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Living Aboard An RV: Are You Ready For It?

Jan 27, 2008
One of life's many paradoxes is our constant desire to gain maximum control over our 'operating environment', despite the knowledge that so many aspects of daily life remain beyond our influence. Result being, we spend considerable time, money and effort attempting to get everything just right before taking 'the plunge'.

In the military, as I recall, this was referred to as the 'Ready - Aim - Fire' principle, whereas many human endeavors are, in fact, better suited to the more appropriate method of 'Ready - Fire - Aim'! And it seems to me that preparing for a fulltime life on the road is a fine example of this latter approach. After all, there are so many unique skills and practical techniques involved, it's reasonable to expect that much of what we need to know cannot be learned sitting at home. As they say, one learns to ride a bike by riding a bike.

Accordingly, while there is a raft of personal preparations to get squared away, there is much about serious 'bumming around' that simply evolves as each day rolls by. By way of illustration, out there on the road you'll find that few if any long-term, committed nomads have identical travelling outfits, nor do each follow precisely the same routines as when they first set out on the road. (One question I love to ask the old hands is: 'If you were starting out again, is there anything you'd do differently?')

So, if you dream of taking up the wandering life, though you may be unsure as to what you need or how you might travel, I suspect the Buddha would simply say: 'Follow your heart. Our time in this life is limited.'

Nevertheless, it still behoves all good RV nomads - and intending nomads - to place considerable emphasis on getting their outfit right, and then equipping themselves for a long and trouble-free life on wheels. (Nothing much wrong with hedging your bets by building up an abundance of good karma!)

Of greater importance than travel hardware, though, is your nomadic 'software': YOU, ie, your personal mix of attitude, personal preparations, and strategies for living on the road rather than simply travelling on the road. Because most often, it's the mental / psychological pressures rather than equipment failures that result in wannabe nomads scurrying back to suburbia.

In short, although you do need to look carefully at equipment and hardware, right up front during your preparation and planning phase you and your team must get absolutely clear on what lies ahead. To put it bluntly, you are heading toward a substantial culture shock!

That's right: shock. After all, if you've spent the past thirty or fifty years wallowing in the comforts and relative boredom of modern western society, taking a giant step 'backward' into a lifestyle positioned somewhere between 'upper third world' and 'new-age fringe-dweller', you have a mixed bag of challenges ahead. Heading onto the road fulltime, with some dewy-eyed notion that you're embarking on a romantic adventure, is asking for trouble. Not necessarily trouble of the 'money can fix it' variety (though there are sure to be a few of those), more of a 'what the hell are we doing here' personal confrontation.

The first attribute, then, which serious nomads should add to their psychological toolbox is mental tenacity, sufficient to accept, meet and live with all the interpersonal / societal negatives that we drifters bump up against along the way. Get ready, for example, to have humanity's contempt directed toward you. Not every day, perhaps, but from time to time you will sense it, subtle though it may be. If not fully committed to the lifestyle, if you don't feel the Zen - some 'higher purpose' in the whole thing - those jibes may slowly erode and ultimately destroy your self-esteem. Next stop: Suburbia.

The best defence against pressures of this sort is to find some deeper reason for becoming a fulltime RV traveller. Perhaps a hobby, a 'calling', some sort of mobile money-earner, or even a personal Holy Grail - anything that provides you with the 'justification' for such a 'bohemian lifestyle', while at the same time adding purpose and depth to your days and your travels.

Examples might include fossicking, fruit picking, writing, wineries, historic sites, bird watching, visiting bush pubs, searching for inner truth, or here in Oz, that good old standby, 'seeing Australia'.

Having said that, however, there are countless fellow nomads out there who are happy - even proud - to thumb their noses at designer bias and opinion, and just 'do it'. You have to decide for yourself which approach fits best, so that any necessary lifestyle preparations, by way of training and equipment, are included as you ramp up to 'Departure Day'.

Of course, identifying and building a 'purpose' is only one small part of your learning curve. To move from a fully supported, fixed, urban existence, to a high level of mobile independence, requires a certain amount of training, learning and research. Fortunately, independence is a skill and as such it can be learned. Moreover, this wandering nomad thing has been going on since mankind first walked upright, so you'll find an endless variety of sources from which to learn.

You could, for instance, study pioneering lifestyles and how the early settlers tackled their daily challenges; or perhaps delve into the nitty-gritty of the 'survivalist' and 'homesteading' movements. Other fertile fields of gypsy techniques can be found amongst the lives of explorers, and Earth's 'real' nomads, such as the Australian Aborigines, American Indians, hoboes and swaggies. Within their lives and their stories you'll find many similarities - and many of the answers to the day-to-day trials of self-reliance.

Another early stage of your nomadic apprenticeship ought to be setting out on the road for increasing periods of time to field test a few ideas for yourself. Certainly, short holidays will seem nothing more than 'junk food' to the true nomad, but to become independent and resourceful to any useful degree you do need to get out and practice the skills and techniques involved. It's an endless process of reading, thinking, trial and error, and practice - all of which develop both experience and confidence.

During this process you will also be 'easing' yourself into the life of a nomad. You might start by hiring a caravan or motorhome to 'try it on for size'. Meanwhile, your first taste of overnight independence might be in a national park or state forest. And essential skills like camping, bush cooking, first aid, map reading, vehicle maintenance, and 12-volt power should start to play an ever-expanding role. Because the truth is, no matter which way you dress it up, moving from a house to a 'box on wheels' is likely to involve a significant step down from your current living standards so it's sure to be stressful. Baby steps are the best way to go.

Mind you, any knowledge, skill or piece of kit that eventually enables you to replace or supplement all those amenities and utilities enjoyed at home (or those of a tourist park) serve to increase independence. It pays, therefore, to start by asking yourself how you might satisfy - or better, reduce - your lifelong reliance on daily necessities such as power, lighting, water, refrigeration, toilet, shower, etc.

By the way, at the risk of jumping about here I should point out that, among all the skills that should or could be learned, those that offer potential to become sources of income on the road are doubly valuable. If you become adept at, say, mechanical repairs, baking bread, article writing, cutting hair, sewing, or basic carpentry, you can, potentially, use these skills to top-up finances along the way. In other words, concentrate your time and effort on skills that either make or save money.

At this point, you may be forming the impression that being a nomad requires a certain level of mental toughness. Well, you're darned right it does! But it's more an attitudinal toughness than physical. And it will come over you quietly, as a by-product of all this learning.

Another example of attitudinal toughness lies in the comparative level of 'roughing it' that each of us is prepared to accept. If decisions regarding comfort and convenience aren't discussed and mutually agreed with partner or group, troubled waters lie ahead! Get together with your team members and talk about the standard of lifestyle that suits your goals, your commitment, and your budget. Once settled, subsequent preparations - in terms of skills development and finances - can be directed along this chosen path. Keep in mind, however, we all tend to choose our own personal (and slightly different) path, so remain true to your own aspirations, values and needs (not to mention your limitations!), rather than being swayed by friends or experienced nomads.

On that point regarding other team members: Sure, there may be only one other, but whatever the number, they each have a different view of what 'nomadism' entails, secretly influenced by their own levels of 'mental toughness'. Ignore them at your peril! There is always room for compromise.

Not only do travel companions harbour various (possibly unspoken) fears and uncertainty about minor annoyances such as dust, heat, flies, remote and lonely campsites, creepy-crawlies, and bush toilets, each also has his or her own 'dependencies' and comfort zones to dismantle, such as friends, relatives, television, social activities, family memorabilia, and an array of home luxuries. All the cards must be turned face-up on the table before detailed preparations and financial commitment get too far advanced.

Besides, no matter what the quality or degree of your preparation and planning, difficulties WILL occur; problems come along regardless of where we are or how we live. Even so, chances are better than good that - accidents aside - most 'road' problems are easier to fix than those of suburbia - depending, of course, on all of the above.

Yes, the Zen here is mental toughness: Being prepared to take measured risk, then being ready to cope with and rectify problems as they arise. Trust your judgment and abilities, particularly your natural ability to learn, to gain experience and to get better, day-by-day, in all that you do.

Interestingly enough, none of this stuff is age-dependant. Nor is it dollar-dependent. Provided we stick to reality and practicality, while steering clear of fantasy and dreaming, any of us can learn to become a 'smart' nomad within the parameters of our limitations, plans and goals.

On the other hand, there are a number of hidden traps that you won't find mentioned in the 'positive' press about RV lifestyles. For example, if you (or any member of your party) has a strong craving for any of our modern-day ills - like alcohol, drugs, sex, television soapies, Internet, telephones, gambling, etc. - now's the time to start the 'weaning off' process. Otherwise your nomadic life may be voluntarily but prematurely cut short. Here again, gradual change is best, so allow plenty of time.

There is no doubt, a change as significant as fulltime bumming around requires loads of focused preparation. Indeed, across a planning horizon of less than two years I would think it unlikely that you could resolve, or even consider, all that you should. On the other hand, this long period of preparation and planning is part of the fun: the anticipation leading to excitement, the trips that lead to skill and confidence, and the experience levels that lead to safety. Allow sufficient quality time to enjoy and absorb this evolutionary process.

Remember: over-planning is far better than no planning, but be sure to incorporate sufficient flexibility to accommodate the new ideas, diversions, and changes that inevitably arise.
About the Author
Bill Revill is an Australian freelance writer, fulltime RV traveller, and remote lifestyle expert. This article is an excerpt from his e-book 'Zen and the Art of Bumming Around'. For details of this and other titles visit: http://www.livingontheroad.com http://www.authorsden.com/billrevill Copyright 2007 by W.V. Revill
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