Currently, I’m huddled next to our trailer in the Arizona desert, next to Saddle Mountain, trying to find shade and a breeze. In a few weeks we will wake up somewhere on the road on our one year anniversary of moving into our motorhome…you remember, the one we spent a year gutting and renovating and then couldn’t bring out west. Yea… that one.
I’m sad we won’t get to wake up someplace epic in the bunk of our old, big girl on the anniversary. I’m also sad she didn’t get to come on this adventure with us. But if we’re all friends here, I can say that we haven’t missed that much as we’ve been traveling. The trailer, it’s ease and simplicity, it’s newness has made this trip easier than we had ever imagined it could be. Nonetheless, she’s a part of our family, that big girl…and we miss her.
Since I don’t have any new photos of her to share on the anniversary of our move-in, I thought a look back at her renovation days would suffice as tribute to our 365 days spent together.
Looking back, the year went surprisingly quick and was devoid of issue as far as living in a small space goes. We are both surprised at how effortlessly we adjusted to the new tasks and routines of living in a camper, even if stationary. We managed to transition the business, the cats and ourselves mostly seamlessly. Our savings is finally starting to reflect the lifestyle changes we’ve made and truthfully, that’s not even the best part.
In a year we have saved nearly $20,000 in home ownership expenses alone. That’s not including the savings of living more consciously, sharing a car and just generally buying less. We had some unexpected expenses this year that surely offset our projected savings a bit, but we’re able to recoup more quickly after unexpected issues now than we were before. The savings and the growing financial freedom are things we are proud of, but they’re not the only reason for our choices.
The best part of living in the camper is that by choosing to do so, we have begun to place value on different things than we used to. Because we don’t need as much money to live, we can work less and spend more time at home/traveling/doing creative things; things that we never had time for when we had full time jobs, a house and an ever-growing list of social activities.
Now, with a new mindset and this altered lifestyle, our energy goes into things that bring us joy instead of being bound to the responsibilities that used to fill our free time. The mindfulness we now have opens a physical and a mental space where we find intention and meaning in our thoughts, our activities and our goals. We’ve really grown, as individuals and in our marriage. Often in a spat, I’ll complain that we aren’t on the same page but really, we’ve never been more together as individuals chasing our own dreams!
To some people we know, this first year may have seemed like the trial-run that didn’t go as planned. It may have seemed like a lot of mistakes or bad decisions that led to nowhere but we don’t think of it that way at all. This lifestyle may seem…ok, it probably seems “crazy” or weird to most everyone. To some, it may seem like we’re avoiding something or that we’re wasting our precious time, squandering our chances at a ‘good’ life, one that looks good to everyone, with the fancy cars and the big house and the expensive clothes and jewelry, etc, etc, etc. Some might even think less of us; think we’re poor or struggling. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
One thing I know for sure after this year of living in 150 square feet; without a mortgage payment; without a laundry list of bills to pay; without a pile of debt and numbered days off to enjoy my life…is that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t have to be. It’s a way of life we chose and we plan to keep living this way, in some capacity, for the rest of our lives. And truly believe me when I say, we aren’t squandering a thing.
I challenge anyone reading this right now, anyone who is interested in this lifestyle or in changing theirs. Make one small change in your life right now. And a year from now, tell me how you feel about it.
As we left New Mexico, it was still pretty cold in Sedona. The weather was calling for temps in the low twenties and that sounded too much like Ohio, so we decided to head south towards the border. For some dumb reason, we decided that we didn’t need our passports this trip…if we had, we might have spent the week in Baja, Mexico. Instead, we stayed for a few lovely nights in an oddly quaint little RV park outside of Bisbee. We decided not to take our friend’s recommendation and stay on BLM down there, we were a little nervous being that close to the border, leaving the cats unattended without hookups…so the Double Adobe RV park was the perfect place to call home for a few days. It was actually one of our favorite places we stayed in. The owners were so sweet, they had a pretty epic DVD collection and an Arizona room where I did yoga one morning. It was nice to just feel at home finally after so many days of driving. We were nestled in against a fence and a tall field of grass and each evening there were javalinas and deer in the park! Wiley especially loved watching the birds out the back window of Ginny.
The four nights gave us plenty of time to thoroughly explore this little desert gem of a town and also to drive the hour to Tombstone because…we love Tombstone. Bisbee is such a charming little mountain town with so much character to be photographed and enjoyed while wandering it’s twisty little streets.
We first stopped in Old Town Bisbee, which is basically just one street of untouched charm. See photos below for proof! We opted to skip the mine tour and all that, it’s just not really our thing. But we wandered around Bisbee proper for a few hours, dipping into shops and eateries for gelato and cold drinks! It was quite fun.
Tombstone was a whole different experience. We went on a weekday, a rather cold one for Arizona. It actually snowed during the O.K. Coral shootout. We normally steer far away from tourist traps but this one is a little gem that we just couldn’t pass up. Justin loves the old west and Tombstone has been one of our all time favorite films forever. After our trip, Justin ordered two books (the first I’ve ever seen him read in 14 years) about Wyatt Erp and Doc Holiday, the real ones, not the movie ones! We loved it and recommend it to anyone who’s into that sort of thing!
We left Sedona just three weeks ago and it already feels like it’s been too long since those red rock sunsets melted our hearts. We really found our magic in Sedona. It may have been the epic spot we found out on BLM land, or the beautiful weather, or the views, or the people we met, or the hikes, or, or, or. We really felt like we found a place we could stay for a while…and so we did.
This was our first BLM, and if you’re not familiar with what that is, let me explain; BLM land is land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, it’s public land. There is a ton of BLM and Forest Service land out here in the West, unlike the East where there is basically none. In designated areas on public land one can camp for free for 14 days. The dispersed camping, also referred to as Boondocking, is remote, usually only accessible via long, washboard dirt roads some of which require a high-clearance vehicle or a 4×4. A lot of them are suitable for RVs, big rigs and little pods like ours but you have to do your research first so you don’t eat stuck. There are no hookups (no electric/water), most don’t have bathrooms but some have pit toilets, there is no office or camp host to check in with. You simple drive up, pick out your desired view and park. The solitude and beauty we have experienced while boondocking cannot be matched in any RV Park or Campground, bottom line. It’s as wild as “camping” gets with a trailer. And since we are technically just living in or camper, not camping for a weekend, we prefer spots that can feel a little more private and peaceful rather than like a vacation. But more on this later.
We use various apps to find the best spots, our favorite app is Campendium. That’s where we found this secluded, beautiful spot near Sedona.
We overnighted first in the next town, Cottonwood to fill our water tank, dump our waste and shower in a big shower. Cottonwood is a cute town, one worth visiting even if it weren’t in-between Sedona and Jerome! We had dinner, a coffee shop workday and explored a bookstore and some little shops!
Then we headed the 20 or so miles out to our spot in the red dirt! We got there and immediately felt comfortable, safe and inspired. We spent 12 days straight enjoying the sights, hiking, exploring the unmarked trails on the public land and even went to a petroglyph site which was super informative and cool.
The best part about the location is Sedona was its proximity to hiking. In Sedona proper we did quite a few hikes; Bear Mountain, Doe Mountain, Devils Bridge and the many trails and roads on the BLM. Being that this spot was 6 miles outside of Sedona, out an extremely well-maintained red dirt road we were also close to restaurants, grocery stores, yoga and laundry! Super win! I signed up for a few sessions at Sedona Hot Yoga and had too many stops at Whole Foods after.
Our on-board utilities and solar allowed us to stay off-grid for the 12 days and we were so proud to have made it that long our first time! 35 gallons of water + drinking water for 12 days! We definitely started conserving and paying attention to our water usage after those two weeks.
Our review of Sedona is pretty simple…if you like hiking in red rocks, you’ll love it. If you love solitude and peace away from tourists, you’ll love the BLM. If you love shops and touristy things, you’ll love it. There is so much more nature to explore and we can’t wait to go back for longer next time! I still have one yoga session left, so we’ll definitely be going back! 😆
We’ve been on the road one month today. That’s just crazy.
It took me four weeks to get my thoughts together. As an avid reflective journal’er, it’s weird for me to sit down and write about the trip that we are still on. I really didn’t want to wait because I know I will forget things, so this post is sure to read like one giant run-on sentence, never-ending-paragraph-ness of a mess.
We’re here. We made it. One month ago we didn’t know if our dream was meant to be. We had delays and then car trouble the day we were leaving and it just seemed like everything was working against us (our norm). But on February 16 we tore out of the muddy driveway in the fog and rain and didn’t look back. This was the first time we’d driven Ginny loaded with gear and with all the new equipment on the Jeep (upgraded brakes, anti-sway, brake-controller, etc) We also hadn’t de-winterized because it was still in the 20’s in Ohio.
Our route led us through Kentucky, where we stayed in a Cracker Barrel parking lot, then into Tennessee for a bit and on into Arkansas where we stopped for second overnight. Here we experienced our first planning bummer. Somehow I didn’t know that Hot Springs National Park was on our route. We literally stayed less than 10 miles from the park but didn’t have time to explore. At least our park had nice showers, that was a plus. Early that morning we headed for Austin. The traffic and the weather were crazy when we left Hot Springs, AR…Justin was a boss driving through construction and heavy fog. He was really starting to get the hang of driving and the cats were settling into their own routines and kind of seemed to be loving it.
Texas. This is a chapter of the drive that I’d like to avoid but, it happened. Texas is long, kinda boring, the roads were terrible…and then there’s Austin. We had planned to visit Austin because so many people said it was awesome. Maybe it was that we were ready for wilderness and not a bustling city but it definitely wasn’t awesome. We booked a full-hook up RV park just outside the city of Austin so that we could de-winterize and settle in before heading further west for all the boondocking we’d be planning. The park was nice enough, we de-winterized with ease. Austin, though is a city I will be reluctant to return to, especially with a trailer. The roads were HORRIBLE. At one point we got stuck on the service road because it was one way, the RV park was less than a half mile away from where we sat but we had to drive almost 20 minutes through some serious slums to get around and back onto the service road going the right way. There was so must construction it looked like a bomb went off. People we rude, driving was insane. I’ve never seen so many strip malls in my life. But we did experience a few nice Target stops. Ha! We did go into the city for dinner one night but it just wasn’t fun, so we tore ass out of Austin, heading for New Mexico.
The second part of the drive in Texas was much better than the first, as we got closer to the desert things started to spread out and we felt like we could finally breath. At Oliver Lee State Park in Alamagordo, NM we made ourselves at home for the first time in five days. We put the cats out in their mesh tent to watch the sunrise over the Guadalupe Mountains and I cried. The first time ever in my life, I cried pure happiness tears.
At Oliver Lee, Justin did his first ever solo hike. I had some work to do and we were still a little leery about leaving the cats unattended in the camper, so I stayed with them. He hiked the Dog Canyon trail for about 4 miles, mostly jogging. He said he turned around when he realized he was the only person out there and he started to feel like he’d crossed over into someone else’s (mountain lion) territory, so he came back! We had a great time at Oliver Lee, we’ll definitely be back!
The next day we woke up at sunrise to see the White Sands National Monument which was insanely beautiful…stay tuned!
We’ve been asked to share our love story for a blog series called Cupid in a Camper by McGoverns RV and Marine.
So…where to start the story of our love inside 150 square feet. My mind first goes back to the early days when we were kids, Justin in his twenties about to graduate college and me at 18 about to start college. We fell in love over long talks at work where we met about our big dreams. We compared and agreed on all the amazing things we knew we were destined for in our then separate lives. Justin’s dream of working for Disney as an animator and mine of being an artist, teacher and photographer then seemed so far off. Like the entire world was in front of us, but it wasn’t long before we only saw each other when we thought of our own future. And just that was enough to make us happy forever.
We had a whirlwind romance and looking back now, it’s been that way for fourteen years. We were like debris in a tornado, swirling with force around each other, but with more direction. Like bees, then. They probably have more of a plan than debris. Anyway, we fell in love…hard and we’ve had whirlwind adventures, big dreams and crazy plans every day since.
The plan to live tiny came after a road trip. Rewind a bit, I read a book called The New American Road Trip Mixtape by Brenden Leonard (Semi Rad). I had a bad case of wanderlust and I thought the book might satisfy the craving. It did. It also sparked an idea. The idea turned plan to head all the way west from our driveway with only the essentials in the Jeep, for three weeks. That’s what changed everything.
We came home and knew that life in our beautiful (1500 square foot) home that we loved, in a town that we didn’t love wasn’t what we wanted. In 2014 we started learning about minimalism and purging and living tiny. By April 2017 we moved into our newly renovated motorhome after a long, hard renovation project and get-out-of-debt lifestyle.
Since then, we’ve experienced set back after set back. You can read all about those on this blog. Basically, pick out any well-laid plan and you can bet your ass it didn’t go accordingly. We’ve had expense after expense, major repairs, so many delays, safety and healthy concerns…it’s been a hectic year but if I’m being honest, I don’t think I would trade it for anything. I definitely wouldn’t trade it for the “normal” life we used to have. We used to live paycheck to paycheck, collecting credit card debt just to live ‘comfortably’. We didn’t know any better, really. We didn’t know that life could be different than what we were used to but we were determined as hell to find out. Having each other to lean on is really all that got us this far.
Living in 150 square feet, with six cats, in my parents backyard, while sharing a car isn’t easy. It can be insanely frustrating at times but when we can look at the dreams realized and the goals accomplished, we feel so proud of our tiny, simple life. We’ve cut out so much of what wasn’t working for us and are still working towards making time and space for all the things that bring us joy.
I wish I had more mushy, romantic stuff to say about our love and how it’s been affected by living in a camper but the truth is we just live it, day in and day out. We let ourselves feel all of the good, all of the bad and we continue on in this journey because it means everything to us. Just that alone, that we are that connected, that in sync is everything I ever dreamed of in a marriage.
Love, Mallory & Justin
I haven’t always understood the value of being still. In fact, I used to believe, like most people do, that by constantly moving and doing that I was making progress somehow. During and after college, I had a demanding job that required me to work long hours and weeks at a time without a full day off. Time spent with my partner was limited to late nights after work or in passing between shifts. I went on for years like that without noticing…without knowing that I could’ve been happier in so many ways. I now endearingly refer to those as my ‘collecting years’. I was collecting paychecks, collecting debt, collecting clothes to fill my closet, collecting stuff I would later call junk. I was collecting trivial friendships. But, I was successfully ticking all the boxes on the checklist of life, surely well on my way to success and happiness in anyone’s perspective. I had a well paying job I liked, a nice car, a nice house. I had lots of nice things to put in my nice house. Nice clothes. A nice vacation once a year, if I was lucky. I could eat at nice restaurants and order fancy drinks. Because I had all these nice things, it seemed not to matter that I wasn’t creatively stimulated or that the friendships I had weren’t meaningful or lasting. I was climbing a ladder to somewhere and I had to keep doing what I was doing in order to get there. That’s how it seemed.
I can’t recall what changed or what life event inspired a new perspective, maybe it was marriage or finally, after 5 years, finding balance in owning a business, maybe it was the birth of 1-8 of my nieces and nephews or maybe it was the constant stream of content and information flooding my brain at all hours of the day because of social media. I really don’t know. But I changed. I started going out to go in, like that John Muir quote. “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
I started finding peace in just intentionally sitting and watching the light bounce off the surfaces of the room. Some of my best laid plans were made out of ideas born on trail hikes and bike rides. I’d have these long, script-worthy conversations with my husband about life and meaning, always while we were trekking up a mountain or making a long drive on some back road. I started to really acknowledge the feeling I got from those breakthroughs and where I had to go to find it. Stillness. Stillness in motion not so much but stillness in whatever is happening in that moment.
My best moments aren’t the ones where I am rushing between errands, multitasking text messages and instagram posts or half-listening to conversations while making to do lists. But those moments still happen sometimes. The difference is that used to be the whole of who I was and how I’d spend my days.
Now, I have a less is more mentality. A very stark contrast to my ‘collecting years’’. Now I simplify, I focus, I’m intentional. I find myself…I hear myself in the stillness. When I shut out the world and intentionally tune in to something present, whether it’s the crunching sound my hikers make against the gravel and dirt or the steady buzz my bike tires make against the pavement, interrupted only by my heavy breath, it’s as if I can see more clearly and feel more keenly. Even something as simple as cranking up the radio and belting out the lyrics to my favorite song, I’m less overwhelmed by the traffic and less annoyed by all the distracted drivers surrounding me. When I put down my phone for conversations, when I put down my camera to take in a vista I’ve worked hard to witness, I can be more of the person I know myself to be. And being present for even the most trivial of moments in my day gives everything meaning that I didn’t give myself the chance to notice before. Even shutting out the constant stream of visual content and information sometimes opens the door to a creative breakthrough. I try looking inward or at nature for inspiration rather than replicating, though it’s hard.
The very act of sitting down to write this has opened up a room of questions. By being intentionally singular and checking in to the stillness of our minds (and our screens), can we find ways to truly experience our lives, no matter who we are, rather than speeding through, on a mission to a place we don’t even know exists? Are we free to shape our own version of success and still be accepted or seen in a flattering light or will those of us who live unconventionally be separated imminently from normal society? If we live by the standards set for us by the masses and don’t consider them intentionally for ourselves and our own unique life, are we really ourselves or are we a version of someone else? Are we blindly following in the path of those before or around us?