Just West of Lake Ontario, our hazard lights blink-blink-blink as the freeway traffic rushes past us, sending the vehicles into small sideways rocking motions. The truck, whose engine has been whispering notions of discontent for the past few hundred miles, has acted like a toddler and erupted into a full-blown tantrum. We are perched like birds on the shoulder of the road.
“You must create more margin so you have room for what’s important, not merely urgent.” -Michael Hayatt
Its 4:33PM and we are driving home from the Lost Colony National Park. I’m slowly digesting the reality that once again my high school history education was grossly lacking. The US had English settlers before Jamestown? And they disappeared? Mind. Blown.
We’ve been gone for several hours and are just minutes away from our RV home. Trent looks to his left and spots a crowd of people gathered on top of a sand dune. Absentmindedly he says, “Look at all the people, I wonder what is going on over there?”
“Let’s go see,” I reply, testing his both his curiosity and the boundaries of our spontaneity. He raises his eyebrows and responds by tapping the blinker. Within moments our van is pointed in a new direction.
This morning my GPS spoke assurances that we would arrive in 3 hours and 26 minutes. However, it failed to anticipate the RV tire blowout that would occur one hour into our trip.
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?
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.
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.
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 to slow down.
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.
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 “let’s figure this out” attitude.
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.
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.
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 not-so-nice things out of the way, let’s talk about the super awesome parts of RV living!
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.
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.
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).
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 to be on sale or would look perfect next to my ______ is almost laughable. I ask myself:
Do we need it?
Do I have a place for it?
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.
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.
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!”
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”. It’s 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 that’s acceptable, take a calculated risk. This world has enough arm chair quarterbacks.
The trick is to enjoy life. Don’t wish away your days, waiting for better ones ahead. The grand and the simple. They are equally wonderful. ~Marjorie Pay Hinckley
For some, this idea of perpetual travel brings about mental hives. For others, perhaps the thought encourages wistful wonder. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, there is a possibility that the images conveyed by my Instagram account shout, “amazing fairytale life”. In the interest of reality, I’d like to bring a little balance to the table. I will be the first to agree that we live amazingly blessed lives. We consistently make efforts to remain mindfully grateful of the opportunities we have been given.
That said, this fulltime traveling gig is not for the faint of heart. There are downsides. There are difficult days. Currently the change/consistent ratio is super skewed in the direction of change. We can hardly keep all 6 of us accurately knowing which state we are in before the answer changes. We don’t always know in the morning where we will be sleeping that evening. When we think we know where we will be sleeping, there’s always a chance we could be wrong. Today is a great example.
As we pulled out of Trail’s End campground ((silent moment of thankfulness)) we confidently continued on our way, happy to have a short 2-hour drive before us. The thought of a short drive day with lots of downtime afterward seemed just the ticket to decompress from our busy week. However, upon arrival, we realized that because we had previously decided to stay an extra day in New Salem and an extra day in St. Louis, our schedule had shifted forward and what previously was a weeknight arrival was now a weekend arrival, and a holiday weekend to boot. Surprise! People like to camp on holiday weekends. The one available site was at an awkward angle that was too tricky to back into. Lesson: don’t assume you will have room to stay on a weekend just because summer is over. Pay a little more attention to the holiday calendar. Call ahead to check or make a reservation.
We abandoned plan A and carried on down the road. Because plan B involved boondocking in a Wal-Mart parking lot and decompression at Wal-Mart is an oxymoron, the vote was to keep driving until we were ready for bed. However, not all Wal-Marts allow boondocking. When we were ready to call it quits for the day, the one we first stopped at was not interested in hosting us for the evening. Lesson: Call first before pulling into the parking lot. Some parking lots are tight and tricky to navigate through.
Wal-Mart #2 was a go however and thankfully it was only another 15 minutes down the road. Because I’m learning as I go, thankfully I had a quick and easy “plan B” dinner option to fall back on when at 8PM we finally opened up the house and were ready to call it a day. After the kids were tucked in bed, Trent and I had a little “date night” activity. The lights hanging above our kitchen island had come loose during the drive and together we dismantled and repaired the problem.
As I reflect on the day, I can also remember a period of 10 solid minutes of reckless crying in the backseat when Quinten’s apple fell onto the floor and more than one emergency potty stop on the side of the road. However, that one quirky town in Casey, IL where we parked the RV, everyone piled into the van, got ice cream cones at McDonald’s and took a side trip to see a handful of “world’s largest” items comes to mind as well. There was also that moment when Tanner confidently declared from the back seat that when he grows up he is going to own a campground and charge $1/night (actually at first he said he wanted to “be” a campground but we soon figured out his full intent). In addition, the seemingly endless fields of corn finally gave way to forests of trees tempted to turn the corner into brilliant color. And now, as I lay in bed with the bustling city’s sounds and sirens around me, I can hear the soft, silent breathing of my favorite person, asleep in bed next to me. This life isn’t glamorous or easy. Neither is marriage or parenting or homeschooling or any other number of things that add value and meaning to life. I’d rather wrestle through a challenging day, than surrender to a defeated life.
What about you? What challenges in your day bring you down? What do you do to refocus yourself?