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Off The Road to Sticks and Bricks

Off The Road to Sticks and Bricks

In 2019, our family, which includes me, my two sons, now 18 and 13, and two dogs,  decided to go on the road for a one-year trip around the US. Here we are, three years later, still on the road. It’s been quite an adventure. But it’s about to come to an end. Although hopefully, it’s just a temporary end. A pause, maybe.

Besides the usual stress of traveling in a home that has wheels and dealing with all the upkeep and repairs, Covid struck just 7 months into our first year, adding a whole different and unexpected level of stress to our lives. I’m a contingency planner. We didn’t have a contingency plan for the world coming to a stop.

As a single parent traveling with two kids and battling a chronic illness, there have been some moments of stress and frustration, but there have also been some pretty amazing moments and experiences. When we started out on the road, I was working remotely, and spending hours lesson planning and homeschooling. I eventually decided to allow my kids to do online schooling to lessen my workload. Then I left my job in October of 2020 and began just trying to make it off my other income.

We moved around throughout 2020 and 2021, but going into 2022, we decided to try out workcamping or working temporary positions. This slowed our travels significantly. While we were able to find positions that allowed both me and my son, then 17, to work, the joy of travel seemed gone. Even though we knew it was temporary, it became overwhelming at times.

Making the hard choice

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In July we decided to come off the road and attempt to sell the RV.  But one of the issues complicating the transition was the fact that we didn’t have a home to go back to. We sold everything we didn’t need or that wouldn’t fit in our RV.  We were renting at the time so that meant we didn’t have to worry about a home to rent or sell. That meant we needed to try to live in the RV if we could not sell it.

The kids wanted to be somewhere there was snow. I hate winter. I wanted to be far enough south that if we had to live in the RV, we wouldn’t deal with constant freezing issues. We looked at going back to our domicile state, Florida, to sit and work, but finding affordable RV parks was nearly impossible. I’m on a limited income and without being able to find a decent-paying job, we were hitting wall after wall.

In trying to find a place that met most of our “living requirements”, I reached out to a few of the homeschool and RV groups I’m in, which have members from all around the US, for help to narrow the list. After discussing the suggestions in depth, we decided to look at moving to Raleigh, North Carolina.

The process was a lot more difficult than I expected. There are very few campgrounds in Raleigh that are open year-round and they are mostly monthly campgrounds, meaning you had to rent month-to-month with them or stay for a minimum of three months. All the campgrounds were full and had waitlists.

Trying to find a new home

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I then began looking for apartments that I could rent while carrying the costs of the RV and storing it. Another bump in the road was the fact we didn’t have a “home” that we were coming from. Being on the road for the last three years made applying for rentals difficult because all of them wanted rental history.

Most private rentals through landlords or property management companies not only had an income requirement of grossing three times the rent in income, but they also wanted you to put down first and last month’s rent as a security deposit, which is often thousands of dollars.

Many of the apartment complexes also had the income requirement but they often did not require a large security deposit. The average 2-bedroom apartment in Raleigh is around $1800 per month. That means you need to gross $5400 a month or make $64,800 a year. That equates to around $31.00 an hour. Not only do you have to have rental history, but you also have to show income history, which means you have to show paystubs.

To show pay stubs, you need an income source. If you have been traveling and not working steadily, this is not easy to do. I began applying for jobs. To get past the first interview, most jobs require that you already live in the area for which you are applying. To get a place to live, you need to have a job. It was a cycle that was maddening and depressing.

Narrowing the choices down

Around the second week of August, I began making lists of apartments that fit my budget and our needs, which were pretty basic. We wanted at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms because I was sure not going back to only having one bathroom for three of us if I didn’t have to. That’s been way too much pounding on bathroom doors telling people to get out after they have been in there an hour. No. Just no.

We wanted an apartment versus a house/duplex because I didn’t want us to be responsible for yard work. And having worked in the property management industry, I know maintenance is much slower when working with property managers versus in an apartment complex with on-staff maintenance. The negative was that we would have neighbors all around us and would potentially be on an upper floor.

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We wanted a somewhat safe area close enough to the city to expand a wider net for job prospects. I didn’t want to drive over 30 minutes without traffic. We also wanted a green space we could walk our two dogs. I preferred having hard floors versus carpet because of my allergies but that wasn’t a deal breaker. I also preferred having a floor plan that was dual master bedrooms with one of those rooms having a bathroom that was also accessible from the living area. The reason was so that if we had guests, they could use my bathroom because I tend to keep mine a LOT cleaner. This room also tends to be the smaller one and I wanted the boys to have more room. Again, this was not a deal breaker.

One of the things that I felt was important was Google reviews. I made sure to read across many platforms such as google maps, and all the different apartment referral websites, such as apartments.com. I wanted a comprehensive idea. I read reviews on so many complexes that were absolutely awful so this disqualified a lot of places. I kid you not, I had spreadsheets of all this data.

I came across an apartment complex that checked most of our “wants” boxes that had a one-bedroom with a loft listed. I noticed that the loft had its own separate bathroom and closet. Most states have codes that say no more than two persons per bedroom unless under a certain age. By most rental codes, this is a second bedroom. I called and made sure we would be allowed three in the unit. They said yes. The apartment was below my budget by about $300 a month.

The next hurdle was that almost everywhere in this country, there is an affordable housing shortage. That means that rents are being artificially inflated AND it’s incredibly difficult to find a place to rent, never-mind afford. We literally could not find anywhere to stay month to month in our RV in that area so that we had time to apartment hunt. The only available thing was the county fairgrounds, which had a two-week limit for stays.

The timeline for the apartment coming available was at the end of September, which was somewhat in line with our timeline. The apartment complex had decent reviews. Not perfect but decent compared to most in the area. Knowing that we would be getting to the area and not having a place to stay in the RV, and having a hard time finding a winter spot, I decided to go for it and apply for the apartment. The application fee was $250.00, of which only $175.00 was refundable if not approved. When I applied, my application was not approved at first and was sent for additional review. I had to send in proof of my current income, which I did. It was a very stressful moment as I realized how much harder things might get if I couldn’t get into this place. A few hours later I received conditional approval. Because they could not verify rental history or owning a home, since we’ve been on the road for 3 years, I had to pay a non-refundable deposit. I decided to go forward and pay the fee so as not to lose out on a home that was decent and within my budget.

Taking the next steps

So, we now have a home. We haven’t seen it in person so I hope it is as nice as it sounds and looks. Our next step once we get into it is to furnish the apartment since we do not have anything but what’s in our RV. While our space is still small, we still need a lot of necessities.

I also have to find a place to store the RV that is secure. There are a lot of catalytic converter thefts in storage areas right now. Storage spots are also hard to come by for a 40’ RV and are rather expensive in the Raleigh area.

I have decided to attempt selling the RV because if we get back on the road eventually, I want to downsize. This has been a feat all unto itself. In an attempt to mitigate some of the expenses for carrying the cost of the RV and its storage, I may attempt to rent it out. Thinking about this makes me want to vomit a bit. Someone else living in our space. Driving our RV. And all the possibilities for damage that come from it. Just writing this makes my heart palpitate from anxiety.

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I cannot express the magnitude of the emotions I have gone through and felt deciding to come off the road. I wax and wane between excitement for something a bit more stable and sorrow for the loss of freedom of going where I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. I find myself crying at the most inextricable moments. Like when I look at the map of all the places just the RV has gone, never-mind our additional adventures. Over 17,000 miles in three years. 27 states. Lots and LOTS of gas money. Lots. It was worth every single cent. While I KNOW I need this stability for a bit, and my kids also kind of need it, the grief that comes from the fear that we may never get to do this again can be overwhelming.

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I keep telling myself this is just a chapter in the book of my life. Hopefully, there will be many more chapters and an opportunity to get back out on the road before the book ends. I often envision my future self traveling until the day I die. I hope that I can make that a reality again.

Advice for deciding where to relocate

My end advice is this, be aware of all of the processes of coming off the road if you do not have a home to go back to, and give yourself time to research and make decisions about the process. Make plans and then make alternate plans. There’s PLAN A, and then there is always PLAN’S B-Z.

These are the things I recommend doing:

  • Research the market in those areas to see what housing options are available and what it costs overall.
  • Research the job prospects and pay in that area if you are planning on working.
  • Make sure you look at traffic in the area especially if you plan to work. Know the busy times and where to avoid them if you can.
  • In addition to traffic, look at public transportation, if you plan to use it. What’s available and how much?
  • Check out the cost of necessities like gas, food, etc. Are the prices what you’re used to?
  • Make sure you can obtain health insurance that is accepted by most doctors in this area.
  • If you are putting your child in school, research the schools in the desired area, or conversely, if you plan to homeschool or continue to homeschool, know the laws regarding this.
  • Join local Facebook groups that have people in it that have similar interests and ask questions.
  • Look at the medical/health options in the area. I asked for referrals in the Facebook groups I joined.
  • Don’t forget to ask about Vets, if applicable, or research what’s available.
  • Join groups on Meet-up to meet new people.
  • Look at what stores are in the area that you like to frequent, for instance, one of my favorites is Aldi.
  • Check out the historical weather in the area so you know what to expect.
  • If you like going out or exploring, research what is available nearby that tickles your fancy.

For some, coming off the road is easy. It was never really for them. But for those that have a hard time imagining life in one place, who love the euphoria of exploring new places and seeing new things, you know what I am feeling right now. I hope to see you on the road again.

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Holly Blake

Holly Blake is a single mom who travels full-time through the US with her two youngest sons and two labradors while homeschooling and running a small Etsy shop.

As a former military child and military spouse, being a nomad is deeply ingrained in her.  She and her children set out in September of 2019 from Jacksonville, Florida. She chronicles their adventures on their Facebook page, There and Back Again with the Blake Clan. 

4 Responses

  1. Your story is remarkably like mine, and I enjoyed reading your blog. We left Tampa, FL in Feb. 2020 as fulltime RVers, and the pandemic erupted six weeks later just as we were leaving Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We spent the next 2 1/2 years running from Covid, finally deciding in August 2022 to settle down. I’d love to communicate more with you. Please contact me for continued sharing of stories.

  2. Excellent writing. I could feel your angst and despair. My husband and I have been fulltime for 21 years. I dread the day we have to settle down and furnish an apartment. At least we won’t have to look for work. And we don’t have children depending on us. You are a strong, capable woman, Holly. An inspiration to me and, I’m sure, others.

  3. So raw with reality. I feel you and just consigned my RV … I too was feeling less intrigued about travel, particularly as a solo. I don’t know what my future holds but sounds like, between your blog and our roller coaster of emotions, we are bound for an adventure either way. Here’s to staying busy living, regardless of how or where we’re doing it! 💖👊🏼✌🏼

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