I have always been attracted to the word sabbatical. It sounds much more respectable and purposeful than “I need to get heck out of here because life as it is, is driving me insane!” Most people think sabbaticals are reserved solely for academics or clergy to recharge and refresh, so that they can deepen their understanding of a subject and return to their teaching or research with renewed vigor. While we recognize the purpose and benefits for academia, it is discounted and discouraged for others. I would argue that it is every bit as important for everyone to have time to reflect, recharge and develop personally and spiritually. Very few people allow the space for serious and often beneficial contemplation to live life intentionally. Too many of us, self included, get caught up in the expectations and currents of life before we even have the faintest idea of what is going on. Perhaps fear is the reason we steam ahead certain in our uncertainty. It is said we are the sum of our choices, but what if all of those choices were made with little thought or insight and the total is wrong? I do not think there is anything more terrifying than that. While many people double down and harden on their current path, a sabbatical is an opportunity to rediscover, develop awareness and enrich life and purpose. While world travel may be out of the question or impractical, especially for people with school aged children, traveling North America in an RV for a year or more is well within reach for many.
In our modern consumer culture learning to live simply, not constantly in pursuit of things, is an acquired skill. I grew up, like many Americans, believing I had to have the fanciest, the best, and the latest I could afford; that possessions defined me and made me better. The reality of this was far different than I had imagined. The very moment I was the most successful in terms of wealth and “stuff,” was also the most miserable, including a descent into alcoholism. Working hard in effort to acquire more stuff seems little more than a hollow unsatisfying effort to superficially boost ones’ self esteem. This path, at least in my case, was diverting me from taking pleasure in life and happiness.
Living simply is not taught in the classrooms, and it is certainly not a part of our culture. How many times have you heard, “I am being a good American and buying stuff?” In fact, our rampant materialism and consumption seems to not only be at the core of our unhappiness, but is also destroying that which supports a happy and healthy life. Living in a small modest RV by choice has taught me to live simply, and without the constant pangs of wanting.
Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, was a phrase made popular by a widely seen film of the 1980’s, “Dead Poets Society”. Since then the phrase has been a staple in the American lexicon. However, what is well known is not always regularly practiced. Most people tend to live their lives as if something better waits for them in the future, almost guaranteed. Intellectually, we all know we will meet the reaper in the end and sometimes sooner than expected. In fact, there are no guarantees, in a sense all we have is today. Every day is a gift for those who are grateful.
I feel, more and more, that we all have been subjected to a great ruse. That society has programmed us to believe certain things are important, when in the end they are utterly meaningless. Instead of bolstering individual growth and awareness, what I feel is the true meaning of life, we are misguided to believe that comfort and wealth is synonymous with happiness. Instead of facing the difficult task growth, a craving develops for immediate gratification and pain avoidance through a myriad of distractions.
“Life moves pretty fast, if you blink you just might miss it.” This saying too was made popular by a 1980’s movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, right before embarking on one heck of an epic day. The routines of work, shopping and entertaining oneself are comfortable, but tend to speed up life into a succession of days barely distinguishable from the prior. Weeks turn into months, months to years and before we know it, life has slipped away with little more to show for it than drudgery, interspersed with a few milestones, some recreation, and even less excitement.
Full-time RVing can be a great lifestyle, especially if you crave new experiences and a sense of adventure. While most full-timers are retired and have the luxury of pensions and Social Security, the lifestyle is still within reach for many “non-traditional” younger wannabe RVers.
The first step is realizing this lifestyle exists and is an option. For us, it seemed like we stumbled upon a secret, and in some ways, it is. It bucks convention in that it promotes living simply, and works a lot better with less debt and “stuff”. This lifestyle will not work for people who desire prestige and a gain in material wealth. Less is more seems to aptly apply.
Most people can quickly determine if they are in the position to set off on the road in short time. Debt is probably the largest obstacle. A modest amount may be acceptable for the frugal, but for those up to their eyes in student loans, credit card debt, and excessive car payments will have to eliminate these before pursuing the idea much further. Medical insurance can also be an issue, for the time being there are some affordable options for folks willing to ride with a high deductible. Houses can be sold or rented, and things can be stored or sold. We have modest car and student loan payments, and “catastrophic” type health insurance. We rented our properties and have a property manager, and sold just about everything that would not fit in our RV.
A secondary hope I had for this trip is that it would restore some of my faith in humanity. After living for nearly a decade in Baltimore City, where the worst of people is on display for all to see daily, I had gown cynical. I wanted to see people who were living creatively and full of life, not overwhelmed by programming and addictions.
I have found some of what I was looking for in the West. It started in Texas with its independent spirit and gumption. In New Mexico and Arizona I saw people living off the grid and in small make-shift communities consciously living outside of convention. Some of the residents in small desert communities made a big impression upon me. These desert people are not consumed by pursuit of fortune, prestige or ego inflation, but seem content to live simply and cheaply in a barren yet often beautiful landscape. Between the solitude, surroundings and simple living, they seem more connected with something and at peace. The central coast of California, so far, is where I have encountered people most full of life and living at a higher frequency. I couldn’t get out of southern California quick enough, a place where indulging in ego pursuits and selfishness seems extreme, but 100 miles up the coast from Santa Barbra to the north everything changes. The central coast has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and the people are out enjoying it. They are active, love to get out in nature and seem to fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds them. Smiles are frequent and civility is the norm.