By Shelley Zoellick - 1996 (FOTR 1988-2003)
My husband and I decided to try full-time RVing in 1988. Jeff's job in telecommunications required him to be on the road constantly. Since our marriage earlier that year, we had been staying in motels and eating all of our meals in restaurants (which sounds like fun only if you haven't tried it long-term!) Dissatisfied with this lifestyle, we began looking at RVs and talking about the future. Although we didn't know of anyone else our age who was a full-time RVer, we could see no reason why we couldn't raise a family - and do everything else we wanted to do - on wheels. We decided on a thirty-five foot Jayco fifth wheel and were back on the road, the start of an adventure that continues almost eight years later.
Since that time, we have met many other families, who RV because of their jobs, at campgrounds across the US and Canada. In fact, there seems to be more every year. In our increasingly mobile society, many men are required to travel extensively because of their jobs. And, although it is certainly possible to have a happy marriage and family relationships under these circumstances, many wives prefer to travel with their husbands, sharing life's everyday experiences.
Most companies pay food and lodging to employees who travel, and this allowance helps to offset the expenses of full-time RVing. For those who choose not to maintain a home base elsewhere, the money saved on mortgage, rent, utilities and perhaps a second vehicle can help compensate for the wife not working outside the home. For many of these women whom I have met, being with their children full-time, perhaps home schooling, and traveling with their husbands is a rewarding experience.
So who are these people? Unlike most full-time RVers, who are retired, they are young (usually between the ages of twenty and fifty-five), and they work full-time. They live in RVs because it enables them to travel as required by their jobs, and not have to sacrifice time with their families, or other things that are important to them.
Occupationally, many of the people we have met over the years are involved in some type of construction - roads, bridges, buildings, pipelines, and even water towers. Some travel with rodeos, circuses and fairs. Although most of the people we meet are employed by a company, some are self-employed and travel to where their skills are in demand, often following the seasons. We have met pipe fitters, welders, electricians and a semi-retired anesthesiologist in this category. One of the most memorable people we ever encountered was a teacher who was touring North America with his wife and six children, while writing a book about his experiences.
In our situation, newly married with no ties (I had moved from Canada and my husband had been on the road with his occupation for years), it was not practical for us to buy or rent a home. Since the company we worked for sent us all over the US and Canada, often for months at a time, we reasoned that a permanent home would only be an extra expense and headache. Besides, we hadn't yet seen the whole country, so we didn't know where we wanted to settle down!
There are many possible arrangements, from traveling all over the continent and maintaining no other home (like we do), to living in an RV only during the work week or when the jobs are too far from home to commute. Others live in their RVs full-time but maintain a home base elsewhere and return to it, occasionally or frequently.
Some people move every week, while others stay in one place for a year or longer. Individual jobs may vary greatly, too. We move about every three weeks on average, but jobs have lasted anywhere from a few hours to three months.
Of course there were adjustments to be made, and adventures to be had along the way. We felt like pioneers of a sort. The first major adjustment came only weeks after we bought our trailer, when we found out we were to become parents! We were thrilled on one hand, yet apprehensive on the other. Many people had commented that our nomadic lifestyle would be 'okay till kids come along'. Now what?
When Preston arrived, our lives became a little more complicated, but we continued to travel as before. There were a few more stops along the way, and the fifth wheel became a little more crowded, but there was also the joy of sharing our lives with a new little person. Just when travel was starting to become 'old hat', we began to see it all again through our son's eyes, as he grew up and explored his world and questioned everything!
Years later, having met and shared experiences with many other full-timing families with children of different ages, I know that this can work out well. In fact, I have never seen a child that seemed to be adversely affected by full-time RVing. Rather, most of these children are happy, outgoing, confident and bright. Perhaps the wealth of different experiences contributes to these qualities. Older children are more likely to be ambivalent about full-timing with their parents, especially if they are being uprooted from school and friends. But I have seen such teenagers adjust and come to appreciate the unique advantages of life on the road. One of the most interesting examples is a family I met recently. The couple had raised several children while full-timing, and today all but one of their children are on the road with their own families!
For the most part, our daily life is like anyone else's - we just live in a smaller house and move more often! We still have to shop for groceries, clean the house and walk the dog. There's no yard upkeep, but we do have to relocate often, which means finding a suitable campground, setting up the RV, and finding our way around each new town.
Basically, whether it's making new friends, losing weight, pursuing a hobby, or raising a family, you can do it on wheels. It just takes a little more creativity. My husband, who is an avid water skier, decided that he wasn't going to give up his favorite sport just because we travel. So we bought a boat and started towing it behind our fifth wheel People stare at us going down the interstate, but we have enjoyed water-skiing on some beautiful lakes in the US and Canada. I have seen people take along all-terrain vehicles, personal watercraft, tools and special equipment, computers, container gardens, weight machines, aquariums full of tropical fish - the list is endless. It goes to prove that if something is important to a person, there's probably a way to fit it into the full-timing lifestyle.
A major issue facing full-timing families is, of course, schooling. It is invariably the first thing new acquaintances ask me about. Before our son was born, we had decided to teach him ourselves, and many other families we have met have also chosen this alternative. There is a wealth of good materials out there, from full-service correspondence schools - who provide curriculums, textbooks, materials, testing, and even the support of a teacher- to sources of textbooks and school supplies for those who prefer to design their own lesson plans. One young boy I know does most of his school work on the computer, and another young mother teaches her son with the help of video lessons. Most of these programs are easily tailored to the full-timing lifestyle. On our last trip to California, we even conducted school while riding in the truck. I incorporated the passing scenery (desert, mountains, etc.) into the lesson, and side trips to the Grand Canyon and a meteor crater enriched the learning experience even more.
Some full-timing parents prefer to enroll their children in school, and this can work well also, especially if the family doesn't have to move frequently or can schedule jobs around the school year.
Full-time RVing offers some special advantages. Most people are quick to see the benefit of being able to travel and see the country while young, even if it is a 'working vacation'. Many people work all their lives so they can retire and travel, and some then discover that they are not in good enough health to enjoy it.
Full-time RVing contributes to the quality of life for many who live on the road, by allowing them to have more control. Instead of living out of suitcases, they can bring along more personal belongings, and still be ready to go at a moment's notice. They can keep their homes as clean as they like, and not have to stay in substandard motels because nothing else is available. And they can cook their own meals, catering to individual tastes and dietary needs, instead of having to select from restaurant menus (which, after awhile, start to look all alike!)
That's not to say there are no disadvantages (I prefer to call them challenges) to full-time RVing. Vehicle breakdowns, which always happen at the most inconvenient times, put the full-timer in a real bind. Another pet peeve of mine is having to do without full hookups. Most RV parks do have full hookup sites, but in some cases we have had to make do. RVing in winter in cold climates can also be challenging, although it is certainly possible to be comfortable even in very cold temperatures.
One winter we were assigned to Thunder Bay, Ontario, for six weeks in the dead of winter. We were surprised to find a KOA open, and even more surprised to find that several other families were living there! The campground owner showed us how to insulate our water lines with heat tape and pipe insulation, then cover it all with straw, plastic and finally snow. We also covered our windows with plastic and skirted the bottom of our trailer to prevent drafts. Jeff even constructed a temporary entrance way which greatly reduced heat loss. We had running water and remained comfortable even in minus forty degree temperatures, with the wind howling off Lake Superior. Surmounting such obstacles has become an adventure, and helps to build our confidence in ourselves and the way of life we have chosen.
We love our life on the road, enjoy being together as a family, and are constantly learning and growing. When will we settle down? We are often asked this question. Right now, I have no answer. But I do know that when - or if - we do, we will have a wealth of precious memories, and I feel we will be better people for our years as fulltime RVers.