On long car rides, there’s nothing better than singing along to a good country song. In one of my favorite tunes by singer-songwriter Kasey Musgraves, the lyricist croons, “Come on hitch your wagon, to the living room I’m dragging. If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.”
Today, the spirit of that song — of fulfilling a carefree wanderlust, of exploring the world with a friend by your side, of curating a home on wheels to take along with you — feels more alive than ever. I’m sitting in a cream and aqua camper, drinking coffee and munching on sweets with Betsy Anderton and Alice Key-Myrick. These sisters are chasing the horizon and meeting people, traveling the open road in their chic and stylish refurbished RVs. The laughter is incessant as Alice and Betsy share story after story, their enthusiasm boiling over. By the end of our conversation, I’m ready for my own road-worthy sanctuary.
And for these sisters, it all started with a book: “Sisters on the Fly: Caravans, Campfires and Tales from the Road.” It tells the story of a women’s organization by the same name that is dedicated to empowering others to take on the great outdoors. In this sorority of sorts, ladies encourage each other to tackle challenges — from kayaking trips to fishing expeditions — and push beyond their perceived boundaries. And each member does so from the comforts of her perfectly painted and decorated tiny camper. Betsy read of these women, and she instantly saw herself joining them someday. So she got a wild hair and bought her very own 1971 Shasta.
ABOVE LEFT According to Betsy Anderton, “Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t look good!” On the beach at Fort Morgan, Betsy models a pair of shorts made by her mother, Craig Key, who sews cute camping outfits for both women. Alice Key-Myrick, above right, also shows off an adorable pistachio green printed dress handcrafted by their mother.
ABOVE RIGHT Alice Key-Myrick leans out of her aqua- and cream-colored Playmor camper, which the sisters found shortly after the Shasta. The shabby chic getaway is nicknamed “Jed.”
Once you had bought this camper, what happened next?
Betsy: We actually kept it a secret for a year and a half. We didn’t want any naysayers!
Alice: Well, when Betsy brought it back …
B: It was the biggest piece of junk, but I didn’t realize that! It had those wings — I just saw the wings. They’re such vintage icons. I was so excited about those, that I didn’t see how terrible the whole thing was. I took it to a friend who said he’d help us out with some of it, and he just shook his head.
A: But it had those wings.
B: I know! I just kept telling him, “Look at the wings!” Before we knew it, we had another one.
You’d never guess it was that bad looking at it now!
A: We’d work on them every Thursday night. We’d paint or shine something up, do some repairs. It started coming together. It was like our own little dollhouse.
B: Growing up, we always made dollhouses; we loved them. At some point, your kids grow up and no one wants to play dollhouse anymore! So these are kind of our “big girl dollhouses.”
A: Decorating is half the fun. We go on attic raids in our mom’s attic, which holds stuff going back several generations. Family pictures, heirlooms … we’ll use anything with some flair.
B: One of the best things about it is you don’t know where you’re going. You may have a million pictures on Pinterest, but then you do an attic raid or find a new piece and your vision goes in a completely different direction.
ABOVE A microwave and fridge, plus a tiny (and we mean tiny) bit more sleeping room, make the Shasta work best for family getaways.
ABOVE LEFT Other excellent antique finds include an old alarm clock radio and a suitcase that has been repurposed as the portable bar. “The bar is a must on any trip. We always pack our jalapeño-infused tequila, which we make ourselves. The bar is the only item that travels between campers, ” Alice laughs.
ABOVE RIGHT Snacks for the road even fit the vintage theme and often include wine and cheese fondue.
ABOVE Betsy and Alice’s mother and their friend Shelli Saleeb create handsewn clothes and other gifts for the camping sisters. Funky, retro aprons and the homey duvet on the bed are just a few examples.
What’s the appeal of having such a tiny camper?
A: For me, it’s being able to pull one of these by myself. I can suit it up anytime I want an escape.
B: And me, I have financial barriers [to traveling a lot]. But my camper is so economical, so I just put all my fancy stuff in here and go where I want, and I have the best hotel room ever. I’m able to just go.
A: I love camping down by Fish River. Even just her backyard or my backyard. My 4-year-old daughter thinks this is a dream palace. One night, we parked it in the backyard and spent the night. We read books and woke up in the morning and had doughnuts. It’s so cozy. It’s the perfect kid fort.
B: Fort Pickens in Pensacola is a great place to go, too, and St. Andrews State Park in Panama City. Blakeley in Spanish Fort has just been redone and is great for the kids, too!
What reactions do you get from other people when they see your campers?
A: They’re definitely conversation pieces. Everybody’s camper has a story, and everything in it has a story. You can buy one that’s fully furnished, but then you don’t have the joy of piecing it together. We could never sell them now — we’re so tied to them.
B: We have made such wonderful memories. There were so many nights with some wine, some [camper] painting…
A: Or messing up the painting.
B: People see what fun we’re having and just give us stuff. If they like antiques, they want us to bring them back to life. If you’re creative, it’s something you can do fairly inexpensively.
It sounds like there’s a big community around this hobby.
B: Retro campers have become a mobility outlet for women who want to travel. There’s another group called Glampers on the Curb [a women’s-only organization that offers cross-country travelers a list of hosts who will let them park in their driveways at night]. Even if you’re along, you meet people, see other campers.
A: When you stay with these women, your interests are the same. So you can share a cup of coffee with them in the morning, a hot breakfast if they offer, then you’re gone and they were happy to have you.
B: Bringing gifts [to thank your host] is totally different than normal, too! One place I stayed, I walked in with a window that I thought would look great with her camper. Or a wing, or something like that.
ABOVE Like its sister camper, the Playmor offers antique decor inspiration but with a refined yet homey atmosphere. A small, cheerful painting of an RV adds to the camper’s character, as do the retro hand-embroidered handkerchiefs.
ABOVE LEFT Elegant, lacy sheers, which belonged to Alice and Betsy’s grandmother, were a fantastic attic raid prize. Though the space is small, it’s perfect for any kind of getaway.
ABOVE RIGHT Details such as a mini chandelier over the kitchenette and a truly vintage toaster (“We’re not even sure it works, but it looks good!”) create a scene that could have come straight from the ’60s.
ABOVE Fragrance oils keep the camper smelling fresh and inviting.
Tell us about meals on the road.
B: The whole point of the camper is that you should be able to decide within three hours that you’re going to go on a trip and then hit the road. Trashcan salad is a favorite. You just grab everything in your fridge and a few gourmet things on the road (chickpeas, olives, tuna), shake it up and you’re good to go.
A: We love the olives. We’ll do an antipasta plate, since they’re easy to travel with. Rolls and wraps are also great. You can eat them cold or heat them over a campfire. Plus, we have our popcorn popper. Sprinkle on some gourmet seasonings, and it’s a great way to make some friends.
B: You don’t really stay hungry when you camp — you’re busy! You’re reading, hiking, thinking about what you want to do next.
A: Well, we’ve always got the potato!
B: We like to have fun. Once, we had our radio plugged into a potato and were acting like it was running off the potato. We had a bunch of potatoes thrown in the back with holes stuck in them. Then Alice would say, “This one isn’t good anymore! Can you plug in a new potato?” People were so confused.
A: We’re so cheesy sometimes. There’s always plenty of laughter. Don’t take yourself too seriously if you go glamping.
What makes these campers a home away from home for you?
B: The network of women out there is amazing. There’s this pride of independence that these campers give us.
A: They’re our projects. They’re our babies. We can go anywhere we want. That’s what we like about the compact ones. You just get the fever for it.
Get Started on a Dime: Tips from Betsy and Alice
- Use what you can find, and repurpose as much as you can. If you’re just starting off, find a good shell — something structurally sound with no water damage or obvious damage to the outside. Don’t worry about the inside. You can fix that up later. (In fact, that’s the best part!)
- Be prepared to get gritty and dirty, and be ready to experiment with tools.
- Barter as much as you can. You’d be amazed how much people with campers are willing to trade.
- Always invest in AAA.
- Get involved with online glamping groups — they offer great advice on where to buy parts and who’s willing to barter.
Find your own dream camper
- Be patient — it may take a while to find the right one in the right price range.
- Stay up-to-date on Craigslist and eBay.
- Visit RV and camping forums, such as Sisters on the Fly, Tin Can Tourist and Vintage Campers.
- Talk to people! You never know when a friend of a friend of a friend has a camper they’re trying to unload for cheap.