Michiganders Bill Parrott and Kelli Nina Perkins aren’t new to the idea of spending time on the road and camping in the great outdoors. Bill was a backpacker for years while Kelli’s childhood camping was more of the “glamping” kind.
“We brought all the comforts of home along with us—there was no ‘roughing it,’” she said. “Bill and my experiences could not have been any different. He went into the wilderness with nothing but a pack and his dogs, and I needed extension cords, blow-up beds, and electric frying pans—but I did draw the line at bringing a table lamp, a move that my mom was famous for!”
Enjoying the outdoors together
After they married in 2003, they decided that tent camping had some elements they just weren’t willing to put up with, such as, according to Kelli, “nights on the hard dirt and packing up during a rainstorm, then trying to dry out a tent in our living room.”
The couple saw their first TAB several years later while they were on a tenting trip. “It was unlike anything we’d ever seen,” recalled Kelli. “The shape was so iconic yet modern. They had the cute little awning room attached, and it seemed really innovative. It was something to aspire to, but we thought of ourselves as tent campers, and so we left it on the ‘maybe someday’ list.”
But eventually, they made the change, trading in their tent for a TAG XL Max in 2016.
“We never looked back!” Kelli said. “We took it all over the U.S., from Yellowstone to the Florida Keys and even Niagara Falls, Canada! It was everything we needed at the time, and we could park it anywhere.”
But while they loved their little teardrop — “We still kind of miss it,” said Kelli — the desire for the convenience of having an inside bathroom pushed them to upgrade to the TAB 320 Outback in 2018.
“It was everything we’d hoped,” said Kelli, adding that they added UFO-themed window covers to make it their own. “We traveled around the coastlines of the Great Lakes and loved the sunrises and sunsets from the big camper windows.”
While the couple was enjoying the views on the road, they found they were also part of the attraction each time they stopped at a campsite. “You kind of become a B-list celebrity when you’re towing a TAB. Everywhere we went, people stopped to ask about it,” laughed Kelli, adding, “Don’t plan to unhook when you get to a campground because people will be over and asking for a tour.”
Transitioning to Truck Camper Life
The Cirrus Truck Camper was the next logical step, given their desire to continue their downsizing approach to life. “We have been following an increasingly minimalist philosophy over the last few years, selling most of our stuff and downsizing from a house to a tiny condo,” said Kelli. “But we still held on to those things we thought made us special until we read Goodbye Things: the new Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki. The spirit of a truck camper felt in tune with our values. It forces us to be intentional about what we own, allows us to go almost anywhere and find a parking space when we get there!”
Having the truck camper meant that, if they saw an unexpected roadside oddity or attraction, they could pull over and check it out without worrying about finding a parking space or unhooking the trailer.
“We are all about the traveling and seeing new things, so it was important for us to be able to stop and delight in new experiences at a moment’s notice,” said Kelli. “No more missing out on those little surprises along the way! And we are perfectly comfortable taking the side roads too! We’ve boondocked all over the southwest, and it’s as easy as driving the truck out a forest road and stopping for the night.”
One challenge Kelli faced involved her art supplies. A mixed-media artist, she had already transitioned from a large art studio to a very limited set of drawers at their tiny condo. So, she said, “When we were choosing what to bring and what to let go, I was stressing about all of my art supplies since there wasn’t enough space in the Cirrus.”
Struggling with the decision, Kelli recalled the advice she received from a friend to let it go so she could embrace whatever she found ahead of her. “So I gave it all away and brought nothing but a sketchbook, a watercolor palette, and some pencils. This has been integral to how Bill and I have decided to live our lives and especially to life on the road. We don’t know whether we’re nomads or snowbirds or something else. We’re just letting it play out. And our Cirrus has been a great foundation for this part of the adventure.”
While their choice of a camper may have changed over the years, they do have a tradition they adhere to. “We start our obligatory state map over with each camper, so our first six months traveling full-time in the Cirrus has only netted us 14 states,” explained Kelli. “Since we’re from Michigan, we have a soft spot for the beauty of the Great Lakes coastlines. Anyone who has not been to Michigan really has to experience it. There are pristine beaches, tremendous sand dunes, dense forests, and even mountains. And then the waterfalls (over 200) and the raw beauty of the Upper Peninsula—which famously gets left off maps all the time, probably because you have to go over the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge to get to it!”
Moving to Full-Time RV Living
Once they retired in September 2020 and started their full-time journey, the couple headed to Arizona. “The peacefulness of the desert captured our imagination as no other place has done. We’ve been exploring here for most of the winter and there is still so much to see,” said Kelli.
She ticked off some of the more memorable spots they visited. “An Arizona highlight was Chiricahua with its balancing rocks. The hikes are breathtaking and it has a magical, movie-like quality—almost surreal. Another favorite that we hope to return to is the town of Bisbee. Right outside the town, there is a little place frozen in time. Lowell has vintage cars parked on the streets in front of old storefronts. You are instantly transported to the sixties. We had the place to ourselves, except for two old dogs sporting bandanas who seemed to be the welcoming committee. We just soaked up the experience.”
But while road-tripping with a truck camper may sound idyllic, it still involves a fair division of labor and plenty of compromises, said Kelli. “We each have our own self-assigned duties, which are fairly typical. I handle the inside work while Bill takes care of the outside. We can each focus on the things we enjoy, which are cooking and route planning for one of us and maintaining the truck and camper systems for the other of us.”
As for getting along when you’re sharing a small space 24×7, Kelli said, “The key is to try and be pleasant companions and compromise. Our tiny condo is just 470 square feet, so this is just a little tighter quarters, but we are used to being a small space together. We both need alone time, but you can accomplish that even if you’re in the same space. And if it’s not working, one of you can go outside!”
They also spend a good amount of time adding to their camper knowledge, said Kelli. “We both come from careers which involved a lot of research—I was a librarian and Bill a programmer-analyst—so we tend to invest a lot of time into what interests us, including our campers and vehicles. We learn from YouTube, forums, and the Internet in general. That includes the hours and hours of research we put in before we even purchased our Cirrus! We literally had spreadsheets. Bill is naturally adept at understanding how systems work, and that’s been invaluable. He installed our rooftop solar system and it’s been fantastic! We could boondock forever and not need electricity!”
The couple shares their above-average camper knowledge to the others who are taking to the road. by contributing to the nuCamp forums and Facebook. The couple also makes videos and brief tutorials for their YouTube channel with some how-tos planned for the future.
Right now, the couple is headed for the Grand Canyon, with plans to follow a checklist tour of National Parks across California and Utah before heading up the coast to Washington.
“The beauty of being on the road full-time is that we can get to the places that were too far to reach in a week of vacation,” said Kelli. “We aren’t taking it for granted and are trying to make the most of this time. We’ll head to Michigan to see our excellent kids this summer, then generally plan to head up to New England, down the coast to Florida, and back to Arizona by the winter. Traveling this way is entirely different than when we were working. We can take our time and see so much more. There is just endless beauty and a host of interesting things you never see if you are only taking a destination vacation. We have no end in mind. We have directions we’re heading and we are ready for any detours that show up unexpectedly along the way. It’s truly magic.”
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