My husband and I had had it. We were done working forty-plus-hour workweeks, hardly seeing each other, and battling house and health issues. We’d quit our jobs, sell everything, and travel the country in an RV–a dream come true! We overly prepared, except for how to actually cope with full-time RV living.
RV living can be a dream life. But it’s also a massive adjustment and can be truly transformational. With a master’s degree in counseling psychology and as a change management coach, I know that transformations, while exciting, can be overwhelming, too. My goal is to help prepare you for the emotional challenges of full-time RV living–a journey that is less explored, but no less important than the exciting sides of this lifestyle.
Click here to receive your FREE copy of the Full-Time RVer’s Emotional Journey Guidebook – Your Guide To Thriving On The Road.
If You’re Anxious, You’re Normal
The first few months of RV living were really difficult. I left a perfectly good job, missed my family, and felt ungrounded. I had at least two panic attacks even though I was still having fun.
In psychology, this is called “Tension of the Opposites”; experiencing opposing emotions at the same time. It’s a myth that if you’re sad, depressed, or anxious there’s something wrong with you. Good news–you don’t need to feel guilty if every day isn’t filled with pure joy. It’s okay, you’re human.
I adjusted after about six months, but not without another panic attack and some serious soul searching. So I started a Facebook group, partly because I was lonely, and to address the emotional journey of full-time RV living. More on that below.
Why Full-Time RV Living Can Be Hard
Living a full-time travel lifestyle can be awesome. Once you adjust and relax into it, it’s pretty rad actually.
But, expectations butt-up against reality.
YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook can make everything look like a dream life. Some people might think all their problems will be solved.
The images are real. People are camping in awesome places and seeing stunning sunsets. They are living a life they’ve always dreamed of, and they know you can too.
But what you might not see, is that the next day their black tank exploded, the hot water heater broke (again), or they had an argument with their spouse about the same stupid decade-long issue.
Or like today, when the refrigerator panel blew off the side of our coach on the highway.
It’s real life, not a vacation. But it looks like a vacation so your expectations might be skewed. That’s what happened to me. When our bedroom slide failed the first month on the road and it took another month to get it fixed, it was a real dose of reality.
If you choose this lifestyle you’re going to see beauty like you’ve never seen, meet people, try new food, see sunrises and sunsets. That’s all going to happen, but not without some “tension of the opposites” along the way. Here are some of the challenges and tips to cope with them.
1. Giving up your home (and stuff)
In the Full-Time RVing – Emotional Journey Facebook group, a member wrote, “The For Sale sign went up on my house today. I’m so excited and yet so compelled to go stand in front of it at the same time!”.
Letting go of a home, especially if you’ve lived in it for a long time, is difficult for many people. If you’re sentimental and raised your kids there, decorated and filled it with memories (aka stuff), then this can be one of the most difficult aspects of the process.
Cut yourself some slack. This is a huge change and you’re likely going to experience intense emotions. But also put a process in place to methodically purge and declutter. I wrote a dedicated article on the topic of reducing emotions while purging. Click here to read more.
2. Leaving friends and family
This one is a doozy and there’s no easy fix.
Thanksgiving came within four months of us being on the road; so did my second panic attack. I was distraught about being away from my family. I also felt like a really bad daughter, niece, sister, etc. And it doesn’t help when your family members plead, “When are you coming home? Just park the RV in the driveway. You’re in Utah, can’t you just pop over to California?” Ugh, total gut-punches.
You can’t just run out for a quick lunch with friends anymore either. And phone calls just aren’t the same.
Here’s a scary scenario–a family member gets sick, like my step-mother who was diagnosed with cancer just five months after we left. You can read more about that here. It’s actually an uplifting read, I promise.
Obviously, you can call, text, and email your loved ones. But it can be harder than you think if you don’t get yourself on a schedule.
On Thanksgiving, I skyped with my family so we could see each other. We’ve had friends and family come visit us on the road, too. There aren’t easy answers to this because everyone is different. But remember to go easy on yourself, you’re likely doing your best. As my step-mother says, “Guilt is a useless emotion.”
3. Losing your identity
You were somebody in your old life. A co-worker, church member, CEO, etc. Sure, you’re still some of those things, but it’s different. The roles and routines have changed and maybe so has your identity.
I was a corporate trainer, coach, and manager. I played those roles for twenty plus years. When I left my job, I lost a part of my identity, and sadly my self-worth, too. It was a wake-up call when I realized how much my self-worth was tied to my job. I’m still figuring out how to define myself, but it’s becoming more comfortable.
It’s okay to mourn the loss of who you were. Practice self-compassion and say nice things to yourself like, “It’s okay, I’m going through a transformation. I’ll be fine on the other side.” Take it a step further and you can create a new identity. For example, I’m an artist, which is hard to say and accept but is actually a true statement. Like I said, I’m still working on this.
4. Navigating relationships and loneliness
We lived a 1,700 square foot home and worked in an office every day. Now we’re in 250 square feet where we can’t avoid eye contact for more than 3 minutes. It’s one of the hardest adjustments to make.
Kids can add even more complexity (so I hear). Privacy, alone time, and intimacy can be a challenge. I can’t really ‘cry me a river’ when my friend Bryanna Royal lives with her husband, four kids, and a dog in a 28-foot travel trailer, can I? It’s all relative, but still.
Solo travelers have their own set of challenges. It’s a lot of alone time and self-reflection when you’re solo unless you want to be around people. Then you can always travel in a caravan, which many of my friends do.
In all of the above scenarios, loneliness is a reality. You can still be with others and be lonely. Often, my husband and I only have each other. That sounds more romantic than it is. Sometimes I threaten to get my own “autonomy-vehicle” also known as MY RV. But mostly I kid…mostly.
Communicate early and often with your significant others. An RV is like a pressure cooker–if you don’t address an issue, that energy is going to fill that entire tiny space really quickly.
Join a virtual community and have conversations with others. With entire online communities dedicated to nomadism and full-time RVing, it’s easier than ever to build a nomadic community. And you can do cool stuff in person too, like attend convergences or volunteer together for a project like Habitat For Humanity. Check out this article on three easy ways to make friends on the road.
Don’t feel guilty if you want some alone time. Some people need that to recharge.
5. Managing physical space
Moving into a small space can be a real shock, especially if you’re used to a lot of room. My husband complains about repeatedly kicking the same corner of the sofa.
But eventually, you get used to the space, just like you do in a home. It starts to feel normal and sometimes bigger than you need. This happened with a number of my friends who downsized into smaller RVs. Check out this article on the going tiny trend.
Keep only what you need and purge the rest. You can maximize storage with RV hacks and establish processes to help things run more efficiently and smoothly. When all else fails, take a vacation from your RV. Just like regular life you still need those, too.
6. Losing familiarity and conveniences
I miss Trader Joe’s. And baths–I really miss a hot bath on a cold day. You compromise when you live in an RV, but you benefit in so many other ways. Still, it’s worth mentioning that another impact is the loss of familiarity and conveniences.
For example, I used to shop at Trader Joes every Sunday. Now, I mostly scope out Walmarts, because we can park there overnight for free, but often because that’s all there is. Occasionally we’re in places where a reasonable grocery store isn’t even available. Or things will break on the RV and we can’t just run to the store to pick up a part.
These things are annoying, but like everything else, you adjust.
Remember that one of the reasons you chose this life is for the adventure. Sure, I liked my Trader Joes, but that was an experience that was all too familiar. I longed for the challenge of finding new places and being in unfamiliar environments. That’s how we grow. Just be sure to plan in advance if you go to remote places. Take plenty of food, water, and beer…I mean soda.
Also, slow down. If you move too fast you’ll burn out mentally and physically. Slowing down will allow you to recharge and get more familiar with an area.
7. Dealing with other intense emotions (also known as being human)
It’s confusing when you wake up sad, anxious, or depressed and you don’t know why. The sun is shining, you slept well, dreamed of unicorns and rainbows, yet you just aren’t yourself.
This is normal and going to happen on occasion. I don’t typically judge human emotions as bad or wrong. I believe they serve a purpose in our lives and can lead to more joy if we work with them, not against them.
There’s a distinction between “normal” human emotions and clinical mental illness. I’m not qualified to offer a diagnosis or treatment for mental illness. I will offer though that RV life probably isn’t going to cure mental health issues. If this is something you should address, then I encourage you to seek professional support and contact a virtual counselor. Click here to see options.
Don’t feel ashamed or ignore it if you experience prolonged, intense emotional challenges. Like I said, I had panic attacks in the beginning and know how important self-care is, especially when you’re in a transition.
Practice self-compassion and self-care. Implement tactics to relieve stress and tension. Meditate, go for a walk, practice daily gratitude, journal, or do other creative activities. Take a bath…shoot nope, no bath for you. How can you incorporate some of these practices into your daily routine? If you need additional ideas, sign up below to receive The Emotional Journey Guidebook – Tips and Exercises to Navigate the Emotions of Full-Time RV Living.
*Note to content creators: If you’re a blogger/vlogger trying to make a living from your journey, be aware that that pursuit might add another layer of stress to your full plate. I’ll address this in a future article, but for now, try to cultivate patience for the process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
For additional resources on this topic, Check out Drivin’ and Vibin’s article on Adjusting to RV Living.
Join The Emotional Journey Facebook Group
Sometimes I can sound a little dark and cynical. I’m not. I’m a realist and come from a place of compassion and understanding. I know some RVers who gave up RV living and I don’t want that to happen to you.
Hopefully, you found some helpful tips to cope with some of the emotional aspects of full-time RV living. If you’re looking for a place to connect with others and share your journey, click here to join the Full-Time RVing – Emotional Journey FB group.
Have you experienced some of these or other emotional challenges? What do you do to cope? Leave a comment below.