Saturday, August 22, 2015

What a Year in the Rear-View Mirror!

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?

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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! 

Year 1 Travels 2014-15

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”?

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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!

utah rocks calendar thumbnails

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!

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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?

Nope!

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.

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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. 

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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.

48 comments:

  1. Shelagh and I were just dicussing your blog and wondering if you were doing okay. And now boom here you are back again. We hope you are healing up well and ready for winter. Your stories and photographs kept us greatly entertained last winter.
    Bring it on Lynne! Welcome back.

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    1. Thanks Peter! I'm now done with treatment and am coming up on 3 months N.E.D. (no evidence of disease). Life is good! I'm headed back to New Mexico to volunteer at Bosque again next month!

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  2. I couldn't agree with you more about the volunteering. ;)

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    1. Well, it's all your fault you know! Had it not been for your blog, I'd have never known NWR's could be such inspirational places for solo full-time nature lovers!

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  3. Congratulations on your first year and best of luck on the upcoming years.

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    1. Thanks Barney! Hope we can cross paths some day!

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  4. Very thoughtful piece; useful for everyone. So glad you've got through this tough summer.

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    1. Thanks-- I'm glad to have made it through this summer too!

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  5. What a great blog, you are so very self aware... what a great way. Just love your pictures. Look forward to more in the NWR world. Take Care and god Bless... many of us are living vicariously thru you :)

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    1. Thanks Luci & Loree-- I'm looking forward to my first Fall at Bosque and watching the thousands of crane, geese, and ducks arrive for the winter!

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  6. So glad to hear you ate doing well. Life is so full of bumps and changes. Some we have no control over, yet our choices and attitude are still ours. So glad you are finding peace and contentment with yours.

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    1. Yes, indeed-- even if health or family obligations prevent one from traveling, one can still free themselves from materialistic, emotional, and/or financial chains to regain control over their life's direction. It's not an easy process, but an infinitely rewarding one!

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  7. Glad to hear that you're doing well. Thank you for sharing this...eye opening!

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    1. Yes, it was pretty mind-bending and eye opening for me too!

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  8. A very nice post, Lynne. Thanks for sharing your introspection. Lots of things we could all learn from and you said it so well. Your thoughts on "eating too much candy" are so true.

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    1. Yes, when you start thinking "ho hum, another shot of Zion canyon," it's certainly time to take a visual "time-out"!!!

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  9. You have packed more into the last year than many do in a lifetime. Not only have you grown and changed but through this post have given many others food for thought. Thank you for being willing to share so much of yourself with us. I also have had to learn to take control of my life and to live it each day to the fullest. However I will never ever be able to be a minimalist :)

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    1. Ah, but you are! You used to live year-round in 5000+ sq. feet. Now, you live far smaller. That's the right idea to me!

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  10. Beautifully put. Something to keep in mind as I shed the rest of my material things in preparation to move to Mexico. Thank you for this, for all of it. I am thrilled you have NED!! Amen to that. Wishing you continued Happy Trails and continued NED always.

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    1. Thanks Barbara. Where are you planning to move in Mexico? That sounds quite interesting!

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    2. If "the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise" I hope to move the latter part of 2016 to San Miguel. Have been "planning' it (ha! as if I'm in charge!) for 15 years, and retirement will finally come in 2016.

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    3. Very cool! Hope you can meet my blogger friend "Babs of San Miguel" (her name is Barbara too!). SMA sure seems like a great place to retire to!

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  11. I love your blog and adventures. You are very inspirational. You exemplify pursuing life with courage, and that it is "never to late to be what you might have been!" I am also a single woman and while I must work a few more years, I admire your independence and making your dreams come true. Your reflection on this past year is food for thought for me when I will be able to retire. I wish you the best of health, happiness and good fortune for the next year on the road!

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    1. Thanks Anne. I always thought I'd have to work much longer, but since I didn't have a pension I had to stick around to wait for (and now had the ACA to assure I could buy insurance on my own without fear of pre-existing condition denial), making the leap to early retirement was much easier once I crunched the numbers and realized I could do it if I lived small. I also realized that I could likely find part time or contract work if I ever needed it, and lots of volunteering options that provide a free campsite to stretch the nest egg even further. Not sure if any of these would apply to your situation, but hope it gives food for thought. Retirement is such a blank canvas-- so many options to explore!

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  12. Glad you are doing so well. I will continue to keep up with your travels and stories as I go through my last part of my cancer journey and as you go through your healing journeys....😊🌸

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    1. My thoughts are with you Debby. I hope we can enjoy a few evening campfires after you get over this next hump.

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  13. Great insights. Hopefully, some day, you'll return to San Miguel where there is so much volunteering one can do that it is overwhelming.
    For me, the last 15 years of "living in the moment" has been the greatest gift I could have given to myself.........
    I'm so glad, even with the sadness, that you have found all the blessings of this past year. Now you know the bar is raised way high, and you can survive and grow from all life's challenges. Thanks for sharing..........

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    1. Well, even though full-timer planning is always done in Jello (and cancer survivor travel planning even more so), I'm hoping to get back to mainland Mexico early next year, and San Miguel (and finally meeting up with you) is definitely on the list! I'll have a better idea in a couple more months, but my fingers are crossed!

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  14. Wishing you a very happy Nomadiversary! Just goes to show, life on the road doesn't mean life stops happening. May you continue to find your unique balance, and be aware of when that needs a shift.

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    1. Thanks Cherie-- you guys have certainly embraced the transmodal nomadic "full-timing sans RV" spirit this summer, and have certainly given me and others many terrific ideas. But all that said, I can't wait to see your new "home improvements" to the bus! Hope we can connect again in New Mexico.

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  15. What a beautiful post. It takes so much courage to give a piece of your heart at you tell us your deep feelings, discoveries, and conclusions. I started following you a couple years ago and have learned so much from you, including your post today. I just took a two day a week Assistant position at a Montessori Pre-School - because it feels right. There is something about the innocence of those little people that will enrich my life - but I still have time to take trips in my Winnie (that I love), so for now...I feel this is my balance. New Chapters. I love following Judith Bell, as I have learned so much about the various volunteer places she has been to. Thanks Lynne

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    1. How cool! I was a Montessori pre-schooler way WAY back when! I still remember how exciting it was to learn to tell time, learn about the planets, and so much more....it certainly gave us a leg up on kindergarten and ignited a passion for lifelong learning. You're going to have such fun with those kids! But all that said, I hope you can come to a NWR and volunteer with Judy or me some day. I bet you'd like that too!

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  16. A great post with lots of good tips! Can't belieVe it's on,y been a year. There is a lifetime of memories in this post! Follow your heart and I'm sure you'll find the lifestyle that works for you. You're already well on your way.
    Nina

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    1. Thanks Nina! Sure hoping to meet you and Paul this Fall. Enjoy your "fast paced" travels next month, and remember to not eat too much eye candy too quickly! Ha!

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  17. Thank you, Lynne, for your thoughtful blog and this last post was very special. You are listening to that small voice and knowing yourself. I hope to do some soul searching in my full-timing, which may happen in about a year. I will then have more time to visit old friends in Michigan, relatives in Virginia and in Florida, as well as family here in Texas. Best wishes for your new year.

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    1. Thanks Pamela. That's an aspect that I didn't quite mention above, but has been so meaningful to me this past year-- getting to visit family and dear old friends in various places around the country and spend time much more time with them than had I been working and in a fixed location. It will continue to be a top priority in my route planning each year. Sounds like you've got some great plans coming together!

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  18. What a great post! Hope your second year in will be much better and hope you get to do Volunteer work along the way

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    1. Thanks Jo-- yes, I'm looking forward to volunteering back at Bosque del Apache this Fall, then will be on the lookout for an interesting vol gig for next year in a new spot.

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  19. What a lovely posting.
    Congratulations on your first year and wish you many more.
    Minimalist is great and the freedom wonderful.
    We are now into our 10th year fulltime, loving every minute of it too.

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    1. Thanks George-- 10 years, wow! I don't know why I didn't come across your blog sooner, but I've now added it to my homepage sidebar. If you cruise thru New Mexico this Fall, stop in at BdA for a visit!

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  20. Absolutely PERFECTLY said! I'm going to come back to this post many times I am sure as I plan my travels in the distant future. Honest and lovely Lynne thank you!

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    1. Aw, thanks you! I'll probably have to come back and remind myself of some of these too from time to time!

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  21. Happy anniversary Lynne. Sounds like you're balancing the most important relationship of all - the one with your self. Be well!

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    1. Yep, Bob the Builder, you've hit the nail right on the head! Hope you're still enjoying volunteer life!

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  22. Congratulations. The open road is fantastic. May you have many more.

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  23. Lynne - what a wonderful retrospective you have written about the evolution on one's dreams...after all that is what staying in the moment means, whatever that moment brings to us. Cancer definitely places us in a long, one-dimensional tunnel for a while and when coming out if it, perspectives, priorities and desires are completely re-arranged. I am glad that you have been surrounded by such a strong support network from your roots and that your wings still yearn to fly. Have fun this next year!

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