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We spent yesterday getting the camper ready for our first big trip at the end of the week.

On Saturday we faced they dreary drizzle and cold to go do some shopping at Camping World, and then followed up by stopping by Walmart. You can get a surprising amount of very useful items for camper modification at Walmart—it's kind of an eye opener, and a 'mental note' for the zombie apocalypse.

We spent a few hundred bucks on odds and ends, all told, which at first made us cringe a bit. But it was worth it as we opened up the camper yesterday (a gorgeous, sunny day in the mid-50s) and started putting things together.

One thing is certain—Velcro is our friend. We spent a very large chunk of time attaching bits of Velcro to the inside of the camper, so we could later attach any items we'll need while at a campsite. It was all very strategic, and we thought through all sorts of permeations and justifications before applying each little tacky-backed square.

We also utilized the crap out of a few dozen little plastic bins and drawers we picked up from Walmart. We filled every cabinet, drawer, and open space of that camper with anything that could be used to store what we need while traveling. It was kind of impressive.

And also kind of revealing—the things we put in place aren't really 'revolutionary.' They're kind of 'no-brainer.' And though I know everyone is different, and everyone wants to be hand on in their mods, it seems to me that Aliner and any other camper manufacturer would at least put a few small organizational points in these things. 

Then again ... that is part of the fun of this. 

One of the additions we made involved a modification to the bed, and it remains to be seen if it's going to work as hoped. I think that it will, because it was pretty simple and basic, as mods go. But there's plenty of room for it to turn out wonky.

The bed in the A-frame is meant to sleep two people laying with their bodies oriented from side to side. This means that one person is sleeping in the narrow channel at the bottom of the A, a fairly tight space, without much headroom, never mind body room.

In addition to practically wearing the camper at this point, the person sleeping in that space has to climb over the other person to get out of bed. Problematic for anyone who needs to use the restroom in the middle of the night (say, a wife with a bladder the size of a walnut), or anyone who wants to get up earlier than the other (say, a handsome author who does his best work while everyone else is still snoring). 

The bed is essentially a converted couch. There's a support board that slides out to form one side of the bed, and this butts up against the two seats—small benches with a gap between for the fold-out table.

We had the thought that if we were to lay with our heads in the narrow area at the base of the A, we could both fit on the bed as if it was a King-ish sized mattress. It's actually pretty close, at 71" long, and 76.5" wide.

When we first tested the camper out, we used the seats as a place for our feet. But there was a problem. On the side of the camper opposite the door, the space gets cut short a bit because of the cabinetry for the refrigerator, stove, furnace, etc. So one side is a comfortable stretch, while the other is a little cramped.

We've solved this by putting a board across the space that would normally just be a gap between the bench seats. We put the seat cushions down to create more bed space, and now we have room to stretch for both sides.

In addition, we bought a 4-inch-thick memory foam mattress topper. This king-sized monstrosity weighs a ton, and I'm not at all certain how we're going to be able to roll it up later. But it should make for a very comfy place to sleep, at least.

So now we have a king-sized bed, maximized for comfort. We still have our sleeping bags, but plan to use those as comforters more than anything. And we'll take our pillows with us, at least for this first trip.

I'm kind of looking forward to that first night's sleep on the new mattress.

Other modifications included using the aforementioned Velcro to attach a tap light over the shower, which will come in handy for night-time visits to the toilet. It's a softer light than the built-in LED overhead in the kitchen, so it shouldn't bother anyone who is still sleeping. The only thing we have to remember is to take it off when we're putting the camper back down. Otherwise it ends its life as shards of cheap plastic crushed by the folds of our Aliner. 

We also swapped out the shower curtain. The one we were given by the RV dealer was horrible—a light and thin plastic nightmare that would instantly cling to a wet body that was just trying to soap up and rinse off. We went for a very nice, slightly heavier curtain that was plastic lined on the inside but cloth lined outside. It drapes well, and it's weight should keep it from clinging to us.

We had decided to replace the bulky plastic rings the RV dealer gave us and instead use small S-hooks to hold the curtain on the wire frame of the shower, since they could be easily removed when we were ready to strike camp. The problem was they really were easily removed. Even just standing in the shower to get the curtain set up was enough motion to bring them down.

Our solution to this will be mini carabiners. They're perfect, actually. If we get them small enough they won't add much weight, but the fact that they make a closed loop means they won't just pop off of the wire frame, and we can still quickly remove them when we're packing up.

I have put small levels on the camper at key points outside, to help me get set up at the campsite. I also got a second propane tank and a strap to hold it in place. It isn't pretty ... And I'll have to replace it with something better soon. I'll also replace the regulator with one that can automatically switch between two tanks. For now, though, we at least have that second tank if we need it, and it's not that much trouble to switch the hose over.

We did a few mods in the truck as well.

I got one of those telescoping clothes rods that hangs across the space in the back of the truck's cab. We'll put a few hanging clothes, jackets, etc. on this. But the really cool idea was to get a couple of hanging shoe holders—the ones that have square spaces made of canvas, for shoving shoes or anything else you have inside. They make canvas drawers that fit these, so we bought a couple of sets. And bam—instant "dresser." We can put our shoes in the bottom gaps (we're each bringing a spare pair), and in the drawers we can put socks, underwear, toiletries, or what have you. I'm orienting the drawers so they face the back glass of the cab, to prevent anything from flying forward in the event of a short stop. This also butts them up against the fold-up seats, helping to keep things from sliding out as we travel.

In the front cab of the truck, we picked up an iPad holder that has a long neck and an expanding base so you can wedge it into a cup holder. We're using Kara's old iPad mini (first generation) as everything from entertainment to navigation, and that mounts nicely in the holder, accessible for either of us.

My iPhone uses a magnetic mount, and I recently traded up from the suction cup mount I was using on my windshield to one that clips onto my AC vent. This has the advantage of putting it closer to my reach, if I'm using it for navigation or for playing audiobooks or music or whatever. When it's just me in the truck, that's the setup. The iPad stays in our travel kit. But when the two of us are in there, it's just a handy place to keep the phone safe and out of the way, and constantly on charge.

Speaking of charging—I have a dual USB adapter for the power port, and two coiled lightning cables. One is dedicated to my phone, and the other to the iPad, or to Kara's phone in a pinch.

There are four power ports in the truck, and I plan to utilize all of them in one way or another. We're taking our 12vDC cooler with us to keep snacks and drinks cold as we drive, so that's one. Another has an adapter for sending a Bluetooth signal to the AUX port on my stereo (it's slightly old school). And that leaves one extra port. I have a small inverter plugged into that one at the moment, but I'm thinking of just plugging in another USB adapter for additional phone and iPad charging. The inverter is a 20-year-old holdover from a time when "charging on the go" meant finding 120vAC. These days, everything plugs into a USB port, right?

That's pretty much it for the mods, for now. I'm positive we'll make more later, as we get into this thing for longer than a weekend, and see what's what.

We'll load up with food and water just before we leave, and make adjustments to anything as we make this first big trip. Walmart will be our friend.

We're excited about this first trip, and ready to get to it. I've already worked out what I'm taking, as far as clothing and equipment goes. Unlike trips we've taken in the past, this one is going to be fairly "light" on tech, despite the fact that it's longer and takes us to more places. Thanks to iPhones, and iPads, I no longer need to carry a separate camera or video camera or even a laptop. I'm writing from the iPad more and more these days, and the iPhone does a great job of photos and video. And all of it gets automagically uploaded to the cloud. It's kind of silly to think of taking anything else.

And this lightens the "mental" load for me as well. Fewer bits of electronics means fewer bits of electronic accessories. I could carry a single lightning cable, if I wanted, and have a way to charge everything I'm brining. I don't have to bring additional power supplies, data cables, or proprietary anything. I carry most of my equipment in my hip pocket.

That's heaven.

We'll see how this work so out, what I regret leaving behind, and what I think could be done better next time. But for now, I'm feeling good about where we are with this, and I think we're going to have the trip of a lifetime.

It's a very good start.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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