Traveling Full-Time – Top 15 Things Learned in the 1st Year on the Road

1st Year Traveling Full-Time
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It is hard to believe that a year has passed since we sold our home and set out on the road in our truck camper, YOLOM. We have seen and experienced a lot that we most likely would have never had the opportunity had we not become nomads. We’ve definitely made things harder than they should have been and we have literally taken the wrong roads. Here is a list of the top 15 things we have learned during our first year of traveling full-time. Hopefully, this will help fellow and future nomads.

#1 – Don’t Be Too Ambitious with Your Plans When Traveling Full-Time

The cliffs of Meat Cove
Why, yes, those are camping spots perched precariously on the cliffs of Meat Cove. Traveling full-time allows you to discover some magical places.

While we now have the ability to travel everywhere via our home on wheels, it isn’t advisable to try and literally travel everywhere in the first 4-months. We set an ambitious 8,000-mile journey from Colorado to Florida via Nova Scotia as the route for our first 4-months of traveling full-time. We also headed a little too far north late in the summer season which left us running from winter. Did I mention we were working full-time too?

#2 – Once There, You Can’t Do It All

Board walk with the National Wildlife Refuges etched into them.
All the National Wildlife Refuge names are etched into the boards that make up the Centennial Trail at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully one day we can visit them all.

This may seem fairly obvious, but in the back of my mind, I thought we would hit the road and magically have all the time in the world to literally do everything under the sun. We are still working full-time jobs. We still have to cook & clean daily. Laundry days at a laundromat are a weekly occurrence. So, while we are location-independent, we still basically only have weekends and maybe a weekday morning or two to explore our surroundings.

#3 – A Home on Wheels is Going to Break

Breakdown while traveling full-time in a Palomino Bronco 1500
We had to have the crank shaft on the Palomino worked on after it broke less than two months after setting off on the road.

I don’t care what kind of rig you get. Things that travel down the road at 60+mph are going to wear down. We had more than our fair share in the first few months and I am convinced Palomino is one of the worst RV manufacturers out there, but after reading RV forums it seems almost everyone has the same sentiment about *insert RV manufacture here* as well. If I had to do it over again (when I build the next one) I will probably retrofit a Sprinter van or an old school bus, but I am sure those will have issues too.

#4 – Mold Can and Does Grow Everywhere! 

At one point we had mold growing on the roof right next to the solar panels. This area obviously gets a lot of sunlight. I thought mold was incapable of growing where the sun shines nearly 12 hours a day. I was wrong. In addition to the roof, we also have had mold growing on the vinyl and in the cavity under our bed.

Be diligent in keeping your home on wheels dry. We found these devices called Eva-Dry. We keep one in the storage space under the bed, because that area doesn’t get much airflow and another in the living space. To keep fresh air circulating, we also keep the fan on and the lid cracked almost all the time. I even drilled 30 holes into the structure supporting the cavity under the bed to keep air flowing through there. All of these things seem to help keep the mold situation under control… at least inside. I had to scrub the roof at one point to get the mold off of it. I guess we just need to visit the desert more often.

#5 – You Have to Plan Ahead when Traveling Full-Time

Traveling Full-Time Planning
Planning ahead is needed when traveling full-time.

This one was a hard one for me. I am good at planning vacations but I wanted this lifestyle to be sporadic. Exploring a place and finding the gems that only locals know about.

The realistic nature of our world is that it is crowded. Being a nomad and traveling with the warm weather means that we are almost always where a lot of people want to be and when they want to be there. Subsequently, the places that have limits where reservations are needed are taken far in advance. We learned this the hard way and have missed out on some stuff we really wanted to do in our first year of traveling full-time.

Planning ahead for the big-ticket items allows us to discover spots that need reservations well in advance. We get those nailed down nearly nine months out now. I still try to leave some flexible time in the schedule to discover spots along the way.

#6 – No-See-Ums Suck! 

Big Lagoon State Park
The sun sets over the gorgeous Big Lagoon in Florida. This place is awesome but the no-see-ums are the worst.

Also known as sand flees, beach flees and BSBs (bloodsucking b***ards) by yours truly. This isn’t actually accurate as it is only the females that consume blood, but it seems more politically correct. No-see-ums are seemingly capable of getting into any rig. Try eating dinner in your camper while 100s of these things gnaw on you instead. Not a lot of fun there. After the first encounter, Jennifer and I looked as if we had contracted chickenpox. We have a tight woven bug net that will slow them down but they still get through. Mosquitoes are easy to keep at bay with the same netting, but no-see-ums are able to crawl right through. These BSBs almost take the fun out of living remotely on the beach… almost.

The one thing we have found that works fairly well is to close all the windows and turn our MaxXfan on high and have it blowing into the living space. This creates pressure inside the camper that pushes the air out through all the crevices. I guess the no-see-ums can’t fly in through the crevices when the air is flowing out like that.

#7 – Stuff Wears Out Fast When Traveling Full-Time

Jake & Jennifer on Mount Ida
My Pikes Peak hat was one of the many clothing casualties during our 1st year of traveling full-time. Jennifer’s Berry hat is next on the list for replacement.

It is astonishing how fast things wear out on the road. In the past year, we have had to replace almost half of our clothing, the bed sheets, cups, and a cooking pan. We don’t own a lot at this point which means most things gets used daily. We have about 10-days worth of clothing each and laundromats are rough on apparel. Having to replace so much annually wasn’t really on our radar when we set out but it is a reality of traveling full-time.

#8 – It Takes Effort to Live With a Lot Less

Dometic CFX 65DZ freezer/fridge
Traveling full-time requires intentional shopping as we now live with a lot less space.

This one spans across every aspect of traveling full-time with limited space but the best example of this is found with groceries. We have a small fridge/freezer and an even smaller pantry. So, almost everything we buy gets used up within a week. The only exception being condiments and spices which are also limited. Gone are the days of having 50 bottles of spices when we only use three regularly. The days of hoarding supplies because “It was a good buy,” are also over.

Now, every time we go to the store we have a list where every item corresponds to a meal (or 3) that we will be cooking between grocery runs. Every time we shop we have a plan for how to make it to the next shopping day (1, 5, or 9 days down the road, etc). It is a different way of living for sure but it means we buy fresher food and we don’t lose things in the back of the fridge anymore. (Okay, there once was a really nasty tomato at the bottom….)

#9 – You Can Live With a Lot Less Than You Think

Truck Camper and the Milky Way Galaxy
Living full-time on the road means that most will have to live with less but with views like this one I feel like we live with a lot more then most.

The minimalist trend is healthy. You should own your stuff not the other way around. Becoming minimalists was a side-effect for us. We just wanted to be able to travel full-time wherever we wanted when we wanted while we were still young enough to hike, backpack, kayak, ski, and cycle when and where we wanted. (Please see lesson #1 and #2 for better expectations.) However, as a part of this, we had to downsize our possessions from a 2,000 square foot home to a 98 square foot camper. As the first year has passed, to our surprise we have given away and pared down even further until now only the essentials remain.

We have the mentality that the things we purchase now are to replace possessions that have either worn out or that we can optimize with a new purchase. We don’t buy new things unless we are willing to get rid of something else. Also space is a precious thing and things clutter it up which increases stress.

#10 – Google Maps and 4-Wheel Drive Should Be Used Cautiously

Truck stuck in the mud
One of those memories we would rather forget. Google thought this was an appropriate road. The tow truck company said that none of the locals takes this road. Touché.

What I have discovered is that 4×4 capability on a full-time nomadic vehicle should be used as a way of getting out of a messy situation. It isn’t a free pass to rush headlong into one. We have driven our truck on some pretty nasty roads since we started traveling full-time. Most of the time those roads have been dry and we have had no issues. Once we drove down a muddy road while it was snowing and lost traction but managed to slide our way safely out of the situation. Dumb luck really. The very next week we pushed our luck too far on a muddy road that had a high salt content and we found ourselves buried deep. We tried to dig ourselves out for two days (yes, days) before paying a very expensive tow bill to come get us.

Google’s suggestion for roads should be vetted and cautious judgment used. If it has hailed and rained recently, the dirt road isn’t the right way to go, especially for a “30-minute” short-cut. Thanks Google!

#11 – Campgrounds Can Be Expensive!

This one for some may not come as a surprise but campgrounds can range anywhere from free to well over $100/night. That is insane to me! In most cases, we are paying for a patch of grass or asphalt 25′ long and 10′ wide and maybe showers. The average price without hookups is around $25/night. At $25 that is $750 each month for a patch of grass and a shower. If you want water hookups, electricity, and sewer that will easily run you $1,200/month. Truly insane! I can buy a nice house in a relatively expensive city for that.

So what is the solution? Boondocking of course. If you travel full-time and don’t want to flush your money on campground stays you need to be self-contained. This means you need a way to hold fresh water, grey water & black water. You also need a way to generate and store electricity. The electrical aspect is expensive. I calculate that our complete solar system DIY cost us about $3,400, but with the alternative being $1200/month we easily paid off that investment within the first six months of traveling full-time.

#12 – People Aren’t as Bad as the News Would Have You Believe

If you watch our modern news you would believe that people are out to rob you blind, rape you, and murder you. Over the past year, we have lived in remote wildernesses, inner cities, and strangers’ yards. We live in a camper with four walls but with a popup vinyl section that could be easily cut through. None of these terrible things have happened. In fact, with the exception of hoodlums revving their engines and drag racing in a Walmart parking lot at 2:00 AM we have had very little negative experiences with others while living on the road.

#13 – People Are Generally Worse Than You Think

Beer Cans by the Lake
We have found that people leave trash everywhere.

While only a very small segment of the populace is involved in causing crime, there is a much larger percentage that is lazy in an extreme and detrimental way. Sadly, living the past year of our lives in nature and amongst different communities has revealed to us the overwhelming reality that people are lazy. I constantly push shopping carts into stalls because shoppers can’t be bothered to walk an extra 20′ after they unload their carts. I watched one guy push the cart up on to a curb that was just as far away from his vehicle as one of the cart carousels.

Every time we hike there is a water bottle or some other piece of trash on the trail. Some places we camp for free are covered in broken bottles, plastic, and even toilet paper. It is beyond disgusting what people will do and leave behind when no one is watching. This is why Walmarts all over the country are no longer allowing people to overnight in their lots. This is also why BLMs are shutting down their campsites. Be a good traveler and clean up after yourself and others.

#14 – Showers Aren’t as Essential as You Think

Traveling Full-Time Shower of the Year
This shower may not look like much but when you have privacy, good pressure, hot water and it is completely free, this the best shower of the year. This is found at the Dupuis equestrian campground one of Florida’s best free camping spots.

This one is controversial, even at times for us. This was the number one thing I thought we would miss most about owning a home. I mean who doesn’t love a long hot shower, but let’s face it western society has made this seem like a necessity for our daily lives. It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that showers became common in first world countries. Bathing without running water is possible in many different ways. Using buckets or my minimalist favorite and a regular for us is baby wipes. All that being said we still try to get a good shower at least three times a week.

#15 – Traveling Full-Time Isn’t as Rare as You Think

Traveling full-time and Boondocking for free
Boondocking for free in the New Mexico desert on BLM land with lots of other fellow full-time travelers. The busiest spot we have ever stayed was actually a Walmart in Texas where the entire lot was swamped with travelers. It was too windy to fly the drone.

When we decided to sell our home and switch to a full-time lifestyle, we thought that we would be alone amongst the retires roaming the country. While this is somewhat true the number of younger people doing what we do is surprising. I would say on average we run across 20 to 40-year-old couples, some with families in tow, every week. According to the Washington Post 1-million Americans now live full-time on the road.

Conclusion from our 1st Year of Traveling Full-Time

I don’t know what your dream is today. It may be the nuclear family and a mansion in the suburbs like so many other American’s have been told is the goal in life. That American dream may be right for you and if it is I hope you find a way to make that happen for yourself. However, if your dreams are to travel and explore the world I want to encourage you that it is possible. It takes work but you don’t have to wait until you are 65-years old with bad knees and a bad back to do so.

We had doubts when we decided to become nomads. It took us two years to get financially set with a rig we could afford and a job that we could do from anywhere. We second-guessed ourselves the entire way, but here we are a year into traveling full-time and while we have made some mistakes it is an amazing way to live.

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