Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When you think about retiring early and taking off from our busy lives to travel in a trailer or motor home together, you dream of the wide open roads and chasing adventure where it leads. The last thing you consider is 24-7. Yes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
That is how long you are trapped in a mobile tin can with a person you are probably married to, and have been for many years. 24-7. Stuck in a hot tin can that tends to break down as much as it gets you there. 24-7. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all the snacks in between. 24-7. In the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the cab driving down the road, that person is THERE: 24-7.
Sound romantic? When people plan for such adventures on the road, you usually forget to plan for 24-7. You think the dancing thoughts of “finally we can spend some time together!” But 24-7 is not the same as spending time together. It is NON-STOP time spent together with little or no escape from each other.
When planning your travels, you put a lot of thought into the itinerary, the vehicles, food, insurance, clothing, and all the things you consider are important. Equally important is to plan for 24-7, the time you spend together. It begins the same way as planning your trip. Start with a list.
Expectation is the number one killer of a good time and a relationship. When one person has expectations about the activities, intentions, and motivation behind the actions of another person, and those expectations are not met: disaster. “I thought he would fix that!” “Why didn’t you tell me?” There is disaster even when your expectations are met: “I knew that would happen!” “Just what I expected you to say!” “Can’t expect you to do anything right!” Sound familiar? If you have heard it at home, it will be louder in a travel trailer or motor home.
Clean out the expectation cupboards in your head, just like you clean the cupboards in the trailer before stocking. Toss out the salt and sugar that’s gone all clumpy and start with a fresh batch of good thoughts.
Before you hit the road, write down your expectations of each other. If you expect one of you to be the “fix-it” person, write it down. If you expect to be responsible for fixing some things, and not others, let the other person know what gaps are in the process so you can cover each other. If one of you expects to do all the cooking or pick out the places to eat while traveling, the other has to know. If one person decides to be the “final say” person, then you both have to decide which person that is. Who decides the route? Can it be negotiated? When? While driving or should you negotiate a plan to debate your itinerary or other issues before the vehicle moves? By planning how you plan to do things, which responsibilities lie with who, you prepare each other for a more enjoyable traveling experience.
When we first hit the road, I felt like Brent was looking over my shoulder all the time, checking on everything I did, and condemning it with his eyes if not his words. I grew so hypersensitive to it, I would accuse him even before I had done whatever it was he might consider condemning. Soon, I felt myself double checking everything he did, slowly realizing that this is part of the responsibility we owed each other. I would walk around the trailer and check all the latches and windows and he would then do the same. This double checking saved us on many occassions when one of us “assumed” that the other had done something when it hadn’t been done at all. It is important to clear the air and understand that “over the shoulder watching” is part of the responsibility you both share to ensure a safe trip.
As you negotiate power and control, you also delegate responsibility. With that delegation must come the ability to hold that person as able. If the responsibility is theirs, they have to accept the responsibility and you have to let them. When you believe someone is able to do something, and you trust them, it goes a long way towards good will and good spirits while traveling. If you feel trust is lacking, then discuss a way to create checks and balances to cover all the bases.
If you have been together a long time, you will have already established a pattern of behavior and action. If you want to continue with the same patterns, talk about it and agree to it. If something needs to change, this could be a real test of your relationship. Make the change before you hit the road. Changing while traveling puts added stress both on the experience and the relationship.
Who are you?
Fred and Andi just celebrated their thirty-eighth wedding anniversary with the investment in a new motor home. Their first shake-down trip was an overnight and things went fine, and they felt they were ready for an extended trip. They planned a two month trip to visit their grandchildren who lived 2000 miles away. By day three, Andi complained to a friend, “Everything I do is wrong! For almost 40 years I’ve taken care of the house and now I can’t even wash the dishes right! I just don’t understand him!” Fred admits he didn’t see a problem until they had been on the road for two weeks. “Andi refused to talk to me or even look at me. She just sulked the whole time. I felt like everything I said was wrong. We were supposed to be having fun.”
People change over time. Maybe you think your partner is the same person you stood with before a minister or judge. Odds are they aren’t. Neither are you. Time didn’t freeze when you got married. You are not the same person who hadn’t had children yet. You’re not the same person who learned how to raise the children by the seat of your pants. You’re not the same person who learned to let those children go, watched parents die, won and lost jobs, faced shifts in the economy, and other life changes. We evolve and change in many ways over time.
Over the years, couples learn to live with each other during the changes. For some women, their husbands worked long and hard hours leaving her to run the household and make all the plans and activities for the home and for her own work. Upon retiring or preparing to hit the road, they find the husbands expect to control the household, just as they did their office. Or, through work or family issues over the years, the couple hasn’t spent much “relationship” time with each other, forgetting or not learning how to work together as a team.
Take time to get to know each other before you climb into the RV for 24-7. Learn how to communicate and find the passion in getting to know someone as if the relationship was starting fresh. Ask questions, like “how are you really?” and “So what have you been doing with your life?” Make time to find out if who you fell in love with in the first place is still there. Remember the good times, and the bad, and find the commonality that glued you together through the years. Was it really just for the children, or was it a sense of duty? Was there something there that gave you a purpose in staying together? Find the little things and the big things. When you find the common thread connecting you, your joy of the experiences in traveling together will be enhanced.
Getting to really know the person you’ve lived with all these years can be as invigorating as a good vacation. Make the time. You each deserve the respect of the other person for all the years you have stayed together.
Making a Plan
Part of your 24-7 stragedy is to plan how to spend 24-7 with another person. Here are some tips:
- It seems simple, but after years of togetherness, we often stop listening to the other person because it seems like the same old thing is being said. If you haven’t been listening, it’s time to start. Remember when you first met and how you relished the long talks and walks together just pouring out your souls? You still have things to say to each other. Get in the habit of listening to each other again.
- Listening is important, but so is talking. Just like you’ve stopped listening, many couples stop talking to each other. It seems like there is nothing new to say. Start by finding one new thing to talk to the other about every day. Find a news story, an event at work or church, something about a neighbor, just find one new thing every day to talk about. When you hit the road you will be experiencing a lot of new things and learning to share them now will enhance the experience for both of you later.
- There is something comforting about moving your legs along a path that seems to free up the spirit. Taking walks together, in silence or not, creates the companionship you need for the road. A lot of traveling involves long walks, hikes, and waiting in line for things to happen. Get into the habit early on and it will make exploring the paths away from the road much easier.
- Find Time
- During your life together so far, often something else has had priority over the relationship. Work, children, family members, illness, and social activities take precedence. “Not now, honey,” becomes a standard response. If your relationship is important, find time to be with the other person and pay attention to them. Listen, talk, or just be there. Find time to get to know the person you are about to be trapped inside that tin can with. Make it a priority and make the time.
- Find Space
- Even in an 8 x 30 foot space, there are still places to be alone. For some, a television in the bedroom means someone can be in there watching TV while the other one is in the kitchen or living room. Brent built a computer desk in the living area of the trailer for me and he took over the dining table as his workspace. Some people create desks which fit over the steering wheel of a motor home, creating a working space for them. Find a space for each person to call their own.
- When was the last time you laughed together? The road offers a lot of challenges, some fun and wonderful, others exhausting and stressful. Laughter releases the stress, gets oxygen into your system, and improves your immune system. Brent and I have learned to laugh at the littlest and the worst of things. We laugh and tell it each other that it could only happen to us. “Just another chapter for the book!” Immediately we find ways to make breaking down on the Alaska Highway with a burned up transmission into something funny. Stuck in an RV 24-7, there is little to hide from each other, including bodily functions. Since we couldn’t hide them, we decided to score them. “That was a three. You can do better.” Just another reason to giggle. Practise now finding things to laugh at.
- Create Mental Walls
- Brent and I have learned to be in the same room together, 24-7, and still feel together but separate. I forget he’s only 2 feet away. When I need contact, I look over at him and reconnect. Creating mental walls is a technique that allows you to channel your concentration. Distracting things fade from your consciousness. It takes time to learn this technique, but it’s worth it. When trapped for hours on end in an RV during inclement weather, creating a little mental space is critical to the survival of your relationship.
- Learn to Touch Again
- Often, the longer a couple is together, the less they touch each other. Jammed into a small space, you will find yourselves rubbing, bumping, elbowing, and colliding with each other all the time. Unless you have a spacious RV, bodies will collide. Unwanted or unfamiliar touch can intrude and cause conflicts as tempers flare in reponse. Learn to touch each other again. Make it comfortable to not only share the space but the same spot. Have fun with it, too. Touch isn’t always sexual, nor is it an assault. Consider attending touch or massage workshops and other programs to learn how to put touch back into your life. The more comfortable you are with touch, the less tension there will be when you have to squeeze by on the way to the toliet.
- Learn to be Quiet Together
- There is nothing more comfortable than a comfortable silence. No need to fill up the quiet with useless babble. Having spent so many years together, you have learned to listen to each other without words. Or to have complete conversations with only a few words. Honor the quietness of being together. Rejoice in the peace and calmness you feel in just being…with…each…other.
Take It Slow
Take your time. Don’t start with a six month trip. Plan small trips together first, maybe even before purchasing your RV. A weekend in the islands. Three nights camping in a national park. Slowly move towards a week together, then two or three weeks. By then you will know that the investment you are making in traveling equipment won’t be lost when you discover you can’t stand each other on your first trip out. By taking it slowly, you can discover the magic in each person, and find the value in loving. When it comes time to take your life on the road, your spirit will be there with you, smiling all the way.