Thursday, December 1, 2022


Seven brutally honest truths about full-time travel



By Melissa Dohmen

Editor’s note: Carson Vaughan and Melissa Dohmen are two full-timers formerly from Nebraska. After renovating their 18′ travel trailer, “Elsie,” they hit the road with their dog, Costello,  for adventures to come. Here is a set of reflections penned by Melissa.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block

If you’re big on Pinterest, or happen to travel a lot, or just frequent airport gift shops, then chances are you’ve seen your fair share of inspirational travel quotes. I’ve got mixed emotions on them and whether or not it’s a productive exercise to try and sum up the experience of traveling, mostly because I think it leads to cliches and comparisons that aren’t all that revelatory.

I’ve been thinking on this recently because we are often asked what our personal travel philosophy is; how we decide exactly who we’ll talk to, what we’ll do, when we’ll do it and where we’ll head when we land in each state. The problem with travel quotes is that they often leave out the honest truth: We have no agenda. There is no plan. We show up, make the best we can of where we’re at and who occupies that space with us, and the rest is completely undecided.

I understand that this is an unfulfilling answer for people who like to look up the top things to do in each place or aspire to write thorough Trip Advisor reviews. I’ve been known to do it a time or two myself, if I’m being honest. The temptation to Google “what to do in Memphis” is always there, but I try to ignore it.

Instead, I think it’s easier for me to try and explain this nonexistent manifesto of ours by telling some honest truths about what it’s really like to travel full-time, and how the schedule/pace/culture of this lifestyle really doesn’t lend itself well to quotes and succinct sentences on how to do what we’re doing.

1. You can’t pretend to know a place in a week

We spend roughly a week in every place we land, and as Carson said this morning, “It’s much easier to stay longer than you expected than to cut it short.” That’s because a week is never enough time to truly know a place. It’s barely enough time to scratch the surface, usually, after we consider all the time inevitably spent setting up and taking down the trailer, doing our jobs (marginally well), seeing any friends/relatives/family in the area, etc. Even if we did max out every minute with a place’s food, culture, city and shopping, we could never really know what it’s like to live there. Travel mode does not equal “I live here” mode. There isn’t an equivalent.

2. Setting itineraries and schedules is time consuming (and often unfulfilling)

We don’t set itineraries. Ever. I know, it’s making my fellow Type-A friends very nervous, and it’s something I had to seriously overcome this year. At first I did my fair share of Googling and visiting and trying to find the best and brightest each place could offer. I even looked at Trip Advisor, which I DO NOT recommend under any circumstances. It’s natural to want to make sure you’re not missing out. But the more time you spend doing everything I listed above, the less time you have to actually enjoy yourself. Plus, if you start making lists of things to do, you’ll push yourself to conquer the list at all costs, giving yourself zero time to relax, take detours, skip or repeat something. Instead, we’ve started asking people to tell us about neighborhoods they like instead of actual places. It gives us time to seek out what we like and get a feel for a place without getting specific.

3. No place is ever as cool as they say it is

There isn’t a place yet on our trip that has lived up to the hype. Because it’s just that: hype. You’ll be thoroughly disappointed if you focus on “hot spots” because they don’t always translate. I’ll give you a personal example: All throughout the trip people kept telling us that we’d love Portland, ME, Providence, RI, and Burlington, VT. And while those places are fine, they don’t even crack our top 10. Instead, we fell in love with Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Memphis and Milwaukee (and a few others, too! We see you, Asheville, we see you!).

4. First impressions usually stick

This is one I know will be controversial, but stick with me. A first impression is different than a perceived impression you have about a place. For instance, you can think one place is something before you get there based on what someone told you, pictures you saw on the internet or what Anthony Bourdain said about it. But your first impression — i.e., the feeling you get when you arrive somewhere new for the first time and walk its streets and spend even just an hour there — that is different. And for me, my first impression — i.e., how I actually felt when I got to a place — usually held true. If I got a good vibe from a place, it usually stayed that way and vice versa. Now, I know some people will call that “projecting” since I’m not taking into account outside factors like how I was feeling when we got there, the weather, how long we stayed, etc. But THAT is all part of travel. Good, bad or in between. So first impressions matter, and they stick, and they aren’t always fair. But that’s how it goes.

5. It’s important to do nothing

You will become very irritable to the outside world, your partner, your friends and your dog if you don’t give yourself time to breathe. Read at the coffee shop. It will tell you as much about how you feel in any given space as it would if you were hiking that big hill or raving at the best club.

6. Suggestions from friends, family are completely subjective

One great thing about travel is that it opens people up. People LOVE to tell you about their favorite places, hangouts, restaurants, etc. We have met many new people and friends on the trip simply swapping sandwich shops and trail recommendations. But know that everything is subjective. Sometimes places hold nostalgia for people, but not for you. Or sometimes why you like a place depends on certain intangibles that don’t really transfer. Our advice is to use suggestions from your peers and friends as a starting point, not a road map.

7. The golden rule: seek out what you love

You know that phrase KISS (keep it simple stupid)? Well, it 100% applies to travel, and here’s how: The most rewarding/amazing/groundbreaking experiences will happen if you keep it simple and stick to what you love. How do you know what you love? It’s not always easy to figure out, but start with your hobbies. You know, things you do when you’re at home on your own. It took us a while to find ours, but here are a few examples. I’m a runner, so one of my favorite things to do is make a running route in each place we land. Carson is passionate about writing, so we try to find at least one cool book store in each state and purchase a read by local authors.

Just do what you love. It’s that simple.

You can follow Melissa and Carson’s adventures on their website, localcolorrx


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Bob Kassl
3 years ago

I love to RV, no doubt about it, BUT I could NEVER live in this shoe box 365 days per year. We call ourselves Longtimers, out for 4 to 6 months. After that I need to get out and away from the 5th wheeler. To each his own, if the FT folks enjoy it that’s wonderful.

5 years ago

Full time travel, like many areas of life will be different for everyone. I do not agree with #3 as we sometimes get our best tips on where to go and what to see from others. I, myself, adore Portland, ME, Providence, RI, and Burlington, VT. It all has to do with personal preferences.

5 years ago

Living in any kind of RV anymore is getting too expensive..then there are the RV cops who claim you have to have a certain year or newer coach to use their facility…I guess that justifies their $500 a month plus electric prices. Some RV parks are even worse on prices.It pays to shop around ahead of your journey.

5 years ago

We’re into our 12th year of full timing, and have to agree with everything you said…very eloquent truth!

5 years ago

#5 is spot on!.

Dave Albright
5 years ago

I find that talking with the locals; just talking; whenever and wherever you stop will open up opportunities and places you would have missed without it. Always stay open to new things and don’t always worry about a “schedule” and you can then relax and be truly happy!

5 years ago

Agree with all but # 3.. been fulltiming for 16 years.. ofen heard about Alaska.. it exceeded everything we had heard about it ended up spending 3 month up there, awesome.

5 years ago
Reply to  Walt KAISER

Except for the monster mosquitoes and hordes of people on every fish hole they can get to..especially on the Kenai…we lived there for 12 years…I finally had enough.

5 years ago

When we travel we love to look for the brown signs. And pull off and check out these places. We have found some of the most incredible places. A town that had a great museum that happened to be closed the Monday we pulled into their parking lot. A gentleman pulled up next to us in a car who happened to be a volunteer at the museum and let us in and gave us a private tour and then took us around the town to point out all the wonderful places in the town. Leave yourself open and you never know what might happen!

5 years ago

Spot on! But for me it isn’t an either-or thing: I can’t ignore the freebie tourist guides and brochures — I read everything. I make lists of places that sound interesting. And what we’ve discovered is that the best things we’ve found are those that happened along the way: the “planned” destination is just a starting point. We head out with one thing in mind, open to everything else, and know adventure awaits 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

5 years ago
Reply to  Ellen

Agreed. It is as much the journey as the destination! I also prefer to browse the guides & brochures, which show so many hidden local gems, over a cup of tea, instead of reading a book or magazine. Plus, would rather take a minor detour than have to backtrack to something we didn’t want to miss while in the area.

Jean C
5 years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed your article. You are spot on.

When we first started full-timing we moved. One week here, one week there. We had reservations along our planned route.

Then, about two years in we stopped and smelled the roses. We never make reservations now. We stay longer in some places and enjoy the local atmosphere. Sometime we stay months, sometime we stay a couple of days depending on what this newly discovered place has to offer.

Friends and acquaintances make suggestions of places we MUST go to. If it happens that we pass that way we MIGHT stop and see what they think is great but we never make that a planned destination. Sometimes we go back where we have been before just because we found it a wonderful place to hang our hats for a while.

That’s what full time travels is for us.

Tommy Molnar
5 years ago

Perfect! I hate setting itineraries with schedules and destinations (though sometimes it just can’t be avoided, especially if you’re traveling with some other folks that MUST do this). We’ve been winging it for 20 years now and still love it. I must add though, that we live out west (NV) and “winging it” works out much better here than much of the midwest and east.

5 years ago

So on the mark. I get somewhat annoyed when friends/acquaintances tell me you have to go here or there. It puts a pressure on to fill someone else’s expectations.

5 years ago

What you wrote perfectly describes our lifestyle on the road. Except for the fact that we walk instead of running, everything else you wrote about is exactly what we feel & experience. It’s like you were writing about our full time travels.

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