Don’t Underestimate the Time

For us, the transition from a “sticks and bricks” home to full-time RV life took almost exactly a year.  We started looking at RVs on the first weekend in August, 2017.  We hit the road full time on the first weekend in August one year later.

Our timetable was driven by my retirement date, so we knew it would take this long.  Looking back, we now realize we could not have done this adequately in any less time.  If we had been younger, with more energy and less “stuff,” I think we could have done it more quickly.  By “stuff” I mean not only the house, furniture and cars, but all of the other myriad physical and emotional details that come with moving away from the city where you have lived for 36 years:  disengaging from work and friends, wrestling with life details such as doctors, dentists, mail, insurance, banks, licenses, etc.

Every one of the 52 week of preparation focused in some way on the transition.  And there was definitely a beginning, middle and end to the process.  We started with the steep learning curve, and everything was education-related, as we tried to sort out exactly what we wanted to do and how we needed to go about doing it.  As we moved along, the process switched from planning to doing.  Order mattered, but not as much as the process of handling the sheer volume.  We needed to get rid of 60 pieces of furniture, for example.  For about 50 of them, the order didn’t matter much — the important thing was just clearing the house.  Then as we neared the end, sequencing became important.  In other words, we didn’t want to find ourselves sleeping on the floor for a month.

There is definitely a seasonality to the whole process as well.  We had 15 large boxes of Christmas decorations, accumulated over more than 40 years, as well as 3 different artificial trees.  There is only one time of year to sell this stuff, and it is about a 4-week period beginning just before Thanksgiving.  So we started there.  After a month, and some sad goodbyes, we were down to the one “keeper” box.  Likewise, we knew the best time to sell our house would be in the spring, so we spent the next several months clearing the rest of the items in order to be able to list it at the best time.  This also created a sequencing problem, because we wanted to use the proceeds from the house to finance the RV.  But we found the right RV first, so had to find a way to purchase and store it until we were ready.  Weather, holidays, and the other details of life complicated the process.  But day by day perseverance saw us through the process.

In the end, phase 1 (figuring out what we wanted to do and buying the RV) too 4 moderately busy months.  Phase 2 (downsizing and selling the house and possessions) took 6 even more intense months.  Fortunately the house market was good in Spokane.  The house took a month to sell and another month to close, mostly without incident.  Phase 3 (prepping for life on the road and disengaging from work and community) took a very hectic final 2 months.

While each step could be shortened based on someone else’s personal circumstances, I am convinced that this is the fastest time we could have completed the process and consider ourselves adequately prepared.  When we finally hit the road, it felt like we had just finished a marathon.  We were definitely ready to leave, but we also felt good about our research and were prepared.  There is so much more to readiness than having an RV, a full tank of gas and a map.  In our first few days on the road, we were shocked to meet full-timers who didn’t know the weight of their rig or the age and brand of their tires.  We were amazed to discover 8-year road veterans pulling a 44-foot toy hauler equipped with a single 12-volt house battery.  These are examples of couples who have obviously been successful with lesser levels of preparation than that with which we would be comfortable.  Our first-year goal is to travel border to border and coast to coast, covering almost 12,000 miles.  We want a level of preparation commensurate with that ambition.

So for us, a year was the perfect amount of time to get the job done and feel prepared when you are finished.  Others can do it in less time.  But if you are planning to do that, please also read the other lessons below, namely “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” and “Expect Problems, aka Stuff Happens.”

Enjoy the journey.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

As I write this, we have lived in our fifth wheel for about 4 months.  We have been on the road for 5 weeks.  And we have used the phrase “we don’t know what we don’t know” on almost a daily basis.

Virtually everything we are doing is for the first time.  Until this adventure, we had never owned a diesel vehicle.  We had never pulled a travel trailer of any kind.  We had no experience with camper sewer systems, fifth wheel hitches, or dual-power appliances.

But beyond this, there are dozens of other things that we previously thought were “no-brainers” that we had to completely re-think.  Three examples come to mind:  our bed, our bikes and cooking appliances.

A bed in a camper trailer is not a big deal, because you sleep in it for a weekend or a couple of weeks at most.  If it is not as good as your mattress at home, it is not a big deal.  You just put up with it, knowing you will soon be back to your normal bed.

But when you live full-time in the RV, the bed has to be right.  Prior to moving in, we had gone through several mattress experiments to find one we really liked.  It was almost new.  But the RV came with a mattress that appeared to be similar quality.  We slept on in for a night, and it seemed just as good as our original.  So, we sold our home mattress (at a big discount) and adopted the new mattress.  A week later we knew this was a mistake.  In the end, we would wind up selling the RV mattress (amazingly, we found a buyer) and re-purchasing a new version of our original mattress.  The experience cost us a little, but was worth it.

Bicycles turned out to be a similar story.  The bikes we had were old (in my case) and uncomfortable (in Ellen’s case).  And both would be very bulky to transport on the RV.  So, we sold both bikes and bought compact folding bikes.  But mine didn’t fold into the space I had designed for it.  Ellen’s was uncomfortable for her knees.  So we wound up returning both new bikes.  We went to a bike shop and found two older, quality bikes that we both love.  We found a bike rack that will accommodate them.  But we would never have arrived at this point without the trial and error process.

I could give a dozen more examples, but will settle for one more.  In an RV, we knew that we would have to condense the size and variety of cooking appliances.  We researched New Wave convection cookware, which is a smashing success.  We also bought an Instapot, thinking it would replace the crockpot and several other appliances and pans.  It does indeed.  But in the end we decided it was worth it to keep the crock pot as well.  At our campground, we were given free zucchini and decided to make a huge batch of zucchini stew, eating some and freezing the rest.  We were able to use both crock pot and Instapot at the same time.  It was amazing.

So when we say “we don’t know what we don’t know” it is a reminder to ourselves that we cannot be expected to know what we need to know or do things correctly on the first try.  We each need to cut our spouse (and ourselves) some slack.  It won’t be perfect because it can’t be perfect.  So commit to enjoying the learning experience.  Take each day with anticipation, humor and a sense of adventure.  Because you just don’t know what the day will bring.