Sometimes as we drove across the desert or pulled into an eerie part of an unknown town late at night, I asked myself if I would have traded our home for life on the road, knowing what I know now. Would I have bought the brand-new travel trailer, packed our apartment into storage, said goodbye to my friends and family, and told my freelance clients that I’d be working remotely?
My husband Dan and I started this trip seven months ago. After our wedding, we’d decided to experience the country beyond our front door. And with the support of our family, friends, and freelance clients, we made it happen. We planned it as a combination honeymoon and lifestyle change, wanting to shake up our routine and experience living somewhere besides Chicago, where we both grew up. I’ll hold these memories close to my heart forever.
In August when we left, miles of open road unfolded before us. We were nervous, excited, and overwhelmed with possibility. Our friends couldn’t believe we were actually doing it. Our older relatives told us it wouldn’t be easy. They were right, but that was something we had to experience for ourselves.
And over the last few months, we experienced amazing things. We watched a herd of 30 elk cross the plains of the Grand Tetons at sunset. We drank London Fogs (black tea and almond milk) and went for hikes during two straight weeks of rain in Portland. In La Jolla, we kayaked among dolphins and sea lions two miles into the Pacific. We had deep discussions over dinners in Colorado and spent late nights staring at the stars in Arizona. We even hung out with Jeff Goldblum one night as he played piano at a club in Los Angeles. And we did all of it while continuing to freelance from the road, hitting deadlines and completing projects.
Eighteen thousand miles and 23 states later, we’re heading home. The decision to end our adventure evolved naturally. People go on adventures to find big things: inspiration, motivation, purpose, and change. But adventures can’t go on forever. Eventually, the adventurer has to go home and re-fuel for the next one. Rest her mind, rest her feet, and build a new launch pad.
After seven months as full-time travelers, this is why Dan and I decided to head back home:
1). We miss the comforts of home.
Read: toilet paper. Or at least the comfort of knowing where to go to buy toilet paper—and shampoo and laundry detergent. Moving to a new place every week or two means finding a store that carries all of the goodies we need, from toilet paper to quality produce.
And those comforts don’t end at grocery stores. I also miss knowing which coffee shop has the best chocolate chip cookies, which hair salon won’t make me look like a polygamist sister-wife, and where we can do our laundry—all things you learn once you’re in one place long enough. And when you’re in a place long enough, the people get to know you too. We missed being known and knowing people.
2). Traveling is more difficult than I ever thought.
I say this as someone who lives to travel. When traveling is your entire life, though, it can exhaust you. There was no end in sight to the logistics, which became both exhilarating and daunting.
I’ve spent hours on this trip looking up travel times, searching for places to stay that meet our requirements (dogs allowed, parking available, functional internet, not too pricy), and making sure we’re not missing anything along the way. When a rock splits our windshield or a tire leaks air, we have to hunt for the best shop in the area. We pack and unpack over and over and over again. The lack of routine became routine, and we mastered it. But it takes a lot of energy.
Living a nomadic lifestyle isn’t the same as going on an extended vacation. Budgeting for rent, food, and unexpected auto troubles in a sustainable way becomes more complicated when so much is in flux constantly. When you’ve been driving for 10 hours a day for three days and pull into a new place, it’s tempting to pull up GrubHub and order a nice sushi dinner to reward yourself. But sometimes that new place doesn’t have any restaurants within 25 miles, and you’re forced to make a choice: getting back in the car or eating a can of beans you found in the trunk.
3). Dogs. Period.
I love our dogs—two charming, 35-lb. weirdos. I love going on hikes with them, sitting by the fire with them, and laughing at them because they are such sweet idiots. They’re an immense comfort on this journey and provide some semblance of routine.
They’re also a major point of stress. I worry if we leave them alone for more than a couple of hours. In northern California, I clocked more time checking them for ticks than taking them on actual hikes. I’ve had to apologize when they react poorly to new neighbors’ dogs or chase local cats up trees.
Add to that, we can only stay at places that allow dogs, and we have to make sure ours are completely comfortable in each new place before we leave them alone so they don’t completely freak out and destroy everything in sight. This takes about 24 hours, and includes a calming pheromone spray, various herbal supplements, a security blanket full of our smells, and special collars that emit soothing scents.
4). We want to be part of a community again.
We have so many friends and family in Chicago that there was always something to do—a party, a concert, a dinner. The endless calendar of events wore me out. It’s not that I took my friends for granted, but I felt like I didn’t have time to stop, breathe, and think, which I value immensely as a writer. I need that time to process what I experience.
Now, I’m experiencing the complete opposite. We’ve traveled to a lot of rural places and areas where we don’t know anybody. (I’m looking at you, Idaho.) We miss being part of communities outside of ourselves, whether that’s the music scene or a book club. This trip has made us realize how important human connection is and how challenging it is to get past your own snap judgments and connect with people for brief windows.
5). We want time to prepare for our next adventure: buying a house.
Although we found some tempting spots in our travels, we know we want to make Chicago our permanent base. We love too many people there to settle anywhere else.
Being on the road meant that we were exposed to new types of architecture, interior design, and most importantly different ways that people and families across the country live their day-to-day lives. Everywhere we went, we were able to pick out things that we want to incorporate into our future home when we’re back in Chicago—artwork from our travels, a composting bin, and plenty of spare sheets and towels so we’re ready for future travelers.
Our trip taught us which essentials we need in our lives to feel happy and comfortable anywhere, things like my gold dinosaur necklace, Dan’s guitar, a place to connect with nature, good books, and Trader Joe’s gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. It also taught us what hospitality looks like at its best.
I daydream now that we’ll find a home with a little guesthouse in the backyard that we can rent out on Airbnb. We’ll decorate it with photographs from our travels, and I’ll bake a batch of fresh cookies for each new guest. I’ll offer myself up as a local guide for hire, and help people from all over the world experience what makes where we’ve decided to settle a place like nowhere else.
It’s going to take time to figure out what we can afford and where exactly we want to live, but based on what we’ve already learned about life and each other in seven months of travel, I don’t doubt that we’ll find our way through this next adventure.