Interested in full-timing in a truck camper to save money and see the world? More and more people are doing it. Most of today’s full-timers are baby boomers, but more and more millennials, with increasing numbers of women, are doing it too. One of these young millennials is Anne Kavajian who grew up in a small rural town on Long Island, New York. At age 18, Anne left her family and friends and moved across the country to attend college in California. Being on her own in a new place established her love for solo exploration. While Anne enjoys the mobile lifestyle, she prefers to live and work several weeks in one place to really appreciate all that the area offers. With a background in hospitality, Anne’s goal is to travel by working in small lodges, intimate resorts, and boutique hotels across North America.
Hi, Anne. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. How long have you been interested in truck camping?
Anne: My interest in living on the road has been ongoing for much of my adult life, as my ideal vacation is a long, scenic road trip. My interest in truck camping, however, has only been going on for several months before I bought my Bigfoot. I originally had my heart set on a fifth wheel. When I researched the cost associated with not only the purchase of the unit, but also the maintenance and the fact that I would be almost exclusively limited to staying in campgrounds for a nightly fee, I realized a fifth wheel wasn’t for me. It was out of my budget and would not allow me the freedom I wanted when it came to being able to camp in off-grid, off-road spots, or even being able to park in a normal parking spot for a quick errand along the way. I looked into vans as well, but again, it lacked the off-road capability I sought.
What do you like about truck campers now that you own one?
Anne: Having a truck camper not only allows me to have a truck to use as a daily driver (or for just about any job), but also if I ever needed to have my truck serviced, I would still have a home and vice versa. All of that paired with the fact that I don’t have to register my camper (or even insure it if I didn’t want to) is a total win for the truck camper category.
How long have you been full-timing?
Anne: I’ve been full-timing since May of 2017, so I’ll be coming up on a year here soon.
Can you tell us about your truck camper and how you came across it?
Anne: My truck camper is a 2004 Bigfoot 25C10.6E. I bought it sight unseen off of RVTrader.com. It was definitely a risk, but it paid off when I drove all the way from California to Wisconsin (on my way to New York) to get it. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was perfect. It was in great condition and I could tell the previous owners really took care of it. Even though I renovated the entire interior, I really didn’t need to. Bigfoot campers are built to last and this one certainly had. The only changes I made were purely cosmetic and/or functional in regard to space.
What drew you to that particular camper?
Anne: I knew I wanted a used fiberglass clam shell style camper without any slide-outs. The fiberglass is more durable, lighter in weight, and has so much less potential for leaks. Those specifics really limited me to either a Northern Lite or a Bigfoot. I knew I wanted a dry bath and multiple awnings. I knew I wanted a north-south bedroom. I had been searching the web and came across my Bigfoot and just knew it was the one.
As a full-timer, I assume you’ve modified your camper quite a bit.
Anne: Yes, just about every surface you can see inside the camper has been or will be modified in some way (except for the ceiling). I painted the cabinets and changed out the hardware. I put in new flooring (vinyl planks all throughout). I reupholstered the couch cushions and window trims and blinds. I changed out the light fixtures to low profile LEDs and changed out the bathroom sink and shower faucets. I also added some USB outlets that run off the 12 volt system. I installed a WiFi Ranger on my roof. I wired my truck’s alternator to the camper batteries so that I could charge my batteries when driving the truck. I switched out my 12 volt battery to two 6 volt batteries wired in series. I’ve added two 100 watt solar panels. One day I’d like to switch out my toilet to a Nature’s Head composting toilet but I’m still researching this. The mods are endless and it’s so fun to personalize the space and bring it up to date.
How did you mount your solar panels?
Anne: Mounting the solar panels to my fiberglass roof was a major challenge. One of the major perks of a fiberglass roof is its leak protection. Drilling holes into it opens up a can of worms. I looked into drill-free products, but it was another cost I didn’t want to endure and the idea of essentially gluing the panels into my roof scared me a little considering the camper moves at speeds up to 80 mph. So I went ahead and drilled. I cleaned the surface where I was going to be drilling with denatured alcohol, put down a little piece of butyl tape under each Z-bracket, drilled the holes, screwed in the screws, and topped it off with a dab of Dicor self-leveling lap sealant over each screw. So far, no leaks. I’m currently in the Hoh Rainforest getting poured on so if it can withstand this, I think I’m in the clear. But once a year I do go up on the roof and reseal everything, so that’s just one more area I’ll have to pay attention to.
What solar charge controller are you using?
Anne: I splurged on a Victron MPPT 100/30 charge controller. They make great products and the Bluetooth attachment and app is super handy and saved me from having to purchase and install a separate battery monitor. I just open the app and I can see how much solar I’m getting and where my batteries are at. I love it and definitely recommend it. It wasn’t cheap, but it didn’t break the bank either.
Can you tell us about more about your truck and how you came across it?
Anne: I bought my truck when I bought my camper so that I could keep all my options open when deciding on a setup. I never buy vehicles new, so I went with a used truck with relatively low mileage. I knew this truck was going to be part of my home and I’d be spending a lot of time in there, so I didn’t want to skimp on the features. I also knew this truck was going to be carrying a lot of weight, so I wanted to make sure it could handle the load and more if I ever wanted to upgrade. For those reasons, I went with a 2013 Ford F-350 DRW Diesel 6.7L 4×4 Lariat. I’ve never owned a truck before and never driven anything so massive so it still makes me (and others) laugh when I get in and out of that beast. I found it on Carmax, and while I don’t think many people buy big trucks from them, I’ve always had good experiences with buying cars from them in the past and this was no different. I probably paid a little more since they don’t haggle on the price, but they gave me a good value on my trade-in and they set me up with a good financing plan. I also know they do really thorough inspections on everything they sell so I felt confident buying from them.
Do you have any regrets in your choices? Is there anything you wished that you had done differently?
Anne: If I could do it all over again, I think the only thing I would do differently would be to have purchased a flatbed truck, so that I could have some storage compartments built around the camper. Otherwise, I have zero regrets. The truck camper is the ultimate setup in my opinion and I’m very happy with both my Bigfoot and my Ford and my decision to full-time.
We are seeing more and more women like yourself full-timing. Why do you think that is?
Anne: I think we live in a time where both women and men are becoming more and more independent. With the technological advances and everything becoming easier and more accessible, we really can do it all ourselves. Whether it’s changing my oil or rewiring a circuit, we can pretty much learn just about anything through YouTube and we can buy anything online. It’s very easy to live alone and be self-sufficient in today’s world. As a woman, I think it’s important not to depend on a man or on your parents or anyone really. Having a partner and a supportive family is great. It’s okay to have a helping hand. But to need someone or depend on someone is never good, as it puts us at a disadvantage. This applies to both men and women but I think some women are still socially trained to need a man in their life to do certain tasks. That is definitely changing though. My generation (and those after me) grew up with more single moms than ever before. I think this set a certain precedent and women started to realize they are just as able as anyone else when it comes to doing non-traditional tasks.
What safety precautions do you take to protect yourself and your property?
Anne: The biggest precaution I take is being vigilant. I always lock my doors when I’m gone and I always keep my eyes and ears open to my surroundings when inside or around the camper. While I’m optimistic, I’m also realistic and I am not naïve to the world we live in. Because of that, I do keep a 9mm pistol close by (depending on what state I am in) at all times. I also went with the best insurance I could afford as well as the best roadside assistance plan I could afford. Sometimes I think about installing a CB radio, as I often find myself in places without any cell service, but I have yet to commit to that mod. I also want to change out my locks at some point. I want a higher security system for my main camper door and I want to change out the outside CH751 compartment locks since that key is standard across all campers. Oh, and don’t post on social media with your location until after you’ve left the site.
That’s great advice about posting your location on social media. Do you have any fears traveling and exploring alone?
Anne: Like I said, I really do try to be as realistic as I can to the risks of traveling alone as a female. However, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt scared or uneasy. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far, but I do find that most people either leave me alone or have good intentions. I also feel like self-confidence goes a long way. Even though I’m small, I project a confident attitude in my body language, the way I speak, and by always making eye-contact. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I think it really does project a certain energy that others pick up on.
Do you have any safety tips for others who might be traveling alone?
Anne: Just keep your eyes and ears open. Listen for approaching footsteps when inside the camper. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Trust no one, but don’t let your paranoia interfere with being able to relax.
Most full-timers are retired, but you still work. What challenges have you experienced doing this while living in a Bigfoot camper?
Anne: To be honest, the challenges I’ve faced when it comes to living a “normal” life and working while living in a camper have been minimal. They certainly exist. But it’s not nearly as difficult as I expected it would be. My life seems pretty normal when I’m hunkered down and working. And then I have breaks of traveling from one place to another in between seasons. I work in hospitality, so I take seasonal jobs at small, independently owned hotels that run for about four to six months. I spent last summer on the North Fork of Long Island and this winter in Southern California. And now I’m currently on my way to Washington state where I’ll be working at a small lodge just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park for the summer. I try to make sure that wherever I go will allow me to park my Bigfoot on site. I’m still figuring it all out and always improving. But there are so many resources out there that make this option attainable for anyone considering a mobile lifestyle. Sometimes I wish that I was a super talented graphic designer or coder or adventure photographer, so that I could work remotely and travel anywhere anytime, but I just don’t have those skills. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that I can’t live this lifestyle too. There are so many mobile work opportunities for just about anyone out there.
Are there any challenges living in a truck camper?
Anne: They’re what you’d expect. Taking a shower regularly (without blowing through propane and filling up holding tanks too quickly), doing laundry, never having enough storage space, not being able to have animals (hopefully one day). But working at hotels usually provides me with an opportunity to shower and do laundry on site, so that’s super convenient. At the end of the day, there are always challenges that come with any lifestyle, whether we live in an 80 square foot truck camper or an 8,000 square foot mansion, but there are always creative solutions if we’re willing to find them.
You’ve been to a lot of states. What have been your favorites so far?
Anne: My favorite states are Washington and Maine. I feel like they have it all—mountains, trees and coastline. Total paradise. I also love how camper friendly Oregon seems to be. There are endless scenic pullouts that allow for overnighting and the state parks are half the price of California’s if I ever did want to pay for a site.
What have been your favorite roads to drive and favorite places to visit so far?
Anne: Scenic drives really do it for me. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive was one of my favorite experiences to date. The road is so well maintained with a slow enough speed limit to really soak it in along with a countless number of outlooks and vistas to easily pull over at any moment. I also loved driving up the Maine Coast and through the Carriage Roads in Acadia National Park during the peak of autumn (just be sure to drop the camper, as the carriage roads have low bridges). Another favorite trek was driving down [Highway] 101 in Oregon and the Pacific Coast Highway in California. I did the whole thing from Washington to Southern California and it was pretty incredible (though I could have called it quits after Big Sur and been perfectly fine skipping Los Angeles and its traffic and smog). Oh and don’t miss Avenue of the Giants when in the Redwood area.
Have you taken your rig on any challenging roads or trails?
Anne: The most challenging scenic drive to date was the Valley Loop in Monument Valley. It cost $20 to drive in and they told me my truck and camper would be fine. While it really was stunning, and got some amazing pictures of my rig against the red rocks, the road was horribly maintained. While my truck performed really well considering the circumstances, I would’ve skipped the drive and saved my money had I known how terrible of shape the road was in. Also, the park itself was very littered and it felt like a total tourist trap as there were cars and tourists everywhere. I’m sad to say that it was difficult to enjoy such natural beauty.
What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Anne: What still scares me the most to this day is coming up to low bridges or branches. I have such a hard time gauging my height by sight alone and the signs are usually labelled so small that you really never know if you’re going to fit until it’s too late. And trees are never labelled, so sometimes I just hold my breath and hope for the best. It’s always a little nerve-wracking though. There’s a Low Clearance Bridge website I have bookmarked on my phone and that I highly recommend. It has a list of all low clearance bridges by state.
What meals do you like to prepare and eat in your camper?
Anne: The best part about having a truck camper with a full kitchen and a good-sized fridge is that I’m really not limited when traveling. I can cook for myself just like I would when living in a sticks-and-bricks house. I think that’s when I feel the most grateful for embarking on this change of lifestyle. The fact that I can cook and eat dinner on the beach as the sun sets is just too cool. No fast food or MREs here. I really mix it up as much as I can, as I love to cook, but my breakfast is almost always the same: black beans sautéed with garlic, add two eggs and top with cheese, diced tomato, avocado and lots of hot sauce. It’s my ultimate breakfast.
That actually sounds pretty good. I’m going to have to try it. Do you have any hobbies?
Anne: I love hiking and mountain biking, but I don’t get too extreme with it. One of the reasons I wanted to do the whole camper thing was because I’m really a homebody. I love the comforts of home, but I love traveling and I get stir crazy when I’m in the same place for too long. I’m also kind of prissy when it comes to getting into the back country. I can do a few days in a tent, but any more than that and I want a comfortable bed and a hot shower to come home to. The fact that I can see all these awesome places and still have all my creature comforts is the best of both worlds.
This has been fun talking to you, Anne. Thanks again. Do you have any final words of advice for our readers?
Anne: I think it’s important for people considering this lifestyle to hear from all kinds of people from all over the spectrum. My only advice would be to just go for it. So often we hold ourselves back from following our dreams because we’re waiting for the “perfect” time or “enough” money or we are waiting for the right person to adventure with. That’s never going to happen. Circumstances rarely fall into place like that. And tomorrow is never promised. We have to just go for it now. The most common thing I hear when I tell people what I do is “Wow! I wish I could do that!” And I always tell them, “you can!” I am totally convinced that if I can do it, anyone can. I’m not special. I’m not rich. I have a staggering amount of student loan debt just like a lot of others my age. I’m financing both my truck and camper because I couldn’t afford to buy them outright. I have no special skills and I take work wherever I can find it. I can’t afford not to work so it’s not like I retired in my 20s. I still have to make a substantial income to get by. My point is not to let life circumstances hold you back. Be realistic about what you can and can’t afford and work with what you have. There is a wealth of information on the internet so research the lifestyle and prepare yourself as best you can, but at a certain point, you have to just go for it. Don’t let life pass you by.
Follow Anne on Instagram at @ramblinanne