We’re going back in time to share our 2017 car camping adventure through the Southwest! While our trip ended up being shorter than planned, we had some amazing adventures, including several new national parks and getting to be on one of our favorite TV shows! Thanks for reading along!
Building The Hitchenette and outfitting Franklin the Tahoe with a new camping rig took several weeks longer than planned. So instead of hitting the road shortly after New Year’s, it was January 19 before we had Franklin packed and pointed south.
No two people have ever felt so ready to hit the road!
Our trip south would be a slow one. We had plans to zig-zag our way down the East Coast, seeing friends and family along the way. (In fact, we didn’t realize it at the time, but it would be a full month before we even got to try out our new camping gear!)
Our first stop was New Jersey. What was planned as a quick weekend with friends turned into almost a two week stay. Our friends were renovating a condo they planned to turn into a rental property, and we were only too happy to lend a hand.
Next stop, northern Virginia, where we caught up with college friends in our old hometown of Leesburg, and enjoyed late night tacos and wine with more friends outside Washington, DC.
From there it was another quick drive to Jacksonville, North Carolina, where Ryan’s brother is stationed at Camp Lejeune. We had a great time checking out the Marine Corps Base, enjoying a few margaritas, and even getting in a not-too-chilly mid-January walk on the beach.
Our next stop was checking off a new national park (our first new park since the previous October!).
Congaree National Park is quiet in winter; we had the Boardwalk Loop Trail almost all to ourselves! The downside was that there were almost no critters to be seen, and we were too early to enjoy a ranger-guided canoe tour of the park. (That’s definitely going on the future to-do list!)
From Congaree we began slowly heading west, this time for more urban adventures. Our next stop was Charlotte, North Carolina for a wonderful night of food and drink with friends.
We had a truly amazing meal at Stoke (still one of our best meals of 2017), followed by rooftop drinks enjoying the Charlotte skyline at Fahrenheit.
We had one more stop to make before Louisiana … because clearly, Alpharetta, Georgia was a great place to cheer on the Patriots during Super Bowl LI!
Fortunately for us, the Patriots won — and we cheered quietly enough that none of the neighbors stopped by to tar-and-feather us.
After 2.5 weeks on the road (without a single night of camping yet!) we reached Louisiana, where we settled in to spend some time with Ryan’s family. We caught up with the grandparents and cousins … spent some time by the pool … and put in some quality work time before our anticipated upcoming Internet dry spells in Texas. We also had a chance to visit the national wildlife refuge outside New Orleans where Ryan’s great-uncle volunteers!
On Monday, February 20 we pointed Franklin due west. It had been a long slow journey south, and while we cherished the wonderful times we’d been able to spend with friends and family, we were truly itching for the simple life: camping, natural vistas, and the open road. Clearly, Texas was the place for us — and we were eager for our upcoming adventures of beach camping on the coast and an extended stay in our (tied-for-first) favorite national park — Big Bend!
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.
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.
As I designed the build, Rebecca and I developed a list of must-haves to be incorporated:
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!
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!
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!
A constant surprise in our 18 months of full time camper life is just how cyclical it has been. Instead of endless days on the road, a pattern has emerged: six (or so) weeks of intensive travel, twelve (or so) weeks of localized travel. And while our parked weeks have proven immensely valuable in terms of cost-cutting and business-building, another constant is just how itchy we get to hit the road again after being in one place too long.
With that in mind, 2017 is going to be different. We have a full nine months of travel in the forecast, and the big challenge of our year will be learning how to balance travel, life, and work without the “breaks” that extended parking have afforded us up until now.
We have one other big adjustment planned for this year: When we head south later this week, we’ll be leaving our camper behind at my parents’ house. Yup, that’s right — we’ll be hitting the road with only our trusty Chevy Tahoe. We’ll share more on that decision when Ryan writes about the sweet new camping rig he and my brother have been hard at work building. For now I’ll just say that we learned on our last extended trip that dragging a 26′ trailer with you everywhere you go is actually kind of annoying.
So, without further ado — our planned itinerary for 2017!
We’ve kicked off January still at my parents’ home in New Hampshire — the plan is to head south this weekend! While I love winter, it has been freakishly cold here, and I’m just a little excited to stick my toes in the Gulf.
Our journey south will be pretty speedy, and peppered with stops to see family and friends. We played around with revisiting Charleston and Savannah on our way, but nixed that idea in favor of getting to the southwest as quickly possible.
It will probably take us a little over a week to get from New Hampshire to Baton Rouge, with tentative stops planned in New Jersey, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Most of those will be visits to friends and family, but we’re also hoping to stop off at Congaree National Park and Andersonville National Historic Site on the way. We’re also playing around with taking a longer route and visiting Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, which we’ve been trying (and failing) to visit since last January. After catching up with family in Baton Rouge, we’ll head west!
Once we’re all beached out (so, maybe never?) we’re headed north again towards Big Bend National Park. We loved it so much last time that we’re planning on staying a full two weeks (the longest you’re allowed to visit during the popular winter months). We’ll probably do some repeat activities, but this time we’ll also do some primitive camping, hopefully snag a spot in the gorgeous Chisos Basin Campground, visit Boquillas, and get in some river and mountain hikes (after lots of desert hiking last time!). Last time we visited the moon was full and crazy bright, so we didn’t get in any stargazing … this time we’ll try to time our visit a little better. And I know Ryan would love to get in ariver trip as well! (Suddenly, two weeks doesn’t seem like nearly enough time.)
The last time we explored New Mexico we headed west across southern New Mexico, then east through northern New Mexico on our return trip. This time, we’ll be travelling north – south. Planned stops include Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Roswell, Santa Fe, and Los Alamos. (Hopefully we’ll be out of New Mexico before the juniper — which almost destroyed Ryan last winter! — starts blooming.)
We’re taking a bit of a risk heading to Colorado in the winter — but we passed it up last time and I’m determined not to skip it again. We have three awesome national parks on the agenda — Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon Of The Gunnison, and Mesa Verde — and if we’re feeling fancy I’d love to do a little skiing. I’m thinking Colorado would be a great place to try to land some housesitting gigs as well, and I’d also love to visit my brother at Fort Carson.
Fortunately, we have a little love affair going on with Arizona, which should soften the blow of heading south again! Our itinerary is a little up in the air. We’re debating retracing some of our steps from last winter, and hitting up the Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Sedona, and Prescott again … but we’re considering skipping some of the southern portion in favor of spending some time in Vegas.
We’ve allotted ourselves a month to travel through California, but I’m guessing a big chunk of it will be spent in southern California. Our current route is pretty zig-zaggy — we’re going back and forth between the coast and inland wonders like Yosemite! We’ll probably revisit San Francisco and the redwoods, too. Even though I was born in California, I’ve only been there a few times — but in my imagination, at least, California in May is weather perfection!
June should see us in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying early summer in Oregon & Washington. Since we’ve spent some time exploringcoastalOregon, we plan to head inland and check out Crater Lake National Park as well as Bend. Next we’ll take a few weeks and criss-cross Washington state!
Six months later, we finally reach the whole point of this trip: ALASKA. Honestly, it seems totally surreal even typing that! We’ve had a little trouble planning out the route due to current road closures (because, January in Alaska) but we plan to make our way up through Yukon, to Anchorage, and ultimately all the way up to Prudhoe Bay. Naturally, we’re also going to hit up as many epic national parks as we can, including Denali and Glacier Bay. If you’ve been to Alaska, or are planning to go to Alaska, let’s talk — we need All Your Wisdom on things like avoiding the legendarily horrible mosquitoes. And bears. And serial killers.
After 4-6 weeks in Alaska (guys, that place is HUGE) we’ll make our way back to the lower 48 via Canada. After some great travel experiences in Niagara Falls and Quebec City, we’re excited to spend some time in British Columbia and Alberta. But really it’s all just part of my grand scheme to lure Ryan into spending a night or two at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. (Hi, my name is Rebecca and my birthday is in August.) Anyway — Banff National Park is a bucket list stop for both of us, and we’re excited to spend some time exploring our friendly northern neighbor.
In September we’d love to still be pretty far north — but the weather will play a big part in that decision. We’ll be slowly tracing a path home via Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan & Wisconsin — and with lots of gorgeous national parks along the route, I know we’ll be eager to linger as long as temperatures remain friendly. (Last summer when we were in Acadia I had a mild case of traveler’s envy seeing everyone’s end-of-summer travels through northern Michigan in particular — I’m dying to get there!)
October — December //
Fall and winter finally bring unknown territory. Our late summer & early fall plans hinge on mild weather continuing in the northern reaches of Canada and the United States, and I’m guessing we’ll probably be pretty happy to get back to our camper! We’ve tossed around the idea of spending fall in upstate New York and New England, and at this point the holidays are also a question mark. Either way, we’ll have to head back to New Hampshire to reunite with our home on wheels!
By the end of 2017, our hope is to have visited the majority of the continental United States! At that point, we’d love to turn our attention to international travel, because we’ve both been totally itching to get overseas. (Dream destinations include Germany and Iceland for both of us, Scotland and New Zealand for Ryan, and Thailand and Greece for me.) I have the feeling that our 2018 travel plans are going to look totally different, and totally epic! What do your 2017 travel plans look like?
I love posting these recaps of our trips because it’s such a fun way to look back on our adventures and see all the ground we’ve covered. This trip definitely looks different from some of our previous trips — more on that below!
Appalachian Adventure By the Numbers:
Total travel days: 41 (September 6 – October 17)
States visited: 7 (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky)
Nights camping: 41
Nights in hotels or with family: 0 (!)
Campgrounds visited: 12
First of all — this trip was fun. In some ways it was more mellow than other trips we’ve done (no crazy off-roading, lots of KOAs) but in some ways, it was definitely an adventure (all the whitewater and all.the.bourbon). We definitely enjoyed getting to know a part of the country we’ve neglected. And we picked a great time of year to do it — let me tell you, West Virginia, Tennesee, and Kentucky in fall are gorgeous. The trip was also a study in contrasts; we stayed at both the swankiest campground we’ve ever visited (Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA) and the sketchiest (Camp on the Kentucky RV Park). We spent quality time in four states, and traveled through three more.
Every extended trip we take, it seems like we experience something new — and this trip was no different. This was the first extended road trip we’ve taken where we pulled the camper with us, and it was pretty eye-opening. First, we learned that it’s a lot easier to be lazy with a camper than when car camping; this trip definitely saw us doing a lot more TV watching and lounging indoors than we’ve done on previous trips. We also learned that pulling the camper is a little bit stressful, slows you way down, wreaks havoc on your gas mileage, and puts a major damper on spontaneity. Yikes! This trip was a bit of a test run, as we’re planning some pretty extended on-the-road time for 2017, and it was certainly instructive. So we’re taking it as a lesson to figure out how to improve for the future.
Traveling with the camper definitely changed our travel style. In the past we’ve often rolled into off-the-beaten path campgrounds, cooked dinner over the fire, went to bed early, and rolled out with the sunrise. This trip we averaged 3.5 nights per campground — unheard of for us! — and definitely traveled more slowly. We actually spent six nights each at two different campgrounds. Now, I know that for many full-time travelers that’s nothing, but for us, that’s the definition of S-L-O-W travel, which definitely had its pros and cons. (One thing that hasn’t changed: we’re still terrible at making reservations in advance. We actually got turned away from our very first full-to-capacity campground on this trip! I guess after 18 months on the road, it was bound to happen eventually.)
Now, without further ado — here is the official link roundup/recap of our Appalachian Adventure! We loved our time in the mid-Atlantic mountains, and we hope you enjoy reading about it, too.
If you’re interested in reading more of our road trip adventures, check out our 2015 Road Trip recap here (where we travel from the East Coast to the West Coast and back) and our 2016 Road Trip recap here (also known as our Great Southwest Adventure)!