Last week I wrote about my (now our – hooray!) idea to downsize to an RV to save on living expenses. If you missed it or need to refresh your memory, you can read it here.
Before the day the RV idea came to me in the shower, all I knew about RVs was that they were luxury toys for rich retirees. Once I started Googling I found blogs and YouTube channels of dozens of people – at least – who lived in RVs full time. I also found many RVs that hadn’t ever (except for their price tags) been luxurious, as well as others that were probably once the envy of 1990’s RV resorts.
Full time RV living was a thing! And not just for people trying to cheap out so they can attain a financial goal. How did I not hear about this before? Show me more, Google!
I began reading blog posts written by fulltime RVers to see how they managed daily life in such a small space, and discovered a life that I could not have imagined before. People were living, working and traveling in their RVs. Some were even raising and schooling their kids while roaming the country. These were our peers – not retirees – and younger. Some of them way younger.
I admit I can easily fall in love with an idea, seeing mostly its upside. Pretty sure that’s how I wound up married & divorced before I was 25. Anyway, I’m not gonna deny doing some of that where an RV was concerned. But this was more than a flight of fancy.
The ability to live a freer life, to stay or go without being shackled by property, had incredible appeal. Even when I read about dumping the black tank, or breaking down on the side of the road, or having to spend $2000 on new tires for a wheeled home.
Back in the real world, though, working and traveling wasn’t an option for us with Brian’s business, so I didn’t daydream about it much. Even if he somehow managed to streamline his shop setup there was really no good way to take his business on the road. I read about RVers who were doing everything from video production to jewelry making to selling vintage prints on Etsy to repairing RVs. Mobile gunsmithing, though, would be damn near impossible.
Regulations prohibit those without a Federal Firearms License (FFL) from working on a gun except in the direct presence of its owner, which for many jobs is impractical. The ATF would n e v e r issue an FFL to someone without a fixed, permanent address. Plus, a stripped-down shop wouldn’t allow Brian to do the trickier, more complicated work he enjoys and is known for. So there was no point in dwelling on whether RV life could be anything more than a transitory measure.
Brian’s Indispensable (Sorta)
Brian is really good at what he does. Customers who’ve heard about our planned move frequently worried aloud about what they’d do when he was gone. He’d tell them they could ship work to him in New Hampshire, but not everyone was thrilled with that idea. Brian thinks that most people are uncomfortable about letting their guns go anywhere without them.
We had hoped that once we got settled in New Hampshire we could survive on a combination of work shipped to us, local business and whatever (probably hourly) job I could find. Brian already has several customers shipping work to him from other states (because his website and SEO kick ass), but the underwhelming response to the idea from otherwise enthusiastic fans didn’t exactly boost confidence in our tentative plan.
When Brian started Ott Gun Works, he pounded the pavement to get the word out. Long before he ever thought of opening a gunsmithing business, he was among the first members of an active Georgia gun rights organization that grew rapidly (thanks, Obama!). People in the organization knew and respected him and his expertise, and began bringing him work pretty quickly.
It isn’t easy to find an actual, professional gunsmith; more often someone uses the label to save face when what they really mean is “some guy I let screw up my gun in his garage.” Because garage gunsmiths put themselves out of business pretty quickly and mostly don’t bother with websites, it wasn’t long before Google began delivering new customers to Brian from miles around. Lots of them. Which is apparently pretty easy to do when you’re a gunsmith with a good reputation in North Georgia.
In Northern (or even Southern) New Hampshire, there would be far fewer people. We would have to hustle for a long time to rebuild the business to a fraction of what it is today, especially if none of Brian’s current customers would ship their guns to New Hampshire.
Still Kinda Stuck
We had at least part of a plan, so we began selling our stuff and building a kitty for our RV purchase. We were looking forward to getting out of our house and saving money to fund our relocation. But we hadn’t yet figured out a way to move Brian’s business that looked like it could do more than provide relative pocket change while I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts (that’s big up in New Hampshire) or whatever.
We’re both willing to do things for money besides what we’re doing now, but years of self-employment means our resumes have evolved in quirky ways that don’t usually translate well to W-2 jobs and appreciative employers.
Although distance shouldn’t affect my ability to take on website projects, I’d have to ramp up my business in a way that wasn’t realistic given my ongoing issues with repetitive strain and pain. That and if I’m going to spend hours in front of a keyboard I’d rather write creatively than write project proposals or yet another carefully worded e-mail to a client who sees his/her website as an annoyance rather than an opportunity.
So it just seemed to make sense for me to seek out something that was just a job. But even at 40 hours a week (which is often hard to come by these days…thanks, not-Affordable Care Act) we probably couldn’t do more than scrape by while Brian rebuilt his business. Or tried to rebuild his business.
One looming monolith of an obstacle was ATF red tape, which would prevent Brian from reopening his shop for three to six months after we moved. Apparently this new-license timeframe is quicker than waiting on the ATF’s behemoth bureaucrazy (OMG that typo was a complete accident but I’m so not changing it) to transfer his FFL to a new location. The only idea we could come up with to address this obstacle was mo’ money.
On top of the mo’ money for the mo’ expensive property and renovations. Argh…
Being stuck was a frequent discussion topic that usually ended with us agreeing that moving Ott Gun Works shouldn’t require sinking below the poverty line while waiting on lifelong bureacrats (just assuming/I’m a hater) to grant Brian an FFL, followed by one or both of us muttering “fucking government.”
Then one day, it didn’t end that way.
I remember the exact spot in our house where we stood as we had this conversation. It was the same place we’d raised our voices the month prior.
I’m saying the usual why does it have to be so hard, you managed to build a business while following every damn ATF regulation, why do they want to keep you from doing what you love just because you want to do it in a different place?
“What if I don’t?,” Brian says.
What the hell is he talking about, I wonder.
And then he says “I think I’m done.”
I’m shocked. Because other than regaling me at the dinner table with crazy customer stories (like yesterday, when a would-be customer pointed a loaded gun at Brian, and how when Brian moved the man’s arm so that his chest wasn’t in the line of fire the guy got defensive and said it was OK because there wasn’t a round in the chamber and he knew how to handle guns because he’d been a Marine, so Brian said OK let me explain using shorter words) I assume he loves what he does and wants to do it for the rest of his life. And now here he is ready to give it up. Where did this come from all of a sudden?
My first reaction was to wonder whether he was suggesting going nomad because he really wanted it, or because everything would be easier if he just gave up on his business. The latter seemed more plausible to me than the former. But no, he was for real advocating hitting the road.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one intrigued by stories of people making a living while traveling in an RV. Brian had been doing a lot of reading in the month or so since I shared the idea of temporarily living in an RV. Now he was telling me he wanted to do what I had only fantasized about because I knew he’d never go for it.
Just now, I asked him if he thought before he admitted it to me that I would be willing to try life on the road.
“No way,” he said.
“Why? Because I wouldn’t want to give up all this?” I asked, making a sweeping motion to indicate our house and all the stuff.
“Partly. But I thought you’d think it was weird.”
If he only knew what really goes on in my mind…
The State-Free Project
We’d still like to live in New Hampshire, but our immediate plans are to experience the entire U.S. (maybe even Mexico and Canada, eh?). Because New Hampshire would punitively tax our RV, we won’t make it our home base even part time – at least, not yet.
Until New Hampshire is our home base (whether for our RV or because we bought property), we won’t be able to legally vote there. That does mean that us moving out of Georgia won’t immediately benefit the Free State Project. But hey, fellow Porcupines – sticking with a conventional path wouldn’t get us there anytime soon, either.
New Hampshire may be the freest state in the country, but I’m betting there are pockets of liberty throughout the U.S. Instead of maintaining the attitude that I can only either live free in New Hampshire or die here (in Georgia), I’m going to work hard to experience places and people who remain unshackled, wherever I find them. Maybe even write about them.
Finding Freedom On the Road
If you’ve grown up in the same America Brian and I have, you were taught that a house is a good investment that always appreciates, a college degree virtually guarantees a bright future and except for two weeks out of every year you must work and not travel (unless you travel for work, which is allowed but is usually not fun).
Now we know it’s a load of crap. It did seem like all that stuff had been and would be true forever, but in the grand scheme of things it was a bubble and our relatively short memories and disinterest in history didn’t catch it until it burst. More people than ever seem to be calling bullshit on all the things we’re expected to sacrifice time and money to. We just decided to do it in a more radical way.
Opting out of conventional home ownership will make us more free (no big mortgage, property taxes, utility easements, HOA covenants, or zoning). Instead of being unwillingly tied to a state, we can choose as our domicile a state that offers us the best advantages. I can tell you right now it ain’t gonna be Georgia, y’all. And it won’t be New Hampshire, either, because of the aforementioned punitive tax on our future RV.
We have spent most of our adult lives working hard, living for our kids and pinching pennies. We’ll still be doing a lot of that, but we hope we’re putting ourselves in a position to at minimum experience life in more places and at a less hectic pace.
If we like a place we can stay longer; if we don’t, we can roll on down the road. We’ll probably see less of local friends, but we have family and friends in at least six or seven states that we’ll probably be seeing more of. School, military service & custody issues complicate matters in some cases; the flexibility of being mobile should help.
When we’re confident in our finances and cash reserves, we’ll revisit the idea of domiciling in NH so we can put down some roots & vote there. But unless we hate RV life it might only be for the summer, and we may be looking for a tiny house with a huge garage 😉
Gonna close this post with Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” The text I underlined in the excerpt below caught my ear the first time I heard the song; it’s just what my anxious mind need
eds to hear. When I got around to looking up the full lyrics it seemed even more appropriate for this new chapter in our life. Take a listen.
Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home
Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
p.s. – I love you, B ❤