Wanderlust or Insanity: 5 Surprises From Living on the Road
On my former daily commute, I’d pass a roadside RV dealership, daydreaming the rest of the way home. One day late last summer, I succumbed to the urge and stopped. After arriving home late, I anxiously explained the delay to my wife, to which she softly, but excitedly replied, “Ok, let’s do it!” Now, we’re living the millennial’s dream, nomadically traveling the country. We’re camping wherever our hearts desire, from beach-front parks to Walmart parking lots and everything in between.
Departing from Southern California, we’re road tripping up the west coast and back to LA, then this rolling stone will eventually grow moss in North Carolina. Our long-term goals are to be closer to my family, settle down and eventually buy a home. The goals for this road trip are to explore different communities and see extraordinary sights, all while being paid to document our experience.
Currently, I’m working on the road as an editor-at-large and photographer. We sold most of our possessions and are now surviving with the bare essentials. It all sounds idyllic, but I’ve quickly learned difficult lessons. Here’s some of our experiences from the first month we’ve been on the road.
1. Every Day Is an Adventure
Living on the road is a romantic notion—adventure awaits every turn. Gone are the repetitions of my normal evenings, slothing around in front of the TV and getting to-go orders from the same burrito joint every week. Now, I awaken in a new place every few days. It’s a liberating feeling with endless possibilities—at least I thought so.
Imagine living everyday on vacation. It sounds great, right? You have the ability to ignore the bills, postpone chores and set up an out-of-the-office-reply email. However, while attempting to work on the road, I’ve realized that there are consequences for ignoring daily responsibilities. After all, it’s not a sabbatical. You can’t afford to be absent, like a typical vacation. Abrupt realities hit us, as bills began to pile up and the influx of assignments did not match the debt we were incurring. We needed a system to operate smoothly.
Developing a routine and planning out our weeks at least a few days beforehand has improved our adventures and eased my anxiety. I work a few days, then try to spend family time exploring the local scene or hiking to a new view. It’s hard to recreate this feeling through an afternoon trip to the park, and I’m making memories in places I never thought I would.
For instance, one Saturday through the coastline of Oregon on U.S. Highway 1, we stopped at multiple vista points. I don’t remember them well. What I do remember is spending the afternoon playing on the playground of a local elementary school with my son and then my wife making dinner in the empty parking lot—a day I fondly cherish.
This experience has turned my life upside down, but that’s a part of the fun. Every day, as we uncover the unfamiliar, we learn unexpected lessons and experience exciting changes.
2. RV Nerds Abound
“Oh, I see you have the OOMPA5000, yeah I’ve got the LOOMPA8000. It’s great. I used to have yours, but needed something bigger. Do you like it? We diesel with extra gizmos and a few ACME upgrades.” —Every New Camper I Encounter
I’ve quickly discovered I’m a RV nerd. Luckily, though, I’m in good company. When I discuss the trip, I quickly hone in on technical aspects: custom tow vehicle touches, camper size and various upgrades. But who cares? Apparently, everyone does. The first six people I’ve met at RV parks talked about their setups, what they learned and returned with genuine and enthusiastic curiosity about my own.
3. Tourist Spots Are the Best and Worst Sites
Generally, people use RVs and campers to occasionally camp, tailgate or party—not us. We’re living our day to day lives with no real separation from the weekend, which means bedtime for a toddler is at 8 p.m., and the loud partying is more than a nuisance.
Bolsa Chica RV camp has no Wi-Fi, no sewage and no cable, but ample Saturday-night drunks. People go there to party on weekends, which turns me into the grumpy old neighbor standing on my front step in black socks, sandals, boxers and a scowl, yelling at everyone to quiet by 9 p.m.
The tourist spots, such as a beachfront campsites or state parks, are limited in their amenities, but a lack in features doesn’t translate to a reduction in price.
But who can resist that exquisite view? As aforementioned, tourist resorts are the best and worst sites.
4. A Slim Wallet and Full Stomach
When listing all of the grand ideas to convince myself this trip is a good idea, I trusted that this new lifestyle had every potential to be healthier. Without a daily traffic-jammed commute or pointless corporate meetings, I’d now have time to work out and cook every meal.
However, temptation is at every gas station. Did someone say they wanted Skittles? Yes, please. Sign me up. Also, my morning to-do list includes planning our next stop, hooking or unhooking the camper, making minor repairs, and editing photos or a story—so exercising doesn’t always make the top 10.
We often find ourselves in populated areas impulsively purchasing something we probably don’t need. Transitioning into the camper has been a major learning experience. I constantly fight the urge to buy a gizmo to solve a newly learned dilemma, a knock-off Dirt Devil to help clean up after the kid after a messy meal or double-sided tape for the windows to lock in heat. I must keep my wallet and appetite in check.
On the bright side, we stock up at local farmers markets for fresh produce. This aspect improves our diets, albeit expensively. When our campsite is close to town, I ride my bike to the nearest coffee shop, which has been a great source of exercise and saves gas money.
5. You Need to Mentally Prepare
Prepping for the day’s journey, while also creating an endless list of my responsibilities, has been difficult. I’ve transitioned from having a full-time job with regular hours and an office to now sharing personal space at Starbucks. My former outlets for stress, my garage and office, are gone. I used to have different outlets to decompress and calm my nerves. Those meditation practices are now channeled into tinkering with the camper or van.
I’m slowly adjusting to the new surroundings while overcoming certain psychological barriers. Time management is important. Everyday struggles include balancing my professional life, personal needs, important family time and physical maintenance on the van, all while trying to enjoy life on the road.
My father used to jolt me awake on the weekends, so I didn’t get used to sleeping in. Waking up early and consistently has helped my transition into self-employment and living on the road.
The hours in the day become lost when I wake up late, walk the dog, pay the RV campsite spot, fix a problem on the camper and answer a few emails. It’s a never-ending cycle, but it’s best to be proactive. I will constantly be working on self-discipline. It’s easy to get sidetracked with the never-ending list of tangible responsibilities.
My daydream has become our reality. Living on the road has been challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. With a little planning, some savings and a great support team, nearly anyone can indulge their musings. It’s really a matter of letting go of your current lifestyle and being flexible and excited about what this journey really has to offer. So, the next time you have your head in the clouds, buy a plane ticket, or an affordable RV, and seek adventure.