We’ve been off the road for a bit – almost exactly two months, to be precise – while we’ve switched from our former home in an Airstream trailer to a new motorized RV, and it still feels so weird to be in one place for so long.
We should feel right at home being back in the town we left a year ago, shouldn’t we? We’re even staying in a house we own: the condo we renovated ourselves and lived in for for 2 years before we were married. Those four walls hold lots of great memories for us – meeting each other, falling in love, forming our own little Brady Bunch with dogs instead of kids.
So what’s not to love about the ease of living in a sticks and bricks house again after a year in a 150 square foot trailer? Isn’t it a relief having oodles of space for a change, not worrying where we’re going to park it every night, and where our water and electricity are coming from?
Well, we realized something critical during the past couple months of sedentary living in a bigger house: we were essentially on autopilot every day, not giving much conscious thought to our very familiar surroundings and all that extra space we had and could take for granted, and it was painfully under-stimulating for adventurers like us.
This brings us right back to why we chose full-time travel in the first place. We had carefully considered whether to build a tiny house a couple years ago when downsizing first struck a chord with us. Homesteading on a nice big chunk of land sounded nice, as did a repurposed shipping container house in a more urban environment. One lingering question remained, though: where would we want to live if we could take our careers anywhere?
We couldn’t come up with one location that had everything we wanted on a regular basis. We wanted both rural and urban, depending on our mood that day, warm and sometimes cool (but rarely cold), and both the ocean and mountains at our door. Oh yeah, and affordability – those perfect places are usually very expensive…and with good reason! We didn’t want to be so house poor we couldn’t enjoy our chosen locale.
The best solution was to live tiny and live everywhere.
Another major reason for living everywhere was to combat our growing sense of complacency with life. From the moment we step foot out of bed in the morning while living in a house, most of our decisions have unintentionally been made already: where we’ll go that day (we both work at home, so multiple days can go by where we never leave the house), who we’ll choose to interact with (just the mail and UPS drivers recently, unless we make a concerted effort to go out somewhere and talk to someone else), what we’ll watch on tv that night, what time we’ll eat dinner and where we’ll be when we do, and so on. A predictable, safe routine – and one that drives us crazy.
Alternatively, when we wake up in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by different sounds, new people, and fewer routines to lean on, our day has a lot more fluidity, and that demands continual observation and decision making – which is perfect stimulation for our active brains!
Because so many of our days while traveling are so different than anything we’ve ever experienced before, they seem more full and memorable.
Think about the last vacation you were on: you remember what you did each day of it, right? Your brain’s attention was focused on the change in your surroundings and routine, which it doesn’t do when you’ve been in one location for a long period of time.
We find that in a dwelling firmly planted in the ground, we have the unfortunate ability to isolate ourselves from the world for weeks at a time if we so choose. Our brains switch over to cruise control, and instead of thinking critically about daily challenges, they start to come up with things to worry about to keep busy. When we’re living in an RV (and maybe a boat someday?), our “house” has to transport us safely from point A to point B and provide all the comforts of home. With so many moving parts and constantly changing locations, we think about its inner workings constantly and appreciate it so much more than we did our four walls attached to the ground – once again keeping our minds active and focused.
The brain is like a muscle and needs a daily workout just like any other part of our bodies. If it’s not staying busy facing daily challenges for survival – even simple ones like where to get lunch that day – we subconsciously create problems to solve instead. One modern example is the “problem” we design around buying something new. There’s the thrill of the chase that comes with researching, saving up money for, and purchasing that product. Next is the initial high of victory when it lands in your hands, followed by a quick dropping off of excitement levels as the newness wears off, and the immediate pursuit of the next thing that will supposedly make us happy. In a bigger house, we had two things working against us: room to collect these emotional purchases, and less incentive to interact with the world outside our door. In a tiny house or RV, nearly everything is essential and most possessions lose their meaning.
Now that we spend more of our time interacting with the world around us, we don’t dwell on ways to make our lives happier – we’re out there doing whatever makes us feel good!
All of this isn’t to say that most people don’t thrive on a “home” being in a fixed location and the community, security and familiarity that come with it – especially if you have a kid(s) to think of. We just don’t happen to be most people!
If you’re like us and constantly seeking out a new challenge just to deal with boredom of staying in one place, seriously consider some form of a nomadic life, even if that’s spending part of the year in one fixed location and the rest in another. We just happen to find that the place in the world we feel most at home is everywhere. Knowing that about ourselves and redesigning our lives to accommodate this lifestyle means a lot less of our time and money is wasted by buying things, going on vacations, taking up new hobbies that are quickly abandoned, and otherwise chasing happiness with money in hand.
Beyond the travel aspect though, and for those not inclined to or able to travel, living in 150 square feet for a year also showed us how little we actually need to be happy. The only reason we’re moving into a slightly bigger RV is because some of the big things that bring us lots of pleasure, like entertaining at our place and having family and friends stay overnight, require a little more room than we had initially in our Airstream trailer. We also have the functional need for better work space for the two of us, which our vintage Airstream was just too small to incorporate, at only 7′ wide and 22′ long.
For those interested in the transition from RV to house and back to RV again, here are some things we’ve missed most about being in a house:
- Internet that’s cheap and fast – cellular data is unreliable and expensive, although it’s getting better every day thanks to consumer demand and technology changes
- City water and sewer – sometimes it’s nice not to have to worry about where your water comes from and goes
- Real HVAC – RV air conditioners and furnaces aren’t designed for extremes in temperature, but are adequate most of the time, thankfully
- A residential refrigerator – these are available in the bigger RVs now, but we’ve just learned to shop for fresh food in smaller quantities more often
- A permanent grill setup – we love cooking outdoors and miss having a big, fancy grill and smoker
- Hot tub – okay, so this is a luxury item, but we miss having the option to soak in hot water anytime we want
- More workspace so we can spread out a bit while we work and not have to break everything down and put it all away when we want to eat or watch TV
- Entertaining space – we could fit 4 people somewhat comfortably in our Airstream, but really want seating for at least 6 in our next RV
- Room to not feel claustrophobic when bad weather sets in for several days in a row. We had to find places to go and things to do to stretch our legs and the dogs’ if we couldn’t be outside for a while.
And here’s what we haven’t missed about living in a house:
- The urge to shop to fill a void in our lives, and having the space to buy things we don’t use regularly and don’t need. We used to fill as much space as we had in a house, just because we could and we were bored.
- Higher utility bills that come with having a big house to heat and cool
- Not knowing our neighbors – we love meeting people and the constantly changing community on the road forces us to be social. If we moved into a house again, we’d choose a neighborhood that is more community oriented than the condo we’re currently living in.
- Lack of motivation to go out and do things – in a house, it’s easy to hole up inside with the tv and not go out and interact with the world. In an RV, we get claustrophobic pretty fast and want to go see the outside world to change our surroundings for a bit.
- Not trying many new things – sure, living in one place we may get some opportunities now and then to try new things as they pop up, but it’s not nearly as plentiful as when we’re moving around constantly. New food, new drinks, new activities at every turn – no more reverting to the same well-known places and things over and over.
- Being in a smaller community – we love the perspective we gain by meeting people from all walks of life every day and over wide geographical areas. Things we thought used to matter in the little bubble around our fixed home don’t even seem worth thinking about anymore, and we take on a more global view of what’s important.
So with all of that in mind, we’ve chosen to spend another year in an RV on the open road! Maybe one day that’ll change (A boat? Backpacking the world?) but for now, we find an RV is the perfect balance of just enough space and the freedom, stimulation, learning and adventure we crave. For our little family, there’s no place like everywhere. Stay tuned for another year of adventures!