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 to 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 “let’s 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 not-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 to be 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”. 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.

16 thoughts on “First six months in the RV: our highs and lows”

  1. I think you did a great job of capturing the challenges and the benefits. We are now full-time RVing, exploring and enjoying the United States in our retirement. Biggest adjustment we’ve made in these early weeks is to remember that we’re living, not travelling. Moving too frequently does not allow for any routines to set in or connections to be made with other campers. Our weekly church experiences have been wonderful! Blessings to you, and your family!!

    1. Yes, learning to “live” on the road is an adjustment I can relate to as well! I am looking forward to slowing down the pace. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Blessings to you as well!

  2. Heather, I really enjoyed your reflection on your first six months on the road. That is certainly a learning and adjusting phase for all of us rv’ers. Mine was learning how to prepare a decent meal in what I call my make and bake kitchen! Still trying to perfect that after six years.
    I absolutely loved the picture of you children earning their Junior Ranger badge. I has been told that activity is one that the real rangers find the most rewarding.
    Have you joined the Escapees club yet? If not you might think about it. They have a special sub group of families that are rving. It is called Escapees. The group for kids is Camping Kids. The club magazine Escapees is always looking for article submissions for the magazine. You might take a look at the website Escapees.com and see if it would be a good fit for you and your family. Best wishes and safe travels to you.

    1. Learning how to cook in a smaller kitchen (and shop for groceries in a smaller fridge) is a great point to bring up. That has been a learning curve as well for me :). I love that you are still traveling after six years!! We are members with Fulltime Families and that membership came with a free year with Escapees. However, I’ve not looked into it too much beyond some of the discounted campgrounds. Thanks so much for brining that to my attention, I will look into it more closely! Blessings on your travels Karen!

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing what’s been challenging and rewarding. I loved hearing you children’s perspective. I applaud your willingness to experience life fully!

  4. Heather:

    I love your heart in this. We sound like kindred spirits and I look forward to more blog posts! I travel frequently, mostly with my 13 year old son. My heart would be to be on the road full-time also, but that’s not my husband’s heart and so we have a permanent home and hubby is here when I travel. We’ll see what the future brings! Praying your time in FL is rich!

    Blessings!

    Cynthia H.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Despite the fact that you are not traveling full-time, I love that you are still able to travel and that your “man child” can enjoy the passion with you! 🙂 I’m glad you stopped in and I hope to hear from you again!

  5. You can use a digital service for your mail! Several mentioned in Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Workweek & on his 4 Hour blog!! Congrats to you!! You’re brave to do it with 4 kids!! I aspire to do it with my hubby!!

    1. Isn’t that fantastic that they have digital services like that?! My mind was blown a little when I first found out about them. We considered using one (and someday we may) but for now since my in-laws are willing to do it for free we are going with that option. 😉 They send us an email letting us know when mail comes and telling us who it’s from and we ask them to “throw it away” or “send it on to us” or “hold it and send it later when more mail comes”. I hope you are able to make your dream a reality in the future, it’s a grand dream in my opinion :).

  6. Thanks for your post. My husband and I are retiring and thinking about RVing full time. One thing you said really hit home with me and that was, “shrinking back from the unknown.” How do I sell all my possessions, what if we sell the house and everything in it and we start traveling h full time and don’t like it? Do we have enough money to fix things as they break? My husband is not a ” Mr. Fixit”! All these unknowns cause me to go into a tailspin! Any advice?

    1. Hi Doris, That is a very big question, it can feel overwhelming to consider all the “what ifs? to the point of freezing you from doing anything! I am not sure what advice to offer you, but I can speak from my own experience. My husband and I felt the potential reward outweighed the risk. We also felt that our “worst case scenario” was an acceptable risk we were willing to take. We took several smaller trips trying out the idea of traveling with the kids and trying to picture us doing this long term. We found that being away from our home (which we had just finished remodeling and loved) made it easier to look at our possessions more objectively. When I was home it was harder to think about getting rid of my things. However, I found that I didn’t miss my possessions at all when I was away from them enjoying a beautiful part of the country.

      When I started to feel overwhelmed, I would try to focus on just the very next step rather than looking at the entire picture at once. Step one might be to downsize for instance. So I’d keep my focus narrow and make that my priority.

      It is true that things will break and it is very prudent to have savings set aside for unknown issues. However, for us the monthly expenses we incur on the road pale in comparison to when we had a house and all the extra costs that were involved in that lifestyle.

      I’ll also say that we have found the online community of full-timers to be a wonderful asset if/when things go wrong. They are so quick to jump in with suggestions and help. Also, YouTube has been invaluable in helping us learn how to do things we’d never done before.

      Lastly, most people hold on to their most favored possessions and store them so that if/when they are not traveling anymore they still have those to come back to.

      I hope that helps in some way. It would be great to see you on the road in the future :)!

  7. What is the typical monthly cost of staying in a campground? I’m trying to get an idea at how much that would be. This has been something I’ve always longed to do.

    1. There isn’t a straight answer to your question as it depends on several factors but I can try to give you a general idea. Staying in state or National parks will typically cost about $20-$30 a night. Staying in an RV park on average can be similar however there are some that can charge up to $100+ if they are very nice or in a high demand area and it is the peek of their season (such as wintertime in Key West, FL). Purchasing memberships through businesses such as Passport America or Escapees can allow you to get up to 50% off nightly rates at many campgrounds. However, there are often stipulations limiting the number of nights you can stay, which nights of the week or months of the year the discount if valid so you have to be willing to work around those details.

      Staying at a location for a month at a time will give you better rates but we’ve not done this before so I don’t have a good estimate of the general costs.

      What many full-time families opt to do is purchase a membership through Thousand Trails. They have different options for memberships but the beauty of the program is that once you pay in your nightly costs are VERY low (a few dollars a night) to free depending on your membership type. This is the route we have gone and so we stay in a Thousand Trails campground whenever possible. Although you can purchase memberships new, we opted to use a broker and purchased a used membership to save money (this has pros and cons as well so make sure you do some searching online before deciding what is best for you).

      If traveling full time is something that intrigues you I’d suggest joining this Facebook group if you haven’t already: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FulltimeFamilies/ Post this question there and you will get a lot of helpful feedback that will give you a more rounded idea. I hope this helps!

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