We have been living as nomads in an RV for 6 months! Some days I wake up thinking “I can’t believe this is my life!” And other days I wake up and say “Where am I and what day is it?”
I thought I’d sit down on this rainy lazy Sunday and share some thoughts after trying this out for half of a year. Maybe there are some of you out there who dream of trying out this lifestyle yourselves and wonder if you will like it, and if your family will become stronger or just be on each others nerves most of the time. I can’t answer that for you but maybe you can learn a bit from our experience so far.
The first thought that might be helpful to share is that we are not camping. We live full time in a 5th wheel with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and we do park our home in a campground most nights. But for us, it’s more like simple tiny house living, but we are parking that tiny house in as many interesting places as we can and wake up with a different backyard most every week. (Those backyards have included the colonial cities and beaches of Mexico, many of the great western U.S. National Parks, and staying near family and friends whom we don’t get to spend much time with anymore) It has never felt like camping though. We haven’t had a single campfire since we started this adventure! That might actually sound kind of sad to those of you who love to camp and sit around a fire, but it’s been a practical decision for us every time we consider it. The main reason is that we can’t take a shower every single day, and we can only do laundry once per week (and that’s if we are lucky!) We don’t want to smell like smoke or bring it into our home in our hair or our clothing so we just don’t. We also don’t choose to eat dinner outside as it’s just more practical and less buggy to eat at our dinette table right next to the kitchen. Most days we pack a lunch and eat it wherever we happen to be with the best view we can find. At night the RV has become our little haven where we process what we did that day, play games, watch movies and rest.
The second thing I’d like to talk about is that I feel like all four of us are becoming better stewards of the earth because of this experience. I think it would be great if everyone could have the experience of living in an RV in a remote location without electricity, water and sewer hookups for at least a week of their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I MUCH prefer to have a campsite with hookups of all three conveniences. But now that we have to think about every drop of water we use and every light we turn on or phone we plug in, these decisions stay with us daily and we don’t take these resources for granted. The first time we parked without any hookups, (and after only a few days of being what we thought was very careful with our water and electricity usage), we overflowed our kitchen sink and had to sit in the dark at night with candles to light our room just to read before bed. Since then we have bought solar panels and an inverter to increase the amount of time we can use electricity and a portable gray water tank, just in case. But even when we can plug our home into an electrical panel, if it’s anything less than 50 amps (which it often is) we think before we use anything. Before anyone pushes the toaster handle down they have to think to themselves “does anyone have a space heater turned on or is the electric tea kettle going?” And no one ever leaves the water running for any reason. Every drop of water we use has a purpose. What a difference it would make if we all thought through every decision like this! I’m glad my children have had to face this reality before becoming adults who will make their own decisions about how and where they will spend their lives. Since that “learning experience” of running out of space in our gray tanks and losing power, we have become even more careful and can now make it a week without dumping water easily.
The third thing has to do with simplicity. We obviously had to simplify our lives and belongings a ton before we left, but we continue to do it as we go. We still drop off a load of stuff at Goodwill about once per month. As you know stuff adds up fast! We have bought new clothes and grown out of old ones. We have bought better more efficient products and gotten rid of the ones that were just taking up space. And extra space is something we don’t have, so we have to think about every single possession and if it is worth the space it takes up! Before, we would have bought a new frying pan and just left the old one in the bottom of the drawer just in case. Before, we would have bought a new raincoat that fits better and packs into a backpack more efficiently and kept the old one… just in case. That’s just not an option anymore. We’ve found it to be true that the less stuff you have surrounding you, the more free you feel. There is no extra stuff taking up space in my home or my head. And we hardly spend any time cleaning as there isn’t extra stuff lying around, and the spaces we do have to clean regularly are so small it takes a tiny amount of time to get done.
The fourth reason I’m glad we are trying out this lifestyle is the fact that we are all physically stronger than we were 6 months ago. (Ok, maybe not Andy as he had just built a house with his own two hands before we left…) But for the most part, daily physical activity that pushes us beyond what we would normally do is a reality now. I had always meant to cultivate in our family the feeling that it is normal to push ourselves physically as a healthy way of living. In reality though, this rarely happened in our normal American life. Other stuff would take up my physical and mental energy so that I wouldn’t choose a walk or bike ride to start or end the day, (the rest of our day was usually decided for us with work, school, errands, practices, games, homework, cooking and cleaning). And I’m not saying any of these things that most of us fill our time with is bad, it’s just that it isn’t the only way, and I think we were doing some of it just because that’s what everyone else around us did and expected from us. (And because we lived in large houses demanding to be cleaned.) I can tell you that when we first started hiking through the National Parks, our girls would complain and be tired and out of breath half way through, (ok, me too;) but we pushed on. Now it feels normal for them and no one complains of aching legs or hurting lungs and they know that whatever physical challenge they face for the day will be worth it all when they see up close the natural beauty that this continent has to offer (plus all those amazing selfies and instagram pics they get to share with their friends and family).
The fifth thing I want to talk about is that even this lifestyle has confirmed what we had found to be true for our family many years ago. We all do better with some sort of routine and rhythm of predictable patterns to our family life. The first couple of months we were on the road full-time, we didn’t set up anything predictable. No schedule, no plans. But by the time we got to our beach paradise in Lo de Marcos Mexico two months in and set up to live there for over a month, we were a little worn out by the chaos of it all. So I sat down and planned out a basic flow to our weekdays on a whiteboard. I planned in time for Andy and me to do some work on our computers and for the girls to do some kind of work or learning of their own choosing. We also planned in some time for me and Andy to have a morning walk by ourselves so we could connect and get our bodies moving. Then I named each week night as something special so that all the relationships that go on in this family had some quality time to grow and evolve. It looks something like this: Monday night= Daddy and Haeli date + Mommy and Maya date, Tuesday night= Family Game night, Wednesday night= Mommy and Haeli date + Daddy and Maya date, Thursday night= Family movie night, Friday night= Andy and Gina date + Haeli and Maya date, with weekends being more spontaneous. We are all enjoying our date nights and having conversations that don’t happen when we are all together. Most recently I’ve added back into our lives the thing that simplifies my life the most and frees my mind for other thoughts. I’ve reinstated a set schedule of what we eat every night of the week. I’ve done this in the past and even coached other women to do it too, but for some reason I had fallen out of this most helpful pattern. Now I usually know what day of the week it is just by what I know I’m making for dinner that night! Here is our very specific weekly menu: Sunday- Stir fry, Monday- Tortilla soup or chili, Tuesday- Panzanella, Wednesday- Spaghetti or Spaghetti Soup, Thursday- Chicken Fajita Bake, Friday- Pizza, Saturday- Burrito bowls. There is flexibility to this, but for the most part we stick to it and always have the same grocery list and everyone knows their part in making dinner happen. If you try this, you will be amazed at how this simplifies your life too. We’ve also found that even if we are in a National Park and amazing sights await us just a few miles away, we must take a down day like today, or we will completely wear ourselves out and leave no time for the other things that fill us up like reading, writing, drawing and communicating with friends and family. We have found that living in a small space together suits our family just fine though, and I think that is helped by being outside and exploring the world together so much.
The last thought I want to touch on in this post, as it’s getting so long you might be losing interest, is relationships. We haven’t seen many friends or family on a regular basis in the past 6 months and that can be hard at times. I don’t know that this is really all that different from regular life though, as all relationships grow and evolve and go through times where you see each other a lot and times when you don’t. But it has all been magnified especially for our girls in the last 6 months. Andy and I are each other’s absolute best friend and we don’t need much else on a day to day basis. Of course we miss family and friends just as much as our girls, but we don’t feel the loss of regular time with friends as keenly as they do. There are trade offs to everything you do in life and for now I feel like this is worth it for the closeness it is bringing to our little family (our girls have become much better friends in the past 6 months and that is everything to me!) and the way we are able to show our girls how big the world is. I think that all the best relationships will survive or even grow stronger. We have all made new friends that we wouldn’t have made if we had stayed where we were, and we will continue to form new friendships with people who are interested in the same things we are, over the next 6 months!
We are really enjoying this time of seeing and experiencing so many new and interesting places that change weekly. Though we are finding to be true what we suspected from the beginning, that this is a bit fast paced to be sustainable for a long period of time. We like slow travel best where we set up in a new place for at least a month so we can settle in a bit and feel like we have plenty of time to see it all and get to know the culture and people of a location more thoroughly. We are starting to plan for that when this leg of our adventure is finished…