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Criticism can be a good thing if it helps point one’s thinking in a more proper direction. But unwarranted and unnecessary negativity is a dream wrecker. Few people will ever be the absolute best at what they think they’re good at. There’s always someone better at it than you are. But that doesn’t mean that one should not pursue a goal just because someone else could achieve a similar goal easier or better. How many stories could you share about the times you did not pursue a goal because you feared others’ remarks and opinions? My Daddy sometimes says, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” It’s a good philosophy.
Deciding to travel and live in an Airstream full-time is a major choice that does impact others. Family and friends often do not understand such a decision, and it pushes those making the decision to grow frustrated and aloof. Family is important, and arguably the foundation of any lasting civilization, but just because someone decides to travel doesn’t mean those who love them will never see them again. If someone decides they want to travel, for whatever reason, they should be able to do so without any sense of guilt or regret. So, with that said, here’s a brief list of ways to think about negativity from others when deciding to travel full time:
First, try to help family and friends better understand your choice.
Many people believe traveling full time means retrogressing to a hippie lifestyle from the 1960s. Others equate full-time travel with being homeless. Sure, some people do want to be hippies, and live their mobile life in defiance against the modern world. But many full-time RVers are normal, hardworking people, often with families, who want to experience something different for a season of their life. In short, people make an open-road decision for different reasons. The least you can do is sufficiently explain those reasons to those who care about you. They do not have to agree, but they should understand.
Second, make it clear in your own mind what your purpose is.
Do you have a clear understanding of why you are doing this? Here are some bad reasons to travel full time: you’re frustrated with your current surroundings, you want to participate in a temporarily fashionable “back-to-nature” movement, or, the worst of all, because everyone else is doing it. Nope. There has to be a purpose, and hopefully one that fits into your larger life goals and compliments a primary objective bigger than a decision to live in an RV full time. In other words, what is living on the road going to accomplish for you? Can you pursue a career in a more meaningful way? Will your everyday life be enriched somehow? Moving from place to place with no sense of meaning and direction is pointless.
Third, understand that you’re not the first.
American history is largely the story of people traveling until they came to a place they wanted to call home. European settlers did it. Americans moving west did it. The frontier did not close in this country until 1890. The idea of the great frontier, the story of the American pioneer, is central to the meaning of American history and identity. Southern gentlemen used to take what was called “The Grand Tour,” a traveling expedition of Europe and America that often lasted between one and two years. The tour served as the capstone of one’s education, giving the student of history and culture a firsthand experience with the places they would have initially encountered in books. During his presidency, George Washington contemplated a tour of every region of the United States, and traveled extensively through the South in 1791. Thomas Jefferson ordered the Lewis and Clark expedition so that he could gain better understanding of the American West. When deciding to travel extensively, especially with the purpose of gaining more understanding of a place, know that you are in good company.
Finally, realize that it doesn’t have to be a permanent decision.
Many people who are now traveling full time, whether it is in an Airstream or otherwise, usually do not plan to do so for the rest of their lives. Some do, but I dare say most do not. I’ll use our own ideas as an example. Alexandrea and I moved into an apartment earlier this year with the understanding that it will be very temporary. Rent, as it is for most people, is nothing more than a process of pouring money down the drain if it happens for too long. We do not want to buy a house anytime soon because we are not sure where my academic work will lead us. I need to have time to finish my Ph. dissertation manuscript. That has to be done before summer 2018. Being mobile will allow us to conduct historical research when and where necessary, to explore places we want to visit, to attend conferences and network with other historians, and to have fun doing it. Say there’s a history conference in Virginia we need to attend, a bluegrass festival in Tennessee, or maybe we’ve received an invitation to lecture or perform: there are many ways to build a life and follow a dream by traveling for a while. It can be a permanent lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s what some people have to learn the hard way: negative comments always come from those who put their own interests first. It’s natural. When someone tells you that you can’t do something, it’s usually because that individual knows they do not have a similar option and do not want you to have that option either. Good old-fashioned American liberty is entirely about being able to make your own choices and suffering the consequences thereof, whether good or bad. If you want to eat a steak tonight, do it. If you want to pursue a business career, go ahead. If you want to live in an Airstream and see the country, no one should be able to convince you otherwise. Make responsible decisions about what you want to do, then see it through. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Dreams tend to come true that way.
-Alan James Harrelson
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