Reader Question: Would We Do it all Again?

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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23 thoughts on “Reader Question: Would We Do it all Again?

  1. we feel the same. i think most people who have chosen the full time rv life do. No regrets to trading in our 12 hour a day jobs, including cushy pay for the work camping, seasonally from place to place lifestyle. Things are hard, money gets real tight, but the possibilities are endless. And nothing beats the freedom we feel seeing all the wonderful sights this land has to offer that staying in a horrible job that barely “lets you out” wouldn’t ever give us the time to enjoy. It was a wonderful decision and we hope to enjoy it for many years. it was also beneficial for our health and sanity. loved your answer to that question, bravo.

    • Thank you and it’s nice to hear from someone in a similar situation. Every couple’s circumstances are so unique and we know ours are not the norm, but more me more people are making a similar choice. Thanks for commenting and reading!

  2. That was a great question. I always appreciate your brutal honesty. Even though the possibility of selling our house and moving to an RV continues to dim, the dream will always exist. So, with the great question, the answer is absolutely outstanding. Thankful.

    I’m still planning to get out there to meet face to face. It may be a short pop-in, but I will get there.

  3. We’ve been asked this question, and as you said – our answer is a resounding – YES! As you also said, our situations are different, and the exact components of the answer will vary – but we have no regrets at all! I love how you put your full selves into answering it – bravo!

  4. As always awesome details and story Lee and Tracy! You certainly offer quite a bit of insight for anyone considering the full-time lifestyle before retirement age( and maybe even after retirement depending on how your retirement income works out). But we are extremely happy to have added you to our extended family, and the only way that could have happened was for you to have taken the leap, we’re so happy you did! Take Care and hoping to see y’all real soon!

  5. Great blog guys! Our situation is a little different than yours as we retired later in life 7 years ago. We also started out debt free however retiring at 55 the budget can be tight at times. We are on our second provincial park workamping gig in 3 years which has been a great way to help replenish the coffers from those expected and unexpected expenses that will always arise.
    Sure do get hitch itch though!

    • Great point. Even when you’ve got retirement a little extra really helps. I don’t think anyone is out here that doesn’t occasionally have to make compromises. Just like a sticks and bricks life!

  6. Tracy and Lee your answers are very insightful. It really is all about the Journey!!! Your last paragraph really is beautiful. Life is change and as long as you walk through those changes together and share the views you will never have any regrets!!! Best to you both:o)))

    • Best to you guys as well. How you have weathered the ups and downs is an inspiration to us, because you have such a great attitude throughout. It’s nice that you keep tabs on us through the blog..always love hearing from you.

  7. Good post! Ironic that i just red this as we start our 5th year of full timing!! So many different paths and choices are out there, I’m convinced you’ll find the right one for you. Like you, we wouldn’t give up this nomad life and while we’ve settled into a circuit that is based on where Dale’s art shows are, and only cover 6-8 states a year in the Western US, we don’t feel like we’re missing out on anything at this time. The rest of the US will still be there when we retire!!

    We still love those WOW moments, and work hard to change our schedule a bit each year to see and experience new adventures. So while we stay in the same Western Region, we find new places to visit, this spring was Zion, awesome!!! We even had a WOW day a few weeks ago when we road a bike path with awesome views around every corner that we had never been on before, but lived in that area for 11 years!!
    Good luck with whatever is next and keep searching for those new experiences!!

  8. I’m reading this as I’m lazing in a hotel bed after a long trip to the PNW. Our circumstances were entirely different than yours being of retirement age when we left to full-time. Plus Jesse had been career Navy and had traveled & lived in much of the world and I was living in my 12th state. We both enjoyed change and new challenges. At first, it was scary because everything that could go wrong did. Refrigerator dumps, flat tires, getting fired from our first workcamping job and that was all in the first month.
    As in life, attitude is everything, and we just rolled with it. Pun intended. The Friends, the sights, the experiences, the memories are all worth it! Yes, we would do it again – in a heartbeat! Only recommend one doesn’t wait to live your dreams until you retire if you can work it out. These days in a hotel (I can’t open the windows! I am missing my little Casita and know if ever worse comes to worse I know I could live permanently in it and be happy. In the meantime sometimes in a sticks and bricks and sometimes in the RV.
    Thanks for all your honesty and sharing Tracy and Lee.

    • I can’t imagine you and Jesse ever getting fired from anything. Truly those people were idiots lol. Thanks for reaching out and what an inspiration you have been. Life threw you a major curveball and you handled it with grace and are still having adventures. Love that about you Sherry and feel blessed to know you!

  9. Such a great topic and equally great answer! It is always hard to explain to folks the reasoning behind leaving a six figure, 60 hour a week job with some perceived stability and a nice house to hit the road in a 5th wheel with no stable income. It is totally the adventure that lures us and the ability to use our other “degree” called Street smarts!! The journey is the adventure and what we will look back at with fondness, not the grueling, soul sucking job that we left behind!! Love your blogs and the candid replies! It isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, but there sure are a lot more rainbows and who, knows, we may find a unicorn in our travels!

    • I love that your said “perceived stability” because that is exactly what it was. Lee always knew that, but it took me actually giving it up to realize how easily it could have all changed. Plus my resilience level is so much higher which is a good thing.

  10. Excellent post, guys! We totally agree with what Steve McCormack said above about the social aspects of this lifestyle. We never would have met a cool couple from Keene…or those crazy mountain climbers from Placerville… had none of us taken that leap!

  11. Lee and Tracy, I have an incredible story to share with you. I am the Stacey who originally posted the question to you on July 6th. Three days later on July 9th my 55 year old husband had a massive intracerebral hemorrhage with no history of hypertension. After 5 days in ICU, he passed peacefully today with our son and I by his side. He was an incredible husband and father. I retired last January as a public school educator and I started following blogs and making those long term plans to prepare us for full time rv living. Our son starts his senior year in college this fall. My husband wanted to work 10 more years but I was opting for something much sooner with work kamping to supplement my retirement. We had rich conversations about it while we would go over all the scenarios and possibilities. We would sell our home, pay cash for the RV, and keep a nest egg for a smaller home when we could no longer travel. The moral of the story is…It’s the journey not the arrival. Although I will not experience that lifestyle with him, in a way we did with all of that fun planning our dream life. Your blog along with Kelly and Bill’s blog have been my favorites. I would read parts out loud to my husband as he sometimes rolled his eyes at me knowing I would keep pushing the idea on him! As a blogger, did you ever realize the positive roles you play in a stranger’s life? Thank you! “I’d rather have 30 minutes of something special than a lifetime of nothing special.” We had really something special in our marriage and the full time rv life would have been the icing on the cake for us.

    • Stacey, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. You have been following the blog for awhile and from your comments and emails I feel like I know you, at least a little. I appreciate you taking the time in your grief to write this. I am stunned, as I am sure you are by the this. I am sure you are surrounded by people who love you, but if you ever need a friend please don’t hesitate to reach out. Our prayers are with you and your son.

  12. An excellent post! We are one of those traditional, retired couples, with a retirement to fund out lifestyle. I have seen many young couples on Facebook and wonder how they will make enough to get by. I applaud their spirit, and yours, for taking the “road less traveled.”

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