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Why A Truck Camper is the Best Adventure Mobile (for us)

Truck Camper in Indian Cove Campground

What’s the best vehicle for a long road trip? There are so many options for machines to power your adventures that it can be overwhelming to choose. The perfect rig for you depends on your needs, hobbies, and anticipated destinations. Through much research and debate, we have decided that a truck camper works best for our lifestyle and trip. The following is the train of thought and research that led us to that decision. We hope it helps you in choosing the best adventure mobile (for you).

For our specific overlanding trip, we need a beast of a vehicle. We will be driving from Alaska to Patagonia chasing waves and great memories. We have done a few Central and Southern America surf trips, and know that a certain type of car, or monster, is needed.


Seeing other explorers on long road trips, we instantly fell in love with the vintage Volkswagens. Both the bus and vanagon have style and an awesome community. As much as we’d love picturesque vintage van life, it wouldn’t work for us on this specific trip. We need reliability and all wheel drive for the rough side roads we will be taking to find the most elusive of waves and experiences.

The vintage van’s modern cousin, camper vans like the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit and Dodge ProMaster, are a solid option for most road trippers. The inside is super customizable with endless ways to Tetris together an awesome living space and storage for your toys. I won’t forget to mention that their interiors look oh so pretty all over Instagram. They also have quite the following on social media with #vanlife. Being able to stealth camp almost anywhere in a van is a MAJOR plus. They are reliable and agile, but not all are 4×4. We know from hunting waves through the not so friendly, mostly bumpy dirt roads of Nicaragua that all wheel drive is a necessity. The Sprinter has a 4×4 option (with quite the price tag and waiting list) that will work for the vast majority of journeys. It really is a great adventure rig. For our particular route, however, it’s not the best option. We wouldn’t be able to afford the 4×4 van plus the complete build out. We also like the ability to keep living in your camper if the car needs repairs at a shop. That’s not possible with a camper van.

Skoolie Conversion

Skoolie conversion found on


If you’re into having a small condo on wheels, you can go for the very cool option of transforming a bus into a camper. It is a huge space that you can customize in amazing ways. We have seen some amazing school bus, or Skoolie, camper conversions on social media. Busses come in many different lengths, but they are all pretty spacious. With that big size comes some big challenges. Finding places to park can be difficult depending on where you are. Being fairly low to the ground and huge isn’t ideal for the bumpy unpaved roads we plan on being on.


For the same reasons a bus wouldn’t work, an RV or trailer is out of the question. They have low clearance, and are usually long and wide. I am absolutely in love with the look and ample space of an Airstream, but my love could never be requited on the trip we are taking. Narrow, bumpy unpaved roads will be frequent. You can name your trailer Jordan, it’ll get so much air time. A bus, RV, or trailer will not make it out of Mexico alive.


Why not a rugged Jeep or other overlanding vehicle with a tent on top? As badass as that sounds, we run into some issues with our particular situation. This vehicle/home will be our residence in San Diego, at least some of the time, while we save up for our trip. Eliminating our biggest recurring bill, rent, is a sure way to save money faster. As progressive as California is, we can’t be tent camping on top of our car in random places. There aren’t a lot camping spots near our jobs either. Even if there were, we wouldn’t want to be spending lots of money on California priced campgrounds. We will also run into some warmth challenges in Alaska and Patagonia. We know of overlanders who have made it work with space heaters or electric mattress pads, but we’re not as brave (or warm blooded) as them. It is definitely possible, but just not ideal for us on this trip. Something to keep in mind if you think this is a good option for you: cooking and bathroom needs will have to be taken care of outside or at a hotel/hostel.


Even bad asser (made up a word) is the option of riding a motorcycle with camel bags à la Ewan McGregor, which I’m not even going to pretend I’m awesome enough to consider. Logistically though, it’s impossible for our adventures. Where would we put our surfboards, SUP, kite, and filming equipment? Unfortunately, we can’t afford a film crew to follow us like Ewan.

To be honest, being able to hide from mosquitos is important to me as they seriously love my blood. Some motorcycle road trippers tent camp for the majority of their trip, while others stay at hotels and hostels along the way. Many do a combination of both. Having a comfortable camper with a queen sized mattress, hot shower, and full kitchen will save us money in the long run. We will eat out less and not need to pay for a room to take showers and escape mosquitos.

Expedition Vehicle

The most perfect option would be an Earth Romer vehicle, or something like it. Unfortunately, we’re not millionaires or heirs to a fortune, so the 6 figure + price tag just won’t work for us. If anyone wants to gift us one of these monster overlanders, we would be happy to accept.

Truck Camper

A slide in truck camper is our best bet. Even then, there are a plethora of sizes and options. Short bed, long bed, pop up, pop out, popsicle? Where do we even begin? I think the best way is to work backwards, eliminating ones that won’t work for us.

Why not a pop out? It’ll be way too heavy for our rugged adventures. Each pop out will add at least 300 pounds to the weight our truck needs to carry. Being that top heavy is dangerous on the roads we plan to be on, and we already maxed ourselves out with a custom roof rack. We’ve got to stay conservative with weight in other areas.

Why not a pop up? Well, we strongly considered it. It’s lighter and more nimble for those rough roads. Two things made us decide against it: less storage and Patagonia. I get cold way too easily. The thought of a thick cloth being the only thing protecting me from the cold is chilling. Pun intended 🙂 Pedro was also not down with the set up everyday since we would have a bunch of gear tied to the top and sides and we’d have to pop it up and down constantly. The custom roof rack wouldn’t have been able to happen either, leaving us scrambling on places to put our boards.

By now, it’s clear that lighter is better, so naturally, we want to go with a short bed truck so that we’ll be forced to live in a smaller camper. A smaller camper equals less weight. That’s our sweet spot. Now that we have decided on a short bed slide in truck camper, let’s talk about why we chose a diesel 4×4 Ford F-350 to power it.

Power and agility are non negotiable qualities needed to hunt waves in Central and Southern America. A short bed truck camper will be lighter and consequently more nimble as we hunt down secret waves. Despite having a smaller camper, it will be plenty heavy with all of our adventure equipment strapped on and tucked in anywhere we can find space. For that reason, we need a powerful truck. A short bed F-350 has a 4,102 lb payload, which is sufficient for our needs. Our camper weighs 1,800 lbs without the roof rack.

We decided on a used truck mostly because of the cost. The exact truck we were looking for was for sale about 30 minutes away, and for a great deal. We bought a 2009 F-350 XLT 4×4 extended cab 6.4L diesel with 69,000 miles (plus 6,000 engine hours, I’ll talk about that more below) for less than $19,000. It’s previous owner was the California Border Patrol, so we knew it went through all of its necessary maintenance. This was really important to us when searching for a truck because these cars can go for 500,000 miles with regular maintenance. Finding a moderately new truck was a major plus as it should cut down on repairs needed on the road.

There were pros and cons to buying this former government truck. Pros: it’s in great condition, has low miles, has gotten regular maintenance, and comes with heavy duty foot rails. Cons: the interior needs some TLC as the back seats and center console were taken out, it needs new lights, and it has lots of idle engine time.

The problem with a lot of idle time is that diesel engines don’t like it. They like to keep running. A lot of idle time wears out the engine. Government trucks sit idle at job sites with the AC/heater running or to power equipment. It’s important to know this because if you have high engine hours, you’re going to have to adjust your scheduled maintenance accordingly. Consuming one gallon of gas while idling is equal to driving the truck for 30 miles. Make sure to check idle time when buying a used truck. You can find it on modern cars/trucks where the odometer is. I’m not sure where you would find it on older models that don’t have a digital readout. To get the true gage of your engine’s usage, you have to be aware of your engine hours along with the mileage.

We ended up going with a ’98 Lance 185 SquireLite truck camper that we found on Craigslist. It fits well in the bed of our truck with little overhang. We got it for a great deal and spruced it up to our liking. The make and model of truck camper that will work best for you depends on your needs. Some people want to cook indoors, so a sufficient kitchen is a must. Many people would like a fully functioning indoor bathroom with a shower, while others are okay with just an outdoor shower and some TP to do their business outside. Find out whats important, and non negotiable for you and your family and/or travel buddies. The number of people you will be traveling with (or if you are solo traveling) also has an impact on the type of truck camper you need. For example, if you’re a solo female traveler, you can probably go pretty light on a camper, but may want a toilet indoors so that you don’t have to wander off into the woods at night to poop. Yes, girls poop.

We chose a used camper because the new one goes for upwards of $25,000 and we don’t have that kind of chedda. Even if we did, that’s enough money to live in Central America for more than 2 years, so no thanks. Besides, I’ve got quite the handy husband and we love renovating and making things our own. Not to mention, my DIY obsession needs this. That’s part of the fun, and makes the camper feel more homey to us. Plus, I’m still jealous of those cool camper vans on Instagram, and I want to give them a run for their money with some boho interior design in our tiny space. Stay tuned for the rest of our truck camper remodel!

What’s your ultimate adventure mobile? What are the qualities you can’t live without?

Camper Life Tiny Living Travel Tips Updates

Border Crossing in a Camper: San Diego to Baja and Back

Truck Camper in Baja

Southbound Crossing

Crossing into Mexico through the San Ysidro (Chula Vista/Tijuana) border with an RV is fairly simple. We haven’t experienced any traffic as the border is electronic. This means they take a picture of your vehicle when you pass, and you get a green light or red light for further inspection. However, there is a border agent after this process that will always (in our experience) pull over campers into secondary. This is quick and painless for the most part. The first time we crossed with Rocky LeBlanc, we went through a manual inspection. A couple agents came over, we opened up the camper, they went inside, opened up a few cabinets and we were on our way. It took about 5 minutes.

This last time started out the same, but instead of a manual inspection, we were directed to another area to await x-ray scanning of our rig. You would think this would be even quicker than a manual inspection. You would be wrong to think that. They take 3 cars at a time in the scanning area. When it’s your turn, you pull up to the area and get out of your car. They do the scanning, then you wait for the info to be sent to Mexico City (why?!) for analysis. Some guy or gal sitting at a computer in Mexico City checks the scan out then lets the border agents know if you’re cool. Then an agent had us open up the camper. He took a quick look inside and we were done. All in all, it took about 20 minutes. It took longer than the other time, but I’m not complaining. Borders often take much longer than that.


Camping with friends in Baja.

Camping with friends in Baja.

Northbound Crossing

Coming back to San Diego from Baja gives you three border crossing options. The first is the San Ysidro border. We have gone through this border maybe 20 times, but never with a camper. Why? Because this is one of the busiest borders in the world. It averages 70,000 northbound vehicle and 20,000 northbound pedestrian crossings every day. If you have been to this border, you know that it is crowded, not only with vehicles, but with vendors between each lane. Sure, I’d love to buy some churros or a puppy while waiting, but not with our camper. You can barely squeeze through with a normal sized car. I can’t imagine trying it with a camper. I wish you good luck if you’re going to try it. As far as I know, there isn’t a separate lane for campers. Please let me know if you have info that there is. And here’s the other thing: I’ve waited as long as 7 hours at this border. It really depends on the day and time you show up as I’ve also waited like 15 minutes before. If you’re there on a Sunday night, you’re in for the long haul. Seriously, don’t ever go on a Sunday night. Just. Don’t.

Before I get into the two better crossings for campers, let me tell you about the app CBP Border Wait Times. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you downloading this app before deciding which border to cross. What we did this last trip was open up the app, see the wait times at each border, add that to the time it would take to get to each border, and pick the shortest one. The most east of the three borders, Tecate, had the shortest wait time, but would take an hour longer to get to than the others. San Ysidro had a 40 minute wait time and Otay Mesa had a 15 minute wait time on the Thursday night that we were crossing. San Ysidro and Otay Mesa are about 8 miles apart. Although San Ysidro was slightly closer, it would be faster and less stressful to go through Otay Mesa.

Both San Ysidro and Otay Mesa can be confusing as far as knowing which lane to get into. If you don’t have a sentri pass, make sure you don’t accidentally get in the sentri lane. You won’t be able to change lanes and get out. There are barriers preventing that at both borders. At Otay, there is an “all vehicles” lane that you should be in. Side note: signs for where the border lanes are and which lane is which are super confusing at San Ysidro. It’s not just you, it’s frustrating for everyone. I still don’t know where to go and I’ve been to that border many times. IMPORTANT: don’t ever follow a guy who says he can take you to the border or through a short cut. There’s a chance he’s going to lead you somewhere away from the crowds so he and/or his friends can rob you. Don’t let that scare you from going to Mexico. It’s rare, but we have been approached by a guy offering us a shortcut at the border before. Say “no gracias” and stay in your crazy long line. A shortcut can be tempting, but just doesn’t exist at border crossings.

Okay back to our regularly scheduled programming. At Otay Mesa, there are a few lanes, maybe 2-4 for “all vehicles”. The lanes are wide enough for campers and I don’t remember any vendors being in our way. The line moves moderately quickly. It took us about 15 minutes like the app said. When we got to the border agent, we gave her our passports. She looked at them then asked us to open the camper. She took a peek inside and we were done in about 5 minutes.

Driving through Santo Tomas.

Driving through Santo Tomas, near Ensenada.

We took the Tecate border two months ago with the camper. It was a little confusing to get to. We were pulled over by cops in the process of finding where we needed to be. The cops said we ran a stop sign, which we hadn’t, but we weren’t going to argue with them. They tried to have us pay a fine directly to them now and in cash only. That made is super obvious that they were extorting money from us. We told them that we didn’t have any cash (it helps that Pedro speaks Spanish pretty well). We had spent all our pesos on purpose in anticipation of getting to the border. It’s best not to pay bribes because giving in will just make it harder for the next foreigner they pull over. They will not throw you in Mexican jail for refusing to pay them. These shady cops will threaten to take you to the station, but they will not go through with it. They are asking for an illegal bribe so they don’t want to draw too much attention. The situation usually just wastes some of your time which is annoying.

After 5-10 minutes of back in forth, they realized that they weren’t going to get any money out of us. They then became very helpful and showed us to the border entrance. Again, don’t let this scare you away from visiting Mexico. We recommend having two wallets, and hiding the one with most of your money just in case you get a hard headed cop who just won’t let you go without some money. If you must, give them the equivalent of 5 US dollars that you keep in your special wallet. They will eventually let you go, even if you don’t pay them.

Back to border talk: the Tecate border is one lane. This is awesome because you can’t get in the wrong lane. It splits into two when you get closer, but both lanes take all cars. The lane is nice and wide; perfect for crossing with a camper. There are no vendors taking up driving space. We waited about 20 minutes in line. Once you do the whole passport thing with the border agent, they will direct you to drive to another area where you meet a customs agent. He or she will ask you if you have any meat, cheese, fresh fruit or veggies. In our case, the agent asked to see our fridge. This process took maybe 5 minutes when we were there on a Thursday around 3:00PM.

Moral of the long story: don’t be afraid, download the app, don’t use the northbound San Ysidro border with a camper, especially on a Sunday night.

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Rocky LeBlanc has gone viral

Through the power of social media, our camper renovation was discovered on Instagram by Dylan Magaster’s YouTube channel. This channel is a huge deal in the tiny house and vanlife movements, with over 400,000 subscribers currently and millions of views. We felt so honored that Dylan’s crew wanted to do a story on us and our rig for their channel. A big thank you to Travis Cosentino for reaching out to us and making us feel so comfortable for this shoot. Thank you to Dylan for the opportunity to share our passion for tiny living and travel with his huge audience.