Adjusting to stationary life
Adjusting from long-term travel to stationary home life is actually more jarring than you might think. In the first few years of owning our house, we underestimated the impact of the switch. The obvious changes are easy. You can see them coming. You’ll have to unpack the RV, clean up the dust in the house, turn on the utilities, etc. It’s the little changes that will catch you by surprise.
On the road, we had necessarily established a working relationship between the three of us. There were certain unwritten rules and expectations, governing things like making room for each other, daily duties, and trip-planning. If you’ve ever seen a submarine movie, you’ve probably noticed how the crew steps aside to make way for the officers during an emergency. A 30-foot travel trailer with three people is similar. You’ve got to make way for the other crew when they need space, and there can’t be arguments among the crew when things go wrong. If the deck is on fire, you want everyone to grab a fire extinguisher and get to work.
The compensation for adhering to this arrangement is a smooth running ship, and an adventure. “The world is our living room,” we used to say. As long as the Airstream moved regularly, we were happy. There was always something new to see, someone new to meet, something interesting to taste or photograph. So an expectation sets in: I’m giving up personal space and the ability to do certain things, in exchange for the fruits of travel.
Coming back to the house, there’s an immediate change. No longer does the scenery change every few days. Gone is the invigoration of the unexpected and novel. Fixed schedules tend to return, responsibilities change, and the enjoyment living small & light is replaced by the burden of a larger home to clean and maintain. And the “unwritten rules” are different. There’s a definite mental gear-shift that has to occur before you can fully settle in.
More subtly, you will usually find that the problems and worries you left behind are still there waiting for you. If the house was too big or too expensive when you left, it still will be when you get back. If your job was unfulfilling, or you didn’t get along with your neighbor, or you were struggling with debt, you’ll find those things waiting for you. This can be a crushing end to a wonderful travel experience, and one which often throws people into a depression.
For this reason, I always counsel would-be full-timers to clean up their lives (finances, relationships, obligations, battles, and other choices) before they launch. If they can’t do that, they should at least use the new perspectives offered by their travel experience as motivation to clean up the lingering issues as they travel, because while they are feeling independent and strong they can often make the tough decisions that need to be made.
I have seen friends use their RVs as escape vehicles to deal with divorce, terminal illness, social problems, death of a spouse, collapse of a business, and financial problems. It’s not fun, but for some people the freedom of travel is a mental boost that helps them deal with the tougher things.
We did not leave many problems on the table when we departed in May, but there’s always something unfinished no matter how together you may think your life is. This time we knew to expect the little shocks of “oh yeah I forgot about that” when we returned, and that made it a little easier. It’s also easier now that we are comfortable with the house. Before, when we spent a tiny fraction of our time here, it was disconcerting to move in and that always put us on edge; a bit like living in an unfamiliar hotel. Now it’s more like home, and it gets more homelike every day. But still, there’s an adjustment period.
One reason that we came back a few days earlier than originally planned was so that we could get through that adjustment period before I had to zoom out again. Today I fly to Louisville KY for the annual RVIA show. All of the RV manufacturers show their new product there, and it’s an important event for Airstream Life. It’s our opportunity to shake hands with our advertisers (past, present, and hopefully future) and look for new business. I don’t like going to Louisville this time of year because the weather is invariably gloomy and chilly with frequent rain. The timing of the show is always right after Thanksgiving too, which means I get to fly crowded planes with coughing people. But it’s a quick sting like getting a vaccination. Once a year, and then I’m free again. You should see my smile as I get back home to the sunshine.
I’ll report from the show this week when I get a chance. Airstream will be introducing their new Eddie Bauer trailer with rear “sport hatch” and probably some other things. I’ve reported every year from RVIA, so if you are wondering what it looks like, check the blog archives for December 2009, 2008, and the Tour of America archives for prior years.