Saturday, November 26, 2016

Finding Community

Some might think that life on the road can be a bit isolating.  I think our perspective has changed on this each year we've been on the road.  The first year was very isolating, but maybe in a way our family needed to decompress from our previous schedule and busy lifestyle. 

The first year of travel was more about deciding if we would even like it, how we would deal with 24/7 togetherness and what to do with ourselves leaving our former life behind. We left Charlotte with no idea what life on the road would be actually be like, where we would find our community and how it would all work.  In our minds, we were dedicated to giving it a full year and then we would see.  It was clear after the first year that we weren't going back to a sticks and bricks house, but at the same time, we hadn't really tapped into community on the road.


The second year was much different. It was all about the "how" of travel.  How to fund our lifestyle and how to maintain balance of work and play. We found ourselves wrapped up with our real estate commitments and we had a difficult time finding balance, but during this time we had my family surrounding us and a great sense of community with our temporary home base.  We also visited family in northern Maine and took a trip back to our home state of North Carolina.  We had enough time in one location to get involved in a local church, put the kids in music lessons and it felt like we were halfway settled. But, travel was only secondary to other parts of our life with a baby on the way and our commitments.  We had our first rally and several other short meet-ups with friends, but we couldn't pursue all the social functions with all the commitments we had in one place.  We were ready to get back on the roll and see what life could be for us.

Now on our third year, our focus has changed once again.  We figured out the "why" we wanted to travel and we figured out the "how," but now it is time to make it all work. We sold our two investment homes in Pensacola and had our beautiful baby boy.  It almost felt like we had re-launched our travels.  This year would be all about finding our rhythm and really digging into discovering community on the road.  We also took steps to make this more permanent by buying our new dually and we have found our next home on wheels (more to come on that later, but we are hoping to upgrade very soon).

What would travel look like this year?  Well, we started looking more diligently at the different social opportunities for families who travel.  Last year we spent a small amount of time starting to delve into this community, but as we left Florida that was our number one focus alongside of growing our business.  We were dedicated to moving forward with travel even after the baby, but we would need to learn to maintain both community and work/life balance this time around.  We would attend the meet-ups and rallies that we knew were out there.  We would try to make community everywhere we went.

With this in mind, we did something we had avoided doing for two years.  We bought a Thousand Trails membership.  We tussled with this idea for the past year or so and went back and forth with the pros and cons.  We have always found ourselves avoiding RV parks if we can help it, so we were worried about limiting our travels from place to place feeling obligated to stay only at TT locations.  The other big issue for us was that we prefer state parks and places with hiking and outdoor appeal. So, we were hesitant to buy this membership wondering if it would always feel like we were squished together in an RV park.  After some thought, we tip-toed into the Thousand Trails world by purchasing a camping zone pass to try it out.  They conveniently had the zones on sale (buy one get one free), which they do quite often.  This allowed us two zones to try out. We found the timing perfect to use our new membership for the meet-up with some fellow traveling families in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky.  The determining factor for our decision was community.  We had heard over and over that this is where most families who travel stay. We knew that this is where we would find a better sense of community.  The membership literally paid for itself over those two weeks alone, so we couldn't complain about that. 

I'm sure I'll have updates as to how Thousand Trails has been for us as we see more parks, but so far we have been in four parks and three out of the four parks had hiking trails in or within walking distance to the campground, nice amenities and fairly large sites.  Most of them were pretty scenic with a nice landscape and even lakes on site. We weren't expecting much with this membership, so I would say that we have been pleasantly surprised since our first time in a TT park back three years ago in South Carolina, which was a huge disappointment.  I'm glad we gave TT a second chance.

Anyway, we made it to the meet-up in Kentucky and hadn't met most of the families there, however we noticed that we knew some of them through their social media posts and blogs.  What we found was an incredible group of people with all different backgrounds, yet we shared this common thread that almost instantly bonded our families together.  We spent over two weeks with around 100 of us in all.  There were babies, kids, tweens and teens all hanging out together in what Tom and I could only describe as the kind of neighborhood we've always wanted for our family.  Parents out walking and chatting, teens who were clearly themselves, kids laughing and playing at the campground and fun activities around every turn.

The two weeks of togetherness consisted of field trips where the kids could learn together, movie nights, campfires, pumpkin carving, ladies' night out, family outings to caves and theme parks, coffee talk, Halloween dance, men's outing, opportunity to serve others in the local community and even an impromptu church service outdoors complete with really great worship music.  It was a special time and we were so glad to be a part of it.

While we didn't have long together, it was clear--this was the sense of community we were really looking for all along.  We extended our stay even after the planned events and with several other families toured some local distilleries.  What's a trip to Kentucky without hitting the bourbon trail? We toured Jim Beam and Maker's Mark and while these were the types of things we would always do while traveling, it felt quite nice to enjoy them as a group!  Most of these families we could relate to on so many levels. 

Even after leaving the Mammoth Cave area we found ourselves traveling alongside of some of the families to Lexington for a few days.  We went to check out Frankfort, the Rebecca Ruth Candy Company and a local winery together.  It was hard to say goodbye and find ourselves alone on the
road, but we know that with a home on wheels parting paths is more like a "see you down the road" than a real "good-bye".

After our friends left, we stayed a couple of extra days in Kentucky on our own.  We stayed at the Kentucky Horse Park where there happened to be the U.S. Dressage Championships.  If you aren't familiar with this, neither were we!  But we took an afternoon to watch these magnificent creatures prance around and display their best over a warm cafĂ© mocha.  (Yes, the temperatures were starting to drop.)

Before leaving Kentucky to head to warmer weather, we went to the Ark Encounter.  This was a humongous, to-scale version of Noah's Ark in the Bible.  It was incredible!  We owe a big thank you to our friends, Turtle Tells, for blessing us with that opportunity!  (Once again, another beautiful thing about our rolling community is how helpful and kind everyone is to each other.)  Without finding any real estate opportunities in Lexington, we decided it was time to head to Texas as winter was obviously finding its way to Kentucky. 

And that is where we found ourselves with an opportunity to meet up with another family we met in Kentucky.  As one of our full time friends explained it, "we speak about the entire United States landscape like others might talk about meeting up across town."  So, meeting up hours away seems like no big deal.  No matter which way we go, we know we'll run into friends again somewhere in the country.  They happened to be in Memphis for a few nights and we were coming right through the area on our way to Texas.  This family has such a cool story.  They are from New Zealand and they are spending the year traveling all the states and blogging about their journey (5-4theroad).  We toured the Bass Pro Shop in town together and hit up some local Memphis Bar-B-Que, but more importantly we had two great nights connecting with this wonderful family.  It was sad to say good-bye, but all I could think was over the past month we have found our long lost community on the road. 

For us, community doesn't stop there with other fulltime families.  There will definitely be meet-ups along the way and we hope to do a lot more caravanning, but we also hope to reach out to friends and family as we travel and make community everywhere we go.  Adventure is great and travel is amazing, but making lasting relationships and connections is really what life is all about.

Every family has their own journey and way of traveling.  It might take being a bit more intentional about our travels in order to make our life on the road all that it can be, but we have found that there is a great nomadic life out there if you search for it.  And there is definitely a growing community of families who share that same passion.  It seems this way of life has become quite popular with what seems like hundreds of new families hitting the road every month leaving their former life behind and looking for that sense of simplicity and adventure.  And, to the phrase that started it all for us, "why not?"