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INSPIRATION NOLS OUTDOORS

The Summer That Ruined My Life

The summer I was 19, I went on a thirty day wilderness trip.

It wasn’t like I was outdoorsy. I never went to summer camp as a kid. I was in Girl Scouts, but I only lasted until we had to sleep in tents. Then I was out. I was not the kid playing in the dirt.

Me at age 13: memorizing the words to Britney Spears songs, begging my mother to take me to Abercrombie & Fitch, and spending most of my free time on the computer if I could get away with it.

Over the course of my teenage experience, I went from wannabe popular girl to the artsy loner chick with blue hair. I loved photography and raiding my grandmother’s closet. Wearing sunglasses in class was my preferred method of showing that I did not give a fuck.

As I embraced my weirdness and my subsequent daydreaming, I developed this huge and constant sense of wanderlust that seemed to follow me everywhere. I often brought school trip opportunities to my parents, who responded with “We’ll talk about it,”– which directly translated to “nope.”

College. I came home after my freshman year of art school not having planned for summer. I didn’t really think about it, because my life had been pretty cushy and I was used to having things sorted out for me. After the dust of final exams and projects settled, I thought to myself, what should I do for the next few months? And yes, I can own how much I sound like a privileged brat.

I worked at a summer camp. I thought it would be fun. But I went back to college with a new perspective: one where I now valued mentorship, where I gave myself more credit as a leader and more weight to my own decisions. I did more experimenting. Wanderlust still floated over my head like a fine mist, so I looked up to it and said, “okay, what can we do about this?”


I heard about a program called NOLS. NOLS stands for National Outdoor Leadership School, and synonymous with wilderness education, outdoor skills and leadership. Basically, you go into the woods for a few weeks and come out a total badass. That’s actually not how it works at all, but it’s what I thought when I was 18.

I made NOLS a must-do. I applied early. I was set to hike into the Wind River Range for thirty days starting mid-June of 2009.

My sophomore year of college ended, and after months of anticipation, I was on a plane to Wyoming carrying a duffel bag of gear I didn’t know how to use. I was 19, and it was the first time I had ever flown alone. I remember pretending really hard: to know how to transfer planes, to know where to pick up my baggage, to know where to get the bus.

My head stopped spinning– sort of– when I arrived at the NOLS base in Lander, Wyoming, and found myself in a circle with twelve 16 and 17-year-olds and three twenty-something dudes in trucker hats grinning from ear to ear. These were the people I was going to spend the next thirty days with.

I was a solid two years older than everyone else, but I would learn, and later accept, that some of these 16-year-olds were more mature than I was. Some of them were amazing leaders, problem solvers and communicators, and their skills in these categories far surpassed mine. When I was crippled by fear and frustration, they collected their emotions and got shit done.

After a day of packing, we hiked into the Winds. By the time we got walking, it was afternoon. My instructors were energetic, organized, and bright-eyed– the Day-One feeling I now know well as an outdoor educator.

I was so exhausted that night that I slept fairly well, a backcountry rarity for me even now. We learned how to break down camp and use our stoves and got on our way. Then we got on our way the next day, and for 28 days after that.

There was a time when I remembered every single day of my NOLS course. I don’t anymore.

But I do remember hiking an extra three miles in the snow because we had misread the map. I remember our instructor allowing us to fail, because that’s how we learn. I remember bruises on my hips from carrying my 60-pound backpack, something I hadn’t thought t0 train for.

I remember eight days in a row of sleet and rain, and putting on my frozen boots every day, hoping for sun. I remember hiking in head-to-toe rain gear, gloves, and pants tucked into socks because the mosquitos were so thick. I remember dealing with knee pain from hiking miles I had never hiked before. I remember breaking down on the continental divide because it hurt so badly, and there was no way to get out of it, no escape route, no option to undo it.

I remember the smile of one of my peers, at age 16 in his vintage Oakleys, being the natural leader he was, as I crumbled under my fear of walking across a boulder field.


That summer ruined me. Being in the wilderness, something so vast and unapologetic, something I had never experienced before, humbled me and said to me, “You’re not in control of this.” I couldn’t be passive. I had to cook, clean, lead, follow, communicate. And I didn’t.

I complained. I cried. I say “ruined my life,” because at 19, that’s how I reacted to anything in my life that was marginally difficult. There were times I shut down and gave up. I constantly dreamt about home, about a hot shower, about not sleeping on a goddamn piece of 1/4″ thick foam anymore.

One night I got up in the middle of the night. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, and the stars were so bright I could see my shadow. There was no moon. Just me and the stars. The sky was purple, beautiful, vast. It was cold. It felt like the first time I had ever looked up in my life. And there were moments like that. There were moments of pure exposed beauty, of laughing, singing, and storytelling that were not fleeting, but instead meaningful and formative. But in those moments too, that summer was ruining me.

It ruined me because it pushed me in ways I couldn’t even understand yet. I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t a good leader. I was used to being good at things, and I wasn’t good at this because the wilderness doesn’t just let you be good at it without work.

That summer ruined who I used to be. It showed me a path of ambition and compassion, and asked if I was going to get on it. It told me I couldn’t do things halfway anymore. And I haven’t always loved it on that path, but it’s so damn magnetic that I can’t step off it. My feet simply won’t go in any other direction.

Thirty days in the wilderness ruined my life. My old life– the one where I was comfortable, where I didn’t ask questions, where I let things be handed to me and didn’t try too hard– and opened me up to challenge, hard questions, and what it truly means to try.

When anyone asked me how my NOLS trip was, I responded with “crazy,” or “wild,” but never “good.” That summer taught me that I have so much to learn, and that I always will. Nearly seven years later, I’ve led adventure trips on four continents and worked with teenagers from all over the world. I’ve made a ton of mistakes and I’ve done my best to learn from them.

That summer cracked me open, so light could get in. The things that ruin us, the things that crumble our perceptions of ourselves, the things that have us looking up at a star-filled sky asking, “Why am I doing this?”– those are the things that spark who we were meant to be.

INSPIRATION SOCIAL MEDIA

Say Something More on Instagram

Instagram has become a part of my daily life. And what a sentence, what a weird sequence of words to watch myself write.

Over the past year, thousands of people decided to follow along with me on Instagram, on this little app you scroll through when you’re in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. On this thing you look at when you’re not looking at the other person in the elevator. Thousands of eyes chose to include my content in what they want to see.

I am flattered that people like my photos, but what matters to me is the story. And that somehow, that story teaches someone something, or asks someone a question they’ve been asking themselves but didn’t have the words for.

I hope that what I share on Instagram is not only a window into my life, but a voice that says, “You Are Understood.”

This hits me deeply.

I want to talk about life. I want to talk about the people and places that have changed me. I want to talk about what made me feel something so hard my face turned red and my eyes watered, and the hair on my arms stood up like I was about to be struck by lightning. Because that stuff is electric. It is. Not just in feeling, but in the way it moves through you and anyone you touch.

I want to talk about travel; what I felt on that winding road or distracted by that untimely romance.

I want to talk about my experience and my fear and my struggle– sometimes in equal parts and sometimes not.

I want to talk about learning constantly, and assure you that perfection does and does not exist at the same time, because whatever your experience is in this very moment, is already whole.

I want to talk about how improbable it is that you and I are here, how the events of our lives have unfolded, and how this ride will never stop or slow down; how it feels to be on it as it goes faster than we could possibly comprehend.

I want to talk about what is hard, what makes us feel vulnerable and exposed, bruised or broken, because we learn from ourselves and each other in difficult times.

I want to talk about what is easy, when beauty is everywhere and flows out of me and into me, because it truly does exist every day, whether we notice it or not.

I want to give you something to think about, about your journey, the path you are on and where you have come from.

I want to give you something to smile about, something to cry about, something to assure you that you are understood. That you are not alone.

Words and images are how I choose to tell my story right now, but I live it every day.

That’s just me.

You may use social media as an escape, and if you do, I want you to ask yourself why.

You may not think you have a message. Find out what inspires you instead.

And if you then have something to say, say it.

Use your platform, whatever the size, for something you believe in.

Tell your story, the one that brought you to this point. You choose the medium. Those who matter want to see it through your eyes.

Say something that made you laugh. Say something raw and vulnerable. Say something ugly or beautiful. Say something that surprises you. Say what you are thinking; say what you thought yesterday and give yourself the permission to be constantly vulnerable and constantly changing.

So Instagram is an app. So it lives just on our phones, on these little devices that keep us plugged into so many things that don’t really fundamentally matter. So whatever you are saying, make it matter.

And have the courage to say something. Because our world is rapidly changing at every moment, and it needs you to speak up for what makes you feel most alive.

What is the story you are telling?

Featured photo by Jess Dales.

OUTDOORS TRAVEL

On Fear: The Time I Almost Died in Idaho

One of my worst fears when camping is unexpected company showing up when I’m in the woods, at night, by myself with no phone service. I’m way more afraid of other people than I am of animals. I’m afraid of pretty much everything you would expect me to be afraid of in a situation where I’m alone in the woods… and that fear is not only natural, but important.

I’ve been in lots of less-than-ideal situations when traveling. I’ve gotten the flu in the middle of the jungle, gotten off at wrong bus stops in the middle of nowhere, been on sketchy buses and motorbikes that looked like they were put together with paper clips. I’ve gotten myself into messy relationships and fights outside of bars in Rome (ok, that was once). I’ve had food poisoning more times than I can remember and I’ve probably, at some point, eaten dog. You get the idea. I do not recommend that you try to do any of that.

Of all of my travel experiences, the ones that have invoked fear are not few and far between. Taking taxis by myself at dawn, waiting alone in empty bus stations, walking to bars alone, and even walking by myself in broad daylight in some places has scared the shit out of me. But I’ve never been as downright afraid as I was on this one particular night in Idaho.


This past fall, I went on a big solo road trip around the western US, and I was passing through Idaho on my way back to Colorado. I had heard there were some pretty epic hot springs in Idaho, so I googled a few and planned to stop by… only I realized that it would be dark by the time I got there.

I had been sleeping in my converted car for the past six weeks and was pretty comfortable with the set-up, and with finding camping last minute. I figured there would be somewhere to camp. I was wrong. There was nowhere. It was early November, and all the campgrounds I could find were blocked off for winter.

I though to myself, “I’ve been doing this whole sleep-in-the-car thing for six weeks. I can pull over and sleep on the side of the road, no problem. People do it all the time!”

So it was 9pm, and I pulled over. I was on this woodsy windy road– not quite a highway but not a backroad either. I had avoided doing this so far on the trip, always sleeping in campgrounds, rest stops, or Wal-marts (yup). For some reason, side-of-the-road naps just freak me out, and there I was on this pull-off in some random-ass woods in Idaho getting my bed all set up for the night as my heart proceeded to beat so hard it was painful.

It was a cold, wet and misty night. Lots of horror-movie style fog. No stars, no moon, just the lights from the occasional car.

I got my curtains set up, got into bed, and locked myself in. I closed my eyes and told myself to fall asleep.

Obviously, I couldn’t. I just kept seeing bits of light creep in from passing cars, hearing them as they sped by. And I couldn’t stop thinking about how I didn’t have phone service, and how literally at any moment some creep could pull over right next to me.

And then, that’s what happened.

I peeked out of my back window to find a guy parked right behind me. He got out of his truck wearing a headlamp, and began fumbling around with something in his backseat.

My brain said, “He’s probably just getting something out of his car.”

My gut responded, “He’s going to kill you.”

All I could think was: It’s happening. My worst fear. Is. Happening.

From the inside of my car, I pulled off all the curtains I could grab, tried to flip back the hinge on my platform bed, and squeezed myself into the front seat. If you’ve ever seen my set-up in person, you know this would be logistically difficult for anyone over four feet tall. I started my car and, in the process, set off the alarm. Really smooth, Erin.

I put the seat back and peeled out of there, heart pounding, hands shaking. And because I was so curious, and also now moving at 50mph, I turned around to see what the truck man was actually doing.

When I drove by him from the comfort of my moving vehicle, I saw that he was just a normal guy with a headlamp and a towel, walking on the side of the road to the trailhead that I had parked across from. The trailhead to a hot spring.

womp womp.

womp womp.


At this point, I let out a sigh of relief that this guy was apparently not trying to kill me. But I was still on this huge adrenaline high, and so, goodbye hot spring, see you never.

I drove for two hours until I felt okay again. I pulled into a rest stop and parked in between camper trailers, which I always imagine are full of really nice old people. I stayed in bed until noon the next day.

As silly as the actual situation was, and as much as I laughed at myself when it was over, feeling like I was running for my life in a sense really knocked the wind out of me. When I did finally hit the road again the next day, it was with great regard and a sense of respect for my own intuition.

This is not about how unsafe my decisions may or may not have been. This is about trusting your gut. This is about knowing when to listen to fear, when it is very real. This is about following your intuition even though your brain might be telling you to quiet it.

I’ve probably been way closer to death crossing the street than parked on the side of that road in Idaho. I didn’t “almost die,” like the title of this piece suggests. But fear spoke to me and suggested that as a real possibility. And I listened to it.

Whenever fear speaks to you, listen to it. Identify if the fear is rational– what kind of fear is it? Good Fear is the voice that tells you something is right or it isn’t. It alerts you to danger, wants to protect you, and gives you superhuman strength when you really need it. Bad Fear is the voice that tells you to not take risks in your life, relationships, and career. It’s always asking you “what if something bad happens?” Bad Fear sucks and should be told to get out ASAP.

The hot spring would have been nice– I probably would have been fine that night. But I’m glad I listened to fear. Fear has an important place in life, and I’m thankful for the reminder.

Photos by Nate Luebbe & Austin Presas

OUTDOORS TRIP PLANNING

On Being Prepared: What You Can Learn from Two Dudes I Picked Up in Yosemite

One mid-October day on my road trip, I was headed to Yosemite. It was getting to be late afternoon and I wanted to catch sunset at Glacier Point. I’m usually pretty good at being prepared– normally, I have my campsite set up by this time, but in order to catch the sunset, I decided to camp at a site just outside the park, even though it would mean getting in late.

Glacier Point was as incredible as I had imagined, pink and luminous, and by 7pm I had moved on. An hour later it was dark. After stopping to watch the rock climbers on El Capitan, I was making my way East on Tioga road when I saw two guys with their thumbs out. The look on their faces was pretty desperate. They weren’t the typical bearded, backwards hat, pants rolled at the ankles, Chacos and some kind of technical backpack climber dudes you see in Yosemite. No, these guys were pretty clean cut and didn’t have a whole lot of stuff with them. I very, very rarely pick up hitch-hikers when I travel solo, but this seemed like an exception. I pulled over.

When I picked Joe & Yo up, I was blasting Bon Iver eating peanut butter with a spoon. I explained that I didn’t have back seats because I slept in my car, so we’d all have to squeeze in the front. They probably thought I was crazy.

Exasperated, the guys expressed their thanks. Yo tried to give me $20. I laughed.

“Guys, you would have been picked up eventually,” I said.

Still, they responded, “You saved our lives!”

I asked where they were staying. Their campsite was a little bit out of the way, so I asked if they had room for another car. They said yes. Bingo, my campsite for the night.

When we got to camp, I took a better look at Joe and Yo, and of course, laughed about how their names happened to rhyme. They struck me as city boys, and when I asked, they confirmed that yes, they came from San Francisco for a quick camping trip. It was probably around 45 degrees at this point, about 9pm.

I felt a little guilty as I cooked a huge feast and they heated up their cans of soup on a brand-new-tags-still-on MSR Pocket Rocket, which I did assure them, is a great stove. Joe started making a fire. I somewhat resisted the urge to help.

I asked how they got themselves in a situation where they had to be picked up on the side of Tioga Road by some girl with a car bed. Joe pulled out the map they give you when you roll into the park.

“Well, last time I was here, I went this far,” he measured with his fingers. “And so I figured I could go this far.” He laughed a little, probably recognizing that he sounded a little ridiculous. I tried really hard to not to give him my “Holy Shit, That Was Dumb” face.

Joe wasn’t even sure if the whole path they took was on the map.

From what he could guess, it seemed like it had been a 16 mile day, including a summit. And they had done it with a liter of water each, no backcountry map, and definitely no headlamps.

Joe and Yo were lucky, but not only because I picked them up. There are just so many things that could have gone wrong on their hike that day that I was frankly amazed that having to hitch-hike was the worst thing that happened to them!

Here are some of the basics that the guys should have considered, and what you can learn from them.

And this is what that sunset looked like, in case you were wondering.Beautiful and humbling in many ways.


How long is the hike?

And is there elevation gain? Understand what 16 miles feels like. If you’ve never hiked before, that’s gonna be painful… and dangerous. The Visitor’s Center at any National Park will be an excellent resource, and Park Rangers can recommend great hikes. Make it a priority to check in with a Ranger at the Visitor’s Center to ask about conditions and get recommendations for your time in any National Park.

What do we pack?

Once you know what hike you are going on and have an estimate of how long that will take you, consider what you should bring. If this is going to be an all-day event, bring at least two liters of water… more (sometimes even double) if it’s hot. Bring food for the day. Bring synthetic or wool layers, a hat and sunscreen if it’s sunny, and a rain jacket if there is any precipitation whatsoever in the forecast. I was taught to always bring a rain jacket, but I know people that forego it if the weather forecasts a bluebird day. Bring a small first aid kit and a headlamp. You never know when you’ll need it.

Should we tell someone where we are going?

Yes, yes and yes. Let someone know what trail you are headed on, and when they can expect you back.

Overall, know the weather, the time the sun is setting, and your limits. Don’t push it or try to be a superhero– mother nature will always win.


I don’t know a single mountaineer, climber, or hiker who has never been in a situation where they felt underprepared… and often, they thought they had taken every precaution. The message is this: understand what you are getting yourself into and be prepared. Plan for the unexpected so that if and when it happens, you can get yourself out of trouble ASAP.

Know what you are getting yourself into and you will be able to enjoy nature so much more.

Know what you are getting yourself into and you will be able to enjoy nature so much more.

These are the basics. Obviously, they are important. If you’re interested in learning even more about the backcountry, I recommend taking a course– REI, NOLS, and the Sierra Club offer courses, events and outings, just to name a few organizations that offer them. There are also plenty of organizations at the local level that host outings, often free of charge– make it your business to find one. Fuel your passion by arming yourself with knowledge.

Thanks to Yo and Joe for insisting that I make an example of them!

GEAR REVIEWS

Gearhead Diaries: My USA Road Trip Essentials

I recently spent six weeks living out of my car, visiting the National Parks, and doing anything that sounded vaguely interesting or fun. Living out of your car isn’t as convenient or easy as having a heated house, running water, a kitchen, a bed or a bathroom that doesn’t require you to go outside. Anything that made my life more fun or convenient on the road was a huge bonus, and is definitely worth sharing.

Here are ten of my favorite road trip items.

1. National Parks Pass 

Considering that each national park costs between $10-30 per vehicle, at $80, this pass is definitely worth it if you plan on visiting a handful of the parks. Having the pass has also encouraged me to check out places I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, since it doesn’t cost me any more money. If you’re planning to road trip the US, this pass is great. ($79.99. Buy through the National Parks, or REI has them here.)

Lake Powell, Arizona. If I didn't have a parks pass, I wouldn't have gone, and would have missed this sunset.

Lake Powell, Arizona. If I didn’t have a parks pass, I wouldn’t have gone.

2. MSR Mugmate

I only buy coffee in cafes if I need to use wifi, so usually, this is my method for making it myself. It’s essentially a pour over, using a super durable filter. I get up, boil some water, and filter coffee into my Hydro Flask. I also use the Mugmate for backpacking trips. Get one! ($16.95 on Amazon)

coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee

Hello gorgeous.

3. Playlists & Podcasts

Listening to something great definitely improves a long driving day! I make playlists using Spotify and download them to my phone when I have wifi. I also love podcasts: specifically, I have loved Serial and This American Life. It was especially nice listening to podcasts because I was alone. They gave me something to think about, and often I learned something new.

It's helpful to have something good to listen to when you're seeing a whole lot of this.

It’s helpful to have something good to listen to when you’re seeing a whole lot of this.

4. Comfy Bedding and Pillow

Yes, seriously. You’re not backpacking, so bring a pillow and blankets. Bring five! Having a pillow is such a luxury item for me, and it makes a huge difference. Mountain Standard came out with a huge fleece blanket and it is excellent for naps, summits and just being really cozy. ($90 at Mountain Standard)

Being the coziest.

I also recommend using this blanket for staring at stuff. (Photo by Nate Luebbe)

5. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap 

Dr. Bronner’s is the soap I use for everything. It’s great for dishes, body soap, and even laundry soap in a pinch. (Multiple sizes available on Amazon)

It might not be necessary to own a 40oz bottle.

It might not be necessary to own a 40oz bottle, but I’m not ashamed.

6. Non-Adventure Shoes

When I wasn’t hiking, I wore sandals everywhere on this trip until it got too cold. Comfortable shoes that you can hang out, drive, and do some light hiking in are great to have! I alternated between the OluKai Hema and my Birkenstock clogs. Easy to slip on and off and super cozy with a thick pair of wool socks. In general, it’s awesome to have a pair of shoes that feel great and aren’t necessarily for hiking or climbing. (Hema sandals, $125 from OluKai)

These sandals have seen a lot of cool stuff.

7. Aqua-Tainer 7-gal Water Container

Never thought a huge water jug would make it onto any favorite-things post of mine. But here it is. Having water with you all the time is extremely convenient. You can fill up at many visitor’s centers or campgrounds every few days. I have been very surprised at how many people I’ve seen using plastic water bottles. Having a big water container means you can fill up your re-usable Nalgene or Hydro Flask at any time, and is way less wasteful. ($17.95 on Amazon)

Water is never a bad thing to have on hand.

8. Watch with Alarm 

I definitely don’t have service everywhere I go. Having a watch means I know I’m going to wake up on time (or at least that my alarm will go off!). Many folks I know have come to rely on their phones as a clock. Being able to turn off your phone and still know the time is great, especially in areas where you don’t have service anyway. I have a Timex– I found it on Amazon for $25 here.

Thanks to this watch, I never missed a sunrise! Thanks to cozy bed, sometimes I did.

9. Patagonia 90L Black Hole Duffel

It’s just a duffel, right? Yes, but it’s really durable. This is where I’ve been keeping all my clothes, and believe me, it truly is a black hole. I have never tried to organize it. I really like how big this bag is, and that it can handle all the dirt, dust and water I seem to always be spilling on it. ($149 from Patagonia, though you can sometimes find older colors on sale)

“organized mess”

10. Bureau of Land Management & National Forest Land

This land has been my best friend. You can camp on BLM or NFS land for free. It’s called dispersed camping, and most tourists don’t know about it. It means no toilets, no picnic table, and often no fires, so if you try dispersed camping, make sure you know how to Leave No Trace and camp responsibly. Local ranger stations are great places to ask for maps and to make sure you’ll be camping somewhere you are allowed to. Look up the area you are going to and ensure you know the regulations specific to that area.

Camped here for free!

$0 campsite!

Sure, not all of these things are pieces of “gear” necessarily, but each one of them has made my experience way better in some small (or big) way.

What would you consider essential for a road trip? What cool stuff do I not know about yet? Let me know!

INSPIRATION ON THE ROAD SOCIAL MEDIA

The Reality Behind My Instagram Photos

You’ve probably seen my Instagram. It’s full of photos of my travels, the outdoors, selfies with inspirational captions and personal stuff about my life. It’s like that on purpose– I curate my Instagram carefully, and I want my feed to look the way it does. But I hope you know: my life doesn’t look like that every day.

I never thought that was big news to anyone. I assumed everyone knew that social media usually only broadcasts the best or most interesting parts of people’s lives. I think I was wrong.

Yes, this was stunning. But I also hadn’t showered in six days.

In my case, I use Instagram to show photos of my travels and experiences. I aim to be honest and yes, inspiring. Because I find that people want inspiration. My account is Erin Outdoors, not Erin Sitting in Coffee Shops, Erin Making Smoothies or Erin Decorating Her Apartment. So I generally only post outdoor or travel photos, because that’s what my audience wants to see.

There’s a lot more happening than what you see on my Instagram, and that’s why I try to be honest in captions, and why I have this blog. I try to tell the whole story– one that the photos alone simply could not tell.

The night before this was taken, I was camping by myself in the forest and was terrified of serial killers.

The night before this was taken, I was camping by myself in the forest and was terrified of serial killers.

My life is full of amazing places and people. I have a lot of good stories. And it didn’t go this way just by chance; my life is the way it is because of the choices I have made. Choices I want to empower you to make, if you want to.

You might know that I’m currently wrapping up a solo road trip across the Western US and a bit of Canada. I’ve been on the road for six weeks, and have seen some incredible stuff. I’ve also been scared out of my mind, eaten PB&Js for every meal to keep costs low, and slept in countless Walmart parking lots. I’ve been lonely, I’ve felt lost and questioned everything, I’ve been terrified of my future and my bank account.

Beautiful, but when it's pouring rain on the road, I have no warm house to dry off in.

Beautiful, but when it’s pouring rain on the road, I have no warm house to dry off in.

It’s so easy to romanticize anybody’s life based on what you see on social media, but know they have ups and downs too. Because that’s life.

The message I want to send– the message I think is incredibly important– is that you already have everything you need to create the life you want. You have the power to be the boss of your own life, to decide where it goes and what it looks like.

If you look at my Instagram and say, “Wow, I want my life to look like that,” please know that it can. Go ahead and create a life full of Instagram-worthy views, but know that it will be full of less glamorous moments, too.

I want you to know that my life is so much more than my curated Instagram of beautiful photos and selfies. I try to show you the big picture as much as I can. I show a lot of it on this blog. I try to have a sense of humor about the less-than-amazing moments, because they happen… and they are important.

Gorgeous sunrise after a stressful night trying to find a place to camp.

Thank goodness for a gorgeous sunrise. Took this after a stressful night trying to find a place to camp.

Lately, I’ve been getting lots of questions about how I made my travel lifestyle a reality. How have I seen so many places and done so much? Stay tuned. If you have specific questions about my life, where I’ve been, or anything else, please shoot me an email. I’d love to answer them.

If my Instagram account is “#goals” for you, I’m truly flattered and honored, so thank you. I hope you appreciate the whole story, too. I hope you know that there might be a sleepless night or a broken windshield behind that beautiful photo. And I hope that makes it even better for you. I hope me sharing the whole story gives you the inspiration to create beautiful moments in your own life. Because you can.

What’s stopping you?

ON THE ROAD OUTDOORS SUV CAMPING TRAVEL

How to Turn Your SUV into a Camper

This conversion is specific to my 2009 Honda CR-V, but principles can be applied to any vehicle.

I want a van. I’m about to head out on a road trip for the next six weeks, and having a van would be perfect. But I don’t have a van. I have an SUV. A Honda CR-V, to be exact.

I really like the idea of being able to have a comfortable bed pretty much anywhere, so I decided to build one in the back of my car. Here is a step-by-step guide to turning your SUV into a camper.

STEP 1

Do you need to take out the back seats? If your back seats fold down flat, skip this step.

If you’re like me, you’ll first watch some YouTube videos on how to remove the back seats from your car. Procure a socket wrench or other tools you might need.

Clean your car. Take everything out. All of the things to the garage! Take the seats out of your car and put them somewhere. The only tool I needed was a socket wrench, and taking out the seats took me all of 15 minutes. Have a victory beer. Or don’t, but I did.

No seats no problem!

No seats no problem!

STEP 2

Time to start thinking about your design. My design is a plywood platform in three parts, using 4x4s for legs. I placed the middle legs slightly off center to accommodate a storage bin. Because the floor of my car is uneven, measuring was a bit more complicated than if your car’s floor is completely flat.

Things to consider: How big do you want it to be? Do you want to be able to remove the platform easily? How will you be storing gear? Do you want to access storage from the back and/or sides?

Measure out the dimensions for the wood you are going to need. Having a friend help you with this comes in really handy. Go to Home Depot or equivalent with the measurements and have them cut it. Buy screws if you don’t have them. I used 3/4″ drywall screws.

STEP 3

Assemble the platform.

For me, it was definitely crucial to have someone help get everything in the car (thank you Henry!). We put all the pieces in the car (propped up) and tried to visualize what it would look like nailed together. It became clear that it made sense to actually put everything together inside the car, rather than taking it out and trying to put the pieces back in once assembled.

Platform assembled! Victory. Next, I put another piece of plywood near the front seats, attached with a hinge. This is an easy way to extend the length of your platform when you move the front seats forward. When you want to drive, just flip it back and move the seats.

how the hinge works

how the hinge works

STEP 4

Before you go any further, vacuum any sawdust and crap out of your car. Next, you can start planning storage and bedding.

I first put a mover’s blanket down on the platform. Alternatively, you can buy carpet and even staple it to the plywood. I wasn’t feeling picky about it.

For bedding, I bought two foam mattress toppers (think egg crates) that were on sale and put them on top of eachother. I then covered them with a full size fitted sheet to keep them in place. Sheets, blankets and pillows are up to you, but I wanted to be the coziest person in the world, so I went big on this.

One great thing about having a platform bed is the storage space underneath. Under the platform, I am keeping all of my gear, clothes, food, cooking stuff, a folding table, a camp chair, a cooler and too many pairs of shoes. Figure out a system that is both easy and organized, and one that works for you.

STEP 5

You’re probably going to want some kind of window covering. Curtains are a good option. Instead, I used Reflectix (buy at any home improvement store, comes in a big roll) and cut it to size. This means no curtains swinging around, and no velcro or tape needed. I am really happy with how these turned out– nobody can see in my car, plus the insulation will keep me a bit warmer.

Maybe I can put my car on Airbnb.

Maybe I can put my car on Airbnb now?

How much did it cost?

  • $56 for wood and hardware
  • $21 for Reflectix
  • $53 for foam
  • $71 for bedding and pillows

So in total, this project cost me $201, plus the cost of a cooler, folding table, and some storage bins. If you already have some extra bedding you like, I bet you could easily do this for $120 or less.

What are the dimensions of the platform?

When the hinge is extended, total length is 72″ and width is 41″. Height is 15″ from the very back of the car.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m heading out today to start my road trip and I’m super excited! I’m supposed to stay at a friend’s house tonight, but I honestly might just park in her driveway so I can sleep in my new camper.

Questions? Let me know in the comments!

UPDATE: Do you have an SUV or car to camper conversion you would like me to feature on my blog? Shoot me an email at info@erinoutdoors.com. I would love to hear from you!