Craving the Open Road // Our Early Retirement Travel Vision

when we think about early retirement in the abstract, the visions we each have revolve around getting out into the big wide world. one of us dreams of exploring all of the mountains, rivers and lakes of the mountain range where we live. hiking the long trails, climbing the big crags, paddling the winding rivers. the other dreams of waking up in different campsites all over the western u.s. and canada, and mexico and central and south america, for that matter. tierra del fuego. northern alaska. our individual visions differ in the where, but not much in the what, the how or the why.

our souls crave the outdoors, the clean air, the pristine waters, the sheltering woods, the wide open spaces. we feel most alive — most ourselves — when we are far from roads, far from crowds, far from modern comforts. we don’t need to stare down death — we’re not adrenaline junkies. (though we have clocked our speed down ski hills once or twice, we admit. ah, youthful indiscretion. in truth, we hope to retire while we still have a little of that left!) we’re more the opposite — instead of feeling big and full of endorphins, we love how nature, in all her majesty, makes us feel small. we take comfort knowing that, long after we’re gone, and all of our ego and insecurities with us, the earth will carry on just fine. the mountains will keep rising up and crumbling down, the water will keep flowing, the stars will keep twinkling overhead. spending time in the wilderness connects us to the timeless. the infinite.

but this is not our version of walden. we’re not about to move to a shack in the woods and go off-grid. there’s a lot about modern life that we love. as we shared in our recent minimalism with plenty of stuff post, we always want to have a home big enough to house an indulgently large sofa, and a table big enough to host thanksgiving. and the modern part — we love our phones, our computers our our tablets. we love having the world of books at our fingertips, the catalog of every musician we’ve ever heard of a few taps away. our lives are richer for this access to arts and culture. we crave simplicity in terms of stress, and a shorter to-do list crowding our minds, but for us that doesn’t mean retreating from technology and humanity. would we love to have a better garden than our shaded lot allows? sure. but we wouldn’t trade it for the community we feel in our neighborhood or town.

this is a lot to want — wilderness, a comfortable home, technology, community. and we’ve thought a lot about how to bridge all of it. we think the answer is staying put in our house (or maybe a smaller house in our town), but giving ourselves a portable home on the road that will let us travel for extended periods without sleeping on air mattresses on the ground every night (we may still have a little youthful indiscretion left, but our backs definitely know that we’re closer to 40 than to 30), and without giving up access to electricity and the occasional wifi. a home on the road that lets us live our dirtbag dreams, even though we’ll be a bit older than your typical dirtbag.

but what should that home on the open road be? certainly not a big rv or fifth wheel — not our style. too gas guzzling. same goes for an airstream, though we love the style. just too heavy to pull without a big truck. we’ve thought about becoming devotees to the #vanlife trend, and that could be our answer, but that requires another internal combustion engine that needs gas and maintenance. right now we’re leaning toward a light, lean travel trailer. something we can pull with our subaru, with just enough space and no more, and with minimal parts to break. best of all is the price — a brand new travel trailer with all the features of a small rv runs under $20,000. this matters to us a lot.

we’ll keep you posted on the decision, but in the meantime we’ll keep dreaming about what our next life with a travel trailer could be like. waking up in more remote places than just developed campgrounds, since we’ll be fully self-contained. doing a little writing in the morning on our laptops, thanks to the solar cells providing power. cooking up breakfast from fresh fruits and veggies that we can keep in the on-board fridge, and then packing up a fresh lunch, too. heading out on that day’s adventure, on foot, or bike or boat. taking lots of pictures, and looking through them later that night on the laptop. finding a good vantage point to watch the sun go down, a blanket draped over us. playing cards or reading around a lantern after dark. crawling into our comfy bed with real sheets and a real comforter — not sleeping bags — and drifting off, ready to hit the road and do it all again.

so that’s our dreamy post for the week. :-) what do you dream about when you think about freedom? does the road beckon to you like it does to us? or, more accurately, the trail? anyone used a travel trailer and want to give us some advice? we’re all ears!

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52 replies »

  1. This post (like most of yours) is right up my alley! And not that I’m trying to sell you on the idea of an Airstream, but there are much smaller models that are STUPID EASY to pull and actually increases your gas mileage by around 20% because of the trailer’s design. They also last forever. But anything you pick, I bet you’ll have a lot of fun in that thing. It really is freeing and wonderful to be able to pick your backyard every time that you want to move on.

    I don’t have a trailer yet, as you know. My folks full timed in an RV for 13 years, so I’m also not a novice. When I dream of freedom, this is it. The ability to not only travel but also stay out in the wilderness when the sun goes down. To us, that’s REAL natural freedom. :)

    • Are you guys thinking trailer or RV when you quit next year? What did your parents use? We fully anticipate moving up to a small class C when we near 60, but want to do the little trailer for as long as we can. Right now leaning toward the R-Pod 171.

      • We are definitely thinking trailer to start (though I do tend to use the term “RV” to be a more all-encompassing term, not necessarily a traditional vehicle with engine). My folks started with a 5th wheel and a Ford truck, then moved into a huge motorhome thereafter.

        I’ve seen a lot of R-Pods around, though I admittedly haven’t actually been in one. For what you’re thinking, the R-Pod is all you *probably* need and easily pullable via a regular gas car (opposed to a larger Diesel truck). Inexpensive, light and easily maneuverable.

      • Glad you guys are thinking trailer, just because your money goes SO much farther that way, as you know! What we love most about the R-Pod, beside the weight and price, is that it’s make to go off road. We’ve always assumed a trailer would constrain us to paved surfaces, but not so!

  2. Wow not you guys too now! Michelle from Making Sense of Cents just bought an RV, and Steve above just changed his FI/RE plans to incorporate on the road living. I’ve had this idea in the back of my head for some time now. It would definitely speed up my time to FI, and I think I would love exploring Canada and the US for as long as I’d like. If I decide after a year or ten that I want to stop, then that’s fine too!

    • We will go way more minimal than Michelle and her family (no kids on our end), and we won’t sell our home like Steve and Courtney, so our FI date won’t change. But we definitely see the appeal of the RV or trailer for the fire crowd! With more time to spend than just a few short vacations a year, it makes total sense to us!

  3. Do you think your desire for the open road correlates to how often you have to go to the airport? I love the Airport. I could take me anywhere in the world in a day! However, 95% of my air travels have been for leisure and not work, so the airport is still a place where I assume everyone is headed on a sweet adventure.

    • So funny — most airports have lost that adventure feel. I am only focused on getting through as fast as possible. Still feel little twinges at the big international hubs, though. We just love and have always loved the outdoors and travel. If anything, the work travel has made us LESS eager to travel the world by air right away when we retire, and more eager to travel the continent the earthy, grounded way. 😉

  4. I have to say that living in Alaska now changes our retirement plans later. We already spend our weekends hiking glaciers, seeing moose, and occasionally road-tripping around the state. I do want to see a lot more of the U.S. with my kids, but I plan to fit those trips in during the working years and then when retirement hits, I want to slow travel in different countries (which seems to be the OTHER popular ER trend… if it’s not Van life, it’s slow travel). I have ALWAYS wanted to live in the U.K. I did a study abroad in London for a semester during college and have been trying to get back ever since!

    • That makes perfect sense. If we had less stressful jobs, we wouldn’t mind working longer. But now we’re getting close…

      So funny — we want to do the slow travel abroad as well! We want every type of trendy travel on our list!

      Hope you have a beautiful Alaskan summer day!

  5. I absolutely love your imagery! I’m craving an outdoor adventure now. Okay, so this is a wild idea but have you looked into renting a Tiny Home whenever you feel like adventure beckons for a month? It may be out of the scope, but it’s something I keep contemplating because a huge RV requires a lot of work, maintenance, upkeep & costs. Looking forward to hearing about your plans as they develop more!

    • Thanks, Alyssa! We *have* looked into that! And, believe it or not, we’ve actually seen that some people are using tiny houses as RVs, and pulling them around the country from campground to campground. Talk about gas guzzling — those things are heavy! We like the idea of being able to change up our plans at a moment’s notice (something we can most certainly NOT do very often now!), and like that a trailer would let us do that. And you’re so right about big RVs and their maintenance requirements! Another reason we’re leaning toward a tiny trailer that requires far less!

  6. I’m not sure we could do the RV/travel trailer lifestyle. Maybe it would be good to rent a few times and see how well it “fits you”. Rentals are expensive, but allow you to understand if its going to work for you.

    • We camp a ton, so feel pretty confident that we’re well suited to some travel with a small trailer — it’s actually a big upgrade over how we usually camp! But as for the lifestyle — we have no desire to go full-time RV, even though that would mean we could retire now. We need our home base, and we definitely don’t expect to spend months at a time out on the road!

  7. Oooh, yes–we’ve used a teardrop trailer before and found it marvelous. My husband and I have done the Alcan Hwy twice now, going from Alaska to Denver and back, and then we’ve done the Cassiar Hwy from Seattle to Alaska. Took a teardrop trailer on one of the Alcan journeys and it didn’t seem to affect gas mileage much (they’re very light), and it was comfy to sleep in. We hauled it with a VW Touareg, and had zero problems. The maintenance on them is also almost nil. I much prefer tent camping or teardrop trailers to RVs. That, or a camper on a truck. There are about a zillion F-250s and Tacomas on the Alcan with campers on their backs. We met a guy who built his own out of wood, a rounded, caravan-looking thing with a hefty coat of glossy varnish. It was just lovely, though I bet it weighed quite a bit–a zaftig beauty for sure.

    Anyway, your future wandering plans sound divine!

    • Oh that is so wonderful to hear! Thanks! We’re definitely leaning toward a larger teardrop (the R-Pod) at the moment for the reasons you cited, and because then we can still use the back of our Subaru for our gear. Your road trips sound incredible! How fantastic that you’ve made time to do those long journeys!

      • Okay, so I went back and looked at my trip logs, and it appears that we averaged 21.2 mpg on the Alcan trip in our Touareg WITHOUT the teardrop trailer (thank you, V8 engine. All you do is eat gas). And WITH the teardrop trailer our average was 19.3 mpg. Not a major difference, IMO, and having a little sleeping trailer was great. We also had the back of the Touareg totally loaded with stuff, as well as our dog. My husband thinks our trailer-hauling mileage would have been even better if I’d kept my rpms under 3000 when driving, to which I say, “No, sir. The beauty of the open road is gunning the engine sometimes.”

      • Wow — thank you for this data! And haha — we tend to agree with you. What’s the point of driving this powerful machine on an open road if you have to go slowly? ;-)

  8. ONL,

    Interesting post! I think a lot of people will understand where you’re coming from judging by the amount of travel blogs that have been popping up lately.

    Personally I would love to tour Europe with my bike. The only problem with that is that I don’t really like camping and generally cycling with a lot of stuff on my bike, so I’d have to find a cheap solution to overcome those issues.

    Keep us updated on your plans!


    • Your plan sounds fantastic, and cycling across Europe is something we’d like to do one day, too! I don’t know if the company Burly sells their products in Europe, but we have one of their bike trailers that is very lightweight and easy to maneuver — that is what we would do for bike camping, rather than trying to bike with a heavy pack or heavy saddlebags. If you don’t like camping, can you bike from hostel or guest house to hostel?

      • Having a bike trailer is really handy. I do not use it for travel, but we take the kids often out for a bike ride in their trailer. It does not take long to get used to the feeling of having it behind your bike.

        On your plans, I look forward to see how you go along with this road trip life.

  9. This post took me places! What a treat to read. I love how you know exactly what you want, we have an idea where we want to be when we retire but not down to the specifics. Good luck with the trailer! I hope you guys find the one that best suits your needs. :)

    • That’s the best compliment — thanks! We’ve been planning for retirement for long enough to know that our vision for it continually evolves. But this stuff — our vision for camping travel — has tended to be the one constant, besides not working! :-)

  10. I’ll be interested to hear what you lean towards. I’ve thinking about this on and off as well. I’d love the flexibility to get to a campsite, enjoy the outdoors and not have to set anything up, but a full blown RV is probably overkill for us and I wouldn’t enjoy the mileage.

    The trailers that slide into a truck might be a reasonable compromise, but I also have no interest in getting a truck :)

    Pop-up trailers look interesting, and teardrop trailers, which I know we could pull with our current car. I might be curious enough to rent one for a weekend to see how well it works for our needs.

    • We are definitely leaning toward the R-Pod at this point, since we can tow it with our small SUV (we don’t want a truck either!), and it would still allow us room for gear in our car’s trunk, unlike a truck camper. We were surprised to learn that most pop-up campers are surprisingly heavy — too heavy to be pulled with most cars! But bottom line: a small trailer is by far the most cost-effective option, including purchase price, lost fuel efficiency, resale value and maintenance. We’ll keep you posted on what we end up buying in a few years!

      • We tow an R-Pod with our Subaru (the R-178, which is the 171 with a slideout). We love it. I regret that we have the 4-cylinder instead of the 6, but it works with no trouble. We have a transmission cooler added to the engine, which helps, and we just go slow if the grade is too high. We also have the Hood River version of the R-Pod, which has a higher, tougher undercarriage and wheels for off-road.

      • That’s great to know! I think we’re now leaning toward a self-contained micro RV, just because we want to do more winter camping and don’t love the thought of pulling a trailer when there are chain requirements. (Have you done this??) But glad to know that you guys like your R-Pod so much and that’s manageable with a 4-cylinder Subi (which is what ours is too).

      • We’ve never pulled through chain requirements, so I’m not sure how well it would do. Closest we’ve come was a cold and dry Western Montana stretch in October. The propane heater in the R-Pod was a champ. My in-laws are in 4 corners (NM) so we end up traveling between Seattle and Farmington most often. We take different routes each trip, but it always has multiple mountain passes plus basin and range to get through. Love your pics of Moab… one of our favorite areas! I’ve recently found your blog and am working my way through. Sorry about the late comments.

      • No apologies necessary! I love revisiting these old posts. ;-) And it’s great to hear that you’re so happy with your R-Pod. That was definitely atop our list at one point and it could certainly end up there again! :-)

  11. I can relate to your dreams/desires…

    In 2012 I thru hiked the AT. 1 month later my wife and I got married and took a 5 wk long road trip from FL to CA stopping and camping everywhere in between. In early 2014 we bought a 5th wheel trailer and haven’t been happier!

    We don’t have a huge truck to pull it for now, and we probably never will, but we went with the 5th wheel for several reasons… The slide outs are HUGE. I’m not sure the size house you’re used to living in, but I’d you’re downsizing a lot to be in a travel trailer you WILL feel cramped. Also, ceiling height is also very important to making you feel comfortable. We looked at trailers before 5th wheels but quickly realized how much we preferred not feeling like we had to hunch over every time we stood up. (and we’re 5’9″ and 5’8″ respectively). There many other pros to 5th wheels but I won’t keep going with them.

    The important thing is that you feel comfortable. We absolutely love our home, then again we are full timers. Since you’d only be in it part time you’ll probably be fine in something smaller. Lastly, I’d suggest testing what you plan to buy or similar ffor a couple weeks to see what you can get away with. You wouldn’t want to buy a trailer and realize it’s not for you.

    Anyways, great post! Please lmk if you have any questions about RV life, my wife and I have been in ours for almost 2 years and it’s the best!

    • Wow — your adventures sound great! We’d like to thru-hike the PCT one day…

      Thanks for the great tips about trailer living. We plan to keep our house, so aren’t looking to replace that space. We like the idea that a small trailer won’t be so comfortable inside that we’ll spend all of our time in it — we want to be outside! — but you raise a lot of great points that we should definitely consider. We’re hoping to borrow a friend’s R-Pod soon, so we’ll have some good real world answers for ourselves on whether that’s big enough, or if we actually want something bigger. We just spent the weekend tent camping, and my 36-year-old back definitely did NOT like the air mattress like it once did. :-) So we’re motivated to get the trailer sooner rather than later.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. Hi just found your blog and I see a lot of similarities between us already! Currently going through all your posts… Like you (retiring early, simiar ages, and wanting to travel), we purchased an Alto F1743 made in Canada. It was a long wait (15 months) and paid cash, but we love this little trailer and so much room inside (coming from a tent). We tow with a 2005 Subaru and travel with one old doggie. http://www.safaricondo.com/en/caravanes_F1743

    • Oh I looooooove that trailer and have been eyeing it for a while! You must love it so much. Sadly, I don’t think it will work for us given that we realized most of our need for a portable indoor space is for winter camping… so a trailer would make for tougher driving on icy mountain roads. And the indoor bathroom becomes more critical if it’s blizzarding outside (so we’d want to have a “real” one). But we’re super envious that you guys got that beauty. :-)

      • I’m so curious what if any trailer/ RV decisions you guys have made. Seems like your original plan (small pull behind) has altered a bit. I’m a total newbie to this whole conversation of trailers but super tempted to explore more in depth and would love to hear others’ pro/ cons amongst models.

      • It’s fun to revisit these old posts! :-) The trailer option would still be by far the most economical, at least if we had a vehicle that was suitable for towing (we don’t). But we realized that we want to do a lot of snow chasing for skiing, and that we have zero desire to pull a trailer over icy mountain passes. We looked at vans for a while like Sprinter conversions, but those are so expensive for how little space you get. Right now we’re leaning toward one of the micro class C RVs built on a Ford Transit (more efficient) chassis. But stay tuned! :-)

  13. Dunno if you’ve made your decision yet, but I highly recommend a Rialta. They handle beautifully, are more spacious inside than a Sprinter, and there’s a vibrant online community of support for any issues you might have – several retired VW/Winnebago mechanics are on those forums, and there’s a treasure trove of reference materials, too, all for free.
    Rialta’s can be had for as little as $20k, maybe less.