July 29 marks the end of our first year in the camper (with the exception of the three months we were so lucky to rent the most adorable farmhouse in Maine!), and I’ve been thinking a lot about what has worked for us, what hasn’t, and a few things we’ve learned along the way.
Just in case you are new to our story, last year we sold our beloved little home in our beloved little community in Freeport, Maine, and moved full-time into 18-foot Whitewater Retro 176s travel trailer. We immediately did some painting and cosmetic renovations that served both to create a space that fit our style better as well as increase some of the functionality of full-time camper living. We lived in our camper in our dear friends’ back yard until mid-October, when freezing Maine temperatures threatened the welfare of our camper’s plumbing and we finished our time in Maine from the comfort of a beautiful, cozy rental home near Wiscasset (rent it here!). Our work in Maine finished, we loaded back into the camper in January and drove away from the Maine winter toward Justin’s first travel-nurse assignment in San Marcos, Texas (stopping here and here along the way!).
Now in the latter half of our second assignment here in Reno, I’m beginning to feel like we’ve been doing this just long enough to have some ideas about what’s working and what’s not, and to make some plans for the camper as we continue forward. I had originally planned to do this all in one post, but as I rounded the 2000 word mark and hadn't even said half of what I wanted to, I figured that perhaps I should reconsider how I go about this. So here we are, my "Top 10" supplies (or decisions!) that I think have worked particularly well!
(1) My electric tea kettle*. I love this tea kettle more than I can begin to describe and it makes my day-to-day life significantly easier (every. single. day.). We use it each morning for coffee (I'll get to that in a sec), but also for making oatmeal, tea, heating water for dishes (I always forget to flip the hot-water heater on and it takes like 20 minutes if I have to wait for it), and anything else you can imagine hot water being handy for. I would say that the only downside to this kettle might be that it uses way to much power for me to use it when we aren't plugged in, so in those cases, I happily use either my Jetboil or Pocket Rocket + backpacking kettle combo.
(2) My blessed Aeropress. Seriously, perhaps I should have listed this first. I live in 83 square feet and my house sometimes drives down busy highways or bumpy dirt roads. When we still had our house, I had no less than 7 ways to make coffee at any given moment, but I had to choose ONE and one alone when we moved into the camper full-time. I chose the tiny, lightweight, unbreakable tool that makes good, strong, coffee without much fuss. It was definitely the right call. It also works when we're off-grid or even backpacking. And I'll throw this in because even though I know we could buy ground coffee or use the store's grinder, we use the crap out of our little metal hand-grinder and love this thing as well.
(3) Tessie's dog bowls + food storage container. This thing is awesome. We split her food between this and a small airtight bin that fits into our under-camper storage (which is tight and not particularly easy to access). It keeps her food accessible, her bowls raised, and it has likely prevented innumerable incidences of us kicking her water bowl across the camper by accident. It's ridiculously functional and easy to clean and it was a stellar buy.
(4) Our toaster oven and hot plate. I know each of these probably should have had their own spot, but they generally solve one dilemma: how to cook our meals. While we technically have a two-burner propane stove that comes standard in the camper, using it eats up a huge amount of our tiny counter space, means fire is uncomfortably close to our curtains, and contributes to the never-ending battle against condensation that we wage daily. So we do what oven things we can in the toaster oven (which fits neatly over the propane stove when in use or on a small platform Justin built for it under the sink) and generally use the hot plate outside as our single burner. We have a Coleman two-burner propane stove that we pull out when we need more than one burner, but the hot plate has made cooking significantly more convenient. I also feel that I would be remiss not to mention my tiny blender under this general cooking/appliance heading. My wonderful friend, Katie, introduced me to the power of the smoothie last year and I could not figure out how to make a blender work in our crazy small space- there definitely was NOT room. And then I found this little guy, small enough to fit in the little space I could carve out for it, a perfect single serving, and the ability to add ingredients in stages (rather than all the small blenders that have the blades in the lids and are hard to get in and out of as you add things). Love this thing, even if I'm pretty sure it will wear out rather quickly being used every day.
(5) Our outside folding table. I know this is super mundane, but this table is where I cook and where my small collection of potted herbs lives. We have a cheapy outdoor table cloth over it and underneath we store our little grill and charcoal and my fold-up laundry rack. The adjustable height allows us to use it as an outdoor coffee table and when it's time to pack up and head out, it folds up flat and small with a handle for carrying. We'd be lost without it.
(6) Our Nature's Head composting toilet. I know. This is getting awkwardly personal, but hear me out. This thing is AWESOME. We never have to deal with gross blackwater hoses or worry about weird smells or have some disgusting sewage mixture sitting in a tank under where we sleep. It's so much cleaner and so much easier and this video from The Wynns is a great resource if you are at all interested in learning more. (It would be great at a camp or on a sailboat, too...).
(7) To get the camper with the slide-out. This falls into the decision-making category, but there are not many days that have gone by that I haven't felt specifically thankful for our floorplan. It's a very different style of floorplan from the vast majority of other travel trailers and the slide-out combined with how the kitchen is set up creates a truly livable space for me. It's small, don't get me wrong, but it feels much bigger inside than you might expect simply based on the slide out and floorplan choices. I have enough space when the slide-out is out to unroll my yoga mat and do a practice inside our camper. I know that sounds silly when I could do it outside, but privacy comes at a premium in RV campgrounds and sometimes the weather can make that difficult. True livability matters for us since we want to keep our camper as small and mobile as possible, but also remember that we aren't vacationing- this is where we live full-time and where I work. We initially hedged due to the additional weight of the slide-out, but I'm grateful every day that we went with this one.
(8) Using high-gloss exterior paint in our interior renovation. While I mentioned some of the mistakes I made painting the interior of our camper in this old post, I have repeatedly been so glad that we used such durable, wipeable, pretty much impermeable paint. We underestimated how much battling against condensation we would be doing living in a camper full-time...if it's even the littlest bit chilly outside, we can potentially wake up to water running down the walls. The walls of "lightweight" campers tend to be some variation of fiberboard and moisture is the arch-enemy of such materials, making condensation a serious concern. The paint not only reflects light throughout the space (making it feel a bit bigger than it really is), but it prevents any water from reaching the fiberboard beneath it. If I were to begin the renovation project over, I'd probably use this primer instead (after making sure I had a better understanding of how to properly use the chemical de-glosser), but otherwise, I would use the same paint/color/finish. Similarly, I'm glad we installed the peel-and-stick backsplash "tile" (similar to these)...not only do people comment on it whenever we give someone a "tour," it's been so great to have a waterproof, wipeable surface behind the sink and where we prep food and make coffee. One of our smarter moves, for sure.
(9) Our truck build out. This sort of straddles the line between "things" and "decisions" but we have loved our truck bed build out so, SO much. It's been so great not only to have our outdoor equipment all in one place and pretty much always with us, but it's made getting outside so much faster and easier. The entire motivation behind uprooting our life was to spend more time outside doing the things that we love and seeing beautiful places. With our truck set-up, it's been so easy to simply toss some food and beer in the cooler (oooh...add our RTIC cooler to the list, we LOVE that thing and use it all the time, and I use my RTIC tumbler for my coffee and smoothies every single day, though I do recommend replacing the original lid with this one), throw a change of clothes in a backpack, grab the dog, and head out...we know we'll just climb into the back and into our sleeping bags, so no need to even make sure we have an official campsite reserved. It's allowed for more spontaneous trips and for us to take greater advantage of the places we've called home temporarily- which is the point after all!
(10) To do this thing. The best decision we've made has been simply to go for it. It has not always been fun and at times it's been downright uncomfortable. We miss our community and our home and the beauty of Maine. But we are so glad that we chose to do this and to do it now. Not to wait and not to postpone and not to give in to the temptation to be "better prepared." It's messy and we are learning as we go, and almost nothing has played out as we expected it to (let's just say that Reno was never on our list of "must-see" places, but we totally love it here!). We've met so many people and heard so many stories. We've relied on each other and leaned toward one another when things have been hard, and we've laughed uproariously together when the unexpected happened. We've grown so much in just this single year, learned so much about what we need and what we think we need, how we define home and how often we can redefine it. How much that we thought was set is actually quite flexible. We've been blown away by own adaptability and resourcefulness and how quickly we've learned that there is simply no time to wait. So we say "yes" and we reach out our hands to grasp the friendships that are offered and we stop to look right now and we keep our eyes open wide and we set aside fear and fall in love. To go, to leap, to take this chance...it's been our best decision yet.
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