We left our home in Raleigh six months ago, and in that time we’ve driven over 10,000 miles, through fifteen states (and I can’t even count the cities). We’ve stayed at thirty-five campgrounds, three hotels, three driveways, one guesthouse, one cabin, one old fishing store, and one random farm. With our life in motion (literally), we’ve learned a few things along the way; about RV life, about minimalism, and about ourselves.
Never say never
As I write this, I’m sitting in an RV resort full of all the bells and whistles, in a paved spot that resembles a parking lot, surrounded by other big rigs, and we have a monthly lease. When we started this journey we said we’d never… A. “Camp” in a parking lot type of RV park, B. Stay somewhere longer than a week, and C. Stay in an RV resort.
It’s funny how things change. When we started this journey, neither of us worked, we lived off savings, and we planned to go home after the summer. It was just to Michigan and back. Also, we started our journey when everyone (including us) thought COVID would be a distant memory by December. But we were running out of money, it was time for me to go back to work and that means having a decent WiFi or cell connection, and daily showers for my Zoom calls. Additionally, with COVID cases rising drastically, we decided we needed to be on full hookups and spend more nights in each location. Changing locations every three days or boondocking on BLM land just can’t cut it for us right now. Due to these reasons, we decided to look at a list of internet options by address and then decide where we should camp.
Our R-Pod is our home
We recently stayed at a Hilton in Monterey because we literally could not find a campsite with 25 miles that wasn’t over $150/night. I have Hilton points galore from traveling so much for work in the past, and we like baths, so we figured we’d glam it up for a few nights. But waking up on day two we realized that we don’t sleep well outside the trailer, and moving out of the camper is actually really difficult and time-consuming. It has really become a home for us. Everything has its own designated space and we feel comfortable in the space.
Flexibility is a skill
Skills take time to learn, and daily practice. As a life-long type-A planner, I’m… well, less than flexible. I like to know what’s happening, when it’s happening, why it’s happening and plan for four other scenarios as backups. My husband is far less ridged (hey, we compliment each other!) but his patience is also tested from time to time.
At two months in, I was like “Oh, I can be flexible — this is fun to go with the flow.” Well, the honeymoon period wore off. Now if a road is suddenly closed, or a gas station has a lip on the curb that’s too high (we’ll bottom out), or a campground is not what we expected, I find I have to remind myself more often to be flexible, that it’s fixable, and we’ll move on from this, too.
And our flexibility was majorly tested when California ordered another shelter in place, and that included campgrounds. Only monthly residents could remain, which means three weeks of bookings cancelled. That’s how we ended up in San Diego for a month (which is probably the best place to be in Dec/Jan)?
I do see a huge change (as do my friends and family!) in my approach to life, and hoping that some of the flexibility I have managed to practice will stay with me for good.
The little things are the hardest
Being outside of your comfort zone is one thing, but dealing with new scenarios that are just downright emotionally taxing is another. We’re always late – always. If Google maps says it will be a 3 hour drive, somehow it’s six. But that’s an easy one, and easy to understand. But other little things like here’s a toll road, and we forgot to open an account before hand, now they sent the toll to our house, but it didn’t arrive so we don’t have the invoice number, and I need to call the operator and sit on hold, then get disconnected, then say I want a callback when it’s my place in line, but they never call back (I’m looking at you, Golden Gate Bridge)… You get the idea. Paying tolls is difficult and takes planning.
Getting mail in general is more difficult than I thought. I should dedicate a whole post to it. Sending to friends house is the best (or a hotel, before you arrive as they will hold it). But when you’re in the middle of Wyoming and your campground won’t allow you to receive packages and there is no Amazon locker/hub in sight… receiving a package is pretty much not happening. And I could rant on and on about how archaic mail is as a main form of communication anyway…
Booking campgrounds is excruciating without online booking. We’ve tried to stay at really cool riverside or lakeside campgrounds, but they don’t offer online booking. This is one quirk about campgrounds that I will never understand. I leave a message with my info. Maybe they call me back – maybe. If they do, we spend like 30 minutes on the phone with me saying we’re flexible just tell me what dates you have, and the person not understanding why I won’t give specific dates, etc. We’ve literally driven 40 miles out of our way to stay at a campground with online booking. When asked, one camp host said she didn’t want to learn a new system. They were maybe at 30% capacity, I wonder how many bookings they missed out on?
We can’t do everything or see everyone
Starting this trip during COVID, we knew we were going to have a different kind of experience. We were not going to see all the sites we wanted to, eat at all the fabulous restaurants (or eat at restaurants at all), visit the people we wanted to, etc. But I think we had unrealistic expectations that we’d do more than we do now, and that we didn’t need “down days.”
About three months in, this didn’t feel like a vacation anymore — but more like real life. Around September (which is also when I started working full-time again), it just became difficult. We can’t go 200 miles out of our way to see this family member or that member. If they aren’t already on our path, it’s difficult to make the extra time. Also, bringing the trailer into a city is awful — even highways in the city. So, I know there are friends and family members we’ve disappointed, and we’re disappointed we couldn’t see them, too. But it’s a weird year with COVID already (and yeah, we’ve had to avoid visiting with some friends who post pic of themselves at maskless parties and what not) and then with the trailer it’s just really difficult to go everywhere.
We joke we see a lot of mountains and oceans… but really hiking and beach time have become our main source of outdoor activity because we can social distance really well. But we take solace in knowing this is a different kind of adventure, this is a different time, and because of this we’re finding new and interesting gems that maybe we would not have looked for in a different situation.
WiFi is an ongoing struggle
We have two hotspots and cell phones with data, and yet we’re still struggling with WiFi. Even in downtown cities (hey, Silver Lake), we’ll get a trickle of service. Kind like online booking, I can’t understand why campgrounds haven’t jumped on the Work From Anywhere trend and upped their WiFi package, then advertise their campground as the greatest place to work.
Campfires are a novelty
We do love a good campfire, but we don’t love smelling like smoke. Some places (like California) don’t allow fires due to fire danger, but even when they are allowed — we find we rarely have them anymore. When we do, we plan it out to wash our sheets the next day, or it’s for a special occasion (like Christmas day).
Oh, we’ve still never had s’mores.
We’re getting better, but still learning
We learned new things everyday. Sometimes it’s dumb — like we just figured out our Jeep’s GPS was set to “eco” instead of “fastest” and that’s why it always takes us on the weirdest routes. But sometimes it’s larger life lessons like tolerance, empathy, and acceptance. Meeting people with different experiences, circumstances, diverse backgrounds, and life stories have opened our eyes a bit more and helped us learn about people in a way we’ve never had the opportunity to do before.
And one thing I want to point out — my husband and I often get compliments like we’re so edgy, smart, cool, whatever… because we choose to live in a trailer. But there are people who live this life because it’s the most economical choice and I don’t think people are saying the same things about their lifestyle. And really, I don’t understand why anyone would judge anyone else for doing what’s best for them, what works for them. And truthfully, at the start of this trip I thought full-timing at RV parks was odd, but now I totally get it.
We have everything we need
Well, except a bathtub. But for real, we have everything we need and then maybe a bit too much. I think about this as we approach the holiday season. Christmas used to feel like a part-time job for me. Did I buy this, get this, return this, plan this, etc. This year, I spent 45 minutes on Christmas, which consisted of making a sizeable donation to a charity we support, small gifts for the nieces, writing an email to friends and family stating the donation was our gift, grabbing a tiny tree (on sale) from the grocery store, and a few trimmings from the dollar store next door.
I have ideas of returning back to our house and cleaning out closets, donating clothing, thinning out our glass wear and pots and pans, and just overall minimizing our footprint. We’ve been in our tiny 160 square foot space now for six months without adding too much, and I’d like to keep the one in, one out rule that we have for the camper. In the end, stuff doesn’t make me happy — time spent with my family, my friends, helping others, and creating memories is what makes me truly happy.
We still like each other, most days
Living on top of one another has its challenges, especially when I’m on video calls 4-5 hours per day. But the truth is, when you’re this close, you cannot hide anything. All your flaws are there, on display. Your good days and bad days all happen within one small room, smaller than our bedroom at home. We have our tiffs here and there, but the funny thing about 160 square feet, it almost makes you work it out faster than if you’re in a house or larger space.
And when I step back, I think how lucky we are that while we intimately know every flaw about each other (and our bathroom doesn’t have a full door, y’all… ), we still choose to love each other unconditionally over and over again.
There is something so magical about this time together, and I’m not even sure we’re able to understand the magnitude of it while we’re still in it. And it’s true, as the song that we walked down the aisle to says, “Home is wherever I’m with you.”
Oh and Frankie Dog loves us more than ever, I fear his separation anxiety is going to be full on when we move back into our house.
Our gratitude knows no bounds
As I write this, with tears flowing down my eyes, the gratitude I feel, we feel, every single day is immeasurable. The luck and privilege to have the means, health, and ability to experience our current life is not lost on us. We do treasure every moment and work hard to leave every place we visit better than how we found it.
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