Believe it or not, some people truly struggle with transitioning to the full-time RV lifestyle. (Gasp.)
This can happen for a number of reasons, but I believe the struggle usually involves the challenge of managing an increased amount of freedom and a decreased sense of security coming together rapidly in a very tiny new home.
Those two pieces of the puzzle are rarely what will actually be addressed by someone who is struggling with the transition. But I strongly suggest to you that those pieces are hiding just below the surface of the struggle, in plain view yet ignored.
Today, I want to try and walk you through some of the common internal struggles that often accompany this transition to RV life. Hopefully, I can help you see that you are not alone if you are struggling and that there is a better way for you to BE, and be happy, in your RV.
Lessons from the Road: How to BE in Your RV
Listen, I speak from experience (1.5 years on the road) when I say that the transition to an RV is often no walk in the park. Whether you hit the road with a family of five like I did, or you head out on a solo adventure, very similar internal struggles are likely to find you out on the blacktop.
Trying to escape the struggles is just as futile as trying to escape those yellow stripes on the blacktop. No matter how fast you drive, you’re not leaving either of them behind. It’s best to stop trying.
Common Traits of the Transition Struggle
I can’t get inside your head. I can’t know you…heck, sometimes I wonder how well I know myself! So I’m not going to try to “solve” anything for you here.
But I am going to point out some specific struggles that I faced, and that I have witnessed other full-time RVers face, when they hit the road. Chances are that at least a few of them will resonate with you. And I truly hope they will help you move forward in your journey.
You Feel Guilty About Your Freedom
In my transition to RV life, this was probably the first internal hurdle that I faced. It’s not a surprise, because I think I have always struggled with guilt even from a very young age.
So when I found myself suddenly living the “dream life” that so many others were only able to fantasize about, it felt like a heavy weight to bear.
Why me and not them? Why did I deserve it while others did not have the same chance? Who was I to just enjoy this life I had created?
Guilt is rarely logical. Guilt is never helpful and serves no one. Personally, I consider it a cancer.
The quicker you can truly accept those truths, the better off you will be.
You Fear Your Freedom
I see fear and guilt as “evil cousins”: they both defy logic and drain away energy and joy. And I know them both all too well.
You should closely examine your fear of anything, but especially the fear of your own freedom. This is the fear that keeps your life small, safe and predictable.
When your life is suddenly flooded with the freedom to go where you want, when you want, at whatever pace you want and do whatever brings you joy, fear inevitably rears its ugly head.
And it brings up questions like: Can I really trust myself? Am I responsible enough to manage this new freedom? Will I be able to keep myself safe physically and financially? What if I make a terrible mistake with this freedom and regret it for years to come?
Don’t ignore the questions, but be sure to answer them with the realization that they are normal questions that demand an expanded awareness. They demand a new perspective on your life, one that empowers you instead of limiting you.
You Don’t Enjoy the Loss of Control
None of us will readily admit that we are control freaks. But most of us are in our own way.
Maybe you don’t struggle with controlling your spouse or your kids, so you think it’s all good. But there’s more to it.
When you are on the road, constantly exploring new locations and meeting new people from different walks of life, you absolutely lose some control of your surroundings.
People drive differently than you’re used to. People interact differently with you, and sometimes you don’t like it. Not everyone is ready to welcome you (or your RV) with open arms. This is a loss of control that comes with a loss of predictability.
Sure, you might end up in a completely unknown Walmart parking lot for the night because the RV park shut down earlier than expected. But that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the unknown.
This is an opportunity to face your craving for control and learn to let go just a bit more.
You Can’t Navigate the Loss of Connection
If you spend any time at all on the road in your RV, you will undoubtedly come across some fantastic folks to share dinner, a drink and a campfire with. It’s one of the joys of the lifestyle and it never gets old.
But those fantastic folks aren’t always around. It’s sometimes hit or miss, especially in the off-season, and things can start to get pretty lonely sometimes.
It’s not uncommon to go weeks at a time without any real connection with other human beings outside of your RV. If you are highly social and extroverted, this can be a massive struggle.
Honestly, it can just become too much time with you. And if you’re not prepared to face that, it can really knock you for a loop.
You’re Left with You
What happens when you’re left with just you? With far too much time to think, question, fear the unknown, feel the guilt (see above)?
The RV lifestyle almost inevitably opens up new space in your life. If you have no idea how to manage it, how to fill it, it can result in an existential crisis mode kicking in. That is, if you’re wired anything like me, at least.
It’s important not to view this as a challenge as much as an opportunity. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. It’s a chance to know yourself a bit better, to look deeper and understand your fears and motivations at a whole new level.
Don’t run away from the opportunity. Nothing good will come from that.
A Better Way Forward
These internal hurdles that will likely come up may seem like too much to face, too much to overcome. You’re not going to tackle and conquer it all at once, so the first step is to just admit that these struggles are real instead of trying to deny their existence.
One of the best ways I can think of to accept them, begin to see them more clearly and then move forward is to get some of it out of your own head.
As a person who consistently overthinks everything, I can tell you that keeping all of this between your ears is a terrible idea. Really, truly terrible.
Instead, find ways to process it, both on your own and also with a trusted partner and friend, if possible.
I believe the best first step you can take is to get a notebook and start writing down what you perceive the struggles are and why you feel you are struggling with it.
I know, it sounds kind of “touch feely”. So what. It helps. Guaranteed.
Here are some great things to focus your thoughts on as you give journaling a try. Just start with 5-10 minutes each morning and see what happens.
I think you’ll be surprised with what this simple practice unearths.
You just can’t convince me that there is a better space to start your day in than one filled with gratitude.
I believe gratitude is an unshakable foundation on which to build a life of meaning, purpose and significance.
Yes, it’s also kind of trendy right now. But forget that. Don’t judge it by your perception of it.
Instead, judge it only after experiencing it for yourself.
Get up each morning and write down 3-5 aspects of your life of freedom that you are grateful for today. Feel the gratitude as a wave washing over you. (That part is very important.)
And then watch the force of that gratitude begin to melt away the guilt and fear that has been crippling you and robbing you of the joy of this amazing experience.
Don’t leave the gratitude behind. Take the practice with you throughout the day as you confront new situations and new challenges. Find a way to experience that gratitude again and again, and you will begin to notice a subtle but powerful rewiring of your brain happening.
Accepting What Is
Our very strong habit as human beings is to immediately decide if we like or dislike whatever it is that confronts us during our day.
Think about it: Can you remember anything in the past week that didn’t get either the “like” or “dislike” label from you?
Do you remember just accepting one single thing without feeling the need to judge it and put it in a category like this? If so, you are absolutely in the minority.
We do this mindlessly because it is such an ingrained habit, but it does not serve us. And you do have a choice in the matter.
The next time you are confronted with a fact or a situation in your travels, do your best to just observe it as third-party. Don’t get emotionally involved in it and don’t choose how you feel about it.
Instead, just accept it for what it is. Then write down what that new approach feels like and what you learned from it. I think you’ll find some important lessons hiding there.
Befriending the Unexpected
When you find yourself needing and trying to control everything in your experience, you can be sure you are missing out on something better than your own plan.
Early on in our full-time RV experience, we made a reservation at an RV park in the middle of nowhere in north Texas. We wanted to get from Dallas to Lubbock but preferred to break up the trip.
We drove into this tiny, almost non-existent town with shops boarded up and buildings falling down all around us. Honestly, it felt like a ghost town. And it was creepy. We didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into and we quickly began to question whether we should just keep going.
And then we met the park owner. The friendliest guy you can imagine.
He helped us get backed into our spot properly (I was still fairly new at this backing thing), made sure we were settled, then came back 30 min later with a bag of peaches he wanted to share with us. (They made an awesome cobbler, by the way.)
That evening, another RV pulled in and they just happened to be getting started on their own full-time RV adventure. We had great conversation and made a great connection over s’mores and a brilliant Texas sunset.
This experience helped me to understand that I needed to go into each experience with an open mind and an open heart. I needed to put aside my fears, my judgments, my need to control and instead just welcome the unknown and unexpected.
I needed to embrace uncertainty and befriend the unexpected. And I’m so glad I did. Don’t be afraid to try it for yourself; you won’t be disappointed.
Finding a New, Healthy Rhythm
One aspect of transitioning to RV life that I believe everyone faces is trying to establish a new life rhythm. And without rhythm, there is no music.
For me, it was very disorienting to not have my normal morning routine and schedule when we hit the road. All of a sudden, since I was still the first one up in the family, every morning could start off differently depending on who I might have woken up while getting my coffee, etc.
In a 26-foot travel trailer, you don’t hide and there really is no way to be “quiet”. As a man who hates to disturb others, this honestly drove me nuts. Just trying to get out the front door for some solitude outside caused an earthquake in my new home.
Look, it’s not easy. When your rhythm is suddenly much more closely tied to the rhythm of several other people in a tiny space, things can get…complicated. You can lose some of your personal freedom just as you’re beginning to experience the freedom of the open road.
Do you think this massive shift could make a person irritable and on edge? You bet. I know that’s what happened to me, especially after the “honeymoon” phase passed and I still hadn’t found a new rhythm.
You have to get creative, think outside the box, to find a new rhythm and a new normal in this new life that works for everyone (and even if it is just you).
It might take a while, but you can’t give up. I believe your mental health (and productivity) depends on it.
How Have You Learned to BE In Your RV?
Mine is just one experience. As I said, I have seen others talk of struggling with similar challenges, but you have most likely faced aspects of RV life that are unique to you.
Please share your personal struggles and lessons in the comments below. Together, we can help the greatest number of RVers possible to have a healthy, fulfilling full-time RVing experience.
Todd Bonner loves a competitive game of table tennis, a breathtaking hike and simply exploring new places. He spends most of his time sharing information about RV travel and safety, RV accessories and tips, and the National Parks he has visited and still desperately craves. When he’s not busy working on TREKKN, you will often find him staring at pictures of Glacier National Park (probably his favorite spot on earth) or creating new products for Clever Camper Company.
Saturday 6th of February 2021
Thank you for the article. I enjoyed reading it and reflecting back over the last year of travel. My husband and I have been full timers for a little over a year. Many of the things that seem to stress people out are the very things I love about our new life. The one area of control I am having trouble releasing, is the need to know where we are going to park for the night. I feel I MUST have a reservation. Thank you for sharing and bringing to the forefront of my mind, just how truly blessed we all are for the opportunity to live this wonderful lifestyle.
Saturday 6th of February 2021
Thank you so much for your comment, Mitzi. This lifestyle truly is an incredible opportunity, to live life to the fullest and to grow and expand as human beings.
I hope we can all work to take full advantage of those opportunities while remaining in a space of gratitude for the experience. We wish you nothing but the best as you continue to both explore and expand. Hopefully we will see you out there one of these days!
Saturday 6th of February 2021
SUCH a great article! As I'm saving to get out in the road full time, I've often thought about how I'll mentally deal with the shifts. Thank you for this - it really helps to hear some of your personal fears and hope you've handled them!
Saturday 6th of February 2021
Thanks Shannon! Love to hear that it is helping other folks like you go into the full-time RV life a little more prepared mentally and emotionally. It can be far more disorienting at first than you would expect!
We wish you the best in your full-timing plans and hope to see you out there!