Mika Tarkela and Danielle Conant began their journey like so many others before them. When they made the decision to move into a camper together, they agreed to do a trial run first. Tarkela, 40, a musician and graphic designer, told Conant, 27, a design assistant, they’d “do it for a year, and see how it went, just to prove that we could.” When the year was up, neither wanted to stop. This past June marked their two-year anniversary of living in a camper.
Tarkela said, “I’ve grown attached to it, and I feel very comfortable in it. Like, when we went to visit her parents recently [in Massachusetts], we slept in the car for the first couple days because, it’s our house!” Which is actually kind of funny because Conant’s parents were the previous owners of the 1997 Dodge/1998 Leisure Travel camper van. Conant had been camping in it since she was a kid, and a few years ago, her family put it on the market to sell. Tarkela, who had entertained the idea of living in a camper before, and was feeling increasingly frustrated with NYC rents, suggested maybe they be the ones to buy it. But Conant wasn’t sure.
She took a month to think about it while her dad helped them fix up the camper. During that time, she scoured Pinterest for ideas and inspiration, and downloaded The Tiniest Mansion, a book about how to successfully live in an RV, onto her Kindle. Tarkela said, “Danielle read it and was like, ‘I feel so much better about this. This doesn’t seem as scary as I thought it was gonna be.’” Conant seconded that. “I was like, okay, I can do this.” If she was going to give this a shot, though, she was going to do it in style. She overhauled the place with cute touches: she sewed shower curtains into window curtains, reupholstered the seats with shaggy-chic fabric, and brought in lots of plants.
Location came next. After hosting a Fourth of July barbecue at McCarren Park last summer, Conant and Tarkela each independently had the same idea: to live in the park. It’s quiet at night, there’s free Wi-Fi, and it’s in the middle of the two places where they most frequently shower: their friend’s Greenpoint apartment, and Tarkela’s Williamsburg rehearsal space. All the other home essentials can be done in-house. They use the camper bathroom like you would a normal bathroom, and they travel to a dumping station about once a week to dispose of waste. A propane tank powers the stove and the heater—well, most of the time, anyway.
At the height of this past winter, the heater stopped working. While Tarkela piled on more blankets, Conant was at her parents’ house, in the midst of a temporary hiatus from the camper, and missed it. Living in a camper during the winter had been getting to her, but it was the tub that she really missed. She considers the lack of a bathtub to be the only real downside to RV living. “I’ve joked about getting a trailer that just has a bath and plants in it,” Conant said, deadpan.
Just as Conant was getting ready to return to the Leisure Travel, her brother broke his back, so she ended up sticking around a bit longer to help out. Now that she’s just getting back to New York, there’s a lot to catch up on. Since they first got the camper, Tarkela and Conant have been floating around ideas about the kinds of projects they could do in it. Tarkela has used it for short tours with his band, Spirit Of…, and Conant has considered getting a vendor’s permit to sell plants and bitters she’s been making out of it.
One project they’d still like to get underway while the weather is warm, is organizing out-of-town excursions for New Yorkers. Depending on how many people sign on, they can either all stay in the camper—it can comfortably fit two additional people—or find a campsite, and use the van just for transportation. Some destinations they have in mind are Montreal, the Dark Sky Park in Pennsylvania, and (also in PA) Shankweiler’s, America’s oldest drive-in movie theatre.
And after that, they plan to spend the winter in LA. “Danielle is totally tired of East Coast winters,” Tarkela said, “so I promised her we’re gonna go somewhere warm.” Eventually, they’d like to leave NYC, so part of their cross-country drive will be scouting out where to move next. First, though, they’ll make their way back to Brooklyn next spring—no matter what the real estate market is like then, finding a place to live won’t be among their worries.
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