*Photo taken outside of Ely, NV on Success Loop. See the deer hiding?
Hello, darlings. Greetings from limbo. Michael and I are still waiting for news about his next contract, and in the meantime we twiddle our thumbs nervously hoping we can secure something soon. This is the nature of contract work, and it can be both frustrating and stressful, even while it can be incredibly invigorating and liberating. For the moment, we will endeavor to enjoy the remaining time we have here in Nevada, despite waking to snow on the ground yesterday morning, snow which is still stubbornly sticking in places around the RV park for the first time since we’ve been in the Carson Valley. Apparently we have another storm on the way tomorrow. While we wait for news and weather, I thought I would invite you into a more intimate space about our travel lifestyle. Grab your afghan and a hot cup of your favorite beverage.
Perhaps our existence appears romantic and filled with delight, carefree fun, and magical experiences. Well, at times our lives are all of those things. And then sometimes it’s miserable, difficult, and anxious. Regardless of the negatives, both Michael and I have gained immeasurable benefits from living on the road for the last year and a half. We both learned to appreciate what we truly value, the people we love and miss, and discovered more clearly what we really want out of life. We have both been pleasantly surprised by living on the road, but I feel compelled to expose the pale unsightly underbelly, right along with the joys, of a travel lifestyle. At the end of this post, I will also share a list of fun things to try in your own life so you can dabble in more travel, even if you believe it’s out of reach because of time or money constraints.
Let me begin with how we arrived at owning and living in our Airstream. Michael and I have only been married for five years, and when we first started dating he was still in school working on his nursing degree while I was teaching in public school and college. One day Michael mentioned he had been entertaining the idea of travel nursing, and as he shared his idea I felt the tingle of what Elizabeth Gilbert likes to call “Big Magic,” that inkling stirring in your gut when your very soul responds with a resounding YES. Ever have one of those moments? Goosebumps! From there, the idea of traveling cycled through a limping treadmill between my heart and my head, rattling through countless possibilities about how we could actually make this dream a reality.
We talked about this lifestyle for years before making it happen; meanwhile Michael finished his degree, started working full time at a hospital an hour away from home (one way), and his schedule was five days a week, 3-11pm. Grueling. He had only one week of vacation that first year of work, earned only through the hours he logged, as if vacation time is some sort of piñata-type reward instead of a sanity-preserving benefit all workers in demanding fields deserve. I kept slogging at my teaching jobs and continually getting the short end of the employment stick, even though I worked hard, maintained a great rapport with my students, installed the hinge in the back of my neck to nod my head to all my bosses, and dedicated my entire adult life to the field. Our work lives were exhausting and soul-sucking.
At some point we both committed ourselves to attaining the freedom we sought in the dream of traveling, and we started to plan in earnest. For a year or so we schemed like thieves about how we could live on the road. We needed to wait for my kids to graduate high school and both be settled in college or jobs to support themselves. We needed to accommodate our two dogs. We needed to figure out what to do with our home in Olean. So many pieces of this puzzle had to be orchestrated, not to mention Michael needing to choose a company for his employment. Lots of horror stories were shared with us from people experienced in travel nursing, stories about how some companies didn’t support their nurses, and researching agencies became its own kettle of fish. Eventually, we settled on testing the waters with a company Michael liked, traveling to a place not too far from home in case the experiment failed, and renting a temporary space before purchasing anything permanent.
Our general consensus before starting really was that both of us would prefer to build a tiny house, but we chose to compromise by deciding to search for a used Airstream we could remodel to make our own. This decision came about after lots of research about tiny living, and learning that finding a place to park a tiny home is often difficult or impossible due to zoning laws and insurance companies. Our thinking then turned to the possibilities of having what we wanted in a tiny house, but built into the sleek frame of an Airstream travel trailer, a brand of RV which never goes out of style and has quality in its build to last. Of course, we have yet to actually remodel after living in the Falcon for almost a year, but that’s another story. Also important, we are still waffling about whether or not the Falcon can be a sustainable way to live due to the fact that its aluminum frame is difficult to heat in temps that drop into teens and single digits, an unavoidable aspect of weather pretty much everywhere in the country, even in the warmest states. We are also facing the reality of problems with condensation when it gets really cold, a difficulty we didn’t even consider before purchase. Thus we gamble our intentions with reality, and attempt to sift out the wheat from the chaff.
Our first six months of living on the road were spent in a pair of rooms connected by a bathroom in a lodge outside of Keene, New Hampshire. Living in the woods, even for that short stint, convinced us we definitely wanted to commit to traveling, so we began looking for used Airstreams to buy. You may be wondering at this point why we went the route of used trailers. In all honesty, new Airstreams are wildly expensive, well out of our range of affordability, particularly when we also needed to purchase a truck capable of hauling the heavy load in any terrain. We eventually found a used Avion, a sister to Airstream (and competitor until the company was bought out and became Fleetwood) in Louisiana. After Michael confirmed with the man selling his RV that he would hold it for us, we took one of Michael’s rare six-day stretches off from work and drove two days straight to see what we hoped would be our new home. Oddly, the man selling the RV never showed.
We sat in the driveway of this guy’s house for at least an hour in the cloying damp night, crickets singing from the fields around the house accompanied by the sounds of a dog sniffing at the privacy fence surrounding the back yard. Eventually we sought out a room to rent for the night. Michael sent several messages to the man, none of which were answered, even though on the morning of our arrival his last message stated he expected to finish his work out of town in time to meet us. The overnight turned into a long breakfast in the morning, but we finally had to make the decision to leave without the Avion, despairing that we spent so much money on the long trip with nothing to show for it. We never did find out what happened to that man, and we hope it wasn’t an accident of some kind, though we may never know.
Our time in New Hampshire came close to wrapping. We had no prospects for where we would live at our next assignment, a contract in Ely, Nevada. Then we got lucky. Michael happened upon an Airstream for sale in Illinois, and he happened to be the first to inquire about it. A couple of weeks later we pulled into the parking lot of the dealership in Casey, Il to pick up the Aluminum Falcon, purchased before we ever laid eyes on it. It was chancy, but we followed our guts and lucked out. Our luck might have gone another way; we could have ended up buying the Avion and being forced to tear it apart before ever living in it, something we didn’t have time to do before leaving for Nevada. That Avion was not in good condition, and it needed a lot of work to be livable. Though the Falcon is 30 years old, the interior had been maintained and was immediately livable after cleaning it thoroughly.
During this year, we have given ourselves a crash course in RV living. We have learned about holding tanks, how to juggle appliances to avoid tripping circuits, the need for heat tape on the water intake hose, how to strategically utilize awnings to moderate temperature in the desert (and to never leave the awnings down when away—NOT EVER), and to accustom ourselves to “military” showers with a tiny six-gallon water heater. We also learned how to dance around each other in the small galley space down the center of most of the trailer; had to gain muscle memory of the interior areas to avoid hitting our hands, knees, shins, and elbows on virtually everything; and to manage to share this small living area with two dogs and different sleep schedules. None of it was easy. Sometimes we got cranky and argued. There were moments when both of us blew our stacks. And yet, even with all the troubles, we both now fully appreciate and love living tiny. Neither of us wants to go back to living in a full-sized house again.
My point with this story is to relate to readers that making a choice to travel or live tiny may take a lot of dedication to research and a willingness to take risks, but before we started this adventure we were not terribly comfortable with our income, nor did we have lots of resources. We started out armed mostly with the grit to try this life to see how we felt about it, knowing we could always go back to our home in Olean anytime. A lot of things about traveling did not work out the way we planned or expected. Originally, our plan was to stay relatively close to home. But then the available jobs through Michael’s travel company didn’t pay well enough close to home, not enough for us to cover the costs of living on one income. We ended up in Nevada chasing higher-paying work, and that has left me completely disconnected from my kids for the first time in their lives. After being away so long, I am hearing the siren calling me home to make sure my ducklings are surviving. I also miss the woods.
I think Michael has come to love it here in Nevada for a lot of reasons, and he is finding it difficult to leave. He does, however, agree that New Hampshire was beautiful and admits he could live there one day, as could I. We hope to get back there soon, and maybe we’ll even settle there eventually. Who knows? For now, I just want to get closer to home so I can see my kids more often. Something else that bothers me is the unexpected difficulties I have faced with finding any work as a writer online, and also with securing any workshops to teach here for extra money. I consider myself fairly good at selling people on my workshops after so many years of teaching, and normally I can at least get libraries to throw me a bone, but I’ve had little luck here with any of my usual tactics for extra income. As a result, Michael has been carrying the load of supporting us entirely on his own, and I hate it. One good thing that has come out of my time free of paying work is all the writing I can do, and I have spent a lot of time learning how to manage myself as an indie author. I might not have done that if I were busy working, so that’s a plus. But my writing isn’t paying any bills yet. More like filling a change jar over time.
Trials aside, we have seen monumental shifts in our lifestyle. We spend more time hiking and have had the unbelievably thrilling experience of visiting several National and State Parks while traveling out West. In every place we’ve lived we’ve been blessed with meeting wonderful people. The more we travel, the more I realize we are all the same, everywhere in the country. We all want love, need to pay bills, struggle with fear and anxiety, and have to deal with the mundane aspects of life, like grocery shopping, cleaning the house, and taking showers. Everywhere we live, we find that people are just people, whether rich or poor, black or white, religious or not. We all have dreams and desires and wants and needs, every single one of us. Michael and I feel fortunate to have made friends and acquaintances in all the towns where we parked, and each person has been a little light of happiness. All of you are special and spectacular in your own way, and our lives are richer for knowing you.
While we wait for news, we gently detach from the womb of kind souls who gave us a warm place to call home in the lee of the windstorm of hate and division across the globe. What’s sad is that if you look on social media as a cue of the state of our mindsets, I believe we do ourselves a disservice. When we hide behind our avatars online, many of us feel free to blast our worst selves into the electronic static of phish and bots and trolls, regardless of fallout, as if the act of vomiting our own darkest of hearts online may flush the line of fear from our veins. Really, we hurt ourselves the most when we spread our hate like lard over the online community, forgetting those people have feelings just like us. When we spread acts of hate like sharing gossip, tearing someone down for a differing opinion, or spreading outright lies, it only poisons our own hearts and distances the options for having a real relationship with another person. Regardless of the politics or beliefs of any of the people I have met on the road, I have found everyone to be genuinely friendly, kind, and thoughtful. All I have done is listen to their opinions, acknowledged them, and shared my own with what I hope was thoughtfulness in return. In doing so, I have befriended climate change deniers, Trump followers, white supremacists, extreme liberals, religious fanatics, LGTBQ activists, ex-cons, moderate feminists, apathetic homebodies, and everything in between. None of them yelled at me for who I am, and I didn’t do that to them, either.
Instead, as I met more and more people, what I find as a common thread amongst everyone is that none of us can be pigeon-holed. Though a person may support Trump’s policies on one hand, on another he may also be a wonderful math teacher who lovingly donates time at a food pantry every week. Another person may be a staunch Bernie supporter who also serves as a city cop and attends a conservative Christian church every Sunday. We are all full of a rich and varied set of beliefs which cross over the spectrum of pigeon holes, and traveling is teaching me on an exponential scale that humanity is fragile but enduring and incredibly creative. And love is definitely more powerful than hate. And living tiny is a gift of joy. And dreams do come true, even in tumultuous times. And, and, and. Put that word in your day, then see what happens. The bills need to be paid, AND….My kids have a game later, AND….I have to fix the toilet, AND….Where will that word take you?
If you feel envious of our travel life, may I make a suggestion? You can try a few tricks I used to use (and still do on occasion) to give yourself a taste of travel. Give yourself a fun, happy, memorable experience to get yourself out of the daily doldrums of habitual life. I have been accustomed to a tight budget since I was a kid, but I have always been a gypsy at heart. Travel makes me happy, but it can be expensive. Here are a few options for travel to get away for an afternoon, a night, or even a couple of weeks on a budget:
- Set a change jar somewhere close to where you keep your wallet, then every day empty your change into it. Use the change to fund a trip out of town when it adds up to enough.
- Find a place you really want to see (near or far) and wait until it’s a good time to go camping. Car camping saves a lot of money for lodging. Also, Airbnb can make trips much more affordable if you haven’t tried that route yet.
- Want to dine at a fancy restaurant while traveling? Eat there for lunch and save up to one half or a third of the price you pay for dinner, then go shopping for sandwich makings or eat at a food cart for dinner.
- Stay in a quaint B and B overnight in an expensive area, but wait for the off season to keep costs lower and avoid crowds.
- Look for free and low-cost opportunities for fun by exploring city or town calendars for festivals, parades, concerts in village squares, self-guided tours of historic places, donation-only museums, or events around holidays.
- Google your own city or town to look for attractions you may not have considered or even known existed. Find an adventure in your own backyard, and see your home from the viewpoint of a tourist!
- Pack a picnic and jump in the car. Stop at the first place with a free view you’ve never stopped to enjoy and throw down the blanket.
- Go backpacking. The view you earn carrying all that weight on your back will be that much more memorable and special, and all the food will taste more delicious. Really.
Now you are armed with ideas to give yourself an escape or well-deserved break. Take it. Americans work too hard and don’t play enough. It’s part of what’s dividing us and draining our compassion collectively. For that matter, you could always call a friend and get together for coffee or a drink and just catch up over a few laughs. If the world is weighing you down these days, find the light. If you envy what someone else has, start planning how you can have it, too. Don’t let time or money stop you. We only live once. Make the most of it, and remember that joy is often on the other side of struggle and pain. Make the most of that, too.
As always, please feel welcome to share links or stories of your own travel interests, post photos, or comment on the content I offer. Do remember to think about your intention before you post, and be kind to everyone here. I look forward to hearing from you!