Rolling with Challenges During the Pandemic
Rolling with Challenges During the Pandemic
How some full-time RVers are managing this difficult situation.
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
When I first took to the road as a full-time RVer in my trusty Winnebago Travato, I had plenty of plans and an entire list of places I wanted to visit. The first year went very well. So did the first few months of the second year. Then March 2020 happened and along with it the COVID-19 pandemic. From that moment on things changed rapidly for everyone, including those of us living full-time in an RV. Many of us had given up our sticks and bricks homes and downsized our belongings to fit into our rolling home of choice. So, when we were urged to shelter in place, we were already home, no matter where we were at the time.
Struggles of Full-Timing Right Now
RVs are the perfect social distancing vehicles, whether you are in a Class A, Class B, or Class C. We live in self-contained units. For example, we don’t ride elevators in apartment buildings, punching buttons others before us might have pushed. Mailmen and delivery services aren’t coming to our front door. We can social distance out in wide open spaces, following good weather, only interacting with others when we need to do laundry, dump tanks, get water, or buy supplies. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
Then campgrounds started closing all across the country, along with national and state parks, and even some dispersed camping areas and rest stops. Suddenly the places we nomads depended on to stay for a few days or sleep for a night or two began vanishing. Plan A became Plan B, then Plan B became Plan C, until the entire alphabet started looking like a non-starter.
The Winnebago family has a lot of full-timers across the country in various rigs. I have been in touch with many online as we share with each other which campgrounds, parks, and roadways are open and which are closed. Often, as quickly as we receive this information, it changes. Even official government websites can’t keep up with the rapid changes and decisions.
Many full-timers count on seasonal work in parks and at tourist attractions. For most, those plans have been postponed or canceled altogether, leaving them financially adrift, like many of the stationary people who are now without jobs. Those I interviewed, including myself, are retired with no jobs in jeopardy, but for many full-timers who work from their rigs, this is a serious concern.
How Full-Timers are Handling these Challenges
I interviewed some Winnebago full-timer friends about this situation. Including me, we range in age from mid-40s to late-70s. All are retired and are living full-time in an RV. I asked them all the same questions.
Readers of GoLife first met Beth Jernberg when I did an article on her and her therapy dogs last year. Beth is a retired educator. Unfortunately, one of her beautiful dogs fell victim earlier this year to an unusual infection and passed away, but she’s still out there with Kayle and Kadey in her 2017 Travato 59K. Her home base is Sioux Falls, SD.
Jim and Rhonda Kohnke have been married 37 years. Jim is retired from the Navy and civil service and Rhonda was a mortgage supervisor and certified medical assistant. They retired and made the road their home ten months ago in a 2018 Travato 59G. Their home base is Bremerton, WA.
Susan Watters has decades of RV experience. At 79, she sold her home in Ocala, FL, and went full-time on the road. Until recently she had a Travato, but now travels in a new 2020 Winnebago Vita.
Nick Riebe, 46, is a true nomad adventurer. He retired from the Air Force after 20 years and took to the road full-time in a 2018 Travato 59K. Last summer, Nick and his rig, named The Black Pearl, traveled to the Arctic Circle.
When asked how they feel about being a full-time RVer during these uncertain times, most of them felt that they were safer from the virus in their rolling homes since they could self-isolate there. However, Susan said she is nervous about finding places to stay and Beth voiced that she was concerned that the RV park where she summers while in South Dakota will not be open when she gets there. I am staying at city-run parks in rural Texas, hesitant to go to larger RV parks, in order to remain a fair distance from most people.
Nick’s response was that of a true nomad: “Being trapped in a city, or in ‘Suburbia’ are the things my nightmares are made of!” He feels much safer in his RV, away from these more populated areas.
The Kohnkes added to that question with great insight, “It is definitely a time of high anxiety. We feel like the people making the decisions have forgotten about the one million full-time RVers that need safe and secure places to stay - so we are feeling like an orphaned population. We are trying to be as socially responsible as possible, but sometimes the decisions made are not considering RVers’ unique situation.”
Rolling with the Changing Plans
When asked if they will continue to stay in their RVs during the pandemic, most said yes, as long as possible. This is my plan as well. Beth has been “hunkered down” in a small Texas town, but plans to head back to Sioux Falls soon in the hope the RV park she usually stays at will be open for the summer. Many of us have been offered places by friends and family, but these places are often located in areas with higher incidents of the virus, or getting to them would be impractical because they involve driving days across several states, many of which are making restrictions on interstate travel. As Susan put it, “Home is in Florida and I'm in Arizona, so trying to get back to stay at a friend's driveway isn't a wise choice.” As a full-timer, the road is home, but that is looking very different right now.
All of us have experienced major changes in our plans. Originally, I was going to be spending April traveling around Utah and northern New Mexico. Now I’m hunkered down in Texas, my domicile state. Last May a bunch of Travato owners volunteered to clean up Camp Attitude to get it ready for its campers - severely challenged children. (I reported on that experience for GoLife). This year we planned on having the same volunteer event, but the camp is uncertain as to when or even if it will open, so we had to cancel. Very sad, because we had double the number of volunteers going this year.
Nick was planning on being in the Pacific Northwest by now, but instead is remaining in the Southwest. The Kohnkes changed their plans from meandering up the California coast, visiting the national parks, to self-isolating in Yuma, AZ, where it has been tough, they say, “but in the big picture, no big deal. We try to combat the boredom with bike rides, walks, and hikes.”
Full-time RVers are used to rolling with change. As several noted, plans change all the time in the normal course of our travel. Per Susan, “I like change - it makes life a lot more interesting. The plan I may have in the evening many times changes by morning- particularly nowadays. Staying positive and flexible makes dealing with change much easier.”
As with those not in RVs, getting supplies can be stressful as it means coming into contact with other people. Beth and Susan have been using Walmart’s order/pickup services. I go into stores only when I must, sanitizing my groceries and myself as best I can before getting back into the van. As Nick put it, “Getting supplies is a little unnerving. I do the best I can to get what little I need, and quickly leave.” So far, none of us have had issues finding dump stations or fresh water.
Fellow GoLife contributor, Dr. Sabrina Campbell, is a pulmonary/critical care physician and she recently did a podcast interview where she shares some of her insights on the pandemic as well as tips for how RVers can best protect themselves. Listen here.
Personal Challenges & Insights
I asked the group I spoke to if there are any specific challenges they have faced personally during this time, and here is where the answers differed.
Nick: “The biggest challenge for me is not traveling as freely as normal. I’ve been staying put for weeks at a time, and that is very odd for me.” This echoes my biggest challenge, as well. I get itchy feet and my van gets itchy wheels.
The Kohnkes: “Not being able to help out part of our family who are in Washington state. Because even if we did go back there, we still have no place to park, as our house is still rented out and all the state campgrounds are closed and there are no private campgrounds within our county. Even though we have friends that have offered their driveways — we feel that would just add an additional undue stress to their lives.”
Susan: “Trying not to obsess about the pandemic. I try to limit the amount of time listening to the radio and TV news.” When she gets tense, Susan has a sound three-step formula for calming down, the last step involving chocolate. Yep, I also believe in chocolate therapy. Susan added, “Attitude makes a huge difference. We can't run from this, we can't hide from or change what's going to happen, so accept what is, accept you can't change it, and try to live as full and happy a life as you can.”
Beth: “One of the biggest challenges for me personally is that with the lock downs I have been unable to take my therapy dogs to visit the elderly and the sick. I miss sharing my dogs.” But just as families are visiting via the internet, the child life specialist at a hospital in Sioux Falls asked her to make a video for a virtual visit that she could use for children in the hospital. It’s wonderful. You can view that video here.
Full-timers, like those staying in traditional homes, also find a lot of time on their hands these days, no matter where they are staying. I noticed in reading different threads on various online groups that many full-timers are spending their time doing mods and making needed repairs to their rigs. I’m writing up a storm in my isolation and reorganizing my cabinets. Many, like Susan and the Kohnkes, are relieving boredom with hikes and outdoor activities away from others.
Fortunately, because of the internet and cell phones, we are able to keep in touch with friends and family, making isolation much easier. My family recently had an online birthday party via Zoom. I’m sure most of us cling to those lifelines to keep our spirits up.
With all the ups and downs of living as a nomad during these trying times, these words from Nick sum it up beautifully: “We are all in this together! Please be safe and stay at home! You can travel again after this is over. If you are a full-timer like me, please stay where you are as long as you can before going back into civilization to replenish your supplies. Get what you need, and quickly retreat back to your safe place.”
Safe Place. I think Winnebago should put that on their future sales brochures.