Thursday, January 1, 2015

Zen and the Art of the Black Water Tank Dump: Ten Life Lessons Gleaned from Full-Time Life on the Road, Part One:

Luis and The Chateau, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia (photo by Simone Cannon)

Four months ago, Luis and I sold most of our belongings, left boxes of things that we couldn't part with at friends' houses, bought a small motorhome and headed out for a year of full-time RV adventure. Neither of us had ever owned an RV, nor traveled together for that length of time in a space essentially the size of most people’s mud rooms, but we were up for the challenge. We thought ourselves very lucky; how many people have the chance to drop everything and spend a year visiting amazing cities, lush national parks, sparkling beaches, snow-capped mountains and attending festivals around the country? We learnt very quickly that, incredible as the trip has been so far, there are also many, many challenges in creating a successful life on the road. The good news is that many of the things that we have learned also created opportunities for us to develop new skills, make new social connections and generally improve our lives in ways that we couldn't
 have foreseen. We will carry this knowledge with us when (if?) we return to “settled” life. Here, then, just in time for the New Year, are the first five of ten hard-won life lessons: 

Um, I think this is how one empties a black water tank... (photo by Simone Cannon)                                    
1.  You Will Spend Your Days Going From One Problem to the Next: This is less bleak than it sounds. One of best pieces of advice we received (and we received a lot) when we started looking for an RV for our epic year long trip was “as soon as you have resolved one issue, another one will come along, so prepare yourselves”. That tip put us in the right mindset: expect the unexpected, stay positive, go with the punches, learn to be creative, resourceful and resilient. When, in the first few months, our house battery died, we got two flat tires simultaneously, our skylight was shattered by a falling pine cone, our side mirror was smashed by an oncoming driver, our water heater element burnt out, our tanks overflowed, our kitchen flooded and our refrigerator temporarily stopped working, we didn't throw ourselves off the top of our motorhome. We figured it all out via youtube and fellow RVers and felt very proud of ourselves indeed.  

Meeting old and new friends on the road (photo by Luis Bastardo)

2.  Everyone Needs a Support Group: Even a rolling one. Let your guard down, make friends, get references, ask for help, advice and tips from people that have more experience or different skills than you do. Connect with those around you and you will be amazed at the kindness, generosity, innovative ideas, moral support and camaraderie that you will quickly gain. Just knowing that there are people out there who are thinking of you warmly is comforting. Depend on the kindness of strangers. There is no shame in relying on others and you will soon have the opportunity to return the favor when others inevitably need your help.  

Selling everything we can before we leave (photo by Simone Cannon)

3. You Can Live with Much Less than You Think: do you really need 32 pairs of socks? Four flat screen TVs? Eight kinds of cereal? 14 sturdy tote bags, just in case? One of the most liberating things about preparing to travel full-time in a small space is getting rid of excess “stuff”. It can be overwhelming to sort through things, but it is manageable if you do it a bit at a time. Give things to family and friends, donate to a thrift shop, sell them on eBay. Don't use material things as a security blanket or an excuse to stay in one place. Lighten your load and you will move much more easily and quickly through life.    

Jockey's Ridge State Park, North Carolina's Outer Banks (photo by Simone Cannon)

4. You Have to Give up Something to Achieve Your Dream:  If your dream is to be a principal dancer at the NYC Ballet, you have to give up carbs, pedicures, and hours sitting on the sofa watching The Bachelor. If you strive to be a successful, innovative entrepreneur, you have to give up a huge chunk of time spent with family and friends, lots of cash and your fear of rejection and presenting your idea to others. If you want to travel the world on a budget, you will have to give up five-star hotels, regular hot showers and become resigned to carrying your own supply of toilet paper. If you’re selecting an RV, you must choose between living space and maneuverability. You can either have a well-appointed long rig with slide-outs or a small, compact rig with good gas mileage and the capacity to drive down winding roads and park in small spaces. Every dream is worth pursuing, but, regardless of what glossy magazines, internet sites and inspirational speakers tell you, you can’t have it all. Everything comes with a price and it’s better to find out whether you can live with the sacrifice before a lot of time and money is needlessly spent in the pursuit. You have to decide if your dream is worth it. If it isn't, stop now and cut your losses. If it is, Godspeed.     

This should work... (photo by Simone Cannon)

5.    You Are More Talented, Creative & Resourceful Than You Realize: help others when you can, you may be surprised at your own abilities and ideas. Can you sing? Play an instrument? Know a card game? Cook a good meal? Fix a leaking pipe? Sell things on Ebay? Answer legal questions? Wrap a twisted ankle or administer CPR? Organize others? Forage for mushrooms? Jumpstart an engine? You may come in very handy in a pinch. Share your experiences and expertise with others. It often takes a village to resolve a problem. Remember also that learning is a lifelong process: use the obstacles that you encounter to educate yourself so you will be better prepared next time. Read as much as you can, ask a lot of questions, learn something completely new. Don’t be afraid to look silly when attempting to master a new skill (don’t worry, you will). 



  1. We're so happy to have made friends with you! Godspeed in your travels, and let's stay in touch, wherever we are!