Interested in living full-time in a truck camper and exploring North, Central, and South America? Michel and Sabina Robitaille of Ontario, Canada are making that popular dream a reality. After planning this trip for a year and a half, the two military retirees bought a truck and camper in 2016, sold their home and all of their possessions, and left Canada to live a nomadic lifestyle on the road. Since then, the two adventurers have explored Alaska, British Columbia, the Western United States, Mexico, and most of Central America. What’s great about their approach to full-time living and travel is that they have no time limit—they’re able to spend as much time as they want in each country. You can follow Michel and Sabina on their current adventure on Instagram @KidandGypsy.
TCA: Thanks, Michel, for taking the time to talk to us. We’ve been following you and your wife, Sabina, on Instagram for several months now and have enjoyed your posts. How long have you been living full-time in your truck camper?
Michel: We left Toronto and started our trip on August 8, 2016. So on August 8, 2018 it will be two years. Were planning now to ship the truck to Columbia around July 17th.
TCA: How did the names Kid and Gypsy come about?
Michel: Ever since I met my wife I’ve called her Kid, she acts like one most of time, and she thought I looked like a Gypsy, so she’s called me that ever since.
TCA: We really like your Four Wheel Camper Flatbed Hawk setup. Why did you decide on a flatbed pop-up and not a standard pop-up or hard-side?
Michel: We looked at hard shell campers, pop-up campers, and vans. We chose this model after going to the Overland Expo and looking at all the pop-up campers there because the flatbed gave us the most room inside. It also felt better in regards to space. We never feel like we’re in each other’s way. Flatbed pop-ups are more expensive than regular pop-ups, but because we knew we would be living in it full-time, we felt it was the right decision for us. We also like the low profile when we’re driving and it’s not too heavy like a hard-side.
TCA: How has your Four Wheel Camper Hawk performed so far?
Michel: So far, so good. We will hit two years on the road on August 8th and so far we haven’t had any issues. We usually find a place every week to spray the underneath of the truck and the flatbed as we spend a lot of time parked by the ocean, so we like to spray the salt off. The storage bins tend to hold some moisture so we just open them and let them air out. Sabina lined all of the storage areas inside the camper, as well underneath the mattress with double bubble silver reflective insulation and that works very well for keeping moisture out and allowing air to flow. When we weren’t sure how to trouble shoot an issue we just reach out to the crew at Mainline Overland or at Four Wheel Campers HQ and everyone has been really great with providing us support on the road. We can’t say enough good about both places.
TCA: Tell us about the flatbed you had built for your rig. Who did you go through to have it made?
Michel: We wanted our flatbed to look a certain way and have a certain finish to it. We did a small drawing and then took the measurements off the truck and frame and sent it to Alum-Line in Iowa. They don’t really specialize in camper flatbeds, they mostly make industrial flatbeds for big work trucks. At the time we didn’t really know of any other companies to reach out to. We had it shipped to Mainline Overland in Westchester, Pennsylvania where we ordered our camper. When it showed up, I was pretty nervous as it looked really big and I said to myself, “I screwed up the measurements.” We did a test fit and it fit really nice. Once the camper was mounted, the fit was close to perfect with the rear angle of the camper and flatbed. The flatbed comes with four lockable storage boxes where we keep tools, spare parts, and other items.
TCA: Have you made any mods to your camper since you bought it?
Michel: No. We had it built with everything we felt we would need right from the factory.
TCA: How many batteries do you have in your camper and how do you keep them charged when you’re off-grid?
Michel: We have two 6 volt golf cart batteries. We keep them charged with a Zamp 160 watt solar panel mounted on the roof and a 120 watt portable panel from Overland Solar, a really nice product. We use a Blue Sky MPPT charge controller. We run our fridge 24/7, and honestly, we hardly ever plug-in.
TCA: So is your refrigerator a compressor refrigerator?
Michel: Yes, we have an Isotherm 85L two-way compressor refrigerator. The size meets our needs really well.
TCA: Can you tell us about your truck?
Michel: Our camper is mounted on our 2005 Dodge Ram 3500 with the 5.9L Cummins turbo diesel.
TCA: Did you need to make any mods to your truck’s suspension to carry your flatbed camper?
Michel: Yes. We swapped out all the shocks for Icon shocks with reservoirs. Installed Ride Rite airbags, Carli ball joints, and a Carli track bar. The steering is loose on this generation of Dodge truck, so we replaced the steering shaft and box with Borgeson products.
TCA: Do you have any regrets in any of your choices? Is there anything you wished that you had done differently in your setup?
Michel: No regrets, though I’m not sure the cassette toilet is required. The toilet takes up space and most campsites have them. I wish I had researched solar power and products more. I know much more about solar now than when we were building the camper. As for the truck, we specifically chose a 2005 because of the diesel that you get in Central and South America, so a newer truck was not an option.
TCA: What about the diesel there in Central America is different from the diesel in North America?
Michel: In North America you can only get ultra low sulfur diesel. In Central and South America low sulfur diesel is what you get at most places. It was my understanding that any diesel truck 2007 and newer required ultra low sulfur diesel, therefore we chose a 2005, so we wouldn’t have to worry about diesel on our trip.
TCA: That makes sense. Speaking of diesel, what kind of mileage are you getting?
Michel: Honestly we don’t really pay attention. We know that if we want to travel it requires diesel. I know that driving at 55 mph gets us the best mileage, but that’s hard to do in Central America.
TCA: What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Michel: We run Cooper ST Max, 295/70/17 with Mickey Thompson wheels. Usually run the back at 70 psi and front around 60 psi. I rotate the tires regularly as well. Tire pressure is a tricky one, which I’m always playing with. The Coopers are a great tire.
TCA: You’ve been to some really cool places. What have been your favorites so far?
Michel: So far we thought Alaska was really amazing, as well as Utah, Arizona. The north-east tip of Vancouver island was really spectacular too, but some of the back country logging roads there were pretty tough. Baja, Mexico was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.
TCA: What did you like about Baja?
Michel: The remoteness, beaches, and landscape. It was really spectacular. We enjoyed many beaches on both the Pacific side and Sea of Cortez. Because of the remoteness of some of the beaches in Baja there weren’t many people around. I can’t say enough about the tacos! We spent two weeks parked at Scorpion Bay, which was unbelievable, watching the sunrise and sunset over some truly spectacular waves. We enjoyed many days of great surfing and met a few other overlanders who we would continue to run into as we traveled further south.
TCA: What did you like about Alaska? What places did you visit while you were there?
Michel: The diverse scenery and landscapes. The mountains, forest, beaches there are very unique. Another really neat thing is that it wasn’t crowded. We enjoyed the towns of Seward and Homer and the wildlife in the surrounding areas. We especially enjoyed the hike up Exit Glacier outside of Seward. Another spot we enjoyed was Copper Creek Canyon outside Valdez. The scenery at the top of the pass was like out of a Lord of the Rings movie. It really was an amazing place to see and explore.
TCA: You are currently exploring south of the border. What challenges have you experienced on this trip so far?
Michel: We have made it as far as Panama at this time and really haven’t faced any challenges. We’ve met quite a few other people along the way doing the same trip, so it’s a good source for sharing information.
TCA: When did you cross the border into Mexico?
Michel: We crossed the border into Mexico at the end of August 2016. We crossed at Tecate and the whole process took about 30 minutes. We then started exploring Baja. We crossed over to mainland Mexico in La Paz by ferry.
TCA: Any problems passing through any of the borders?
Michel: So far no problems. The borders are all different, but we stay patient and find our way through.
TCA: What has been your favorite country in Central America?
Michel: It’s hard to decide on just one. They are all special to us in their own way. Our experience so far has been extremely positive while interacting with people from Mexico to Panama. We really thought Baja was a cool place to explore with amazing landscapes. El Salvador is really special and we spent two months there. Great people, great food, great beaches, and really neat towns up in the mountains. We ate a lot of Papusas!
TCA: What about the language? Did you and Sabina learn Spanish before this trip?
Michel: A year before we left we took Spanish lessons at night for a couple of months which helped. For the most part we get by. We’ve also gone to Spanish school in Nicaragua twice and Sabina is taking lessons again here in Panama. However most people know a little English, so it’s doable.
TCA: Any challenges getting potable water?
Michel: No. We normally buy 10-gallon bottles from the supermarket and pour them in our fresh water tank ourselves. We have a 26-gallon fresh water tank and only put potable water in it.
TCA: How has it been living in a pop-up truck camper? Have you had any issues with hot or cold weather?
Michel: We have a furnace in the camper, so when we were in Alaska and the Yukon during the month of October we used it a fair bit, and were quite comfortable. We don’t have air conditioning in the camper so some nights have been pretty warm in Central America, but if we park near the ocean then usually we will have a breeze at night that takes the edge off. Condensation can be an issue at times and I’m sure anyone with a pop-up camper would agree. We have found some products that absorb the moisture and this seems to help a lot.
TCA: Have you done any off-roading?
Michel: Yes, We’ve driven on many dirt roads, logging roads, some sand, a few shallow water crossings, but we’re pretty careful about where we take the truck because we’re normally alone and want to avoid a situation where we would require help.
TCA: What gear have you brought with you on your current trip?
Michel: When we started the trip we had a lot of stuff, too much stuff. We even had a Yakima roof box full of stuff. As we got some time on the road we started to thin out, so we got rid of the roof box, we each went through all of our clothes and donated what we didn’t need. We’ve gone through that process a few times. We do carry a few spare parts for the truck, oil and fuel filters. Oil filters seem easy to get, but the fuel filters are difficult to find. Some tools, a little recovery gear as well. We have an ARB twin air compressor, which is a really great piece of gear for airing the airbags on the flatbed as well as the tires. Our favorite item we carry is our Jetboil, we use it daily for boiling water for coffee and tea.
TCA: How has your cell service/internet been south of the border?
Michel: We actually only just got our first sim card in Costa Rica. Until then we only used WiFi when we could find it. Most cafe’s and restaurants have it. As well some campsites have it. We usually use maps to navigate and just download areas ahead of time to use offline.
TCA: Have you explored any ancient ruins in Central America yet?
Michel: We haven’t explored any ancient ruins. Our route through Mexico was along Highway 200 which follows the coast, so we didn’t travel far enough inland. We wanted to spend more time by the ocean and on the beach.
TCA: What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Michel: While in Honduras in January, we were driving back down a dirt road from the mountains when the shoulder collapsed and we sunk in on the passenger side. The truck was leaning over so much that the back left wheel was completely off the ground. It took three hours to find someone to assist and we finally got a dump truck to pull us out.
TCA: Any concerns for safety so far?
Michel: No, not really. We try to stay aware of our surroundings and never drive at night.
TCA: Any notable run-ins with wildlife since you’ve been full-timing in your camper?
Michel: We’ve seen two Lynx’s in Alaska, which was unbelievable. We had some sloths sleep above us in Costa Rica, which was also pretty cool.
TCA: What do you do about food south of the border? You mentioned earlier that you guys like tacos. Do you eat out a lot?
Michel: Yes, we always try to eat the local food in what ever country were in. We love tacos!
TCA: What foods and food items do you keep stored in your pantry?
Michel: We love peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Nutella, hot sauces, instant soups, coffee, lots of it, noodles and rice. Oats, cereal, honey, syrup tea, beans, spices, and a few other things. Mostly the normal pantry items, just on a smaller scale. Sabina usually grabs fruit and vegetables from the rolling fruit and vegetable truck.
TCA: Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Michel: We like to be in the ocean as much as possible. We like surfing, body surfing, and diving.
TCA: Any lessons learned living full-time in a truck camper?
Michel: I’m sure we’re like most people who decide to do something like this, you research a lot of things beforehand. I know we did, probably too much. We still say to ourselves that we still have too much stuff, clothes, shoes, and other things we seldom use. For us, I think we learn constantly on the road. I don’t think you really know until you get on the road. I think less is more.
TCA: What are your plans for the rest of this expedition?
Michel: Our plan now is to ship our truck to Columbia around mid-July. Once in Columbia we will begin our journey to the bottom of South America. We don’t plan too far ahead as we move pretty slow. We generally use the TIP (temporary import permit) for the truck as our timeline to spend in each country. The TIP can be anywhere from 30 days to 90 days. We have no time limit, so we don’t feel any pressure to keep moving.