Milepost 1-18-16 – at a vacation rental in the tropics
Travelers come in all sizes and shapes, and so do their travel preferences and their budgets. Not everybody can afford to start out with a 40-foot motor home towing a boat. Young families usually start out with tents or pop-up campers and graduate to more comfortable amenities later on.
When our kids were young and we had foster kids and foreign exchange students, we drove a full-size van every day of the week, so when we wanted to head out on a road trip, we just threw the tent and cooler – and the porta-potty – into the van with our sleeping bags and away we went. It was rather an all-purpose vehicle. We could only afford one vehicle at a time, so it had to be versatile. We stayed in campgrounds or in the national forests where the camping was free.
But the budget is not the only consideration that has a bearing on our travel mode.
Destination is another. You can’t very well take a motor home when you are flying to the tropics for the winter or traveling to Italy for an art tour. On the other hand, if you are planning to hike along the Appalachian Trail you would need the lightest of tents and backpacks. Weight would be a consideration that might limit you to one can of Spam for the entire trip. Darn!
Further, the type of travel comes into play. What is the experience you are looking for? If you want to motorcycle the length of Route 66 with other Harley enthusiasts, your equipment is pretty much going to be determined by the requirements of that particular mode of travel.
Suitcase travel is a mode that will take you a lot of places but not to the backcountry. It is the thing for staying in hotels, bed & breakfasts, cruises and vacation rentals, but you’ll need to switch to a backpack if you are hiking down through the Andes in South America.
Since we hit the road, Kaye and I have frequently switched modes when we were ready for some variety. We drove the Alaska Highway – the ultimate road trip – with a pickup and a fifth wheel camper which we stayed in for months at a time. That was how we also did our work-camping where we earned a winter campsite in southern California by working 20 hours a week at the campground.
Last fall, when I wanted to head off on a solo photo shoot, I threw a small tent, an air mattress and a cooler into the back of the pickup and took off for the state forest in northern Michigan where the facilities were rustic and the stress level almost non-existent. (Towing a fifth wheel is not entirely stress-free, especially through cities and along truck routes.)
It is entirely likely that over the course of a lifetime most of us will experience an evolution of travel modes, starting out small and gradually growing as our travel tastes change over time.
Mind you, I do recommend planning. It might be nasty to invest in a huge camping rig (with a monthly payment to match) and then wake up some morning in a crowded RV park with the realization that what you really wanted was to sail around the Bahamas, gunk-holing from one sheltered cove to the next.
On the other hand, there’s probably no harm (other than the cost) in trying things out. If one mode of travel doesn’t suit your fancy or you get tired of it, try something else for awhile.
This has been our objective since we sold the house a while ago and took to the road. Let’s see where this takes us. We’ll try RV-ing for a while and then change it up when we need some variety.
Right now, the RV sits in storage, the plumbing winterized against the Michigan cold and snow, while Kaye and I sit on the veranda of our vacation rental in the tropics in a quiet little fishing village at the end of the road in the Dominican Republic.
Hey, whatever blows your hair back (if you have any hair). When it comes to travel, almost anything goes – at the right time in your life and at the appropriate price tag, and in the preferred mode.
Travel will entirely change your world view. And part of that is that very often it just offers really unusual sights that are not on the itinerary. My experience has been that nary an adventure transpires without bonus stuff thrown in, little surprises that add interest to the story.
We have moved to the Dominican Republic for the winter, one of our favorite and most affordable tropical destinations, and our biggest surprise so far was the sighting of a pirate ship that ran aground on the beach next to the restaurant where we were having lunch with our French hosts.
The beach-going vacationers were called on to help free the heavy old vessel and they were eager to dive in and help. Well, actually, diving wasn’t necessary as the water was only a meter deep.
Their efforts were futile, and the seamen decided to try towing their ship off the sand using a motor boat. Alas, they couldn’t find enough rope to reach to deeper water where the boat was waiting so they had to give that up.
When we left they were attempting to push the ship seaward with a backhoe. I don’t know if they were successful with that; I think there is a limit to how far into the ocean you can drive a backhoe.
So we had some pretty amusing dinner entertainment – and an unanticipated photo op.
The surprises that the travel life offers are not always fun. I am sure the ship’s owner was not amused by his predicament.
Our motto for travel has always been, “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and take what comes.”
Because you never know for sure what you are in for when you set sail on life’s sea.
Milepost 1-1-16 In a vacation rental at Rockford, MI
I am spoiled for the ordinary.
As a summer camper and beachcomber, my dad was the one who did it to me and my siblings. I remember the day he took the whole family to Sears to buy our first cabin tent that would sleep all 7 of us. I have precious memories of mountains we climbed and trails we hiked while hauling that heavy tent on the luggage rack of the family stationwagon.
And I have done it to my kids likewise, dragging them around the country to national parks and seashores in an old van, and later, offshore to foreign countries for months at a time.
And as a mentor, I have done it to a whole lot of other people’s kids as well.
A youth volunteer at the local church for 35 years, I took kids camping, hiking, canoeing, and spelunking. My wife and I even took them on cross-cultural trips to underdeveloped countries to see how the rest of the world lives.
One of my mentees once complained to me, “Bob, you have ruined my life; I am no longer satisfied with normal American life.”
Okay, so he said it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but there is real truth to the matter. The American dream sits at the top of a ladder to success whose rungs are installed in a standard sequence that goes like this: Do well in school so you can get a good education so you can get a good job so you can marry the right person and provide for the perfect family and live in a nice house (with a mortgage) in a good neighborhood and have two cars and a boat in the garage so you can eventually retire and travel or play golf all day.
Feeding your inner travel beast too early can change the order and mess things up. I used to tell my mentees that “What you feed is what will grow.”
Well, if the thing that you feed is a wanderlust, you may become dissatisfied with the normal sequence of American life and want to get out early. You would have been better off to never leave home in the first place. You wouldn’t know what you were missing and would be content to stay put. You should never have opened the cover of that first National Geographic magazine.
So, I am all about blowing up the status quo. And ruining people for the ordinary. And I will never apologize, because the end result of an inconveniently interrupted American lifestyle is actually a much richer existence.
Nobody arrives at their deathbed saying, “I wish I had traveled less and seen less of the world.” or “I wish I had not met those foreigners and broadened my world view.”
So if I can feed your wanderlust I will do it. I would love to blow up your common life by helping you get out the door and on the road.
Because I know you will someday thank me for it like I thank my dad for blowing up his modest household budget one summer by purchasing that expensive canvas tent at Sears Roebuck & Company.
But you need to have your eyes wide open. What you feed is what will grow. Feeding your inner gypsy is dangerous. It could devastate the comfortable lifestyle you now enjoy. You could end up selling your house and hitting the road – like me.
And discovering an alternate universe, as it were, in the next state and around the world.
There is something innately alluring about lighthouses. Maybe it is the unique architecture and ingenious engineering of these old towers – or the attraction of the seashore lifestyle, but just about everybody loves them. Some folks love them so much that they “collect” lighthouses. That is, they make intentional trips just to connect the dots, as it were, traveling from one light to the next in a quest to see how many they can visit.
At various times in our lives, Kaye and I have been “collectors” as well. Living in Michigan, it’s not a difficult thing to do, since the Great Lakes are lined with scores of these beautiful old structures. Anyone who travels along the lakeshore will sooner or later spot the next one, and if their timing is right, they may get to climb the tower or tour a historic light keeper’s house.
Fortunately, lighthouse tours are becoming more common as the state and federal governments turn over more and more of the old properties to preservationist groups who take over the maintenance and open them up to the public for tours.
Lighthouses are designed to be visible, and it’s fun to notice the differences from one to the next. The original day mark – appearance by daylight – had be distinctive so that ship captains would not confuse them with neighboring installations. This makes for a plethora of beautiful designs from stripes to contrasting colors.
The night mark – or characteristic – of the lights at night had to be distinctive as well, so they were varied by colors: white, red, and green, and also by duration: flashing or solid.
Most of the still operating lights are owned by the Coast Guard, but only the actual lamps and lenses in the towers. The properties and structures are now leased and operated by maritime history lovers. There are several at which you may volunteer and help with the preservation.
Kaye and I spent two weeks at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan, staying in the keeper’s house and running the gift shop and museum every day with five other volunteers.
Lighthouses are fascinating structures, and there are loads of folks who are living under the spell, chasing along the seashores and lakeshores of America from one light to the next.
Are you following the wandering shoreline to see the next tower around the bend? It is a lot of fun. And those who live in the Great Lakes state are especially blessed to be in such close proximity to so many great landmarks.
Here are a few more photos of lighthouses we have “collected” over the years:
I have produced a calendar with 13 high-definition images of Michigan lighthouses, but the 2016 Michigan Lighthouses calendar is sold out. I will be collecting more great lighthouse photos during 2017 and will offer a new edition of the calendar later in the year. I will post a notice when it is ready.
Milepost 11-24-15 In a vacation rental at Rockford, Michigan
I breathed a sigh of relief at the moment when, in the movie Knight and Day, Ms. Day (played by Cameron Diaz) says that she plans to travel someday, and the undercover spy, Mr. Knight, (Tom Cruise) replies, “Someday is just code for Never”. This hit close to home for me, because my wife and I had struggled for several years to free ourselves from debt and a mortgage so that we could hit the road.
But we had done it. After closing our business and downsizing for several years, our house and property finally sold and we put the last of our keepsakes into a storage unit and took off to follow our dreams – and the American road – in search of adventure and a more untethered lifestyle.
Sometimes spontaneity doesn’t happen without a lot of planning. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but the American dream has stakes that are driven deep, and it may take a determined effort to pry them out of the ground when one finally gets the notion to be free.
Isn’t it odd that the freedom we enjoy in our country compels us to go after so much stuff that it becomes its own kind of bondage? Mow the lawns, weed and feed the grass – so it will grow faster and greener – and require more frequent mowing. Climb the corporate ladder so you can afford a bigger place with larger lawns, that need to be weeded and fed so they will grow faster and look nicer; but now require a much larger lawnmower – which we will buy with a credit card.
And our own personal empire doesn’t necessarily submit to our commands. We wake up one day and discover that we are not driving it anymore; it is driving us.
Someday we will get free. Someday we will travel. Someday we will spend an entire day in flip flops – or barefoot. Someday we will see the world. Someday we will live on the beach.
Someday we will forget what day it is.
Thankfully, it has finally happened for us. Kaye and I often wake up in the morning and have to think for a minute to remember where we are and what day it is. We are delightfully lost – and not looking for the way home. Wherever we are, we are home.
But it almost didn’t happen. It took a lot of determination and hard work to free ourselves and to finally get lost enough to find ourselves.
We no longer use the word “someday” without taking out our calendars and setting a date.
When will you starting setting dates for your travel dreams?
… or flexibility is the mother of invention… or flexibility is the spice of life. Or something like that.
Anyway, for career wanderers, flexibility is an essential ingredient in keeping life moving along smoothly. The fact is, stuff happens, and sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men… get torpedoed.
Our tentative plans for the next year are already laid out, but they are not written in stone. They can’t be. Because life happens, and things change. There are changes in the weather, there are changes in family plans.
And mechanical repairs. We were planning to tour New England right now, virtually extending a trip to New York to deliver a load of furniture I had built for a customer there over this summer. I took the pickup in for a routine oil change… and ended up having the entire front end rebuilt when the technicians saw worn edges on the front tires. The work was scheduled for the following Saturday, the day we were to leave, and it extended into the next week as servicemen found more worn parts.
The upshot was that we didn’t have time left for the planned excursion to the east coast, since we wanted to be back to Michigan for a rendezvous of all of our kids in one place at the same time (they have become quite the traveling vagabonds as well and don’t cross paths but a couple of times a year).
So what do full-time adventurers do when their plans are destroyed?
They make new plans.
While checking the route to New York I had discovered some rugged features including box canyons and waterfalls not far from our drop-off point. Bingo! New adventure.
As someone said lately, “Never waste a good fiasco.” Or when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Or when life hands you grapes, don’t wine about it.
Anyway, we modified our plans and spent a couple of days climbing around the waterfalls at Watkins Glen, New York.
I loved it. Maine coast, eat your heart out. We will get to you another time when we have the time – and a red convertible – to do it properly.
50 states will wait for us. We are stuck for the time being at 43. And that is fine.
Here are some photos I shot while exploring the canyons of western New York.
Anyway, if variety is the spice of life ( and to full-time adventurers it really is), then flexibility is the mother of invention. It results in the invention of the next side trip… and more adventure.
Milepost 10-6-15 Cedar Springs Michigan. Parked in our daughter’s yard.
Today Kaye and I are leaving for New England on a spontaneous quest to add 6 more states to our collection for a total of 49 – leaving only Hawaii unvisited. We really did not have this on our bucket list until coming home from the south last spring. We had added several new ones while wandering across the south during the winter from Louisiana east to Florida and then north along the Atlantic coast heading back home in the spring. At some point along there it occurred to us that we were actually unintentionally tallying an impressive inventory of states visited.
By the time we turned west from the eastern seaboard we decided to make it a thing, and we would have to be really intentional about Delaware or we would miss it entirely. It wasn’t on the way to anywhere else like most of the states we had visited. We were camping near Washington D. C. and decided to make a quick day trip to score Delaware.
Now we are heading off to New York to deliver a trailer load of custom-built rustic furniture that I assembled during the summer for a client that I had built stuff for a few years ago. And we have time to continue on to New England and visit the last six of the continental United States. Maybe we will even see some fall color.
Visiting all 50 states was not a thing for us until we realized we were well on our way to doing it just by chance. Just by being travelers all of our lives.
Actually, two of our three daughters have already visited all 50 and they got their impressive start while riding in the back seat as kids while we explored the country as a family with a van and a tent years ago (photo at top shows our stop at the Tetons in 1991).
I am not sure what we will do about Hawaii. If it really is a thing for us, we will probably have to make it happen sometime. So is it a thing or not? I don’t know. If I have to choose, I might rather continue east and do Italy (one of my daughters is there with a friend right now). Time will tell.
Meantime, watch for a report from the coast of Maine in the next few days. See ya!
Postscript: We had mechanical trouble that prevented us from making the New England trip. Instead, we spent time in a service garage. We did get our shipment delivered to our client in New York, but our tour of the northeast will have to wait.
Milepost 9-15-15 Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan
Kaye posted a daily journal of our first few days of volunteering at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse:
Day One – Tuesday, 9-15-15
We arrived last evening and met our team members. The place is so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine we have this amazing opportunity. And so it begins.
There is WiFi at the lighthouse!!! Wahoo!!! I am downright happy about that.
After a brief demonstration from one of the other volunteers, I worked the video room most of the morning, re-stocked the cooler, gave tours of the keepers’ quarters to some possible volunteer recruits, shadowed someone closing out cash register, learned to open safe. Bob worked in the tower and at various other jobs.
I am on a steep learning curve! Lots we need to know to be lighthouse keepers. Glad we don’t have to haul oil up the tower to light the lamp. Also thankful for a great team to work with and to learn from.
Exhausted. Feet hurt…
Day Two – Wednesday, 9-16-15
From our bedroom window, we saw the Badger leaving the harbor on its way back across Lake Michigan to Manitowac, Wisconsin.
I learned a bit about running the cash register.
Day Three – Thursday, 9-17-15
Field trip!!! Craziness.
Somehow Bob and I ended up having the place to ourselves for the evening. The whole freakin’ lighthouse and the whole dang beach. How bizarre! Wonderfully peaceful and quiet after having those students here all day. Well, quiet except for the wild wind and pounding surf.
Day Four – Friday, 9-18-15
Our day off – so we visited the new grand-daughter who is one week old today.
Stopped at the famous House of Flavors for supper. Fish is excellent.
Day Five – Saturday, 9-19-15
Busy day. I worked the video room all morning, the cash register in the afternoon, and then back to the video room.
Day Six – Sunday, 9-20-15
What an awesome view. Nine miles to the south, the Badger is heading out of the harbor and across the lake passing a row of seven sparkling white sailboats as a speed boat zips by all of them. Several fishing boats are spread across the horizon as well.
Lots of interesting and inquisitive visitors came inside and still more lounged outside. On a quick afternoon break upstairs, I glanced out windows to the scene below. Families were sitting and/or playing in clusters on the beach. People strolled along the boardwalks and hiked into the surrounding dunes. So lovely.
One of my online writing friends came to visit today. It was our first chance to meet face-to-face after corresponding for three years. Fun times. Actually all of us on the team had friends or family visit this evening.
Day Seven – Monday, 9-21-15
Another gorgeous morning – in a long string of beautiful weather. We sure picked the right time of year to be here!
An interesting day. First visitors were from London, UK, and later some from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Then a keeper from Passage Island and Rock of Ages in Lake Superior. What fun to chat with him.
It was 2 o’clock before I even knew it – and before I had chance for a break.
I feel like I’m beginning to understand the process of closing out the cash register. We were one penny off.
State park ranger, fire and rescue paramedics, and ambulance all showed up in our yard responding to a medical emergency call during the evening. Turns out all is well.
Finished out our first week with a campfire out on the dunes.
Our long-awaited engagement at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse at Ludington, Michigan is upon us, and there are a couple of notices I need to post for those who might want to visit while we are there.
The first is that this is a remote location that is only accessible via a 1.8-mile trail through the dunes from the visitor center at Ludington State Park. It may be a difficult hike for those who are not used to that much physical exertion (at least it is not hilly). And then there is the lighthouse tower with its 130 steps if you want to climb to the top. Then, of course, the return walk to the car.
The second thing to be noted is the hours of operation. The lighthouse and museum and gift shop are open from 10 am to 5 pm daily. The surrounding grounds – mostly sand dunes and lakeshore – are open all the time.
There is a small fee for entry into the state park unless you have the Michigan Passport license plate. Trailhead parking is immediately inside the park entrance. The cost to climb the tower is $5 for adults and $2 for kids twelve and under. Kids must be 40 inches tall to climb the tower.
Kaye and I will be arriving at the lighthouse for our tour of duty on September 14th after 5 pm, and leaving on the 28th. We will stay in the original keeper’s house which is attached to the lighthouse and be working alongside four other volunteers, taking turns in the gift shop, the museum and the lantern room at the top of the tower.
I plan to post reports and photos of our activities while at the light whenever I have access to wireless services, so stay tuned.
9-16-15 Update. Day 3 of our 2-week engagement:
We arrived on Monday and settled in at our upstairs bedroom in the 150-year-old light keepers’ house along with the other volunteers. The weather has been sunny and very windy every day so far. Kaye and I take turns with the others, running the till in the gift shop, answering questions about the history of the lighthouse in the little museum, and keeping visitors safe on the tower platform 100 feet above the Lake Michigan beach.
We also rotate in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal for the group. Today I baked pizzas from scratch and they were accepted with delight.
Skies have been totally clear the last 3 nights and I have had a chance to attempt night sky photography, something I have been hoping to try for some time but haven’t been in a dark enough location. Though we are 9 miles from the nearest town, this is still not the best scenario, since the light on the ground tends to overpower the Milky Way. Wish I could find how to turn off those amber yard lights next to the building. Here’s a sample of my first attempt.
The RenFest at Holly, Michigan, runs on weekends from late August to Early October each year. I visited on a Saturday and found it uncrowded and in tip-top form. The re-enactors and vendors and visitors all seemed to be in a good mood and ready for some fun. This being my first visit – and photographs being my top priority – I chose not to go in costume. Of course, there were plenty of costume shops open, so I could have rented or purchased a tunic and a sword. Maybe next time.
Here’s a photo line-up of this colorful historical attraction. (Click on any photo to view it in full screen mode.)
Whenever I return to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, I have decided that a sword is a nice thing to have, but I am going to avoid a kilt. That’s just me. Do what you want. It’s all good. And it’s all a lot of fun.
And don’t miss the traditional turkey drumstick for lunch. It’s actually slow-smoked and tasty.
And then there is the ubiquitous dill pickle right out of the barrel.
Hmm… so much to savor and so few summer days left.
Here is the link to the RenFest website. Have fun!
My road atlas shows the secondary roads in red. Those are the narrow two-lane county blacktops that pre-date the expressways and the superhighways. And it is where the historical sites and nostalgic gems are still found.
M-22 is a redliner’s treasure, as it winds through mature forests and over sand dunes, outlining the Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan’s virtual “pinkie” finger as it were, the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten. It is punctuated by 150-year-old lighthouses and roadside farm markets offering sweet black cherries and other organic delicacies.
A side spur from this rural delight is another gem, M-109, which winds lazily through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an expansive park that is managed by the National Park Service. It is the home of a well-preserved ghost town. Glen Haven is an old fishing village with a historic inn, general store, blacksmith shop, fishing cannary and other buildings.
The National Lakeshore is a wonderland of perched sand dunes, thick forests, abandoned farms and old vacation homes. The shorelines are gorgeous. If there is magic where land and water meet, then this peninsula is entirely enchanted. Shifting sand dunes rise more than 450 above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.
Nature lovers and adventurers experience a rush of enthusiasm for a plethora of hiking trails, bike paths, scenic drives and beaches.
Here is a line-up of photos I captured while on a recent visit to the area:
Being over 50 miles from the nearest freeway, M-22 is not on the way to anywhere… except adventure and natural splendor.
My travel tip: If you can, avoid the crowds of the later summer and visit the area in September when the parks are nearly empty and you have your pick of campsites – or cabins. The lakes are still relatively warm and accommodating for water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming.
After that, the maple forests light up with the vivid yellows, reds, and oranges of autumn.
And after that, it gets nasty out here when the gales of November start whipping off of Lake Michigan and the early snows set in.
I love the activities of summer and the pleasant weather that makes them so enjoyable. Summer is definitely my favorite season of the year. Life is easy. The sweaters are in storage and t-shirts and flip flops are the standard uniform.
Kaye and I are parked in a small town campground for the summer and we have a virtual smorgasbord of events to choose from in the mitten of lower Michigan.
Every town is having its annual summer festival and the air is filled with the aroma of cotton candy and corndogs. Carnivals are buzzing and whirring everywhere as the Tilt-a-Whirl makes its frenzied spin. Food trucks offer gastrointestinal delight (or disaster) at every midway. What fun!
Here are some photos of summer festivals that we have enjoyed in lower Michigan over the last couple of years.
Dog Daze at Marlette, Michigan.
The Thumb Octagon Barn Festival, Gagetown, Michigan.
The River of Time, Bay City, Michigan.
This annual encampment re-enacts a complete timeline of American military history from the native Americans to World War II and Vietnam.
Blues on the Mall, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Creekside Days, Ortonville, Michigan.
Farm Markets everywhere!
I am loving the growing popularity of the local farm markets. They are springing up in every little town and city and offer locally produced health and organic foods in bulk.
Not only that, but some permanent bulk food stores are popping up here and there. In our old neighborhood in Michigan’s thumb (the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten), Country View Bulk Food store is owned and operated by a Mennonite family and offers a plethora of farm products in bulk. It is growing so fast that the owners are adding space to the building every summer!
There are only a few weeks of summer left and then fall arrives and the weather changes. And our opportunities to take advantage of the summer farm markets and festivals will end for another season. Better get out there right now and make hay while the sun shines, as it were. Soon enough the snow will fly and the outdoor markets will be gone.
Maybe this photo will provide the virtual kick in the pants that you may need to get out to the local festivals and farm markets pronto!
There is good and bad in everything, and it is no different with the traveling life. We have been at this modern gypsy thing for a while now, and sometimes it seems that the life style comes down to a balance of convenience and inconvenience. With every trade-off of one for the other, there is the question, “Is it worth it?” “Is there a reward?”
I don’t know that it varies from any other sort of life style in that way, the details are just a little different. Here are some inconveniences we have had to consider:
With adventure there comes a certain amount of risk. When we lived in the big house in rural Michigan for over 40 years we never locked the doors. Even when we were gone. Now we live in unfamiliar neighborhoods with dwellings only a few yards apart and we lock every time we leave for more than a trip to the mailbox. Maybe we don’t need to – campers tend to watch out for each other – but we don’t know the area well enough to know how safe or unsafe we are.
On the other hand, most of the parks we have stayed in are gated communities and have prepared for every scenario to ensure the safety of their clients.
One of the things that old people want to know about their community is where the nearest emergency room is. It can be inconvenient to drop in to the nearest urgent care facility and not have access to your medical history. Searching for a dentist when you chip a tooth a thousand miles from your hometown can be a challenge.
Stores and restaurants are usually not a problem any place in America. Even on our epic drive to Alaska last summer, we were able to pick up basic foods at a local convenience store… at twice the price, of course. The nearest supermarket was 125 miles north of us at Fairbanks.
Access to viable internet and television signals can be a bit less handy. Back home you subscribed to cable or satellite link-ups and then forgot about it for two years. Not so with the mobile life. Thankfully, in every campground there are veteran RV-ers who can help you find the nearest and strongest providers who will keep you connected. Month-to-month and without a contract. Cool.
Stuff requires maintenance. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hobby farm, a condo, an estate, or a travel trailer, stuff has to be serviced from time to time. The convenience of the RV life is that there is much less stuff to maintain. The house is smaller and that means less vacuuming and mopping. The yard is non-existent, so there is no mowing (unless you are a work-camper) and no mower whose blades have to be sharpened. You have left the keepsakes in storage along with the cupboards and bookcases that housed them, so there is a minimum of dusting.
But the RV needs the wheel bearings greased every few thousand miles, the rubber roof needs to be re-treated every 2 years, and the siding, if it’s fiberglass, needs waxing every couple of years. The truck or motor home engine needs the usual oil changes and tire rotations. The propane tanks need filling every now and then (more often in the wintertime) so you will need to locate the nearest filling station.
One of our biggest inconveniences is that we are away from our kids and grandkids for long months at a time. We have never been homesick because our home is with us, but we do miss the grandkids every now and then. When they are young they grow from one phase to the next quickly, and we feel like we are missing out. The FOMO factor kicks in (Fear Of Missing Out).
Occasionally, we miss a family reunion. Last year, when my brother passed away in Michigan, we were on a 5-month work-camp assignment in California and had to excuse ourselves quickly and fly home for the funeral. (It’s important to keep funds on hand for such emergencies.)
For Kaye and me, the thought of having a pet with us is not worth the inconvenience, but we are surrounded by pet-owners who are making a go of it. One of their biggest challenges is making sure their pet doesn’t become an inconvenience to their neighbors. A yappy dog quickly becomes a very unpopular thing in the middle of the night in a campground. Most of the pet owners we have seen are really good about the essential inconvenience of picking up after a pooping dog.
I cannot speak to the challenge of the young family who pursues the traveling life; we see very few who are doing it. The few that we have encountered are home schooling their children, of course, and that presents its own challenges, but location doesn’t seem to be a problem. In fact, it’s the only way to educate your kids on the fly and it can be done anywhere. We met a family on the beach in Alabama that was sailing the high seas with the kids in a sailboat. Maybe they wouldn’t do it forever, but they were certainly building an unforgettable educational experience while the kids were young.
I think the bigger problem with kids would be what to do with them on rainy days when everyone is trapped indoors in a crowded space. You can’t send them to the basement rec room or to their bedrooms with a book or a toy. You can’t ever really get away from them. You will have to be creative. Every town has a library and a theater or bowling alley and we even found an indoor aquarium or two in a couple of places. Without imagination or an on-board library – whether books or videos, I see gypsy burnout on your not-so-distant horizon (but if you are lucky enough to do it, try it for a while anyway!)
If your pastimes include road tripping, sightseeing, hiking, farm marketing, campfire cooking, reading, photography, or “collecting” lighthouses or waterfalls or new friends, you are in luck. The mobile life will accommodate all of these and lots more.
If, however, you amuse yourself with carpentry, pottery, classic car collecting, or welding, you may be up against a bit more of a challenge. I have managed my interest in carpentry by doing it seasonally. When I am back in Michigan every summer I get my portable workshop-in-a-utility trailer out of storage and build the latest book shelf for my kids. If they need some project done in the house, they just know not to ask for it in the winter when I am wandering around the south or in the tropics. Come summer, I will back into their yard and open up my mobile workshop and fix whatever needs fixing.
I am also a musician and have my piano on board with me. Last winter in Alabama I found a campus band to play along with, and one guy even had an entire recording studio set up in a tent next to his RV. How about that.
The trade-off for the inconveniences of the wandering life is the rewards that it offers, and that’s really the reason why most of us are doing it. We want to see new places, meet new people, try living somewhere else in the world for a while and see what it’s like. We are tired of the old place, we are tired of the cold winters, we are tired of feeding and weeding and mowing the lawns and trimming the shrubs.
There are mountains to be climbed, there are beaches to be combed, there are forests to be hiked and ocean sunsets to be enjoyed. We are not waiting any longer to get there.
Inconveniences be damned, we are going for it!
Are you thinking about going for it? Trying to weigh the risks with the rewards? Will it be worth it?
You know what? You won’t think of everything. And that’s all right. Relax. Prepare for it the best you can, talk to people who’re doing it, read blogs like this one. But don’t let fear of the unknown be a roadblock to your new adventure.
The worst inconvenience of all would be getting to the end of your health – or your life – without the satisfaction of having pursued your irresponsible dream of the traveling life, the way of the vagabond, the beach bum.
If you don’t like it or it turns out to be more inconvenient than rewarding, you can always go back to the former life with its security and its predictability. Either way, have fun!
“Our culture has become so obsessed with the before and after that we’ve forgotten that all the living happens in the during.” –Stacy Sims Brown; see her blog, Fat Aunt Sassy Sees the World
I had a chance to join a few other photographers on a back-alley visit to some run-down landmarks in Detroit a couple of days ago, and the experience was both adventurous and nostalgic. There is a certain sad aura that surrounds these historical sites when you think about the faded glory of the past.
Eastown Theater was opened in 1930 as a fancy movie theater seating about 2,400 people. Much later, it became the premier rock venue for bands like Alice Cooper, the Doors, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Seger, Jethro Tull and the Grateful Dead among others, mostly from 1969 to 1973.
The scrappers have been busy in the building since it closed for the last time in the late 1990’s. The roof and some of the floors have collapsed after a fire in 2010.
St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church was founded in 1920 in a new frame building and grew quickly with the immigration of auto workers from Europe so that a larger brick sanctuary was constructed and opened in 1930. A school and rectory were soon built next door. But times changed and so did the neighborhood. The Baptists bought it in 1984 but it proved to be too much responsibility for their smaller congregation. It closed in 2012 and the vandals broke in and trashed the place.
Fisher Body Plant #21 was built quickly in 1919 to meet the growing demands of the automotive industry. It supplied car bodies until 1984. It is a massive site with six floors of space and endless surfaces to delight the graffiti artists.
Southwestern High School was one of the first schools built specifically as a high school. At the time of its construction in 1916 Michigan students were not required to attend school past the eight grade. Its swimming pool, gymnasium, and auditorium made it the pattern for other high schools to be built across the state in the years following. It had many upgrades and additions over the decades and was remodeled just a few years ago at a cost of millions of dollars, then it closed when declining enrollments precipitated a downsizing in Detroit. The scrappers and vandals were not long delayed and made a mess of the once-famous landmark.
Study the interesting histories of these old landmarks here:
In our wanderings over 43 of the 50 states and several foreign countries, Kaye and I have not found the perfect place to live. But we have happened upon some pretty wonderful settings. In fact, after returning from our winter sojourn in the south, we have set up habitation at a remarkable campground in Ortonville, Michigan, where the nearly perfect balance exists between rural rest and city convenience.
Only 12 miles from our grandkids, we live in a park with a beautiful lake with a trail around it fringed by protected wetlands and mature forests of oak, maple, beech and pines and frequented by wild geese and whitetail deer. McDonalds is right across the street and A&W – the old fashioned kind with the car hops – is a 15-minute walk up the street, and there are shopping malls a few miles away at the outer fringe of the Detroit metropolitan urban sprawl.
The perfect home doesn’t exist anywhere. But when we lived in the rural Michigan farm community where we raised our kids and owned a 30-acre Christmas tree farm, we often reveled in the changes of the seasons right outside the windows of our 10-room house in the woods. We felt that we were enjoying the almost perfect location for our family at the time.
Except that I couldn’t keep the car clean because the gravel roads turned to mud with every rain storm. I watched the rocker panels and the fenders rust out in slow motion right before my eyes. And it was a half-hour drive to Walmart and more than an hour to the nearest shopping mall.
It seemed there was a trade-off in everything. Being a school teacher, my kids would ride to and from school with me rather than riding the bus to our small town district of less than 800 students. The students seemed more laid-back than their suburban counterparts and didn’t seem to have anything to prove. Our kids thrived. But they eventually grew up, went to college and then were too educated to find professional jobs in the country. They left the area and pursued their own lives, leaving us alone on our mini-paradise.
And the mowing got tiring in the summer – and there was a lot of it. And the firewood processing and snow removal, though good for the physique, became wearisome in the winter. The elements were relentless. Winter became life-threatening as we got older. The place was no longer ideal for us in the mature stages of life.
We talked about where we would like to live as we started to downsize and list the property for sale. It might be outside the edge of a city where we could live in the relaxed atmosphere of the country, while being within a few minutes of the conveniences of the metropolis.
And here we are. At least for the summer. We like it well enough to already be talking about returning here every summer for the next few years. We love the beauty and comfortable climate of Michigan in the summer and fall, but not during the harsh winter.
I have concluded that the ideal home is a somewhat elusive concept that changes with the seasons of the year – and with the seasons of life. What is perfect at one phase of life may become less than ideal later on.
Having sold our labor-intensive property last year after a four-year downsizing, we are now in discovery mode, exploring every part of the United States (and outside the borders if we want to) in search of adventure and new experiences. An aside from our quest to see new places is the underlying search for the next perfect home. That greener grass on the other side (except that I don’t own a lawnmower anymore).
And apparently, It is rather like aiming at a moving target for us at this point in our lives. Michigan in the summer and fall, points farther south in the winter. On the move right after Christmas with the rabid cold nipping at our heels as we leave the state and scurry south for warmer comforts.
Right now we are in a nearly ideal spot (except it’s a campground and there’s no privacy) and there is a swimming beach here and a playground for the grandkids. And there are five pizza joints in this town – we have started sampling them. Because part of finding the elusive perfect place to live in the world is also the important quest of locating the best pizza.
I am thinking that the perfect spot in life may be less about greener grass and more about perfect pizza.
Anyway, Kaye says that though there is no perfect home in all the world, there is a place that is just right for us for here and now. And that is a truer quest, as the perfect place does not exist, we are in that place that is just right at this point in our lives. And loving it.