Vagabond in America 2016 travel blog

I frequently get asked about my lifestyle. I decided to finish up this blog by answering a few of the most frequently asked questions.

Question: How do you get your mail?

It’s not as difficult as you might imagine. To start with, before I began full-timing, I converted as much as possible to on-line access. Nearly all of my accounts (credit cards, bank accounts, health insurance, life insurance, etc.) have “paperless” options. They email my statements directly to me or I log in to access them. As a result, nothing urgent ever gets sent to me via “snail mail”.

Some people use a PO Box at a post office but these can’t accept packages from UPS or FedEx which is sometimes a problem. And, you can’t use them if, like me, you move around frequently. Many people have their mail sent to a relative. This works but becomes a problem if the relative is on vacation or if you want to pick a different state as your “domicile”.

Personally, I prefer to select a professional forwarding company. Several of these exist in each of the states that are popular with full-timers (Texas, Florida, and South Dakota). None of them are expensive.

About once a month, I send an email to my forwarding company telling them where to send all of the mail that they’ve accumulated for me. I use a campground address if I have at least a week’s reservation there. If I can’t do that, I have their package sent to “general delivery” at a post office near where I expect to be. Some forwarding companies offer additional services, such as scanning and emailing important mail. But, for me, that hasn’t been important.

The remaining problem is packages. For small items, I just have them sent to my domicile (my mail forwarding company). This is easy and gets the package to me with only a slight delay. For small items, the double shipping charge isn’t a problem. If the package is urgent, I ask my forwarding company to send it to me as soon as it arrives.

I recently discovered a trick that is obvious in hindsight. Most items that I need can be ordered on-line and picked up at their local branch store. Many of the national chains offer this service, including Walmart and Best Buy. I place an order on-line. When it tells me an expected delivery date, I add a few days for safety and determine where I’ll be at that time. Then, I select “find store” (or equivalent) and specify a store where I’ll be. (Not where I am now.) Once I arrive there, I simply pick up the package at the store. No shipping fee; no hassle.

For example, Pooka (my bunny) has been eating the woodwork in my RV. I found a product (“Deer Off”) that is a spray-on against deer, rabbits, and squirrels, presumably to keep then away from your flowers and shrubs. It contains capsaicin, garlic, and other nasty stuff. Once it dries, it has no odor to humans but, according to them, repels rabbits. Walmart offered free shipping to any of their stores. It estimated five days shipping time. I found a store near where I planned to be in 8 days.

Occasionally there’s an item whose shipping time I can’t estimate accurately and that’s too large for me to want to pay double shipping. In these rare cases, I select a friend or relative that I plan to visit in a month or so. I check with my friend or relative to see if it’s OK to have items shipped there. Fortunately, these events are rare.

Question: How do you do your banking?

This is much easier than it had been in the past. Whenever I buy groceries, I use a debit card and ask for cash back. I’m amazed that this works nearly everywhere! In Canada, in tiny villages, even remote stores in the desert.

I have bank accounts at Bank of America and Santander. They have local offices all over the country. But, it turns out that I rarely have to physically go to the bank. I have on-line accounts for both banks. I very seldom have to deposit a check, since I use auto-deposit. In the exceptional case when I receive a paper check and there are no nearby branches, both of my banks now offer electronic deposits, meaning that I simply send them a photo of the check. Plus, they still offer bank-by-mail. Easy!

QUESTION: Don’t you get tired of all that driving?

Back when I had a career and needed to get back to work, I sometimes drove 500 miles in one day. On a long trip, I averaged nearly 200 miles per day. I’m guessing people assume that’s how I must travel now that I’m full-timing. Far from the truth. I now average about 200 per week not per day.

One of the recommendations from fellow full-timers to avoid burn-out is the 2-2-2 rule of thumb. It means drive no more than 2 hundred miles per day, arrive before 2 pm, and stay at least 2 nights. This is not a bad goal and many full-timers follow it. Personally, I’ve found it better to adjust the meaning of that third “2” somewhat. My goal is to drive no more 2 days per week. The original rule would allow driving every other day, which would soon be very tiring. On the other hand, the original rule would forbid driving two days in a row. I’ve found that the occasional overnight stay, at a Walmart, casino or similar, can quickly get me to my next adventure without spending too much time setting up and breaking down camp.

I’m sure that there’s some full-timer out there somewhere who drives day after day. But, I’m never met anyone like that. All of the other full-timers that I’ve met either travel only a few days per month or a couple of months per year. Either way, most people who commute to work every day drive more hours per year that most full-time RVers.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite place?

I get this question all the time. I don’t have a good answer for it. I’ve enjoyed every place that I’ve ever been. It doesn’t matter where you are; there’s always something interesting to see or do, even in the smallest villages. Deserts and beaches can both be incredibly beautiful. As the song says: spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and fruited plains.

For me, nearly ever place that I’ve been falls into the category of “nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

For me, personally, there’s no place like New England. It’s where my immediate family lives. I love the trees, and rolling hills, and lakes. As I like to say: “My ancestors came over on the Mayflower. They liked it. They stayed!”

QUESTION: What do you do all day?

I’m actually surprised that I get this question so often. I think it’s because many people have frantic schedules while on vacation. They rush from one attraction to the next to maximize use of their time. They’re often exhausted when they return home from vacation.

Traveling full-time is very, very different. There is no urgency. The attraction will still be there tomorrow or next week. If you miss a particular event, there will be a similar event soon enough.

As a matter of practicality, most I what I do while full-timing is the same as what I would do if I weren’t full-timing. I still have to do the dishes, wash the laundry, and other housekeeping chores. I still have to go grocery shopping. Personally, I love to go bike riding. I read the daily newspaper electronically on my Nook. I always have several books available to read (on my Nook). There’s usually a swimming pool and/or fitness center at or near where I’m staying. For those who are not retired, there’s “work camping” meaning that you have some job assignment, such as working in the office or around the campground.

The advantage of full-timing is that there’s always something new and different to see and experience whenever you want. The view out the window changes on a regular basis. And, I get the opportunity to visit with friends and relatives, many of whom I have seen only at weddings and funerals in the past.

QUESTION: Where’s Home?

This is the single most common question any time two tourists meet. It’s the easiest way to start a conversation and to get to know a little bit about each other. Legally speaking, “home” for me is South Dakota. But, that just leads to confusion. I’ve decided that the easiest answer it to say that “my family is from New England”. Assuming that they know where New England is, this seems to satisfy them.

Frequently when someone notices my South Dakota license plates, they’ll exclaim, “You’re a long way from home”. I can’t help but answer, “No, I’m only ten feet from home. That’s my home right there. You're the one who is a long way from home!”

QUESTION: Do you have any other problems while full-timing?

One potential problem is insurance. Nearly all insurance is based on the state where you live. This includes auto insurance, health insurance, and dental insurance. The impending nightmare is health insurance. Most health insurance policies are PPO (“Preferred Provider Organizations”). This means that discounted doctors and hospitals are only available near where you live. My domicile is South Dakota but I’m rarely ever there. (The law requires me to be in South Dakota two days every other year, in order to maintain my SD driver’s license.) There are no private health insurance plans in South Dakota that provide nationwide coverage. In my case, I receive Medicare, which is automatically a nationwide plan. I was careful not to select Medicare Advantage, since it is essentially a PPO. Instead, I selected Medicare Supplement, which is nationwide. If you’re not on Medicare, choosing South Dakota as your domicile could be the worst mistake you’ve ever made!

A more troublesome problem for me is opening new accounts. After 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act. Section 326 of this Act defines the CIP (Customer Identification Program). In particular, it requires that financial institutions implement “reasonable procedures to verify the identity of any person seeking to open an account”. I wanted to open a bank account in South Dakota. When I went to the bank, I showed them my South Dakota driver’s license. I also showed them my current passport, my Social Security statement and other documents. The customer service agent looked up my credit rating on her own computer. It verified my South Dakota address. This report showed that my credit file was opened in 1969. Count them, that’s two government-issued photo IDs plus nearly half a century of independently-verified credit data. All of them had the same address in Emery, South Dakota.

Wouldn’t any rational person conclude that I had verified my identity? Unfortunately for me, the law has been interpreted to include recording the customer’s permanent physical address. I don’t have a permanent physical address! My application was rejected! This has also happened to be at other banks and when I tried to open a fuel credit card. All of this is because the computers know that my South Dakota address is a business address not my physical residence. Fortunately there’s a loophole: preexisting accounts are exempt. I already had two bank accounts plus three of the major credit cards (Master Card, Discover, and American Express). My advice to anyone considering full-timing: before you move out of your sticks-and-bricks home, open all the financial accounts that you think you might need!

The remaining problem that I haven’t completely solved yet is health care. My primary physician back in Rhode Island refused to extend any of my prescriptions unless I saw him, in person, at least once every three months. For me, that’s not an option. The biggest selling point of the mobile lifestyle is “following the sun” (north in the summer, south in the winter). Visiting Rhode Island in the winter is not a possibility I want to consider. Crisis care on the road is easy. Even remote towns have urgent care and/or walk-in medical facilities. I can even get a 30-day supply of medicine at these services. Similarly, if I have a dental emergency, it’s been easy to find a dental office that will take me the next day. Continuity of medical care is the problem. I found a physician in Texas who will prescribe my medicine provided I see her once per year. That requires that I swing through Texas ever year. Not an ideal solution. What would be ideal would be a primary care doctor who could see me in person when I’m in town and could communicate using Skype or other electronic means when I’m far away. Still working on it!

QUESTION: How long are you going to continue full-timing?

I have no idea.

I’ve been camping, either in a tent or an RV, since I was 12. I adore being outdoors and I can’t bear being in the same place all the time. I expect to continue camping for as long as I am physically able. My aunt and uncle continued to travel in their fifth-wheel RV until they were both 90.

My son said that he wasn’t surprised in the least when I started full-timing. He said that he’s heard me discussing and planning for full-timing for as long as he can remember.

For me, the worst downside of my lifestyle is loneliness. Of course, I would still be lonely if I were living solo in a sticks-and-bricks house. At least with full-time travel, the scenery is constantly changing.

I’m hoping to find that special someone who loves to travel and experience the world as much as do. When that happens, my future will depend entirely on what she wants to do and where she wants to live.

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