Stories, advice, and vignettes about travel through international travel, road trips, and especially van life.

9 Epic Places in the Southwest: Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Since setting off on Real Van Life on January 8, I’ve visited these southwestern places and more:

  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Co.
  2. Santa Fe, NM.
  3. Albuquerque, NM. 
  4. Petroglyphs National Monument, NM.
  5. Valley of Fires Recreation Area, NM.
  6. Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site, NM.
  7. White Sands National Park, NM.
  8. Colossal Cave, AZ. 
  9. Saguaro National Park (eastern side)
My first view of Cholla Cactus in northern New Mexico. This one is clearly dead. Such intricate bark structure.
Valley of Fires Recreation Area in New Mexico is a massive lava field, and it's a great way to see one's first true cacti. Blackened earth, rare life, and the life that does grow has got to be tough to stay alive.

Come back to see where else I’ve been, and I’ll keep posting! Find more pics and words on Instagram @artemissavory.

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Freelancing and Reading on the Road

My impromptu standing desk costs a fraction of those expensive fancy things, and takes up hardly any space. Folding table: $40. Folding sitting table: $30? Briefcase: Free.

As Turtle (my van) and I bumble south from Colorado to New Mexico, and west from New Mexico into Arizona, I find my brain getting bored with not working. I’m so obsessed with maps, and poring over brochures and cactus guides, and finding a place to sleep at night, and filling water tanks, and emptying dirty water and toilets, that I haven’t spent enough time on my business, which I really want to work on.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico. This is where I started listening to Deliberate Freelancer's episode about ADHD.

What got me back into the zone? The Deliberate Freelancer podcast. Melanie of MelEdits is a brilliant podcaster, and she interviews equally brilliant freelancers. While walking through White Sands National Park, (just south of the missile range in New Mexico), I became transfixed on the ADHD episode where she interviews a woman who was diagnosed with ADHD and how she made it work for her business. I was stunned as the interviewee listed every single habit I’ve ever had and wondered about. I don’t think I need a real diagnosis, but just knowing that it’s likely I have the same issue makes me feel a little better.  I dove into other episodes too, like how to say no to business we don’t really want, and choosing one’s clients.

My van at the visitor's center of Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico. The land of little rain.

All along my adventure I’ve been reading Carl Hiassan’s Basket Case (which I really should have saved for Florida, since that’s where all his stories are based), and Edward Abbey’s The Journey Home, and on audio I’m listening to Mary Austin’s, The Land of Little Rain, which was published sometime in the 1920s. I’m glad my mom encouraged me to subscribe and keep subscribing to Scribd, because I’ve listened to many, many excellent audiobooks this way. 

Follow my van life adventures here in the “travel” section of my blog, or on Instagram @artemissavory. 

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Van Life: Affordable Rent and Amazing Places Worth Visiting

My van at the very beginning: March, 2021. I had help getting my van for a good deal. I also had lots of help with getting her road- and life-ready.

I started living van life for a number of reasons, of which saving money is near the top. When I was renting rooms in my twenties, I started out paying around $5,000/year plus utilities, which rounded out to roughly $6,000 a year. I got good at finding individual owners to rent from so I could continue on this track for awhile. I found places equally cheap in western Massachusetts, then in Colorado.  In my late twenties I moved back to Massachusetts and I found “cheap” apartments at $900/month. That meant I was spending $10,800 a year—or roughly $13,000 a year, including utilities—just on living in a place. That didn’t include car expenses, gas for the car, food, groceries, or anything else.

My dad let me stay in his empty apartment for a few months, while I readied my van. This place was a cute studio apartment where the damn kitchen pipes got clogged, but everything else worked well.

I got a lot of help on the road to van life. My dad is a used car dealer and was able to get me a low-cost van at auction available to dealers only. He let me stay in a couple of apartments that were empty at the time. I slept on my air mattress for a few days, until my sister gave me her old foam mattress and bed frame. I cooked and ate food with a fry pan, a pot, two plates and two bowls, and one set of silverware.

Van life is a hugely different experience than apartment living. I will say that ever since setting off, I’ve relied a lot on friends: I stayed in friends’ driveways in my home state of Massachusetts, as well as in northern Ohio and Colorado. I cheated and stayed in a friend’s guest room for a few days in western Ohio. For this reason, I haven’t had to pay for many campgrounds, showers, or laundry. I’ve spent very few nights nervous that the cops will knock on my window at 6 a.m. and tell me to move along.

Saving money is a good reason to van life. Another is to see beautiful places all around the country. This picture is of the Bridge of Flowers, taken in Shelburne Falls, Ma.

Follow my van life adventures here in the “travel” section of my blog, or on Instagram @artemissavory

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Post-Teenage Renaissance In Western Massachusetts

Art in Turner’s Falls

I lived in three towns in western Massachusetts during undergrad. This is where I fell in love with solitude and hiking. It’s where I met people doing things that no one in my community had ever done—poly, art as a lifestyle, goth dancing, and daily Paganism. I discovered the Durfee Conservatory, a greenhouse filled with plants from different climates: a hot humid room, a cold humid room, a dry cool room, a dry hot room.

Hike up Mount Holyoke to Skinner State Park

Free from social constraints and obligations, I hiked up to Skinner State Park, participated in a free tour, and took notes. Then I drove to a farm stand that still exists and got a cupcake and tried to figure out what a story is, brainstorming on paper. At the Montague Book Mill I found a book called Tramping,” and a couple books about nature. The tramping book worked itself into a writing exercise, where I started to write about my tramping lifestyle as I begin van life.

Montague Book Mill in Montague, Ma.

I was a little panicked about camping, because the campgrounds out here suck (KOA charges $50/night PLUS taxes for a tent site, the small places don’t answer the phone, and there are no Hipcamps or campendiums or national forest land out here). I tried thinking outside the box. Maybe I could sleep in the Mount Skinner parking lot, as long as I got there after 10, and left before 6 am. And then I remembered Yankee Candle. I gave them a call and they said if course I could camp in their lot! So here I am, set up in my rig, nighttime falling, listening to cicadas and crickets and traffic on the not-so-distant highway.

I can’t wait to get back to my virtual assistant business tomorrow. I can go to the library, or Yankee candle, or just sit in my car and use my hotspot for internet and house batteries for power. I can turn off the volume on my phone and focus on what needs doing.

Finally, I have my own space. I don’t feel trapped anymore.

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