The Zen of Camping


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.”

— Henry David Thoreau

The seed for our life-long love of camping was planted in our university days. The first summer of our marriage, James spent two months in a tent in the Colorado Rockies mapping the complex mountain geology. That same summer, Terri also spent a month living under canvas and teaching at a Special Education Camp. When each of us returned home, we carried a new, deep-seated appreciation for nature and the great outdoors.

At the time, like most young couples, we had considerably more time than money. So tent camping was a way to travel on a budget. And even though we didn’t realize it at the time, this is when the travel bug began pleasantly nibbling on the backs of our necks.

As the years passed our camping evolved from quick, weekend escapes to a five-month coast-to-coast odyssey. We’ve blissfully dropped off to sleep by mountain streams, hunkered down through violent hailstorms, watched meteor showers, and even had horny buffalo in our camp. Tent camping – comfortable? Not always. Memorable? Absolutely.

So, the next chapter of the Gallivance camping experience opened a few years ago. We’ve always been small footprint, low impact campers, and we like to keep things simple. But with each passing year, the ground got a little harder, and our bodies complained a bit more. We still loved the sensation of sleeping in a tent, so we found a great solution – put the tent on wheels.

Our inside joke is that we can talk things to death, but once we have solid information, neither of us is indecisive. So we took out the purchase-decision sieve, tossed in preferences, priorities, and budget constraints, and what popped out the bottom was a tiny, one-bed popup camper which weighs in at an ultra-svelte 625 pounds. Now we sleep above the cold, cruel ground, and our joints and various parts couldn’t be happier.

Adios from two Happy Campers,
James & Terri

Last updated August 30, 2019


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

64 thoughts

  1. I love camping. There’s nothing quite like it. In fact we lived in a tent for six months in France when the kids were about 7 and 9. I hope you have lots of fun in your new temporary home 🙂

    1. Thanks Dory. We lived in a tent for 5 months, and the lifestyle definitely gets in the blood. After your camping experience in France, I’m sure that like us, you realize how truly simple and rewarding life can be. It makes me wonder what all that stuff in our condo is. Also, I think that you did a wonderful thing for your children. This unique outdoor experience will always be a wonderful memory for them.

  2. Great photos, especially the one on left with the flat rocks on top of high rock formations – really quite amazing.
    Pop-up tent sounds the perfect solution to those of us with ‘older’ backs.

  3. Sweet! Can’t wait to see your new micro-rig. I’m in the process of building a Four Wheel Camper style pop up truck camper myself. Sitting in it right at this moment, in fact, watching some water boil and thinking about how to make a hammock bed to sleep on when the lid is down.

    1. Thanks Rik. You, probably more than any of our readers have an appreciation for popups. We’ve camped in it for the past few nights and it’s wonderful. It’s amazingly roomy, and comfortable. I’m sure we’ll do a number of posts about it, but check out this link for more info:
      It weighs 625 lbs, and we tow it with a Kia Rondo. Sweet indeed! ~James

  4. Those look like flying saucers landed on rock pillars. What an intriguing sight. I look forward to your camping saga. I am sure it will stir many a memory from my days exploring the Cascades and Olympics.

    1. Thanks Rusha. Before this adventure is over, I ‘m sure you’ll hear lots about our new camping experience. In fact, we camped in the new popup last night and it was wonderful. The low temp was 57, and for two heat-seared southerners, it was bliss. A cozy fire and roasted weenies completed the picture. ~James

  5. Great post! I remember with great nostalgia backpacking and, later, car camping with our son in Montana in the early days of our marriage when, like you, we had a lot more time than money. There’s magic about watching the moon rise, the stars come out in all their glory and the sound and smell of a campfire. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    1. Thanks Anita. It sounds like we’ve traveled the same road. As you know well, camping can sometimes be uncomfortable, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. There must be something about it since we’ve been camping our entire adult lives. It addition to an upclose look at nature, it has taught me to truly appreciate conveniences. I’ve always found it interesting that people are totally polarized on camping. They love it or hate it, and there’s no in between. ~James

  6. Spent last night at a Yukon Territory Campground on Teslin Lake. Nothing like the open road James and Terri where you wake up and decide where you will go for the day. Moving on, or not, enjoying the moment and the beauty of nature. Doesn’t get much more Zen. Enjoy. –Curt

    1. Amen brother. We aren’t in the Yukon, but are camping in the wilds of northern Ohio. But yesterday, we had a trip to town planned, but after morning coffee, we decided to hang around camp and just chill. As the Canadian folk group The Bills sing: “I had nowhere to be, and all day to get there.” ~James

      1. Curt, we’re in a state park about 50 miles SW of Cleveland, near a small town called Wellington. But we’re moving on today to Penn. We have a real problem finding campsites for weekends. The locals come out in force on weekends, and reserve most (and sometimes all) of the sites. And because we want to see our campsite before we set up, we don’t make reservations. It’s a problem we create for ourselves, but it also forces us to juggle our moves. I’m sure you and Peggy understand the campsite shuffle. ~James

      2. I love the fact that families get out and enjoy camping. It introduces kids to the out-of-doors and leaves lifetime memories. Eastern campgrounds in the summer can get quite zoo-ish, however. We prefer out outdoor experiences with more solitude, if possible. –Curt

  7. We love camping but feel the same way as we have begun to age. Once we dispense with the RV lifestyle we have discussed this very way to camp ourselves.

    1. It’s early days LuAnn, as we’ve only been camping in the new rig for about a week. But at this point, we absolutely love it. It’s rained on us couple of times, and we just sit inside as giddy as kids that we are “high and dry”. And this particular model is so light, that we can move it around by hand (covering backing screwups). We’ll keep you posted, but at this point we’re very happy campers. ~James

    1. Thanks Stephanie. We’ve been camping for almost a week now, and things are going great. One of the great things about sleeping in a popup instead of in a tent on the ground is that there are fewer “adventures”. But we’ll keep you posted.~James

  8. this is a fantastic post! the lure and pull of camping… oh i know it so well. to get back to nature and simplify. what a great adventure every time! thanks for sharing your beautiful photos!

    1. Liz, it’s funny about camping. People either love it or hate it. I’m convinced that it all goes back to your first experiences. If you have a few good experiences, it becomes a part of your life, if not, you never do it again. ~James

  9. Terrific post and images. Sadly India is still not conducive to camping, and campsites are practically nonexistent, at least in the South where we live. We have a friend who supplies camping gear to Germany, who has been trying to promote it, So perhaps someday… 🙂

    1. Many thanks Madhu! When we visited northeast India we inquired about camping, but it wasn’t available yet. However the people we spoke with were very enthusiastic about the possibility. It’s such a stunningly beautiful country, what an experience it would be to camp there … someday 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Thanks Jay. We just started week three of our camping trip, and it’s going great. We live in Georgia, so the northern weather is perfect for us. I’ll check out your blog as well. ~James

  10. That quote from Henry David Thoreau always makes me think of Dead Poet’s Society, one of my favourite films. I also love camping & miss freedom camping in Scotland: picking a spot on a map, hiking into the middle of nowhere and sticking up a tent.

    1. Fi, we didn’t camp when we lived in the UK, but we were really into “Rambles” along the countrywide rights-of-way. And there have to be millions of great freedom camping sites throughout the country. You have to backpack into national and state parks to find that sort of thing in the US. ~James

    1. Yes Laura, we still have the popup and love it. Just the other night we were camped next to tent campers, and we were dry and cozy as the rain started to pitter-patter on our canvas top, and the neighbors were scrambling to put there rain-fly on. 🙂 ~James

  11. Our experiences with camping are very similar. Every year it got more comfortable until we finally built a cottage on Georgian Bay. It was great spending the summers up there with the kids. Now that they are all grown up and I’m finally retired from teaching I’ve often thought about getting a small tent trailer and going back to the camping route to explore this great country of Canada.

    1. Carol, I guess that all tent campers arrive at the “comfort” conversation sooner or later. We decided that we’d rather make a few compromises and continue to camp rather than stopping altogether. But you’re not alone wanting a small, simple rig to camp in, and there really are lots of interesting, lightweight options these days. And BTW, we’ve done a bit of summer camping in Canada and it’s wonderful. ~James

  12. James and Terri – I see you’ve been using that wonderful contraption now a few years. I still love the tent camping, but Bruce would like some comfort, so we’ve been slowly looking at options. I love the lightness of your camper, and that you can move it by hand is wonderful. Have a great trip – Susan

    1. Susan, this camper really is the perfect solution for us. We didn’t want an enclosed, hardbody camper that required a large vehicle to tow, and we wanted it to be simple. We don’t need TVs, microwaves, etc – just a comfortable, dry place to sleep and get in out of the rain. And FYI, here’s a link to info for this specific unit. It might just convince Bruce. 🙂

      1. What fun! I think the ability to move it around by hand is one of the most convincing parts. When I look around our local campground and see what people are lugging around on the road, I have to laugh. Some of those units are bigger than our house 🙂

      2. Susan, don’t get me started on massive campers. The funniest (weirdest) I’ve seen was a couple sitting outside their huge highliner RV with a storage bay open watching their plasma TV. Luckily, we don’t need shore power, so we try to find campsites without electricity/water which culls out all these huge, power dependent folks. I also laugh when I see any unit labeled “Ultra-lite” which probably weighs 15,000 pounds. ~James

  13. “The travel bug started pleasantly nibbling at the backs of our necks”… what a great sentence. So now we know what bit us! Love the photographs of your camping exploits, especially the kayak and the perspective of the huge tree. But your cosy little mobile home is delightful. Why didn’t we think of that? Ah yes, we have no car. But, if we did, that looks like the perfect way to travel. No lodging to look for or pay for and a place to keep your stuff. Happy camping, happy travels.

    Peta & Ben

    1. Peta, we really couldn’t be happier with our popup. It really is no more than a tent, bed, and small bench seat on wheels. We can open it up to totally enjoy the outdoors, or totally close it up to protect us from the bugs and rain. We get lots of smiles and questions when we’re camped, and I’m an ambassador for the company. FYI, this company makes a smaller version you can tow with a motorcycle! 🙂 ~James

  14. Oh what a sweet little camper! I admit we have never been much on camping although have done several tenting adventures. It looks like you are set for many lovely escapes in your new rig. Enjoy!

    1. Sue, “little camper” is the operative phrase. We are still tent campers at heart, and this simple popup meets our needs perfectly. It’s so tiny that it gets lots of attention in the campground. And we get lots of “Oh it’s so cute and tiny” or “Hey, where’s the rest of your camper?” It’s pretty funny actually. ~James

      1. Haha it is really cute. Like the two of you, sleeping on the ground is not as fun as it used to be. On our kayaking trip last fall in Mexico Dave and I by the final days crawled out of the tent each morning encouraging our hips that they could make another day.

  15. Sounds wonderful to me, at 63 I am thinking of a roof top tent for my Subaru to get off the ground. Have some great adventures in your new home away from home

    1. Terry, we’ve been “off the ground” for a couple of years now and we couldn’t be happier. A tent camper enables us to enjoy the feel of tenting without the stress and strain of sleeping on the ground. I hope you find something. ~James

    1. Gilda, we love our little popup, and it has made such a huge difference in our comfort when we camp. It has the flexibility to be totally opened up so we still feel like we’re in a tent, and it can be totally closed up for cold and bad weather. It also gives us more peace of mind when we camp in bear country. 🙂 ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Christy and for dropping by the blog. I didn’t camp as a kid, but when I discovered it as a university student, it became a lifelong love. ~James

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