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Senior couple travels for two years with tent

| Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 6:32 p.m.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a tent throughout the seasons? Are you interested in touring North America or other parts of the world for as little as possible? One couple in their 70s spent two years exploring this lifestyle in its entirety. While financial necessity was initially behind the effort, Laura and Richard Pawlowski soon realized they appreciated the pared-down lifestyle of nomadic tent living.

The experience provided challenges and rewards in equal measure, which the couple shares in their ebook, “2 Years in a Tent.”

Written to inform others about the financial, lifestyle and relationship benefits available to those who take the tent-travel plunge, the book provides readers with an inside peek into the day-to-day realities of living inside a portable cloth house. These tips represent a few of the highlights.

Savings: While the $80 America the Beautiful pass available through the National Park Service allows free access to all national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands, the Pawlowskis found an even bigger deal. A lifetime senior version of the pass — available for people 62 years of age and older — costs only $10. Additionally, it provides a 50 percent discount on rustic campsites. This was a critical component of couple's savings plan as they explored America's national forests, recreation areas and monuments.

Their housing overhead wasn't the only line item that was reduced during this two-year adventure. They spent much less on gas as well, particularly at campsites where they stayed for extended periods of time. Gas costs were also reduced by embracing hiking as a frequent activity of choice.

Strategies: Writing a book or performing any sort of digital task requires not just access to Wi-Fi, but to electricity as well — something Richard realized early in the manuscript development process. His solutions included regular visits to McDonald's, Starbucks and local libraries. Not only did these locations boast Internet access, but the time spent near electrical outlets always provided enough power to get a bit of work done back at the tent, as well.

The Pawlowskis have a favorite strategy for relocating to new campgrounds as well: timing. They prefer to arrive from 3 to 5 p.m. This provides them with enough time to properly set up their campsite before dark. Monday is their recommended travel day, because of the fact that most people have left after the weekend, leaving more of the sought-after sites available. Seasonal concerns also apply. Richard advises exploring northern destinations in the summer and pitching your tent further south during the winter. This spares campers the added stress of dealing with extreme temperatures — unless, as he puts it, “You want to freeze your buns off.”

Streamlining: Because they operated solely out of their tent and minivan, these two had absolutely no room for excess belongings. A rooftop carrier was their only extra storage space, which they used for critical paperwork and additional clothing they didn't need to access every day. To maximize space in the van, the back seats were removed. In their place went larger storage containers such as ice chests and a vertical see-through chest of plastic drawers that served as a portable pantry Laura could access by opening the back door of the van. Their two-burner camp stove was also within easy reach upon landing at any new campsite.

Splurging: Team Pawlowski acknowledges there were some areas where they should have spent more money in the beginning. One of these areas was camping equipment. Specifically, the tent. After blowing through three bargain models because of high winds, several hundred dollars was thrown down for a sturdier model. They don't regret the expenditure. Spending the money for quality hiking boots and day-to-day tools is also something they wholeheartedly recommend to anyone attempting a similar adventure.

Myscha Theriault is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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