Confident in the belief that life was about more than the career that I enjoyed, I retired on August 13, 2015, with the intent to begin the next chapter of a life well lived. To be sure, I would miss all of the things that everyone mentions when leaving the work force—the friends, the challenges, the structure—but I never worried about being bored. In the years leading up to retirement, I grew increasingly excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. There were books I wanted to read, a camera I wanted to use, stories I wanted to write, and, most importantly, vast stretches of America that I wanted to see.
Three days after retiring, Helen (adorable wife) and I left on the first of four extended road trips, each trip lasting about a month or longer. We would return after every one genuinely grateful for the experience and eager to plan another. We are certain there are many others in or nearing retirement with plans for extended travel at the top of their bucket list. With that in mind, we want to share some of the lessons we learned which helped to make our experiences both memorable and rewarding and also led to the RV lifestyle we enjoy now.
Why an RV?
Once we began making regular road trips, we began to explore National and State Parks where amazing scenery and wonderful recreation opportunities are plentiful. While there, we would drive through the campgrounds of many of them. Both Helen and I had enjoyed camping as members of scouting organizations in our childhood and had great memories of camping in the Great Smoky Mountains with our children. The idea of spending vacations in a park amid incredible beauty or alongside a tranquil body of water in our own (albeit small) “home” began to take hold in our minds.
Where to start
The purchase of an RV is a commitment of both time and resources. The best advice we received when we began looking around came when a friend said to rent one first and see if the lifestyle was for us. That made sense, especially when another friend commented that she preferred to have someone else make her bed and wash her towels while on vacation…certainly something to consider.
After doing some research, I found a deal online from an RV rental company that needed a brand new motor home driven from its headquarters in Chicago to a dealer in Los Angeles. The offer stipulated that I had to complete the journey in three weeks and, in return, I would get deeply discounted daily rates, with no charge for mileage, and would receive $250 toward gasoline. That was all I needed. I took a one-way car rental to Chicago, picked up the motorhome, which we nicknamed Sherman, and took off across the southern United States on a three-week adventure we titled “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” We flew home on airline points. Our trip was fantastic, and long before we arrived at Point Mugu, CA, we knew the RV lifestyle had us in its grip. Offers like this from RV rental companies are common, particularly in the spring before tourist season begins.
What to buy
The varieties of RVs are endless and range from pop-up campers to towable trailers, fifth-wheel campers, all the way to million dollar motor homes. As a result of our experience in Sherman, our rental motorhome, we chose a small-ish towable trailer named Bertha that we could park at the campsite and still have the use of a vehicle to explore, shop, or dine out without having to bother with parking a large motorhome. The choice of RV type is strictly a matter of preference, but a trailer works for us. We keep Bertha at a storage facility when not in use, which is something to think about when weighing RV decisions.
There are many other factors to consider when planning extended travel either by RV or by conventional lodging. If the possibility of an extended road trip is in your future, we encourage you to read on. Listed below are a few items we think are very important.
Before you make plans for an extended road trip ask some very probing questions. Can you live without the weekly golf match with the guys or the bridge luncheon with the girls? What about that fabulous birthday party in three weeks that everyone is attending? Will I enjoy being that far from the comforts of home? Can I live in smaller quarters for an extended period? We had those questions and then some. A recent survey showed that 60% of husbands wanted to spend more time with their spouse in retirement, but only 43% of wives felt the same. Could Helen tolerate me stuck to her side for five weeks? I wanted to take that first road trip so badly, I was almost afraid to ask, but I did, and we had a serious discussion about it. Helen is a busy person, and frankly, I was surprised (and thrilled) when she exclaimed enthusiastically “I’m all in.” Being on the same page is essential to success, so be sure you’re both committed.