t see the video above, click or cut and past this
//youtu.be/1RoAQ7ivCR4

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MSR Fury Mountaineering Tent
The North Face Mountain 25 Mountaineering Tent
Mountain Hardwear Trango Mountaineering Tent 2-Person 4-Season

To put it away one person stands at the bottom and uses the ladder to flip the long side over onto itself, forming a "sandwich."

To put it away one person, Lars in this case, stands at the bottom and uses the ladder as a pole to flip the long side over onto itself, forming a “sandwich.”

It just flips over and lays down on itself like a "sandwich." Michele is guiding the fabric so it stays inside the "sandwich."Here gravity is pulling it down on itself like a “sandwich.” Michele is guiding the fabric so it stays inside the “sandwich.”

Her Lars is folding up the ladder which then lays across the top. Then you go around the whole perimeter tucking it inside as Michele is doing here.

Here, Lars is folding up the ladder which then lays across the top. Then you go around the whole perimeter tucking the fabric inside the “sandwich” as Michele is doing here.

It comes with an attched, heavy-duty cover that you throw over the tent. It has Velcro all around the bottom that secures and protects it from the wind and weather.

Once the ladder and the fabric is all inside, it comes with an attached, heavy-duty cover that you throw over the tent “sandwich.” It has Velcro all around the bottom that secures and protects it from the wind and weather.

Au revoir my new friends! Until we meet again....

Au revoir my new friends! Until we meet again….

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