Year 1: ‘Go see the world.
Let it change you.’
So, it’s been a year. Yep. Today (7/1/2015) is our 1 year anniversary with Dyna. (I’m going to go ahead and get the elephant out of this virtual room now- I don’t remember the anniversary of Jake and I becoming a couple.) I’d say things with Dyna and us are going pretty well; I mean, I haven’t taken her home to meet my mom yet, but I’ve shown both mom & dad pictures, and I write this blog about living in her for my mom. So, you could say it’s pretty serious. Over the past few weeks Jake & I have been chatting about our relationship with our 40,000lb home on wheels, which we, like many of the other RV nomads we have met, have personified. It’s evolved and matured, like any good relationship does. We’ve gotten more comfortable with each other; we have no hesitation ripping off her bra to inspect what lies underneath anymore (spoiler: it’s a generator). Living with Dyna has opened our eyes in so many ways, and not just to the ever changing scenery; our expectations of what it would mean to be a ‘digital nomad’ (one who travels while working) and what it is actually like to be a digital nomad deviated in some ways. In others, it is exactly what we imagined. And it’s awesome.
In order to frame our ‘notes’, I’m presenting you with a brief history of Liz and Jake, before Dyna.
I (Liz) grew up in cow country NY. The kind of place where in the Spring, when your 7th grade teacher opens the windows of your classroom to get some ‘fresh air’, you are slapped with the smell of manure. Because it’s Spring. And Spring means fertilizing season. I spent 6 years in college in the ‘city’ of Rochester, NY. I earned a Master’s degree in a field that I was certain I would spend the remainder of my productive years working in. I got a comfortable job that I was good at; it paid most of the bills. I was a good little worker, saving for retirement, hoping someday to spend that retirement traveling. And then I met Jake. I met him during a turbulent time in my life; something like a quarter-life crisis. He had spent his youth on the East coast between Virginia and Western NY, surviving, and eventually thriving in a turbulent childhood. He was a man with a plan; he had started his own business at 16 and put himself through college without accruing any debt. I met him and found someone who was itching for adventure; I hung on for dear life. One night we were talking about our aspirations- you know, the selfish ones that don’t include things like fostering a child or taking care of your parents as they age- and I mentioned that I thought it would be ‘really cool to get an RV when I retire an travel around’. And that was about it; Jake took that seed and ran with it. Somehow he missed that little detail about wanting to ‘retire’ first, although, I do like to call current hiatus from my chosen career ‘pre-tirement’. So that’s an abbreviated history of pre-nomad us.
- There is a whole heck of a lot of America to see. When we began letting people know that we were going to galavant around the country in an RV, we were consistently asked “for how long?” We used to answer with, “Oh, probably a year or two.” We both knew that this was a white lie (it’s hard to tell your parents you might be gone for a really long time), but we didn’t realize we were also lying to ourselves. In private, we had thrown around the idea of traveling in the U.S. for a few years, then heading overseas to check out some other countries’ digs. But there is so damned much to see here: we’ve only been able to fill in ___ states (yeah, we’ve got one of those corny/awesome 50 states maps adhered to Dyna’s rear slide) so far, and within those states, we’ve only scratched the surface of a few places. This country is F’ing (worthy of this word) amazing.
- American vacation time BLOWS. We are incredibly lucky (#blessed) to be able to live like we do; moving from place to place, working during the day, exploring many evenings, ‘vacationing’ during the weekend. Jake is incredibly lucky he found a career that he absolutely loves. We have noted that our national parks are chock-full of tourists from overseas, folks who are able to use their decently appropriated vacation time to come over to our beautiful country for a month or more at a time and take in the sights, the culture, the awesome. Most people I know haven’t got that opportunity; 2 weeks of vacation a year don’t lend themselves to traveling freely and immersing.
- Utah. It’s a place. And it’s freaking beautiful. Why did no one ever tell us that there was Utah? Is it just an East coast thing that people don’t know about how magnificent this place is? Or maybe it’s just a Liz & Jake thing… regardless, Utah is a place. Oh, and so are open ranges. The kind where cattle just roam freely about. Even in the road.
- Sweat has a purpose. Like, when the little droplets of soon to be smelly water ooze out of your skin, they can actually cool you down. They can dry. And then you feel cool. They don’t always have to just sit on your skin and make you look like a drowned mermaid (can mermaids drown?) So, if you live on the East coast, I am here to testify: there is an evolutionary purpose to sweat other than making cool looking angels on gym floors. So, go West, my friend(s). Experience a purposeful sweat for yourself.
- Living ‘little house on the highway style’ can cost as little or as much as you make it cost. We find that it is costing us about what it cost us to live sticks and bricks apartment style. We spend our money on what is important to us: namely on beer. Because when you travel all the time, the beer selection constantly varies. And I don’t want to regret letting a beer be ‘the beer that got away.’ We eat out about once a week, but prefer to cook at home with local ingredients (as much as possible). We DIY on almost all of our repairs and upgrades (Jake is a real handyman). We don’t need many ‘things’, and we don’t have room for the ‘things’ we may be tempted into thinking we ‘need’. So, it’s really the perfect diet for those who may enjoy shopping a bit too much; luckily, neither Jake or I were afflicted with that bug before we launched, but I can see how it could work.
- Grocery stores are an adventure in themselves. ‘Grabbing groceries’ is no longer a quick trip. Each now town means a new store. Figuring out where things are. If their produce is any good. What bonus card can I use (I currently carry 8 in my purse).
- Working while on the road takes incredible discipline. There is incredible temptation to go explore your ‘new to you’ neighborhood. To go jump in the lake/ocean/creek that is calling like a siren through the window. Sometimes it’s best just to shut that window until you’re done for the day. And the realization that if we just slow down, we don’t need to rush to the next place, doesn’t hurt either…
- Healthcare on the road SUCKS. We are incredibly lucky to have employer provided health care (and that Jake’s awesome company also allows me to be on their plan). Even so, finding providers who are in network is a pain in the a**. And forget having a relationship with a provider: you are guaranteed to need to pay an ‘initial visit fee’ to see someone. Dentists are the worst. Just clean my teeth, damnit! I just want clean teeth! I don’t need you to x-ray me every 6 months! I don’t want to die of x-ray exposure! Or purge so many dollars to die that way. We attempted telemedicine; but we thwarted because we were in Texas (cue Beyonce’s intro to ‘Daddy Lessons’) and guess what? Texas don’t believe in none of that new fangled technological medicinal crap.
- Slow is the way to go, for us at least. When we started out, we had plans to move at least weekly, if not more. But holy smack in the face: there is too much to see, too much to do, and too much ‘real life’ and ‘work’ stuff to make that pace sustainable or enjoyable for us. While a life of travel is exhilarating and blissful and eye opening and so much freaking fun, it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. It isn’t all perfect. It takes dedication and sacrifice and a lot work. Work on your rig. Work on making money. Work on figuring out who the hell you are now that you are surrounded by total strangers all the time. We’re not on an unending vacation. We’re just living in a plethora of different places on a temporary basis. We spend most of our weekdays “at home” wherever that may be at the moment. We work. And Cook. And do laundry. And plan for our next stop. Then we venture out an explore in the evening. Or sometimes we just stay in like normal people and watch Game of Thrones (…hold the door… hold the door…)
- This blog. It is kind of crap. I feel like we share everything, but we share nothing at all. How can we? How can I make you feel the Colorado air at 14,000ft? How can I turn words into an olfactory experience that represents running through the hills of Big Sur? How can I activate your gag reflex in the same manner as mine each time I empty the black tank? We planned to blog long before we took off. It became a reassurance statement to those we were leaving behind. “Don’t worry, we’re going to keep a blog so you can read all about it!” And I know my mom enjoys it (hi mom!)
- Societal perceptions. They are everywhere we go. We’ve been openly asked “where are your parents?” and “did your daddy let you borrow that?” Not that those comments bothered us, they actually provided good foddered for future comments and references in later conversations. We’ve been disallowed from RV parks for not being old enough (this is typical- many of our nomad friends deal with it). We’ve had to send managers photos of Dyna before being allowed to make a reservation because she is ‘an old lady’ and could make their park look bad. When people ask where we’re from, we have gotten used to saying “nowhere now, we travel full time.” To which they ask, “how”, and we respond “in an RV” to which they say “oh, cool, my cousin’s uncle’s mother’s sister has one of those vans.” To which we smile and appreciate their trying to make a connection to understand our life (there is a lot of good in this world). So, it’s kind of cool to be ‘bucking the norm.” Not that there aren’t other people around our age, also driving old people rigs up and down the super slabs of our country. But until you look for us, you probably won’t find us. And sometimes it feels kind of cool to be a misfit.
- Categorization within the ranks of this lifestyle are also common. I think it’s human nature to try and categorize everything in our world. So, Jake and I tend to fall into the ‘young full-timers in a huge old people bus” category. The perception being that we are stuck staying in a limited amount of RV resorts as anything over 30’ is too big. But, we haven’t found that to be true. We wild camp (although we do have to be more cautious than smaller rigs when finding a spot to do it), we stay mostly in state or national parks, and we can maneuver pretty well around the streets of small town America when lured in with the promise of a brewery. We haven’t found our rig to be ‘too big’ (at 40′, it is on the larger side of RVs, and the tag axle creates an illusion of being even larger), but we have realized that we really don’t need all of this space. It has been really nice for when friends or nephews come to stay (which is commonplace with us- the more, the merrier!), but otherwise, we realize we can live much smaller. However, we adore our Dyna, her quirks, and her strengths. She’s our first home, and we’ll probably love her for a while more.
- Want to see all the old men in an area come come running (or wheeling)? Just watch me pull Dyna into a new park or parking spot for lunch. I never realized that it was amusing to so many people that women can drive RVs. But it is. So, next time you need to gather up your old men, let me know. I can come help you out.
- We are capable of solving most any problem, surviving most experiences, and choosing our own happiness. The road constantly reveals new lessons so long as we are brave enough to keep moving forward. Alternator failed? Time to get greasy. Toilet clogged? Better get some gloves. RV park flooding? Good thing we’ve got wheels. Town full of folks who don’t believe in basic human rights? Pedal to the metal, baby. Constant movement means not being fully aware of who and what surrounds you. People will treat us with unexpected kindness or they might try to scam us. Living nomadically means living at the mercy of the world; both the good mercy and the bad.
- I used to try to control everything. I liked everything to be in its place; books go on the bookshelf, Mac-n-Cheese is stored behind the crackers, runs must always be done before going to work. I didn’t like when plans changed. I often lacked the ability to go with the flow, at least internally where I would feel frenzied with stress if my plans changed. The surrender that travel forces upon you brings a freeing flexibility; liberation. You realize that your strength lies in your ability to bend. The more able you are to adapt and flex, the more you can handle whatever the gods of RVing send your way.
- Before hitting the road, I spent hours planning out where we would go and where we would stay for our first 2 months. Dyna taught me real quick that those few hours were a complete waste of time. And slowly, I’ve learned to be okay with that. I am now excited by the notion that we don’t have plans after our summer visits from friends come to an end. Really freaking, Liz in a candy store, excited.
- Most problems that we run up against are much smaller than they at first appear. That dinging sound that wouldn’t stop and we spent 2 hours googling after starting up the beast to leave for our first haul? Turned out to be low leveler fluid. Easy fix; get more leveler fluid. None of the lights are turning on… oh sh*t, maybe our batteries are shot? Nope; someone knocked the battery cut off switch. Our mobile behemoth (who can contradictorily be classified as a ‘tiny house’) has tons of system back ups. Thank you for thinking of those, Monaco. Whenever something seems to be going wrong, the wise words of Edward, previous sherpa of Dyna, ring in my head. “If something goes wrong, it’s probably small, so check those things first”. Thanks Edward.
- You say goodbye a lot. Life on the road is a perpetual cycle of the excitement and slight trepidation that comes with meeting someone new. But unlike friendships from back when our house didn’t roll, it also means saying goodbye pretty damned soon after that initial hello. It starts to feel draining to build relationships from scratch week after week. The inevitability of moving on facilitates relationships that take on a different dynamic than the relationships we built while static for years; the emotional investment in nomadic relationships is much more limited. Not necessarily less enjoyable, but definitely different. It’s the difference between ‘company’, and ‘intimacy’. We have great conversations, but not always the conversations I yearn to have. Many conversations never make it past the surface. And while some do dig deep, growing fast and fierce, they are tainted with the knowledge that soon, you will say goodbye. And then there is the sadness that comes with saying goodbye to another beautiful place, unsure if you will ever return to stand on this soil again. The opportunities provided by constant movement are tinctured with the forfeit of being able to rely on a place.
- A good friend asked me if I was getting lonely traveling. I am lucky (#blessed, again) to have found an adventurer in crime who I can share this life with. So the answer is an emphatic “no” and also an “oh dear lord yes.” Because sometimes you miss your best friends; the ones who have loved you through the worst, and some of the best times of your life. Your family, who is highlighted by a rambunctious 5 year old boy, and who never make you question how you are perceived. Those people who don’t mind if you break down and cry because you have an overwhelming urge to hold a bunny rabbit or have a hundred TMI moments.
- If you want to practice letting go, you don’t need to become a buddhist. You can just become a nomad instead.
Life is a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. We chose to flip to the ‘buy your first home’ chapter, followed by a quick redirect over to the ‘it has wheels and now you’re a digital nomad’ page. But I want you to not only see that nomadic life isn’t “perfect,” I want you to know that your life is beautiful, no matter what it looks like on camera. Choosing a different adventure is no less of a life. I know for damn certain flipping to the ‘wrangle kids into decent citizens’ chapter is pretty awesome (as are the stories which I so enjoy reading about from those in my life who chose his adventure). And the ‘work a job you enjoy’ with a flip to the ‘roadtrip for a week!’ chapter is pretty cool too. Without going through the entire book- I don’t ever want to make you, the ‘Jake & Liz’s Adventure Book’ reader, feel like less of an adventurer. We’re all on different, interconnecting journeys. One way or another, travel reveals the myriad ways of living that exist in this world. It has broadened our perspective on what’s possible for others and for ourselves.