In this article...
In July 2018 we took a huge leap. We moved out of our rented apartment in California and moved into a 25ft travel trailer that would become our full-time home as we traveled the US exploring the National Parks.
The last two and a bit years have been a whirlwind adventure - we've had so much fun exploring so many beautiful parts of this country, meeting wonderful people and sharing our journey with a fantastic community on YouTube, our newsletter and our website.
Now the time has come for us to start a new adventure, alongside our existing journey. We're going to build a home base.
Diana grew up in Latvia and moved to the US to go to Smith College in Massachusetts, before switching coasts for a job in California. Meanwhile, I grew up in the UK before my job transferred me to California where I met Diana back in 2014.
Many RVers claim not to have a home base, but there is really no part of the US that we can really call "home" - we have no family or community of high school friends here in the US. We embraced this when we began RVing - it gave us a freedom to travel wherever we wanted, and an open-mind to visit and explore each new area as somewhere brand new to us.
National Park Units
We set out not just to visit all 400+ National Park Units, but to explore them all - to see each one at its best and soak in the history, culture and geography as best we could. But there was another parallel goal to our travels - we never planned to remain living in our RV forever, and wanted to use the opportunity to visit and - I suppose - temporarily live in areas that one day we might want to call home.
Nothing here has changed. We still very much want to visit all the National Park Units. They're incredibly special places, and our travels on the road have only reinforced that for us. But we never set ourselves a time limit in which to explore them all - again, we want to see them because we want to enjoy them, not to arbitrarily check them off on some list.
Are we doing this because of COVID? Yes and no.
There is no denying that COVID has disrupted our plans this year, although we realize we're very privileged that its impact on us has been far less than on many others.
That said, we haven't visited a National Park in 2020 because although many are open, we don't feel that this is the best time to see them - and since we're in no rush, we've temporarily hit pause on that. Many Visitor Centers are closed and Ranger programs suspended - these are, to us, integral to appreciating everything that each place has to offer.
We've been incredibly fortunate this year to have been able to stay in our RV with friends who had land, keeping us safe and allowing us to focus our efforts instead on other projects - like our major RV remodel, or growing our YouTube channel.
But at the same time, as I said earlier, finding somewhere to build a home base has always been a goal of ours. While our ability to travel is curtailed, we think this is a good time to start our new adventure.
Our dream is simple, we want to find somewhere to call home.
We've thoroughly enjoyed living in our RV - in addition to the unparalleled freedom to travel and explore, living in a tiny space has really helped us learn what's most important to us. We have no plans to stop RVing, although we'll transition from full-timers to some-timers.
The idea is that we would spend most of the year at our home base - maybe 9 months out of each year. This would give us ample opportunity to explore the local area, as well as taking shorter trips out to explore places a little further afield. Then, maybe once or twice per year we might take extended trips - maybe with the RV or perhaps international travel to Europe and further afield.
The goal is - above all else - flexibility. We want to have somewhere to call home, but we don't want to feel like we're tied down there. Maybe we're optimistic (this section is called The Dream) but we're striving for the best of both worlds - having a home and the freedom to travel.
Simply put, we're looking to start by buying a parcel of land. One of the things that RVing - or more specifically, boondocking (camping far away from civilization without amenities) - taught us about ourselves is how much we enjoy being in remote, rural areas as opposed to cities.
We're both naturally quite organized people, and this has helped us learn to be more self-sufficient during extended periods of boondocking.
Daily trips after work to the grocery store to food for that evening have given way to meal planning allowing us to grocery shop once every two weeks and cooking everything with fresh ingredients with almost no waste. The net result is that we no longer feel the draw of the shining city lights, and the idea of being 30 minutes from the nearest grocery store doesn't phase us at all.
What we're after
Knowing we were looking for somewhere rural, we've long been on the lookout for land to buy. We've spent months (and in some ways, years) looking for the right place.
We have no family or other reasons to tie us to one area of the US, so in many ways our search is unbounded. But there are some things we're looking for in an ideal world:
- 10+ acres of rural land within ~30 minutes of a grocery store and ~3 hours of a major city.
- Located in an area of the country with low risk of natural disaster.
- Allowed to park and live in our RV, and have others RVer friends come to stay without restriction.
- High speed internet connectivity. Electricity is desirable, although we expect to end up with some amount of solar.
- Local regulations that allow us to be hands-on in house construction in as many ways as possible.
- Bias towards cold vs hot and humid climate.
- Closer to Europe (i.e. further East) preferred.
Narrowing it down
While our criteria are fairly open, we narrowed it down to several areas:
- Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho)
- Northeast / New England (upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts)
We spent much of last summer in Colorado and we loved it! It's a beautiful part of the country and a lot of our RVer friends have been looking to buy land there.
During our time living in California for several years, we also had a chance to spend a little time in Oregon, and spent a little more time there last year too.
We spent several months this summer in Idaho and Washington this year, staying with our friend Cortni near Boise, ID while we remodeled our RV, and then with our friends Brian and Leigh up in northeastern Washington while we helped them with a big electrical upgrade on their Airstream.
I've also been to Seattle and the surrounding area countless times on business trips, and have a number of friends living in the area.
In each case, we spent some time exploring the area, researching local regulations, and looking at available land for sale. While none are completely ruled out, we struggled to find exactly what we were after. That just left New England and the northeast of the country.
As I mentioned earlier, Diana went to college in Massachusetts and while I've visited New England a handful of times, I hadn't spent any serious time here. There was only one thing to do: go and spend some time there!
We claimed we were heading east to see the fall colors and do some skiing this winter - both of these things are absolutely true, and both had been on our list for some time! But there was another reason: we wanted to explore the area and see if it's somewhere we'd like to live.
Arguably, New England is at its most beautiful in fall as the green foliage transforms into wonderful hues of yellow, orange and red. We decided to make the long journey east to come and see the fall colors - to see the area at its best.
And honestly, it's been breathtaking - even more so than I was expecting and certainly more than our photos do justice!
A few people (OK, more than a few) have told us we're crazy for wanting to spend the winter in our RV in Vermont. While only time will tell if that's the case, there was some method to our madness!
New England's winters are known to be brutal - short days and cold, gloomy weather for months. If we want to live here, we wanted to experience the area at its worst - or at least, its coldest!
So that's the main reason we're here this winter. Yes, we wanted to see the stunning fall colors, and yes, we will be doing lots of skiing in Vermont this winter, but really we wanted to see if we could cope with the cold!
As an aside, a fun fact: on December 20, the shortest day of the year, there will be 8 hours and 50 minutes of daylight in Burlington, VT. That compares to 7:23 in York, UK where I used to live and just 6:44 in Riga, Latvia where Diana is from. So we're not strangers to these northern latitudes and short winter days!
Since arriving in New Hampshire, we've been looking at local land for sale and have visited about a dozen or so places. So far we haven't found anything that perfectly fits what we're after, but a few have been close! New Hampshire and Vermont are our current top contenders.
COVID restrictions (and snowfall) make it hard to look at land this winter so while visits might have to wait until spring, we'll still be working hard behind the scenes to make our dream a reality.
Building a House
Why are we looking for land, rather than a house?
We haven't totally ruled out buying a house, but we're very attracted to the challenge of building something custom-suited to our needs. While our end goal is to have a house on some land, we have some very specific ideas about how to get there.
Diana and I are both fervent believers in retaining our flexibility - our ability to embrace new opportunities, to change direction, and make the most of everything life has to offer. This isn't incompatible with a long term vision, but does change the way we think about the journey.
Conceptually, the high-level plan goes something like this:
- Buy some raw land.
- Furnish it with the amenities we need to live on it in our RV: electricity, internet, water (e.g. a well) and sewer (e.g. a septic system).
- Install enough infrastructure to make us a little more comfortable in the RV - e.g. a storage shed, etc.
- Build a (small-ish) house.
The idea is that after each stage we can revisit how things are going, and decide whether we want to change anything before continuing. It also keeps us free to travel and exploring throughout!
As for building the house, we have some specific ideas....
We've both always been environmentally-minded, and living in the RV has really accentuated that. We've become acutely aware of how much power and water we're using. We've learned to live with less - enjoying what in some ways could be considered a minimalist lifestyle, although we wouldn't necessarily describe it as such. We've enjoyed cooking healthy food with a focus on fresh, quality and, wherever possible, local and seasonal ingredients.
Sometimes people ask us what the biggest downside of living in an RV is for us. It's a hard question, as we honestly love this lifestyle. But if we had to pick something, it would be our inability to grow plants in the RV. We have our AeroGarden which is great for giving us fresh herbs, but we'd love to be able to do a little more.
We both have strong technical backgrounds and have thoroughly enjoyed integrating technology into our RV as part of our home automation system.
We want to embrace all of this as we think about our future home. We want a high-tech, environmentally-friendly house where we can grow some of our own food.
Specifically, we've been researching a lot about Passive House and Net Zero building techniques, and we're currently leaning towards building a house aligned with those approaches. In terms of size, we're thinking somewhere ~1,000 sqft, but again, that's very subject to change.
Both Diana and I are former engineers, and if you've been following our blog and YouTube channel for any length of time, you probably know that I really love to make stuff! I love to mod, upgrade, and yes, build.
Last year I spent a couple of weeks volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Colorado to get just a taste of what was involved in building a house, and to see whether I would enjoy it. Spoiler alert: I loved it!
Now, obviously, building a house is not a trivial task to be undertaken lightly. We get that, I promise.
But at the same time, we like to live life the adventurous way, and building our own home is an adventure that Diana and I are both excited to take on! We don't have some philosophical perspective saying we must build it all ourselves, or something like that - instead we want to be as involved and hands-on as makes sense.
By way of example, pouring concrete might be an activity best left to a professional crew, but framing might be something we can do a lot of ourselves. Honestly at this time, we just don't know - we have a lot of options open to us, and that's the way we like it!
This adventure has been on our list for years, and we've been researching seriously for about 6 months now. We still have lots of unknowns, but I'm really excited to be able to share this with you and our community.
To reiterate, we're not giving up on RVing, nor are we giving up on our plans to explore all the National Park units. Far from it. We've got room in our lives for another adventure, and we believe this will complement our travels, not hinder them.
Some people will probably call us crazy and tell us we don't know what we're doing. That's OK - last time that happened we were just about to give up our old jobs and home to move into an RV, traveling around the country and running our own business. That turned out OK!
I really just hope you're as excited as we are! We're sharing this with you because we want to bring you along for the journey. We want your ideas and your input; our community has been growing so fast and it's been a constant source of inspiration and strength for us.
For months, we've been scouring the internet for blogs, books, courses and YouTube channels where we can learn more about things to help us on this new adventure - everything from land buying to house building, off-grid living to tiny houses. If you have any recommendations or advice, we'd love to hear from you! Please leave us a comment below, or drop us an email!
And if you haven't done so already, make sure to watch our YouTube video where we share our plans!
So much is uncertain at this stage, but there is one thing we can promise - we're going to share our journey with you as we embark on this new chapter of our story!