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It’s big news–we’re revealing details about our biggest road trip ever. This trip will be all about trying new things and having more freedom.
One year ago this month, our lives were quite different. We lived in our motorhome in a cramped RV park in a suburb of San Francisco. We paid rent that was small compared to apartments for the area, but was basically for a tiny parking space a few hundred feet from a freeway. The park had no amenities, was in disrepair and was next to a nature preserve frequently inhabited by homeless people, some of whom had campfires that occasionally set fire to the preserve.
Every weekday by about 2pm traffic on our street was a standstill. Next door to us was a Trader Joe’s. If we tried to drive there, it would take us 15 minutes each way (not including trying to find a parking space). If we walked it would take about 90 seconds.
Ryan was starting his second semester of college, taking classes for personal training, nutrition and emergency first responder training. The previous summer after advice from his physician that his job was causing irreversible health issues, I urged him to quit and he agreed. At this point he worked a few hours a week at a local pizza place, mostly for fun.
I just accepted a permanent position with an employer. I already worked as a contractor for them; 90% of the time I worked from home. As a condition of employment, my boss agreed that I could be 100% remote and it would be ok if I didn’t even live in the area.
I transitioned from being a vegetarian to a vegan. Ryan was transitioning to vegetarianism and eventually became vegan as well.
While there were many positive things about our lives, we needed a BIG change. We decided at the end of Ryan’s semester of school we would be leaving the area.
Fast forward to today
Since we left the bay area in May we’ve tried to travel slowly. We only went about 2500 miles over a period of 6 months, and even that seemed like a lot sometimes. But that’s about to change on Sunday. We’re about to embark on our biggest road trip ever.
We actually decided this awhile ago, but once the decision was made I had to formulate a plan, and also find ways to articulate why we’ve made this change.
The short story is that I have a good friend who is having a wedding in March. She lives in Augusta, Georgia. When she invited us to the wedding, our initial response was that we might not be able to make it, because we didn’t think it would be safe to drive the RV through possible winter storms between California and Georgia. We looked at plane tickets and they were really expensive–like, a month’s worth of travel or more. And that didn’t even include needing a hotel, or a rental car, paying someone to take care of the pets, or paying for a spot for the RV to stay while we were gone.
This was back in October. But I’ve been rolling the idea around in my head, along with a few other things, and we decided we’re going to do it. I’ve looked at the forecast along the route, and the temperatures have been similar to the weather where we are right now. So we’re going to take the leap.
It’s going to be over 2200 miles and must be completed by the first week of March. This is almost as many miles as we traveled from May through December of last year.
If we do it in a month, with no detours, it would be about 75 miles per day.
Why are we doing this?
The most obvious reason is we want to see my friend get married. I haven’t seen her in almost 20 years, but we were partners in crime of the highest order back in high school. If we can’t use our freedom to travel (and enough advance notice) to go wherever we like across the country, then what is it good for?
But there are other factors here. You hopefully haven’t noticed it too much, but being an employee has really, really been chafing at me lately. I feel like even though my job affords me flexibility that many others do not, it is still an anchor trying to drag me down.
Traveling this distance is such a short time is a way to prove to myself that I really can go whatever I want, and still do my job, and that will be an additional freedom that I really need at this point.
Also, we plan on staying mostly at free sites. Our fuel costs will go up, but our overall monthly expenses should stay the same (or maybe be cheaper?). Staying as much as possible outside of RV parks and without hookups will be almost the complete opposite of how we’ve traveled so far.
This will be a test to see if/how we can do it. Our travels will be primarily urban camping, because we don’t want to stray too far off the highway in order to minimize extra miles. If we can handle it in busy areas, then camping in free spots in more remote areas won’t seem so daunting.
Also, it will allow us to see things that we might not normally stop to see. I can’t tell you how many times recently we were traveling from one destination to another and I saw things along the way I would have loved to stop and visit. But when you’ve made reservations at a place and set your sights on arriving at a specific destination, it just isn’t feasible. A trip that’s already 4-6 hours can turn into 8 or 10 hours. Then you regret making that stop and feel exhausted.
I don’t want to have those limitations anymore. I don’t want to deal with reservations all the time, and being forced to pass by things that may have added to the joy I experience from traveling. So if we can change the way we travel without having to wait for me to be free of employment, I won’t feel like I’m putting part of my life on hold.
How will we do it?
75 miles per day is not a lot–in fact, I used to have a round-trip commute that long a few years ago. Even so, we don’t want to get too tired from it. We also don’t want to do it all at once each day. Here’s why:
- If we do it all in the morning, we would have to get up even earlier and drive in the dark, or I would have to start work later.
- If we do it all after work, at least part of it would be in the dark. I’m not a fan of driving in the dark, because it means finding parking in the dark, and that is a major pain in a large vehicle.
- Traveling that far at once combined with possible high traffic would start to get really annoying. Stop-and-go traffic in an RV is even less fun than in a small car.
- Many free spots have 8 or 10-hour parking limits, or don’t want you to stay more than overnight.
The idea is we will move twice per day. We will get up in the morning and spend about an hour on the road. When we arrive, I will work for 8 hours. Then we will drive to the next spot and settle in for the night.
Broken down like this, we will only be doing 30-50 miles at a time with a long break in between. This is totally doable.
I have already traced out a route with evenly spaced stops that appear to have good Verizon signals. I’ve scoped out places where we can dump our tanks and fill up on fresh water. I’ve included a few reasonably-priced RV parks along the way that have laundry rooms. But I’d rather not use them. I’d rather park in the parking lot of a laundromat and do our laundry that way. I want to go as park-free as possible.
Will this work out the way we want it to?
Who knows? I think that’s part of the fun. We are trying something completely new. Not only from the perspective of how we’re traveling, but where. Once we get east of Dallas/Fort Worth, we will be going through states we’ve never visited before. I love the idea that we are stretching our boundaries.
By keeping on this schedule, I think it will be easy to keep working. I won’t say it will not be without distractions. We may encounter lots of noise both day and night, and we may need to move in the middle of the day. If there’s a storm coming we may have to make last-minute changes to our plans (leave earlier or later), or find an RV park and stay put for awhile.
But I want our lives to be more flexible. I don’t want limits on what we can do. If trying this out leads us to be able to remove more limits, then I’m all for it.
Other advantages to this travel style
If we can make this work, there are many places out in nature with no hook-ups where you can stay for free or very little money. If we can spend $50-80 per month for campsites instead of $500-800 per month, even if our gas and propane costs go up a little we will still be saving hundreds of dollars. That means we will meet our financial goals faster including finally paying off my student loans.
If we can do it next to a highway, we can do it out in nature. Being out in nature will also be much nicer. Quieter, more unobstructed views, dark skies at night for sleeping, less polluted air. Places where we can walk the dogs that are not next to busy streets or highways. Taking hikes that begin at our front door. And then when we need something, we simply drive back into town for it.
If we don’t have reservations, we are not constrained by deadlines. We can stay places longer or leave them sooner. We can stop more places and not have to pass by so many things.
I’ve talked before about the spreadsheet I use for our travel planning. Now it has a new tab for planning free camping that I developed for this trip.
The second tab, for use when traveling to RV parks, is more extensive. I have decided to share both with you through a link for a Google spreadsheet:
When you look at the second tab, please make sure to scroll to the right to see all of the columns.
The spreadsheet is view-only, but I believe if you save a copy for yourself you should be able to edit it however you like. The columns are just what works for us. Feel free to change it to work for you!
Feel free to ask questions if you run into any problems.