It almost seems surreal. My wife and I have been living on the road in our little 200 square foot Airstream for over two years. We’ve traveled up and down the western half of the United States, and in that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about full-time travel.
Traveling can be fun, but it also won’t be for everyone. In our time on the road, I’ve learned so much about not only this lifestyle but about our country and everything it has to offer. It has more to offer than most people think.
Below, I’m discussing nine lessons from living on the road.
The less space, the better
Conventional wisdom would have you buying the biggest RV that you can afford so you can, you know, “grow into it”. That advice is bullshit.
Traveling brings up a unique set of problems that most of us who live in traditional sticks and bricks homes might not realize. To put it bluntly: It’s a bitch to move a whole ton of stuff – and, it’s way more costly. In general, the bigger your RV, the more expensive it will be to buy, maintain and move. It’s that simple.
My wife and I live in a 30′ Airstream Classic. It adds up to about 200 square feet, and arguably, it’s too big for us. Though it’s probably not worth switching out for a smaller RV at this point (because we’ve renovated so much of it), if we had to do it all over again, we’d go smaller. Something in the neighborhood of 25′ strikes the right balance for our lifestyle.
Why? Because we stay off-grid a lot. We’re “boondocking” out in the middle of nowhere. The smaller your RV, the easier it will be to find a spot. To maneuver that sucker between trees, down unmaintained dirt roads and around fences, guard-rails, and buildings. Trust me, space can be awfully tight out there (especially in the Pacific Northwest where there are, you know…trees and stuff).
If you are curious what our Airstream looks like, check out our home tour on our YouTube channel:
Cities aren’t always a bad thing
I get it, one of the benefits of traveling (or living) in an RV is you get to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s an incredible feeling to be out in nature without anyone else around you. If you’re used to dodging people and cars all day in your everyday life, then yeah, you’ll want to escape those cities any chance that you get.
But when you live in an RV, things get a bit more interesting. Cities come with amenities, and those amenities are sorta convenient. Like water, for example. Or a grocery store. For me, the gym is an amenity I like about cities. It’s one thing to just spend a weekend in the middle of nowhere, but for some of us (like me), I just couldn’t spend my life in total isolation.
I’m happiest when our home is parked a short drive away from civilization. Say, five or 10 miles. I like the quiet and solitude of living outside major city centers, but damn it, I also want my Internet access. In fact, I need it. Like, it’s a legit need. I do consulting work and maintain the hell out of this blog and Internet access is a requirement for my lifestyle.
Therefore, I can’t completely escape the bounds of civilization too much.
Of course, we are all different. You might feel more comfortable out in the middle of nowhere for months (or years). That’s cool, nothing wrong with that. I’m not one of those people. I need the proximity of cities. And gyms. And cell towers.
And, most cities are good like that.
Those beautiful places on Instagram are a pain in the ass to get to
You know all those beautiful photographs that you see on Instagram? Photos of places that you’d love to see? While some are easily accessible, others are just a pain in the ass to get to. And once there, civilization may or may not be anywhere around that beautiful mountain, lake or wildflower. Or even a campground. You might be backpacking it in, sleeping in a sub-zero sleeping bag and getting your ass up at the crack of dawn to truly live that photo you saw.
Because chances are, it wasn’t taken at noon.
Granted, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. In fact – if some of the most beautiful places were super easy to get to, we’d see pictures of those places all over. While still super cool to photograph, it doesn’t have that same appeal as some of the outrageous photos that you see on Instagram or in magazines of places that take extreme effort to get to. And getting out of bed super early for the best light.
Of course, many of those photos are edited in Photoshop, too.
But, who cares. They are still beautiful. And, the effort it took for that photographer to position him or herself in the right place at the right time isn’t anything to sneeze at.
Here’s a screenshot of my Instagram account.
We take basic amenities for granted
Running water is kinda cool. So is flushing your toilet and watching all that former food and drink disappear into the plumbing system – hopefully never to be seen again. Hopefully.
In an RV, things don’t work that way. You gotta haul that shit (literally) with you where ever you go. And, you gotta get water to your sinks. And electric. The things that we take for granted living in a fully-connected house suddenly become very real when you leave the modern amenities available in traditional houses.
To help, we have 500 watts of solar on top of our Airstream that feed our 440Ah battery system. On sunny days, we can easily run virtually all of our equipment (including computers and an external computer monitor) without draining our batteries a bit. On cloudy days, though, the trickle of solar cannot keep up with our typical electrical draw.
In a traditional house, we wouldn’t (and didn’t!) think twice about that stuff.
But living on the road (and not parked in a “full hookup” campsite), the simple things like electric, water, and sewer become a problem that demands attention. If you screw up, the consequences are terribly inconvenient, too. Dead batteries are expensive. Over-filling your black water tank (the tank that holds the sewage from your toilet) is a smelly mistake – and one you only make once!
We have a composting toilet that separates solids from liquids, so luckily, we don’t have any sewage to deal with, ever. We do have to change the compost every 1.5 months or so, though. But believe it or not, that’s not nearly as disgusting as it sounds.
How many have dealt with that in your traditional home? 🙂
You might be asked to solve other people’s relationship problems
It’s amazing to me how many people think they couldn’t live this lifestyle because of the proximity to their spouse! It’s not just space. Or the travel. Or thinking about the amenities. No, they are afraid that they’d drive each other batty.
This is the part of RV’ing that’s always confused me when it comes to other people.
You’re married. You’re supposedly in love with one another. Friends, even. But yet, the thought of spending large amounts of time around one another seems akin to pulling your nose hairs out one-by-one. You can do it, but it’s also painful and you’d rather not.
“How do you do it?“, they’ll ask us.
“Because we don’t hate each other,” I respond in my head. Even in such a small space (the square footage of our Airstream tends to be one of the smaller of the RVs that we see), there are still ways to maintain your own separate spaces. Even though I can turn my head and see my wife sitting on the couch not more than five or six feet away, it’s never been a problem.
It works for three primary reasons:
- We don’t hate each other
- We maintain our own separate spaces even in 200 sqft
- We actively pursue the same goals
Goals, you say? Yep. Since my wife retired at 33, we’re both active in the social media community. We have a YouTube channel and the accompanying blog. We also have this blog, and my wife is determined to double its pageviews. We’ll bounce ideas off of each other. Ask questions. Work together toward the same end.
It’s almost like a little office space and we’re two co-workers hollering over the cubicle walls at one another with questions or suggestions. It works well.
And trust me – I cannot solve whatever issue you have with being so close to your spouse for extended periods of time. I’m no psychologist or counselor.
I only know what works for us.
People will assume the worst (or the best) about you
It’s funny – when people find out that we live in an RV, most naturally assume that it’s not by choice. Instead of making the conscious decision to live a simple and sensible lifestyle, so many will assume that we’re poor. That we don’t have the money to live, well, just like them.
Or, a few will assume precisely the opposite…that we’ve sold a business and made millions of dollars and don’t need another job based on sheer net worth. We must have made a ton or won the lottery, so why not travel the country while we still can. With $10 million in the bank, why not?
The truth is we only have about a tenth of that $10 million. But, we DO travel the country because we can – and we might as well do this while we can. Both my wife and I are relatively young, healthy and full of energy. What better time than now?
That doesn’t immediately register with most people. Most assume the worst. Others believe that we’ve sold a business for millions. Very few acknowledge the possibility that we saved 70% of our incomes over the years and retired early.
On our schedule.
You’ll become immediate friends with full-time travelers your own age
I have a bunch of problems, but making friends ain’t one of them. When you live a life on the road, you almost become instant friends with every other RVer that you meet. Especially if you’re boondocking out in the middle of nowhere, and really especially if you’re around the same age.
RV’ing is one of those lifestyles that seems to build external relationships almost automatically. Like two Arizona Cardinals fans who instantly gravitate toward each other after being dragged to a SciFi convention that they have no interest in – on Sunday. Instant connection.
We’ve met so many people along our journey. An invite to happy hour is very common (almost expected). We immediately talk about things that might seem too personal in any other lifestyle. Like our motivations for traveling. Monthly budgets. And, all kinds of shit that we completely screwed up along the way with pulling (or driving) a 20,000-pound death machine on wheels.
Like forgetting your truck has an exhaust brake and gutting your brake pads on a steep 8% decline down a Colorado mountain pass (hypothetical!).
Before we started our new lives of full-time travel, meeting people and, well, communication with others was a common question asked of us. We naturally assumed that it wouldn’t be a problem, and frankly, it isn’t. We’re introverts and we still have nights where we have drinks with folks we’ve never met – and may never see again. Extroverts will have an even easier time of it.
Just last week, a younger couple on Instagram noticed we were camped alongside Lake Holloman outside of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. They contacted us, brought over some box wine, and we made a night of it.
Also, RVers tend to be talkers, folks. They love to help, too. Walk out to your truck with a wrench in your hand and pop the hood and you’ll have a half-dozen men huddled around your truck with all sorts of tools, ready and willing to help, in short order. They just materialize as if out of thin air.
It’s a super unique community.
Beer is great everywhere
Beer is a wonderful thing, and luckily for me, it’s everywhere. All over the country, there’s beer. I’m a huge fan of locally-brewed craft beer, and I’ve tasted some truly interesting beer in the course of our travels.
Like a pecan beer local to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or a Jalapeno beer in Mount Shasta, CA. Bouy Beer Company had the best damn coffee stout I’ve ever tasted in Astoria, Oregon. I can’t get enough of tasting local craft beers from around the country. We hit breweries every chance we get.
If beer isn’t your thing, it might be wine. Or hell, anything. So many areas of our country do things just a bit differently than what you’re probably used to, and sampling all these different flavors is what makes this lifestyle so darn interesting.
There’s way more to this country than I thought possible
As a child, I was fortunate in that I got to move around the country a bit. My dad was in the Navy, and we lived in California, Virginia, and Tennessee (with frequent trips to Michigan and Arkansas) before I bailed after high school and split toward Colorado for college.
I got to see a lot of this country. But, I’ve discovered that I didn’t even scratch the surface of everything that there is to see out there. There’s just so much.
This country offers gorgeous beaches, dense rain forests, huge volcanoes and mountains, arid deserts and sky-high sand dunes – all within our borders. How many people get to experience that kind of variety right in their own country?
Unfortunately, not many.
But, traveling full-time has opened my eyes to just how much this country has to offer. I’d love to travel abroad one day, but frankly, I’m not in any hurry. There’s just way too much to see right here in the United States.
For example, some homegrown photographs to illustrate:
How many of you folks travel? If so, any words of wisdom for the rest of us who don’t? For those who travel full-time, do any of these points ring true for you?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.