Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV Lifestyle – Tips & Ideas!

May 2018 – We have been traveling full-time for eleven years now. I don’t know where those years have gone, but every single day has been a blessing, and every year has brought us many incredible moments of discovery. And we don’t see an end in sight!

The May/June 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine features an article I wrote about some of the lessons we’ve learned in all our years on the road and at sea. Following our hearts into a life of travel has expanded our horizons and deepened our souls in ways that never would have been possible if we’d stayed home.

Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV life Escapees Magazine March-April 2018-min

“Reflections on 11 Years of Full-time RVing – Lessons Learned!”
Escapees Magazine, May/June 2018, by Emily Fagan

Launching a full-time traveling lifestyle brings a lot of self-discovery right from the get go. Downsizing a lifetime of stuff to fit into an RV is an overwhelming yet liberating purge. You take a few important possessions with you and head on down the road.

Walking down a country road in the RV life-min

With a stick in his mouth (one of his most important possessions) Buddy trots on down a country road.

Then you drive off into the great beyond and marvel that you did it, that you’re free, that you’re on the road to a fabulous new life of adventure.

RV fifth wheel trailer driving in Utah red rocks-min

Towing our trailer through Utah’s red rock country to some great adventures.

After the thrill of the Big Escape, you might pause for a moment and look around a little and double check that you did the right thing.

Puppy looks at fifth wheel trailer RV-min

That’s it? My house and all my worldly possessions are in there?! Wow!!

But absolutely every aspect of life is suddenly a total thrill. Just making a meal, whether you barbecue it on the cool little grill or bake it in the nifty Easy Bake RV Oven or fry it up on the tiny three burner stove, cooking and eating at home are suddenly very exotic. Playing House takes on a wonderful new meaning. And you play and play and play.

Barbecuing burgers in the full-time RV lifestyle-min

Grilling burgers in a beautiful brand new backyard is very cool.

Suddenly, the distractions of the old conventional life are gone and you fill your time with simple pursuits that work well in a mobile lifestyle. You can’t go to the same gym everyday, and sometimes you get lost trying to find the grocery store in a new town, but the quiet pleasures of life at home take on a special new meaning.

Hobbies you never had time for in the past become treasured parts of the day-to-day routine.

Living in a fifth wheel trailer RV full-time-min

Mark has learned to play dozens of his favorite songs since we started traveling full-time.

While zipping from place to place, you take in all you can manage to absorb. You discover how little history you actually learned in school and you find small towns you’ve never heard of in states you know only by name that suddenly take on a fabulous familiarity and vitality.

You meet the locals, learn a little of their past and the history of their area, and you ponder what it would have been like to grow up in that community or to live there now.

Mural painting of Antlers Hotel in historic Newcastle Wyoming-min

A mural on a building in Newcastle, Wyoming, shows what the main street looked like a century or more ago.

Antlers Hotel in Newcastle Wyoming-min

Here is the same Antler’s Hotel and neighboring buildings today.

After a while you realize that you’ve got to stop and smell the flowers every so often. You’ve been rushing through your travels with such an excited zeal that you realize you’re missing stuff.

You slow down and begin to soak it all in. You realize you’re living a life, not just a lifestyle, and you begin to savor the in between moments.

Early spring flowers in South Dakota-min

Signs of Spring!

We found just such a moment while driving on the Interstate near Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is known for many marvelous things, a world class mansion on a billionaire family’s estate to name just one, but we will forever remember the field of thigh high flowers we saw on the side of the highway. It was a photographer’s paradise.

How exciting to have one of our many photos from that afternoon appear on the cover of the March/April 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine.

Escapees Magazine Cover Mar-Apr 2018-min

Escapees Magazine, March/April 2018
Cover photo by Emily Fagan

One of the great things we’ve learned in our travels that I didn’t mention in my Reflections & Lessons Learned article in the May issue of Escapees Magazine is what this lifestyle has taught us about nature and the heavens.

We have stood in awe and photographed hundreds of stunning sunrises and sunsets and dozens of single and double rainbows during our traveling years. And we’ve gotten up in the wee hours to photograph the Milky Way or get a timelapse video of it marching across the sky. We now know a lot about these celestial events, when and how they occur and how best to observe and capture them with a camera.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping next to a rainbow-min

We noticed the light getting really eerie while camped in Wyoming, and then we saw a rainbow!

Rainbow and puppy with fifth wheel RV trailer at sunset-min

A slight change in perspective made for a whole different look.

We’ve also learned that Nature doesn’t rush things and you have to be patient and let its wonders reveal themselves at their own pace. And sometimes the transformation in the sky is really worth the wait.

Gorgeous sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV-min

An hour after the rainbow faded, the sky looked like this!

Pink sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV-min

Twenty minutes later it looked like this!

As Robert Frost described it 102 years ago, we’ve “taken the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We’ve found that, for us, the back roads and byways always offer a fresh perspective, and sometimes the road itself is unusual.

Red asphalt highway in Wyoming-min

In Wyoming some roads have red asphalt, giving drivers a fantastic mix of blue sky, green grass and red roads.

Perhaps the most valuable thing about embarking on an unusual lifestyle like RVing full-time is the opportunity it offers for reflection. After the excitement of making dinner in a mini-kitchen on a three burner stove has worn off, it is natural to ponder just why you are living this way and whether you are really “living the dream” you anticipated.

Puppy catches his reflection in a pond-min

Full-time RVing offers a chance for self-reflection.

It is common, after a few years, for full-time RVers to find themselves at a turning point. After seeing the major National Parks and visiting a bunch of states and meeting lots of other cool RVers along the way, it is only natural to grind to a halt and ask, “What now?”

Some people find this troubling — it’s scary that their dream lifestyle might need tweaking — but I think it should be celebrated as a graduation. The first round of dreams has been fulfilled. What could be more satisfying than that? Now the next round of dreams can be conjured up and chased down!

Several very popular RV bloggers who have been at this full-time RV lifestyle business for a long time have transitioned recently to new modes of travel or to living in distant and far flung locations.

For excited future full-time RVers, reading and watching these transitions taking place may be unsettling because their mentors are leaving the lifestyle they are about to begin. Years ago, when we had been on our boat in Mexico for about 8 months, I received a plaintive one-line email from a reader: “When are you going back to your RV?”

But part of the joy of transforming your life by giving up a solid foundation to live in a home on wheels is that it opens your heart to opportunities for even bigger transformations down the road.

For full-time RVers who feel like they are living under stormy skies or are feeling a little boxed in by repetitious patterns or feel a little lost between the woods and the trees, there’s no harm and no shame in admitting their dreams have changed and possibly gotten bigger and more ambitious.

Using the full-time RVing lifestyle as a stepping stone to other wonderful and exotic lifestyles is almost to be expected and is one of the great reasons to give it a try.

Storm clouds ofver fifth wheel RV in South Dakota-min

Storm clouds form over our trailer in South Dakota.

However, it can be hard when you’ve committed yourself with all your heart to RVing full-time to step back and say, “Wait! This isn’t exactly what I want.” And it’s especially difficult with the intense personal comparisons and voyeurism provoked by social media and blogging. A weird kind of peer pressure creeps in.

When it comes to pursuing your dreams, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or how your life compares to theirs because it’s not about them. It’s about you.

A photographer who lives an extraordinary traveling life, David Morrow, has posted two videos that are quite profound. The first is the impact on his life of quitting social media (he had followers in the tens of thousands on many platforms). The second is his daily morning ritual for exploring and reaffirming his life’s dreams.

These videos spoke to me because they parallel my own experiences. Perhaps they will speak to you too (links for them are in the reference section at the end of the page).

RV fifth wheel trailer boondocking in Utah-min

Feeling boxed in? We tucked our trailer into an alcove of red rock columns in Utah.

I’ve been reading Open Your Mind to Prosperity by Catherine Ponder, and she talks about how to set yourself up for success, whether for prosperity in terms of money or prosperity in terms of having exhilarating life experiences. One point she drives home with vigor is the importance of making room in your life for your future riches by letting go of and releasing anything from your past that isn’t fundamental to the future you desire.

It’s easy to see how this advice can help future full-time RVers, since part of the transition into full-time RVing is the Enormous Downsizing Project that has to be completed (yikes!). However, full-timing is not a static activity, and as full-timers flow through the lifestyle, tweaking and perfecting it and making it their own, the same idea applies: Achieving your dreams depends on releasing aspects of the past that aren’t propelling you forward to the future you want.

While online communications tend to compress deep emotional experiences to a few words here and there, getting together in person with kindred spriits, and talking at length around the campfire or over a morning coffee can really help get the creative juices flowing, whether you are pondering where to travel next or are curious about workamping opportunities or wonder if others have been through similar experiences in the full-time RV lifestyle as you have.

RV boondocking in the woods in a fifth wheel trailer-min

Can’t see the woods for the trees?

Ever since its founding by Joe and Kay Peterson, Escapees RV Club has specialized in bringing people together who have like interests. All Escapees are RVers, either current, past or future, and the Club encourages get togethers. From going to an RV gathering at a National Rally (Escapade #58 is this week in Sedalia, Missouri) to attending one of the many lively Xscapers Convergences for RVers (South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan and Georgia are all on the schedule) to seeing the Best of Ireland (June 13-19, no RVs involved) Escapees offers well organized traveling adventures of all kinds to bring members together.

There are also regional chapters of Escapees across the country, and these groups hold their own local gatherings.

Escapees also has Birds of a Feather groups (BOFs) that bring together people that share all kinds of unusual hobbies and interests. These groups are where you can find fellow RVers interested in Geology, Computers, Line or Square Dancing, providing assistance at natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, Photography, Prospecting, Quilting, Woodcarving or Worldwide Travel.

There is even a Birds of a Feather group for RVers who love to camp in the nude and another for Friends of Bill. And, of course, if the BOF for your particular interest doesn’t exist, you can always start one.

It is no surprise that Escapees RV Club has an affinity for rainbows. Occasionally clouds of not-total-happiness end up forming for some folks who jump into the RV lifestyle, and the Escapees RV Club offers a gazillion ways for RVers to connect with each other and share their common experiences.

Double rainbow over fifth wheel RV trailer-min

A double rainbow formed over our fifth wheel after a terrific afternoon rain storm.

If you are interested in RVing and haven’t yet joined Escapees, it is a very intriguing club with a million sticks in the campfire. Everything described here is just a fraction of what Escapees RV Club is all about. They do incredible advocacy work for RVers, are the biggest mail forwarding company out there, have discounts on RV parks and even have a sub-group that maintains the biggest boondocking database around.

You can join (or ask questions) by calling 888-757-2582. Or you can click here: Join Escapes RV Club

If you mention our blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, Escapees puts a little something in our tip jar. This is not why we do it — we recommended the club long before they started doing this — but we sure appreciate it!

Double rainbow over fifth wheel RV trailer-min

Happy campers after 11 years on the road and at sea.
Here we’re perched on a train car in a city park in Custer, SD

Spending what is now a significant chunk of our lives not knowing where we’ll be sleeping next has been a fabulous and life altering experience for us. Not only did we love the early days when simply living in an RV was an exotic thrill, but we have loved the exploration of the world around us and the journey we’ve taken within.

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Links to some of the offerings at Escapees RV Club:

David Morrow Videos – Great food for thought:

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22 thoughts on “Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV Lifestyle – Tips & Ideas!

  1. Wow! Just wow! I don’t know what else to say. Thanks for what you do. I also appreciate what you do for the Days End Directory. You two are on my bucket list!

  2. Congratulations Mark and Emily, we have been reading your posts now for over a year and loving them. We are planning on going full time in a couple years and your posts keep us motivated and planning. We are from Western MA where you spent some time Emily, and while we love it here, the West has been pulling us to move on. Trying to downsize now. Funny how over the years we accumulate so much stuff and end up just spending time in only a few spaces in the house surrounded by things we don’t necessarily use all the time but have to have just to keep the house and property going. Can’t wait to be free from it and live in a bit more calm and reflective state like David in the video. Thanks for all your great info and reporting. Your newsletter is what I look forward to every weekend. Blessing to you both

    • Thank you very much, Ron and Barbara. I did indeed spend some years in western Massachusetts at pretty Amherst College. Coming from Cambridge at the time, that area seemed very rural to me. But when we took our buggy there a few years back it was so congested on the roads we didn’t even make it to Amherst itself and zipped on to northern Maine as quickly as we could! That area was so beautiful but much too busy for a big rig and its laid back occupants. It’s amazing how things change, both your own perspective and the world around you.

      You will love the West. When I moved out west 20 years ago I felt like I had moved to another planet. And being free of all that stuff is truly liberating. The memorabilia and photos are irreplaceable and precious, and we stored those little bits in a friend’s shed, but eliminating anything you can buy in a store, besides the essentials, gives you a new lease on life.

      Have fun with the launch and have a blast in your new life, and thank you for being such enthusiastic readers of our blog!

  3. This is probably one of the most thought provoking articles of yours that I have read in the 3 or so years I have been following your blog. I had met a couple at an Aunt’s birthday party who lived on a sailboat and an RV when they weren’t sailing and was fascinated by their stories. When we arrived home a few days later intrigued by the idea and looking for others who had taken a similar path I came across your blog. Reading about your experiences played a large part in our making the decision to buy an RV, sell most of what we had and take off. April 22 was one year on the road for us and we have experienced all of the emotions you mentioned and constantly wonder “What are we doing?”
    When I first saw the title of your blog I knew I had to follow you. When I was growing up my grandfather who lived in VA in the summer and Maine in the winter would tell me how much he loved Maine and how he enjoyed traveling by train when he worked for the railroad. Visits to his place in Northern Maine were always an adventure. One year when I was about 9 or 10 he sent me a birthday card that had the “The Road Not Taken ” on it. I don’t think I realized until later in life how much he and Robert Frost influenced me.
    There are those who believe that Frost was glad for the choice he made and those that believe he regretted the decision. Regardless of one’s personal interpretation it does remind one of the need to occasionally evaluate the decisions made which you seem to do so well.
    We will be spending August and the early part of September in Maine and when I think about it I feel like a kid on Christmas eve.

    • What a great story, Ed. It is often by unexpected associations and coincidences that the idea is sparked for a wonderful life change, and that was true for us too. One trip on a friend’s fishing boat in the Sea of Cortez took us from “Let’s go for a boat ride with our friend” to “Let’s get a boat and go cruise the oceans!”

      Northern Maine is really special for us too. It is a beautiful place, and some of the people who have been most important in my life live there.

      We constantly wonder “What are we doing?” right alongside “We are so lucky” and “This is the awesomest life.” I think that unless (and until) you leave convention behind and follow your heart where it leads, the first question never crosses your mind. But once you have broken the bonds and staked a claim to your life by embarking on an unusual adventure, the second and third statements become routine. Kudos to you for giving full-timing a try. I hope that visits to Maine always make you feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. And I hope you continue to journey on the road less traveled and find it makes all the difference. Your grandfather was onto something, and it seems he passed it on to you!

      Thank you very much for following our blog and for your thoughts about this post in particular.

  4. Valuable and enjoyable “reflections”, Emily ! So pertinent in any phase of life….

    Just recognized that Buddy’s colors and size set him off ideally against almost any background !

    • Life is short and very precious, and it’s easy to let much of it slip by while living in a trance!

      We love Buddy’s colors and many facial expressions, and we have such fun chasing him around with the camera!!!

  5. Great and timely article. I go full time in about three weeks, and I’m wondering where to find the boondocking database. Thanks!

  6. What a great article Emily! Made me recall what it was like for us when we first made the decision to unhitch ourselves from the stuff we had accumulated. It doesn’t end. Every year we still get rid of things that tie us down. Like you we are still amazed at the glorious blessings all around us just waiting to be discovered. Keep having fun!

    • You guys are the example, Annie, what with nearly 4 decades of full-timing under your belt and now a fabulous trip to Israel and Jordan for inspirational spark! We, too, have to purge every year, and doesn’t get any easier. But it keeps our rig fit, and if it’s been in the back of a closet for a year you don’t need it! Enjoy your travels and keep on keeping an eye out for cute kitties. Love those pics!!

  7. Great article and pics, Emily. Congrats to you, Mark, and Puppy Chow. Thanks for sharing your journey, insights, and beautiful pictures with those of us still living in The Matrix. 😉
    Bob

    • Oh gosh, Bob. Thank YOU for reading all the goodies I put up online. The is a door out of The Matrix when you’re ready. It’s low to the ground and you might have to crouch on the way out, but it’s there 🙂

  8. It’s wonderful to read of your enthusiasm and the love of a new adventure. We too love to travel, but don’t think we will be full-timers, more part-time full timers, traveling for a couple of months at a time, returning home and then taking off again. It does help to read your post to help understand why some blogs I’ve read, have given up the full timing lifestyle. Heck, I was following them (and you) because it’s like I’m living my traveling life vicariously through them and you while I’m still working full-time and can’t get away. Everyone has a reason for why they follow their own path and it should be that way, for if it weren’t, life would be so expected and what fun would that be?!

    • Seasonal RVers are the biggest group of RVers that we meet, and it is easy to understand why. Having a permanent home base where you can keep your stuff and return to periodically is a wonderful way to go. Not everyone can afford to do that, but for those that can, it is, in many ways, the best of both worlds. There are many ways to live an exciting life that is full of adventure, and I’m sure your travels will be very fulfilling. Thank you for following our blog in the meantime!

  9. Hi Emily,
    This article has truly moved me! What thought-provoking insights into your life. For a brief moment, I felt like this may be your way of saying “this is the end of this chapter of our lives” (I would understand but really enjoy reading your insights and thoughts). We do not know what tomorrow will bring, we are given today and need to really stop to smell the proverbial roses around us.(Whether living in a sticks and bricks home or in an RV)

    In 2013 my life suddenly and dramatic changed forever. My wife of 38 years was diagnosed with cancer and 18 days later she was gone. Our plans of traveling the world together into retirement were dashed. Needless to say I didn’t know what I was going to do during so-called retirement. Until last summer when I found your website. I have traveled the world but not been to the Grand Canyon or even Yellowstone.

    I have been following your posts for a about a year now. When I first found and read your articles, I was primarily researching. I was asking myself, is this something I really want to do? I have periodically sent you an email and ask seemingly silly questions. You have always responded and encouraged me.

    I was recently wed to a wonderful woman. When I popped the question ( not would you marry me) but would you consider fulltime rv’ing? She was actually excited about the possiblity.

    My wife (Stacy) and I just returned from our first “Field Trip” in an RV. We took a 2 week trip through 3 National Parks in Utah. We had a blast! We are rookies and maybe a little over enthusiastic, but very much excited about the adventure ahead. We plan to travel and see the US and all its beauty as well as work with Habitat for Humanity several times a year.

    Thank you so much for the encouraging emails and thoughtful insights into “your world”. Keep em comin’!
    Rick and Stacy –
    Going Fulltime in 2020!

    • Wow! Rick, what a story! And with such a happy ending!! I think you and Stacy are going to have a blast full-timing. If you were that excited from a two week trip, you will be on Cloud 9 as you go exploring full-time. The National Parks in Utah (which we first saw with a tent) got us as excited as you are, and it was a short evolution for us from tent to popup to full-time trailer.

      I don’t mind your questions and no question is silly! It’s a different kind of life and it’s hard to conceive of the details ahead of time. I know first-hand how helpful it is to get answers from someone who’s been there.

      Live every moment to the fullest and enjoy the downsizing and transitioning process. We are visiting our RVing mentors right now, and five years ago, after 30 years of seasonal travel, they hung up their keys. The advice they have been giving us this week is to treasure every minute of our youth and travels and because it all goes by so fast. I’m sure you have pondered that many times since you lost your first wife, but what a blessing that you have found love again and have a new lease on life with Stacy.

      Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, and take lots of pics!

  10. What an excellent post, Emily! The photography is gorgeous (as usual) and I just love the pic of Buddy with his stick – it’s both precious and, in some way, poignant. As soon as I saw it, the line to a song came to mind: “And that road rolls out like a welcome mat . . . ” Buddy reminds me of how I feel when we hitch up our trailer, gather our trip notes and travel plans and set out on another camping adventure, enthusiastically looking ahead to whatever we might find around the next bend in the road. That was a very thoughtful and thought provoking post – thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • You are welcome, Mary. I love that photo of Buddy too. It says it all to me as well, head high, tail wagging, and stick in his mouth, so happy and eager for whatever lies down the road. I love the song lyrics and just listened to the song — very cool! We always feel a thrill of excitement when we hitch up and head out somewhere. That special anticipation never seems to fade, does it?!

  11. Too many places to explore…not enough time!! I retire next year and am looking forward to a lot of travel, although not full-time!! You 3 are an inspiration! Just too many choices…. where to go…in any case, I will definitely use your writings as a reference and helpful guide!! Thank you so much!! I can’t wait to see where you 3 go next !! Have fun 🙂

    • You are so right, Deborah. We love watching the old Art Wolf PBS TV show “Travels to the Edge,” and we discovered Art has been traveling pretty much full-time for his entire adult life. He’s in his 60s now. Good heavenly days!! He knows this world in ways we can only dream of. But we’ll keep on trying!! You will love your time on the road, and the next year will go really quickly. Have fun and keep dreaming and planning!!

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