Or, everything I’ve learned about RVing the past 5 months in a few short paragraphs.
Except it’s not really about RVing, it’s about change. It’s about grief, and leaving, about trying new things. Decisions. Excitement. Courage. It’s about connections and friendships, family and community.
This isn’t a blog article about getting the right sized trailer, or the right accessories for this or that. We did spend considerable time researching and finding the right trailer for us. But everyone is different, and everyone’s needs are different – that’s why there are hundreds of floor plans every year for RVs of every size and shape. I’ve learned a few practical things, but most of what I’ve learned has been about me, and about us. It’s been emotional work, relational work. It’s been fun, it’s been raw, it’s been full of ups and downs. It’s been challenging and it’s been new. It certainly hasn’t been dull!
When I think of the past 5 months (and all the planning and work that preceded it), I think primarily of this heart stuff. So that’s what I want to explore a bit here.
But first, some of the practical stuff
At this point, who wouldn’t have at least a short list of what they would do differently, or what became an issue that they didn’t expect? We have some of that.
- One bathroom is not enough. I’ve made do with going to the bath house, but honestly one bathroom sucks. When I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta go. And if the bathroom is in use, I’ve got to clench those butt cheeks and make a run for it. Or a waddle, if you will. Highly uncomfortable. A wise man once told me “never resist the urge to defecate.” I fear I have violated that wise advise, to my own detriment. Trying to make a joke of it, but seriously, if V is in there trying to make something happen, I’m out here trying not to let it happen, and neither one of us is comfortable. I can’t say I thought a lot about the shitting situation, but there it is.
- Captain’s recliner chairs instead of a love seat looks nice when you’re shopping, but you can’t snuggle and watch a movie, and they’re not as comfortable as they look. We’d have got a love seat had we known better, but we didn’t want to wait for another trailer when we found this one. The floor plan we had picked had options, but the lead time to get one just how you wanted it from the factory was pretty long, and having the dealership switch something out like that wasn’t impossible but it wasn’t simple, clear and easy either.
- If I’m going to continue working from the trailer quite a bit, I need to look at replacing the dining table with a stand up desk and creating an ergonomically friendly work environment, or maybe get a co-working membership from a company like Regus, LiquidSpace or Novel Coworking. The lesson for me is about bodily comfort (or distress) from sitting too long in an uncomfortable seat and the need to get up, move about, get out, enlarge. The “we” lesson is about having one living area to do things in. If Victoria isn’t out and about doing something, I’ll often work from a public library or a coffee shop, and that works fine for me most of the time. But, it could be an issue if I have lots of conference calls or phone time with customers.
- I like having the space in a long bed truck with a Tonneau cover, but I sure don’t like maneuvering and parking that beast when I’m driving around in unfamiliar places. It does tow like a dream though! I don’t even feel the trailer back there, no matter the wind, no matter the weather. But if I had to do it again I’d probably get an F250 short box rather than F350 long box.
- One vehicle stinks also. Our long bed truck and long trailer just wasn’t conducive to also towing a car behind, so a bike or scooter could be an option. For two people who’ve had their own wheels since they were teenagers, and who’ve had separate work lives, and who’ve had independence largely facilitated by having our own wheels (at least in this context), sharing a vehicle is challenging.
- Laundry and cleaning is easy on the one hand, but annoying and time consuming on the other. Victoria did most all of this (I did a lot of cooking, took care of any repairs, and took care of all the outside stuff, dumping, etc.), so it’s more her story than mine, but she did mention how being in a small space especially if you don’t leave during the day makes it impossible to ignore the little cleaning chores that need doing, so instead of relaxing and enjoying, you’re constantly noticing something that needs done.
- Getting an RV with built-in laundry would certainly be a priority also if we had to do it again or if we ever were to look for another one, even though RV washers and dryers have their downsides too.
- Sharing space is a real prickly challenge when there’s work involved too. Victoria mentioned how she felt she was in the way or had to be quiet or whatever if I was working from the trailer and she was around. She also mentioned how it was a challenge for her to get started exercising because she felt it displaced me. Basically, anything that has you feeling trapped, uncomfortable, or without options is not good. There are always options, but it sort of goes without saying that the options seem more limited when you’re in 250 square feet of living space vs. what we had been used to before in a 2300 square feet space.
The ‘Not Issues’ List
There were a lot of things that weren’t issues for me and I think it’s worth calling them out. This too would be different for everybody – we all have our styles when it comes to living.
- Tearing down and setting up weren’t issues at all. For us it would take about 45 minutes to tear down, and about 20-30 minutes to set up. Our division of duties happened naturally for us – inside vs. outside – and it was all pretty smooth and stress free. Well, we had a few hiccups with a few things but it was not a big deal.
- Fixing the few things that went wrong on the trailer. We bought a new trailer that seemed like a pretty high-quality product, so we haven’t had many issues, and the ones we’ve had seem pretty minor. But this doesn’t stress me out like I thought it would. It’s been kind of fun to come up with solutions to some of the minor problems. I’m also not overly concerned if a small project is partly finished for a while waiting for a part, or time, or whatever. It doesn’t bother me if it isn’t a critical issue. Maybe it would feel different if we’d had some major problems and tried to get them fixed, but that hasn’t happened.
- Driving and moving around. For me, other than a couple of times when we took too long of a driving stint (anything more than 4-5 hours planned is too long), this hasn’t been an issue. I know V and I don’t feel the same about this one. I know part of the reason why I’ve felt more comfortable with this is that I had my work anywhere I went, and I’ve been loving it. Moving around facilitates more customer engagement and collaboration, and I enjoy that a lot. While it does make it hard to get a routine and connections going in any given city or town, for me that was less important, because I feel connected enough through recovery and U.U. and work connections. But – the difference in meaning on this point has certainly created some relationship issues for us. More on that later.
- Seeing the country. I’ve seen more of this country, especially some of Utah and Colorado, and Florida and the Southeast, than I ever would have had a chance to do on vacations or work trips. I like the traveling as if I lived here, I’ve always wanted to do that.
- Internet connectivity. We relied mostly on our phone or Mi-fi hot spots. We were usually in RV parks so the connection was mostly OK. Sometimes we used the park Wi-fi. The connection speeds are never great, but they’ve always been adequate for me for work – emails, file sharing, conference calls, Zoom meetings, software demos, Webinars, etc. Streaming speed for digital entertainment has been frustrating at times, but we didn’t even watch any TV the first 2 months we were doing this. We gradually got back into the habit of watching a few things, but there’s always plenty of other things to do. I didn’t set out on the road to spend my time binge watching Netflix. Or Hulu. Sling TV. Amazon Prime Video. HBO Now. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all available. But the time spent doing this is pretty minimal.
- Working. Work has been awesome. I’ve seen more customers face to face, focused more, and enjoyed creative work at work more in the past few months than in many years.
- Small space. I like it. I’ve never minded it. If I have the few things I need to feel comfortable, I’m good.
- Few things. Same here. I’m better this way.
- Less predictability, more unfamiliarity. I like this too for the most part. The only times it stresses me out are when parking my truck or backing the trailer. I’m not a fan of novelty then. More on that later.
The Heart Stuff
The biggest thing for me that was unexpected was how emotionally upended I was by leaving Twin Falls. Not because I missed it. God no. The short version is that I left a past and a family in Twin Falls. But you never really leave the past, do you? I’d sure like to. I made a conscious decision to move on with my life, with our life. But I was carrying a heavy burden of grief, shame, regret, and sadness, and I didn’t fully appreciate how that would affect me and us until we were on the road. It started coming out in some real unexpected and challenging ways. The last few months for me have been a learning curve of practicing self-care and having healthy outlets for emotional processing, all while having constant change of scenery and stimulating, engaging, and sometimes stressful work.
So here are a few of the real challenges and lessons learned in this area for me.
- I was not ready for the level of togetherness that we were experiencing. I’ve recently reflected that for most of our lives together, V and I have spent a large part of our time apart. Not only have V and I been working full-time and therefore apart from each other during the work week like most couples, but for most of our lives together I’ve also traveled for work 1-2 weeks per month (sometimes less, sometimes more). In addition to those “normal” circumstances, there are also the weird hard to explain grief-filled embarrassing and shameful ones – how for a period of about 4-5 years, because I was on probation and couldn’t be around her youngest son, I also spent every other weekend and a couple evenings a week away from home and away from her. We didn’t like it, but we got used to it, and we found things to do together and apart to use that time effectively. I did fulfill all of my requirements related to my legal problems and all those restrictions were removed, and her son turned 18 a couple years back and went on an LDS mission, so that all predated these travels. But, those habits that were ingrained in our relationship had left a groove, and I didn’t know or acknowledge that it was there. Basically, we went from spending all of our work week apart and about 40 – 50% of our “free” time apart to spending all of our time together! I suppose this is like what people go through when they retire and they have to figure each other out all over again. Some don’t make it. We almost didn’t. Well, we didn’t in our initial form.
- Meaning making. When there is a “we”, there is still an individual “me” and “you”. My problem has been truly accepting that we don’t have shared meaning around all of our experiences. Let me put it simply – I was having a good time, but V was not. What was a surprise to me is my reaction – I felt hurt, resentful, angry, betrayed even. It kicked off a bunch of abandonment stuff for me. When I’m in that head space – which I haven’t been for a long time – I get clingy, moody, controlling, defensive, un-trusting, paranoid even. I am “not fun.” So the more I was conscious of how much fun she wasn’t having, the more I acted in ways that increased that dynamic. It was killing me to think she wanted to be anywhere but here, and even more so that I wasn’t imagining it! And, I didn’t have any separate space to go process my thoughts and feelings! So I was often sharing things in real time, confused and garbled, full of extra emotional valence, all while thinking I was trying to be open and honest and transparent and vulnerable. We had more fights and disagreements than usual, and there were quite a few not fun days. To be fair, I did take long hikes and outdoor excursions to be by myself and process. But I needed more processing than a couple of hours every few weeks. Adjusting to my own emotional reality has been a real challenge. But, after a few months of struggling, I think I, and we, have a lot of that figured out. Recovery (including ACA and CODA), outdoor activity, U.U. connections, friends connections, daily time reading and reflecting and writing, starting yoga – this is what it has taken for me. Melody Beattie reflections and writings having to do with anger and grief have especially helped me, in books like Language of Letting Go and Journey to the Heart. I have heard and read things there that I’ve always known are true, but haven’t heard anywhere else before except in my own anguished head and heart. Things like these and the recovery tools from various programs have given me permission to trust my own inner feelings and also start figuring out more healthy ways to act so as to get what I need and want and find some peace of mind again.
- Parking. Gee-zus! If there is a flash point for the swirling maelstrom that is the combination of my own insecurity, defensiveness, anxiety, and frustration and V’s compulsive need to share her infinite wisdom and try to control an outcome that doesn’t matter, this is it!! It’s been interesting for me to notice how it feels to do this when she is with me, and when she is not. Turns out I feel a similar level of anxiety no matter what, but when I am by myself, I get to just deal with it however I want. I don’t want input on the perfect parking spot. I can’t explain my rationale for why I choose the spot I choose except that it feels right and I know it when I see it. With a giant long bed truck I’m looking for the spot that seems easiest for me to get in and back out of even if I have to walk further. (V is also looking for this but somehow our methods and results are different.) It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve explained that the rules are simple: when I’m driving, I’m in charge of it, and when you’re driving, you’re in charge of it. That rule is ignored, and it pisses me off. As you can see, I haven’t yet found the humor in it, but I know someday I will. Strangely, parking the trailer, or un-parking it, is not as stressful at all for me, at least in most instances. The notable exceptions are when I feel like I get myself trapped in somewhere and I’m embarrassed and making a spectacle of myself. People are looking at me and thinking how stupid I am. I’m a guy, I should know this stuff. There have been a couple instances of getting in a tight spot with this 34′ trailer and long bed truck where I was just awash in a shame storm, and I noticed that. I have to say Victoria is much better about not offering advice in these instances, because she has never backed the trailer, so she knows she has nothing useful to offer in the way of advice. Fortunately I’ve noticed that RVers are a caring bunch, and that someone will notice you struggling and genuinely offer their assistance. They’re not trying to make me feel dumb, they genuinely want to help and they have experience to actually do so. So when someone says “do you need help?” it actually feels very good for me to say “yes I do.” I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that way which have made a big difference.
- I’ve learned I’m pretty codependent, and so is Victoria. That’s what all that stuff above means. I can get help for that. 🙂
- Going back to Twin Falls for a visit reminded me of something I knew to be true – that I have a lot of friends, that we have a lot of friends. It occurred to me when we were getting ready to leave the first time that if you think you don’t have any friends, try saying that to everyone you know and see how many of them get offended. There’s your answer.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely. I don’t regret leaving Twin Falls, or setting out into the unknown. I don’t even regret the pain and upheaval I unexpectedly felt working out some grief from my past experiences and choices and losses in life. I regret some of the things said in anger between us, but it’s nothing we haven’t been able to learn from and work through.
Our life and our relationship as it was had already come to a completion, an end. It was time for something new.
I have to say, no matter what, I’d do it all over again.