Monday, August 17, 2015

Camping Out Mermaid Style

Camping Out Mermaid Style
Oh this could be a good one! I love to camp. LOVE it. It's one of the best aspects of traveling to craft shows in my opinion. I am talking here about camper-less camping, aka 'car camping' or 'dry camping'. Took me a few years to make it as comfy as possible, adding and changing things bit by bit. Now that I have it nailed, I can go anywhere. In fact, it was preparing for my big Mermaid Tour 2010 that really got my digs styled out, and that 5000 miles provided some amazing camping opportunities for sure. Here are some of the main aspects of camping and how I do them. 

I mention a bit about where and how to camp in my Taking Your Show on the Road post. Here I will get more into detail. So I guess the act of camping basically involves 3 areas... Sleeping, Eating, and Bathing

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting good sleep while doing shows. Make your bed as cozy as possible. My basic sleep gear consists of a good foam pad, sleeping bag, a real pillow and an extra blanket

The foam pad is hugely important. I started with an air mattress (obviously it takes up less room) but by morning I was always suffering on a cold hard surface. They just don't stay full and they're kind of a pain to fill up. My first sleep pad was made of the thick green foam you get at Joanns, which I covered in fabric. Super cush, but a little narrow and difficult to fold or roll up. Now I use the ones you can get at Costco that fold into thirds. They're still comfy, but wider to lay on and easier to stack in the van. *Update: Just got an additional memory foam topper, more comfier!

Having a warm enough bag is big too, those chilly spring/fall mornings can kill a good night's sleep. It should be warm enough for the coldest possible temps you will see. Mine is rated for 30 degrees. I like my thick cotton bag over those puffy backpacker ones. It's just more cushy comfy cozy to me, and makes an extra pad if the weather is hot.

Don't skimp on the pillow. I keep a quality camping-only pillow and my extra blanket in a big drawstring bag. The blanket is handy for cold or warm weather. For those extra crisp mornings, I also keep a soft warm beenie in there. Makes a huge difference.

Oh and while you're at it, invest in earplugs. Buy a bunch and stash them everywhere. Seriously, they can be a real sleep saver. 

Whenever I vend at a craft show, I prefer to bring my own food. It's just healthier and easier. When I travel, my food plan doesn't change much, unless I'll be camping in a place where I can cook. I think the best part of paying for a real campsite is the fire! Otherwise, any grocery deli section has lots of options, hot and cold. I try to take advantage of all the great summer farm stands out there. I will eat a meal in a restaurant occasionally if visiting a friend, or if I had a really good day of sales. But mostly I'm good with the grocery store.

I have a Kitchen Box of dry goods and cook gear that I keep between my front seats all the time. I've become used to having it as a driving table, but also you never know when you will need to make your own coffee. Seriously. It's important. I can't tell you how much my show and travel experience improved once I realized how easy it is to keep coffee making stuff with me at all times.

In my Kitchen Box I have:

One burner stove & fuel - french press - coffee grounds
Matches - stove lighter - fire starter bricks - sm citronella candles
Set of 3 nesting camp pots/pans - long bbq fork
Instant oatmeal - tea bags - extra utensils
Ceramic and plastic cups - can/bottle opener
Aluminum foil - sm & lg zip bags 
Paper towels - toilet paper

Okay, now we get to the nitty gritty of dry camping. Bathing and toileting are big issues when on the road. Your craft show camping situation can be so varied, you have to be prepared for everything. The toughest camping situation is when you have to hide out and be invisible in the middle of a busy city. The easiest being a paid campground spot with showers and toilets. And lots of situations in between

I am ready for anything with these items:

Washing Water - I keep a 2.5 gal water bottle (with spout) in the van at all times, specifically for washing. I always carry soap, wash cloth, and towel. So anywhere I am, I can at least wash my face and freshen up. I've gotten very skilled at the sponge bath. I can also rinse my hair with it, which helps between washes and is also the quickest way to cool off in the heat.
Solar Shower - Only for a real campsite, it's a little tricky to hang up but freaking awesome for long trips. I will use it when camping between shows, so I can set up my booth canopy and hang the shower high enough to work well. *Update: Got a pump shower that can be used without hanging, awesome!
Popup  Shower Tent - A sweet little closet size tent that just pops up on it's own, fits my shower and/or potty inside.
Personal Porta Potty - Okay, now we're getting serious... a little gross maybe, but by far the most valuable item in my camping supplies. Especially when camping in the city, where public bathrooms may be scarce. Or for camping in more primitive campgrounds, which I prefer. I use the Luggable Loo, simply a plastic toilet seat that snaps onto a 5 gal bucket. I line it with thick black leaf bags and add kitty litter. That's it! Add more litter after each use, and empty it every day. I wouldn't leave home without it. 

My, I do go on. I guess I am just excited to share my little bit of knowledge of how to make your selling travels more enjoyable. I personally love that my work can be half vacation... and 100% fun. 

Take Your Show on the Road

Take Your Show on the Road

So maybe you've been doing your local craft shows for a bit, and are feeling it's time to look beyond the horizon for more selling opportunities. You will have a few things to consider when deciding whether you want to head out of town:

- How much will it cost in gas, lodging, food and travel time?
- How far are you willing to go? 
- Where will you stay? 
- Will you need a helper?
- Will you need time off from your day job?
- Considering all these factors, will it be worth it?

 Should I Stay, Should I Go
 Personally, I have always looked forward to the travel part of this job. For me it was never a question IF I would travel, just HOW I could do it in a way that worked well for me. Generally I'd say that if you want to make any kind of living, you have to sell regularly. If you have other selling venues like a web store, studio, galleries, wholesale, or plenty of local shows... you might not need to travel. Most vendors I know try to do as many shows as possible. If you live where you can get to many shows without traveling very far, that is wonderful. Ultimately, you must weigh your own factors and desires and then decide what you want to do. I figure, as long as I don't lose money... I am making more traveling than I am staying at home. It's possible you have a good business flowing through your studio, and might decide you'd fair better staying home and creating work.

The Big Question
I think the biggest question when deciding to hit the road is where you will stay. There are basically 3 options: stay in a hotel, stay with friends, or camp out.

Stay in a Hotel
This seems like the most obvious choice, I suppose. It's easy, it's comfy, and showers kind of rule. However, it's also the most expensive option. Depending on how much money you expect to make, and the summer rates for the location, it can take a good chunk of your earnings.  Of course, lots of folks do it. And especially if you have health or body issues, or if you are in the middle of a big city, this will be the only choice. In that case, I'd say choose your shows very wisely. Make sure you can cover all of your expenses easily. 

To offset the cost of a hotel, you may choose to buy all your food at the grocery store. Take advantage of that little fridge and microwave, that's what I do. Some people find another vendor to share a room with, not a bad way to go especially in the city where things can get spendy. There are also discount programs with some of the big hotel chains. And lately the big thing seems to be, and similar sites with private residences for rent. If you have children or can room with other people, this can be a great bargain.

When deciding whether I'll get a room or not, I also consider any recent shows that may have had big returns and no travel costs... then in my mind I will average the two. For example, this week's out of town show isn't really big, but for logistical reasons it makes sense to get a hotel room. Since I did that huge $$ show last weekend that was in my home town, I can justify getting a hotel for the dinky show.

Stay with Friends
Oh so nice option if you are headed to a town where friends reside. You can stay for free, have a lovely evening visiting, and maybe even snag a helper for the day. For me this is even easier since my van becomes a self contained camper, they don't need to have a spare room. I actually like it better in my van because it's private, comfy, and I don't have to worry about being woken up by running cats or early morning activities.

When I travel for shows, I prefer to camp out whenever possible. It took me a few years of trial and error to figure out how to camp comfortably in my van, but now I have it down pat (details for a future post). It's cheap, portable, cozy, and often very close to the show. So the next question would be where can you camp out?

    - Overnight Parking at the Show - I think the best situation is when the event provides an area for overnight parking. It's not uncommon for vendors to travel, so this is often available. It will be close to the show, usually with porta potties or indoor bathroom access provided. Sometimes tent camping is also allowed, depending on the location.
    - Squatting - Aka Boondocking. If no parking is provided, you can usually park on the street or in a nearby parking lot overnight. Many cities have laws against camping, but police will usually let it slide due to the festival being in town. Just be as invisible as possible if you choose this option. I have done it many times with no hassles whatsoever. Most casinos and Walmarts allow overnight parking as well, but might not be as close to the venue.
   - Campground - Of course a very lovely way of camping, especially if you do not have a vehicle you can sleep in, is to rent a campsite at a real campground. This is not always available or close to the venue, but if it is... oh it is nice! Showers, campfires, morning coffee with a pretty view. Heaven.

I'll create a separate post about the details of my camping setup... meanwhile, don't let the questions keep you from exploring out of town craft fairs. As with most of the craft show life, there will be tests and changes after each event. Enjoy the adventure!