On July 10, 2006, we closed on the sale of our home and hit the road the same day to live full-time in our 37' motor home and travel around the country. We had spent about 4 years planning for the event and were taken a little off guard when Paul was offered an early retirement package that would allow him to retire 15 months ahead of schedule. Fortunately, we had already bought the motor home the year before in preparation, so that was a major decision out of the way. There was still a lot to do getting the house ready to sell and getting rid of all our "stuff." We had to scramble a little to get things done, but we made it. We have now been on the road a year; and we thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we like, what we don't like, what surprised us, what we would do the same, and what we would do differently.
Sell Or Store
As far as selling the house and getting rid of all our stuff goes, it was a good decision for us. Some people rent out their house while they travel. We thought that would be a hassle for long-distance maintenance. Plus, we know that a renter (even a trusted one) may not take care of the house the way we would want. When we decide not to continue full-timing at some time in the future, we probably can't afford to move back to the house we had because of high property taxes anyway. Some people keep a lot of their furniture and other belongings in storage. Keeping things like wooden furniture in anything other than a climate-controlled warehouse is risky at best, and the cost of storage would have been high. Furthermore, if we settle in a warmer, sunnier location when we decide to quit full-timing, we weren't sure our colonial furniture would be appropriate. As far as our belongings go, our daughter and son-in-law were able to make good use of some of our better furniture, some of Paul's tools, and some decorative items. The rest was sold at yard sales, donated, or tossed. We'll replace the necessary items someday. We had too much "stuff"anyway.
After closing on the house and having lunch with our daughter, we strapped ourselves in and headed west out of Pittsburgh. We felt subdued excitement and a bit of apprehension as these two conservative, "ducks in a row," and normally compatible people hit the road. Margery was earnest about being helpful and a good "team" member. Self-sufficient Paul, wasn't used to so much "help." It wasn't more than a couple of weeks when Margery said, "I thought we'd get along better than this." Paul agreed, and we've not had much problem since. However, let it be known that we agree we will never win the million dollars on Amazing Race! We still get a bit frantic and throw a little static we're apprehensive or stressed. :)
One of Paul's expectations was that the adjustment to retirement would be easy and that he would have a feeling of freedom and release. He was too busy getting the house ready to sell to feel freedom immediately after retiring, and he was surprised not to feel it after we closed on the house and started our travels. He struggled with a feeling of uselessness and a little bit of guilt at being non-productive. Thirty-nine years of working every weekday and cramming hobbies, chores, and do-it-yourself projects into the weekends was a difficult mold to break. Retirement alone required some adjustment (contrary to what Paul thought most of his working life) and selling our house and living full time in a 300 sq. ft. RV took even more adjustment. After a few months, however, Paul began to relax and to get interested in the history, culture, geology, etc. of the new areas of the country we were seeing.
We both have a strong heritage of doing rather than being. Thus, Margery also struggled with feelings of guilt that she wasn't "doing." However, how easy it would have been to trade one busy-ness for another upon retirement. We are learning to appreciate this opportunity to decompress, assess, and contemplate this chapter in life called retirement. We believe if we can embrace this time, it will serve us well in the years ahead.
In preparing to RV full-time, we read many books, articles, internet forums, and blogs on the subject. Everyone raved about how wonderful it was. Sometimes (mostly in the forums) we would read about problems full-timers were having, but the problems seemed remote. We read about initial apprehension, but everyone said they got over it quickly. It wasn't exactly like that for us. It seemed to take a little longer to adjust, get into the swing, and to hit our stride. We always knew full-timing wouldn't be like vacation. When you're on vacation, most of the daily chores of life (vehicle maintenance, bill paying, doctor appointments, etc.) are placed on hold. When full-timing, you have to deal with all these things and more. But we thought it would be a little more like vacation than it is. Dealing with many of the chores and problems is more difficult than when you're in a stick house. A few times we haven't had cell phone service at our campsite. It's one thing to have to drive up the road to call our daughter, but it's quite another to try to troubleshoot a problem with hydraulic jacks when Paul had to call tech service from a few miles away from our motor home. Even though we have satellite internet and can deal with many things online, mail delays can still be a problem. Remaining flexible is key, which is sometimes a struggle for Paul. We are working on it, but sometimes we think we still are a little out of step. Perhaps that's because we are fairly conservative, reserved, and maybe a little stodgy. But that's one of the reasons we decided to take the plunge into full-timing - to force ourselves to be flexible and to keep us from getting stodgy! :)
With all the research, enthusiastic planning, and talking we had done about this lifestyle change, we were surprised that we felt more apprehension than elation when we started. We prepared physically, but frankly, we wouldn't have known how to prepare emotionally. It's almost impossible to prepare for the unknown. However, we believed we were following God's leading, that he had prepared the way for us, and our confidence was in Him, not in ourselves.
Being from the north, one of our surprises was the number of RVs on the road, even in late fall and winter. On Thanksgiving and Easter weekends in the south (not even in snowbird country), campgrounds were filled to capacity. Camping is pretty much a year-round activity in many areas of the country. In western Pennsylvania the season is May to October...and that's for the real diehards.
We were also surprised (and disappointed) we couldn't sit out as much as we wanted. Many areas we visited (especially Texas, but also most of the southwest over the winter and spring) were much too windy. One of Paul's pet peeves is unnecessary campground noise and noise has chased us indoors several times. We also ran into 100+ degree temperatures when we were in Las Vegas and, even though we have moved farther north, it has been mostly in the 90s (with higher humidity than in Las Vegas) ever since. Many evenings when we would have liked to sit out and read we had to take refuge in our air conditioning.
Margery was surprised that Paul took an interest in the blog. Margery started the blog and did most of the initial writing while Paul took some of the photos. Now we share the writing. Paul handles the more technical and factual aspects while Margery adds a more personal touch. Paul also is active on some of the technical forums on the internet. Margery feels he has a lot of expertise to offer from his experiences and research and is glad that he is sharing it.
Another pleasant surprise is how understanding our regular doctors have been with our new lifestyle. Fortunately, we haven't needed medical care while on the road, but our doctors and dentist have been willing to accommodate our schedule when we roll into town for appointments. They have been very responsive in answering questions over the phone and providing prescription renewals when required. The only thing we have needed on the road had been a chiropractor for Margery's neck problems. Our chiropractor back home supplied us with a letter indicating his diagnosis and the treatments he found to be successful. Margery has developed a personal relationship with the secretary in the Palmer School of Chiropratic Alumni office. It has worked well to go to chiropractors who have had the same training as our favorite chiropractor back in Pittsburgh :) The chiropractors on the road have been very accommodating and have been quite effective at easing any problems Margery has had.
Although when our 12-year old English Springer Spaniel, Molly started traveling with us she was in excellent health, she has developed a problem requiring numerous tests to determine a definitive diagnosis. We have found many compassionate veterinarians while on the road. They have taken the time to piece together from previous tests the next logical step. We will soon be staying in an area for a little longer period of time and have already found a specialist willing to review Molly's test results and hopefully recommend a comprehensive course of treatment. The director of OSU's School of Veterinary Medicine's Alumni Office has been extremely helpful. Let it be known, that the smells of veterinarian offices are all the same and Molly KNOWS what's coming.
Overall, we did well with our budget. At the end of 2006, however, we made some adjustments. Laundry expenses, propane, and taxes were under budget and campground fees, eating out, and pet expenses were over budget. Although gasoline is getting a little tight, we have been able to cope with the rising prices because we had purposely padded the budget for gasoline expenses knowing this category would be volatile. One additional thing we can do to help reduce gasoline expenditures is to start staying in one location a little longer.
We allowed too much in our initial budget for laundry expenses because we make extensive use of our on-board washer/dryer. We were able to cut laundry from $25 a month to $15. We allowed $25 a month for propane, which was also too much since we spent so little time where it was cold. Thankfully, taxes were also under budget. We were purposely very conservative in our tax withholding for Paul's pension and social security and were able to reduce this significantly once we did our taxes at the end of the year.
We found we like our conveniences when we camp. We have dry camped, but Paul doesn't like to have to monitor the battery levels and try to schedule our TV and computer usage to limit generator run time. Our fresh water and waste water tanks are big enough we can go 9 or 10 days without hookups. Campsites without water and sewer hookups are usually cheaper, but the catch is we LOVE our washer/dryer. It is so convenient being able to do laundry anytime we need to and to be assured the facilities will be clean. There are some shortcomings and tricks to using the combo washer/dryer, but we would not be without it. Unfortunately, to make good use of the washer/dryer, we find we need full hookups at least part of the time. Yes, we have done a load or two with only water and electric, but to do that we need to plan carefully and possibly make a few trips to the dump station with our "blue boy." Full hookups mean we will generally spend more per night. We have also been doing a lot of sightseeing our first year. The high-traffic tourist areas generally charge more per night. Also, because we are doing a lot of sightseeing, it means we move around a lot. This prevents us from taking advantage of lower weekly and monthly campground rates. We use Passport America when we can for half price accommodations. We get Good Sam, FMCA, and Escapees discounts when possible, but our initial budget estimate of $15 a night was underestimated by about $5 a night. A lot of people have a much lower average nightly cost, but we aren't that comfortable staying at Wal-Mart or taking advantage of some no-cost or low-cost camping opportunities that are out there. We were able to adjust our budget to increase our average nightly campground allowance to almost $17. Since January 1 we are only a little above that at about $18. Considering we have been staying in higher-priced tourist areas for the last 6 weeks, that's not bad.
Our initial budget estimate of $60 a month for eating out was woefully inadequate. We found we spent that much just on a few lunches while sightseeing and on an occasional cone at Dairy Queen. We adjusted the budget to $75 a month plus we apply some of our monthly rewards from our credit card to this category. We also carry snack crackers when we sightsee to eliminate some of the lunches out. These adjustments now allow an occasional dinner out in addition to a few lunches, and we didn't have to give up our Dairy Queen. :)
Even before Molly's health problems surfaced, pet care, specifically the amount of $15 a month we allowed for vet charges, was insufficient. By the time we pay for an annual vet visit, whatever shots are due that year, heartworm medicine for 12 months, and flea and tick medicine for 12 months we were over budget. We had Molly on the heartworm and flea medication only 6 months a year at home, but now that we travel we stay in warm climates most of the winter and need to extend the heartworm and flea medication to year-round. Molly's potentially serious medical problem which showed up during a routine blood test has required further testing and required that we switch her from her $11 a bag dog food to special food that costs $40-45 a bag. The additional testing is ongoing and has been thus far inconclusive. So with underestimating pet costs initially plus the added costs of testing and special dog food, the pet budget has been exceeded by over $1000. We are covering the expenses by "borrowing" from money accumulated in other budget categories, but we're unsure how we will resolve the deficit.
One of the best things we did was to make a commitment before we even hit the road to full-time for at least two years. That way, if one of us is having doubts, frustrations, or apprehension on a particular day, we can share our feelings without the other feeling threatened. As we said earlier, it seems to have taken us a little longer than some full-timers to get over that initial apprehension and the two-year commitment has allowed each of us the time to do that.
Another good choice we made was the make and model of motor home we chose. For us, our Tiffin Allegro Bay has been exactly the right choice. We have the Workhorse W24 chassis which gives us more cargo carrying capacity than the W22 chassis. We have had the rig weighed a couple of times and we need every bit of that extra weight capacity. The floor plan suits our needs very well and we are very pleased with Tiffin's design and build quality. The only problems we have had to speak of are one sheared bolt on the front slide mechanism (easily repaired by Paul) and three failures of our HWH hydraulic jacks. HWH was very responsive and now appear to have successfully corrected the problem. On the last repair, they shipped parts by air and helped schedule an appointment with a mobile repair service to complete the repair at our campsite.
Our decision to spend our first winter between Florida, Arizona and Texas was also a good one. It gave us a chance to reconnoiter each state, look at options for extended stays, and get a "feel" for the locale. Although we particularly enjoyed Yuma, Paul has a sentimental attachment to Florida because of his family vacations there when he was young. We have read people's complaints about the winds in south Texas. Margery thought, "How bad can a little wind be?" Well, they dry out Paul's contacts and 35-40 mph really makes it hard to enjoy sitting out. For these reasons, it looks like we'll be spending most of this next winter in Florida.
Things We Like
Probably the biggest thing we both like is how much we are learning. We are learning about God's grace and provision, about ourselves, about each other, and about this great country. We both love learning history first-hand, and we love learning how history is intertwined and interconnected. We learn one thing in one location, then something related pops up somewhere else.
We like to see the diversity of the landscape and of the people. There are different cultures, different traditions, and different customs all over the country; but yet we are all Americans and in so many ways the same. We like being able to see all the natural beauty firsthand - eastern forests, western deserts, seashore, mountains, and plains. Being able to recognize a place we've visited on TV or in the movies is also exciting. Margery especially likes to read historical novels relating to places we've visited.
We like the simplicity of the RV lifestyle. We don't have a lot of "stuff" to keep track of, and it only takes us about an hour to clean the motor home. We can sleep in if we want or get up early and enjoy the sunrise.
We genuinely like each other and enjoy being together. We are each other's best friend and rarely get on each other's nerves. It's been gratifying to be able to spend time together leisurely...to talk, laugh, remember, plan, process, and just be.
Margery has always enjoyed riding in the car. It's good thinking time, and she is especially enjoying watching the world go by as we tool down the road.
Things We Don't Like
Margery - Margery doesn't like the fact that Paul has a hard time relaxing. Maybe it's because he doesn't have a hobby that he can do easily on the road. He did bring along a few of his woodworking tools and has actually done a couple of small projects; but with no real workshop, it is hard to have to get everything out and put it away every day so it's not very relaxing. Besides, how much can you build for a fully-furnished motor home? She's hoping that one day he will be inspired to get back into his oils and begin painting again. The two pictures he's done of the gardens at our former homes are treasures.
Margery also doesn't like the fact that the back of the car is full of bikes and the mobility scooter. We opted for the folding bikes because of the difficulty putting a bike rack on the back of the car. A rear trim piece on the car would have had to be cut. Another option would have been to mount the bikes on the back of the motor home, but we didn't want to do that because we are already near the maximum allowable weight on the rear axle. To squeeze everything into the back of the car, we have to not only fold the bikes, we have to remove the seats, remove the front wheel from one of the bikes, and loosen the handlebars. This makes it hard to get out the bikes and go for a short ride. Getting out the bikes is about a half hour production and by the time we are done we don't feel much like riding anymore.
The other thing that is disappointing is that many natural treasures are inaccessible to us because of Margery's knees. She can walk about 1 1/4 miles round trip, even with a little uphill and downhill. A lot of places are handicapped accessible (which means she can use her scooter), but many places are not. Therefore, if it's beyond the 1 1/4 mile distance, we either have to skip that particular view or Paul has to go alone.
Paul - Paul's biggest pet peeve is noise. Sometimes the problem is traffic or train noise that you can't do anything about. Most times, however, it's noisy neighbors. Although we know people are not intentionally obnoxious, with everyone spending a lot of time oudoors and with close quarters in many campgrounds, we all need to be as considerate as possible. People don't realize how sounds can carry. Kids are going to play, but please don't let them screech at the top of their lungs. Don't let them run wild around the campground yelling either. Don't tie your dog out, and let it bark. Don't play your radio or TV too loud. If it can be heard beyond the boundaries of your site, it's too loud. Also, for some reason, diesel owners seem to be enamoured with the sound of their engines, and let them idle endlessly. Not only is that disturbing to your neighbor, it wastes fuel.
Another thing Paul doesn't like is packing up. Back when we lived in a stick house, packing was exciting. Now, not so much. Maybe it was the early problems we had with our satellite dish not going down properly or the recent problems with the jacks not going up that detracted from the departure experience. Those things are all working fine now, so maybe it's just a little apprehension over what the next campground will be like. Well, just look at it as another opportunity to be flexible. :)
Scheduling vehicle maintenance is also a hassle for Paul. We have to find a good place for service in an unfamiliar location. It's usually not too hard to find a Jiffy Lube or someplace similar for the car, but the motor home is a little different. We are without our house when the motor home is in for service. Thankfully, we've never had to leave it overnight so far. Also, it bugs Paul that we have to pay 3 to 5 times what it would cost to do an oil change himself. But most campgrounds don't allow vehicle repair and then there is the oil disposal problem. So, we just have to live with the fact this is an added cost to full-timing.
Things We Wouldn't Be Without
There are a number of things we have found to be invaluable. We wouldn't leave home without them.
1. America the Beautiful Senior Pass (previously called Golden Age Passport) - If you are 62 or older and plan to visit any national park, national monument, or Corps of Engineers campground you should have an America the Beautiful Senior Pass. They cost $10 and are good for the lifetime of the holder. They entitle the holder and anyone traveling with the holder free entry into any national park or monument. Camping at Corps of Engineer campgrounds is half price. There is also an America the Beautiful Access Pass that is available free to anyone who is disabled. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and is available to the general public and provides similar free entry to national parks and monuments. The passes can all be obtained at any Federal site where a fee is charged. Go to www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm for more information.
3. Satellite Internet - We did not initially plan on purchasing satellite internet, but to have a guaranteed secure connection to do banking, we felt most comfortable making this investment. However, this is perhaps our favorite add-on. The internet connection has enabled us to research places we're planning to visit, yellow pages to find hair dressers, veterinarians or Dairy Queens :), gas prices, potential campgrounds, product research, the nearest location of Lowe's or Circuity City or other specialty store. Just today we researched these tiny gnats (we now know they are midges) which have emerged in huge numbers at our current campground invading the motor home through the screens and clinging to the side of the car, under the awning, and swarming all around. Fortunately, midges don't bite and are just a nuisance.
4. Satellite TV with DVR - DVR (Digital Video Recording) has radically changed the way we watch TV. We hardly ever watch anything live. Recording is as easy as pressing a couple of buttons and you can fast forward through all the commercials.
There are also a few items we took along and, although we could probably live without them, we wouldn't want to.
1. Crock Pot - There's nothing like coming back tired from a day of sightseeing to smell dinner permeating the motor home, ready as soon as we arrive.
2. Mini Breadmaker - On a chilly day with stew or soup in the crock pot, there's nothing like fresh bread.
3. Iced Tea Maker
4. Hand Mixer
5. Tubular Spice Rack - In a 6 x 10 1/2 space, I can store 45 spices. This is a huge spacesaver!
6. Sewing Machine - My Featherweight Singer machine is compact and has been used for the quilting I do but also to make repairs and armchair covers.)
7. Cordless Drill and Hand Tools
8. Digital Camera
9. All-In-One Scanner/Printer/Copier
Things We Took, But Didn't Need
We tried to foresee the way we would live while on the road based on what we did when we lived in a stick house and based on how we camped on weekends. Therefore, we brought along a few things we thought we would use, but didn't.
1. George Foreman Grill
3. Coleman Stove - We have gone a whole year without getting any fresh corn on the cob. Imagine our surprise when we were in Iowa last summer and couldn't find fresh corn to save our life. The only thing we could figure was that corn in the fields was feed corn and farmers grew just enough corn for their families in their house gardens. Anyway, we've already seen corn for sale in produce stands, so we expect to break our corn drought in the next couple of days.
Are we happy we did it? Absolutely! Even though it may have taken us a little longer to get over our initial apprehension and for Paul to develop his flexibility, we don't want to get old always wondering what it would have been like. We know firsthand, and it's great! Here we are on July 10. 2007, ready to start our second year of full-timing the same way we started the first - with a travel day. :)