This week I celebrated one year as a full-time RVer—my 1st Full-TimeRVersary! It seems like a lifetime ago that Millie and I were pulling the Winnie out of my empty house’s driveway for the very last time. Has it really just been one single year?
It’s no exaggeration to say that this has been the most monumental year of my life. The steady, predictably flat road my life had been following for the past few decades decidedly met some big curves, peaks, and valleys this year. Life (both the good and the bad) got amplified….loudly.
I set off from Chicago last August with a loose plan to spend the year out West leisurely touring from Baja to the Canadian Rockies. I would never have predicted spending almost half of the year right back here in Chicago where I began.
But still, my first year racked up a respectable 7,000 miles to the bottom of Baja and back—not too shabby!
So what things have I learned from this 1-year roller coaster ride? What 5 pearls of wisdom can I pass on to next year’s crop of full-timers?
5. You’re the Newest Freak Show at the Carnival – Embrace It (& Educate):
Any time you must explain where you live or what you do, at best, you will get pleasant smiles and tepid “that’s great!” reactions. At worst, eyes will bulge open with mouths agape—“you live where? Really? How/Why do you do that?”
I’ll smile and say nice pleasantries in response, but also try to slip in a few of these factoids to enlighten them a bit:
- I have more financial freedom from debt due to radically reduced living expenses & flexibility to “go to where the jobs are” if I should ever need one again. Living in 130 sq. feet is a much smaller “carbon footprint” than a large suburban single family home. Water use is far less as well.
- Migrating with the seasons (to stay in shorts & t-shirts nearly year-round) feels more natural & “right” to me than spending a small fortune to heat & cool a house to artificially maintain those naturally comfortable temps.
- I’m no longer a prisoner of my (cheap, useless) stuff! Sitting in a house with too much unused, unneeded stuff felt claustrophobic and depressing at times. So what would I do? Go out and buy more stuff! Now that I’m a full-time RV’er, I’ve got A LOT LESS stuff, and what’s left is only the really good stuff. George Carlin would be proud! It makes me happy & only takes 10 minutes to clean the house!
4. What’s the Dream If You’re Now “Living the Dream”?
I spent so much time researching and preparing for my life transition to early retirement and full-time RVing, that I was pretty stunned at my initial feelings during the first few months on the road. Why was I feeling so restless? So adrift? Then, it finally hit me—all the planning and work to finally reach this major life-transition was now completed. I had nothing new (or nearly as grand) to now dream about.
Even though I had quit my full-time job 9 months earlier, I’d been so consumed with planning my first winter travels to Mexico, and then working to sell/donate all my household possessions the next summer, that I had yet to hit that common new-retiree transition period call “Now What?”
After a few months, I finally realized that my life is no longer consumed by dreaming and waiting – I’m now (finally) living “in the moment.” Now that I’ve grabbed the reigns and taken full command and control of my life (and have stopped having a parent, boss, or financial/emotional/materialistic constraint dictate my life’s direction), I no longer need to dream about the future—it’s here and now!
I still have plans and goals, yep, you bet! But no dreams. If I don’t like something about a recent string of days, it’s up to me (and me alone) to not wait, and fix my situation immediately!
3. Eating Too Much Candy Makes You Sick!
How many remember our moms telling us that as we gleefully returned home with a Halloween night’s giant haul of sugary good stuff? When I first embarked on my full-time RV travels last Fall, I swore I would not fall into the common first year full-timer trap of traveling too quickly and trying to cram too much good stuff into too short a time period. I rushed to Colorado only to see my brother and his family before the mountain snows arrived. But after that, I had planned a leisurely 6 weeks to explore southern Utah—surely, plenty of time to not feel too rushed.
Well, it was gorgeous. My camera clicked non-stop almost every day. There was so much good stuff to photograph, that I made a calendar of only the Utah images—some of the best I’ve ever been fortunate enough to shoot!
Even though I traveled at a slow pace, it ultimately still became exhausting and overwhelming. My artistic enthusiasm began to wane—too much Utah eye candy each day had made me sick! (or more, precisely, had dulled my senses). So, I headed to Nevada—the land of little visual appeal!
Spending a few weeks alone in the monotone Nevada desert gave me a chance to reflect, cleanse the palette, and recharge my artistic batteries. I vowed never again to spend such a long stretch in one “ultra gorgeous” place without taking a few visual breaks in between to keep my creative impulse fresh and alert. Because, too much eye candy too continuously can, indeed, make you sick!
2. “Full-Timing” Does NOT Require an RV!
Now here’s a mind-bending discovery! After believing for so many years that the only solution to my future happiness would be living in an RV, I discovered something quite amazing this past summer as I recovered from surgery while staying at my sister’s “sticks & bricks” house.
I liked the change of pace of having no tanks to dump, and being able to take a nice long shower with near-endless hot water! What did this mean? Did I now wish to sell the RV for a condo or apartment?
Only that I felt just as comfortable away from my RV as I felt with it. Once you’re free of the financial and materialistic stresses of a fixed-location life, and are now truly a nomad, it’s easy to feel comfortable in just about any place you happen to plop your pillow, duffle bag, or backpack. We humans need FAR less to meet our daily comfort needs than we think we do!
A year ago, when I first set off in my 24’ Skinnie Winnie, I figured I’d just keep it temporarily until I found a bigger, more comfortable RV to call my full-time home. Now, I realize, I don’t need nearly as much--my Winnie feels like a mansion! I could now likely be as happy with just a backpack (and, perhaps, a steamer trunk) traveling from one house-sitting gig to the next, or be happy living in crew quarters somewhere for a season.
The point is, a minimalist lifestyle (that can be as nomadic as you wish to make it) doesn’t need to wait until you can afford an RV, and most-certainly does not require spending half your life’s savings on a brand new 40-foot diesel pusher!
The freedom to live life in the moment, and live free from the stresses of too much stuff or debt, are yours to be had right here, right now! Examine and re-set your priorities to start nibbling away at the elephant that constrains you.
1. Live a Meaningful Life – starting today!
If there is anything I’ve learned this past year, it is this—life is fleeting, and may (literally) be over in the blink of an eye. My sweet dog Millie died of cancer less than 2 months after our Baja paddling afternoon below. Two weeks later, I got my life-changing diagnosis.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a most fortuitous post about wanting to make this year meaningful. Well, whether I did it (or life did it to me), my life today feels exceedingly more balanced, fulfilled, and meaningful.
A year ago, I focused on chasing the almighty “Bucket List.” After all, non-stop travel is what full-time RVing is all about, right? Traveling to all 50 States, seeing every National Park, visiting every wax museum, etc. I had such a long list of places and things I wanted to do—all of them sure seemed oh-so-critical last August.
But a funny thing happened as I began checking off those bucket list items. Each conquest felt more self-absorbed and glutinous than the last. Was there really a point to seeing 50 pretty places, when 5 or 10 might accomplish the same feeling? Would I burn out artistically (like I did after Utah) from trying to “eat too much candy” rather than a more tempered, selective approach to my travels?
Most importantly, must one run away for years on end from places of long familiarity and comfort just to find freedom and happiness? Must we also cast away long-time meaningful relationships from our “fixed place” life to only replace them with new, often fleeting, nomadic friends?
The answer, for me at least, is a firm “No.”
Facing cancer as a new solo full-time RVer was both terrifying and forever life-enriching. I have never been more grateful for my long-term friends and family as I was this past summer. While some of them will continue to be challenged in transitioning our “in-person” relationships to “virtual” whenever I’m off traveling to distant places, we now trust that I will return to Chicago regularly to keep these relationships well-maintained. No bucket list pursuit will ever be worth the price of a solid, long-term relationship.
Equally important, I’ve discovered this year that “idle retirement” focused only on one’s self is just not my cut of tea. Meaningful volunteer work (at National Wildlife Refuges as well as the Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Network) adds far more riches to my life than paid work (or idleness) ever has.
I will now seek out season-long volunteer assignments as my top priority and incorporate travels between them as secondary. The relationships one can build over the course of a few months with a single natural ecosystem, local culture, and other volunteers/staff is far more valuable than faster travels and brief acquaintances.
Perhaps, in a year from now, my ideas will change again. But for now, “full-timing” to me means a fully-balanced life—balancing volunteer work, nomadic freedom, new adventures, and new friendships with the familiar comforts of family, long-term friendships, and my home town.
I feel exceedingly blessed and eager to begin Year # 2.