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On the road again, but this time without military orders - a chance to live the life we love

By Amy Nielsen

We made a huge decision as a family over the last week. We set the date to move into our RV and live on the road full time.

We have been working towards this goal since retirement from the Navy five years ago. We knew it would take a bit to organize ourselves and our stuff into a position where we could begin to think about this for real.

We knew we had to deal with some financial debt. Then there was the emotional leap from paying for a house with rooms we never go in and working a job he hates, to finding the right storage area for the heirloom family items we want to hold on to and deciding exactly what in the kitchen this active chef must have on hand.

Moving is a part of the fabric of our existence as a military family. For us, it’s exhilarating - a new place, new space, new friends, new shops, new everything. It is a chance to begin again, to try out a different way, an exploration of a different aspect of self. Some places we land are financially challenging, some socially challenging, and others are emotionally challenging, but each affords us a chance to delve deeply into a niche of our being previously undeveloped.

With a bit of personal fortitude and strength, new places become the stones to build a world from.

These kinds of moves always presuppose that one is moving to a stationary place, a new home, a new town. It is comforting to see a familiar supermarket or restaurant. Finding the local library and getting a card is a rite of passage for many. Registering for school or the town Little League means new roots are going in. Understanding what it is about these that are important to you makes the transition to mobility easier. Taking the kids to all of our local libraries in preparation for this trip means learning that every library has a librarian and that most are happy to help find your favorite book which means all libraries in the country become our hometown library.

The hardest part of getting to this decision hasn’t been the finances or the issues of the stuff we want to keep versus the stuff we can give back to the universe, it has been the emotional shift from living a traditionally rooted life, like the oak tree in the front yard watching the same community grow feeling the soil of one space to one more like a river wandering through the countryside up and down tributaries being replenished by experiences rather than material goods.

This move is the first we are making that is really truly for ourselves. When my husband retired from the Navy, we were flat broke, close to being evicted from our military housing, with two young children including one with multiple needs. His military certifications didn’t cross over to the civilian world so he had to go back to school to be civilian certified in the exact curriculum he had been teaching in the Navy for the last few years of his 20 year career. To say we took what we could get would be an understatement. The best option we could find was a fast track program back in the last place we wanted to be stationed again.

We moved to a place of relative sanity and security after the whirlwind of our first years in civilian life. We thought we were working toward the dream. We bought a house. We planned vacations. We put in a fence. But we had our eyes firmly planted on the open road. When we got our RV, that first family trip felt so much like a Frog and Toad story we laughed ourselves silly.

We are in the early throws of minimizing or as my mom says, “decrapifying.” I used to be the kind of person who had neatly organized boxes of pencils and note pads, spices grouped by sweet or savory, and color coordinated fabric tubs – so many fabric tubs.

Then I had kids and we moved three times in five years, twice with the Navy tossing everything in crates and once by ourselves in a hurry. My obsession with putting like things with like things has turned into a giant junk drawer of insanity in every closet, nook and cranny.

I am most excited to plan our first trip to see far flung friends across the country. It is still 18 months away, but we will be taking longer and longer trips as we work up to being on the road fulltime. Each step, each trip, is a chance to refine our understanding of our new existence. It is a chance to help our family and friends see that this allows us the ability to visit more often for better quality visits.

The shift is real and it is hard and it is a solid line in the sand. In the last week I have gone from thinking, oh I wanted to try that new toothpaste so I’ll pick it up while I am here even though I am still only halfway through the current tube to putting that same new toothpaste back as I really don’t need to store an extra tube of toothpaste in my house now. I can’t wait to see how many pairs of scissors we end up finding as we begin the process of going through every single item in our house to put it in one of three piles; RV house, storage house, or return to the universe.

When one moves from roots to rivers this notion of what is familiar and comforting is at the same time expanded to every strip mall in the country and shrunk to what will fit in the cubby by your bed. Exploring a town for the best pizza while knowing that there is only one perfect pillow and it’s on your bed and your bed is in the parking lot no matter where in the country you are. The wanderlust for many has been well worn out in the years of moving under orders at the whim of others. For us, the taste for travel was only whetted and never slacked.

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