Wild Sun sits right on the border of Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve, the oldest of Costa Rica’s protected nature areas. At its founding in October of 1963, it was farm land used to raise crops and graze cattle. Fifty plus years later, it’s come a long way towards being reclaimed by nature, now being classified as mature secondary forest.
We get a lot of wildlife visiting the rescue center grounds, troops of howler monkeys and capuchins, coati, deer, and all sorts of bird species… and our proximity to the reserve is the cause of this. It also gives us a good location to release rescued animals that can’t go back to the area they were found in.
It’s close enough to walk to, and in my second week at Wild Sun, I decide to walk to the tip of the cape with Alex and Alessandra, the other two volunteers who have off the same day as me.
From the center, getting there is as simple as walking down the road to the first intersection, turning right, and then keep going – the road leads right into the park. We leave after breakfast at 9 am… which is already too late.
Well, the park doesn’t open until 8 am so it’s not late at all really, I say it’s too late because we’re in the middle of the dry season, the hottest part of the year, and hiking with temps in the 90’s is pretty brutal. I have one water bottle to my name as do my coworkers, and while there’s a water spigot at the entrance to the park, the hike to the tip of the cape is 10 km round trip (around 6.2 miles). Even before starting I wonder if we’ll make it to the end or not.
But I don’t dwell on it too much, because the park is beautiful. Alessandra’s into ecology, and she knows a lot about the plants and trees of the region, which is great for me. She names the trees as we pass up the road to the pay station.
It’s not that different from a visitor center at a park in the US. A ranger sits in a kiosk and collects our money ($8 US) and shows a little map of the park with the trails laid out. Alessandra is relatively fluent in Spanish and has a conversation with him about the trail and our plans. Just past the kiosk is a little outdoor display with informational signs.
Finally, we start hiking. We start off slow, spaced apart a ways and trying to go as quietly as possible in the hopes of seeing wildlife. Since the canopy isn’t as full this time of year, it’s easier than it would be during the rainy season. We see a lot of the same species I’ve already noticed go through at Wild Sun. What really catches my attention is all the butterflies, which my phone camera is ill equipped to capture. My favorites are bright blue and edged with black.
And the trees, so different looking from back in the US. At one point on the trail this huge one comes into view, coated in vines thick enough to climb with a complex root system spanning a little wash. Alex and Alessandra take turns climbing the vines, then I ask one of them to get a photo of me standing on the roots.
Trail quality is…. variable. The steps are made from concrete blocks, and they’re not evenly spaced due to erosion and tree roots. And there’s a lot of up and down. The coast is blanketed in rolling hills with very little flat ground and we’re always gaining or losing elevation. Small markers along the trail count what we at first think are kilometers. But then we get up to 5 and still aren’t at our destination. Maybe they’re marking points of interest instead? But it sure feels like km markers.
The last hill before the beach is the worst. I’m below the halfway mark on my water bottle and the day keeps getting hotter. But finally the water comes into sight. The deep blue water showing through the trees is very inviting and lovely.
Perhaps we should have checked the tides before starting. It’s the full moon and low tide, which means it’s and extra low tide. The beach is still beautiful, but like around Cabuya it’s very rocky and rather shallow. My coworkers decide to go in but I stay on the shore and try to get a good picture instead.
The haze that you’re seeing on the hills in the distance is likely from fires. Farmers clear fields using fire during the dry season as it becomes impossible to do so once the rains start.
There are people around, but it’s not crowded. We enjoy our snacks under the cover of a broad leafed tree, sitting on a piece of driftwood. It’s cooler along the edge of the water, a breeze blows through. A welcome respite before the hike back.
With reluctance, we get up and head back. It’s as much a slog as I was expecting, but I stretch my water and make it. Back at the visitor center I fill my bottle again and drink the whole thing before heading back up to Wild Sun. We don’t quite make it in time for lunch at 1:30, but luckily Randy saved the ingredients from our meal and we use them to make a salad. Tastes like victory to me!
Last blog post was information about Wild Sun Rescue Center, and what I do as a volunteer here. Today, we’re back to travelogues, starting shortly after my arrival.
The way the work schedules go at Wild Sun, we get one day off a week. Which sounds bad until you know how our days work. A day is broken into 6 blocks of time, and volunteers typically are assigned for the first three, or last three blocks. Which means that a full work day is still only half the day. You either start at 6 am and are done by lunch at 1:30 pm, or start after lunch at 3 pm and work late into the evening (with two lengthy breaks in there too). That leaves quite a bit of free time to get other things done on work days.
Fellow volunteers on the (dirt) road to Cabuya. It’s the dry season, see how yellow and sparse the foliage is?
Granted, the first week I’m at Wild Sun, I’m too exhausted from adjusting to the new situation to want to do much but relax when I’m not working.
Mainly, adjusting to the heat. Phoenix, AZ is a warm part of the US, but it’s still winter there and getting below freezing some nights. 30’s and 40’s might not sound that cold for lows, but you have to remember that I’m sleeping without any heat, so when it’s that temperature outside, it’s that temperature inside too. Here on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, 80 is about as cold as it gets at night (it’s in the 90’s most days), and I don’t have A/C – it’s a huge difference.
Sleeping with the windows wide open in my shared bedroom with no screens gives me a moment’s pause, but after making it through one night with no animal invaders, I quickly get over it. I’m surprised to discover that insects really aren’t an issue here during the dry season. Oh, there are spiders, scorpions, bees, and ants, but no mosquitoes and very few other flying pests. That all changes during the rainy season, so I hear.
One thing it doesn’t take long to get use to is Randy’s cooking.
There’s a meal plan for volunteers and guests at the resort that when I applied months ago was advertised at $150 per week. At that price I never considered it, knowing that a small grocery store was within walking distance. But then my first full day at Wild Sun, I accidentally sit up in the dining area when lunch is being served, and an amazing salad is set in front me. My resolve to cook for myself using the shared kitchen dissolves when I have my first bite and learn that the meal plan cost for volunteers was dropped to $80 per week. That’s for 3 meals a day, 6 days a week and then breakfast on Saturday, the cook’s day off. At a cost of $4.21 per meal, I’m willing to pay.
A delicious example of Randy’s cooking
Weeks later I’m still in love with the food at Wild Sun which is varied, filling, and healthy, and Randy never ceases to brighten my day. He lives just down the road and has been working at Wild Sun since they decided they needed a cook about two and a half years ago. He often sings while cooking, blasting 80’s tunes in English that he doesn’t understand the words to, but has memorized. He’s always ready with a smile and though I know less Spanish than he knows English, we get on well.
It’s not until the evening of the second day that I realize that I’ve been drinking tap water since I arrived.
There’s a water cooler in the commons area at Wild Sun where we fill up our personal water bottles. I assumed it was bottled water, but during orientation I learn that the jug is filled up at the tap. Fortunately, I seem to be among the majority of people who do not experience issues from the water here. Actually, most of Costa Rica has perfectly serviceable drinking water, but in more remote areas (like Cabuya) it’s always good to ask.
Four days after I arrive, I go surfing for the very first time.
An after photo from my first day trying SUP surfing
Well, SUP surfing. I quickly learn that the type of SUP (stand up paddle board) used for surfing is much different that my first SUP experience on a lake in Oregon last September. The board is smaller and more curved with thinner edges, so that it can catch waves like a surf board does. Which means it’s a lot less stable. SUPing at Twin Lakes, I never once fell off the board. This time I’m kneeling on the board more than I’m standing on it because balancing on such a thing in a rolling ocean while fighting against wind is not easy!
But it’s a lot of fun. With the instruction of my friend, I catch my first wave (on my knees) before breakfast. We’d left before sunrise and watching the sun rise over the ocean with the green forests of Costa Rica rising above the rocky beach behind…. it’s an incredibly beautiful scene. My ankles hurt from kneeling, my calves hurt from balancing, my arms hurt from paddling, and I’m more tired than ever after that first trip out. But my heart is very full. There’s something magical about seeing a new day dawn out on the water. But while I have gone several more times in the weeks since then, I still only have the one photo from that first day, as none of the small crew of us from Wild Sun who are into SUP surfing have waterproof cameras.
On my first day off, I ride with other Wild Sun people who have the day off (and friends) to Tambor.
The Good Beach
The plan is to find a good beach to spend the afternoon on, but we arrive at the intended spot to discover that there is no shade… and it’s a very hot day. A man floats just off shore in a fishing boat, and one of our number asks if he’ll take the us across the river mouth to the other side of the bay, which does have shade. He says that for 3000 colones each (about $5) he’ll take the six of us to an even better spot that isn’t accessible by road. Had I been alone, this would have been a definite “no” because of safety concerns (well actually, the conversation wouldn’t have even happened because it’s in Spanish), but it’s Wild Sun’s director who’s doing the talking, and having lived here for over a decade now, I assume he knows the risks better than I.
We pile into the boat, enjoy a pretty ride, and are dropped off at a beautiful sandy beach with few other people around. It’s a great afternoon of lounging, talking, and swimming.
At the agreed upon time, the boat shows back up to take us back. We enjoy dinner out at a nearby restaurant, a classic Costa Rica dish of chunks of fish in a lime sauce which is spooned onto patacones, flattened fried plantain discs. It’s delicious. While eating, the boat ride comes up. “Yeah, that could have gone poorly.” one of the guys remarks. Okay, maybe that wasn’t a normal experience for Costa Rica, but it ended well and some good memories were made.
We watch sunset from the restaurant porch.
On the way back to Wild Sun, we stop at a little festival that’s taking place. There’s food, vendors, live music, and fireworks. It’s kind of intense for my first week, but pretty cool at the same time. We don’t stay long and later that night in bed I reflect on how interesting of a first week it’s been. One down, 11 more to go!
There will be more travelogue type posts coming about how I’m spending my free time, but today I’d like to talk more about Wild Sun now that I’ve been here a while.
For anyone needing a reminder from the initial announcement post I made about visiting Costa Rica, Wild Sun Rescue Center is a non-profit located in the small town of Cabuya near the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Their mission is two-fold: the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of local wildlife; and finding solutions to the problems they are facing.
Anyone signing up for a volunteer or temporary position far from home probably worries a little about whether the experience will match their expectations. Wild Sun has a great website, but that’s no guarantee that a place is going to be what it presents itself as. I didn’t have to worry about that with Wild Sun though, as I learned about this place from a friend who comes here often. In the days following my arrival, two things quickly became obvious: First, that Wild Sun does not have the level of equipment that I was use to seeing from animal facilities in the US. But secondly, that they care about the animals very, very much.
The Rescue Center
We’ve been averaging between 30 and 35 animals at the rescue center at any given time, not including the macaws. Right now we have 19 howler monkeys, three capuchin monkeys, six squirrels, four parrots, a raccoon, a woodpecker, a paca (a large, nocturnal rodent)… recently we released another squirrel, a turtle, and an anteater.
Some of these animals are adults, here for only as long as it takes to get them healthy again. But a larger number are orphaned youngsters, here because something happened to their mom, or because they had an injury or illness and weren’t able to keep up. These animals stay at Wild Sun until they reach sexual maturity, and are cared for in such as way as to minimize human contact, so that they stay wild and are capable of fending for themselves once released.
A large number of the animals that come through Wild Sun are here because of human influence.
Dog attacks are a big problem for wildlife in Costa Rica, dogs are allowed to roam freely here and spaying or neutering is not common. I never take a trip into Cabuya without seeing dogs wandering the streets. Many of our howler monkeys are here due to power line electrocution. By law all power lines and transformers should be insulated to protect the monkeys, but few actually are. Howlers have a fully prehensile tail and use it like a fifth arm, so they’re more likely to complete a circuit on power lines. One of the intern volunteers here is spearheading a project to get sky bridges built to cross roads where the lines aren’t insulated and monkeys regularly use them to cross and get in trouble.
These four young howlers are similar in age and housed together, they’re already forming strong bonds with each other. When they’re old enough, they’ll be released together as a new troop which greatly increases their chances of survival.
The Scarlet Macaws
Wild Sun has a partnership with AsoProLapa, a Scarlet Macaw breeding program located near Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula. AsaProLapa has been breeding and releasing macaws near Tambor for a few years, and now the program is being expanded to Wild Sun due to the center’s favorable location right next to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. Just days before I arrived the macaws did: six breeding pairs, plus 16 juveniles that have a tentative release date of July. The center’s consulting biologist made the decision that the macaws should have just a couple regular caretakers and I’m not one of them, so I rarely get to see them. But they’re beautiful!
As a volunteer, my job is primarily focused on animal care.
A lot of time goes into food prep and feeding. When I worked with primates in the US we got bags of processed food in to feed the monkeys (like dog or cat food…. but for monkeys), and it was quite simple. Processed diets exist for a lot of other wildlife species as well. But since we’re going to be releasing all these animals back into the wild, we need to try to simulate their natural diet as much as possible. That means chopping and preparing a lot of fruits and veggies every day for older animals.
Cleaning is also a big part of the daily routine. Enclosures need to be kept clean, and there are always lots of dishes and laundry… then there’s also enrichment. Put a wild animal in a cage with nothing to do and it quickly becomes unwell, especially parrots and monkeys. To keep the animals mentally and physically stimulated we take machetes into the woods daily and collect branches and greenery to put inside their enclosures to keep them busy. Constructing platforms, ladders, and little puzzles that food can be placed inside are all part of this category. Enrichment is rotated frequently to keep things fresh.
There are two major areas to the rescue center, pre-release, and ICU (the clinic). Animals that are in stable condition and older stay in pre-release, infants and those needing frequent medical care stay in the ICU. When a new animal comes in, it first falls under the care of the three managers, who are here full-time. They work with the vet to figure out what kind of treatment it needs, and then train us volunteers on how to do what needs to be done, there are 15 of us volunteers right now.
Animals that come in are assigned a “level” to be able to handle them, and new volunteers come in at level 1, cleared only for the basic tasks (feeding and cleaning). For a volunteer to reach the next level requires being comfortable with the current level’s tasks, a certain amount of time, a verbal test of knowledge.
More on Wild Sun
Jeremy Levine is the director of Wild Sun, he moved to Costa Rica from the US in 2007 to start a Spanish, yoga, surf, and fire dancing school, and got into wildlife rescue because of his love for animals and the area’s need for a center. The focus of Wild Sun these days is on the rescue center, but the resort end of things still exists, and is the reason why I have such an awesome pool to relax in after a long shift.
You can visit the resort website for info on staying at Wild Sun as a guest and taking classes. For more on the center, or if you’re interested in volunteering, visit the rescue center website. And if you ever find yourself in this corner of Costa Rica, public tours are available by appointment on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Overall, I’ve been very happy with my experience here. It’s a beautiful place and I have a lot in common with my fellow volunteers. The work is different enough from the veterinary technician work I use to do to challenge me to grow, and I end each shift feeling accomplished and happy that I get to be a part of such a great cause.
Wild Sun gets no money from the government, this place is entirely privately funded. So instead of sharing the IO Patreon page like I usually do at the end of my posts, today I’m sharingWild Sun’s Patreon page! Pledges go towards feeding and caring for the animals at the center, and conservation efforts like the Scarlet Macaw program. Every little bit helps. And if you’re not in a position to contribute financially, you can still help by liking and interacting with Wild Sun’s Facebook page, and sharing Wild Sun with friends and family who may be interested in what we’re doing here.
Thank you all for following along on this latest adventure!
I’m awake before my alarm, which is a shame. I’m pretty much guaranteed to get no or very little sleep tonight and it would have been nice to get a lot of sleep before this, but it was not to be. The rain from the past couple days has dried up, and Saddle Mountain BLM area where I’m currently boondocking near Tonopah, AZ is very green – the greenest I’ve ever seen it in fact.
It’s a busy morning. After a quick bite I do the final pack. I’m taking my 55L backpack as checked luggage, and a very slim backpack for carry-on, just large enough to fit my laptop, kindle, and chargers and some snacks. The 55L pack has room left over inside once I’ve put everything in which surprises me, but then again, I don’t need to pack bedding, tent, or cooking utensils for this trip, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t be as full as on a regular backpacking trip. This works out well for me, it means that once the plane rides are over, I’ll be able to put the carry-on bag inside it to make the shuttle ride easier.
After that it’s time to prepare my tiny trailer and truck for storage, which doesn’t take as much time. I’ve used up my perishables, and there’s not much else in Bertha or Tribble that needs special attention – everything is already going to have it’s own space for travel. I pull out at around 1 pm.
The most nerve-wracking part of days like this is all the variables. There are so many little things that can go wrong, and any one of them could throw off the whole day. When I arrive at the storage facility near Phoenix about an hour later, the man behind the corner opens with “Oh.” That’s not a good sign.
I’d called the week before to make a reservation to store both truck and trailer, and been told I’d taken the last available spot. Apparently, the person who was suppose to move out by today hasn’t, and now there technically isn’t a spot for me. Luckily my rig is so tiny that they can squeeze me in an unofficial spot. I split truck and trailer between two other spots and it all works out in the end.
A friend I’d been camping with at Saddle Mountain picks me up at the storage facility, and takes me the rest of the way to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Part of I10 is shut down due to construction and traffic is pretty bad, so I lose more time. But because I’d worked in such a large buffer before my first flight, I’m okay. When I arrive at the airport I have the fastest check in ever. From the moment I walk in through the door to the moment I arrive at my terminal takes only 20 minutes, and that’s including checking my bag and going through security. I watch the sunset from the terminal, and smile to see that my friends still out camping post a view of the same sunset from out in the desert.
My plane from Phoenix to Los Angeles departs without issue at 7:30 pm, and I arrive in LA at 8:10 pm Pacific Standard Time. Then I have a four hour layover for my next flight, which I spend reading.
Feb 10, Sunday
I’ve never gotten the knack of sleeping on planes. After boarding for San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica) at 12:30 am, I close my eyes and try. I start drifting off a couple times, but don’t achieve actual sleep. Since it’s a longer flight food is served, a ham and cheese sandwich with chips and chocolate that is actually pretty good.
LA from above through clouds
Costa Rica is on Central Standard time, so my 6 hour flight arrives at about 8:30 am. I did it! This is the farthest I’ve ever been from home!
Costa Rica has mountains in the interior
Boarding my last plane requires going through customs and exiting the international airport, then taking a short walk down the street to the regional airport. There I’d booked a plane on Sansa Air to Tambor, which is on the Nicoya Peninsula just off the ocean. The plane is tiny. And cute.
The cockpit area is not separated from the seating area, and as we’re taking off I can see that one of the screens is covered in yellow and red, I wonder if it’s related to wind speed since it’s a windy day. I can’t help but notice that the plane is in the red zone. Takeoff is pretty bouncy, but then we get higher up and the view is amazing! The plane flies over the ocean for a while, and I catch this view coming back towards Tambor.
The landing is equally bumpy, coming in low over the beach with the airstrip just past. I’d paid an extra $25 when I booked my flight for a shuttle to take me from Tambor direct to Wild Sun, and it’s waiting when I arrive.
The ride in the van is sort of surreal. I’m riding with three women who are here for a retreat for hairdressers of all things. They’re going to Montezuma which is closer so we head there first. The three are in good spirits coming in after a night out in San Jose, we talk and joke the whole way to their dropoff point. Costa Rica passes by outside the window, which is rolled up because the shuttle has air conditioning. It’ll be the last time I have access to AC for quite a while.
The view outside is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
I’ve never been somewhere tropical before, so most of the vegetation is new to me. But then I see fields of grass where cattle graze and I realize I know the cattle from my time as a vet tech, they’re Brahman, a breed raised for beef. I look it up online later and discover that they’re very heat tolerant, so it’s common to see them being kept in tropical climates.
We also drive along the coast for a while, which is absolutely beautiful. The pebbled beaches and rocky outcrops remind me of the Pacific Ocean… and then I laugh to myself when I remember this is the Pacific Ocean. Well, the South Pacific.
And then the shuttle pulls into Wild Sun and my trip is over. It’s about 1 pm local time by this point, and I’m exhausted from not having slept the night before. Jeremy, the owner, is there to greet me and show me to my room, which has an ocean view – if a distant one.
The first Sunday of the month, Wild Sun hosts a fundraiser party, and I happen to arrive just before it. This means all the volunteers are quite busy with preparations, and I don’t get any sort of tour or orientation. I feel rather lost and out of place as people scurry around prepping food, moving chairs and tables, setting up a check in station. I try to take a nap so I’m at least out of the way, but my body is not yet use to the heat. It’s 85 and humid, a far cry from the near freezing overnight temps I was experiencing in Saddle Mountain before this, and my room is on the second floors and quite exposed to the sun, it’s like a sauna.
So I lounge in the hammock area which is well shaded and open to a nice breeze.
I don’t sleep but I do rest, and when the live music starts in the evening I wander over. The energy is pretty intense for someone running on no sleep in a strange place, and I know no one. Well, I do know one person at Wild Sun: Nick, a friend I made while up in Canada two summers ago. But he’s busy manning one of the booths. I eat dinner, a delicious curry dish, and am in bed by 7 pm.
I sleep nearly 12 hours, it’s glorious. The next day I meet my fellow volunteers, all of whom seem like pretty cool people. Orientation goes well, I learn a lot more about the facilities and how the animals are kept and what I’ll be doing while here (more on all that coming up in a future post). All in all, I feel much better and grounded… a little less far from home. I’m looking forward to the next 12 weeks!
In this post I’ll be talking about what I’ve been doing to prepare. None of this should be taken as expert advice because the facts are, this is my first such trip and I’m learning it all as I go. Consider this more a recording for posterity, and later we can all look back at this and rate how well it went, haha.
Overall, I find myself doing much less planning than I did for preparing to go RVing. Which on the one hand seems absurd because I’m going to be farther from the comfortable and familiar than I’ve ever been, and if I forget some important detail, it may not be easy to fix in a foreign country.
But on the other hand, I feel like it is easier, because six years of full-time RVing have taught me a lot about extended travel, and perhaps most importantly – that I’m resourceful enough that if something unexpected occurs (which it is bound to happen being gone 12 weeks doing something I’ve never done before), that I’ll be able to figure it out. When I was preparing to go full-time I didn’t have that confidence in myself yet, so the extra planning made up the difference in my level of comfort with the situation.
Here are the major points of my checklist I’ve been working on, not in great detail but as an overview:
I applied for my passport a couple years ago in preparation for crossing into Mexico for dental care, so no problems there. Rules for visiting Costa Rica state your passport has to have an expiration date 30 days beyond when you’re scheduled to leave the country. If you’ve never had a passport before, it does take numerous weeks from submitting the paperwork to receiving it, so give yourself plenty of time to get one! You can pay extra money for a rush delivery, but that still takes a couple weeks at least.
If the USA is your home, no visa is required for stays in Costa Rica up to 90 days. My volunteer program lasts 12 weeks, or 84 days. Coincidence? I think not. If you’re flying into the country, you do need to present a return ticket out of the country upon arrival (so basically, you have to book your flight out of Costa Rica before you arrive within that 90 day limit). And on that note…
There’s a whole world of “travel hacking” out there, a community of people who scour for ways to fly for cheap (the biggest component seems to be strategically signing up for credit cards that offer airline miles for rewards). If I decide to get more into international travel I’ll probably dive into this, but it was not a huge concern for this trip.
I’d read some time ago that the more times you search for tickets for a specific flight on the same computer (over the course of days, weeks, months), the higher the prices get. I’d also read that the sweet spot for purchasing tickets for the best price is 3-4 months out. I’d also read that Sundays are the best days to buy. But there’s conflicting reports on all this info so it’s hard to say how true any of it is or how big of a difference it really makes.
I used one of those websites that compares the the costs of multiple airlines at once, of which there are several (Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc…. I honestly can’t remember which one I went with in the end). I bought my tickets about three months and a week out from my flight. And I only searched for flights twice – the first day the website anticipated that tickets would get cheaper and to hold off on buying. The second time I looked a few days later the site said buy now because they’d be getting more expensive… or, maybe it was all a ploy, who knows. Because once I bought my tickets, I never looked at prices again, it’s better for your sanity that way! (Delta ended up having the best deal for the dates/times/luggage options I wanted.)
Total cost round trip from Phoenix, to Los Angeles, to San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica), and then back: $522… plus the cost of trip insurance.
Trip insurance serves three purposes, it covers your loss in case you need to cancel a flight, covers your luggage in case something happens to it, and covers emergency medical care in case something happens to you. When I was booking my flight with Delta, they gave me the choice to add trip insurance on for a mere $39.17 through a company called Allianz Global Assistance, which seemed too…. I don’t know, cheap and easy. But I researched the company and looked at reviews and they seem legit and have a fairy high approval rating, so I bought it. (You can also buy trip insurance on your own through a third party.)
Besides the $522 flight, mine covers luggage up to $300 in value (which isn’t much considering I’m bringing my smartphone and laptop), a baggage delay fee of $75, emergency transportation up to $30,000, and emergency health/dental coverage up to 20,000 with a 1-time deductable of $50.
When traveling to a foreign country, always check to see if there are required vaccinations to get into that country. Then, check the official CDC website for the latest vaccine recommendations (different from requirements), and talk with your doctor to see what they think based on your unique situation. You’ll want to get vaccinations 4-6 weeks before flying out as some have a 30 day period to achieve maximum effectiveness.
Currently, there are no required immunizations for getting into Costa Rica from the USA (not the case if you’re coming from other countries though). The CDC says all travelers should be up to date on the basic ones recommended in the US (Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Tetanus, Diphtheria, the current year’s flu shot, etc.), and that most travelers should get Hepatitis A and Typhoid immunizations. There are some additional ones they recommend to some travelers depending on where you plan on going and what you plan on doing, none of which applied to me (no malaria pills for where I’m going, phew).
Being nomadic, this was the part of international travel that concerned me most going in, because I did not want to go up to South Dakota (my residency state) in the middle of winter just to get vaccinations from an in-network doctor. But it turned out to be a non-issue. I planned my travel route and contacted a clinic in Blythe, CA a week before I was going to be in the area and it was easy to make an appointment to get what I needed there. Vaccines can be pricey, the flu shot was only a couple dollars because of some program, but Hep A costs over $100. Luckily you don’t need boosters often.
$522 is not my bottom line for transport costs, because from San Jose I need to get to the west coast where Wild Sun is. Once I get through customs at the international airport, I collect my baggage and hop a regional plane (Sansa Air) to a city called Tambor, and from there I get on a 45 minute shuttle that should take me to Cabuya…. the tiny town where Wild Sun is located. Total cost for all that? $145.75.
I’ll be flying out of Phoenix at 7:30 pm on Saturday, and arriving at Wild Sun around noon on Sunday if everything goes well. Which is still less time and hassle than my trip from Wisconsin to Lasqueti Island in British Columbia was two summers ago!
I want to travel light, which is made easier by Costa Rica’s tropical climate that stays at a steady temperature pretty much all year round and varies primarily by elevation. It’s also made easier by the fact that a lot of basics like soap, sunscreen, etc. I’ll be able to buy in Costa Rica after I arrive. My flights with Delta allow for a carry-on, with the first checked bag costing $30. Sansa Air charges extra beyond 30 lbs of luggage per person.
I have a preliminary packing list made up, which is likely too much stuff. Tomorrow I’ll have a test pack to see what I can actually fit in my bags and prune the list then. If people are interested, I can release a final pack list sometime after that.
Actually, if anyone wants more detail about any part of my planning process, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do. I just wanted to make sure I covered all the basics in this post before flying out on Saturday!
Continuing with the tiny trailer living series, today we’re going to talk about beds! (Non-teardrop people, you can scroll down to the bottom for a little update on what I’ve been up to the past week.)
In a standard RV, the bed isn’t usually something a new owner needs to think about, as just about all RVs come with a bed frame and mattress included. The mattress may not be the most comfortable, but it’s there. Some teardrop brands may come with a bed included, but many do not, leaving you to come up with your own solution.
Hiker Trailers do not come standard with a bed
The easiest solution, and the one I’ve chosen for the time being, is to simply buy a mattress for the bottom of the teardrop. Since traditional teardrops are too short to stand in you don’t need a bed frame to add height, and having a mattress without a frame gives you the most clearance inside.
It’s not uncommon for the inside of a teardrop to be a non-standard size, so just going out and buying any old mattress rarely works. Before anything else, take (or look up) measurements of your interior space. Couples will probably want a mattress that fills the entire interior of the teardrop. Singles may decide to have a smaller bed. I chose to have only half the interior of mine be a bed, so that the half facing the door is clear to be my changing room, a flat area where I can set up my Buddy heater, and more storage.
If you’re one of the many teardrop owners whose space will not fit a standard size mattress, never fear. The mattress industry is booming, and there are plenty of companies out there that make products for odd-sized spaces. In fact, there are so many that choosing the ‘best’ one can be a daunting task. My friends Kelly and Marshall of Camp Addict have a whole page dedicated to RV mattresses which you can view here. It’s also definitely worth perusing teardrop trailer owner’s groups and forums, and seeing what others who have the same type of teardrop as you do have done. Just be aware of the size of the mattress when rolled up, teardrop doors are smaller than standard doors, and you need to be able to get it inside!
Different people have different tastes, but below I’ll talk about my own thought process I went through when buying my mattress.
The interior of my Hiker Trailer is 74” long and 60” wide. The mattress I bought ended up being from Amazon by a company called Magshion. It measures 27” wide, 75” long, and 4” deep, and cost $80 at the time of purchase. I went with this one because ordering from Amazon is easy, other Hiker Trailer owners had good luck with the brand, and it had good ratings.
I specifically wanted a foam mattress because my interior space is not a perfect square. The front of my tiny trailer has a diagonal corner on the left side, and foam can be cut to fit (some of the companies reviewed in Camp Addict’s article actually let you order a custom mattress with the corners the exact shape you need them to be). Squishy foam also meant that even though the mattress was technically 1” longer than the interior space, it would fit. The fact that it’s snug means it doesn’t slide around much on travel days.
A cut corner
The most notable feature of this mattress is that it’s a trifold, which is a pretty common option chosen by teardroppers. You can fold the mattress up to double as a couch or chair during the day. Honestly, as a full-timer I rarely want to deal with the effort of making and taking apart the bed every day so I keep it as a bed all the time, but it’s nice to know I have that option if I ever need it. Plus, the trifold option does make it easier to pull it out of the teardrop for cleaning.
See the zippers? The foam slides out of the cover so it can be washed.
Reviews for this mattress pegged it as on the hard side, which was perfect to me because I enjoy harder mattresses. Those who want more comfort may desire something thicker than 4”, I decided on that depth for two reasons. First, because my mattress in the Casita was simply the 19 year-old, 4” cushions that came stock without any sort of topper – compared to that, any mattress was going to feel amazing. And second, because less height gives me more wiggle room if I decide I want to get a frame made at some point to put the mattress on top of… more about bed frames in a bit.
If you’re going the just-a-mattress route, there’s probably one more thing you’ll want. Having a mattress right up against the floor of a teardrop can be pretty cold sleeping, and the combination of your body heat on top of the mattress with cold air running under the floor, and humidity from breathing in an enclosed space causes condensation – especially when camping in wet climates. For the part-time teardropper that only sleeps in their rig a few days at a time this might not be an issue, but for full-timers or people taking a long trip in their teardrop, repeated condensation can lead to mold on the bottom of the mattress.
Pulling the bed apart on a regular basis to let the condensation evaporate is one solution (those people who make their trifold bed into a couch everyday are probably safe). The other is to prop the mattress up a bit from the floor and allow air to circulate under it (this air buffer also keeps your mattress warmer when it’s cold out).
You can get pieces of wood to use as slats under your mattress. But what I did is buy a 3/4” mat made of spun polymer that is bonded to a breathable fabric sheet. There’s a brand named version called Hypervent that is marketed to boat owners to put under their mattresses (boats have an even bigger problem with condensation than RVs do), but you can also sometimes find it in rolls at home improvement stores.
The benefits of this kind of product is you can’t feel the texture of it underneath the mattress, and it doesn’t weigh much. The cons are that it can be pricey to buy brand name (usually $10-$12 per foot), and that it comes in a 40” wide roll that you’ll probably have to cut to make the right size for your mattress. The stuff can be cut with regular scissors though if you have decent hand strength.
I recommend sizing the mat so that it’s a couple inches narrower than your mattress, as the cut edges are pretty rough and can give you scrapes. For my 27” by 74” bed, I got 4 feet, and I cut the roll in half, giving me two, 40” by 24” pieces that I laid end to end, then I cut 6” off one piece to fit in my 74” long space. There’s extra fabric on the end of the roll, so overlapping two pieces like this is quite easy. I didn’t even need tape.
Lastly, don’t put your bed up right against the wall. Leave an inch or two of space between the mattress and the wall of your teardrop so that air can get under there, otherwise the mat won’t do its job.
And finally, bed frames. When ordering a Hiker Trailer you have the option of having a bed frame put in right from the factory, other teardrop manufacturers may have that option too. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, you can also put one in yourself.
The main benefit of putting a bed frame in teardrops is to add storage underneath the bed. There is no right or wrong height, you just need to decide for yourself how much space you want underneath the bed vs. how much clearance you want above the bed. Not being a do-it-yourself person, I don’t have good advice on how to go about building a bed frame. But again, owners groups are a wealth of information, as is YouTube. There are a lot of creative ideas out there!
For a while, I considered having a bed frame put in my Hiker from the factory. In the end I decided against it because I wanted to be able to sit in bed and have a good viewing angle out my windows (I’m currently typing this while sitting cross-legged in bed), and because I didn’t need the extra storage space. Not having a bed frame bolted in place also means I can change the interior very easily if at some point down the road I decide I want a larger bed, etc.
As to what to put on top of your mattress for bedding, that’s entirely up to you. Some tiny trailer owners go the traditional route of sheets and blankets, although again you may need to order special sizes to fit an odd-sized mattress. If you don’t have a frame, the sheets will just puddle off the edges of the mattress, so you might not want them as large as you would on a house bed.
I prefer the ease of using a sleeping bag to avoid wrestling with a fitted sheet in a small space. My sleeping bag is a small and light mummy-style that I also take with me on backpacking trips. I own a few blankets that I throw on top of it depending on temperature. I’ve camped with lows in the 20’s and been comfortable without heat with this setup (in the 20’s you’ll want thermals on under your pajamas).
The brand name of my sleeping bag is Slumberjack
That concludes today’s topic. If any of you prospective tiny trailer owners have questions, ask below. And if any of you tiny trailer owners have bed ideas you’d like to share, also comment below.
January has always been crazy busy for me with the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous event followed immediately by the Xscapers Annual Bash, but this week I can take a break from non-stop activities to catch up on work and sleep. Thanks everyone who came out to see me, and I hope those of you who attended my work-camping seminar at the RTR or my beginner’s poi workshop at the AB enjoyed them. I probably won’t be doing a full write-up on those events this year as I have talked about them extensively in past years, plus I have so much other stuff to talk about with Costa Rica now less than three weeks away (eeep!).
RTR and the Annual Bash, 2019
In other news, this week marks my three month anniversary of living in the Hiker Trailer! I have no regrets about switching and am enjoying Tribble immensely. I love the simplicity, travel days are a breeze, and the space is so cozy. No it’s not perfect, no rig is perfect, but I’m enjoying the challenges and looking forward to many more adventures in my tiny trailer.
So far, this winter’s travels haven’t strayed much from my normal southwest routine.
After leaving Snyder Hill BLM area near Tucson, AZ, I moseyed down to Darby Wells Road near Ajo, AZ to get my fill of big cacti.
After that, I landed at American Girl Mine (AGM) Road near Winterhaven, CA for my annual walk across the border into Mexico for dental care. While camping at AGM, I met up with a lot of my Xscapers friends for the unofficial start of the winter social season.
Photo credit: James Cat
During my stay there we visited the nearby Imperial Sand Dunes (where my profile picture was taken last year), went offroading in the mountains behind camp, and enjoyed a lovely sunset along the banks of the Colorado River.
From there, it was north to Quartzsite, AZ to begin a string of meetups and convergences, starting with the Xscapers New Years Eve party north of town on Plomosa Road.
After this, it’ll be off to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) where I’ll again be giving the work-camping seminar on the 11th. And from there I’ll go directly to the Xscapers Annual Bash, which will be held in Lake Havasu this year instead of Quartzsite.
Imperial Sand Dunes
But otherwise, this reads a lot like my winters have since January 2016 when I started boondocking. This’ll be my fourth winter in a row down in the desert southwest. And while I love the desert, I really don’t need to hang out here until May again, waiting for other parts of the country to warm up. Been there, done that, ready for something new.
This is just one reason why I’m making today’s big announcement: I’m flying to Costa Rica on February 9th for 12 weeks!
This has been a long time coming. I originally confessed my Costa Rica dreams late 2017 on Patreon, when the canceling of my Amazon affiliate account the very day I was set to buy tickets made me change plans. Well, this year I’m making it work, and I’m excited to bring all of you along for this new adventure! (Newer readers might not know this, but my first travel ideas before Interstellar Orchard even existed had me traveling internationally, it was later that I landed on RVing.)
I’m going to be using my college degree for the first time since hitting the road, and volunteering at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center along the Pacific coast called WildSun. I’ll be there 12 weeks, averaging 40 hours a week, and in exchange I get housing for free. I’ll be storing the Hiker Trailer and truck near Phoenix during that time (which is where I’m flying out of).
Those of you familiar with work-camping are probably thinking that sound like bad hours for no pay and you’d be right – my previous two volunteer positions required only 16-20 hours a week in exchange for my RV site. But this isn’t the typical volunteer gig. For starters the location can’t be beat, WildSun is located right next to a national park and very close to the ocean. During my off-time I’ll be hiking, beach combing, learning to surf, and improving my poi dancing skills.
But the biggest reason why I’m okay with working that many hours for no pay is that WildSun is a non-profit and my time is going to a good cause. WildSun’s big project currently is reintroducing the Scarlet Macaw to the Nicoya Penninsula, and I don’t mind working long hours to help them meet their goals. With my degree as a veterinary technician and previous experience with exotics, I’ll be helping nurse sick and injured animals to full health for release back into the wild which gives me the warm fuzzies. I’ll also be cleaning cages, building new enclosures, preparing food for the animals, and other more mundane tasks. But I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.
Photo credit: Jason Midgley
And you get to share in the warm fuzzies because you’re helping make this trip possible. My housing is covered at WildSun, but I’m paying for my food and other living expenses from the money I make through IO from booksales, PayPal donations, and Patreon pledges. Even if you don’t support IO financially, you’re helping by reading this, commenting on posts, and sharing IO with those who would find what I do here helpful and inspiring.
So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being here and joining me on this journey. You’re giving me a great New Year’s present, and you’re also giving those macaws, monkeys, and other wildlife that I’ll be able to help because of your support a great present too!
Get ready to join me on the most audacious adventure since I first hit the road. This will be the farthest I’ve traveled, having only gone as far as Canada and Mexico before. There’s a lot to learn about international travel and I’ve done a fair amount of research – not unlike going RVing. There’ll be more of the how-to kind of posts coming up, but today I just wanted to get the word out. And WildSun has usable WiFi so of course I’ll be posting while there, too.
Beyond Costa Rica, odd-numbered years are the years I go visit family and friends in Wisconsin, so after reuniting with my rolling home in May I’ll be slowly traveling that direction. There are also plans for a backpacking trip in Yellowstone National Park this summer!
But one thing at a time. Most immediately, I’m prepared to store Bertha and Tribble (yes, the Hiker Trailer now has a name!) at a storage lot for the nearly 3 months I’m gone, but if anyone in or near the Phoenix area has space, I’d much prefer to pay a friend than an unknown company. If you’re interested, please do leave a comment or contact me.
And that about sums it up. If you’re attending the RTR or Xscapers Annual Bash I hope to see you there! I’ll be at the RTR from the 8th to the 12th (my work-camping seminar is on the 11th at 10 am), and I’ll be at the AB from the 12th to the 20th (my poi spinning workshop is on the 16th at 5 pm). Journey well, everyone.
In this story, a wannabe full-timer learns of an RV that sounds right for them. They think, ‘this is it, this could be The One’. They get excited at the prospect of having found their dream RV, but at the same time, they also start to feel some pressure. What if it isn’t in as good of shape as the pictures suggest? What if someone else buys it out from under them? What if they buy it and discover they don’t love the layout as much as they thought they would?
This pressure adds a certain amount of stress to the situation. A sense of urgency builds, and the shopper prepares to go see the RV in a heightened emotional state. They are well prepared though, with a friend who knows something of RVs, and a list of things to look for.
The shopper’s dream RV turns out to have water damage.
They know it’s much better to have caught it now than after purchasing, but they are still crushed. Despite knowing logically that there are still plenty of other RVs out there in the world, they had gotten attached to the idea of this particular RV, and the letdown of things not working out puts a serious crimp in their day. But, they pick up the search again. And in a few days or weeks or months, the next ‘dream RV’ pops up on their radar. But this time they’re more wary, there’s a little less excitement and a little more angst.
Maybe this next one works out, maybe it doesn’t. What I’d like to draw attention to is the emotions the shopper experienced during this tale.
It’s very natural for people to feel attached to outcomes, especially when it comes to a big dream or strong desire. And when we’re attached to an outcome, the stakes feel higher.
But we are not always able to control the outcome.
In this story, the RV shopper did the right thing by having a list of things to check for in the RV and bringing an experienced friend along for a second opinion. But despite being prepared, they did not get the outcome they desired, through no fault of their own. And they felt hurt because of it.
Adopting a pessimistic view is one way of managing expectations. The RV shopper could have gone in expecting that this RV wouldn’t work out, and then wouldn’t have felt so letdown when the RV turned out to be damaged. But looking at the world through that lens drains a lot of joy from it. The shopper would have been less disappointed, but they wouldn’t have gotten to experience the positive emotions either – the excitement of tracking down a good match.
I find that the best way to hold onto the good emotions while minimizing the bad is to put the focus more on the journey and less on the outcome.
What we put our attention on, grows. The shopper invested emotionally in the outcome, which created stress because they had limited control over it. But what if they invested emotionally in the journey instead? They could view the experience of RV shopping not as a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. Instead of a failed attempt at buying an RV, it was a successful attempt at spotting water damage – a pretty handy skill to have when you’re going to be living in one!
This one simple shift in perspective changes the whole feel of the story… and the mood of the shopper. It makes the hunt for the right RV not a drudgery that must be endured on the way to full-timing, but a valuable learning experience that will continue to pay off after being on the road.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you didn’t get the outcome you were hoping for, I challenge you to change the story. How can you extract some value from that experience, and turn it from a negative one to a positive one?
After a nice stay with friends and fellow Xscapers Kate and Roger on their property near Mesa Verde National Park, including a nice weekend up in Fruita, CO to try my hand at mountain biking again, the cold weather pushing into Colorado finally forces me south.
Hanging with friends in Fruita
Other than a general direction, I have no specific destination in mind. It takes a couple overnights at Walmarts and truck stops before I get far enough to stay above freezing at night. And when I do, I land at Cosmic Campground along 180 in Gila National Forest. This is a free campground with a seven night limit.
It’s tiny, only six or so gravel sites with a vault toilet. What’s interesting is there are four circular concrete pads for putting up… telescopes. This part of New Mexico is quite remote and the park is dark sky rated. There’s one other person in the campground when I arrive on a Friday and he’s got his big telescope set up and ready to go for late night viewing. “I’ll probably be up until 2 or 3 am.” he tells me on our first meeting. He’s been wanting to get out here all summer but the smoke from the wildfires made for poor viewing conditions until recently.
I don’t own any special equipment for star gazing, but that doesn’t stop me from sitting outside on a clear night and enjoying them with the naked eye, which I do several evenings while camping here. And one night late-night-guy invites me over along with another solo woman who pulls into the campground shortly after me for some telescope viewing. Other people come and go from the campground during my stay, but the three of us hang around for a longer period of time and become friends.
From these pictures you can see the kind of terrain this campground is set in, a rolling savannah with mountains on three sides. It’s a pretty area and there’s a road from the campground that is good for walking, but I don’t get out for any serious sightseeing while here because I come down with a cold and don’t feel like doing much of anything for a few days. But with my new mattress and the nice weather I’m plenty comfortable enough.
Fortunately the cold doesn’t linger. Before I leave Cosmic Campground, our little crew of three meet up one last time for an early Thanksgiving meal complete with stuffing, green bean casserole, and pie. You meet some of the nicest people on the road. We wave and part ways the next day ahead of a cold front that’s about to push into the area.
Nov 11, Sunday
After one more overnight at a Walmart, today I pull into my next destination – Whitewater Draw Wildlife area.
In all honesty it’s not a very good camping spot. Basically it’s an open circle with picnic tables on the outside, in the center is the road running to the marsh and a pit toilet. There’s room for maybe five big rigs if everyone parks well and doesn’t mind being close. There’s very little privacy and a lot of traffic coming and going during the day. So the three night stay limit seems less restrictive knowing these things.
No, the camping isn’t the reason to come here. The cranes are.
Sandhill cranes through a telescope, look at the tall grass…
Over the winter, tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes take up residence in these wetlands. They start arriving in November and leave in March. I’m on the early side of the season so there probably aren’t 10,000 yet, but there are certainly plenty. Even from the camping area farther up the road I can hear their calls as I unhitch and set up camp. Occasionally, flocks of them fly overhead.
Once my table is up and my chair is out and everything is more or less in place, it’s a short walk down the road to the main event. The walkway through the wetlands is in essence a short loop over a berm. The cranes are far enough out that you can’t really see them with the naked eye, but there are viewing binoculars mounted in a couple places, and other birds to see.
Despite the sunny skies a chill wind blows across the flat landscape. The cold front is passing through here too and tonight’s low is in the upper 20’s, even this close to the Mexico border. But it’s much better than it would have been in Cosmic Campground!
In the morning I get a visitor, a roadrunner who comes right up to my camper as bold as you please. He loiters around my site for a few minutes, giving me the eye which makes me wonder what roadrunners eat. Have people been feeding him? A quick search revels that they’re omnivorous and eat insets, small mammals and reptiles, as well as fruits and seeds. I attempt to get closer for a better picture but he scurries away.
And of course I walk back to the marsh for more crane-y goodness. There are several benches scattered around the place and I’ve brought my kindle with me this time. So I sit on a bench for a while and listen to the sounds of life all around me while reading. It’s colder today so I’m bundled up, but less windy.
The roadrunner is back this morning. I’m reading in bed when movement out of the corner of my eye catches my attention. He’s standing on the table right outside my window, peering in at me! My laughter startles him and he scampers away into the brush.
While making my daily tour of the marsh I happen across a couple who are also camping here. They’re Xscapers too slowly making their way west for the Annual Bash in January, it’s a small world. We talk for a while and wish each other well.
Again my friend the roadrunner is waiting to greet me this morning, this time hopping on the roof of the camper for a bit. I hear the pitter-patter of his footsteps while I start stowing away items inside the teardrop for travel. This will be the last day I see him, as my three nights is up and there’s somewhere I need to be this weekend!
It’s a relatively short drive from Whitewater Draw to Tucson, where I stay at Snyder Hill BLM area on the west side of town as I did last year.
This is typically a very busy boondocking area given its proximity to the city and today is no different. It takes me a while to find a suitable spot with a bit of privacy but eventually, I do. One of my neighbors who is out walking her cute little Pomeranian stops by and we talk about places we’ve been. By the time I disengage and get fully set up the sun has slipped behind the horizon, but it’s still pleasant out. The forecast is calling for highs in the 70’s the whole time I’m here, which I’m ready for after the cold weather I’ve been having!
Nov 17, Saturday
There’s just something invigorating about coming back to an area one loves after being away for a while. The past couple days I’ve taken great joy in photographing the various cacti around camp. Here’s the first cholla of the season, complete with bird nest:
And the first saguaro! These aren’t the first cactus I’ve seen as I spotted some from the highway driving here, but these are the first I’ve been able to get close to and inspect.
There are also ocotillo here, their leaves turning brown and soon to fall. If I’m lucky, I’ll see them green again before I leave the desert.
In the evening, I get ready and drive downtown to Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House for an Xscapers Community Day event. This weekend all across the US, members of Xscapers RV Club are organizing little get togethers for other club members in the area. There’s a good number of us who are around Tucson, and we stay out until late having fun.
I have no plans for Thanksgiving proper, but last week’s meal and tonight’s party are my version of Thanksgiving. Like with many facets of RV life, holidays are celebrated on a more flexible schedule and in a less conventional way. I’m still getting good food with good friends, and that’s what’s most important!
Continuing my series on tiny trailer living, today I’m going to address another common question: how do I handle having so little space? This can be broken down into two subjects, living space and storage space.
The simple answer is, when your living space is tiny, you change your definition of it. It comes to mean the space outside your camper as well as within it – there’s a reason why it’s so common to see people with tiny campers have awnings and extensive outdoor setups.
If the weather’s good, I do many activities outside. I cook outside, eat outside, and relax outside. Last winter I finally gave in and spent more money on a very comfortable camp chair, and now that I have the teardrop I’m even more glad that I did. I also treasure time away from camp, engaging in activities that let me stretch my legs like sightseeing hiking, and tours.
My comfy chair and lovely outdoor room
Most RVers try to follow good weather, but when you’re cooking and spending a lot of time outside, it becomes critical for a good camping experience. In the general sense, this works out to moving north and to higher elevations in the summer, and south and lower elevations in the winter. For example I spent much of this past summer in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Now that it’s edging into winter I’m working my to Arizona and southern California.
But even with the best planning, the weather is a fickle thing and inevitably you’ll end up stuck in rain or disagreeable temperatures. Or you may need or want to travel to the wrong part of the country during the wrong time of year for an event or emergency.
I’ve found that in the short-term, say in the event of a day or two of rain, that being stuck indoors is not much of a challenge for me. I have food on hand that doesn’t require cooking and a pass-through door in my squaredrop that lets me access parts of the galley where I store food without having to go outside. I’m content to laze in bed and work or read if the weather is foul and have enough headroom to do simple exercises in my rig to keep from getting stiff or sore. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable.
It’s also worthwhile to pick up the skill of paying closer attention to the weather. Even on rainy days, most of the time it doesn’t rain all day. I have a weather app on my phone that predicts the hourly forecast, and if it’s due to rain I keep an eye on that and look for the windows when it isn’t raining to do whatever it is I might want to do outside. Another facet is simply listening for the brief absence of rain on the roof to run to the bathroom.
A brief sunshine break on a snowy day
Heating and Cooling
It is possible to get A/C and heating for tiny trailers, and if you suspect you’ll be camping where it’s hot, it may pay to invest. Even when you aren’t spending as much time inside, being a comfortable temperature makes sleeping so much better.
My Hiker has circular vents at the front where I can hook up a portable A/C and heating unit from outside and duct the air in – this would require having an electric hookup and the unit would have to be stored when not in use. I don’t actually own the unit, called a ClimateRight, but I have the setup done in case I want to invest later, and in the meantime I can open the vents for additional airflow. I also kept my Little Buddy propane heater by Mr Heater from the Casita, and it works just fine. I just never leave it running while I’m sleeping not that that’s really necessary. With a space as tiny as mine, running it for a half-hour makes it plenty warm inside.
A better view of the black ports where I can hook up a ClimateRight should I choose to get one
Other teardrops might have a small A/C, usually mounted in the wall between the living area and galley, and small electric heaters can be used inside if you have electric.
But the best way to stay cozy when sleeping in a teardrop is to have warm bedding. It’s a small enough space that just your body heat warms up the inside considerably. Invest in a good sleeping bag, or buy a 12V electric blanket. Either will keep you plenty toasty.
Even with the best attitude, being stuck indoors during poor weather grows old eventually. Fortunately, having teardrop means your home is separate from your transportation, and there are plenty of indoor places where you can hang out for periods of time to escape bad weather. Here are a few of my favorite places to go when the weather has me bummed:
Coffee shops and restaurants
Museums & other attractions
Run errands (laundry, groceries, etc.)
RV park clubhouse or other people’s RVs
Libraries and coffee shops give me a change in scenery to work away from home. Restaurants, museums, and movies are good food and entertainment options on a rainy day. Errands might not be fun normally, but doing them on bad weather days gets you out of the camper and since they need to be done anyway, you might as well do them when the weather isn’t cooperative for funner activities.
Some RV parks have an indoor public space for hanging out, usually called a clubhouse. I rarely stay in parks these days, but I do often boondock with friends with larger rigs than mine, and on bad weather days it’s not uncommon to gather in the largest person’s rig for a work party or movie.
Working at a friend’s rig and enjoying the view outside
Another possible solution is to park in a friend or family member’s driveway, which is often referred to as moochdocking. This typically gives you at least partial access to a climate-controlled house, but you still have your own bed and private space which is nice for both you and your host. Of course, you don’t want to impose on anyone or overstay your welcome, but I’ve found this an ideal way to visit family and close friends no matter what the weather’s like.
The key to managing storage well in any RV is to find good ways to utilize what you have. And what you have in a teardrop is a rear galley, probably with large drawers and cabinets. Don’t be afraid to alter storage spaces to fit your needs by adding or removing shelves and putting in more partitions. This is the most common problem I hear of when people complain about their storage. They have the room… they just haven’t modified it to best suit their needs and leave a lot of dead space that could be used with the right system in place.
In the Hiker Trailer, the galley is flat and not very deep, more like a large cabinet than a typical galley found in a teardrop with a sloped back. There are three shelves, but that’s not nearly enough partitions for the size stuff I carry in the back.
And I do carry a lot in the back. Many teardrops have sinks and cook surfaces in the back but one of the things I really liked about the Hiker is that it did not come with these by default. As a full-timer, I didn’t want to waste precious rig space for preparing food, so instead I have a table and portable stove that live in the back of my truck and have my kitchen entirely outdoors, and the back of the squaredrop is just for storage.
To organize the back, I bought a lot of storage bins from Walmart, not the prettiest solution but relatively inexpensive and easy to change if I decide to down the road. I bought different sizes, so that I can make good use of my space, and all my bins are clear so that it’s easy to see what I have in each one.
Storage in the back of my Hiker
I also store a lot of stuff in my truck, which has a camper shell in the back – I always tell people the truck bed is my storage unit. I honestly could put a lot more in the back than I do, but I like it that way.
And one more thing. As a solo person, I did not have to devote the entire interior of my camper to bed space. Instead half of my interior is bed, and the other half is…. yes, storage. Right now I keep all of my clothes inside, all my electronics, and other things I need frequently. Things are still coming and going from the various storage places in my rig, as I figure out what I need where. But it’s coming together.
I hope this article helps you make the most of the living and storage space in your teardrop. Happy travels!