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Searching for a Mobile Home in Arizona

Backpacking is dead, killed by baby — My travel baggage has increased a hundred fold in a short period of time. My possessions, supplies, and people no longer can fit snugly inside of a rucksack. I now need a travel strategy that can carry this load. Traveling with a wife and baby has shown my [...]

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Backpacking is dead, killed by baby —

My travel baggage has increased a hundred fold in a short period of time. My possessions, supplies, and people no longer can fit snugly inside of a rucksack. I now need a travel strategy that can carry this load.

Traveling with a wife and baby has shown my trusty Kelty backpack its match. It has laid itself down in defeat, and now sits tritely next to duffel bags and an assortment of odd — a.k.a. baby — luggage.

I must announce that my long term backpacking days must be put on temporary hold. From these first two weeks of traveling with Petra (my three month old baby), living out of a backpack as a long term travel strategy seems absurd. I must bow down to Craig of Travelvice.com, for I now know the mountain he has been climbing.

I am in my tentative days of traveling with a baby, but it is my impression that a gurgling, spitting up, puddy like, pooping, easily overwhelmed infant may require more of its parents than can be hauled in a backpack. These backpacking days have been put on a temporary hold.

Payson, Arizona, Southwest USA, North America
Monday, November 2, 2009
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Rather, these next few years of traveling will probably be carried out in mobile homes — first, a vehicle that can carry or pull a living structure, and, later, a sailboat (the dream).

Searching for a Mobile Home

RV/ Motor home option

RV in Arizona

RV in Arizona

The search for a mobile home — an automobile that can also be used as a living structure or pull behind a camper — has entered into its second week.

We began looking for an RV or motor home around Arizona — the RV capital of the world — and looked at a few, but have since shrank from this option. 7 to 10 miles per gallon of gas, a size that is bulky beyond our needs, the fact that neither of us are familiar with the mechanics of such a vehicle, a relatively large price tag, and the commitment of having an RV as our only means of transport (it seems silly to drive such a large home across town just to grab a jug of milk at the store) ruled this out as an option.

We do not yet need an on board toilet nor running water nor a generator nor many of the other features that an RV offers, so why would we want to pay for, maintain, and lug around all of this?

So unless we come upon a small, cheap, 15 foot motor home, this option has been checked off our list of possibilities. This form of live-in transportation is simply too uni-directional for our multi-directional path, we need a vehicle that can go just about anywhere — RVs are limited.

Motor homes in Arizona

Motor homes in Arizona

Pickup truck with camper cab option

This option would work if it falls into our laps. A pickup truck with an extended cab — for Petra’s car seat — that could accommodate a camper in its bed would meet our needs well. I am familiar with trucks, they can be purchased used relatively cheaply, I am more comfortable driving them than a motor home, they can travel off road or on primitive road ways, and the camper in the bed would be enough room for us to sleep in.

The main draw back to this option is that we would only have enough space in the back for sleeping alone, and this would probably prove to be not much of a “home.”

Truck with pull behind pop-up camper option

This seems to be the best option. If we could find a moderately priced used SUV or pickup truck, we could pull around a pop-up camper that could be our living quarters. The main benefit of this option is that a small pop-up camper can provide enough sleeping and living space to be called a “home” — for all intensive purposes, even the small pop-up campers that we have looked at offer just as much living space as a mid-sized motor home. We would also be able to unhook the camper from the truck if we wanted to travel short distances without the load. Another benefit is that these pop-up campers sell cheap.

From our initial overview, it seems as if we could purchase a used truck and a camper for under $4,000.

Having a form of transportation that can also serve as our living quarters would allow my little vagabond family freedom of locomotion without being tied to hotels or hostels. In point, we would be able to take advantage of the free camping possibilities that all of this state land in the west of the USA has to offer.

Hotels and hostels are expensive in the USA, and on weekends that we do not stay with friends, our costs of living rise up to nearly match my weekly income. This is not good. I am working to save money to travel.

Though, on the other hand, I am not loosing money either, and I am thoroghly enjoying these travels in Arizona.

If we could find a way to limit our weekly costs — by camping out in the desert — we could save a lot more money for our boat and futrue travels. By having a form of transportation that also serves as our home, then we have two of the three major factors of travel answered.

By having a mobile home — a place that is regular and consistent in the revolving landscape of travel which can also carry all of Petra’s crap — it is my impression that the traveling through this infant stage could be pretty good.

But as soon as Petra can carry her own backpack, rest assured, the Shepard family backpacking days will resume. Though, hopefully, we will be sailing by then.

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Filed under: Arizona, Camping, Travel Strategy, Travel With Family, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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23 comments… add one

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  • Bob L November 3, 2009, 10:41 am

    Hmmmmmm, seems to me that with your and Chaya’s experience you could find a way to trim down your possessions. Maybe have Chaya carry the baby and the immediatly needed baby stuff and you drag a hand truck kinda thing with the baggage needed. Sure, you won’t be a carry-on only type of traveller, but it seems to me that you could do it, Craig is doing it.

    Now, whether you *want* to do it that way is another story. To force yourselves to continue backpacking despite the difficulties just out oaf habit may not be such a good thing either. I know you will adapt your travelling lifestyle in a way that will make all three of you happy.

    Or you could always find a 9-5 cubicle job, get a house with a white picket fence and send Petra to some round peg manufacturing public school.

    Bob L

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  • Mike Crosby November 3, 2009, 11:00 am

    Why is your goal sailing? And what size boat do you want? And where do you want to sail? And do you have experience sailing?

    Sounds like a fascinating goal. Good luck.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 4, 2009, 11:11 pm

      Hello Mike,

      The goal is sailing because the watery parts of the world are vast, we would be able to get to places we could not access otherwise, we could always have our home with us, it is cheap if you take costs as a parameter, and it is fun. Yeah, I learned how to sail while in Maine. I still need more practice though. We want to sail the entire world haha.



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  • baron November 3, 2009, 1:07 pm


    Pop-ups are light, less than 2,000 lbs. You don’t need a truck/SUV to pull one, a mid size car or larger with a hitch can pull a pop-up, and the car option may be less expensive. I guess you can say you want a truck or SUV to go down the unimproved roads. But unless you buy a purose built pop-up to go off road, you’ll only tow the trailer where a sedan can go anyway.

    I own a pop-up and pull it with a Jeep Liberty. I know from experience the pop-up can not follow my jeep everywhere.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 3, 2009, 11:52 pm

      Hello Baron,

      Our Subaru won’t pull 2,000 pounds safely. It doesn’t really have a steel frame to attach a hitch to. We already checked into it. Though a Jeep would be good.



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  • craig | travelvice.com November 3, 2009, 1:07 pm

    Wade, you know it can be done, and with less drama than you might imagine. 2 Backpacks, no stroller, 1 frontpack on me and the baby mounted on Tatiana’s chest. I’m still using the Redwing 3100, and Tatiana’s new Lowe Alpine TT-Tour 70 (only picked up this past March) were enough to go from Poland to Cairo to Bangkok over the course of a year and a half.

    At least you’re still in the Americas, where finding quality inexpensive diapers and formula can still be had at a nearby Walmart. It’s when you need to hunt for these things in foreign lands, and carry them with you, that the fun begins. The comforts and conveniences that parents have here in this country is staggering.

    I will write at great length about this on Travelvice, though my priority these days is Aidric, and at his current age he takes most every waking minute of my time… In the interim, feel free to e-mail any questions.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 3, 2009, 11:43 pm


      You are some sort of traveling genius. I have a lot to learn from you about traveling with a baby. We are bogged down in baby supplies — it all hardly even fits into our hatchback car.

      Though I am sure we could slim it down, and, yes, I know that it is possible. Though other ways of traveling are looking attractive right now.



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  • johnny November 3, 2009, 2:43 pm

    You’ve overlooked the simplest option. Car camping. Get a car top carrier for the subaru and a good $200 tent that is easy to put up and take down along with some sleeping bags and call it good. My parents took us camping frequently when me and my siblings were very young with nothing more than a station wagon and a tent. It would save you a lot of hassle and running around. Just make sure your tent is large enough to be practical not claustrophobic.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 3, 2009, 11:41 pm

      Hello Johnny,

      Thank you for the suggestion but there is no way that Chaya is going to live out of a tent with Petra right now. No way haha. I think a solid roof is important right now, and an indoor environment where we can move around a little (change diapers, clothes and all of that) . Though this would be the most cost effective option.



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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 4, 2009, 11:09 pm


      I rethought your suggestion today. I think a large tent may be good. We want to leave the USA in early February, so it is more important for us to save money rather than travel and camp in style. Your comment sort of drove the economic factors in these plans home: cheaper is better. I think if we set ourselves up with a large tent, cooking supplies, and a few chairs this could be a good option.



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  • david November 4, 2009, 2:20 am

    Hmm. Used to do courier work in London. Had a very nice company delivery van, which doubled as my camper van over weekends and off-weeks here and there. Amazing how much space you have in those things… More than enough for 3. The fact that you have access to the front seats from the back makes a huge difference. Secure pack space, office space, play space. A bit like living in a delux Combi… 😉

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 4, 2009, 11:07 pm


      A van is also a good suggestion. We considered it and even check out a couple “camper vans” but, for some reason, I find myself partial to trucks. Though we would pounce on a van if one came our way that was the right price.



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  • craig | travelvice.com November 4, 2009, 12:50 pm

    I’m not sure what’s bogging down your hatchback, but this is truly all you need:

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 4, 2009, 10:28 pm


      I wondered this, too. So I asked Chaya, “What is all of this stuff?”

      Apparently, she prepped for travel with the fact that we had a car in mind. So she brought everything. We were given a lot of baby clothes in Maine and from my sister, and Chaya brought them all. We are provisioned with clothes for the next year. Why not? appears to have been Chaya’s mantra for packing, and, as everything fits into the car, she brought it all.

      Though I do have a big question for you. How were you able to carry enough clothes for Aidric in backpacks when he was spitting up and pooping all over them. I think Petra goes through at least two sets of clothes a day.



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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 4, 2009, 11:05 pm


      The page that you recommend is really good. Especially the part about carrying lots of pacifiers!



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  • Bob L November 5, 2009, 8:29 am

    Wade Wrote: “I rethought your suggestion today. I think a large tent may be good.”

    Wade, a small, cheap trailer can be gotten from Harbor Freight new for a couple hundred bucks. Will take some of the load off the car and allow you to sleep in the car when the weather turns to crud.

    “A van is also a good suggestion.”

    Don’t rule out Box Vans either. You can sometimes get high mileage ones dirt cheap. There is one a freinds office is selling, probably for peanuts. HUGE miles, but these things tend to last if taken care of and it does not look like you plan on keeping it for long.

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  • johnny November 5, 2009, 2:38 pm

    Wade I really don’t mean to pressure you; but having done extensive traveling with a tent and a camper trailer I promise you the difference in space isn’t near as much as you might first imagine. A huge diesel pusher with multiple slideouts is one thing. Those are rolling homes, but they also cost as much as a house. The smaller trailers are suprisingly small once you start to spend real time inside. Either way to make it pleasant you have to spend more time outside than in. Outdoor kitchen, outdoor campchairs, bonfire, etc. Luckily arizona this time of year has perfect camping weather cold at night for sleeping, warm and sunny during the day for hiking, cooking, snoozing etc. If it were me I would gently remind your wife why you’re trying to save money. Of course if momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy, so you have to get her to go along.

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  • craig | travelvice.com November 5, 2009, 2:39 pm

    Re: Clothes

    — Well, it’s pretty much the same concept as your own. Carry less, wash more. It was invaluable to be CouchSurfing for the majority of this time, as we had access to regular perks like a washing machine. But even without CS, I always seemed to place us within easy access to such a device, as the last thing you want to do on your already busy day is scrub baby clothes by hand.

    Oh, and all of Taitana’s clothing and Aidric’s clothing went into her backpack — I didn’t have any space in mine for any of Aidric’s kit. She carried the clothing, I carried the support gear (in the frontpack).

    We generally carried what was seasonal, despite Tatiana wanting to hold onto colder weather stuff during the middle of the summer. We had to make some sacrifices in terms of space and gear carried during the winter, when we purchased thicker inexpensive quality clothing from second-hand stores to keep all of us warm.

    Really, truly, you don’t need all that much to keep your baby clean, warm/cool, and smiling.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 11, 2009, 12:37 am


      Good advice on the clothes.

      It is really funny. Hannah read through this thread and it nipped at her traveler pride a bit haha. Petra now lives out of a small carry on backpack, too. It was amazing how two military sized duffel bags were reduced to a single backpack. I have little fear about the amount of gear now . . . but washing those clothes is going to be a good chore as soon as we leave the realm of the washing machine haha!

      Fun roads ahead.



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  • icksy November 6, 2009, 3:47 am

    Servus Wade,
    greetings from Germany.
    My parents spend the whole summer camping in a tent, we were three children and for us – the tent always felt like a home. And today´s tents are of course much more luxury than 30 years ago. Unfortunately I have no experience in winter-camping (the gouverment of the formerly GDR had never ever allowed such subversively things to its citizens) but I think with a baby you will stay in warm areas.
    And at least an advice from a mother: Habituate Petra to relatives of your families, so when the day comes and she DON´T like travelling anymore, she can relax few weeks in an appropriate bed under an appropriate roof with people she knows and likes. Our 3 years old daughter Leona spend some weeks in summer with her grandparents and my husband and I remember the “old times” by travelling with our motorcycles to the European Jamboree and other bike events.
    Please excuse my bumbling English.

    And so, if you and your young family will travel to Germany one day, I would be glad to welcome you in the Black Forest.

    Good luck

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 9, 2009, 9:46 pm

      Hello Icksy,

      Thank you for these words of encouragement! I think a large tent would probably be our best option. We are saving up money for traveling so we don’t really want to spend it where we don’t have to haha.

      We will definitely take you up on your offer of accommodation in the Black Forest — it is a place where I have always dreamed of going.

      Thank you,


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  • Motorhome Hire Scotland July 7, 2010, 9:01 am

    Why don’t you try a couple different holidays where you hire a vehicle? You can try a truck, van, RV etc. and see which one you like best?
    ……and then wait 10 years while you get out of debt from those and buy your favourite one!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com July 7, 2010, 12:42 pm

      Hahaha, good last line! Very right on.

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