Lessons Learned - Freelancing in a Truck Camper

 

One of my dreams is to live the traveling nomadic lifestyle while working virtually (as a graphic designer and as a remote weightlifting coach). These next 6-7 weeks is a taste tester for making this dream a reality!

 

It’s only been a week since Nate and I embarked on our adventure across the country in our 10’6 BigFoot camper. We’re heading to visit his family in Rhode Island before heading up to Montreal where he will be lifting at World Master’s Weightlifting on August 24th. 

 

Bigfoot 2002 Camper Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming - Art of Barbell

We actually didn’t plan on making this trip until Nate was notified in late May that he qualified for World Masters - and it was then that we decided to actually make our plans for “living full time in an RV” happen. 

 

No, we’re not full time...yet! Nate and I are using this 6-7 week trip to test out the waters and figure out whether we like living in tiny spaces without an address or not. It took us a year just to get to this point, and will probably take us yet another year to transition if we decide the nomad life is for us #wanderingweightlifters

 

Looking out the Locsha River along Route 12 in Idaho - Snow Charpentier, Art of Barbell

We chose a truck camper because of maneuverability and cost - sure, it’s not a LOT of space compared to the luxurious 30’+ fifth wheels, but it provides us exactly what we need and no more. It’s easier to clean and maintain, and forces us to reduce the clutter and stick to the essentials.

 

While there have been many amazing and breathtaking moments in our trip, there have been just as many (if not more) difficult moments each day. One second we could be absorbing the view of a stream flowing through a gorgeous mountain pass…and the next second be scrambling to find a campground because we accidentally passed a road, or the road we planned to take was super sketchy (or non-existent), or find that the turbo boost in our truck was not working consistently.

 

In the first week we have traveled through:

  • Bend & Madras, Oregon
  • Tri-Cities in Washington
  • Lewiston and Route 12 in Idaho (absolutely gorgeous, highly recommend the drive)
  • Missoula to Billings, Montana (with a quick camp down near Rock Creek)
  • Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming
Today, we are heading through the Black Hills of South Dakota!

 

Up early driving at sunrise leaving the Bighorn National Forest in WY

So what have we learned so far? 

With all of the instagram highlights and fun photos, there have certainly been a lot of challenges along the way. Here are just a few things we encountered and discovered within the first week of our trip:

Taking the smaller highways is actually better than the main interstate highways. 

Even though it might take just a little longer, the scenery is usually 10 times better, the speed limit is lower and there is less traffic (which makes our truck happy since our truck prefers 60mph or lower especially driving through elevation).

The best time to drive for our truck is between 6:00am to Noon. 

After that, the transmission gets super hot. The first couple of days we thought were weren’t going to make it because our truck was intermittently losing turbo boost and power in the afternoons. Luckily, we slowed down a bit, chose to drive only 4-5 hours a day, and made it past 10,000ft elevation through Wyoming. Making progress!

Cabela’s parking lot offers free overnight RV parking in MOST locations…

Unfortunately we found the one that didn’t have it in the back and just camped out in the front of the lot next to some loud punk teenagers blasting music out of their car until 1:00am. 

 

We rely a lot on LTE phone tethering and a Mobile Hotspot router for internet.

At first I thought were were going to be stopping for WiFi at coffee spots fairly often. Since we are on a time crunch, however, we have to keep moving and find it tough to hang out in one spot for more than an hour or two. Thank god I have both AT&T hotspot and Verizon phone service for variety that I can tap into while in the car (such as right now while I’m writing this!) I found Verizon to have the best service so far across our National Forests trek when AT&T doesn’t.

 

There will always be SOME window open, drawer open, or thing we forgot to shut off in the camper.

This usually results in us pulling over a mile down the road to reopen the camper and close/shut it off. 

 

Nate getting his fishing in.

Don’t guarantee that the fly fishing shop recommendations will land you any fish. 

Although we found a gorgeous campground out along Rock Creek southeast of Missoula, we didn’t see ANY trout in it after fishing for a couple hours! 

 

If you’re gonna stay at a “free” campsite, get there early! 

I currently use about 3-4 different apps to hunt down place to boondocks. Take note, if a “free” campground is listed on multiple apps and sources (like freecampsites.net or campendium.com), and it’s close to the weekend, chances are it will already be filled and packed unless you get there before noon. We were betting hard to snag a campsite on a free campground in Idaho but disappointed to find all the spots were taken on a Wednesday evening. It’s also way more restful to find our spot earlier in the afternoon and just chill for the evening than scramble before the sunsets to find good camping turnouts.

Our Spot at Boondocker's Welcome in Southern Washington

There are other sites that we are members of as well to find spots: boondockerswelcome.com and harvesthosts.com display locations across the US (and in Canada) of places to dry camp. Boondocker's Welcome is a like an AirBnB for RVs - it's a network of people across the country (usually RVers themselves) who open their doors for boondockers to stay on their property with notice. Some of them have hookups that you can use while others just allow you to camp out somewhere on their land.
Harvest Hosts is a network of wineries, farms, golf courses, museums and similar attractions who open up their acreage to have guests dry camp so long as you are a good guest and purchase something from them as a token of thanks. 

There’s usually a downside to your beautiful camping spot.

If you camp out at the top of a hill in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, there are absolutely stunning views at sunset of the surrounding mountainscape. But prepare for a 3:00am alarm clock as you wake up startled at the sound of your window vents flapping to the roaring and howling winds that blow by because we decided to park right in the open.

 

The stunning views of Bighorn National Forest in WY

Montana's thunder and lightning storms are probably not as bad as we thought.

I just finished showering for the night when Nate exclaimed that there was a huge lightning storm outside. We quickly decided to pack up and drive back to Missoula, leaving our foresty campsite at almost 9:00pm. Upon pulling out of the campsite, I noticed the other campers next to us did not flinch at all. They actually just moved their chairs under the awning and busted out the popcorn to enjoy the light show. As we passed residential areas, there were people were literally sitting on the porch of their houses watching the storm as we skedaddled out on the dirt roads. Had we known the storm would pass (and checked the weather radar before losing service) we wouldn’t have had to spend the night in a parking lot.

 

Some deer along our drive to find a camp spot

Apparently Montana rest stops do not allow for overnight parking.

We did not find out the hard way, but internet research definitely helps. 

You can do “dispersed camping” anywhere for free in a National Forest or on BLM land.

…The challenge is just finding a decent spot that doesn’t take you down super rocky roads, but also not second-guessing yourself every time you pass a decent turnout wondering “is this right? can we really camp here?” Oh just park the darn thing and chill out! 

 

Bigfoot 2002 Camper Parked at Bighorn Canyon Recreational Area

Remember to bring a non-metal spatula for the nonstick pan.

Our cast iron pan has been wonderful, but we like to be able to flip omelettes in our non-stick pan without scratching it.

 

Looking out at our gorgeous view of the Bighorn National Forest

Our biggest expense right now is fuel.

We have spent on average about $60-$100/day filling up with diesel since we try to fill when the tank is only half empty - we ARE driving about 200-400 miles each day though. Though, we haven’t had to replenish our propane yet despite using the stove everyday the past week! 

 

Coffee in an RV Truck Camper - Metal Pour over with Gooseneck Kettle

Great coffee is possible!

Driving through towns we’ve had the pleasure of stopping at local coffee roasters to grab beans. For our coffee set up, I chose to get a metal filter pour over with a hand-grinder and stovetop kettle with embedded thermometer so we wouldn’t have fragile parts and we can make coffee without electrical hookups.

 

Damn you, mosquitoes.

Went fishing in a cute pond in the town of Billings, MT. Caught 4 little fish, but also caught 16 mosquito bites in the process - not a ratio I prefer of bug bites to fish bites. 

 

Writing and Working with a beautiful view

I might actually get more done IF we didn't travel for several hours in a day.

My wonderful husband has been doing 100% of the driving so far (since he's most familiar with how the truck runs and wouldn't want to risk me doing something strange in varied elevation). I do plan to drive a bit when we get to longer straight-aways. This time does lead me to getting some work done in the car (if I'm not taking videos as we drive along).

However, with all of the work it takes finding places to stay, navigating, looking up reviews and figuring out where the free dump stations are...it's been tricky getting in more than 3-4 hours of work a day either with client design work or on my website. One of the tricky things is actually camping in a place that has wi-fi access! (we've been dry camping most nights in areas with little service so most of my work time has been on the road). 

I'd say if we were to just hang out in one main urban area for longer periods of time (rather than drive around) I would definitely have opportunities to improve the work-life balance. 

Snow Charpentier - Bighorn Canyon Mountains in Wyoming

So far, a week has definitely not been enough time to know if I'd love it or leave it. There have been way more challenges so far...but that's also part of the process of figuring out this different lifestyle!

Would you ever try living life on the road?

Have you ever done this before yourself?

(Would love your tips and feedback in the comments!)

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