is it possible to have community on the road?

Before we launched into our new RV living lifestyle, there was one particular aspect we wondered about most: is is possible to have community on the road?

Since hitting the road, this topic of RV community has been discussed repeatedly between Trent and I. Additionally, it has been talked about over campfires with new friends and its been questioned by blog readers.

What does community look like for nomadic travelers? Is it possible to obtain? How it is similar or different from a more traditional living situation? These questions are multi-faceted and with only a little over 6 months of travel time under our belts, I feel ill equipped to even comment. Yet despite my rookie status as a full-time traveler, I will lay my humble two-cents on the table.

Defining our terms

First things first. I feel it is important to define the terms that we are using when we speak of community. Webster defines community in the following two ways:

  1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goalsthe sense of community that organized religion can provide.

In the first description, community becomes implied simply by nature of our location or a common characteristic. In this sense we are part of the “RV community” by default each and every time we pull into a RV park.

Yet what I believe most people are after is found tucked more solidly within the second description. Here there is a feeling of belonging, strengthened by common interests and goals.

However, to complicate things further, Trent and I are not entirely satisfied with option #1 or #2. Our hearts long for something greater. Something reflected in the pages of Scripture. We read about the new believers in Acts chapter 2 verses 42-47 and our hearts salivate.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

Within the framework of this example we might redefine community in the following way:

An interdependency with others connected by a common God-given vision with the goal of authentic fellowship aided by close proximity and mutual interests.

Basically we want our cake and to eat it too. We don’t just want to live near others. We don’t simply want to have common interests. We want more depth and breadth added to the entire mix. Admittedly this is a high standard–so much so that in our 17 years of marriage we’ve only sampled tastes of it. Yet, our longing remains.

To a degree I believe we will continue to hunger for this unique community until heaven satisfies our hearts. Yet, because I believe our longing was placed there by community’s creator Himself, I refuse to settle into apathetic relational atrophy.

Community on the road?

Our current lifestyle goes directly against the stream of convenient community. We’ve given up the built-in neighborhood. Our church building is ever-changing. At times we move too frequently to receive mail. If the postman can’t even find us, how could we possibly experience authentic community with others?

It may seem illogical but incredibly I’ve talked to women who have cultivated more connection on the road than they found in their former neighborhoods. We’ve heard about teens who traversed the unknown and discovered their own tribe of traveling friends. And remarkably, accounts from military families who say that their relationships on the road are stronger than they were while on active duty, caught us off guard.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out that there are so many of them in the world.” ~Anne of Green Gables

Again and again we’ve heard from families who planned to travel for “just one year” who now have an open-ended travel itinerary simply because they realized they didn’t have to forgo relationships just because they happened to have nomadic tendencies.

community in an rv on the road
Super Bowl Sunday at the Fulltime Families Rally

EARLY TASTES of community on the road

While it’s too soon to make long term predictions on what this full-time RV community could look like for our own family, I can tell you what we’ve tasted so far:

-We’ve seen over 100 full-time RV traveling families.
-We’ve sat at the pool and recognized everyone else present.
-We’ve enjoyed spontaneous dinner guests and game nights.
-Our kids have attended co-op style homeschool classes and game nights.
-Hunter had a tent sleep-over two nights in a row.
-Trent went to a men’s movie night.
-I attended an IKEA ladies day out, a mini marriage seminar and a Christmas sock exchange.
-The two of us played the newlywed game with a large group of other couples.
-Ashlyn learned how to weave and taught others how to make fabric scrap dolls and friendship bracelets.
-Quinten and Tanner enjoyed countless light saber wars with neighboring boys.
-We enjoyed co-op meals.
-I taught a class on how to brew Kombucha tea and another on how to help your kids memorize easily.
-Trent taught a class on the basics of installing solar.
-We weathered a tornado warning in a parking garage amidst playing kids and crock pots of cheese dip.
-We worshiped and prayed together.

I’ve been floored by how many wonderfully unique people make up this RV community. Their stories would blow your mind. A single widow RVing with her two teens and two-year-old twins. A family of 12 fighting their dad’s brain tumor diagnosis by living life and making their dreams a reality. A Canadian family who wrote a book about the battle they faced against flesh eating disease and the way God miraculously provided healing. A man who is hiking 1,000 across two AZ and UT while carrying a flame. Families who have fostered. Families who have adopted. Families who have also experienced the grief of stillbirth. I could go on and on…

To be honest, during our stay in Orlando, we had more opportunity for social interaction than we could ask for. However, despite the abundant relational opportunities surrounding us, relationships don’t automatically equal community.

rv community on the road
The Newlywed Game hosted by the Nomadic Homeschoolers

New beginnings

This winter has been a lot like moving into a new neighborhood. Yet, the introductory questions have drastically differed from my former norm.

“What state did you launch from?”
“How long have you been traveling?”
“How long will you be here?”
“Where do you plan to travel this year?”
“What’s your story? What got you into this lifestyle?”

Beginning a relationship based on location based questions is intriguing. Yet like any other kind of friendship, time is required in order to develop depth. Depth can be difficult to obtain in traveling timeframes–yet, not impossible.

community on the road in an rv
Taco Tuesday potluck sponsored by the Nomadic Homeschoolers

SHALLOW VS. DEEP

While depth of relationships are often developed over stretches time, it is possible to accelerate the process. I’ve adopted the intentionally mindset. If I see someone I want to get to know, I take quick action. I’ve initiated morning walks, dinner get togethers, fireside chats and game nights. While I’ve not yet had enough time for those relationships to mature to a aged perfection, they do have a favorable jumpstart. The upside is that I’ve met some really fantastic women. The downside is that I’m not currently parked next to any of them.

“Dear me, there is nothing but meetings and partings in this world.” ~Anne of Green Gables

The process reminds me of standing next to a campfire on a cool evening. I stand as close as I can for as long as I can and then I have to turn to warm up the other side. While the proximity is right, the conditions are fantastically favorable for friendship. As soon as the proximity is off, it’s way off. I’m states away from people I ate dinner with just a few weeks ago.

I’m too new to know how this works out in the long run. Others have told me that they continue to ebb and flow in and out of proximity–meeting up with old friends and making new ones as they go.

PLACES VS. PEOPLE

Without a doubt there are relationships to be had if you are willing to pursue them.  Herein lies the rub. At times there is a choice between the pursuit of the location or the people. For example, our goal for the next 6 months is to explore the east coast. However, we’ve met some great families who are traveling west this year. By nature of our chosen places, we will miss out on spending time with those people. Due to some family events, we need to move up the east coast relatively quickly. Yet, our east coast traveling friends are on a slower timeline. Unfortunately this means they will be trailing a few weeks behind us. We will do what we can to align our schedule to overlap with others however, for the next 6 months we are admittedly putting “places” in a high priority position.

Should our travels continue beyond this first year, I anticipate that the pull between places and people would begin to yield much more heavily toward people. As a result, I expect that we would begin to pursue places which are in close proximity to the people we wish to see rather than the reverse. What I don’t know is how close to our ideal “third community” definition we can get while on the road. In that arena (like all others) I’ve resigned myself to remember that God has never failed to provide for us. I believe that if He could create a partner for Adam out of a rib (Genesis 2:18-25), He can certainly provide community for us on the road.

community for kids
The kids marketplace at the Fulltime Families Rally

A different perspective

In an effort to provide a more balanced perspective on the subject of community, I reached out to friends we’ve met online and on the road and asked for their insight.

The Walkers were the very first full-time family we met on the road. We’d gone two months without meeting another family and our social tanks were on empty. What a gift it was to connect with them! Since that time we’ve reconnected on multiple occasions and our kids have formed sweet bonds. To get to know them better, check out their Trent & Siobhan YouTube channel and listen to their music on Spotify!

Full Time Community – The Walkers’ Perspective:

For us, community on the road was a saving grace. To make a long story short, we had spent our first 8 months in our RV without community and we were very discouraged and about to give up when we made a last-minute decision to attend a rally with other families in New York. That decision was the best decision we had made since “launching” and we wished we had attended a rally or meet-up earlier. We went from not knowing ANY other full time families to meeting about 50 at one time! It was absolute bliss for all of us to spend four full days NOT having to explain to anyone that we live in an RV on purpose…lol! There is just something special about regularly spending time with people who share a common lifestyle. Since that time we have made a point to attend more rallies and meet-ups to continue the process of forming relationships.

This community of nomadic people, as a whole, couldn’t be more diverse but we have this common bond of homes on wheels and no matter our nationality, color, financial status or level of education we ALL still have to empty the black tank.

Marissa and Nate have been traveling since May of 2015 with their adorable young daughter, Hensley. We met for the first time at the Fulltime Families Rally in Tallahassee and then again when we went to Devil’s Den (click here to see that video) and then again briefly in Orlando. Their popular Less Junk More Journey vlog on YouTube as well as their blog is a great place to get to know them better. Here are Marissa’s thoughts on community on the road:

Community is one of the most overlooked aspects of fulltime RV living, but it is one of the most important. We set out on our journey hoping to just run into families at campgrounds who were living the same lifestyle so we could interact. It was 6 lonely months before we met our first fulltime family, just as we started to think they were as mythical as unicorns.

After our first year, we decided to devote our travels to more community based events. We attended the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and a Fulltime Families rally and it rocked our RV world.

After including community as part of our travels our experience has been more fulfilling and enriched through these relationships and even friendships. Making community a vital part of your family travels opens amazing doors that you didn’t even know was possible.

Gaby Cuda from RVShare and I have corresponded via email with the mutual connection of blogging and RVing. I asked for her feedback on this topic of community and she was happy to share.

Finding meaningful connections on the road isn’t difficult, but, like all relationships, it does entail some work on both sides. In all aspects of life, relationships must be not just forged, but fostered. The wonderful thing about the RV community is that so many RVers are eager to join forces and share stories. What binds us together is our love of exploration, freedom, and of course, our rigs. There are plenty of ways to meet like-minded individuals – check out an RV show. Join an RV club. Strike up a conversation with your campground neighbors. You’ll come across many people in the RV world that have the same outlook on life as you – and that’s one of the strongest foundations for a lasting friendship. When you look for it, you’ll see community all around you, whether it’s in a neighborhood, a church, or a cluster of campers.

Michael and Crissa Boyink have two older children and have been Rving since 2010. When I said before that I am a newbie, to me these guys are the extreme opposite of that! I first met Michael and Crissa online after I heard a Family Adventure Podcast interview featuring their family. Since that time, I have enjoyed reading their weekly newsletter and using the resources on their Ditching Suburbia blog (such as their crowd sourced Where To Go interactive map). If you’ve been a Faith Takes Flight reader for a while, you may also remember that I wrote a guest post on Ditching Suburbia about how we downsized our possessions to fit our new RV lifestyle. We got the opportunity to meet up with the Boyinks in person at the Fulltime Families rally (they wrote a blog post about their rally experience here) and it was a lot of fun to interact face to face. Here is their take on finding community on the road:

We have more friends (and deeper friendships with those friends) out on the road than we had back in our suburban life.

We never expected that.

But road friendships don’t happen by chance. We purpose to meet people. That often means changing plans. We chose to prioritize community over a fun museum or National Park visit. We went from Michigan to Texas by the way of Washington, DC in order to caravan with friends just a little longer.

And friendships look different than in the suburbs. We used to see friends more often but interact at a shallow level. Now we see people less often but interactions are deeper.

And we’ve gotten better at saying goodbye. We’ve learned to appreciate the sadness that comes when leaving friends. If there is no sadness, then the visit wasn’t a good one.

We’ve written so much about community we created a dedicated category for it on our blog.

I am so encouraged to hear these perspectives and I love how the Boyink’s have chosen to view their goodbyes: “If there is no sadness, then the visit wasn’t a good one.”

How to find others on the road

While our stay in Orlando was on the extreme end of the social spectrum, we’d experienced the isolation end of the spectrum for much of the three months preceding. Here’s what I would suggest to other families seeking to make connection on the road:

-Connect yourself to another organized group of traveling families. The two we’ve found most useful so far have been Fulltime Families and Nomadic Homeschoolers.

-Make efforts to attend a Fulltime Family Rally. The rally we attended in Tallahassee at the beginning of February was great. We’ve heard from many that attending a rally was the game changer in helping their family see this lifestyle as a sustainable, long term choice.

Fulltime Families also has a new family finder on their website. Members can update their location and see if other families are in their area.

-Use social media to your advantage. I’ve found other families in our area through Instagram. At the Fulltime Families rally I asked other parents (via the private Facebook group) for help in connecting my slow-to-initiate daughter with other girls her age. Within 20 minutes a small tribe of girls showed up, crafts, snacks and an umbrella in hand and friendships were born.

community on the road
Before and after: the time I used social media to help my child make connections

-Build margin into your travel plans. We’ve been most starved for interaction with others when we are moving too quickly to facilitate relationship building.

Initiate. This is not a time to wait to be pursued by others. You have to be willing to make the first move.

I’ve put my two cents out there, now it’s your turn. If you are a traveling family, what has your community experience been on the road? If you are not a traveling family, are there questions I didn’t answer?

the question you are afraid to ask: my stillbirth story

What happens when death visits and you have no one to talk to about your loss? How I discovered my tribe and found a voice in the void.

Whether its facing toddler tantrums or travel woes, potty training or panic attacks, it feels good to know we are not alone. Talking with others who are or have walked a similar road of celebration or sorrow is comforting, if not simply confirming, that we are not slipping silently into insanity. However, certain topics are by default easier to talk about than others. Menopause for instance is a conversation I have not dug into with anyone just yet. To be honest, that future period of my life (or lack thereof if you know what I mean wink-wink) is still very hazy. Stillbirth is another not-so-common topic of discussion. The unfortunate consequence is that grieving can be a confusing and lonely place to find yourself.

my stillbirth story begins
Our family the morning that Sawyer was born

Eight years ago, when our third child (Sawyer) died three weeks before his due date, I faced a mountain of unknowns. What was it like to deliver a dead baby? Does one have a memorial service in a situation like this? How do we explain his death to our children (who were 5 and 3 at the time)?  After delivery should our kids be allowed to hold their baby brother or be sheltered from seeing him? Should I change plans and deliver him in a hospital or continue with the home birth as planned? Should we induce or wait until my body went naturally into labor? Should we bury or cremate his body? Would my body still produce breast milk? How long would it be until my mind could conceive a single thing that was not somehow tangled in thought to my son? Would the pain ever go away? Was it normal to want to get pregnant again so soon? The questions seemed as endless as the grief. I’d never known anyone to face this kind of loss to whom I could go to and ask questions. Or so I thought. . .

According to the Centers for Disease Control website,

In the United States, a miscarriage usually refers to a fetal loss less than 20 weeks after a woman becomes pregnant, and a stillbirth refers to a loss 20 or more weeks after a woman becomes pregnant.

Stillbirth is further classified as either early, late, or term.

An early stillbirth is a fetal death occurring between 20 and 27 completed weeks of pregnancy.
A late stillbirth occurs between 28 and 36 completed pregnancy weeks.
A term stillbirth occurs between 37 or more completed pregnancy weeks.

Occurrence

Stillbirth effects about 1% of all pregnancies, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.1 That is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

As it turns out, that 1% segment of the population was much larger than I realized and as I began to write about my stillbirth story on my blog, I began to connect with women who knew the road I was walking because they had traveled it themselves. I also began meeting others who had bravely walked alongside those women. Together we were stronger, braver and had more purpose than we did alone. Many of these women were willing to share a part of their stillbirth or infant loss story in my recent book, “Finding Joy in the Mourning: A Mother’s Journey through Grief to Hope & Healing“.  They openly answered questions such as:

  • After your loss, what were your feelings toward having another child?
  • Is it helpful for you when people bring up your loss or would you rather avoid discussing it?
  • Are you comfortable if/when others ask about the details of what happened (how/why your child died)? Would you rather people ask or just leave that question alone?
  • What would be most meaningful to you for friends or family members to do to remember your child’s birthday or anniversary of their death?
  • How have your relationships with other people changed because of your experience?
  • How have your beliefs about God and the world changed or deepened through your experience? Have you dealt with anger toward God?
  • Which “comforting phrase(s)” or comments were most hurtful to you (i.e. what should people avoid saying)?
  • Were there any gifts given to you or your family after your loss that stood out as most meaningful? Why?
  • Looking back, what do you wish your friends and family would have known that might have helped them to support you better?
  • And many more. . .

Isn’t it beautiful to think of the combined consensus of support that can await those who have a tribe of understanding hearts surrounding them? I want that. I want that for myself and I want that for you. Be it parenting, marriage, lifestyle choices (living in an RV anyone?) or grieving, we all need “our people”.

August 7th at 6 PST/9 ET I had the opportunity and privilege to speak to my new tribe of fellow full-time RV traveling families about losing Sawyer and the book that followed on the Roadschool Moms radio show. I chatted live with co-hosts Kimberly and Mary Beth and you can still listen to the recorded podcast here if you prefer iTunes or here if you would rather just listen to it via their website page.

Lastly, if you or someone you know is grief-stricken, I’d consider it an honor if you would share my book with them. I’d love to have the opportunity to keep them company on their own journey of sorrow and, Lord willing, bring them some glimpses of hope and healing.

*This post contains affiliate links.

loving limits

I’ve taken a few deep breaths between my last post and this one as we wrapped up our school year and settled slightly deeper into this lifestyle that is not yet old, but a bit beyond brand-new. In that time, I’ve been stretched to figure out where our family boundaries lie when our home-sweet-home rests within an RV park on public grounds.
I’ve discovered that newly formed friendships may seek out my children with a knock at our front door during breakfast, mid-morning school, afternoon or evening dinner hour. I’ve grappled to discover my appropriate response when new park playmates ask me for food, drink and band aids while their parents (whom I have not yet met) camp a short distance away. I’ve struggled to define appropriate personal space within this public place (i.e. which (if any) kids are allowed into our home and when and for how long?). These decisions demanded honest self-reflection and clear family communication.

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warmer together

One thing I would miss, if we ever pack our bags and blow this popsicle joint, is my fireplace. This time of year it is the magnetic glue of our home. We huddle around it, sleep next to it and read by it.  The warmth it gives, both emotionally and physically, simply cannot be overstated.

However, when my mornings get busy and I’m brushing my teeth while making my bed and the kids are hungry and half-dressed, time silently slips past while I forget about the stove in our basement and the embers burn low.

The funny thing about fires is that they can be managed, fed and stoked quite easily while hot, yet they are hopelessly burdensome to resurrect once they have burned low, or worse, gone out.  Not too many mornings ago I chastised myself for lingering too long upstairs before checking on the fire–once again it was on the brink of extinction.  In a desperate attempt to revive the fire quickly, I stacked newspaper, kindling and a few new logs on the embers before I was called away to put out an argument upstairs.  Later, when I remembered my quest, I checked on my fire only to be met with smoldering failure.  You see, you cannot revive a low burning fire quickly, it takes time, attention and just the right kind of fuel.
Continue reading “warmer together”