Why I’m Glad We Spent 11 Weeks in Louisiana (Or, an Aside About the Joy of Intentional Living)

So a quick disclaimer: by rights, this post probably should have come before Rebecca’s Southwest, Here We Come! post, at least if we’re looking at things chronologically. However, sometimes you need time to roll things around in your head, see where they all settle, and figure out how you really feel about them. This just happens to be how long it took me.

intentional living

So, after a lot of travelling in the fall, we posted up for a quite a long time in Louisiana over the holidays. Like, a super long time. Almost double the six weeks we were originally planning. And let me tell you — at about the halfway, I was ready to jump in the car and burn rubber west. “So why didn’t you just leave, genius? You live in a camper for crying out loud!” is a pretty reasonable response to that, so if that’s what jumped into your head, I don’t blame you at all. I said that to myself on more than one occasion.

There were, however, real reasons that we decided to head there early, and stay longer than originally planned. In fact, there were some really good reasons. Check out all the really cool things we were able to do and be a part of:

  • We were able to be at my youngest brother’s final football tournament of high school, having never seen him play before. (My family moved down to Louisiana shortly after Rebecca and I got married, making it a lot harder to visit other than on major holidays and summers).
  • We were able to be with my family for Thanksgiving (including both my mom and dad’s respective sides), which hasn’t happened in almost 10 years.
  • We were able to celebrate both my grandfathers’ birthdays, and my uncle’s birthday, with them, for the first time ever.
  • We were able to celebrate Christmas with my whole family, including having time to watch Christmas movies, go look at Christmas lights, see a Christmas play, and tons of other things we could never cram into a a few days before Christmas on week long holiday visit.
  • I was able to spend a ton of time with my brothers, who I’ve been very far from from a number of years, and who are my favorite people ever.
  • We were able to spend a lot of time with my grandparents on both sides. I’m blessed at 30 to still have all four of my grandparents not only living, but active and relatively healthy, and we had some wonderful times visiting with them.
  • We were able to spend a lot of time with aunts and uncles and cousins that we rarely see, and get to know them and their lives on a lot deeper level, and really build friendships with them that we didn’t really have before.
  • We were able to be present at my youngest brother’s Boy Scout Eagle Scout award ceremony. We are a Scouting family, and both myself and my middle brother are Eagle Scouts, so it was a real blessing to be able to be there for our final Eagle Scout.
  • We were there to send my middle brother off to the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, a lifelong dream of his that he has worked and trained endlessly to prepare for, and that he is currently excelling at.
  • My parents bought a gorgeous new home while we were there, and we were able to help them do some renovation work and painting, and get it ready to move into, as well as staying around to help on the day of the Big Move.

Now that’s a pretty big list, and those are just the highlights. And somewhere in the middle of my moaning and whining and wanderlust, it hit me — this is exactly the point of Our Streamlined Life: to be able to be where we want to be, for the events we want to be at, when we want to be there. No one was twisting my arm. I was free to choose to be there — and stay there — for as long as I  wanted. FREE. That was the freedom we’d be looking for and trying to build, and once I pulled my head out of my own backside, I was able to see that we had achieved it!

And I guess that’s the point of this ramble. Build yourself the kind of life that allows you to decide how your time is spent, and what’s important to you, and to be there for the things that really matter. Life moves fast, and it’s too easy to look up and realize years have past and you been spending all your time on what feels urgent, instead of what’s actually important. We’re going to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen to us again.

Six Months In a Camper

Part of me can hardly believe I’m writing this, but:

As of January 17, we’ve been living full-time in our camper for six months.

Maiden Voyage - Our Streamlined Life

In the past six months we have:

  • Traveled through 25 states;
  • Stayed at 9 state parks, 5 KOAs, 1 private campground, and 1 national park;
  • Visited family members in Washington, Illinois, and Louisiana; and
  • Put almost 15,000 miles on our Chevy Tahoe.

Here’s how we’ve spent the past half a year:

  • 10 weeks in West Virginia/Virginia;
  • 6 weeks roadtripping to the Pacific Northwest;
  • 2 weeks in Virginia;
  • 2 weeks traveling the southern East Coast; and
  • 8 weeks in Louisiana.

And here’s how we’re feeling about camper life at the six month mark:

  • The most surprising thing about camper life may be the long chunks of time we’ve ended up parked in one place or another. I’m not complaining; extended parking is less expensive than moving constantly, and it’s a lot easier to get work done. I think we just envisioned spending much more time jumping from place to place (and I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing more of it in the future).
  • Our favorite place visited has been Savannah.
  • Our favorite thing about camper life has been the simplicity of a smaller space (Rebecca) and campfires (Ryan).
  • Our least favorite thing about camper life has been unexpected homesickness for Virginia (Rebecca) and the volley of unexpected and expensive camper repairs (Ryan).

In many ways it still feels like our adventure is just beginning. (Which means that we’re not even close to being done with our camper life!) We’re enjoying planning our upcoming adventures and loving the freedom that our smaller life is giving us. We’re having big conversations about travel, careers, and what the future looks like for our family. And we’re loving sharing our story and meeting other people who are living their dreams too.

Our New Camper: The Before Tour

Before Tour Graphic

So we’d bought a camper! We now had our very own 1991 Holiday Rambler Alumalite.  We were so excited, and had tons of plans and ideas to renovate and update it. We’re really excited to show you what we did, but to truly appreciate the after photos, you have to see the befores! A quick disclaimer — these are the photos I took with my old phone just for our own reference as we were looking at different campers, so they’re not the greatest, but they do tell the story.

So here goes! Let’s start with the outside…

Rambler Before - Front-Back

Pretty straightforward: on the left is the view from the front, and on the right is the view from the back. Both pictures show the rock guards up, so you can get a feel for the window situation. All those windows open, which is one of the things we love!

Rambler CL pics

These are the side views, so you can the layout, and get a feel for the length (26 feet long and 8 feet wide). Every window except the one in the door opens, and there are three opening skylights on top — one in the living room, one in the bathroom for light and ventilation, and one in the bedroom. Our Rambler has TONS of natural light.

Rambler Before - Living Room 1

Moving inside, here’s the view when you first open the door. I stitched these two pictures together so you can get a feel for the space. Lots of early-90s sunbleached wood, which obviously matched the faded pink carpets perfectly ;-D. The original couch that came with the camper had unfortunately been pulled out, and replaced with a cheap metal trundle bed. You can see the dated stained glass mirrors in the cabinet doors, and the aftermarket CD player surround the previous owner had put in–doesn’t exactly scream “home.”

2.1 Living Room (2)

And the valances … yikes. 5 inches deep and covered in faded upholstery that I can’t imagine looked good even when it was brand new, much less 24 years later. But when we’d first toured the Rambler, we fell in love with how many windows it had and how much natural light made it in, even with all those terrible drapes and blinds and valances. All we could think was how bright it would be if we pulled out that out!

Rambler Before - Hallway

If you turn left inside the door, you get the view straight back. On the left is the kitchen and a closet; on the right is the refrigerator and the bathroom. At the very end is the bedroom. The picture on the right gives the opposite view, from the bedroom looking back towards the front. The linoleum wasn’t awful, but was pretty dirty and beat up, and you can see how only the bedroom and living room were carpeted. And how about that gorgeous wallpaper?!

Rambler Before - Kitchen Collage

The kitchen, while small, had a lot to offer: a Dometic refrigerator (the most respected name in RV refrigerators) and freezer, a double sink, some counter space, a 4 burner stove top with oven, a hood with exhaust fan, and a microwave! After some of the tiny apartments we’ve lived in, Rebecca wasn’t even remotely fazed by the size of the kitchen.

Rambler Before - Closet

Continuing down the hall on the left is our one closet, with double doors and a hanging bar across the top. So much space! Plus, there are drawers below, and some space below them as well. To be honest, it was a lot more room than we’d expected, and I immediately began having visions of dividing the closet space and building Rebecca a pantry in there.

Rambler Before - Bathroom

And across from the kitchen/closet area is our new bathroom! We liked the bathroom immediately when we first saw the camper — it was out of the way, well laid out, the shower was tall enough for us to stand comfortably without hitting our heads, it had natural light through the skylight and a ventilation fan to help with moisture, a big, well-lit mirror, plenty of counter space, and a surprising amount of storage! In fact, this little bathroom had more storage than the apartment we were living in at the time, so we were thrilled.

6.1 Bedroom

And finally, our favorite room in the camper: the bedroom. With its own skylight and four-foot windows on three sides, it was by far the best-lit area of the camper. And look at all that storage! Not only do those uppers wrap around three sides, there was a nightstand and under-bed storage! We knew that with this camper, we could both avoid feeling closed in despite the small space, and have enough room for our stuff. And we’d create even more storage as we renovated!

So there you have it — our new little home on wheels, ready to be brought into the 21st century! Stay tuned!

We Bought a Camper!

(Continued from here.)

So, there we were, dreaming of bigger and better things — travel, adventure, a freer and happier existence — but with no idea how to get there. Then, in March, my boss gave me the heads up that there was a chance that I might be getting laid off. That really got our wheels turning. As much as I liked aspects of what I was doing, I was chafing under the constant suit-and-tie, 9-to-5, endless fluorescent lighting life: I wanted to BE OUTSIDE.

I began looking into other jobs, other careers, other opportunities, and Rebecca and I started thinking hard and listing out the aspects of the kind of life we really wanted to live. We absolutely wanted to travel more. A LOT more. I didn’t want to be stuck in a job just for a paycheck — I wanted to find something I really enjoyed doing, even if it meant a smaller paycheck. To that end, we continued a conversation that had been ongoing for years: How could we simplify and downsize our life, and focus our money on the things we really cared about? We talked about moving to a less expensive area, we talked about buying some really cheap property somewhere and building a tiny house, we even had this idea of moving to several new cities, each for a year, to find a place we wanted to settle. But then, Rebecca came up with the real moneymaker …

What if we bought and lived in a camper and made travel a lifestyle?

genie jawdrop

Now you have to understand Rebecca a little bit to appreciate how crazy it was to hear this coming out of her mouth. Yes, she loves to travel, but she also loves to be safe, calm, and settled. She doesn’t like constant changes. She is a nester. She was very happy in the beautiful little downtown where we lived. And she doesn’t do “drastic.” I pretty much laid sole claim to any and all crazy ideas in our family up to this moment.

So I began the process of picking my jaw off the floor (an ongoing process), and we began to examine her idea. She showed me a few of her favorite blogs of full-timers — “crazy people” living in campers full time — and I got to reading. In a weird case of role reversal, she was very gung-ho, and I was the one with a million questions and concerns. I knew NOTHING about campers except that I thought they were cool, and that my grandparents had a nice one they let us stay in when we visited my family down South, which we were always very comfortable in.

We began answering the questions, and laying the concerns to rest together. What was the cost? Can you live in a campground? Can our Jeep tow a camper? What will my parents think? What will YOUR parents think? What if everything goes wrong? Is this even legal?

But one by one, the questions were answered. During this process, I had been laid off, and was taking some time off to really figure out what I wanted to do next. This had led to me getting an awesome job as a raft guide in Harpers Ferry, WV, which I absolutely fell in love with immediately.

Raft guide training was the most fun I'd had in YEARS.
Raft guide training was the most fun I’d had in YEARS.

Rebecca was working remotely, and her flexibility was a big boost to this crazy idea. Probably the most encouraging and exciting thing was jumping online and seeing how many other seemingly normal people were having the time of their lives living in these beautiful updated little campers and RVs, traveling around and really living life. We wanted that!

Then we made the fatal mistake — we went on Craigslist and started shopping around. We fell in love with Airstreams immediately, and actually got very close to buying an absolutely gorgeous, 31′ 1976 Airstream Sovereign of the Road that we still daydream about from time to time.

You can see why.
You can see why. So shiny.

Unfortunately the Airstream was a bit more expensive than we were ready for, and needed more work than I was confident I could do myself in any kind of timely manner, so we passed. Ultimately we decided this wasn’t the best time to get into an Airstream, so we began looking at other campers, and continued talking about the specs we wanted/needed/thought would work best for us: length, bed configuration and placement, bathroom placement, etc. We decided to just go look at a bunch of campers, and I began reaching out to people on Craigslist.

The very first one that we went to look at was one Rebecca found – a 1991 Holiday Rambler. She really liked the interior, even though at 26 feet, it was a bit shorter than we had been thinking we wanted (the Airstream was 31 feet). Here are the exterior pictures from Craigslist:Rambler CL pics

When we got there, we both loved it immediately — which is TERRIBLE shopping practice. But it was just so nice! We loved that it had a ton of windows, as well as three skylights, and was very bright and airy. It had a nice big living area, with a bunch of cabinetry we both immediately knew we could rip out and increase the living space even more. The kitchen was really nice, with a lot of storage, and plenty of potential for more. The bathroom was one of the nicest ones we’d seen, with plenty of headroom in the shower, a good sized mirror, and again, tons of storage. And the bedroom? That was the piece de resistance. Big windows on three sides, storage uppers all the way around, and under bed storage? Too good to be true.

On top of that, we really liked the gentleman who was selling it. For every camper we liked on Craigslist, I sent the owner a long list of questions to narrow down our choices, and Joe was just the nicest guy ever. He welcomed us to the camping community “whether you purchase this camper or another,” answered my many questions graciously and helpfully, and was very flexible in terms of showing it. We even showed up shame-faced an HOUR late due to traffic when we first went to see it, and he was as equanimous as could be. When we called him to let him know we were stuck, his reply was a simple “its fine — I’ve got my book!”

So, we told him really liked it, we felt we should probably look around at a few more to make sure we really knew what we wanted, which he accepted with characteristic graciousness. However, for all intents and purposes, our search was over. We did go look at other campers — mostly longer ones, including a pristine, 15-year-old, 34-foot Wilderness with enough room for us, a future brood of 10, plus 15 of our closest friends to stay in comfortably. But no matter what we looked at — it wasn’t the Rambler. “It’s not as bright as the Rambler!” “The shower is shorter than the Rambler’s!” “There’s only ONE window in the bedroom! I can’t sleep in there!”

You guessed it — we went for the Rambler. Armed with our ever-increasing camper knowledge, we went back to take another look, along with some measurements to start planning out a renovation and upgrade. This time, I crawled underneath and all around, and asked Joe to demonstrate that all the systems worked. He and his wife (who we liked as much as we liked Joe) gave us the full demonstration, and everything seemed great, with one small brake issue he promised to fix. We left, promising to give him an answer in the next day.

We tried to play it cool and be objective, but we both knew — this was going to be our new home! The next day, I negotiated with Joe a bit, and we agreed on a price. Two weeks later, I roped my buddy Eric into helping me tow the Rambler back to a local RV shop for inspection and repairs.

rambler pickup

We were officially camper owners!

Turning 30 in Port Townsend (Day 18)

2015-10-04 06.50.35

Well, the day dawned clear and beautiful. THE day. The big 3-0. And honestly, it was one of the best birthdays I can remember. After a wonderful night’s sleep, my uncle started us off with some delicious birthday waffles, and we ate breakfast overlooking the unbelievable views he and my aunt have off the back of their house — you can see for MILES, across the bay and to the mountains beyond. We spent a morning around the house, with my uncle giving me the tour of his awesome man cave (which was actually a huge building) full of toys: his classic Mercedes, his motorcycle, the RV he custom renovated for my aunt, along with his office, workshop, full bathroom … you get the picture. He also gave me the tour of his boat, his 5th wheel, and his beautiful garden, where he had grown much of the food we’d eat. (Hello, fresh salsa.)

2015-10-05 10.38.38

After that, it was off to downtown Port Townsend to see the sights and get some lunch. It was a perfect day to stroll downtown, coffees in hand, enjoying a new town. We stopped for lunch at Doc’s Marina Grill, a seafood restaurant right on the water at the far end of town. The food was fantastic, as were the views.

Port Townsend, with the Olympic mountains in the background.
Port Townsend, with the Olympic mountains in the background.

Rebecca doesn’t eat seafood, so I don’t have it very often, but Doc’s was well worth the wait. After lunch had settled, my aunt and uncle gave us the driving tour of Port Townsend, including the Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Rally, which was really unique and fun. A bunch of crazily-dressed contestants build human-powered machines that must be able to navigate on land, on sea, on sand, and in the mud, and then they have a huge themed race around town! This year’s theme was insects:


It was a lot of fun to watch as all these different vehicles tried to get through the nastiest mudpit ever, while being cheered on by kids and adults all the way up into their 70s dressed in outlandish outfits. Port Townsend is a colorful town, for sure!

2015-10-04 14.23.24

2015-10-04 14.25.56 (2)


After watching that for a while, we also drove over an explored Fort Worden, a former military installation where An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed back in the early 80s. They had a giant embedded WW2 gun bunker which was really awesome, and which I was too distracted by to actually get pictures of. Then, because we obviously hadn’t done enough fun stuff yet, my uncle took us to Fair Winds Winery, where he works occasionally. He introduced us to owner, gave us the private tour, and a tasting. The wines were awesome! I especially liked the Lemberger and the Fireweed Mead.  Finally, after that, we headed back to the house for dinner and birthday cake!