Making the jump from dream to reality is best accomplished with some forethought and organization, ergo, a plan. Our plan was inspired by the story of another family that had made a similar leap. Their story involved quitting their day jobs, selling their house and most of their possessions, buying an Airstream, and heading out to visit all 400 US National Parks. If they could swing that, why not us, right? So the initial elements of our plan began with finding a trailer that would do what we need it to do, divesting ourselves of extraneous possessions, outfitting the trailer, deciding where to go and what to do, deciding how long to do it for, tying up loose ends, and going!
First, the issue of "how long". When I was in middle-school, I had an English teacher who provided a most unorthodox answer to the inevitable question of "How long does this paper need to be?" Unlike every previous teacher who measured success in a certain number of written pages, this particular educator replied, "It should be the length of a woman's skirt: Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting." This concept has stuck with me through the years. We decided that if a woman's skirt were a road trip intended to explore North America, it might be about a year long. But to be on the safe side we agreed that the skirt should be made of spandex to afford a generous degree of flexibility, should we decide once we get out there that the correct skirt length is actually only six months. Or maybe three years. Flexibility is good.
The trailer. Our envisioned expedition called for something small, light, durable, yet fully functional. A small house on wheels. Definitely not a huge trailer that's relegated only to RV parks and campgrounds that can accommodate such behemoths. We want to spend time in the middle of the deep, dark woods, as well as in the hustle and bustle of humanity. A smaller trailer goes more places. But you can't go too small, or you give up certain things, like an indoor kitchen, or a toilet and shower. At that point what you have is a glorified tent, not a tiny house on wheels. A lot of research got me focused on molded fiberglass trailers, e.g. Scamp, Casita, etc. A lot more research narrowed it down to the Escape brand, built in British Columbia. Very well built trailers, with excellent customer support, highly customizable by the factory, and fairly priced, especially if you're paying in US dollars, due to the current exchange rates. The only problem was that we had committed ourselves to The Plan about eight months before intended execution, but due to their popularity, Escape trailers require about a year lead time to order a new one from the factory. Used units were also difficult to come by because of high demand. Searching the For Sale adverts became a daily routine, in hopes that one would pop up. And The Fates came through. A family in Washington put up for sale their five-year-old yet pristine and almost never used Escape 17B, outfitted almost to a T as I would have done myself. Within hours of their post we had talked and agreed to terms. A road trip from Cali to Washington and back and we had it! It has everything you could want in a tiny portable home: kitchen with fridge, small bath, sleeping space for four, storage for stuff, big batteries to run stuff and solar panels to charge them, air-conditioning if it's hot, a furnace, double-pane windows, and extra thermal insulation if it's cold. But WOW, it is tiny! "It'll go places that a giant trailer won't fit," we say. "Less is more," we remind ourselves. We dub our tiny little home MATT, for Maximum Adventure Travel Trailer. We decide that contrary to normal naming convention, MATT is a girl, as her role and function is that of comfort, nurture and support. Not only are all my immediate family members female, but so are our anthropomorphized possessions. I have not yet decided if this is a good thing or not.
Divesting possessions. For many years Kirstin and I have struggled to free ourselves from extraneous possessions. "Less is more," we regularly say to each other. "The things you own, end up owning you," we channel from Fight Club. Over the last several years we have definitely decluttered, and redistributed many, many things to the world. But at a certain point it gets hard. For me that's somewhere between "that is a useful widget" and "that is a sentimental widget". So we committed ourselves to combing through everything one more time. We made stacks and piles of stuff in the guest room, the living room, and outside next to the garage. We set aside some special items to gift to friends and family. We scheduled a garage sale. We put things out on the curb labeled "free". And at the end of it all, we donated everything that was left to a local charity.
But there's still a household full of stuff, and it needed to go somewhere, because it won't fit in the trailer! This is another place where The Fates smiled, because one of the benefits of my military retirement is that they will pack up and store our household goods for up to six years, and then deliver it where we ask them to, all as part of our final military move. I consider it payback for all the other times they made us move every few years. So we scheduled the movers, who dutifully showed up, packed up all our remaining possessions, and drove off with them, ostensibly to a climate-controlled warehouse. Hopefully not to a thrift store.
Still, one of the life-lessons we hope to take to the next level during our walkabout, as individuals and as a family, is a deeper understanding of how unimportant and unnecessary both those useful and sentimental widgets truly are. Spend a year without them and they're probably not all that essential, are they? Perhaps this will be my final hurdle to cut the ties with a lot more stuff that I've been lugging around for years.
Where to go. This is a unique trip for all of us. It's the first time that any of us have had the freedom to go wherever, for as long as we'd like, without a hard finish time. Every normal vacation has an end date, then it's back to work or school or whatever. Lack of such constraints for us has largely removed the temptation to rush ourselves, or limit ourselves to checking things off a list of "must see" places. It affords us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a place until we're ready to experience a new place. This is really more commentary on "how to go" than "where to go", but the two intertwine closely. Our "where" list can be summarized into the categories of Friends and Family, Scenic/Historic Places, and Places We Might Want To Move To Afterwards. It's a meandering list of the people and places we've never been to, or yearned to go back to, or want to share with our kiddos and so expand their lives and understanding of the world. We have deliberately avoided a hard schedule because we want to be able to stay longer or go earlier, or go somewhere new that we didn't know about until we discovered it. Explore. Experience deeply. These are our objectives, and this is why our itinerary is irritatingly vague to our friends and family.
If a blog entry were a woman's skirt, then surely this blog entry would be part of a nun's habit. One final note for now though. When one has children part of any big life event such as this, is getting them onboard. We introduced the idea from the beginning as a big adventure, and that is what it has become for us all. The trip itself has a name: The Big Adventure. And undoubtedly if it has a gender, you can guess what it is.