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Our Camper

The Hitchenette

So with the new camping platform put together,  and all our updated storage worked out to keep us organized as we go full-time in the truck this year, we were eager to hit the road. But despite all the improvements, we weren’t quite done. One of the reasons we were so eager to build a new platform and get more organized was that we got tired of constantly moving our cooler and bins of food gear in and out of the truck — then stashing it in the front seat every night to keep it away from animals. Laziness is the mother of invention!

Having spent almost six months mulling it over and scouring endless vanlife and truck camping Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts, I had an idea that was almost original. I decided to take a trailer hitch storage rack and build and mount a small kitchen/storage box to it. Basically, a giant chuck box that we could plug right in to the back of the truck.

I drew up my plans, designing the interior around the dimensions of the Aquatainer and new RTIC 45 cooler I had ordered. I found a well-reviewed 500-lb capacity hitch rack over at NorthernTool.com for a great price,  and ordered that as my base.

5 feet of work space, and it doesn’t block my taillights!

My cooler came in right behind it, and I quickly got a feeling for just how tight the space in this new build would be.

The answer being “pretty darn.”

As I designed the build, Rebecca and I developed a list of must-haves to be incorporated:

  • It needed room for our two-burner Coleman camp stove, and leave plenty of remaining counter space for food prep.
  • It needed slide-out storage for the cooler so it was easily accessible.
  • It needed to store the six-gallon Aquatainer in a way that made water access easy.
  • It needed drawers to replace the food storage drawer we’d lost when we switched to the new camping platform.
  • It needed room to store our overly large but oh-so-comfortable camp chairs that we love.
  • It needed to store my ax, hatchet, and saw in a place that was easy to get to.
  • It needed room to store the odds and ends of camping and cooking gear in a way that was easily accessible.
  • It needed to be weather resistant.
  • It needed to lock for security.

After a few drafts and some tweaking, we were ready to get building! The camper was parked at my in-laws over the holidays as we were working on this, and my father-in-law was gracious enough to let me use his basement workshop and all his tools — it was realllllly cold out, and being able to work inside was a huge godsend. I also couldn’t have done it without the help of my awesome brother-in-law Jay, who dedicated countless hours to helping me design and assemble this monster. Thanks Jay!

With our designs finished, we were ready to get to work! We went with 3/4 inch ply, cutting carefully and pre-drilling every screw hole, along with using wood glue to keep it all snug.

I found some 100-lb capacity ball bearing drawer slides from Home Depot, and was able to mount my new cooler snugly up under the counter top.

After that, we moved on to the drawer and Aquatainer storage area. Due to the size of the camp chairs I mentioned previously, we weren’t able to make the drawers as deep as I’d hoped — we simply couldn’t have gotten the chairs out from underneath the cooler if the drawers were full depth. However, we were still able to get 12 inches of depth, which has worked out to be plenty.

With the slides and drawers assembled, it was time for a dry fit, to see how everything was going to fit before we glued it all together. It all worked great, so we loosened it all up, glued it to death, and cinched it all down tight!

Once we got the lid built and mounted, it was obviously time for a progress photo to send around.

As we were getting close to painting, and had gotten a few days of warmer weather, we moved our workstation upstairs to the garage. Once we were up there, I also built an overlapping lip system to help both hold everything closed and solid, and also to help keep water out.

It sure looked nice in the sunshine!

We started applying layers of polyurethane to the interior, and while those were drying, I went ahead and build actual drawers, and lined them with some drawer liner Rebecca had left over in the camper from our camper reno.

Then it was time to get outside and paint! We decided to go with multiple coats of a matte black Rustoleum paint, and got a locking hasp to match.

On the inside, I installed the drawers, and started mounting some organizational items: rubber-coated eye hooks to mount pots and pans and a small dustpan, Rebecca’s spice rack, and our camping first aid kit. I also installed some small bracing pieces on the left side of the counter top keep the stove and propane canisters from sliding around.

After a few coats of poly over top of the paint to seal it, we dropped the whole thing into the hitch rack, bolted it down tight, and were ready to plug it into the hitch! Around this time, I decided to call my monstrosity The Hitchen — hitch kitchen, get it? However, my brother-in-law scoffed and quickly corrected me. “It’s too small to be a Hitchen,” he said — “It’s a Hitchenette!” And since he was so obviously correct, I can now proudly present to you: The Hitchenette.

(Full disclosure: My after pictures were taken in Louisiana after I got a car wash, because everything was IMMEDIATELY covered in salt and snow when we were in New Hampshire, and I wanted better looking after pictures.)

On the right side, you can see the handles we installed, along with my Sam Adams bottle opener — gotta keep that handy!

We put some adhesive-backed reflectors around the frame for visibility. So far, no one’s hit us, so so far so good! And now for the opened up and loaded up view…

We love it! Everything is easy to get to, it takes seconds to open everything up and break everything down, we can get to the cooler without a problem, and it stays locked and secure when we’re not using it.

Rebecca did a fantastic job packing the drawers, and they hold a tremendous amount of food and supplies. We keep them from sliding with short bungee cords attached to a few eye hooks.

We locked the cooler down tight to the shelf with some 2-inch velcro straps I found at Home Depot, attached to some simple drawer pulls mounted to the top of the drawer.

And there you have it: The Hitchenette in all it’s newly-built glory! We’ve loved having it — it keeps our sleeping area free of food and camping supplies, it gives Rebecca a clean and organized place to do her food prep and cooking, and just generally saves us from endlessly loading and reloading the truck. Between the camping platform, the car top carrier, and the Hitchenette, we feel like we have everything we need to be successful full-timers this year. We’ll see how it goes — stay tuned, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Mobile Minimalism: How We Stay Organized on the Road

In my last post, I showed you guys the new camping/storage platform that I build for our travels this year. As we were driving around last year, we realized we still had a lot of loose items rolling around that drove us nuts, and a lot of unnecessary clutter we didn’t want to spend another year dealing with.  So today, I’m going to show you a few of the things I built, bought, or was given (thanks, Moms!) that we are using to stay neat, orderly, functional, and organized. Hopefully, you’ll find a few things you like that will work for you as well!

1) Shelves

For both of our previous 6-week road trips in the Tahoe, we both kept saying, “Man, I wish we had some small shelves back here!” We had books, Kindles, pens, glasses cases, chapstick, and other stuff that we wanted near us at night … but had nowhere to put. So item numero uno on the organization list was to figure out a way to mount some shelves in the rear of the truck.

The design I came up with was pretty straightforward, and I was able to reuse some of the wood from my previous camping platform that we pulled apart for the new one. I used some cardboard, scissors, a ruler, and a sharpie to make some mockups for each side — obviously the windows couldn’t be the same size. I decided to keep the cup holders accessible, and went from there. After a few dry fits, I was ready to cut out the real thing!

After that, it was simply a matter of figuring out how to cut out the supports so they matched the curves of the plastic paneling under the window. Again, a few cardboard mockups made life easy.

After that was the fun part — making a front panel that was both attractive and strong enough to take some abuse, and then drilling out individual holders for stuff that likes to roll. On my side, I was even able to velcro mount the battery box/on and 0ff switch to our awesome LED lights that we put in the back of the truck! I attached the whole shelf to the truck by using adhesive-backed velcro along the bottom of the curved supports.

So far, they’ve worked awesome! They’re fantastic to have, and we use them constantly.

2) Under-platform storage

After the shelves, the thing we wanted the most on our previous road trips was additional easily-accessible storage space — especially for clothes and shoes. I’d created two hinged access panels into the storage area under the platform, but we wanted to further protect and organize our clothes. We went to Walmart, and found this underbed shoe organizer that worked PERFECTLY. It fit into the storage area like a glove, leaves room for the couch back supports, and keeps our clothes clean, covered, and organized.

In the front, we keep most of our shoes, along with extra toiletries and the like. We were able to use a bunch of basic shoe boxes Rebecca already had — Sterilite 12-quart storage bins. They nestle right into that 5.5” of storage, and keep everything handy and organized!

3) Clothes hooks

Another constant need we found ourselves running into was for more hanging space. We had raincoats, jackets, hats, and towels, and almost no place to let them dry, or keep them handy. I created a $5 solution using leftover wood and stain, inexpensive rubber-coated hooks, a clothes hanger, and some Gorilla Super Glue. I pre-drilled the top of the wood, put the glue in, inserted the sections of wire, then bent them down behind the wood so they can hang on the plastic trim. After that, I just pre-drilled the holes for the hooks, and then inserted them.

It’s really awesome to have a handy but out-of-the-way space to keep our jackets in case we run into rain or cool weather, and it’s always nice to have a hat nearby when camping.

They don’t get in the way of the platform at all, so we don’t bump into them when sleeping. And for a $5 solution, they don’t look half bad!

4) Cockpit upgrades and organization

Probably my biggest running complaint with our previous road trips was how cluttered and unusable the dashboard/console area was. We had phones, iPads, maps, books, water bottles, coffee cups, knives, keys, and a million other things jammed into a very small and badly laid out area, and I was determined to fix that.

The first thing I wanted to do was get the phones off of the console, and organize the charging cords for our devices. For this, we turned to the Energy Pal Smartphone holder and charging station. They’re very affordable on Amazon, and since we each have a cigarette lighter on our side of the console, they are the perfect solution to get our phones off of the console and where we could charge and use them easily. They rotate in just about every direction, and adjust to fit different sized phones. We love them! And they each have an extra USB port, so you can charge 2 devices at a time with them, which is super handy for our hotspot, Kindles, and other devices.

 

Another incredibly useful tool in our attempt to organize is the Grid-It organizer. I found this when poking around online for good storage solutions, and I absolutely love this thing. It’s basically just interwoven grippy elastic straps mounted to a backboard, but it helps me organize a lot of the loose gear that was rattling around in the console, and makes things much easier to find. The entire console is now cleaner and more organized, and because of that, much more useful. I simply screwed mine directly into the hinged top of the console, and it’s been fantastic — I highly recommend them, and they come in a ton of different sizes!

5) Flashlight mount

My flashlight is the redheaded stepchild of our camping rig. It didn’t fit in my door storage pocket, it kept rolling out from under my seat, and just generally had no where to live. Finally, I found these Maglite mounting clips on Amazon, and now, my flashlight has a home. I used heavy duty 3M tape on the back of the clips, mounted the screws directly to the paneling, and it’s been hanging on just fine! I put it next to the drivers seat, so I can reach it  easily from both the front and back of the truck.

This didn’t include any cool toys or mounts, but you can see below how I organize my door storage– a knife, some snacks (love those blueberry Clif bars!) and my Gerber multitool. It’s not in there in the picture, but I also keep a Maglite mini on the left so it’s nice and handy — I don’t need the million-megawatt flashlight for every little thing.

Other than that, the only other thing I did was secure my Stanley FatMax car jumper and compressor to the front of the sleeping platform with a short bungee and some eye hooks. I had been planning on storing it in the Hitchenette (stay tuned to see that later this week!), but ended up running out of space. But it stays just fine, and is both out of the way and easily accessible.

And that’s how we stay organized on the road! We hope you find it helpful, and maybe a little bit inspirational! Now it’s your turn to tell us — how do you stay organized on the road? Please let us know in the comments!

Why We’ve Downsized … Again

As we’ve alluded to a few times here on the blog and on Instagram, we’ve decided to make some big changes to our travel style for upcoming adventures in 2017. So we wanted to share our thoughts on why we decided to leave our camper behind as we set off to criss-cross the country this year!

Boondocking in Gila National Forest, New Mexico

On our drive north after wrapping up our Appalachian adventure Ryan and I began discussing what our 2017 travels would look like. We’d previously assumed we’d be taking the camper with us around the country, but after six weeks of having it on the road with us, we weren’t as excited about the prospect as we’d expected to be. Fortunately, we were in agreement that for the next leg of our travels, we needed a better — and smaller — plan.

We began discussing options. Our first idea was to leave the camper behind, sell the Tahoe, and purchase a small (<18′) RV that would lighten our travels but still provide the comforts of home. Ryan did some research, we found several on Craigslist, but pretty quickly discovered that for what we wanted to pay, we’d definitely be getting a fixer-upper — and we weren’t sure we had the time (or the energy) to do that again. And, since we were heading north, any projects would have to be completed while braving a frigid New England winter. That prospect was less than thrilling.

Next we considered trading in the Tahoe for #vanlife … in fact, Ryan had already built out into an epic road tripping home on wheels in his mind. But, while we’re still positive a van is in our future, we struggled to find one at the perfect intersection of price point and specs we were looking for. (And Ryan wasn’t thrilled at the idea of buying a van that had endured salty New England winters.)

Those options having fallen by the wayside, we were back to square one. And at that point we realized — Franklin, our trusty Chevy Tahoe, was already a pretty sweet road trip machine! Ryan went back to the drawing board and had soon sketched out plans for a new car camping build, including an awesome new kitchen design. He took on some projects to make Franklin look and run better. And before too long, our current vehicle had transformed into a comfortable and reliable mini home on wheels! 🙂

All that is the what of our upcoming travels, but I also wanted to share why we found ourselves wanting to downsize in the first place. Minimalism has been a big driving force in our lives over the past couple of years, and I always loving talking about why we love living small and the things that drive us to a lighter, more adventurous life.

Our Camper Fall 2015

1. Towing the Camper Can Be a Drag

There, I’ve said it. After getting off to a rough start towing the camper through the mountains of West Virginia, it took us a while to settle in to pulling 6,000 lbs behind us wherever we went! That’s the cost of carrying all your creature comforts with you, I suppose — but after about a week on the road, we were already tired of setting up, breaking down, not being able to get drive through … the list goes on. And it was also frustrating that Ryan was the only one able to drive; hats off to you ladies who are skilled at towing, but I’m just not! While he’s usually happy to be behind the wheel, there were times when he was tired, or not feeling well, or just didn’t want to drive, and we missed the flexibility of me being able to take the wheel. Overall, while we adapted pretty quickly to the vagaries of life with a camper in tow; it just seemed like a continuous, low-grade hassle, and one we didn’t feel like dealing with for the next nine months.

Car Camping Seminole Canyon Texas

2. We Want to Cut Costs

You had to know this one was coming! You guys, camper spots, even without sewer hookups, are expensive. Of course, there’s always boondocking, but if we were going without things like air conditioning and an electric hookup to run the fridge, what was the point of having the camper with us, anyway? This trip we’re looking to do a lot more boondocking … maybe even check out a Walmart parking lot or two … and just generally rough it in the interest of adventuring more, and saving money. (The sacrifices seem totally worth it if it frees up more cash for things like rafting the Rio Grande in Big Bend, or taking an air taxi to Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska!)


3. We’re Comfortable with Less

After selling 90% of our stuff, taking two six week car camping trips, and figuring out we don’t miss our stuff, even the camper was just feeling extravagant! And after another summer parked in Harpers Ferry, and a three month stay with my parents (plus a very generous Christmas!), we were both beginning to feel the weight of our stuff again. (Can I just say — going through every nook and cranny to pack for this upcoming trip was highly therapeutic!) We’ve learned that with car camping we have just enough to feel comfortable … but not too comfortable. We’ve been joking that the next step in our downsizing process is a backpack apiece! (Spoiler alert: we already have them 😀 )

Ryan in a Tree at Big Bend National Park

We’re Craving More Adventure

One more thing we learned on our last trip — somehow, having the camper ended up putting a damper on our adventurous spirits. I often think of Jess Curren’s excellent post, I Don’t Trust Myself in Suburbia, and somehow, the camper was starting to feel like our own personal version of suburbia. (If you haven’t read her post — and even if you have — go read it. Seriously.)

“We are advocates for an active, outdoor, adventure, family-oriented lifestyle so what does that say about me when I can’t even get us out the door in over a week? It says that life in Suburbia is hard and we are cheaters.” — Jess Curren

Traveling with the camper we found ourselves sleeping in later, spending more time watching TV on the laptop (seriously, we watched three seasons of Chicago P.D. in six weeks), forgoing campfires in favor of nights on the couch, and generally sucking at getting out the door and exploring. I can’t explain what it was, other than that we were just too comfortable. And comfort is not why we upended our lives and moved into a camper.

And That’s Why We’re on the Road with Just Our Tahoe

So, here we are — on the road, headed southwest, with all our stuff packed into our Chevy Tahoe. We’re planning on mixing it up this trip; it’s not going to be nine straight months of camping. In fact, in the two weeks we’re taking to get from New Hampshire to Louisiana, we don’t have a single night of camping planned — our route is formed by waypoints with hospitable and welcoming friends and family. So, while we will be doing lots of car camping this year, we’ll also be stopping with friends, and we are also hoping to dip our toes into the world of professional house sitting. And I’m sure we’ll pepper in some hotel stays and tent camping, too.

That’s all, folks! Thanks for reading along 🙂 Tell us in the comments: What’s your favorite method of travel? RV, van, car camping, tent camping, backpacking?

Our Rambler: The Interior Tour

Our Rambler The Interior Tour | Our Streamlined Life

So here’s the thing: I’m REALLY good at starting projects. I get super excited, jump in, and go nuts. I work crazy hours, try new techniques, and let Pinterest raise my expectations of the finish product to wildly unrealistic levels. I defy you to find a person who is more excitable or a better starter than I am.

However … I am a terrible finisher. I inevitably burn myself out. The thing I loved and wanted to do forever, I end up hating and avoiding like the plague.

Long, story short, though we became full-timers in the middle of last July, we have used the last 15 months to slowly finish and fine-tune the interior to the point that now, we are finally ready to show it to you! We hope you like our finished project – we absolutely love it, and feel so lucky to call our Rambler home.

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So there it is! What did you think? What’s your favorite spot that you’ve personalized in your rig or home?

Small Space Storage: Our Camper Bathroom

As promised, here’s the next installment in a series of posts on small space storage: a peek behind the scenes into our camper’s cupboards and crevices at the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Last week I showed you our kitchen storage.)

Ahhhh, the bathroom: that most necessary and unromantic of rooms. Our bathroom is the last room in the camper that still needs some loving, so you won’t see any glamour shots here (yet!). But it has a lot of storage and plenty of room for everything we need.

In our bathroom, here’s what we’re working with: Two upper cabinets over the toilet and counter …

Bathroom Upper Storage - Our Streamlined Life

… and two lower cabinets below the counter.

Bathroom Lower Storage - Our Streamlined Life

Small Space Storage: Toiletries & Medicine

Bathroom Upper Interior 1 - Our Streamlined Life

The flat cupboard over the toilet gets the most daily use. It’s where we keep things like makeup, vitamins, and contact solution. (Our medicine shelf is not usually so full — it’s received a recent influx in potions and poultices since Louisiana decided to go on a temperature roller-coaster that left both of us with nasty upper respiratory infections.)

Small Space Storage: Linens & Back-Up Toiletries

Bathroom Upper Interior 2 - Our Streamlined Life

That corner cabinet is awesome and deep and stores all of our wash cloths and hand towels and back-up supplies. It’s pretty empty right now, but I’ll be restocking it before we hit the road in a couple of weeks — when we’re traveling, I like to stock up on things to minimize random desperate Wal-Mart runs.

Small Space Storage: Cleaning Supplies

Under the bathroom sink I store all our cleaning supplies. But you can’t really see them because they’re lined up in a nice neat row along the back of the cabinet. In the front are our toiletries kits. We’ve been mostly showering inside at my in-laws’ house where we’re parked, so all our shower stuff is packed up to move easily in and out.

Small Space Storage: Bathroom Necessities

Bathroom Lower Interior 2 - Our Streamlined Life

And last of all is this funny little pop-out drawer next to the toilet. I use it for storing trash bags, toilet paper, and the Clorox wipes that I’m trying to break the habit of using but which come in so handy for keeping camper surfaces clean.

That’s a short and sweet look inside our bathroom! What do you think? Any storage or organization solutions you can suggest?