Carrie and I have been RV’ing up through the Eastern US for 3 ½ months now. We’ve been up and down the Eastern states visiting family and friends, but also staying in parks and seeing local sites, and trying out the yings and yangs of the RV Lifestyle. Something just doesn’t seem right.
We’re getting used to the differences in monthly costs. While the purchase and outfitting of the RV was substantially less than buying and outfitting a sailboat for cruising, there are more incidental costs along the RV’ing road, most notably fuel and camping costs. We had hoped to “Boondock” along the way, that is camp on public land for free. It would be more like anchoring a sailboat where we would not be plugged in, relying exclusively on our solar panels and generator for power. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out like we’d hoped as the opportunities for free, open land along the eastern US are very few, with the exception of the incidental overnight stays in Walmart parking lots between campsites. We’ve found that the predominance of open lands available lies in the western portion of the country, and so we’ve had to pay for space in campgrounds, parks, and occasionally on military bases wherever we can find them.
We’ve recently joined an RV camping organization called Thousand Trails where, for a membership fee and annual dues, we can stay for free at parks in their network, and at substantially reduced rates at some others, which will help reduce our outlay for camping fees. We have also secured a gas card for the Pilot Flying J network of truck stops, which will help our fuel costs somewhat.
However, the biggest difference between our new RVing lifestyle and the Cruising lifestyle is the people we’ve encountered. While cruising over 9 years, in virtually every anchorage we pulled into we met someone; a single cruiser, a cruising couple or a family, who warmly welcomed us to our destination. We would quickly trade our opening stories on where we originated from and the challenges we’d encountered to get here. Then they would share local knowledge to allow us to set up “housekeeping”, such as grocery stores, laundry facilities, and public transportation options that were available nearby.
Many times if our initial conversation uncovered some common interests or any sense of connection, the welcoming cruisers would invite us over for cocktails, an innocuous excuse to get together so we could continue to explore our commonalities.
In more established cruising anchorages we always found a daily Cruiser’s Net in the mornings on our VHF radio where someone would voluntarily moderate a net that kept everyone connected, allowing new arrivals to introduce themselves or those departing to say goodbye, announcing plans for an upcoming Potluck dinner or Jam Session, and provide a forum for questions or any help needed. Even without a net, and at other times of the day, just leaving the VHF on to channel 16 provided the opportunity to put a call out for questions regarding local knowledge or help in finding a part or repair service, or help in case of an emergency.
We certainly didn’t connect with everyone we met in this way, but more often than not we developed rich new friendships with truly remarkable people, many we have kept in touch with and encountered again. These relationships are like rare shells you find while walking along a beach, you easily collect them and keep them forever, and they have made our cruising experience so memorable even after many years. The friends we have visited with along our RV route so far have all been former cruising friends, and reconnecting with them has truly been magnificent, just like reconnecting with family members. We feel sad that we couldn’t reconnect with others who were a bit out of reach to catch up on recent adventures and wish we had made the additional effort.
We thoroughly enjoyed this welcome to a new destination and the feeling of connection with those more seasoned in cruising than us, but we also were delighted to return the experience and reach out to welcome others around us. Boats, and particularly sailboats, can be difficult to maintain, with so many different systems needed to make the whole thing run, and things need attention on a regular basis. Very few of us are masters at all aspects of boat repair, whether it’s electrical, mechanical, carpentry, fiberglass work, canvas repair or even repairing the head (toilet), but it’s never difficult to find someone who will gladly lend a hand or share advice from a similar experience.
The prospect of keeping one’s boat running is a daunting one; the help and advice freely offered by other cruisers along with the reassurance that we weren’t alone in our concerns about keeping it all together really kept us going in our initial cruising months. I can distinctly remember the first time that we actually had some experience to offer another cruising couple, someone who seemed actually less seasoned than we were, and exclaimed to Carrie, “Hey, I know the answer to this question!!” The feeling of accomplishment and knowing we provided someone else with aid or even a little comfort felt better than I can tell you.
Understand that the people that we’ve met in our RV travels so far have truly been nice, considerate folks. They wave from their lawn chairs or exchange pleasantries while walking their dogs in a very cordial way, but that’s about it. We’ve put forth the effort of getting together to share stories or learn more about fulltime RV’ing, but only one couple has gone that extra step with us so far, and we thankfully made a warm connection with them that we continue to enjoy, so we know that it’s possible. However, most people we’ve met so far just seem content to fade back to their campsite and their own lives, and we’re left feeling unfulfilled somehow. We feel we’ve missed out on the opportunity to get to know someone better, and it feels a little hollow.
For now we continue on, and keep looking for opportunities to meet other RV’ers as we travel. We are also taking advantage of opportunities to meet with any friends and family members along the way, as this has brought us the most happiness during our RV travels, by far. We’ve pledged ourselves to give this lifestyle a fair chance. There are lots of warm people in this world and for many RV’ing is a tangible way to step out and enjoy life, just like cruisers.