Tuesday, April 10, 2018

2017: A Watershed Decision

Well into in our eighth year of a nomadic lifestyle, we moved what had been a peripheral discussion for the past few years onto the front burner. In the parlance of full-time RV lingo, “getting off the road” was the topic. Recalling our transition from stick house to RV in 2009, our forecast then was that we'd be on the road between “2 to 5 years”. We’ve known from the beginning that the time would come. Never an ‘if”, just “when”. Little did we know back then how much we would enjoy life on the road and that it would last this long. But after a lot of soul searching, angst, and weighing all the pros and cons, we had finally reached a decision. It was time.

So what’s next? If we’re not living in an RV, where will we settle? We haven’t owned a not-on-wheels home since early 2009. How would we deal with the transition? Probably easier than when we first transitioned into an RV.

A major consideration that helped tip the scale was the age our RV. Full-time RV’ers tend to sell or trade RV’s between five and six years old; a time when the RV still has value but is heading into a time when major appliances might need costly repairs or replacement. But given the fifth wheel RV market these days (and believe us, we’ve searched), no one is building anything that comes close to our Carriage Cameo floor plan and quality. Fifth wheel manufactures these days seem to fixate on offering RV’s that are big and cheap (that’s what the market demands these days). Or, the few that do build a quality RV, are building them too long and large. We know there are other kinds of RV choices other than fifth wheels - like motor coaches. But in our experience they are high maintenance and start at ridiculously high price points and don’t offer the flexibility of a fifth wheel we’ve come to enjoy.

Now it was a matter of choosing where to settle. If we have learned but one thing during our travels, it’s where we don’t want to live. Places with long stretches of cold, snow, ice, and extended periods of gray skies (after all, that’s why we left the Midwest in the first place!) were out. Conversely, we ruled out areas notorious for extended periods of hot, humid weather which pretty much eliminated the sultry southern states (yes, especially you, Florida). We don’t consider ourselves urbanites in the sense that we’d be happy living in a densely populated metropolitan area. Forget the northeast. The northwest certainly held a lot of attractions. Oregon and Washington state (Bellingham, we love you!). But again, the climate didn’t quite measure up to our standards even if the coastal birding would be awesome!). Yep. Nice places to visit - and we still will. Just not for us full-time.

Thinking outside the box - way outside the box - we didn’t want to limit our search to just the United States. How about immigrating to another country? In our travels abroad we discovered the overall cost of living would drop significantly. So we investigated. And to that end, we came ever so close to immigrating to Costa Rica, a country we’ve grown to love. No standing Army, a solid health care system, loads of wildlife, and inexpensive housing. And year round access to fresh fruits and vegetables! Our plan was to live there for a maximum of two to three years. But what about family? Sure they could come visit but it wouldn’t be cheap. Conversely, coming back to the states to visit family, we would incur car rental fees, lodging costs, meals - money saved from living abroad for years at a time would be eaten up. But if we have a small footprint in the U.S. that we could walk away from, we’d still be free to short term rent a place in Costa Rica . Or Ecuador. Or volunteer at a bird lodge for a few months.

Given our overwhelming interests in nature, we wanted to be near it. Or at least reasonably near. Hiking, birding, biking mean a lot to us. We liked living outside and our RV allowed us to do just that. We wanted convenient shopping. Years of driving 25 miles or more to a grocery or hardware store or a gas station worked for the short term but not in the long haul. Reliable medical facilities, especially with our advancing years, were also key. And, we wanted to be near an airport - we didn’t intend to give up our international travels just yet.

In a perfect world we would have chosen to live in more than one location. Move to the seasons (as we did in our RV). But let’s be honest. Without deep pockets to maintain two or more households was pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Given our financial resources, basic needs and continue desire to travel abroad, we knew we were going to have to compromise.
Based on places we’ve experienced and needs versus our wants, a footprint somewhere in the Southwestern United States seemed our best option. Southern California? High cost of living. Utah? We’re not Mormon enough (not even close!). Roll the dice in Nevada? We’re not big on gambling. New Mexico? We love New Mexico. But Sante Fe was too rich for our blood. Las Cruces was the right size and has loads of charm (it was tempting). Having spent as much time as we have in Arizona, and given what Arizona has to offer overall, Arizona (politics aside) seemed like a reasonable compromise. But where in Arizona? We’ve traveled all over the state. Probably more so than most people who have lived in Arizona their whole lives. Reviewing all our past travel in the state it didn’t take long to realize southeastern Arizona would be the best fit.

Once our decision was made we got serious about making it happen. We returned to Wisconsin in 2017 (as you know from our previous blog) with an eye to sorting through stuff in the RV. Yes, even living in an RV one can accumulate stuff. We’re also began the process of assembling belongings we had stored with family members to a central location (mainly at Marge’s). Things that we knew we wouldn’t need or want to haul to wherever we settled, would go into a garage sale. After the garage sale we would put our beloved RV on the market through a national ad with RV Trader.

We also planned for possible scenarios. If the RV sold while we were still in Wisconsin, we would have used our truck to transport belongings to a storage unit in Tucson. We had two offers to stay with friends while we were house/condo hunting once we were out of the RV. If the RV didn’t sell in Wisconsin, we’d leave the bulk of our belongings at Marge’s, tow the RV to the Tucson area with the barest of necessities, and live in it until it sold, or, we find a place to buy. We still had the fallback option to live with friends had the RV sold in Arizona before we found housing.

With the RV sold, we would migrate to a smaller vehicle. If the RV and the truck sold as a package in Wisconsin or in Arizona - if someone made us an offer we couldn’t refuse - then we’d opt for plan C. We had yet to settle on an exact plan C. Or D. But we’d learned over the years to be flexible. And to expect the unexpected.

Was it a hard decision to give up wandering about without a fixed course? Hell yes! Only those who have been full-time RV-ing as long as we have, fully understand the seductive draw of the open road. And how difficult it is to give up. There’s nothing quite like roaming the country as ephemeral visitors, parked in the mountains, near an ocean or lake, surrounded by prairie, forest, and vast skies…a seemingly endless foraging of the outdoors. It can never be replicated by living in a house. In fact our greatest concern was that once we did settle on a footprint, that we’d be “stuck”. Of course that won’t be the case. We will continue to travel. Just not as freely as when we were pulling our house behind.

Pragmatically, we needed to do it now while the RV was still in great shape and while we’re in relatively great shape. Most importantly, to place ourselves in a position of greatly reducing the odds of not having to make hasty and costly decisions. We've witnessed other RV’ers suddenly pushed into full blown panic mode. It wasn't pretty.

At heart, we remain nomads for life, in love with distant and uncharted places. Just now with fewer wheels beneath us.

Hmmm. Or maybe we should be thinking of buying a boat?

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