On Monday, Feb. 25 HGTV aired an episode of House Hunters called “Freedom to Travel” that I filmed 15 months ago. I’m about to pull back the curtain on that process and answer a few questions that I keep getting asked. If you love watching the show and don’t want any of it ruined, stop reading this post!!
Ok, so let’s go way back to how this all started. Back in 2015, my husband suddenly and out-out-the-blue left our marriage, for apparently no reason. Without rehashing that magnificent cluster-fuck of a shock that turned my entire life up-side-down, I will say this: within the first week of him leaving, I told my sisters, “I don’t know why he left. But I know that in five years I want to look back and say, ‘Wow! If he hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have BLANK!’” I had no clue what BLANK would be or what it would look like. But traveling felt like a great place to start.
In 2016 I did some contract work for a tiny house builder based in southeast Wisconsin. I did their social media and marketing, and they were part of the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO that year. I fell head-over-heels in love with their Denali model. It’s a park model, 400 sq. ft., with a full-size kitchen, full-size bath, living room, bedroom, loft, two porches, AND a rooftop deck! I mean, it has everything!!!! It also starts at about $100,000 and upgrades can add up fast. The problem with that price is that financing a park model is nearly impossible. So only rich people with cash on hand can buy them. They’re also not made to travel or be on the road, so finding a piece of land to park it on would have been crucial, but expensive.
At the time, I was working two jobs just to make ends meet. I was not saving enough and had no time off to take vacations or travel. Travel has always been a passion of mine, probably brought on by living and traveling in Europe as a kid. I was tired of sitting around and waiting for my life to start, so I decided to jump start it with a big, bold move. I was going to buy an RV and travel the country.
2017… Yes, there was definitely a boyfriend in that episode. Matt and I met while bartending, a second job for both of us. He broke up with his girlfriend (I’m sparing you so many juicy details, because they’re not my details to share) and he started to crash at my place, since I lived across the street from the bar we worked at. We had so much fun living together that eventually we started dating (everyone saw that coming, right?) When I shared the RV idea with him, he was immediately on board. He had not traveled much in his life and was open to new possibilities.
While I was at the Tiny House Jamboree in 2016, I met some of the HGTV people that cast and produce Tiny House Hunters, and learned about the process of applying to and filming episodes. My motivation to film an episode came from my own personal experience of wanting a tiny house, not being able to find financing for it, and running into issues with zoning laws restricting where you can park it. An RV became a great solution and I hope other people that are curious about living tiny consider it.
***Spoiler Alert*** HGTV won’t even accept an application or do the initial skype interview unless you’re on the path to owning a house. So in every single episode, the buyer already owns one of the properties, and two other options are staged. They work with you to create a wish list that pits the two people against each other, and during filming they prompt you to disagree on everything. Obviously the conflict is entirely manufactured for television drama, which seems to keep people hooked!
Matt and I were already living and working in California by the time they wanted to film, so they flew us back to Wisconsin to tour the three properties. My friend’s husband, Gary Dhaliwal, is a fantastic realtor and was kind enough to take a few days off to film with us. The crew was a blast to work with, and thank goodness, because filming takes 5 loooooong days.
I have so much respect for the two builders we met. They had both crafted beautiful tiny houses as side projects, and the creative details they put into the homes were incredible to see in person. They both opened their homes to me, Matt, and the crew for the day of filming, and we felt terrible coming up with negatives about each house. They knew we would not be choosing or buying their tiny house, so hopefully the exposure of the show helps them sell, if they have not already done so.
In the end, with a desire to travel frequently, an RV made the most sense. A fifth wheel gave us so much space and storage, and I bought a truck that has no trouble towing it. They are decorated with the worst fabrics on earth, but a quick search of “RV renovations” will show that many RV owners are transforming them into incredible homey spaces. Matt has an amazing daughter that he sees a few times a year, and he was hopefully she could visit us in each new location, allowing her to travel and see new parts of the country. We were excited for the extra bedroom in this floor plan so she could have her own space during visits.
I’m so glad we started out with a workamping job and were able to adjust to RV life while enjoying southern California for a few months. We drove out west at the end of October 2017, filmed the episode in early December, and by the end of December, Matt and I had split up. It was 100% for the best, and once again, I’m choosing not to share details. He’s a really fun guy that is enjoying life back in Wisconsin these days.
Meanwhile, this twist of events really got me to where I am today. Without his second income, I needed to find a better paying job than workamping. Now I have an amazing remote job that allows me to travel full-time and work flexible days and hours. It also helps having a steady paycheck and benefits. I have adjusted to being a solo traveler, learning how to empty tanks, hook up the truck and RV, and drive it all around the country on my own. Once I was alone I realized I didn’t need as much room and downsized to a smaller 5th wheel in August 2018. I meet new people along the way, and get to visit my friends and family scattered all over the country. I’m now 18 months into this journey and have learned to roll with the ups and downs of RV life.
I have let go of the idea of planning my life out, which I used to be pretty darn obsessed with. My life entirely fell apart in 2015, and I’m pretty darn happy with how far I’ve come since then. I know I’ll be spending a few months near Denver, CO this summer, but beyond that I have no plans. I don’t know if or when or where I’ll settle down someday, but if I do, I hope it’s on a piece of land with a small house. Then I can finally get back to traveling internationally!
Final Note: Don’t go on television unless you have thick skin. I knew HGTV would edit the 40 hours of filming into a 22-minute episode that more or less makes me look like a delusional idiot with no clue about tiny living. I knew this because that’s what they do with just about every episode. I did not realize humans were awful trolls and would post horrible comments on YouTube. Thankful for my meditation practice to keep negative feelings at bay and supportive friends and family that know I’m not a complete idiot.