Today is our 8-month anniversary of being full-time RVers. We thought it might be a good time to reflect on our experiences so far, and answer some of the questions we’ve been asked.
What do you like best about being full-time RVers?
Lil Jan: All the different places we’ve seen and people we’ve met. I’ve learned so much about our country…its history and people. I’ve gotten to see places I have never been and re-connect with family and friends around the country.
Big Steve: After many years of having the Air Force tell me where to live, what to do, and what to wear, it’s been great being able to go where I want to go, do what I want to do, and wear what I want to wear. (Although Lil Jan still tries to tell me what to wear.) I’ve also enjoyed having time to write…and not having to weed around the yard.
What do you like least about being full-time RVers?
Lil Jan: The traffic is occasionally a pain. It’s sometimes hard for me to relax and enjoy the ride. I also miss taking baths on a regular basis. (I mean in a bathtub…I do still shower!)
Big Steve: Travelling through narrow construction zones…in cities…in traffic. I also miss teaching my Bible classes at FCA. Having to manage 18GB of monthly Internet data via a Jetpack (for 4 people) versus previously unlimited data at home has been tricky a few times.
Lil Jan: We’ve frequently taken advantage of the free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s, especially for heavy data items, like uploading pictures for the blog for Steve and watching movies and updating my Candy Crush game.
Big Steve: Suprisingly, I don’t miss cable. We had already weaned ourselves off of most TV. We have a Roku or get a Redbox to watch the occasional movie, and catch some sporting events on local channels or at a restaurant.
So are you retired?
Lil Jan: Yes, in a sense…at least temporarily. We may go back to work when the money runs out…or at least Steve will! We’ve read blogs of full-time RVers in their 70s and 80s. One of their biggest regrets is that they didn’t start sooner. Some of them can drive to the Grand Canyon and look at it, but their health doesn’t allow them to hike it. We want to do this while we can still hike it and really enjoy being there.
Big Steve: Yes, in that we’re not being paid to work and we don’t have a place of employment to report to every day. However, we’ll be doing a fair amount of unpaid, self-supporting mission/volunteer work in the next few years. That’s still working…or serving…just not getting paid. So I guess it depends on what you mean by retired. We’re certainly not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. The recent Habitat work was physically more challenging than any of the paid work we’ve done over the past 2+ decades.
How many miles have you traveled so far?
Big Steve: Hmmm…close to 6000 in the RV, 2000 in the Fit, plus a few thousand on plane trips. We’ve also been on boats, trains, trolley cars, and dozens of hikes. So I really have no clue.
How do you make it work financially?
Lil Jan: We live frugally most of the time. We’ve had friends and family put us up occasionally, which helps…thank you Grandpa, Jas & Rach, Hamms, Butlers, DeBoefs, Madduxes, Wallaces, Fields, Diamonds and Stumnes! Staying at Wal-Mart parking lots occasionally and at less expensive state parks and military campgrounds also helps. We don’t really have expensive hobbies, like golfing. Of course, we do LOVE to eat out, especially to enjoy whatever the local cuisine may be. So that can get a little pricey, but we just try to be smart about it and don’t eat out every day.
Big Steve: A government pension certainly helps…the reward, I suppose, for serving our great nation and being uprooted about every 2-3 years for the first 45 years of my life. Without the pension, it would still be doable, but I would need to find a way to work and make money while RVing, which many people do.
Lil Jan: We also are empty nesters, and our two sons’ projected college costs came in way under budget. Without that, we wouldn’t be doing this…at least not yet.
Big Steve: Also, aside from gas and eating out a bit more, our living expenses are less than before…no lawn care, pest control, pool maintenance, cable bills, pet bills (Mandy’s dead), HOA fees, property taxes, etc. We store our few possessions at my dad’s condo and Janet’s sister graciously handles our mail…so no fees there. We have a loan payment for the RV, but it’s much less than our mortgage payment was. Our lone utility bill, propane gas, has run us about $11/month so far.
Lil Jan: We don’t spend much on “stuff”…because there’s no place to put it. The same goes for clothes, which for me is kind of a bummer.
Big Steve: If you look closely at our blog photos, you’ll notice I go through about the same 10 shirts. My plan is to give blood quarterly, get the free t-shirt, and thus upgrade 40% of my wardrobe annually!
How many nights have you spent in Wal-Mart parking lots, state parks, etc?
Big Steve: Our 238 nights as full-timers can be broken down as follows:
Nights with family members (including my parents while my mom was sick): 50
Nights in friends’ homes/guest houses: 46
Nights boon-docking (free, with no hookups), including Wal-Mart parking lots: 34
Nights at military RV campgrounds: 30
Nights at non-military RV campgrounds: 29
Nights at state parks: 27
Nights at dad’s condo: 14
Nights in a hotel/resort: 8
That means that we’ve only had to pay for lodging about 40% of the time. Even then, the lodging is reasonable…around $20-$25 for state parks, a little less than that for military campgrounds, and even less than that when camping at sojourns and Habitat projects.
You’re in a 32’ RV. Don’t you get sick of each other?
Lil Jan: All the time
Big Steve: What?!
Lil Jan: Just kidding! Actually, this hasn’t been a problem at all. It helps when your spouse is your best friend and you get along. If I need some alone time, I go lie in the bed and close the sliding door. If he tries to enter, I dial 911.
Big Steve: It also helps that we stay active. We are rarely in the RV all day. And it’s just big enough that we can have separate living areas if needed, or sit out under the awning…or go fishing.
Lil Jan: Or go hike in the woods for six months.
Big Steve: Yea, that too.
Are you happy with your Thor Windsport 31S? Any problems with it?
Lil Jan: We’ve been really happy with it. There have been a few issues, but nothing too major. And it’s still under warranty so that helps. Any time you drive a house with thousands of parts and systems down an interstate at 65 mph, there will be some problems. They had to replace my side window because it whistled. And the wardrobe bar has broken twice…because the circle hook that holds it up is plastic…and Steve says I have too many clothes! We replaced it with a metal circle hook and that seems to be working so far.
Big Steve: I love the size and layout of the RV. It’s big enough to be comfortable, but small enough to be relatively nimble and fit into most campgrounds. We can sleep 7, even though I don’t think I’d want to do that often. I also like the tow package and towing the Fit. When we get somewhere, it’s easy to disconnect the Fit and get much better mileage in it around town and on side trips. The biggest problem occurred when we tried to plug the RV into a friend’s house’s electrical system…don’t do that unless it’s wired correctly. That fried some gadgets…fortunately under warranty…but that was on us. My biggest complaint is the locks on the side storage bins. I wish they were higher quality and more reliable. I may upgrade them. First world problem.
Funniest moment, so far?
Big Steve: When we left Florida, we spent our very first night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Perry, Georgia. This was the first time we had spent the night at a Wal-Mart and we were a little anxious about it. We pulled into the mostly vacant side of the parking lot, with just a couple of truckers nearby. I awoke the next morning and went outside and discovered that we were part of the outer perimeter of a flea market! That’s right, some non-profit group apparently has a monthly flea market on Saturday mornings, and decided to use us to finish off their rectangular alignment. I started laughing and went inside and asked Lil Jan if she wanted to go to a flea market. She said, “Sure.” So I had her step outside and there it was and we were part of it. Good times!
Lil Jan: That same night, at the Wal-Mart parking, we had an incident involving a frog. It was quite hilarious. One of Steve’s earliest blogs was about that. You just never know what’s going to happen when you’re out on the road.
Big Steve: Recently, I asked a friend of ours, Caroline Diamond, to sew a mannequin torso for me, then add a Frankenstein head. We place it in the driver’s seat of the Fit while we’re towing it, with its hands attached to the steering wheel. That gets some good laughs and thumbs up from people as they drive by.
Worst moment, so far?
Lil Jan: We got lost while hiking at Maquoketah Caves State Park in Iowa. We were out of water, it was hot, there were no signs and I was about to enter my 5- mile complaint zone. That got a little dicey. The iPhone compass came in handy that day and my sweet husband became my hero as he led us out of the woods.
Big Steve: Obviously, the time we spent caring for my dying mother was very special, but very difficult. Had we not been full-time RVers, we wouldn’t have been able to help her and my dad for so long. God orchestrated all that.
Best moment, so far?
Lil Jan: A difficult question, as there have been many great moments. But I’d have to say our son Kyle’s engagement to Laci. That was an amazing day and an amazing moment. We were so pleased that he decided to include us in that special day!
Big Steve: Agree. It was special, and not just because of Lil Jan’s spandex pants.
That brings us to your blog. How’s that working out?
Lil Jan: It’s been a lot of fun. Steve writes most of them. He loves writing as much as I love reading. But I help him with suggestions and editing and write a few myself. He works really hard on them and I hope that people take the time to read and enjoy them. It’s interesting to read the comments on them and see how many “hits” they get.
Big Steve: It’s probably my favorite hobby, along with hiking. I love researching places, talking to people, and trying to capture our experiences in a funny or engaging way. I don’t measure success by number of “hits”. However, I’ll admit it was really cool, and unexpected, to see the blog on racial harmony get over 5000 views. Apparently, someone announced it at my father-in-law’s church, and it went mini-viral from there. I don’t even know that many people. And the one on Kyle and Laci’s engagement got 1000 hits in less than 24 hours. That one was the most fun to write. Others, like the campground reviews, are more for us…just to document and score campgrounds we’ve stayed at for future reference or use by others considering visiting those places. I wish so much that I had a “blog” or diaries of my great-grandparents or other ancestors. So maybe our future generations will find some of our experiences somewhat interesting.
So will you turn the blogs into a book?
Lil Jan: He should. Several people have told him that. Most recently Damon Daniels, a friend of ours from Brandon, looked him in the eye after church and said, “You need to write a book.” He’s talked about writing a book for a long time even before he started blogging. The thought intrigues him…who knows maybe one day you’ll see his picture on a book at the bookstore!
Big Steve: Actually…I probably won’t. First off, I’m not sure the material is strong enough, and my grammar ain’t the best. English was my least favorite subject in school. While I love writing stories, I would hate the process of trying to get a book published. The editing, marketing, copyrighting processes…ugh! No thanks. I blog because I love writing, and hopefully can inform or encourage someone, or at least make them laugh. I’m not in it to make money, which is why you won’t see ads on our web page. So, while I won’t rule it out, I doubt seriously I’ll attempt to write a book.
You recently traveled the entire length of the Mississippi River along the Great River Road. What’s next?
Lil Jan: Our first two months in the RV were mostly about caring for Steve’s mom and dad. The next phase was mostly about us…enjoying the sights and sounds along the Mississippi River. On December 6th, we entered a third phase, and our focus shifted more toward helping other people. We did some disaster relief with Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa.
Big Steve: We are members of 3 groups: (1) the Sojourners, a mission of the churches of Christ. This is a group of mostly retired Christian RVers who travel the country and do mission work for small churches, Christian schools, children’s homes and church camps. I wrote a blog about that mission. (2) The RV Care-a-Vanners…a group of RVers who do Habitat for Humanity projects around the country. I’ve also written a blog about that. And (3) The church of Christ Disaster Assistance mission…a group of Christians who respond to natural disasters by compiling, boxing, shipping, and delivering relief supplies to disaster areas.
Lil Jan: So we’ll be working on at least 3 missions with the Sojourners next year…2 in Florida in January and February, and 1 in Arkansas in September. Not sure when we’ll do our next Habitat project or if we’ll get in on helping the 3rd group with disaster relief next year…it kind of depends on when and where the disaster happens, and whether we’re available. Stay tuned.
Big Steve: So between these three groups, occasionally checking in on our aging parents, and some overseas mission trips, we should stay pretty busy. If that’s being “retired”, so be it. But we’re going to be working pretty hard. We’re more like unpaid, working gypsies.
Big Steve: Oh yea! I’m going to attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail next year, starting in mid-March. It’s been a major life-long dream and bucket list item. I’m excited and a bit anxious. Please pray for Janet and me as I take this on. More on that in a future blog.
Lil Jan: Yes, and while he’s out rummaging through the forest and trying to not get attacked by bears, I’ll be visiting family and friends around the country. Steve will come off the trail for a week in May for Kyle and Laci’s wedding and I plan to meet up with him a couple of times during his hike when he enters a trail town.
Big Steve: Just for conversation…purely platonic in nature.
Lil Jan: Right.
Will you shave when you come off the trail for the wedding?
Lil Jan: He better. He’ll be in wedding photos. Those photos will be forever!
Big Steve: There’s some debate over that. Kyle has suggested the photos would be more memorable if I have bushy hair; my sad, white, prickly mangy beard; and maybe even my backpack on. Lil Jan would like me to shave and clean up. I’ll probably ask Jason to cast the deciding vote.
Final question: how long will you live like gypsies?
Lil Jan: Good question. It’s difficult to say. Probably when it stops being fun. That could be a few years or several years.
Big Steve: I’ve given up trying to predict what path God will direct us to next. I suspect at some point we’ll re-establish ourselves in a community somewhere and go back to living like normal people…or as normal as Johnsons can get. That may take the form of a cabin on a pond or with a view of the Smoky Mountains. I also like the idea of having 4 seasons, but with winters that are not too long or brutal. It also might be interesting to live among the Amish and churn butter and learn how to grow a beard.
Lil Jan: It will also depend on where our sons end up living, and when the grandbabies come along. It will be tough going back to a normal 9 to 5 job.
Big Steve: And tough having the same view out the same back window every day, regardless of how nice the view is. But we’ll make it work.
Lil Jan: We never thought we’d be called to do this. So who knows what God might call us to do next? That is what makes life interesting.
Big Steve & Lil Jan
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