Have you ever been infected by an idea? It enters your brain and won’t die no matter how much you try to smother it with other thoughts. A lot of people say they get bit by the travel bug and can’t stop thinking about their desire to see new places. Experiencing van life in Iceland during our two-week road trip definitely gave us a wicked case of wanderlust. But we caught something much more life changing: The Freedom Flu.
Life Before Our Trip
Until Iceland, we had never really known true freedom. Despite living in the “land of the free” here in America, we had allowed ourselves to become slaves to money, a skewed view of success and made-up obligations. Before we knew it, we were shackled to desks and credit-card debt. We spent our days working for things we didn’t need or really even want. We had to spend time to buy time. Working 40+ hours a week to “earn” two weeks of it back each year was the norm.
Of course our jobs paid the bills too. But we never felt a sense of accomplishment when we made those payments each month. We were just doing what we thought we had to. And we totally got trapped in the dangerous web of materialism that so many others find themselves in.
We “needed” two new cars with warranties, a big house filled with lots of furniture we barely used and decor that only served the purpose of filling space. We made more than $100k a year but somehow never had extra money.
The big dreams we had as newlyweds of a life filled with outdoor adventures and travel were overtaken by the desire to “build a life.” It took about 18 months of spending too much, drinking too much and fighting too much, for us to realize we made a mistake somewhere along the way. None of those things we thought we needed were bringing us any joy. We had to realign.
Planning our trip to Iceland was our first step to getting back on track with our goals. However, we couldn’t afford it because we had gotten so bad about over spending. So, I worked an extra job for 8 months to make it happen. It sucked. But we needed an escape to look forward to. And Buddy was already working about 60 hours a week with his job.
The upcoming trip was great motivation to reclaim the people we let slip away. We hiked more (such a waste not to in Colorado), joined a gym, ate better, saved money instead of spending it, and started looking for ways to pursue things that really made us happy.
This led to me starting this blog as an outlet for my love of writing. Plus it was a great way to showcase Buddy’s photography which he re-focused on.
During this time, the Colorado housing market also exploded. We had begun to resent our big house that took up too much of our free time and money. Now we had the opportunity to get some of that back. So, we listed it just a few weeks before our Iceland trip. Talk about a snowball effect!
Our life had already begun to change before we even boarded the plane. Then Iceland happened. It was just supposed to be a way to disconnect from the world and reconnect with each other. Neither of us saw it as a spiritual journey or quest for answers. We knew it would be epic. But we had no idea how impactful it would actually be.
Our Iceland Epiphany
Our two weeks in Iceland is one of the only times in my life I have felt truly at ease. I was completely myself, yet wholly part of all the beauty around me. There was no hastened desire to find the next best thing, no regret over wasted time.
We had no fear of the unknown or nagging guilt over a seemingly-unavoidable obligation. We were able to have the time and peace of mind to discover contentment, feel real happiness and be completely in love.
Lying on my back in our tiny camper van on our third night in Iceland, I knew I’d never be the same. We were at the end of the most amazing, crazy day that surprised us every moment of the way. From losing a camera to water damage at the black sand beach to getting lost on a haunted mountain hike to getting herded by a sheep dog, and finally ending our day with our first timed shower.
Our cheeks and stomachs hurt from laughing so hard as we recounted our day squished next to each other in our short-term home. (Check out the video below for highlights of our Iceland trip, including this day).
We had only chosen this transportation-accommodation combo from Happy Campers to save money. Yet, it had allowed us to have a glimpse into a lifestyle we only admired longingly on our Instagram feed.
It was abundantly clear to me on that night that I was experiencing something I would chase forever. Nothing had gone as planned. Yet I couldn’t remember ever being happier. We had stumbled upon an answer we didn’t even know we were seeking. The life we always craved was indeed available, not just in little bite-sized pieces, but long-term.
And, although Iceland made for a beautiful backdrop for this epiphany, I knew I could feel this way anywhere that offered wide-open spaces. I couldn’t just go back to “normal” life after that. I was obsessed with trying to replicate that same unrestricted lifestyle at home.
After returning from our trip, I even tried to convince Buddy that we should move into a camper van. We had sold our house along with the bulk of our possessions. What was stopping us?
The Big Fight
Apparently Buddy’s firmly planted foot was in the way. He was not on board. Although he was whole-heartedly excited to travel more, at 6’3” he wouldn’t be comfortable living in a van full-time. Plus he wasn’t ready to give up the career he had worked so hard to build – even if it did make him miserable most of the time.
But I wouldn’t let it go. I badgered him about it daily. Then one day he told me in tears that he felt like the hard work he had put into providing a comfortable life for us just wasn’t enough for me. He wasn’t enough.
I felt horrible for hurting him so deeply. I was sick that my stubbornness led to the most emotional breakdown I had ever seen from my partner of more than ten years. And I felt even worse that he was right in a way. The version of him I was getting wasn’t enough. I wanted the husband I got to see on vacations and weekends. Not the grumpy, tired person I lived with the other 120 hours of the week. And I was terrified that if it went on for too long, I wouldn’t even get those glimpses of the man I married any more.
I understood that working his way up to a great position in a big company without a college degree made him proud. He felt like this was success. But it was killing his soul and body. Sixty hour work weeks wear on a person quickly, as well as a marriage. And, I didn’t have the heart to tell him at the time, but we didn’t need it. We had lived well below six figures before and could do it again with some adjustments. We were living in excess, not comfort.
Making a Compromise
Buddy and I cried heavily in different rooms for hours. I’ve never felt so separated from him. It felt like we were always going to have this division between us now. I knew a simpler life would fix so many of our problems, but he just didn’t see it. So I decided to just wait. Even if I was right, this wasn’t the way to make it happen. I couldn’t force it. He had been patient with me countless times. It was my turn.
I apologized and we made a compromise to continue to live our normal life. But we would prioritize travel and outside time even more. He would also try to deal with his stress better. We would budget for at least one weekend trip a month and I stopped harping on my van life dreams. I just never stopped praying that he would change his mind.
Have you ever met an indoor cat that used to be an outdoor cat? They stare longingly out the window for hours and listen intently for open windows or doors – constantly hoping to make their escape. If they do manage it, they bound away purposefully. But at the same time with no plan. All they know is there is an adventure out there. And it is worth any risk, any danger they may encounter. They tasted that freedom once and can’t forget – no matter how comfortable indoor life may be.
That’s how I felt after Iceland. We only spent 12 days living in a camper van. But I couldn’t forget that feeling of absolute freedom. Even though we were making the most of our “free time,” I craved more. I wanted that escape from time restrictions and unwanted obligations. I yearned for the excitement of the unknown – the ability to live without a plan.
At work, I stared out the window all day imagining what other life may be out there for us. Deep down I just knew one day Buddy would realize what I already knew. And until then, we both waited eagerly for our next trip or long weekend away. It was a good life, much better than before Iceland. But it got harder to go back to work after each trip. Plus, Buddy’s already stressful job intensified, making him extra irritable and at times even depressed.
There was a stark contrast between the husband I got to see during our trips and the one I endured during the week. He did better for a while, but the stress of Buddy’s corporate job began wearing on him even worse than before. It was making him very, very angry. Even on the plane ride home from a trip he started getting short with me. And during the week he basically just shut down. He wouldn’t even look me in the eyes some days. I think he was afraid if he did, he would just fall apart. And since he was pretty miserable to be around, I began avoiding him.
Finally, I begged him to quit. He agreed he needed to find something else for the sake of his mental health and our marriage. A few months of job searching passed with no luck. Then one day I made a crazy suggestion. After running the numbers, I told him I thought he should pursue photography full-time. He always wanted to. But knew he wouldn’t make a lot of money initially. With my plan, that didn’t matter. We had paid off our debt with the sale of the house and could minimize our bills to live off of one income. And by minimize, I mean bare bones. But it would be 100% worth it.
He had been the bread winner and the awesome, patient supporter of my dreams for a decade. It was his turn. If he didn’t go for it now he never would. So we started building a photography business and planning how life would look without 75% of our income. It was exhilarating.
Deciding to Be RVers
Then one day I got a strange message: “Would you want to live in an RV?” The smile that crept across my face would have made you think I won the lotto. It had been about a year since our Iceland trip and our big fight. I had kept my mouth shut about a life of freedom the entire time and my patience was finally paying off. “He really wants to do this,” I thought to myself.
He had seen a tutorial by the Holcombes on CreativeLive.com (a great learning resource). This family was living in an RV full-time while pursuing photography and blogging. Why couldn’t we?
It wasn’t the van life I had dreamed of after Iceland, but it was pretty damn close. And RV life would be way more comfortable for my tall husband. Most importantly, it was the perfect way to save more money, since rent near Denver was insane. And it would allow us to travel even more often despite being on a tight budget. Plus, I could quit my day job and become a freelance writer and full-time blogger – something I had dreamed of since making my site. We got started right away.
Our Journey Home
After making our decision, we began selling everything as quickly as we could. We were also doing non-stop research on RVs and full-timing in one. There was a huge learning curve. But the pure adrenaline created by our decision fueled our late night talks and long weekends of RV shopping.
However, there was still the issue of breaking our lease and timing it right with buying an RV. The most logical decision was to live with family while we looked for our new home. Luckily, Buddy’s sister in Texas had an open room she was happy to let us use. The rest was a blur.
Before we knew it we had packed the Jetta and moved to Texas. (Very reminiscent of our big move to Colorado four years prior). And a few months later we finally chose our new home.
We appropriately named our handsome rig Vik – after the city we were visiting on that memorable third day in Iceland.
After half a year of planning, many tears and lots of frustrations, we finally started our life as full-time RVers on a sunny Texas day in March. And we did it the right way. Neither of us had to drag the other. We got here hand-in-hand.
As we lay in the bed that first night, we stared dreamily at each other knowing that this was only the start of what is sure to be an amazing adventure. And we laughed about the fact that we forgot pillows and how messy the entire process had been.
Coming Full Circle
It wasn’t long until I felt that same familiar joy that can only be found when you are free. The same feeling I felt laughing together in Iceland a year and a half ago. Except this time it was better. This isn’t some short-term glimpse of a life someone else lent us. It is ours. We fought to get here. This is what true success feels like. Being rewarded for hard work. Having a sense of accomplishment at the end of a long journey. Being changed for the better by the challenges, not beaten down by them.
Looking at this entire crazy journey in retrospect, it is strange to finally come full-circle. I will always be thankful for Iceland. That trip gave us a giant push down this path. But I believe we would have ended up here regardless. It may have just taken a bit more time.
Because long before we were adventurers, even prior to being married or living together, we were two kids crazy in love who made a life-changing promise. We vowed to choose each other. And in the decade since, we have gotten distracted, gone off track and made a big mess of things on occasion. But we always come back to that promise. And eventually, choosing each other was bound to lead us away from everything that tried to pull us apart.
I think we were always meant to be right here, squished tightly together with only exactly what matters and nothing more. Our next chapter is still a huge mystery to us. But we are moving ahead more connected and committed to each other than ever. And one thing is for sure, the world will have a hell of a time trying to pull us apart now.