Full time RV Life was a major change in our world and as we approach the full year mark , I thought it was time to reflect on how it began. We spent most of our lives with two pretty demanding careers and juggling five children’s school and social schedules. Adjusting to life on the road has taken a long time, but oddly we now expect that each day will likely be different and routines are a thing of the past.
People often ask us if this had been our life long dream and how many years we put into getting ready to be on the road full time. This question always makes us laugh because we had never, ever been camping and like many chapters of our crazy marriage, this was a choice born and executed in reaction to a unique life crossroad. In March of 2018, Xena ( our dog )and I were driving cross country coming home from California where we had been visiting our son Quinn in Malibu, California for the month. Along the route, I became incredibly sick with a flu that was completely debilitating. Keith had to fly to Indiana and drive us home, even after being to a hospital ER, my fever was still high and I could not stay awake. It was by far the worst physical illness I had ever experienced; which is saying a lot as I had a heart attack and spent 5 days in Cardiac ICU, four years before that. This flu was intense and frightening, it literally had me in bed for 2 weeks and barely leaving the house for a full month.
At the time Keith was consulting in Connecticut and was gone Monday through Thursday and I was consulting for a tech ed company, where I travelled frequently. We were technically retired, all our kids were gone, but we spent very little time together. Keith spent time on the phone while I was ill, trying to have our amazing family of friends check on me and I had a myriad of nurses coming and going. On the weekends while Keith took over, we discussed how we had created a world where we worked to keep a home that was far too big and with each of our kids having a life of their own, a place that was more to manage than what fit our needs. We were living in 5500 square feet and we barely used half of it and with summer approaching the work of huge flower and vegetable beds and the daily maintenance of the outdoor kitchen, hot tub and pool was daunting. It was not what we expected our lives to be when we retired from our careers.
We talked about buying a smaller, retirement home and spent hours researching where and found ourselves in heated debates about location, with little to go on outside of whatever the internet had to say about a community. As life long scholars, we both liked to make decisions based on facts and experience. Keith was born in England and his job often had him working and traveling throughout Europe and Asia. As a public school educator, I was lucky to attend a conference every couple of years. However, once retired between my consulting job and a road trip twice in 6 months from Delaware to California, my curiosity about many places in the United States was peaked, but I was not knowledgeable about where to buy a retirement home.
In our internet search, one day we came across a video from a YouTube channel called “ Keep Your Day Dreams,” a couple who had gone on a journey through out the U.S. in an RV and made a weekly video about their experiences. We watched them for hours and found others; within a weekend we decided that our search for a retirement home needed to be literal.
Keith resigned from his job April 1st, we drove to Elkhart, Indiana, toured RV factories on April 15th and ordered our 43 foot, Fifth Wheel RV. We spent the next two weeks in a whirlwind of minor house updates and real estate readiness, getting our family home prepared for the market. The For Sale sign went up May 1st and to our surprise, we had several offers that day. That didn’t turn out as easy as it sounds and I could write a whole blog on the nightmare of stucco inspections and mortgage assessments, but by June we had plans to move into a friend’s summer cottage while we waited for our RV to be delivered in August.
This began the long and sometimes emotional process of downsizing. I was not a person that collected items, except shoes, but we had a home filled with beautiful “ things”- 5500 square feet of “ stuff”. We agreed that we would rent a storage unit and keep one bedroom and a family room worth of furniture. Other than that, we could only have belongings that would fill the 500 square feet of the RV. Family and friends had a great time coming through the house like a shopping mall. I still see girlfriends on their Facebook posts, where I can spot some of my outfits or shoes.
By August we were more then ready to be out of the cottage and on the road. We had researched and found a Diesel Ford F450 King Ranch, dually truck to pull the 26,000 pound RV. It was almost comical to trade in the BMW and return my leased little Mercedes to get into the biggest truck we had ever seen.
Once we got to Indiana we lived at the factory for 2 days, getting things fixed (we had a faulty washer & added a generator ) and learning about operating an RV this size. We had one rather brief driving lesson now that we had 5 axels and were the length and height of an 18 wheel truck….we were off. I had taken pages of notes and we used our phones to video things like attaching the fifth wheel hitch and operating the balancing jacks. We laughed and cried with excitement and anxiety as we worked our way through Ohio and Pennsylvania, heading back to Delaware to fill our new home.
The original thrill was soon lost when we struggled with sewer and water at our first campsite. Thankfully, fellow campers were gracious and helpful, but it was very hard not to doubt ourselves and our choices. And like I am guessing is often the case, we found our version of downsizing was nowhere even close to what we needed it to be. I worked through tears as I settled on 4 pairs of summer shoes, 2 pairs of gym shoes and 3 pairs of boots. I took another huge load to give Goodwill of clothes, dishes and pictures. Life was very unsettled and on top of the terror of the unknown, I wasn’t sure how I’d survive on the smallest wardrobe I owned since college and an equal amount of cooking and general “ life gear”. However, we were committed to a plan and so it began.
Now 37 states later, experiences good and bad on the road, we have survived the biggest challenge of our marriage, thus far. We spend 24 hours a day together, 7 days a week in a space that is not much larger than our former bedroom suite. These days, set up and break down is far less stressful and both of us can drive our home without much thought. We have learned more about one another than any other year of our marriage and as the end of the adventure is not far- we end in October, I don’t think either one of us would trade the insanity of the experience. We will soon decide on a place to put another sticks and bricks home, but I’m guessing the lessons learned through our time wandering about will keep us from staying still for too long. And while I look forward to the consistency of routines, the delight of a gym, I daydream about a bathtub and dishwasher , crave a shoe rack with choices and planting a small herb and flower garden, I will miss a few things. Mostly how much Keith loves seeing this country, having become a citizen in his forties , many things I learned about in US History and Geography classes over the years, were all new to him. He is fascinated by this country, it’s majestic lands and the unique cultures of the people in it. In retrospect, I am glad we took the time and energy to create the Empty Nest Nomads YouTube channel ourselves and have video journals of our travels, being able to look back will be fun.
Alas, I have little advice for those thinking about RV full time life. Our decision to do so was very spontaneously executed. In our case, often we overthink things, and we stay stagnant. So perhaps our example is about making the years you retire into the thrills you didn’t have the money or bold rebellion to take in youth. I don’t think our lives will ever be ordinary again, our nomad spirit is now part of who we are.