As we start Year Five of our journey I thought this might be a good time to look back and talk about how the lifestyle is different than I thought it would be. Despite (or perhaps because of) the amount of research most of us do before we get started, we all have preconceptions prior to becoming full timers, and I was certainly no different. The oft repeated “There is no one right way to full time,” certainly holds true, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t all individually have expectations, and like most things in life those expectations aren’t always met. Sometimes that is a good thing, and sometimes not, but in my mind it’s always a good idea to periodically take stock of the reality versus the expectation. So here are some of the biggest surprises for me. (As always, your mileage may vary, batteries not included, some restrictions may apply, not valid in all areas. – Lee)
Some friends and family will never accept the lifestyle – That more than anything else has really surprised me. I knew it would be a tough sell for some people, heck it was a tough sell for me! But even after all this time, there are a few people in our lives who either think it is a “phase” we are going through, or they flat out just don’t honor our choice. In our case, those people don’t come to us and tell us that, but there is a “cooling” of relationships, and ultimately in some cases we have drifted apart. In a select few cases, people have been overtly judgmental, and those people really aren’t part of our lives anymore. Thankfully, we haven’t had much of this, but it has happened and the reason it caught me off guard is because most people I know are doing whatever the hell they want with their lives and it surprises me that they think they would get a vote in how we lived ours, or that we don’t have the same right to live the way we want to. Those folks are definitely a small subset though. A few people are really into it, and some are even inspired to change their lives as well, but most fall in the interested spectator category, which is just fine because I think I would have been the same if the situation was reversed. (My advice is do what makes you less unhappy. There will always be naysayers and people who tell you to get back in line. They are free to bugger off. Life is short. – Lee)
The “success rate” is much higher than I thought it would be – I would have bet money that 50% of the people we went on the road with would have been off the road by now, and that is nowhere close to being the case. We meet very few people who take on this lifestyle on a whim, and consequently most are pretty happy with their choice. Even the people who do go off the road eventually are happy that they took the time to travel, and so far at least I haven’t met one person who says they made a mistake trying it. It’s more than possible some full timers think that, but if they do they aren’t sharing it with me.
We haven’t gone broke – Another thing I would have placed a 50/50 bet on was the fact that we would have gone broke. The math didn’t add up to me, and I thought there was a good chance we wouldn’t be able to control our spending. It turns out a combination of living more frugally and making more money than I thought we could has made this financially viable. Sure there is a possibility that at some point a catastrophe could force us from the road, but nothing short of that could, and I have met enough people who have been doing this for long enough to completely know it is possible to finance yourself. Being mostly debt free is a really big component of that though, and Lee tells everyone who asks about how to start, to work on being debt free first. (We would have a lot more money if we weren’t constantly squandering on foolish things like food, fuel and insurance. – Lee)
Friendships can be maintained on the road – I didn’t expect to make many friends on the road, mainly because I didn’t have many friends in my old life. Even when I made friends, I was dubious about how well those relationships would last when we were all traveling all over the country. That turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, because having a common interest (and common problems) is a wonderful bonding experience that exists no matter where we travel. For the first time in my life I feel like I am part of a community, and since I envisioned our travel as being mostly Lee and I wandering alone from place to place, that has been a wonderful surprise. Logistically it turns out that with a little bit of effort, you can cross paths with each other pretty frequently. The country is big, but our homes are on wheels, and it’s relatively easy to make that happen, even with people working.
The view is amazing – I knew from other people’s pictures that the view was often amazing, but even the best pictures can rarely capture the experience of those moments. In retrospect, my former life had so little of this that I couldn’t come close to even imagining what it would feel like. Lee has a better imagination than I do, so it’s fair to say for him there are less quantity of those moments than he originally thought, but for me the quality of them far exceeds any expectation. (I always hated looking out my house windows and seeing other houses. This is way better. – Lee)
We can travel without a plan – In the beginning, I didn’t think I would ever be able to wander without a plan, but it turns out after several years practice we can. Our lives still have structure because we work, but every driving day and every campground stay doesn’t need to be planned far in advance. I knew it was possible for some people, but never thought my personality would allow it, but as my comfort level has grown it has become possible. (This has been a big surprise to me as well. I really thought neither of us would ever be comfortable with not having reservations for every stop. – Lee)
The jobs sometimes suck – I’ve spent lots of time talking about this, but it’s important to know that going back to the very beginning, I really thought I could do “whatever job” and since it was short term it wouldn’t bother me. To some extent that is true, but when you string lots of those jobs together, it’s pretty unpleasant, and now we know we need to be more selective about what we decide to do for money. The good news is there are more seasonal jobs available than I ever imagined, and lots of opportunities to try new things.
It’s more Real Life than Explore Life – It’s not surprising that when you are researching and seeing other people’s “highlight reels” that you get the impression that the life is all beautiful sunsets and grand vistas and cocktails at sunset on the beach. In reality there are more truck stops, laundry days, and TV nights than either one of us expected. That’s been just fine though, because regular life stuff has its own purpose and at times can feel really comforting. Sometimes you just want to hunker down and stay inside , and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We both just get a little restless when we find that is all we are doing, and surprisingly at times have to force each other to get out in the world and explore. Just because we are full time RVers, we don’t wake up each morning full of energy with a song in our heart and rush out to enjoy nature. (Speak for yourself, I am a dazzling ray of sunshine, optimism and joie de vivre. – Lee) To some extent my mental picture of all this was a bit like a Tide commercial, but that it simply not the reality.
We don’t miss our stuff – As painful as it was to clean everything out, I really thought I would have lots more moments where I missed my stuff. It turns out, like many people, I rarely think of it and when we finally got around to cleaning our our storage area this year, we didn’t even remember most of the things in it. We kept a few things (which now reside in Lee’s parents’ basement) but I don’t actively miss any of them. The only thing I did want, a small ceramic Christmas Tree that was left in storage, is now riding with us, and almost anything we had is pretty easily replaced. Making everything digital before we left really helped with this. The intangibles, like pictures, came with us, and even though I am keeping the printed copies for the kids, I have them with me. (I don’t miss the “stuff” as much as I thought I would, but I do miss reliable high speed internet and the full size freezer in the garage. – Lee)
I’ve settled in – On one hand, it took me much longer than I thought it would to settle into the lifestyle, but on the other hand part of me thought I never would. This life has become the new normal, and thoughts of a traditional life now leave me with feelings of vague unease. I believe I could transition back if I needed to, but I also have trouble picturing what that would look like for me now. I’ve changed. More than I thought possible. And only time will tell how those changes impact me long term. (If anyone were to try to get me to go back to my old life, they would need to bring friends. A lot of them. And maybe pack a lunch. – Lee)
I think it’s fair to say that everyone I know has changed. We are still at our core the same people we were when we came on the road, but our perspective has shifted, and our priorities are often different. The lesson I think is I don’t think many people can pop into the lifestyle and then pop out again the same person. The life makes a mark on you, and in my mind in a good way. And maybe that is the main reason realities are so different from expectations. When I imagined my life, it was the old me in this lifestyle. I didn’t account for the fact that I would evolve. I thought I would be happier of course and less stressed out, but I didn’t expect personal growth, which I have gotten in spades. For me that’s been a really good thing.
And since there are no pictures of cool things in this post, here’s one of Jack.
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