Lessons From the Road | Less is More: Adventure Over Stuff
by Jana Gamble
We have been on the road for about four months, and while that’s a relatively short time, I think that some of the big lessons happen in the initial “adjustment period” of an experience like this. One thing is for sure: the longer our trip goes on, the more apparent its lessons become and we come to appreciate its seemingly endless scope of positive transformation it brings upon each of us. Here is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned so far:
Less is More: Adventure over Stuff
Before we moved into our 400 square foot space on Thelma the RV, we lived in a beautiful 4,200 square foot home that included a guest house with an Airbnb apartment. Altogether, we maintained 6,000 square feet of space. Add to that a 5-acre property and a pool, and suddenly you find yourself spending most of your weekends maintaining your beautiful home.
It was rare for Eastern Europeans to own a whole home and the majority of people lived in very small apartments. Kids shared rooms and tiny kitchens almost always doubled as a laundry, but no one ever felt like they were lacking anything. Instead, our family was always very close.
Grant built our house with his own hands in 2002-2003, so we never hired any maintenance people or contractors to come fix anything. He always did all of it himself. We also cleaned our home and Airbnb ourselves, often several times per week. It was all seemingly endless and pretty exhausting. That said, we never took for granted the beautiful place we lived in and often marveled at how lucky we were to have a little oasis in the middle of the beautiful Virginia countryside.
This experience parallelled our work life. Grant and I always worked very hard to establish a comfortable lifestyle for our family. We were both highly motivated, passionate overachievers who could move mountains when it came to getting work done. Looking in from the outside, one would come to the conclusion that we were successful based on the kind of home we lived in, the kinds of cars we drove and the amount of “stuff” we had.
It is worth noting that both Grant and I grew up very humbly: he in the Australian Outback in the 1960’s and I in Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980’s.
Consumer economy has programmed us with the notion that the amount of stuff we have, the kind of cars we drive and the size of the home we live in determines our level of success in life. As a result, it is really easy to get stuck on what I call the “treadmill to nowhere.” We go to college, work 9-5 and achieve as high of a professional title as possible, get married, buy a house, have kids, save for their college, save for retirement, and so on. It’s “more, more, more, now, now, now.” In the meantime, we get two weeks off a year.
Consumer economy has programmed us with the notion that the amount of stuff we have, the kind of cars we drive and the size of the home we live in determines our level of success in life.
We become so focused on these things that oftentimes we spend more time overwhelmed and stressed out than joyful and at peace. We sometimes lose sight of what’s really important and completely forget about ourselves and why we’re actually here, having this human experience. We are so stressed out and often anxious or depressed that we can’t help but get drunk, eat too much, get stoned, get buried in a screen, or anything that makes us numb to our present reality and makes our lives “bearable” for at least a moment. Eventually, a lot of us get sick. Today, there are more people with cancer, chronic disease and mental health issues than ever before. Each year, these statistics rise, yet we continue on our endless treadmills to nowhere wondering how we got to feel so bad.
Today, there are more people with cancer, chronic disease and mental health issues than ever before.
Grant and I spent the last 12 years on this treadmill. While aware of its pitfalls, we struggled to get off of it. We kept reaching for solutions that would allow us to slow down and start to live our lives more calmly, more fully, to enjoy our family and to lead by example as parents.
Then, six months into the global pandemic, while paddleboarding after work with Grant one afternoon, I stood on my board in the middle of the Rivanna Reservoir in Charlottesville, Virginia and suddenly experienced what’s best described as a knowing: we were to sell our home and travel the country on a bus. The moment was so visceral, yet made absolutely no sense. Why would we sell the home we love and move our teenage kids on a bus at a time when they are the most vulnerable to a change like this?
After discussing the idea as a family, we decided to go for it.
What followed was the most grueling move we have ever experienced. This says a lot, since this was our 10th move in 12 years. The amount of stuff was just overwhelming. We spent a couple of months selling a lot of things to friends and via Facebook Marketplace, then we had a yard sale, and finally we donated everything that was left over to a local family in need.
Why would we sell the home we love and move our teenage kids on a bus at a time when they are the most vulnerable to a change like this?
Still, we were left with two storage units packed to the gunnels. On moving day, I moved everything I thought we’d need onto Thelma the Bus and surprisingly, it all fit.
Very quickly, we realized that minimizing did not actually mean compromising. We didn’t feel like anything was lacking. There were plenty of clothes to choose from, plenty of dishes to eat and drink from, a shower that worked great and a bathroom that rarely had a line.
At first, I was intimidated to cook in our tiny kitchen. But Thanksgiving and Christmas came around and it was important to me that I make our traditional family feasts. So I stood in our little kitchen on Thanksgiving, mindfully making one thing at a time while Grant cooked the turkey on the grill outside. All I could think was that this was just like my mom and grandma cooked when I was little. In truth, their kitchens were not that much bigger than mine and they cooked daily without any qualms.
As we slowly reconfigured the space into its optimal functionality, I started to notice that I enjoyed cooking this way more because it requires more mindfulness, which in turn makes me more present.
Very quickly, we realized that minimizing did not actually mean compromising.
Also, I am never alone in a kitchen now since it is not a separate room. I’ve gotten so used to the space and my process, that I don’t feel any sense of compromise. If anything, I feel closer to my roots and often find myself thinking of my grandmother and her Sunday dinners. She was an amazing cook.
Another unforeseen consequence of our big downsize was the sense of freedom I felt from day 1. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I wasn’t overwhelmed by the responsibility to maintain my space. Having had a relatively big home with four people and three large dogs, I always felt like there was a “mess” everywhere I looked. I’d clean and dust and 2 hours later I could see the new cover of dust and dirt that had come off the dogs almost instantly.
Then there was the laundry. We didn’t have time to do it daily, so each week it felt like there had been an explosion in the laundry room. If you’ve had a teenaged daughter, you know that it often takes several outfit changes to get out of the house. This means that whatever clothes does not get worn either stays on the floor or goes in the dirty laundry basket. Jack, Grant and I like to exercise, which can also significantly add to the laundry pile each day.
Now, we have a small washer/dryer in our bedroom on Thelma the Bus. We also have a tiny little hamper for dirty clothes, which means that laundry gets done on average every other day. Since there is no need to swap from the washing machine into the dryer, the clothes go in and out and get folded immediately. The work involved takes about 15 minutes.
The dogs’ dust and dirt are still present, but I vacuum the bus at least once a day since the whole thing takes less than 10 minutes. It generally takes about 20 minutes to get the bus picked up and superficially cleaned and about an hour to get it deep cleaned, including the bathroom. The sense of overwhelm when it comes to a cluttered, messy house is gone. Everything has its purpose and function and there are no closets that need to be re-organized or pantries that are full of expired cans of beans.
What’s more, the addiction of materialism and constant buying is broken with this kind of lifestyle. We have become far more thoughtful about what we really need when our space does not allow for frivolous purchases. Living a nomadic lifestyle also takes away a fixed address, which makes it more difficult to get Amazon deliveries on the regular.
We are constantly fed the idea that more is more. That more is success and that in order to “fit in,” we must have this, that and the other. These programs have become such intrinsic parts of our culture that many of us lack awareness of their existence.
Perhaps most importantly, being on the road and very close to nature in different places all the time makes us re-evaluate our role on this planet. Driving through the many different deserts and seeing trash everywhere, swimming in the ocean among plastic bags and dead fish because of the pollution that is all around us makes us realize that the stuff we buy from Amazon is the kind of stuff that ends up destroying our planet.
When we talk about our next home as a family, the picture looks very different than the home we gave up. Jack and Stellie’s current “rooms” are about 3’x6’ and have curtains instead of doors. And while they would prefer more space and real doors, they have experienced that even a 3’x6’ space can be their own and fulfill their basic needs. The overabundance many teens are used to living in can take away their awareness of its impact on the planet and can rob them of the perspective they need to empathize with those less fortunate.
The addiction of materialism and constant buying is broken with this kind of lifestyle.
Taking away the stuff and replacing it with adventure also teaches kids about what truly makes humans happy. We are not here to accummulate things, we are here to evolve and grow through the experiences we expose ourselves to. We don’t own this planet, we are a part of it and have a responsibility to live in harmony with it. To do so, we must realize the impact our personal choices have on the wellbeing of our environment.
How to live a full, happy life connected to nature and positively contribute to the evolution of the human species are really important life lessons that become more available when we extract ourselves from the extreme levels of consumerism that have become our second nature. For us, giving up our excess has not led to a sense of scarcity, but rather a sense of liberation, freedom and increased joy. I’m sure there is actual science out there to back this up.
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