Sunday, December 29, 2013

Freestyling: Life of the Long Term Traveler

Car tent camping 
A few years ago I decided to take a gap year off from work and social responsibility to travel at my own pace doing what I wanted with whom I wanted wherever the wind blew me. I had been a single parent for twenty years living on a nominal income and felt I deserved it. Felt if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it. So, I got rid of my stuff and tapped the first of many destinations into my Garmin. 

The instant I hit “Go!” time became nonexistent. Living life outside my Day Planner, I soon had no idea what day of the week it was let alone the date.  I was living completely and spontaneously in the moment, rambling Zen, untethered.

Sounds divine because it is. It really truly is. And because it is, not all who make the choice to gap go back. Some of us get blissfully entrapped in the freestyle living that LTT affords. (LTT, for the uninitiated, refers to “long term travel”.) We willingly become hobos, bums, and vagabonds living light, continually drifting, literally following our heart’s desire, beat by beat, step by step, mile by mile. The further some of us get into it, the more decisions we make that those we left behind find incomprehensible.

We do anything and everything to remain free--free from and free to. We liquidate holdings, cash in 401K’s, and deplete savings down to our last dime. We freelance, telecommute, and volunteer. We travel with and for the weather, depending on preference.  We shop with a heightened consciousness to consumer waste spurred by the pack it in-pack it out-leave no trace mentality. We become wilderness fellows, and WWOOFers; we couch surf, squat, or camp. When doing the latter in self contained vehicles, we quickly become tech savvy, learn how to “boondock” and how to maximize our federally issued Interagency Pass.


For those of us who are not verifiable seniors, disabled or veterans the Pass doesn’t cover camping fees at developed sites. It does, however, entitle holders to “park” for free on federal and participating state (California, Pacific Northwest, Texas) recreational or open land. Many (but not all) parks prohibit car camping and require vans and RV’s to be self contained, meaning they’ve got to have water and sewage tanks. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BML) Long Term Visitor Special Use Areas (of which there are eight in SoCal and Arizona) and the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) become our new best friends (BFs).  It’s worth noting that the National Wildlife Refuge Areas often don’t allow pets, particularly canines, due to the waterfowl nesting habitats they aim to protect. Freewheelers also migrate to states that issue annual nonresident camping permits for developed sites.

Before you get excited, understand that there are but two and one’s in Kansas ($400). The other’s in the more palatable New Mexico. 

The New Mexico State Park Division offers an annual camping permit for $225 that enables non residents to camp at any of the 35 parks for up to 29 days.  At $18 a night for developed sites with sewer and water hook ups as well as electricity, that’s a huge savings. Rather than paying over $6,000 to camp all year, this permit enables those living on the low ultra affordable .62/day accommodations.  With many of the State’s parks on gorgeous undeveloped lakes, many freewheelers shift between the smaller, less populated scenic parks in 29 day cycles.


Sure, why not? Houseboats, being self contained mobile living units, rock, though live-aboards aren’t the only way to live on water. Row and paddle enthusiasts preferring the lull of the waves rig Kelty tarps or hoop/tripod bivy bags to the tops of their vessels or simply slip beneath their spray decks.  When paddling inflatables, this isn’t as uncomfortable as it may sound and with the array of rollable solar recharging adventure kits now available, staying linked to civilization is a synch. 

The blue trail locator is the best place to begin planning free floating excursions. The National Park Service’s Water Trails System designates miles upon miles of blue heritage trails on lakes and rivers across the country, some of which have shore access camping along the way. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System administered by the National Park Service permits free seasonal camping/floating passes along America’s river ways. The BLM issues permits for some of the more popular rivers under their management.  Non motorized marine craft are exempt from permit requirements.


  1. Thanks for this great info !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Most welcome! Thanks, as always, for reading.