Driving past Quartzsite, AZ on the interstate, there are large expanses of desert dotted with RVs, vans, and tents. 

Looking to take advantage of the heat and vast amounts of BLM land, hundreds of thousands of people come and go throughout the winter in a generally uncoordinated fashion.  But for two weeks in January, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) calls thousands of nomads together in one place.

Credit: Matt Swartz

The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is said to be the largest gathering of nomads in the world. 

The event was created by Bob Wells, an “OG” nomad and founder of cheaprvliving.com.  Bob is an outspoken nomad who had preached the benefits of radical simple living for over 20 years.  Along with many tips for nomads, his website is full of information on how to have a better quality of life, AND spend less money.  The foundational thought being that traditional housing puts a huge burden on people, creating more financial stress than they’re worth.  In addition to the wealth of knowledge he provides on cheaprvliving.com, Bob also maintains a YouTube channel that has 350,000 subscribers.  If that isn’t evidence enough to show that people are ready for a radical change, I don’t know what is. 

Credit: Logan Foll

The first year of the RTR was 2010, and just under 50 rigs showed up. 

Since then, the number has grown to thousands.  Because the event doesn’t require registration and is technically free, it is difficult to pinpoint how many people show up.  Thankfully, there is plenty of wide-open country for people to spread out at the event.

Most nomads are self-proclaimed ‘loners.’  Choosing to remove themselves from the confines of society, they live by a different set of rules.  Money, careers, and big houses are low on the priority list behind freedom, adventure, and happiness.  More and more people are getting frustrated with living paycheck to paycheck.  Frustrated with our hyper-consumerist society.  People are starting to realize that you don’t have to work your tail off until your 65 if you just spend less.  The RTR is an opportunity for everyone to soak up the Arizona sun and enjoy the company of a like-minded community.

Credit: Logan Foll

We hadn’t heard of RTR until about a month before the event. 

We decided it sounded like a good excuse to see a new area of the west and meet some new people. I was hesitant at first.  It was our first gathering that we attended and we didn’t know anyone going.  I was intimidated by the size of the event and thought it was going to be hard for an introvert like me to meet people. 

As with any experience, it is what you make of it. When you drive into RTR, there are rows upon rows of RVs, travel trailers, vans, tents, and vehicles.  If you can live in it, it’s at RTR.  The collection of rolling homes is the most unique gathering you’ll ever see.  We saw everything from fancy and expensive RVs to home-made self-converted trucks and everything in between.  The eclectic nature of the event and its attendees is unmatched, I’m sure.

Credit: Matt Swartz

It can feel intimidating if you don’t already know people there. 

Some people come in groups and start their own little pods.  Others park a little further away for privacy, peace, and quiet.  If you’re looking for company, you would be welcome to pull up anywhere and just start chatting with those around you.  The beautiful nature of the RTR is that we are all looking for a similar thing: a simple life full of happiness.

We had been following Matt and Amanda on Instagram (@van.project) for a few months and knew they were going to be there.  The awesome thing about Matt and Amanda is they drive this kickass RV (affectionately known as Tez), and they raise a big pirate flag when they set up camp.  It’s was fairly easy to find in the sea of rigs. 

Credit: Matt Swartz

Established by just a few vans at first, the group gained momentum and our camp continued to grow every day.

Dubbed Vankookz Village by Kevin and Danny of @Vankookz, our area of the RTR had a young and chill vibe.  That seems to happen naturally at RTR.  Where people just naturally aggregate with others that have similar interests.  The great thing about RTR is that if you initially park next to someone you don’t jive with, you can just move camp to another area.

Credit: Matt Swartz

There was an unspoken energy that kept pulling others in that were seeking a good time. 

As a nod to @vankookz, our motto was “Advencha before Demencha.”  A credo that hits home to so many at RTR, not just our camp.  We’re all trying to live while we’re young, right?

There was something for everyone at RTR.  The event volunteers coordinate a schedule for presentations on many topics of interest to nomads.  Solar, cooking, and running a business remotely are just a few of the topics that were on deck in 2019.  It’s an opportunity to learn from experts and share knowledge.

Credit: Logan Foll

But of course, your time is your own, and we even coordinated a few events within our own group. 

Good music, yoga, van tours, and even Mario Kart projected on to the side of a van.  The whole camp ran around like slap-happy kids playing capture the flag and we had an RTR-wide scavenger hunt.  Never have I seen so many adults grinning with pure joy just because of silly shenanigans like trying to take a selfie of our whole 4-person team inside of a porta-potty.  It was a reminder to let it all go, to not take ourselves too seriously. Just run around and have fun.

Credit: Logan Foll

Credit: Matt Swartz

We left RTR with a desert sunburn, great memories, and happy hearts. 

RTR wouldn’t be what it is without the people who show up. The people you meet and the friendships you make are the kinds that will live on past the event itself.  At the end of the event, you don’t say goodbye.  You say, “see you on the road.”

Credit: Matt Swartz