Life + Style Column
Home Is Where You Park It
In 2014, Heather Irvin hit the road full-time with her husband, one-year-old toddler, and two dogs. Three years and another baby later, she reflects on life as an RV-er.
by Heather Irvin
I’D SAY I DEVELOPED A WILLINGNESS TO TAKE RISKS when I was in my twenties, living alone in Austin for the first time. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, had no health insurance, struggled to pay my bills, partied like a hussy, and got my heart broken. Nothing worked out exactly as planned and I carried my regrets back to my mom’s house in Waco where I was safe to wallow in my own self-pity for a couple of years. Eventually I got a grip, started socializing again, and I met my husband. We had a daughter, life felt cozy and safe, but we were restless. We needed a change but it would take some drastic measures to escape the “Waco vortex” (it’s a thing). So we came up with the idea to buy a beat-up RV, sell all our crap and skedaddle. It was through that perilous, dramatic departure, and over the next three years that I realized what’s most important in life. Hold onto your mittens, kittens!
In September 2013, we bought a Class-A 34-foot 1999 Forest River Windsong for $15,000 from Camping World in New Braunfels. It had 40,000 miles on it and all the important stuff worked. We painted the inside, sold both of our cars, paid cash for an old Subaru to tow, and spent the year downsizing. On a whim we entered a lottery for low-income Burning Man tickets and won. Suddenly it all became very real. We had to be in Black Rock City, Nevada by the end of August 2014. When we told our parents our plan to hit the road full-time and travel with our one-year-old toddler, they thought we were nuts. They googled Burning Man, and saw photos of naked people in gas masks and furry boots. Why would anyone leave a stable job, a nice house in a decent hood, and head for a desert full of neon pagan perverts? Had we lost our minds? Yep, but we were going.
When we hit the road we started an Instagram account and a blog. We were embarking on a grand adventure and we planned to write about it. We assumed most full-time RV-ers were retired couples. It was humbling and thrilling to learn there were others like us—young families living, traveling, and working on the road. Some are coders and web designers who travel and work remotely, some have successful travel blogs and thousands of Instagram followers. New traveling families show up on Instagram every day, excited about their grand adventures, hoping to connect with others like them.
Through Instagram, we became Instafriends with other full-time RV-ers we met on the road. We all had the same vision—freedom, travel, experience, fewer things, more time, life on our own terms. You’re going to spend most of your time outside, hiking, playing guitar, reading, and watching sunsets. You’ll have time to start writing your memoir. You’ve never been the conformist type, so you don’t need a normal house. You can road-school your kids. Traveling is the best education anyway.
I could write forever about all the amazing places we’ve been. We’ve driven more than 20,000 miles and visited almost every national park in the country. But we have never wanted our lifestyle to define who we are or let our egos get wrapped up in the adventure-porn culture of social media. And quite frankly, you’d need to give yourself pep talks to truly buy into the fantasy.
It’s important to keep in mind that you can escape conventional living, but life on the road is still real life. You’re not always traveling and you’re not always in beautiful places. You’re smelly goons living inside a box on top of a 30-gallon tank filling to the brim with your own doodoo. Occasionally you’ll need to stay for several days in a creepy RV park to dump your tanks and do three weeks’ worth of laundry. You’re in a town with terrifying, toothless, “Deliverance”-type characters and they probably want to make you squeal like a pig.
You won’t see or do half of what the veteran nomads have done and you’ll still burn out. You didn’t think you’d get numb to the beauty of nature, but when it’s been months without a bubble bath and the personal space to groom your ‘70s bush, it can happen. There’s no privacy and if you have kids, your sex life will suffer. Flashback to the time you boondocked in the middle of a meadow in Hells Canyon, Oregon. You waited until the kids were asleep and slipped outside to reconnect with your significant other with the creepy feeling you were being watched by the ghost of an Amerindian spirit animal. You basked in the light of the super moon, sipped your post-coitus cocktails, and were reminded why you started this adventure in the first place. Living the dream, remember?
Like with any other lifestyle, you’ll feel some social anxiety at times. Why weren’t you invited to the Airstream Trailers meet-up in the Anza-Borrego Desert, where the adults drink craft beers and the road-schooled “wild and free” rascals play together in the dirt while drone cameras captured the amazing moment from the sky? You convince yourself that your invitation must have gotten lost when you were in the Rogue River National Forest and didn’t have cell reception for four hours. It never occurred to you that you don’t have to be invited. You can just go. You’re only human. It’s normal to feel a little envious when you meet others with beautifully renovated vintage Airstreams while you’re living in a dirty bus that smells like dog farts.
You could be a source of inspiration for another family just starting their own RV adventure but the rest of your friends and family probably think that you’re pretentious and that it’s just a matter of time before you come crawling back to civilization and relearn appropriate grooming habits. And they’re right!
We still have the Windsong, but we just bought a house and plan to settle down. It’s the opposite of what we wanted four years ago. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball, like an unexpected second kid conceived on the road. And we never envisioned how hard it would be to make money and not drive each other bonkers, or how much work it takes to set up and break down camps, move from place to place, handle our own raw sewage, and learn the mechanics of an RV and our car so we could fix it ourselves to save money.
Nothing worked out exactly as planned over the last three years, but I don’t regret any of it. Even during the hard times when we were ready to quit, I’ve never felt more alive. We’ve seen more sunrises and sunsets than we can count. We’ve slept in forests and smelled like campfire, hiked through grandeur, swam in lakes, rivers, and the ocean. But our greatest adventure was never a destination. It was the time we spent as a family, figuring out how to navigate through the challenges. We could be in Austin, a national park, or dry camping in the middle of nowhere. What matters most is that we spent an unnatural amount of time together and we still like each other.
Now anytime we want to switch it up and leave the comforts of home and the illusion of safety, we know we’ll always land on our feet. Like when we bought the Windsong, I think we’ll always have the courage to just go for it. The future is now! Home is where you park it! Wherever you go, there you are!
On Instagram follow us at @restlessnest and follow our favorite veteran nomads @wandrly, @mali.mish, @longmayweroam, and @asolojourner for more road-schooling ideas and travel inspiration. Also, for the best camping spots or places to dump your doo, go to campendium.com or find them on IG, Twitter and FB.
Read more from the Travel Issue | May 2017