Planning for a multi-year overlanding trip results in a long list of pretty much everything you can imagine. Decisions, decisions, decisions on what to buy, bring, sell or modify before you even begin your adventure. The biggest decision by far is what vehicle you will drive and how you will sleep. These are all of our thoughts and considerations for the ‘perfect for us’ home on wheels for full time camper living.
If you are wondering why we are taking this trip and adventure into full time camper living and tackling the Pan-American Highway, you can read all about our transition from corporate America to living in a camper. The decision of pursuing Van Life or living in a camper is certainly not an easy one to make but it has been fully worth it for us. If you're wondering if you should try full time camper living, this article on Van Lifer's Comments might help with your decision making.
What Vehicle Should I Choose For Full Time Camper Living?
The vehicle you choose to tackle the Pan-American Highway with is obviously one of the biggest decisions to make. For us, it was a relatively easy decision, but still well thought out. When we moved to Chicago in 2015, we purchased our 2011 Toyota Tacoma, knowing in the back of our minds that it might be used for this adventure.
The main requirements in a vehicle to go on such an adventure are for it to be reliable, durable, capable, and relatively fuel efficient. The Toyota Tacoma is one of the most popular trucks in North America due to its well-known Toyota reliability and durability, as well as being quite capable off-road. Fuel efficiency is not its strong-point, but when driven with care it is manageable. All of these factors, make it an excellent choice for full time camper living.
Do I Need To Modify My Vehicle?
Depending on what vehicle you pick and what type of home you are planning to live in (think rooftop tent, van, camper, pop-up camper, etc), you may need to do some modifications to your vehicle. Also, if you are planning on doing a lot of off-roading, stock tires and suspension might not get you everywhere you want to go. In our case, we had to put some work into our Toyota Tacoma for it to be able to safely support our pop-up camper called "Swifty" (more on it below). We made the following modifications to get ready for the road.
- Old Man Emu Heavy Duty 3” Lift Kit and rear airbags (for extra ground clearance and to support the weight of Swifty) - after our first month on the road, we are already super happy we have a lift.
- 33” BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2’s (for better traction off-road and to support the weight of Swifty)
- RCI Off Road engine skid plate (to protect the engine if we don’t see a rock that is too big to drive over!)
- RCI Off Road rock sliders (to protect the underside of the truck and provide an appropriate jack point for the now higher truck)
- New brakes, a full-size spare tire, spark plugs, and fresh fluids all around (for overall better driveability and reliability)
A special thanks to Performance Rovers (Charlotte, North Carolina), MULE Expedition Outfitters (Issaquah, Washington), and Overland Outfitters (Cloverdale, British Columbia) for completing the modifications and helping us along the way! We can highly recommend all of them for quality work and excellent customer service.
The list of modifications you could make to your overland vehicle is endless, especially for full time camper living. With what we chose we hope to strike the right balance of increased capability, maintaining stock reliability, and keeping overall weight down.
What's The Best Camper For Full Time Camper Living?
Finding the best camper for full time camper living highly depends on your preferred lifestyle. If you are looking to live a minimal lifestyle, don't mind being exposed to the weather, and are wanting to keep the overall vehicle cost and weight down to explore places, a rooftop tent might be a great option for you!
If you are the opposite and are looking for a tiny house which is comfortable but can still get you places, you might like getting a camper or a van. Campers or vans are really great but restrict where you can go as they don't perform as well off road. If you are somewhere in the middle and want a comfortable home but also don't like to be restricted in where you go, a pop-up camper might be your best option for full time camper living.
Why We Chose A Pop-Up Camper
Our initial plan was to complete this trip with a roof-top tent, however after a two-week long camping trip to Colorado in 2017, we realized that tenting wasn’t going to work for such a long trip. We needed to have a complete indoor place to work, relax, and cook when the weather turned sour, to be able to enjoy full time camper living.
While getting a full RV, camper, or Sprinter van would provide a comfortable tiny home, we wouldn't be able to go and explore all the places on our lists. This left us with the third option: a pop-up camper.
Which Pop-Up Camper Is Right For Me?
The decision of getting the right pop-up camper very much depends on your vehicle. Given that we have a Toyota Tacoma, our options were very limited, as there are not a lot of pop-up campers on the market to fit a short-bed.
The Four Wheel Campers Swift model is specifically designed for the short-bed Toyota Tacoma and was thus perfect for us. This pop-up camper is designed to be strong (to withstand flex and tension when driving off-road), relatively lightweight (given the Toyota Tacoma’s poor payload capacity), relatively compact (so we can still fit in a shipping container) and to include just about everything you need to live indoors.
Buying a Four-Wheel Campers Pop-Up Camper
Four-Wheel Campers are not cheap, and get snapped up quickly on the used market. I began actively searching for a pop-up truck camper about a year before we planned on leaving Chicago, and over the next nine months, it became apparent that 1) the campers are listed and sold within days 2) there are virtually no campers available east of Colorado.
If you are looking to buy a Four-Wheel Campers pop-up camper, but prefer to get a used version to save some money, prepare to wait or fly west. Because of their unique features, the pop-up camper is very popular and doesn't stay on the secondary market very long. I found our Swift model on Expedition Portal and immediately got in contact with the seller who had received multiple requests the day he listed his camper.
Because camping and off-roading is more popular in the western half of the U.S., your chances of finding a used pop-up camper are much higher there. If you have the option of researching and purchasing one in the western states, it will make your search easier and shorter.
Four-Wheel Campers Pop-Up Camper Interior
Our Four Wheel Campers Swift model (which Bettina calls Swifty) is complete with a refrigerator and freezer, two-burner propane stove, 20 gallon water tank with sink, hot water heater with outdoor shower head, propane furnace, two solar panels and two batteries, and a massive 270-degree awning.
The original look of our used Swift model was not exactly what Bettina had in mind for full time camper living. The kitchen counter top and table were a darker brown granite lookalike and the couch cushion fabric was very camp-chic. Given that the Swift model is not overly spacious, she decided to redecorate the interior and include brighter colors to visually enlarge the space.
For the counter tops, she ordered a white marble counter top sticker. This was by far the cheapest option to upgrade the look of the counter top. The installation was a bit tedious and took a few hours but the final look is definitely worth it. After a full month on the road and cooking inside Swifty, the sticker has held up nicely and still looks great.
To upgrade the couch cushion covers, Bettina decided to go with a light grey durable fabric that would go well with the marble and add a clean look to the camper. She took all the old cushions apart and sewed new ones herself to save some money.
Lastly, we added a carpet to the camper floor which would make it more comfortable to walk around barefoot. The end result is a clean, bright, and cohesive interior, perfect for us to enjoy full time camper living.
5 Other Camping Essentials
If you made it this far and decide to give the full time camper living a go, there are a few camping essentials you shouldn't leave without! We compiled a list of our top 5 things you should consider getting before embarking on your adventure.
1. Portable Bathroom: From the list above, you can see that Swifty has just about everything we could possibly need, with the one glaring exception being a toilet. We decided to purchase a collapsible toilet seat, sanitary bags, and a privacy tent to make up for the missing bathroom. The set-up works perfectly and the tent does double-duty as a shower tent using our outdoor shower head.
2. Outdoor Kitchen: If you're looking into living the camper life, it's safe to assume you like to be outdoors. And since cooking takes up a lot of time on the road, you might as well do so in your outdoor kitchen! Having a camp table and camp chairs is essential to us as we like to sit and eat outside. If you are looking to fully cook outside, like we do, adding a camp stove to your inventory is essential. We got the Coleman camp stove and can highly recommend it so far as it works great and can function on either Coleman camp fuel or unleaded gasoline.
3. Recovery Gear: The last thing you want to do while living on the road is get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight. If you are traveling alone (without a second vehicle), we highly recommend you invest in some recovery gear. We are traveling with multiple tow-ropes, a Hi-Lift Jack, two MAXTRAX, a shovel, a saw, a portable air compressor, and a tire repair kit. Carrying a spare fuel can with you is also extremely helpful and can save you when gas stations are few and far between.
4. Packing Cubes: Space comes at a premium on the road - especially closet space. If you have been following us for a bit, you know that Bettina loves her flowy dresses and an extensive wardrobe. To solve our closet space solution, we use the Genius Pack compression packing cubes to store our everyday clothes underneath the couch in Swifty. The compression cubes help greatly when it comes to packing efficiently. Bettina also has a carry-on size suitcase in the back of the truck to store all of her dresses and shoes.
5. Portable Battery Pack: With your cell phone being your main communication, internet, and entertainment device it will always be running low on battery. We recommend bringing at least one portable battery pack to recharge your phone on the go when you don't have an electrical outlet. We are using the Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack (get 15% off using THENEXTTRIP15 at check-out) which comes with a solar panel to charge up your battery pack. It also has an integrated LED light! Needless to say, it is one of our most used gadgets on the road as we use it to charge our phones, the portable speaker, and power our camp lights.
Looking Ahead - Full Time Camper Living
The adventure that lies ahead will no doubt change who you are and your views on life. We find ourselves at a bit of a mid-life crisis, unsure how to navigate the world. There will be too many ups and downs to count along the way, but the goal is to explore new places and cultures, try new foods and experiences, and grow even closer together, with an overarching theme of adventure. One quote that really resonates with us and helps define our journey is that “Adventure is the pursuit of oneself.” We don’t know what we will find or discover, but are ready for the challenge.
Save this pin to your adventure travel or vanlife Pinterest board for when you are ready to hit the road!
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