The How and Why of Life on the Road: #FullTimeRV
When we first started telling people of our plans to live on the road full-time, the most common responses were “Why?” and “How?”. Some people looked at our plans to quit our jobs and sell our house and belongings as crazy, maybe even foolish. We had a house we just finished fixing up. We had stable jobs. We had friends and family we didn't want to leave behind. Others wanted to know how we could manage to make this lifestyle work. Every once in a while, we got the advice to travel for as long as we could—there's always more money to make, but there's no guarantee of time or health. So here we go, blog post number one on this journey of ours; our attempt to answer the why and how of living full-time on the road.
Ever since I can remember I've felt like a restless soul; someone who needs change to stay engaged. As a kid, this manifested in the constant rearrangement of furniture in my room. Creating a newly designed environment. As a teenager, I moved on to frequently evolving fashion choices. As an adult, it has developed into wanderlust; the need to travel, explore, experience new things. There's an ever present pull between the desire to settle down and the desire to move. My future dream is to settle somewhere I love, own a lot of property, build a business, and save every animal possible. But the future dream seems impossible until I've sufficiently satisfied the need to wander.
So there we were, heading into our thirties. We had already done some traveling and moved across the country to a state we had never been to. While for some this seemed like a giant leap of faith, for me it was a stepping stone to a larger adventure. Living in Colorado allowed for the further development of my desires. We were able to hike amazing trails, travel down the random dirt roads we happened upon, and visit small towns with all sorts of different personalities. We were introduced to vast expanses of open space to explore, sometimes going an entire day without running into another person. If Colorado has so much to offer, imagine everything you can find elsewhere if you seek it out.
Tim and I had spoken in the past about doing an extended road trip, but our musings had never come to fruition. The timing never felt right, or we didn't have the funding to feel comfortable in that decision. As I entered my 31st year, the North Winds started blowing (anyone know the reference?). I felt complacent. Things were becoming too routine and I started feeling that need to move again. The difference was, this time the timing was right to do something big. We decided to give ourselves a large enough budget to be on the road for at least a year, but we are hoping to be able to stretch that out even longer. This dream of ours may seem crazy to some, but it's exactly what I need.
“This gypsy heart just needs to wander. Wander to the undiscovered mountains and caves that guard the mysteries of this world. I will unturn every stone, I will walk every unpaved path, I will dive through the darkest seas just to discover the secrets that were only meant for me.” - Chrissie Pinney
Tim's Why (in his own words)
To borrow from the theme of Ashley's Why, it all started for me in childhood as well, and it manifested itself through a voracious appetite for books. Why books? Books are, in my eyes, one of mankind's (and womankind's!) greatest achievements, a physical embodiment of personal experience, ideas, and mental fantasy, all written down on pieces of paper purely for the education and enrichment of others. Through books, I was able spend my formative years Journeying to the Center of the Earth with Jules Verne, sailing the high seas to Treasure Island through Robert Louis Stevenson, or braving the Alaskan wilderness with White Fang and Jack London. Books were the kindling that fueled my wild imagination with the desire to see and experience the things that most are resigned to only dreaming of or reading about.
Combine a head full of those fantastic, magnificent adventures with the cold, crushing realization of mortality and the preciousness of our, rather my, existence in this particular moment in the space time continuum, and you have the recipe for the desire to travel. We all only get one shot at this thing called life, and it is up to each and every one of us to make the most of it. What that means is different to each individual, but for me it meant throwing caution to the wind and seizing what was now in my reach.
If you've ever watched a video of, or had the opportunity to ask someone in the later years of their life what their biggest regrets are, the answer is seldom wishing they had spent more hours at the office or having bought that fancy new car. Instead, it's often about the opportunities not seized, love left unexplored, perhaps time missed while children were growing, or chances to travel not taken advantage of. With maturity (a fancy term for age once you start getting up there) comes the realization that one day, if I'm lucky, I too will be old, reminiscing on what I have accomplished in life, and I'll be damned if I let that opportunity pass me by.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru
When we decided to make this adventure happen, we had a number of things in our favor. We were a dual income family without kids who had been doing a decent job at saving. We also bought a house in the Denver area a few years before the housing boom, which meant if we sold we were bound to make a fair bit of money. This is what created the means for us, so the next step was the planning. What do we live in? Where do we go? How much does it cost? How do we move from a three bedroom house to a truck camper?
What do we live in?
It took us a few tries to arrive at the right decision on this one. I will give you the short version, but you can read the extended version of this story under the “Truck and Camper” section of our website, if you're interested. When making the decision to do a road trip, we owned a 2015 Toyota Tacoma that had a ridiculous amount of off-roading add-ons. The name was Battleship Jones, and he was Tim's baby. That truck took us on all sorts of adventures: camping, off-roading, getting engaged. Although Battleship Jones ate speed bumps for breakfast, his towing capacity wasn't the greatest. Our first attempt at creating a tiny towable living space was a used 1994, 20 foot travel trailer. It was outdated and had significant water damage that required months of blood, sweat, and tears to refurbish. But once it was done, it was beautiful inside. We named him Harvey the RV. Shortly after (mostly) finishing, my parents came to Colorado for a week and we took them around the state for the trailer's inaugural trip. While the trailer worked fine, towing it through the mountains with Battleship Jones turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Suffice to say, after returning home, Harvey the RV almost immediately went up for sale.
On to Plan B. Our next attempt was to order a custom light weight cargo trailer with an off-road package to build out into the perfect tiny home. We went with a black and blue 12 foot trailer on 32” mud tires with an RV door and named him Bruiser. We gave Bruiser a skylight above the bed, a tongue box, outdoor lighting, and an awning. But as Tim started running the electrical for inside the trailer, the deadline for our trip was creeping up quickly. In a last minute decision, we did something I'm still surprised about...We sold the beloved Battleship Jones and bought a 2017 RAM 3500 and a 1995 Lance Truck Camper instead. (Bruiser is a bit of a niche item and is still waiting for the right home—if you might be interested, let us know!).
The new set up was (supposedly) move in ready and we named them Lady Godiva and Wobble Baby. With our house under contract and the closing date approaching, we started to move everything into our new house on wheels. Unfortunately, this is where the problems arose. The camper we thought was ready to go had a significant amount of unforeseen issues, including a cracked water tank. On top of that, a week before we closed on the house, we got hit with a hail storm that broke all of the vents and covers on the roof of the camper. Therefore, at the end of June we found ourselves without a house or a working camper. Luckily, we had amazing friends come to the rescue. Our neighbors gave us a place to land for a couple days while we sorted things out and helped us fix everything on the roof before we moved on to friends in Mesa, Colorado where we stayed for 2.5 weeks while the boys fixed the rest of the issues with the camper.
Where are we going?
I started the trip planning process months and months in advance of our launch date. I made a trip binder with state road maps and researched each state one by one. As it turns out, it's a bit of a daunting task. Even starting so far in advance, I was only able to research the states we plan to visit in 2018. For every state, I have researched National and State Parks, top attractions, places to hike, must have food, and places to camp, as well as locations of dog parks and vets because I'm a #dogmom. I found the process very helpful because it allowed me to learn the attractions and geography of the different states and gave me a much better idea of the path we would want to follow. Between our launch in July and the end of the year we will move from Colorado through Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, and British Columbia before taking a winding path across the top of the US and Canada on the way back to Massachusetts for the holidays. In the new year, we plan to swing south and then up the west coast. If anyone has any recommendations of must-see places or has a flat driveway and wants us to swing by, let me know and we'll see if we can make it happen!
How much does it cost?
This one certainly depends on your priorities. Obviously there is a base monthly cost, which includes things like car and phone payments, storage units, etc. We were lucky enough to be able to pay off Tim's student loans just before hitting the road. While you lose a mortgage, living on the road still costs a fair bit. We like to boondock (find free camping) as much as possible to keeps costs down, but in some places this isn't possible. For instance, when you're visiting large National Parks, it tends to make more sense to stay within the park campgrounds. There's also the cost of gas and food. When you're living in a home on wheels, your gas budget tends to skyrocket. Luckily, since we bought the diesel RAM, our MPGs are much better than they would have been in the Tacoma. We've managed to figure out ways to keep our food budget lower than it used to be by eating less meat (and ice cream *sad face*) and making sure to plan ahead. Since our priorities tend toward activities and staying on the road, we don't plan to take in too much of the restaurant scenes as we travel.
Random costs we also needed to consider are activity costs, health insurance, and dog boarding. Since most National Parks in the U.S don't allow the dogs on trails, we will end up sending them to dog sitters on multiple occasions while we travel. Health insurance was a tricky one for us. We didn't qualify for any good state programs and couldn't afford the cost of Cobra without any income. It took a lot of research, and endless spammy phone calls, but we finally decided on a private plan with nationwide coverage that costs us about $300 a month. All in all, it takes some planning and consideration when deciding on a budget and you can expect to spend at least a couple grand per month while on the road.
This part of the planning process was definitely the most difficult on my end. While Tim did more of the truck/camper planning, I did more of the house selling, packing, and trip planning. As I'm sure many of you can relate to, when owning a house you tend to collect more things than you need. I took a couple months to go through our house room by room and make “keep”, “sell”, and “donate” piles. If we hadn't used something in a while or didn't love it, we didn't keep it. Even still, we were left with enough stuff to jam pack a 7x15 foot storage unit. Selling things was the majority of my frustration—if you don't need the money, I'd skip that part.
Even harder was deciding what to bring on the road with us. Since we have three dogs along for the ride, we had to make room for their food and accessories, including food (this literally takes up about 1/5 of our floor space), leashes, medications, and jackets. Given that we will be in a camp-like setting the majority of the time, picking out the clothes to bring was less of an issues. We brought mostly the same clothes we would for any other camping weekend, and threw in a few jeans and sweaters. The hardest part was choosing the shoes and jackets. We both had a lot of jackets, so we dedicated an entire bin to them. Still, we could only fit about a third of our closet. Eliminating shoes seemed easy for Tim. Casual, hiking sneakers, hiking boots, and sandals. For me, not so much. I ended up with three pairs of sneakers/hikers, my LL Bean boots, and sandals. So far, I think I chose correctly. I think overall, less is more. Truck campers aren't large and the less clutter the better! Especially when you're constantly maneuvering around a 70 pound dog who insists on laying directly in the only floor space available. I'm looking at you, Marley.
The process to get here took a lot of work and frustration, and through all of the snafus we tended to wonder how our luck was so bad. But in reality, it also took a lot of luck to get us where we are today. Thanks in great part to the Denver housing market, we are in a position not to work for a while. We are lucky to be healthy enough to go on this adventure. And we're also lucky to have found a partner in each other who wants to upheave their entire life and go make the most of it. Let the adventures begin!
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