Caregiver Adventures · Van Life

I Became A Full-Time Van Life Nomad 4 Years Ago

When I took on the role of Caregiver (back in March 2018) I knew my temporary hiatus from the road could be lengthy and I would need to find ways to get through it.

What I didn’t realize was how deep my nomadic desires ran.

I’ve been missing the road a lot lately and doing what I can to ease the wanderlust. But now that winter’s coming (again!) it’s getting even more difficult.

As a Nomad, my favorite time of year was spending the winter in Florida visiting Nikki, soaking in the warm Florida sunshine and enjoying sunrise walks on the beach.

Now that I know the sunny side of winter in Florida I’ve grown to detest the bitter cold, nasty weather winters of northern Illinois.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to stop this strong nomadic urge from surging through my veins and, once winter is added to the mix, it could be downright excruciating.

Dealing With Wanderlust…

This past Monday, while running errands in Freeport IL, I decided to pretend I was exploring a new town. I thought this would help quench my wanderlust for a while.

It’s amazing what you see when you make an effort to view it from a different perspective.

This little mind-game brought back great memories of my travels and how much I enjoyed waking up somewhere in the USA… hopping in the drivers seat… heading out to explore new towns… seeing new landscapes… making new friends… and more… as I traveled across the country in my cozy little home on wheels.

A Simple Facebook Memory…

On Tuesday morning, as I scrolled through my personal Facebook feed, a memory popped up reminding me that I became a full-time Nomad 4 years ago!

Here’s the Facebook post I made on October 1, 2015…

4 Years Ago I Became A Full-Time Nomad

A trip down memory lane is another way to (temporarily) quench the wanderlust thirst. In the remainder of this post I’ll share about when I first hit the road back in October 2015.

Hitting The Road…

Nikki, Cookie and I left northwest Illinois in early October 2015 where (up until that point) we’d lived our entire lives.

The van was only partially ready to be lived in… but we headed out anyway.

Prior to hitting the road, I was able to get the van live-in-able but it wasn’t ready for full-time living.

We had no camping experience… but we headed out anyway.

We never camped, ever! All of our adventures had been day trips. But… the week before we hit the road we did a trial run and tried camping for a night at lake Le-Aqua-Na. Shortly after going to bed I hopped in the drivers seat and went home. My mattress was BAD! It felt like I was sleeping on a board (and I basically was). Nikki agreed it would be better to sleep in our regular beds. Thankfully, I was able to rectify the problem before hitting the road full-time.

We’d never traveled more than a few hours from home… but we headed out anyway.

Our past adventures were day trips where I just drove and, when we got lost, Nikki somehow got us home.

I couldn’t read a map nor could I use the GPS on my smartphone… but we headed out anyway.

I didn’t even know phones had maps! Nikki always did the navigating and I was clueless as to how she did it.

We headed out on our 2015 adventure with me as the Driver, Nikki as the Navigator and Cookie as the Supervisor.

I still can’t read a map worth a darn but, eventually, Nikki taught me how to use Google Maps on my phone. Had she not done that I’d still be lost somewhere in Montana! 

Heading To Florida…

Our ultimate destination was Homestead Florida because this was where Nikki was going to be starting her adult life (outside of the nest) 😢.

The plan was to take our time getting to Florida… but we were in Florida in less than a week.  

We drove down the west side of Florida, stopping in Tampa to visit my niece (Ashley) and her boyfriend.   

Ashley took us to a city park that was like nothing I’d ever been to. The sights, the sounds, the smells… it was like being in a jungle.   

Leaving Tampa… 

We continued down the west side of Florida until the interstate turned east – taking us through Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades & Francis S Taylor Wildlife Management Area.   

The drive through Big Cypress was interesting – at first. But the scenery didn’t change much, the gas stations and rest areas were few and far between (if they were even open!) and there weren’t any places to pull off the road and use the porta-potty that was sitting 3 feet behind me in the van!

Finally In Homestead…

Once we got through the long, harrowing stretch where needing to go to the bathroom was a major dilemma… we headed south to Homestead.  

Homestead Florida

In Homestead, we drove around the area to check out this new-to-us territory we’d discovered.

The palm trees instilled a sense of awe in me and I loved watching the cute little lizards scatter about (yes, they’re CUTE!).

I appreciated how lucky I was to be on such a grand adventure.

Homestead is a big city and we did a lot of sight-seeing.

A Lesson From The Road… 

While in Homestead FL, one of many memorable lessons learned was to not accidentally drive down the street to the Air Force base at night in a plain, white cargo van because they WILL stop you!

It was an honest mistake… it was night time and I took the wrong road (it looked like a regular street).

As soon as I turned down the street I knew I was in the wrong place and would need to turn around – but there was no where to turn.

I continued forward to what I thought was a gatehouse. There are several gated communities in the area and I thought this might be one of them.

It was quite spooky and unnerving to drive down a street at night, towards a gatehouse and have unknown, uniformed people with rifles walk into your path and stop you in your tracks.

They did NOT have their rifles pointed at me but, from their stance, I could see they were prepared to use them had I turned out to be a “bad guy” or something.    

They explained this was the Air Force base and, once I explained that I took a wrong turn, the Guards helped me get the heck outta there and back on the right road.

Looking at it from their perspective… I’m sure a plain white cargo van driving down their street at night might create a bit of suspicion.

Culture Shock…

For some reason, I had a little trouble adjusting to the culture of the Homestead area.
It doesn’t matter where you go, the culture is different in every area of the USA.    

The culture here was very different than any I’d ever known and I struggled to adjust.

There was a strange-to-me cohesiveness about the locals… and I was the outsider. There was also a language barrier as the vast majority spoke Spanish… and I only spoke English.

I realized I wasn’t giving it a fair chance and, once I quit resisting our differences, I grew to love the culture. Every time I’m down in that neck of the woods I feel like family.  

First Trip To The Florida Keys…

In October 2015, Nikki, Cookie and I made our very first trip to the Florida Keys.

We didn’t make it to Key West that day but it was the first of many memorable Florida Keys adventures.

Related Post: Florida Keys Day Trip – The Aftermath of Hurrican Irma (December 2017).

Tavernier Florida…

The Florida Keys are just a hop, skip and a jump from Homestead.

Our very first trip into the Keys took us to Harry Harris Park in Tavernier FL (about an hour south of Homestead).

Harry Harris Park Tavernier FL

The park wasn’t very busy that day and we had our pick of parking spots.

We parked Bella (my van) and headed out to explore the oceanfront park.

Florida Keys Trip

In the park, there’s a designated beachfront swimming area.

The tops of the palm trees swayed in the constant ocean breeze and covered picnic tables attempt to protect us from the sun. 

Nikki and Cookie exploring the rocks bordering the pathway.

There was a pathway that circled out into the ocean.

The outer side of the path looks out over the vast, endless ocean while the inner side engulfs the large beachfront swimming area.

Harry Harris Park ~ Tavernier FL

Reaching the furthest point of the path, I look back and take a picture of Harry Harris Park.

It was a strange feeling knowing there was nothing but wide open ocean behind me.

Cookie enjoyed exploring with us. He almost went into sniffer overload with all the new smells to check out!

The sun is stronger here and, even with the breeze, it’s warmer than we are used to. We made sure not to stay in the sun too long and that Cookie had plenty of water to drink.

Dogs may or may not be allowed in the park. We always look for signs but the signs weren’t clear. There were other dogs there so we figured it was ok. We went to this park again the following year and the guy at the gate said dogs were only allowed in a certain areas (and NOT allowed at the beach). Maybe it depends on who’s at the gate or how busy the park is.     

Wrapping Up 2015…

Hitting the road almost clueless was quite an experience. But clueless and unplanned is often how things work best in my life.

The original plan was to take Nikki to Florida, spend a little time adventuring and head back to the Homeland (by myself) to spend the 2015 Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday’s with my northern Illinois family. 

But Nikki wasn’t able to find a place to live or get a job.

Nikki left her birth certificate and SS card in the Illinois storage unit. These documents are needed to get an apartment and a job and they were 1,500 miles away.

Truth be told… we were also having a lot of fun exploring and enjoying this new adventure we were on.

This adventure was like a vacation that made up for all the vacations we never got to take over the years and the important documents being 1,500 miles away really wasn’t a big deal.

Going Back To The Homeland…

Nikki came back to the Homeland with me. This would be a time for both of us to regroup and be better prepared the next time we headed to Florida. I was also thankful to have my baby girl with me for a little while longer.

Back in the Homeland, we were greeted by winter storm Bella. My van (Bella) hadn’t been driven in winter yet and was christened into the winter wonderland by winter storm Bella. 

My van, Bella, in winter storm Bella.

Nikki, Cookie and I spent almost 6 weeks in the Homeland spending time with family, regrouping and preparing for our next trip to Florida.

We planned on leaving the Homeland after Christmas but our trip was delayed by winter storm Goliath.

Winter storm Goliath was a doozy and rightly named! We decided to wait until the roads were safe before heading on down the road.

I’m thankful I chose to come back for the Holiday’s in 2015 and that Nikki was with me. Due to circumstances unknown at that time, the 2015 Holiday’s turned out to be the last of our traditional family Holiday get-together’s.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.


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