In nearly a year of living in different places every week, I finally said it:
“It’s too much.”
“I just want to be home.”
Back in April, we drove over 4,000 miles in three weeks due to some unfortunate circumstances. In total this year alone we drove almost 20k miles with the camper in tow, sometimes staying a night or two in a new place before moving on to the next. That requires a lot of logistics work and a lot of decisions to be made. At times the planning of those details is literally exhausting… imagine planning for a vacation every day. Where will you stay, what grocery store will you go to, which place has better reviews, which place is safer, more fun, more economical, what will the weather be like? And once all that’s figured out, you have to drive there safely while towing your whole life and your cats. That’s what RV life really is. And for most people they get a reprieve from that lifestyle when they pull back into their driveway at the end of a trip.
But, this little cardboard box on wheels IS our home. We don’t have a sanctuary other than this. I think in that moment, when I said it was all too much, I was desperate to disconnect, to go on auto-pilot and stop paying attention to everything in front of me like one can so easily do at home. Sleep in, stay in jammies, don’t go outside, watch Netflix ALL day. Slowness is what I needed, some real down time.
After all that driving and decision making back in April, this feeling of exhaustion crept in on both of us. We weren’t enjoying anything and everything seemed like too much work. We were desperate for something easy. We needed somewhere to feel like home. Comfortable, safe, long term…factors that don’t always come naturally while living on the road. It took us a while to realize why we were being so negative and unenthused with things that would normally be awesome!
When we travel too fast, experiencing new things all the time, we get overstimulated very quickly by the constant visual and spatial pleasures. It’s a pendulum between being overjoyed and irritable because the balance is off. There’s no down time in between to unpack each big experience. What happens then is that we take really amazing things for granted. It’s a feeling we learned to acknowledge and deal with promptly, checking ourselves as best we can.
Our solution is balance. Days far away from it all are necessary, days doing nothing at home are necessary. Days spent running errands and meeting up with friends for beer and pizza are also necessary for a healthy life balance. Knowing our pace and finding that balance is one of the hardest parts of living this way.
We’ve learned that to be living the most of this life, we need access to get away from it all AND be among others within an easy drive. We need nature AND social interaction. We need creative, personal space AND big, scary adventures to keep it all balanced. All this to say that after nearly a year on the road full time, we are slowly learning our style of travel. We are tuning in more to what our bodies are telling us. We are learning what feeds us and what drains us.
For anyone else traveling, living in a camper and doing any kind of adventure/exploring…it’s so important to be mindful so you don’t burn out because this truly is the most extraordinary experience and we’re lucky as hell to be here…where ever here is.
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.
As we left New Mexico, it was still pretty cold in Sedona. The weather was calling for temps in the low twenties and that sounded too much like Ohio, so we decided to head south towards the border. For some dumb reason, we decided that we didn’t need our passports this trip…if we had, we might have spent the week in Baja, Mexico. Instead, we stayed for a few lovely nights in an oddly quaint little RV park outside of Bisbee. We decided not to take our friend’s recommendation and stay on BLM down there, we were a little nervous being that close to the border, leaving the cats unattended without hookups…so the Double Adobe RV park was the perfect place to call home for a few days. It was actually one of our favorite places we stayed in. The owners were so sweet, they had a pretty epic DVD collection and an Arizona room where I did yoga one morning. It was nice to just feel at home finally after so many days of driving. We were nestled in against a fence and a tall field of grass and each evening there were javalinas and deer in the park! Wiley especially loved watching the birds out the back window of Ginny.
The four nights gave us plenty of time to thoroughly explore this little desert gem of a town and also to drive the hour to Tombstone because…we love Tombstone. Bisbee is such a charming little mountain town with so much character to be photographed and enjoyed while wandering it’s twisty little streets.
We first stopped in Old Town Bisbee, which is basically just one street of untouched charm. See photos below for proof! We opted to skip the mine tour and all that, it’s just not really our thing. But we wandered around Bisbee proper for a few hours, dipping into shops and eateries for gelato and cold drinks! It was quite fun.
Tombstone was a whole different experience. We went on a weekday, a rather cold one for Arizona. It actually snowed during the O.K. Coral shootout. We normally steer far away from tourist traps but this one is a little gem that we just couldn’t pass up. Justin loves the old west and Tombstone has been one of our all time favorite films forever. After our trip, Justin ordered two books (the first I’ve ever seen him read in 14 years) about Wyatt Erp and Doc Holiday, the real ones, not the movie ones! We loved it and recommend it to anyone who’s into that sort of thing!
Our stop at White Sands was along the route from Austin to Sedona, but it also marked the third sand dunes we’ve been to in a year, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes and now White Sands. Cool, right? Before that neither of us had seen a sand dune bigger than at the at the Atlantic ocean.
White Sands was magical. We got there as soon as the gates opened, just after sunrise. The colors of the morning bounced off every single white angle we could see for miles and miles. We spent a few hours wandering around. We were pretty much the only people there. After the short nature trail loop we headed back to our campsite for some coffee.
Next up we headed to City of Rocks State Park, my favorite so far. This place was incredibly serene and beautiful. I’m a huge fan of long mountain ranges set behind meadows or fields where the view is 360 degrees. The sunsets in this park were INCREDIBLE. The first night we decided to take the short walk up to the Table Mountain, not realizing it was a bit more of a climb than the short walk we were expecting we ended up having to jog back to avoid being on the mountain at dark, without headlamps. While we were running we heard coyotes in the distance…making the experience just a little more exciting! The views on Table Mountain we so cool, giant boulders overlooking these big open fields of tall, golden grass and at sunset everything is pink!
Our campsite was nestled into some giant boulders and even though it was a weekend, we were basically the only people in this part of the park! We spent two wonderfully quiet, scenic days enjoying this park’s wide open views. We will definitely return, possibly on our way home!
I like to remind myself of this often. Each time I crest a mountain summit, each time I look out at an open road. Each time I think deeply about my amazing life. I am small.
‘I am as a speck of dust in the sun, and not even so much, in this solemn, mysterious, unknowable universe.” –Andrew Carnegie
What is humility? These days, I don’t think anyone knows. I like to tell myself I am small before I share things on social media. Of all the places in the world, I want to be smallest there. I like my Instagram as a journal. As a photographer, I like the photos and the quick way of keeping order of my many memories to look back on, for myself. But somehow our account has attracted almost 3k followers, which recently made me change the account to private. Then sometimes I find myself sharing stories and I’m all like “hey you guys”…like I’m talking to someone. Ick.
This trip was nothing short of insta-worthy but can I just say how much I hate that phrase…hate that concept altogether. That mentality suggests that our experiences are nothing but for a square and some hashtags. Sorry, but my experiences are worth more. They’re more important than that and they mean more to me than a few likes and comments ever could.
Nature sustains my spirit, my soul. A long hike, a climb, a vista…it puts me in my place. Small. Categorized by shape and form, by nature. There’s no one out there who cares what I’ve accomplished, what I haven’t, what I wore or what I didn’t. We have a letter board in the camper that for a month read “The desert doesn’t care who you are. And neither does anyone or anything living in it.” A quote I found online that I rather liked for our time in the Arizona desert because of how true it is.
The desert doesn’t care how many Instagram followers I have or how many likes I get. And neither do the people who call the desert their home. It’s a different kind of being that far outside of suburbia. It’s like the confines of the modern world are almost foreign if you’ll let them be.
We trail along this fine line; as photographers, as instagrammers, as travelers. It’s the trend but that’s not why we’re doing it. We want to revolt but we also want to participate to a degree that’s comfortable for us.
This trip wasn’t for Instagram.
The photos I made aren’t for Instagram.
The places we’ve visited aren’t just beautiful landscapes out there for us to tread on. They were once a homeland. Where people, actual people once lived, gathered food, grew crops and loved the land we now “explore” as “adventurers”. We should honor that history by preserving it. By taking nothing but memories and leaving nothing behind. By leaving it better than we found it in doing so.
The more we share about the history of our insta-worthy adventures, the better we are for it. Keep the wild wild. Keep preserves preserved and refuges a refuge. To do that, we need to filter how we share things on Instagram, sadly.
All that to say, in order to respect the earth the way we should, we need to be smaller. If we think less of ourselves and care less about what others think of us and our experiences…then we can have authentic, respectful interactions with nature.
What I mean is, don’t just hit up a place to ‘gram it. And don’t just share squares for the way it makes you seem. Be smaller. By smaller I mean simpler. Be more simple. Instead of sharing an epic vista and hash tagging all the trendy tags, share an inspirational and beautiful experience, share some history, share some backstory, educate. And keep some things wild by keeping somethings altogether to yourself. Just my two-cents.
We’ve been on the road one month today. That’s just crazy.
It took me four weeks to get my thoughts together. As an avid reflective journal’er, it’s weird for me to sit down and write about the trip that we are still on. I really didn’t want to wait because I know I will forget things, so this post is sure to read like one giant run-on sentence, never-ending-paragraph-ness of a mess.
We’re here. We made it. One month ago we didn’t know if our dream was meant to be. We had delays and then car trouble the day we were leaving and it just seemed like everything was working against us (our norm). But on February 16 we tore out of the muddy driveway in the fog and rain and didn’t look back. This was the first time we’d driven Ginny loaded with gear and with all the new equipment on the Jeep (upgraded brakes, anti-sway, brake-controller, etc) We also hadn’t de-winterized because it was still in the 20’s in Ohio.
Our route led us through Kentucky, where we stayed in a Cracker Barrel parking lot, then into Tennessee for a bit and on into Arkansas where we stopped for second overnight. Here we experienced our first planning bummer. Somehow I didn’t know that Hot Springs National Park was on our route. We literally stayed less than 10 miles from the park but didn’t have time to explore. At least our park had nice showers, that was a plus. Early that morning we headed for Austin. The traffic and the weather were crazy when we left Hot Springs, AR…Justin was a boss driving through construction and heavy fog. He was really starting to get the hang of driving and the cats were settling into their own routines and kind of seemed to be loving it.
Texas. This is a chapter of the drive that I’d like to avoid but, it happened. Texas is long, kinda boring, the roads were terrible…and then there’s Austin. We had planned to visit Austin because so many people said it was awesome. Maybe it was that we were ready for wilderness and not a bustling city but it definitely wasn’t awesome. We booked a full-hook up RV park just outside the city of Austin so that we could de-winterize and settle in before heading further west for all the boondocking we’d be planning. The park was nice enough, we de-winterized with ease. Austin, though is a city I will be reluctant to return to, especially with a trailer. The roads were HORRIBLE. At one point we got stuck on the service road because it was one way, the RV park was less than a half mile away from where we sat but we had to drive almost 20 minutes through some serious slums to get around and back onto the service road going the right way. There was so must construction it looked like a bomb went off. People we rude, driving was insane. I’ve never seen so many strip malls in my life. But we did experience a few nice Target stops. Ha! We did go into the city for dinner one night but it just wasn’t fun, so we tore ass out of Austin, heading for New Mexico.
The second part of the drive in Texas was much better than the first, as we got closer to the desert things started to spread out and we felt like we could finally breath. At Oliver Lee State Park in Alamagordo, NM we made ourselves at home for the first time in five days. We put the cats out in their mesh tent to watch the sunrise over the Guadalupe Mountains and I cried. The first time ever in my life, I cried pure happiness tears.
At Oliver Lee, Justin did his first ever solo hike. I had some work to do and we were still a little leery about leaving the cats unattended in the camper, so I stayed with them. He hiked the Dog Canyon trail for about 4 miles, mostly jogging. He said he turned around when he realized he was the only person out there and he started to feel like he’d crossed over into someone else’s (mountain lion) territory, so he came back! We had a great time at Oliver Lee, we’ll definitely be back!
The next day we woke up at sunrise to see the White Sands National Monument which was insanely beautiful…stay tuned!
Back in November when we were itching to get out of Ohio but couldn’t due to the motorhome set backs, we decided to book a New Year’s Eve trip to Arizona because we weren’t sure we’d make it back out here this year. (Luckily we have, and as I sit typing I’m listening to the desert wind howl around our new, tiny Rpod trailer).
We had an AMAZING first time in Arizona. I love when a trip goes better than expected and even better than you’d planned for. We had free flights from points on Southwest and then we snagged a Black Friday deal for half off rooms at the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale, which is an adorable little spot. Highly recommend both Scottsdale and the hotel. We were basically the only people there for 4 days of solitude at their colorful pool in the sun. But before we headed to the city, we spent some time in the mountains. The mountains of Sedona were incredibly beautiful. We had literally my favorite every Airbnb in Cottonwood/Camp Verde area and never wanted to leave.
Where we went: Lost Dutchman State Park- hiked the Siphon Draw to the Flatiron Summit and man was it wicked. Wicked hard and wicked awesome. Highly recommend. Apache Trail Scenic Drive- Awesome, quiet sunset drive through some beautiful mountains and canyons. Would definitely go back. Jerome– Drove through Jerome, a sweet little (haunted) mountain town on a hill. We didn’t stop but wished afterwards that we did. Doe Mountain- This hike in Sedona was a favorite, after a fairly short switchback climb we had great views from the top of a table that was big enough to explore on it’s own for the day! Watson Lake- in Prescott was a great way to spend a day. The hike was athletic and the views were awesome. Secret Slickrock Trail– We did a sunset hike at Secret Slickrock on New Years eve to ring in the new year in the mountains, it was EXACTLY what we needed to get reset our intentions for the new year.
I could continue writing but I’ll stop and just show you the photos! They don’t do it justice but neither does my writing…just go.