Many people might spin away a lifetime dreaming of their ideal circumstances. Tristan Higbee of Rock Springs has, though hard work and creativity, achieved his at age 37.
“I’ve always been self-employed, ever since I graduated from college,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
“I’ve always had the desire to just do my own thing – that’s manifested in my work and similar things – like the house,” he added. “My wife (Cassie) and I, we like to have things they way we want them to be.”
Buying a house built in 1922 has allowed them that, Tristan said. They can modernize it, or not, as they see fit.
But it’s the customization and uses he puts to the family’s sport utility vehicles that has the Wyoming man building a brand of his own in a fast-growing adventure living space.
As unconventional as the couple’s approach has been, they’ve staked their claim in the multimedia and social media influencer sphere largely thorough the decidedly conventional SUV.
SUVs might be regarded as the chariots of suburban soccer moms, but Tristan has found a way to associate them with adventure, exploration and breaking away from the everyday to go out and seek the unexpected.
His “SUV RVing” brand has been successful enough to allow the couple to buy their home of choice – in the town of their choice, Rock Springs – while Cassie finished studying to become an elementary school teacher (she’s nearly done).
He’s gained a considerable following and dependable income through his website, YouTube channel and other outlets.
The concept is simple. He customized an SUV as an expedition and camping vehicle so he can hit the road, explore wild places and then share his adventures with an eager audience through videos and stories.
The Right Rig For The Job
Tristan started out by tapping into what he says is his inborn wanderlust. He trekked far and wide and wrote travel books, which he e-published on Amazon.
“I was making enough money to live cheaply overseas,” he said. “I lived for about two years in a few different countries.”
When he decided it was time to come back to the United States, he was drawn into the adventure vehicle lifestyle; basically, people who live more or less on the road while exploring out of their vehicles.
“There’s quite a few people doing it,” he said, along with a host of bloggers, YouTube stars and other influencers.
So, if he wanted to establish his brand, Tristan knew he’d have to take a somewhat different approach.
It started with selecting the right type of vehicle. Most adventure road-trippers use sprinter vans, large truck campers and the like. Minivans are popular as well.
“It’s easiest to describe why I chose the SVU over the other options because of the disadvantages of the other types of vehicles,” he said. “The sprinter vans and truck campers are too big, and minivans don’t have enough clearance for some of the places I like to go.”
That made SUVs the perfect choice.
“I wrote a book called ‘SUV RVing’ in 2015, Tristan said.
The couple now owns three – two of which Tristan uses for his expeditions. Those are a 2011 Toyota RAV4 and a 2000 Land Cruiser. He found them both online – the RAV4 through Carmax and the Land Cruiser through Facebook Marketplace.
“I’m on the road 70 or 80 nights a year,” he said. “My wife has been going to school full-time, so she can’t go very often.”
When he travels solo, he usually takes the smaller RAV4.
‘Just Throw A Mattress In The Back’
Customizing an SUV for adventure road trips and can be as simple or as elaborate as a person wants, Tristan said.
“I think people underestimate just how easy it is to get started. All you need is a mattress in the back and a place to camp, and that’s really it,” he said. “I camp almost entirely on public land. So, either on Forest Service or BLM land. You can check ahead for places to camp on freecampsites.net.
“Think of your SUV as a hard-sided tent,” he added.” If you’re parking and camping, if way easier than having to set up a tent. You just jump in the back of your vehicle. And when you’re done, you don’t have to deal with trying to pack up a wet ball of nylon.”
Custom comforts can be added according to the owner’s needs and tastes, he said.
“I have a fridge in my car,” Tristan said. “You can add solar power, lights, fans – whatever you want.”
The Ideal Place
Before moving to Rock Springs, Tristan and Cassie lived in Rexburg and Pocatello, Idaho, as well as Utah. But they were still looking for the ideal place to put down roots.
“I’ve never lived full-time out of my cars,” Tristan said. “I’ve always had a home base.”
A hard loss was a deciding factor in where they ended up. His parents lived in Salt Lake City and Tristan’s father died last year, leaving his mother alone.
“We decided we wanted to live within a few hours of Mom,” he said. They briefly considered northern Utah, but decided it was too crowded.
“We wanted to try something new, and that led us to western Wyoming,” he said. “Places like Jackson were too expensive and places like Star Valley were too isolated.”
Rock Springs fits the bill, because it’s small enough to be quiet and pleasant, but still has things like big-box stores, a large hospital and good schools. Those are important, Tristan said, because the couple plans on having children soon.
Rock Springs’ location is ideal as well.
“The Wind River Range is my No. 1 favorite place in the country, “Tristan said. “The Uinta Mountains in Utah are another favorite place, and Rock Springs is right between them.”