Sunday, July 8, 2018

Mountains in the Mirror- A New Chapter Unfolds

I looked in my rearview mirror and there they were--the blue ridge mountains. The very same mountains that were in our rear view mirror to the exact date four years ago as we left North Carolina to explore our country through the eyes of nomads. 
A very familiar sight once again, but this time everything is different.

This time, we are headed for the first time since we left to an actual destination. One where we leave the open road and our wandering comes to an end.

Wow. So many emotions hit just typing those very words. Flashes of our adventure come to mind and all the memories made each year--potlucks with friends, laughter around campfires, exploring each beautiful state. I still can't believe it has been four years of RV travel. The time has flown.

Those bittersweet feelings of moving on to a new adventure overtook me as the open road lay before me and I saw the last of the foothills disappear in my mirror. I found my car once again heading in the (all too familiar) southward direction. This stay. I felt a lump in my throat.

Travel has been beautiful, chaotic, eye-opening, difficult, inspiring and truly indescribable. It was an experience that took hold of each one of us at different stages of the journey. It took us all out of our comfort zones and immersed us into a life so few get to experience. Not only did we see so much of our beautiful country, but we entered the world of roadschooling and learned what tiny living is all about. It challenged us. It made us all reflect on life a bit differently than before. And I know there's so much we will miss. I found I had to remind myself what I always tell the kids, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

Seasons come and seasons go and for this next season we will be entering a new kind of adventure--a new place to call home and one that we've never even seen before now. And not one we would have chosen on our own, but one that chose us. We open our arms and, as a family, say "yes" to this new chapter. We say yes to change and, while it is scary, we are all ready to some degree to say good-bye to the open road. (Maybe some of us more than others.)

Travel, after many years of constant change and figuring out life week in and week out, can also make one weary at times. Settling down gives us new opportunities and new experiences that the road does not.

So, where does our new chapter begin?

The unlikeliest of places--Naples, Florida.

A place where Tom is taking his career to a new place and we as a family can move on with some much needed stability for a while.

Tyler has already landed a paid internship at an insurance company and has hopes to pursue and realize his own goals and dreams which are right around the corner. His first goal of course is getting his wheels of independence--a car.

Haley, well, she's excited about making new friends and moving into a home, which really means having her own room. The RV sure has taught us appreciation for personal space.

Little Jonathan is up for any adventure these days as he loves life and pretty much everything.

And, for me, well I'm not sure just yet. I'll miss our crazy life of travel, there's no doubt about that. Maybe I can pursue several of the many hobbies I have and couldn't easily pursue on the road. And, as some of you know, I used to play alot of golf. I hear they might have a few nice golf courses down in Naples. ;-) It's a time to breathe, reflect and maybe finally finish the book about our crazy travels.

So for our four year nomadiversary, we will say good-bye to our RV, the open road and spend the weekend moving into a home. A real home. One that doesn't move.

We won't forget the memories we made these years on the road, the family and friends we spent time with along the way and the adventures that made us feel so alive.

But, FOR NOW, with open hearts and minds we say farewell to the road and begin writing our new chapter.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Time to Say Good-bye

Orlando has been "home" for two months and this week we finally said good-bye. Good-bye to friends. Good-bye to perfect sunny days under the palm trees. Good-bye to Mickey and his friends.

There is something bittersweet about saying good-bye to a place we've made our home for a while. It is kind of sad to leave. I guess time really does fly when you're having fun, but it kind of feels like we had just arrived! We arrived mid March as the winter season was winding down. We never really find ourselves in the places where we should be in the correct seasons. We could write the book of "not to dos" on the road. After all, we are a family spent two summers (not winters) in Florida. Yes, two. As if we didn't learn our lesson the first time, we did it a second. Anyway, regardless, we had fun and better late than never, but the campground started emptying and the temperatures were steadily warming up. So that was our cue, it was time to go.

We came down excited about spending time with old friends and making memories and we did just that, but have also been blessed with deepening friendships and making new friends to share in this nomadic life.

I can't express how needed this time down here was for us, especially me. A time to remind ourselves why we travel and reconnect with others who share very similar passions. It breathes new life into us as we come off an otherwise difficult start to the year--one of heartbreak and tragedy. Life isn't always roses and rainbows and it is a reminder why shaping our life is always our ultimate goal regardless of where we travel. Sometimes the important things need to be kept in perspective.

So to end our time here this past week we did several special things. It all started kicking off Tom's birthday. We couldn't hit Epcot without experiencing a small taste of eating and, of course, drinking around the world at Epcot's World Showcase. It started off with a scrumptious avacodo margarita (I know it doesn't sound appetizing, but it was!). This came highly recommended and now I see why. It can be found in Mexico at the famous little bar inside the pyramid "La Cava del Tequila". And, without naming every drink, we'll just say the rest of the night was a lot of fun and sharing it with some awesome nomadic friends made it that much better. 

Then on Tom's actual birthday, he opted for some nature chasing. It ended finding a hidden paradise about 45 minutes away where we tubed and swam in crystal clear spring water. Rock springs at Kelly Park is a really unique spring with a beautiful, tropical flowing tubing area from springhead to pool. It's also an easy 45 minute ride just north of Orlando. If you follow our blog, then you know we are a sucker for Florida springs--the real Florida. We explored quite a few the last couple of years as our travels had us in Florida more often than not. Each spring is unique, refreshing and unfortunately (or shall I say fortunately for us) a side of Florida very few people advertise. I think there are over 200 springs in the state, so we left plenty to explore for our next time here. And, trust me, we will.

Later that week we took our last ride on Avatar. Yes, I have to mention Disney once more, but, honestly, if you haven't visited the magical world of Pandora at the Animal Kingdom, then you should. It's pretty special. And, that ride, indescribable. Luckily, I scored Fast Passes that very day which are almost impossible to get. It kind of felt like I had won the lottery and sure beat having to wait in line for 120 minutes. Although, for this ride I would have!!

Our time here ended with a festive Cinco de Mayo celebration with new friends complete with delicious mexican food, margaritas, laughter around the campfire and an early birthday celebration for Tyler. 

We begin this new leg of our journey with hopeful travel plans this summer and we don't even know what they all are yet, but one thing we do know is we will share as they unfold. For now, good-bye to central Florida and hello to new adventures.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tourist for a Season

We usually pride ourselves on the fact that we aren't tourist. We try to avoid falling into the tourist attractions that are geared more towards attracting your wallet than giving you a life changing experience. If you follow our blog, then you know we love nature and we are more likely to venture deeper to find where the locals go to play and eat.

And now we'll talk about Disney--maybe the largest tourist attraction in the United States...maybe even the world.

But, here are a few reasons why we made an exception for Mickey.

First, we are Thousand Trails members and with this membership there are a plethora of parks circling the Kissimmee area. 

These parks are a great place to spend the winter months because of the warm climate, but also because you can find many families staying here as well. It is a perfect location to stay with friends, have an unlimited amount of things to do and then add on top that it is completely free with our membership, then it makes perfect sense. And for us, more savings equals more fun! I will talk about memberships more in a later blog and dive into the ones we use and why. Until then, feel free to ask us questions.

Second, Florida "residency" is another huge factor. Many RVers use Florida as their "home" state for many of its RVer friendly benefits. The Disney Florida "resident" annual passes for the weekdays are a fraction of the cost of regular annual passes. If you can show two forms of proof that you reside in Florida (at least some of the time), then you qualify for annual passes that cost under $300 per person. And they offer an amazing monthly interest free payment plan to make the deal even sweeter. To put it in perspective, with a down payment Disney cost less per month than most cable subscriptions for all five of us.

The flexibility of budgeting is one of our favorite things about this lifestyle. While traveling can cost alot when you hit up local tourist spots, our Disney experience has been like that of a local. With annual passes each trip to Disney takes the pressure off to see and do it all. 

For example, I took my youngest son, Jonathan, just for a couple of hours to Animal Kingdom to walk around and ride the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. And, then, with no pressure to do anything else, we were literally back home in 20 minutes.  Who needs a trip to the zoo? 

The other day Tom took Haley after dinner for a daddy/daughter date to Epcot to ride rides and watch the Illumination show. What a cool thing to be able to experience together and a whole new take on a night out.

Third, we travel for experiences. All experiences change us and give us perspective. Disney is magical. It calls to our inner child. Without the pressure of seeing it all on a week-long vacation at all four parks, we can really enjoy the moment and see it all one afternoon at a time over months of being here.

The parks are beautiful, each one unique and each one catering to every one of our family members in a different way. This is part of travel and we have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to live this life. We aren't on vacation every day, but some days it sure feels like it.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Through the Eyes of a Child

Post from December 1, 2017

Don’t you just love those days that you wake up and nothing goes right?  And, sometimes those days span to make up an entire week.  Ah, thank you universe.  And that is how this past week has been for us.  One thing after another.  Sad to think, all this coming off a season dedicated to giving thanks. 

Our RV has made its way to the naughty list after the last couple of long trips we’ve taken where our wheels have spent some unwanted time on the side of the road.  And I think we might be striking up a personal relationship with our roadside assistance representative (not a person I want to know so well we end up exchanging Christmas cards). 

This time it all started when we arrived in Tennessee for Thanksgiving.  We setup our fifth wheel as we’ve done hundreds of other times and Tom came to me and said, “Well, it looks like we might have a big problem.”  In fulltime travel terms that could mean so many things. And considering our house undergoes what would be equivalent to an earthquake every time we travel, then you never know what to expect.  So many things we never had to worry about before in our sticks and bricks, like “Did our TV come crashing onto the floor?” or “Did the fridge fling open and smear our pumpkin pie out across our living room floor?” or “Oh God, please tell me I put up the stairs and didn't take out any small animals pulling out."

In this case, it appeared we had some immediate issues to attend to or we would be making our permanent home Chickasaw State Park.  Grease was flung all over the rim of our tire. We weren’t going anywhere until this was fixed. Luckily, we had some friends that we met our very first year on the road coming by to reunite their daughter with Haley for the day.  He has a history of trucking and was kind enough to lend a hand replacing the bearings.  And we thought we were at least good until we got back to Florida to check things out.

So, after a lovely Thanksgiving with family and weekend of relaxing it was time to get Lightning rolling again.  We were rolling down the road only a few miles from the campground and Tom looks out his mirror only to find a stream of smoke coming out from the tire. The wheel wasn’t cooperating the way it should be--as in happily rolling.  Instead our home on wheels was on the verge of going up in flames and to top it off we were blocking the entire Tennessee road with no shoulder to pull off on here. (Boy, do our out of state tags sure look obvious here.)

So after calling our roadside assistance and having a nice Tennessee family stop (because of our eye catching out of state tags) to help us get off the road and into a nearby parking lot, our RV finally ends up in the shop for three days and we end up in the local hotel.  Our teens go with their Papa and Nina back to Montgomery because of the delay. None of this was the way the week was supposed to go, that’s for sure.

Well, after two days the repair shop calls us to tell us our RV is ready and we head there the next morning. Only when we get there our RV is on their manual jack from where the front RV leg is broken.  Yay for untold discoveries. But, we got it somewhat straightened out and fixed by the mechanic.  Still not too happy after paying them a pretty penny to replace our axles, but we think, “whatever, let’s just get home.”  Everything seemed fine until Tom starts to pull away.  “Wait, something is seriously not right. It feels like the trailer is...dragging.”  So, we walk out only to find this.

I just saw the look on my husband’s face and that pretty much said it all.  So, straining to say few words we quietly wait for the other mechanic. We won’t go into the pleasant exchanges between my husband and him when he arrived, but I will say that my husband definitely handled it better than I would have.  All I know is we spent the next 3 ½ hours waiting for them to fix their mistake.  Dog on the leash, baby on the hip, in the middle of nowhere Tennessee.

This resulted in us pacing around fuming about our situation as we feel pretty much helpless at this point. 

And then something dawned on me as I was having a little pity party.  We were upset, but our 15 month old had a smile on his innocent little face.  He was so fascinated by the wheels on the old run down school bus. He was excited to be here.  His little sweet voice repeating “wheels” as he looked around the place in awe.  What was an old junk yard shop was amazing to him.  He was perfectly content and oblivious to the turmoil we were experiencing.  How astonishing to see him soaking up this experience as if he may never spend another day in this one place exploring.  

In fact, our journey that week led us to explore Shiloh National Military Park, take a beautiful hike at a local state park, dine at the local eateries, stay in a hotel and eat hotel waffles for breakfast.  So what we were stranded and still not back on the road!  Who cares?  He sure didn’t.
He was just enjoying the moment and what it had to offer. It was a beautiful day and we had so many things to be thankful for.  Our RV was going to get fixed. 
We wouldn’t be stranded there forever. Was that moment really that inconvenient or even the past few days?  No, it was actually pretty fun and in the end everything was going to be alright. So why spend these precious moments upset when he was so obviously so happy?

And as we walked around, his excitement spread to us.  We walked around with him pointing at the birds and the big trucks going by on the highway.  Jonathan quickly reminded us that this is why we live life the way we do.  To be inconvenienced.  To veer of the path that everyone else takes. Even we need reminders to get lost once in a while. And it wouldn’t long before we’d be back on the road and back on track with our perfect little plans and no longer stuck in the middle of nowhere Tennessee.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Common Misconceptions

After traveling for almost four years we still laugh at the reactions we get when we tell people that we live full time in our RV and travel the country. 

After we explain our nomadic way of life to someone the reaction typically falls into one of these two categories almost every time.

One group seems to pity us. You can almost see them envisioning our poor family living practically homeless eating canned beans over an open fire. The puzzled look typically says it all and then we get to explain how we have heat, air and even running water.

In stark contrast comes the next group of people and their complete polar opposite reaction. Their eyes light up in wonder and confusion. They ask if we're retired or how we ended up lucky enough to do what we do. I’m sure they picture us on the beach with our coconut drinks in hand, toes in the sand and not a worry in the world. Of course this comes with almost a sense of envy wondering how we can afford to live such a lavish lifestyle especially at our ages!

What we find most amusing is not so much the reactions, but how they are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum over the same lifestyle.

So, which is it?  Well, neither. 

How can one lifestyle create such differing opinions? Well, there is obviously some misunderstanding happening when looking in from the outside.  I think the first group clearly focuses on our actual living space and material possessions, while the other group focuses on the experiences we must have with this lifestyle.

And that brings us to a list of common misconceptions about families who full time travel:

We must live like hobos, rambling from place to place

   Well, we do ramble from place to place, but even though our house is small it has all the functions of a normal home.  We cook fantastic meals in our tiny kitchen and, even sometimes, use our outdoor kitchen. We have more TVs than we had in a real house. We are constantly connected with wi-fi everywhere we go and we even have a fully functional bathroom in order to shower. It's pretty amazing. 

We live on permanent vacation

   We are with our kids every day and out at the beach posting on Instagram while others are at work. We are fortunate, but we don't live on permanent vacation. Our way of life came about by making the intentional choices and the sacrifices necessary to do things our own way.  That is what we did.  We didn't win the lottery. We left our 9-5 careers and headed (with our imaginations and a HUGE leap of faith) into the great unknown. This decision came after lots of prayer and an immense amount of planning for over two years to cushion our transition. Steve Jobs once said "Your time is precious, don't waste it living someone else's life." This thinking hit home for us and we came to a time in our life where we wanted control of our time and to manage our own life.

We still work, but for ourselves on our own schedule. It's not always easy and we don’t have endless funds.  We splurge at times by visiting the tourist attractions while other times we enjoy the simple pleasures of life.  We may never remember that re-run we watched years from now, but we can’t ever forget the feelings of hiking to the top of a mountain, swimming in that cascading waterfall or that amazing time out exploring with friends.

But, in these ways, our life still has to have balance.  The difference is our entertainment is ever changing and each day in this life feels like a blank slate laid before us.  A new day with  new experiences. 

We're homeless.  

   This is our home.  Our space is small, but it is our place of retreat.  We find it funny how often we get invited to leave our RV with nothing but the best of intentions of course, but our RV is our home.  And this is the life we have chosen.  Our RV is our beach house, lake house, farm house, city condo--the possibilities are endless! 

   We don’t live this way because we have to live like this, it is our choice to live in such a small space because of what it allows for us to see and do. We've chosen experiences and simplicity over space and material posessions.

We camp every night

   Camping is what started this whole pursuit.  We loved camping—tent camping—and we assumed that our overnight stays would always kind of feel like camping, but better.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  There’s not bacon and eggs over an open campfire in the mornings or s’mores over an open fire at night.  We do love that kind of camping, but it rarely happens.  Our trailer is parked at a campground or a park, but our home is more like a rolling home base for exploration than anything else. Honestly, some days we still miss unplugging and "camping."

We're living the dream.

   Well, yes and no. What is interesting about living this way is that it encourages living to dream.  There isn't one dream and then that's it. We are constantly thinking of other possibilities. The dreaming doesn’t stop.  It feels like every time we accomplish something we add three more things to the list!  Then, bigger dreams surface.  After we tour all 50 states, there could be backpacking Europe, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or... who knows! Living this way takes the limits off and makes us feel capable of accomplishing anything.  We’ve seen that mentality in our teens, too.  They know they have a world of possibilites ahead of them. 

Also, on the other hand, while we may be living our dream, we still live day to day like everyone else with all the normal responsibilities.  We have our fun. We have our work. We have our struggles. We have laundry day. No escaping laundry day. Not every day is the picture perfect world you see on social media. Life is still life.  We are just fortunate enough to live ordinary life while on a grand adventure from one place to the next.

We have no community.

   There is an amazing community of people who live this lifestyle. Families with kids of all ages live this way and gather together through rallies and meetups. Plugging into this community makes all the difference in your full time travel experience. 

   We love to go and explore nature and see sights, but having great friends to share this life with is one our favorite things about this lifestyle. We are all so different, but yet the same in so many ways. We have amazing friends that we meetup with across the country.

   We know most people have a hard time imagining what it is like to live full time with our family in an RV. We get it.  So, we don't look for pity or envy over our lifestyle. We are just an ordinary family living our American dream.