After living full-time in our RV Serendipity for five months, we have a much clearer picture of what it’s really like. It’s not at all what we imagined.
Reality Check #1: Avoiding the heat
The #1 reason we wanted to leave Texas was because Kyeli is miserable in the heat. We thought that in an RV, we could relocate to be wherever the nice cool weather is.
We didn’t account for the exploding poop.
Since we didn’t buy a 4-season RV, very bad things happen if the temperature gets below freezing. So we’re confined to a narrow temperature band. Any lower than 32° and our poop explodes, any higher than 77° and Kyeli is miserable. After you account for the usual fluctuations, that doesn’t give us a lot of travel flexibility.
It’s possible to winterize an RV, but then we don’t have running water. And it’s possible to insulate and heat the plumbing bay and stuff. We’re not particularly handy, but even if we did a bit of cold weather proofing, it would only give us a few more degrees at the low end – not enough to be able to safely travel to the north in any season other than summer.
Reality Check #2: Time and Energy
Since both Kyeli and I work full-time on our business, traveling takes time away from work. After a bit of practice, we got better at having work-related conversations and listening to podcasts while traveling, but we’re still nowhere near as productive as we are when we’re stationary.
Also, there’s the stress of adjusting to a new living situation, learning what we need to know to live in an RV, and repairing things that break. All that stress – even the good kind of adventurous eustress – means we have less creative energy to put into our business.
Reality Check #3: Expense
We thought that living in an RV would be cheaper than renting. For us, it turned out to be more expensive.
We were paying $1150/mo in rent. We no longer pay rent. Yay! But…
- We needed a big truck instead of our small Honda Fit, to pull Serendipity. Our car payment went up by $200/mo.
- Our RV payment is $400/mo.
- We’ve spent, on average, $700/mo on campground fees.
- We’ve spent, on average, $600/mo more on fuel than we used to.
That totals up to $1900/mo. So we now spend $750/mo more than we used to. Some of that is going into equity (the truck and Serendipity) but it probably doesn’t add up to much once you account for depreciation.
We had no idea how expensive campground fees would be. We’ve averaged $25-$30/night when we stay for 1-2 days. We’ve gotten some good deals with Passport America and other travel clubs, but by far the most affordable way we’ve found is to get a monthly rate. The monthly rates we’ve found range from $300-$550/month, which is much more affordable.
So we slowed down. Our first month on the road was travel, travel, travel. It was exhausting and expensive. We slowed down so we’d have more time and energy to spend on our business, and we slowed down to avoid paying $900/mo in nightly campground fees.
But this change drastically curtailed our travel flexibility. Instead of slowly rambling across the country, we now make a beeline from one monthly spot to the next monthly spot.
One of the reasons we beeline instead of meandering is the high cost of fuel.
When we had our Honda Fit, we could just travel around town and not worry about spending a fortune on gas. Our big giant Dodge Ram 3500 dually, on the other hand, gets about 12mpg on her own and 8mpg when hauling Serendipity. So when we find ourselves parked out in the boonies, where most RV parks are located, and we want to make a trip into town, it can cost us around $30 in diesel just for the round trip.
This has made it much more challenging to:
- shop for groceries. Since we’re vegan and we’re used to living in a city, the local stores don’t always have what we want.
- get out of the house for work dates. We used to have work dates at Starbucks, but a lot of the coffee shops near RV parks don’t have soy milk.
- visit friends.
Reality Check #4: Freedom
Visiting people is harder than we thought
One of the big reasons we wanted to live in an RV instead of living in a house in Portland is that we could live near all of our friends, not just some of our friends. In particular, two of our closest friends, Kelly and Julica, live in New York and Michigan. We hoped to visit them, stay nearby for a month or more, then move on.
The freezing temperatures make that impossible except in the summer months, and as you’ll see, there are additional obstacles to making it happen in the summer.
In addition to Julica and Kelly, there are hundreds of people we’d like to visit, who are scattered all across the country. We’ve told many people that we will come visit them and deliver hugs – before we knew everything we’re writing in this article. Whenever we share our travel plans, dozens of people shout out, tell us they’d love to see us, and offer their hospitality. It breaks our hearts to say no to almost every single one.
You see, we can’t really park anywhere except an RV park. We can’t just pull into your driveway. Our RV is 36 feet long, and with the truck attached it’s probably 44 feet long. That’s pretty huge. Narrow streets and tight turns are difficult or impossible. Backing up is challenging. So even though it’s very kind of you to offer a place for us to park, it’s not really doable for us.
And even if we could fit in your driveway, or on a nearby street, or at a Wal-Mart, it’s still not really doable for us because of our cats. Our cats travel in the truck with us when we’re moving, and we need to put them back in Serendipity once we park so they’ll have food, water, and their litterbox. But Serendipity isn’t safe for them when the slides are in – they can get back into the slide mechanism compartment. Phineas (Kyeli’s familiar) got back there once and it gave us quite a fright, and took us a long time to lure him back out. And we don’t want to bring our cats with us into an unfamiliar house.
So we need a place where we can put our slides out, and the only place we can safely put our slides out is at an RV park, which severely limits our ability to visit people. We only want to stay at one RV park per day, and when you factor everything listed above – time, energy, and the expense of campgrounds and fuel – it’s simply not possible for us to make a meandering, people-visiting journey across the country.
The Connection Across the Continent Tour
This is why we had to put our tour on hold. We had hoped to visit all sorts of cities, gather a group of people at a venue, give a short presentation about following your dreams, take questions, and hang out afterward. But our monthly spots have been places like Washington, NC and Cedar Key, FL – places without the critical mass of people to attend a P&K tour date. And when we leave those monthly spots, we’ve been beelining straight for the next monthly spot. We still want to do the tour, but we’ll need to figure out a different way to make it happen.
A dually is not like a car
Another thing we weren’t expecting is how much less freedom we have driving a dually instead of a small car. We’ve already discussed the gas mileage, but it’s not just that. Our truck doesn’t fit in a normal-sized parking spot. Driving on narrow roads and taking tight turns is difficult. We’re not even talking about when we’re hauling our home; we’re talking about driving around while unhitched. We’ve had to turn around and go somewhere else because a parking lot was too crowded for us to navigate. We once had to make a 37-point turn just to get out of a dead end!
Not a permanent road trip
In our dreams, living in an RV was like a permanent road trip. We’d see new places, meet new people, visit friends, and have adventures. But when you’re towing a 36′ fifth wheel behind you, you can’t just take a random exit on a whim because you see something interesting. If we want to get out and adventure, we’ve got to find a place to park, and that makes it a feel a lot less like an adventure and a lot more like a hassle. If we had a smaller RV, we could be more flexible and adventurous, but we need an RV that has room for our son Dru to live with us comfortably.
We’ve hit a dead end.
We need to avoid the South, except in the winter, because Kyeli can’t handle the heat.
We need to avoid the North, except in the summer, or our poop will explode.
The next leg of our travels will take us westward to California, then north to Portland. Once we reach Portland, where do we go next?
We could drive east to visit Julica and Kelly, and return before the freezing weather strikes, but the fuel alone would cost $3000. Cheaper to leave our cats in Portland and fly out to visit!
We could wait until the winter, then head south to California, maybe head east to Austin for a little while… but if we can’t visit people or have adventures along the way (for the reasons discussed above), we might as well just fly!
And here’s the real kicker. Kyeli and I were discussing our goals for 2013, and our #1 goal is to grow our business to the point where it’s paying all the bills and we don’t have to dip into our savings anymore. She asked me,
Pace, if someone came up to you today and said, “Hey, I hear you’re trying to grow your business. I’ve got a great idea. How about you sacrifice all your comfort, live in an RV, and spend your time and energy traveling and stressing out?” What would you say?
I would say, “That sounds like a very silly idea.”
And if we wouldn’t choose it today, we don’t want to continue living this way out of inertia. We want to live on purpose instead of by accident.
So why not just sell the RV and live in Portland?
Yes, yes, that’s the punch line, but have patience. First we want to give you a balanced picture. Living in Serendipity hasn’t been all hardship, nasty surprises, and exploding poop. There have also been some wonderful things and some pleasant surprises.
Pleasant Surprise #1: Enoughism
(I prefer “enoughism” to “minimalism” because it feels warmer and more right to me.)
Our epic decluttering, during which we sold 90% of our earthly possessions, was amazingly liberating. Now, we spend each day surrounded by only the things we need and the things we love. It’s amazing, and I never want to live in a huge (or even medium-sized) space again. Our 300 square feet is cozy, wonderful, and I love it.
Pleasant Surprise #2: Community
Even though we haven’t succeeded at meeting many of our friends and readers, we’ve loved the opportunity to make new friends in the RVing communities, especially the NüRVers. We spent a month in Cedar Key, FL with a gaggle of NüRVers, where we made new friends and deepened our friendships with Chris and Cherie. We’ve made some great friends and connections in various online RV groups, too.
Pleasant Surprise #3: Uncertainty
Making two major life changes at the same time (quitting my day job and moving into Serendipity) tossed me into the stormy seas of uncertainty. I lost my comfort. I lost my safety. I lost my security. I disappointed people whose opinions I greatly respect. I let people down.
My ego’s best attempts at controlling the outcome failed utterly.
It was exactly what I needed.
It was exactly what I needed to crack the shell around my soul and allow myself to fully let go. To trust. To have faith.
Pleasant Surprise #4: Serendipity
We sold 90% of our stuff. We moved out of our house. We live in an RV. We did it.
We learned how to hitch and unhitch. We learned how to dock and undock. We learned how to maintain the tanks. We learned how to fix a bunch of things that broke.
We said, “Let’s live in an RV,” and we made it happen, despite all obstacles. Sure, we didn’t know what we were in for, but we did it. We did it.
And we did it in just 3 months from “How about it?” to done.
This is what following your heart feels like. It’s scary. It’s not what you expect. You don’t get a map; you only get a compass.
But when your actions are aligned with your heart, the road rises up to meet you. Obstacles melt away under patient persistence and faith. Serendipity rescues you when you slip. And everything works out in the end.
So the next time we say to each other, “How about we do the next wild crazy ginormous thing?” we’ll know in our bones that we can. And that everything will work out in the end.
So what’s the next wild crazy ginormous thing?
Selling our RV. Selling our truck. Being homeless on the road. And then living in Portland.
Publishing this article. Being open and honest about our life in Serendipity. Admitting that we gave the nomadic life our best shot and that we failed.
Practicing what we preach about living life as one big experiment. Holding on to curiosity; letting go of attachment to outcome.
This turn of events is hilarious, because it was almost exactly one year ago, in Austin, when we first decided to move to Portland. Today, one year later, after our wild crazy RV adventure, we find ourselves again in Austin, deciding to move to Portland. Ha!
But hey, you don’t get a map, you only get a compass. We followed our hearts and we have no regrets. <3