Rubber Tramping

Life on the road

Camping at Mikesell-Potts Recreation Area Near Buffalo, Wyoming

Location: Buffalo, Wyoming
Type: County Park
Access: Lake DeSmet, Approximately 8 miles north of Buffalo, I-90 at Exit 51
Coordinates: 44.451597, -106.743348
Road Conditions: Pavement and gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 2-4 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 14 days
Fee: $10 per night, $15 per night with electric
Amenities: Vault toilets, picnic areas, picnic tables at some sites, beach area on lake, and two boat ramps
Website: http://www.johnsoncountywyoming.org/

Details

Mikesell-Potts Recreation Area is a county-owned park that provides an affordable camping option at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. As a county park, the area is well maintained. The camping areas surround Lake DeSmet, and the site also includes vault toilets, a beach, and two boat ramps.

The $10 per night camping fee covers any of the 60 standard sites, including some that are lakeside. (The fee is $15 at one of the 8 sites with electric.) Reservations are not accepted, and all sites are available on a first come, first served basis.

This is a nice, but no-frills, county park, and quite a bit less expensive than any other option nearby. There is plenty of free, dispersed camping in the national forests, but those sites require a long drive up into the mountains and almost never have phone coverage.

Directions

Take Interstate 90 to exit 51 and then head east toward the lake. Take Monument Road to the north, then turn right on Lake Desmet Road just past Lake Stop Resort.The campsites are located on the south side of the lake.

Camping at Keyhole State Park Near Pine Haven, Wyoming

Location: Pine Haven, Wyoming
Type: State Park
Access: Interstate 90, Exit 165
Coordinates: 44.356414, -104.751120
Road Conditions: Pavement and gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 2-4 out of 5
Maximum Stay: N/A
Fee: $10 per night for Wyoming residents, $17 per night for non-residents
Amenities: Beach, boat ramp, fishing, hiking, hunting, playground, restrooms, and dump station.
Website: http://wyoparks.state.wy.us/

Details

There are more than 170 campsites spread between nine different campgrounds at Keyhole State Park. Many of the campsites have picnic tables and charcoal grills, and most will accommodate RVs or trailers.

This state park is located at Keyhole Reservoir in northeast Wyoming. The reservoir is popular with residents for fishing, but the park is located between the Black Hills and Bighorn Mountains which makes it popular with travelers as well. Devils Tower National Monument is only about 20 miles from the park.

The park and camping areas are clean and well maintained. Vault toilets and trash containers are available in each campground. The park is open throughout the year, but some services may not be available during the winter months.

A private marina at the park sells gasoline, fishing gear, groceries, and propane. Shower rentals are also available at the marina.

Overnight camping fees are currently $10 for Wyoming residents or $17 for non-residents. An annual camping pass is also available for state residents.

Directions

Take Interstate 90 to Exit 165, then head north on Pine Ridge Road. Continue to the right when Pine Ridge Road intersects with Highway 180. It is approximately five miles from Exit 165 to Keyhole State Park along paved roads.

Camping at Voyagers Rest Fishing Access Site Near Worden, Montana

Location: Worden, Montana
Type: Recreation Area
Access: Interstate 94, Exit 23
Coordinates: 45.997, -108.131
Road Conditions: Gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 3 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 7 Days
Fee: $7 – $12
Amenities: Vault toilet, fire rings, picnic tables, gravel bar boat launch
Website: http://fwp.mt.gov/

Details

Voyagers Rest Fishing Access Site is a recreational site on the Yellowstone River that allows primitive camping. There are about six primitive campsites at this location (the number of open sites varies year to year).

This is primarily a fishing access site, but people do occasionally camp here as well. The sites are established and have fire pits and picnic tables. A vault toilet is located in the middle of the 20-acre site. Two roads lead from the campsite to the river, but are in poor condition and accessible only during summer months when the river is low.

The campsite is generally quiet, but there is traffic to the river. People often drive out to the river bank. Weekends can be busy with anglers, boaters, and those just heading out to the river for a bonfire or similar.

According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks website, there is a fee of $7 per night for campers who have a fishing license, or $12 per night for those who do not. There is no sign at the site that indicates that there is a fee, nor is there a self-registration kiosk or campground host. I have camped at this site a number of times over the past 10 years and was not aware of this “fee” until looking up the FW&P website for this review.

The nearest towns are Worden (one mile west on Highway 312) and Ballantine to the south. Billings, the largest city in Montana is 26 miles to the west on Highway 312. Billings has two WalMart stores, both a Home Depot and Lowes, and numerous other services. Worden does a small grocery store and gas station, but both are open limited hours.

Directions

Voyagers Rest Fishing Access Site is at the end of 18th Road, approximately 1.5 miles north of Highway 312. Highway 312 passes through Worden to the west and Pompey’s Pillar to the west. Ballantine, four miles to the south, also has a gas station. Access from Exit 23 on Interstate 94 will take you through Ballantine.

Camping at Itch-Kep-Pe Park in Columbus, Montana

Location: Columbus, Montana
Type: City Park
Access: Interstate 90, Exit 408
Coordinates: 45.629396, -109.253261
Road Conditions: Pavement and gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 3-4 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 10 Days
Fee: Free. Donations accepted.
Amenities: Restrooms with cold water and toilets (seasonal), picnic tables and fire rings at sites, river access, boat ramp, and dumpster for trash disposal.
Website: http://townofcolumbus.com/

Details

Itch-Kep-Pe Park is a city-operated park in Columbus, Montana. The park has approximately 30 sites for tent, van, or RV camping. All sites are dry camping only.

Itch-Kep-Pe Park is populated with large Cottonwood trees. Most sites have at least partial shade, while some sites also have grass. There are picnic tables and fire rings available at most sites as well.

The park is divided into two sections that are connected by a gravel road. Both sections are on the Yellowstone River. Visitors with larger vehicles may find the first section that is closest to the road to be easier as the sites are larger and more open. The only restrooms are also in the first section, though there may be a vault toilet available in the second section.

Since this is a city park, it is maintained regularly and is patrolled by Columbus Police Department. Summer months are the busiest time, but the park is open year-round (restrooms are closed during winter). There is usually a spike in local traffic around noon and another around dusk as boaters are leaving for the day.

Reservations are not accepted at Itch-Kep-Pe Park. All sites are available on a first come, first served basis.

Columbus is a small town with a population of about 2,000. The town has a large IGA grocery store, several auto parts stores, and other basic services. The closest Walmart is 26 miles to the east in Laurel. Billings, which is about 40 miles east of Columbus, is the largest city in Montana and has two Walmart stores and numerous services.

Directions

Take Exit 408 off Interstate 90 at Columbus. Follow Highway 78 south toward Absarokee.

Highway 78 will turn twice between Interstate 90 and Itch-Kep-Pe Park. Turn right at the intersection of Old Highway 10 which is approximately 0.8 miles from Interstate 90, and then proceed on Old Highway 10/Highway 78/East Pike Avenue for 0.2 miles. Turn left to follow Highway 78. Proceed south for 0,5 miles.

Itch-Kep-Pe Park is on the east side of Highway 78 just north of the Yellowstone River. Traveling from Interstate 90 and Columbus, the park will be on the left side of Highway 78.

Camping Along Tom Wells Road Near Ehrenberg, Arizona

Location: Ehrenberg, Arizona
Type: BLM Dispersed
Access: Approximately 0.25 miles from Interstate 10, Exit 5
Coordinates: 33.622710, -114.435241
Road Conditions: Pavement and gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 2-4 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 14 days
Fee: Free
Amenities: None; primitive, dispersed camping in the desert
Website: https://www.blm.gov/arizona

Details

Quartzsite and Ehrenberg are both popular camping areas in southwest Arizona. Quartzsite is home to the annual Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, and RV Show. Ehrenberg, on the other hand, offers little in the way of services and entertainment, but does have plenty of free, dispersed camping on BLM-managed desert land. Often overlooked on the short drive between Quartzsite and Ehrenberg is Tom Wells Road.

Tom Wells Road, accessed via Exit 5 on Interstate 10, is a well-maintained gravel road that provides access to a very large camping area. The road is in surprisingly good condition for a BLM road, but does pass through a number of washes that may flood during rains. The area close to the Interstate is popular with campers who drive larger rigs, but there is less camping activity as you drive further back from the Interstate. The road remains in good condition for about 2-2.5 miles, but eventually deteriorates as it passes through washes.

This area has more vegetation than many desert areas, and is bordered by the scenic Dome Rock Mountains to the east. There is a network of dirt roads that run east and west from Tom Wells Road so it is fairly easy to camp away from the main route in and out of the area.

As a primitive, dispersed camping area, there are no amenities or services available. This is a nice place to camp and be alone in the desert, but you will need to bring all of your own supplies and be self-contained.

This is a rural, desert area with few services. There is a Chevron truck stop just north of Interstate 10 at Exit 5. Ehrenberg is located four miles to the west at Exit 1, but also has only a Flying J truck stop and the Ehrenberg Mini-Mall which does have a laundromat, showers, and mailbox rentals. Quartzsite is about 13 miles to the east of Tom Wells Road on Interstate 10. Quartzsite has a small grocery store, and a number or restaurants and RV-related services. Blythe, California is about 11 miles west of Tom Wells Road, also on Interstate 10. Blythe has several grocery and department stores, as well as a number of restaurants. The nearest Walmart is in Parker, Arizona which is about 50 miles to the north via Interstate 10 and Arizona 95.

Directions

Take Interstate 10 to Exit 5, an then head south on Tom Wells Road. The road makes a 90-degree turn to the right, and then a 90-degree turn to the left, within the first quarter of a mile. The road crosses a cattle guard 0.2-0.25 miles from the Interstate exit and turns to dirt and gravel. There are numerous places to camp once you cross the cattle guard.

Camping at Saddle Mountain BLM Area Near Tonopah, Arizona

Location: Tonopah, Arizona
Type: BLM Dispersed
Access: Approximately 10 miles from Interstate 10, Exit 94
Coordinates: 33.464388, -113.066330
Road Conditions: Pavement
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 2-3 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 14 days
Fee: Free
Amenities: None; primitive, dispersed camping
Website: https://www.blm.gov/arizona

Details

The BLM dispersed camping area at Saddle Mountain is one of the more scenic BLM areas in Arizona. The camping area is bordered to the south by mountains, with more mountains visible in the distance to the north and west. The area around Saddle Mountain was also surprisingly green in early spring, with grass and other ground cover, plentiful Mexican Gold Poppies just beginning to bloom, and the usual desert vegetation like Saguaro and Creosote.

Saddle Mountain is conveniently located between Quartzsite and Phoenix, about 10 miles from Interstate 10. This location makes Saddle Mountain a convenient stopover spot on the way across Interstate 10, but Saddle Mountain is worthy of visiting for its own sake. This area is much more scenic that Quartzsite or Ehrenberg, where many people spend the winter.

There are several access roads into the BLM camping area from the pavement on W. Courthouse Road. Some of the roads are quite narrow, some are rather rocky and rutted, while others are in surprisingly good condition for BLM roads.

Verizon phone service is good at Saddle Mountain with a usable signal available in the areas that were visited. You may find the signal stronger closer to the road and further from the mountains.

There are some hiking trails around Saddle Mountain, but they may not be easy to find. Still, there is plenty of opportunity for just walking around. Do be careful of the volcanic scree that covers the mountain slopes though. It looks solid, but disintegrates beneath your feet and can cause dangerous falls.

The nice thing about Saddle Mountain, in addition to the lovely views, is that it is not as crowded as BLM areas in Ehrenberg or Quartzsite. While there may be other people camping in the area, this site does not seem to have the traffic that other areas attract.

There are a few gas stations with limited fast food options near Interstate 10. The nearest shopping is in Buckeye, about 30 miles to the east. Buckeye has a Walmart, Lowe’s, Goodwill, and many other stores and services.

Video Tour

Directions

Take Interstate 10 to Exit 94, then proceed south on 411th Ave for 2.8 miles. Stay to the right at a fork in the road, and continue for 0.1 miles to the intersection of W. Salome Highway. Turn right on W. Salome Highway and continue west for 5.2 miles. Turn left onto W. Courthouse Road just before the pavement ends on W. Salome Highway. Follow W. Courthouse Road to the west for about 2.5 miles.

There are several primitive BLM roads along the south side of W.Courthouse Road around Mile Posts 13 and 14. All of these roads run toward the mountains to the south. Note that some roads are in better condition than others. You may want to explore on foot or bicycle before heading back too far with a larger vehicle or trailer.

Camping Along Ehrenberg-Cibola Road in Ehrenberg, Arizona

Location: Ehrenberg, Arizona
Type: BLM Dispersed
Access: Approximately 3 miles from Interstate 10, Exit 1
Coordinates: 33.587184, -114.477294
Road Conditions: Pavement and gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 2-4 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 14 days
Fee: Free
Amenities: None; primitive, dispersed camping in the desert
Website: https://www.blm.gov/arizona

Details

The Ehrenberg, Arizona area is a favorite spot for many full-timers and snowbirds who are looking for a free, desert campsite.

Quartzsite, Arizona is an extremely popular winter destination for many RVers and vandwellers, but its popularity also means that it is crowded and the 14-day camping limits on BLM land are enforced. After exhausting your 14-day stay in the desert near Quartzsite, you either have to pay for a campsite (RV park, dry dock area, or Long Term Visitor Area) or move to another location. Ehrenberg is a popular alternative destination for many nomads who need to move to a different camp.

The winter weather in Ehrenberg is considerably better than in much of the country. While nights can be cold, the daytime temperatures are usually pleasant with plenty of sunshine.

Ehrenberg is a small community on the Colorado River, just one mile from California. Ehrenberg has a truck stop on the south side of Interstate 10 and a local, “general store” on the north side of the Interstate. The local store is known as “The Mall,” and provides just about everything a nomad could want, including mail service, propane, water, showers, and a laundromat.

In addition to being popular with campers, the area is also frequented by those looking for a place to drive OHVs and recreational/target shooters. Weekends in particular can, unfortunately, be noisy.

Video Tour

This video takes you on a driving tour from Interstate 10 into the BLM dispersed camping area.

Directions

The BLM-managed desert with dispersed camping is located south of Interstate 10 between the Colorado River to the west and the Dome Rock Mountains to the east.

Take Exit 1 off Interstate 10, then head south toward the truck stop. At the roundabout, continue 3/4 of the way around (second exit) and then head east on the frontage road. About 1.5 miles from the roundabout the road splits. Continue to the right at the fork. There is a large area with a network of BLM roads where dispersed camping is allowed.

Camping Along the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona

Location: Ehrenberg, Arizona
Type: BLM
Access: Approximately 2 miles from Interstate 10, Exit 1
Coordinates: 33.595094, -114.537024
Road Conditions: Pavement and gravel
Phone Coverage: Verizon, 2-4 out of 5
Maximum Stay: 14 days
Fee: Free
Amenities: None; primitive, dispersed camping along the Colorado River
Website: https://www.blm.gov/arizona

Details

The desert around Ehrenberg, Arizona is a popular BLM dispersed camping area for many snowbirds. Many people find the scenery in the desert here somewhat uninspiring, however. Fortunately, there are also several free, dispersed camping sites along the Colorado River near Ehrenberg.

The BLM campsites along the Colorado River are all on the opposite side of the road from the river. Sites range from small enough to accommodate only one vehicle to large enough to accommodate a small group.

Weather in Ehrenberg can become intolerably hot during the summer months, but is generally warm and sunny during winter. Daytime temperatures are usually at least in the 50s, but can also be as warm as the 70s. Nighttime temperatures are usually in the 40s or low 50s, but can drop into the 30s or even upper 20s on occasion.

Ehrenberg is a small community that is located between Quartzsite, Arizona and Blythe, California along Interstate 10. In addition to plenty of free, dispersed camping and several RV parks, Ehrenberg also offers the Ehrenberg Mini-Mall (convenience store, laundromat, showers, water, RV dump, and more), a Flying J truck stop, and a hotel.

Directions

Ehrenberg is located off Interstate 10 at Exit 1. Proceed north from the exit for the Mini-Mall or U.S. Post Office. Proceed south toward the roundabout for BLM dispersed camping.

At the roundabout, take the first exit heading west toward the Flying J truck stop. Continue west past the truck stop and the Boss Shop. Immediately after the Boss Shop, turn left onto Ox Bow Road (there is a sign on the right side opposite Ox Bow Road). Continue on Ox Bow Road for 0.6 miles, then bear right. Continue for another 0.6 miles until the road reaches a “T” at the Colorado River. Turn left at the river. There are a number of campsites along the left side of the road opposite the river.

How to Mentally Prepare for Living in a Vehicle

Many people are embracing the shift to vehicle dwelling, whether this is out of necessity or desire. Sadly, for many it is economic necessity that forces them from their traditional home and into mobile living. Still, whether vehicle dwelling is adopted by choice or necessity, it has the potential to be a good life.

Despite the fact that vehicle dwelling can be a good experience, it can also he a difficult adjustment. This adjustment can be hard from a practical standpoint, but may be very hard mentally and emotionally.

I have dealt with the mental challenges of being a nomad during my years of part-time vehicle dwelling, and then again when I started out full-time on the road. Even now, this is still something that I deal with occasionally. The two triggers that often lead to mental stress for me are changes in location to a new or unknown area and difficult financial periods. As a freelancer, work is sometimes abundant and other times sparse. Either of these triggers may lead to mental struggles and feelings of homelessness, desperation, or fear.

Mental prep is the hardest part

Mental preparation may well be the hardest part of adjusting to vehicle dwelling. There are plenty of “how to” resources available now that were not available to new nomads even several years ago. There are few, if any, resources for mental preparation though.

Zach Davis, in his book Appalachian Trials, suggests that it is psychological or emotional struggles that cause people to quit the Appalachian Trail rather than physical struggles. Davis made this observation during his own thru-hike on the AT several years ago. After finding no resources on the topic, he decided to write a book about it.

In my experience, there is a similarity between thru-hiking the AT and becoming a nomad. In both cases, we are striking out into uncharted territory where everything is different. The physical aspects of both can be learned through the plentiful books and online resources or through trial and error. The mental aspects, however, may prove more challenging for many people.

Why mental prep is necessary

Mental preparation is necessary (or at least incredibly helpful) for a successful transition to vehicle dwelling. There are at least three reasons why mental preparation is so helpful.

Vehicle dwelling, or any type of nomadic lifestyle, is a totally different experience from what most of have known and accepted as normal. This unique lifestyle then creates stress when it is first attempted. In many ways, vehicle dwelling can be compared to pioneer living, with the obvious exceptions of motorized vehicles and portable electronics. Still, many things that are easy and automated in a house require more planning, preparation, and thought as a nomad.

Many nomads also encounter resistance or, at the very least, a lack of support from family and friends. Some of them may think you have lost your mind, while a few may admit they are envious. In any case, the lack of support can be a mental challenge.

It is also common for new nomads (and even those thinking about hitting the road) to experience feelings of fear, inadequacy, or incompetence. This is a completely normal experience that everyone deals with to some extent. Those who have spent more time traveling, camping, or living in primitive situations may adapt more readily than others, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the number of new things that must be learned.

How to prepare mentally for living in a vehicle

Preparing mentally to live in a vehicle will almost certainly make the adjustment process smoother. There are a number of steps that you can take to ease this adjustment and reduce the stress, but the following ideas are things that I have found useful in my experience.

Recognize that this will require a process of adjusting. This may sound overly simple, but accepting that the transition will involve a certain amount of stress is incredibly powerful. Once you embrace this idea, you are less likely to be blindsided by the stress of learning a new lifestyle.

Be kind to yourself as you adjust to vehicle dwelling. This is a big change, and everyone needs time to adjust. Being hard on yourself because you are experiencing stress or frustration will only lead to more stress and frustration. Give yourself permission to sometimes be frustrated as you try to figure out how to do things on the road. It really does become easier with time.

Be prepared to make adjustments to your lifestyle (and setup) over time. You will almost certainly find better ways to do things as you settle into vehicle dwelling. One large example of this is that most nomads end up trying several vehicles before they find one that is an ideal fit. It is surprisingly difficult to anticipate exactly what your needs will be on the road and which comforts will be most important. Recognizing that you will be making adjustments as you decide what works or does not work helps to reduce stress.

Try to anticipate necessary adjustments and changes before you start vehicle dwelling. Reading honest blogs, watching honest videos, and practicing car camping before striking out full-time are all great ways to begin identifying some of the changes and adjustments that you will face. Knowing in advance at least some of what your experience will look like is comforting and can reduce anxiety.

Community is essential for humans, whether living in a city or camping in the wilderness. Connect with other nomads through gatherings, at popular nomad destinations, or through forums to provide opportunities to meet people with a similar lifestyle. Many nomads are surprisingly friendly and helpful. Having friends who understand what you are doing is a powerful tool for adjusting to the nomadic life.

Virtual community may not replace in-person community, but it can still be a good tool. Join a limited number of helpful and positive social media groups or forums (and get involved) to meet other nomads if you are not able to meet up with others in person. This is also a wonderful way to begin acquainting yourself with some of the people where you may be traveling before you arrive.

Continue work, hobbies, and activities that you currently rewarding, if possible. While some activities may not be suited to vehicle dwelling, any that you can continue will provide a connection between your old life and new life. Reading, hiking, cycling, cooking, and music are but a few examples of activities that you may be able to continue on the road.

Embrace new work, hobbies, and activities that may prove to be enjoyable as well. Since nomads often have more time than they did while living in a house, and not all of your previous activities will be suited to life on the road, consider embracing some new activities. Reading, writing, hiking, cycling, quartz crystal hunting, and music are all examples of activities that can be enjoyed by nomads.

Stay with it long enough to make it past the mental adjustment. It will take time to adjust to a nomadic lifestyle. I would recommend anticipating at least one year to really adjust. After a full year, you will have identified places to camp or work in different seasons and will have a good bit of experience with life on the road. The good news is that the mental struggles will usually improve much faster than one year, but it is not uncommon to experience a relapse when confronted with new situations.

Adjusting to a Nomadic Lifestyle

Mental struggles will be real when you first start vehicle dwelling. This is something that everyone experiences. Being prepared for this reality will ease the adjustment process.

Preparation for the mental struggles can smooth the process. Any preparation that you can do before starting full-time on the road will only help. Do not allow yourself to become paralyzed with preparation though. It is always an adjustment, and planning or preparation can only take you just so far. Ultimately, you need to make the transition and experience the lifestyle.

Remember too that it is okay to admit that you are having a hard time adjusting. This is completely normal. At the very least be willing to admit to yourself when you are having a difficult time with the adjustment. It can also be helpful to talk with nomadic friends who understand and have been through the same adjustment.

The nomadic life, including vehicle dwelling, can be a great life for many people. I hope that your experience is overwhelmingly positive, and that the ideas in this article are helpful as you prepare for life on the road.

Watch the Video

The content in this article is also available as a video. You can view the video below or on YouTube.

How to Establish a Legal State Residency (Domicile) as a Nomad

One of the challenges that almost every nomad faces is where to call home. Of course, most vandwellers and travelers are happy to call wherever they happen to be home. After all, if you are a perpetual traveler and are set up somewhere in your car, van or RV, or if you are a backpacker and have all of your stuff with you, then anywhere can be considered home. Government agencies, however, tend to disagree with this perspective.

There are many nomads, including those who are new on the road and those who have been traveling for many years, who think that the only way to establish or maintain a “legal” address (domicile) is to break the law. Fortunately, this is not the case. In fact, not only is it possible to keep your residency status legal as a nomad, it can also save you considerable expense and trouble in the future.

The situation is complicated because our legal system has been developed around an assumption that people live in a house at a fixed location. People who travel perpetually do not fit into this legal model. As a result, many people resort to either breaking the law or choosing a new state that is more friendly to travelers.

You will ultimately need to do a lot of research on your own to decide which state will best meet your needs. There is not a specific state that is ideal for all nomads, though there is a short list of states that attract many full-timers. It is also not uncommon to find nomads who started with their residency in one state, but later switched to another as their needs changed over time.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and do not claim to be an expert on legal questions. Please consult a licensed attorney if you are not confident that you understand the legal requirements or complications of establishing or maintaining domicile in a particular state. The information presented on this page is designed to serve as a starting point in deciding which state to choose as a domicile, and is based on my personal, extensive research.

Residency vs. domicile

Residency and domicile are actually two distinct terms, but “residency” is often used interchangeably for both terms. This unfortunately adds to the confusion when trying to decide if you are (or are not) legally a “resident” of a state.

The first concept to understand when considering domicile and residency is that a person may be a resident of multiple states, but is usually only domiciled in one state. For example, a person may own homes in several states and spend time in each of those homes during the year, but only one state will be their domicile.

As a general rule, the state where you are domiciled will be the state where you live (at least part of the year), work, receive mail, obtain health care, vote, conduct banking, register and insure your vehicles, etc. Of course, some people will do these things in several different states, but once you begin establishing a nexus (that is, a connection) with multiple states you also run a very real risk of having multiple states attempt to claim you as a resident for income tax or vehicle registration purposes. The best way to avoid this unpleasantness is to be careful to maintain a nexus with only one state, and to make a clean break when you move your domicile to another state.

The second concept that is essential to understand when considering domicile and residency is that receiving mail in a state does not mean that you are considered to be domiciled in the state. Mail receiving and forwarding services make it convenient to receive mail while you are on the road, but a mail forwarding address will generally not be accepted as a “street address” when applying for a driver license, for example.

The third concept that is important to any discussion about domicile and residency is intent. As a legal matter, you establish domicile when you are a resident of a state and intend to make that state your home. The best way, and often the only way, to prove that intent is through actions. While you may not have a mortgage or lease in the state that you choose as a domicile, you can and should register and insure your vehicles, conduct your banking, vote, and have medical insurance in that state. In other words, the more of a nexus or connection that you have with a particular state – and the less of a nexus that you maintain with any other state – the more likely it is that your claims to be domiciled there will hold up if ever called into question.

The issue of establishing domicile is further complicated by the fact that each state has its own rules about when it considers a person to be a legal resident. Worse, the rules often vary between state agencies.

Why choose one state over another?

Since as a nomad you are able to choose any state as your “home state,” why choose one state over another? The reason is that some states will better meet your needs than others.

Income taxes are a fact of life in most states, but several states do not have an income tax. Those who are still working can see an instant “pay raise” of hundreds or thousands of dollars just by “moving” to a state that does not have income tax. Similarly, states have different rules on taxation of pensions, investment income, and retirement income.

Sales tax is also collected in most states, but can vary considerably. While it is easy to think of the annoyance of paying sales tax on small purchases, it can add up to thousands of dollars if you need to pay sales tax on a new vehicle. This is particularly concerning to RVers who plan to buy an expensive vehicle in the future.

Vehicle registrations, inspections, and insurance are things that nearly all nomads will deal with each year. The cost of vehicle registrations and insurance varies considerably between states, so it is possible to save a lot of money each year by choosing a state with inexpensive registration fees and insurance. Auto insurance rates can also vary widely between zip codes, so it worth considering this as well when choosing an address. Vehicle inspections are not required by all states, and a few states like Arizona and Nevada have only select counties that require annual emissions or safety inspections. While safety inspections are only an annoyance if your vehicle is in good condition, they do require annual trips back to your home state. Emissions inspections, however, can turn out to be quite expensive. These inspections, and the related vehicle repairs, may be good for the environment, but they can be a financial disaster for the vehicle owner when the vehicle does not pass inspection.

Medical insurance options vary widely between states and even between counties. This is true even if you are purchasing insurance through the government health insurance exchanges. Research medical insurance options if you plan to purchase insurance, and particularly if you have certain conditions or treatments that you will need covered. Another consideration that many nomads face is the difficulty of finding nationwide medical insurance plans. Most plans currently available only cover medical services within a limited network in your home state. This makes these plans nearly useless other than for emergency room care if you seldom return to your home state.

It is also worth considering any current or anticipated need for social services or public assistance. It is no secret that some states are more generous with public assistance than others. Nomads who have limited income, for example, may find it better to choose a state with an income tax that offers more generous public assistance.

Finally, it is important to consider how much time you plan to spend in a state. How often do you plan to return once you establish your domicile in the state? The most popular states for nomads are all on the edges of the country. Despite the fact that you are on the road full-time, you may not want to make a special trip across the country just to renew a driver license or to obtain health care.

It is likely that, for most people, any one of these considerations will not be enough itself to make a decision. However, a combination of these considerations will usually make one state a much better deal.

Choosing a state

The easiest way to legally solve the “home state” problem is to maintain domicile in the state where you already live. Many nomads at least start off with this approach. You will still need both a street address and mailing address though. It is fairly common for nomads to switch everything from their former address to the address of a friend or relative when they are ready to get on the road. As long as your friend or relative is agreeable, trustworthy, and reliable this can be a good and simple solution. Staying at this address whenever you are in your home state, even if you sleep in the driveway, may further reinforce your legal argument that it is indeed your domicile. It is worth considering though whether your friend or relative may tire of managing your mail or may move while you are on the road. Many people who start off by using the address of a friend or relative eventually end up choosing a different option.

A similar option would be to move your domicile to a new state where a willing friend or relative lives. This may be more complicated because of the documentation that is required for obtaining a driver license, but with some time and care you should be able to collect enough mail or bank statements to satisfy the documentation requirements. Still, there remains the possibility of your friend or relative tiring of handling your mail or moving.

Homeless service agencies in either an existing or new state will also sometimes assist with establishing domicile. Nomads generally do not consider themselves to be homeless and may be offended by this idea, but the government generally does consider full-time nomads to be homeless if they do not have a fixed, permanent address. This may be a last resort for many people, and the rules and services vary between states, but it is an option that can be considered if necessary.

The final option for establishing or maintaining a legal domicile is to choose a state that is friendly to full-time travelers. Satisfying the legal requirements for domicile has become increasingly difficult over the years, and particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Still, several states are much more welcoming to full-time nomads than the others.

Popular states for nomads

Even though there are 50 states to choose from for domicile, most nomads quickly narrow the options down to several states. This is because these states have regulations that are at least somewhat friendly to nomads.

South Dakota

South Dakota is by far the most nomad-friendly state in the country. In fact, while most states enact rules that make it difficult for nomads, South Dakota has specifically adopted rules to make it easy for full-time travelers to become residents of the state. South Dakota requires only a one-day stay in a campground, RV park, or motel, an address with a mail forwarding service, and an affidavit of intent to establish residency to obtain a driver license. It also has no state income tax or vehicle inspections. Probably the only significant drawback to choosing South Dakota as a domicile is that it is so far away from the areas where a lot of nomads spend their time. The overall nomad-friendly nature of this state, however, makes it the clear winner if you are willing to return periodically as needed.

Texas

Texas is another popular state for full-time travelers. Texas is also home to the Escapees RV Club which operates both a mail forwarding service and the popular ESCAPEES:HOME program that allows nomads to use the campground address as a legal street address. This combination of services is one reason why Texas is popular with nomads, though Escapees also now offers the same service in Florida and South Dakota. Texas has no state income tax, but does require annual vehicle inspections. The process of obtaining a driver license in Texas is also somewhat more complicated than in South Dakota.

Florida

Florida is the third state that is popular with nomads. Aside from the promise of warm weather and sunshine, Florida also has many mail forwarding services. Proof of your street address will be required in Florida, but Escapees members are able to use documentation from the club to satisfy this requirement. Many nomads report that vehicle registrations and insurance are expensive in Florida, but medical insurance options are reportedly better.

Nevada

Nevada is less popular as a domicile than South Dakota, Texas, or Florida, yet it is still worth considering if you spend a lot of time in the desert like many nomads. Nevada will accept a receipt from a motel or RV park that shows you have been in the state for 30 days as proof of a street address. You will also need a mailing address. Like the other “big three” states, Nevada does not have an income tax.

Wyoming and Montana

Wyoming and Montana are popular states for businesses seeking a domicile for a shell corporation. They are less popular though for individuals. (I previously lived in Montana for several years, and currently am domiciled in Wyoming.) In both states you will have the typical challenges for establishing a street address to obtain a driver license. This makes it difficult to use either of these states if you want to do everything legally. Wyoming offers the benefit of having no state income tax, while Montana has no sales tax.

Which state should I choose?

There really is no perfect state for every nomad. Important considerations like vehicle registration and insurance costs, vehicle inspections, taxes (income and sales), and more vary between each state.

Most nomads end up choosing between one of several states because overall those states have regulations and costs that are friendly to nomads. South Dakota, Florida, and Texas are almost always the top three states for nomads, with Nevada also being worth considering. Still, because each person’s situation is unique, there may be occasions where it makes more sense to be domiciled in a different state (for example, location or access to public assistance)

Regardless of which state you choose as your domicile, it is important to do things legally. There can be significant legal complications that arise from trying to take a shortcut and skirt around state laws. It is worth considering one of the nomad-friendly states for your domicile, even if that means staying for a day (or month) in an RV park or joining a club like Escapees to have access to a legal street address.

The legal system in most states may be structured in ways that are not friendly to nomads, but there are still options that allow full-time travelers to do things legally. Be very careful about long-term ramifications for overtly, willfully and knowingly breaking the law – especially when it isn’t necessary.

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