“Well, we had a house and 80 acres, but we sold that and traveled…now we live in an RV,” my husband explained.
“Oh shit!” the die-hard Seattle Mariners fan said, obviously alarmed at our apparent misfortune. We had just returned from a month abroad in Iceland, Norway, Crete and France, and came to Washington to visit friends and family for a week before heading back to “reality” in California.
I was half-eavesdropping on the conversation Spanky was having with a friend of a friend at the bar, but I felt the full weight of this guy’s pity on us. Instead of feeling bad about myself, I burst into a fit of laughter. It was the best reaction I had ever heard, the shock I fiend for when I tell someone that my home has wheels and everything I own fits in 300 square feet of space. (I’m also the girl that gets off on telling the DirectTV people at Costco that I don’t have cable. Nope, no dish either. Just cold turkey. Four channels, just the same as when I was 10 years old, though some RV parks have snow-free cable.)
“We live that way by choice,” I said, waiting in anticipation for the guy’s next reaction or horrified facial expression.
Our college buddy Ned backed us up, qualifying our badassness as world travelers and adding, “These guys live it up.”
But, even our close friends and family didn’t always get it. I still cringe when people meet our story with, “Well, get it out of your system before you have kids” or “Do it while you’re young.” Maybe I’ll do it forever. Don’t most people just buy RVs to live in when they’re old anyhow? Can’t we just skip the whole house, white picket fence, dog and 2.5 kids part and get on with it? As far as I’m concerned, we’re ahead of the game.
Despite a sense of certainty in my lifestyle now, being a nomad did take some getting used to, even for me—the nomad.
One of our relatives once asked, “Are you still homeless?”
I let it roll off my back (for the most part), but it still stung a little until I could fully grasp the concept myself. Of course, we weren’t homeless. We just decided to live differently. We decided not to rent our home from a bank for 30-plus years. We decided to work hard and play harder, and we felt like owning a house and putting down roots prevented us from doing that.
Our story: How we became “homeless”
In the summer of 2009 we quit our jobs and sold our house and 80 acres in Elk, Wash., just north of Spokane. We had purchased the house as a true gambler’s investment, hoping for the best. My husband, Chris “Spanky” Reijonen, and I are no trust fund babies, so we worked for every penny. At the time, I was working as the communication specialist for the Gonzaga University Athletic Department and my Spanky had just received his journeyman certification as a power lineman. Though these were both lucrative jobs in our part of the world, other parts of the world were calling. So, instead of keeping 20 acres and building a house, as we initially planned, we sold it all, keeping only a storage unit and one vehicle, and we set off for seven months on our first RTW trip.
First, we flew to New York City, where we took a four-day Travel Channel Academy class on filmmaking. Then it was off to Paris to begin two months driving through Europe. Next, we went to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, where we rang in 2010 with new friends, an Italian couple. After that, we rounded out our trip by hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, doing a little volunteering in Nicaragua and relaxing for our last week in Costa Rica.
Needless to say, we returned changed.
That’s what travel will do to you. We weren’t content with staying put anymore. We wanted to keep exploring, so instead of getting back into the traditional workforce, we went rogue, AWOL. Spanky signed up for work at the union hall, which calls him whenever they have work. There are various halls in each state and they allow linemen to work for contractors and also be their own bosses to an extent. Spanky took his first call in South Dakota for a few months before transferring over to California. While in South Dakota, we bought into the “high class line trash” lifestyle and purchased a 27-foot travel trailer in which we would live for the next year and a half.
Since buying our first RV in 2010, we’ve owned two other fifth wheels (the RV that latches into the bed of a pickup) and bought and sold a house in Placerville, Calif. We’ve worked up and down California, spending time in both the armpit and butthole of the Golden State—Fresno and Bakersfield. We’ve also spent time on the beach north of Monterey, parked in Reno, Nev. for a few months, paid an ungodly amount of money on a glorified parking spot 20 minutes north of San Francisco, driven all the windy bends of Highway 49 and made countless road trips north to Washington. But, Spanky and I have also been transported back in time, stumbling upon quintessential gold rush towns like Murphys, Sonora and Placerville, which we still consider home. We’ve hiked in Yosemite National Park, hunkered down feeling very small under the coastal redwoods and basked in the clear water and fresh piney scents of Tahoe.
In December, we compromised our “bumdom” by purchasing a home with a cabin in Washington. We plan on fixing up the cabin and using it as our home base, but seeing new places, meeting new people and diving headfirst into unorthodox experiences is still our priority. We’ll always be gypsies at heart, and that’s something I can bank on.
In the past five years, Spanky and I have spent a quarter of our lives traveling internationally and zero time regretting our decisions.
Not bad for a couple of bums.