“Isn’t it lonely living on the road?”
That’s a question we got a lot in 2010 when we left California for our first cross-country journey. And truthfully, it wasn’t lonely when we started. We were mostly busy trying to figure out this whole Airstream thing with an infant and toddler while both Dan and I balanced working remotely.
When we first bought our Airstream trailer, we bought it because we thought it was cool. What we didn’t realize was that there was a large community of Airstream owners that would immediately embrace us. We didn’t know enough yet to know that we will eventually need it. This community was critical for our lifestyle to be sustainable in our early days.
At the beginning of our travels, social media wasn’t like it is today. It wasn’t as easy to meet up with others on the road so having this immediate connection with others was something that we became thankful for. And as we continued to travel and expand our family, we connected with more and more people on the road. And it wasn’t just Airstreamers but people in all types of vehicles who all had something in common… a love for seeing the world from their rolling home on wheels.
We were lucky to have met people on the road that we like spending time with. There have been so many and you guys know who you are 🙂 If we were going in the same general direction, we would caravan along. And if we weren’t going in the same general direction, we would often go out of our way to spend more time together since our lives were very flexible in that way. Sometimes they were singles traveling alone. Sometimes they were couples traveling together. Or other times we would find families like ours with kids. It didn’t matter. Spending time with different people, younger or older than us, enriched our lives differently, as it did for the kids.
One of the benefits of traveling together is that you spend *a lot* of time together. It’s not like a meet-up that could happen a couple of times a week or month. It is being their neighbor, where both neighbors like to hang out in their huge backyard as much as possible. Sharing meals, learning from each other, and talking around a campfire creates a special connection when you are temporarily living next to one another.
So when people asked us if life on the road is lonely, we would resoundingly answer no. And truthfully, meet-ups happened so much that sometimes we had to purposely take a break from constant interactions for some quiet time.
BUT… that was in the United States, our home country, and obviously pre-pandemic. It was also in a country we knew well. It was easy because we all spoke the same language and there weren’t cultural barriers that can make relating to each other more difficult. For families with kids, because homeschooling was legal and becoming a more acceptable alternative, we found a lot of common ground with fellow travelers. That even held true for us while traveling beyond the US into Canada and Mexico.
And here we are now overseas, mostly in Europe with small doses of Africa and Asia, where things are different. We did actually spend lots of time traveling with friends here overseas in 2018 and 2019, which was awesome. Friends we met on the road in North America came here just as we did and we roamed together and explore new places. We also met a few international travelers here and there on our travels but we quickly found out just how unique our situation was. Meeting traveling families with kids on this side of the world has been few and far in between. Homeschooling is not an easy option for many European countries. It is even outright illegal in some. That limits the number of families on the road, especially those with older school-aged kids like ours. If a family does travel with a camper, the majority of them are on vacation and have a strict timetable to which they must adhere. When we did run into other families, the language barrier can also be an issue, especially for the kids. We are super lucky that a lot of people learn English as a second language so communicating with adults is not usually a problem. The bigger issue is that the kids aren’t getting to interact with other kids as much as they like while we are here.
And then came the pandemic. Which of course made everything worse.
Isn’t it lonely living on the road?”
The answer to that question in 2022 is now yes. Yes, it has been a couple of lonely years. Yes, we’ve lost the much-needed feeling of community. And for many reasons. It’s a lot harder to travel due to the pandemic. Border restrictions, out-of-pocket testing expenses, and quarantine rules all limit the number of people who would normally be on the road. Everyone also has different levels of what they are comfortable with in regards to social distancing. Our family is on the cautious side. We don’t hang out indoors with others or eat inside restaurants or go to crowded playgrounds. For the few of you who have been following us from the very beginning, probably VERY few, you might remember that on our first-ever trip in a camper, Ava was barely a year old and was hospitalized for 8 nights with a respiratory viral infection. Luka has also been to the emergency room with respiratory problems over the years so much of our cautiousness stem from those worrisome experiences.
So what are we going to do? Well, since this new loneliness is stemming from these three issues, we started there. Two of which we can’t change and one that we can. The one that we can change is our location. We had a family meeting and talked about our choices. We actually have had annual meetings like this even before the pandemic to see if everyone is still happily living this lifestyle. We together decided that the best thing for our family right now is to ship our van back to the states so we can re-charge.
We already had plans to head back to the states next June for my brother’s wedding so this change simply means we are shipping the van along instead of leaving it here. We’ve been having a hard time figuring out logistics for doing a short trip in June with no vehicle to travel and live in and with the cats so this change has lessened that stress. We still plan on returning to Europe sans our current van to take care of residency paperwork. And if Central Asian borders open when we come back, buying a European van and building it out for that specific route is still on the table. When we get back to the US, we will spend some time in the states, exploring new and old places, catching up with family and friends, and working on some personal projects that will make our lifestyle even more sustainable. The kids will also be able to hang out with friends and meet new ones. When we all feel re-charged, we will re-evaluate once again.
In our family meeting, we talked about all sorts of future plans: a summer in Alaska, driving to central America, earning more Junior Ranger badges, buying a sailboat, building a tiny home, attending high school, etc. Some of those things are a lot higher on the list than others but we threw it all out there so everyone could have a chance to share their feelings about them. These choices also depend on other time-sensitive matters as well. We will have to see how the pandemic affects borders once again. We also have to take into consideration that our oldest just turned 15 years old and the countdown to her independence is ticking loudly. We have always chosen this life because we believe it is the best for them. As they get older, they get to help us and we make these decisions as a family. We want to take more control of our time instead of feeling like we are wasting it while waiting around for borders to open across central Asia. And that is what being in Europe is increasingly feeling like to us.
Well, long story short, being far from family and friends in Europe during the pandemic has gotten us feeling lonely for the first time since we started living on the road. The cold winters certainly haven’t helped. After nearly 4 years of living and traveling across this side of the Atlantic, we’ve decided to make a change. USA, here we come.