April In Review: 7 Things We Learned In Our First Month On The Road
As we look forward to all of the travel ahead we are careful to also look backward to reflect on what worked well and what did not work as planned. April 2018 is a month that will forever stand out in our minds.
Though we intentionally left a few days early in March (after sputtering a little), April was our first full month on the road. During this time we saw many ups. But we also had many downs. And from our successes and failures we boiled down the month into 7 Things We Learned In Our First Month On The Road.
1. Things break.
This is especially true if you end up on dirt roads. The more moving and shaking, the more things that break. In this first month we’ve dealt with broken refrigerator, inverter, gas furnace, grey water tank, outside locks, A/C vacuum pump, external storage boxes and numerous other little things inside the truck and camper. The good news is that you learn to fix everything on the road. If you can’t fix it, you find someone who can. And if you can’t find someone who can, then you jerry-rig it to work until you absolutely can’t stand it anymore. Things always break.
2. Know your capacities.
Understanding the size of your tanks – including fresh water, black water (sewage), grey water (sink and drain), propane and fuel – in relation to your consumption will go a long way in ensuring that you avoid catastrophe.
Sure, it may not seem like a big deal to have your grey water tank overflow into your shower. But it is a big deal to run out of fuel in the Arizona or Utah desert. And it’s almost as equally a big deal to fill up your black water tank and have nowhere to be able to dump it.
Once you understand your capacities you can study your consumption habits. You ask yourself, questions like:
- How long does it take to fill up the grey tank if you wash dishes, brush teeth and take a shower in one day?
- How many miles can I drive on the highway into 40 mph wind gusts? On dirt roads at 15 mph? At an elevation of 9,000 feet?
- Why is the grey tank half the size of the fresh water tank? Can I find ways to use fresh water that does not go into the grey water tank to fill it up unnecessarily? (shower outside, use water for coffee and cooking, etc).
Ultimately once we knew our capacities and figured out roughly our consumption habits then it became a game of following Travel Principle #5. We filled up and dumped frequently. We didn’t wait to run out of fuel, water, tank storage capacity. We became very diligent and intentional in our use of resources because we knew our capacities.
3. Plans change.
We started with a series of intricately designed spreadsheets that calculated things like distance between locations and possible fuel costs at given mpg. They also included tables of information on things like sunrise and sunset, phase of the moon and possible locations to spend the night.
However, less than one week into our trip we had to change our plans because of a broken refrigerator. Then plans changed again when a late-winter snowstorm pushed its way in our direction. Then they changed again when another snowstorm pushed its way in our new direction. Then they changed when we were sick and became exhausted and needed a place to rest.
Our plans changed so much we pretty much threw out our initial itinerary and are learning to embrace our nomadic nature as Called to Wander.
But, for once, we’re OK with the idea of breaking our itinerary. We’ve seen a lot of things we didn’t think we’d see and we met a lot of people we would never have otherwise met. We’re struggling with the idea of having some structure to our wander balanced with our understanding that plans change.
4. There is always a place to stay… somewhere.
We did not spend a night in a Wal Mart parking lot. But we did spend the night in a campground that might as well have been.
We failed to find campgrounds in certain state parks but later found better spots in other parks. And, because we are energy self-sufficient, we have found that we can drive down certain back roads and pull over for the night to boondock.
Whether we’ve stayed with friends, in state or national parks, various private campgrounds or boondocking on the side of the road we have always found a place to stay. Sometimes these places are not altogether glamorous. Other times they turn out more spectacular that we imagined. In either way, there has always been a place for us to stay.
5. Everything takes longer.
On our second day (following our first night on the road) we woke up late and embraced our newfound freedom. We cooked a lazy breakfast and drank a second cup of coffee. There was no hurry. Until we were ready to leave and make our way to Lindsay’s sister’s house. That’s when I said, “Think we can plan to leave in 45 minutes?” We agreed that we thought we could.
But the reality was that we didn’t even know what we didn’t know about preparing to leave. We didn’t have a system in place, or even a checklist to make sure we didn’t leave while we were still plugged into shore power!
But over time we developed a bit of a “travel day routine.” The routine was pretty informal, but thorough. We didn’t want any horror stories about leaving things behind or damaging our camper. Still every time we set a goal to leave camp at a certain time, we could never achieve that!
And when we used our GPS to plan a route to our next location we learned to add about 1 hour per 50 miles because we would likely drive slower than the speed limit and would stop whenever we wanted.
6. Life is smaller.
No matter what you pack, you will think of one thing you wish you had. No matter what things you leave behind, you will always have too much stuff.
When I had access to a washer and dryer every day I would still go through a cycle of around 15 t-shirts. Now that we’re away from a washer and dryer, the 15 t-shirts I brought are three times more than I need. I have pretty much worn the same thing two days in a row every day we’ve been on the road.
I don’t need as much as I thought I did.
Our bedroom also serves as our living room and sometimes dining room. Our kitchen serves as a laundry room and utility room. Our oven holds our loose containers. Our microwave is our breadbox. Our shower is, well, our toilet space and miscellaneous closet-of-everything.
Everything has a second, or third, purpose.
We reduce, re-use and recycle pretty much everything. A bag used to hold a sandwich turns into a bag to hold coffee grinds. A Wal-Mart grocery bag turns into a trash can bag or, if it is unfortunate, a spare dog poop bag.
You can’t carry things you don’t need and you can’t put things you don’t need in spaces you don’t have. You adjust. Life is smaller.
7. Expectations are made to be shattered.
This is Travel Principle # 2, so it isn’t like it is THAT newly learned. But the reality for us this month was that nearly every expectation we had for any place we visited was shattered, whether for better or worse.
- Mississippi was just as cold and dreary as Kentucky and Illinois when we thought we were escaping the cold.
- Palo Duro State Park outside Amarillo, Texas was as beautiful a place we never knew existed until a day before we left to see it.
- Oklahoma was not as flat as we expected and it had more natural beauty that we imagined. The Grand Canyon is far more grand than words can express.
- Las Vegas is actually a place where one can rest and unwind.
We know that as plans change our expectations would change as well. How can you imagine a place you never knew existed? How can you compare your experience to that of someone else from so many years before? Expectations are made to be shattered.
*** Bonus: We also learned how to be even more diligent in managing our finances. Check this post out if you’d like to see a summary of those results.