I found Sarah’s blog TowLola recently and knew that I wanted to share a fellow female trailer babes’ story with you. I emailed Sarah about being camper pals and to tell her how rad she is, and we got to talking about rallies, vintage trailer life, the hassles of towing, trying to become writers, and what it’s like to be a woman nomad in America. She said she was inspired by my COMET to look for a vintage trailer as her adventure-mobile, and I was so flattered! I asked Sarah a few questions about her decision to travel in a vintage trailer and her life with Lola, her 1960’s Fan camper. You can read the interview below. I hope this badass, amazing lady inspires you to get out there and do something awesome, even if that means just saying”Fuck it!” and taking the leap!
ME: What inspired you to buy a camper and hit the road?
SARAH: I'd been living in a 3-bedroom house for about 4 years, working full-time in a day job I hated while I struggled to write and make art in my spare time. I'd always had this fantasy of just being able to "pick up and go." I saved money for a long time, thinking I'd need it, but having no real plans. When my long-time boyfriend and I decided it was time to sell the house, I sat down in front of him at a pub and blurted "I'm going to buy a BUS." He and I are both explorers by nature, so he just nodded and smiled and asked how he could help. The bus idea went through several iterations (bus, van, housetruck, camper) and I shopped around for a rig for about 4 months. I spent nearly all of my free time on Craigslist. Finally, after moving in with my parents and being generally miserable and thinking it would never happen, I stumbled upon Lola. She was cheap and ready to hit the road, and resided in Elkhart, IN. The idea of towing anything terrified me, but by this point I was so desperate that I drove up and bought her before anybody else could. It took another three months to gather supplies, outfit the Jeep, and sell all my belongings. It wasn't any one thing that led me to my adventure, I guess. Simply the realities of my life combined with a desire to "get out there."
ME: Does your camper have a bathroom?
SARAH: Yes, Lola has a toilet with about a 5-gallon blackwater tank just beneath it, and a sink. She does not, however, have any freshwater tanks, so to "flush" I either need to be connected to an external water hose or I need a jug full of water (which suits my purposes just fine). One reason I'd recommend having a bathroom, specifically a place to do your business, is that I'm kind of a girl about leaving the trailer when it's dark outside. Some places, I would have been fine, but there were plenty of times when I heard dozens of coyotes yipping from not-far away in the dark and didn't want to leave just to take a pee.
ME: How much did it cost you to hit the road?
SARAH: Up front costs were somewhere under $5,000 (that's in Indiana money). I already had the Jeep, so I had my towing vehicle in hand. I bought Lola for $2,900, then spent another $600 putting accessories on the Jeep, then $250 on sway-control and weight distribution (Amazon! Can you believe it?), which I installed myself. There was insurance (not too expensive), AAA, various camping supplies, etc. I bought roof coating for Lola for $75 and did the work myself. All the little stuff adds up.
ME: Would you recommend doing the restoration yourself or having someone do it? Why did you choose to purchase a refurbished trailer?
SARAH: The lesson is that everything takes longer than you think it will and usually costs more. I planned to leave in June and I didn't leave until September, and I did MINIMAL work to Lola before leaving home. When I was shopping for trailers I researched what it would take to restore one or build something from scratch. I made many spreadsheets. The thing about vintage trailers is that they hold their value well, but there's a top-end to what you can re-sell them for. Sure, you can buy an Airstream and spend $50,000 restoring it, but who's going to buy it from you when they can have a brand-new RV for less? Consider what your time is worth, and how soon you'd like to be on the road. For me, it just didn't make sense to do the work myself knowing it would probably be a year or even two before I left, and I'd never get my money back. It's an entirely different issue if you actually enjoy doing the work, and don't mind losing money in the long run.
ME: Where do you stay?
SARAH: State and county parks are the most beautiful, cheapest places to stay. Right up there are Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds, which can also be beautiful and are often on a lake or a river. In the north, however, these are usually only open in the warm months. Private RV parks have the best amenities, but not often the best view, and are often expensive. I stay in private parks occasionally because they are easy to find and lend an ease-of-living that's like staying in a hotel (laundry, hot showers, free internet, etc).
ME: How often do you move around?
SARAH: I stay at least two nights most places, unless the campground is horrible, or there is an impending snow storm I don't want to get caught in (this happened several times). When I find a place that I like, I spend a week or two, depending on the cost of living. I never travel more than 3 hours distance at a time unless I absolutely have to. Traveling takes it out of you, and when you're exhausted you waste time in recuperation.
ME: What is your next adventure?
SARAH: I've been blessed to be on the road for 5 months. If I could, I would travel all the time, but I simply don't have the cash flow. I'm looking for jobs on the west coast, some place I can work and live but still get out with Lola on weekends and on holiday. There is a lot out here that I still haven't explored.
ME: Anything you miss in your camper that you'd have in a ground-bound house?
SARAH: A hot shower. Especially in dry states like California, where campgrounds charge you $1.50 for 3 minutes in luke-warm water.
ME: Any advice for other female trailer babes that want to travel solo?
SARAH: Everyone will tell you that it's too dangerous and act like you're going to die. Don't listen. Keep an eye out, of course, and avoid bad situations when you encounter them. People will say "But it only takes one creep..." Okay, yes, there are risks, but there are also risks crossing the street in broad daylight. It only takes the one bus. Are you going to let that stop you? I can't speak for other countries, but I've found that the United States is full of helpful, good-natured, trustworthy people whom you can turn to if need be. Make sure to have enough money, plan ahead, and keep in contact with others and you'll be just fine.
ME: What surprised you most about traveling in a vintage trailer?
SARAH: How fast the time flies by! I have not been bored for a single second, and that includes the time spent driving. Everything goes by in a blur.
ME: What are your average monthly expenses for this lifestyle?
SARAH: It's my experience that in the middle of the country (states like Indiana, MIchigan, Iowa, Texas, etc) you can get by on $25 a day or less for food and housing. Try to spend less than that, and spend the difference on gas and treats (eating out, visiting tourist spots, etc). Then add whatever your monthly personal expenses are (mine include: cell phone, health insurance, car insurance, web hosting, storage unit, dog food) to get your monthly expenses. Plan for break downs (so far I've replaced a u-joint, a hose, and the water pump and had my 4wd shaft taken apart). My costs range plus or minus around $1,000 a month, but keep in mind I'm traveling a lot, and I'm usually paying for hookups (due to my electric fridge, heater and lack of water tank). There's a trade off for the amount of time you spend looking for the cheapest places to stay and then getting by on less (finding places to charge your laptop, finding places to shower, etc). Sometimes its good to spend a little more to give yourself space to enjoy your adventure, in my opinion.
Thanks Sarah for sharing your story with me! I hope to catch up with Sarah on the West Coast in the Spring when Matt and I are vagabonding again. You can follow her adventures at her blog, TowLola.