Rene and Mike Manley have always been an adventurous couple. Two years ago, they decided to get rid of all their stuff, sell their house in Oregon and move to Panama.
They stayed for a couple years while Rene worked at the International School of Panama, but when their first grandchild was born they knew they had to come back to the states.
“We thought it was really nice not owning anything, so we said let’s not land anywhere, let’s stick with owning little and enjoying much,” said Rene.
Let’s stick with owning little and enjoying much.
Rene was fascinated with those gorgeous campervans you see on Instagram, but her husband Mike wanted something fun to drive. This was how the two decided on a Roofnest Eagle and a Mazda CX-9.
It’s truly a tiny home – a rooftop tent perched on top of an SUV. But the couple loves the freedom and adventure of their Roofnest Eagle.
What it’s like traveling in the Roofnest Eagle
Rene and Mike first mounted their new home on the Mazda August 2019, then blasted off on an epic trip. They traveled 9,600 miles, as far east as Vermont and as far north as Canada.
They also visited Tenessee, Glacier National Park, Walla-Walla, the Grand Tetons, the Badlands, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
And it’s so far, so good in the rooftop tent.
“We put in a 3-inch mattress topper and we have our sleeping bags on that, so it’s very cushy,” said Rene. “There have been a couple times when we stopped at a hotel and we just wanted to go back to our bed in the Roofnest.”
The Roofnest Eagle is easy to set up and take down. It’s roomy inside with side pockets for storage and twinkle lights hanging on the ceiling. When closed, the rooftop tent is under a foot tall.
Setting up camp in rain and inclement weather doesn’t scare the Manley’s as they lived for 30 years in Oregon.
But what about that crazy ladder?
“If you have to go to the bathroom 40 times per night this might not be the right setup for you,” said Rene.
The couple put extra strips of rubber on each rung to create grip and soften the climb, but it’s a little uncomfortable when climbing up and down the ladder barefoot.
“Our friends think we’re crazy sometimes”
Living in a Roofnest camper isn’t a typical lifestyle for empty-nesters.
This is Rene and Mike’s motto as written on their blog, The Adventure Nest: The Adventure Nest is both an attitude and a physical place. Instead of having an “empty nest”, we are a couple living the adventure nest life – exploring and meeting wonderful people and places along the way.
Rene says not everyone gets it. Sometimes, their friends ask this: “When are you going to buy a house?”
And they say: “Houses are overrated.”
She went onto add that some people are concerned by their houselessness, and wonder if they’re okay or are in trouble. “We just say we’re fantastic,” she said.
Rene says there’s a word called Coddiwomple which means determinedly adventuring toward an unknown destination.
“We like to do things, go places, hike, be outside,” she said. “I won’t want to have money in a piece of property which means I can’t go do things. People who have raised children have this empty nest phase – or they are at an age where they aren’t working and don’t know what to do. We aren’t having an empty nest, we are having an adventure – nest. Choose your adventure story – and we choose every day, wake up and choose the way you live your life.”
How the two make money on the road
Rene and Mike are in their early 60s, so aren’t retired just yet. But no problem! The two are able to work while traveling in their Roofnest Eagle.
Rene has a college admissions counseling business she can do from anywhere. She sets up coaching calls with students over Whatsapp, Facetime or Skype, and has a website: CustomFitCollege.com
“I usually do client calls from my car,” said Rene. “I have unlimited data so use my phone as a hotspot. Thre was only one time I actually had to sit somewhere with WiFi at the Grand Tetons. There was a huge storm so we went to the laundromat and I did client calls. I work with 17-year-olds and they think its a hoot.”
Mike works part-time as a consultant for worker’s compensation issues and has worked remotely for several years.
The couple doesn’t worry about going anywhere fast or meeting deadlines while traveling.
“This is our home. We don’t have to go somewhere or be anywhere,” said Rene.
How they organize their rooftop tent tiny home
One thing about living tiny is the need to be extra organized. The couple thought hard about what they would need before taking off. Rene loves her Igloo cooler – saying it keeps ice cold for 5 days without melting and is a third of the cost of a Yeti.
Rene said one thing that’s helped her a great deal is her car trunk organizer in the back of the Mazda. The three-part organizer lets her find things easily.
Plus, she keeps her clothes and shoes in packing cubs.
This way, she doesn’t always have to dig through piles of stuff to find what she needs.
A few key items are camping chairs, a hammock, wine carrier tennis rackets and roasting sticks. Rene also has a kitchen box with all her cooking items.
The two are used to going on camping adventures, so living with a dearth of stuff suits them just fine.
What they like about their RoofNest Eagle
Rene and Mike chose a Roof Nest Eagle for a few reasons. They loved just how easy it is to pop up and down when its time for bed. Plus, they know they’ll always have a comfortable place to sleep, unlike pitching a tent on rocky or slanted slopes.
It was also a cheaper rooftop tent than the competition.
But it does come with a few cons as well.
For example, they can’t stand up in the rooftop tent to change clothes. You can’t st0re things in the rooftop tent, like you could during the day with a ground tent.
Rene also said it was initially a little hard to mount on the Mazda.
But to her and Mike, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
Interested in your own Roofnest camper?
Roofnest sells a bunch of different types of rooftop tents, depending on your budget and what size you’re looking for.
Here are some of our favorites:
Roofnest Sandpiper Tent
Weight: 145 pounds
The Roofnest Sandpiper is built for sports enthusiasts who want to bring some extra gear when camping. This rooftop tent comes with an aluminum rack that can carry 100 pounds of gear with the tent closed and 50 pounds when open.
You’ll also get a 3″ mattress, an 8.5′ telescoping ladder and all the mounting hardware you’ll need. Plus, you can store all your bedding in the tent, even when closed.
Weight: 145 lbs
The Roofnest Eagle Rooftop Tent is designed very thoughtfully, filled with convenient amenities you might not even think to want.
The popup rooftop tent goes straight up and down, which allows for a flatter profile when closed. This means a more aerodynamic drive, better fuel efficiency, and easier handling in transit.
It also comes with a 3” foam mattress, an easily accessible overhead netting, and removable shoe pockets to help keep the mud and sand out of your bed.
You’ll enjoy the anti-condensation mat to keep moisture out of your mattress and bedding.
Roofnest Sparrow Eye Tent
The Sparrow Roofnest model is very similar to her Eagle cousin, just at a smaller scale. It includes many of the conveniences of the Eagle, like the 3” mattress, detachable shoe pockets, and anti-condensation mat.
This amazing little tent is Roofnest’s easiest to use. It opens from the side and you’ll see an incredible view of the sky from the top window. The tent comes with stainless steel gas struts, an impermeable ABS-fiberglass top and waterproof canvas walls so you’ll stay warm and dry even in the worst weather.
The only real difference between this rooftop tent and The Eagle the size and weight, so if you don’t need the extra sleeping space or elbow room, this model is the perfect option.
Conclusion about living in a Roofnest
Rene and Mike don’t have any plans as to how long they’ll travel in their roof nest.
They say if you’re thinking about living an alternative lifestyle, don’t let fear stop you.
“We want to encourage people to not think something is too hard, or too crazy, or that you missed out. You can do it, go for it!” said Rene.
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van in San Francisco. She worked in radio news for 15 years before a massive layoff in 2016. Kristin has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire, SF Gate and The Bold Italic, among others.