Many of you have expressed the desire and/or fervent hope to make a big journey of your own. I thought I’d take a moment and share some things I’ve learned over the past year, since I found and bought Roadcinante (gosh, it has been a year!), emptied my house, and hit the road.
- Depending on the kind of vehicle you opt for – whether you want a Class B like mine or a fifth wheel or trailer, or for you brave souls who opt for a Class C – you’ll want to do lots of homework and find out the pluses and minuses of each option. In addition to this info on Wikipedia, there are great forums where you can look over other people’s shoulders (I learned a lot this way) as they ask questions, or join in the conversation.
I decided on a used Roadtrek, since new ones are prohibitively expensive and also they hold their value very well. That way if I bought one and hated it, or figured out I really did not want to travel around the country in a 19-foot van, I could easily unload it.
I spent nearly two years, on and off, looking for my Roadtrek, since the brand is quite in demand, there aren’t a lot of them made, and people tend to hold onto them for dear life. Along the way, I learned everything I could about the specs, the differences between the models, the pluses and minuses of engine types, sleeping and kitchen layouts, and basic pricing.
When I knew I was ready to buy mine, I spent six months obsessively cruising three different websites (this one is my favorite), and got myself on email lists with dealers as well, letting them know what I was looking for.
I confess to the instant “buyer’s remorse” I always get when I make a big decision. Driving back from Valdosta, Georgia to my home in the North Carolina mountains, I had plenty of time to berate myself: “What the hell have you done?!?” about every eighty miles or so. It was a huge outlay of money, and my quixotic quest still seemed half-nuts to me, even though I had gone all in by committing to rent my house.
I also know that dynamic of fear and anxiety well enough that I just let the haranguing go on while I enjoyed to the point of giddiness the feel of Roadcinante on the open road and the thought of the adventures to come. My excitement quickly edged out my fears of having made a mistake.
- For those of you for whom such a journey would represent a major shift, you are likely planning to offload a good portion of your stuff. (That process could honestly be a book in itself!) It takes a certain mental readiness, which can be years in the making, but you may find, like I did, that your subconscious has already been working for a while to loosen your grip on your belongings.
My readiness was hastened, because I was the executrix of my mother’s estate, and after spending a year agonizing over those collectibles she had left – handmade doilies and novelty depression glass pieces and framed photographs of relatives I’d never known, and a roomful of other stuff – I knew I did not want my children to ever have to go through the same stressful process.
In short, there was a lot of – let’s just say it, junk – that no one wanted, but my sense of responsibility to my mother’s wishes (“Don’t let this get out of the family!”) and my own emotional attachments to the items (“Those are doilies made by my great-grandmother…awwwww…I can still see her sitting in that Queen Anne chair with Tom, the orange marmalade cat, in her lap, gazing out through the wavy-glassed window to the blooming azaleas and the quiet steps where I used to play…” Never mind that my great-grandmother was a tiny, fierce battle-ax of a woman of whom my sisters and I were more than a little afraid.) caused a good deal of free-floating guilt.
But watch out. Once you make your first big donation or sell your first pieces of furniture, believe me, it can be like floodgates opening. The purge takes on a joyful, heady momentum of its own. And as your house clears out and you begin to see floor space and daylight – well, I’m just saying, that burgeoning sense of freedom can become habit-forming.
- Deciding what to bring is a whole other prospect. And no matter how many times you sort and cull and sort and cull some more, you will bring too much stuff. We’re Americans. We’re consumers. We have been swimming in the air of acquisition as a lifetime goal, trained to buy bigger and bigger houses to accommodate more and more stuff. Until one day we may look around and notice, it is beginning to look like our stuff owns us.
No matter. Choose carefully, pack up your vehicle, budget some money in anticipation of finding a halfway point where you can ship items home. Because you will likely be surprised to find how little you need. You may find, like I did, that I rotated about five different combinations of jeans, pants, shorts, short-sleeved tops, long-sleeved shirts, and sweaters. The rest, rolled neatly and packed into the two drawers – one for tops, one for bottoms – were never touched. And that was for seven full months.
I did bring a dress – a sleeveless black knit pullover knee-length dress that I could wear in hot weather with a scarf and sandals or in cooler weather, with boots and a sweater. I wore it once, out to dinner with pals in Bozeman.
(One of my sweet nieces took me shopping at her favorite upscale consignment store in Arlington, Virginia and bought me a “Claire Underwood” black wool knit dress with long sleeves and an offset neckline. That was just in case I got to have lunch with Oprah for some reason or ran into Jeff Bridges while in Livingston, Montana. That dress is still hanging in my tiny RV closet. I will wear it someday. Oh, yeah. I’ll wear it.)
- If you are bringing pets along, work with your vet to put together a first aid kit of things you might need. At Goodwill, I found a large compartmented tote with lots of Velcro and zippers that had been a Tupperware salesperson’s demo bag. In it went bandages, tape, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, triple antibiotic ointment, scissors, styptic pencil, monthly flea and tick and heartworm meds, antibiotics, prednisone, Benadryl (for allergic reactions but also for Fourth of July fireworks!), anti-inflammatory tablets, antacid pills, digital thermometer, and five “MRE’s” for dogs, packets where you add water and stir for a full meal, in case I ran out of food and couldn’t find the kind my dogs ate.
And, very important, don’t depart without an updated copy of your pet(s)’ medical records, both hard copy and a PDF your vet has emailed to you,so that you have access to them on your phone.
Along the way, I utilized a service called Rover.com for doggy-daycare. I had four excellent experiences – in Florida, Southern Cali, Northern Cali, and Washington – and recommend it highly. It’s a national network of pet sitters, and a really great option for road warriors.
Definitely do internet searches to see about emergency pet clinics and veterinarian’s offices in the places you are traveling to. That way if illness or injury occurs, you are as ready as you can be. I relied on Yelp reviews and, of course, if I knew anyone in that area, asked for personal recommendations.
I felt completely safe with my two big behemoths. When they heard noises outside Roadcinante, they offered menacing growls and loud barks. Plus, Connor never did suffer any fools. But if you feel like extra security would be nice, or you are traveling without a dog, I’ve read some people bring along an air horn. Others favor things that I would most likely hurt myself with, like mace or firearms. But to each her own.
Let me know of specific questions you have, and I’ll be happy to respond. I’m excited for any and all of you preparing to set out. I can say without doubt, “Chasing Light” has been – continues to be – profoundly life-altering for me.
And…a bit of wonderful news to share. I’ve been selected to receive of a North Carolina Artist Fellowship for 2017-2018 for my “Chasing Light” memoir-in-progress. Thrilled, amazed, humbled, and honored. You can read more about the fellowship and the other eighteen recipients here.