WHAT IT WAS LIKE LIVING FULL-TIME IN A TINY CAMPER WHILE TEACHING REMOTELY DURING A PANDEMIC
What started in March 2020 as a two week shut down of Connecticut schools in response to Covid-19, quickly led to a national health emergency that would change how the entire world operated. There is not a single person who has not been affected by Covid-19 in some way. Being teachers, having a tiny camper, and being part owners of a teardrop camper business during a pandemic led to one of the wildest chapters of our life.
To preface, we bought our Rustic Trail Teardrop Kodiak Stealth in 2019 and it has afforded us the privilege of traveling the nation and living as nomads during the summer months and school vacations. During the summer of 2019, we visited over 20 different states and put around 15,000 miles on our camper within this first year of owning it.
Living in a small space is nothing new to us, since we have been married we have rented a 500 square foot apartment that we share with our 50 lb. Bernedoodle named Oscar (he loves camping in the RTTC Kodiak too!) So, owning a tiny camper fits perfectly into our minimalist lifestyle!
Daily life in our RTTC Kodiak
Our day always started early, typically waking up around 5 am, cooking up some eggs on our Blackstone griddle, and firing up our computers to prepare for the day ahead with our students. For many teachers, Covid-19 radically changed all that we knew about teaching. Our previous lesson plans were void, our student connections were limited, and our daily teaching routines were challenged in every way. For Steve, being an IT high school shop instructor and using technology to teach was nothing new; however, doing it remotely was. His plan of teaching hands-on computer networking was replaced with lessons from Code.org and instructing students how to build WordPress websites. The tough part about teaching online is that most teachers have to create lessons that can be used on Chromebooks which runs less software compared to Windows computers. The best way Steve found to do this was to teach using a Chromebook, so he knew right away if something was not going to work for the students.
While it required some thought for Steve to recreate lessons, Amberly on the other hand had it much harder. To teach elementary special education, she had to get even more imaginative with her instruction. For Amberly, performing read aloud via Google Meet, creating pre-recorded video lessons, and being in constant email communication with parents became the norm. In addition to teaching virtually during the day, Amberly also attended late-night Master’s degree classes via Zoom which was also done inside of our Kodiak Stealth.
We had to get creative in how we utilized the tiny interior space of the Kodiak in order for both of us to teach remotely at the same time. Often, Amberly would sit upon the bed of the camper with her laptop positioned on a makeshift desk consisting of blankets and the optional Rustic Trail Teardrops outside the table. Thanks to the interior walkway space inside the Kodiak Stealth, Steve was able to set up a camp chair located in front of the bed while using the countertop area like a desk.
While we were able to perform all of our daily tasks inside of the Kodiak, getting outside was critical to our health and in keeping a positive mindset. We often found ourselves at the campground picnic table located right outside of our Kodiak to catch some fresh air. In addition, we decided to expand our living area by purchasing the ARB room that attached to the optional ARB awning that we offer at RTTC. The ARB room is awesome! When it was raining outside we could sit inside the room in our camp chairs and work on our laptops. We love how the room can easily zip up from a screen enclosure to being fully blacked-out providing privacy.
Running and owning a small business alongside our teaching
To add to the complexity of our situation, we were also working at the shop and showroom of Rustic Trail Teardrops during any free moment we had. While teaching full-time and working Rustic Trail Teardrops at the same time was often stressful, it was also rewarding and fun. Amberly enjoyed creating new decals for the campers using the Cricut machine while also ensuring our showroom was clean for our customers. While at RTTC Steve spent most of his time in the production shop working alongside our build crew and ensuring that they had the supplies they needed. Steve also conducted all of the in-person and virtual showroom appointments giving in-depth tours of our camper lineup. On the weekends we worked together to perform camper pickups and create new RTTC content such as photos and videos.
As you can imagine, living in a tiny camper for a long period of time gets one thinking about what kinds of changes and enhancements could be made to our line of campers. During this time, we redesigned the dinette for 2021 giving greater ease of use. We also created a new optional front cabinet layout for the Kodiak that provides added storage and flexibility. One of our favorite innovations was the sliding RV queen-size bed in the Koala Bear which gave our customers the ability to sleep on an elevated platform instead of the floor – something that is rare in a 5 x 8 camper.
In total, over a dozen changes and improvements were implemented to our line of campers throughout the summer. We are thankful for our hard working builders Levi, Zach and Jonathan who are not only committed to constructing each camper to the highest quality possible but also aid in the constant innovation of the trailers.
Where we stayed
We had our Kodiak in two main locations during our 6-month time period. The first location was our friend’s property where they graciously allowed us to hook up power and provide us with a shower facility. This property was awesome because it is located on several acres of wooded land and even has a small pond for us to enjoy when time allowed.
After staying on our friend’s property for a few months, we decided to change it up and move to a local campground. Homeplace Recreation Park located in Ararat, NC is about 15 minutes from the RTTC shop in Pilot Mountain, NC. We chose Homeplace not only because of its proximity to Rustic Trail Teardrops, but also because they have great facilities with fun activities such as mini-golf, a pond, a giant swimming pool (though it was closed to Covid-19), and lots of hiking paths.
While staying at Homeplace we noticed that the WiFi was often spotty which created a challenge for Google Meets on our laptops. We purchased a WiFI extender that connected to the wireless internet at the campground and boosted it to improve our signal strength.
Homeplace is home to many long-term campers, however, the campground owners did admit that we were the smallest camper to stay for a long length of time! We received many visitors from the campground residents who were intrigued by our RTTC Kodiak and that we were living so long inside such a tiny camper. Giving tours of our personal Kodiak is nothing new; it seems that wherever we travel with our camper, people are always curious about it!
To keep things fresh, we moved spots a total of three times during our stay at Homeplace. We ended in our favorite spot, which is located right by the creek and offered excellent privacy and thick shade compared to other areas of the campground. We enjoyed Homeplace a lot and plan to camp there again, long-term, while working at RTTC over the summer. We are excited to check out the large pool when it reopens in the future.
Towards the end of our 6-month adventure, we decided to take our Kodiak on a well-deserved road trip. We traveled from North Carolina to Colorado to visit family while stopping in places such as The Wizard of Oz museum in Kansas and briefly visiting St. Louis. On our return trip from Colorado, we grabbed some Texas BBQ, where we suddenly made friends with a local dog! We named him Tex 🙂 We completed our trip back to NC, where we stayed a few more weeks before returning home to CT to prepare for the school year ahead.
What we learned
There is no doubt that living full-time for 6 months in a tiny camper while teaching remotely and working RTTC at the same time was an adventure that we will never forget. This time in our life changed the way we taught and lived; we learned to adapt in order to overcome difficulties in both our personal and professional lives.
The first thing that we learned in 2020, is that you have to go with the flow. As a teacher, we found that things in our districts were changing quickly. Because remote learning was so new, many schools did not know how to proceed with the challenges that were presented. Expectations for teachers during this time were unclear and we had to adapt on the fly to any changes being made within our school. As teachers, we are already trained to be flexible and develop lesson plans quickly that accommodate all students. In general, we feel that teachers across the nation were able to adjust to this new model of teaching quickly and efficiently. Nevertheless, this was not without stress or confusion as teachers learned to navigate and blaze new paths in the field of education. All teachers deserve extra credit for their hard work and devotion to our craft which was made more evident than ever during 2020.
While reflecting back on our time of teaching in our Kodiak we are thankful that we were able to be around friends who offered us support and encouragement. We are also thankful that our Kodiak has a bed that turns into a dinette with a small walkway allowing for daily tasks to be easier; such as getting changed and moving about in our tiny camper. We cannot imagine living in it without having this added area in our camper which gave us greater ease of use.
Overall, we are grateful for the opportunity to have been able to live full time in our RTTC Kodiak. Both of our jobs in education and our camper has allowed us to travel and experience many adventures that others are often not afforded. While 2020 was a hard year for us all, we will certainly remember the challenges we faced but also those that we were able to overcome.
We have compiled a list of gear and products that we relied upon almost daily during our 6-month adventure:
- Dell Chromebook: https://amzn.to/3muR97N
- ARB Room Attachment (2500×2500): https://amzn.to/3raqTD0
- Camp Chairs: https://amzn.to/3alpQu5
- Pop up trash can: https://amzn.to/34p3LXJ
- Wolfwise privacy tent: https://amzn.to/2LEyeuo
- Wifi Range Extender: https://amzn.to/38fX6QJ
- Battery operated headlamps: https://amzn.to/2IZjs0m
- Blackstone Griddle: https://amzn.to/38j5hfr
Portable Dehumidifier: https://amzn.to/2r7yckt
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