June 10, 2008—Three years ago, just before becoming a full-time RVer, I speculated about what I'd miss, once my job and my apartment were gone and I was on the road. Since today is my third anniversary as a fulltimer, I thought this might be a good time to see how things turned out, and what I've learned. Let's look at some of the things I thought I'd miss...
Yes, I miss my friends back east. A few of them have been able to visit me, but for the most part we have to rely on email or phone calls to keep in touch... and of course that isn't the same as sitting around chatting. Of course I've made a lot of new friends on the road. Our paths cross perdiodically, and sometimes we travel together for a few weeks.
But I still miss the old friends back in New Jersey, upstate New York and Pennsylvania. I haven't seen my father in three years... at today's gas prices, it's just too expensive for me to undertake a 6,000-mile round trip. I could fly, but then where would I park Skylark, and who would take care of my cat Alix while I was gone? I can't just go off for a few weeks and leave my home and all my posessions in an airport parking lot.
Knowing where things are in the supermarket
I was worried that every grocery store would be different, leading to frustration and wasted time. Turns out, though, that nine times out of ten I do my shopping at Wal-Mart. True, I'm not a fan of the company, and given my druthers, I'd shop at Target—or better still, Trader Joe's. But Targets are scarce, and there are only two TJs in the whole state of New Mexico.
I usually do my shopping and other errands on my way from one state park to another, in order to save gas, and there's always a Wal-Mart somewhere along my route. Since there are only two Wal-Mart store layouts—left-handed (groceries on the left) and right-handed (vice versa)—I don't have much trouble finding what I want.
Of course, I often find regional specialties that I wasn't looking for, such as this 165-year-old "volcanic oil" patent medicine (not actually volcanic; it's made from turpentine) that's apparently still a popular cure-all in some parts of the country... or the watermelon-and-chili lollipops... or the gummi eyeballs. There's almost always something new and surprising, like the lard section in the Gallup, NM Lowe's supermarket. I had never seen so much lard in my life, including big eight-pound buckets of the stuff.
Long hot showers
I'm pretty good at conserving water, and I never hook up to campground faucets—I prefer to draw from my tank, even when water is available at my campsite. (It keeps the water in the tank fresh, and I don't have to worry about freezing hoses.) My typical morning shower uses a little less than a gallon of water, so you can guess that water isn't running for very long. But somehow I don't find myself dreaming of long, hot showers. Oh, sometimes in the winter I'll run the water a little longer... but my version of a long shower would seem ridiculously short to anybody who lives in a house. Yet somehow it doesn't feel like a hardship.
I do miss having a car. With gas prices increasing by leaps and bounds, I'm not inclined to run casual errands in my 10 mpg motorhome if I can avoid it. Nor do I casually set out to explore the sights in an area where I'm camping. In short, not having a fuel-efficient vehicle limits my horizons. I've thought about towing a small car, as many motorhome owners do, but towing adds hassles and expenses, and frankly I just don't have the money right now. So I miss my faithful Honda Accord wagon.
For the first couple of years I was a fulltimer, I suffered greatly from lack of reading material. My thousands of books were stored away in a locked room 3,000 miles away, and I missed them badly. I tried buying used books, reading them and then sending them back to New Jersey to be stored with the rest, but it wasn't very practical.
When I got to the point of re-reading the same book for the third time in one year, I knew I had to do something. Then I discovered the Sony Reader, a half-inch-thick, 9-ounce device that can hold hundreds of books in its memory. Unlike a computer screen, its E-ink display boasts crisp, high-resolution text that looks just like a real book, is readable in bright sunlight... and can be used for weeks on a single battery charge. (You can find a lot more information on the Sony Reader and its competitor, Amazon's Kindle, in the "Electronic Books" article of my Eureka treasury of RVing ideas.)
And I found Project Gutenberg, manybooks.net, and a host of other websites offering tens of thousands of free ebooks. The combination of ebooks and the Sony Reader saved my sanity. I've read more than a hundred books in the past year, from "Peck's Bad Boy" and "Captains Courageous" to "My Brilliant Career" and "The Man Who Disliked Cats"; from Poul Anderson to P.G. Wodehouse. I have more ebooks than I can hope to read anytime soon, and that's a wonderful feeling. Problem solved!
When I went on the road full-time, I brought a decent set of basic hand tools, but my only power tool was a cordless drill. Lacking a circular saw, orbital sander and a workbench, I didn't think I'd be doing much carpentry. But my new rig, Skylark, brought the need to build a desk, a pantry cupboard like Gertie's, and other amenities. And I learned two things: campground picnic tables make fine workbenches; and Ryobi's One+ cordless power tools are affordable, and powerful enough to do whatever I need. For $99 I bought a starter kit with a drill, circular saw, detail sander, flashlight, charger and two rechargeable batteries; then I added a "Rotozip"-type saw, a saber saw and a buffer that used the same batteries. All these items fit into one tote bag. Combined with a few ratcheting bar clamps, my hand tools, and the ubiquitous picnic tables, they've allowed me to build whatever I needed.
When I had a condo, I had room to indulge my dilettante whims, turning from drawing to painting to stained glass to sewing to carpentry to electronics as the mood struck me. Obviously, in a 27' motorhome I can't carry all that stuff around. But I have enough to keep me happy. When it comes to sewing, carpentry, photography, cooking, writing, or programming, I can do anything I used to. I have a large desk, and a three-by-six-foot workbench that sets up in my dinette area when needed for things like cutting fabric. And of course I have the picnic table at my campsite. So I'm contented... I'm not likely to run out of creative outlets anytime soon.
My washer and dryer
Having a washer and dryer in my condo was great, and I wasn't looking forward to going back to the laundromat lifestyle. But once I got on the road, I discovered that when you park your motorhome outside a laundromat, it's almost as good as having a built-in washer and dryer. I throw my clothes in, then retire to my rig. No more sitting around in stuffy, grungy laundromats waiting for clothes to be done! I can relax at home, reading, checking email or having a snack.
Meaning "balloons, kites, Frisbees, Pez dispensers, windups, Legos, bubble wands, glow-in-the-dark Silly Putty, Yo-Yos, bags of squishy rubber eyeballs, Slinkies, squirt guns, rubber ducks, gyroscopes, Crackerjack prizes," to quote my earlier page. I used to have two bookshelves full of such things—and I didn't just collect them, I played with them!
Well, my "traveling toy chest" is greatly reduced, but I have two small drawers crammed full of small toys—light-up tops, a jiggling skeleton with glowing eyes, a couple of Yo-Yos, and of course the wonderfully goofy "Sparkle Mouth." I also have a kite and an Aerobie for outdoor play... so all in all, I'm not doing too badly in the toy department.
$75,000 a year
Oh, yeah, I miss that regular paycheck! I'm not yet old enough for Social Security, and my pension is meager at best. But on the other hand, I certainly don't miss my 9 to five job, and I've found enjoyable ways to bring in enough money to get by comfortably. In fact, in all the ways that matter to me, I'm living better now on $20,000 a year than I ever did on $75,000. I certainly couldn't have afforded the beautiful views I now enjoy from every window!