1000 days ago, these keys landed in my hands and I was suddenly the owner of an Alto trailer. For better or for worse, Breeze joined the traveling show, securely hitched to the back of Bella. Sitting nervously in the driver’s seat, I drove the longest mile of my life, down to the KOA, where I breathed a sigh of relief when I turned off the engine in my pull-through spot. I had arrived at my first camping spot.
Since then, the traveling trio been through a lot as far as stuff goes:
- 3 sets of new Subaru tires
- 2 sets of new trailer tires
- 2 broken windshields
- 1 tire blowout
- 1 hand blowout
I’ve made a lot of changes in my outside gear:
- From sand to dirt to rocks, keeping the ground outside the Alto from getting in can be a challenge. I tried big folding patio cloths from Walmart and Camping World, smaller roll-up plastic rugs from Amazon, and finally fell in total like with the mesh ground cover sold by Safari Condo. It folds up easily, one person can shake it clean, and it looks nice while letting sand and dirt fall through. (You can see it in the third photo below.)
- The lightweight nylon Pahaque awning provides more privacy but it was wicked hard for a single person to put up. I switched to the new/old Safari Condo awning. Three poles, five guy lines and its up in 5 minutes, down in 3. Way easier for me.
- On the other side of the Alto, I added a keder rail last summer. (OK, the service department at Safari Condo did the work here). This month, I worked with a sailmaker to create an aluminet shade that slides on easily and protects the 12v fridge from heat when that side of the Alto is in the sun.
- Like the princess and the pea, I was in search of the perfect chair. I went through four different ones, finally settling on the ridiculously pricy Nemo Stargazer chair. It rocks. Literally, it rocks. And I love that. Nothing makes me happier than rocking gently while reading or writing outside.
- Keeping the Alto safe and secure has always been a concern, since everything I own is either in it or the Subaru. I started out with Brahma wheel lock but I actually didn’t use it that much since I move around all the time. I now stick with the Proven Industries hitch lock. In a pinch, I can engage the CM wheels as a backup. I live in my Alto, so I don’t leave it at storage units for weeks or months; if I did, the Brahma would be part of my protection strategy.
- I dumped the inflatable kayak for an Oru folding kayak that feels better to me. This is an intensely personal choice; I owned a really nice hardshell kayak and still miss that power and speed. Both fit in the back seat of my Subaru, so it was a wash as far as storage space goes.
- Winding up the water hose has been a chore; it’s heavy and as anyone who has ever tried to store one knows, it has a mind of its own when trying to make it fit into a small space. I switched to a fabric-based hose that takes up half the space and is way easier to stow.
I’m a minimalist at heart, so I’m always curating what I have and seeing if I really need what I have.
- After two years of trying, I finally had to admit my wonky knee isn’t ever going to be happy with me on a bike, so I sold the folding bike and bike rack.
- I’m still lugging around the telescope, though, because I have hopes of using it more when I get back to the big skies of the west.
- I went from plastic to paper to Corelle plates. I really like proper plates at meal time, as it turns out.
- Out went the mismatched pans. I invested in a two good frying pans and 1-quart and 2.5-quart pots. You get what you pay for with pots and pans. Along with the Omnia oven and a small wok, that’s the sum total of my cooking equipment.
In my third winter, I finally figured out bedding that works for me.
- A Two-inch latex topper makes the bed a bit softer and also insulates from the cold coming up through the floor.
- I have two Rumpl blankets, one heavier for cold weather and one lighter for Spring and Fall.
The topper rolls up into a nice couch back and the rest of the bedding stuffs easily into the back storage space under the window. I like to make the bed up into a seating area, especially in winter when it can be way to0 cold for this California native to sit outside.
I don’t like clutter so I’m rather obsessive about everything having a place to go. I’m still a sucker for sterilite with teal accents, little boxes, and plastic bags. My latest discovery was that my little 12v vacuum works with those “as seen on TV” plastic storage bags that you suck all the air out of and so can store stuff in less space. My out of season clothes and bedding all got the vacuum/shrink-wrap treatment last month.
What do I carry that I don’t use much?
- A battery charger. I didn’t use it for a year, then I’ve loaned it to two different people in the last two months. So it’s useful, if only as a good neighbor policy 🙂
- An extra dump hose. When you need it, you need it. Two times, my dump hose has made a break for it en-route and I’ve arrived at my new spot only to find the dump hose container wide open and empty. A backup hose is a good thing when the nearest store is 25 miles away.
What’s the oddest stuff I carry around?
- A 23-inch monitor. It’s great for editing photos or watching a movie. It fits in the underbed storage quite nicely. And with a portable inverter, I can use it and the Mac when I’m on battery power, if needed.
- A toaster. Because nothing says breakfast like real toast. Nothing.
- My granddad’s pipe wrench. Good karma and also good protection.
Things I don’t have and I don’t miss:
- Microwave oven. Never really used it in the sticks-and-bricks house either.
- Inverter. I have a portable one, but mostly I’ve been on electric hookups. And when I’m not, I have 12v chargers for laptops, hotspots, and phone so I don’t need the 110 outlets 24/7
- TV/cable. I have the monitor and a laptop as well as subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and CBS All Access so I can find most movies online. I just tend not to be a video person (which might also explain why I blog and don’t youtube my adventures…)
I’ll finish up by highlighting what I would do differently if I was just starting out.
- I’d buy a lot less before I picked up the Alto. More than half of the stuff I bought before pickup I don’t own anymore, mostly because those items didn’t actually fit my camping style as it evolved. I’d start with minimal stuff and fill in as needed for each season of camping. I’d have saved a lot of money and probably still ended up with most of the stuff I have now.
- I’d scour RV groups and videos to see what gear people have and why it works for them. And I would know to skip grill discussions because I’m not a big griller (much to one nephew’s chagrin, I mostly use my grill for making pizzas).
- I’d worry a lot less.
Honestly, while there was a lot to learn — never having towed a thing or spent a night in an RV or trailer — it wasn’t all that hard to figure out. Every day was something new, but it wasn’t all new at once after the initial “Let’s get this thing hitched up” part. What I didn’t know, I learned. What I didn’t have, I either bought or improvised. I figured out how wide my rig is and how tight a turn I can make. I overcame the irrational fear of hitting a gas pump with the trailer. I got good at making and changing campsite reservations. It’s all pretty much worked out OK.
Am I still happy I bought the Alto and started traveling full-time? You betcha!
If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.