It’s that time again! Another Inside the RV interview with a full-time RVer on why and how they travel.
Today, let’s meet Sarah Kuiken and her two-year-old Siberian Husky, Orion. She also travels with a 13-year-old tortoiseshell cat named Sophie, who prefers to stay out of the limelight. Sarah and her pets have been full-time RVers for almost a year, and they don’t plan to stop any time soon – much to the cat’s chagrin.
Tell me about your family.
I got Orion as a puppy and took him on a long road trip with me (to Fredericksburg, Texas for the RV Entrepreneur Summit in 2018) when he was still a baby. I wanted to get him trained up early on being my copilot. Back then it was just the two of us in my Subaru Forester and a tent. Now we live a much more comfortable lifestyle in our travel trailer. Poor Sophie sort of got dragged along against her will when I decided to become a full-time RVer. She loves birdwatching when we travel to new places, but she hates riding in the truck. I don’t think the truck likes her much, either.
How did you decide to RV?
I’ve wanted to be a full-time traveler ever since I was a kid. I love my parents and am very close with my family; but, when I turned 18, I went as far away as I could and studied in London for a year. That was at a time when the exchange rate was 2:1 in favor of the pound sterling, so I ran out of money pretty quickly, and settled for studying in Southern California instead. (I’m originally from Denver.) I never lost that travel bug, though. I get itchy feet when I’m in one place for too long, and although I moved back to Denver after college and loved the city, I longed to see more.
Around 2014, I learned that full-time RVing was a thing you could do, and I became instantly obsessed. Some of my best childhood memories were of camping with my family in our old pop-up. Who wouldn’t want to do that all the time, right? I looked obsessively at RVs online and bored people silly talking about Class A’s versus Class B’s versus fifth wheels, and which manufacturers were best. At the time, I had nearly six figures of student debt and credit card debt, so I think my parents just rolled their eyes and thought, “Dream on, kid.”
But I decided then to really buckle down and pay down my debt as fast as I could. I paid off nearly all of my debt in a few years, with the exception of one very small student loan I’m still working on, before I finally bought a trailer and hit the road.
What were the reactions of your family, friends, etc?
My parents were a bit worried about me traveling on my own, but they’ve always been supportive. That, or they’re used to the fact that once I set my mind on something, I’m going to do it and will only dig my heels in harder if anyone tries to stop me. (See the previous section on me spending all of my money – and then some – to go to school in London for no good reason other than the fact that I really wanted to.)
When I made the leap to full-time RVing, I was living with a boyfriend of 7 years who had absolutely no interest in that lifestyle. I think he tolerated my talking about it for years because he thought maybe I’d burn out on the idea, but of course I didn’t. We ended up parting ways last spring, and I decided that was the right time to move into my trailer full-time. It was the best decision for both of us.
What kind of RV do you have?
I have a 28-foot travel trailer. It’s a 2019 Grand Design Imagine 2250RK. I bought it new because my boyfriend at the time was planning to take long trips with me every now and then, which would have meant two of us plus two big dogs in the rig. The floor plan was the best one we could find that would allow me a workspace and give the dogs room to play inside if there was bad weather. It’s a bit large for just one person, but I really appreciate all the extra space on rainy days. And frankly, since there are three of us in here total, I think Orion and Sophie like the space too.
What did you do with all your stuff? How did you downsize?
I’ve always aspired to be a better minimalist than I really am. I have lots of stuff, and I have a hard time getting rid of it. In addition to packing my trailer pretty darn full, I’ve got a few items stored at my parents’ house, and several boxes of things like books and kitchen items at another family member’s house.
Originally, I put some furniture in storage (a dresser that was the most expensive piece of furniture I’d ever bought myself, an armchair that was my grandmother’s, a trampoline that I always thought I would use, etc.). I also stored things like skiing equipment, and the books and kitchenware that eventually migrated to family members’ houses. I got rid of the storage unit after six months. My eventual goal would be to not have boxes stored anywhere, but there are some things (like my KitchenAid mixer) that I can’t fit in the trailer, but I won’t get rid of them.
Getting rid of my books was also really hard. I had an entire bookshelf wall full in my sticks and bricks home. I donated the vast majority of those, but I still have probably 4-5 boxes of books that are very dear to me. I’m trying to keep revisiting my possessions, though. It’s a constant process.
That’s probably my advice to anyone struggling to downsize. Just keep giving away everything you feel you can part with. Store the rest, and then every six months, go through what’s in storage and get rid of more. I’ve used the rule that if I don’t remember I have it, it gets donated. Anything I can list without looking in boxes to remind myself that I have it, I keep.
Just how long have you been on the road? Do you ever see a finish line?
I started out in March 2019, so it’s been almost exactly a year. I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. My rule of thumb has always been that I’ll do it until I don’t want to anymore, and then I’ll do something else. This makes me sound so free and whimsical, but honestly I’m naturally a bit of an obsessive planner. This lifestyle has really been good for me, because I’ve had to let a lot of that control go.
What is the absolute best thing about full-time travel?
I love being able to chase great weather, and get outside in so many different landscapes within a relatively short span of time. The thing that always drove me crazy about living in the suburbs of Denver was that I’d have to drive at least 30 minutes to get to a place where I could hike with my dog and feel like I was in nature. As a full-time RVer, I can basically step out my door wherever I’m camped and do that.
It’s also restored my faith in humanity in many ways. The vast majority of people you meet on the road are so willing to offer help to others. People have been so kind, and even as an introvert who tends to walk around looking angry all the time (even though I’m not), I’ve made a lot of good friends this past year.
What is the worst thing?
For me, it’s been handling the workload of traveling solo while also working full time. In a travel trailer, setting up and tearing down can be a lot of work. Then there’s the regular maintenance you need to do, plus fixing anything that breaks. Even simple things like backing into a campsite, hitching up the trailer, or checking that your lights are working, seem like they take more than double the time if you’re doing them alone. I traveled so quickly in my first year that I really didn’t get to enjoy many of the places I visited. I plan to correct this in year two.
What have you learned on this journey and what are you still seeking?
I’ve learned that I am capable of doing so much more than I thought I could. When I was living in a house, in a city with lots of people around, it was easy to lean on my boyfriend to fix things that broke, or to hire someone. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s just you, you have no choice but to figure some things out. That’s where the rubber really meets the road.
On a related note, I’m definitely seeking more skill in the DIY arena. I’d feel like such a badass if I could fix anything that broke in my trailer, and I’m definitely not even close to that point. But, I’m learning!
The big question on everyone’s mind, how do you fund your travels?
Until the end of March 2020, I had a full time corporate job as a Project Manager for a tech start-up based in Denver. I got laid off as a direct result of COVID-19, along with so many others, and honestly it was something of a relief to me when it happened. I spent so much of my time working that I managed to miss a lot of things while I traveled. Since I had to move on weekends, I found that I really only had one day in each place (I was moving weekly), and even then I’d spend much of that time cleaning and doing basic life errands that don’t go away on the road, like doing laundry or buying groceries. There wasn’t as much time to explore as I wanted.
Now, I’m building a freelance writing and editing business called Flourish Writing. I specialize in ghostwriting and editing content for blogs and small businesses. I’m also working on self-publishing my first book! I honestly don’t know that I would have had the confidence to build a business if I hadn’t made the leap into this lifestyle. It’s opened up so many doors for me that I never anticipated.
Sarah and Orion are currently enjoying Lake Guntersville State Park and planning to travel as soon as Covid allows. To find out more about her business and get in touch, you can reach her at www.flourishwriting.com or use her @flourishwriting to find her on social media.