5 WAYS TO FINDING COMMUNITY AND BUILDING A SUPPORT NETWORK WHILE LIVING FULLTIME IN AN RV.
Life on the road gives you lots of opportunities to see and explore new places, as well as a chance to meet amazing people from all over. But is it really possible to have a sense of community and build a support network when you are constantly moving your home?
In this post, we will talk about this important issue, share our family’s personal journey to community and how Fulltime Families can help your search for ‘belonging’ to come true.
When we were prepping to hit the road fulltime it not only meant that we were giving up our sticks and bricks home and a lot of our stuff, it also meant giving up the already established support network that we had relied heavily on for community, fellowship and help in the day to day. We weren’t necessarily giving up friends and relationships, but we were giving up the familiar and the ability to step outside our front door to hang out with our neighbors and friends. We were so excited to hit the road and we knew it was what our family was needing to be healthy, but if we were honest, we were also sad. We were sad to leave family, friends and neighbors behind. We wondered if we would be able to build meaningful relationships or have support as we trekked out into the unknown.
Now that we have been on this full-time journey for about a year and a half, we can confidently say that it is possible!
Is it easy? Not always.
Is it sustainable? That depends on you.
Our first month on the road was full of excitement over our new adventures. We were content with casual ‘hellos’ as we walked the campgrounds or sat out by a fire. But after a while, the kids started complaining that they missed their friends and wanted more kids around. Us adults were missing meaningful conversations and were getting a little tired of explaining our lifestyle choices to everyone we met.
Fortunately, that changed when we began to tap into a network of traveling families that existed long before our idea to move into a tiny home on wheels. That network we are referring to is Full-Time Families. We had actually joined the group before hitting the road and used some of their resources to help us get prepared for this nomadic, tiny home living. One of the best decisions we made during the preparation process was registering for some events within the first few months of road life in order to gain opportunities to meet other families who were as crazy as us. We will talk more about these events and resources that FTF offers in a few minutes, first we want to share the 3 basic tips for creating community on your own.
1. DON’T BELIEVE THE LIES
They come in many forms and usually from well meaning people. They often start from the moment you announce your plans to move into a home on wheels and travel full-time.
The most common ones sound like this: “Your kids won’t be socialized.” “You won’t be able to make lasting friendships if you are constantly moving.” “Your kids will never feel like they have a place to belong. How will they even feel secure?” … and on and on.
If you really want to find community on the road and build a viable support network, you have to leave the doubts and lies behind and believe that it is possible. The reality will be what you make of it. Don’t be defeated before you even try!
2. BE THE INITIATOR
I get it, not everyone is an extrovert, but bear with me as this is definitely something that is worth stepping out of your comfort zone for! Find a method for reaching out that you are relatively comfortable with and go for it. My husband is more of an introvert and can often feel uncomfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger, however he has learned to rely on certain topics and activities that help him to get things started. (watch the above/below video to hear him talk more about this).
Chances are you will not make a new friend if you are waiting for someone else to initiate a conversation. So, what do you do if you are not a natural extrovert? We suggest establishing Set rhythms or habits that get you outside and visible. Have your morning coffee at the picnic table or sit by the campfire in the evenings to make yourself visible and more inviting to others. Set out an extra chair or two and invite others to join you. Take your kids to the playground and let them make friends on the monkey bars. If they hit it off, it will be easy to strike up a conversation with the parents.
Don’t worry about conversation starters. In this lifestyle everyone has the same questions at first: How long have you been living this way? What made you decide to go full-time? Where have you been or plan to go? What are you doing for school for your kids? How do you like your rig? Etc. You will find that the traveling community tends to have less pretenses in social situations than more traditional communities. The fact that we all live in a tiny space with thin walls, have no set place to call ‘home’, and have to dump our own poo puts us all on level ground!
Being the Initiator also goes for seeking support and help for the many questions and issues that come with this lifestyle. Find online forums, connect with other traveling families on social media, follow other families on YouTube and reach out to those that seem to share interests with your family. The traveling community is growing exponentially, but is still relatively small. We found that most of them are eager to help a fellow traveler out or to share what they have learned.
3. STAY IN CAMPGROUNDS
Campgrounds offer a variety of settings/opportunities to connect as they often have community centers, campfires, playgrounds and other ‘gathering’ spots. All of these places and activities increase your chances to meet other traveling families.
Our family has a Thousand Trails membership that allows us to stay at specific campgrounds around the country for 3 weeks at a time. We find that a lot of full-time traveling families hang out at these specific campgrounds. It is often where we will make new friends and reconnect with those we have already met. But you don’t have to have a special membership to stay in a campground. Look around for campgrounds that offer activities for kids, this will be a good indication that there are families that hang out there and not just retired folks.
(Find out more about Thousand Trails and how you can get a membership discount, here)
Now that we addressed the first 3 basic tips for creating community on the road, we want to take a look at a community that already exists. All you have to do is plug in! Number 4 on our list is Fulltime Families (FTF for short)
4. PLUG IN TO FULLTIME FAMILIES
Full-time Families is a community made up of people who have chosen the same path as you. It’s members have given up ‘normal’ life for life on the road. This organization has by far been our number one resource for navigating this lifestyle and for connecting with others in meaningful and lasting ways. Below is a brief account of how FTF helped our family to find a tribe to belong to.
“We were a month into our full-time travels when we met our first FTF family. We were staying at a campground near Mesa Verde National Park. Our kids were playing outside and we were working at the picnic table when we were approached by James and his daughter. They saw our FTF Member sticker on the trailer and wanted to tell us that they too were a full time traveling family. He then invited us to a campfire that evening. That same day, our younger kids met some friends on the playground. That led to us meeting the parents and introducing them to James, whom we had just met. That night and the next couple, we all sat around the campfire getting to know each other while our children played and formed their own connections. Both of these families are still a part of our lives and community to this day! In fact, we just spent a month boondocking in the middle of the desert with James’ family, and during the initial covid outbreak we quarantined for 3 months with the other family on their land in Michigan.
A few weeks later we headed to New Mexico to join a small group of families for a volunteer Project set up by the Traveling Mercies Branch of Fulltime Families. We spent a week together working on various projects like fixing roofs and building picnic tables. The kids stained decks and stacked wood. We ate meals together and played together. All the while we had opportunities to connect with others 1 on 1 and as a group.
A month later we headed to San Antonio, TX for our first FTF Rally. The Rally theme was RSI: Roadschool Investigation and was filled with activities for the kids and adults. There were too many families there to meet them all personally, but it was a great opportunity to make connections with several during small group activities like potlucks and coffee talks. Later that year we attended one more FTF event. This time it was a safari themed meetup. The group size was much smaller and allowed for us to reconnect with some families that we met at the big rally and to get to know some new ones.
Shortly after the Safari Hangout, Covid hit and large group gatherings ceased. Despite this, the online resources that FTF offers have really helped us to stay connected and continue to meet people. By far the member only Facebook groups and branches have been the easiest way to sustain connection. All these experiences and events laid the groundwork for making connections and establishing meaningful relationships.”
(Learn more about the type of events that FTF has to offer, here)
This leads us to our final tip for building lasting relationships while living the nomadic lifestyle.
5. CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS USING TECHNOLOGY
Yay! You found your tribe! Now what?
Maintain those relationships! Make sure to gather contact information, friend your new friends and acquaintances on social media, follow their travels, check in with them every once in a while, and make plans to meet up. We have found that even if you do not see someone for 6+ months, you can pick up right where you left off if you are intentional about checking in every once in a while.
For our children, Kid’s Messenger has been a great way for them to stay connected with their new friends. Our daughter has been known to do crafts with her friends over video calls and our son plays games while having a friend on speaker phone. We have even had school ‘projects’ that we have collaborated on via FaceTime.
Staying connected on the road has unique challenges that other lifestyles may not have, but it still boils down to the fact that relationships require intentionality. As we wrap things up, let’s take a quick look at some of the Fulltime Families Branches and Facebook Groups that have helped us to continue to make and nurture relationships.The Roadschooling Branch is a wealth of knowledge for all things educational. Headed to a specific area and looking for fun places to take your kids? Questions about methods of schooling, curriculum, etc? Find a really cool resource? Looking for families to do a field trip with? … post and share with the group.
There are also related groups for the Roadschooling Branch. Explorers (A scouts like program for elementary aged kids), BSA Lone Scout (a Boy Scouts of America Group), Parents of Teens, Life with Littles, Special Needs on the Road, and several others. Homeschooling High School for College Credit is one that has helped us tremendously as this is our first year having a high schooler on the road!
Location Specific Groups come in handy when you are traveling to a new place and want to learn about the area, meet up with others, or need help with planning. You can join the groups as you need to and request to be added to the Group Chat set up for that specific area. Group Chats allow for further connectedness with people who are in your immediate area. They are great for organizing activities and helping each other out.
Boondockers Anonymous is another favorite of ours because it allows us to feel connected with others even when we are not staying in campgrounds. This group is a great resource for all things related to boondocking (a.k.a. Camping without hookups usually on public land). Find out what you need, where to stay, where to fill and dump tanks, how to fix your generator, etc. from this group. Our family likes to mix up our time between staying in campgrounds and staying in the middle of nowhere. With this group we feel like we have a tribe of people who ‘have our back’ if something goes wrong when we are by ourselves. We’ve also had times we’ve met up with multiple families in the middle of seemingly nowhere, forming a community that helps each other with basic needs in order to live comfortably without all the ‘normal’ amenities.
Traveling Mercies organized the volunteer project that we attended in the beginning of our traveling lifestyle. It helps us to connect with families that have similar beliefs and provides us with spiritual support. This type of group may not be your thing, but we are pretty sure there is an existing group that will fit your family’s interests. Traveling Secularists, Natural Nomads, Solo Parents, Rainbows on the Road, Medical Nomads, and Traveling Veterans are just a few of them.
These groups that I have mentioned above are just a fraction of the ones available throughout the FTF network. Learn more about the branches here: https://www.fulltimefamilies.com/branches/ (New branches are regularly added and there are many off-shoots of different branches as well, but this page covers the main ones.) Also, you don’t have to be a member to join their public Facebook group.
So, what do you think? Are you convinced yet that community is possible for a nomadic family? Have you tried any of these methods? What other suggestions do you have for building community and a viable support network while living fulltime on the road? Share your thoughts below.