RV Living: Is it all s’mores and smiles?
When you think of camping, many people often imagine a sunrise over a still lake. Pulling a sticky marshmallow off the roasting stick. Stories told around the campfire. And our life definitely includes those things. But our life has become so much more than that. Some changes we expected–like living in a tiny space would be hard or that we’d get to visit cool places. But some things we didn’t expect. So what are some of the awesome parts of RV life? Read on to find out!
1. Nature is pretty darn cool
Ok, this one is a given. When you get to constantly choose where you live, you pick pretty places. I’ve always been an avid hiker, and now I get to experience so many different types of trails. One month, you’re in an Oregonian rainforest–the next, the Arizona desert. I’ve always craved variety, and now I don’t have to hike the same trail twice (unless I want to!)
The sky. OMG. When you live in a neighborhood, you don’t really look beyond the houses. But I pay so much more attention to the sky now. Sunrises and sunsets frame my days. You become more in tune with nature’s rhythm. And the stars. They’re nightly entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t always end my days under a vivid Milky Way (lots of times my nights are still Netflix). But the opportunity to frequently avoid light pollution and look at the stars–REALLY look at the stars, to feel the scale of the universe and its beauty–that is priceless. Especially when you get to share that with your kids.
2. Being off autopilot
This one was kind of unexpected. While I still have days that fly by, I’ve discovered RV living requires serious intentionality. There’s a lot to be aware of, and it really focuses your decisions around what’s really important. For example:
This one will make me sound especially privileged (which I totally am). No more DoorDash. Meal planning becomes a must. Plus, when your pantry space is as valuable as your firstborn, every ingredient has to be intentional. You can’t just buy a random ingredient and hope you’ll use it in more than one recipe. You have to buy smaller sizes. Gotta keep your spices to what you REALLY use (no more finding a random few in the back three years later). EVERY bit of food has a purpose. One huge bonus to this is you’re forced to constantly purge your pantry, so things stay pretty clean and fresh!
Budget: both $$ and time
We’re fortunate that my husband has been able to keep his job during this pandemic and to work remotely. With RV living, our expenses have dramatically decreased, and we want to take advantage of that. We have to be intentional about how much to save and how much to splurge on lifelong memories. Changing your budget from household living to life on the road makes you much more aware of what you’re choosing to spend your money on–and what you have less control over. For example, we spend much less on takeout now, but we have more to spend on random and frequent RV repairs. This lifestyle definitely requires more room for the unexpected.
Life is short, and this trip is even shorter. As of this posting, we have no idea how long our family will be allowed remote work. When we first started RVing, we wanted to see EVERYTHING. We wanted to make it to the east coast and back west in a year. Looking at that now, I laugh. I can’t imagine how often we’d have to move in order to do that. What we’ve found is a balance between seeing all sorts of cool stuff and staying in place long enough to enjoy it: we usually move about every 1-2 weeks. This gives us enough time to be somewhere new often but also to not have to pack up our entire lives every few days (and it saves on gas!)
3. Less is more in RV living
Speaking of packing up stuff–it sucks! Aside from the black tank and unexpected repairs, it’s my least favorite part of RV living. The nice part is that you don’t have a bunch of useless stuff laying around, cluttering up your living space. Everything has a purpose and a home. Shopping therapy isn’t an option. Not only do you not have enough space, receiving or picking up packages is a hassle. Forced minimalism is a good friction for our spending and collecting.
In addition to having less, we use less. As we’ve grown in our RV journey, we’ve been doing a lot more “boondocking,” or camping without hookups. This means we generate our own electricity, use only the water we drive into camp with, and have to carefully manage our trash. We’ve learned to really conserve! Not, like, in the die-hard apocalyptic off-grid prepper sense. But we’re definitely more mindful of what we use and waste. Showers are shorter. Lights are usually off. Less consumable, more reusable products are utilized. I didn’t expect being more environmentally friendly to be part of my RV journey, but there it is!
4. So. Much. Novelty.
Since I was born, I have moved to a new home about every five years. I loved it. Yes, making new friends was challenging, but getting to live in five different states in my formative years was invaluable. Now, I have a new view out my window a few times a month.
This one sounds silly, but I’ve actually enjoyed the variety of shops and restaurants. Not only is going to new places fun (how have I lived without Dutch Bros. before??), but I’ve gotten to enjoy some nostalgia. (Hello, Albertson’s-first-job-as-a-grocery-clerk. And Whataburger. And Cracker Barrel.)
With stationary living, I constantly looked forward to each school break so we could explore a new national park, theme park, or state. We’d rush in after school got out, spend a few days (a week if we were lucky), speed through all the highlights of our destination, and drive back with some dread of the return to “reality.” With RV living, our “reality” is spending however much time we want exploring what we want while weaving in work and school.
5. Real-life learning
When I first started “roadschooling,” I felt excitement for all my kids would get to learn. I had no idea how much I would get sucked into the joy and journey of learning myself. When we started the school year, I began with some basic curriculum for math and language, and I thought we’d go with the grade-level standards for science and social studies–at least at first. Then came a visit to a petrified forest in Calistoga, CA.
Immediately, the kids were FASCINATED with how the tree stumps sparkled. How could something that looks so new be so old? From then on, we began following curiosity wherever we went, whether it was a museum, a hike, or just a trip to the grocery store. I was and still am amazed at the questions that give way to learning opportunities in everyday life.
6. Leaning into the stress of RV living
So it turns out packing up your entire life every couple of days or weeks sucks. RV living is a lot of work. A lot of transition. A lot of the unexpected.
My kids have always done well with routine in life, and I worried that being on the road would make that hard for everyone. At first, moving days filled me with dread like a Sunday night before work. And now…they still do. But. It’s become part of our routine. We’ve brought order to the chaos and made a routine that works for us. We have a checklist for the expected and patience (mostly) for the unexpected.
Everyone in the Barnett family knows that a moving day will be difficult. Stuff will come up. Mom will feel rushed and freak out when we’re half an hour past check-out time. The dog will puke. A bed gear will break. But after almost a year under our belt, we’ve learned to lean in. We’re present in the discomfort. We know it’s coming, and we work through it. I love how much we all have learned perseverance, patience, and to treat what we can with a good sense of humor.
Once we arrive and level the camper, the rush wears off, and we can all enjoy the scenery. Or the neighbor’s slide right outside our window. Depends where we end up.
7. Cool stuff and experiences are fun! But–
People matter the most. We have met such a great mix of people so far in our travels. My kids have gotten to enjoy others of all ages and backgrounds outside of their hometown. We’re privileged to have met–among so many– a Tuscan chef, helpful rock climbers, a retired prison teacher, and more adorable dogs than I can count! The kids have learned the world is a big place full of pretty awesome folks.
In addition to reaching out to lots of new people, I’ve really enjoyed tuning in at home. This may be the looming mid-life crisis speaking, but the experiences and traditions I share with family are a way I make peace with my mortality. After my dad’s death, the song “Lullabye” by Billy Joel really resonated with me. He wrote it in response to his daughter’s questions about what happens after we die.
“Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullaby
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me
Someday we’ll all be gone
But lullabies go on and on
They never die
That’s how you
And I will be.”
My dad lives on in me through the kids’ puppet shows I do at bedtime. I sense him with the smell of a freshly carved Halloween pumpkin. He’s there on a hot day at the pool when I see a man throwing his kids into the water.
I love carrying on these memories with my own kids and all the opportunities to make new ones. RV living provides the togetherness, novelty, and traditions to pass on myself through my children. And I enjoy being with my family more! Yes, we get sick of each other living in 320 square feet. But mostly we still like each other! They’re pretty awesome.