What It’s Really Like Living on the Road

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

family RV outside new york cityI had the strangest encounter in San Diego earlier this month while attending BlogHer. On more than one occasion, a blogger who had been following my family’s cross-country road trip pulled me aside, lowered her voice, and asked, “so tell me what it’s really like.”

The conspiratory tone was as common as the squeals and hugging that are so rampant at blogging conferences. It seems that everyone was certain there was some secret about life on the road that I hadn’t yet shared.

What’s it really like?

It’s probably not near as bad as you imagine. In fact, as I told my curious friends repeatedly, living in an RV full time is the relatively easy part of this entire experience. We adjusted to living in a smaller space and with fewer possessions rather quickly, and the extreme closeness has been mostly a blessing.

Do I find that I need more alone time than anyone else in my family? Do I feel extremely guilty about that personality difference? Yep. Exactly like I did when we had 3,000 square feet between us. As I suspected, our perceived need for more physical space is more of a societal value than an actual requirement; it certainly has nothing to do with happiness.

It’s been the freedom that’s been hard to manage.

And here is when my well-meaning friends’ eyes would kind of glaze over, and I get it, because the idea of freedom is insanely abstract and, I suppose, not nearly as interesting as four people sharing a portable toilet. But it’s this abstract and rather uninteresting concept that’s given me the most trouble – and joy – on this trip.

Freedom comes in many forms. As an American, I’m intimately familiar with political freedom (and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about that in the last two months.) We talk about it, sing about it, and wave our flags in honor of the freedom to speak and vote and choose as a group. We’re used to this collective freedom, and it’s a source of pride rather than panic.

But this trip is about individual freedom, and I seem to have that in almost lethal doses lately.

As of August 8, I no longer own a home. I have no real job or utility bill or weekly social appointment to keep. I’m not bound by conventional rules of schedule or season, and even societal pressures have been largely cast off, if only because the face of society is constantly changing for us right now.

We have no rules except our own and ridiculously few responsibilities beyond the ones we choose daily.

We can do what we want, when we want.

What’s that like?

It’s like standing in front of an elaborate buffet full of food both familiar and foreign, and being told you get one pass through to create the perfect meal for yourself and your family. You can choose whatever you want, but you must choose alone.

The potential is amazing. But it is also impossible to deny the responsibility I have for creating my life. Those rules, regulations, and obligations that we assume keep us from doing what makes us happy also serve as a convenient crutch for explaining why our lives aren’t exactly what we want, why we aren’t exactly who we want to be.

My only limitation is my family.

And isn’t that a double-edged sword of its own.

They are the one obligation I would never extract myself from, but they are unquestionably the heaviest. They are both the fuel for my soul and the strongest boundary against my independent pursuits of happiness. I am, by nature, strong willed and self centered, traits that often need to be tempered if I’m to be a good mother and wife. I’m coming face to face with this reality often now that my family is my last real tie to order.

Make no mistake, I am grateful for that tie. But I also instinctively buck against it and fear that I will not be able to meet everyone’s needs, including my own.

That conflict, I realize, doesn’t sound like it has much to do with freedom and the question of having too much of it – but that’s what it’s really like for me to live in an RV. It’s a daily challenge to balance drawing your own boundaries and creating a group collage with three other relatively free people. We used to have a lot more guidance on how to do that dance, but those steps have gone the way of the alarm clock, so now we’re making that up on our own as well.

We’re making it all up as we go along.

What’s it really like to live in an RV on the road?

It’s confusing and exhilarating and frightening and liberating and fun and challenging all at the same time.

And it has nothing to do with square footage.

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  1. Loukia says:

    Every time I see an RV I think of you. To do what you’re doing is awesome, and such a great experience.

  2. Jared Karol says:

    Britt, I really enjoyed this post. I was lucky enough to travel around the country by myself for four months. I couldn’t have done it with three other people. I, like you, like my time to myself, and I’m not sure I could balance it like you seem to be doing. I look forward to reading more of your adventures along the road (and of course seeing you in the Bay Area when you get here!)

  3. the muskrat says:

    That makes sense. To a small degree, I feel like this when I’m out of town by myself and find that I have a few hours to do what I want to do but feel I must make a good decision, or else I’ll be missing out on whatever one shouldn’t miss in Phoenix/St Paul/Honolulu/Seattle/wherever I am. But I still have the tethers of knowing I can’t go out and spend a few grand on whatever I want to do for entertainment, as I have a monthly housing expense, children who like their private schools, etc. I can’t imagine what it’s like to do it full time! You’re wise to recognize that it’s a freedom with responsibility, and I’m sure in a few years, you’ll look back and smile at this year and these blog posts.

  4. Megan says:

    Interesting dilemma, proving once again that there is no such thing as perfection. Great lesson. xo

  5. I can totally relate to this post! I find freedom to be both liberating and terrifying. And I find the responsibility of parenting to be similar in scope – so many choices, so much responsibility.

    I can’t tell you how much I love reading your blog and learning from your adventures. Thank You!

  6. Momo Fali says:

    And, I’m still jealous.

  7. sometimes many choices can be more daunting than just a couple. I love what you’re doing, and I can appreciate the challenges you describe, although I doubt I would have imagined them without this kind of input. Thanks again for opening my eyes.

  8. KDrausin says:

    The potential is amazing. But it is also impossible to deny the responsibility I have for creating my life. Those rules, regulations, and obligations that we assume keep us from doing what makes us happy also serve as a convenient crutch for explaining why our lives aren’t exactly what we want, why we aren’t exactly who we want to be.
    Beautiful! I love the honesty in your writing. Our family is breaking free of schedules and traveling to Spain soon. I understand exactly what you are saying. Looking forward to reading about your adventures.

  9. Nanna says:

    It gives me pause to read “Do I need more space than the others in my family? Yep – the same as when we were at home” (paraphrased at home). The one thing I would tell you is that you never get only one pass through the buffet. Life, I think, is a buffet that never closes, and you get to go through, go back, try this, spit it out if you don’t like it, and try something else.

    There. I’ve just changed the rules of the buffet. :) You’re welcome,

  10. Liane says:

    Such an insightful and intriguing perspective. I, like another commenter, feel a glimpse of this when out of town by myself. The last time I was I found myself in bed by 8:00. Pathetic. But actually it was the freedom to rest without the worry of needing to get something done and that was nice.

    Such a precarious balance. Such a beautiful lesson…

  11. Miss Britt,
    I love this post. I can only try to understand how that freedom must feel. My hubby and I look forward to doing the same thing eventually and long for that buffet!
    Love sharing this journey, maybe one day we will meet!
    Bernice
    Frustrated with the ever-present mess?

  12. i feel compelled to argue one point…where you say “I have no real job or utility bill or weekly social appointment to keep.” bullshit. you do have a REAL job. please don’t take away or lessen the work that you do. perhaps it is not hard or whatever it is that makes you feel that it isn’t a real job, but darlin, you are working. it takes you away from home, away from your family and brings money in the door. YOU HAVE A REAL JOB. it just happens to be very different from mine.

    other than that, please see my AMEN comments above.
    love you.

  13. [...] fairly happy with most of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in, but it’s nice to know we have the freedom to choose our surroundings on an almost daily basis. When we’ve really liked a spot, we’ve been [...]

  14. [...] fairly happy with most of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in, but it’s nice to know we have the freedom to choose our surroundings on an almost daily basis. When we’ve really liked a spot, we’ve been [...]

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