Growing up among the farm fields of Illinois, I wasn’t a particularly outdoorsy kid, and sleeping in anything other than a house never crossed my mind. But as I got older and began to travel more, I discovered that I always felt the most home out in nature – among inspiring landscapes and exploring new places that were unlike anything I’d ever seen.

I’ll fast-forward to the spring of 2016 when my husband and I set out on a five-week adventure to New Mexico in a pop-up camper we’d recently bought off a guy from Craigslist near our then-home in Georgia. New Mexico was a place neither of us had ever been and being the big Breaking Bad fans that we were, it seemed like a cool place to check out. Those five weeks weren’t just amazing, but they were also life-changing because they taught us that we didn’t need a permanent home to do our full-time remote jobs, nor did we need a stable four walls to be happy.

 

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Our first pop-up camper in West Virginia
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Our first pop-up camper in West Virginia

A couple of months later, we sold or donated the bulk of our worldly possessions and moved into a tiny, canvas-walled pop-up camper full-time to live and work on the road. We first headed north to explore the East Coast and then moved westward, where we would end up spending the next couple of years.

New RV purchase in Yuma, Arizona
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
New RV purchase in Yuma, Arizona

About seven months into the full-time camper life journey, we decided to upgrade our living situation and trade in the pop-up camper for 33-foot, Class A motorhome. This huge upgrade made life on the road a lot more comfortable in terms of our workspaces, temperature control, cooking in a real kitchen, using an in-camper bathroom, and giving our nutty dog named Monkey a bit more space to move around.

Driving the RV
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Driving the RV

As you can imagine, there were things I absolutely loved about doing the full-time camper life thing for over three years and other things that really wore on me over time. Here are some highlights, lowlights, and lessons learned from nomadic life on the road.

Favorite Parts Guitar RV concert in Portland, Oregon
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Guitar RV concert in Portland, Oregon

Favorite Parts

For me, the best thing about living in a camper and moving to a new place every week or two was waking up to new scenes and landscapes to explore. We got to spend a lot of time outdoors and learn about new places, which left zero time for boredom or complacency. Being constantly mobile also lets us follow the good weather with the seasons to maximize our outdoor time.

It was empowering to be able to do my freelance writing work from anywhere and also to live a life of minimalism with very few material things to weigh me down. It was fun getting to occasionally visit friends living in random places, but as a natural introvert, I was never lonely or missed the sense of community that many full-time RVers struggle with. Another perk was being able to save a lot of money by only paying for campground fees rather than leasing an apartment or having a home mortgage.

Least Favorite Parts Epic hiking near Kanab, Utah
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Epic hiking near Kanab, Utah

Least Favorite Parts

However, it wasn’t all fun and games while living on the road every day. We constantly struggled with poor internet connections that turned ordinary work tasks into time-consuming headaches. Although travel planning was really fun at first, it began to feel like an exhausting burden and annoying chore over time. I often felt overwhelmed with being surrounded by intrusive strangers in crowded campgrounds and having a total lack of personal space, privacy, and peace and quiet. With the help of a solar panel system we set up, we boondocked in remote areas here and there, but more often than not, this situation was more of a hassle than it was worth while trying to work full-time.

Campgrounds are generally archaic and outdated places that require annoying phone calls to make reservations, an absolute must during the busy summer months. Our rescue mix dog is part American Staffordshire Terrier, so we ran into all sorts of pit bull bans and discriminatory attitudes by campground owners that limited where we could stay. Campground laundry facilities were often disgusting and malfunctioning, trying to drown out my husband’s work calls with noise-canceling headphones didn’t work in such a tiny space, and fueling up the RV cost a fortune every time at the pump.

Lessons Learned Hanging outside the RV in San Diego
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Hanging outside the RV in San Diego

Lessons Learned

But with a balance of highs and lows, we learned a lot about being self-sufficient, each other, and ourselves from living this lifestyle for a while. For example, it helped us compare different regions of the U.S. and Canada to narrow down the places we really enjoyed and what we’d want in a future home. It also made clear the types of hobbies and activities we missed doing and wanted to pursue once we had more space and time.

Ultimately, our very first camper life destination of New Mexico is where we decided to pull the plug on full-time camper life and plop down for a while. We fell in love with New Mexico’s wide-open spaces, ruggedness, outdoor opportunities, culture, and affordability, which led us to buy a house here shortly after our three-year anniversary of camper living. There are definitely things I miss about the nomadic lifestyle, but I’ve also been loving our new phase and exploring more of the greater Southwest region that I now call home. And whenever we get the itch to leave it all behind for a while and hit the open road, our trusty camper is sitting right outside my home office window, just waiting to go out for a new adventure.

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