Yep, in May of this year we will have lived in our fifth wheel for 12 years. Unbelievable. And though there have been bumps in the road, I wouldn't trade any of it.
I've said this often in recent years - "I could die tomorrow with no regrets and be perfectly content with my life BECAUSE of these years living and traveling in an RV". I usually choke up a little when I say that in front of a crowd.
We have been to amazing places including 35 of the 59 spectacular National Parks. We have hiked countless trails and paddled numerous lakes and rivers. We have encountered wildlife all over the country and shared special moments with wondrous creatures. We have seen rural America and met wonderful people from all walks of life. We have taken lengthy trips to the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean, South Africa, Ontario, Costa Rica, and the Galapagos Islands all because we were not on anyone else's schedule.
On the down side, we have fought through a financial crisis where we saw half the value of our financial assets shrink, an illness that didn't seem so bad at the time but could have killed me, a near death experience for Linda on a river, the care and ultimate passing of my elderly parents, and the loss of our truck engine when, for the first time on the road, the thought of giving it all up crossed our minds. But I'll take all of that over having never taken our original leap of faith.
And we have worked to make it all happen and to keep it all going. I usually put "work" in quotes because it takes lots of hours but doesn't really seem like work. We work in our pajamas most of the time (like right now as I'm typing this). We work a little each day or sometimes a lot each day, but it's our choice. We have no boss, we have no performance review to worry about, we have no one to impress, we have no quotas or company goals to meet, we don't have to deal with alarm clocks or traffic, and we don't have to be on anyone else's schedule unless we choose to.
We just have to earn enough money to cover our expenses so that we don't have to dip into the financial assets that we need to last another thirty or forty years. It took us awhile to get there, but we've been very fortunate for the most part.
We started this little website back in January 2005 before we knew anything. I had no background in websites, and we had no RVing experience at all. The nerve of us to start a website on full-time RVing months before we even owned an RV. :)
But I knew that we were going to have to earn our keep, and I had a goal of making a passive income to supplement anything we might make workamping and, hopefully, one day take us to the point where we might not have to workamp at all. I hoped we could start covering all our expenses in about three years. But, it soon became clear that wasn't going to happen without an almost full-time dedication to the website, and we didn't become full-time RVers to just end up with another full-time job.
So, our discussion of balance was born. We could have spent more time, we could have done more marketing, we could have moved everything at a much faster pace, and we could have made this website cover our expenses in three years - assuming we didn't blow a blood vessel or create some other health fiasco.
But we decided we would let the website grow slowly and organically by investing more heart than time. To cover the financial gap, we would keep our expenses down by workamping and volunteering for free campsites and earning pay when we found acceptable positions. At the low value of our assets, we took on full-time, well-compensated positions in a campground for four months to give our bank account a cash infusion. The freedom and flexibility to do whatever it takes is no lost on us.
Eventually, we gave up the workamping and took on the more mobile job of weighing RVs for the RV Safety & Education Foundation. Our income was on the rise and the gap between income and expenses was getting smaller and smaller each year AND we were maintaining balance.
In the meantime, opportunities started increasing around the website. In 2012, seven years in, we finally covered our expenses. Well, except for the cost of replacing our truck engine which was $17,000 in that year. Sheesh. Good thing we had our savings/emergency fund.
But the next year, 2013, our income exploded and we've earned at least double our expenses the last four years all while maintaining balance, and no one has been more surprised than us. At the end of 2014, we gave up the RV weighing, but in 2015 we started workamping again. That decision was just part of continual morphing of our life on the road.
After workamping/volunteering at seven jobs from 2006 - 2010, I wanted to stop workamping because we were spending too many months in one location, and I was getting hitch-itch - the itch to move and explore. We took on the RV weighing in 2011 to earn money and stay mobile. Our expenses went up, but so did our income. We did that through 2014, but Linda was ready to give that up as we were traveling too much for her, and I agreed that "obligated" travel was getting old. After almost ten years, she was ready to start staying longer in places and have a couple of months here and there to do something she found fulfilling. So we changed our travel habits again through compromise. That led us back to workamping/volunteering in 2015 and 2016 even though it wasn't financially necessary. But it was part of trying to maintain balance between our somewhat opposing travel desires, and I certainly don't complain about the savings workamping provides. :)
We're constantly trying to balance our individual wants and needs, and our needs as a couple to earn money without over-obsessing about it at the expense of the joy of this lifestyle. With communication, compromise, and keeping an eye on the big picture of a simple, happy life, we do pretty well.
However, because we work daily returning emails, writing Journal entries, doing research, and because we're spending six weekends this winter away from our rig speaking at RV shows, and because we do all the work we do on our educational rallies, many people think we have just traded one busy life for another. But, we love most of what we do, so it doesn't feel like "work", and we still have a tremendous amount of freedom to do what we want when we want. It's not even close to the hours, stress and, quite frankly, the shallowness of much of our prior world.
What's interesting is for every person that thinks we work too much, there is a person trying to help us "expand" our business or make it better (i.e. create more work for us). Most have good intentions, but many just don't get that we're happy at our current level of balance. We get suggestions on how to get our own TV show. Some "industry" folks keep referring us to all their contacts so we can sell more advertising or get more "clicks" or "followers". I get LinkedIn requests almost every day (I'm not on LinkedIn and don't intend to be, so it's nothing personal if I have ignored your request). People try to "sell us" by telling us how much additional exposure they can give us. We constantly get emails about improving our search engine results or our social media presence. Everyone seems to be shocked when we say "No thanks, we're good".
It's not that we don't appreciate the input, but we put a lot of thought into our balance. Certainly, we know our website and social media presence could be better and we'll have to adapt as time goes on if we want to maintain online relevancy, but we don't need millions of followers. We just need a few hundred new people each year that are interested in our little niche. Again, we're just trying to pay a year of expenses at a time, and if it happens to turn out better than that, it's a bonus.
This summer we're going to stay put between our Spring and Fall Rallies. Linda is going to find something fulfilling to do while I work on evaluating and updating the website. And I might develop a couple new streams of income and shut others down. "Multiple streams of income" has been our mantra since we started so that if one dries up it's not catastrophic. And we have certainly had our share of dried up streams, streams that have never been more than a trickle, and streams that never started flowing in the first place. I suppose we're fortunate that we don't have a fear of failure. :)
If I look deep down, for me I think it's even more than just maintaining multiple income sources. I think I just like the mental challenge of seeing whether something will work that will provide a valuable service and help us maintain our integrity ... and our independence.
So, this summer, along with getting in some Great Smoky Mountains hiking, will be sort of a "reset" before we head west in November. It's been since 2013, and I'm excited. We're still only 53 years old, and there is a lot of this country yet to explore.
Life on the road goes on, and we still see no end in sight as long as we keep our eye on the balance scale - financially, mentally, physically, emotionally, and in our relationship. When opposing forces tip the scale too far one way or another, we need to recognize that, slow down, and get our house on wheels back in order.
And if all goes well, I'll probably back here again in a year or two writing about "balance" once again. :)