Building a Travel Trailer

After many years of camping trips, I decided to build a custom travel trailer!

Must Haves

It has to be pitch black inside and very comfortable. I need my sleep and I like to stay up late. I really don’t want any windows at all. I always cover my bedroom windows with blackout fabric and sleep until noon.

It was also very important to me that it be fully off-grid. That means enough solar and batteries to heat or cool the space, cook food, and to make my own water.

Design

I went for a very simple design which is highly utilitarian. I was inspired by designs like this and this.

I went for a simple rectangular shape using this 5×8 steel trailer as a foundation. There are 4×8 trailers which are a bit cheaper, but having an extra foot of width still leaves in narrower than my car while making a lot more space inside for activities.

I decided to use exterior sheathing plywood for the base and walls, with ground contact 2x6s for the framing. This makes the structure extremely strong and resilient. Finally I covered everything in white flex-seal which is basically a bed liner to prevent any leakage or gaps.

The rear wall of the trailer opens completely. It hinges up and onto a pair of gas pistons. This is great because it also acts as a canopy to shade the entrance, while allowing a great view of the outside world.

Comfort

I purchased two folding memory foam pads which convert to either a bed or a couch. These rest on an elevated bed with about a foot of storage underneath and about two feet of floor between the bed and the door.

Above the head of the bed there is a 5,000 btu air conditioner and also a small electric heater.

I am including a microwave and coffee maker. These run easily off the lithium bank and allow hot food to be quickly prepared even in the most remote locations.

In the trunk of the car, there is a pop-up tent and a portable toilet. This comes in handy when you’re a long way from restrooms and don’t feel like digging a hole. Storing it in the trunk means there is no smell in the sleeping space.

I had planned out a complex system for filtering water and then using propane to have hot showers outside the trailer. I decided not to do this for several reasons. First, after a recent summer camping trip of several weeks in Tahoe, I learned that it’s easy to find a place to take a shower. Second, I can easily use a cheap pump sprayer to take showers just like we do at Burning Man. Third, I really don’t want to have any propane at all in the design.

Power

It was very important to me to keep everything electric so that it is completely sustainable and can run indefinitely off of the solar panels. I really don’t want to rely on propane, partly because it’s a fossil fuel and partly because it is inherently limited and means I will need to keep refilling it.

My main source of power is the solar array. As a backup and depending on the weather wherever I happen to be, there is also a 2kw generator on the tongue of the trailer. Hopefully I will not need to use this

I think this will be plenty of power, but I am considering adding a second solar array to the passenger side of the trailer which can also lift automatically into position. This would double my available power for just a few hundred dollars.

Assemble The Trailer

Ironton 5x8 1715lb Trailer

So first let me say I am glad I bought this trailer and I would buy it again. The price is great and the 5×8 profile is great. But assembling it was a nightmare. The directions that come with it are completely wrong (apparently they are for some previous version of the trailer). It’s not too hard to figure it out though. It took me about four hours working alone to get get it completely assembled with the extras I added.

I definitely recommend running a separate ground line to all the lights instead of trying to use a painted frame alone to carry the ground. Also the market lights come with these stupid vampire taps. Just splice the wires properly.

I added several things to the trailer. First this wheel jack on the tongue.

Next, this security kit. It comes with a ball lock, a trigger lock, and a receiver lock for under thirty bucks. Great value.

This trailer has a 17″ hitch height (from the ground). My car is a 2013 Honda Civic LX which has a 12 inch hitch height, so I got a 5 inch hitch lift which is sized correctly for my U-Haul receiver (1.25″),  and also the appropriate ball to connect the hitch lift to the trailer.

U-Haul charged about $300 for parts, labor, and wiring to install the receiver.

All of this is rated much higher than what I need for this project. You could probably cut some corners but I like to be sure that nothing will go wrong.

Bed!

Trailer Construction 1

The first step in constructing the bed was to pick up four sheets of pressure treated 3/4″ 4’x8′ plywood. These were very expensive and probably a lot more than is really needed but again I want to make sure this thing lasts forever.

In this photo, you can see two layers of plywood stacked on top of each other…

Since the trailer is 5×8 but wood only comes in 4×8, it takes four pieces. The bottom layer is two pieces of 4×5 which covers the entire trailer but leaves a seam in the middle. So I decided to do a second layer which you can see above. This moves the seams away from the middle, eliminating any leakage or openings in the floor.

Trailer Construction 2

Here you can see the top layer is removed, showing the first layer only. Because the bolts that hold the frame together stick out above the frame, I decided to use a hole saw to cut holes in the bottom layer to allow it to sit flush on the frame. You can also see the big seam in the middle which would potentially let air and creatures in.

Trailer Construction 3

Here you can see a close-up of the 1″ holes which fit the bolts perfectly. You can also see a closeup of the seam which needs covering up.

Trailer Construction 4

In between the two layers, I put an entire bottle of Gorilla Glue, making sure to completely surround all the holes and the seam, so that once the wood is glued together, no moisture can get in  between the layers.

Again this is overkill because pressure treated plywood is already waterproof but just to be safe I decided to go for the gold here.

Trailer Construction 5

Next I put the top layer back on, gluing it in place. You may notice I made sure to put the nice finished side down and leave the ugly side up. This was not on purpose. 😀

Trailer Construction 6

Next I put dozens of screws in to hold the boards together and let the glue set very tightly. I made sure to surround every seam and hole with several screws just to be sure it will be a good tight fit and last forever.

Trailer Construction 7

Last, I piled everything heavy I could find on top to compress the boards for the next 24 hours until the glue has set.

Frame and Walls

I decided to go with a simple geometric rectangle. I used exterior pine sheathing for the bed, walls, and roof with 2×6 deck boards for framing. Then I covered everything in flex seal which is basically bed liner. This is definitely overkill but I want to be sure I don’t have anything to worry about.

The rear wall swings up to serve as the door, and is supported by a pair of gas pistons. I used Autocad to figure out where to mount them based on the open and closed lengths to get the angle I wanted when the door is open.

I used pressure treated fir 2×6 deck boards with three inch deck screws for the framing, and then I also added steel brackets to every joint, and the same 3/4″ pressure treated plywood on the outside.

The framing is a little wonky because of the way I’m doing the mattress. In this photo you can see there is a frame around the front, and then on the front face where the front wall will go. I’m planning to add an air conditioner to the front wall, so there will be another cross member on the front.

There is also a frame around the midpoint so that the roof panels can be mounted at the seam. Then there is a third frame to support the end of the mattress platform. You can see the three cross-beams which are also mounted with both three-inch deck screws and steel brackets.

I am planning to add sheets of styrofoam to the voids between the studs and then cover the inside walls with nicer-looking plywood.

Note that there is another sheet of plywood in the bottom just for storage. It will become the back wall/door. Also that random board laying across the beams is just hanging out, not permanently placed there.

Making the front wall was a little complicated because I had a lot of extra wood and I didn’t want to buy another $60 sheet of this plywood so I did the same thing as the base and cut and glued several 3/4 sheets together to form a 1.5″ thick front wall. This is on the ground drying in the photo.

While the glue dries, I decided to apply the first coat of white flex-seal to the side and roof panels. I used a roller to coat it all over, and then used a spray can to make sure any little crevices are well sealed. I will probably end up doing a total of two coats to the entire outside.

Here you can see all three walls up, with the roof panels laying on top. The first coat of flex seal is now on.

I need to pick up some more spray-on flex seal to fill in the seams before the second coat goes on.

Lastly because I’m using a five-foot wide trailer, there is an extra foot of space on the roof next to the four-foot solar panels. This means there is room for a vent with a built-in fan! I used a jigsaw and cut out a hole, then it was a simple process to screw the vent down and seal the edges with flex seal.

Air Conditioning

I used a jigsaw to cut out a box in the front wall to fit an air conditioner. I also made sure to leave enough room underneath the AC for the toolbox. Next I will add wood at angles to make the overall shape of the front of the trailer more aerodynamic.

Back Door With Digital Lock

I wanted to have the entire back wall open as a door for several, reasons. First it’s a nice big open space for loading cargo and materials into the trailer for transit. Second it’s much cheaper than installing the typical doors people use. I cut a hole in the 3/4″ plywood to mount the lock directly onto the 2×6 frame on the inside of the door.

This slides perfectly into the frame of the trailer, with adhesive weather stripping forming a seal all around the opening. I also installed a pair of gas pistons to lift the door and hold it open. This was tricky and took a lot of trial and error to get them positioned perfectly. Overall I’m very happy with the way the door turned out.

Initial Performance Data

I drove the trailer to a campground about thirty miles from my house. As you can see it’s not yet very aerodynamic, and yet I got about 30 mpg which is barely lower than my usual 33 mpg. I was surprised it performed so well, but after reflecting on these numbers, I think a big part of it is the fact that I’m driving 55 mph with the trailer rather than my usual 75-80 mph. My car is rated for 40 mpg if you’re driving 55 mph, so actually this is probably taking away about 25% of the optimal efficiency. It will be interesting to see how it does once the shape is more aerodynamic.

Because the power systems are not yet complete, I plugged the camper in at the campground. I left the AC on the entire time we were there (with the eco mode turned off) in order to test the power consumption in a typical camping situation. It averaged 175 watts per hour. It was highs of about 92 this weekend.

One really interesting takeaway was feeling the temperature of the walls inside and out. I really wish I had an infrared thermometer gun to get more precise data on this. The white walls felt cool to the touch inside and out even in direct sunlight. The unpainted wall however felt hot to the touch both inside and out. I was surprised at how significant the temperature difference was just from painting the outside white. I will definitely make sure to finish painting the remaining rear wall as soon as the paint is back in stock at the store.

After returning home, I decided to perform another experiment. I will turn the AC on only when I am sleeping for several days in order to determine power consumption under more normal circumstances. After all, in the wild, I will not be running the AC when I am not in the camper and the only time I am really in there is when I am sleeping.

 

Jacks

I had been debating whether or not to add jacks to the trailer, and as I walked around on it installing the bed, I noticed a line which I could not cross without it tipping over backwards. So I decided to add jacks.

The electric jacks I found need a 2.5 inch hole which seems fine going through a 2×6 but I decided to stack two 2x6s just to be safe. Since the trailer is five feet wide, I cut the 2x6s to six feet, meaning there will be a 6″x6″ square sticking out each side. I cut holes here to mount the jacks. I bought a set from harbor freight but these are the closest equivalent I could find online.

I cut the beams to size and wood glued them together, then deck screwed them together in eight places. I used three 120mm bolts to mount the beam to the trailer’s structural cross-member just behind the tires. This should be perfect for making sure it won’t shift around or tip over once it’s set up.

I tested the design by pushing the structure around once it was up in the air and it all seems very sturdy. Before I installed the jacks, I jumped on the ends to see if there was any give, and it was all rock solid. These jacks are each rated for more than double the weight of the trailer so I think it will work perfectly.

I used some locktite to attach a high precision bubble level to each jack’s base as well as to the trailer’s tongue. This makes it easy to level everything out. I ran power from each jack to my main 12v distribution panel. (see below) I also attached an inline breaker so the jacks don’t receive power if they don’t need it.

The trailer’s frame wiring includes a special ground line I ran to all the lights and frame segments because the manufacturer just expected the ground connection to magically travel through painted joints which obviously doesn’t work. So when I wired the jacks, I also connected the ground from the 12v distribution panel to the ground line I had run for the lights and frame. This is one of only two places where wires run through the exterior of the trailer. I drilled two tight holes for the wires, then stabled them on both sides of the wall and filled the holes with locktite. I will also add a coat of clear rubber over that once it dries. This should form a very good seal while also preventing static problems in the low voltage system that could otherwise arise. I will probably add some kind of grounding strap in the future. There are going to be a lot of mixed voltage systems with thousands of watts of batteries inside, so we want to avoid ground isolation as much as possible in order to prolong the life of the electronics.

 

 

COMING SOON

Power Systems

The biggest thing to do here is just cut the hole for the shore power and then assemble all the pieces. There is a 12 volt system and a 120 volt system. Let’s start with the 12 volt system. This system runs the jacks, actuators, and lighting.

12 Volts

I am using this 12 volt distribution panel powered off a simple cigarette lighter cord which I split in two with the distro in between. This cord plugs into the battery bank, while one of the other ports on the distribution panel goes to the other end of the original cigarette lighter cord. Other wires run from the distro panel to things like the linear actuators, jacks, ventilation, and eventually the future water pump.

120 Volts

The 120 volt power system is a little different.

The generator plugs in through a shore socket on the outside of the trailer. This means it can stay hooked up when not in use. If shore power is available, then we simply unplug the generator and plug the shore power in.

From the shore socket, power runs to a power strip which serves as a shore bus. From here, the lithium bank can be charged from either shore power or the generator. (I will add a link to the lithium bank when it becomes available for sale. I bought it on an Indiegogo and they are not currently for sale. In the mean time, something like a Bluetti 2400 would be equivalent though this doesn’t charge as fast so I would wait for the new one to come out or else buy two of them.

An automatic transfer switch defaults to shore power if available, or runs off the lithium bank. This switch powers the chassis bus which is a special kill-a-watt plugin strip allowing things like HVAC or lighting to automatically run from the most appropriate power source. Also in between the transfer switch and the chassis bus is a UPS to smooth out the transfer and prevent power loss or surges from reaching sensitive equipment.

Main power is produced by a solar array. This array contains four 100 watt panels mounted to a tilting frame on the roof. The entire trailer is leveled by using electric ground jacks. Then, a pair of linear actuators lifts the solar panels to the correct angle for the latitude.

On The Road: Itinerary

Since the world is ending and everything is work-from-home, including school, there is really no reason to be anywhere in particular. I decided not to waste this opportunity, and to hit the road and safely see the country while the apocalypse unfolds. What else am I going to do this year? With satellite internet and cell phone service, I can work from home anywhere on the continent just as easily as being here at home bored out of my mind and staring at a screen all day every day.

National Parks

Randy Olson developed and published the following route for visiting all the national parks (In the 48 states) as efficiently as possible;

National Park Route

I will be basing my trip on this route, with detours for other interesting destinations I want to visit. I am planning to communicate about destinations grouped by topic. For example, one set of posts about the parks and another set about the food. Here is my full working-list of places and things I want to visit and see.

Food Too

About ten years ago, I drove across the country in order ot move my grandparents to California. Everywhere we stopped was basically truck stops and hotels. The food options were boring so I always ordered the same thing, a club sandwich. This was funny and meta but in retrospect kind of boring. This time, I am interested in sampling the local flavor. This article or this article will be my starting place, and then I will expand from there based on further reading.

Tentative Itinerary

  • Yosemite National Park, California
  • Kings Canyon National Park, California
  • Sequoia National Park, California
  • Pinnacles National Park, California
  • Channel Islands National Park, California
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California
  • Death Valley National Park, California
  • California City, California
  • Slab City, California
  • Salton

Because of the California fires, I will be skipping ahead to start in Arizona, and then I’ll finish up the California destinations at the end of the trip.

  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, Arizona (Unclear if this is happening or not)
  • Meteor Crater, Arizona
  • Arcosanti, Arizona
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  • The Very Large Array, New Mexico
  • Earthship Biotecture, Taos, New Mexico
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  • Breakfast Tacos, Austin, Texas
  • Hippy Hollow, Austin, Texas
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
  • Pez, Mississippi
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
  • Everglades National Park, Florida
  • Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
  • Biscayne National Park, Florida
  • Congaree National Park, South Carolina
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Washington DC
  • New York, New York
  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • New Haven, Connecticut
  • Niagara Falls
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
  • Chicago, Ohio
  • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
  • Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  • Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  • Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
  • Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  • Four Corners
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Antelope Canyon, Arizona
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  • Zion National Park, Utah
  • Great Basin National Park, Nevada
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • North Cascades National Park, Washington
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Tree of Life, Washington
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  • Redwood National and State Parks, California
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

When

My current plan is to leave early on in 2021.

Early Vehicle Ideas

Blueprints

As you can see here, four side-facing murphy beds are at the rear of the trailer. These can fold up and down to allow lots of extra storage while in transit.

Two Ikea 2×4 Kallax shelves are mounted to the walls just forward of the beds. These allow plenty of personal storage for campers.

The very front wall of the trailer is covered with storage and appliances. These include a battery bank, a microwave, and a portable travel toilet as well as pantry space and a flatscreen tv.

 

 

Cost Projections

The biggest cost is the trailer itself at around $5,000 new. I am planning for a 7×14 trailer. This will also serve as storage and transportation for my DJ gear and other projects while not in use as a travel trailer.

Next is the power bank. I want to get a Yeti GoalZero 3000 for this project, at $3,000. This will be able to store the power I am expecting to produce from the roof-mounted solar panels while also providing enough continuous power for all the lights and appliances I am planning for. Several small redundant power banks will run things like lights and air circulation, just like I did with my grid at Burning Man 2018.

The solar array is less pricey than the batteries. Nine panels fit neatly on the roof. I plan to get these from the highly reputable company Renogy at a cost of just $1070.91.

Next is the beds. I want to get four memory foam twin-sized mattresses at a total cost of $1,134. I have back problems, so I prefer to only sleep on memory foam mattresses.

I also want to include a microwave. Using these to boil water and heat up hungry man meals is a simple solution which is well within the power production I have planned for the solar array. This will cost just $50.

In the future, I may add refrigeration.

Stealth Trailer Goals and Concepts

I would love to build something like this for Burning Man and other adventures. Here are some of my initial ideas…

Innovative Power Grid

There is no reason to have inverters running 24/7. There is no reason to duplicate the wasteful norms of on-grid houses.

Two or three full-sized solar panels on the roof and a single Yeti are more than enough power for reasonable use. There is no reason to install 120v outlets in the walls and waste several inches of empty space around the entire interior along with enormous power loss to inversion.

Quad Flip-Up Bunks

I really like the idea of multiple stacked murphy beds with the bottom two serving as optional couches. This means one to four people can comfortably share the space.

Our cruise ship cabins were like this a few years ago, and it was great. The beds stowed easily away when not needed.

Murphy Everything

I really like this image above. I would just eliminate the unnecessary stove, sink, and window. The front wall of the unit should contain numerous cupboards which open to reveal storage as well as appliances such as a small low-power microwave and a travel toilet. A large multipurpose surface should fold down to function as a table, desk, etc. Behind this should be mounted a large flat screen TV. A simple set of Raspberry Pi computers serve as shared NAS, workstations, and media center.

A simple privacy screen should separate this area from the bunk area for optional modesty. Additional crew lockers between the back of the unit and the bunks provide storage for campers. All of these things fold away into the walls when not in use.

I Brought Too Much Stuff, And Other Lessons

I brought just one single small Jansport backpack for this trip. I am very happy that I made this choice. There were numerous times where it made everything so much easier. Doing laundry once during the trip was no hassle and cost just a few euro. Two out of the three hostels I stayed at offered laundry services on-site. The exception in Berlin had plenty of laundromats nearby.

Someone I greatly admire once made the point that if you can pack for a week, there is no reason that same bag shouldn’t last a year or more. I feel very strongly that this is the right way to travel. There is just no reason to waste all the money and energy on bringing lots of luggage with you.

That said I still feel like I brought too much stuff…

I’m Glad I…

Left A Wide Margin: Few of my flights and transits were on time. Leaving a wide margin is critical to stress-free and disaster-free travel. This definitely requires zen; being prepared and willing to sit for a couple hours before your flight is the cost of zero stress during the process. Doing the same after a flight means you can carefully plan the best way to get to the next destination. Don’t plan to be in a hurry or you will make expensive mistakes. Unexpected delays will absolutely happen. Two or three hours in between things can evaporate at a moment’s notice if a plane is delayed or a flight is cancelled.

Brought A Secondary Day Bag: I intended to buy one of those cinch-style day bags as a functional souvenir in Berlin, which I did. And that made a lot of the little things easier, like bringing a phone charger with me, and putting my important items somewhere more secure than a pocket. It also fits into the one small backpack I brought, so I’m still within my one-bag goal.

Planned Quick Stays In Each City: I am really happy with the way I spent just a couple days in each city, getting a taste. I will definitely come back and spend a longer trip in each place at some point. But I will probably go on more trips like this one first, to new cities. Like the 20 Kroner coin from Norway says, “Towards Unknown Lands” (Mot Ukjent Land).

20 Kroner - Towards Unknown Lands

I Wish I Hadn’t…

Filled My Bag completely: Personally, I am an extreme minimalist, but I wanted to get some souvenirs for my brothers, and I was very limited on space. Maybe it’s for the best, but a little more free space in my bag would have been better.

Used A Mesh Clothes Organizer: Dirty clothes in a bag take up more space than folded clean clothes. Also, folded clean clothes expand naturally after you organize them. I think I want to invest in some kind of vacuum compression bags to solve this problem. I think this would cut about half of the space taken up by clothes.

Brought Redundant Cameras:  I regret bringing my GoPro which is just terrible compared to my Pixel 2. I haven’t used many of the pictures from it during the trip because my cell phone takes much better quality pictures. I also brought a 360 cam which just didn’t seem to fit into any of the experiences I had, and it always seems to die of its own accord no matter how often I charge it. I wish I had not brought either of these cameras.

Brought A Nalgene: It is just about impossible to get water in Europe without buying a bottle. Bringing a water bottle was a waste of space. That said, I have had to put a great deal of effort into finding and drinking water because there aren’t a lot of convenience stores and most charge exorbitant prices for small bottles of water. Creating garbage is something I try to avoid, especially single-use plastic water bottles. I don’t have a good solution to this problem at this point.

Been Tricked By Private Transit: I got on a bus at Oslo airport headed for downtown. Unbeknownst to me, this was not public transit but private charter. I swiped my card and got seated only to find a notification on my phone that the price for the twenty minute bus ride was almost fifty dollars. If I had paid more attention and found a public bus rather than a private bus, it would have been just a few dollars for the same ride. The same is true in each city I visited. THERE ARE ALWAYS PUBLIC ALTERNATIVES TO PRIVATE TRANSIT. And it’s definitely worth taking a few extra minutes to find and use them instead.

Money Belt: I never once felt like I needed this. All the hostels have lockers and I brought just a small amount of cash and my phone with me wherever I went. I usually kept my hands in or around my pockets and I stay aware of my surroundings. There was no problem, and wearing a money belt just seemed like a complete waste of time (and money).

Overprepared for Outlets: I bought a universal travel adapter that works pretty much everywhere in the world. It is stacked in several pieces and then you take each one off if you don’t need it. But I didn’t realize all of europe has the same plugs except for the UK. So I could have brought something smaller or left most of it at home.

Next Time:

On the plane, I will wear:

  • One pair dark gray pants
  • One pair socks and exofficio underwear
  • One neutral tee shirt
  • One black hoodie
  • Pixel 2 phone with its great camera

Wear On Plane

Backpack:

I will bring the same one small backpack and the cinch day-bag, along with a condensed set of electronics including my amazing USB-C noise cancelling headphones, just the specific appropriate international USB charger, and a single USB-C cable for my phone.

Bags and Electronics

Packed In The Bag:

  • Four neutral tee shirts
  • Four black socks/underwear
  • One pair of neutral swimmable shorts
  • Universal charger and USB-C charger cord
  • USB-C noise cancelling headphones
  • Mack’s ear plugs (Per Tim Ferriss’ recommendation)

Packed Clothes

If it’s cold where I’m going:

  • One scarf
  • Pair of mittens
  • Beanie
  • Long johns
  • Overcoat

Cold Weather Gear

 

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is this idyllic party city on the mediterranean coast. Miles of sunny beaches (some nude) are fronted by enormous nightclubs and bars. Every homeless person wants to sell you a beer for a single euro at all hours, and you can drink in the streets. It’s basically the perfect place for a getaway. I captured this picture from the plane on my way in…

Barcelona, Spain

Many of the most famous sights in town were designed and built by Antoni Gaudí, some in honor of his wealthy patron, Eusebi Guell. The most famous examples are Park Guell and Sagrada Familia.

When I arrived, I checked into the Sant Jordi Alberg hostel. If you’re in town to party, this is the perfect place to stay. It’s cheap and in downtown and comes with great benefits. Every night, they cook a cheap dinner which is free on Sundays. They also have several other hostels around the city and every night all of the Sant Jordi hostels get together to bar crawl with special deals for everyone involved. Here is a clip from the pre-game…

We went to a small nearby bar to get cheap drinks before we headed out to club Opiate which is on the beach. It was a really great time, and completely free except for drinks since I was staying at Sant Jordi…

In The Morning

The next day, I caught a bus to Park Guell to start the day! A tip in hindsight is that Barcelona has these bus passes called T-10 passes. They are around $10 and give you basically ten trips on any kind of transit. This includes a train to the and from the airport. There are some busses which are private and do not accept the T-10 cards. It takes just a few minutes longer to use public transit and cut your transportation costs in half by avoiding private busses and using the T-10 card for public transit to and from the airport. It was very confusing at the time, but the Renfe train definitely accepts T-10 so I would recommend using that card only for your transit needs. Avoiding private transit might be the most useful financial lesson I learned on this trip.

Park Guell is really a beautiful and weird place. There were lots of columns and pillars topped by planters full of agave. I thought that was such a strange and interesting concept.

I was very frustrated to find that it costs over $20 to take a selfie with the lizard. I contented myself with the strange pavilions instead.

Park Guell was designed by Gaudi as a mansion park. He imagined rich people would want to live there as their residence, but they never came. So it was handed over to the city as a public monument to Gaudi’s bizarre architectural style and devotion to his religion. It really is a stunningly beautiful place.

 

Next, I headed downtown to Sagrada Familia! This basilica was also designed by Gaudi. Its construction has been funded entirely by private donations and so far has taken more than a century to build. Construction is not expected to be finished for several decades.

It’s hard to capture the complex insanity of Sagrada Familia. There is just so much going on everywhere on its surface, and it all has some esoteric religious meaning.

I had enough religion for the day, so I bought a tee shirt and headed to the gay nude beach!

The mosaic bull is a famous motif of Gaudi’s and it makes a really striking tee shirt. It got a lot of looks from people. Sadly, it was too cold at the nude beach for me or anyone to disrobe, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a cheap beer at one of the many bars on the beach.

Takeaways

Barcelona is a complicated place. It is capitol of a region called Catalan. They are officially a province of Spain but they have a separate language, culture, and history. There is a lot of political turmoil around the desire for Catalonian independence. Catalan’s entire elected leadership was recently arrested after holding a successful referendum for independence. My understanding from talking to locals is that the Catalan region provides a great deal of the tax revenue for Spain but sees very little benefit compared to other cities in the nation. Recently there was some rioting but everything was calm and peaceful while I was there.

In Barcelona, the symbol of the bull has a complicated double meaning. The mosaic bull is a common motif of Gaudi and the way his strange and prolific work defined the unique aesthetic of Barcelona. But the non-mosaic bull stands for Spain and its political domination and subjugation of Catalan despite it’s open desire for independence. According to news reports I read, almost all non-mosaic bulls in the region have been vandalised or destroyed; including statues, billboards, advertisements, and any other place a Spain-style bull is depicted.

All the politics and conflict aside, this is definitely a party town at its core, and a cheap one. I would recommend Barcelona and especially Sant Jordi to anyone who likes to party and wants an idyllic destination to explore.

From Barcelona, I headed home for now.

Until next time…

Berlin, Germany

What an incredible experience this city has been!

Friday

I arrived late at night and checked in to Citystay Hostel in Mitte. But I managed to first take a selfie with the Fernsehturm communist radio tower.

In the morning, I was off to see the Brandenburg Gate! This is probably the most conspicuous and famous landmark in Berlin. It’s what is on all the keychains and tee shirts.

The gate itself has a really interesting story, and like much of berlin, it has been blown up and rebuilt various times throughout history. When you look at it today, you can’t even tell. The restoration team did a great job.

The quadriga racing chariot on top was taken by Napoleon, and later taken back by Germany. Then blown up during the war and replaced with a communist version, and then finally with the current version.

CJ For Scale…

Brandenburg Gate
Right next to the Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag; what an impressive and storied building. It’s crazy to think about how much has happened here, especially compared to other, older cities like Oslo. Berlin has had a busy and complicated past. I tried to capture some of that in the photo…

Next, I went to see the memorial for The Murdered Jews of Europe. What an intense experience to walk through the monument. It’s really hard to capture in photos or put into words. According to the sign at the square, it was built after calls for a “highly visible” monument. It’s hard to imagine anyone forgetting a walk through this place.

The view down inside…

Holocaust Memorial

After that, my first German beer garden! I found one looking over the Siegessaule at the center of Tiergarten, one of the world’s largest parks.

Next, I met up with a friend at Prater Garten! This was a very cool place. I will definitely come back here many times in the future. It seems like it would be an easy default hangout spot.

My friend insisted on checking out the nearby Communism Cafe where, unbelievably, we were asked to pay for our beers with money.

I have had a complicated relationship with sleep this week, so I needed a nap after this, and then I went to an all-night party at Kit Kat Club!

Saturday

At some point, I seem to have injured my knee, so today I took it a little easier so I don’t make it worse. I made it over to a top-rated and much acclaimed burger place called Shiso which is on a street whose name translates as “great hamburger street” (Grosse Hamburger Strasse). It was probably the best cheeseburger I’ve had in my life; an asian fusion with kimchi instead of french fries and a fluffy rice-based bun. The burger itself was waygu. It was my first time trying Japanese beef which is illegal in the US. Now I see what I’ve been missing!

I took most of the day to rest and recuperate.

Sunday (Easter)

This is a perfect day for travel because most people are at home!

I checked out of my hostel and headed to the Starbucks under the Fernsehturn tower. Like all Starbucks, they have local food options and I went for an amazing pretzel sandwich.

I was very proud of my deutsche apotheosis; I had ordered a pretzel in Germany speaking completely in German!

Next, I jumped on a bus out front and headed to Tegel to catch my flight to Barcelona.

One thing I will miss about Germany is the freedom people have to do basically whatever they want, wherever they want. Germany is much freer than America. I saw people drinking and having sex everywhere from trains to parks and sidewalks. America thinks it has freedom, but really it has a fascistic culture of neurotic religious superstitions which no one is allowed to disagree with. America has a lot to learn from more developed and civilized countries.

I will also miss the ubiquitous, great, cheap beer. :]

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway reminds me a lot of Portland, Oregon. I’m sure I have offended about half the world by saying that. But the thing that really ties them together for me is the vibrant new-urbanism feel of the city. Public spaces are defined by the skillful application of architecture and civic design. There are lots of open spaces which serve as transit intersections and meeting places. There are lots of cafes, bars, and restaurants adjacent to these spaces. The public spaces here are alive, and people use them. This is in stark contrast to California.

I got here late at night, and checked into Anker Hostel.

First thing in the morning, I headed to the Tjuvholmen neighborhood or “Thief’s Home.” I found a very fancy-looking Starbucks which had interesting local options like the ten-billion dollar Salmon and Egg panini I paired with several super-sized cold brews.

This was situated across from Askershus Fortress. I couldn’t find a good place to take a picture of it because of all the ferries and other buildings in the way. Someone saw me struggling to take a good picture of it and remarked in a suspiciously UK-sounding accent, “Sorry, our castle is rather shit.”

Next, I jumped on the bus and headed to Bygdøy to see the Viking Ship Museum! There were three ships and lots of other interesting artifacts. This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. It’s crazy to think my ancestors sailed in this exact same ship over a thousand years ago.

Then I was off to Frognersparken to see the bizarre sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. I was especially looking forward to seeing “Man Attacked By Babies,” and I couldn’t help but imitate. ;P

After all this walking on less than six hours sleep in two days, it was back to the hostel for a nap before potential shenanigans…

 

Farvel Oslo. Jeg regnet ikke med a bli forelsket!

What I’m Bringing With Me

This is my first big overseas trip! I will be spending about a week backpacking across western Europe at the end of March. You can look at my goals for this trip and itinerary here.

For this trip, I am trying to be as frugal and minimal as possible but I still want to bring a pretty full featured set of gear. I will be spending lots of time on trains and planes and visiting lots of touristy spots for sweet selfies. This trip is also a sort of test run for the digital nomad lifestyle. I am planning to try to write some code and work on things like that to see if I like the feel of the lifestyle before really committing to it.

This will be a solo trip. I am going alone and bringing just one small bag.

The Backpack

Jansport BackpackI have spent a lot of time observing online communities around this type of trip, like Onebag, Digital Nomad, and SoloTravel. A lot of people go with very expensive and complex options for the gear and especially the backpacks they choose. I wanted to take a decidedly different route. When something that costs $25 dollars works just as well as something that costs hundreds of dollars, I don’t see the point in spending more. I expect that’s probably naivete, and that I’ll likely revisit this topic after the trip.

I ordered a simple grey Jansport backpack. I think there is something romantic about this particular backpack. It’s probably the world’s most common and popular backpack and yet it’s very sturdy and has excellent build quality. The zippers in particular are surprisingly good and I expect no backpack problems on this trip or many more to come. I also got a TSA approved lock for the zippers. Hopefully this is unnecessary but I’m not willing to risk it since this is my first big overseas trip.

Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube Set

I also picked up the widely recommended Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube Set. These should make it easy to keep my bag organized and tidy. Also, putting everything in cubes means that if someone tries prying the zippers apart, it will still be hard to get anything out through the opening in the lock.

I’ll be using an REI dry bag for dirty clothes in order to keep anything wet from getting water in the bag, along with providing airtight compression for the clothes in the bag. (I’m planning on doing a bunch of swimming in Barcelona 😎)

The Camera

GoPro Hero 5 Black

I got a GoPro Hero 5 Black at REI especially for this trip. REI has a one-year no questions asked return policy in case I don’t like it. I compared it with the newer version, the 6, but no one could tell me how they are different aside from higher 4k frame rates (30 vs 60). This one is a hundred dollars cheaper than the new one so it seemed like a no brainer.

I also picked up a tiny multiple Go-Pro battery charger which comes with two extra batteries and a small protective case for all the camera gear which comes with some extra accessories like a diving enclosure.

Power

This is a major priority which I am very anxious about.

I picked up a universal power adapter which works all over the world and has four handy usb ports! This pairs perfectly with my Anker charger which gives me Quick Charge 3.0 (For my phone) along with several of Anker’s IQ ports. These put out over 40 watts to charge all my devices at once! I have really shopped around and this is the best charger I’ve found.Anker Charger

The Laptop

Asus C302CA Chromebook with Razer Deathadder Elite mouse

I’m bringing my Asus C302CA Chromebook. This is a really great laptop which can run any Android or Chrome apps and of course access the web and any web apps. At just 12.5 inches and 2.65 pounds, it’s a tiny but powerful machine with 4gb ram and a 64gb ssd. Typically I get about 12 hours of battery life on a charge. This makes it easy to upload pics and videos from my GoPro to Google Photos and to edit them with something like Pixler before posting them to social media. The Asus C302CA Chromebook also charges from USB-C so it can use the same single charger which will power my other devices!

I already enjoy using this machine for work so I think I will really like this part of the digital nomad experience during my trip.

The Headphones

I am bringing a pair of Xiaomi Mi ANC earbuds. These are USB-C so they work with my phone or laptop, and they feature REALLY great active noise cancelling. (Sometimes I put them in and just listen to the silence. They are better than earplugs.) I will have a lot of hours to kill in transit during this trip, so these will help me eat through my favorite audiobooks and podcasts in silent comfort.

The Wardrobe

I will be in a wide range of climates from Oslo to Barcelona with temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the 70s (according to historical averages) so I also ordered a large ultralight rain poncho which can cover the backpack and folds up very small when it is not needed. I will check weather forecasts before my trip and then I may or may not bring this.

A pair of blue Prana Super Mojo shorts will be perfect for a couple days at the beach in Barcelona. 😎

I plan to do laundry halfway through the trip, so three sets of packed shirts, socks and underwear along with the pants, hoodie, and clothes I will wear on the plane complete the wardrobe.

Please Offer Feedback!

I am new to this, it’s my first time. I would love feedback on things I may not have considered or mistakes I may be making. Thanks in advance!

The Plan

I am so excited to FINALLY go backpacking across western Europe for spring break this year! This will be my first trip to Europe and my first solo trip. In the past, I have traveled around America a lot, and I went on a cruise around the Caribbean but somehow I have had a shamefully limited travel range. That all changes with this trip!

#solotravel

I will be going alone on this trip. I think solotravel is going to become my prefered mode of travel. Along the way, I plan to meet up with friends in different places and make new friends wherever I go. A big part of the motivation behind this mode of travel for me is the idea of radical self-reliance and personal independence. A bigger part is just pulling the trigger on this thing that I want, and making it real for myself. I have spent years churning out lots of ideas and realizing only a few of them. I think doing this will help me to spur myself to greater action throughout all the ventures and projects in my life.

#onebag

I will be bringing just one bag, and a small one at that. Check out my post about What I’m Bringing With Me. Minimalism has become a super important theme in my life. I like the idea I’ve heard that the best state to be in is one where adding anything would be too much, and taking anything away would not be enough. I will be taking that to the extreme and traveling as minimally as possible during this trip.

#Shoestring

I want to spend as little money as possible on this trip. This almost goes into the minimalism theme but for me it’s about more than that. Since this is my first big overseas trip, it’s the one all the rest will be judged by. I’m thinking of it like the first year attending Burning Man; the main goal is to get through it and survive and maybe take some nice pictures and learn about how to do it better next time. The biggest and most important thing is just doing it.

The less I spend, the sooner I can do it again and do it better. Currently, it looks like I will be spending a total of just $1,400. Two thirds of that is transportation, so it isn’t affected by how long I stay. This is very exciting because in the future I know I could stay much longer. I was shocked to learn that hostels in beautiful and idyllic Barcelona and Berlin range from $10-$20 per night. In the bay area, a shithole hotel goes easily for over ten times that price.

One change I have made from my original plan is not using trains, and flying between cities instead. It’s actually cheaper because my trip spans the end of one month and the beginning of another, and it will give me a lot more free time along with more comfortable trips between cities.

ITINERARY

-Day 0 (Mon 3/26)

This is the day I get on the first plane and head towards Olso.

(6:30pm OAK -> 12:40 LGW, 15:00 LGW -> 18:05 OSL)

-Day 1 (Tue 3/27) Travel + Oslo

Arrive in Oslo at 6:06pm local time (9am back home).

Maybe have time to explore Oslo a little.

Spend the night in Oslo at Anker Hostel.

-Day 2 (Wed 3/28)  Oslo!

Explore Oslo.

REMEMBER TO BUY BURNING MAN TICKETS!

Spend the night in Oslo at Anker Hostel.

-Day 3 (Thu 3/29) Oslo + Travel

Fly from Oslo to Berlin. (6:00pm OSL -> 7:35pm SXF)

Stay at Citystay Mitte.

-Day 4 (Fri 3/30)  Berlin

Explore Berlin.

Stay at Citystay Mitte.

-Day 5 (Sat 3/31) Berlin

Explore Berlin.

Stay at Citystay Mitte.

-Day 6 (Sun 4/1) Berlin + Travel

Breakfast in Berlin.

Fly to Barcelona. (2:20pm TXL -> 3:45pm STR, 5:25pm STR -> 7:15pm BCN)

Stay in Barcelona at Sant Jordi Alberg Hostel.

 -Day 7 (Mon 4/2) Barcelona

Explore Barcelona.

Stay the night at Sant Jordi Alberg Hostel.

 -Day 8 (Tue 4/3) Barcelona

At 11:00am local time, I get on a plane in Barcelona and fly directly back to Oakland. I arrive at 3pm local time the same day. If only it was really just four hours!