Laurel’s recipe:  Purge everything.  Put house up for rent.  Buy a truck and camper.  Live your truck camping dreams one delicious dish at a time. … … … … … … … … … …
There aren’t many among us who haven’t lamented, at one time or another, the rules that our society plays by. You know, the rules that tell you to go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, work until retirement age, and then try to live it up as long as possible. There are many generations of wisdom in this proven formula, and it certainly can be an excellent way to plan and live a lifetime, but what if it’s not for you? Should you just keep on keeping on, or should you chart your own course?
Laurel DeLong wrestled with this very question. Laurel was in her mid-40s, with no kids, and the recession had dried up her husband’s work, log home construction. At the same time, Laurel had the tasted freedom of the road and hungered for more. Should she keep her steady nine to five and suppress her appetite for adventure? Or should she pass on the routine buffet and and order up a feast of fun?
Laurel and her husband chose the recipe of the road, with a truck camper, to go. Ever since then, they’ve been, “Eating Up the Road”.
TCM: Where did you get the idea to live out of a truck camper for a year?
Laurel: We had taken a few camping trips in Jake’s dad’s camper. It was my birthday, and a four day weekend. Driving home, we were talking about how we could do this full-time. We wanted to be vagabonds on the road. We loved the lifestyle.
We mulled over it for months and months. In my spare time, I did some research and read about people who had done things like this. Sitting in our hot tub having a glass of wine one evening, I broached the idea with Jake of hitting the road and traveling full-time for a year. While we traveled, we could rent our house out.
Jake was a little overwhelmed by the idea at first. Finally, both of us came to the middle and we said, “Let’s do this!”. We’re in our mid-40s and have at least an additional twenty years to remember these times.
A lot of friends looked at us and said, “What? You’re doing that? In a camper?” I can be safe and secure and do what I’m supported to do or, I can step outside the boundaries, and live more. I had a safe job for five years and I wanted to be challenged.
My end product for this camping adventure is to produce something to teach other people how to do it. I want to inspire people to get out there and live a little.
TCM: How do you have the means to pay for all of this without jobs?
Laurel: The income from our house rental pays for the house and expenses. We are also using our savings. People ask about retirement, but we respond with, “We have our limbs and joints now”. It’s a trade off, and, in twenty years, we’ll find out how that will do for us. We’re optimistic.
One of the responses to how we can afford this is to not have credit card debt. We don’t have any debt. I worked in credit counseling. A lot of people can’t grab life by the horns because they are enslaved to it. Some people can’t help to have debt because of health issues or other problems, but my advice is to not to accrue debt.
TCM: How did you get ready for the trip?
Laurel: First, we downsized. I had duplicates and triplicates of things in my house and we had a huge food pantry. If there was blizzard, were we going to have food. Before we started on this trip, I couldn’t use the food fast enough. I gave so much away.
It’s cathartic to clean and purge the things that get in the way. We got rid of so much stuff. We left some furniture for renters to use and everything we have now fits into a one car garage. While we’re on the road, we don’t buy anything from tourist shops, so we are free from consumerism. We live in nine foot long camper. We don’t have room.
I’m also not buying from Costco on the road. I don’t need twenty-five pounds of flour. Instead of buying the eighteen pack of eggs, we are buying the six pack because we don’t have the room.
ABOVE: Some of Laurel and Jake’s camping spots during their year long truck camping adventure
TCM: How did you, “leave your normal life behind” like it says in your online bio?
Laurel: We decided our departure date was going to be August 1st, 2010. We live near a naval base and there are new ships coming to town. In August, moms are looking for places for their kids to stay while they’re in the Navy. I let my work know I was leaving three months in advance so they could do the necessary restructuring.
Jake builds high-end log homes. With the recession, he wasn’t working. He was actually finishing our house at the time. He started it in 2002. When you’re married to guy in construction, your house is never done.
Preparing for the trip, my big thing was that everyday we needed to make progress. I would take a truck or car load of stuff to work and put it in the break room. It was a free for all. Why did we not have a garage sale? We live at the end of 1.5 mile road, and I was constantly purging during that time.
I quit work a month before we were leaving so that I could help full-time to pull this trip together. In March and April of last year, we went to RV shows and started seriously looking at campers.
We then went on our maiden voyage. When we unloaded the camper, Jake’s dad made a list of the things we took out so I knew what to put back in. The challenge was to not take too much. We make a conscious decision to not get overwhelmed.
We switched to online banking and got a cell phone. I set up a blog. I learned how to use the new camera. It was one step at a time. It’s like building a house. It’s all about the stages and you move ahead to the end result. That’s how I live my life.
TCM: How did you budget for the trip?
Laurel: I actually didn’t make a budget. We have a lump sum in savings and we know we have to keep to that. It’s not a perfect science and other people would do it differently. My philosophy is, ‘As long as you get to where you want to be, it’s okay’.
TCM: What were some of your challenges leading up to your trip?
Laurel: Overcoming some people’s negative reactions without getting defensive. I knew these people cared about us and were worried about our future. Eventually everyone came around.
Another challenge was figuring out what to do with our dog. We have a sixty-eight pound Pit Bull Boxer. She’s a great camper, but too big for our small slide-in camper. A lot of areas are not dog friendly. For example, National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails. It wouldn’t be fair for her to be cooped up and kenneled for the whole trip. We even tried to find a good home for her. Finally, we discovered that the people renting our house had Burmese Mountain dogs. We proposed that they could watch our dog in return for free firewood and the pet deposit. They said, “Sure, no problem”.
Our best friend is the property manager of our home. It’s a log home on five acres. We put our house on the rental market two months ahead of time. What if it didn’t rent? Well, it rented in two days. I also had to sell my truck. I had 120,000 miles on my truck, and I sold within two days. Two checks off the list.
ABOVE: The annual Albuquerque International Balloon fiesta in New Mexico
TCM: A lot of people wonder what it’s like to travel full-time in a truck camper. What has your experience been like?
Laurel: Our house is 2,500 square feet with a two car garage, carport, and five acres. We are used to a lot of space. Our friends asked us the same question. Our camper may be small, but our backyard is huge. We are always outside sightseeing and exploring. During the rain and cold, it’s cozy in the camper because we are protected from the elements. I’ll cook soup and make it more homey. I don’t feel confined.
We are very patient with each other. People have asked us, “How do you get along?” We love each other and love spending time with each other. We enjoy each other’s company and we respect and understand each other. If you plan to camp full-time in a truck camper, you have to be comfortable with each other.
TCM: Where did, “Eating Up the Road” come from?
Laurel: “Eating Up The Road” came about because I needed to have a focus while we traveled. When I was coming up with the project to present to Jake, I was thinking, “What do I want to do with my life when I grow up?” I love travel, food, eating, cooking, and stories. How can I combine these things? Jake and I started talking about it.
Essentially, I go around and collect recipes while we were traveling. The project had to have a title. It came down to “A Fork In the Road” or “Eating Up the Road”, both of which are double-entendres.
ABOVE: The Florida Keys and Jake and Laurel in the Everglades
TCM: Has the, “Eating Up the Road” project worked out the way you originally envisioned it?
Laurel: Yes and no. One of the things I’ve discovered along the way is that it’s harder to get stories than I thought it would be. People haven’t thought about the role food plays in their lives. But, it’s easy to get recipes. I ask people, “How do you make things?” and, “What’s the best thing or most fun thing you make?” Food is a very safe topic and people will go on about the best thing they make.
Food is also an easy way to meet someone. In a campground, we’ll go around and talk to people. We’ll give them our, “Eating Up the Road” business cards. People are excited to be part of our project.
Sometimes people will see our sign on the side of our truck. We’ve had some amazing experiences where people say, “You have to try this, or you have to try that”. People in Texas gave us boudin sausage. I didn’t know what it was.
It’s been a fun project. It didn’t turn out how I thought it would, but it is what it is. This is what it’s turning out to be.
TCM: Why get recipes and record memories about food?
Laurel: I read a book called, “Live Your Road Trip Dream” about spending a year on the road. The authors have a second edition and conduct speaking tours. I looked at it and said, “I can do something like that”. In my book, I want to instill in people that you can do this on a tight budget.
I actually want to write two books. First, an inspiring, “how to get out there and live” book. I want to instill in people that you can do this on a tight budget. I also want to convey that this is so much more than traveling around. It goes much deeper than that. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and you can have the richest experience.
For a second book, I want to write an atypical cookbook with stories along the way and the random recipes people have given me. When I get home, I will make the recipes myself to know they can be made. I think it would be a hoot. Besides, I talked to my whole family and they said they would buy one copy.
TCM: What do you do day to day to get these recipes?
Laurel: We have several methods to collecting recipes. I meet random people in campgrounds and ask what they’re making for dinner. In a gas station, people see us and see our sign on the truck that says Day 309, and they say, “Day 309 of what?” Then I tell them about what we’re doing and they tell me about their recipes.
One funny way that I got a recipe is when I found $6 on the floor near a pit toilet. There was only one other group of people at this particular campground, so I went over to them and said, “I have very strange question to ask you. Did any of you use the pit toilet? I found some money in there”. The guy reached in pocket and realized he lost some money. I said, “I’ll give it back to you, if you give me a recipe”.
We’ve been on the road 309 days as of today and I probably have fifty to seventy-five recipes, maybe more. On the website, I have it labeled beginning, middle, and end, for appetizers, entrees, and desserts.
TCM: What have some of your favorite dishes been do far?
Laurel: One of my favorites is Armadillo Eggs. It’s jalapeno pepper, cheese, Jimmy Dean sausage, and Bisquick. Bake it in oven and it’s divine.
One of our favorite restaurants was in Savannah; Misses Wilkes. It’s a family style restaurant in an old boarding house. You go down and sit at a table with eight other people and eat good southern food. At the end of the meal, you bus your own plates.
In New Orleans, we tried cajon and creole food. When we were in Florida, we took a cruise to Jamaica. While we were there, I wanted to try curry goat and we went way off the beaten path to get it. It’s not my favorite, but I can say I’ve tried it.
TCM: From your blog, it looks like your trip began in August of 2010. Does that mean that your year is nearly up or was that a “loose” year?
Laurel: The people renting our house purchased a new house, and, since they have our dog, we have to be back. Our trip will be 365 days, exactly one year, because that’s when their lease is up. We actually left as they were moving their stuff in last August. We were filling water tanks and getting ready to go and they had U-hauls arriving with their belongings.
TCM: What’s been your favorite part of your trip so far?
Laurel: The best thing about this trip has been the people we’ve met. It’s been amazing. When you watch the news, it’s 99% doom and gloom, but the people you meet on the road are just wonderful. People often ask, “What’s the best thing you’ve seen or experienced?” and we always answer, “The people we’ve met”.
We have visited my friends from grad school which gives us a free place to stay. We always try to give something back when we visit. Jake helps people out around their houses, mowing lawns, moving dirt, or whatever they need. We also like to take ingredients they have and make a meal for them. Something as simple as picking up the trash at a campground builds our karma banks.
TCM: Are you planning on going back to regular life?
Laurel: That’s the million dollar question. We scratch our heads and ask ourselves, “What’s the next chapter for us?” We are actively looking into care taking positions. Care taking would be an excellent way to see other parts of the country.
I’m not going back to my old job. I don’t believe in going backwards. Ultimately, there will be the next trip. It may not be a year long trip like this one, but we may get rid of everything and hit the road.
We have started trusting ourselves, and the universe. We want to be able to get up and go. That’s the next challenge. What I do know is that our next trip will be up north and down the East Coast.
ABOVE: Spending the day in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
TCM: Is there anything else that you would like to add to your interview that I haven’t asked you about?
Laurel: If there’s even a seed or kernel in you that wants to try this lifestyle, then you need to try it. You will become comfortable with not being in control all the time.
TCM: That is so true. You relax and the trip takes you. In a way, you begin to trust the experience. I remember that so well from our first six-month cross country trip in a truck camper. Thank you for sharing your story with us Laurel.
Laurel: You’re welcome.