“How do you decide where to go?”
When we were full-timing, one of the questions we were often asked was, “How do you decide where to go?” This question always mystified me, because it was never clear to me exactly what was meant by the question. There were many possible interpretations.
Some people meant, “Of all the great places in the country, how do you choose which ones to visit?” This is the easiest variation to answer, because that’s how I see the travel opportunity. North America is loaded with interesting people, geography, history, foods, adventures, etc. There are so many possible places to investigate that an interested person can travel full-time by RV for over a decade and still find new and exciting things to discover. We have friends who have, in fact, done this and are still on the road.
We chose places to visit based on a combination of factors that were unique to us: business needs, personal interests, weather, family, invitations, etc. I wouldn’t pretend that our criteria precisely matches anyone else’s criteria. The beauty of RV travel is that you can customize your experience to your exact interests, with hardly anything to interfere. You don’t have to worry about transportation timetables, baggage limits, availability of hotels, etc. You can stay longer and pay less. You bring all the comforts of home along with you. So of course you always do whatever the heck you want, whenever you get the chance.
Other people who asked the question assumed that we traveled on a rigid schedule and therefore meant, “How do you decide how long to make your scheduled stops?” Even working, most of the time we had a fairly flexible schedule. The first year we were out, we obligated ourselves to be at various Airstream dealers when they were having special sales events. This meant we had to zig-zag all over the country at inconvenient times, ending up in Indiana in March (not an ideal time to visit). After a year of that, we stopped promising to be at events and started drawing out a more rational schedule.
“Schedule” is much too strong a word for what we really had. We kept a list of ideas, long-term obligations, and general goals in mind. Our actual travel plan was worked out between 1 day and 2 months at a time, no longer. Anything more than two months away was simply a “goal” (such as spending summer in Vermont). While we always hit the goals, we never let the plan become too organized because that would eliminate happenstance, lucky finds, changes of heart, serendipity, new friends, and unforeseen opportunity from playing their vital part.
Some people who asked the question were concerned with having only perfect stops, so they meant, “How do you know what places are good and which are not?” Folks like this are usually oriented to the “vacation mode” of travel, where you have a very limited amount of time (a week or two) and want to make the absolute most of it with some sort of fantastic adventure. To be reasonably sure this is going to happen, you usually need reservations and strict plans.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the mode of a full-timer, so the question really didn’t apply to us. Full-timers don’t have the restriction of a vacation, and come to find that life on the road shares some realities with life in a house. In other words, you can’t expect every moment of full-timing to be perfect and wonderful, any more than you can in stationary life. There are fantastic days of adventure that you could never have anticipated or planned, and there are many more of the mundane days where you had to catch up on laundry or spend the day waiting at the service center.
But I always tried to answer this question anyway. I’d treat it literally, and tell people that we used various sources of information to guide us, including the Internet (RVparkreviews, various travel forums, National Park Service, etc.), tips and invitations from friends, and knowledge of events or rallies that we wanted to attend. Regardless of our pre-planning, we accepted that there would always be surprises of the pleasant and unpleasant kind. If you fear the uncertainty of that, you probably should stay close to previously-traveled routes.
A few people who asked the question had no concept of what our travel was like at all, and meant, “What do you do if you’re not following the normal air/rental car/hotel/destination resort program?” That represents a certain cluelessness about RV travel, but I liked that because it meant I could open someone’s eyes to an opportunity that they probably had never considered before.
However, these people broke into two subgroups: (a) Those who were genuinely curious about what it was like to travel in an RV because they might like the concept for themselves someday; and (b) Those who were curious because they regarded us as nutcases and perhaps thought they would be amused by the tale of our oddball behavior. The latter group would never seriously consider doing what we were doing, so I never invested a lot of time in trying to convince them to change their ways. After all, RV’ing isn’t for everyone.
The former group (a) was more interesting. People’s eyes tend to widen as you describe the idea of pitching the package trips and instead going on a wonderful free-flowing roadtrip where everything has the potential to be an adventure. The trick here is to appreciate the small things along the road. Those who were hung up on having a High Concept trip would eventually realize they would be happier flying to the resort in Maui and going to the nightly luau, than finding historic architectural beauty camped behind a deserted Rt 66 gas station in Oklahoma.
The literal answer to this version of the question is elusive in its simplicity: You do whatever interests you. If you aren’t interested or passionate about something, life can be pretty boring. I think little healthy obsessions are part of what makes people stand out from the crowd. Our obsession over the past several years has been Airstreaming, and it will continue to be for some time, because the lifestyle (full time or not) has yielded so many incredible benefits for all of us. The Airstream is a vehicle to indulge our interests and discover new ones at the same time. Where it takes you depends on who you are.