Gulf Islands National Seashore, Okaloosa Area, Fort Walton Beach, FL, 3/1/12

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Part 3: Packed Prius
for Sleeping and Lounging

In the following photos, I show how the Prius is both fully packed with all of my gear, as well as used for sleeping and lounging.

If I plan to stay someplace for less than a week, then it doesn't seem worth it to set up and break down my full snowbird camp.  So, I just keep everything loaded and live out of my car as though I'm in travel mode.

Driver's seat is moved all of the way forward.  Almost everything
that was in the passenger seat (Part 2), is now in the driver's seat.
Also, the Dromedary Bags for water that were at the foot of the bed
are now in the front passenger seat.  4/16/15

Passenger seat is now available for lounging (and office,
changing room, video watching, bathroom, etc.).    4/16/15  

Hatch area with nothing over the foot of the bed except heavy coat
for warmth and storage.  (Sorry for sun glare.)  4/16/15 

Back seat area on passenger side:  You can see the head of my bed,
with pillow, that I use as a side table while lounging.  4/16/15  

Front passenger seat holds everything as described in Part 2, as well as
a chair, small insulated bag, and my hat.  4/16/15  

All packed up and ready to leave the next morning from our
Prescott National Forest camp where I stayed with friends for
about a month.  4/16/15  

Arrived at a Coconino National Forest camp to stay with other friends.  I
planned to be here for about 5 days; so, I didn't set up camp; but brought
out my chair to admire the view and visit with my camp mates.  4/18/15  
James, who runs the CheapRVLiving YouTube channel, made a video of how I live out of my Prius at our Coconino NF camp.  You can view it here.

Packing so much gear in the Prius, while living out of it, is rather like putting a jig saw puzzle together.  You've got to get everything in there, make sure it's not too heavy on either side, while making sure that you can get to everything you might need for the duration.

Part 2: Packing the Prius for Travel

First, I want to apologize and explain why it's taken so long to put up this 2nd post about packing.  A camp mate got sick and so my plans to travel within the next day or so were delayed.  Finally, I was ready to move on; so, packed up and took the photos.  But, my new camp site had an extremely poor Internet connection that wouldn't allow me to upload the photos. Finally, today I'm in Cottonwood with a good connection and have posted everything.  Such are the unanticipated circumstances of staying in the back country.  

As with Part 1, these photos begin at the driver's seat and go around to the hatch, ending at the front passenger seat.  

Driver's seat, pushed back and ready to go.  4/16/15

Back passenger's seat on driver's side.  2 duffle bags of clothes,  2 bags of food,  
toiletry bag and chair.  Top gets covered with dark blue towel for travel.  4/16/15

The next 3 photos are of the hatch area.
1 of 3 under the hatch, all packed up and ready to go.  4/16/15  

2 of 3 under the hatch.  Water bladders (MSR 10 liter Dromedary Bags)
are kept under a white sheet to keep sun's rays off and stay cool.  4/16/15  

3 of 3 under the hatch.  Kitchen items and food storage all ratcheted and
tied down for safety.   Covered with a black blanket for travel.  4/16/15  

Back seat on passenger side.  My bed covered with a black sheet
heavy coat on far side, and curtain in the foreground.  4/16/15  

Front passenger seat:  Except for the 2 black bags toward the top back,
every other item is extra this year.  I wanted to make my camp more
homey and livable as I snowbird and stay for weeks at a time in one
place  (kitchen table, deck umbrella with base, side table, tent, rug).
As under the hatch, everything is tied down for safety.  4/16/15 

In the past, one self-imposed "rule" I've maintained is to store nothing above window level to make it less obvious that I was camping out of my car (except for the hatch area).  As you can see, I was not able to accomplish that goal this year in the front passenger seat of my car.  However, these items do not obstruct my view any more than a passenger.  I just use my side mirrors to assure safe turns and lane changes.  For more stealth, I can cover with black curtains if desired.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Part 1: Packing the Prius

I've had quite a few questions about how I pack my Prius with all my gear and still have room to sleep.  Over the next few days I will be packing up to move to another spot.  I plan to take photos so that you can see how items are packed away.

I will do 3 posts to show you 3 modes of my packed Prius: 1) Camping Mode, 2) All-Packed Driving Mode, and 3) All-Packed Sleeping Mode.

Today I'm in Camping Mode.  So, here are those pictures, starting at the driver's seat, going around the back, and ending at the front passenger seat.

Driver's Seat:  Two duffle bags full of clean clothes from doing
laundry yesterday.  A t-shirt is rolled up to cover an annoying  flashing
 alarm system light.  Car's interior is dusty from all the wind.  4/9/15 

Driver's side passenger seat:  Driver's seat is moved forward as far
as possible.  An organizer is hung on the back of driver's seat
(for a variety of safety, personal and electronic gear).  
This space is my lounge area, office, changing room, and  bathroom.  
It's 4' tall from floor to ceiling.  The floor space is about 20" x 20".   
It's a normal size passenger seat.  I use the top of my bed as a side table.  
When needed, I hang the curtains for privacy.  4/9/15 

Hatch:  I already posted about my bed here.  The foot of my bed
is on the right, and the left side (driver's side) is being used for storage

Back passenger's seat:  Black fleece in the foreground is a
curtain for privacy.  The black bag on the left holds toiletry items.  
 On the floor, under the head of the bed I store 4 bags 
and Luggable Loo seat to bolster the head of the bed up.  4/9/15  

Front Passenger Seat:  On the floor is an insulated bag of food  
wrapped in a heavy coat and topped with a lap blanket to keep it cool.  
The seat holds 2 bags of electronic and office items.   4/9/15  

When I drive, I push the driver's seat back and move the two duffle bags with clean clothes to the passenger seat behind.

One key to living out of a small space is to always put items away in exactly the same place as soon as you are finished using them.  It's somewhat counter intuitive -- it's much easier to lose something in a small space than a large space.  "A place for everything and everything in its place."

Monday, March 30, 2015

My First Campsites

Since I've had several questions about my campsites while being a snowbird, I'll go ahead and blog about what I've done so far.  I've stayed at 4 Arizona back country sites:  BLM land in Ehenberg, Tonto National Forest, Aqua Fria National Monument, and Prescott National Forest.  All of these locations allow free dispersed camping.  Typically that means that nothing is provided -- no water, garbage disposal, toilets, etc. -- it's carry in, carry out.  My camp site in the Tonto National Forest was an exception to that rule, it had pit toilets with a table and fire ring at each site.  Otherwise, it was still carry in, carry out.

My Ehrenberg camp, under the Ironwood Tree.  (2/10 - 3/3/15)  

I didn't set up a camp at Agua Fria NM.   The river was too deep for my Prius to ford; so, I couldn't go very far into the back country.   Instead, I found a small site up on a hill overlooking the road through the National Monument with I-17 a couple of miles in the distance.  I didn't set up camp there for a couple of reasons:  1) I was only going to stay for a couple of nights, and 2) I felt exposed as I could be seen for miles around.  The good parts were that my views were breath taking, and I had great Internet access due to being so close to I-17  The only time I'd ever been checked-up on by a Sheriff was at this site.  He just saw that I was in my car, waved, and backed down the hill.

Tonto NF campsite in the Mesquite Forest, next to the Verde River.
The trees were just starting to leaf out.  The site came with a table,
so I didn't set up my kitchen, nor shade umbrella. (3/6-3/16/15)  

But, when I'm at a location for any length of time, I'll set up camp.  I look for a shade tree where I can set up camp just north of it.  At Ehrenberg it was a Ironwood tree.  I was in among lots of Mesquite trees in the Tonto NF.  Here in the Prescott NF, I'm north of a large Juniper.  I want to take advantage of the shade so I pitch my tent as far under the tree as possible, and set up my kitchen so that it gets early afternoon shade.

More Mesquite Trees across the road from my campsite.
The grass was over a foot tall.  Sunset, Tonto NF,  3/13/15.  
In an earlier post I shared about all of the extra stuff I was going to bring because I'd be a snowbird instead of a traveler (tent, kitchen, shade umbrella with base, more water containers, etc.).  Mostly, I've been happy that I carried all of the extra items.  One questionable item is the umbrella with it's cast iron base.  It's big and heavy to bring along.  And, in Ehrenberg it was too windy to use; in Tonto's Mesquite Forest it wasn't needed; but in the Prescott NF I'm really using it for the first time.  By the end of this 4-months, we'll see if I'd be willing to take it snowbirding again.

Prescott NF campsite.  (3/18/15 - present)  
Originally, I was going to use my 2-person tent for a bathroom.  But, it was too akward.  So, the tent became my storage space for food, kitchen supplies, water containers, and a dirty clothes bag.  I love it.  I purchased an instant tent that's well made and quick to put up and take down.  If it's going to rain or blow, I put my chair, side table, and kitchen table (partially folded down) into the tent and out of the elements.  Also, before bed or when I go into town, I'll usually store my kitchen items in the tent (stove, utensils, paper towels, garbage bag, etc.).

Last night's sunset as viewed from my front windshield.
 (Prescott NF, 3/29/15)  

Note: Here's a blog post by my friend Bob Wells whom I'm current camped near.  He talks about camping among friends here in the Prescott NF.

Friday, March 27, 2015

February and March
Snowbirding Locations

I've been snowbirding for almost 2 months now; at my mid-point. I left Fall City the first week of February, a month later than planned (after recovering from the flu, a reaction to the shingles vaccine, and the Seahawk's Superbowl loss).

I migrated down I-5, overnighting in Canyonville, OR and Gustine, CA before landing in Southern California.  The next couple of days was a whirlwind and a joy as I hopped from Tustin, Anaheim, Murietta, and Cathedral City to visit, breakfast, laugh, have dinner, get hugs, do technology, watch softball, and just have fun spending time with friends and family. Then I was off for some serious snowbirding in the desert southwest.

Ehrenberg sunset on Valentine's Day.   XXOXOO for John :)  

First, I spent almost 3 weeks in the back country of Ehrenberg, AZ (BLM land). Here I got to see a few good vandwelling friends again, and meet some new folks too. But, mostly I just enjoyed the quiet and warmth of the desert. The closest camp to mine was about 50 yards, the furthest about 300.

Sunset through a dust storm, Ehrenberg, AZ (end of February)  

After Ehrenberg, I made a quick trip further south to Los Algodones, MX for some cheap meds and vanilla extract.  There was a storm brewing and I didn't want to be caught in the desert back country, so decided to spend the night at Yuma's Mittry Lake (BLM land) until the roads dried up.  I really enjoyed the dramatic skies and wildlife. But, it rained very little.

Great White Egrets roosting below my campsite at Mittry Lake.
Not a great photo, but a great memory.  By sundown, the snags were
full of about 20 egrets.   (3/1/15)  

My friend Sunny was in Apache Junction, AZ again this year; so, I was glad to meet up with her for a few days. We toured Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West and drove The Apache Trail. I highly recommend both activities.

The entrance area to Taliesin West gives a sense of the
architect's aesthetic throughout the complex. (3/4/15)  

Spire designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as
part of a proposed state capitol complex
designed in the 1950's.  (3/4/15)  

Last rays of sunlight on the Superstition Mountains,
as taken from the Goldfield Ghost Town. (3/4/15)  

Canyon Lake on The Apache Trail.  (3/5/15)  

Tortilla Flat, AZ Saloon on The Apache Trail.  Here you have a
seat at the bar in a real saddle (Sunny) or ride bare back on a
carved horse''s butt (Suanne).  (3/5/15)

Layers in the rock as seen on The Apache Trail. Amazing!  (3/5/15)  

Some dirt road sections of The Apache Trail in the distance, with
ocotillo ready to burst into bloom in the foreground.  (3/5/15)

The dam on Theodore Roosevelt Lake.  The Apache Trail. (3/5/15)  

From there, I went to the Cave Creek Ranger District Office for Tonto National Forest and inquired about dispersed camping. The ranger eagerly pointed out various options, including one that didn't require a permit (free) -- Mesquite Campground – that's the option I chose. The drive to the campground was beautiful among rock formations and saguaro cacti, partially paved and partially a graded dirt road. I selected a small campsite right next to the Verde River, in the middle of a Mesquite forest. After 10 days of soaking in this beauty, I decided to meet up with some friends again.

Campsites at the Mesquite Campground had fire rings and tables.
Here I'm relaxing while viewing the fast-flowing
and muddy Verde River. (3/7/15)  
A few days later, they turned down the water flow from the reservoir up river.
You can see on the trees below how high the water was, and it's still muddy.   

Soon the river was down to a trickle, and clear.  (3/13/15)  

Saguaro Cactus Forest across Horseshoe Reseviour, about
2 miles upstream (by road) from my campsite.  (3/13/15)  
At sunset a storm rolled through, making the scene look
more like Halloween than Spring time.  (3/13/15)  

Once I got back onto the Internet, I found that my friends were going to move to cooler weather in a few days. So, rather than back track and spend time in 90 degree heat, I spent a few nights at Agua Fria National Monument (BLM land). Here it was cooler and on the way to the Prescott National Forest location where I'd hoped to meet up with folks.

Leaving Agua Fria as storm clouds were gathering.  (3/18/15)  

With another storm brewing, I didn't want to be stuck in the back country of Agua Fria until it dried out. So, I decided to see if I could find my friends in the Prescott NF before the roads became impassable. Based on directions from a couple of years ago, I found them just after they had arrived themselves. Good thing; it poured that night and into the next day.

A look down the road from my current camp site in the
Prescott National Forest.  (3/22/15)   
Now, after 10 days, I'm loving the weather – 70's during the day and low 40's at night. It's a juniper forest, with prickly pear cacti, grasses, and other plants that I can't identify. My friends have camped here before and tell me we'll have a wild flower bloom next month. Already I've noticed some color – purples, yellows, and the reds/oranges of the Indian Paintbrush. It's here that I'm writing this blog.

Preview of some wildflowers.  Dainty yellow things next
to my camp.  (3/22/15)  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Preparing to Snowbird

About 9 months ago I decided that I would try being a snowbird next winter. And now, it's almost time to fly south.  In the process of preparing, I've found that I need to change some of what I bring and how I pack.

When it comes to traveling, I've thought of my Prius like a backpack. I figured if thru-hikers can go long distances, for months at a time with only what's on their back, I certainly can live out of my Prius long term.  Over the past 5 years of travel, my Prius has performed admirably as both my backpack and hard-sided tent.

My Prius in the desert SW last winter, in travel mode.
Photo taken by Bob Wells, January 2014 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

But, being a snowbird is different. I'll be staying in the same locale for months at a time; only going into town every 10 days for supplies, laundry and to dump garbage. Being a snowbird is more analogous to staying in a campground than being a thru-hiker. So, I began to re-think my preparations for this coming snowbird season.

Some options I considered includes using our 20' Class C, getting a used van, or buying a solar panel system with house batteries. As a snowbird camper, I will live without hook ups (water, electricity, sewer). I want to do that as simply, frugally and comfortably as possible.

I decided against the Class C for being too big, consuming too much gas, and having too many large items that I don't use (frig/freezer, microwave, tanks, oven, forced-air heater, etc.). I also decided against buying a van until I know if being a snowbird is a good fit for me, as well as for when I can save enough for something very reliable. Similarly, for the same reasons, I will wait to purchase a full-blown solar panel/battery system. But, until then, I will to try a combination of other methods to both conserve and supply my electrical needs.

My computing needs are my greatest draw on electricity. Since my laptop was ready to be replaced, I chose to get a tablet with a keyboard* to conserve energy. My other electronics include a smart phone* and data hotspot*. For lighting I use (mostly) rechargeable batteries. My methods for both cooking and keeping produce cool do not use electricity

So, with my minimal needs for electricity, I'm taking a multi-faceted approach. First, I got a small 7w solar panel*. I'm hoping it will keep my smart phone, hot spot and some AA batteries charged. Second, I purchased a battery jump starter* with a 12v port for recharging my electronics. Not only can this item provide a jump start, but also has other built in functions – inverter for 120v, LED worklight, and an air compressor – all of which I've no plans to use, but nice to have just in case. My third power source is my trusty Prius. When recharging my electronics in the past, my Prius' engine runs for about 5 minutes every half hour to maintain it's own battery. To save gas this winter, I'll keep the Prius off for as long as possible while recharging electronics. I'll monitor the Prius' accessory battery with a low-voltage alarm and start the car to recharge when it gets low.

I've always said that I live out of my Prius, not in it. While being a snowbird, that will be more true than ever. The desert back country will be my front yard, back yard and home for four months. So, I wanted my snowbird camp to have a few more niceties than when I'm traveling like a thru-hiker. I'm bringing a 4x6' mat*, an umbrella* for shade, and a collapsible camp kitchen* table. Finally, I've added a small pop up tent* for bathroom and storage. A big factor for all these homey extras is that they can be put away fast and easy when the desert winds blow. After adding a camp chair I'll be ready to kick back and enjoy!

In this photo I'm using the camp kitchen and umbrella that I'll be bringing
to snowbird.  Camping with family, using our old teardrop trailer in 2009. 

In the desert, water is a big deal. I need at least one gallon per day. If I only go into town every 10 days, then that's 10 gallons to have on hand. But, I've only carried a maximum of four gallons in the past. And, with all of the additional stuff I'm bringing to set up camp, I certainly did not have any additional room for six more jugs. For this challenge, I turned again to a backpacking solution. I got four 10-liter bladders* that lay flat when empty. Problem solved.

I'm also changing where I pack supplies and gear in my car. In the past I've camped in bear country. So, I've kept anything that smells (food, water, toiletries) in my front passenger seat to easily transfer into a bear box. But, bears don't live in the desert SW; so, instead I focused on function and moved my food under the hatch with my cooking gear. Also, I'm not storing kitchen and food items in duffle bags, as usual; instead I put them in a couple of plastic storage boxes* that will also serve as work surfaces when moved outside. The new large items (umbrella, table, jump starter) will travel in the front passenger seat area.

Other needs, like cooking, bathroom, sleeping, and safety will be solved the same way as when I'm traveling.

Bed setup in the Prius.  In preparation for my first test
trip in October 2009.  Bed setup remains the same.

The Prius may not be the best vehicle for boondocking long term, but I trust that it will continue to serve me well during this winter's snowbird test.

* Links provided to items similar to what I will be using.  Not to be considered an endorsement.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Frugal, Happy Living

Once again I'm preparing to head out. This winter I'm going to try sticking to a single locale in the desert southwest, snowbird style. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with many sunny days. Unfortunately, John remains unconvinced that traveling to warmer climes is preferable to staying at our PNW house. So, once again, I'm going solo.  

Mid-Day shade, Ehrenberg, AZ, January 2014  
I seriously considered taking our Class C RV, but have settled on living out of my Prius again. The Class C is too big for just me. And, I so enjoy the minimal, frugal living experience in the hybrid hatchback. But, since I will probably be staying put for months at a time, I will bring a few more amenities to make living outside more homey – rug, small kitchen table, shade umbrella, bathroom tent – assuming everything will store well in the Prius when the winds kick up. I also got a small solar panel system to help keep my tablet and phone charged.

Morning view, Cottonwood, AZ, March 2014  
Not only am I looking forward to living simply in nature's back country, but I'm also looking forward to spending time with friends who enjoy doing the same. Yearly we gather for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, AZ.

The still at sunrise, RTR in Quartzsite, AZ, January 2014  
The RTR's host, Bob Wells is currently featured in the documentary “Without Bound: Perspectives on Mobile Living.” The producer is Michael Tubbs, videographer and adjunct professor at a Texas State University. Click here for the trailer; but, if you have time, please watch the 50-minute feature below. The film is well done and does an excellent job exploring the motives and passions of those who choose to live frugally in nature. You'll hear the word “freedom” a lot.  

Also, click here to read Bob's blog regarding the documentary for extra insights about the lifestyle.

Some of the people in the documentary have a website or blog:
   - Bob Wells -
   - Randy Vining -
   - Josh and Meisha Manwaring -
   - Steve Ballee' -

I call most folks in this documentary like-minded friends … most of whom I look forward to seeing in a little more than a month.