March 17, 2018

Best Reasons to RV Travel

There is something magical about waking up away from home. The different feel of the bed, maybe the way the sunlight comes through the curtains, the brief flash of unease at the unfamiliar surroundings that quickly gives way to a relaxed feeling of knowing where you are and why. 

If you are away from home in an RV or trailer, then the feeling of a different start to the day is even more pronounced. Space is compressed, things are mostly within your reach. The coffee maker is only a few steps from the bed, which is only two paces from the bathroom.

Hearing a few birds outside is easier since the windows are all around you. Keeping the furnace off overnight means a chilly floor hits you as you step out of bed. 

The start of the RV travel season is only a few weeks away for most of the country. If you are still knee-deep in snow (Hi, Boston!) or just plain sick of the cold, tired of rain and clouds, or just have an urge to hit the road, you may be thinking of planning your next trip. If the idea of owning a motorhome or pulling a fully-equipped trailer behind you is kind of exciting, here are some of the reasons 10 million American have taken the plunge:

1. The freedom of traveling with your home is addictive. Unpack once, bring your pillow, favorite photos, books, and movies. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired. You are home wherever you are.

2. Pets are welcome on the road. Does putting your pet in a kennel bother you? RV travel is even better with your best 4-legged friend.

3. Don't fly over the country, rather be immersed in daily, local life. Buy your produce at a farmer's market. Explore a local nature preserve. meet the town characters at the diner. Experience your country in a very personal, interactive way.

4. Being in a small space encourages relationship-building. You learn the art of compromise quickly in 200 sq. feet.

5. After the initial purchase, vacations are much less expensive. With proper care an RV can last a decade or two. Think of all those motel rooms you are not renting and the restaurant meals you are not buying.

6. Life long friends can be found on the road. RV parks are full of friendly folks who want to share and connect. Several of our dearest friends were first met while traveling.

7. You come home with a new sense of satisfaction. Where you live seems fresh, welcoming, and very comforting. There is no place like home, especially after being gone for awhile.

Sounds great doesn't it?  But, there are a few skills you must master:


You want to take a nap, or read, or go to a particular museum in town. Your partner wants to download photos to the computer or take your dog to a local park for a long walk. She would like dinner at 6:30pm, you are hungry by 5:30pm. You are content with an afternoon of people watching while she wants to visit an antique store a few miles away. Your traveling partner never gets tired of watching a movie every night, you do.

RV travel is compromise on steroids. Each of us has things we’d like to do at each new town we visit, and things we’d rather avoid. But, like marriage in any setting, compromise is a absolute necessity to make the time together a joy.

Of course, if you are single, you are the master of your own self-contained universe. You make the rules and break them when you chose.


Being inside a metal and fiberglass box for an extended period is not the way most of us live our lives. Usable living space is probably less than 100 square feet. For two adults and a dog that is tight…no, it is dangerous. The kitchen may have about 3 square feet of counter space, and that is after putting a cover over the stove top. Cooking and cleanup are difficult. So, it is important to cooperate to make life not only bearable, but actually enjoyable.

(The) Calendar:

After two or three weeks on the road it is not unusual to not be able to remember the day of the week or the date. In one sense, there is a sameness to this type of trip. After a while RV campgrounds start to look the same and the hours spent driving from one town to the next blend together. But, the important point is that the date of the month or even the specific day of the week becomes unimportant. What begins to matter are the experiences and memories. The calendar becomes unimportant. For some of us, that is hard to accept. But, accept you must.

(Being a little) Crazy:

To spend several weeks, or even longer with many of our normal creature comforts no longer part of a daily routine requires an openness that may border on being slightly crazy. Deciding if the shower facility at a particular campground is clean enough to use, putting $100 worth of gas into an apparently bottomless pit of an RV gas tank every third day, and wearing the same limited wardrobe week after week can become tiring.

The menu is restricted to what a small refrigerator ( and even smaller freezer) can hold between shopping trips. When you want to stay in touch with family and friends, Internet connections, even cell phone service, can be frustratingly poor.

It helps tremendously to let yourself go. If you want your regular lifestyle and all that implies, you are going to be frustrated. If you like a vacation with room service, clean sheets every night, and a poolside cocktail, stay away from the RV dealer.

The RV lifestyle is not inexpensive. The upfront cost is enough to make your budget scream.  Even with a small, pop up camper, you will find most RV campgrounds cost from $30 to $75 a night, or more. A motorhome is lucky to get 10-12 miles a gallon. Repairs can be expensive. If you tow a trailer you probably need a large SUV or truck to pull it.

Even with all this "craziness," life on the road is addictive and stimulating. It produces experiences you can have in no other way. It gets into your blood.

As regular readers know, my wife and I RV'd for almost 5 years. We loved the trips and have incredible memories (and photos) to prove it. About 10 months ago we sold our motorhome. We thought the time was right to move to another phase of our retirement travels: cruises and airplane flights to where we wanted to go.

RV travel was a special time for us. We had our share of on-the-road hassles and irritations. But, overall, we don't regret that part of our satisfying retirement for a second. In all honesty, we miss the freedom.

March 14, 2018

Do You Remember Your First Paying Job?

For some reason, not long ago, I was thinking about my first "real" job. Technically, that would have been my paper route when I was twelve and living in Cambridge, Ohio. But, that isn't the one that came to mind. Rather it was my first job in radio, one set my path for the next 36 years. 

I was so focused on what I wanted to do with my life I was willing to take on absolutely anything to make my dream come true. Whenever I could convince my mom to give me a ride, I would visit a very small, very unsuccessful radio station that was in a two story, cinder block building, at the end of a seldom-used road about 25 minutes from our home.

It was sitting beside a small river that tended to flood every spring. Poor construction meant the radio station's lower floor flooded, too. I remember the handful of employees, in boots, and galoshes, swishing around in several inches of water. Luckily, the actual studios and transmitter, the parts with all the electricity, were up one floor, but, still...

After several pestering visits, the manager agreed to allow me to be a once-a-week janitor. This was an unpaid position, but I eagerly accepted since I could now have a reason to be there. I had just turned 15 so I could drive myself to "work"  with my learner's permit (as long as it wasn't after sunset). I was all grown up. 

Mopping floors, throwing out the trash, and running errands for the announcers occupied my time. Sometimes I had to help bail out the bottom floor or move papers and files out of the flood water's way. Eventually, my presence lead to a chance to audition for an on-air opening. I got it. I was a 16 year old untrained kid  but I was willing to work for virtually nothing after school and weekends. Since very few people actually listened to this station, there was little risk to the owner. I hung around the station even when I wasn't being paid, doing newscasts and playing taped programs.

After a few years of learning how not to embarrass myself and others, I moved on to a bigger station until college pulled me out of the area.

The river that would flood the radio station basement
Eventually, that old studio was abandoned when the station moved to another part of town, changed owners and call letters. What was left burned to the ground sometime later. 

Amazingly, I found this picture of where that little station once was. The radio tower is still standing but nothing else.

The apartment buildings were added well after my time.

All of this was over 50 years ago, yet I can still remember the people, the studio, my first real job, and the thrill of being "on the radio."

How about you? Do you remember your first paying job, the one that told the world you were here? Was it a good experience, or one you try to forget? What did you learn about yourself and the world of work?

March 11, 2018

Is Retirement Like a Vacation? Yes, But Not How You Might Think

People who are not retired might assume that retirement is like a never-ending vacation: no schedule, no endless commutes or meetings, no worrying about being down-sized. Live where you want, do what you want when you want to.

I will be the first to say that retirement is fabulous. This June will mark 18 years since I left my working days behind. And, in many ways retirement is like a vacation, but maybe not quite in the way you think.

A well-deserved break from work, a vacation, includes:

1) Sunny days, but also cloudy days, rainy days, or snowy days.

2) Days that are exciting, open you up to new experiences, and create lasting memories.

3) Days that are routine: laundry that must be done, food shopping or other chores, a headache lasts too long, you are feeling grumpy or out of sorts.

4) Days that are disappointing: an excursion is cancelled, a promising museum is not worth the price, the weather means no zip lining.

5) Spending more money than you had planned on a fancy restaurant meal, some nice mementos or decorations for your home, splurging on a convertible or SUV instead of the compact car you had reserved, does serious damage to your vacation budget.

6) Going home re-energized and ready to take on the world.

Guess what, retirement has the same combination of days, events, thrills, disappointments, budget-busters, and energy as your last vacation. How could that be? Retirement is all about freedom, making choices, avoiding what you don't like, having time to indulge in what you love.

Well, yes and no. Retirement is a time of life when you are more likely to be free to follow your dreams, passions, and interests. Time is more under your control unstead of your master. You build your schedule more to match your preferences. 

But, retirement is also just a stage of living. All the stuff you don't like or want to ignore doesn't simply go away with your last paycheck. The sun shines, the rainy days come, the bad weather spoils plans. Laundry piles up, food must be replaced. Doctor appointments can't be put off forever.

The car doesn't start, the porch roof leaks, the dishwasher stops cleaning dirty dishes. Your taxes are still due in April.

The two part series of a few weeks ago about getting out of debt and turning one's life around were strong example of this blend of the happy and the sad, along with the mix of living one's dream and having that dream interrupted by unpleasant reality.

Both true stories ended well, though life might still hold a few surprises for Barbara and Laura. If that happen I'm quite confident both women will find a way back on track to a place that satisfies them.

To expect retirement to be a time of never-ending pleasure and satisfying your wants is to set yourself up for disappointment. That's just like expecting your dream vacation to be a perfect 7 or 10 days with no problems, no hassles, no setbacks. 

To expect retirement to be another stage of life, with all the ups and downs that implies, is to be properly prepared for what will come. You have a satisfying retirement within your grasp, and that is the ultimate definition of a vacation.

March 8, 2018

5 Attributes That Mark a True Friend

Friendship is as important to our wellbeing as eating right and exercising. So says a report on web site,  Livebout. A Harvard University study says the same thing. Real friends help us reduce stress, make better lifestyle decisions, even help keep our brains healthy. While this is true throughout our lives, it becomes especially true during retirement when we more time to nature meaningful relationships. 

So, what makes a true friend? What are the key attributes that separate a deep friendship from a casual acquaintance? 

One of the keys is the ability to share openly. If we are with someone and we must constantly watch what we say or self-censor too much, then a real friendship is unlikely. Sharing both joys and sorrows is critical to a meaningful friendship. That can't happen if communication isn't open and expressive. We shouldn't be hesitant to open up to a real friend.

Be willing to try and experience new things together is a good test of a friendship. When any of us leave our comfort zone there is some tension and nervousness present. Even something as simple as trying a different cuisine because your friend likes it can reveal a lot about the state of the relationship. Traveling might be a better test. Being together for several days while away from the security of home and routine can quickly test a budding friendship. If you can laugh together at misfortunes and share great experiences, then a deep friendship may be possible.

A core of common beliefs and the acceptance of different beliefs must both be present. While these points might seem contradictory, I believe they are critical. Common beliefs might include the importance of respect for other people, that discrimination has no place in our society, or that children deserve the very best we can provide. Different beliefs may be about spirituality or religion, political affiliations and hot button issues of the day. Friendship requires that those differences are never used as a wedge or weapon. Spirited discussions and honest disagreements should create a stronger bond between two people that value that relationship.

There must be no pressure to "perform." Think back to a dating relationship you have had. The small talk and overt politeness are part of that world. We want to present our best possible face to the other person. But, in a true friendship it is perfectly OK for one person to be having a bad day and admit it. We don't have to always look or feel our best all the time. That isn't real life and friends don't want someone to put up a front or play a part. "Dress-up" isn't part of this type of relationship.

There must be an sincere interest  to learn more about that person. Nothing could be more unfulfilling than to spend time with someone over a long period of time and never learn more about each other. That would mean one or both people are being dishonest about their feelings and needs. It would mean that the relationship would never become more than skin-deep.

Many people much wiser than I have made the point that friendship brings depth and joy to someone's life. True friendship is a special gift that two people give to each other. As Proverbs notes, "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love." Deep friendship is an essential part of a satisfying retirement and a life lived well and fully.

March 6, 2018

Financial Stability is Like Bouncing on a Trampoline

Financial Stability is like bouncing on a trampoline - that doesn't sound very encouraging, does it? We have seen enough YouTube videos of children and adults losing control and flying off a backyard setup. In every case someone seems to be having a great time until their bounce angle gets a little off kilter. Away they go onto the ground or into a bush or something that looks painful.

Well, that is the analogy I am going with for this brief post. Everything is fine, until it's not. We have things under control, until suddenly we don't. Our sense of financial stability is important to our sense of a satisfying retirement, but sometimes things stop working as well as they did before. We go flying off in an unexpected detour.

I'm pretty sure most of the folks who use trampolines for fun and exercise are confident in their ability to bounce up and down without a problem. I've tried it myself a few times (in my younger years) and never had a mishap.

Virtually all of us have made enough successful financial plans to be able to retire, maybe not in the grand style we once envisioned, but retired nevertheless. We have gotten on the trampoline and have things under control.

An unexpected gust of wind, a slight shift in your balance, a momentary lack of focus is all it takes; off you go toward the padded edge. Most of the time, there is no damage, just an embarrassed smile or laugh. If we are talking about a financial pratfall, the consequences might be a little more lasting but rarely land someone in the financial intensive care unit.

Except for a truly epic disasters, trampoliners do the same thing: they get right back up and start again. The loss of balance, the ungainly fall on their rear end, even the bounce that takes them all the way off the contraption, do not end the experience. 

Long term financial stability requires the same response. The loss of some money, the bad investment choice, the feeling of panic when the stock market does something scary, should not throw you totally off your retirement plan. 

Just like someone on a trampoline, you must get back on. You must shake off the setback, figure out what when wrong, and try to not repeat that mistake.