Bryan Appleby reveals his full-time truck camping lifestyle; the good, the bad, and what many of his friends and family thought was, well… crazy. First step, sell the house.
It’s easy to think back to when the seed for this type of lifestyle began. It was in the dreams of an eight year old little boy, dreaming out the window of his Kansas elementary school.
The book I had in front of me is still crystal clear in my senior citizen mind; “Our Nation’s National Parks”. From that point forward I knew my destiny was going to be the outdoors. I just needed to get older, and get on with it.
With my path set early, I completed my education with an emphasis on the outdoors. I continued on to work in three National Parks, followed by a career as a State Policeman. I am now enjoying my retirement and touring this beautiful country.
My early childhood was growing up in a family that did not hunt, camp, or fish. This was a bit of a slow start. But along the way, I gained experience hiking, cross-country bicycling, backpacking, and skiing all over the United States, all on my own.
When I was old enough, I moved to the Rocky Mountains and it was there I began raising a family. My kids were backpacking from the first year they were born, as well as tent camping every summer thereafter.
Above: Camping in the high grasslands of Idaho during a motorcycle tour through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, for ten days in 2010. Every year Bryan takes ten to twelve days to go on a backpack trip, motorcycle tour, or a kayak backpack trip.
With my beginnings as a National Park Ranger, I originally hated RVs. I always wanted to retire, travel, hike, kayak, and backpack. But as I grew older and wiser, I saw the value of not sleeping on the ground, and not to staying in hotels, as I toured the country. My tree hugging friends just cringe knowing how I ended up.
In January of 2004 I attended the Denver RV show, my first. For reasons that escape me now, I thought a 5th wheel was what I needed. After walking around the show and seeing the largesse of these rigs, I was completely turned off. That was until I was walking out and saw four truck campers stuck over in the corner by the exit.
Above: Bryan’s Lance 1191 at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
What caught my attention was a truck camper with a slide-out. “That’s it!” I thought. A truck camper fit what I wanted to do and would allow me to get to the places where I could backpack, paddle, or mountain bike. Now I just needed to get started.
There were many places to go for information on the full-time RVing lifestyle, but very few that understood the type of extreme full-timing I was planning for. I wanted to be in very remote places; not for days or weeks, but months. Now I didn’t want to get all Jack Kerouac or all Edward Abbey Romaticy, but maybe a little.
Above: Camping off-the-grid at Coyote Buttes in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
There are many types and forms of full-time RVing and they all work. The type of full-time RV lifestyle I was looking for included selling my house, putting everything in storage, and then beginning a life of adventure, camping off-the-grid, avoiding campgrounds, and exploring remote locations for years. For now, I have no plan of living in a “stick” home again.
Making the Decision to Full-Time
One of the important questions I hear is, “How can you live in such a small space?”. That is something one needs to really ask themselves. Are you a person who can and will live in a small area? I often hear the typical; “Oh, my life will be outside my camper, so it doesn’t matter!” Well, they are just not full-timers, if not a bit naïve.
Full-time RVing is not a never-ending vacation, as some might be thinking. While it is exciting having the scenery ever-changing, you still have life’s mundane tasks to do, as if you were in a stick house with a normal life.
Another important consideration would be traveling with someone else, be it a spouse or significant other, and/or children. If others will be joining you, their daily space and storage requirements, including clothing and belongings, must be taken into account.
My Time Before Full-Timing (TBFT) showed that I enjoyed being in more confined areas to live, sleep, and work. Transitioning to a small area, such as a truck camper, was not a challenge. It still isn’t.
The repeated chores and realities of home ownership (including mowing the grass, working, water and power bills, mortgage and property taxes, etc.) kept me from doing the things I really enjoyed. Not having those responsibilities is a relief.
In the summer of 2008, I retired and sold my 3,800 square foot house. I then either sold or gave away much of my material possessions, as well as storing a few items. I temporarily moved into a 500 square foot studio apartment. I knew it was going to take some time to put a project, like mine, together. I had no idea how long it would eventually take.
Leaving Family and Friends Behind
My dad once told me that raising kids to be independent is a two-edged sword. You desire them to be independent, make good decisions, and live their lives the way they choose. However, in doing so, you find you’re not needed as much as you once were.
I appreciated that lesson as I moved out of state, married and raised my own two children the same independent way. It was important to expose them to many things during their childhood. As my children grew and eventually began their own families, I found there was less time for them to spend with me.
Above: Kent Appleby in Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Colorado River, Utah
Leaving my family and starting my travels was difficult, but now I can stop by to visit and stay longer, and easier, than if I had been working and took a vacation to visit. The biggest plus is that both of my kids find different locations to meet me. We have met at Yellowstone, Tallgrass Prairie, Canyonlands, Mount Rainier, and White Sands National Monument.
Above: Visiting historical sites with his granddaughter, Annabel Appleby who is holding Harley White
When we do meet, we get each other’s full attention without home life’s distractions, like texting and social networking. Maybe I have something to do with picking places where these modern conveniences are not as easily available? As for my grandkids, they are now joining me on short trips, traveling with Grandpa.
Above: Bryan at the zoo with his granddaughter, Annabel Appleby
Missing friends? Hardly. It has been great traveling around the country, meeting up with my friends to go skiing, backpacking, and hiking. I have even met up with friends at the car auctions in Scottsdale, caught a show in Las Vegas, and attended the California Poppy Festival in Lancaster, California, with friends arriving from Los Angeles. Being away from family and friends can be difficult, but planning and meeting them can sure make the absence less overwhelming. Solutions, not obstacles.
Above: Bryan’s Scottish Terrior, Keiss, keeping cool in the camper. Keiss is named after a town in Scotland. It is an Appleby family tradition to name Scotties after towns in Scotland.
Receiving Mail, Vehicle Registration, Voting, Insurance, and Packages
There are many locations available on the internet which provide more information on these topics than I possibly can here.
Above: Bryan loves care packages that are delivered via General Delivery. Here’s a box of cookies from his sister.
Some full-time RVers ask a friend or family member to collect their mail and forward it to them. The United States Post Office has the most available distributed locations around the country. You are able to receive packages and mail at many of these locations with a few exceptions. This is done by sending these mailings by General Delivery.
It is important to determine which post offices accept general delivery beforehand. I won’t go into a lot of detail but, in large towns where there is more than one post office, general delivery is delivered to the main post office. To avoid this confusion, I just use small town post offices.
United Parcel Service (UPS) has many Will Call offices throughout the country which are easy to use. I had most of my solar panel components delivered to various UPS locations, as needed. UPS locations are not as numerous as the US Post Office and have service center hours different at varying locations. Be sure to check operating hours, before driving to a UPS location.
Federal Express (FedEx) requires an actual address for initial delivery. After that, sent items are held in the nearest FedEx location. When I need to use FedEx, I usually find someone who will accept a delivery for me. Sometimes it’s a business, like a pool and supply store in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Isn’t America wonderful?
I use a mail forwarding service in South Dakota. They email me when I receive mail there and, as it accumulates, I can determine when I would like my mail forwarded to me, and where. They also handle my vehicle registration.
This is where determining what type of full-time RVer you are matters. As I am a full-time RVer, without a stick home or property, I am able to register my vehicle where I choose with certain conditions met.
Maintaining property and registering your vehicle in another state, other than where you own property, can create issues. What can dictate this is the amount of time one actually has their RV in that state, or not. Before making a decision, one should become familiar with the rules governing vehicle registration in their state.
Voting, driver’s licenses, and motor vehicle insurance can all be done in this way too.
With health insurance, it is important to have a health plan that is not geographically specific and will serve you, as needed, as you travel. Just be aware how your health care actually works. Some health care policies are not workable outside of your prescribed area. I have had two hospitalizations during my full-time experience and each time my health care provider reacted differently. This portion of your full-time decision needs to be seriously vetted.
Online banking, ATMs, check cashing and bill paying
So many things have improved in recent years. The ability to have direct deposits, transfer funds from one account to another, as well as taking a picture of a check and immediately depositing it a thousand miles from your hometown bank, is just marvelous.
Having a bank that provides online banking can be a great assist. Having a bank that is available in many states is also a big assist. All my bill paying is done online, what little I have. One thing about full-time RVing is that you eliminate so many of those monthly bills. For me, I have my credit card, insurance (vehicles, property, and life), cell and Internet provider, and satellite television provider. This in itself simplifies life, thus a great relief by being a full-timer.
It is easy to keep track of accounts and investments, even while touring remote locations, due to the increasing availability of the internet. Many of the places I visited four years ago that did not have cell phone and internet coverage, now do.
Many folks use cash or have a bit on hand, which is helpful for tipping and laundromats. In some ways I am the dinosaur my kids claim I am, as I have never had an ATM card. With the increased fees and difficulty in finding available machines, especially in remote locations, I am still able to acquire cash. I do this by writing a personal check at many locations or at a bank. Having a nationwide bank, like Wells Fargo, is a big help.
Places like Lowes, Home Depot, Costco, Kroger Stores, Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons, and many more will accept a personal check. Some of them will provide cash back when writing more than the amount purchased. What a country! No fees, looking around for an ATM machine, or worrying about one’s person safety while using one.
Take It Slow
Above: Bryan takes it slow at the Lower Meadows of the Firehole River Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A full-time RVer is going to have periods of changing weather, including cold, rain, and snow, that will keep them indoors. Cooking, sleeping, reading, paying bills, working on the computer, watching TV or just hanging out also keep a full-timer RVer inside their camper. Every day will not be like being on a two week vacation, maximizing every minute for fun, adventure, or relaxation.
Above: Byran taking pictures of desert wildflowers in Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Above: Samples of Bryan’s wildflower photography. Click to enlarge.
I have a passion for wildflowers, always have. Traveling in my truck camper I am often in an area that I can pursue that passion. You can take it a lot slower and enjoy the flowers along the way. One of the things full-time RVers realize is that they don’t have to leave someplace when they find something interesting. They can now take additional days to explore.
Above: An abandonded farm on the high prairie of western Kansas
Other than my kids, one of my longest passions is photography. Being able to travel, I am able to pursue this passion much more often and in many different locations and themes.
Above: A hot air balloon soaring over Nevada
If you are a planner and feel comfortable running on a schedule, then go ahead. Me? I prefer to live a more spontaneous life. I had a hot air balloon company set up for a flight, right next to me, in a meadow where I was camping. I walked over and started talking to him and helping him and his chase person. He then told me their day’s client canceled so, if I wanted to go, I could go in their place as they had already paid.
Above: Photographing White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Do I want to go? Heck Yeah! It pays to have a lifestyle that can be interrupted for the unexpected.
Read more about Bryan as he takes us through the design and build of his ultimate full-time truck camping rig, tells more tales of extreme boondocking, and warns us of the dreaded TP factor. Click here to read, “Extreme Boondocking and the TP Factor“.
Are you living on the road full-time? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your story.