Meet Claire & Brandon: 2 years traveling with 2 cats & 2 dogs in 200 sq ft

Some of our most treasured friendships are with fellow nomads that we’ve met while living on the road. Bonds tend to form quickly when you camp beside each other and hang out together for days, if not weeks, on end. Through this opportunity we get to move past the small talk and discover more about one another’s values, interests, and curiosities, and why we’ve come to live an unconventional lifestyle.

One of our most beloved friendships is with Claire & Brandon, one of the kindest, most down-to-earth couples you could ever meet. For the last two years they’ve been traversing the country (in a 25′ travel trailer) with their 2 cats and 2 dogs in tow. We spent much of last winter meeting up at various spots around the Arizona desert, hiking together, sharing many home-cooked meals, and diving deep on a wide variety of topics. In that time I saw two people who thrive off of living in a tiny space with limited resources. Being around them inspires me to read more books, be a better listener, and be more present. Their love of this lifestyle and the natural world is contagious.

The funny thing is, we didn’t meet on the road. We actually met in Idaho while both living far more domestic, suburban lives. Mark & I had just come off the road (from a year living in our Casita) when Claire & I met at a yoga class. And it was through hearing about our travels that Claire & Brandon were inspired to sell nearly everything they owned and hit the road.

Their time as nomads is now winding down as their desire for roots deepens. Before they do so however, I wanted to take an opportunity to interview them and share with you just how fulfilling this life can be. If you’re dreaming of full-time RVing, their words will likely fuel your fire. If you already live on the road, their words will likely remind you why you love it.

Enjoy!

WHAT PROMPTED YOUR DECISION TO LIVE ON THE ROAD?

Brandon: Several factors led to our decision to live on the road: unhappiness with work life, interest in tiny living, spending more time in nature. However, the main inspiration came from friends who shared their adventures, and opened up the doors to possibilities unexplored.

Claire: Well really, my sweet friend Michele was a big part of our decision to leave the suburbs behind to live on the road. When her and I shared friendly “Hellos” at our yoga studio in Idaho, Brandon and I were struggling with the life we had built for ourselves. We had spent the last seven years acquiring well-paying jobs, buying a perfect starter-family home and we were talking about starting a family. The only problem was I could see light leaving Brandon’s eyes every day that he came home exhausted from his corporate money-driven job. I felt space growing in between us and I had no idea what to do about it. Purpose seemed to be draining out of our lives. We had everything we thought would bring us happiness and contentment: money, a home, good jobs…but it wasn’t. In fact, it was making us feel unhappy and disconnected. It didn’t feel like the right environment to bring another human being into and I was nervous. 

When I met Michele she shared with me that her and Mark had just moved to Idaho after traveling through the West, living among nature in their Casita. I remember my first thought being “Wait, you can do that? Your world didn’t implode when you didn’t have a typical, stationary home to live in anymore?” I was in awe and inspired by their life on the road.

I still don’t remember what drove me to do this, maybe it was intuition or maybe just desperation to react to the darkness I saw building around us, but that evening I casually mentioned to Brandon the idea of traveling for a year in an RV. When I looked up at him I saw a tiny spark of light, of excitement, in his eyes again. That moment is where this whole journey began!

WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE BETWEEN DECIDING TO LIVE ON THE ROAD FULL-TIME AND SETTING OFF TO DO IT?

Brandon: It was similar to going on a long camping trip. Lots of excitement, preparation, learning new skills and some worries sprinkled in. Obviously the main difference was that we were now bringing everything with us, including our 2 dogs and 2 cats.

Claire: The in-between of deciding to live on the road and leaving to start our journey was a good mix of excitement and unease. I am so thankful I had Brandon as a teammate as we prepared. He immediately got to work reading blogs and watching YouTube videos about other people living the full-time RV life. We decided there were two main things we needed to find to start off: a good RV and a good truck to pull it. That process made us anxious because we didn’t know what would be available in our area. There were times when we would fall in love with a camper and someone else would claim it before us. Diesel trucks in our price range were rare. We practiced a lot of patience and persistence as Brandon scoured Craigslist daily, and it paid off. We ended up with our excellent Ford F-250 and used 25’ Nash pull-behind RV!

Once those two things were in place, we felt a little calmer. It felt like we had much more control over the tasks at hand. Life became about preparation: renovating the RV, making it off-grid ready, and preparing to sell our home. In between all of this preparation were a few more challenging obstacles. We had to figure out when was a good time to leave our jobs, we had to tell our families we were giving up “everything” to live on the road, we also didn’t know what it would be like traveling with our two dogs and two cats. There was also the ever-looming question of “What if we fall flat on our faces and have nothing to fall back into?” However, knowing we were headed in a direction that made us feel more alive than we had felt in a long time helped us through these uneasy situations. We just continued to put one foot in front of the other until we reached the day of our departure.

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR SET UP?  IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WISH YOU’D DONE DIFFERENTLY WHEN DECIDING ON A TRUCK AND TRAILER?

Brandon: To start, I continue to be extremely happy with our setup and looking back on it, there is nothing I would have done differently. We have a 20 year old diesel truck that pulls a 2005 Northwood Nash 25’ travel trailer. It has provided us with everything we’ve needed in whatever situation we are in: boondocking, driveways, or  camping at an RV park.

Claire: I love our setup! The truck/pull-behind trailer combo really worked for us because we wanted to explore places without having to pack up our whole home every trip. Our F-250 has been super reliable and a workhorse when it comes to pulling the trailer. Having a powerful tow vehicle has helped us get deeper into nature and out of some sticky situations. 

One thing I think Brandon and I can agree on that we would have done differently is buying a smaller rig. Coming from a 1500sq. ft. home, it was very intimidating moving into 250 sq. ft. We thought a 25ft camper would be a struggle. It has been more than enough space! It is funny how quickly we adapted to one room, the pups and kitties included. Also, with a smaller camper, you can get farther out into the wilderness with fewer worries about getting stuck!

WHAT ARE  A FEW OF YOUR FAVORITE PIECES OF EVERYDAY GEAR? (clothing, tech, tools or otherwise)

Brandon: My Yeti drinkware, Instapot, L.L. Bean Boots, cell booster, headlamp, electric kettle.

Claire: There are two things that come to mind when I think of gear that has been the most helpful and allowed us to find more comfort as we’ve traveled. First is my L.L. Bean Duck Boots! My boots definitely get the number one spot for gear I have used most since traveling and were well worth the splurge. They are made with leather, which means once they form to your foot, they become super comfortable. The bottom part of the boot is covered in sturdy rubber, making them weather-resistant. They have been perfect in snow, rain, and in the warm spike-filled deserts of Arizona. We use them for our dog walks, hikes, to climb boulders, or to climb on top of the RV. They can also take a beating and hold up well, which is great for living out in nature!

When I think about something that I use frequently inside our camper, my Avantree Audition noise-canceling headphones come to mind. When Brandon and I left our TV behind in Idaho, new forms of entertainment began to take its place: music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Headphones have become a perfect way for me to enjoy these things without bothering or interrupting Brandon. I have also noticed that because they cut off the noise around me, they give me that feeling of seclusion. Some days in the camper I am in need of some “me-time”. When I throw on the headphones, the muffling of my outer world makes me feel like I have some space for myself and it is very rejuvenating!

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF TINY LIVING AND/OR FULL-TIME TRAVEL?

Brandon: Tiny living and/or full-time travel is a lifestyle change. In my experience, it takes a high level of determination and perseverance to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to build new habits or rearrange preconceived notions of how to live. Taking your life and the life of your loved ones in a different direction poses many different unknowns and risks. In my opinion, this is the challenging part, facing the unknown. Despite these challenges I’ve really enjoyed both tiny living and full time travel.

Claire: One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced has been living with and responding to unpredictability. When you drive your home from place to place every two weeks and live among nature, the unpredictability of life gets turned up a notch. As you move, things fall, spill, and/or shatter, all of which you don’t know about until you stop to open the camper again. Sometimes camping spots don’t work out. You’ve been driving for five hours, it’s beginning to get dark outside, and now you have to figure out where to sleep tonight. Adapting quickly to these unseen challenges can be tiring and difficult. 

As so often is the case, our challenges become our biggest teachers. Over the past two years, I have been face-to-face with the pressure of unpredictability. It has taught me a great lesson: that trying to predict and control the flow of life only leads to more stress and discomfort. I’ve slowly learned to let go and let life come as it is, responding in the moment. The coolest part is realizing that Brandon and I have been, and continue to be more than capable of handling anything that life on the road sent our way. What a revelation and a relief!

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF FROM THIS LIFESTYLE?

Brandon: I feel like this could be a long list so I’m going to keep it to some bullet points:

  • Practicing gratitude is a skill and takes effort.  
  • I have few needs and many wants.
  • I enjoy having less possession. 
  • Slowing down is beneficial.  
  • I enjoy  seeing the abundance of stars in the sky. 
  • I need more campfires in my life. 
  • I value quiet places. 
  • I like being around trees and water.

Claire: That I am way WAY more capable than I thought I was! I have hooked up our camper to our truck in the mud while getting rained on during a dark early morning in Utah’s Valley of the Gods. Really, just the fact that I can now hook up our camper to our truck astounds me. I went on a 12-mile hike through North Cascades National Park and then jumped into ice-cold water formed by the surrounding melting glaciers. I had my period in the middle of a deserted forest with limited water and not enough electricity to use my heating pad to ease my excruciating cramps. Looking back at the comfortable way I was living before, these moments make me feel strong!

That’s what I love about living the way we do now. You are required to get out of your comfort zone frequently and do things you never thought you could do…because you have to! When you come out of the other side of those discomforts and survived (no matter how messy the experience was) you feel exhilarated!

WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THIS LIFESTYLE?

Brandon: I feel like the biggest surprise has been how much I’ve enjoyed living in a small space. I guess I envisioned it as a difficult challenge when in reality it has brought me a lot of joy.

Claire: How little I needed to feel happy and content. There were so many things I was attached to because I thought they were bringing me happiness: a big living space, constant connectivity, shops and restaurants close by for entertainment, lots of clothes, lots of food. 

When I challenged myself to live within a smaller structure with less, it was liberating! I gave away most of my belongings and every load sent to the donation center made me feel lighter, not sad. It was great! There became fewer things to clean and manage, less clutter, less distractions, and less worries! I think the fullness (as in jam-packed) of my previous life was creating discontent masked as fulfillment. As I let this fullness go and created space for me to breathe, I connected with a different kind of fullness. I felt at ease, peaceful, content. I felt alive again. That feeling has made me happier than anything I could buy.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT YOUR LIFESTYLE?

Brandon: There are a few misconceptions that I feel come up more often than not. One misconception is that we always have time to give or that everyday is a vacation.  I may have more time than I used to have, but life still happens. Chores still need to get done. However, I feel like I use my time more intentionally than before.  Another misconception is that it must be expensive to do what we are doing.  I think just like anything, you can spend as much as you want to. For Claire and I, we have developed strategies to keep our expenses relatively minimal.

Claire: I have a feeling Brandon and I are going to agree on this one too: that we are on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, the freedom of traveling full-time is a privilege I feel grateful we get to experience and many days are wonderfully chill. However, when you camp like we prefer to do, boondocking (camping with no water, electrical, or dump hook-up) and living as frugally as we can, we have to always be prepared and sometimes deal with discomfort. 

You have to be aware, and ready to react to your surroundings. You are more vulnerable to nature, sometimes you are alone without reception, and your home has a lot of moving parts that may break. We needed to plan out new travel plans every two weeks, searching for places that were safe, legal, and accessible for our truck and camper. We had to adapt to new areas quickly and frequently.  We tracked the weather continuously and reacted if we saw any inclement heading our way. We took time to set up contingency plans and redundant systems to keep us safe. 

I wouldn’t trade it for a poolside resort at a nice hotel, the difficulties we’ve faced have made this trip even more worthwhile. I just don’t believe it is always as easy going as it may seem.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO WHEN YOU FIRST BECAME A NOMAD, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?

Brandon: Looking back I’m really happy with how our journey transpired.  I feel that our travels and the lessons learned along the way greatly contributed to my personal growth and well as the growth of Claire and I as a team. I don’t think I have any one piece of advice to share with my past self. Well, maybe I would recommend spending more time in southern Utah!

Claire: Enjoy the journey. There is a John Lennon quote I like to repeat to myself: “Life happens when you are making other plans.” Frequently throughout this trip, I have been anxious about making each big moment mean something. I feel like I was putting every experience into a box, forcing it to be part of some larger goal. I think it was because I felt I had to make this time worthwhile. I knew it wouldn’t last forever. 

Now, after 2 years, as we prepare to settle down again, I can see that this trip was many different experiences wrapped into a beautiful two years. There have been a million tiny moments that have helped me grow into who I am now. Not just the big moments, the very small ones too.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT FOR THE FUTURE?

Brandon: I’m excited about the future in general. I feel more confident in myself and with Claire and I as a team. I’m excited to put my skills into whatever scenario presents itself. I’ve found joy in using less resources and using the resources I have more effectively. I am looking forward to bringing those interests into whatever type of life we build in the future.

Claire: Reentering the world with new skills and more self-confidence. I feel different than when we pulled away from our house in Idaho, camper in tow. I see the world in a new way. I am excited to reenter the world with my new knowledge and new strength! I feel like I have been given a blank slate to create and reshape my world and I can’t wait! 

FAVORITE QUOTE?

Brandon: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt 
Claire likes using this quote and it reminds me to practice gratitude for what I have, not for what I want.

Claire: This is a quote from one of my favorite books A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “People always think that happiness is a faraway thing, something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.” 

This book was written in 1943 and, while some of its contents are a bit dated, I think the overall message is beautiful.


A huge thank you to Claire & Brandon for taking the time to share their experience with us!

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About

We’re Mark & Michele, modern-day nomads perfecting the art of slow, full-time travel.  Our tiny home on wheels and slow-paced travel style allows us to minimize our expenses while maximizing our freedom.  May our unconventional way of life inspire you to design a life that you love.

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