Arkansas couple behind Dome Life YouTube series are happy campers

Saying goodbye to city life, hello to traveling full time

Arkansas couple Cody and Kellie Oden pose inside their new home, a 2017 Ford F350 fitted with a 2022 Palomino hard side HS2901 truck camper. The couple has ditched conventional living and now spends their time traveling the country, making videos to support their camping habit along the way. (Special the Democrat-Gazette/The Odens)
Arkansas couple Cody and Kellie Oden pose inside their new home, a 2017 Ford F350 fitted with a 2022 Palomino hard side HS2901 truck camper. The couple has ditched conventional living and now spends their time traveling the country, making videos to support their camping habit along the way. (Special the Democrat-Gazette/The Odens)

While the origins story of the ubiquitous real estate phrase, "Location, location, location," is subject to debate, the wisdom of the idiom is timeless, suggesting the most important aspect of any lot or building is proximity.

Cody and Kellie Oden's lifestyle reinforces this age-old rule, but likely not in the static sense the founders intended. For the Odens, who for the past two years have lived an itinerant influencer lifestyle in their camper, location is relative.

"In 2021, we ended up selling our house, my car and we bought a little gear trailer that had a water tank in it and we just packed everything that we needed and we just hit the road," Kellie said. "We left Little Rock and we headed west and we stopped in New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming that year. We're hitting all of the lower 48 states to experience not only the beauty of Arkansas, because we do that every chance we get, but the beauty of America."

Thus began an existence where the Odens can wake up in a forest one day, the desert the next and on the beach the next, limited only by the number of miles they choose to drive between ecosystems and the whims of Mother Nature.

"The biggest driving force in where we end up is weather," Cody said. "We have left and driven 14 hours to get out of heat to be in the mountains; we were visiting Michigan and there was a heat wave last summer and we left there and ended up going to Colorado and Wyoming.

"We were going to be going to Mississippi a few days ago, but it was supposed to rain and be really dangerous in that part of the South, so we decided to stay in Arkansas. It's all dependent on the weather."

As of about a month ago, the Odens had only Nebraska, North Carolina and Virginia left to camp in and cross off the list of the contiguous states. As they do so, home is a 2017 Ford F350 fitted with a 2022 Palomino hard side HS2901 truck camper. Amenities include a queen-size bed, a full kitchen and a 45-gallon water tank. Neither one of them knows the exact square footage, but "cozy" is a good adjective.

"[The space] has never been an issue with us," Kellie said. "A main reason we wanted to do this was because we wanted to be together and have something we can do together, every day. We're best friends. We have disagreements, but we always talk about it. It's definitely made our relationship better."

FOLLOWING THE LEAD

Across the country, more and more people are following the Odens' lead, ditching their terrestrial possessions over what they can take with them to experience the open road, state parks, campgrounds and the various wild areas still remaining in America.

"Van lifers" -- people who live full or part time out of their stock or customized vans or campers -- grew from a minuscule population to more substantial numbers during the pandemic when people were looking for ways to get out of their four walls and move about safely. The trend has shown staying power since; in February, Bankrate.com reported numbers have increased in the United States by 63% in just the last couple of years. The site reported there were 3.1 million such wanderers in 2022, up from 1.9 million in 2020.

ThriveMyWay.com, a website for budding online entrepreneurs, didn't place the total number of van lifers nearly that high in a May article but did note other statistical attributes. More than half of van lifers live full time in their rides, for instance, the majority of whom are between the ages of 25 and 44.

Regardless of the actual number, most van lifers are enabled by a common set of circumstances, namely the post-pandemic ability to work remotely to pay for their adventures. In the Odens' case, this meant leaning into their outdoor clothing line, which reflects their Dome Life brand, and monetizing the steady stream of social media content on their YouTube channel. The couple makes videos chronicling their outdoor activities and adventures as well as documenting life in and around the camper.

"A lot of YouTubers never come out and say their income is their YouTube channel, but we know that that's their income because we've been watching YouTube for 10-plus years," Kellie said. "That's why we started doing [our channel] because we know that you can make a living from your YouTube channel.

"Anytime you hear about us having a sponsorship, we do make a little bit of income off that but it's not anything substantial enough to pay the bills. It's more so because we like the product and we use it ourselves. The bulk of our income comes from producing videos. If we don't make a video, we don't get paid and that's pretty much a driving force for creating content for people to watch."

WHOLE NEW WORLD

Though you wouldn't know to see them now, the Odens' path to the open road wasn't a direct one, at least as far as Kellie was concerned. She didn't grow up hiking and camping the way Cody did, but by following his lead, she discovered the whole new world that lay just outside her door, waiting to be explored.

"Cody and I moved to Little Rock and it was our wedding anniversary and we really didn't have a lot of money to do anything," she said. "He was like, 'Thirty minutes down the road there's this beautiful creek. Let's get a snack, a couple beers and let's just go hang out. You might like it.' I was like, 'OK, let's go. We'll do it.' I wasn't really excited about it, I'll be honest. But I was like, we're not doing anything anyway, let's just go. Who knows?

"We go there for the day and I fall in love with the creek and the water and the rocks and the birds and the trees and everything about it. That following week he went to work and told one of his co-workers and she was like, 'Y'all can borrow all of my tent gear.' We borrowed it the following weekend and went to the Buffalo [River] with some friends and loved it. And that next week we went out and bought everything we needed to go tent camping. It just kind of escalated from there."

INTO THE WILD

From there the couple went out into the wild as regularly as their jobs would allow -- she working in a dental office and he working as an accountant -- during which time they also started filming their excursions. Still, the agreement to live out of a camper full time came as something of a surprise.

"We were starting to get to the point where we weren't satisfied with our short trips," Cody said. "One trip, Kellie and I were coming back from Tucson and this was December to January 2020 to 2021 and she jokingly said, 'I don't want to go back home. I would rather us continue living in this tent. We've got everything kind of figured out; I think we can do it.'

"I didn't really think that much about it or that we would actually do it because the first 10 years we were together Kellie didn't like going outdoors at all. So, for her to even have the idea to sell everything and go full time blew my mind. But I said, 'OK.'"

From there the dominoes fell rather neatly -- every time the couple jokingly mentioned their intentions, someone willing to buy their house and extra car seemed to be within earshot. As for parting with such possessions, said Cody, it was good riddance.

"We weren't ever home to begin with before this occurred," Cody said. "We were going to work to pay for a house we were never in, because right when work was over, we left and were gone the whole time until we had to go back to work. We had no attachment to any of the material things anymore because we didn't have anything that increased in value and it didn't bring us the joy as much as traveling and going on adventures.

'A LOT EASIER FOR US'

"So that part was really a lot easier for us than for some people. Matter of fact, it was such a whirlwind with the house and trying to get all this wrapped up it didn't settle in what we had really done until we were in Colorado. Then it hit me; instead of a two-week trip, we're not going back home. We can go anywhere we want."

What's more, giving away or donating excess possessions -- and in the process, moving closer to the threshold of their new life -- was more cathartic than either of them could have imagined.

"Even before we did this, we both really didn't have that many things," Kellie said. "Now, I did come from having a lot of clothes and a lot of shoes; I love going shopping for shoes and dressing up. That was my thing. Everybody's like, I still can't believe Kellie lives like we do now.

"But at some point you realize why do you need all those? I'm just going to dinner, I'm not going to a fashion show. I still love to dress up when I can, but now it's like, I have one pair of shoes I wear when I dress up and I have my hiking boots. You just realize you don't need all that."

Throughout their travels, the Odens have met their share of interesting people chasing the same things they are, more in some parts of the country, such as California, than others.

"In the Midwest [van living] is very uncommon," Cody said. "It does occur but it's not very common. When you go out west where there's a lot of public land, it's just life. It's a normal life. There's thousands and thousands of people doing it, especially in winter. You go into south Arizona, you see license plates from Canada and other countries where people have shipped their vehicles over. You see people from all over our country. You hear so many different languages. This is becoming a really common thing."

Circulating as widely as they have has clued the couple in to some useful do's and don'ts. They've also learned to roll with the punches that come with their chosen lifestyle.

'ADAPT AND OVERCOME'

"Have patience, adapt and overcome," Cody said. "Nothing goes as planned, that's the biggest thing. A lot of people think it's just fun all the time and you're just living this great life. And in all honesty, we love it; it's great. But they forget about the hardships. For example, we never thought in a million years our trailer would get stolen. We never thought that we would be in three hailstorms in a month in the tent. We never thought we'd have a moose come in our camp several times, the same moose, and cause issues."

"I would also say there's a lot of females, specifically, who think they couldn't live this lifestyle because they were like me," Kellie said. "They have to have a shower every day or maybe they don't like to get dirty. I was the exact same way. I think that just going out and trying it, you might fall in love. You might hate it. But you don't know until you do it."

Most of all, the couple has made their adventure about the journey itself, taken with the one person they love most. From that posture, every sunset is seen anew and every unfamiliar horizon beckons. And now that they're about to knock out their last few states and their thoughts turn to what's next, they might turn the truck south and travel through Mexico and Central America or they may head north and check out Canada during the warm months. Only time will tell.

And while they may not know when the finish line will be upon them, both Cody and Kellie seem to agree on where it lies.

"In all honesty, Arkansas is the best place we've been. We want to buy property in the Ouachitas one day," Cody said. "Arkansas' our favorite. We love home."

photo Cody and Kellie Oden stop for a snack while hiking through a camping spot on one of their adventures. "The biggest driving force in where we end up is weather," Cody said. Aside from selling T-shirts and other merchandise, they have written a sold-out cookbook, "Gourmet in the Forest." Their cozy camper has a full kitchen among its amenities. (Special the Democrat-Gazette/The Odens)
photo Before they were YouTubers, the couple was Cody Oden and Kellie Barbra, who were married on May 22, 2009, in Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Texarkana. (Special the Democrat-Gazette/The Odens)
photo Cody and Kellie Oden are always on the road heading on another adventure to chronicle via their YouTube series Dome Life. (Special the Democrat-Gazette/The Odens)