A monthly travel journal from two full time RV nomads about the reality of RV living and full-time travel.
Happy New Year! The end of 2021 marks 20 months of full time RV living and we really can't imagine living any other way.
We decided we wanted to live in an RV in October of 2019 after visiting some friends in California who had been living in an RV for several years. At the time, the whole idea was completely new to us. We honestly didn't know that "full time RV living" was even a thing.
But, the second we were introduced to the idea, we were obsessed. We went home to Colorado and immediately began to prepare for life on the road.
We thought it would take us a year to make the transition, but by April of 2020, the house we'd lived in for 16 years was sold and we were the proud owners of a new home on wheels.
The day we drove our 5th wheel off the lot was the first night we'd ever spent in an RV.
The house was sold and we were all in. We jumped in feet first, all or nothing, sink or swim. It's how we roll.
Happily, RV life suits us. Recently, someone asked us, "What's the best and worst thing about living in an RV?" We could think of lots of best things and struggled to come up with even one worst thing.
That's not to say that there aren't hassles. Full time RV living, like everything else in life, comes with its share of headaches. We just don't mind them.
Years ago I read an article directed at young adults trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their life. The author's central piece of advice was, "Find the flavor of shit you want to eat."
This has stuck with me because it applies to pretty much everything.
Everything has a downside. Every job, every home, every relationship, every hobby, every want, need and desire.... all of it comes with a downside. But, if you love it enough, you won't care.
That's how we feel about living in an RV. The hassle of full time travel is our favorite flavor.
So, this month's travel journal entry will be a bit different. Instead of the normal recap about last month's travels and activities, we spent some time thinking about what we've learned in 20 months of life on the road.
What We've Learned in 20 Months of Full Time RV Living
#1. Planning is essential... For some things, but not for others.
There are many ways to "do" RV life and no one way is better than another except to the extent that it works for you. For us, planning our travel itinerary an entire year in advance works exceptionally well.
Our first 6 months of RV life were pretty scattered. We were getting our feet underneath us and figuring it all out. We didn't have much of a plan and, honestly didn't even know what to plan for.
But, in December of 2020, I decided to try planning our entire year's travel schedule in advance, booking reservations and planning travel routes for all of 2021 at once. The whole process took upwards of 40 hours, but once it was done it was such a relief.
I learned several important lessons from that process.
- I am able to enjoy the year so much more when I don't have to worry about where we're going, where we're going to stay, if there will be space for us, etc.
- Making all of the travel decisions for the year at once actually cuts down on the number of decisions we have to make for the rest of the year. More about this in a sec...
- Making reservations for popular campgrounds in advance is often the only way to actually get a space. Camping is really super duper popular right now and it's shocking how quickly campgrounds fill up. Even making reservations an entire year in advance, it's difficult to get a space at some of the places we want to go to the most.
- Planning means getting to spend time with the people who are most important to us. Getting our travel plans set in advance makes it more likely that friends and family can visit us along the way. We had friends and family camp next to us and stay with us several times in 2021, and were able to be in Colorado (where nearly all of our family lives) for some of the year's most important events.
I've been listening to the book Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman and one of the key takeaways for me is the idea of looking for opportunities to make one decision that eliminates hundreds of others.
That's what planning our year's itinerary in advance does for me. Planning the year is a project I take on all at once, making all the decisions as a whole for where we'll spend the year.
This means making exactly zero decisions for the rest of the year about where we'll go, how we'll get there, what the internet will be like, whether we're there at the right time of year, if there will be space for us, what space we should try to reserve, and so on and so forth. It's wonderful.
There is freedom in spontaneous travel. But, there is also freedom in knowing that all the decisions have been made and all you have to do is enjoy the ride.
If you'd like to know where we're headed this year, you'll find our 2022 Travel Schedule here. One final note about planning...
We rarely plan anything about what we'll do when we get there.
As much as we love having our destination set, our day-to-day life, especially when it comes to leisure activities, is mostly schedule-free. For the most part, we do what we want when we want to do it.
The beauty of always living in "vacation" destinations is that there are always a multitude of fun things to do right outside our door. And one of the things we love the most about living in an RV are the constant opportunities to experience new places.
At the end of the workday and on weekends, we get out and explore the area in whatever way we feel like it - on the motorcycle, in our kayaks, on bicycles, on foot, in the truck... whatever. No plan required.
#2. The world doesn't actually care about our plans.
Having just gone on and on about the value of planning, it's important to embrace the fact that the world doesn't actually care about our plans. 🤷🏻♀️
In our first few months of RV living, we decided to head to California for the fall. I spent a few days making reservations from Northern California down the coast to SoCal and reaching out to friends in the area, arranging times to meet up.
We arrived in the height of that year's fire season and the smoke was so thick it completely blocked out the sun. We had lost our son months earlier and were still engulfed in grief, and the atmosphere of smoke and haze felt monstrously oppressive.
So, we canceled all of our reservations and left. We found some wide open spaces with clear skies and parked ourselves there for a couple of months. Honestly, it saved us.
Life happens. So, even though we love having the year planned out, we are happy to abandon the plan and adjust if and when we need to.
#3. Everything is figureoutable.
And I mean everything.
Everything is figureoutable is a phrase I stole from a book by Marie Forleo with the same title. It's an excellent attitude to have about every aspect of life, and an absolute necessity to life on the road.
The truth is, every problem has a solution - if you're willing to be flexible and creative about what the best solution actually is.
Steve is especially skilled in this area. He rarely gets rattled or stressed and generally assumes that, even if he has no idea what it is right now, there IS a solution to whatever problem we happen to be dealing with. I've always appreciated this quality, but even more so since moving into our RV.
So far, we've found excellent solutions to a multitude of power, sewer and water problems. We replaced our inverter 3 times before getting what we wanted.
We've remodeled the inside of our RV to match our tastes and our life. We've painted, and repainted, and repainted again. We've wallpapered, tore it down, and wallpapered again.
We've scrapped entire projects that weren't working out as we'd hoped. We have bought things we didn't need and scrambled to get things we didn't know we needed.
We've gotten ourselves out of tight spaces, dealt with major mechanical issues, internet problems, flat tires, clogged toilets, and hazardous weather conditions.
We've ordered parts that, rather than fixing the problem, informed us that we were wrong about the actual cause of the problem.
The truth of RV life is that you are regularly, willingly, taking your home through an earthquake every time you move. Fixing things and solving problems is just a part of the deal.
We've also learned that everything we want to do is possible in our tiny home. We had 11 nieces and nephews (plus our daughter) over for a sleepover. We've hosted dinner for 30 and had as many as 40 guests at one time.
Living in a small space doesn't have to limit what you do.
We've also learned that learning is expensive. Sometimes the cost is monetary, sometimes it's a significant investment of time. Often it's both, but it's always worth it.
With every problem, there is also the opportunity to learn something new about our RV and life on the road.
#4. We like having some stuff. Just not too much.
RV living forces you to justify your stuff. Not only do we have limited space, everything has to be worth the hassle of packing it up and moving.
If we're being honest, we are still figuring this out. We are constantly getting rid of stuff we thought we'd use, but didn't. And we still have too much stuff.
On the other hand, while we are attracted to the idea of living a minimalist lifestyle, we've also learned that there are limits to what we're willing to live without.
I love the idea of living in a van, but am quite certain that I would not love the actual experience of it.
A few things we've learned about the stuff that's important to us:
- We love having a small wardrobe. Everything in our closet must be something we regularly wear or we get rid of it. If we don't love it and know we'll wear it all the time, we don't buy it.
- I could happily live the rest of my life without a dishwasher, but having a washer-dryer in our home is essential.
- It's possible to entertain small and large groups in our home with very few serving dishes, plates, bowls, pots, pans, etc. But, having a lot of flatware is essential.
- I will always want enough space for a guest room. It's imperative that our daughters are able to stay with us whenever they want. And, I love being able to offer up the option of a guest room to friends and family who want to visit.
- Having a tiny bathroom doesn't bother me in the slightest, but I don't ever want to live in a space without an indoor toilet and shower.
- We are learning to think about what features of any given product are the most important to us. For example, we bought the most expensive sewer hoses we could find only to realize that the flexibility of the cheaper hoses is more important to us than durability of the more expensive ones.
- Getting rid of something we aren't using is always worth it, even if it's brand new and even if we spent a lot of money on it. Sometimes we buy things we think we need and then don't. It's better to cut our losses than cart it around with us for months and months.
- Just because our brand new RV came with it, doesn't mean it's worth keeping. The 4 televisions, sound bar, and speakers in the garage and outdoor kitchen might look great on the showroom floor, but the actual quality was terrible. We got rid of all of it, replacing the excess with two high quality TVs and a sound system in the living room only. Quality over quantity. (Who actually needs 4 tv's anyway???)
#5. Travel is healing.
The week we were moving into our RV, our 24 year old son killed himself.
Our house was sold. The RV was bought. It was parked outside our house for a week while we move from one to the other.
We got the news on Thursday. We had to be out of the house on Sunday.
There is a lot I can say about that terrible, terrible week. At the time, the fact that we still had to resume moving out of our house in the midst of our utter devastation seemed incredibly cruel. In retrospect, it was the best thing for us.
I have heard other parents talk about not being able to get out of bed for months after loosing their child. I understand exactly.
We had to get out of bed because we had to move. Then, after two weeks in the first RV park we stayed in, we had to move again. And again. And again. And so it continues.
I can say with complete certainty that life on the road saved us from drowning in grief.
Grief is a little like quicksand. Life on the road saved us from getting stuck in it. We needed to be forced to keep moving. I don't think we could have done it on our own.
To wake up every day in the house, in the neighborhood, in the city, in the state, where we had raised our son would have made those months immeasurably harder.
After we'd been on the road for 6 months or so, Steve said that he felt we left a little bit of baggage behind with every stop. 20 months later, and I think that's still true.
Rather than getting stuck in the past, traveling kept us looking forward to the future. We got out and experienced the world even when we didn't feel like it simply because we were in a new place. We needed space and silence and time, and we got it.
For us, travel is healing in a way I could not have anticipated. It's taught me that sometimes running away is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.
A few more things we've learned about full time RV living...
- Don't worry about all the screws you find. Nearly every time we open up the RV after traveling, we find a random screw or two rolling around on the floor. We don't know where they come from, but we no longer worry that the whole place is going to come crashing down around us.
- And also, it's a really good idea to go around and tighten everything up every once in a while.
- An RV rated for zero degree temperatures actually isn't. The pipes will still freeze. You'll still end up with a poopsicle. It's ok. You come up with a plan to fix it.
- RV documentation sucks but YouTube creators are the greatest.
- Everything in a 5th wheel is modifiable. Don't assume that however they built it at the factory is the best option. It's probably not. Changing it to better suit your life is almost always an upgrade.
- Don't skimp on the important things - like tires. We replaced our tires after a year of travel and will do the same thing every year. The consequences of worn tires are just not worth it.