On their Instagram page, Ivan and Nicole Acquirre refer to themselves as “former city slickers turned impromptu nomads” and the description is certainly apt. Once upon a time, the couple were apartment dwellers in Miami, but in October 2020, they totally shifted gears and decided to be full-time campers.
But making the decision to do it and getting all their ducks (meaning a camper and tow vehicle) in a row are two different things. But in true “leap and the net will appear” fashion, the couple began their journey full of hope and optimism and with a pair of plane tickets in hand.
Starting a new adventure
As Ivan explained, “We hopped on a one-way flight from Miami, Florida to Ontario, Oregon to buy a too-good-to-be-true Jeep Wrangler since we didn’t have any capable tow vehicle at the time. From there, the search continued for the perfect teardrop travel trailer.”
Not that going full-time was an entirely spur-of-the-moment decision. Their original plan was to start out west and visit some of the national parks and parts of the country on their way back to Florida.
“But, as we started to get our bearings and have some amazing adventures in the Southwest, ‘back by the holidays’ became ‘in another few months,’” said Ivan. “As we looked at how the new year was trending, we turned to each other and said, ‘So should we just commit to being on the road for all of 2021?’”
Now they are more than a year into their adventure, and thus far, have logged 30,000 miles and visited 29 national parks. And while they are full-timers, they still have, on occasion, parked their TAG and tow vehicle to fly home for family events such as birthdays, weddings, quinceñeras, and holidays. Although Ivan noted that it’s not always easy in a TAG, he added, “We can confidently say it feels ‘strange’ when we’re not on the road.”
Getting accustomed to a new lifestyle
So how did they convert from being bricks-and-mortar people to full-time travelers?
The transition was greater for Nicole, since she was, as Ivan put it, a complete rookie. Ivan had done some overnight tent-camping as part of BikeMS 150 and similar events, but for Nicole, it was a brand-new experience. It wasn’t until a few of their friends proposed a camping trip in August 2020 when parks and outdoor spaces began to open back up, that Nicole got her feet wet, so to speak.
Nicole loved the experience so much that Ivan started planting the seeds of “what if” and playing RV-related videos on YouTube in the background.
Once the decision was made, it was just a matter of finding the right “home” and vehicle to tow it with. Luckily, Ivan was accustomed to living out of a carry-on, since — prior to the pandemic — he traveled to client sites almost every week for up to four days at a time.
Preparing for life on the road
In 2020, they had a chance to road-test living together in a small space, said Nicole.
“When we were in the initial phases of lockdown early 2020, we both had to now spend 24/7 with each other in a small 500-square-foot high-rise apartment,” said Nicole. “We learned that we actually enjoyed spending time together in close quarters. That was the best green light and preparation we could have had.”
To further educate themselves, they binge-watched YouTube videos for a month before heading out, learning the finer points of towing a trailer, how to camp, and everything else camper-related in between.
“Jenn Grover, a nuCamp ambassador, has some of the best TAB-related content online,” Nicole said, “and we got the chance to share with her in person how instrumental she was in our preparation and learning. But it’s still important to be 100% comfortable with your travel partners, have open communication, and set clear boundaries and expectations.”
Part of the latter was related to their travel plans, since the two weren’t the “full vagabond” type, noted Ivan.
Visiting National Parks
“We had to find something to ground our adventure and give us a sense of purpose,” Ivan said. “For us, that was our beautiful National Parks System and the desire to see all of them and as many as possible with our TAG.”
“Because we’re always on the road and things do come up, our itinerary isn’t as prescriptive as some RV’ers who primarily ‘vacation’ with their teardrops and plan trips a year or more in advance. Our schedules are driven by campground availability, proximity to beautiful sites, and at times running away from inclement weather. Early on the trip, Nicole scooped up some highly coveted nights at Zion’s Watchmen campground that had been canceled and we routed our next few weeks around that!”
Both Nicole and Ivan continue to work full-time while traveling. Nicole works as a research assistant with a major university with previous experience as a project coordinator / UX lead for a startup in the mental health space. Ivan works as a technologist and management consultant for a Big4 professional services company. Because of this. they prefer staying at campgrounds and National Park sites.
“The advantage of the National Park locations is that they place you right in the middle of the action while often not being extremely remote — think cell service and groceries,” Ivan said.
“It’s also easier for anyone getting into camping to have neighbors nearby if you need a jumpstart for your Jeep (this just happened in Big Sur State Park) or a camp host and rangers for safety,” he continued. “We also heavily rely on the infrastructure of a campground since we have a TAG and unpack it onto picnic tables and the surrounding area as well as relying on restroom and shower facilities. We have boondocked in Carlsbad, and similar locations, at established dispersed camping locations and it’s been absolutely lovely as well. We’re sure there will be more of that in our next seasons.”
Hindsight is 20/20
They also had a few “Wish we would have known that before!” moments, such as the booking status for sites at major parks and campgrounds.
“We thought you had to have major parks and campgrounds planned and booked months or years in advanced, so when we saw our first set of ‘sold out,’ we thought we were completely out of luck,” recalled Nicole.
But they realized afterward that while this could be true during peak times such as summer or for a very small subset of locations (e.g., the Florida Keys in winter), most of the time persistence pays off, she noted. “Keep refreshing the site and inevitably you’ll find last-minute cancellations. Just stay optimistic and flexible!”
“We wish we would have known how friendly and supportive the vast majority of the camping/RVing community is as that would have given us some more initial confidence,” added Ivan. “Looking back, we would have liked to have done this sooner, but in all honesty, given the state of affairs in the world, the lack of RV inventory (even to this day), apartment lease agreements, weather, work situations, etc. we feel as if there wasn’t much we could have done differently in our case.”
Making the TAG Their Own
Like most campers, the urge to renovate their home-on-wheels was always there.
After purchasing their secondhand TAG SE XL Boondock, the first task they undertook was getting it road-ready, which included removing the hot water heater to make room for Nicole’s favorite: an air fryer. Then came Renovation—Phase 2 that they did in 2021.
“We completely rebuilt and redesigned the galley, adding a backsplash, industrial pipe shelf, authentic butcher block countertop, vessel sink, drop leaf extension, and LED color-changing lighting,” said Ivan.
“On the inside, we rebuilt the underbed storage with 2×4’s and thicker plywood, built his-and-hers custom nightstands with storage on either side, and replaced the two twin mattresses with modular cushions that we hand-cut and sewed covers for from a king-size memory foam mattress.”
“We couldn’t be more comfortable now, but we’re always thinking about what’s next, like a travel projector to watch Jeopardy on,” Ivan said.
Follow Their Journey
Speaking of what’s next, while Ivan and Nicole have been keeping up their Instagram page (instagram.com/droptopteardrop) with images from their travels, as well as communicating via Facebook with a lot of community members, they also have plans to have a website/blog (droptopteardrop.com) up and running before the end of the year and also posting a few videos on their YouTube channel in early 2022.
As for their 2022 travel plans, Ivan said they’ll be spending most of the winter in the Southwest again. “We’ll also be trying to visit some new ski resorts that are off the beaten path. Our goal is to make it to Alaska for the summer now that the borders are re-opened and we keep getting closer to visiting all 63 National Parks!”