6 Months In: Reflections on Life In a Camper

6 months ago on a whim, my boyfriend and I left our three-bedroom house, bought an all-season Bigfoot camper, and moved out to the back of a farm property we had stumbled across accidentally in a rental ad. We did it for two reasons: for the adventure, and to save money. We aren’t nomads or full time travellers- although a big part of our lifestyle now involves saving money to travel more with- we are just two ordinary people with 9-5 jobs who wanted something different. We do our best every day to capture and experience the best of both worlds.  

These are my honest reflections on our first 6 months living in a camper.

 

I feel deeply connected to the weather. It isn’t because it gets really cold in the winter or really hot in the summer in the Bigfoot (although, okay- it was really hot in the summer, but more on that later). I feel connected to the weather because of the way it sounds. When it rains on the roof of the camper, you hear it pouring. When it’s windy, it sounds like it can’t be contained- like I am at the mercy of nature and weather at its most wild. I see this as a gift. When I am 20 minutes away at the office, the seasons might as well be changing, and I have no idea. If you have ever sat at your desk and opened up a weather app on your smartphone to find out whether or not it is raining at that exact moment where you are, you will understand what I mean.

 

I’m more aware of what I’m using- but I’m not sure that I’m using that much less. In the kitchen, we have a switch labeled “MICROWAVE- NEUTRAL- WATER HEATER”. It takes too much power to run the microwave and the water heater at the same time, so we use that switch to choose. Now, it’s no sacrifice- it is not often that I feel the desperate need to heat up my food and take a shower at the exact same time- but it does keep me constantly conscious of the energy I use. It also keeps me grateful- after the first two or three times that I found myself having to take an ice cold shower in the morning because of forgetting to flip the switch after making five minute macaroni and cheese, I learned to be thankful for hot morning showers like never before. There is no question that living in a camper has opened my eyes to how much everything I use- electricity, water, even toilet paper. We have to empty our water tanks frequently, and we see the damage ourselves. We haven’t gotten over the shock yet of how much water we use- just from washing our dishes, brushing our teeth, and showering. Overall, I think that I am making more of an effort not to be wasteful. But it hasn’t been an overnight transformation- there is still more to come.

 

I’m not bothered by the small space, but I am increasingly bothered by clutter. Before we moved into our 28 foot camper, my boyfriend and I lived in a three-bedroom house in the suburbs. It’s not like any of the rooms in that house were empty (not by a long shot), but looking back on it, we hardly ever really used any of that space. We just spread out the heaps of things we didn’t need all across the house, and we spread them out so well that most of the time we couldn’t tell that they were just heaps of things we didn’t need. Needless to say we got rid of just about everything we owned before moving into the camper, and I can’t even say that it’s been a big adjustment. Of course there is no extra space- but there is a place for us to sleep, a place for us to put our clothes, a place for us to cook and eat, and several little spots for our pets to curl up and nap- we haven’t found that there are many more things that we need space to do. For me, the biggest adjustment in terms of the space has been the impact of clutter. Since I have about 99% less stuff than I’ve had in my whole life, I never thought that clutter would be a problem here. But because space is so tight, one or two misplaced pieces of clothing on the floor make it feel like a pigsty. One nights worth of dirty dishes and the kitchen has the look of not having been cleaned for a month. I suppose what that boils down to is that it’s just harder to hide a mess- I think I can view that as a good thing. Just an irritating good thing.

 

-The incredible outdoor space makes up for the lack of indoor space. This is an important distinction for me. When I first moved to the GTA, I was completely against moving into an apartment. The space constraint seemed overbearing. For the record, I did live in an apartment in downtown Ottawa for a little under a year when I first went out on my own- and I loved it. But having experienced life in a house with a basement and a backyard and my own driveway- it seemed infinitely better. So, I ruled out moving into an apartment. I ruled out renting just one floor of a house- this is by and large the most common type of accommodation available in the area that I moved to, but I didn’t like the idea. I wanted a house that my boyfriend and I could live in, just the two of us. Now, after having lived in that house and then moving on to the camper, I’ve mentioned that the lack of space hasn’t bothered me, and it’s true. But I still don’t ever want to live in another apartment or rent half a floor in a house, even if it would be the same amount of space (or more) than what I have now. Because my camper is parked in the middle of a huge farm. If ever I feel claustrophobic, I can open up my door, and there is grass and land as far as the eye can see.

 

-I’m sort of in heaven. There is a pond right outside my kitchen window. There is a heron- we call him Hank- who comes to visit the pond every so often in search of fish. In the mornings, I wake up early and take my dog outside. I get to see a mostly unobstructed sunrise. When the sun comes up, I let her off her leash, and she spends all morning playing and running freely with the dogs who live in the farmhouse at the front of the property. It is just beautiful here.

 

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Do We Really Want To Travel The World For Free?

Today’s travel industry is nothing like it used to be. It started about a decade ago when hip, young, adventurous bloggers like Adventurous Kate and Legal Nomads rose to internet fame with their vivid stories and practical tips for budget, around-the-world travel, dispelling the myth that you have to be wealthy to see the world. These were your average, every day, middle class North Americans who had quit their uninspiring jobs, rid themselves of material possessions, and bought one way tickets to whichever faraway land ignited passion in their bones. Not only were their journals of these adventures breathtaking and fascinating, their descriptions and advice were accessible and down to earth. Many similar (though diverse in their voices) bloggers sprung up around the same time and began documenting their own journeys in travel alongside helpful tips for average joes and janes who yearned for experiencing more out of life. The major difference between these types of blogs and the travel-catalogue material that most of us were used to- aside from the fact that travel had become a full time lifestyle- was what they prioritized. Suddenly, and refreshingly, staying in a 5 star hotel was less desirable than finding a small, cheap hostel surrounded by culture. Real experiences and rugged adventures beat out organized tours and guidebook destinations. Instead of rushing around from tourist spot to tourist spot, the new travel taste-making crowd put forth the inspiring notion that it was preferable to see one place slowly and unexpectedly. Some of the philosophies that became buzzwords were “long term travel”, “slow travel”, and “living like locals”. Bloggers like Simon Fairbairn and Erin McNeaney from Never Ending Voyage became known as “global nomads” or “digital nomads“, because they made their livings on the Internet while they travelled. The notion that anybody and everybody could leave their 9-5s behind and trek across the globe– and that it would better them– was tantalizing. I did and still do resonate with the way of life that they demonstrated.
The revolution of the long term travel industry offered a wealth of possibilities to the entrepreneur, of course, as well as to the individual traveler. Companies and communities like Couchsurfing, Air BnB, and WithLocals sprung up, allowing their members to crash on likeminded explorers spare futons for free, rent out unique and authentic apartments and rooms as travel accommodations, or enjoy a traditional dinner in the home of a local, respectively. Bucket lists soared in popularity, with more and more people– especially young people– eager to collect experiences instead of material things. The scratch-off map became a top selling gift item. Even Lonely Planet, one of the largest and longest running traditional guidebook companies in the world, began to shift its marketing focus towards the barefoot, backpacking crowd.
As somebody who shares the values, beliefs, and passions of this community, I was and remain thrilled. An authentic experience in a foreign culture is arguably one of the most important components of a life well lived, and an entire life dedicated to such journeys is both beautiful and admirable. I also fully stand by the view that it is not necessary to follow a traditional path in life (I certainly haven’t) and if you are not feeling fulfilled in your life– be it because of an office job or anything else– that you might as well go ahead and follow the path that you believe will make you whole and happy, and if that is travelling the world, then by all means, do it.
Fast forward a few years and young, global nomads are making headlines in a different way. They’ve been criticized for “poverty tourism”, or visiting and exploiting impoverished parts of the world for the sake of a photo opportunity. Recently, a group of traveling girls were fined for disrespecting a sacred Malaysian mountain by posing naked on it. More and more, young travellers have been accused of being naive, ignorant, obnoxious, and arrogant- and in many cases, few can blame them. Somewhere along the way, something changed. And– as is the case with many viral ideas– I believe the problem arose when the underlying message of long term travel got lost in translation.
The original message was tailored towards average, middle class workers who may have fantasized about travelling but never felt that they had the means. When they were hit with inspiration from bloggers who had created a way for themselves to live the dream, this inspired them to make the change for themselves. They continued to work hard, saved up a little bit of seed money to start their journeys off, and ventured out to the wide world. Most continued to work in some way while overseas in order to continue funding their budget explorations. They were grateful and amazed.
Today, because the concept has become pretty much ubiquitous on the Internet, it has begun to catch on with wider and wider– and younger– groups of people. The trouble is that many of the young people who are reading these blogs have still yet to be in the position of worrying about having the means to travel. High school or college students who still live with and/or financially depend on their parents are packing their bags and bragging that they refuse to become “9 to 5 zombies”.
Out of this arrogance comes ignorance, and many of these young travellers are missing what should be the point of their journeys. They have turned the notion of “real” travel into a vapid trend, genuinely seeming to believe that they are inherently better than their less travelled peers, and not because they’ve learned or grown from their experiences abroad, but simply because they’ve strapped packs to their backs and checked countries off their bucket lists.
It’s not that taking time off from responsibility after high school (or college) in order to travel is a new concept in and of itself. The term “gap year” was coined at least thirty years ago to describe this, and it’s often considered to be a good idea even among the conservative-lifestyle minded. The difference is that with the gap year as it used to be known, it was considered either a break in between long, hardworking periods of life– for example, in between school and a lifetime of work– or the “last chance” to really dedicate a chunk of time to exploring the world before entering the universe of commitments and responsibilities. And so, even though it, too, was a relatively longterm form of travel, the traveller had in mind the impending doom of real life that was about to hit them. This is largely what instilled gratitude in the travelling youth of the past.
Now, left right and centre, young people are seeing examples of adults who’ve abandoned their middle class lives in favour of (what they consider to be) more meaningful lives around the world. Digested properly and carefully, these are good examples: examples of living in the moment, of following dreams, of dedicating oneself to an individual purpose, and of course, of experiencing culture and humanity in a dozen different forms. But when not absorbed with the proverbial grain of salt, a different message is taken away. That message is that those who do not follow this type of dream– or who simply might not share the dream in the first place– are inferior. That working a 9 to 5 job or budgeting money for a house and a car or “settling down” are all poor decisions. Even that it is silly to worry about “normal” things like money and jobs and making ends meet instead of just packing up and buying a round-the-world ticket. And this is a dangerous perception.
I believe that in order to fully appreciate a life of full time travel, first, you must know an alternative. The reason why many of the pioneers of this movement were able to write so thoughtfully and eloquently about the whole thing is because they deeply understood the boundaries that they felt confined to back at home. They had worked hard, supported themselves and sometimes supported others, and navigated through all of the obstacles of the much-disdained “real world”, and then, they had forged a new path for themselves. There is no age that is too young to forge a path for oneself, but I believe that before you can appreciate an alternative to the “real world”, you must first live in that world.
This type of naivety doesn’t just create an arrogant traveller but an ignorant one, and I think it is a direct result of the mindset I have described that we have begun to see stories in the news about things like poverty tourism. Almost anyone in the Western world can identify that they are lucky to have been born into it, and that there is more widespread suffering in most other regions of the world where an abundance of the population lives in abject poverty. But again, there is a difference between a textbook knowledge of this type of disparity and true empathy for the other side. If back home you have rejected the notion that anyone should have to worry about making ends meet– because you have never had to yourself– then how can you truly understand the trouble that is had doing the same thing in a third world country?
And poverty tourism isn’t the only problem; there is a fundamental flaw with the way that we have begun to interpret the whole concept of budget travel.
I have started to see more and more articles with headlines like “How To Travel The World For Free” and “How To Travel The World When You Have Absolutely No Money“. Some of their tips are good: they almost all mention the revolutionary Couchsurfing.org, a community of explorers who meet online and crash for free in each other’s guest rooms when in each other’s towns. They talk about hitchhiking, racking up airline points by signing up for dozens of different credit cards, and. Some get creative with ideas like wandering into chain hotels in the morning and posing as a guest to score free continental breakfasts.
Any and all of these tips might be helpful to include when planning a trip…but not all at once. Communities like Couchsurfing grew out of a demand for affordable travel, and a desire to meet and connect with likeminded voyageurs– not out of laziness or the refusal to pay for anything. A responsible, budget-minded traveler might intersperse couchsurfing with hostels, low cost apartment rentals from AirBnB, and basic hotel rooms in less touristy towns where costs are lower. They might eat with a local one night and visit an unusual restaurant the next. Again, they are proving that one does not have to be wealthy to travel. But that doesn’t mean that one does not have to have any money at all. It is still important to work hard and earn the money that you will go on to spend on your travels, regardless of how much or how little that is. That is another thing that allows you to appreciate the adventure you have embarked on.
Appreciation and gratitude aside, it is important to remember, especially when overseas, that you not paying for something does not make it free. When you are crashing on somebody’s couch, they are paying for their home, and they have paid for the furniture and the appliances that you are using while you are there. When you hitch a ride with a stranger, they are paying for their car, and the gas to get you where you are going. When you are invited into the home of a local for a meal, they have paid for the food that they are offering you. By not contributing to the cultures we are exploring, we have found yet another form of asserting the sense of entitlement that millennials (of which I am one) have regretfully become known for. Now– and this might be a sweeping generalization, but bear with me– on top of thinking that our Western society owes us a good education and good grades that we have not earned and a high paying job that we have not worked for, we are starting to think that we can go anywhere in the world that we want without having to earn or dispense money.
And there is perhaps nothing more detrimental to this big, beautiful world than taking it for granted.

How To Make Dandelion Wine

Where I’m from in Canada, people like to say that we have two seasons: winter and construction. It’s funny because it is so accurate. What we do have of Spring and Autumn is magnificent but fleeting, seeming to last only long enough to breathe it in before it is replaced by excessive heat or bitter cold. If you blink, you might miss the Springtime– or you would if it wasn’t for the way it marks its territory: dandelions. Every year, it seems like it’s overnight that they appear, and then suddenly they are everywhere, enveloping the whole outdoors in yellow. Many land owners see dandelions as a nuisance; an intruder taking over their lawns. Personally, I have always loved them. As a child, I remember getting so angry at my parents for taking them out of the yard. I remember saying that they were beautiful, and I remember that “they are weeds” never seemed like a reasonable response for why they had to go. This must have been one of the first indications that I would grow up to be such a hippie.

I still have a soft spot for dandelions. As I’ve grown up, though, I’ve learned a lesson: everything is better when you add wine. So this year, I decided to make dandelion wine!

There is something inherently romantic about taking something that grows in the ground and turning it into sweet, fragrant wine. Here is my beginner’s guide to doing it yourself.

Step 1: Find a good, clean space to pick from

This can be a challenge (or an adventure, depending on how you look at it) even if you are surrounded by dandelions. Backyards and parks are likely to have been fertilized with dog pee, other public areas will be covered in pesticides, and any place too close to the road is going to be filthy. Get creative. We drove around directionless for nearly an hour before we found our perfect spot, which wound up being an extension of somebody’s gated mansion property– oops. At least we trespassed for a good cause; booze making.

We filled up about a quarter of a large garbage bag.

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Step 2: Separate all of the yellow petals from the green parts

This is time consuming, but important, because the green parts of your dandelion will make your wine taste bitter if you leave them in. Set yourself up in a comfortable spot, lay out a towel for your discards, and get picking. I filled 12 and a half cups with the yellow petals, which was enough to make five bottles of wine. It took me about four hours to get this done, but I personally found the task of plucking the petals more soothing than tedious. It’s a nice way to keep your hands busy while you catch up on your favourite shows on Netflix. Alternatively, you can listen to my Dandelion Wine playlist to keep your mind busy.

Note that this step should be started immediately once you get your dandelions home, while the flowers are still open.

Step 3: Pour the petals into a large pot/crock. Cover them in boiling water.

Leave them to soak for three days.

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Step 4: Strain and season

Once your petals have been soaking for three days, they are ready to be strained. If you don’t have a cheesecloth, you can use an old pillowcase. Once you’ve strained all the liquid, you’ll want to squeeze the flowers to get as much flavor out of them as you can. Pour all of the liquid back into your pot.

Now, it’s time to add your flavor. I based my recipe off a great one I found on the Twin Eagles website. Going by an increased version of their recipe, I added the juice and peels of 2 oranges and 1 lemon, a little chunk of ginger root, and 4 cups of sugar. To let the flavor soak in, you’ll want to bring your mixture to a gradual boil for about 20-30 minutes. Turn the heat off, give it a few minutes to cool, and then add a packet of champagne yeast (about 0.5 oz.).

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There are other recipes out there that call for honey, raisins, and rhubarb.

Once all of the ingredients and the yeast have been added, it’s time to strain again. Your wine is almost ready to start becoming wine!

Step 5: Let it ferment

Now it’s time to transfer your wine into a fermenting jug or fermenting bucket with an airlock. If you don’t already have these things, they can be found at any and all home brewing stores. I would suggest first looking at an actual brewery, though. Many of them have a small selection of home brewing supplies for sale in their stores, with lower prices since their main business is in-house brewing. Make sure, if you’ve never used one before, that you learn how to use an airlock.

Let your wine ferment for 1-3 weeks.

Step 6: Bottle it

You’ve made wine! Transfer it into bottles, throw on some pretty labels if you’d like, cork ’em (see if your local winery will let you do this). You’re supposed to let the bottles sit for at least 6 months before the flavor reaches its peak. We stored 4 of our bottles, but we drank one right away. It tasted like dandelions- in a nice way! I can only imagine the satisfaction of drinking a glass of this in the middle of winter, and reminiscing about the Spring.

Our local winery gave us these labels that they had sitting around. The photo is of a daisy, and these belong to some wine company that I am not affiliated with in any way, but they look nice.
Our local winery gave us these labels that they had sitting around. The photo is of a daisy, and these belong to some wine company that I am not affiliated with in any way, but they look nice.

Side note: I posted a version of this story on the Steller app. This app is awesome for high quality mixed media stories and photo essays on the go.

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

1. Pura Vida

“Pura Vida”, Spanish for “Pure Life” is more than just a motto in Costa Rica. The phrase, used as a greeting or a farewell, as an expression of gratitude, and whenever else it feels right, sums up the whole culture of the country. While its meaning doesn’t need much of an explanation, it’s important to understand how important the “pura vida” way of life really is for the locals. They express their love of life with contagious passion, and it is incredible to be in a place surrounded by people who radiate so much joy. Even those locals who live in poverty give off a happy glow in this place. It’s a different set of values than we’re used to; a love of nature, fruit, laughter, family, animals, ocean, warmth beneath one’s feet. Pura Vida is enough for Costa Ricans, and it’s more than enough for me.

2. Rocking J’s 

Rocking J’s Hostel is something of a legend in the backpackers world. I suppose like anything else that becomes popular enough, one could argue that it’s overrated, but it is not. Rocking J’s is a place where you can just as easily stay up all night partying on the bar side with other travellers as you can sit peacefully by the fire playing guitars and drums and breathing in the ocean air. The entire place has been decorated by its visitors and is colourful and unpretentious and filled with other people’s memories. There is a secret little swimming hole in the ocean where somehow, it’s always quiet. Although you can pitch a tent for $6 or stay in a dorm for $11, I highly recommend sleeping in a hammock for $7/night. Frankly, I’m not sure that I’ve ever slept better in my life than I did in my hammock at J’s.

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3. Surfing

Puerto Viejo is a hippie/backpacker’s town, and as such, it’s easy to find surfing lessons for beginners. We booked one surfing lesson through our hostel and paid about $60 for it, but the instructor was a wicked guy and invited us to go back and surf with him the following day for free. If you look around enough, you should be able to find somebody who is willing to do the same for you, whether it’s a local or another traveller (unless you are already a pro yourself, in which case, ignore me! You already know!). I wish I could remember the name of the incredibly cool dude who showed my friends and I the ropes of surfing. This guy lived in the jungle with no phone reception (as many do in this part of Costa Rica). He was a free spirit. While we were in the ocean, he ran off the beach for a minute, came back with an entire pineapple that he’d found, and sliced it up on the sand. He is pictured below:

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4. Sloths

If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a sloth in a tree while you’re wandering through the streets of Puerto Viejo. You can also visit the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. It’s worth supporting this sanctuary, run by a family who fell in love with these creatures after one orphaned young one, Buttercup, was brought to them back in 1992. Buttercup still lives at the sanctuary today, and the family has rescued over 500 other sloths, rehabilitating and releasing the ones who they can, and caring from those who can’t yet go back into the wild. Just look at one of these little guys at the sanctuary:

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Thank you to my awesome friend and travel partner Allison for taking the photo! The sloth reminds me of you.

5. Guaro sours 

Guaro is Costa Rica’s traditional liqueur. Guaro, sugar, and lime mix together for a Guaro Sour, one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever tried. Go for the Guaro.

Read This First: What is a Middle Class Gypsy?

For starters, let me just tell you that I call myself a middle class gypsy because I work a 9-5 office job, and I also live in a Bigfoot camper trailer. I suppose my entire life’s philosophy boils down to that one definition, but I think it’s important to understand how I got here, what I believe in, and what I want people to ultimately take away from this blog.

Growing up, I was a bookworm. An intellectual, a kid who loved school to the point of starting homework clubs for my friends. I loved learning, I was curious, I was sharp, and I was determined. But the older I became, the more that curiosity and passion for learning began to take their own form outside of the classroom. Starting around the 6th grade, I started to resent school because I felt that I wasn’t learning or growing there, that I was wasting my time. When high school started and I still had no challenges or stimulation in classes where the lowest common denominator was always targeted, where students couldn’t care less and were praised just for showing up, where teachers would identify a more apt student’s intelligence but not encourage it, I knew that there was no way that I was going to spend four years of my life there despite the fact that that was what one “had” to do. Dropping out of high school after the 10th grade despite being an honour roll student was my first major rebellion against the system, and it’s one that many people still don’t understand.

After I left school, I worked in the door-to-door vacuum sales industry for two years. I moved out of my parents house at 16 (out of desperation for independence, not because I wasn’t happy at home– my parents are as loving and supportive as it gets, and beyond). I lived in a nice apartment in the downtown core of my city. I worked my ass off all day and explored all night. I was supporting myself and having the time of my life, and I didn’t give a second thought to the condescension I received from my high school friends who said that I would never be able to “make it in the world” without a high school education. I already was making it, and by that point, I had begun to define myself as somebody who lived for the little things in life anyways. I lived for mimosas and bacon on Sunday mornings, for beautiful sunsets, for brilliant musicians performing on the street, for fascinating conversations with new people.

I continued to sell vacuums and then cars, and then, after coming out of a devastating and rough personal relationship with a troubled man and enduring a chaotic aftermath, I decided to get rid of my belongings, leave my job, and travel indefinitely around the world. It wasn’t about running away; the full-time, slow-travelling, nomadic lifestyle spoke to me on such a deep level. Experiencing and exploring all of the cultures, natural wonders, food, music, art, and lifestyles on this planet– I couldn’t ask for a more fulfilling set of challenges, I couldn’t ask for a better way to feed my passion for living. But, right around the time that I was getting ready to leave, after I’d bought a backpack and chucked my furniture and gotten out of my lease, I met somebody. I won’t get all sentimental here, but I knew that I would regret leaving this man behind for the rest of my life. I knew he was it for me. So, instead of hopping on a plane, he and I hopped into the car and moved to Toronto. We lived in a motel for a couple of months while we got settled into new jobs, and then we signed a lease on a nice suburban house. That lease is now ending, and we’ve bought ourselves a four-seasons Bigfoot camper to live in on somebody’s farmland instead. Camper life is going to be a simple life, one that will allow us to take as many trips as possible and then return home to campfires and hammocks and twinkly lights, one that will allow us to continue to be the conundrums that we are; working 9-5 jobs, living in a camper like gypsies.

our camper brendan and i

For me, life is all about the experiences, the adventures, and the loved ones who you get to share it all with. I get my education by reading, observing, exploring, and by simply living to the best of my ability. While many have suggested that I get a formal education as a “back-up plan” or “something to fall back on”, I doubt that I ever will.  What keeps me comfortable is knowing that no matter what happens in my life, no matter what I lose, this incredible world full of all of its magic will still be out there, ready to be explored. That’s what I have to fall back on– an incredible planet that I’ve only touched a morsel of so far.

I want to try and convey to anyone and everyone reading this blog that you can create your own set of philosophies, that it is possible to live the life that you want to live, even if it doesn’t make sense to anybody else. That you don’t have to choose between conventional successes and wild adventures. My blog will cover camper life, regular life, travel, exploration, and a million reasons why you should follow your passions every single day. Act on your daydreams. Make it happen. Forge your own path, and don’t ever look back.