First six months in the RV: our highs and lows

Six months ago our family said good-bye to what had always felt normal and moved into our RV full-time. Now that we’ve put a half of a year between us and the honeymoon moments, what have we learned? What has been hardest to adjust to? Has anything surpassed our expectations? Have we had any moments of regret?

faith takes flight

LIVING FULL-TIME IN AN RV: THE HARD STUFF

While there have been many, many aspects to traveling full-time in an RV that we have loved, there have been challenges. Below are the top 6 areas of difficulty in these first six months.

Healthcare:
I wasn’t prepared for the potential difficulty of finding healthcare on the road. Apart from regularly scheduled dental and eye exams, it seemed rare to visit the doctor before we started on our trip. Yet, I took for granted the convenient ease we experienced if and when we did need to make an appointment.

There are an abundance of healthcare options wherever we go. However, we sometimes are moving so fast that to make an appointment, we have to try to call a town next on our itinerary rather than one where we are currently staying. Such was the case when Hunter developed a toothache while we were in Springfield, IL. I was on the phone attempting to set up an appointment in St. Louis, MO. We had a three day window that we would be in the St. Louis area: Thur-Sat. It felt like an impossibility to be seen as a new patient with only 1-2 days notice. However, we were able to find someone that could see him that Thursday and his tooth was successfully attended to. In addition to our trip to the dentist we have also needed to see a chiropractor (twice) and an eye doctor.

Despite the apprehension and general dislike of the situation, we have been able to successfully schedule an immediate appointment every. single. time. Its been a continual reminder of God’s provision and I’ve been humbled by my perpetual propensity to worry in this area.

Mail:
Again, this is an area that I took for granted. It is so much easier to receive mail when you are staying in one place! Currently our in-laws receive our mail and forward it on to us periodically when we are staying somewhere long enough–that is the tricky part. The faster we are moving from one location to the next, the harder it is to order something online or have mail forwarded. This first half of our trip has included the most frequent movement. We anticipate that once we get to Florida things will start slow down.

Fixing things:
It was no surprise to us that living full-time in an RV would require fixing things, regularly. However, being prepared for that reality hasn’t made it any more enjoyable. We’ve had our share of repairs.

washer/dryer install

However, we’ve also had several improvement projects: installing a washer/dryer, adding solar panels and adding a vent fan to the loft. (When I say “we’ve” had several projects, I mean “Trent”). Each of these improvements have necessitated a willingness to learn something completely new. I am continually impressed at his “lets figure this out” attitude.

solar panel install

Relationships:
While our core family relationships have benefited from our traveling time together, there are inherent challenges to finding community on the road. Once again, the faster we are moving from one place to another, the harder it is to connect with others. That said, we have had the chance to briefly meet up with two different traveling families so far. And our upcoming time in Florida will likely change the tide of what has been “normal” for us in this area thus far. There are many other full-time families wintering in Florida at the same campgrounds we plan to stay at. We look forward to seeing what this will be like.

fun with friends

Lack of routine:
Trent and I were cut from the same cloth in this area. We both thrive on a somewhat predictable schedule and routine. We’ve had an abundance of what I might call “un-routining” so far on this trip. While it works for a while, we recognize that we do best if we can maintain routine as much as possible. For us this can be as basic as keeping our morning and evening rhythm intact.

Moving the RV:
I love our RV but I am so glad I don’t have to pull it. It’s 41′ of challenge. Trent has already found himself in a few very challenging situations. He’s squeezed his way through windy one-lane backroads driving to our WWOOFing assignment. He’s backed up into super tight RV spots. Trent has been directed into residential streets by a traffic cop in downtown Nashville. And for the creme de la creme: he even had to back his way out of my brother’s long, very uneven gravel driveway in order to make the tight turn onto the single lane street (see photo proof below).

The first time we tried to exit this driveway it took us an hour before we figured out that the only way to make it out was backward. If that wasn’t enough, Trent repeated this exit a total of three times during our stay in order to take the RV to Camping World! This, my friends is no small feat.

Backing up the RV down a very un-even driveway

I’ll sing it from the prairie, I’ll shout it from the Smoky Mountains and I’ll chant it in the Louisiana swampland: my man is da’ bomb diggity when it comes to hauling this home.

LIVING FULL-TIME IN AN RV: THE GOOD STUFF

Now that we’ve gotten the no-so-nice things out of the way, let’s talk about the super awesome parts of RV living!

Learning:
I’m a learner. That’s not a flippant observation, it’s an official StrengthsFinder diagnosis. As defined on their website:

“You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered — this is the process that entices you…”

It may not be possible for me to fully encapsulate how gratifying it has been to learn on the road. Forever I will now connect Abe Lincoln with New Salem and think of the town he grew up in as I recall walking the same path with my own children. Laura Ingalls Wilder feels as accessible as her stories because we’ve been to the banks of Plum Creek and visited her Little Town. I now know the difference between Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson (and I’ve seen both of their hats–as well as Lincoln’s)! I’ve been to the upper, middle and lower parts of Mississippi River and can better understand the major part it had to play in our country’s history.

the Smoky Mountains

I see the connections being made in the minds of our kids. We consistently reference things we’ve seen, done or learned as we build on new understanding. “Oh look, they made a flower with Andrew Jackson’s hair in this locket kind of like the hair wreath we saw in the Lotz house!” This entire process has been akin to listening to an ever-expanding symphony of understanding building to a beautiful crescendo in our minds. We are entering into the grand story with more rich understanding of the pages that have already been written.

jr rangers

Intentional interaction:
While we have been blessed to enjoy a large amount of time together as a family in the past, our time together on the road full-time has built in new layers of connection. For the first time since we began homeschooling four years ago, Trent has been involved in an integral way. This additional aspect of our homeschooling routine has allowed Trent and I to capitalize on the areas of our strengths with the kids. We are also able to wrap up the school day with greater efficiency. In addition to the change in our school routine, we have enjoyed implementing family routines allowing us to eat all our meals together and end the day with a family read aloud (currently Farmer Boy).

full-time rv highs lows

Squelching Spending:
Walking through a store like Home Depot in order to purchase caulk is much less likely to end up costing more than expected. The temptation to also grab _____ because it happens on sale or would look perfect next to my ______ is almost laughable. I ask myself:
Do we need it?
No.
Do I have a place for it?
No.
I walk away. It feels good. Sometimes I am almost tempted to go to the thrift store just to walk around and come out empty handed. Then I remember that I am still dealing with a book addiction which would not end with me looking nearly as self-controlled. We will just stick to the Home Depot example.

Creative License:
Again and again we’ve found that when we get outside our “typical” environment we begin to tap more easily into our creative side. This has been true for this trip as well. Since moving into our RV, I’ve made more time for writing and Trent has begun playing around with video creation and editing. It’s fun to take the excitement of our exploration and be challenged to transpose that creatively for others to enjoy as well.

Personal Development:
Along with areas of creativity, I’ve also appreciated being stretched in new directions through our experiences. I recently wrote about one stretching situation: our family’s decision to package and hand out care packages as we come across people who are in need.

Another opportunity to step outside our comfort zone was our recent visit to a Southern Baptist church. We intentionally selected this particular congregation because we expected to be one of the only white families in attendance. We wanted to worship the God we know and love, in an environment that was very unfamiliar to our family. The entire service was a wonderful mix of familiar packaged differently! We were welcomed so warmly by everyone we saw; it was almost embarrassing. I’ve been in a few churches that did an amazing job of making you feel welcomed from the start. This one surpassed them all. “Well done people of God, well done!”

baptist church

MOMENTS OF REGRET?

Have we ever looked back at our decision to sell our home quit our jobs and leave our friends with regret? Perhaps this answer is best addressed individually as each member of our family has a different, equally valid, perspective.

Tanner (5): I like being in our RV. Travel days are fun because we get to play time on the ipad and get to have fun. We get to go to really fun places. Some of my favorites have been children’s museums and special places. Sometimes I’m sad that we don’t get to see our friends back home. I didn’t really know what it would be like to live in an RV but know I know it is fun.

Quinten (7): I like traveling. I get to eat apples, bananas and pretzels in the car. I also get to listen to stories and play technology on travel days. Sometimes we do things that are kind of boring like the Civil Rights Museum. But mostly its been fun.

Ashlyn (10): I really enjoy traveling. Its really fun to see all the different places. It’s so fun to learn about history and all the different places we are at or learn why something was built. When we first moved into the RV it was strange and exciting. But, after we were in it a while, it just felt like home. It’s fun to play with my brothers. There’s new games and ideas you can come up with because of all the new plants and different kinds of soil. Depending on where we are staying we can come up with lots of new games outside. The only downside to traveling in an RV is that you can’t bring your friends with you.

Hunter (13): No regrets. It feels like our family has traveled at a good pace that has been the perfect mix of traveling, doing new things and then staying in one place for a while. We don’t always have a good internet connection. This can make it hard for me to access my digital library. However, I’ve had a great experience on the road so far.

Heather (38): No regrets. I’ve discovered that most things that I’ve found to be worthwhile have also been challenging. This has been true for parenting and homeschooling and it’s also true for traveling. I’ve also found that people are often more likely to regret things they haven’t done than things they have. I never want to shrink back from the fear of the unknown or from dreams that have been planted in my heart.

Trent (38):  No regrets.  Sure there are things I miss, but the opportunities this journey had brought us, far outweigh the negatives.  Don’t mistake living on the road full-time with your family as a “permanent vacation”. Its not easy and there are moments when I want to hitch up and return to stationary life.  Nothing worthwhile is easy.  Don’t go through life always asking “what if ?”  No matter what your considering, evaluate the worst case scenario and if thats acceptable, take a calculated risk. This world has enough arm chair quarterbacks.

Comfortable being uncomfortable

I’m glad to be here right now, poking at my threshold. I want to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want to get more confident being uncertain…

We’ve been doing some poking at our threshold lately. Digging up the hardened surface of familiar, looking for fresh new ground in which to plow small seeds of change.

Change often begins with a shift in routine. Despite the fact that our lifestyle is wrapped in change, it is surprisingly easy to maintain a degree of sameness. If this sameness is dipped in the waters of conscious choice it can be a wonderful thing. If however, it is simply leftover residue from past repetition, it can become inhibiting to growth. This week we made a move toward getting more comfortable being uncomfortable.

New neighbors

As the landscape outside our home has changed, our family has had the opportunity to see needs newly presented. Our experiences in cold climate, small town communities were predominately void of panhandlers. As we drive through cities, concern and alarm has rung afresh, particularly within our kids. There are needs that are not hidden. There is despair on display.

It’s not new to me. My heart has had time to grow accustomed to the poor and needy. My mind has had time to develop conflicting ideas and thoughts about how to help without hurting. Our kids however are seeing new needs from fresh hearts. It is their perspective that I often need. How can we respond in a way that shows love and represents Christ?

New grocery list

The day before Thanksgiving we complied a list and went shopping. Rather than filling our cart with food items, our goal was to assemble ready-made care packages to distribute as needed.

  • socks
  • toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  • shampoo
  • deodorant
  • ear plugs
  • playing cards
  • snacks
  • small bibles
  • gospel tracts

The kids had a great time counting out items and making sure we got what we needed. Our cashier wondered where in the world we were traveling to need so many travel size tubes! We explained our plan and she raised her eyebrow, “playing cards?” “Everyone likes to play games,” we reasoned.

packing party

decorating bags

The following day, after we filled our bellies, we set up a packing station and filled our bags. We stood around the table, warm, surrounded by family with full stomachs, filling bags.

love bags

Knowing that the next time these bags were opened, it would likely be held by someone with an empty stomach who is cold and alone was humbling.

“It’s not enough, Lord. Shampoo and deodorant are not enough.”

Yet I was reminded that hope comes in various forms. One of the most powerful is knowing you are not forgotten, knowing that you matter. We closed the day asking that God would help us to see those who needed hope.

…I want to get more confident being uncertain.

on alert

The next day we packed the van with our bags and headed to Nashville. What a difference it made to be ready and willing to distribute freely. We had several things planned in the downtown area: the Tennessee State Museum, Bicentennial park and the Farmers Market. Throughout the day we were vigilantly aware, on alert for anyone who might need hope. No obvious need crossed our path. A strange sense of disappointment filled our hearts as we drove home.

Discomfort

Our chance came however the following day. Driving home from the Adventure Science Museum, Trent noticed a man shuffling along, his profile illuminated by the streetlight. He was moving slowly, pushing a grocery cart full of unidentifiable items. As Trent slowed the car to match the speed of the man’s movements, I found myself wanting to sink into my seat.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was very uncomfortable. It wasn’t an issue of safety. It was an issue of heart. My heart was recoiling from the unknown. It was in a new place that wasn’t easy. My easy is donating money online for someone else to distribute. My easy is packing a Christmas shoebox for someone else to hand out. This was not my easy. I’m glad I was not driving. I might have been tempted to try again another day. Instead, Trent rolled down my window and called out to get the man’s attention. As he approached our car, we offered him a bag. His face became soft and receptive. I looked him in the eyes and smiled–my discomfort dissolved.

That evening as we tucked our kids in for bed, we had someone new to pray for; we had a face to care about as the evening temperatures dipped low. I’ve come to see how healthy it is to keep expanding that distance between easy and hard, between comfortable and uncomfortable.

…I don’t want to shrink back just because something isn’t easy. I want to push back, and make more room in the area between I can’t and I can. Maybe that spot is called I will. ~Kristin Armstrong

comfortable being uncomfortable

Yesterday as we drove home from church, the kids spotted a man standing on the other side of the road facing opposing traffic holding a bright green sign. “Maybe he needs help!” was their instant concern. “I think he his likely holding a sign to advertise for a local business,” I reasoned. “But what if he’s not?” they responded.

I had to choose between what is easy and what takes effort. I had to ask myself, will I only offer help to those standing next to me or am I willing to make an effort?

“We better go find out,” I responded. Trent turned the car around and at the intersection my eyes met a man frail, worn and in need of hope. “Could you use something like this?” we asked extending our package out the window. “Oh yes, I sure could, thank you!” His face softened in a sincere, appreciative smile. As we drove away, I noticed my heart had grown. It hadn’t shrunk back from the unknown.

I realize that the issues surrounding poverty are complex and confusing. I admit that I don’t have it figured out. Certainly I’ve got leagues of growth in front me. What we did this week was only a baby-step, but it was a step. I was able to see that I won’t get any closer to being useful in this arena unless I’m willing to change my routine and get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Giving my GPS a rest

 

I drove 20 minutes into town today and I didn’t need to use GPS to navigate my route. I now know where the closest grocery store, chiropractor and thrift store are located. This is a sign that we have officially been in one place for a long time.

With the exception of a short jaunt to Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves, and a quick trip to Memphis, we’ve now been stationary in the Nashville area for almost a month. This was not the original plan. We’d anticipated being somewhere near the Gulf of Mexico at this point in our journey. However, as we are learning and all seasoned RV travelers would confirm: travel plans are best set in Jello-mode.

Our extended stay can be contributed to a bolt that broke off of our dinning room slide. Since that time we’ve been waiting for Camping World to order our part and fix the slide. Thankfully, we’ve been able to continue living in our RV while we wait. Thankfully, we are camping out in my brother’s driveway and not paying per night at an RV park. Thankfully, our schedule has been able to be loosy-goosy. We’ve enjoyed the downtime. We’ve enjoyed the extended family visit.

However, my feet are getting itchy. I’m ready to start seeing a new horizon outside my front door. We have new friends to meet in Florida and memories to make along the way. Isn’t it ironic that just a short time ago I was basking in the glorious mundane and now I’m ready to go-go-go? While there is a comfort in finding familiarity, change is calling. Again and again I’m reminded of William Cowper’s simple truth:

Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.

The Titanic Museum: It’s deep impact on my heart

Some things that we have seen or experienced on our RV trip are fun and easy to share. Others take more time to process. Visiting the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, TN last month was challenging to process. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about it. However, the more time I’ve had to marinate on the experience, the more deeply I’ve been affected. And that my friends, is when it is time to write.

The Titanic Museum

First impressions of the titanic museum

From the road, the Titanic Museum could have easily blended in with the visual cacophony of “tourist trap” businesses. I’ve never seen a town quite like Pigeon Forge before. Businesses bested for our attention in amazing style. Mini-golf, Wax Museums, even an upside-down house called to our children begging them to ask their parents to pull over and spend money. We could practically feel dollar bills floating out of our pockets as we drove along. Had we not specifically heard it was worthwhile, we would have driven right past the Titanic Museum proclaiming, “Look away children, look away!” However, long before we’d crossed the Tennessee border, this museum was on our itinerary.

To be honest, my first impression was of disappointment. Pulling into the parking lot, I noticed that the Titanic Museum’s neighbor was the upside-down house. While it did look cool, the museum was comparatively smaller and frankly, less upside-down-amazing. To be fair, we had recently walked through a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. Somehow, I’d erroneously assumed the Titanic Museum would also be built to-scale. It’s not. Instead, it looks like a mid-size ship cut in half and turned into a museum. If I seem disgruntled disappointed, I don’t want you to worry, I’m over it now.

What doesn’t matter

We purchased our tickets (which I’ve read are occasionally available on Groupon) and proceeded into the ship-building. From here my interest level rose. Each member of our family was given an audio tour headset. The content for the children was catered to their level and we proceeded through the museum at our own pace.

I could get sidetracked and tell you that there were 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 100 grape scissors and 12,000 dinner plates aboard the ship. I could share the touching letter sent from a passenger stating, “It’s been a beautiful day here, and my neck is aching with looking up at the Titanic so I haven’t seen much of the weather.” But while these things are interesting, what really touched me in a place that no list or artifact can reach was the reaction of the passengers who offered everything they had in the moment of deepest need.

This is what mattered

Mrs. Straus (whose husband was the co-owner of Macy’s) gave her seat on a lifeboat as well as her fur coat to her maid and said, “I won’t be needing this.” She then turned to her husband and said, “Where you go, I go.” They were last seen standing together arm and arm on the deck.

The water was only 28 degrees. Colder than the freezing point of ice. Yet the warmth in her words brought tears to my eyes. Sacrifice is most meaningful when it is costly, is it not?

Reverend John Harper knew something of sacrifice as well as opportunity. While submerged in the frigid Atlantic waters, he swam from person to person sharing the love of Christ and praying with them until his death. Even now, I cannot envision the image of this sodden man encumbered with the weight of the water, yet driven to offer his only hope to those perishing around him, without tears in my eyes.

Is this not a picture to enfold within our hearts creating an inferno of passion and purpose? This. This is what matters. Not the grape scissors or the fancy plates. Not the grand view that makes our neck ache. It’s the opportunity. It’s the chance to wisely throw off what easily entangles and run the race with purpose.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV

 

Visiting Memphis with kids: our weekend trip

We took a side trip driving from Nashville to Memphis this weekend. For the first time since leaving Idaho, we left our RV behind. In Nashville we’ve parked our RV at my brother’s house. Because we planned to return to his place after our visit in Memphis, we opted to drive to Memphis in our van and stay in a hotel over the weekend. The kids expressed their feelings toward this plan with squeals and shouts. However, after three nights visiting Memphis with kids, I’m ready to be back in our little house on wheels.

Memphis weekend highlights

Memphis is tucked on the far western edge of Tennessee. The Mississippi River flanks the border with definable boldness while the city itself overflows with music, fried chicken, BBQ and cultural diversity. Our visit to this “Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll” was driven by the desire to reconnect with my nephew and two college friends. During our stay we were treated to a meal consisting of BBQ, beans, greens, macaroni & cheese and apple pie as tasty and southern as they come.

memphis-bbq

Even richer than the food was our opportunity to rekindle relationships. In the last few weeks I have noticed a craving for community creeping up inside of us. This has begun to take is toll on our hearts. Twice we’ve camped within minutes of other traveling families. However, because of the rapid pace of our travels, our ability to connect with others has been limited. This weekend we had the opportunity to enter into deep discussions about life, loss, and God’s role in our lives. It rejuvenated my heart to make those connections. It also confirmed our desire to connect with other traveling families in the future.

Our time visiting Memphis was limited and the people we were there to see took center stage. However, we did enjoy visiting a few of local sights and sounds with the kids.

Visiting Memphis with kids: paid activities

memphis-childrens-museum

The Memphis Children’s Museum was a fun diversion with my nephew. We’ve now had the opportunity to visit a few Children’s Museums. Thanks to a reciprocal arrangement through our ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) membership, these visits are either free or discounted by 50%. While our kids enjoyed their visit, this wasn’t my favorite of the Children’s Museums we’ve visited so far. It was smaller in scale and I didn’t feel the value was equal to the $15/person price (even with our 50% admission discount). If you are unfamiliar with the different museum memberships beneficial to traveling families, I encourage you to read this post that first clued me in.

memphis-botanic-garden

An unexpected highlight was our visit to the Memphis Botanic Garden. A large area of the garden is designed with kids in mind. My Big Backyard contains more than a dozen unique areas created to encourage delight and discovery. Jumping, creating, playing, and daydreaming are all part of the plan in this carefully designed landscape for kids. Hours could be spent here in open-ended play. Click here for a photo tour. Prices: Adults: $8, Kids 2-12: $5

botanic-gardens-in-memphis

visiting Memphis with kids: free activities

memphis-weekend

Relaxing on the bank of the Mississippi River watching the steamboats floating effortlessly down river was a treat. There are several parking areas (some free, some paid) making this an accessible activity. The kids also found the RiverFIT riverfront fitness trail extra interesting.

civil-rights-museum visiting memphis with kids

The Civil Rights Museum is a place I’ve mentally bookmarked for the future. We didn’t visit inside the museum on this trip. However, from outside the museum we were able to see the hotel balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. died and learn more about the incredibly influential life that he led through short instructional video displays. Standing in the place where history has gone before me is something that I continue to love about travel.

Walking down Beale St. after sundown with live music pulsing and neon lights illuminating the evening created a memorable close to the day.

visiting memphis with kids

As we head back to Nashville we tip our hats to you Memphis for your idiosyncratic melodic style. You play to your own beat and we found that beat super groovy. To see our Memphis visit via video, click here.

Have you been to Memphis? Please share your favorite spots and activities in the comments below. On my Instagram account @christiededman commented: “I would add Mudd Island museum, Pink Palace and at least drive by Graceland (don’t pay to go in not worth the money) the Lichterman Nature Center is beautiful too.” Mudd Island did sound amazing. We would have visited, but it had unfortunately closed for the year at October 31.