Baja attracts a wide variety of personalities: Corporate life escapees in RVs, 4x4s, truck trailers, or expensive dual-sport motorcycles. Off-road racers with million-dollar machines. Millennials hauling backpacks or pedaling fat-tired bicycles. Tour groups buzzing across the landscape on dirt bikes. Retirees parked under a palapa with kayaks and cribbage tables. Surfers in vans. Sailors, fishers, and a subset of accidental adventurers forced south of the border by economic stress. In Baja they find peace and quiet exploration, a relief from the stresses of boondocking in US parks and stealth parking in cities.
Baja is a great equalizer, its back-to-basics lifestyle creating an easy camaraderie among all. This post is about the intersection of these groups, with event and book information to share about travel and life in Baja.
This year, Jonathan and I introduced Baja to travelers at Overland Expo West in Arizona (May), Horizons Unlimited in California (September), and Overland Expo East in North Carolina (October). As you’ll see further down in the post, I will add another, experimental, event to my schedule.
In North Carolina, Baja seems a far away, exotic location. Our presentation elicited oohs and aahs as desert landscapes and seascapes flitted across the big screen. It’s a big contrast to the Caribbean, so easily accessed from this coast.
Overland Expo organizes two big meetings a year, one in Arizona (12,000 attending in 2017) and the other in North Carolina (6,000 attending). The event attracts a solvent-to-affluent crowd of travelers and would-be travelers in search of equipment and inspiration. There are hundreds of exhibitors selling everything from camping gear to inflatable kayaks, motorcycle panniers to innovative custom trailers. An Overland Experience ticket gets you skills from tying knots to first aid to welding with car batteries.
Horizons Unlimited is a world-wide motorcycle and overland travel organization that aims to inspire people to venture out of their comfort zone, to inform and thereby reduce the fear of the unknown, and to connect folks with kindred spirits who can share experiences and keep the dream alive between trips. A few hundred kindred spirits come together for about 25 meetings in 15 countries for intimate backyard meetings, big meetings (the UK attracts 700), and 150-350 travelers at most meetings. There are few, if any, exhibitors at all but the largest gatherings.
For many at these events, Baja figures as a stress-free, luxury vacation in advance of maneuvering Central and South America. Many travelers race through Baja, intent on Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Some, bound by homes and jobs, by children or aging parents, dip into the state once or many times. The Cross Border Xpress, Calafia Airlines, and cheap storage units for vehicles make it possible to quickly fly, explore, repeat.
Every single time we present Baja at events the subject turns to giving up the Great American Lifestyle and traveling full-time. To working from the road or collecting social security and staying put on a quiet beach. It’s a nice dream, and an even nicer reality, for some, which brings me to my first book recommendation.
This month, through a thought-provoking book that I recommend to everyone I know, I became aware of a population of geriatric migrant workers who live in their vehicles. They supplement social security payments with seasonal work in Amazon warehouses, the sugar-beet harvest, as camp hosts in parks. Some of them—the more fortunate among them—continue into Baja to enjoy a beachside winter in the Baja sunshine instead of heading to a seasonal job.
In Nomadland: Surviving American in the Twenty-First Century, author Jessica Bruder follows the life of a growing segment of Americans financially devastated by some combination of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, medical debt, divorce, and ageism in hiring. They bounced from couch to couch until, wary of burdening family and friends, moved into RVs, vans, and even cars.
Some of these homeless overlap with those who are houseless by choice and have shifted to the houseless mindset. It’s a fascinating concept that resonates with the eponymous hobo in me. They, as I and many of my traveling friends have done, boondock near parklands and stealth park in cities. Like us, they gather together for an annual event commune with their tribe. While we gather at Horizons Unlimited and Overland Expo, vehicle-specific shows and rallies, they gather for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in Quartzsite, Arizona. After our events, we’re all off again. Us to our houses or continuing travels, and this group to workamp and boondock.
The next RTR is the week of January 11-21, 2018. It was started by Bob Wells in 2010, a longtime “VanDweller” who made a conscious decision to trade material possessions for the freedom of vagabonding or “houselessness.” In Without Bound – Perspectives on Mobile Living, filmmaker Michael Tubbs interviews Wells and others who choose to live in vehicles rather than traditional dwellings.
On his website, Bob posts a schedule of RTR seminars covering basic subjects of interest to VanDwellers. A lot of this information is similar to those covered at Horizons and Overland and very useful to travelers headed to Baja.
The RTR happens the week before a million people descend upon Quartzsite, Arizona for the rock, gem, and mineral shows, flea markets and the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show.
Billed as the largest gathering of RVers in the world, the show, dubbed “The Big Tent,” began over 40 years ago. The next event is January 20-28, 2018.
After the RTR, some of Well’s clan carpool to Baja at Los Algodones for dental work, eyeglass prescriptions, muscle relaxants, or other medical needs. In my opinion, this is an excellent idea for any Baja visitor looking to save on dental and optometry. (Don’t be nervous! I get my dental work done in Tijuana, as do many San Diegans, at $25 for a routine cleaning and greatly reduced prices for complicated surgeries. The staff is less rushed and more attentive, the offices bright and clean. In fact, my experiences have been better than those in the US.)
Like Horizons Unlimited and Overland Expo the RTR provides education (hands-on and instructional), creates community, and fosters lasting friendships. I’d like to go check it out, along with the shows in Quartzsite. (Maybe you’ve been to these shows or the RTR. If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.)
I expect to be overwhelmed but inspired. After all, I may become like many winter Baja residents who live and travel in an RV in the US summers. Is it just me, or does it seem to you that people are doing this kind of thing a lot more often these days?
This year, two couples I know have given up their homes in the states to move into RVs. One couple (millennials) has a toddler and a baby. The other couple (boomers), a home in Baja. Both run their businesses from the Internet.
Bruder’s Nomadland inspired so much thought and so much introspection. Both a “there for the grace of God go I” shudder and a recognition of the resiliency of humans and confidence that there is a place for all of us. I think that Baja is one of those places… a sanctuary of peace or adventure for travelers across the economic spectrum.
What do you think?
I’ve included a documentary, a how-to, and a fun experiential video in this set of recommendations, which will suck down a few hours of your life (in the most positive way). Warning! Once you start exploring the links in this post and on the other sites I’ve linked to, you may find yourself with enough material to while away a week. Consider it necessary research.
Without Bound – Perspectives on Mobile Living, filmmaker Michael Tubbs interviews Bob Wells and others who choose to live in vehicles rather than traditional dwellings. (50 mins)
RV Boondocking Guide–Getting Off Grid and into Wild Camping: Chris and Cherie of Technomadia.com talk about the basics of RV boondocking – from what it is, how to find wild camping locations, managing your resources – fresh water, holding tanks, generating power and a bit of boondocking etiquette. (55 mins)
Free Camping and Trouble in Baja, California In this episode of the Baja Diaries by Kombi Life, a group of digital nomads in a VW Bus Van find off-grid camping, fish, and friends. Featuring Hasta Alaska, the world’s most adventurous dog. (22 mins)
I’ve got so many books on Baja, already. How about you? Recommendations welcome, just use the comments box at the end of this post.
Nomadland: Surviving American in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book!
Baja Moon Handbook by Discover Baja’s Jennifer Kramer was released earlier this year and is the most up-to-date guide you can buy. Find this and many other great Baja books on the Discover Baja books page. I have them all! (Call them and they’ll send you a bundle.)
RV Living: An Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the Full-Time RV Life – 111 Exclusive Tips and Tricks for Motorhome Living, including Boondocking, Patricia Murray
Secrets of RVing on Social Security: How to Enjoy the Motorhome and RV Lifestyle while Living on Your Social Security Income, Jerry Minchey
How to Live in a Car, Van or RV—And Get Out of Debt, Travel, and Find True Freedom, Robert Wells
Travelers Guide to Camping Mexico’s Baja: Explore Baja and Puerto Penasco with Your RV or Tent, Mike and Terri Church