For some people, money is everything, but not for 30-year-old Phil Kockerbeck who worked as a financial advisor and made a fine living doing it. Phil enjoyed helping others achieve their retirement goals, but he wanted to travel and meet others with like-minded interests while he was still young and healthy. So he saved, downsized, gave stuff away, threw stuff away, and after a few years bought a one-of-a-kind truck camper rig and hit the road full-time. He has now been on the road for three months, traveled over 9,000 miles, and been to nine states and provinces with no sign of letting up.
“My work history has been all over the place,” Phil explained. “Originally, I ran a dirt bike shop a few years with a business partner. It was a ton of fun, but after my business partner and I split ways I went into finance. In the time I spent working as a financial advisor, I realized that rather than growing my wealth, I wanted to grow my experiences. I talked to folks who would plan these grand retirements, and have 20-30 years to get there, and decided I didn’t want to be like that. So, I quit, downsized, and put everything into living full-time on the road and documenting my experience on YouTube. As of late, it has been starting to cover fuel costs and helps keep me going full time.”
One of the biggest benefits living on the road is the low-cost of living. Indeed, many people choose the nomadic lifestyle to save money and pay off debts. This is especially true of millennials looking to pay-off student loans and for newlyweds looking to save money for a down payment on a new home. Unlike many RV nomads, however, Phil wanted to be debt free before living on the road.
“That was also a big goal of mine and I’m happy to say I am completely debt free,” he said. “No payments and most importantly, no interest! It took a lot of focus but as a former financial advisor I knew it was a must. It took me two years to get financially stable, and being fully committed to this lifestyle. If I had to give any advice on this subject, I would say to absolutely get rid of your high interest debt. Mainly credit cards! Things like a car payment or a mortgage could certainly be worked into the budget if the interest rate is reasonable”
“Owning a home provides a lot of leverage and if you do have equity in your home and want to do something like this, I personally wouldn’t hesitate to pull a line-of-credit from your home, rent it out, and go travel! As an advisor I could never recommend things like this, but as a passionate adventurer with no guarantee of tomorrow, I say go for it. Debt can motivate us to work harder, and it is certainly not always a bad thing,” Phil said.
Of course, getting into the right truck and camper can make a world of difference when it comes to keeping finances under control while living on the road. Getting the wrong truck can be costly with repairs and other needed modifications. The same thing applies to the camper. While many have trouble finding the right rig to live in, and make a few bad choices along the way, this wasn’t the case for Phil who hit the jackpot right away with a truck camper rig he affectionately calls the Dodgemahal. But the Dodgemahal isn’t your typical RV. The Dodgemahal is a 4×4 rig built for extreme off-roading, something that Phil hasn’t been afraid of doing.
“My truck is a 2001 Dodge Ram 2500 5.9L Cummins with an XP Camper “Cube” Prototype camper,” Phil said. “It was built by Bryon Dorr of Exploring Elements, was featured in the 2014 SEMA, as well as many magazine covers and articles. I bought the rig at the 2018 Overland Expo and have been doing modifications to the truck and camper ever since. XP Campers never made another Cube quite like this, and it is truly a one of a kind build that I am so excited to own. The camper is 100 percent fiberglass foam construction with no metal or wood framing, so it is very light and also very well insulated. It has a 2-foot vinyl pop-up that gives you ample head room, and even works great when lowered. I can access everything inside without popping the top, if I want to be a bit more stealthy.”
What does he like best about his one-of-a-kind, flatbed pop-up that boasts a wet weight of only 1,300 pounds? “I’d have to say the dinette/bed,” Phil said. “When the dinette is setup I have had as many as eight people stuffed in here, but realistically four to five can fit comfortably and eat a meal. When I put the table down, it becomes an almost queen size bed! It’s not a perfect bed though, and I do put an extra 3-inch memory foam pad on top, which can be cumbersome when not in use, but every setup has it’s compromises.”
Some modifications, of course, are needed to make a truck camper a place that you can truly call home. Phil’s camper was no different. He went to work right away completing several mods before he embarked on his full-time adventure. The biggest of these mods included a 250 watt solar power system, a new AGM battery, and a 1,000 watt pure sine wave inverter. These changes and others were needed to make Phil’s rig totally self-sufficient for long-term, off-grid travel.
“I’ve done a lot of work to the camper in the past year,” Phil said. “I took out the old fridge and put in a bigger, dual zone Dometic fridge/freezer, as well as relocated and added a bigger sink. Since the solar system was four to five years old, I did a full overhaul with a new 125 amp hour deep cycle AGM battery, MPPT charge controller, and a 1,000 watt sine wave inverter. I have no issues with power now and everything works very efficiently. I also installed a slide-out, single-burner stove under the sink to have an indoor burner option. To the truck, I put 35-inch Toyo MT tires, light bars wired to a switch panel with relays, onboard air with up-down air system, a rear deck in the cab for extra storage, and tons of other little things to get it ready to be my home.”
“The main source of charging comes from a 250 watt solar panel, as well as a battery isolator from the alternator when the truck is running,” he explained. “This allows me to keep the fridge, lights, fan, etc on 24/7 and never have issues. I have a diesel heater, and no air conditioner. Some of my friends in Arizona thought that was a bit crazy not having an air conditioner, but hot weather pushes me north, and so far that has been a great motivator to keep moving! I film videos just about every day, for a lot of the day, so I am constantly charging my cameras, drone batteries, computer, phone, etc. The 1,000 watt pure sine wave inverter I installed has been a lot more efficient in delivering that AC power to these devices.”
Of course, when it comes to living full-time in a truck camper, challenges always come. These challenges include things like vehicle breakdowns, illnesses, bad weather, flat tires, navigating relationships, loneliness, and staying organized. Even simple things like doing the laundry can be a difficult when you spend so much time off-grid. When asked what has been his biggest challenge so far, Phil didn’t hesitate.
“That’s easy—traveling with my dog, Kota,” he answered. “It has been an amazing experience overall, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it changes what you do when you travel completely. Cities like Las Vegas, Reno, and Calgary, Canada have been the toughest so far. In Vegas I wasn’t able to go out as long as I may have wanted to, and couldn’t stay in my buddies’ hotel room, but these were small sacrifices. Reno is where it got tricky. I had to take the truck in to get a new power steering pump, and I planned to just walk around the park with Kota. The morning that we were supposed to take the truck in, it was raining, so we postponed. The following day was sunny and it turns out the repair shop allowed dogs in the waiting room.”
“Canada has been the toughest place for me to have a dog. A big part of my trip was coming here to spend time with family in June. The family rented an AirBNB that doesn’t allow dogs, so I planned to let her hang out at my Aunt’s house for a while, where there are lots of dogs. She got in a scuffle with one of the dogs and came away with some good gashes in her face. I came there the next day and thankfully my cousin offered to look after her for a bit while I was spending time with the family. That’s where she has been for a few days and she has been doing great, but it wasn’t as easy as I had planned!”
What has been the worst moment so far while living on the road? “I was in the Eastern Sierra’s with an awesome group of guys I met on Instagram the weekend prior,” he explained. “We had been driving all day, we started at a warm springs, fished and kayaked a river, went to two lakes, and finally we were ready to find camp. We wheeled to the back side of a beautiful lake that looked like Alaska. We went through some mud, but thought nothing of it. Then my friend, Stu, buried his 4Runner in a small rain rut that just collapsed. He found water flowing underneath the ground. After a quick recovery, we kept moving, well… I tried. I also found an underground river and sunk the truck straight into it. The front bumper was on the ground. The wheels were completely under as well as the axles. It was a scary recovery. We ended up using two winches, and 28,500 pounds of pulling power to slowly tow this thing through, up, and out of the mud.”
In spite of these difficulties and challenges, Phil enjoys the truck camper life and the freedom that the lifestyle provides. Part of that freedom is being able to travel and not being encumbered with a lot of unnecessary things. Still, his rig is large enough to store all of his clothing and everything he needs to live comfortably on the road including a 30 gallon fresh water tank with water filter, a diesel heater, a kitchen, a wet-bath with a cassette toilet, and a comfortable bed. He also carries a bike and a canoe, essentials he needs to stay active and healthy. How does Phil like living without all of the living space and material possessions that most people have while living in a typical home?
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I don’t know how long I can live full-time in it, but the longer I do, the bigger it feels. My rig is so versatile. This past weekend I was off-roading with some guys I met who were out for the weekend. I was a bit limited as far as speed because of the camper, but we went to all the spots and when they went home, I stayed at the lake and called it home for a few days. I can fit everything I own into one parking spot and to me that is pretty cool because I have a lot of stuff!”
Meet Phil and get a tour his rig, the Dodgemahal, at the 2019 NW Overland Rally in Plain, Washington, June 20-24, at the Hellwig Products booth.