Teresa Coates’ RV in front of the sunset. She started travel-teaching about a year into the pandemic, when vaccinations were ramping up and store owners and students were hungry for in-person classes.
On the road again is more than just a Willie Nelson song for makers who live, teach, and run a business while traveling in RVs and campers.
Their wanderlust reasons are as varied as their art.
Angie Chua wanted to travel to enrich her life. Eileen Hull fell in love with a vintage camper seen on a freeway. Teresa Coates relinquished a cool loft in a Los Angeles artist’s community to take her sewing classes on the road. Shannon Downey quit a full-time job and sold her possessions to take her activism – and stitchery — to more communities. Laura Preston bought in to her then-boyfriend’s dream to travel the U.S. for a year – and discovered a business. Cheryl Boglioli’s travels began when her daughter left for college.
Whatever their reasons, these makers hit the roads, fueled by an adventurous spirit, a pursuit of fresh experiences, and a yen to see the country. They found artistic inspiration, interesting people, and ways to satisfy their wanderlust and support their businesses.
Chua and her husband — and their dog Harriet — traveled full time for four years in their RV, Mavis, a 1975 Airstream Overlander, currently getting some TLC.
For instance, Chua “made a conscious decision” to spend less money on “stuff” and more on experiences. She and her husband, both admitted “recreational vehicle junkies,” spent four years living and traveling in Mavis, their 1975 Airstream Overlander. “Travel was always an important part of (our) life,” says Chua, whose wanderlust definitely informs her business, Bobo Design Studio, which offers travel-inspired travel journals, stationery and travel accessories “that encourage and enable you to explore the world around you.”
Chua and her husband also have a travel van and a 15-foot trailer “about the size of a bathroom” they dubbed the WIENERbago, a play on Winnebago and in honor of their two dogs.
Life on the road, says Chua, means no mortgage or rent, living anywhere you want, and gaining “a different appreciation for the things that you own when you live small.”
When Hull bought her vintage camper on eBay, she first thought she’d use it as a photo studio, then realized she could go on the road.” Now she has a large fan base who follow Scotty’s travels (and Hull’s teaching) on “The Paper Trail” adventures.
For Hull, a long-time designer and teacher for Sizzix and other companies, the seductive sight of that vintage camper led her to buy an aqua and white 1976 Scotty Sherro Traveler on eBay.
“I had been doing some teaching, mostly local, and thought, ‘I can go on road with this.’”
In 2013, she took a two-month teaching excursion, driving solo from her Virginia home to California. “The first trip was quite intense,” says Hull, whose first tasks were learning to hitch and unhitch “Scotty” from her Ford F150 truck; learning to drive “with a vehicle in the back;” and learning how to back up with a trailer (“still a challenge”).
Despite the loss of brake lights (she learned how to fix them), map-reading mishaps, worn tires, and getting locked in her camper until being rescued by a beach boy in California, she loved the experience and has been travel-teaching ever since.
She calls her road trips The Paper Trail, and Scotty is a big draw at craft stores and events. “To have your store part of The Paper Trail adventure was a good gimmick.” She even parked Scotty on the floor of the then-named Craft and Hobby Association trade show, and with fake grass and a picnic table, the “campsite” became a popular meeting place for attendees.
Laura Preston “became obsessed with quilting” and founded Vacilando Studios while traveling with her then-boyfriend, now husband, as they crossed the country in their Airstream RV.
Travel was all the incentive Preston needed to leave New York in 2013 and hop on a borrowed Airstream trailer with her boyfriend of four months. They planned to travel for a year, but after eight months “we realized we loved living that way,” and continued to do so for more than a decade. The trip also inspired Preston, who painted large-scale oils in New York, to discover quilting and start her company, Vacilando Studios.
Quilting, she realized, is like painting with fabric, but easier than oil painting on a moving vehicle.
“I became obsessed with designing and making quilts,” says Preston. “On the road I was inspired by places I was seeing. I started turning (these inspirations) into designs.” In early 2015 she put together a small collection and launched her website. “Every piece I make is inspired by a place I’ve been. I love sharing the story of each design. Travel is definitely an integral part of what I do.”
One of the perks of traveling with your own house is having your own bed, pillow, blanket and, well, your stuff.
Traveling to teaching gigs gives Boglioli plenty of ideas and inspiration as she visits various stores. She also takes time to visit roadside attractions.
“I love making my own breakfast in the morning or cooking my own steak for dinner,” says mixed media artist Boglioli, who has been travel-teaching since 2011 and is creative director at Gel Press and design team and education coordinator at The Crafters Workshop.
“I love the places I’ve been able to see that I wouldn’t have if I was flying from store to store,” says Boglioli. “I love the wonderful people I’ve met on my journeys.”
Boglioli, who first traveled in an SUV packed with “boxes and boxes of class kits and art supplies,” eventually bought “a very small, very used” 1960s or ‘70s-era Fleetwood trailer (so vintage it had an aqua enameled stove and an ice-box but no ‘fridge). She and her family renovated the 17-foot trailer, which she dubbed Glinda “because I knew I’d be going on adventures and wanted to always find my way home,” and pulls her with a 2012 Chevy Traverse SUV.
The inspiration gleaned from nature, new places, and new people is invaluable, these makers agree.
Road trips are “a time to be inspired by nature and what’s around us and that definitely impacts my ability to create for the business,” says Chua.
“I can focus on creativity and less on day-to-day operations. As hard as it is to step away from the office and studio, it’s almost essential for the type of work I create.”
She also uses travel time to “draw, do live studies, and think bigger picture for the business.”
Coates, who travels in a large, Class A RV, sometimes misses having a studio, but loves the inspiration of creating on the road, where she finds “inspiration in every drive and every class.”
“There is inspiration in every drive and in every class,” agrees Coates, national educator for Shannon Fabrics in Los Angeles. “I see what other people are making and doing, which makes me want to create more. I get immediate feedback about ideas, both for my own personal work and for Shannon Fabrics projects.”
One of the downsides, of course, is living in a small space.
“I miss having a studio that is ready for me to sew in at a moment’s notice,” notes Coates, who brings along plenty of fabric and supplies, including her work-related BabyLock Crescendo and BabyLock Pathfinder and her personal Singer Featherweight.
Her travel partner, Hawke Hamilton, is an oil painter who videos her work events and often sets up a painting studio at parks.
“Both of us are inspired by seeing nature and the various aspects of America at large,” Coates adds. “He uses this in his paintings; I use it in my American Travels quilt series.”
Life on the Road
While the pandemic shut down many stores, affecting makers and business owners, having your house with you made travel easier.
“Despite the pandemic, I have been able to travel the entire country and meet amazing people,” says Downey, of Badass Cross Stitch. “I get to spend most of my time in nature and in new places, which offers endless inspiration.”
For Preston, the pandemic boosted her business, which grew from three people at the start of 2020 to eight by the end of the year. “When the pandemic hit, I thought we’d have to pivot, but it turned out everyone wanted quilts for their home while they were stuck there.”
Ironically, the business growth makes it harder for Preston to travel, and in 2019 she and her husband bought a home in Texas. “Running a business became logistically challenging,” she says, but “I feel the need to travel for my personal well-being.” The couple plans to hit the road soon in their customized 34-foot Airstream Excella.
Coates and Hamilton also started traveling via RV about a year into the pandemic, “when vaccinations were ramping up.” Her Sew Together Tuesday events were gaining traction, and stores began asking for in-store workshops.
They hit the road in July 2020, visiting 16 shops in 10 weeks, driving some 9,000 miles in Shannon Fabrics’ 29-foot Class A RV. In January, they kicked off their 2022 tour in Las Vegas and plan to be on the road every week for the rest of the year.
Left: Laura Preston’s modern minimalist quilt designs are inspired by her travels and the “constant inspiration, newness, and ever-changing landscape and color palette.” Right: Eileen Hull’s vintage camper has been a big draw as she travels across North America teaching and doing trade shows representing several craft companies.
But life on the road is not always sunshine and roses. Besides the logistical issues of running a business while traveling (carrying enough stock, shipping issues, wi-fi problems, fulfilling orders, etc.), things happen on the road, and it can be scary.
Hull recalls when her trailer came off the truck while she was going 70 mph on an empty country road in Minnesota. “I looked in the mirror and the trailer was going all over. I was so scared, I was shaking. I could have died.” She pulled over, and luckily, two good Samaritans stopped. The men lifted the trailer while Hull maneuvered the trailer coupler back on the hitch.
Another time, Hull was traveling to a January trade show in Phoenix and had already hit two ice storms along the way. She thought she could save time by cutting through New Mexico, which, according to her map, seemed like a good idea. But her map didn’t note topography, and she wound driving up mountains, into a blizzard that “kept getting worse as I went higher and higher.” Again, the kindness of strangers helped this bear get over that mountain, but it was harrowing.
Preston had a similar vehicle mishap on a sparsely populated highway, where extremely high winds ripped off the trailer’s 22-foot awning. “It was terrifying what could have happened,” she says. “We later learned that stretch of road was called ‘Awning Alley.’”
One of Downey’s worst road moments happened last year in Austin, Texas, during the “great freeze.” “It truly was a near-death experience,” she says. “I was trapped. The power went out and hypothermia set in. I had exhausted all the options I could think of, and I was really pissed that I was going to die by freezing to death in Texas.”
A friend eventually called her. “That alone was a miracle because cell service was in and out.” Roads were mostly undrivable. The friend’s brother called another friend who picked up Downey and took her home, where she stayed for five days.
“This was pre-vaccine so it was a real risk for them to take in a stranger,” says Downey, who also teaches at Columbia College Chicago. The experience changed her, she says. “I realized how quickly things can get out of control despite being really prepared and equipped, and how some people step up” while others don’t.
While the road can sometimes be lonely on your own, “there is a freedom in only having to look after yourself for a while,” says Boglioli. “Some of my best ideas, plans, and workshops came to me while driving alone.”
Despite the hardships, these makers love the experience.
Left: Boglioli and Hull meet up on the road. Right: Angie Chua, Bobo Design Studio, uses her love of travel as inspiration when designing her stationery, stickers, journals and more.
“Being on the road with my husband and my dogs and everything that is important to me in one tin can is hands-down the best years of my life,”
says Chua, who recently moved into a house in Palm Springs, Calif., and opened a brick-and-mortar store, bobo Palm Springs. “I have a new appreciation for everything I own, for the relationships I have, and for the places I’ve been able to see. The tough and trying moments end up being unforgettable memories, hilarious inside jokes, and insane stories between my husband and I that we will cherish forever.”
And as soon as that Airstream is renovated, they’ll be off on more adventures.
Got the itch to hit the road? Our nomads have plenty of advice.
Preparation, flexibility, and resilience are key to being a road warrior, our makers agree. That includes everything from lining up gigs, mapping routes (including checking topography), and planning for the unexpected, not to mention learning how to drive these babies.
“I spent weeks prior to my first trip with Glinda learning not only to drive a trailer, but how to back into a camping spot or parking space; how to hook it up to power and water at a campground, how to safely use a gas stove in a small space, and level the trailer by myself,” says Cheryl Boglioli. “I now know how to change a tire, seal a leak, change the hydraulic lifts in my vehicle tailgate, and back into a small campsite.”
Here are more tips:
Try before you buy. Rent an RV and try it out for at least a week before you commit, says Shannon Downey. “The hardest adjustment is simply the amount of labor this lifestyle requires. Figure out what kind of nomad you want to be.”
Be flexible, organized, and resilient: “Things go wrong and you have to get creative with how to problem solve,” says Laura Preston. “Organization in small spaces is key. Expect something to go wrong so it doesn’t catch you off guard. You gotta roll with it.”
Be disciplined: “Don’t let clutter consume your life,” Chua advises. “Live with the absolute essentials, set boundaries for yourself, know how to problem solve because something is always breaking. These are constant struggles. Imagine being trapped in a walk-in closet with someone 24/7 while also having to work, sleep, eat, watch TV, talk on the phone, cook, shower, go the bathroom and live, and it’s raining and you have a leak. That’s what it’s like living and working on the road.”
Be adventurous. “Try new things; seek out the joy in life,” says Coates. “You can learn so much from others along the way. Don’t let the hard parts get in the way of the good stuff.”
But also “always be aware of your surroundings,” Boglioli warns, “and have a blanket, water, land snacks within reach.”
Build extra time into your schedule. “Towing a trailer requires more time,” says Boglioli. “You shouldn’t be driving as fast, and it takes extra time to get off and on the freeway at every stop.” Also, she says, don’t be in such a rush that you can’t experience roadside attractions or meet a new friend.
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com