I type some of these notes on Independence Day. Boy, what an Independence Day it is for us: life on the road, free from any agenda for the entire month of July (with the exception of a five-day camping reservation near the start/finish line of my next ultra).
What we are doing is by no means innovative. Plenty of people–including several we know–spend large chunks of their lives living on the road, car and stealth camping throughout the United States. People do this for myriad reasons: economic necessity, jobs that require extensive travel to locations off the beaten path, or indulging one’s sense of wanderlust.
But when we mentioned to people that we were living on the road for an entire month–as in, living out of our Element, and sleeping on its roof every night–the general reaction was admiration and excitement that we were taking this journey. To be fair, most of the people who know what we’re doing are close friends and family, who understand our desires to be outside, to camp, to explore, to escape the southern Utah desert heat.
Even though we’re spending “only” 27 days on the road–a short stint in the scheme of what many do when it comes to life on the road–it’s a long enough period of time to require a fair amount of advance planning. Here’s a bit about how we prepared to do this without significant disruption to our “real” lives.
Negotiating work-and-play schedules
W and I are fortunate (and, admittedly, strategic) in that our work affords us some flexibility of schedule. It’s low season for W at the resort, as most people don’t want to hike or kayak in 110 degree weather, and I’m on a nine-month contract that leaves me an open chunk of time in the summer. Both of us consult in addition to other employment; while this is flexible, too, it does require advance notice to those who offer us these freelance opportunities.
Despite this flexibility, it was surprisingly challenging for us to commit to an entire month away from a dedicated work presence. Anxiety about taking such a long chunk of time off (W), coupled with the need to plan things like fall syllabi and workshops in advance of our trip (me), had to be worked through before we truly could embrace the opportunity we’d created.
Taking time off in this way also makes a statement about our work-life priorities, which carries the risk of potentially negative consequences by employers. To mitigate these risks, we acknowledged the need for dedicated work time at least every few days. This might involve an extended breakfast/lunch at a restaurant with free wi-fi access, but at the very least involves a semi-charged laptop and reliable cell phone signal – enough to be semi-accessible, though dictated on our terms.
Building up the funds
Back in the fall, once we’d committed to this trip, we opened a separate savings account that we called our “fun fund.” We’d done this back in Indianapolis, too, on the advice of a friend who found that having separate savings accounts encouraged greater financial accountability. Our fun fund was our dedicated money for things like weekend trips, concert tickets, dinners and drinks out with friends, clothes and other non-necessity purchases, and miscellaneous recreation. This is a separate account from what we maintain as an emergency fund, which allows us the financial peace of mind that we can enjoy life while being covered “just in case,” too.
Our fun fund is funded from a range of sources – often bonus consulting projects that either of us takes up – but always requires some thought and attention to minimalist philosophy. For example, as I’ve noted above, we include clothes and non-necessity items as charged against our fun fund. As a recovering shopaholic, this has proven to be helpful, not limiting, to me; I weigh each potential purchase against a larger body of possibilities, as well as what the longer term sacrifice might be. Which do I want more: another pair of jeans, or a day-long rental of a paddleboard when we swing through Lake Tahoe? Having this trip on the radar for several months has helped me be more intentional about the non-necessity purchases I make.
As it turns out, we aren’t living exclusively off fun money, despite this being our initial plan back in the fall. Despite being on a nine-month contract, my pay is spread across twelve months. I still receive a paycheck while we’re gone, which goes a long way towards the types of purchases we’d make at home, such as groceries and some gas. Here are a couple additional sources we hadn’t considered when we started planning:
Combatting double FOMO
In taking an extended vacation like this, we spend money rather than making money overall. From a standpoint of financial gain, we are two-time losers: we drain some savings, and we aren’t working to rebuild the coffers. From a standpoint of FOMO, we’re two-time losers, too: by traveling and committing to a work-light July, we miss out on new work projects that might come our way, or other recreational opportunities back in Utah. On the flip side, if we were only working, we’d miss out on the new experiences and perspectives we could have on the road.
It’s been important to us to communicate regularly, and to help one another work through the anxieties and reflections that accompany this double-FOMO. The unknown tends to be what creeps up on us. Will we still be financially secure when this is all over? Will taking a month off jeopardize future career possibilities? Will we be content in our real lives once we’ve lived on the road for a month, seeking two months of travel the next time? We don’t yet know the answers to any of these questions, and we might not for a long time. In the meantime, we have to help each other enjoy the ride, rather than get caught up in the hypothetical.
Speaking of enjoying the ride, I have some relaxing in the woods to do…