We recently returned home from our first extended RV trip and found that family and friends had questions for us. Many of the questions came from our friend Lorraine who joined us for our last few days in Nevada and our return trip. Thanks for the inspiration Lorraine and here goes!
What were the best and worst things about life on the road?
There is no doubt about it, the pros of this life outweigh the cons. Life on the road provides a freedom that we could never experience living in a sticks and bricks home as the ‘working man’. Each day brings new adventures, unique experiences, beautiful locations, unexplored communities, and a different neighbor with his or her own unique story. In our old life, each day was a repeat of the previous. We were Bill Murray in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. We’d get ready, commute an hour, work our 40+ hour a week jobs, commute another hour, have dinner, do a quick chore, relax a little, then go to bed and repeat the next day. You know this routine—you’ve done it thousands of times yourself. Don’t get me wrong, there was much to be grateful for in that life. We had a comfortable routine, security, and stability. But the monotony and mundane ate away at us and our spirits were continually restless.
Naturally, RV life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There is something to be said for the comfort and security of home. Who do you call when things go wrong on the road? You don’t have your usual network of trusted mechanics, home repairmen, doctors, veterinarian, etc. You are left scrambling for help from unfamiliar providers in unfamiliar locations. This is even more challenging when traveling in remote areas like we do.
We also found life’s little necessities tedious and much more laborious. Things that are simple chores back home take more time and effort: cooking, dishes, showers, laundry, more frequent grocery shopping, etc. Basic resupplies and deliveries were especially challenging in the remote areas we visited. Something as simple as finding our type of contact lens solution was surprisingly difficult. Sure, you can have items shipped, but mail and deliveries can also be a challenge when boondocking in the middle of nowhere.
Ironically, the biggest challenge of life on the road is also one of its best attributes—the solitude. It was restorative to the mind and soul to largely disconnect from the world around us. But it was also difficult being far away from family and friends. Without a doubt, distance from the most important people in our lives was the biggest challenge of life on the road…ok, that and going from a 3,300 sq ft home to less than 250 sq ft space!
What does it take to succeed at life on the road?
I’m sure this list will grow over time, but thus far I’ve identified the following requirements to succeed at and enjoy life on the road:
- Sense of adventure
- Ability to cope with being away from family and friends
- Enjoy breaking away from life’s routine and all things familiar
- You have to really like the one you’re with. Folk rock musician Stephen Stills told us to Love the One You’re With. Sure, but for life on the road, it is even more important to like the one you’re with! Any little annoyances are exponentially magnified when living in such tight quarters.
- Financial and emotional ability to remain flexible and pivot when life requires. Ya gotta be able to roll with the changes. As the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
What did you do right and what could you have done better?
The biggest thing that we did right, even though it went counter to every ounce of my being, was we remained flexible with our itinerary and we didn’t rush our travels. After the first few days on the road, we slowed our pace. Moves were short and we took as much time as we wanted to enjoy an area. Generally speaking, we watched and planned around the weather. We had a vague idea of a route, but we didn’t have set plans or reservations. As one of our travel friends likes to say, we cemented our plans in jello. For the first time in our lives, we were able to fly by the seat of our pants and we loved the sense of freedom and adventure that offered.
Ironically, not having a set plan and moving too slow was also one of our biggest regrets of this first extended trip. Once the short days of late fall arrived, we found ourselves getting too comfortable in one spot. First it was five weeks in Hurricane, Utah then eights weeks in various locations around Lake Mead. There was plenty to do in those areas and we never got bored, but we regret not experiencing more locations. This was really all on me. The short days of winter bring out a laziness in me, much like a hibernating grizzly bear. Many snow-birders spend the entire winter in one location and they love it. I can see why, but that life isn’t for us. It doesn’t fulfill our goal of experiencing as many new places as possible. This is about the journey, not sitting in one spot (as tempting as that sometimes is).
What lessons did you learn and what advice can you give to someone RVing for the first time?
Many RVers hit the road having never camped or owned an RV. They are unfamiliar with staying in remote areas without internet or cell phone. They have never had to manage resources such as batteries, water, waste, and propane. They’ve never had to pull a big trailer, dump a black tank, or troubleshoot RV issues. Every aspect of RVing is new for them and it can be a steep learning curve. Fortunately for us, we had years of RV and remote travel experience. We had a good handle on the basics and were more prepared than most. After our many years of planning, nothing came as a big surprise, but we had to learn how to live together in a small space for months at a time and adjust to being far away from everything we know. The advice we can give:
- First, if you are new to RVing and you don’t have the base experiences like we did, watch as many YouTube videos as you can. For basic RV lessons, common sense, and encouragement, I don’t think you can beat Robin at Creativity RV. I could give a long list of other recommended channels, but this will start you in the right direction.
- Major lifestyle changes have an adjustment period. Adjusting to RV life will likely be a bit of a roller coaster ride at first with some big ups and downs. That is normal and healthy. You don’t have to have it all figured out in the first week.
- Off season travel is awesome! The crowds of tourists are gone and busy places like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are quiet and peaceful. We also quickly realized we were willing to risk the weather more than the average snow-birder in order to be in more scenic and less crowded places. We thought we’d be chasing 70 degrees all winter, but 50-60 degree days in the sunny Southwest desert are ideal for hiking. But this also meant we had cold winter nights more than we thought we would. Temperatures routinely fell below freezing and we pushed what our three season motorhome was capable of handling. We now know we need a true four season RV even though we always plan on spending winters in the south.
- Short winter days suck. We were not accustomed to enduring long winter nights in such a small space. This was a big one for us. Our past RV travels were in the summer with 15-16 hours of daylight. We’d go out for 4-5 days and spend all our time outside fishing and hiking. I even did most of our cooking outside. We only went inside to sleep. But life in an RV is much different come December when you only have 10 hours of daylight. We found ourselves spending significantly more time inside the RV than we had ever imagined. We now have a better feel for what type of rig we need to survive being inside on those long winter nights.
- We already knew this, but four months on the road really reinforced it—travel days in an RV are not like travel days in a car. Tearing down and setting up camp and driving a ‘big rig’ are stressful and exhausting. We quickly learned, don’t plan on anything else on moving days. Take your time and accept that your days of “making good time and big miles” are over!
- You must plan ahead for supplies when traveling in remote areas. At home, we were always well stocked on all the essentials. But we also had a huge house. Being ‘well stocked’ takes on a whole new meaning when you live in a less than 250 sq ft space. We just didn’t have the storage capacity that we used to. We quickly identified a list of “specialty items” that we need to stay well stocked on because we couldn’t find them in the small communities of the desert Southwest. We will be better prepared next season!
- It’s OK to change your rig. One of the YouTubers we follow states that most people she has interviewed changed their rig, usually around the one year mark. Her finding is that you don’t really know what you need/want for this lifestyle until you are out living it every day and I couldn’t agree more. Things are very different when you are traveling for extended periods of time vs. for a weeks vacation. I know we certainly found this to be true, despite all our planning. One of the biggest advantages of this life is flexibility to make changes and chose the kind of life and travels we want. Don’t be afraid to try things and find what works best for you.
- Find a good schedule for you. It took us a few weeks, but we discovered the best routine for us was to spend 4-5 days a week hiking and exploring then have 2-3 ‘personal’ and chore days. Jason’s personal time consisted of exercising (weights and jogging), playing banjo, and reading. He also took on a larger share of the chores to offset my work hours. My time was spent planning activities and destinations, editing photos, blogging, work, and keeping up with family and friends back home. Sundays were always reserved for football. Everyone will have their own pace. Ours was very different from the one we’d set on vacations during our working life.
Will you continue your travels? If so, what will you do differently?
We absolutely will continue our travels! Our four month fall/winter trip only served to fuel our wanderlust. We didn’t come close to seeing all we wanted. The more we travel, the longer my bucket list gets. We won’t be running out of destinations any time soon.
We we are still perfecting the best way to travel in this new phase of our lives. Travel style is different for everyone. We can’t say that we particularly enjoy living in an RV, but it is an efficient and relatively economical means to an end. For extended travels, it sure as heck beats staying in a hotel or vacation rental every night. We are surrounded by our own belongings in our own home with our own bed. And we can move our home any place we want at any time. We really love all of that and it is worth the sacrifices that ‘living tiny’ requires. We’ve racked our brains and can’t think of a better way to enjoy extended travels. We seriously considered getting an apartment somewhere in the Southwest that could serve as a base camp, but decided against that option for now. We are continuing forward with our RV life. We’ve accepted the fact that there is no perfect RV for us. We’re just doing our best to balance between a small rig capable of traversing rugged back roads vs a rig that offers sufficient storage and comfort for extended living.
By the time we hit the road in September, our living situation will have changed significantly (or at least that is the current plan). My uncle will have retired and moved into the family home that we’ve been caring for. We’ll have moved most of our belongings into a storage unit and will be basing out of my parent’s basement. And we will have a new RV. Our goals for next season’s travels are to:
- Boondock more. Full hookups are nice, but we prefer not having neighbors.
- Explore more destinations—move more often and with more purpose to see more things.
- Plan our destinations better and have a rough timetable, yet remain flexible
- Add more variety to our outdoor activities. Jason is currently researching kayaks and we’ll likely have our bikes with us this time. We’d also like to work in fishing and backpacking which are some of our favorite activities, but we didn’t do at all last season.
- Make regular visits home to see family and friends.
There is definitely some uncertainty to our plans. The COVID-19 pandemic that is currently killing more than 2,000 Americans each day has changed all of our lives in one way or another. It is a difficult time to travel with most states having Stay-At-Home orders and/or out-of-state quarantine requirements. Most state and federal campgrounds are closed and grocery store shelves are empty in some area. While I am hopeful we’ll see a bit of a summertime lull here in the Northern Hemisphere, I am also a realist with decades of experience in infectious diseases. You can stick your head in the sand and deny the realities or you can do your best to be prepared. I’m confident we’ll see a resurgence in the fall and winter. This pandemic isn’t going anywhere until we get a vaccine. Will travel restrictions be as severe then or will we have a better testing and contact tracing system that allows us to have the personal freedoms we are all so accustomed to? What will life on the road look like come Christmas? The best we can do is prepare for every contingency as much as possible and follow our advice from above. We must be willing and able to remain flexible and pivot when life requires. We gotta be able to roll with the changes. After all, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
The Adventure Continues
I’ll continue rolling out posts over the spring and summer. We are tentatively scheduled to pick up our new RV in a couple of weeks, COVID restrictions permitting. There will be lots to share with you on that. We’ll continue to explore our own back yard as restrictions allow and share those adventures with you. And perhaps this pause in life will give me the time needed to go back and write the backlog of trail blogs that I have built up from over the years. In the meantime, stay safe, healthy, and sane during this difficult time. Life will return to normal.