Category Archives: Snow Birding

Out of Sight; Out of Mind

Decision made. We were going to sell the house. Next came the almighty question of, “What to do with our “STUFF?” We refused to put anything into storage as we wanted ultimate freedom; emotional freedom from the pull of possessions, financial freedom from the cost of storage. (Our good neighbor Bob figured he’s spent over $20K on storage fees over the past 20 years holding on to furniture he thinks his kids might want.)

Thirteen years earlier, having accepted a teaching position in the Middle East, I had struggled with this same question. At that time, I decided to store everything in a dear friend’s basement for the year, unsure if I’d like the expat lifestyle. A year later, infatuated with my new lifestyle, I decided to get rid of most of my STUFF. What I learned in that process was that once you give something away, you rarely miss it. “Out of sight; out of mind” worked well for me.

Fast forward to the first 3 months of 2017. It was more difficult this time. For 13 years of teaching and traveling, I had been on a mission to collect things from the places I’d visited: works of art, culture, and crafts, as well as items from nature: shells, rocks, sand, feathers, porcupine quills….! Needless to say, I now had more STUFF to get rid of. I could often be heard muttering to myself, “This has been sitting in a tub in the garage for the past 2 years. I haven’t looked at it once. Do I really need to keep this?” That realization helped me.

What also helped me was connecting with a most special young woman through an online app called Nextdoor where I had posted some of the things I was trying to sell. With her, many of my spiritual, emotional, ’meaningful-to-me’ treasures found a home. I learned that it was more important to find a good home for my treasures than to get a good price for them.

My solution to downsizing started with online research. I had been following the blogs of several fulltime RVers. On “Wheelingit” I found lots of very helpful information about this topic – http://wheelingit.us/2016/01/26/selling-your-stuff-part-i-4-basic-selling-tips/ . I did a lot of research to see how I should price the “big stuff’. Our big stuff included a utility trailer, motorcycle and equipment, a car, furniture, and antiques handed down to me. Once priced and posted, the sales began.

Was it easy? NO! Was it rewarding? YES! My priority was down-sizing and that is what I did. When things became tough, I remembered what my mission was. I started early. In retrospect, that was one of the most important things I did. It allowed me to gauge what people were willing to pay for my STUFF. It allowed me to talk to the people who did come and to listen to their suggestions about which charity to donate to, which consignment shop was trustworthy. It allowed me to come to terms emotionally, with the process. It not only made the process possible, it made it bearable and sometimes even enjoyable. In the beginning it seemed to be an insurmountable task; one that created many sleepless nights as I pondered what to do with this or with that treasure. Now, on the other side of the process, I am ecstatic. I have everything and more, that I need or want.

YES – Adventure : Easier Said than DONE… but not too bad.


It is easy to say “let’s chuck it all, sell everything and take to the open road”. Doing so adds more and sometimes more difficult decisions.

The first hurdle to ‘chucking it all’ was selling our house.  Our homeowner’s insurance website updated the value of our house monthly. So we had an idea how much to list for. Dianna (the Real Estate agent who sold us the house) had become a friend and still lived in the country club. We sought her out for advice. Houses were selling and our asking price was comparable. We listed (with Dianna of course) our home mid-January; had an acceptable offer by the 3rd week of February and closed 30 days later. It was faster and easier than we dared hope.

Unknown to us when we listed, we would have less than 60 days to un-“STUFF”  enough to move into an RV (a significantly smaller accommodation).  Tilly took on the task of deciding ‘the what & how to get rid of part’ for our joint possessions. She brilliantly de-stuffed us (see “Out of Sight-Out of Mind”).

A major factor in all our decisions was the type and size our RV would need to be. The number of available accommodations in RV parks and other campsites declines significantly with every added foot in length.  Figuring the best balance between type and size was MY job.

Our RVing experience was limited to a couple of summers plus a few weeks in both a VW Westfalia and our existing Ford F150 & 24’ 5th wheel combination. We had already worked out the kinks of hauling our kayaks (on a custom designed & built for 5th wheels rack for the truck built by U.S. Rack – https://www.usrack.com/responsive/fifth-wheel-truck-rack.php .

Why not keep our existing set-up? There were two problems…

1 – The trailer, while comfortable enough for a long holiday, was not large enough to accommodate full time living – the bathroom as small as any airliner’s toilet and the shower stall seemed made for a anorexic midget. The couch and dinette were so close that whenever one of us wanted to move it was an exercise in contortion.

2 – Our truck while having a large engine, was not otherwise up to towing a larger/heavier 5W. It was already was at the upper end its towing capability.

No matter what, for full-time RV living we would have to sell or trade in our truck and trailer and buy a larger RV with more storage. The choices for RV living are widespread … ranging from Class A – bus type motor homes, Class B – camper type vans, Class C – a cross between the camper type van and bus type, cabover campers on pickup trucks, bumper pull travel trailers to 5th wheel travel trailers.

We decided to visit local RV dealerships to help clarify which type(s) would meet our desires and needs. Visiting an RV dealership is almost a survival of the fittest scenario. It feels almost like smearing your body with chum and diving into the ocean. You are set upon by a trio (the salesman, his buddy and usually the general manger) of desperately hungry sharks – one nudges and bumps while the other two circle keeping you off guard, to wear you out enough for the kill (SALE contracts)… while the lesser sharks (other salespeople) circle out of range just in case.

Our “24 HOUR RULE” saved us more than once as we were driven to the verge of desperation into potentially buying something we were not sure we wanted.

Back and forth we went for weeks …  Class A?

Class B?

Class C?

 

5W (5th Wheel travel trailer)?

Class B was too small for living full time. But each of the other categories had both positive and negative considerations. Choosing the best RV for us was going to be based on our  ideas about which type would most meet what we needed (space for living full time) & wanted ( freedom and flexibility to travel out of the way places i.e.- the boonies).

Our decision was helped by a couple of emails from our friends J and N (perennial snow birders & boon dockers). We had told them of our idea/decision to go full time and our dilemma of which type of RV. They shared details of their search to upgrade their existing rig (cabover and diesel truck) to a  27′ 5W trailer. J has a wealth of experience and knowledge about RV’s and boon docking.  So any decision or recommendation he makes is well worth consideration.

We were already experienced with living in a 5W. If we replaced the truck, our current 5W would suffice until we could find a 27′ or slightly larger 5W. It made the most sense to follow that course.

So began the search for a new truck. Last year while towing our 5W down from BC to California via Wyoming and Utah, I had watched enviously as diesel trucks (pulling bigger 5Ws than ours) chugged past while we crawled up hills. I knew zip about diesels… J again came to my rescue. Based on his advice supplemented by my own research of towing and diesel truck forums, I began the search for a Dodge Ram 2500 (judged to be the one of the top choices for towing 5W trailers). In the 2003-2005 models, Cummins diesel engines are STILL considered to be some of the best.

All I had to do was to find that make, model, and year, in good shape and with low mileage AND then a larger 5W trailer. How hard could that be?

A Long Strange Trip

“Lately, it occurs to me…. what a long strange trip it’s been” – Grateful Dead

We thought it was all figured out… We would “retire” from teaching to live in Southern California, find another mode to make enough money to see us the 5 to 7 years until old age benefits began and live our life while still able to enjoy it. We would get catastrophic health coverage just in case, while we sought part-time employment that offered medical benefits (yes there are companies that do offer their part-timers benefits). In the mean time we would pursue and perfect our respective arts, photography and writing in the goal of selling them.

It sure seemed like a great plan… but, life always has a way of throwing things in our paths that can change everything …

We had considered the possibility of “snow-birding”  6 months in Canada and 6 months in the US.   The only problem was … we had no residence in Canada and could ill afford one. Little did we know… life has a way of throwing things…

Shortly after we applied for catastrophic health insurance and two weeks before that application was underwritten and we were covered (BUT the insurance company sure as heck accepted our $$$ immediately!) we discovered that both Til & I (as a spouse) could be covered under BC  health insurance within three months of Til returning to Canada as a permanent resident.  We could get 100% health coverage – including vision and dental for less than 1/2 the cost of our $8400 per year; $15,000 deductible ‘Catastrophic’ policy (catastrophic, alright… to our bank account if we got sick) in the US.

‘No-Brainer’ 

We could afford to rent a home for the time we were in Canada and NOT spend any more $’s than we would have living in the US full time (and over-paying for “worthless” health insurance). The only catch? We would be required to live in BC for 6 months of every year. Besides BC highways being a biker’s paradise and BC being a fisherman’s dream and a photographer’s heaven; we figured that we could endure that ‘burden’.

Snow Birds we would become! BUT, in the mean time we would return home to California and wait until April to head north as we needed to find a place to live in Canada and submit the application for my permanent residency.

OR so we thought!

One week after our return to California, we received a call from our best friends in Canada telling us of the opportunity for taking care of the fishing lodge they had been winter care-takers of (for 6 previous years). We had expressed interest in replacing them if they ever decided not to return. There is no pay, BUT there is no rent or utilities to pay either. And other than being on premises to insure nothing freezes up in the main lodge if power goes out ( a fairly frequent occurrence); we have no other responsibilities.

‘No-Brainer’ again…

Within 10 days we had packed up our belongings; made arrangements for temporarily renting out our California home (figured we might as well make a few $ while up north); traveled to spend a few days with my folks in WY (and pick up a few cold weather things like ski’s, snowshoes, hats, gloves, parkas, and Sorrels) and crossed the border into Canada.

Canadians we have become … Til once again… And me?  Once an expat, i guess always an expat. But at least now I can spend 6 months (instead of 2) every year back “home”.

So, we are “settled” now… But, you never know… “it occurs to me…. what a long strange trip” it might still be.