In this blog we are sharing the lessons we’ve learned from 4 years of full time RV living. What an adventure it has been!
For so many people, we just don’t make any sense. Why did you give up a 3000 sq. ft home with a pool to live in an RV? You’re smart, hard working, I’m sure you can get a better job they think. (Victor and I actually love our jobs!)
“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”
And then, there are some people that know the value behind the choice we made 4 years ago. They believe that life goes by fast and that if you don’t take it by the reigns and go chase your dreams and create the memories and prioritize your health, you may miss your opportunity.
Let me back up a bit. For those of you who don’t know our story, 4 years ago my husband and I sold everything we owned (save for all our adventure gear) and began living in our a 30 foot class C RV with our 5 kids so we could afford to travel more. More than 4 years later and we’re still what you may call a full time travel family or an RV living family or more simply, a nomadic family.
Related: How We’ve Traveled the World Full Time for 3 Years with 5 Kids
I’m certainly not suggesting for anyone to give up their comforts and live the way we do. But if by chance you have a stroke of curiosity and want to know if this crazy lifestyle might be something that stokes your fire, then read on to discover the 20 lessons we’ve learned so far.
Working to establish a more comfortable style of survival has grown to feel complete in and of itself as a reason to live, and we’ve gradually, methodically, forgotten our original question … We’ve forgotten that we still don’t know what we’re surviving for.― James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy
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24 Lessons We Learned From 4 Years of RV Living with Kids
1 | Showers Can Make All The Difference
When we first started this lifestyle I was frugal. My goal was to go as far as I could on as little money as possible. It was almost a game.
When we road trip we try to boondocks or free camp as often as possible, not just to be cheap but also because then we could be closer to trailheads, climbing spots, and get more into the wilderness. I think on our 11 week road trip in 2017, we only got campgrounds a handful of times.
Related: We’re Basically Vanlifers–Here’s Why
While my stubbornness allowed us to squeeze in 26 countries and more adventures than I can count now in these past 4 years, it definitely took a strain on the family.
This year I spent a lot more money to make sure we get showers more often. Not every day (Let’s not get carried away! Who needs to waste that much water?!) but way more than before.
On our last road trip to Alaska, I’d surprise the kids and pull into a campground and the kids would look at me and say “But Mom, we showered 2 days ago! 😅”
2 | Freedom Is Worth The Effort
I always suspected that freedom is something that oughta feel pretty amazing. That’s what made us take this leap 4 years ago but even as we’ve tried dipped our foot back in the waters of conformity, and then right back out, I am standing firm in my idealisms that freedom is pretty damn good.
Some days are hard, you have to skip showers, go without electricity, drive all day, sleep in an airport but they are all consciously chosen hardships, and that makes all the difference.
If it was out of necessity or desperation it would be different, for me at least.
Related: Why Living in an RV is Freaking Awesome
I love having the choice to stay put or to move on. I love having no debt. I love the mental challenge that comes from working hard, saving up, and taking off again.
It’s a work play cycle that keeps everything in balance for me.
3 | You Get To Brainwash Your Kids…(in a good way of course)
I chose this path because in 2015, my oldest was 15 and my youngest was 4. I woke up one day and thought if I don’t go do something now to make a huge memory and spend my days bonding with them, I’ll miss my chance.
I’d like to say it was a miracle that I got 4 years out of them doing this but it wasn’t.
Instead, it was the conscious awareness of meeting their needs— both physical and emotional—while inspiring and nurturing an appetite for adventure in them.
Basically, you have to make the lifestyle so fun that they are willing to work hard and sacrifice for its rewards.
And don’t let that mom guilt sneak in about it either. You are the best influence in your kids lives and as Gabi wrote in 10 reasons people don’t travel with teenagers your kid’s social life and education will be just fine.
Related: 10 Lessons Travel Has Taught My Kids
4 | Eggs Are Everywhere
With mom guilt in mind, eggs are one thing you can count of for food almost anywhere in the world.
I know what you’re thinking, Did this lady just jump from the deep phycological fear of ruining my kids lives to eggs?
Yes, yes I did just do that but it’s my husband’s fault. I asked him what he thinks he learned from 4 years of full time travel and that’s all he had to say…
Related: How To Find Balance When Your Spouse Doesn’t Like to Travel
Anyway…we’ve lived off of eggs and rice many times in Costa Rica and Bali so just in case you have a fear of scarcity or starving, I promise there will be eggs.
Related: The Truth About Visiting Bali (Warning: This sh*t is deep)
In Hawaii and New Zealand when we car camp for weeks at a time, we live off of fried eggs with toast that we cook off our portable camp stove.
But even when we sit still in San Diego (our hometown), eggs tend to be an affordable staple of protein for a big family like ours.
5 | Culture Costs Less Than $5
When you look on Trip Advisor for the “best things to do” in any city, you’ll get a list of tons of mediocre things that cost a fortune (especially for a family our size), which may dissuade you from taking that trip you’ve dreamed of.
If you want to experience culture, buy a cup of coffee at a popular street side cafe, put away your phone, and make eye contact with people.
There are so many people dying to share their story and invite you into their lives.
6 | Don’t Be Shy, Ask For Help
It can be overwhelming landing in a new country and trying to figure out the rules and customs but in most places, people are nice and want to help you. They are excited to share their country with you.
We’ve randomly met so many people through our travels just by asking for help.
7 | I Still Don’t Know How To Travel Slow
I try. Honestly, I do.
Every year I say I’m going to road trip slower but it doesn’t happen.
I promised my oldest, Danny, that we’d sit still in the same campground for more than 3 days often on our road trip to Alaska and it only happened like once this summer.
A big reason we travel in our Class C RV and not our 5th wheel in the summer is so that I can constantly be in motion. I’d rather move little bit every day than only move once a week in big chunks.
That being said, I really do see myself evolving to a slower pace of travel eventually.
8 | I’ll Never Be Able To Just Wing It
It’s ridiculous how much I like to plan.
If you’ve read my blog Purposely Getting Lost, you’ll know that I don’t actually like sticking to my plans, but I love creating them.
This mad scientist in me is always scheming but deep down, I’d like to just go where the wind blows me and not decide until the last minute. I think I will have to work on lowering my expectations first.
9 | I Might Enjoy Life Too Much
When we first moved into our RV in 2015, I occasionally drank alcohol. But once our life became so chill and time rich, it’s become a natural part of my day to have a beer or glass of wine in the evening to celebrate another day of living this stoked life. There’s a magical (and addicting) feeling to playing your sports hard, getting stoked, sitting down to work for a few hours, and then opening a bottle of wine while making a delicious meal.
Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation.Oscar Wilde
10 | Compromise Still Reigns Supreme
Or maybe this one should be called “You can’t change someone’s personality type”
Try as I may, my husband will never be a blogger or even my virtual assistant. Computers and him just don’t mesh. And so I am constantly reminding myself how amazing he is at his job and finding balance between my wanderlust and his rootedness.
In my blog, How To Make A Relationship Last, I explain how hard it’s been to embrace personal fulfillment, while not drifting apart and 10 things we focus on to keep our relationship vibrant, exciting, and create a deep level of closeness.
11 | I’ve Let Some Dirt Roads Go
I used to be way more reckless a few years ago. I needed every adventure and experience and so I’d drive down all the dirt roads even if it meant the possibility of having to back a mile out.
I haven’t given all dirt roads up (have you read about my experience at Wedgemont Lake in Whistler and driving up to the trailhead for Crow Pass in Alaska?!) I just only drive down the truly epic ones and let the mediocre ones stay left to my curiosity.
YouTube: RV Gets Stuck in the Mud
12 | My Heart Will Always Be In The Mountains
Our style of travel is certainly shifting. For a few years we tried a lot of different ecosystems and styles of travel– cities, desert, forest, boon docking, etc.
Now, I’m very picky.
I want campgrounds in ski towns, preferably in summer so I can hike, but the winter is good too.
It’s actually a perfect example of #10 because I love mountains and Victor loves campgrounds and now, after all these years, we kinda both like the same thing.
13 | My Soul Is Still In The Sea
Surfing was probably the guilty party in changing my life (for the better, of course). Once I discovered surfing, all the menial things I was filling my life with, both in terms of time consumption and stress, started disappearing. Life became more simple and what I needed to be happy and feel content became so much clearer. Not to say all of this is accomplished just through surfing, but it was the equalizer I needed to get to the root of what makes me tick which, if you haven’t figured out about me yet, is challenge and adventure.
Luckily, Victor and I will still both want to keep San Diego as our home base because it’s becoming the jiu jitsu capital of the US and surfing makes my soul so happy.
Not that I could ever commit to more than half a year in San Diego at a time, but my love for Americas Finest City has grown quite strong over these past years.
Related: Outdoor Adventure Guide to San Diego
14 | S’mores Are Overrated + Dinner is Underrated
People assume since we live in an RV we must do s’mores and campfires all the time but it couldn’t be further from the truth. We play so hard most days that by night time, the last thing we want to do is make a fire.
What we do want every night though is eat a huge dinner.
We are still huge warriors and pretty much fast all day and then throw down big time at night. When we first started this lifestyle, it was hard to convert everyone to this mode of eating but now, everyone kinda prefers it.
15 | Wake Up Excited To Start Each Day
Like I say in my book, A Playful Life, you know you are on the right path when you wake up excited to start each day. If you catch yourself feeling blah when you wake up, it’s time to rethink your plan.
I personally use this motto to evaluate my life constantly and when I’m not excited to jump out of bed I take that curiosity with me throughout the day, into the ocean, on a trail, or on my yoga mat, and start reflecting on what feels right and what feels wrong. I ask myself IMWO questions (If Money Wasn’t An Object) or If I could remove one obstacle what would it be? to get to the root of what needs changing.
16 | The World Isn’t a Scary Place
While you should always be aware of your surroundings and use some caution in the world, I have experienced a hundred times more good and kindness in the world than danger or hate.
The world has so much to offer and when you step out into it with a mindset based on openness and curiosity, you will be awestruck by the beauty within so many souls.
Related: A Story About Karma and The Kindness in the World
17 | Solo Parenting SUCKS
Victor and I were lucky to get to own a business where we can take our kids to work with us each day.
When we closed the business in 2017, we travelled together and so we have always parented as a team. Then, I started taking trips with just the kids, not because we didn’t both want to go, it’s just, we needed to make money and our jobs took us in different directions.
I quickly learned that solo parenting sucks.
Besides being exhausting and never getting a break, there’s a reason why opposites attract and Victor and I each bring our unique gifts to parenting. I realized quickly how lucky I had been to get to raise our kids as a team for 20 years.
Related: 7 Tips for When Your Kids Don’t Want to Hike
18 | You’ll Eat…Eventually
Victor had to add this one because when he travels with me he finds it very frustrating that I go all day without food (don’t worry, I make up for it at dinner with 3 course meals) but he has learned to adapt some and realized that skipping a meal or two isn’t so bad.
When the girls and I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, we had a few nights where we even had to skip dinner and as hard as it was at the time, the realization afterwards that you aren’t truly going to starve to death, is actually quite freeing.
I mean, I love to eat as much as the next person, but when you can learn to not be so heavily dependent on food, it opens up a lot of opportunities for adventure.
19 | Shitters Stink
I won’t lie or pretend that the worst part of this mixed dirtbag + adventure lifestyle is smelly toilets. Some days you wonder What did you guys eat? and then there’s all the pit toilets at trailheads.
We are constantly hiking or camping in the wilderness for weeks on end and I definitely hit a limit where I’d just like a toilet that flushes and doesn’t smell.
20 | Routines are Great in Short Doses
I love to travel, but I actually get really excited for my 2-3 months of sitting still in San Diego. I love having a favorite surf spot, going to my favorite yoga teacher’s class, knowing where to get exactly the food I want.
Routines in short doses keep me healthy and happy. Of course, if they turned into a full time reality, that may be a different story.
Related: How to Save Up Money for Long Term Travel
21 | I Really Don’t Have Any Of This Figured Out
I am weird. Maybe a bit crazy. Maybe too controlling. A bit unyielding, overanalyzing, opinionated, and certainly in my head too much. I’m arrogant, judgmental, over analytical, and loathe highly structured environments.
But I’m also a jack of all trades, adaptable, open minded, hard working, determined, independent, decisive, confident, imaginative, strategic.
I do NOT know what I’m doing… most of the time, but I go for it anyways. I believe that we only regret the things we don’t try so I’m determined to grab life by the horns and enjoy the highs and lows of the ride.
22 | My Kids Are A Much Better Version Of Myself
It’s actually a “thing” for my personality type (INTJs) to raise highly self aware kids.
I was mind blown when I first read that INTJs see life as the best teacher and tend to push their kids towards adventures in order for them to develop their own critical thinking skills.
Raising capable kids is uber important to me and I do feel that this lifestyle, while maybe not giving them the most traditional education, has made them confident, good communicators, and great problem solvers.
Related: 10 Lessons My Mom Taught Me On How to Be A Badass
23 | Life Really Is Simple
We all make it more complex than it needs to be.
Maybe travel and adventure, at the very least, reminds me of the basics I need for happiness.
Related: How to Live the Good Life: Finding More Health and Happiness
I know that sitting in a tent staring out at Mont Blanc fills my soul with a deep appreciation for life, but that hot shower, comfy bed waiting for me at the base of the mountain is really important.
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24 | Change is the BEST
I love change. That’s not to say that I don’t value security or can’t appreciate a level of routine, but I strive to change either myself or my surroundings every day.
I love road trips because the scenery is always changing, but I can’t expect to always be on the road. And that’s okay because when I sit still in San Diego, I allow this to be a time of changing myself. I try to focus on healthier habits, more mindfulness, and challenging my physical capabilities because all three will create self growth and for me, that’s the best type of change.
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