If my wife will let me, I think we’ll happily spend every winter for the rest of our lives in the Florida Keys.
Everywhere you look, there’s sparkling blue water and the average temperatures in January run between 65-75 degrees. Add in the fact that I could eat seafood at just about every meal, and it’s the ideal spot to take the RV for a few months. However, the one downside is my inability to be in the sun without my skin roasting.
We visited the Keys during the first week of May and had a blast. (Read more in our 10 Things You Have to Do When RVing to the Florida Keys post.) If you’re looking for a tropical getaway where bare feet are accepted and Pina Coladas are always on tap, the Florida Keys are the place to go.
However, planning a trip down to the southernmost point of the lower 48 can be stressful – it’s one of the most popular RVing destinations in the country! Here’s a few tips to help make planning your trip a little easier:
1. Book Your Sites Well in Advance
Many of the state and RV parks in and around the area book out months in advance for winter. If you plan on trying to grab a site at any of the major campgrounds, you’ll want to plan almost a year ahead.
Many of the RV parks in the area will run more than $100 per night during peak season. If you’re planning on staying for more than a week or two, which I highly recommend, you can snag a monthly site for around $2,000, depending on the month.
We enjoyed beachfront camping at Sunshine Key RV Resort and the views did not disappoint. Of course, you have to pay more for an oceanfront site, but it’s 100% worth the morning view.
You can reserve a site at one of the state parks for around $38 per night. Bahia Honda State Park is highly regarded as having the best beaches in the Keys. State parks have two-week stay limits and they book out even further than RV parks.
The best spots in the Keys for January and February book out in March of the previous year. So, if you want to spend your winter in the Keys, definitely book now!
2. Visit During the Off Season
If you can’t visit the Keys in the winter, no worries. We visited the Keys the first week of May and the weather was warm and humid, but not stifling hot like a Florida summer. The winter crowds had thinned and we didn’t have to deal with overcrowded RV parks or traffic. Camping prices drop off during this time and you’ll be able to save quite a bit on lodging costs.
Most campers avoid driving this far south during the summer and fall to avoid high temperatures and hurricane risks. But the May weather was perfect for us and meant dealing with significantly less tourists.
3. Bring a Tow Vehicle
If you plan on spending a considerable amount of time in the Keys, you need a tow car to zip around the islands. It’s about a two-hour drive from Key Largo to Key West and while buses and taxis exist, they would be a pricey expense to explore the islands.
This is especially true if you plan on spending any time in Key West (which I highly recommend). Key West doesn’t have any RV camping on the island and the roads there are TINY. It would not have been enjoyable to drive our 33-ft RV around on the island, and I recommend avoiding bringing your RV to Key West at all.
4. Pay Attention to the Laws
It’s really easy to speed across the Keys. With low speed limits and a lot of island bars, cops in the area are ready to pull you over if you break the law. Pay special attention to road signs, especially on Big Pine Key where you’ll likely run into deer. Speaking of…
5. Watch Out for Deer
The Key Deer are an endangered species that only live in the Florida Keys. I know, who would’ve thought deer would be an issue on the islands?
The Key Deer are a subspecies of the white-tailed deer and you’ll want to keep a cautious eye out for these cute little guys. They are a fair bit smaller than most American deer and they actually can swim from island to island. You’ll see signs in the areas where it’s common to see deer on the road.
6. Consider a Thousand Trails Membership
While we aren’t members, we stayed at two Thousand Trails campgrounds in the Keys: Fiesta Key RV Resort and Sunshine Key RV Resort. Both of these campgrounds were luxuriously nice, with waterfront sites, pools, hot tubs, courts for volleyball, pickleball, tennis, basketball, and even on-site restaurants and bars.
If you’re looking at spending more time in the Keys and want to save on costs, I’d look into picking up a membership for Thousand Trails. But make sure the campgrounds you are interested in will be included in the membership you choose.
6. Plan on More than Just Lounging at the Beach
I assumed the Keys would be a beach destination, but they aren’t. Like I said, if you want beach, check out Bahia Honda.
The Keys are best known for their water activities like fishing, snorkeling and kayaking. So, while the sites from the shore are gorgeous, the place to be is actually on the water. There are plenty of tourist shops offering jet ski rentals, boat cruises, and guided tours of the keys. Or if you have your own boat, many RV resorts have marinas and boat ramps available.
7. Visit More than One Key
We bounced around quite a bit during our trip to the Keys, spending most of our time in Islamorada and Marathon. However, most people skip straight to Key West or only stay on one island. Don’t do this! Each Key has its own sub-culture and unique attractions. Even if you’re only in the Keys for a week, split your time across the islands while in the area.
The best Key lime pie I had was in Key Largo at Mrs Mac’s Kitchen, but there is some amazing Cuban food in Key West at El Meson De Pepe. You don’t want to miss either of them! So, plan on visiting as many islands as possible (and eating as much food as possible, it’s all delicious).
Our Florida Keys road trip quickly moved up to the top of our American road trips list. I’d love to be back there, sipping on a Key Lime Kolada listening to the waves.
Last week, Alyssa had to drag me away from the Florida Keys.
There is a lot of hype around this string of islands, especially in the RVer community. Many friends have told us how far in advance the campgrounds book out for the winter season, how beautiful the campgrounds are, and how it’s one of the best places to visit in an RV (or in general).
Well, I’m here to say, they were 100% right. The crystal blue water, fish galore, island vibes (which include tropical drinks!) and rich culture make the Florida Keys a bucket-list worthy destination for RVers.
There is so much to eat, see and do, but I’ve narrowed down the top 10 things you shouldn’t miss while RVing through the Florida Keys.
1. Try All the Key Lime Pie You Can Get Your Hands On
The Florida Keys are the birthplace of Key Lime Pie. While visiting, we took it upon ourselves to try as many slices of this local favorite as we possibly could. It was a hard job, but someone had to do it. So, we made our Key Lime Pie Expedition a top priority with every single meal.
I couldn’t wait to take a photo before devouring it.
30 seconds later
Our first pie stop was in Key Largo at Mrs Mac’s Kitchen, which has been featured on multiple TV shows and won numerous awards for their pies.
Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of citrus flavor and had never tried Key Lime Pie before this trip. But, the pie at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen made me realize I had been missing out!
Stopping here early on your drive through the Keys, helps to set the mood for a great RV road trip. Plus, it’s an easy pull over on the right side of Highway 101.
If you asked me to pick my favorite Key Lime Pie of the trip, I would choose Mrs. Mac’s. I’m not sure if it was because of all the hype, or because it was the first pie of the trip, but it definitely stood out even after trying multiple others.
Here are a few other places we tried this delicious dessert:
2. Camp Next to the Ocean
Camping out next to our new friends Andy, Maria, and his Winnebago View.
One of my favorite parts of the Keys road trip was pulling into our first campsite at the Fiesta Keys RV Resort.
It. Was. Awesome.
Check out this view! (Or you can watch a brief Facebook live tour of our campsite here).
We’ve had a lot of great campsites over the past three years of RV life, but none quite like this. From our campsite, we could walk less than ten steps and toss a fishing line, watch lobsters crawling on the ocean floor, or just enjoy the sunset.
On our first night at Fiesta Key, we had dinner at their on-site restaurant. We enjoyed our meal surrounded by tiki torches, crashing waves, and exactly the ambiance you hope for when visiting a place like the Florida Keys.
The campground had also mastered the art of the “beach playlist” with a mix of island music, Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown Band. Alyssa got me to dance with her in the sand and it was the perfect start to our island vacation.
Our second campground, Sunshine Key RV Resort & Marina, was a slightly bigger park. And instead of our sites backing up to the small canal leading to the marina, we had our own private beach. These oceanfront sites were incredibly spacious. And being just inches from our own little stretch of sand was luxurious.
If you’re going to bring your RV down to the Keys, don’t be cheap. Spring the extra money for an oceanfront site. You will not regret it!
3. Eat, and Eat, and Then Eat S’more (see what I did there?)
We’ll be writing a more in depth post soon about all of our foodie experiences in the Keys, but in the meantime, I wanted to share our absolute favorite meal from the Keys.
This trip entailed a lot of firsts for me. For example, have you ever tried conch? If you didn’t pronounce that as “conk”, the answer is probably no. I hadn’t either.
Every restaurant in the Keys has fried conch fritters as an appetizer and we boldly tried them all. If you go to Lazy Days, I urge you to try the “Lazy Conch.” It was incredibly unique and delicious. It’s like a seafood version of chicken fried steak.
For my entrée at Lazy Days, I ordered the catch of the day (mahi mahi) with stuffed crab cake inside. Portions here were HUGE. Neither of us could finish, so we took the fish home and ate it for leftovers the next two days of our trip (still amazing reheated).
During dinner, a musician stood under a tiki hut serenading us with the perfect beach songs surrounded by the sunset, and of course tiki torches (because it’s the Keys).
We topped off the night with some dancing on the sand, while a not-so-sober customer briefly took over the microphone and sang Margaritaville surprisingly well.
4. Feed the sharks. Yes, sharks!
Photo cred: Aquarium Encounters
At the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, you can snorkel with stingrays, exotic fish, and feed sharks from your hand!
When we first arrived, I was terrified. I’d never even snorkeled before and they asked me to sign a waiver that sounded like I was diving into a tank with Great Whites.
Of course, I was worried for nothing. There was a large glass wall between us and the sharks, and we fed them through a tiny hole that’s only big enough for their food (fish, of course). But, watching sharks take food out of my hand was still a surreal experience.
Also, snorkeling in a closed-off environment for the first time was a solid choice. I wasn’t worried about any dangerous animals coming out of the dark corners of the water to get me. It’s a great place for beginners.
The staff at Aquarium Encounters are great and very helpful at answering questions about the fish, plus they have extensive knowledge of diving in the area.
After the shark encounter, you can walk around the rest of the property to pet stingrays, see the nurse sharks or snorkel in their on-site lagoon.
5. Explore the History of Diving Museum
Although I graduated from novice to amateur snorkeler after my stint at Aquarium Encounters, I’ve yet to go on an actual dive of any kind in the ocean (I think I’ll slowly work my way into underwater activities). However, we made a short afternoon trip through the History of Diving Museum while in the Keys and it was fascinating.
Over a span of 40 years, Joe and Sally Baur acquired the world’s largest collection of diving helmets, hand operated air-pumps, armored suites, and other diving contributions from more than 30 countries, all of which are on display at the History of Diving Museum.
Aside from being able to see the very first scuba diving gear and how the gear has progressed over the years, you can hear all about the Spiegel Grove (my favorite part of the museum). The Spiegel Grove was a U.S Navy Landing Ship Dock that was intentionally sunk back in 2002 to become an artificial reef off the Keys. At the time it was sunk, it was the largest artificial reef in the world.
I recommend taking a guided tour around the History of Diving Museum to gain more insight into local diving and how it plays a significant role in the Keys’ culture.
6. Visit the Turtle Hospital
Did I mention that while in the Keys we returned a sea turtle back to the ocean!?
A little over thirty years ago, the first ever state-licensed veterinary hospital, dedicated solely to the treatment of sea turtles, was opened in the Keys. The mission of the Turtle Hospital is to rescue, rehabilitate and return turtles to the ocean.
I learned that many turtles have to be rescued because they’ve contracted fibropapillomatosis – a herpes-like virus that affects sea turtles around the world. The virus produces growths all over their body and many of the turtles even have tumors on their eyes and can no longer see.
The more heartbreaking part of this is that the virus is only present near highly populated areas, which means it’s likely caused by humans and pollutants in the water. Fortunately, the turtle hospital can help many of the affected turtles regain health and return to the wild.
While visiting the Turtle Hospital, we were actually allowed to join a turtle release. Skipper, a 50-pound green sea turtle, had been rescued a year ago. Now that he was successfully treated for fibropapillomatosis, he was being returned home.
We tagged along with the Coast Guard for the 12-mile ride out, and we got to watch Skipper go home as a healthy turtle.
Watching Skipper dive back into the ocean was an insanely cool experience and made me realize the huge impact the Turtle Hospital has made on marine life in the keys. This place is a must-visit while in town.
7. Kayak Through the Mangroves
I had never heard of a mangrove before visiting the Keys, but they are native to the area and grow all around the islands. There are even entire islands made of these interconnected trees that look like a giant mangled mess of iPhone headphones. (Can you tell I’m a millennial?)
Paddling around and through the mangroves makes for an epic kayaking trip – it feels like you’re in a different world. But this world also has a ton of mosquitoes. Make sure you bring plenty of repellent if you plan on taking a kayak trip around the mangroves.
We kayaked with a local captain named Bill Keogh (keyskayaktours.com) who has lived in the Lower Keys for more than two decades and has a wealth of knowledge about the natural history of the Keys.
8. Walk Through History at Ernest Hemingway’s House
When I think of Hemingway, I think of Paris. But Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in the Keys for nearly 10 years. I had no idea he actually wrote 70% of his published works in the Keys until we happened upon the Hemingway House in Key West.
On our last full day, we took a guided tour around his property in Key West and learned about his time in Florida. As a writer, it was amazing to see what life was like for Hemingway. And the museum curator David knew everything about Hemingway’s life in the Keys – from the process Hemingway used to write books to the lineage of the infamous six-toed cats that still live on the property to the reason why there’s a penny cemented into the ground next to the pool.
In addition to learning a lot of interesting facts, the guided tour also allowed us to go behind a locked gate to see Hemingway’s study. We were able to look at his bookshelves, his desk, and get a feel for what it was like writing timeless literary fiction in a small office above a garage (now a gift shop).
There was something incredibly awe-inspiring about this visit. Everyone knows the name Hemingway, but I don’t think everyone knows what made him great. When you’re in Key West, you must stop by here and get a little taste of the magic.
9. Go Snorkeling
When I hear Florida, I think of beaches, but the Florida Keys are also known for snorkeling and reefs. During our visit it was really windy, which made for murky water around the reef. So, instead of going out ocean-side, we snorkeled around the bay where the water is still beautiful.
For our snorkeling expedition, we anchored next to a sunken fishing boat, which you can see in the shot above, if you look closely.
Our snorkeling trip was an eco-tour with Keyz Charters. We departed from Robbie’s Marina (which also has a great restaurant) and Captain Sam took us out through the mangroves into the bay. We saw dolphins, sharks, stingrays and, of course, plenty of fish!
10. Party at the Sunset Celebration in Key West
After a Cuban meal at El Meson De Pepe in Key West, we watched the sun go down from the southernmost point in the U.S. – the perfect ending to our adventure in the Keys. Known as the Sunset Celebration – this end-of-day party has street performers and vendors everywhere vying for your attention while you stroll around the waterfront.
The evenings in Key West are hard to beat, everything cools off once the sun goes down and it really epitomizes what you hope and dream of when it comes to an island vacation.
The Florida Keys are a can’t-miss destination for RVers.
If you want a truly unique place to visit, the Keys offer a distinct culture, climate, and experience (don’t get me started on the Key Lime Pie again). On the islands, you can wake up next to the ocean, go fishing, snorkel, eat, or just hang out with the locals. Even doing nothing at all is enjoyable!
If you’ve been to the Keys before, what else would you recommend?
I used to have nice big desk that overlooked downtown Austin. I had plenty of room to spread out two large monitors and my desk would adjust between sitting and standing up so I was never uncomfortable. Life was good and my desk was even better.
Then, we moved into an RV and my spacious stand up desk turned into a tiny circle table that I had to share with my wife.
Don’t get me wrong, our new desk/kitchen table in the RV came with views of the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, and everything in between. But the amount of available workspace was extremely limited and we couldn’t run our production business from this single, tiny table.
Once we finished our fifty state tour and slowed down our travels, I knew we’d have to come up with a new mobile office space if we were going to sustain this RV lifestyle.
Enter Winnebago Brave.
We first looked at the Brave because the local RV dealer had a bright yellow model parked right in front of their office. I instantly loved the retro vibes, although my life was less than thrilled by the neon yellow interior.
It took finding the 31C model of the Brave in blue to convince my wife, but I was instantly sold on the ample amount of work space.
Unlike our old motorhome, the Brave offered us three official work areas:
- The classic RV dinette, large enough to host dinner for four and a great setup for Alyssa’s desktop iMac
2. The passenger seat (AKA my typical office), which is great for panorama views or taking a video call.
3. The optional coffee table, which is great for recording podcasts and offering additional seating when we have guests.
The only thing I really missed was being able to work while standing up. I found that when I stood up for a few hours each day, I felt way more energized after work.
Enter brilliant wife.
To solve my standing desk dilemma, Alyssa made me a free and lightweight standing desk to travel with us in our RV. She took her old piano stand, a wooden cutting board, and created a lightweight and easily transportable standing desk that we can take with us wherever we go.
I use this standing desk almost everyday and while it doesn’t yield itself to dual monitors, it does offer incredible mobility and fantastic views.
Upgrading our mobile office has made a huge difference in our productivity while on the road. Instead of feeling cooped up on a tiny table, we can spread out and work in multiple areas.
Since buying our Brave last fall, we’ve edited a documentary, jumped on video calls while in national parks, recorded podcast episodes, and written countless blogs all from our RV.
If you find yourself wanting to work and travel full-time, here are a few tips for how to stay productive amidst a busy travel schedule.
1. Buy an RV with plenty of table space.
Working and traveling full-time is becoming increasingly popular, however RVs aren’t built with mobile offices. When you pick your rig, be sure to choose one with plenty of table space or multiple desk options.
We use the tables built into our rig as work stations, but many people remove recliners, couches, or bunks to build their own desks. Another option is to buy a toy hauler and convert the garage into a spacious office.
2. Stay in locations for a minimum of two weeks at a time.
This past summer our longest stay in one location was a week. Because we’d made reservations in Canada and had a documentary premiere on the west coast, we hustled from place to place.
As a result, I felt stressed because travel was getting in the way of work. While we visited Banff National Park and other beautiful destinations this summer, it was hard for me to enjoy them because of our quick pace of travel.
Even after two and a half years of RVing, we’ve struggled to hit that perfect amount of time in new locations. Our goal for 2017 is to spend a minimum of two weeks in destinations so that we can have a nice balance of work and play.
3. Go offline while boondocking in remote places.
I know this isn’t applicable or possible for people who have to be online all day, but going offline has been extremely beneficial for Alyssa and I. It isn’t always possible to get internet everywhere you camp.When we boondock at national parks with no connectivity, we crank on offline projects, such as editing video or writing blogs.
Bonus: Then you’re not distracted by email, Facebook, Twitter, et al.
Disconnecting for a few days to do offline work helps us clear our minds, stay focused on the task at hand, and detox from our hyper connected world.
4. Get out of the RV at least once per day.
Most mornings and afternoons Alyssa and I go for a walk together. It helps get the blood flowing in the morning and forces us to relax when we’re feeling stressed. If there’s a body of water nearby, we try to go walk along it or take our kayaks out. Taking a few minutes each day to appreciate nature is the best reminder for why we chose this lifestyle.
It leaves us feeling calm and grateful when we get back to our work.
5. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks while driving.
I drove over 13,000 miles in 2016. I can only listen to my Spotify playlist so many times before even Ed Sheeran becomes annoying. Diving into podcasts and audiobooks makes me feel semi-productive, even while driving. Most travel days we don’t get very much work done outside of moving the RV from location A to location B. Listening to an hour of a podcast makes me feel like I learned something new that I can apply to our business, travels, or life.
Sidenote: I use Audible to download audiobooks and Overcast is my favorite podcasting app. A few of my favorite shows to listen to are: How I Built This by NPR, The Tim Ferris Show, and Startups For the Rest of Us.
If you’re looking for a mix of business & RVing in your podcast, I also host a weekly podcast called The RV Entrepreneur that features interviews with nomadic entrepreneurs. You can check out some recent episodes here.
I realize that for most people, the RV lifestyle isn’t about “productivity” or working on the road. It’s about freedom, exploring America, and experiencing nature at it’s finest. I love the RV lifestyle for those same reasons, but also because it’s a great way to enjoy building our business while traveling.
What are your best tips for being productive on the road?
I underestimated Crater Lake National Park… by a longshot.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we rolled into the park earlier this summer. Alyssa had shown me photos and talked about visiting Crater Lake National park for a long time. I’d also seen it from an airplane while flying over it earlier last year (it looked like a big hole in the ground with water).
But it was so much more.
Crater Lake was the most interesting and unique national park I saw during 2016.
While we just spent a couple days in the park, it was plenty of time to fall in love with one of the most coolest places I’ve ever seen. If you find yourself up in Oregon during the summer (or when there isn’t piles of snow at Crater Lake), you have to stop for a quick trip to the park.
Here Are 5 Reasons You Have to Visit Crater Lake National Park
1. The Caldera is Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Witnessed.
Crater lake is the deepest lake in America (1,949 ft at it’s deepest point) and was formed by a collapsed volcano over 7,700 hundred years ago. On a sunny day while taking a boat tour, you can see over 100 feet down into the water.
2. Crater Lake Has The Bluest Water, Period.
What blew me away about Crater Lake is just how blue the water looks from the moment you lay eyes on it. The water at Crater Lake is so blue because of it’s depth and clarity. Photos do not do it justice, it’s something you have to see in person.
3. Crater Lake Defies Science (not really, but close).
Crater Lake actually has no streams, springs or bodies of water that flow to or from it. 100% of the water in Crater Lake is from the yearly average of 66 inches of rain and 44 feet of snow that fall into it each year.
This means that the deepest lake in North America has no water flowing into it! This blew my mind.
When you’re standing over the lake, it’s hard to believe that all of the water inside comes from precipitation.
4. Crater Lake Has Some of the Cleanest Air in North America.
On a clear day at Crater Lake National Park you can see up to 150 miles away! This provides for exceptional views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains. If you’re feeling cooped up in a city, it won’t take long to re-energize here in the park.
5. You Can Cozy Up Next to a Fire in the Middle of August.
While we were at Crater Lake this summer the temperature hit 32 degrees overnight. After spending a month in Portland where we consistently saw 90 degree days, a chill evening next to a fire was perfect.
Crater Lake receives snowfall during every month of the year and is typically covered with snow for 8 months each year.
6. You Can See Most of the Park During One Weekend.
Unlike many national parks (such as Big Bend National Park) where you can spend weeks and barely cover a portion, Crater Lake can be thoroughly explored over a couple days.
While the park spans over 180,000 acres, most park attractions are centered around the caldera of Crater Lake itself. After spending some time marveling at the beauty of the lake, you can explore multiple rim trail hikes with stunning views of the water.
Because of the small size of the park and relative ease of the hikes, we knocked out three hikes in less than 24 hours. Just remember: the entire park is at least a mile high, so you’ll want to drink plenty of water.
Following the recommendation of the park ranger, we chose to hike Watchman Peak, a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike that leads to the top of a historic fire lookout and provides incredible views of Crater Lake itself. The day we visited was already cold with strong gusting winds, but climbing to 8000-foot made this windy hike incredibly difficult and rewarding.
You can check out the views from the top of Watchman Peak (and other beautiful sites from Crater Lake) here on our vlog.
Crater Lake National Park was supposed to be just another park we crossed off our adventure list this year. However, it turned out to be one of my new all-time favorites.
If you plan on visiting Crater Lake National Park this year, here are a few tips from our visit:
- Go during the summer, if possible.
At 6,000 ft elevation, the park cools off quickly and the roads are often closed through June due to snow and ice.
- Be cautious driving around the East or West Rim in your motorhome.
I’m glad I decided to do my homework and read some forums before showing up at the park. Driving in from Portland, Google Maps had us taking the most direct route to the park campground (which was around Rim Drive of Crater Lake). Rim Drive is fairly narrow with drop offs on both sides. Plus, for much of 2016, this road was under construction.
With our 33-foot rig plus our tow car, we played it safe and took the longer route via OR-230 & 62 to avoid Rim Drive. If you’re worried about your rig length entering the park, you can read this forum or call the ranger station to ask if you can make it.
- Make reservations at the campground in advance.
We were able to snag a last minute spot at the Mazama Village during our first night, but everything was booked up for the second night, which cut our time in the park short. It’s always annoying to pack everything up and move sites. If you’d prefer to have a definite spot, I’d reserve in advance, even though it will require paying an extra fee.
The sites at Mazama Village were $31 for no hook ups.
Our second night we stayed at one of the sno parks a few miles outside of the park entrance, per the recommendation of the park rangers. Being from Texas, we had no idea what a “sno park” was (it’s a snowmobile park). During the summer months, you can camp out in the giant parking lot for free.
“When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say ‘wow, that was an adventure,’ not ‘wow, I sure felt safe.’Tom Preston-Werner, Github co-founder
Alyssa and I run our own business. It feels weird saying that, because we didn’t start it up like most people start a business. We didn’t come up with the name of a business, hire a designer for a logo, build a business website, and do all of those standard things you do when first getting started. Instead, we decided that we wanted to travel full-time in an RV and we would need to build up a business around that lifestyle.
Is this the best way to start a business? Eh, probably not. The added stress of travel and lack of support community on the road doesn’t help the low conditions of success when it comes to starting any business. But, I would argue with unlimited access to knowledge and connectivity of the internet there has never been a better time to start a remote business.
Plus, nothing gets me more excited about the prospect of building a wildly successful company that I can run from our RV while exploring America.
Right now we’re joining the part of our generation that’s proving we don’t have to be held to conventional methods when building a business. We can build lean, remote teams, spend less on marketing dollars, and in the end, crush our competition who is still stuck doing “business as usual”.
The past two years have been a process of figuring out exactly what it looks like to do that. We’ve had to figure out how much it costs to travel full-time, how long we like to spend in different parts of the country, how can we best work together as a team, what kind of work/clients do we want to pursue, and last year even had to sacrifice a bit of our travel plans so we could hustle on paying off student debt.
At this point in time, our main business is helping clients create, film, and launch online courses. We’ve worked with clients all over the country and some outside of the country. We’ve started small, gotten referrals by doing great work and leveraging our film and marketing skills has enabled us to continue traveling full-time in our RV.
I wrote today’s blog to outline how myself and other people earn an income while traveling full-time in their RV. Earlier this year I launched a podcast called The RV Entrepreneur and this post outlines 10 different ways full-time RVers have built a remote income through their own business.
1. Video production
I have to start with this business because this is what Alyssa and I do from the road. For the past two years we’ve worked with clients all over the country producing videos for them (see work here). Our niche is producing videos for people who are creating online courses, although we’ve also made a documentary, promo videos, speaking reels, about videos and shot for TedX and other large conferences.
The ultimate home office and studio.
Why this business makes sense:
We travel with our film equipment and can drive our RV to wherever our clients are going to be. For the past year, much of our travel has been structured around working with clients in different parts of the country and visiting cool places along the way.
Barriers to entry:
- Learning basic video production skills
- Buying basic camera package to get started
Learning curve before you can monetize this skill:
It took us 9 months, from first picking up a camera to getting our first paid client. That was filming 3-4 days per week, volunteering our services for free at events to network, reading articles and how-to videos, and messing up a lot.
Resources and places to learn:
- WesWages.com (This guy taught us more than anyone else about producing quality video)
- Lynda.com – Courses on: Final Cut X, Adobe Premiere, Lightroom, and others.
- Vimeo’s Video School
- Wistia’s learning center
2. Software/App Development
This is one of the more difficult arenas to jump into if you’re not already tech savvy, but a popular option nonetheless. I’ve interviewed several people who have started some kind of software or app business that they can run from the road.
Why this business makes sense:
Software and app businesses are probably the most ideal remote based business. It requires a nominal hardware investment in computer gear and software, and you are free to devote yourself to enjoying your travels, creating new products, or improving the one you’ve already built.
Barriers to entry:
- A lot of time and dedication to learn programming and development skills.
Free resources to learn development:
Heath and Kevin record a podcast interview.
Kevin Holesh was doing freelance web and app development for years until he built his first successful iPhone app called Moment (It’s free and tracks how often you use your phone). Kevin’s app has been downloaded over 2.5 million times, been featured all over national media, and supports him and his wife Mandy to travel full-time in their 5th wheel RV. Listen to his his full story on episode 10 of the RVE podcast.
How Kevin spends most of his time now (when not traveling):
Kevin divides his time between supporting current users of his app and working on new iterations and ways to improve the Moment app.
3. Etsy Shop
Running a physical product business from the road is not something I would have typically put on this list. But recently, I interviewed a couple who run their Etsy shop right out of their Casita trailer. They have a bin of around 2,000 paper products that’s easily transportable and lightweight. They find new products in small towns across the country (their Etsy shop is vintage goods) and are able to make post office runs while traveling full-time.
Benefit to starting an Etsy Shop vs. Software development (or something more technical):
The learning curve is much lower for starting an Etsy store vs. learning how to code and develop an app. However, the competition is almost the same. For every Etsy shop that succeeds, thousands barely make any money. According to statistics found on this Etsy forum, there are around half a million Etsy stores out there.
Skills you’d need to learn:
- How to find your own unique niche in Etsy.
- How to take good product photos.
- How to properly price your products.
- Various other skills like customer service, how to create an intriguing brand, and managing profit margins.
4. Adventure (or Regular) Photography
The Holcombe family works with companies like GoPro, Jackson Kayaks, and here with the GoLife brand, and they do it all from their Winnebago View RV. They started as a local photography studio in Boulder, CO and then transferred their life to living on the road two years ago.
Why did they take their business on the road?
When they owned a local photography studio they were always flying their wedding and portrait clients out to beautiful, national parks. They decided that instead of simply flying out to national parks, they would try to spend all of their time traveling to parks and just have their clients meet them there. So far, it’s worked out extremely well and their business has actually grown once they got on the road.
Why this business makes sense?
If you want your niche to be in adventure related photography, it makes a lot of sense for you to take your business on the road. We’ve even met wedding photographers who have hit the road full-time. They roll into wedding venues in their RV, unpack their gear, shoot the wedding and then find a campsite for the night.
A few great resources for learning photography:
5. Virtual Assistant
Since we took to the road over two years ago, we’ve met several people who worked from their RV’s as virtual assistants. Being a virtual assistant could mean a number of different things. To sum up this kind of work, you execute any tasks for select clients that can be outsourced. Emails, blog writing copy, social media, invoices, and the list goes on and on.
Why this business makes sense?
Virtual assistants literally have the word virtual in the title, which gives VA’s the opportunity to move around freely while traveling. Depending on your type of client, you may have to be a little more accessible within business hours, but that’s up to the way you structure your business. Once you succeed at building up your own clientele for your VA business, you could even hire additional VA’s to cover new clients and remove yourself from some of the day to day work.
On episode #8 of the RVE podcast I interviewed a woman named Bryanna who has built up her own successful VA business while traveling the country with her husband and their four kids. This is a business she actually started while they were already traveling full-time. As with any business, getting your initial clients is going to be some of the most difficult work.
Tips for starting your own VA business:
- Invest a small amount of money in learning from someone who has already done it, like Virtual Miss Friday’s course on starting a VA business.
- Write down what areas you can provide value for a potential client. Are you a good writer? Are you good with administrative tasks like email or invoicing? Do you like spreadsheets? Do you love research and doing lead generation? All of these are great skills that many business owners or executives would love to have in a virtual assistant. Make sure to keep a record of these skills so you know what your pitch can be when finding new clients.
- For your first client, pitch them on a free 30 day trial of your skills. You need to learn how to actually do the job of being a VA, plus you need referrals or testimonials from previous clients. Be upfront with a perspective client that you’re still learning and that you want to prove yourself over a free 30 day period. If all works well, they can continue your services on a paid monthly basis.
- Do a good enough job they tell their other business owner friends about you so that you can get referrals instead of having to outreach and do sales, it’s always easier this way.
6. Building profitable blog, YouTube Channel, or podcast
What’s with the blanket on the table? It absorbs background noise and makes the podcast recording sound better.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions among people who choose full-time RVing is that they’ll be able to successfully monetize their blog or content channel of choice. This is something quite a few people have done, but it’s also something that takes a considerable amount of time and hard work.
On episode 27 of my podcast I talked with John and Peter from The RV Geeks who have built a massively large audience on YouTube with over 18,000,000 views and 70,000 subscribers. They provide DIY tips for RVers and make a significant amount of income from their following. They shared with me how they didn’t intentionally build a large audience, but instead, just tried to create helpful videos.
Benefits to building profitable blog, podcast, or youtube channel:
- It’s front-loaded work, or what some people call “passive income”. This means you do a ton of work upfront and then create streams of income that work for you while you don’t have to be literally working.
- It’s a great tool for connecting with people or building community while you’re on the road.
- It builds up your writing and communication skills.
Barriers for getting started:
- Learn how to build a basic blogging site (for free or paid). Here’s a quick tutorial on how to set on up.
- Honing your craft of writing or making videos.
- Picking a subject matter that can be monetized overtime through ad revenue, ebooks, courses, sponsors or affiliate income.
- Building a ton of trust with your followers.
A few resources on building profitable blogs, Youtube Channels, and podcasts:
- How Michelle makes $25k/month blogging
- How to Choose a profitable Niche — CopyBlogger
- 4 Incredible Tips on How to Build a Profitable Blog That Makes Money
A few different ways to make money from a blog, podcast, or Youtube Channel:
- Online courses
- Sponsorships (or sponsored content)
- Affiliate marketing
This is not really a business you would imagine doing remotely. Adam Nubern is a full-time, nomadic CPA that works with clients while him and his wife travel in their Casita trailer.
8. Content Strategist
A content strategist is like a social media marketing person or blogger on steroids.
For example, if you run social media for a company then you post on their social channels and develop strategy for specifically social media.
If you are a guest writer for a company you get paid to post blog copy that is relevant to that business.
If you are a content strategist for a company then you are creating the overall strategy for how the blog, social media, email marketing, and website all come together to help grow the business in real ways. You are the person who finds great content writers (or writes the blog yourself).
- Guest blogs can pay anywhere between: $25 – $1,000/post ($500 is the higher end)
- Social media: $250 – $2,000/month for clients
- Content management: $500-$5,000+/month
Resources to learn more and help you get started:
- 5 Ways to Break Into Content Strategy
- Quora thread on how to become a content strategist
- My interview with Mark Cuda on how he got started as a content strategist
Mark Cuda is a 23 year old full-time RVer who I interviewed on my podcast. Mark has worked in design, but most recently transitioned into the role of content management for his clients. Listen here to the interview I did with him about how he finds new clients for his business while traveling.
9. WordPress Support
Over 75 million websites are powered by WordPress. Of those 75 million, many need assistance in keeping their WordPress site running smoothly and efficiently.
Jill is a solo female RVer who started a service-based business where she provides WordPress support packages for businesses who need help managing their site. Listen to her interview on the RV Entrepreneur podcast.
Here is a well researched article on how to become a top WordPress developer.
10. Voiceover Talent
Carrie has recorded commercial projects for REI, AT&T, and many others. During a conversation I had with her last year, she credits her coach Alyson Steel for helping her get her start.
How much does it pay?
VO Talent can pay anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars for an hour of work (source).
This list continues to grow the more time Alyssa and I spend on the road. Every week we meet another person who has started some kind of business they are running from their RV.
I’m a big believer that one of the best parts of running a remote business is the quality of life. Alyssa and I have made this intentional decision to build a business around our life, traveling and working together as a team. Could we make more money by starting a business in one central location? Possibly, but that doesn’t excite me. I want to travel, see the world, and build a successful company.
When you full-time RV during your twenties, saving money on expenses is almost as important as exploring awesome places.
One of the easiest ways we’ve been able to cut costs while RVing is to find free (or almost free) places to camp. However, most of our free camping up until recently involved staying in friend’s driveways or random strangers’ homes. Alyssa and I hadn’t really ventured into remote boondocking on BLM or national forest land.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about parking our RV in remote areas. What if our RV gets stuck or broken down and we have no service? How will I know if I’m camping in a legal spot? These are the thoughts that ran through my head when I thought about wild camping.
Well, all those fears were irrational.
A few months ago near Grand Teton National Park, Alyssa and I had our first wild camping experience on national forest land at Upper Teton View. We didn’t break down. And we even had two bars of Verizon internet.
Finding this epic boondocking location so close to Grand Teton National Park made us fall in love with wild camping. Instead of paying $25 for a national park campground or $100 for an RV park in Jackson, we had the best views in the house for free.
Since our experience at Upper Teton View, we’ve used Campendium several times to find free camping in different locations. While driving through different cities the past month, we’ve also used it to find free overnight parking at Walmarts and Cabela’s.
Since we run our business from our RV, we love that Campendium shows internet strength in different campgrounds and parking lots.
If you want to find free (or really cheap) camping, here are some tips to get you started.
Leverage websites and apps like Campendium.
Campendium makes it super easy for me to research free campsites before we arrive. I tend to do more research than is necessary when finding campsites. I like reading multiple reviews, knowing what kind of internet we can expect, and what previous campers have experienced. Campendium makes all of this super easy.
A couple other Apps I would recommend for finding free (or cheap camping) would be:
- AllStays This app is the cream of the crop. It’s a paid app, but it keeps one of the most up to date campground directories available.
- US Public Lands App This app was built by RV bloggers Technomadia and helps you find BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and USFS (US Forest Service) land where you can boondock for free.
Earlier this summer I took a group of friends down to Big Bend National Park. We wanted to primitive camp near or inside the park. Before we left for our trip I hopped on Google and typed in “Free camping near Big Bend National Park”.
I found several blogs that shared photos, directions, and a plethora of information on how to find cheap and primitive camping inside Big Bend.
Reading about the experience of other RVers gave me way more information than I would have found on the national park website. For instance, I read about how strict the park was on generator use. Since we wouldn’t be able to run our generator for AC use, my friends and I prepared for the heat by creating our own homemade air conditioner.
We ended up finding a primitive campsite for $13/night. Not a bad view at all.
Find a local BLM regional office and give them a call. Park rangers have so much information they’ll be able to give you on different places you can and cannot camp.
Drive your tow car into new camping spots to scout first.
If you’re worried about your rig being able to get down a dirt road, you can always disconnect your tow car and scout a location first. This is a great way to not end up in a tight spot.
Don’t overstay your welcome and be respectful of surroundings.
Primitive and wild camping means you won’t have a ranger or camp host around to make sure you’re cleaning up your stuff. Don’t abuse nature. Pick up your things when you leave. Also, be respectful of the maximum stay limit that most national forests and BLM land has for each location.
Not overstaying your welcome and being respectful also applies to overnight parking in places like Walmarts or Cabela’s. Most of these businesses are kindly allowing you to park for free overnight. Don’t open up all your slides, put your jacks down, slide out your awning, and throw a party outside. It’s also best to ask a store manager and double check that it’s okay to park overnight.
So far this summer, we’ve camped free for over 20 nights using these techniques and saved hundreds of dollars. If you’re trying to save money while traveling full-time, boondocking for free is one of the best ways to cut costs on the road.
Do you have any helpful tips for finding free (or almost free) camping? Drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
Before we hit the road in 2014, we had several freak out moments. However, our biggest anxiety point was whether or not we should tow a car behind our RV.
If we do tow, should we get a tow dolly or tow four wheels down? If we tow four wheels down, what kind of tow package should we get? We had so many questions.
Ultimately, the past two years has been an extensive testing ground for both scenarios — towing and not towing.
Recently, we found what we believe is the best setup for our ideal form of travel for us, which is flat towing our Honda CR-V behind our Winnebago Brave. Before you make a decision on whether you should or shouldn’t tow, I wanted to share a few of our towing experiences from the past two years.
Driving Without a Tow Vehicle or “Toad”
Our first year RVing we drove our 1994 Class C motorhome to 48 states without having any kind of tow vehicle. This meant I drove our RV through cities like Austin, Los Angeles (multiple times), New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco, and many others.
What We Liked About NOT Having a Tow Car
- We saved a couple thousand dollars by not having to buy a tow package or tow dolly.
- Driving without a tow car was one less stress factor as a new RVer. There was already a learning curve while driving a large RV cross-country, to throw in a tow-vehicle on top of that would have been an added stress point for us.
- We saved a few minutes of time when leaving campgrounds and arriving, by not having to hook up a tow car.
The Downside of Not Towing a car
- If we wanted to visit major cities, we had to drive our RV into downtown areas (like the photo above in Seattle).
- Trying to find a 29 foot parking spot was always stressful.
- Our RV was our only vehicle for errands. If we wanted to make a quick run to the grocery store, we had to pack everything up and move.
Conclusion: Driving a 29 foot RV through big cities is not fun.
Overall, the experience of driving our RV without a tow car was significantly more stressful. While it gave us one less thing to do when packing up our RV to leave a campsite, it also caused a lot of stress and limitations when we wanted to visit certain attractions that required a smaller vehicle.
For example, during our first trip to Glacier National Park we missed driving the Going to the Sun Road because we were too long. We also had to skip out visiting several major cities because we didn’t want to deal with the stress of driving the RV.
Driving Our RV With a Tow Dolly
What We Liked About the Tow Dolly
- We finally had a vehicle to explore local areas, without having to bring the RV along.
- The tow dolly was free, since we were borrowing it from a family member
What We Didn’t Like About the Tow Dolly
- The straps on the tow dolly were a point of constant stress. They had to constantly be adjusted and would come loose during travel.
- The amount of time it took to hook up the car to the dolly.
- Driving the car onto the tow dolly trailer was a little unnerving. I never drove off the front, but it’s something we’ve seen many people accidently do while using a tow dolly.
- I was constantly worried about the car falling off the tow dolly
- Having to find a place to store the tow dolly at each new campground.
Conclusion: Great having an extra vehicle, but more stress than it was worth.
Overall, the largest benefit to having the tow dolly was having access to our car. However, the stress caused by the difficulty of hooking up and unhooking the car from the dolly was not worth it. If it hadn’t been completely free to use, I wouldn’t personally recommend one.
Towing Flat Behind Our Brave
I recently installed a Blue Ox Base Plate and Blue Ox Tow Bar so that we could tow our 2002 Honda CR-V behind our Brave. Instead of having to deal with the the stress of driving our RV through big cities or worry about messing around with a tow dolly, we have the comfort of towing our CR-V with four wheels down.
The past month and a half we’ve covered several thousand miles with our new towing setup. I wish we would have done this from the very beginning. I was worried about the cost and difficulty of hooking up and unhooking the car from the RV. However, it takes just a few minutes to hook up our Honda CR-V behind our Brave.
To better understand how to hook up a tow car behind an RV, you can watch this video from Jason Wynn.
What We Like About Flat Towing
- It just takes a minute to hook up the car for towing.
- I can make much better turn radius while flat towing VS. the wider turns with a dolly.
- I’m not worried about our car falling off a tow dolly and smashing into someone.
- If we get stuck and need to reverse, it doesn’t take 30 minutes to move the car off a dolly.
Conclusion: Towing flat behind the RV is the clear winner (for us).
Towing our Honda CR-V with four wheels down has turned out to be the best set up. It takes just a few minutes before each drive to set everything up. To see how to connect an RV to a tow car, you can watch this video from GoneWithTheWynns.
The manual in our CR-V gives us a simple set of directions and rules for towing. We aren’t allowed to drive over 65 mph and before towing, we have to run the gears through a special sequence to lube the transmission. If we drive for more than eight hours in one day, which we rarely do, then we should do the sequence again.
So far, because of having our car alongside us we’ve been able to be a bit more adventurous than normal. Below are a few of the side adventures we’ve been able to go and do in the past month in our Honda CR-V.
A result of a glacier-fed lake on the drive between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. While our RV could have made this trip, it was a really cold and rainy day. It was much more ideal to simply drive our car.
How We Picked a Tow Package
Ultimately, there are two main companies who manufacture tow bars, Blue Ox and Roadmaster. After looking through multiple online forums that compared both companies, they both seemed like fairly even products. Some people preferred Blue Ox, some people preferred Roadmaster. There wasn’t a lot of differentiating factors with either tow bar.
We went with Blue OX because we were on a time crunch and we found a local dealer who could get us all the parts in time.
Note: Neither company sells direct. You’ll have to find a local dealer on their website to buy from, unless you can find a seller on Amazon.
What We Had to Buy for Flat Towing
There were several different components we had to buy before setting up our Honda CR-V for flat towing.
Here’s the list of big items we had to purchase:
A Blue Ox Alpha Tow Bar
This tow bar is rated to tow up to 6,500 lbs and inserts into the trailer hitch on our RV. I found this bar on Amazon for $543.00, which was $150 more than we would have paid through a local dealer.
A Blue OX Base Plate (Made Specifically for a 2002 Honda CR-V)
We had to find a base plate that specifically fit the specs of Alyssa’s 2002 Honda CR-V. I couldn’t find a seller on Amazon, so I ordered through a local dealer for this part and paid around $320.
Most dealerships would charge several hundred dollars for this kind of installation, but luckily I had a friend who was willing to help guide me through the process. We spent three days drilling holes in the frame of our CR-V, removing our front bumper, watching Youtube videos for guidance and attaching the base plate.
Blue OX also sent a set of step by step directions for installing this base plate onto the front of our CR-V which proved incredibly helpful. If you have a few days and don’t mind a bit of manual labor, I recommend doing the install on your own.
Here is a helpful video demonstration from etrailer.com that shows you how to install a baseplate on a Honda CR-V.
A Blue OX light kit.
I’m sure any light kit would work. Just to make it easy, I ordered the Blue OX light kit to make sure that everything would work properly and it was around $45. I followed this Youtube video for help on the light installation.
A Brake Buddy
Many states have towing laws that regulate whether or not you need some type of auxiliary braking system. An auxiliary braking system is designed to brake your vehicle for you as you tow it. Since we were driving our RV up through Canada, you are required by law to have one.
You can find a complete state-by-state list of those regulations here. Brake Buddy, the most popular auxiliary braking system will run you around $1,000.
After a bit of searching, I found a brand new Brake Buddy on Ebay for just $600.
Ultimately, the decision to tow is up to each RVer. How fast will you be traveling? Are you going to more city locations and how long is your RV? There is no one size fits all solution. To learn more about towing, check out this post from Don Cohen.
If you have any questions about towing, drop them into the comments and I’ll try to be as helpful as possible!
It’s impossible to enjoy any national park in it’s entirety over the course of one weekend. Most national parks are spread out over hundreds of thousands of acres and even a full week of exploration won’t suffice. Some people might even tell you it’s not worth going if you can only stay for one weekend.
I’m the kind of person that would tell you the 9-hour drive that four of my buddies and I took from Austin for two days of camping, canoeing, and going on adventures in Big Bend National Park was 100% worth it.
Did we get to see everything? Of course not.
But if you’re crunched on time and still want to explore Big Bend National Park for a weekend trip, you can still make it an incredible adventure.
After helping plan our two day trip (which was also a bachelor party), here’s a few pieces of advice I have for how to make a short trip to Big Bend worth the drive.
1. Look At the Park Map in Advance
Men have a reputation for not reading instructions or asking for directions. Alyssa would argue that I definitely fit into the cliche. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and make it up as I go. But because we only had two days in Big Bend, I actually did my homework beforehand and looked at the park map (and it paid off).
For a weekend trip in an RV with no tow car, I realized that we’d have to be strategic on finding hikes and activities that were relatively close to where we were camping (because Big Bend is huge!). This way, we could spend significantly less time driving and more time exploring once we were inside the park.
2. Camp Primitive
Both of these sites boast beautiful locations and are first come, first serve. I knew that it would make our trip much more of a meaningful experience if we could snag a primitive site VS. camping in an RV park (even though it meant leaving Austin at 4 am to make it in time).
But since it was Memorial Day Weekend, we went ahead and made back up reservations at Big Bend Resort RV Park in Terlingua in case we couldn’t grab the primitive campsite inside the park.
We ended up camping at Big Bend Resort for our second night and it was a fairly nice campground for a one or two night stay. But of course, it couldn’t compare to the primitive spot where we stayed in Croton Springs.
This definitely made my list of top five all-time favorite camping spots. For $10, you can’t beat the view. Since they won’t accept upfront reservations for these spots, you’ll have to stop at the visitor center on your way into the park to check the availability.
Croton Springs is just a turn off from the main park road that goes back for a ¼ mile into a large open area that could easily fit five or six large RV’s (but only allows two at a time). Our RV is 33 feet and we had no issues driving back there.
There is another campground inside the park that can accommodate larger RV’s. It’s called Rio Grande Village and it’s located in the southeastern part of the park near the border with Mexico.
3. Know Park Regulations in Advance
While camping in a primitive spot sounded cool in theory, I was a little worried about dry camping during late May weather. It’s been hitting consistently over 100 degrees in the park each day.
The first thing the park ranger asked me when I asked her about the availability of the primitive campsites was, “Are you going to need to turn on your generator when it gets to be over 100 degrees outside?”
Judging by her response, she was trying to not-so-subtly hint that using generators inside of Big Bend National Park is strictly prohibited. I was proud to tell her that we would not need to turn on our generator, not because of our fancy solar set up, but because I tore up my in-laws styrofoam cooler and turned it into a homemade air conditioner.
I noticed on Big Bend’s website that generators were prohibited, so I started brainstorming ways we could stay cool in the evening and at night. I found this video on Youtube of how to make an $8 homemade air conditioner. It looked easy and cheap enough to try it out (plus a fun team building activity with the guys) so we made it on Thursday before hitting the road.
All in all, it took us less than 10 minutes and did a decent job of helping us cool off the RV in the evening.
Here’s all you need:
- Styrofoam ice chest
- Two HVac elbows
- Battery powered fan
- Ice or frozen water bottles
The weather ended up dipping into the low sixties at night and it felt great.
4. Decide What Activities Are Most Important and Only Plan to Do Those
Once we found our campsite, it was time to figure out which activities we could realistically get done in one weekend.
The two things we wanted to do in Big Bend were:
- Canoe the river
When researching rafting companies we found two outside Big Bend in Terlingua, which was roughly 30 minutes away from our primitive campsite at Croton Springs.
Both of these companies were doing limited tours since the Rio Grande is at very low levels. At first they acted like they didn’t want to give us reservations, but bribed them with a little extra payment and were able to grab a spot on Far Flung River Tours for a half day canoeing trip. We paid around $100 per head and did a ~3 mile trip.
We were hopeful we’d be able to canoe through the Santa Elena Canyon, but because of low water levels we weren’t able to do so. However the views in Big Bend Ranch State Park still had stretches of canyon on either side and the water felt great in the scorching heat.
5. Stay Up Late
Big Bend National Park has the least light pollution out of all of the national parks in the lower 48 states. Camping in Big Bend and not staying up to look at the stars is like going to Disney World and not riding Tower of Terror. You may have went to Disney World, but you wimped out early and didn’t ride one of the most exciting rides.
At a quick comparison, in a normal mid-sized city you could potentially see a few hundred stars in the sky. In Big Bend National Park, you can see over 2,000 of them! The national park service in Big Bend goes above and beyond to find innovative solutions to block lighting pollution and at night you can tell.
6. If Hiking The Chisos Mountains Are Important to You, Bring a Tow Car or Rig Under 24 ft
Rigs over 24 feet are not supposed to drive up to the Chisos Mountains (where some of the more popular hikes are located). If hiking up in the Chisos mountains are important to you, I recommend bringing along a tow car so you can make the trip up the mountain in a smaller vehicle.
A few of the most popular hikes in the park are:
However, there are several hikes within the park that you will have access to. We took the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive to the Lower Mesa Pour-off-Trail. It’s an easy 1-2 mile hike that leads you through a gravel drainage and ends at the base of a dried up 100 foot waterfall that sometimes floods during summer months.
7. Buy More Than Enough Food and Water
I realize this is a given, but if you have to make a grocery store run it will cut a huge amount of time into your short-lived trip. Make sure you have enough food so you don’t have to waste time driving many miles to the nearest grocery store or local restaurant to eat.
If you have the chance, grilling out at your RV with views like this is the way to go.
8. Don’t Try to Do Everything
Since we were just there for the weekend, we didn’t run ourselves ragged trying to do every hike, hot spring, or restaurant within a 50 mile radius. We would have been exhausted and miserable. Since we already made the 9 hour drive down from Austin, our first night in the park we decided to go for a short hike around our primitive campsite instead of driving around the park.
This allowed us to get the RV set up, chairs, table, games, and just spend the evening relaxing and enjoying ourselves.
In the past, I’ve gotten flack from fellow RVers when Alyssa and I didn’t stay in national parks for longer periods of time.
“You only spend 3 days in The Tetons? You must not have seen anything!”
While in an ideal world, we would spend weeks upon weeks in national parks, we aren’t yet at a place in our lives where we have that kind of leisurely time. Instead, sometimes we have to be a bit creative and figure out how we can maximize our weekend trips to national park locations so that we can get the most out of our experiences.
So if you’re planning an upcoming trip to Big Bend and only have a couple days to make it work, there are a lot of ways to make the drive well worth your time.
Plus, going to national parks is about more than just exploring every single inch of the park. It’s about appreciating the beauty of our great country. It’s about taking a couple days to sit outside, stargaze, look at mountains and skimp on showers while your wives aren’t around. As long as you do at least a few of these things during your trip to Big Bend, it won’t matter if you get to spend two days or two weeks there.
You will have the adventure you came for.
I don’t like bugs or humidity or eating outside or sleeping in tents or any of that typically camping experience stuff. Really, it’s a miracle my husband convinced me to move into an RV at all. I am not the ideal Winnebago candidate.
But with the help of the most powerful air conditioner in the world, Heath convinced me that living in an RV would not be at all like real camping. And other than the fact that I woke up with a spider bite on my leg last week, he’s held up his end of the deal!
After two years of RVing full-time, I’ve become a little more outdoorsy. I’ve started planning all of our routes based on which national parks we can visit, with the caveat that I will book us at nearby parks that offer electricity and water. But our goal this summer is to be as active as possible (AKA keep us from working in front of our computers all day in the RV) while we tour the Rocky Mountains from southern Colorado all the way to Banff National Park in Canada.
So to help us get outside (okay, to make it easier for Heath to convince me to come outside with the bugs and the bears), we’ve invested in five awesome things to make our summer travels as awesome as possible.
Heath and I both attended college in Austin, Texas which, much to my surprise, is a hot bed for stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking. Last year while spending our fall in Austin, we went kayak shopping for Heath and ended up buying two inflatable kayaks for the cost of one hard shell kayak. Little did I know, this would soon become my favorite form of “exercise” and a great way to work on my tan.
I was initially pretty nervous about kayaking—especially in a kayak that could easily get a hole or go flat leaving me stranded in the water—but these are by far my favorite outdoorsy purchase. My mom visited us on the lake recently and even enjoyed kayaking! Sure, she freaked out thinking she was going to capsize at any given moment, but she made it out alive and even climbed out of the boat onto the dock without falling overboard. I inherited my dislike of the outdoors from her, so the fact that even she loved kayaking is really saying something!
We prefer the inflatable kayaks over hard shells because they are extremely easy to store. We don’t have to worry about strapping down large kayaks on our RV or car. Plus, Heath borrowed a friend’s kayak while my mom used his and he sank immediately. So inflatable might just be the safest option!
Why did I think biking was just for kids? I haven’t owned or ridden a bike for at least a decade but Heath has been begging for a bike ever since we married. I finally gave in and surprised him with a bike for our anniversary. His face in the bike shop was like a kid on Christmas morning.
He kept pulling bikes off the rack and riding up and down the aisles. People stared. But it has been a great investment, and way cheaper of an expense than I realized. Now I can finally be that person on hiking trails blazing past all of the hikers on my cool pink bike. I just need to buy Heath a good helmet before he tries to do something crazy.
3. Cobb Grill
Believe it or not, I’m allergic to smoke. Yes, smoke. We used to travel and cook with your average charcoal grill, but the food Heath grilled would make me so sick from all the smoke that the meat would absorb. (I know, I’m a Texan who can’t eat at barbecue restaurants, it’s a tragedy!) Eventually we just threw out the grill and stuck to cooking on the stove.
We recently picked up a Cobb grill, which if you haven’t heard of it, is very similar to the Green Egg. It’s small, weighs less than 20 pounds, comes with a carrying bag, and emits no heat, so you can use it on top of picnic tables at parks with no issues. We are completely obsessed. Heath loves grilling and he can finally cook me food that doesn’t taste, well, gross.
4. Outdoor Games
Heath is from a very small Texas town. So when he asked me if I wanted to play corn hole or washers, I responded with a “Huh?” Apparently these are extremely common games, that I had never heard of. (Am I alone in this?)
Now we travel with both and play them almost every time we have company. Plus, we’ve lent them out to our neighbors to play, so the lesson here is that if you bring outdoor games, you’ll become the most popular couple in the RV park and make new friends on a daily basis.
If nothing else, you need a hammock in your life. This is non-negotiable. Some of my best naps have been in our hammock. We purchased a stand-alone hammock that comes with it’s own stand and fits in a carrying case, so we never have to worry about searching for trees or tying the hammock properly so it doesn’t fall down. We just pop up the stand and voila! You’re ready to lounge. After all, with all the kayaking and biking and hiking and spending all of your time exploring, you’ll want a nap.
Last month, a few friends met up with Alyssa and I in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park in east Tennessee. I was not-so-secretly stoked to have not one, but three different friends all staying the night in our RV. Even though we’ve lived in an RV for two years, this was the first time we’d had a slumber party of this magnitude.
Plus, it would be everyone’s first time RV camping. I felt like we really needed to “do it big.”
Once we got set up at our campsite we all took off for a hike around Cade’s Cove Campground. In true millennial fashion, we got lost a couple times and stopped every five minutes to take pictures for our Instragram.
However, we did rough it a little bit and gather up some wood for a campfire. I wish I could tell you I kindled two rocks together to light the fire, but we both know that would be a lie. We used a lighter and paper.
We sat outside drinking wine and snacking on chips. We almost grilled the chicken over the fire, but why work that hard when you can just bake it in the oven? While my wife cooked inside, we all sat around enjoying watching the last glints of sunshine break through the treetops.
I’ll be honest with you here: We had every intention of eating outside. That’s what campers do, right? But it was a little chilly so we all moved indoors. Don’t worry, we still made it back outside to roast marshmallows, watch the stars and enjoy a quiet evening in nature. That’s gotta count for something.
Somehow, as we were talking and connecting and enjoying being in a place where no one had cell service, we all found ourselves piled on the couch picking out a movie. I couldn’t tell you how it happened. The big screen TV beckoned us inside. So we all settled in and watched the Proposal before falling asleep.
(How many counts against us is that? We cooked inside, ate inside, used our iPhones way too much while hiking, watched a movie…yikes.)
The next morning after we all slept in, I brought out our espresso machine and started making lattes. Most people don’t think of drinking lattes while camping in a national park, but those people probably don’t travel with an espresso machine on hand. (Mornings are hard. Sometimes you need a latte).
I know what you’re probably thinking. Kids these days. They’re all about gadgets, comfort, lattes and entertainment. And you’d be partially right, especially about the lattes.
But here’s the thing.
Alyssa and I didn’t choose to live in an RV full-time because we loved to sleep outside on the ground and take “baby-wipe showers”. If we wanted that lifestyle, we would have saved ourselves some money and just bought a tent.
We enjoy the luxuries our RV offers. I’ve always felt our camping style fell somewhere in between the die-hard tent-campers and the 45 ft luxury buses. We don’t want to pick ants out of our butts and we don’t need heated tile floors. But espresso shots and a Sandra Bullock love-comedy while in the woods? Why not.
Some people who tent-camp on the weekends might live in a home or apartment year round. For them, an opportunity to camp is a chance to escape modern luxuries in exchange for a couple days of primitive living. For us, we live in our RV year round. We dump our black and grey tanks year round. We have a six gallon propane tank of hot water to use before it gets ice cold. We have limited water usage when not hooked up and always struggle with wifi (talk about a luxury item).
I have no desire or feel no pressure to be perceived as a high and mighty camper who roughs it in national parks. Compared to most, we rough it all year by living in an RV full-time while most of our friends have cozy apartments, swimming pools, on-site gym facilities and unlimited hot water (oh, how I miss you). If you ever decide to come camping with us, we will happily let you set up your tent outside our RV. We’ll sleep on our memory foam mattress.
If you’ve never visited Hot Springs National Park, let me attempt to explain what it’s like. Hot Springs is like when you’re on a road trip and you drive through a small town in the middle of nowhere that’s probably full of history and culture but it only takes roughly 60 seconds to drive through so you don’t stop, and then you find out the small town was actually. . . a national park.
Huh? Exactly. It’s so weird.
We’ve visited quite a few national parks and none has been as confusing to learn about and navigate quite like Hot Springs.
Like most national parks, following the GPS directions will probably take you to the wrong place (Oh yes, our 33-foot Brave pulled a nice u-turn on a two-lane country road). And depending on what area you’re driving in from, it might feel a little sketchy, or like you’re in the middle-of-nowhere Arkansas. Don’t worry, you’re almost there.
We camped at Gulpha Gorge, the one actual campground in Hot Springs National Park ($10 a night no hook ups), but isn’t nearby the bathhouses themselves. It’s a quick 10 minute drive over to the bathhouses.
There are great hikes that start at the campground, but (and this is a huge but) the trail to Bathhouse Row literally dumps you out on the road. So don’t plan on taking this hike with children or pets. We turned around and decided to take the car for safety. (There is plenty of free parking downtown anyway).
I’ve visited hot springs in Alaska and Canada, so I expected Hot Springs NP to be similar: a large outdoor pool surrounded by rocks and nature with lots of steam floating into the air.
Hot Springs has Bathhouse Row, which is exactly what it sounds like. Buildings with baths inside. (I don’t mean to sound anti-climactic here, they are really cool and beautiful. Just don’t expect an outdoorsy experience). This makes it the perfect national park for someone who isn’t thrilled about the outdoors.
There are a few main bathhouses—one has since been turned into an awesome brewery—but let’s start with Fordyce.
Fordyce Bathhouse is the visitor center. They play a video twice every hour explaining how people came to hot springs initially, how the waters were (are?) believed to have healing powers, and how the Army ended up building a road on top of a creek so the bathhouses were more accessible. (This is my interpretation of the video. I still can’t figure out if the road was a good thing or a bad thing.)
You can tour Fordyce at your own pace or with a park ranger and see what the baths were like back in the 20s & 30s when they were at the height of popularity.
Here I should note two things:
- Hot Springs, Arkansas was a neutral zone for organized crime.
- Hot Springs, Arkansas is where all the big criminals of the 20s and 30s went to gamble and not worry about being killed. Al Capone was a regular visitor.
The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa (which has it’s own bathhouses) is on the corner of Bathhouse Row. Capone rented out the entire 4th floor every time he was in town (with his “family”) and you can tour (for free!) the Al Capone suite. His room had a back exit through a closet, just in case things got a little hairy.
Okay, back to Bathhouse Row.
After touring Fordyce, learning the history, and seeing all the old spa treatments that definitely looked like they could’ve killed people (i.e. electric baths, this was a thing), I recommend grabbing a beer or snacks at the Superior Bathhouse & Brewery. I don’t drink beer, but they have rootbeer floats. Need I say more?
Alright, now you’re ready. It’s time to bathe publicly. I know, that’s what they called it back in the old days: public bathing. Yuck.
But it’s time to indulge in the baths and you have two main options in the National Park: Buckstaff Bathhouse or Quapaw Baths and Spa. Choose depending on your level of modesty.
Let’s start with Quapaw first: Imagine four indoor hot tubs, all varying in temperature from 98-104 degrees. It’s a pretty straightforward modern spa experience. All you need are flip flops and a swim suit. (There are also lots of private spa options here.)
But then there’s Buckstaff which is a first come, first serve traditional bathing experience. Now, we didn’t opt for this option because we’re not that brave. But here’s what it involves:
- A bathing attendant who takes you from bath-to-bath
- Tub bath
- Hot pack
- Sitz bath
- Vapor cabinet
- Needle shower
I’m certain at least half of those are ancient torture treatment devices, so I wasn’t brave enough to try it out. But I heard from friends that it was amazing, relaxing, and only mostly awkward. To each his own.
Now after you’ve bathed, there’s lots of places within walking distance: the Gangster Museum of America, shops, restaurants, and everything else you expect in a tourist hotbed.
But perhaps the coolest (or hottest, really) part of Hot Springs are all the fountains and pools around the area that offer up their steam. Plus, as part as some government contract from years ago, Hot Springs is required by law to give away their mineral water for free for drinking. So bring a couple gallon jugs to fill up (and then wait a couple hours because it’s too hot to drink).
And if you didn’t read all of that, here’s the 3 things you must do:
- Enjoy the history and architecture. These buildings are GORGEOUS and full of unexpected gems.
- Bathe. Swimsuit and bare, you must try it out.
- Hike. It may not be the most outdoorsy national park, but there are hikes from the campground and to Hot Springs Mountain Tower so you can get your nature fix.
Oh, and the baths do cost, but there is no fee for entering the park. So having a National Park Pass isn’t necessary.
At 25-years-old, my wife Alyssa and I live, work, and travel out of our RV. I post a lot of cool photos on Instagram of us traveling around the country and going on adventures, but I want to get real for a moment.
Our lives aren’t always this never-ending, nomadic fairytale (although from the photo below it looks like I’m trying to convince you otherwise).
I wanted to share a few hard truths behind our seemingly epic and adventurous RV lifestyle:
- We’ve never leisurely traveled in our RV: At this point in time, our travel schedule has been nearly entirely dominated by our projects that pay the bills (i.e our Hourly America documentary, work with film clients, speaking gigs, etc.). The idea of roaming from place to play without a care in the world isn’t something we’ve had the luxury of enjoying yet.
- 85% of our time is spent working our butts off (inside our RV). We don’t spend every day outside hiking in national parks. Most of my time is spent figuring out how to increase our income, hone our craft of writing & film, and finishing our documentary
- We don’t splurge on the lifestyle. In an ideal world, we could toss money to things like a white water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon or hot air ballooning in New Mexico, but those are luxury items for us at this point. Because we made an intentional decision to pay off my student debt (paid off over $14k in the past year), we don’t get to splurge on those luxuries that would make life a little more exciting (at least not yet).
This begs the question, if we spend most of our time working and not exploring and we can’t yet afford some of the higher luxury experiences, why even live in an RV?
- First of all, I still love the freedom to move around and see different parts of the world. While we have spent a good deal of time working on the road, the places we’ve seen still beat a cubicle any day.
- I believe our lifestyle has helped me cut out a lot of distractions. We completely side-stepped the typical route that most couples venture towards (9-5 job, mortgage, etc) and instead crafted lives that reflect doing what we enjoy. Sure, we’re still working our butts off at this stage in our lives (what twenty something isn’t?), so it only makes sense that we spend more time inside the RV working than outside exploring.
- Living in an RV has helped me realize that I don’t need to splurge to enjoy any type of lifestyle. Sure, life could be a bit more exciting if we could go on more exotic adventures in different locations. But it doesn’t mean our life would be better. After living in a 21 year old, Breaking Bad lookalike RV for two years that was struck by lightning, had a leaking roof, and only occasionally provided hot water, I realize that we need much less than we ever thought to be happy.
All things aside, I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for the world. It’s pushed us outside our comfort zone, given us a community of friends all over the country, and forced us to grow closer, together. But, I don’t want to ever try to put up a facade of some ideal lifestyle that isn’t true.
Being able to live, work, and travel in an RV at 25 years old is awesome, no kidding aside. But not every day is spent laying on a new beach somewhere or doing yoga on a mountain top.
Sure, we explore. But we only get to explore because we do the work. It’s that simple.