Today is my thirtieth birthday. There is something about a birthday that makes you reflect on where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to be.
When I entered my 20s, I wouldn’t have expected the life I’m living, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if you told me I’d be thirty and living life on the road with my family. Travel has a way of romancing you, and from a young age, I was in love with the change of sceneries.
From the start of our marriage, Mars began trying to convince me to buy an RV, but I didn’t see it as a logical expense. We had no plans of full-time life on the road, so buying something for the weekends seemed foolish on our small budget.
Now, almost a year into “vanlife,” I can say it’s been an incredible ride. It isn’t always easy, and it definitely isn’t as glamorous as social media makes it out to be, but the highs definitely outweigh the lows, and our book of stories to one day tell the grandkids is getting pretty hefty.
However, before jumping into vanlife, we had a little practice.
In the summer of 2016, we took three months and did a 48-state road trip in our Honda Civic. It was this trip that made us realize the possibilities and the rewards to a life of travel.
1. Realize whatever you are dreaming up CAN be done.
At the start of 2016, Mars and I had recently moved back to Oklahoma City from Denver. Everly was approaching the dreaded “terrible-twos,” and I remember feeling discouraged pretty often. I didn’t want to be in Oklahoma City. I missed the mountains and being outdoors, which is probably why I jumped so quickly at Mars’ proposal to travel the 48-states.
We followed this map that went viral – it’s the “perfect” 48 state road trip plan: https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6839764
The route would take us through national parks and historic landmarks in every state. We did a few things off the beaten path, such as changing up the route through the Pacific Northwest.
We decided to go to Olympic National Park instead of the southeastern part of Washington. If any of you consider using this map, I would highly suggest you do the same. Northwest Washington is one of the most magically beautiful parts of the United States.
There is no “right time,” especially for dreams. It’s like we were wired to talk ourselves out of anything slightly unsafe or seemingly difficult.
There are a million excuses to not have taken this trip. Instead of looking at all the reasons why we couldn’t make it work, we asked ourselves how we could.
2. Make your money work FOR you. Categorize your income and tell each dollar where it needs to go.
You guys, we did this on a SHOESTRING budget. We didn’t have much in savings, and we didn’t want to dip into it while on the road unless there was an emergency.
We rented out three of the four rooms in our home to cover the mortgage, and we found a family friend to take care of our dog, Beirut. (Leaving him was definitely the hardest part!)
Our vehicle was not the television-worthy setup we have now. Our first “home on the road” (if you can call it that) was far from cozy, but my Honda Civic Hybrid got great gas mileage! Keeping fuel costs low, for this excursion, was super important. Since we were doing the entire trip on our regular budget, we had to be completely attentive to our spending and make each dollar count.
The 19,001 mile road trip cost us less than $2,000 in gas, $150 in camping fees and $0 in hotels.
Although foregoing hotels helped our wallets, really experiencing each place was our number one goal. From my experience, you don’t get the “live like a local” feeling when you are staying in a chain hotel.
For lodging, we camped at national parks, stayed with friends and family, and couch-surfed with travel-loving hosts all across the United States. Several of these people became great friends whom we keep in touch with to this day. https://www.couchsurfing.com
As far as our marriage goes, our love relationship thrived during this time. If you are going to be on the road with someone, make sure you have a superb relationship. We are a perfect match and hardly ever fight.
Ha! Sorry, I had to.
3. Allow challenges that arise to better you and use them as paths for growth.
To be honest, we were challenged in almost every way while on the road, but it taught us to be a team. It taught us to communicate. We have a superb relationship because we allowed ourselves to be tested and kept choosing to take the path of growth.
I actually almost flew home when we were on day three! We had spent the night in our car somewhere in southern New Mexico. Throughout the night, we would open the doors to try cooling off. Our bodies dripped in sweat from our failing attempt to sleep in our car. Everly kicked me in the head more than once and woke up with snot all across her face. It was unglamorous to say the least.
4. Keep going
However, soon we were below ground in the Carlsbad Caverns and the thought of returning back to Oklahoma City was the furthest thing from my mind.
Just when you’re about to throw in the towel, something incredible is usually waiting to be discovered right on the other side of your decision to stick it out.
5. Say “yes” when you get the chance.
Over the years leading up to 2016, I had started to become much more of a “no” person than a “yes” person. This journey changed that and really opened my eyes to the fact that saying no adds no more safety to your life than saying yes adds danger. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
When you say yes to the opportunities that make you feel inspired, it’s almost as if fireworks are set off around you alerting creation that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and go.
We left the comforts of our Oklahoma City home not knowing exactly what we would find, only knowing that something inside of us was telling us to go. We explored more than 48 national parks and monuments, with some of our favorite stops being the places we hadn’t expected like Horseshoe Bend and Crater Lake. We made friends from places like France, India and Greece, went to a dance church in Minneapolis, got chased by a tornado in Wyoming, almost fell into a volcano at Craters of the Moon and watched sunsets over the Pacific and Atlantic. We have countless stories that we will cherish forever, and I can’t imagine what our lives would be like had we said no.
Simply saying yes changed our course. We didn’t realize fully how the experiences would shape us-just as I’m sure I don’t fully know now how vanlife is shaping us. I do know that it is for the better. No lesson is ever wasted, and every season serves a purpose.
You can check us out on Instagram at @fitetravels
(Photo Credit: @jasperkphoto)