In 2014 when I started investigating the idea of living on the road, I didn’t realize that actually doing it would be so monumentally misinterpreted. I didn’t know that making a choice to take the life I was given and do something out of the ordinary with it would alienate and isolate me from virtually EVERYONE I knew. But, it did.
At least that’s how it seems.
A year into the project of renovating our first camper, we still hadn’t moved in yet, we hadn’t taken it on the road once. I could feel the judgement and hear the disbelief as I heart-fully explained that it was a really hard time for us. I’d been written off. Friends stopped calling, family didn’t know what to say. It was almost as if we’d gone off the deep end and everyone was rolling their eyes at us. The few people who did communicate their versions of support said they were “jealous” and “vicariously living through our life” or “proud that we were really going for it” which also felt kind of like their obligatory and nervous response to our impending failure.
Now that we’re on the road, living full time in a trailer with less than 200 square feet of living space, I’m pretty sure that it’s harder than ever for most people to understand us. Our intentions are still widely misunderstood by the general population beyond their perception that we want freedom from responsibility, just like any other millennial (hard eye roll).
The truth is, choosing to go about life this way is harder than the alternative. There are still responsibilities, albeit very different than in ‘regular’ life. Waking up every day with the freedom to choose what to do, where to go and when to get work done is harder than waking up with a much shorter list of possibilities. Normal life, the normal American life to which I am referring, is routine, predetermined to an extent. Boundaries are in place and we exercise freewill within them, going about our days feeling fulfilled by those choices. Until some of us are not anymore.
As humans, the idea that we want options is something I believe is placed on us by socialization and marketing. We don’t want options, we want to be told what is good. We want personalized selection of all of our wants and needs delivered right to our door. Options are harder. Possibility is harder. It’s easier to stay in our lane, to make the comfortable choice. Our time is our own once all the schedules are me, the boxes are checked and we feel accomplished, then we can unwind and do it all again tomorrow.
Seriously? F that.
I find it difficult to articulate my thoughts on this but let me try because I feel like it’s an important distinction. I get the feeling that most people must assume that this lifestyle is an easier choice than doing what’s socially expected of us. I can understand why, we’re just out here dithering around in beautiful places, averting responsibility and cheating the system. Essentially avoiding any of that real life stuff that everyone else has to deal with…and while I get it, not everyone can make a choice or a change how they live their life…it’s still rather demeaning and invalidating for me personally. Based on the few topics of conversations that come our way nowadays; “Where are you now?”, “How’s the weather?”, “You guys must be having so much fun!” it’s clear that our life is comprehensively misunderstood and so, inadvertently degraded. It seems as though the simple act of choosing to live differently removed our option of ever feeling sad or unhappy or needing support or a good talk and invalidated all of our problems.
The number of times Justin and I have had this conversation in the last year has to be proof that it’s not just me being sensitive. We can’t be the only full time travelers to feel this sense of division and downright disassociation. And while I know that it is our own, very privileged choice that is causing us to feel this way. I also know how trivial it is in comparison to the exclusion, inequality and divisiveness in the world, I still can’t help but take notice and connect how even this, a simple (and likely) unintentional form of withdrawal and alienation came so naturally to people.
It’s May. It’s Mental Health Awareness month. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have conversations around this subject. To have open dialogs with friends and family about the things we all deal with but more importantly, the things we know others are dealing with. Avoidance and ignorance only magnify the shame and discomfort around Mental Health.
There’s a trend right now that is throwing a pretty blanket over mental health in an attempt to make it less taboo and while I’m all for self-love, there is more to mental health than cupcakes and bubble baths shared on Instagram. I’m more mental health aware on the daily because, like many people, I’ve had my share of experiences with loved ones and friends who suffer from a life-altering mental illness. The knowledge into those illnesses, the awareness of their interworking has helped me to check-in with myself (and Justin) regularly.
We both suffer from a few mental health issues that this lifestyle has a tendency to intensify on occasion. We’ve worked really hard over the last three years to learn our triggers on the road to avoid problems but to also find solutions as individuals and in our marriage. It requires a frequent check in and to dig deep and unpack when things start to feel difficult for either one of us.
It’s important to note that Mental Health problems don’t have to be extreme to be real. Learning that is part of the awareness that is necessary in today’s society to more towards proper balance and management of our wellbeing.
Here are 5 ways we keep things in check while still enjoying life on the road:
Pay Attention We check in with each other often everyday just to see how the other is feeling; are their expectations being met, are they comfortable, is there a problem underlying anywhere? We probably check in like this 5-10 times a day. It goes something like this: I’m outside reading, Justin is inside doing course prep for his classes, “Are you good in there?” I say, “Yep, you?” “All good out here, want to go for a walk in a little bit?” “Yep, I just need 5 more minutes.” “Cool.” If there was an issue happening, we’d unpack it right then and there. Paying attention to each other comes pretty naturally in our marriage but the harder task is paying attention to our own bodies. Sometimes we crave adventure, sometimes we crave lazy days and bing watching, some days we crave socialization and something new but we need to go beyond what we’re craving and listen to what our mind and bodies are telling us they need. Boil it down, let it simmer.
I’m often the one who, after spending a few days out in the wild away from everything, feels a real urge to go into town for socialization. Justin rarely ever has that desire for several reasons, one of which is mentioned below. It’s a point of contention and anxiety for us regularly. We work through it by seeking a balance before there are desperate feelings. We compromise and we try to give the other what they need as often as we can. It’s a work in progress.
Time in Nature We both know that this is a huge contributor to our collective wellbeing. This is the main reason we chose a life of adventure on the road, to have access to the best landscapes and hiking trails and the time to enjoy it because we know how positively it affects our mood and wellbeing. It’s a human need to be within nature. We prefer it to be as immersive as possible. It’s never a bad thing.
Nutrition This one is tricky. Lately we’ve been really good about having a well balanced diet and making the effort to eat healthy/fresh. We rarely spend money going out to eat, so when we do it’s a special treat. Sometimes though, our access to fresh vegetables is scarce when Dollar General and Dollar Tree are our only grocery options so our nutrition suffers. While our carb intake (mac and cheese) never hurts morale, it isn’t the best practice for positive mental health. Moderation and balance is important here.
Exercise A good workout is often hard to come by on the road. Hiking and biking are not our preferred forms of exercise because we know we need more than that, physically and mentally. Justin is a runner and usually jogs about 10-20 miles a week while I do yoga and lift with a kettle bell. It’s 20-30 minutes of our day that we can easily manage to squeeze in now that our days are mostly free from constraints. The difference between a workout day and a non-workout day (or a few non-workout days in a row) is like night and day as far as mental clarity and stress level.
Unpack Brene Brown has a really interesting talk on Netflix right now about Bravery + Vulnerability that I found so refreshing to watch the other day. I was so happy to hear her words because so much of what she was saying, about giving in to vulnerability and feeling feelings and being brave enough to explore them and actually talk about them, is exactly what we have been working on to aid our level of anxiety and stress.
The most common issue we deal with as a couple and as individuals is anxiety. It’s a regular struggle triggered by a long list of elements this life brings us that we didn’t find to be a problem in our ‘normal’ life. Here’s the short list of things we have to assess and deal with on a regular basis: our own security + safety on the road and in the places we ‘camp’, pet security + safety, proximity to cities and unfamiliar places, proximity to different varieties of people, weather conditions, road travel conditions, finances, where to go, when to go, prioritizing a proper work/life balance, isolation from family and friends, feeling forgotten/unimportant…and many more. There have been times that our anxiety is so severe it’s temporarily debilitating. Our first experience with the high desert winds of New Mexico earlier this year called for 70MPH gusts and 40MPH steadily for 12 hours straight. While sitting in a virtually weightless home I was literally hiding under the covers for an entire day, periodically googling things like ‘can a camper flip over from high winds’. Then I spent the entire next day recovering from the level 5 anxiety attack I didn’t realize I was having at the time. It was awful and exhausting but enlightening. Another time just recently while boondocking, we wanted to go into town but the temps were rising and Justin wasn’t comfortable leaving the cats unattended. THE biggest struggle we deal with is how to find a balance between living our life and keeping our kids (cats) safe and happy. The anxiety Justin harbors around the issue is deeply rooted and stems from an experience with the loss of a pet during a vacation years ago. This last long conversation brought to light some of those old feelings and helped him understand how he can continue to unpack those (mostly) irrational thoughts and fears and move past the anxiety surrounding it. Because we now know the signs and symptoms of our individual anxieties, we are much more prepared to combat them before they’re fully gripped on or full blown panic attacks. By doing the work, we regain control of our choices, our lives and can more rationally make decisions even if it’s as simple as going to town or staying home. Anxiety is a special kind of friend. Its complexities and how even a simple task or concept can cause some of the weirdest feelings and sensations is so hard to comprehend, even for the person having the feelings. Even though it might seem silly or trivial to others, something sends a siren alarm within us that can’t always turned off with a cookie and a glass of wine, but sometimes that helps too! 😉
The other more obvious activities we do to stay inspired and happy on the road are taking long drives down the dirt back roads in the most beautiful parts of the country, creating art, listening to our favorite music, journaling, asking each other probing questions about life, sitting in silence, watching the sunset, listening to the birds, taking risks and trying new things, calling home, telling people we love them, cuddling cats. These are the best parts of this life.
I’m always seeking to improve and analyze what we’re doing so that time is not wasted and life can be lived to the fullest, so these daily practices we are working on have opened us up to being more in tune with our emotional state in every sort of circumstance. We have learned so much about each other, about ourselves and about our patterns as a couple by prioritizing our mental health and wellbeing needs. The more work we do, the more freedom we feel. And to a nomad like me, that is everything.