But First, Why?
Before I get into the details and a tour of the camper, I still get a lot of questions as to WHY I wanted to travel the country for 3+ months and why in an old ass camper? The desire to just pack up and drive all over has been instilled in me since childhood road trips, staring wide-eyed out the window, as if it was one long movie passing me by. I longed for more trips and to experience more places.
My husband (boyfriend at the time), Christopher, and I had our first extended taste of it after college. We packed up his grandfather’s 1991 Forest Green Lincoln Continental for a month of exploring. This was a big trip for our relationship, realizing if we can live out of a car for a month together with barely any bickering, we could probably take on some more challenges together in life. That month scratched my nomad itch for awhile, as we unpacked our lives from storage and settled into our first rowhome in Baltimore.
We intended on moving, we really did. 6 months max, maybe a year, enough to save up some money. We were going to move somewhere fun and new, preferably warmer, somewhere on the west coast. San Diego sounded nice, but Baltimore had other plans for us. With her unexpected charm, we found ourselves making a home and building our own community of friends, not bringing the subject of moving back up for years. (It took a lot to not turn this blog post into a love letter to Baltimore, but we must stay on track…)
We decided to buy a house here because we knew if we moved, we’d spend all our money coming home to visit. Why not just stay and use all our extra money to visit other spots? Sold. Travel became a priority, but usually in the form of long weekends, a week at most, 2 weeks for our honeymoon to really treat ourselves. The desire to wander, to drive across the country, laid dormant for awhile. Usually piqued when we saw a VW bus or fun camper on the road, Christopher would point, I would smile and say “one day.”
But Why Can’t One Day Be Now?
Then I reached a point that I wanted “one day” to be… now. It took some brainstorming, but after 13 months, a career move, looking at our budget, an additional part-time job, starting my own business for marketing and photography, going down to one car for awhile, lots of savings, lots of research, one day happened. Super easy, right?
While the idea of just going and being nomads was tempting, for us, keeping our home here in Baltimore made the most sense. We weren’t ready to throw all the caution to the wind and pull up our roots. I bring this up because this was a critical part in deciding HOW I was going to drive cross country, as each vehicle option had a lot of factors, like what amenities were needed and how much it would cost.
There were spreadsheets, pros and cons lists, more budgets, and hours on the internet. Ideally, I wanted a old VW bus that looked adorable, but Christopher brought me back down to earth. Realistically, I know nothing about car engines and many of those VW’s need a lot of work to stay running. Then there were RVs to consider. Some new friends had traveled the country for 1 year and had an RV they were open to renting us (PS – you MUST go check out Amazing Life Together). It was really nice, but after weighing what we needed, wanted, and potentially bringing our dog, we kept looking.
A Vintage Travel Trailer It Is
We also figured if we were going to spend that money, it might as well be on something we can keep. Additionally, probably to Christopher’s annoyance, it had to be cute and picturesque, I was going to be capturing this whole trip after all. We eventually landed on the idea of a vintage camper, also known as a travel trailer (turns out you need to know various terminology once you get into booking campsites). With a fresh paint job and some updating on the inside, it would be a pretty inexpensive option, all things considered. We could attach it to a reliable SUV or truck so that I would have to worry about getting stranded, with the added bonus of being able to detach when wanting to easily explore cities or national parks.
So then we had to find one, we searched the internet far and wide. I found two people in Nashville who sought out and renovated old campers, which worked out because we traveled to Nashville often and didn’t quite have the spare time to do this ourselves. It was a great experience until it was not. Please note: while we love our camper, if you’re looking for something similar to travel with, we would not recommend working with them. If you want more info, let’s chat!
It took longer than expected to get the trailer, only 2 weeks before the planned departure date, which made this Type A, structure-loving planner nervous. It was too late to push the whole trip as I had reservations at national parks during peak season that took months to get and friends flying to meet me all over the country. The show had to go on. She even had a name!
Meet Cleo The Camper
We had to do some unexpected work on Cleo before the trip, which ensured she’d be on a solid and safe base to travel across this whole country. We added some painted touches, a new axle, a custom door that my father-in-law created (that actually closed and locked unlike the OG door, because you know… safety), new tires, pillows, a couple more coats of sealer on the roof, new bed framing, some more shelving, drawers, and wow, now that I read this, we did a lot. A BIG THANK YOU to my husband, my in-laws, some friends, and my father who took this on with us in a moment’s notice. I was over there stenciling pretty designs on the inside of the cabinets while my sister-in-law’s husband was literally ensuring I had a solid bed frame to sleep on. Ya gotta know your strengths, I guess.
We get a lot of questions about the “amenities.” I have to remind people that it’s old and we bought it because it was on the cheaper end of the spectrum. The bathroom tank needed replacing, but honestly, when it came down to it, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of figuring out how to empty it… I wanted the option to not pee in the woods in the middle of the night, but after our time on the road, we decided we’d rather not deal with it and we plan on taking it out so we can rearrange the bed set-up. In the meantime, the “bathroom” became a much needed closet for when I had extra guests joining me.
The water line/sink drainage doesn’t work, which was probably the most disappointing find because running water would have been real nice. The original stove and oven also do not work, but that was to be expected. Especially if you have an old camper, I found it was highly recommended to redo all the gas lines because the last thing you want is a gas leak near a campfire and that kind of work was not in the budget. A Coleman camper stove would do! BONUS: The vintage stove then became a great spot to store wine bottles safely while driving. The vintage fridge became a great spot to store pots and pans. When life gives you lemons/non-working vintage appliances, right?
Would We Do It Again?
In a heartbeat, but, needless to say, this whole “let’s just drive cross country” thing was a big endeavor and not nearly as spontaneous as one might think. We learned A LOT. If I had to go back and do it again, I would probably go the vintage camper route again, but buy our own and leave time to gut it completely, which would lead to a lot more learnings. It would probably take as much money ($5K-10K ballpark) and even more time, but we would have more control and ensure quality work.
OR I would go the #vanlife route, there is something to be said about just rolling up anywhere and being able to go to sleep, plus the vanlife community is amazing. This is just a larger investment and would probably require another car payment. Knowing that I would need a real daily driver when I returned to Baltimore, I didn’t think a camper van would serve me well when rolling up to client meetings or whenever we have kids.
The travel trailer / camper works for us. I have a 4Runner I drive normally or I can attach Cleo to it, no additional engines to worry about. My parents are amazing and let us store the camper at their house. Since it was more affordable than a new RV or camper van, we paid for it in full. It is now ours, no monthly payments (other than insurance). As we grow as a family, we hope to be able to use it for more easy camping with some kiddos and our old lady dog (who prefers shorter car rides, hence not joining for long trip, but she does LOVE camping).
Cleo still has some work that needs to be done, after all, I did drive her 15,000 miles across some bumpy ass roads, shaking every screw and component over miles and miles of this country. I’m afraid that as we work on one small fix, it might pull a string and before we know it, we’re gutting it, but we’ll see.
One day, we hope she’ll retire on our farm, Camp Runamuck. For those saying, what? You have a farm? The answer is no, but yes, we have a name for our hypothetical farm, open to nomads and campers alike, a farm that may or may not house other adorable vintage campers. An idea that was shaped and inspired with every day of #ourendlessroadtrip. It is probably way too early to share this idea, but I am becoming a firm believer in putting your ideas and dreams out into the world. You’d be surprised how that can help “one day” become now. In the meantime, more to daydreaming and spreadsheets to make that happen in the next however many years!
Okay, Okay, The Interior Pictures You’ve Been Waiting For
And we’ll end this tour with 3 reminders of why this camper was perfect for #ourendlessroadtrip, it always gave me a sense of perspective, whether amongst the redwoods, under the starry sky, or next to a really really really big radio in the middle of no where Montana.
Hope you enjoyed the tour of our little adventure mobile. I’d also love to see your adventures on my feed, use #ourendlessadventure when sharing Instagram.
Now Get Lost (Ideally in the Outdoors),