The Second Half: Live the good life…on the road!

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”—Mark Twain

Last column, we were talking about where to live in our Second Half, and how our ideas about living have changed. I never thought I would want to leave the ranch: our animals, wide-open spaces, fresh air, privacy. These days, however, a winter cottage in Maui sounds like a dream come true!

“I could never live on an island,” Hubby said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, well, our most recent ventures have never led us more than 100 miles away in any direction,” I snarked. “How is that different from living on an island?”

“We may not have traveled very far lately,” Hubby responded dryly, “but if I want to go somewhere, I can.”

He has a point—it costs the equivalent of a first-born child to travel these days, especially to and from an island in the Pacific. It’s all about choices and which ones are feasible. So, how do middle-class retirees on a fixed income enjoy their Second Half?

Lee and Cindy, Second-Half pals, are considering chucking it all, buying an RV and traveling. This unencumbered lifestyle sounds free and easy, but I just couldn’t grasp the notion of “no permanent home.” I turned to the experts at AARP—check out “Living and Traveling in an RV” and more about RV living at

The article outlines a few basics to consider:

1. Cost

2. Gasoline and mileage

3. Local transportation

4. Insurance

5. Camping and settling down

6.  “Boondocking”

7. Driving skills and licenses

8. Mail/Internet/cable

9. Power, water, waste and maintenance

10. Medical

11. Taxes

12. RV resources

About cost: 20 years ago, our whole farm didn’t cost as much as a mid-size RV, so I’m already freaking out! Then, there’s the fuel: a 300-gallon tank costs around $900 to fill, ranging from 4 to 8 miles per gallon. Then, you pay for insurance (vehicle and contents), maintenance and the cost to park the dang thing.

“Meanwhile, you still need another vehicle to travel around to stores, visiting friends or relatives, and to see the sights,” Hubby reminds me. “That’s where the motorcycle comes in handy.”

Can you see me on the Harley, headed to the Laundromat with a bundle of dirty clothes strapped to my head?

I would never attempt to drive an RV. They can require special driver’s licenses (Class A, B, or C, depending upon size and type), and the sheer enormity of these vehicles makes me swoon. I have driven big cars I couldn’t parallel park, let alone an RV.

I watched Hubby back a 1-ton dually truck, hauling a 20-foot trailer full of horses and equipment, down a 6-foot-wide curving gravel lane—in the dark!—and slip it into the barn door in one try: “You can open your eyes now,” he said, turning off the truck.

“This is like backing the Titanic into our refrigerator!” I yelled. “I could never do this!”

He patted my hand, “I could never write a book, so we’re even.” That’s why I love him.

Still, I would prefer never to drive anything bigger than a tricycle. I can so relate to Driving Miss Daisy and, if I won the lottery, I would totally get a personal driver!

So, what are the advantages of the RV life?

Second-Half pal Cindy said: “You can go anywhere, anytime: visit the kids and grandkids, chase the good weather, and see the country while you go. You gotta live somewhere—might as well be on a permanent vacation.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. But I also love to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and use a toilet that doesn’t move down the road or require periodic emptying (insert here: me shuddering in horror!).

“Did you see RV, that Robin Williams movie?” I demanded. “Terrifying!”

Then, I found a website called “Cheap RV Living,” This site is the equivalent to the “Visit Europe/Asia/Jupiter on $5 a Day” series of books most Second-Half folks will recognize. Issues to consider:

1. Move into your vehicle and save rent/house payment

2. Alternate work and travel

3. Live on a pension

4. Work while you travel

5. Overcoming your fears

They list a lot of interesting tips: There are pages and pages telling us how to convert vehicles into RVs, and even RV-homesteading on cheap land (kinda defeats the purpose, I think). I got distracted by a whole page about going to the bathroom, including photos of plastic pee bottles and a little funnel thing designed for women campers. That about did it for me—I admit, I am overly fond of indoor plumbing, especially the hot-and-cold variety and the kind that flushes.

I have given the RV idea some thought, though. I have a roving nature, and an RV could be the answer. My Second-Half neighbors own one that has more square footage of living space than my house. They park it in the yard, sometimes.

“What do you suppose they’re doing?” I asked Hubby, peering at the behemoth on their lawn.

“Probably cleaning it,” Hubby replied from his chair.

“You mean you have to clean it?” I was stunned. “Do you know how many hotel rooms we could stay in for $150,000? I don’t have to clean those!”

So, we’ve ruled out RV living…for now.

Next column: Considering retirement communities as we face our Second Half.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Nov. 10-16, 2010 issue

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