Don’t let fear hold you back from the open road
As part of our developing Solo Female Traveler eBook, which will offer stories and advice from well-known Instagram female travelers, we are featuring an interview with Mindy of @shetravelswithdogs. She offers the ins and outs of traveling as a solo female traveler and shares some poignant advice to get you on your way!
Why did you choose this lifestyle?
It’s funny how I ended up on the road in a van.
I had bought the van to travel with inventory for my dog bed business. One of the first weekends out I had a hotel booked for a friend’s wedding and when I arrived they denied my stay because of my pit bull.
So it’s midnight and all I can think is, “there’s a Walmart down the street and I heard road travelers sometimes overnight there,” and I went in and asked. They were welcoming and gracious. I had dog bed inventory in the van that I used to make a makeshift bed and there I was…sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in a van. There was something oddly romantic about it.
How did you start this journey?
As mentioned above, it was an accident. I had hotels and Airbnbs lined up to accommodate the business road trip I was planning but after that first Walmart overnight, a light clicked on and I realized it would be so much easier to go all in on van life.
What do you love about it?
Freedom and ease of traveling with my dogs. I love being able to drive out into the wild and not worry about the size of my vehicle. I love having everything I need with me and not having to pack to head out on an adventure. I love visiting friends all over the nation and not having to worry about sleeping accommodations.
What do you hate about it?
Hmm… Keeping the van clean and smelling good is probably the biggest challenge. That might sound silly, but with two 60 lb dogs it’s a constant battle. And the constant fear mongering you have to put up with from people who’ve never done this type of travel. It’s never ending, and while it comes from a place of care it can be quite suffocating at times.
What were the challenges you faced to get where you are today? Do you still face these challenges or are there new ones?
I think I’m fortunate I already had work I could keep doing from the road. When thinking through that, it was more of “why wouldn’t you do this?!?” As opposed to “how?”
The challenge to stay focused with work and not want to adventure all the time is real and constant. But at the same time, this lifestyle that makes you look right at yourself all the time, has brought a lot of clarity on how I want to spend the next 10 – 20 years and that will bring a lot of challenges. Predominantly great challenges but I’m sure they won’t always feel that way.
Do you feel being female RV’ers/travelers poses a different scenario than being a male RV’er/traveler
ABSOLUTELY. But a lot of it is based on perceptions and many of those perceptions come from others. It’s also VERY interesting to travel through different parts of the country and notice how the responses to what you’re doing vary.
I doubt men get the constant questions and suggestions regarding safety. And they don’t get egotistical responses to you choosing to do certain things on your own. I’ve gone way out of my comfort zone in so many ways and have experienced gender biased reactions I haven’t seen so much in life (and I work in insurance…a male dominated industry).
Who are your biggest supporters for this lifestyle?
All those people whose response was, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” I honestly had no idea because while I’ve thought about driving cross country, I’d never thought about going so deep.
But honestly, I feel the most supported by the friends across the nation I’ve been able to visit. Who opened their homes (and laundry rooms!) with open arms and sat down and reconnected in way that would have never happened if I hadn’t taken my life to the road. Not only have I been able to see people I love that may have not crossed my path, but I’ve walked away feeling fully supported and so happy to have had those opportunities to see people in THEIR lives and feeling so connected.
If you could do it all again, would you?
Oh, you mean like year two? I said a year. I’m 10 months in and planning year 2.
And yes, I would do it again and I constantly shout it from the rooftops that everyone should try it. It’s truly the adventure of a lifetime.
Is there anything you would change?
Well, I’m starting to think about van #2. Bigger and 4×4 to get to and stay longer in all the beautiful places. With an outdoor shower for washing dogs ;).
And honestly, not having to work would be great…but that’s not a reality for me right now and I’m very lucky to be able to work from the road. It’s a big reason why the adventure is moving in to year 2. There’s just not enough time when you’re working full time and trying to see all the things.
Do you need to have a lot of money to do this?
Probably not as much as you think. Coming from Southern California this is a WAY less expensive way to live, but that won’t necessarily be the case coming from other places. Depending on where you are in life, I think one of the biggest freedoms is figuring out how to sustain it with current income, whether that be full time or part time.
How do you support yourself while on the road?
I’m in the insurance business and I own an online dog bed company. Next year there will be a lot more work-related activity with the dog bed business as we’ll be taking our products to markets and shows across the nation, and likely internationally too.
What would be your advice to those women who are looking to begin their journey as a solo female RV’er?
Get dogs that scare people (lol…sort of). But honestly, figure out what creates a feeling of safety for you and do/obtain that. Stop listening to the fear everyone around you who’s never done it, tries to lay down on you and meet with as many people who are out there doing it.
Would this apply to both those who may travel for a week, to those who are looking at months to years on the road?
All of the above, and that touches on the idea of dipping your toe in the water before taking a longer term plunge. You might take a trip and decide it’s not for you. There’s a lot of work involved to effect a great experience and it’s not all glamorous.
What is the longest amount of time you have spent continuously on the road?
Hmm…this trip started last September, but I’ve made several week(ish) long stops to visit friends and family.
Any tips, tricks or hacks that you may be able to offer those who are just starting out?
Don’t over complicate things. It’s easy to see all the beautiful rigs out there and feel overwhelmed and like it’s something unattainable. And if you’re like me and not a native road traveler, don’t get crazy buying things because you won’t use half of them until you get your routine established.
And, essential oil diffusers are your best friend. There are a lot of travel versions and not only can they help with nerves, but they keep things smelling happy :).
Is there one story that sticks out in your mind that makes the experience and journey all worth it?
There are a few and there are more to come. One of my favorites is the first time my dogs alerted me in the middle of the night. We were camping at Sol Duc Campground in northern Washington (which is gorgeous BTW) and it was about 2:30am. Let me preface with my dogs don’t make noise at night unnecessarily. So they start a low slow bark towards the passenger side of the van which quickly escalates in to full on GTFO of here barking. And there I am, afraid to peel back the window shades for fear of staring at a bear or the next coming of Jason through the window. Whatever’s out there got the message because the barking didn’t last long. I laid there for about half an hour before I had the nerve to peel back a window shade to find two men had moved in next door while we were sleeping and were dancing around their campfire with their headlights on. Not gonna lie, my first thought was hallucinogenics were involved ;). But PHEW!!
The next morning I woke up, looked outside and there they were making breakfast at the fire. I decided to have a little fun. I clipped on the dogs’ long leads and told them their favorite human friend was out there and slid open the slider. Out they bolted towards the full grown forest nymphs, all the while me knowing they could only get about half way there and would respond to recall. Yes, it was a little evil…but who pulls in to camp at 2:30am?!?
Needless to say they had a good scare and we all ended up having a good laugh. If you’re ever in the area…spend some time…it’s gorgeous.
Can someone message you if they have any questions about starting the RV/Van life?
You can follow and connect with Mindy of @shetravelswithdogs via her Instagram channel.