Flexibility and Being Inconvenienced

“You guys have guts.”
“You’re pretty brave.”
“That takes some big ____’s”
“It’s a bit risky, isn’t it?”

Over the past 11 months we’ve had dozens of conversations about this big adventure we’re on.  People have stopped us at rest areas and grocery stores, walked into our campsites at campgrounds, and sent us email after following us through small rural towns - all after seeing the “Family of four on the road for a year” tagline on the truck and trailer decals.

Throughout all of those conversations I can’t recall a single negative comment - save one via email that thought our kids would be “cloistered” (I’m convinced the author didn’t know the meaning of the word).

There have been two common comments in those conversations; one is how great the trip is for the kids (which is true but it’s pretty danged cool for the parents too) and the other is how brave/courageous/adventurous we are.  And while it is an adventure when compared to living the typical US suburban lifestyle, we don’t really see ourselves as brave, courageous, living off the land, bare-chested warrior types.  MsBoyink often comments that she considers herself a “homebody”, and I’m certainly more of an introverted writer/geek than hunter/fisher/outdoorsman.  I’d say Data and Miranda tend to be indoors types as well - there have often been times where I have to kick them out of the trailer to get their noses out of books and out enjoying the weather and surroundings.

So if a brave courageous spirit isn’t required to pack your family into a small box for an extended period of time, what is required?

For us it’s been two things: flexibility and the ability to be inconvenienced.

There have been a number of times where we’ve needed to be flexible for negative reasons:

  • Camping spots we liked got reserved for others.
  • Direct routes were under construction.
  • The museum was closed the day we made time to go.
  • The weather is unexpectedly hot on the day we planned a long hike or bike ride.
  • The weather is unexpectedly cold on the day we planned a long hike or bike ride.
  • The street we needed to turn on is closed for a Christmas parade. And we couldn’t back up.
  • The campground we booked had no wi-fi as expected and our backup air card didn’t get a signal.
  • A client set a launch date, I worked furiously to get my tasks done by then, then they moved the date.

There were a number of times we took advantage of being flexible for positive reasons:

  • The campsite/campground was nicer than expected.
  • We found local people to meet & do things with.
  • A nice family pulled into the campsite next to ours.
  • We wanted to experience something new - like camp-hosting.
  • We heard about an attraction or park from others and wanted to visit it.
  • The weather was nice.
  • A laundry was close by.
  • We just felt like it.

MsBoyink talks about how her ability to flex and adapt in a dynamic manner has grown significantly since leaving on this trip.  I’ve noticed that our family has a new motto/catch-phrase: “We’ll figure it out.”. From food-gathering to finding the next stop to getting somewhere on public transit when questions come up someone invariably says “we’ll figure it out”. Situations that used to cause fear and mad scrambling research are now met in a mostly nonplussed fashion - we’ve done it before, we can do it again.

Being Inconvenienced
I’ve rarely felt at risk on this trip.  There have been few times where we were more than an hour from help.  The United States has an incredible support network for RV’ers.  We’ve needed service work a few times and have yet to feel like it took much effort to get done.  When our fridge stopped working in New York an RV service shop was literally 5 minutes away and had us on the road in 45 minutes total.  When we had toilet issues in Virginia we called a mobile repairman who came to the campground that day.  When we needed a roof in Utah a service shop was right in town and worked on the weekend to get us back on the road on schedule.  When we thought our AC had gone out in Washington a repair shop got us right in, found no issue, and didn’t charge for the inspection.

The safety net is there, so overall it’s less about being brave that it is about being inconvenienced.  It strikes me that your tolerance level for being inconvenienced will determine the type of adventures you can have:

  • Can you tolerate sleeping on a hard surface or do you need a bed?
  • Can you tolerate walking or biking for transportation or do you need a vehicle? 
  • Can you go a day or two without a shower or do you always need to feel totally fresh?
  • Can you prepare food without an oven?  Without a stove?  Without a microwave?
  • Can you do without a fresh pot of coffee every morning?
  • Can you be productive working on laptop?  In an RV?  In a coffee shop?
  • Can you tolerate living in a room that shakes when people walk through?
  • Can you deal with a small wardrobe or do you need a great variety of clothes?
  • Can you deal with being “closer to the weather” in a less insulated environment?

We’ve had our oven go on the fritz, had unseasonable weather in both directions, had to wear clothes longer than before, had to go longer without showers than before, been in loud & cramped private RV parks, and spent more on gas & camping than we’d like.  But really?  Those are just inconveniences.  They’re the currency that we use to pay for the fun parts of the adventure.  Because we’ve tolerated the inconveniences we’ve seen the Niagara Falls, the Outer Banks, the Florida coastline, the expanse of Texas, the Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, so very much more. 

It strikes me while writing this that maybe the “essentials for successful family travel” is really just one thing - and that’s being flexible and knowing that while being flexible you will be inconvenienced.  But - at least so far as we’ve experienced - only inconvenienced and never at true risk.

At least not any more risk than a so-called “safe” suburban lifestyle would have.

7 Comments Flexibility and Being Inconvenienced

  1. Picture of Paula Paula September 10, 2011

    Nice write-up Mike. Good approach to life too, because in the end, we all get curve balls every now and then. Reminds me of my mom saying “This too shall pass.” Embrace that and like you say, you’ll “figure it out.”

  2. Picture of Corey Corey September 10, 2011

    That same advice has served us well in parenting. And business. I suspect it’s the essence of success in almost anything. Great post!

  3. Picture of Mitra Pratt Mitra Pratt September 10, 2011

    The camper shaking…thought that was only something I noticed in ours!

    Great write up, the hubby has followed your blog from start to finish and always gets that “look” in his eyes when he talks about it. I think we’re retiring on the road…it will be a while, maybe by then they will come up with a way to make RVs a bit steadier…but then, what would the fun be in all that!

  4. Picture of Boyink Boyink September 10, 2011

    Mitra -

    We’ve appropriated a word from our word of the day calendar to describe the trailer shaking: We call it the “youthquake”. ;)

    We added X-chocks in the wheels which helps. Data usually sets the back legs and sometimes I need to go add a bit of “old man muscle” which can help.  We decided against the heavy tripod that came for the trailer’s kingpin which would help as well - bit it was big and also blocked using that spot for bike storage.

    There are better stabilization systems out there there that were we to upgrade trailers we’d look into.

  5. Picture of Vesna Vesna September 10, 2011

    100 000 000 per cent!!! We have been told the same about being brave. I find having a 30 year mortgage and relying on someone else to provide you employment brave. It’s all perpective. People said I was brave to skydive, but yet I’m terrified of ladders/heights. So bravery is all in the perspective of the person using the term. I was thinking of writing a similar blog. Instead I will site yours as you’ve hit it right on the head :)

  6. Picture of Boyink Boyink September 11, 2011

    Hey Vesna - does your blog have an RSS feed?  I thought we had subscribed but looks like we missed a few posts.  Looking for land?  Sounds like…settling down? :-)

  7. Picture of Vesna Vesna September 11, 2011

    Hey! There’s an email sign up or something. Nope, no settling down. We are traveling Europe. We are spending the summer with family and looking for land to put a trailer or a small house on while we travel EU and use this as a home base. Staying witb relatives is not an option and we can buy land with a house for 7000 euros, so no big hit on the walet…. Cheaper than our tent trailer! We figure it will take 5 years to see EU this way and get to know family finally. In the winters it will be places like south america, greece, etc. Then we look into the sail boat. We will be heading south once the weather turns. We’re still in 90 degree heat, so we’re staying put until it turns. Not sure how settling down came across in the blog, but if it sounds that way I need to fix it because that’s not the case. I have been playing down our plans for business and cliet purposes however.

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