All Posts By

Erin Sullivan

INSPIRATION LIFE ADVICE WITH ERIN

Your Question: Is there time for everything?

Hi, Erin!

Do you think there is enough time for “it all”? By that I mean, personally, right now I’m 24 and I want to go back to school and finish my bachelors degree then get my PhD in either psych or history. I also want to be a full-time adventurer and environment advocate. At some point I want to hike the PCT from Oregon up to Canada. Want to join the Peace Corps too. Then there is the simple dream of working at a brewery and sleeping in an old Toyota Land Cruiser and reading the books and research studies I WANT to read and writing things I WANT to write. Is there time for all of this or do you think we have to narrow our dreams down to one or two manageable things? My mom tells me if I want something badly enough and I’m willing to work for it I’ll get it but I still feel this pressure that I should be settled down by a certain age and, even at 24, I feel like I’m running out of time. My priorities in life aren’t to get married or have kids, it’s myself but there’s still that voice in the back of my mind that says I shouldn’t hike the PCT after a certain age or backpack across Europe when I should be writing a thesis. I’m lost. I get chastised for feeling passionate about too many things then I feel ashamed for craving so much out of life that I don’t chase anything that my heart desires.

–M.


Dear M,

I totally get it. I’ve been there. There is so much out there. So many roads to explore. And it feels like they are one-way streets, but they aren’t. Let me explain.

At 22, I had the same question. There was a feeling of having to do it all right then and there. What was that urgency actually rooted in?

It can come from the fear of falling behind. The fear of never being “successful,” and an unfair definition of “success” in the first place. The fear of having to start over if you make a “wrong” choice. Why do these fears feel true when there are plenty of examples that show us otherwise?

You can always change your mind. Write that down and make it your mantra. We need to shift your thinking from a stressful space to a fun one–– your life is full of opportunity, how f*ing awesome is that?! It is important to recognize that this sense of overwhelm is coming from an immense place of privilege. You are blessed to have so many choices and resources. Don’t mistake this for a guilt-trip–– it’s not meant to be–– but it’s important to recognize the broad opportunities you possess.

“Which of these awesome things should I pursue?” is a fun question, so let’s take the pressure off. Let’s let it be fun. The fact that this is a worry for you tells me that you’re a passionate and dynamic person with a lot to offer, and that is something to celebrate.

First, look at your list of things. Your list of possibilities. What’s the Why behind them? Answer the following honestly.

  • Why do you want an advanced degree?
  • Why do you want to pursue full-time adventure?
  • Why you want to hike the PCT?
  • Why do you want to join the Peace Corps?
  • Why do you want to work at a brewery and live in a Land Rover?

When you answer these, identify which things you’re wanting for the right reasons. Not for prestige, for recognition, or to prove something to yourself about an insecurity. Get really stinkin’ honest with yourself here and see what comes up. Ditch the things you feel drawn to for the wrong reasons and keep the things that feel fulfilling to your soul.

What is the theme throughout the answers that remain? Is it creativity, adventure, giving back? Is it environmental? Does it involve you working behind the scenes, or standing on the stage? Connect the dots and identify the common themes, especially the Why. You can’t go wrong when you are connected to your Why. So can you soften? Can you stop being so hard on yourself?

I know that you want to get it right the first time. Listen: it’s OK if you don’t, and it’s a hell of a lot easier if you get used to the idea of failure right now–– because we rarely do things right on our first attempt. There aren’t right or wrong ways to do this whole Life thing anyway. You can change your mind anytime, remember? You can turn around whenever you want. Failure is only failure if you decide to purpose it that way. Repurpose your failure as a learning opportunity.

Is there time to do all the things? Yes, you’ll make it work! Why does it have to be so black-and-white? Could you work part-time at a brewery, read and write what you want, apply for PhD programs and take a semester off to hike the PCT?  Stop overthinking it, pick one thing to start with, and go for it. It will become clear if it’s the right path once you’re on your way.

Sitting and stressing about a lack of time is a gigantic waste of time. I know because I’m an expert at overthinking. In college, I had six months to write a thesis. I spent one week writing it (the week before it was due, obviously), and spent the other five months and three weeks worrying about not having enough time. The reality is that I always had enough time, I just convinced myself I didn’t.

So start doing. Start trying the things. Where do you feel the excitement? The real excitement–– not the stuff you feel you “should” do. I’m taking about the stuff that tugs on your heart, not your ego.

Your mom is right. If you put your mind to something, you’ll do it. Look at what your own history tells you–– if you always got shit done in the past, there’s no reason to doubt that you’ll get it done in the future. It’s time to put your energy somewhere it can be used. Choose one thing you are curious about, and the answers to your questions will reveal themselves over time.

If you only take one thing from this, here’s what I want you to hear: Stop overthinking and start doing. Don’t let indecision stop you.

If and when you do fail along this journey, take it as a blessing, learn what you can, and get back up. You got this.

-Erin


Have a question you’d like me to address on this blog for everyone’s benefit? Email info@erinoutdoors.com with the subject “Advice”.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Getting Started with Photography

First, I want to tell you about how I got into this whole thing.

In high school, I was a creative kid. I borrowed my dad’s old film camera to take an intro photography class and I was hooked. I loved the feel of the camera in my hands, I loved being able to capture moments the way I saw them, I loved developing the film, I loved the darkroom. I loved the process. I loved that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer.

I got in to a university art & design program with my photography portfolio, but within my first semester at college, I changed my major to something else. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of it, that it wasn’t a “real job.” I let doubt get in the way, and as a result, I didn’t end up taking a single photography class in college. Do I wish I did? Um, yeah. Was it necessary for me to take specific photography classes in order to become a photographer? Well… you tell me.

The first thing to know about diving into this industry is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. There isn’t a gear checklist or a step-by-step guide (though there are definitely some things I wish I knew). I’m willing to bet that getting into photography is one of the biggest questions I receive because it seems like a mysterious process. But those who have done it know it’s much simpler than it seems. You just have to pick up a camera and start.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE CAMERA… BUT GET A CAMERA.

If you want to get into photography, you need a camera. Duh. It doesn’t have to be fancy. My first camera was my dad’s Nikon F1. After that, I had a Canon Rebel XTI. Then came a series of Canon PowerShot and Lumix Active Lifestyle point-and-shoots. I didn’t own a smartphone of any kind until 2014, shortly after buying a GoPro Hero4 Silver. Then came an iPhone and finally my first Sony camera, a Sony a5100, which I used exclusively until earlier this year when I bought my Sony A7Rii, the best camera I’ve ever used.

I have only been getting paid for my photography since the Spring of 2016. It hasn’t been that long. Pretty incredible when you think about how short that timeline is, and that in the past year I’ve completed many gigs with just my a5100.

A good camera for starting out is whatever camera you have available to you. Find something in your budget, read reviews before you buy anything, and borrow someone else’s or rent first if you can. Use what you can within your resources. I don’t recommend splurging on a super expensive camera you don’t know how to use yet. One example is the new Sony A9– this is a fantastic camera, and lots of people asked if I was going to get one when it came out. My answer is no. The A9 has some awesome features, but it’s overkill for me unless I start shooting lots of action or wildlife (its main feature is high frames-per-second). I just don’t need to spend all that money for a feature I will rarely use.

In my opinion it is better to outgrow something and then upgrade when you know exactly what you want (and why). When I went to buy my first camera, I was tempted to go straight for the big guns I had heard about, but I am so glad I went with something less expensive because it allowed me to actually learn my preferences. Spending time practicing on my first camera helped me make my decision when it was time to throw down bigger bucks.

I get asked all the time what a good first camera would be. If you’re looking to get into a mirrorless system, I recommend the Sony a6000 with the kit lens (the lens it comes with). This camera is an excellent introduction to the Sony system and the small size is great for travel.

GO SHOOT (AND THEN SHOOT SOME MORE)

Go out with your camera and practice. If you are wanting to get paid to take photos eventually, your photos need to be good, and that comes from lots of practice! Not only does your work need to be good, you need to know how to operate your gear comfortably. You need to know how you change your settings quickly. You need to know how light works and how to position your models/clients/subject. You need to get comfortable interacting with your subject.

Develop your style. The way to do this is through a lot of trial and error. A lot of creating photos you don’t like. A lot of frustrating nights editing an impossible image and wanting to throw your computer against the wall.

If you want to do outdoor photography, get outdoors. Portraits? Take ’em of your pals. Weddings? Practice at the next one you go to. The only way you get better at this craft is through experience. So work hard, keep going, and practice your craft.

LEARN WHAT THE NUMBERS MEAN

The technical stuff is not the most important thing, but it is important. I am not above Googling super basic stuff. I didn’t even know what dynamic range was until a few months ago. There’s a lot of technical verbiage in the photography world and it’s actually not all that complicated once you understand the main principles. I and everyone else in the industry figured it out as we went, so please go do the same, and never be afraid to ask questions even if you think they’re stupid. Everyone has been there at some point.

A very brief crash course on numbers:

  • ISO: Basically, this is the level of sensitivity of your camera to light. Lower ISO = least sensitive to light = sharpest image. Higher ISO = more sensitive to light = more grain/noise. Typically you want to shoot at a lower ISO because it produces the sharpest image.
  • Aperture: A hole in your lens that light travels through (like the pupil in an eye). The larger the aperture, the more light can get in. Aperture is expressed in f-numbers, and a larger f-number means a smaller aperture. Confusing, but this is where practice matters. A larger aperture (smaller f-number) will give you more depth of field (i.e. the blurry background with the subject in focus), whereas a smaller aperture (larger f-number) will bring more things into focus. This is all about depth.
  • Shutter Speed: A measurement of time a camera’s shutter is open to allow light in (and therefore capture your image). A shorter shutter speed lets less light in, a longer one lets more light (and motion) in.

I guarantee you can find the answers to almost any photography question you have online. YouTube is one of my favorite resources for pretty much anything–– whatever your question is, someone, somewhere has probably explained it in video format. Bless you, Internet.

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES EVERYWHERE


Say yes to the work that comes your way–– even if you’re doing it for the exposure and practice while you are getting things up and running. If you’re serious about this, you will eventually get to a point where you can’t work in exchange for exposure, but you’re not necessarily there yet, so step away from the high horse. There are mixed opinions about working for free, but if you are looking for experience and if it gets your work out there, I think it’s worth considering.

How do you start getting paid? Eventually, you start charging money for your services. You can start charging money today if you want to–– this is up to you. However, obviously there has to be demand. And how do you create demand? You get the word out. You put your work into the world. You do good work and people talk about it to their friends and family. You let absolutely everyone know that you are available for hire. You won’t know what to charge at first, and that’s OK. Try to find out what the going rates are. Ask around. Google it. And when all else fails, you can ask what their budget is before you even throw out a number and take it from there.

Know that when I say opportunity, I don’t just mean job opportunity. I also mean relationships, mentorships, and building your skill set. Identify people you look up to and watch what they do that makes them successful. Identify the people you hope to be surrounded by, and try to get yourself (and your best work) in the same room with them.

…AND PLEASE *TRY* NOT TO OVERTHINK IT

I know you will overthink things at some point, but please try not to think too hard about this. Spend your energy doing things instead of micro-managing yourself and getting stuck in loops of worry and doubt.

It will feel frustrating, and that’s a promise. It will feel like it’s taking forever. You will wonder if you are doing it right. WELCOME… This is the process. It’s not all glam. Photographers can make their lives seem really adventurous and easy on social media, and there is so much more to the story. You stay up late, you wake up early, you take more risks in your career than you ever thought you would. If you’re in it for the right reasons, it’s worth it.

A lot of my advice isn’t photography-specific–– it’s applicable to a lot of different professions, and to life in general. Work hard, consistently, for a long time, and if you don’t have a good Why behind it, find something else to do with your time that really fires you up.

Quality, consistency and passion will take you a long way. Welcome to the journey.


More specific photography questions? Let me know in the comments so I can write more blog posts like this.

TRAVEL

How to Come Back to Reality after Traveling

Welcome back.

If you found yourself to this post, I’m gonna assume you’re struggling to get back into your everyday. So first, welcome back. And second, you’re not alone if you’re feeling the post-trip blues.

You’ve had an experience that completely shattered your routine– an experience that other people could never understand, because they weren’t you. Travel can be transformative and impactful, and it’s no surprise that arriving home after a big trip can be a rough landing.

Anyone who has traveled has most likely dealt with the dread of the aftermath– you are no longer on your trip. You are no longer studying abroad, or teaching English, or on your wilderness trip. Wherever you went, coming home can somehow feel harsh and uneventful at the same time.

However you feel, it’s OK. You are not the first or last person to feel the way you do.

However you feel, it might be a bummer or less than ideal. But the fact is, you are now home. And you have some options. You can marinate in your misery, or you can try to move through and eventually out of it. Which one sounds better?

Here are some tips from my experiences coming home from big trips or stays abroad.

FIND YOUR HOME GROOVE

When I got back from nine months in Portugal, waking up in my own bed felt foreign but mildly familiar… like a dream that I could only barely remember. Getting back is going to feel weird– you’re not heading to your usual café for breakfast, you’re not greeted by the same smells or sights as you were on your trip, and that can be underwhelming and just plain strange.

Trust me, sitting inside in your anxiety cave is not going to make you feel better. You have to get out.

Find things in your home country that speak to your highest excitement. Explore the places you haven’t explored yet, travel domestically, make it a goal to meet new people. Find things that you are excited to build into your routine– force yourself to get up and get into that groove. The hardest part is getting yourself out the door.

SHIFT YOUR FOCUS

Instead of focusing on what your home country lacks, focus on what you loved so much about your trip and incorporate more of it into your home life. Nope, you’re not going to get the *exact* pastries you used to get in Paris, but maybe you’ll discover a new bakery or even learn to make them yourself.

Instead of, “Man, it really blows that I don’t have the same view here as I did in Florence,” can you shift to, “My view in Florence was gorgeous and I’m so thankful I got to experience that”?

Don’t let your fond memories drain you. Let them inspire you instead. Watch the language you use and the story you are telling yourself about being home. Choose to rephrase the story to one coming from a place of abundance instead of a place of lack.

APPLY WHAT YOU LEARNED

If a part of your heart misses your trip, it must have meant something to you. It must have taught you something.

Your trip most likely taught you how to be more independent. It probably forced you to be friends with different types of people. It probably got you outside of your comfort zone. It probably put you in situations where you had to order food in a different language, or ask for directions, or communicate in a new way. And you can apply many of these takeaways to your life at home.

You had an amazing experience abroad, and that is noteworthy. Now how can you bring some of the learnings into your day to day life? Ask yourself this question and take it seriously. Build upon your newest foundation.

PLAN SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO

If you can’t seem to get out of this funk, if the black hole of boredom seems never-ending, plan something that truly excites you. Maybe it’s a creative project. Maybe it’s a trip with friends. Maybe it’s some solo time to do some soul searching. Maybe it’s a big move. Whatever it is, let it be something to look forward to.

Mix it up and sprinkle your weeks with fun activities, You time, and things that interest you. You’re not going to get through this lull by keeping everything the same.


If you are feeling like you want to escape, can you view your everyday with the same amount of curiosity as you had while you were traveling? Can you challenge yourself to see it with new eyes?

Whatever blues you may be feeling, I totally get it. But you have to look back on your trip fondly without dwelling on the negative stuff. You are the only one who can make this shift. Love the memories and the relationships you made. Take what you learned and use it. Although it’s hard to come back, it’s far more important that you went in the first place.

PACKING LISTS TRAVEL

Packing List: Adventure Travel in Europe

This is what I brought for a 5 week summer trip to New York City, Connecticut, London, Greece (islands and mountains), and Ireland.

I pack my stuff in a 50L duffel bag (Cotopaxi 50L Chumpi Duffel) and a 26L backpack (Cotopaxi 26L Cusco Backpack) as my daypack. Please note that if the airline is weighing your stuff, you MAY have to check your duffel bag, so make sure you can put all your valuables in your daypack just in case, and weigh your bag beforehand so you know what to expect. Every airline is different.

In general, I find that it’s always better to bring too little rather than too much stuff. As long as you have your necessities, you can buy most things abroad. There are a couple of items on the list below that I forgot to mention in the video! Use your best judgment and keep in mind what you typically use on a daily basis.

MY BASIC PACKING LIST FOR ADVENTURE TRAVEL

  • Shoes – I don’t mind the extra weight because I like variety.
  • Shirts – 9, a few of which can be dressed up
  • Pants & Shorts
    • 2 jeans – one nice
    • 2 shorts – one nice
    • 1 flowy beach pant
    • 1 running shorts
    • 1 pair leggings
    • 1 pair cozy sweats
    • NOTE: I trade out one pair of jeans for more leggings and running shorts if I know I will be doing a lot of hiking or other outdoor activities on the trip.
  • Layers
    • 1 cozy sweater/sweatshirt
    • 1 warm jacket – I bring the Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber
    • 1 rain jacket if you’re going somewhere it’s for sure gonna rain
  • Underwear – Lots. I bring 14+ pairs.
  • Bras – 7 sports bras or bralettes
  • Swimsuit– 1 or 2. I forgot this in the video. SORRY!
  • Socks
    • 1 cozy
    • 3 athletic
    • 3 casual
  • Bandanas– I bring 4.
  • Laundry bag
  • Tech etc.
    • Camera with Internal Camera Unit (alternatively, I recommend using a camera bag instead of a regular backpack if your trip is very photography focused)
    • Lightweight tripod if you are planning on shooting night photography or lots of self-timer shots
    • Batteries
    • Mophie charger
    • 2 hard drives or back-ups for your data
    • Camera battery charger
    • Converter if necessary
    • Memory card reader
    • Memory cards
    • Laptop
    • Laptop charger
    • Phone charger
    • Headphones
    • Small multi-tool that’s “travel friendly” – I have the Leatherman Style PS. Be aware that TSA can take anything from you, depending on the agent!
  • Small TSA approved lock
  • Toiletries (all under 100mL and can fit inside a 1 quart ziplock bag)
    • Shampoo
    • Conditioner
    • Body wash/soap
    • Facewash/makeup remover
    • Dry shampoo
    • Deoderant
    • Makeup
    • Tweezers if not in your multi-tool
    • Curling iron (if you’re me)
  • Journal
  • Paperback book or kindle
  • Wallet with cash, credit cards, ATM card and ID
  • Passport
  • Water bottle
  • Ibuprofen and/or small first aid kit
    • Bandaids
    • Betadine (also doubles as emergency water treatment)
    • Alcohol wipes
    • Earplugs (if you are a light sleeper like me, these are a lifesaver)

Some parting words…

On my first trip abroad, I packed as if shirts did not exist anywhere else. Spoiler alert!!! They do. Also, you can buy pants abroad. And toothbrushes. And most other necessary items. Over the years, I’ve noticed that I never say “oh damn, I packed too light.” It is always the other way around–– I am usually kicking myself for overpacking, wishing I had left more room to bring home cool stuff from my travels or just traveled lighter in general.

Overall, my advice is to pack for the type of adventure you are going on. I have traveled with suitcases, expedition packs, duffel bags… and this is what works for me! Know that you will most likely not get it perfect the first time, and that’s OK! You will figure out what works and what doesn’t while you’re on the road– follow your best guess now and you’ll learn to adjust where necessary.

If this video was helpful, let me know in the comments below!

BLOGGING INSPIRATION

How to Monetize Your Passion

I work as an adventure photographer and writer. The biggest question I get about what I do… is HOW.

How do I travel so much? How did I get started as a photographer? How do I get paid to blog? How did I make this my job? How do I live such an adventurous life and still eat food make a living?

If you’re curious about what I do and how I do it, see my FAQs here. But let me make it clear that there was a time when these questions plagued me. The career that I currently have would have absolutely baffled me in my early 20’s. How the hell was I supposed to make money doing something I actually liked?!

It turns out it was pretty simple. I had to answer a few important questions for myself really thoroughly and often (they’re coming, keep reading), then I had to take action.

Before we dive in, just a note on this whole analysis paralysis thing you’re probably going through that brought you to this post. In order for anything to happen, you have to do something. This article isn’t meant to be passive. Read it, then answer the following questions.

Let’s go.

WHAT YOU DO THAT PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR?

Make a list of your potential products and services. What are you good at? What do people ask you for advice about? What are you known for in your friends group? What kinds of questions do people come to you with naturally? What are you good at making or creating? What do you enjoy doing?

And which of these things can you make money from?

Are people always asking you for travel advice? For exercises to get a firmer butt? For smoothie recipes? For gardening tips? For super sweet video editing techniques? For makeup or hair? For help figuring out what’s wrong with their car? You don’t have to do all this stuff for free.

Make a list of items you could potentially charge money for.

WHAT IS YOUR THING WORTH?

When I first started blogging for brands and companies, I had no clue what I should have been charging. At first, I worked in exchange for exposure because it was worth it to me at the time.

I get that this is hard. I get that you can’t exactly reach out to a complete stranger and ask them for their rates– not everyone is comfortable talking numbers. Maybe you have to get a little creative. Make sure your questions are specific. Who do you know that does what you want to do? Find some kind of connection to that person and explain where you are coming from. Maybe they can give you some insight.

Do some market research using whatever resources are available to you. That includes Google.

Eventually, you have to pick a price and go with it. “I didn’t know what to charge” is a dumb reason for not selling a product or service that people want. Whatever you charge is probably more than you’re getting right now ($0.00, right?).

If everyone is saying “oh hell yeah” to your rate without trying to negotiate with you, then you’re charging too little. If nobody is responding, or if your pricing is shutting down the conversation altogether, then you’re charging too much or you’re in the wrong market. Change something and see what works.

Next to the list you just made, write the range of what you can charge for each item.

WHO WILL PAY YOU FOR YOUR THING?

Figure out your ideal consumer/demographic. Who are they? How old are they and where are they located? What are they going through in their life? What do they do in their spare time? How much money do they make? Where do they shop? Why do they need your product or service?

You need to identify your target demographic for a couple of reasons:

  1. You might need influence
  2. You definitely need people to buy your thing

If what you do/make is made more credible or valuable by having a large audience, you need to attract this audience (side note- do not buy followers) and give them value. How can you be most valuable to this group of people? How will you attract them? And why will they want to buy your thing?

For each item you could potentially sell, write a sentence or two describing your perfect customer.

WHERE WILL YOU SELL IT?

Where do you want your thing to be available for purchase? If you’re a consultant, how will people know you exist and how will they contact you? If you sell a product, is your store online? Do you sell at pop-ups, craft fairs, trade shows? If you lead workshops, how do people book those?

However people are giving you money, make it easy for them. Look at your own spending patterns. How do you spend your money and why? When you think about your own purchasing experience, what makes it smooth and seamless? What makes you want to buy something again?

Give your customer options, but make the best deal clear and obvious– all they have to do is say YES.

Make a list of how and/or where you will sell your thing.

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN?

Look at your answers to all of the questions above. They should give you some clarity on your next step. It should give you some idea of the options you have and the avenues you could potentially go down. It will also give you an idea of how scalable your thing is– and scalability matters if you are looking to make a fully grown career out of your passion.

If this feels overwhelming, ask yourself which of the things you wrote down is low-hanging fruit, i.e. which one of them feels easiest? Which of these could you start selling this week? Which of these could you start selling today?

Pick one of your products or services, and write yourself a 5-step plan from creation to sale. Here is a personal example:

Getting a project-based photography or collaboration job

  1. Make a list of 5 specific target brands
  2. Shoot or compile images I have taken that are consistent with their branding
  3. Make a portfolio specific to that style
  4. Send portfolio with package rates (& make one of the packages stand out as a great deal)
  5. Negotiate prices and packages

It won’t always be 5 steps– sometimes it’ll be 3 and sometimes it’ll be 10. Monetizing your passion can be big and scary. Breaking it down into actionable steps can make things seem much more attainable. After you make your plan, the next step is setting times or dates for when each of these will be completed.

CREATE, TRY, REPEAT.

Not everything you do will be a huge hit, and you have to accept that right now, otherwise failure will bog you down every step of the way. You can love it or hate it, failure is a crucial part of the process.

Do I think all passions can make you a ton of money? No. Do I think everyone should try to monetize their passions? No. But if you want to do it, now is the time. You are most likely not going to get any more clarity than what you now have. Entrepreneurship, creativity, starting a business or a side-hustle– these are not endeavors that come with a guidebook. You have to see what works and take it from there.

Get to it. And don’t forget to have fun.


 

Feature photo by William Reed Olds-Benton.

SUV CAMPING

Guest Post: How to Turn Your Subaru Outback into a Camper

A few years ago, I converted my SUV to a camper by building a platform bed in my 2009 Honda CR-V. It’s still a super popular post on this blog– see the original post here. Every so often, folks reach out to me with their own stories and how-to’s on how they converted their car or SUV, so I decided to start featuring them… and they’re even better than my original post!

Here’s Nicole Aichele on converting her Subaru Outback into a camper. All photos courtesy of Nicole.


After a year of health issues leaving me unable to camp, hike, or do many of the outside activities I love, I became deeply depressed and frustrated about my future. As I slowly regained my mental and physical strength, I found both a new gratitude for my health and a new determination to set my old dreams into motion… one of those dreams is to car-camp the entire western US.

After many months of researching, planning, and saving, I finally set the wheels in motion (literally) this past June. Here’s how I did it.

DECIDING ON DESIGN

Ideally, the design of your bed set up should reflect your own personal needs and preferences.

I also will say that if I can leave people with one thing when it comes to building a bed in your car, or really building anything, it’s the importance of taking good measurements. As my dad says: “Measure twice, cut once.”

The first thing to figure out is how long you want your bed. Having a long bed (6’2) was a top priority for my boyfriend and I because we are tall…but everyone is different. If a bed can fit without pushing the front seats forward that’s great, but in our Subaru Outback it would be impossible to have the length we wanted without having the front seats forward.
We also chose not to remove the seats since the car is new and we didn’t want to risk ruining it, and found it unnecessary anyway.

The second thing to determine is the width you want your bed. For us this meant measuring wheel-well to wheel-well. We made the bed platform flush with the top of the wheel well, so in reality there is a bit more space (roughly 5’’ on each side) beyond the platform. In total we have about 51” of space (almost exactly the width of a double bed) which snuggly fits our two large single Therm-a-Rest Mondo King mattresses, side by side.

The third element of the design is determining the height. We wanted to raise our bed as minimal as possible in order to avoid being completely cramped against the ceiling while sleeping, but still allowing for storage underneath. Raising the platform to 6” fits the under the bed storage containers, but also leaves room to have our legs up while sitting in bed, (just over 2 ft. at the tallest point and just under 2 ft. at the lowest).

The last thing to determine about your design is whether or not you want the bed platform to be foldable. We had no choice but to make ours foldable because we couldn’t keep the bed straight and drive at the same time, because the seats are completely forward.

THE BUILDING PROCESS

Supplies:

  • ¾” plywood, 42” wide x 74” long $33.00
  • Wood Glue $8.00
  • 2 Heavy duty hinges $16.00
  • Nuts, bolts, large washers, lock washers $15.00
  • Outdoor utility rug $20.00
  • Multi- floor adhesive $5.00
  • Legs (two 2x2s) $20.00
  • Pins and Brackets $5.00
  • U Bolts $6.00

Total: (NOT including our mattress) $128.00

For wood we used a ¾” piece of plywood that was over 74” long. The pros of using ¾” plywood is that it’s sturdy and can hold 2 adults without bowing, and also very easy to work with. However, it’s heavy and can be cumbersome, so if you’re making a bed for one, definitely not as necessary.

We had the wood ripped (cut) to fit the width we had previously determined to be 42” (distance from wheel-well to wheel-well) to simplify all the construction at home. However even so, we completed a lot of additional cutting and drilling at home, because we have the equipment. If you don’t have access to a skill saw or other tools, then you’ll have to go back and forth to the hardware store, which is not uncommon. Some hardware stores even let you rent tools.

Step 1: Construction of the box platform

The box component is 42” wide x 36” long x 6” tall and has 3 sides. It purposefully takes up the entire back area of our car before the seats start (which is also where a slant starts). It maximizes storage and sturdiness while remaining level. Building the box was straightforward: we cut wood for the 3 sides, (2 sides are the same and are 6” tall x 35 ¼” long, and then there is a back piece which is 6” tall x 42” wide). We then glued the wood pieces to the 36” plywood piece and screwed them for ultimate stability.

Step 2: Construction of the hinged component

The hinged component is two pieces of 19” long x 42” wide plywood, hinged together. When hinged together the piece measures 38” long in total (38” plus the 36” of the platform box is 6’2”). We offset the hinge, in order for this component to be weight bearing. If the hinge is not offset, it would literally bend in half the moment enough weight was applied and would not work as a bed. In addition to offsetting the hinge, we reinforced it with oversized washers and lock washers along with the nuts and bolts. It’s important to note, the hinged component rests on a ledge that we attached to the box platform. We attached a 3” x 42” strip of the plywood, ¾” down from the top of the platform, on the back edge of the box.

Step 3: Applying the carpeting

The main reason we wanted to carpet the entire bed is to eliminate having splinters of wood all over the car, our pillows, and our foam mattress. We didn’t use fancy outdoor carpet, instead we found a multi-purpose outdoor utility rug for $20 at the hardware store and used a razor blade to trim it at home. We glued the carpet using “general use multi-floor adhesive” on the main faces of the wood (although I don’t know how necessary the glue really is) and then we wrapped the carpet around and tacked it securely underneath. Folding the carpet completely underneath the base component is aesthetically pleasing, and also adds a tiny bit of height to the storage area.

Step 4: Attaching of the legs

The legs serve as the main support for the hinge component, which supports our heads… so it was really important we made them sturdy and stable. We used two 2x2s and cut them to fit securely underneath the hinged component at 26” tall. They’re attached by a pin, to a bracket on the underside of the wood of the hinged component. We had to drill a custom sized hole through the brackets in order to fit the pins. The pins and brackets are awesome for easy removal, while also making it possible for the legs to pitch slightly forward for some added resistance to bending.

Step 5: Installation of the U-bolts

To secure the box platform to the hinged component we used two 4” U-bolts. We drilled a hole on each side, one through the box platform and one through the hinged component (through both the carpet and wood), 2 ½” from the edge. The U-bolts are then dropped into the holes in order to secure the two components together while sleeping. The U-bolts come out easily when folding the bed platform up in the morning.

I hope this guide encourages other people to be less intimidated by the idea of building a bed in their car, especially women. As I write this from a campground in the middle of nowhere in Utah, I can assure you it’s worth it.

Also, a big thank you to my boyfriend who traded in his car for this Subaru and then let me build a bed in it…and to Erin for supporting me these past months and giving me the tools to take on risks and adventures like this one.


 

I’m Nicole. I currently write, photograph, and live out of the back of a Subaru Outback with my boyfriend. Although I’m only on the road for summer, I’m always looking for rad adventures and new opportunities in the outdoor industry.

Follow Nicole’s adventures on Instagram at @nicoleroams, and comment here or DM her for any questions on this conversion or her trip!

JOURNAL

Moving is Hard (Even When You Want to Go)

On Tuesday I moved to LA. Honestly, there were endless reasons not to go.

There will always be reasons not to do the scary thing or take the risk. The reasons not to do something always seem to be louder, right? They scream and demand to be listened to. They show up to remind you that you could be lonely, that you could stay scared, that expectations are real and that they could be broken. I already know that’s all possible. It feels like I’ve lived through all of it many lifetimes over. I’ve been there, sat with loneliness on four continents, on islands and in cities and on beaches and rooftops. I have lived that solitary uncertainty more times than I can count in my early 20’s alone and in truth, I already know that it’s exhausting.

None of those reasons were good enough not to go.

Driving out here was like 16 hours of meditation. All that time just to sit with myself. Somehow when there’s just road in front of you and it’s just you, there’s nothing in the way of wondering why you’re not working on your dream project or why you’re not finding the love of your life. You can go into that middle-of-nowhere gas station and buy as many peanut M&M’s as you want– those same fuckin’ questions will be there when you start driving again.

Moving is hard even when you want to go. Even when the going is the most important thing.

I know for sure that no song is catchy enough, no podcast interesting enough, no canyon stunning enough to take my mind off of the wounds I normally try to cover and hide from myself. Driving out here was 16 hours of showing myself the walls I’ve put up, and 16 hours of giving myself the forgiveness and permission to start taking them down.

It was finding acceptance and courage; it was stirring the pot of stuff I thought I left behind in Boulder or New York or Porto. Just sitting in my own history, remembering the main players in every game I’ve ever won or lost, the prominent characters of each chapter of my life, wondering if I might see them again as I turn another page.

I have moved around so much. I have lived in many houses (sometimes tents), alone or with someone else, and leaving– well it’s familiar but I’m not convinced it gets any easier. Part of me will always fight the belief that it’s best to not get attached so that you don’t have to hurt when it’s time to go. Part of leaving will always suck– apply it to whatever you want, it’s hard to uproot. You can know a relationship isn’t right but still love the person, maybe you still love why you fell so hard for them in the beginning, and maybe you still do. It doesn’t mean they are right or good for you.

I think the hardest part of leaving is that bit right before you do. You can imagine it for months, you can fantasize about your new life and how great it’ll be and how free you’ll feel and the exact thing you’ll wear as you board the plane or drive past the state line. Even when you’re ready to start over, it’s hard.

To some, it must not seem right that I’d trade mountains and open space for traffic in the city. But I would much rather return to the Rockies someday knowing that I followed my heart and soul; knowing that I listened to the cells of my body that pushed me West, and that I most importantly responded to that call. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. Remember that nobody else gets to have an opinion on your decisions without your validation.

When you make a change I promise you’re gonna get hit with all of it– the loneliness and the hummingbirds, the heartbreak and the starry-eyed wonder of the new place, whatever and wherever that might be. I know California doesn’t promise me anything different. It certainly doesn’t promise anything that I don’t look for. I know that I see magic wherever I choose to look for it. I am happy to be here. I am happy to sit on these steps in front of the lime tree and write this to you. I’m reminded of the porch at my old place in Colorado, how it too became a place where I’d sit and unload my thoughts here– where I handed over my dreams and my hurts in surrender and therefore, in strength.

If and when you move into a new story, remember that although you may feel like a stranger in the new place, you’re not a stranger to yourself. You can sit and know yourself anywhere, regardless of what tree you sit under. Life is hunch after hunch. But you have to trust that you know what’s best for you, and that the feeling that pulls you in whatever direction is not without purpose. If you don’t listen, how else will you get anywhere?

There will always be a million reasons not to go.

The point is that you are the only one who can decide to drive your life in any direction for 16 hours, or however long it takes you to get where you’re going. There will always be endless reasons not to go. Decide which call you want to listen to.

Know that nothing is wrong with you if it’s hard. It just means the chapter was meaningful in the first place.