Reflecting On 3 Years of Fulltime Travel

Our first campfire at our first RV park on our first night as fulltimers...Bodega Bay, October 3, 2012
On October 3, 2015 we celebrated 3 years as fulltimers. Rather than shock you with a timely post I thought I'd stay true to form and blog about our Nomadiversary (or AnniversRV, as our friend Jeanette of JenEric Ramblings so wittily put it) a few days after the fact. After much thought I've decided to follow in the footsteps of every other RV blogger who recaps with their do's and don'ts and lessons learned over the years.

We all like to think we're different. After all, most fulltimers already think outside of the box having ditched the traditional American Dream, sold off 90% of their possessions and consciously chosen to live in less than 300 square feet of space. But, it appears we all make the same "mistakes" our first year(s) on the road. These are the lessons we learned after reading everyone else's Nomadiversary blog posts and yet decided not to follow their advice when we first hit the road. Poo-poo on your "lessons"...we're different!! And hopefully we'll have some new tips to share as well.

Tried and true universal lessons we learned but you're bound to ignore, just like we did:


Slow down!! As in don't drive your RV 75 mph hogging the fast lane. Truthfully, I (Lynn) rarely drive and when I do I tend to stay in the slow lane and will continue to slow down, as necessary, rather than pass anyone. Yep...I'll be the RV going 25 mph behind the tractor (I have gotten better). But for Clark...well, lets just say he spent the first few months driving the Mutiny as if it were a pursuit vehicle. If there was someone on the road in front of us, come hell or high water, we were going to overtake them. Then we hit the mountains and our gas engine just didn't have the chutzpah to go over 25 mph. It was then Clark realized the reason for the great big windshield..it offered an incredible view! He could actually drive and enjoy the scenery if he just slowed down a bit (and not just in the mountains). As a bonus, we even get slightly better fuel economy and less dirty looks when we drive like sane people.

Slow your roll! I know you want to see the Grand Canyon and Olympic National Park and Gettysburg and NYC and Antelope Canyon...but busting your butt to see it all in your first 6 months on the road is a pretty good recipe for travel burnout. I've read about people who quit within their first few months of fulltiming because they just couldn't keep up the pace (much less the expense of living like their on vacation all the time). Even seasoned RVers get burned out...after coming back from Alaska this summer, and then facing the traffic in the PNW, we were this close to selling the RV and living in a tent at Cabela's as long as we could. The stuff you want to see will (most likely) be there next year and the year after and even the year after that. And chances are if you spread out these "bucket list" items you'll remember them better. Our first year on the road encompassed something like 35 states and more National Parks than you can shake a stick at...much of it is a blur.

These are actually from our first 7 months on the road...minus a few places we forgot to grab one.
Campground wifi is like fat burning chocolate cake. You want it to be real but it isn't. Seriously. Okay, sure, there might be a handful of "fulltimers" who live (permanently) at one RV park that has super high speed internet for "free" but I can tell you from experience that this kind of RV park wifi is the unicorn amongst the jackasses. There's a reason this blog is technically a year behind...it's because like many (who thought they were smarter than all the other fulltimers) we insisted we could save money by relying on campground wifi. We've since managed to get a Verizon Mifi Device and can supplement with an ancient grandfathered truly Unlimited AT&T cell phone plan, but we are far from knowledgeable on the matter of connectivity (we don't have boosters or antennas and wouldn't even be able to tell the two apart). However, our friends at Technomadia are experts and we highly recommend their blog and book, The Mobile Internet Handbook, for information on everything from cell phones to wifi (with a lot of other great stuff in between).

Fulltime RVing is not Fulltime Vacationing. This kinda goes along with "slow your roll" but is a bit more encompassing. When we first started traveling we went to some great places in California (our original home state) and treated ourselves to life's luxuries. Clark had just retired and we were coming off the high of his retirement/farewell party and my birthday (our official departure date is the day after my bday). So we went to Bodega Bay and drank wine and ordered fancy cheese boards in posh joints that had Adirondack chairs overlooking the bay. We then spent the holidays in San Diego eating our way through Little Italy and watching Christmas plays and paying the big bucks for a fancy full hookup site.


As we started traveling around the country we looked for local restaurants to check out and coffee shops to visit and wines to taste but quickly found out that one does not need to taste all the local cuisine in every single town. This revelation came after a few not-so-good meals that were not-so-cheap. Further study showed that just because a small town cafe is ranked number 1 on Yelp did not mean it was worth spending our hard earned dollars...especially if the number 2 restaurant was McDonalds or Waffle House. Similarly, if a town has a "local coffee roaster" but comes up last in Yelp reviews behind 3 Starbucks and the Dunkin Donuts you might want to pass.

Observations from the Mutiny crew:

Embace the JoMO (Joy of Missing Out). Without fail there will be an awesome gathering or amazing event or phenomenal convergence that's happening on the other side of the country and you're going to be stuck in your RV, in a hail storm, all alone. It will be the one time you have exceptional wifi service so you'll be able to watch your friends (or bloggers you follow) post hundreds of gorgeous photos with captions like "you should be here", "best time ever", "most amazing and memorable event in my entire life", "I could die happy tomorrow", ad nauseum. So we freak out a little and try to plan ambitious routes traversing the country at breakneck speeds in the hopes that we'll never be left out again. This phenomenon is called FoMO, or the Fear of Missing Out (from Wikipedia: "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent").

Quite possibly our favorite spot so far...somewhere in the Grand Staircase~Escalante, Utah. No wifi, no cell phones, no neighbors.
Truthfully, there are always going to be events, gatherings, film festivals and May Pole celebrations happening all over the place. It's likely you won't even know about these events until someone posts them in a blog or on Instagram or Facebook at which point you'll go from happy-go-lucky to down-in-the-dumps because you'll realize they're all there...having fun. Funny how quickly things can change. We've learned (it's a work in process really) that the little known Joy of Missing Out can be significantly more rewarding than trying to experience all the things, all the time. Sure we like to meet up with blog readers, friends, family, fellow RVers and RV Blogging friends we've met in real life. It's always a good time. But, like many things, too much a of a good thing can take the joy out of it. Socializing can began to feel like a chore or job...which is unfair to everyone involved. Like most of our RVing friends we hit the road to experience life a little differently than mainstream Americans do. We like solitude...maybe not all the time, but it's easy to get socially burned out if you don't notch out some time for yourself and it's even easier to get travel burn out by trying to be every where all the time. {Inspired by the book The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World by Christina Crook}.

Take the Road Less Traveled. I was fortunate to grow up as an Air Force Brat. Adventure is in my blood and, thanks to my dad (RIP), looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary is part of who I am. I've written before about our "accidental adventures" but I can't emphasis enough how freeing it is to have no reservations, no time commitments, no pressure to "see it all" and no expectations. Many of our best adventures and quirky finds have been impulsive decisions made on-the-spot. We literally have seen the highway split and decided to take the road less traveled...just because. Inspiration, besides my dad's lust for life, has come from books like Into the Wild, Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, On the Road, Eccentric America, Travels With Charley and many others. There really is so much more to see than life from major highways like I80, I5, I10 and I95.

A 40 foot tall grasshopper sculpture found along the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota.
Stay True to Yourself. We were on the road for about six months before we met any other fulltimers (it happened to be Chris and Cherie of Technomadia). And six months after that we had an epic convergence in Cedar Key with dozens of other fulltimers with whom we are still close. As we started using tools like RVillage, Facebook and Instagram we found many more opportunities to meet up with fellow RVers, friends and blog readers. Sometimes this involved driving out of our way (I'm talking way far out of the way), staying up later than normal, going out to drinks and/or dinner when we just discussed cutting back on those expenses or neglecting things that needed to be done (like laundry or walking the dog). And while every single encounter has been hugely positive we sometimes find ourselves missing our alone time and/or suffering the consequences of choosing "fun" over responsibilities...like not having clean clothes for another few days and a pile of dog poop greeting us at the door.

Coffee and journal...a perfect day for me.
Something I'm still trying to accept is that in order to stay sane and keep a happy household we just cannot force ourselves into every single possible encounter. We truly do love meeting people and enjoy social gatherings but that's not the reason we started RVing. You'll often catch us doing our own thing even in this small space we call home...me writing, reading or doing yoga and Clark fishing, reading or tinkering. When we find ourselves getting stressed out about trying to find the time (and energy) to make social functions work we have to take a step back and ask ourselves what it is we are trying to accomplish. Sure, the amazing social aspects of this fulltime world can be extremely rewarding and offers many chances to come out of one's shell but it's not necessary to give up who you are as a person.  For me, the hardest part is to not feel guilty about a failed meet up or missing a happy hour gathering no matter how good our "excuse". Remember why you chose this lifestyle, reevaluate your priorities and  keep true to the things that bring you joy...

Clark's perfect view...
Beware of Rig Envy and Comparison. First off...the worst questions you can ask in an RV forum or FB group are 1) Diesel or Gas, 2) Class A or Fifth-Wheel and 3) What size rig should I get. I'm not saying these aren't important questions to ponder, and maybe even ask other RVers, but to do so in a huge (impersonal) forum is just asking for a fight. You will see the fangs come out as diesel owners poo-poo on gas owners and Class A diehards express their disdain for fifth-wheels. The bus and Airstreamers will feel sorry for those of us not cool enough to have a bus or Airstream. The travel trailer and truck camper people will chime in as victims of discrimination. The van folks will look down their noses at all of us in our fancy, overpriced rigs and tell us how awful we are for using so much fuel. And if you're lucky, the tent and backpackers will add their two cents which is generally that none of us are really camping. Things will come to a head when *someone* declares that if you own a Class A you're a trust fund baby who has too much money. At this point everyone who read the thread will either get super defensive, super confused or start questioning their choice in rig and want to get something "better".

I've written before about how we ended up in the Mutiny. Besides our tent trailer, which was just a vacation rig, it's the only RV we've ever owned. And we were perfectly happy with it until we started looking at different models every time we stopped in an RV shop for repairs or supplies. All of a sudden those Fifth-wheels with the living rooms in the front were sooooo much better than what we had. And then the idea of really being minimalists and going with a smaller rig...maybe even a van...started percolating. Then it was a rig with a different layout that would allow for 6 adults to sit comfortably in our "living room" (not that we've ever had an issue before). I wanted a washer and dryer and garage and a bed I could put away to have more floor space. I needed an island in the kitchen, a mock fireplace and pass through storage. But wait, I also wanted to have a smaller footprint and to be able to stealth camp in the middle of Los Angeles (kidding) without sacrificing my 80 gallon fresh water tank. The point is...no rig is going to fulfill every desire and, as you move about the country gaining valuable knowledge about yourself and your travel style, what you think you need now might not be what serves you well in the future. For what it's worth, in our circle of friends who have been on the road for at least 6 months (traveling, not stationary) more have expressed a desire to go smaller than bigger at a ratio of 6 to 1. Granted, this may be reversed if our friends were less nomadic and preferred RV resorts over boondocking.

Here are some major things that changed for us over these past 3 years:

1) We went from not personally knowing a single fulltime RVer and having zero social life to sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the amount of socializing we could do if we had the energy...within a year. It's probably much more easy to arrange a social life now with sites like RVillage.

2) We went from staying exclusively at RV parks (preferably with full-hookups) our first two years on the road to trying to boondock/wildcamp at every opportunity...thanks to our solar install last winter. This has been a huge change and the most rewarding.3) We had never blacktop camped (that's dry camping at a place like a Walmart parking lot) until February of this year! Now we think nothing of it...especially for an overnight stop, although we have spent up to 4 nights blacktop camping in a few places (legally and with store permission).

4) We learned that we're "West of the Rockies" people. While the East Coast is pretty spectacular and we absolutely loved chasing the fall colors from Maine to Florida an overwhelming sense of "coming home" enveloped us somewhere near the Four Corners. We love the openness, high desert meets mountains and vast amounts of public lands (and my hair loves the lack of humidity). After heading back west our feeling that the Mutiny was just too big, at 32 feet, disappeared.

From coast to coast, through the mountains and deserts, a whirlwind trip to Alaska and back and all points in between our 32 foot Class A has served us very well. The Mutiny may not be perfect but she's perfect for us. We learned to be satisfied and content with what we already own.

There are, of course, other tidbits of advice one could give...like just because something is "RV sized" doesn't mean it's actually functional in an RV and purchasing a clock that shows the date and day of the week can save a lot of headaches but hey...some things need be learned by trial or fire.

We love to hear from our readers and fellow travelers. Leave your favorite tips (or questions) in the comments below. 


Comments

  1. What a fun read. Great tips, i hope we are smart enough to follow!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I look forward to reading your Nomadiversary post one day (to see if you learned the hard way like we did).

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  2. What a fun read. Great tips, i hope we are smart enough to follow!

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  3. Such a cool post. Thanks for sharing! Drive On Sister!

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    1. Lovin' the feedback!! Thanks for commenting. =)

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  4. So well said! I can relate to so much of what you discussed. We are into our sixth year and I am so glad we learned quickly that this wasn't a whirlwind vacation but life and thus slowed way down. Being from the east I knew early on that I was definitely a person met for life "west of the Rockies:) Continue to enjoy your life on the road:)

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    1. SIX years! You have double the advise!!! Hoping our paths cross one day...somewhere out west for sure!

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  5. When is the cast coming off and how long did you have it on?

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    1. I had it on 10 weeks but it's basically off now except if I need a break from walking...things are still sore and tight. I've been doing physical therapy for almost 3 weeks now and can get around without it but only in short bursts. Learning to walk all over again is quite hard. Thanks for asking. =)

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  6. keep writing....you have a great style...love reading your blog :)

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    1. I really appreciate this my friend...it means a lot!!

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  7. Great tips and insight on how you like to travel,
    coming from a lone wolf boondocker who will talk to other people once in a while. Ha !!

    Trainman

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    1. Hey, we all have to find that balance point that works for us. Thankfully Clark and I are a bit alike in the Lone Wolf department (or maybe pair of wolves...haha) and we truly embrace solitude. I'd say it'd be nice to meet you one day but...(hahaha).

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  8. I love all of this. We started full-timing around the same time as you and I can relate to so many of these lessons. The one about being true to yourself really stood out to me. We've realized that it's not possible, or a wise, to be social all the time. I love all the wonderful people who we meet on the road, but there are times when what we really need is a week or two of solitude. That said, I really hope we cross paths again this winter :)

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    1. Haha! I know what you mean...we'd love to meet up with you guys as well since our time in ABQ was so short (and so long ago). The cool thing is we plan on doing a LOT of boondocking so we'll totally be up for some social gatherings this winter. =)

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  9. We just returned from our first 4 month long RV trip. Yes, buying a clock was a great idea. We never did manage to hang it on the wall, though. Maybe now that we're home, once it's out of the repair shop, we'll have a chance to hang it up!

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    1. If it helps...we JUST hung up our clock yesterday (we bought it over 2 months ago).

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  10. My husband and I just had our third year anniversary too, and can relate to all of this. I love your "JoMO" points and staying true to yourself. And the rig envy and comparison is hilarious! And we have so enjoyed more boon docking this last year than our first two, even though we only have one solar panel. We are part time full timers though - yet another sub-group :)

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    1. Part time fulltimers...ugh, I shouldn't even respond! Just kidding. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. And Happy AnniversaRV to you too!

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  11. lynn! fabulous post. i so enjoy following your journey and wish you all that is beautiful as you enter your fourth year! x

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    1. Aww, I appreciate your comment. And congrats on your new journey too!!

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  12. This is such a perfect post! Jeremy + I just started full-timing - really full-timing - 3 weeks ago. Prior to that we were mooch docking in our families' driveways for a month and a half. We've already gone through so much of what you've written about - and I know we're going to continue to grow and change in how we feel about all of this as we continue deeper into this life change of ours.

    Slow Down: Too funny! I rarely drive the rig, but when I do, I'm EXACTLY like you. 25 mph, please. You'll have to wait behind me until you can pass, and just be ok with that.

    Slow Your Roll: We're intentionally going into this first year without a serious plan - instead, we're planning only a week or two out, and even then not necessarily booking spots but just having an idea of what town/area we're heading towards. But it's so hard for me! I want to make sure we hit certain highlights in this first year - in case we can't sustain this lifestyle longer. This is a good reminder to be in the moment and know it is more than enough.

    Embrace the JoMO: Currently a little envious of all the folks at Balloon Fest in ABQ - such beautiful pictures! But then I need to just look out my window and appreciate Acadia National Park staring back at me.

    Road Less Traveled: I grew up similar to you, moving every few years, experiencing other cultures so different from your home/comfort zone. That's definitely influencing how and where we're traveling right now. And I'm loving it!

    I hope our paths do cross out there - and that we'll get to enjoy a campfire conversation or a beer or two - but that we'll still make it back to our rigs in time to let the dogs out and get a good night's sleep. :)

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    1. I'm so excited for you as your journey is beginning. It's so exciting isn't it?! Funny you should mention the Balloon Fest...I had originally written that into my post but then realized it's always *something*...we got similar feedback from friends who didn't go to Alaska this year. A bunch of us found ourselves up there at the same time, posting amazing photos of whales and bears and wildflowers. But, as you probably already know, the key to this lifestyle (and life) is to find the beauty and joy in each moment...and to "wish it away" by thinking of where you will be next week or where everyone else is...I hope our paths cross too!!

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  13. Great post - love your take on lessons learned. I'm still looking for that fat burning chocolate cake though. I suspect the unicorns are hiding it someplace. Cheers - Ellen

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    1. Haha! Well, when you find that cake you'll have to save me a piece. We'll eat it while watching non-stop streaming videos on some super fast and free wifi.

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  14. Well written, we have been full timing for 4 years and learned many of the same thing you wrote about. We have slowed way down under 5,000 miles a year works for us:)

    Safe Travels, RJ

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    1. Thanks RJ. I suppose we all learn very similar lessons over time. I thought we'd learned the mileage lesson pretty well until we decided to go to Alaska for the summer. I think we put on 5000 miles in two months. We're definitely slowing down once again.

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