Monday, January 26, 2015

Trailer Days

We live this lifestyle for many reasons and being outside in the nature that we all crave is definitely one of our favorite perks.  Then there are those other days.  The gray, gloomy days.  Cold.  Rainy.  Wet.  We refer to them as “trailer days.”  Otherwise known as the days that challenge our very sanity.  Welcome to the home of the wintertime blues.  These days are expected, but never welcomed.
These particular dreary days that we have encountered recently soon leave us doing nothing but begging for a sunny, seventy degree oasis.  They leave us desperate for a ray of sunshine to soak up the lifeless puddles left behind by the January rain.  Sitting inside with four larger than life personalities, childish energy waiting to be exhausted, two less than amused cats and let’s not forget the overly bored dog, comes the unforgiving realization of how small 300 square feet actually is.  Then, throw in a batch of middle school roadschooling and you’ll find the perfect recipe for almost losing it. 

We need the sun (preferably paired with temperatures above seventy, but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers).  I will at least take sun over gray skies.  That has become my new cry from the depths of our winter life on the road.  The few, and I mean like three, days we have had to hike, bike and throw around the football have felt like a God-send for an unusually cold and ugly month.  The other days have left our family feeling like bears in hibernation mode waiting for spring to bring us back to life.  This type of environment will lead one to questionable decisions when a so-called warm day arrives.  And, such a day came last week. 

It was the most beautiful day we have had in over a month—around 70 degrees (what I would consider the tipping point of warm.)  We were at beautiful Inks Lake State Park in the hill country of Texas.  Inks Lake is a completely picturesque park with a natural landscape and has to be one of the most popular spots in the summer here in the hill country due to the perfect swimming area provided by the natural rock formations surrounding the lake. 

So, what does one do on a day in the middle of January desperate for the healing power of the outdoors?  Somehow I soon found myself mid-air over a cascading waterfall in a moment of “what the hell did I just do?” as I realized my body would soon be hitting the untouched and possibly (and that would be totally optimistic) not so warm waters below.  The moment came and there was no turning back.  With it came the self-posed question of what the heck was I thinking.  Amazing how an originally unmotivated family kayak paddle led to this unplanned and radical moment.  I excused my behavior as a mere attempt to coax my thirteen year old son into the same insane decision.  And, guess what?  It worked.  After all, he was responsible for the discovery of this hidden waterfall off in the distance.  After hopping out of his kayak and taking a short hike on his own, he came back like an explorer dragging all of us to his incredible find.  And, this seems to be how all of our crazy adventures start—an opportunistic discovery and a supposed once in a lifetime moment.  (We seem to have a lot of these “once in a lifetime moments” to take advantage of in the last six months.)

Unfortunately, the other two smarter members of our family, escaped the waterfall waters and found their place as cheerleaders in a much warmer location on the sidelines.

This was the cure to a dull week of gray.  That very moment under the blue skies and blazing sun drenched by the coldest water I have ever felt was exactly what I needed.  A peek into spring and hopefully quite a few less “trailer days” ahead.    

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nature: The Ultimate Drug

Floating down the Guadalupe River in the gorgeous Texas hill country, I couldn’t help but feel every inch of my body relax and my mind go blank as I stared at the wonder of nature.  Nothing else mattered in that moment but burning this picture into my memory to keep forever.  The terrain was like nothing we have seen on the east coast.  Looking up, there were massive 50 foot rock cliffs towering around us hugging the edge of the gorgeous winding river. 
The water was a calming emerald color with occasional small rapids flowing gently through the landscape.  I couldn’t even begin to count the different varieties of birds flying above or perched in the trees along the river.  Beyond the river were golden fields similar to that of an African savannah, with the occasional tree to break up the monotonous landscape.  On the edges of the river stood gigantic based bald cypress trees with branches full of moss looming over the river.  The only noise seemed to be the splash of our paddles hitting the slow moving water or our laughter and conversation filling the calm air. 

While paddling in our kayaks, it is nearly impossible to think about any stress of the day.  All your mind can comprehend is how beautiful that very moment is, while taking in the extreme peace of the world.  There is no room for any inner turmoil.  There’s only you, the landscape, and the ones you’re doing life with.  This is my therapy.  This is my happy place.  This is one of the many reasons we chose this lifestyle, because our family longs for this time together.  We NEED this time together.  This is the way we had previously escaped from the stress of a normal life and even now it is the way we find a more peaceful existence.  I am fully convinced that everyone could benefit from a little of this nature therapy in our fast pace lives.  We all need a slow stroll down the river with nothing but nature to awe and surround us.

As I have seen firsthand from my pharmacy background, we live in a world where everyone seems to take medication for anxiety and stress.  And, no wonder, we are a nation full of some seriously stressed out individuals.  (And please note, I am not saying that medication is not necessary or that nature is a replacement.)  What I do wonder, however, is if anyone is actually worried about the root causes of our stress and anxiety.  Does anyone wonder if slowing down might help or reevaluating our lives and where our time is spent?  Are we giving ourselves a break from it all?  I couldn’t help but think as I floated down the river in my kayak that doctors should really try prescribing a dose of nature on the side.  Peace.  Time for yourself.  Something as simple as nature can do so much.  The benefits are huge and totally worth the time out of your day.

Every moment we spend hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, running on the beach, climbing up mountains are moments that lift our spirits, relax our minds, strengthen our bodies and enrich our souls.  It does something to you.  These nature outings create the best memories for our family.  These are the times we enjoy each other the most.  These are the moments we cherish and later reflect on together.  These are the moments that keep us sane in life.  In fact, maybe nature was prescribed to us for our benefit and well-being as the ultimate drug.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

So You Think You're Ready to be a Nomad?

Many people are enamored with the thought of a life on the road.  We’ve been called “hippies,” given the label “free-spirited, homeschool family,” and of course heard many times the response of, “you are doing what?!” when we disclose that we live full time in an RV.  It does sound kind of crazy, doesn’t it?  Then there are others who contact us seeking advice or those that may not quite understand our strange need for travel, but simply cheer us on for boldly living our dream.  We hear from families in many different stages of planning their escape to a life on the road.  And, surprisingly, they come from many different backgrounds.  Some are simply intrigued by this lifestyle, while others are already planning their departure.  Regardless, I would say there’s a lot of buzz and controversy surrounding the idea of taking your family on the road.

So whether you and your spouse are toying with the idea or you have already started planning your escape, here are some things to think about.  What I can say about this lifestyle, from seeing it firsthand for almost six months and also following multiple blogs for years from other travelers, is that the full-time nomadic travels will definitely be different for everyone.  There are SO many variables. These variables will either make you feel like you are rolling through your own dream come true or could leave you ready to squeal the tires back home (if you haven’t sold it, along with everything else, that is!). 

Family Life- If you are doing this with a family, it WILL be more complicated.  (I hope I don’t burst your bubble.)  However, it will most definitely challenge your family in many ways, especially if you come from a very normal, routine life with two parents working full time with kids in traditional school.  Be ready for the change.  On the bright side, it will also make your experience much more rewarding as you learn together as a family and do this thing called life together side by side.  I think much of whether this experience will be negative or positive depends on the age of your kids and how well you function together as a family before you embark on this new way of life.  We are a close family, and always have been, but it isn’t always perfect harmony.  Of course that being said, even a life at home with normal routine wasn’t always perfect harmony, either.  The difference is that you are together most of your day and any issues that were apparent before will now become magnified.  So, how much cohesion you have as a family, and in your marriage for that matter, is something to seriously consider before embarking on this together 24/7 venture.  As much as we did prepare, there was still a rather sharp transition for us and each day we become much more adjusted than even the day before.  What we do love about being together and traveling the country, is the fact that there is so much less stress.  Less to think about, worry about and this stress has been replaced with so many more good moments and memories together.

Roadschooling- If you do have a family with school age children and you will be attempting “roadschooling” for the first time—be prepared.  We have found managing homeschooling can be very tedious and time consuming, especially if you haven’t done it before.  Put this together with those of you who plan to work on the road and it might get overwhelming.  Once again, your experience will depend on your relationship with your kids, how motivated they are to learn and how much they enjoy testing your patience (and they will try testing your patience, I promise).  However, that being said, it is also very rewarding helping your child grasps concepts and seeing them thrive, which is the reason I think homeschooling is worthwhile. 

Also, a life on the road gives your family endless opportunities to learn outside of their usual core curriculum.  You simply can’t put a price tag on seeing your child’s eyes light up when they are learning hands-on through traveling.  Every moment of the day is a learning opportunity when you travel.

If you already homeschool your children, I doubt moving this lifestyle to the road would even be a factor, much less an issue.  Above all, know what you are getting yourself (and your spouse) into, and it shouldn’t later come as a shock.  For us, homeschooling has been the largest obstacle.  I think transitioning in middle school has made it more difficult.  Regardless, our kids are both thriving and learning concepts they wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn in a classroom setting.  This firsthand learning has been the best part and fun for the entire family. 

To go further, Tom and I designed a point system for the kids, where we ask questions about the things we have learned along our travels and if they answer correctly or do volunteer reports on each state they can earn points towards prizes.  This method has made learning even more fun and challenged the kids to show some initiative.  We, as parents, love it, too!

Pace of Travel- Another large factor is pace of travel.  We have found that it can be somewhat stressful to pack up and leave every couple of days.  It can also be difficult to plan your travels so far ahead that you are running on deadlines.  This type of travel is necessary at times, but limits your ability to act spontaneously or enjoy the journey.  After our unplanned trek up through Michigan and around to Wisconsin the entire family felt ready to slow down and enjoy a more relaxed way of travel for a few months at least.  
Staying at least one week or longer is much easier on everyone.  The one to three night stops can be much too stressful.  It takes much of the freedom and joy right out of the experience.  We did that for the first five weeks and quickly learned our lesson about planning too far in advance.  Only travel with a deadline if absolutely necessary.  That’s my firsthand advice.  We now travel like “locals” and we love it.  We don’t care how long it takes us to see the country any longer and that has freed us to enjoy our journey.

Trip Routing- We struggled with this aspect from the very beginning.  Trying to decide how we were going to conquer the entire U.S. while staying in shorts and flip flops and trying to do so without taking up half our lifetime.  The problem?  We wanted to see and do EVERYTHING everywhere.  We have recently thrown that concept out the window, and would suggest you do, too.  It is impossible and will lead to nothing but frustration.  Instead focus on seeing the things you can while you are there and enjoying as much of the local flavor as possible.  We were convinced before we hit the road that we could have our route planned out months in advance.  That didn’t happen like planned and we are thankful it didn’t.  We changed our route two major times within the first 3 months. We soon realized a little routing by serendipity goes a long way.  There were times that we seemed to be somewhere we “didn’t plan” at exactly the right time for something incredible to happen.  When we tentatively plan a route, we have an idea of a few major attractions we want to see along the way, whether it be a beach, a mountain, an area attraction or national park and then we start searching for campgrounds.  

There are several methods we use to find campgrounds.  One of our favorite options is PassportAmerica, which is a membership club that provides many campgrounds in each state for 50% off the normal rate.  This has an annual fee of only $44! (Click on the link to find out more.)  This has saved us around $1000 over five months and most of the campground are nice and full hook-up.  If you are a full-timer or even a weekender, this is the ONE thing we would for sure recommend.  We also enjoy staying at state parks or national campgrounds.  Many of them provide large, private RV spots and lots of ways to enjoy nature, whether it be hiking trails, biking trails, lakes or rivers.  We have recently started using Harvest Hosts, which is another membership for $44 per year.  This allows you to stay for one night at a local winery, orchard, farm or museums. 
The stay is free with your membership, the views out your window can’t be beat and the only thing they ask is that you support the local business, which we love doing anyway!  Who doesn’t love picking their own apples, buying a bottle of wine or supporting great local places?  The last major resource we use is to find free campsites.  We use and it gives lists of places in each state that are free or $12 or less per night.  We have found gems using this resource and to think that they are free is unbelievable to me (we are working on a state by state list of our favorites).  The only other way we have found great campgrounds is by our fellow RV community.  We LOVE suggestions from people along the way, whether it be for restaurants, places to visit or campgrounds.  And, they haven’t disappointed us yet!  So far, this process has worked out exceptionally well for us.

Your Home on Wheels- Outside the travelling aspect, your actual home will be less than 400 square feet in most RVs and travel trailers.  We found that it took much longer to find the “one” than we originally thought.  It took us over a year of searching to decide on a trailer that felt like home.  We wanted a trailer that the whole family loved and something that didn’t “feel” like we were living in a trailer.  This is why we chose a new trailer that had a very open floor plan and nice finishes.  Living space was extremely important to us, so we opted for a style that didn’t have the traditional tiny RV couch and booth, but instead a large, mega lounge sofa with removable tables and two full size bunks in the back for the kids to have their own space.  We knew as soon as we stepped inside our new home that it was the right one for us.  There are many differing opinions on which manufacturer to choose along with size, tow ability, storage, etc.  With so many factors to consider, it can be rather overwhelming.  Take everything into consideration and make sure you find something that you know you can be comfortable in as your “home.”  It was important to have our entire family feel good about the purchase that we made.
Budget for the Road- We’ve talked about many aspects, but one of the largest obstacles to a life on the road would be the obvious funding dilemma.  This is the one that many people can’t quite get their heads around.  There are millions of people on the road and many of them are the stereotypical retired couple that can afford to live this lifestyle due to their retired status.  While you may feel it isn’t feasible for you right now, I promise you it is completely and totally attainable.  What it will take is dedication to planning and much patience.  We are living proof of that.  This question is asked of us more often than any other and quite honestly was the biggest question we had when we first entertained this idea ourselves.  Just as we had asked others in our planning stages, others are now asking us the same question… “How do you financially do it?”  And, without sounding like we are taking the easy way out of this question, it really is going to be drastically different depending on where you are in your life.  Huge factors vary from how much debt you may have to whether your job can be mobile.  It also depends on how much you are able to save in the planning stages or what residual income you might have from alternate sources.

What I do know is that living on the road can cost as much or as little as you would like to spend.  We had an idea of what we “wanted” to spend and had a budget, just as we did when we lived in our “stick home.”  While we choose to splurge some months, the key is to balance in a way where it averages itself out.  On this journey I think people would be surprised what little we live off of and what amazing things we can do.  We never deprive ourselves of fun.  We are able to live what I consider a luxurious and amazing life for MUCH less, probably around $1,000 less, than we did when we had a mortgage and piles of bills.  What is really cool about this is that most places we stay have incredible views of lakes, mountains, places for us to swim, kayak, play tennis, hike…in other words, built in entertainment.  And now we actually have time to enjoy life with our built in entertainment.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.

It is Not for Everyone- Let’s be real, this lifestyle is not for everyone.  If you are considering it, you will know instantly whether you and your family should even attempt a life on the road.  For those who have discovered this type of life and took the gigantic step to make it happen, it can be such a beautiful and rewarding way to live.  Whether you can do it for a few months at a time, a year or indefinitely, there is no way to describe how it will impact you and your entire family.  The things you’ll see, the moments you will make are absolutely priceless.  A nomadic lifestyle can be whatever you make it.