A Traveler's Proposal: How to Change Your Life Forever for the Better
To be nimble in the salt.
When the thick of it comes down, when you feel that “I wonder if I can” become the “I wonder if I even should…”
That’s the time to abandon all reality and imagine yourself in the situation you crave. Will I be a hero? Will I lose it all? Or is there some way I can do this whole dream big adventure thing and yet not cast my entire past off behind me…?
This is the unturned stone these following words looks to topple over.
In the Beginning
The sincerest desire comes over the human spirit. Perhaps not every human today, but without the myriad unbelievable variations of consequence that are society, I believe it would be every single human that would simply be overwhelmed by a need to just roam about a bit every now and then.
I believe we just call it vacation now, and limit it to a week or two a year.
Migration only seems natural. Who cares for a cold Great Lakes January when you could float as far south as even, say, a warmish Kentucky winter? Or the endless summer of Belize…
My personal journey began with a roadtrip. A Pennsylvania native, I hadn’t been much west of Ohio well into my mid-20s. A Dodge Neon and a friend in tow, we broke that westward border and found ourselves freeway bound through the Midwest, Oklahoma City’s 4th of July fireworks, Southwest deserts, saguaros, eventually all the way to San Diego’s frigid summer Pacific waters. Tahoe, the Rockies, all the way back and never to feel content in my homeland again.
I moved to England, then back to the US and bought an RV. Nothing has ever been the same again, and not just from a traveling perspective.
I Can Do Anything I Can Do Better
Since the revelation that I could transform my own life to whatever degree I wanted came daybreak glinting in my eyes some fifteen years ago or so, I have learned one thing.
Anything that can be done, can be done by me.
I believe that this applies to everyone. Yes, if you have no right hand, you can’t throw a ball with your right hand. Unless you can? I mean, prosthetics and all. But if something is attainable, well, you and I and everyone else can attain it.
Consider perspective. A person living in a van with no other actual home would be considered homeless. That person can feel homeless, because they’re forced to live that way, or they can feel free, because they choose to live that way. Of course, privilege, circumstance and all, these are real things.
But outlook is the singular inalienable right we all have. And outlook provides perspective, and when you can see the world as a massive blue and green and cloud covered globe instead of the four walls around you, you can see all of the possibilities.
Once I realized this, I was able to achieve so much:
- My own business, requiring little more than a website and the dedication to make it work. I’m a writer and web designer, but I believe this could be accomplished by a landscaper, quilt maker or a myriad of other occupations.
- The ability to travel significantly, full-time, and pretty darn far. As far as my comfort zone permitted. I have a wide comfort zone.
- The love of my life, who evaded me for nearly a decade. You can’t make others love you, but your outlook on life can make you more lovable, no doubt.
- A piece of property in an area that was not only gorgeous, but downright unaffordable for the 99% of us who don’t make a ton of money. And I, to be clear, do not.
I think you can achieve any or all of those things as well, or whatever list you want to create for yourself. For me, the list changed, and changes continually, over time.
So what makes a dream come true?
Hard work and diligence? The color of your skin? An initiative created after the long grueling days with your jaw broken, practically buried in the streets homeless because you were young, dumb and pitifully unaware of the price of your own ambition?
These questions aren’t for me to answer. I’ve done so already, satisfactorily. Hence the writings here.
What drives you to not just foresee some future where you can be holding in your hands that whatever particular desire that drives your steamboat’s tug is up to you. But. I can offer some significantly specific advice.
How To Achieve Everything You Have Ever Wanted (With Reasonable Exception)
I am not a wolf, nor am I proposing Wall Street. That’s to say that I don’t believe we can all be filthy rich and take from this world without giving much back. Hard, smart work, diligence and drive can, however, give us enough money to live comfortably on. If your particular dream is to travel the world in a van, RV or whatever else, this can also be significantly more affordable than a typical life lived in an apartment.
We have a plethora of articles on the cost of living in a vehicle of some sort, but the lowdown is that rent — for those of us who can even find a place to rent — on average costs $1100 per month in the United States.1 2 3 4
The average mortgage is $1200.1 2 3 4
In our experience and independent research, staying in RV parks costs about $1000 / month when you rent on a monthly basis (even if you only stay for one month.) So, you’re already saving a hundred bucks or so.
Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. For example:
- You have to buy the RV, van, etc., so that increases the price of RVing. You were probably going to have a car payment living in a house anyway, though.
- You don’t pay for utilities like water and electric (though you’ll likely need to pay for propane), which descreases the cost of RVing.
- You probably won’t stay at RV parks on a monthly basis all the time. The shorter your stay, the more you pay. Weekly RV rates vary dramatically, but around $195 / week is a realistic average, and $35 / night is what you can expect if you don’t even stay at any given park one night.
- However, state and national parks — and forest service campgrounds — are much cheaper than that, usually $5 – $25 per night.
- There’s also endless opportunity to camp for free (aka, boondocking) in the national forests and deserts.*
* Unless we’re back East, where this is nearly impossible to do, we almost exclusively boondock. It’s more beautiful, secluded and free is the best price of all!
Every digital plastic nickel in my pocket has been achieved by earning it, but part of earning is also saving where you can. Sometimes I envy those who just seem to reach out and grab riches, but to date those folks and I don’t find ourselves in the same Facebook group.
Various examples of ways to both earn and save money:
- Paying off student debt via RVing.
- Seven ways to make a living that don’t require web dev, software dev, etc. type technical skills.
- Save $1000 / month.
- How to pay $8.50 / day in rent.
- Cost of living on the road vs. a house.
- The cost of living in a Van.
- Save money living on the road in a VW Bus.
- More ways to make and save money while traveling.
In general though, what it takes is this.
- Get your shit together in your head. If you don’t believe you’re going to be able to make this new life happen, you can’t make it happen. Well, maybe some lucky shmucks can, but you probably aren’t that lucky. If you were, you’d be all the silly Paris Hilton reality TV descendants by now. Having your head in the game is as important in dreamcatcher travel ’round the world spending days tanning your toenails as it is to NBA stars or Elvis Presley or whoever the current cool guys happen to be.
- Assess your skill. I don’t say skills plural, because…don’t get distracted. Do whatever you do for a living today, and keep at it. In the evenings or whatever, hone your skill into a business that you can take with you on the road. If you’re a plumber, mechanic or other trade skill laborer, figure out how to become a mobile RV technician, or where seasonal work is required (leaving you with the rest of the “off season” to travel.) If you can do digital work, from social media management to web development to accounting, just do that. Cooks, dog walkers, photographers, customer service reps and house cleaners can all figure out a way to mobilize their work, or to at least figure out a way to do it in stretches where you alternate between working months and travel months. Plus, you can likely figure out a way to live somewhere new for all of those working months.
- Put your plan into action. Start today. Plan it out, but begin executing it as well. Tens of thousands of people are doing this, all of them had setbacks. You can do it!
What You Can Expect Once You’re Doing It
Not all of traveling is super fun. Between frolicking in mountain meadows, camping next to Disneyland and enjoying happy hours the world over in a new city every few days, you’ll have breakdowns, scary situations where you feel way out of your comfort zone and you’ll likely miss the steadiness of friendships that come with living in one place.
But you, your kids and your dog can all find ways to enjoy the life as well. At first it will likely seem like an endless dream come true. This will help keep any homesickness and relative trouble at bay for awhile. Then, like anything, you’ll grow accustomed to it and perhaps need something more, or just want to give it all up and find yourself living in the best place you discovered while traveling. Which is fine!
Luckily, the ever-changing nature of travel does tend to prolong how quickly this feeling comes, and should you decide you’re done with it all, that RV or van you own will likely be worth a chunk of change considering how hot that market is and likely will remain.
The Shiny Apple of My Every Eyeball’s Glance
She was a whisper in a shouting match. A smoky window showed her wind on down and into my life, and I would never be the same. It wasn’t love at first sight, it was finding the person y0u’d loved for centuries, incarnation after reincarnation of the person you were destined to discover over and over every time you were reborn.
Evasion was her game. Hard to get an understatement. It took me countless poems, wooed slow handholds and finally, four years later or so, a kiss.
She disappeared again. I tried my best at life but could never be satisfied. But you can’t make a woman love you. You can only make a woman love you.
Become the better man. The more interesting, more fulfilled version of yourself. The person she can look at and see, “Yes, that’s the guy who will make sure the bears don’t eat me.”
I looked at her as a painting. One of those moving eyes, it could come out of the wall paintings. She might be a still life with heaven in a bowl today, a waterfall tsunami towering over a quaint cabin in the redwoods tomorrow. Unexpected is all I really want, at the end of the day, and she was your older brother always hopping out from behind an otherwise mundane corner.
I didn’t get the love of my life because I managed to become successful. Or because I somehow, with age, grew magically more handsome. Or because I learned to travel the world. She fell all into my life because I changed my perspective about who I was, my confidence extrapolated itself from the timid shell life had told me to cower inside, and I became someone worth her love.
That kind of sounds sad and fucked up when you read it back, but that’s what people want. I want a confident woman who can enjoy a tent in the forest as much as a highrise luxury hotel for the weekend in San Francisco. I want someone I can look at and know I can rely on. I want a mama who I feel will, for sure, screw up, but only in the name of the mistakes we all make raising children.
All of this has been brought to you by the concept of wanting to express how I achieved something that was absolutely unachievable. I met a girl, she liked me, but I wasn’t going to quite do it for her. I am not the type of guy who dresses up in a clown suit and kidnaps a woman, keeping her in a shed where I slowly replace her body parts with robot limbs…assuming that’s what the hip thrillers are saying these days. I just changed my perspective and took a maybe to an absolutely for life,
If I, a lowly and lonely 20-something, single dad with no real plan for life, could change that all around, I think that maybe someone else could, too.
This leaves us to the last of my four points crafted so flagrantly, earlier. Buying awesome property, cheap.
So, I am not an expert at finance. I am not particularly rich. I thought I was for awhile, but then a friend here and a thing on NPR there, and I realized I’m just about average. But average is relative, and land is cheap if you look hard enough.
We traveled for just over a decade, all across the US, throughout Mexico, Belize, a little bit of Canada…we scoured this North America for the ideal place. And we decided that traveling was more ideal than any given place.
Until it wasn’t. So we rallied our memories, tallied our options and chose a spot. It’s the best spot, to us, for us, and no doubt in general. Still, the best costs money.
Unless you put in the effort. We looked at the Zillows and local listings. 1 acre of unbuildable Pondo forest for $170,000. 15 acres in the middle of nowhere for $115,000. $17,000 for an acre just outside of Crested Butte, Colorado…snowmobile access only.
But we kept driving, kept it all up in our van, our every-night-free-camping van, sleeping in national forests, living life to the fullest we could and just driving. Then we found it. Half an acre, on a small alpine lake, rocky as hell but buildable. $90,000. The neighbors’ lots were nearly half a million. Dumb luck, fortune, and a lack of cell service swirled into a witch’s brew of what we now call home.
A year of digging ditches for electrical hookups and a well. A year building a septic system. A year of COVID with a pregnancy, and then this last year of building the cabin itself. Plenty of canoe rides in between. Happiness.
This is how it’s gone for us. How will it play out for you?
The most important thing is to just absolutely kill it at life, and the best way to do that is to try your damndest to live exactly the life you want to live.