Written by: Anna Sibal
08/08/2013 9:30 AM
A single woman RVing full-time on her own is not as rare a sight as it may have been ten or maybe 20 years ago. And yet, for all that their numbers are growing, the decision to solo RV full time is not a decision most women are willing to consider. It can be frightening, after all, and the solitude may be overwhelming for a woman alone on the road. Moreover, for all that women enjoy certain freedoms today that they haven't done so in the past, it's very hard for them to break out of the damsel-in-distress mold.
Still, it can be very rewarding for a woman to undertake a solo journey in an RV. The experience is not merely fun and exciting, but it can also transform her into a person she never thought she could be. Malia Lane is one lady who can attest to that, and she has graciously taken the time to sit down with us and tell us about the unique challenges of being a woman solo RVing full-time in her Inspiration, a 2000 36-foot Itasca Sunflyer.
CampingRoadTrip.com: You first decided to RV full time when you lost your job as a legal secretary. Do you think you'd even consider full-time RVing if you still enjoyed the security of a full-time job?
Malia: I don't know if it would have ever occurred to me to fulltime RV unless that had happened. I had worked for that law firm for several years and when it went under, I felt a bit lost. But I knew I really didn't want to go to work for another law firm - I was pretty bored with that work by then. But at that point I really didn't know what else I wanted to do.
You could have chosen any other pursuit after losing your job. So, why full-time RVing?
It was only after I went to a kind of spiritual retreat and was asked the question, "What would you do if you had no fear" that my first response was "travel". I had had some exposure to what RVing was at that point because of a good friend (Don) who had started doing that. We kept in touch by email and his pictures made me so jealous. At some point, it kind of dawned on me like a light bulb turning on in my head that said, "Yeah, that's what you could do - geta house on wheels and work as you go". That was in February, 2001 and by June 13, I hit the road.
Many women fear going on solo RV trips. It's a fear you have admitted to having in one of your interviews. How did you get over this fear?
I can't honestly say I've ever completely "gotten over" fear. I just knew that if I wanted to pull off what I really wanted to do, I couldn't let fear stop me. I could pause and consider it, take whatever necessary precautions were necessary, but even if I never stopped being afraid, I would just have to find a way over, around, or through the fear. But I was particularly blessed to have Don alongside me (in his Airstream) for the first two years of my RVing. He showed me the ropes about so many things - fromsimple things like how to find a campground and check in - tostate parks being a completely different world from private campgrounds - so many things I think would have been much more difficult if I had truly just taken off by myself without any guidance.
What specific challenges do women who RV full time on their own typically face?
I think the most challenging thing solo women face when even considering traveling alone is that they just don't believe they really can do it on their own. My generation for sure was indoctrinated with the idea that we need a man to "protect" us and without that we are just too vulnerable to the "cold, cruel world" out there. But once you test yourself instead of just giving up without even trying, whatever challenges come your way can be dealt with. As for specific challenges I have faced, I honestly just cannot think of anything I could attribute to traveling alone. I'm pretty much a control freak anyway and prefer to do things myself. I do take reasonable safety precautions. One thing I always do is to make sure I know exactly where I am before I go to bed (especially when boondocking at a WalMart, etc., in a strange town) so that if I did need to call 911, I wouldn't have to fumble around in my brain trying to give my location. I write the address down, sometimes even the GPS coordinates, always know my license plate number, etc.
What recommendations do you have for overcoming these challenges?
Well, first, my own prior life experience showed me that if I could raise two daughters on my own with severely limited finances, I could probably do anything. But even though I had those (and more) fears, I also knew I was stronger than I usually give myself credit for. I feel bad for so many women who write to me that say they just couldn't handle the loneliness because they've always been used to depending on a man to provide for them in one way or another. My most frequent advice is to truly determine what you want and why it's important to you - whatthe benefits are and how you'd feel if you really followed your dream instead of bowing to fear. Then take a step toward that dream every day - babysteps - likejust researching a little bit, talking to people about it (and not letting them talk you out of it ).
Do you plan your trips or do you just go where fancy takes you?
I plan based on general destinations of places I want to see, and then one thing leads to another. But at first when I took off with Don, he had been planning a trip to Maine to see lighthouses. That would not have been my first choice, but honestly, I didn't really care and that sounded good enough to me. And I loved it more than I thought I would. The next thing I wanted to see was Mt. Rainier and Washington State. But at the time, my plan was to take temp jobs in law firms through agencies, which made it necessary to consider commuting distances, etc. I quickly found out I didn't want to deal with Seattle traffic, so we ended up in Portland, OR. I worked and explored all through that summer, and thought we would head back to Austin for the winter to visit family. But when it was almost time to go, I met a couple in the site next to me that showed me pictures of their trip to Alaska. Again - mountainsare magical things to me, and I just had to see those glacier filled ones. So I figured it made no sense to head all the way back south and spend so much time and money getting back up north when my destination was even farther north. So I spent that winter working in Portland, saving money and planning my trip to Alaska. I did not realize at the time that Don would not go with me, and when his circumstances made him have to return to Austin in the spring, I almost cancelled the trip because I did not think I was ready to make such a trek completely alone. But with his encouragement and my deepening desire to see Alaska, I decided to go ahead and go. While I did have some RV problems and insecurities along the way, it was the adventure of a lifetime! So I've learned to leave myself open to serendipitous events that may change what I had thought I was going to do, but ended up somewhere else equally or more interesting and fun.
Of all the places you've been to, which one of them do you consider to be the most special and why?
Well, of course, your next question is already answered now. Alaska and the Canadian Rockies is most definitely my favorite and most memorable trip. It was the first time I ever started off for such a long trip truly alone. But then I met some wonderful people all along the way and we ended up running into each other at several spots. To me, that's the best part about traveling alone. I am the kind of person who needs my alone time and have no problem with my own company. But with how friendly and helpful other RVers are, anytime you want company, you can find it, so to me it's the best of both worlds. My absolute favorite travel memory of all time happened on the way to Alaska. Rather than writing it all out here, please check out this Muncho Lake page on MaliasRV for the whole story of how fascinated I was by hearing a lake melt. My mom flew up to Anchorage and met me there for the return trip, so that was a very special shared experience with her.
What is the funniest/most unexpected thing that has happened on your RV trips?
The first thing that came to my mind under "unexpected" was that my plan when I started RVing was to stop in cities I wanted to explore and get temp legal assistant jobs through agencies. I was surprised that I wasn't getting many assignments after testing and interviewing, which I have always excelled at. I was honest with them about what I was doing and looking for temp work through the summer. Finally one guy told me that the truth was that an agency can make more money from placing someone who is capable of going "temp to perm" since their biggest commissions come from that kind of placement. Therefore, even if someone is less qualified, they will place them in positions first if that possibility exists. He suggested I lie to the next agency so they wouldn't discriminate against me in that way and I would get more temp assignments. I didn't think that was fair to either the agency or the employer, so I wasn't willing to do that, and that was pretty discouraging news. I actually got tears in my eyes when I told him, "But you don't understand - that was my plan!" So I finally printed out my resume and list of references, along with an introductory letter to explain what I was doing and asking for temp assignments if they had someone on vacation, maternity leave, etc. I'd drop it off with the front desk, ask that they give it to their human resources person, and get their name for follow up. I was still worried for a while because it didn't happen right away, but sometimes before I would get home, I'd have emails or phone calls from people intrigued and wanting to hear more about what I was doing - thatit sounded so crazy and cool at the same time. Funny that I never really had problems getting jobs that way anywhere I went, most of them kept me as long as I was willing to stay, I made some great friends that I'm still in touch with, so my "Plan B" turned out much better than my only plan when I started. I don't know how much I would have been discouraged from starting full-time RVing if I didn't think I had the "security" of agency placements. But I made more money on my own than I could have through an agency and somehow it always worked out financially even when I didn't know where my next tank of gas was coming from.
How do you finance your full-time RVing lifestyle?
My main source of income now is my virtual assistance business - Above The Bar VA. I get work from attorneys via emailed documents to edit or by digital dictation which I transcribe. I also write for MotorHome Magazine when I have the time and get paid for my articles and pictures.
What are your top five tips you can give anyone looking to go full-time RVing solo?
Top 5 tips for solo RVing :
What do you miss about the regular kind of life?
At this point, I honestly can't think of one thing I miss about a "regular" life instead of my fulltime RVing lifestyle. At first, I felt cramped in my kitchen when trying to fix a big meal, and storage is also at a premium, but I've learned how to adjust to that. I've certainly learned that I didn't need half the stuff I thought I did when I packed my motorhome the first time!
Do you see yourself giving up the RV lifestyle and settling down at some point?
Maybe at some point I might be forced to give up this lifestyle if health or finances get too bad, but I have no intention of dwelling on that. There was a time after I'd been full-timing for about eight years that I considered hanging up the keys because my mom's health was deteriorating and she needed more care, my kids needed help, I became a great-grandma much too young, etc., but I really wanted to be there for them. So I really thought about this a lot, telling myself I had had eight great years, a load of fantastic memories, and maybe I should just be grateful for having more than most people ever did. But after three years of giving up my life to take care of everyone else, I was severely depressed and nothing I did was ever enough to "fix" anybody else anyway. And again I was reminded of one of the big motivations to start RVing when I did at age 50 - I'd read of too many people in nursing homes who were no longer capable of doing anything. And their regrets were not so much for anything they had done, but for all the things they wished they had done when they were able to. And so many of them had to do with travel!
I finally decided my life was worth living, too, and everything else could be worked out. So I intend to keep traveling as long as it makes me happy and to this day I still look at it as the best thing I've ever done for myself.
Learn more about Malia Lane's adventures at her site, MaliasRV.com.
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