FMCA members reflect on their experiences since they quit their jobs and set out full-timing in mid-1999.
By Stan and Kathleen Taylor, F182964
Several years ago, we set a goal to live out our dream of traveling the United States while we still relatively young. In the summer of 1999 the dream began. We left our banking careers and embarked on our full-timing journey. The two years preceding our departure included some intense planning, including motor coach selection, selling our house, and downsizing. The anticipation of our adventure was part of the fun.
The day of our departure was also our last day of work. Our 1997 Fleetwood American Dream diesel-powered motorhome was packed and ready. On that last day, we arranged for movers to move our remaining furniture from our apartment into storage. We said good-byes to friends and coworkers, boarded the coach with our Jeep Wrangler in tow, and headed off into the sunset.
As we pulled away, we were overwhelmed with conflicting emotions: Relief. Worry. Awe. Anxiety. No longer tethered, it seemed very strange to realize that everything we needed was contained in the cabinets and basement of our coach. It was also strange to realize that, unlike a vacation, there was no date certain on which this journey would end. At first, we dealt with our newfound freedom in extreme ways, ranging from periods of frantic activity to periods wherein we slept quite a bit. But it wasn’t long before we adjusted to our travel routine.
You may recall reading about all of the planning we went through prior to full-timing in the February 2000 issue of Family Motor Coaching, in our article titled “Forty-Something Full-Timing” (page 86). Well, we can now report that our two years of planning helped, so that most of our experiences met our expectations. Since it’s been more than a year since we began life on the road, we are able to share the results of some of the pre-trip decisions we made.
Prior to leaving, we subscribed to the AT&T One Rate cellular service plan. We decided to connect to the Internet for e-mail using a 3Com PCMCIA modem card with our Dell laptop computer and Nokia phone with remote headset. Internet connections are very slow, but it works most of the time. To surf the Internet, we prefer to use a regular landline or a connection at a library.
As we’ve traveled, our e-mail correspondence has increased exponentially. While it may not be as expedient, we do not like to generate mass e-mails, and prefer to individualize each message. We maintain a Web site so family and friends can keep up with our travels.
FMCA’s mail forwarding service has worked very well for us. We call FMCA as needed with a new General Delivery address the day before our mail is sent out from Cincinnati and, with few exceptions, we have received it within a couple days.
Bear with us here — we were bankers. A vital part of our planning involved developing a budget. Not surprisingly, fuel expense (diesel was 99 cents per gallon when we started our journey, and was $1.43 one year later) represented the largest variance. The accompanying sidebar shows how our actual monthly travel-related expenses compared to our monthly budget.
We carry very little cash, but when we run low, we use our debit card for cash back at the post office or at a grocery store to avoid paying the automated teller machine fees. We use a credit card for all purchases and pay off the balance monthly to avoid finance charges. In addition to the advantage of convenience, our credit card program gives us credit based on usage toward future fuel purchases, which has helped defray expenses. Rather than waiting for the surprise of the credit card bill, we use Microsoft Money software to record our daily spending, and review it every few days to keep it on track with the monthly budget.
On the road
“Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough.” We go where our spirits move us, driven by a desire to see what’s around the bend as well as an ongoing quest for good photographic opportunities. Stan drives and Kathleen navigates using the DeLorme Street Atlas GPS program on our laptop. We also use the Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas to check for low clearances and approved truck routes.
After seeing several horrific accidents involving RVs during our travels, we wonder why more motorhome owners do not take the time to receive professional training before climbing behind the wheel. At one rally, we saw no less than four minor accidents caused by carelessness. We’ve also been alarmed to see RVers adjusting their coach tire pressure after they pull off the interstate to refuel. They mistakenly deflate the hot tires to the pressure they should be when they are cold; as a result, the tires become underinflated. The owners then drive off, an accident waiting to happen. If we do not police ourselves as a community of RV enthusiasts, government regulation will arise and dictate many aspects of our RV lifestyle.
We are members of FMCA, Escapees, and the Good Sam Club. Many full-timers belong to membership campgrounds such as Coast to Coast or Thousand Trails, but we have not yet determined if this will work for us in the long run. Campground amenities are not important to us. Half the time we do not require hookups, and would like to see more commercial parks offer dry campsite alternatives to travelers.
When we do need a full-hookup site, we look for ease of access, reliable electrical service, clean water, and an operable sewer system. Unfortunately, there have been several occasions when we have been greeted by low hanging tree branches, taken on poor water, and dealt with dangerous electrical hookups. We now carry a device that lets us check the electrical hookups at our site before we plug in the coach. We have been told that some motor coach manufacturers are contemplating getting into the campground business, and we hope that it would represent an improvement over what’s offered in the marketplace today.
Like many full-timers, we’ve parked overnight at Wal-Marts or fuel stations between stops during long stretches of travel. But since we love to hike and take roads less traveled, we prefer to camp in state or national parks whenever possible. By exercising a little discipline, we’ve gone for as long as 10 days without having to dump and take on water.
Before beginning our trip, Stan participated in a weeklong course covering motor coach systems held at Lazydays RV Supercenter in Tampa, Florida. We’ve also taken advantage of maintenance seminars at motor coach rallies. Diesel owners know the expense of shop labor rates, so we’ve learned how to change the oil and filter in the generator and in the engine, saving well more than $200 with each change. We admit to being clean freaks and wash our coach wherever permitted, as often as every stop. Polishing those Alcoa wheels has become a monthly job for both of us.
Managing possessions is a challenge, but, fortunately, neither one of us is a collector. Like many full-timers, we have an in-out policy: If one of us brings something new into the coach, something goes out.
A few months after we started our trip, we went through the basement in our coach and were surprised to discover things that simply were taking up space. When we packed them, we thought they were indispensable. By removing these items, we freed up almost a third of our basement space.
We now recognize it was a mistake for us to have put all of our furniture in storage when we sold our house. Since our trip has turned out to have an indefinite timeframe, it would have been a smarter financial move to liquidate everything.
Travels with Vincent
We’ve been gone for more than a year, which means that our German shepherd, Vincent, has been traveling for at least seven dog years. Most likely, he doesn’t remember having a stationary home. Every stop offers new smells and discoveries. Vincent likes to stand guard between the driver and passenger seats and has proved to be a good protector.
One of the questions that prospective full-timers ask us is how we get along on a 24-7 basis. We worked together for the last four years of our careers, but even that was not an indicator of what would happen when we began living together in a 36-foot motorhome.
We have learned that it is important to be considerate and to recognize that your partner may need space or quiet time occasionally. But the most important thing is that you have to be friends and enjoy doing things together.
What else we’ve learned
Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you had more time? Perhaps you would get in shape and lose 20 pounds. You would write the great American novel. You would take up a long-forgotten cause. You would wind down, relax, and become the person you always wanted to be. Easier said than done.
Obstacles that may have created stress in your daily work life do not necessarily go away when you live in a motorhome. If you’re a Type A personality, you’ll still be a Type A. If you’re a worrier, you’ll find new things to worry about. Transformation is more subtle than you might expect, and those lofty personal goals can be somewhat daunting when you are given time to pursue them. You will learn a lot about yourself.
We decided to explore some creative outlets in the form of photography and freelance writing along with our travels. This has evolved into a new business, proving to be a greater challenge than the familiar work that we did for years. Often we get up before dawn, load the Jeep with our camera gear, set out on a four-wheel drive or hiking trail, and spend the day chasing perfect light in order to capture that sensational image. For us, the combination of work with travel to countless scenic locations across the country has proved much more rewarding than working in a sterile office, accumulating things, and realizing too late that years have raced by in a blur.
The upcoming baby boomer invasion
Most of the full-timers that we’ve met are from the World War II generation, but an estimated 78 million baby boomers will be joining the RV lifestyle in the years ahead.
How are we baby boomers different from our predecessors? We engage in more ecologically oriented adventures and more physical outdoor activities than our senior counterparts, and we communicate and work electronically from our coaches. Our generation will expect research and development in the RV industry to keep up with and use technological innovation, instead of defining model year changes in terms of exterior paint schemes and interior frills. We’ll expect a high level of customer service from the manufacturers and will be willing to pay for it. Like our RVing predecessors, we’ll look for ways to give back to the community by volunteering for worthwhile organizations and causes.
It’s been fun!
Since we began full-timing, we have traveled across America and have seen the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific. We’ve visited more than half of the states in the Union and even bucked the trend by spending the winter months in northern Vermont. We’re humbled when we think of the scale of the North American continent and recognize that it was naive for us to think that we could see it all in a year or two. We’ve learned that there is always more to learn about this lifestyle. At this point, our travels have an indefinite timeframe.
If you’re a baby boomer considering making the break, our advice is to begin reading everything you can about the subject; prepare yourself mentally and financially; plan, plan, plan; and carpe diem.