In October of 2020, while lounging on the couch in our overpriced apartment in the Portland area, an idea came to mind. A big idea involving big life changes. After much thought and consideration, we decided to take a leap of faith. One year later and we're now in the midst of wrapping up our first year of living on the road.
This post highlights the highs and lows of our journey along with some pragmatic advice for others considering this lifestyle.
Going Nowhere & The "New Normal"
Attaining a "good life" in the Portland area is difficult. It effectively boils down to joining the rat race. The overwhelming majority of folks living in the Portland area (and many other urban centers) are effectively going nowhere in life due to the insane cost of living. Even my "software engineering salary" didn't seem to provide enough (and I'm pretty frugal!). Seeing housing developers come into areas and manufacture the lowest possible quality, cookie cutters homes, then turnaround and sell them at jaw-dropping prices with absurd HOA agreements is mind-boggling to me. It's a problem that only seems to be getting worse. Renting isn't a favorable option for similar reasons. I started looking for ways out.
Then COVID-19 happens. It forces change. Everything is different. No more bullshit commuting an hour to sit under florescent lights in a cubicle. Turns out the same job can be done from home, yielding even better results. The pandemic ultimately forced the hands of businesses and governments. Bureaucratic norms fell apart, to be replaced by what should have been all along. A marvelous sight. The opportunity had presented itself; freedom was on the horizon.
Pulling The Ripcord
At the beginning of October 2020, I proposed the idea to my girlfriend. The discussion around living on the road full-time wasn't new to us. We talked about taking a year off to live on the road once she graduated university. But the opportunity was presenting itself and we had a decision to make. Big life changes like this can be frightening, but the answer was obvious.
The following three weeks consisted of us packing the majority of our belongings into a storage unit, terminating our lease, and saying goodbyes to friends. On the last day of October, we awoke on the floor of our empty apartment, packed the final remaining items into our two vehicles, and started the 1400 mile journey to New Mexico.
Our extended stay with my parents during the holidays gave us time to research options for living on the road. Many factors such as work, school, and little black fuzzy animals were taken into consideration as we planned. Countless hours were spent creating pros and cons lists, making financial projections, and trying to imagine what daily life would be like.
Ultimately we settled on purchasing a truck and travel trailer. We're happy we made this decision for the following reasons:
- Having a truck and travel trailer is less expensive to insure compared to a motorhome pulling a tow vehicle.
- A travel trailer is not a vehicle, so it's easy and less expensive to maintain. Only the truck needs regular servicing.
- A van isn't really an option due to our work, school, and animals. It might be something to consider in the future when circumstances are different.
- Having a travel trailer means you can establish a home base. This is a huge benefit mentally and from a planning perspective.
- Having a travel trailer as opposed to a fifth-wheel means you can tow it with a smaller truck, reducing the overall cost of the setup. Most fifth-wheels require a 3/4-Ton truck, which are more costly than a 1/2-Ton truck. Fifth-wheels themselves are also more expensive than travel trailers.
- Travel trailers (unlike motorhomes) are entirely living space. This is important since each square-foot matters in such a small space.
- Modifying the inside of travel trailers is easy. We swapped out the dinette for a good IKEA desk.
Don't Know What You Don't Know
It's now November 2021 and we've been on the road for approximately ten months. In the greater scope of things, our meticulous planning has worked out well. The whole "living" on the road is possible. We've been able to effectively do work and school from the trailer. Pets have adapted remarkably well. Monkey wrenches always get thrown in the cogs from time to time, but we've managed.
As with anything in life, there's always the whole "don't know what you don't know" type circumstances that reveal themselves through experience. Breaking down in the middle of nowhere is one of these sorts of situations. It's happened twice now, and we've come out on the other end better equipped to handle the next time it happens. Recognizing and attempting to deal with stress effectively has also been prevalent, especially on travel days. We've also learned the advantages and disadvantages of our particular setup, which may come in handy down the line if we choose to change things up.
Omniscience would sure be handy sometimes, but learning through trial and error makes life more memorable.
After nearly five years and two months as a software engineer, I decided to turn in my chips. I've moved on to a new position at a new company. My new role is "Senior DevSecOps Engineer", which is even harder to explain to non-tech people now!
As for living on the road, we'll continue meandering from place to place enjoying the freedom of traveling around this beautiful country.