Stacey sent a very thoughtful question and although I answered it in the comments, I think it deserves a longer answer, hence this post. The question was “If you knew then what you know now, would you still trade your former careers / work life including sticks and bricks living for your current lifestyle? I guess I’m wondering if work camping experiences are an acceptable trade off for living the full timing RV lifestyle instead of waiting to do it after retirement. I know that the preference is a uniquely individualized choice, but I’d like to hear your personal opinion now that you’ve done it for some time and experienced varied work camping jobs.”
The short answer is: Yes. If you are a person who likes brevity you might want to stop right here, but there is of course a much longer answer. First and foremost I am a person who believes in “the journey”. Every decision I have made, every challenge I have experienced has led to who I am today. Looking back on my life, the most interesting times were the most challenging and the times of personal growth usually came from something difficult or scary. So I am not a person who carries around a lot of regret. Most of my decisions, good and bad, I can live with because they were my decisions and I learned from them.
That being said, I don’t have to experience everything the hard way anymore. I can learn from others and I am not averse to taking the easier path once in awhile. I’m older and hopefully wiser now. So if I knew would I do it? It’s possible I wouldn’t have had the courage to do this if I knew exactly what I was getting into, but I hope I would have. This lifestyle is the biggest risk I have ever taken in my life. That statement should be put into context, because I have never been much of a risk taker, but for me it has challenged me in almost every way. I don’t think that would have happened if I would have waited until retirement. I know it wouldn’t have happened if I would have waited until I had tons of money in the bank.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the transition is tough for people regardless of your income level or savings account, but for me some of the biggest lessons I have learned have been around living without a safety net. Many people have already learned that lesson. They were fired, started their own business, dealt with a major illness, or got divorced. I have never experienced any of these things and as thankful as I am for that, I also didn’t know that I would make it out the other side. Not intellectually know, because of course I believed that, but know deep down in my gut I would be able to handle major changes. My life was relatively stable and sedentary and I was comfortable. I think it’s pretty clear I am not comfortable now, and haven’t been for the last 3 years.
But people rarely grow when they are comfortable. Yes, they avoid the lows in life, but often they don’t experience the amazing highs either. Life was bland and vanilla and for many, many years I loved it that way. Looking back on the last three years I see a series of images. Things I absolutely know I never would have experienced, because going on vacation cannot buy them. It’s just not the same. Those moments have to be part of the equation and frankly I can’t imagine many things that would tempt me to give those up. You might think I could have experienced them if I would have waited, and maybe that is true. Or maybe I could have experienced equal or better experiences just at an older age. Possibly, but I have always been a bird-in-the-hand kind of person and to me it would have been riskier to wait until I retired. Too many things could have happened in the 18 years between now and then.
Plus, my life as it existed was about to change anyway. My youngest daughter was leaving the nest to go into the Air Force and Lee and I would have been in a big empty house that we didn’t like very much. Yes, we could have downsized into something smaller, but in our case that change wouldn’t have been enough for us. More importantly for me at least, my former company was about to be bought by a larger company. I didn’t know it at the time I took the buy-out, but within 6 months of my leaving, Tyco would be bought by Johnson Controls. My boss, who I really liked, took a totally different position and in order for me to stay with him I would have probably needed to relocate. If I would have stayed in the same position, I may have survived the cut, but it would have meant longer hours, more travel, and definitely more stress. I survived two major mergers in my 15 years with Tyco and I honestly don’t know if I had another one of those in me. Even if I did manage to survive the deep personnel cuts that always come with a merger, it’s brutal watching colleagues lose their jobs. It’s very possible that if I have stayed I would have been looking for new employment anyway, but with the liability of Lee needing to stay in the area and a relatively high mortgage hanging over my head. Knowing what I know now, selling the house and becoming debt free was the smart move and I am pretty sure we would not have been able to do that if we had stayed in the area. So the short answer is I don’t regret at all leaving our sticks and bricks lifestyle.
To answer the second part of the question as to whether the work kamping jobs are worth the full-time lifestyle, I would say the answer is largely no. If we were supplementing other income and could work them, yes, probably. If we were volunteering for fun, social interaction, and to help with costs, definitely. But working the amount of hours we work and the types of jobs we have, absolutely no. I’m not sure how Lee feels about that so he’ll need to jump in here. We believed we would be able to work a little and play a little when we started doing these jobs, but its mostly been 10 months of work and 2 months of play, and that’s not a fair trade-off to me. It would be if the jobs were easier and/or more interesting, but they aren’t, and unless we were willing to stick with the same jobs year after year and follow a set route I can’t see that changing. That’s a great compromise for many people, by the way, and I respect it. If you want better pay and more interesting work you can always spend your summers and/or winters in the same places and eventually you will get there. Nothing wrong with that, but we get the big WOW moments from seeing new places and without that travel I still don’t think I would like it. I think Lee would be fine with that though, but again he needs to jump in.
(I take a longer view, overall. I think it’s possible to have something resembling a route, and also have the freedom to get the WOW moments, but if I ever feel like I’m chasing something, then I know it’s a losing battle. I’d rather stalk it. I also think that while the WOW moments mostly come from being in new places, I think that we have nothing but time to see new places, and I’d rather get all the WOW I can in a place before I go searching for new WOW. I agree that at the moment, the “recipe” we have is not a good one, and I often wonder how many people start off and give up at this point, because it’s so far away from what they imagined. I’m pretty stubborn, though, and I am convinced that the right recipe is out there, and I constantly remind myself of how unhappy I was before.-Lee)
(Most of the time I feel like my worst day here is still better in the grand scheme than my best day before. The grass is greener syndrome is powerful, and I am avoiding it with everything I’ve got. I do think that if you break the year into two longer seasons of summer and winter and two shorter seasons of fall and spring, then it’s logical that part of the recipe might be that you find a recurring gig in either summer or winter, and intellectually I lean toward summer for that. That would have the added benefit of giving you an anchor point for medical/dental stuff. I know some people might recoil from the idea of spending years experimenting to find that perfect repeating summer gig, but for me it beats a life of grind every time.-Lee)
(Overall, I’m looking for a combination that allows some freedom to travel, but also gives me a little stability. Ideally, a combination of hammering the budget down to the point where we can use the two long seasons to make money, and make enough to play during the short seasons, or some combination. I agree that working 10 months, and taking 2 off is not a good deal, especially if some or most of those of those two months is dedicated to getting from one gig to another. Anything that gets us closer to a 50/50 split would make me happier. I’m also willing to have less in general to get there. For me the trick is to fine tune and tweak until we’ve squeezed as much as possible out of the time we have and the money we can get. I’m the kind of guy that turns a dish soap container upside down and lets it sit for an hour to get all the soap out, but I think bending over to pick up a nickel is for suckers. I can do something else while gravity gets the soap out for me, but I’m never getting back the ten cents worth of time I spent picking up that nickel. For me, seconds add up faster than nickels. – Lee)
What isn’t covered in your question is are there any other ways to make money? The answer is demonstrably yes as we have met many people (mostly younger) doing all sorts of interesting things to cover their costs. We haven’t even started exploring those options, because we were focused on the most common traditional work kamping jobs, but our focus going forward will be doing exactly that. I’ve never really had an entrepreneurial spirit and again I’m not much of a risk taker, but there are lots of mobile jobs that while out of my comfort zone are not a complete stretch for me. We believe most work kamping jobs are designed for people who are trying to supplement existing income. That makes sense because in the past the majority of the work kamping community was in exactly that position. The demographic of full timers is changing, however, but the work kamping job market has been slow to change to accommodate those of us are financing our travels by working seasonal jobs. We do see some small changes in this area and I expect big changes in the next 10 years, but for right now few of these jobs have been a good fit for us.
What I have learned from trying them though is we can support ourselves that way if we need to. It isn’t our preference, but it is workable. (What we’re doing this summer is an excellent example of that. It pays $14.25 per hour and we each work about 35 hours per week, but between the type of work it is and the split shift schedule, it takes enough out of us that it feels a lot more like a sticks and bricks lifestyle. – Lee) This gives me the freedom to be choosier about what types of mobile professional jobs I take. We aren’t desperate and we know there is work out there, so I can be sure I am not jumping from a less than ideal situation into a worse one. One thing I absolutely have achieved is less stress. These jobs may be unpleasant and they are not totally without some stress, but it doesn’t come close to what I was experiencing in my former profession. My ideal job would be something of relatively short duration, in a nice place, where I could use my skills and contribute to the betterment of society in some way. I am fully aware that is a tall order, but at this point I don’t believe it is an impossible goal.
I’m not sure what Lee is going to choose to do. He has talked about trying to get a small business off the ground, but that will require some stretching on his part and a considerable amount of non-revenue generating time to get it started. We have some money in the bank, a really varied skill set, and relatively low monthly costs so whatever we decide to try I think we will be OK. We just need to stretch ourselves.
Which sort of brings me back full circle to my original point. Once again our desire for this roving lifestyle will be the catalyst for change. We don’t know where that change will lead us, but as long as we love each other and take care of each other, things will be alright and probably we will end up in a better place than where we started. We usually do. That alone makes me grateful we started down this path. Plus, as we are walking along the path, the view is really amazing. Seriously, you cannot put any sort of price tag on that.
Thanks for the question and giving us a chance to write about it.
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