12 Valuable Lessons from Living on the Road

Our first six months of living on the road was a shakedown expedition. When we converted a 2004 Chevy truck into our tiny living quarters, we knew the basics needed to live comfortably in the wilderness. The list included a sizable cozy bed, water tanks with filtration, a refrigerator, and a solar panel for power. Everything else was speculation about the adventures that lay ahead. We have since learned that most of the stuff packed into every bit of available space was extraneous. After 3000 miles through the wilderness and backcountry roads of 8 states, we learned 12 valuable lessons for living an enjoyable life on the road. 

1. Bring more water than you think you will need.

Our truck holds 18 gallons of water with an Epic Pure Water filtration system. We can last 8-10 days if we only use the water for drinking. Once you factor in cooking, washing dishes, showering, tooth brushing, hand rinsing, and the plethora of other things that require water, then 5-6 days is the limit. If there is a river or stream nearby to wash clothes, dishes, and bathe, then 18 gallons goes much further like 7-8 days. The best situation is a nearby river and a restroom area for brushing teeth, rinsing hands, showering, and other needs. We can last 9-10 days on 18 gallons. We have learned that water is not readily available in many rural areas of America. Do yourself a favor and bring more than you think.

12 Valuable Lessons for Life on the Road

2. Always take the opportunity to fill up on gas or water.

When living in and around urban areas, it is hard to imagine that everything is not readily available everywhere. 

We have wandered the back roads and wilderness areas across the United States, and the modern world conveniences quickly fade from view on a long dirt road into the unknown. When Cody & I find an extraordinary landscape, there are two questions: Do we have enough gas to get there and back? & Do we have enough water for the time needed to camp & hike? Oh, the frustration to be roaming free in the backcountry and be limited by gas & water. Take the time to top off your tanks or refill your RotopaX on a backcountry road even if the price is high. You might end up in Wyoming after driving several National Forest roads across the Rocky Mountains, not knowing you crossed into a new state until the road signs changed shape. Cheers to following the path to its end, my friends. 🍻

12 Valuable Lessons for life on the Road

3. Do Not rely only on GPS or Camping & Overlanding Apps that rely on GPS

Once you leave the modern world and head into the mountains, deserts, and plains of America, your location applications will fail. We rediscovered the comforting benefits of having Topographic Recreational paper maps. Never again are we unsure of our location when the GPS signal disappears. Best of all, there is a Topo/Recreational map for every state that includes the same campgrounds that are on DYRT & Campendium. Also, the Topo/Rec maps contain National Forests, Parks, points of interest, rest areas, rivers, mountain peaks with elevations, and so many additional items beyond the limited Apps you view on your phone. If you really want to explore and not just follow the beaten path of the trendy Van lifers or retired RV set, then Topo/Recreational Paper Maps will expand your horizons. Click here to find a map for your next adventure. And, Yes you can read a paper map.

12 Valuable Lessons from life on the road

4. Speak with Park Rangers to find the best & uncrowded camp spots, hikes, and views

Our most liked Instagram post was the above photograph. This is a camping spot recommended by a ranger at Natural Bridges National Monument. Due to COVID 19, camping inside the park was closed. We asked the rangers about the best nearby camping. They recommended the most incredible off-road camp spot overlooking the surrounding canyon and desert landscape. That evening in the misty, full moonlight, we danced in solitude as shooting stars soared across the heavens. Park rangers are experts in the landscape. Take the time to talk with a Ranger to find the hidden gems that are off the beaten path.

5. Use your red light when camping or hiking at night

Voices carry in the wilderness, and so do your LED headlamps, flashlights, and lanterns. When camping or hiking in the backcountry, be mindful that others may be nearby in the surrounding wilderness. More than loud voices, a beam of LED light can be blinding to nocturnal wildlife and disturb other campers while sleeping. Most headlamps and flashlights have a red night vision option. If you summit a mountain and must hike in the early morning hours before dawn, be aware that your bright light may help you to discern the trail, but prevents others from seeing in the dark. Change to the red light, and everyone can see without losing their night vision. Click here for the best outdoor USB rechargeable headlamp (no batteries needed) and it has an easy red night vision option with a pivoting angle to direct the light down. Anything USB rechargeable makes life on the road easier.

6. Clean up and Keep Clean.

Bears, chipmunks, birds, and insects will find your food if not properly stored. Chipmunks are super adorable, right? Nope, they are sneaky and will infiltrate your vehicle through the tiniest holes to obtain a nutty snack. Meanwhile, bears might rip off your car door to get at that bag of blueberry granola. Or, worst of the worst, Ants will ruin your picnic by infesting your food stores. 

Living in the tiny space of a van, truck, camper, or RV requires organization and a devout cleaning habit. Here are 3 products we highly recommend for organization and to keep critters out of your food stash for your safety and theirs. A set of 3 smell and leak proof Dry Bags for trash and recyclables, Stainless Steel leak & smell proof containers, and a Kevlar Critter Bag to keep your nuts from getting nibbled. These 3 products will provide you with an added peace of mind when you are living in the wilderness. Stay Safe, Be Organized & Keep Clean. Wildlife safety depends upon it.

12 valuable Lessons for life on the road

7. Pick up Trash &  Leave No Trace

Not all trash in the wilderness is because people are lazy or don’t care. While living outdoors, we have learned that the wind will suddenly gust, or a storm appears from out of nowhere, blowing your campsite down like the Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. Heck, I’ve been overtaken by a dust devil while hiking in a desert canyon. Expect items from your campsite will be blown into the wild without your knowledge. A good habit is to pick up any trash along the trails and near your campsite. If we all take ownership of cleaning the wilderness, we can keep it wild and leave no trace.

8. Have a Secure Storage Compartment outside your living space. 

There are many reasons to have a secure storage compartment outside of your camper or van, but the most important reason is for toxic chemicals that may seep from gas or propane canisters. We have had several of the green propane canisters leak after use. Cody built a low profile black wooden box on top of the truck cab (see photo below), so we can safely store propane along with our dry sacks of trash & recyclables. The box is weatherproof and locks to prevent critters and thieves from helping themselves to our stuff. Best of all, if your shoes or boots get muddy, there is a temporary spot to store them until cleaning time. Although we built our box to custom fit our truck, there are many manufactured hardshell cargo carriers available. Click here to view options. Also, Amazon has a vehicle search bar to best match a cargo carrier to your make & model. (We have an affiliate relationship with Amazon and receive commissions from purchases made.)

12 Valuable Lessons for Life on the Road

9. Always carry a shovel, so you can bury your poo.

It’s a fact of life we all have to go number 2. In the wilderness, toilets are not available. The backcountry toilet, whether hiking or camping, is a hole in the ground. Unpleasantly, we stumbled across human feces a few times at the National Parks this summer. As more travelers are taking to the great outdoors, the more we must educate people about the Leave No Trace policy. According to LNT.org, 9 out of 10 people in the outdoors are uninformed about their impacts. Human feces can pollute water sources that wildlife depends upon for survival. Bury your waste at least 6-8 inches in the ground. A Collapsable Survival Shovel is easy to carry and fits in small spaces like a backpack or under the seat. We have found that a shovel is our most used tool for our life on the road.

Quick Overland Lifestyle Tip: Dig your hole the night before so you can rise and shine with ease.

10. Have a pair of slip on Shoes or Boots, not sandals, for nighttime nature calls.

The most miserable night’s sleep is waiting for the ambient light of dawn, to finally go the restroom. Frankly, I enjoy a late-night pee to catch a glimpse of the stars but watch out for rocks and other debris. Nothing lays you up more than a clobbered toe or foot. Simple accidents will ruin a planned day of activities. Equally concerning are snakes hunting at night during the heat of summer. A pair of cowboy boots are my nighttime slippers at any time of year. Protect your feet with an easy slip-on shoe or boot for those late-night sleepy walks to the nearest tree. View REI’s collection of slip-on boots by .

12 Valuable Lessons for Life on the Road

11. Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Fire Prevention seems so simple, but surprisingly, many of the wilderness areas we visited did not have fire restrictions even when the landscape was dry and crispy. In several deserts and grassy plains, Cody and I purposely chose not to have a fire. We left Colorado due to the smoke-filled skies from 3 mountain fires to find that eastern Utah was affected by the same smoke. Utah’s landscape is hot and dry with drought conditions, yet there were no fire restrictions in some places. Weekend campers were still having fires in the 100-degree heat while winds whipped through the stone canyons causing sparks to fly. If you intend to have a fire for anything more than mere survival, make sure to pay attention to the wind and the conditions of the surrounding landscape. The livelihood of the animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and trees depend upon your informed decisions.

12 Lessons for Life on the Road

12. Send your loved ones Postcards

Everyone loves getting mail, especially postcards from your travels. It is the perfect way to let someone know of their importance. Recently, my mom pulled out a box of all the postcards I’ve sent her over the years. It was a magical experience looking back at all the places I’ve visited. In the age of email and social media, a cheesy travel postcard is a compassionate act in a socially distant world. Take the time to let your family and friends know that you really do wish they were there. 

If you haven’t received a postcard yet, email your address to sunshine@thebotanicaljourney.com and we’ll send some love your way.     

We have affiliate relationships with many of the products we recommend and earn a commission from purchases. Thank you for your support.


Jennifer Trandell

Hi Jamie, hope you and the family are doing well.
Yessss, do not forget where the hole is! I have had to wander a bit a few times.

Jamie Andrews

Great advice and reading.
Dont forget where the hole is!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published