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Thoughts on Our Trip So Far

How are we feeling after three months of Nomad Life? Here is our compte-rendu.

I write this blog sitting in the south of California, about thirty minutes from the Mexican border. It is early in the morning, and I am sipping my coffee while listening to the sounds of an owl, a rooster, two pigs and an occasional goat waking up in the distance. It is a little chilly, so Patrick has started a campfire. Fear not, the temperature will reach a whopping 35 degrees Celsius before dipping down again tonight.

As this is our last U.S. stop before we enter Mexico on Monday, we are feeling excited and nervous for the adventure that lies ahead. We are also feeling pensive about the 3.5 months which we have already spent on the road, driving more than 14,000 kms (9000 miles) from Cantley to here. We have been discussing what we have enjoyed so far from our trip as well as what has surprised us. Here is the result of our thinking, a report of the 106 days of our nomad life so far.

Still looking for our free time.

The first thing which has surprised us the most is that we have not had much free time so far. Between organizing our daily lives (read: buying groceries, cooking, doing laundry, looking for quarters to do said laundry, repairing the RV, making reservations, not to mention doing and supervising schoolwork and working), we have not had time to do what we thought we would get plenty of time to do such as reading, relaxing, going for jogs or for walks. We are also visiting regions and attractions every week and taking advantage of being near extraordinary monuments of history and nature so that we are out and about very often putting steps on our pedometers. For usual homebodies like us, this is quite revolutionary. In fact, I have never in my life binged so little Netflix nor listened to as little podcasts as in the past three months.

There is also the fact that we had underestimated how taxing life on the road would be so that by 8:30 or 9:00 pm, we are all pretty pooped and ready for bed. On those days where the road is stressful, such as when we were riding along immensely high cliffs in the Pacific Northwest and holding on to the road for dear life, we are exhausted by the time we reach camp.

Adventure takes planning and work. It leaves little time for rest and relaxation. As we have come to this realization, we have made the resolution to slow down in Mexico. We want to stay in places longer and slow down the rhythm of our exploring. We plan on focusing on understanding local life and imbibing the culture that is around us everyday. Having said this, we do have to reach Costa Rica by December so this will require travelling at a somewhat steady pace over the months of October and November.

Four humans, an RV and four (pretty) useless bikes.

When we were planning our Nomad Life, we had clear visions of us parking the RV in campgrounds and then travelling all over to visit sites and areas by using our bikes. We imagined that we would become experienced and skilled cyclists able to navigate busy streets led by the trusted Google maps. “Imagine how much money we will save on travel and how firm our thighs will get!”, we marveled in our Cantley living room. Well, my not-so-firm thighs are a testimony to the failure of this dream.

The reality is that there are often no shoulders, let alone bike paths, in the areas that we visit so that we would have to share the road with impatient rigs, fast-rolling trucks and speeding cars. In addition, the roads are much more challenging than what we had expected. The mountains of the west coast are giants that roll up and down by thousands of meters, so that taking our bikes would be difficult even for Tour de France riders.

There is also the weather. It is not realistic, or safe, to start on long bike rides in the height of summer heat waves (in the Fall as well). We tried our bikes to visit Craters of the Moon in Idaho. The scenery was breath-taking, but by the time we rode our bikes in the sweltering dessert heat for 30 minutes, we had emptied our four water bottles and were panting like exhausted old dogs so we decided to turn around and head to base camp.

Finally, there is our experience with Google maps. It is mostly a great tool to use in a car or RV (Note: Google maps does not tell you the height of tunnels or overpasses so that when you are on a lonely country road and come across an overpass that is only 10 feet high when your RV is 12.5 feet high, you have to find a way to make a surprise U-Turn on a narrow two-lane road and retrace your steps back several km before being able to find an alternate route. But I digress.). Google maps will give you a route to take with your bike and it works. In theory. In practice, it can have you crossing 6 lanes of traffic without a stop light like it happened in Indiana when we had no choice but to pedal our butts off as Patrick tried to stop approaching cars and screaming at us to “Ride! Ride!”.

So our bikes are often resting on their racks behind the RV as we jump into Uber or Lyft cars to get to our destinations. The boys use the bikes mostly for riding around campgrounds. Christophe, in particular, has gotten very skilled at doing wheelies and small stunts on his bike. Patrick uses the electric bike to go to the market when we don’t want to drive the RV. He even once used it to go do the laundry in New York State which was funny to see him ride off with our bulging blue laundry bag strapped to the back of the bike. Today, he will use it to go to the post office which is a few km from where we are currently staying. Luckily, Uber and Lyft have worked very well (save one exception near San Francisco where the drivers refused to come pick us up in our camping situated in the middle of the mountains. I can’t really blame them, it was a hell of a ride!)

Privacy. What is that, again? All family, all the time.

It won’t be a surprise to you that there is not much privacy to be had when four people are living in a 25 foot-long RV. Plainly put, we are always together, within the vicinity of one another. Without the luxury of rooms or doors, we basically see what we are all doing most of the time. Thank goodness for campground bathrooms and showers!

Being so physically close also means that most conversations are four-way phenomena. The boys are included in most of what we discuss, from planning the trip to discussing the finances. This has had the benefit of exposing them to more real-life situations than they were accustomed to at home. They have a better understanding of how expensive life is, now. They get that going to the restaurant means easily spending $150 so that if we did the restaurant yesterday, they shouldn’t ask to go again today. Our proximity to one another also means that everyone tends to want to be in everyone else’s business. It is easy to start telling each other what to do or peek over each other’s shoulders as people write or read something. “What are you doing? What’s up? What are you talking about?” are usual questions that get thrown out several times a day in our RV.

With this new closeness which we are living, we are learning to be patient and to respect each other’s boundaries. We are also taking advantage of the great outdoors. We actually spend limited time inside the RV. We are all mostly outside, all of the time. We go in the RV if it is raining or to sleep or watch a movie in the evening. Most of our cooking and meals are done outside, as is most of our work and trip planning. We also have our individual methods for seeking solitude. Francis has taken to going for walks to listen to his podcasts. Patrick gets up early or goes to bed later to get some work done by the fire. I put on my earbuds and listen to music as I do my digital-nomad thing. Christophe runs off in search of reptiles and other cold-blooded animals.

This proximity has also allowed us to realize one of the objectives which we had for this trip: spending quality time together. This part of the trip has not disappointed. We are spending everyday with our boys and having fun with them. We visit attractions, we play cards and board games, we chat by the fire. We discover and explore together. We do school together (Note: What are these fancy new ways that the kids have of doing math nowadays? Everything is about drawing tables and using extra steps to get arithmetic done. But I digress.) It has been very fulfilling to get to know them so intimately. They are wonderful human beings, and we are so proud. Even after these several months together, we are still laughing many times a day and looking out for each other as we navigate this nomad trip.

Wish you were here… but not missing home so much.

One aspect which has surprised us is that we don’t miss our home or our things as much as we thought we would. I had expected that we would become homesick for our belongings and our house. We expected to miss being able to hang out in our gazebo, bake in our kitchen, take a bath after a long day or sleep in our comfortable beds. We actually have not been very homesick for any of the things or objects which we left behind. Even living with our limited inventory of clothes has not been a burden. It is actually quite freeing to wear basically the same three or four outfits on rotation. It will be food for thought when we return home – do we actually need everything which we have in our home?

What we do miss, of course, are the friends and family. We have had the opportunity to meet people along the way. Camping neighbors are usually very friendly and always curious to hear about our travels as we are of theirs. Everyone is on their own adventure, traveling to meet their purpose. Everyone has their story. People are often quite generous – perhaps because we are a family, we find that people tend to give us the things that they no longer use when they are decamping from their sites. People have given us wood, toys, RV supplies and lots of food. Just this morning, a German couple leaving for Mexico brought us some lovely tomatoes which they cannot bring across the border. I am always touched by people’s generosity.

But meeting new people does not fill the void of being away from family and friends. We have the opportunity to do virtual calls quite frequently. Christophe has even connected with his class and will continue to do so during the year. And we stay in touch through emails and social media. But it is not the same as face-to-face contact. Luckily, some family will come join us in Costa Rica in December and we will be spending Christmas together. The boys are so happy about that. It will be lovely to share part of this adventure with them. We are particularly eager to see our oldest son, Michel-Andre. I plan to hug the living daylights out of him when I see him on December 21st.

So what’s the problem with the RV today?

Before we left, we had seen in our research that full-time use of an RV is very hard on the vehicle. We read, more than once, that it is not a question of IF you will have mechanical problems. It is a question of WHEN. This has been very true for us. Regular readers will have noticed that almost every blog mentions a mechanical issue. This is not an exaggeration. We have them every week.

From the faulty speed sensors to deflating tires. From a broken awning to defective electrical outlets. From a dead inverter to a busted automatic step. From leaky bathroom sinks to non-functioning AC. It never ends. The most difficult part is trying to figure out if it is something that Patrick can fix himself or if it is worth the expense of getting to a garage. This means hours of research and tinkering that Patrick has to do to try to fix the issue himself. He is quite resourceful and has fixed some major issues. However, sometimes we need to go to a mechanic. The second most difficult part is trying to fit the garage visit within our itinerary.

Because we are always travelling, we need to take an appointment at a future point aligned with where we will be in our trip. For example, we knew that it would take a week to get an appointment at a Camping World for our awning (they had to order the piece), so we had to figure out where we would be in a week’s time and contact a Camping World in that area to see if they could (a) order the part and (b) give us an appointment. Travelling during the busy summer months made it very difficult for us to get appointments in some instances because mechanics were fully booked. Also, mechanics tend to tell us that we need to leave our RV with them for a couple days so that they can have the time to do the required work. Since the RV is our house, this is not an option for us. We need the RV back on the same day so we often have to convince them to get the work done in a timely manner. As a result, something as simple as going to the garage is not always simple for the nomad life.

Where are we at now in our Nomad Life?

In the end, we can report that we are really loving our trip and feeling very grateful to be able to be on this adventure. Any downsides to this trip have been more than overshadowed by the amazing sights that we have seen. It is incredible to be able to wake up one morning on the beach and then go to bed in the desert on that very same day. We have seen awe-inspiring starry skies at night, incredible animals and historic monuments we had only ever seen on tv or in books.

It still feels crazy to be sitting on the beach on a random Wednesday afternoon and watching the kids play in the waves after having finished their schoolwork. It is all priceless.

As we enter the next phase of this trip in Mexico and Central America, other types of challenges await us. We feel excited and nervous but ready to take these challenges on. Our teamwork is excellent, and we all have strengths to carry us forward on this, our very special Nomad Life. As Jean-Luc Picard has said, "Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again."

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