A month ago we drove out of our hometown south of Tampa, Fla., toward the great expanse of the American West, feeling like our adventure had finally, really, started. We were headed to Texas, New Mexico and Utah, with possible stops in California and Nevada, all before Christmas.
We were excited to move on, but there was a bit of a black cloud following us up the highway to Tallahassee and on to the state line.
We made it as far as Gulf Shores, Ala.
And then we sat there for a month, splitting the time between Gulf Shores/Orange Beach and Pensacola, Fla.
We were stuck waiting for a new cylinder on the big rig’s hydraulic leveling system. The part wasn’t crucial to the operating system of the trailer, but we needed it to stop the hydraulic fluid that was leaking out. We would have moved on and tried to get it fixed at another stop, except for one thing: We had already decided to sell the big rig, ASAP, and buy a less-big rig, also ASAP.
We had been considering the change since a few weeks after we picked up the big rig in Pennsylvania back in August. We loved the two bathrooms, the large dinette seating area and the residential refrigerator. But it turned out that we didn’t need – or want – as much space and amenities as we thought.
Towing and maneuvering a trailer that is 42-feet, 3-inches long and 13-feet, 2-inches tall is no easy feat. It requires considerable planning in terms of where to stay and where to stop along the way, and the going is slow on the interstate. You are limited on where you can stay and sometimes pay a premium for “big rig” sites, and have to carefully pick your individual campsite to make sure you not only can get in it, but also can get out. Driver anxiety runs high, and that translates into everyone being stressed and no one being happy.
The first months of this trip were rough. The kids weren’t doing well with school online, Mark was dealing with a lot of changes and I was trying to convince everyone we were having fun. We took a good, long hard look at what we wanted to get out of this journey and whether we really wanted to keep traveling. At one point, after the long trek to Florida in September, we almost gave up entirely.
Then we regrouped and recommitted. We talked about our goals for the trip and for our family over this year. We changed the way the kids were doing school. We prioritized what was important and what was not, what we needed to do to keep this idea going, and how to make it an adventure full of good memories vs. a story of trudging around the U.S. looking for a place to settle down.
We knew we needed to be quicker, more agile, more spontaneous. We wanted to spend less time planning and more time traveling, less time stressing and worrying and more time getting out and experiencing the things we came back to America to see.
The big rig sold just a few days after we put it on Craig’s List, and officially went to its new home on Monday, after the jack repair was completed. A couple from the Gulf Shores area with two-year-old twin boys bought it. The two bedroom set-up gives them lots of room for their little ones to play, in space that we didn’t need and didn’t use. They were looking for something that would allow their family to be together while the husband works in Texas several months of the year.
That makes me feel good.
While this was all going on we spent weeks visiting RV dealers in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. We looked at old beat up trailers that we thought we could renovate, and slightly used ones that were close to, but not quite, what we wanted. We settled on a new, 2016 fifth wheel on closeout at a place called Dad’s Camper Outlet in Picayune, Miss.
We picked up the less-big rig almost three weeks ago, and Mark’s towed it over 600 miles, from the dealer in Mississippi where we bought it, back to Pensacola where we switched trailers, over to Alabama and then back into Mississippi, where we stayed from Friday until yesterday, when we arrived in Beaumont, TX.
The new rig comes in at at just under 34 feet long and 12 feet tall. We’re also about 4,000 pounds lighter going down the road (truck and trailer combined), partly because the new one only has two slide outs instead of four.
We lost roughly 96 square feet of living space.
That might not sound like much, until you consider this: The big rig’s interior measured about 390 square feet. The less-big rig is about 294 square feet, or one quarter less.
The new trailer was built better and smarter – the space is used more wisely, and in a way that just makes more sense. Despite the loss of living space, everything we had with us in the big rig fit in the less-big rig, with room to spare.
The kids went from twin bunks across the room from each other to queen bunks that are stacked, giving them each a loft-like space that is more private. The one bathroom we have is larger than either of the other two we had, and the kitchen has more counter and storage space. The master bedroom is smaller and the ceiling lower, but there’s still enough closet and drawer space.
The transition was pretty seamless, and we’re all feeling more relaxed.
We knew nothing about full-time RV living when we started this journey, and the big rig taught us a lot. It was like transition housing, that place where you stay for a few weeks while you look for the house you really want. I don’t think we could have moved into this small a space straight away, if we hadn’t lived in the larger trailer for awhile first.
The big rig was impressive-looking, and it served us well. But it didn’t have much heart and soul. It was built for the wow-factor rather than the practical needs of a family living and traveling full time.
The less-big rig is still pretty nice by trailer standards, but it’s also cozy, unassuming and practical.
It feels more like home. It feels more like us.
*Note: We don’t have good enough WiFi right now to post photos. But they’ll be up as soon as we do.