Three for the Road

by Shelley Zoellick - 1993 (FOTR 1988-2003)

About five years ago, my husband and I embarked on the most exciting adventure of our lives. We decided to become fulltime RVers.

We were in our twenties and newly married. My husband's occupation in telecommunications required him to literally live on the road, traveling to various parts of the US and Canada. Seeing no reason why he should give up a job he enjoyed, and intrigued by the opportunity to travel extensively, I decided to share his nomadic lifestyle.

By the end of that summer, I had fallen in love with life on the road. Travelling to new places and meeting interesting people from all walks of life, was an exciting change of pace for a girl from Canada who hadn't seen much of the world.

Unfortunately, after a summer of living in motels, I had come to share my husband's loathing for restaurant food and the limitations of living in motels. But we had no desire to give up our traveling jobs and the opportunities that went along with them.

Investing in an RV of some kind seemed to be the logical solution. This would give us more control over our lifestyle. I would be able to prepare our meals, improving our diet and saving money at the same time. Since the company paid for motel lodging, that money could be applied towards the trailer payment and other costs. And when it came time to begin our family, we reasoned, an RV would make it a lot easier.

During that summer we looked at many different RVs. I remember the first one we toured together, a modest 28-foot travel trailer. It was the first time I had ever seen the inside of a new RV, and I was so impressed by the plush decor and all the amenities that I was ready to buy it, right then and there! Gradually, as we looked at a number of other trailers, I became more discriminating, and together we developed an idea of what kind of RV would best suit our needs.

Talking to RV dealers helped us to realize that there were many fulltimers out there, although we seemed to be a lot younger than most. We would be pioneers of a sort, but that only made it more exciting.

In choosing the RV that was to become our home, there were a number of features that we considered important. Since we expected to encounter cold weather on some of our job assignments, good insulation and heating were a priority. We also checked out the storage capacity. Some of the trailers we looked at offered very little in this category, while in others every square inch was fully utilized. Extra kitchen space was a must, since I enjoyed cooking and entertaining. And I calculated that a washer and dryer would pay for itself in two years. Since this would be our only home for years to come, we wanted as much living space as possible and a floor plan that maximized that space. But we didn't want a trailer so long that it would prevent us from negotiating mountain roads or staying at campgrounds with length restrictions. Finally, we looked for indicators of all-around quality in attention to detail and options offered.

We settled on a 35-foot Jayco fifth wheel, with a long kitchen and walk-through bath for maximum living space, and a basement option that provided extra storage. Since we wanted certain extras, we had to order it from the factory. While my husband decided on furnace output and what type of siding to order, I had the fun of choosing from four different interior decors. Then we eagerly awaited the delivery of our home on wheels.

Finally the big day arrived! I'll never forget the thrill of walking into our first real home together, and wondering about what the future held. Could we really do this? Would we have a real home within these walls, even raise a family? What kind of exciting adventures lay in store for us?

We moved into our new home and were on the road again almost immediately, headed for North Carolina. We had a lot to learn. Luckily the job situation allowed us to winter in the south that first year, giving us the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the RV lifestyle without having to grapple with the added problems brought on by freezing temperatures.

What did other people think of our decision to become fulltimers? Although for the most part, friends and family did not try to dissuade us, some people still have trouble accepting that this is our life and we like it that way. They seem to view it a s a form of temporary insanity - as if we'll come to our senses any day now and settle down to a 'normal' life. We got used to hearing comments like, "It'll be okay till children come along", or, as they say now, "Once he starts school you will have to settle down.".

I will never forget that first trip with our son, when he was only two weeks old. I was worried about everything from the possibility of someone kidnapping him at a truck stop, to the long-term impact of our lifestyle on him. After all, hadn't everyone been telling us that living on the road was okay 'till children come along'?

Meanwhile, my husband was dealing with more immediate concerns like navigating our rig through Chicago rush hour traffic while trying to ignore Preston's lusty screams as he woke up and discovered that he had been strapped into a car seat.

We decided to spend the weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina, allowing Hurricane Hugo to spend its wrath before we proceeded to the coastal area. Imagine my consternation when the TV weatherman indicated the eye of the hurricane veering inland, headed straight for us! While my husband calmly dismissed my fears and went to bed, I sat up clutching my sleeping newborn, eyes glued to the TV for the latest updates, while wind and rain and even tree branches lashed our trailer. To my relief, morning finally came, and we were no worse for wear.

Wintering in Canada was another one of those experiences that I will never forget. Although I had grown up in the cold climate of northwestern Ontario, I was apprehensive about how well our fifth wheel would protect us from the elements. Upon learning of a KOA that was still open, we decided to put it to the test.

We were already familiar with using heat tape and insulating the water hose, but the campground manager showed us how to cover it all up with straw, plastic, then snow, to prevent freezing. He also instructed us to let the water dribble from a faucet at all times during cold spells. We picked up other cold-weather survival tips from our RV neighbors - families and working couples who were fulltimers just like ourselves.

These included strapping tarps down over the end of the trailer that faced into the wind, insulating the windows from the inside with Styrofoam and plastic, and constructing a skirting of straw, plastic or wood around the bottom of the trailer. Even though temperatures plummeted to minus forty degrees Fahrenheit on occasion, and the wind was always blowing off Lake Superior, we remained reasonably warm. Our inside water lines froze up a few times, usually when someone forgot to leave the tap dribbling, but I learned how to thaw them quickly using a blow dryer. It was experiences like these that developed our confidence in ourselves and our ability to surmount obstacles. We realized that we could make it as fulltimers.

One of the best things about our life is visiting different parts of North America and coming to know and understand the people. I soon realized that people vary greatly from one area to the next, in how they live and their outlook on life.

Perhaps most rewarding of all was our visit to a remote part of northern New Brunswick. It was a French-speaking area - even the road signs, radio stations, and labels in the stores were in French. The first morning after our arrival, I trudge through the snowdrifts to the library, determined to borrow a book or two on learning to speak French. To my chagrin, the librarian explained in halting English that she had many books on how to learn English, but none on how to learn French! On my own, I picked up a few essential words and phrases, mostly from conversation, deciphering signs, and studying labeled packages in the grocery store and comparing them to their contents.

Meanwhile, my husband was supervising a crew of temporary employees who spoke little or no English! With concentration and a sense of humor, he was able to pick up works easily. We discovered that the French Canadians are a warm and caring people, eager to befriend and help others. Soon 'bonjour' came easily to our lips, and we began to enjoy the melodic sound of the language. Preston, then two and a half, played enthusiastically with the French-speaking children, and they all seemed to understand one another!

After we had been on the road awhile, we met a wonderful young couple our own age, with two small children, who were also fulltime RVers as a result of the husband's employment. It was exciting to meet others with whom we had so much in common! We spent many afternoons sitting outside our RVs, watching the children play and comparing notes on everything. Like us, they found the RV lifestyle very rewarding and much preferable to motels.

Although we have had many positive experiences on the road, our life is not without problems. Since many of the job assignments seem to be in small towns, it is sometimes difficult to find a suitable campground with full hookups close to the job site. Unfavorable climates can also be a problem, since some campgrounds close when the temperatures drop below freezing. On occasion, we have been forced to seek temporary accommodations at a motel, which is both expensive and inconvenient. And there are times when we wish we had more space, especially as Preston gets older and develops an interest in electric trains and other space-consuming activities. But for the most part, we are content.

Fulltime RVing is basically adapting everyday life to small living quarters and adjusting to moving often. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, most activities can be modified to fit the RV lifestyle. After my son was born, I realized the importance of regular exercise and began walking regularly with my son. When cold weather drove us indoors, I did aerobics, modifying the moves to fit the available space. Then I discovered step-bench aerobics - the perfect workout for small living areas!

Similarly, my husband was not about to give up his favorite sport, water skiing, just because we traveled. He investigated the regulations and obtained a permit to tow our boat behind the fifth wheel Although we get some incredulous stares going down the interstate, we have enjoyed water-skiing on some of the most beautiful lakes in the US and Canada.

Unlike many fulltimers, we don't maintain a permanent home. For us, that would be too expensive, and impractical since we are rarely 'home'. However, we do have a post office box in Wisconsin, and rent a storage facility to keep our extra belongings and a few treasures we've collected along the way. My husband's employer is our link to home, forwarding our mail regularly and keeping us up-to-date by phone.

The life of a fulltime RVer is one of adventure, variety and learning about other regions and cultures. In the last five years, I have come to really know and love this beautiful country and the diversity of its peoples. RVing has taught me much more than I could ever share in one article.

Looking to the future, I can't predict how much longer we will be able to continue our lifestyle as fulltime RVers. But I do know that if or when our life on the road comes to an end, we will always treasure these memories and experiences, and be better for them.

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