My family has lived on the road in big RVs and tiny trailers for 6 years. Here are 12 things that surprised us.

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My family and I have been living on the road for six years. Jenn Norrell for Insider

In the spring of 2015, I moved into an RV with my husband, 8-month-old daughter, and our two dogs to travel full-time.

At the time, we expected to explore new places and stop living our lives for weekends and vacations. I knew it would be a challenging adventure, but I’ve gotten so much more out of it than I ever could’ve imagined.

Here are some of the things that have surprised me the most so far:

We found our first RV (a 42-foot (12.80m) diesel pusher) to be too big

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We started out with a big RV, but we’ve since downsized. Jenn Norrell for Insider

All the advice we heard when shopping for our first RV was along the lines of “you can’t go too big.”

Well, you can. We were RV newbies going into full-time travel and mistakenly thought more about how comfortable we could be on the road instead of what travel would look like in such a big rig.

It turned out driving the huge RV was tiring and stressful in certain parts of the country. I’m pretty sure we left some paint from that RV on a New Jersey toll booth or two.

We also didn’t consider the fact that because we flat-towed our car behind our RV, we couldn’t back up. This made us less enthusiastic to make any stops that weren’t planned in advance for fear of not being able to turn around – which took a lot of the fun out of drive days.

We needed to plan in advance to get spots that could accommodate our size in many campgrounds, so we ended up staying in more RV parks than we would’ve liked.

There are lots of ways to live life on the road, but the one we were living that first year in that big RV wasn’t the best fit for us.

I don’t need much to live a happy life

After a year of living in our big RV, we sold it and bought a 17-foot (5.18m) Casita travel trailer.

This was the opposite of our last home-on-wheels in pretty much every way. We decided we wanted to simplify completely, go tiny, and really challenge ourselves.

Never in my life would I have thought I’d choose to live in a less-than-100-square-foot trailer with two other people, a pet, and no bathroom. I was nervous, but also excited.

We learned so much about ourselves while we paired our life down to what was truly necessary.

I’ve become a person who prefers flexibility over planning

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We aren’t tied to one place, so we can set off on spontaneous adventures. Jenn Norrell for Insider

As someone who previously liked to have her life pretty planned out and know what to expect in situations, living and loving life in a more serendipitous way has been a real shocker.

Now, I feel like planning our travels takes away from the experience.

Over time, I’ve become a person who feels uncomfortable having plans that are too set in stone because I want to be able to say yes to a new opportunity that may arise.

We rarely ever set anything in stone or make campground reservations more than a couple of days in advance.

I’m so much more aware of all the power and water I use

When you live in an RV and aren’t hooked up to utilities (electric, water, and sewer), you pay attention to every drop of water you use and every amp-hour consumed.

I know how many gallons of water my family needs for one week, how long we can run our heater on a quarter tank of propane, and if I’ll need to pull out our generator on a rainy day to charge my computer.

Utilities are no longer a given, they’re a luxury that I’m grateful for and try my hardest not to waste.

I appreciate nature and the outdoors so much more

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I’ve always been outdoorsy, but now nature is part of our everyday living space. Jenn Norrell for Insider

Before RV life, I enjoyed nature. I hiked and camped, but I never took the time to really learn more about it.

When you live on the road and your backyard is often a national park, Bureau of Land Management land, or even your friend’s property in Montana (as ours was for the majority of 2020), it’s difficult to refrain from learning more about where you’re staying.

Living in small spaces also forces you to make the outdoors part of your living space every single day.

It was the push I needed to get outside more – in all weather – and now I can’t imagine a day without nature.

My body adjusted to showering less

I was just coming out of the fog of early motherhood when we moved into our first RV, so maybe I had a head start on the lack of showers. But I hadn’t realized my body could easily adjust to showering once (maybe twice) a week.

Now, even when we have a full hookup or are staying at our cabin, I rarely shower more than twice a week.

For those of you wondering about my limit, 12 days without a shower is my breaking point. It happened once, and I have no plans for it to ever happen again.

My husband and I have grown closer together

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We were prepared for disagreements, but our communication has actually improved. Jenn Norrell for Insider

When we made the transition to RV life, my husband and I hadn’t even been married for two years, and we’d already thrown a baby and an out-of-state move into the mix.

We weren’t nervous about RV life breaking us (although I fully acknowledge it’s not for everyone), but I hadn’t expected it to bring us closer together.

When you live in a small space with someone, you are forced to deal with any disagreements, big or small, because there’s nowhere to hide – especially if you also have a kid living in that space.

We’ve learned how to work better together, communicate more clearly, and spend more time doing things that bring us both joy.

I found some of the best friends I’ve ever had on the road via Instagram

I am very much an introvert, so honestly I hadn’t given too much thought to finding friends for myself on the road. But I wanted to make sure I was open to opportunities to meet other people – especially other families with kids for our daughter to play with.

I had no idea I would find myself regularly meeting other traveling families through an app on my phone, and that years later, they’d still be some of my very favorite people and our daughter’s best friends.

A lot of people assume living life on the road is lonely, and it can be at times. But we’ve found more community on the road than we ever had in our stationary life.

People will make assumptions about us based on our lifestyle

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Our daughter does school on the road. Jenn Norrell for Insider

“Wow, so you must just be independently wealthy, huh?” Well no, my husband works full-time, he’s just lucky he can do it from anywhere.

“Guess you’ll have to stop traveling to put your daughter in preschool.” Actually, there are so many options for education that don’t involve traditional schooling.

“It’s like you’re on vacation every day. You’re so lucky.” Yes, we do consider ourselves lucky, but we made sacrifices to live this life.

No lifestyle is all rainbows and butterflies. Things break, people get sick, and life happens.

We’ve learned to live intentionally and by our own values

It turns out when you live in small spaces you have to think a lot more about everything – what you buy, how you communicate, how you spend your time. You can’t just go about life on autopilot.

RV life has taught me the power of identifying and living life intentionally with my values in mind.

I never thought we’d still be doing this 6 years later

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Our original plan was to travel full-time for about a year. Jenn Norrell for Insider

When we left our home in 2015, we thought we’d travel full-time for a year, maybe two.

We had no real time frame, but also never expected to still find ourselves on the road six years later.

It looks a lot different than when we started, but it’s still the lifestyle for us for now.

It’s hard for us to go back to a ‘traditional’ lifestyle

After two and a half years full-time on the road we bought a small cabin in North Carolina to experiment with slowing down, spreading out a bit, and living what some full-timers might call a “half-time life” (six months on the road, six months off).

After our first six months off the road, it became pretty clear we were all still full-timers at heart. Luckily we had enough foresight to buy a cabin we could easily use as a vacation rental, just in case.

Even this past year of mostly stationary life in our Airstream because of the coronavirus pandemic – when so many travelers we know decided it was time to settle down – we were reminded how much the road is our home.

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