Nomads in Search of a Home

No one ever told me that this was going to be easy.  The first nine or ten months of living on the road, traveling as we pleased, and living out of a backpacking tent were, more or less, amazing.  Yes, we left our van on the side of the road in Memphis, but overall, our trip had many more ups than downs.  But what we didn’t have was an exit plan.  Well, we sort of did.  Our exit plan was to travel, find a place we loved, move there, and then find jobs and figure it out.

We did part one – travel – but the rest has not been nearly as straightforward.  We found lots of places that we liked, but no one place called to us and whispered “I am home” as we drifted off to sleep.  Lesson learned – there is no perfect place.  There are really great places and really lousy places, and you make one of those really great places your perfect (or as close to perfect as you can get) home over the course of time.  So, back to the drawing board.  We made lots of lists (we’ve been doing that for years), weighed the pros and cons, and thought we had come up with a location – Western Massachusetts.  Okay, so now part two was checked off, or so we thought.

Now it was time to move there, find jobs, and figure it out.  And this is when things got real.  Or rather, when we really began digging deep and figuring out what we really want out of this short time we have in this beautiful, ragged world.  We spent several months in Western Massachusetts trying to figure it out – half of which was spent in an artist’s unfinished, musty basement that leaked when it rained.  If that wasn’t motivation to figure something out, I don’t know what would be.

We figured out a lot.  We realized that we didn’t just want to find any job, we wanted to do something that was meaningful and that we were good at.  And I wanted to stay home for a few years until the little guy is in school.  And so we began anew on a journey for Alan to focus on his talents and his passions.  And so, the last year has found us bouncing around from place to place while we figure things out and while Alan completes coursework and studies to pass a certification exam for his new career.

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life.  Which, when I look at it in perspective, means that I’ve been an inordinately lucky lady.  Yes, the past year has seen more than my fair share of tears.  It has been hard to not have a home for so long.  It has been hard to feel unmoored and to deal with drama that is unnecessary and defeating.  But we have our health, we have each other, we have amazing people in our lives, and we have learned more about ourselves than we ever would have if we had not decided to jump into certain adventure.  But the challenges have made it difficult to share openly on this blog, which is why posts for the past year have been sparse.  I’ve been struggling with what to share and what to keep close.  By not sharing, I realize that I have become guilty of airbrushing this nomadic lifestyle. And so, with renewed attention, I plan to begin sharing again.

We have decisions to be made over this next month or so.  Big decisions.  Decisions that will hopefully allow me to announce that we found a place to call our (for now) home.  And I have so many plans.  Plans for us, for the little guy, and for continuing to share our adventures as we gulp down the moonlight.  Bear with me as I dip back into the blogging world and try to wipe off any veneers of perfection.

Lessons Learned v.5

It’s getting colder, and our thoughts turn from where to travel next to where we’d like to live.  As we run through the possibilities and all of the pros and cons, I’m getting a much better sense of my priorities.  Between that, and the thoughts that come as we approach a transition in our life on the road, the lessons are coming hard and fast.  Here’s my latest installment of lessons learned.

1. I do not want to live in a home that is part of a Homeowner’s Association.  In certain areas, this eliminates large portions of housing.  So be it.  I don’t want anyone telling me I must have a two car garage, can’t hang my laundry out, can’t paint my house pink and purple, can’t have chickens or bees or goats or llamas or pet tigers (ok, maybe it’s ok if they tell me I can’t have a pet tiger).  Nor do I want my neighbors to be so constrained.  I understand that this opens me up to more “risk” of my neighbors opening a junkyard next door.  Oh well.  Homeowner’s Associations are great for some people, just not me.  I’m glad I’m fully aware of this before buying a house in an HOA.

2. It is easy to travel far and wide and still only associate with a certain type of people, eat in certain types of restaurants, and stay in certain types of places.  I think it is more important to travel half an hour away to a place with people very unlike you and your cohorts than to travel halfway around the world to associate with similar types in a slightly different cultural context.  Some of the worldliest people never hop onto a plane, but instead fully immerse themselves in all the worlds around them.  After traveling to so many places but never staying in one place for very long on this journey, I’m looking forward to getting to know a new place in depth.  And not just the parts of that place that immediately appeal to me, but all the parts I may first overlook or turn away from.

3. Fall feels like home.  Fall is my favorite season.  Fall is Alan’s favorite season.  What is the one season we missed this year?  Fall.  In order to attempt to outrun cold nights in the tent, we missed this most magical and cozy of seasons.  I hope that this is the very last fall we ever miss.  I’m not sure winter will feel the same without having been welcomed by the golden hues and smokey, sweet, crisp air of autumn.

4. When the choice is more land or more house, I will (almost) always choose more land.  I don’t need a big house, but I want to be able to see lots of green from my window.  I also don’t need a lot of land, but nine times out of ten, more land will satisfy me better than more house.  For me, a house is really just a place to take a break from the sun, the wind, the rain, and the snow.  Oh, and a place to curl up in front of a fire with a good book.  Can’t forget that!

5. You can’t have it all.  Certainly not at once.  This is fine, but it’s a myth that gets perpetuated for young people, especially young women.  When we finally realize that we can’t have it all (if we ever believed that to begin with), the truth can sting a bit.  I already knew this, but when you begin to prioritize all your goals, it crystallizes this truth in a new way.

6. Having a place that feels like home is almost as important as having a place to call home.  I’ve had many places to call home in my life, but only some of them actually felt like home.  I spent the past two years in a very nice town home in the suburbs.  It was clean, safe, and nice, but it never actually felt like home.  I realize that I put off so many things that I would have done had the place felt like home.  I never felt invested in the place, and in turn, it only served as a place to live and not a true home.  Besides becoming invested in any place I live in the future, I’d also like to prioritize finding a place that feels like home.

7. It’s hard to go wrong with green chile sauce in New Mexico.  Not much I can add to this, except for the fact that I am loving New Mexico, its people, and its delicious (and inexpensive) food.

8. I scare a lot less quickly than I did eight short months ago.  There are so many ways I could illustrate this, but I’ll stick with one.  Coyotes.  I like coyotes.  They’ve never scared me and I’ve found their cries hauntingly beautiful.  But that didn’t stop me from scrambling out of my tent in Kentucky when they were making a kill very near by.  At that point, we still had our van, which is where the three of us spent the rest of that night.  Fast forward about seven months, and we’ve heard numerous coyotes, but none as close or as constant as when we were camping in Tucson Mountain Park.  There were dozens in the area around us, some near by, some far.  But even when they were howling mere feet from our tent (and even when our semi-crazy camping neighbor joined in with the coyote howls), I felt warm and secure in our tent and enjoyed the evening serenades.  I’ve come a long way, baby!

Lessons Learned v.4

Van Enjoying One of His Many Meals out in the San Fran Area - thanks Jess for the great dinner and the pic!

Van Enjoying One of His Many Meals out in the San Fran Area – thanks Jess for the great dinner and the pic!

In my last post we were leaving Washington, which feels like ages ago.  Probably because it was.  We spent three weeks in Oregon and two weeks in California since we saw Mt. St. Helens.  We’ve had some ups and downs along the way – the most significant down being when Alan sprained his ankle – but we’re still trucking along.  One of the big ups was a jam-packed week full of seeing friends.  We had plans with different people every day for six days straight!  It was a bit of a whirlwind (and part of the reason I haven’t had time to post anything on here), but so refreshing to see wonderful friends in the San Francisco area.  We’re now headed further south, but I thought that it was about time for another “Lessons Learned” post.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in my head lately as we think about our transition to a more stationary life, and hence the lessons keep piling up.

1. I would rather spend time with someone who thinks deeply about issues and disagrees with me on every point than someone who follows a set script of ideas and agrees with me on everything.  I’ve thought this before, but never with such intensity.  In finding a place to live, I realize that I was focused on finding a place with a community of like-minded souls.  But really, I should just be looking for a place where people care and connect and think, regardless of whether they’re like-minded or not.  Besides, it’s not like my views fit some mold, and they differ plenty from Alan’s.  That’s part of what we love about each other.  We push each other to think deeply about things from many angles.  I’d love to live somewhere where I’d have the opportunity to do that with people of all stripes.  This is increasingly important as our politicians become more polarized from one another.

2. Full moon + fog = A very bright night.  Since we’ve been in the San Francisco area for the past week or so, we’ve experienced the morning (and overnight) fog.  Our visit happened to coincide with the full moon.  If you get lost in the woods at night without a flashlight, wish for a full moon and fog.  It lights up the sky like no other.  It creates a great effect, but also tends to make little boys restless sleepers.  Oh well!

3. After living on the road for so long, washing dishes with a faucet and hot water feels similar to a spa experience.  No joke!  I could have washed dishes in our portable “sink” with cold water, as we’ve been doing for months.  But there was an outdoor sink with hot water just down the dirt road.  I made that walk – several trips for each meal – just to feel the hot water over my hands as I scrubbed each dish.  Well worth the walk!

4. California is expensive.  Not sure what else to add here, but this state has been making our bank account balance fall faster than any other state.  I’m not  sure there’s even been a close second on this trip.  As an example, state parks campsites have been averaging $35 a night!  Insanity!  Needless to say, we’ve been enjoying our first private campgrounds with more amenities for a similar price.

5. The colors of the Pacific Ocean are brilliant.  I grew up with the ocean – the Atlantic is my ocean, and always will be.  But the colors of the Pacific are amazing.  The blues, the greens, only once did I think the color looked similar to the blue-gray I’m used to on the East Coast.  I could look at the Pacific for hours.

6. Letting a two-and-a-half year old hold sticks (or pinecones, or acorns, or…you name it) near your car is a bad idea.  Lesson learned the hard way (check out the nifty scratch on the side of our car), but luckily before he had his way with someone else’s car.

7. When packing to camp, take half as many clothes and twice as many socks and underwear as you think you’ll need.  We’ve become experts at wearing things over and over, making the spans between laundry visits that much longer.  Whereas we used to do laundry when we were running low on clothes, we economize our clothes so well now that we only have to do laundry when we’re low on socks and underwear – the true necessities.

8. 45 degrees at night is not too cold to camp with a toddler.  Neither is 35, for that matter.  25, that’s another story.  I’ve had a few people (including a park ranger) tell me that 45 degrees is too cold at night for camping.  25, I agree, although we’ve done it.  But 45?  No problem!  As long as you bring the right clothes, 45 can be downright toasty!  Alan and I are notorious for keeping our thermostat pretty low in the winter.  I’m wondering what effect this trip will have on our thermostat once we return to living in a house.

9. A home is one of the most wonderful things in the world.  If you’re reading this and you live in a home, be it an apartment, a house, a cabin, or even a home on wheels, take a look around you and realize how lucky you are.  I am craving a home and all that comes with it.  Warmth, protection, a place to prepare meals and lay your head at night, a nearby community of people who care about you, a plot of land to cultivate, a furry friend (Hickory, to be specific) to curl up with, and family.  I have the last of these covered, but I am so looking forward to the rest.  When we finally do have a home, I hope that I never forget to feel grateful for all that we have.

On that note, I am so, so grateful right now for the time that I’ve had with Alan and Van on this trip thus far, the time we’ve had with friends and family, and the opportunities to see and do new things every day.  There can be days when it’s tiring or hard, but most of the time, it’s amazing.  And I feel so lucky to be able to share this journey with my two favorite people.  Even as I begin to long for a home, I am so thankful to have the opportunity to live one of my dreams every single day.  Here’s to hoping that we all have many more days of living our own dreams, whatever they may be.

Happy Six Month Anniversary!

Traveling by Ferry in the San Juan Islands, Washington

Traveling by Ferry in the San Juan Islands, Washington

Six months.  Six long, adventurous, exciting, and family filled months.  I can hardly believe that it’s been six months since we pulled our green VW Eurovan out of my parents’ driveway in New York and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.  And here we are, six months later, living out of a different vehicle, clear across the continent in the damp woods of Oregon.  My thoughts of having a place to call home, cooking healthful meals with a full indoor kitchen, and starting a garden with the little guy have begun to increase lately.  We still have lots more to explore, but I’m equally excited about our post-travel adventures.

Instead of writing about more of the lessons I’ve learned (and there are many), I thought I’d share the best two pieces of advice or words of wisdom that we received.  The first was from my former boss, a fantastic mentor and friend who completely understood our motivation to take this sort of trip.  When we were discussing the ins and outs of our travel while we were still in the preparation phase, he advised me that when we got to the point in our travels that we felt like we were done traveling, we should continue on traveling for another month.  By doing this, we’d really learn if we were done traveling or if it was a temporary set-back that was making us feel that way.  As a result, we’d never look back and wonder if we stopped traveling too soon.  Such great advice, not just for our travels, but for anything we’re doing that we’re thinking of stopping or changing.  This advice has helped me get through the down periods (and thankfully there haven’t been many), when I can’t take another wet night in a tent or another day of trying and failing to find healthful food.

The second was less advice and more words of wisdom from a dear friend from law school.  She grew up in a small southern town in an area not known for its intellectualism or cultural diversity.  This did not prevent her parents from finding a wonderful, like-minded group of friends in their local area.  She passed along their words to me as we search for a new home: no matter where you are, you’ll always find your people.  I may be paraphrasing this a bit, but it’s been one of the most reassuring nuggets of wisdom that I’ve heard during our travels.  It has enabled me to put less pressure on myself to find just the right place to call home.  There are many “just the right places” or maybe none at all, but either way, we’ll find our people.  And isn’t that the most important part of finding a place to call home?

This. This is Why We Travel!

Van Sporting His Junior Ranger Badge on the Steps of a Cabin at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana

Van Sporting His Junior Ranger Badge on the Steps of a Cabin at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana

As I look back at our last five months on the road, I realize that this has been one of the absolute best experiences of my life.  There are things that can be difficult about living on the road, but it is all so worth it.  And the things that started off as difficult have often become routine and easy.  Some of my favorite aspects of our travels so far:

  • I am learning every day.  And I’m learning new things – about the weather, geology, history, about small towns and different cultures, about my limits and my abilities, about my family and the family of plants and animals that share our home.  This is undeniably one of the best things about this trip and something that I can easily translate into life off the road.  Traveling the way we do makes this automatic, but with enough forethought and the right priorities, this is something we can continue to do once we’ve found a place to call home.
  • Living outside.  Our default is being outside.  On certain days, we do get inside for more than a couple of minutes, but more days than not, we’re outside the entire day and night.  There is no better way to learn about nature and get in touch with the out-of-doors than to simply live in it.
  • Spending time with my family.  I get to spend every day, every single day, with my son and husband.  While there are moments that I’d love to get away and spend an evening by myself or with a friend, this is rare.  I am so, so lucky to have this time to spend with Van and Alan.  And not just any time, but time exploring, learning new things, and discovering our capabilities.  This is so different from what we were used to – brief time together in the evening before I went back to work after Van went to bed and time together on the weekend, often to run errands.  These are the most important people in the world to me – I want more than token moments with them.
  • Living with less.  I’ve mentioned this in past posts, but this bears repeating.  This type of traveling has been a great education in true needs.  We really need so little, and living with less makes life much simpler and frees up time, money, and effort to focus on the important things in life – and not stuff.  Because that is all it really is – stuff.  Stuff that clogs our time and robs us of the energy to devote to the things that would really bring us lasting joy.
  • Freedom.  We have the freedom to see what we want to see, go where we want to go, and stop and stay a while when we’re so inclined.  We’re not on any hard and fast timeline, which makes route planning much more relaxing and enables us to really enjoy the places we are since we don’t have to rush away to something else before a flight, a work day, or another obligation.  This freedom is tempered by finances, but we’re lucky that we tend to prefer the cheap or free things anyways.
  • Hiking frequently.  I love to hike – love it.  We tried to do it as much as we could when we lived in the DC area, but unfortunately, with work and our living locations, it was not nearly as often as we would have liked.  Now we get to hike all the time.  It’s impractical to plan to hike every day given that want to see and do a diversity of things, but hiking frequently is a definite must and makes me feel so much healthier and happier.  I’ve always known that the recipe of a happier Stacey is simple – more time outdoors and more time hiking.  Well, given the amount of both I’ve had lately, it’s no wonder that I’ve been so happy.

But, it’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and kittens.  There are challenges and situations that make me want to pack it in from time to time.  Living outside is awesome – most of the time.  But when it’s wet and chilly for days on in, it’s not so fun.  It’s also not so fun when it’s hot, hot, hot with no shade in sight for days at a time.  It’s in moments like these where I truly understand why shelter is a basic human need and I appreciate the comfort and security of four walls and a roof.  And while living with less has been a great education and something I intend to continue, I am so, so excited to live with a real kitchen again.  And a real bathroom, with running water and a bathtub.

While the vast, vast majority of folks we’ve encountered have been lovely and friendly, one run-in with a creepy guy and his pit bull over which he had zero control was enough to send my mind to all the places it shouldn’t go if we want to continue traveling.  Laying in the tent and focusing on how vulnerable we are is less than productive.  Never mind that with vulnerability comes growth, vulnerability can also breed anxiety, discontent, and sleepless nights.

But even after some sleepless nights, whether caused by the puddle developing under our tent or a creepster, we inevitably find ourselves in a brand new situation, look at each other, and share our most frequent refrain, “This. This is why we travel!”  We say it frequently enough to know that this is the right path for us right now.  Here’s to five months on the road and more to come.  How many more?  Stay tuned…