How We Became A Truck Camping Family
It was not an easy decision to ditch our previous “rig” and convert our 1984 Toyota Pickup into a truck camping adventure mobile.
We had to consider carefully what we wanted our adventures to look like, and be fairly ruthless with determining what we actually needed in order to enjoy our overland travel experiences, versus what we felt like we needed - an especially challenging process when a toddler is part of the mix.
In this post we’ll walk you through some of the back story, reasoning, and processing we went through in deciding to take the truck - turning our dreams of overland travel as a truck camping family into a practical reality.
Getting to The Truck
Truck camping was a large part of my childhood.
Nearly every weekend in the summer we’d load up in my folks’ old blue Chevy pickup and head out to our favorite camping spot. My folks would sleep in the tent, while I got to sleep in the truck inside the old aluminum camper shell with a scrap of carpet on the truck bed and a homemade foam mattress.
I still, to this day, view those times as some of the most positively formative of my childhood - spending time with my family, outdoors, while we were unencumbered by the stresses of everyday life.
Lindsey and I got married in 2006, but our first experience with extended camping and travel as a couple came in the summer of 2012 when we car and tent camped our way out to the west coast and back over the course of 6 weeks and about 6,000 miles.
This is when we fell in love with the idea of budget travel. And camping played a huge part in our ability to do it affordably.
So the following year we searched out, bought, and fixed up an old 1983 Toyota Sunrader RV (we affectionately named Joey) and made an even larger loop of the American west totaling over 8,000 miles, learning how to boondock off grid and travel on an even tighter budget.
This was followed by another 6,000 mile loop to the east coast the following year.
In 2015 our daughter was born and we took a hiatus from traveling - turning to more local adventures and camping - while we processed how we would balance our newly found parenthood with our desire to travel and explore.
Then in 2017 we sold our Toyota Sunrader, “upgraded” to a 19ft Bigfoot fifth-wheel RV, and modified my 1984 Toyota Pickup to pull it on a 4,500 mile trip over the Rockies and into Northern California.
When we returned home, we realized that hauling around something that big and cumbersome ended up lowering our overall enjoyment of the experience, and encouraged us to lug around a lot of unnecessary stuff we never even touched during the trip.
This is when those memories of my folks’ old blue Chevy and countless nights truck camping out of plastic storage containers came back to me. It was simple. It was easy. And it was fun!
Potential Challenges of Truck Camping as a Family (“You’re joking right?”)
I had already taken care of the mechanical aspects of my 1984 Toyota Pickup so that it would be a reliable overland travel vehicle, but how would we bridge the divide between the sleeping-on-old-carpet-and-a-foam-pad experience of my youth and the full-bath/shower-separate-sleeping-quarters-full-kitchen-microwave-a/c-everything-you’d-ever-possibly-need experience we’d gotten used to as a family during our previous trips around the country?
As I floated the idea to Lindsey, her reaction - as you can imagine most peoples’ would be - was something like this:
Seriously?! You’re joking right?
Where would we all sleep?!
How would we stay comfortable when it’s 90 degrees out? Or 30?!
How would we bathe (or poop for that matter)?!
How would we cook, or keep our food cold?! We are NOT going back to a cooler.
And where, oh WHERE, would we put all our stuff?!!
Whew! Thankfully you’ll have a place to find out (you’re already there!).
We, on the other hand, had to conduct countless hours of research, watch even more countless hours of Youtube videos, and read dozens if not hundreds of how-tos - combing the internet and far-flung forums before we were able to formulate a clear though flexible plan of how to make a truck bed camper a home for our overland travel adventures as a family of three.
Potential Benefits of Truck Camping as a Family
This part was a little easier!
Truck Camping is Cheap!
We’d sunk a lot of money into the RVs over the years and by deciding to truck camp, we could sell the fifth-wheel, outfit the truck (which you’ll find can be done as cheaply or as not-so-cheaply as you wish), and save the extra money for adventure.
Which brings me to the next benefit.
Truck Camping Forces Adventure!
With so little room in a truck bed camper we would have no choice but to GET OUT! There’s no dining table, no couch, no extra storage.
After having experiences with extended travel using a car and tent setup, a small RV, and a 5th Wheel, we had learned that we travel for the adventure and camp for the experience of being out in nature - not being out in nature with all our stuff.
And by taking the truck, we’d be forced to bring less, and do more!
Truck Camping is More Versatile!
The truck was naturally a more versatile method of adventure.
First, there are places in this world that an RV just cannot go. We want to see those places! By thoughtfully outfitting the truck for overland travel it would be more than capable of taking us - and with a little ingenuity, could still bring along nearly all the same amenities as an RV while doing so.
Plus, we would still be able to use it as it’s intended, like a truck; we could still haul things home from the hardware store, we could still drive it daily, and yes, we could even get groceries with it on occasion.
It would not be another thing in the driveway, needing maintenance or insurance, because we already have it, and we already use it.
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