Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have. – Jim Rohn
We ― my wife, Peggy; our dog, Merlot; and I ― started our full-time RV life in November of 2018, and we are loving it.
Our choice was to have a mix between seeing the country and volunteering at federal- and state-funded sites across the United States of America.
We chose this format because we thought it would give us a hybrid: It allows us to see many places, but we also gain a much deeper experience at the volunteer sites where we stay for a longer time. So far, it proved to be the right decision, and we will keep to it.
Peggy and I both lived a fulfilled business life, and it was nice to be important in our jobs, but now in our retirement, it is more important just to be nice.
If you are thinking about volunteering while on the road, here are some of the rewards you will experience:
You do not need a YMCA fitness center when you are volunteering, since your outside work tasks will keep you fit. At our last assignment at a wildlife refuge, we tackled an almost daily battle against very active beavers closing the culverts. It was hard work to get all the debris, twigs, and branches out, but it was rewarding when the water was finally rushing through. By the way, www.volunteer.org is a great website, not only to find new volunteer assignments but also to get a job description so that you know if a position requires hands-on work and whether it is strenuous.
Another aspect of staying fit are the hikes you can do when you have your days off. We will never forget all the wonderful hikes we did at Big Bend National Park, or when we encountered the fantastic Ozark Mountains. In addition, it makes you become a better guide for your visitors.
Each volunteer stint is an opportunity to learn. This is one reason that most parks, refuges, and fish hatcheries require a three-month minimum stay to go through a learning curve. You do not have to get your Ph.D. in geology or biology in an instant, but you should get confident enough to answer basic questions from your visitors/guests. We were privileged to learn a lot about geology when we were at Big Bend (which is a paradise to understand all the influences that shape, have shaped, and will shape our Earth).
Staying at a national fish hatchery for three months allowed us to learn about part of the life cycle of trout and to assist the staff in rearing fish from fertilized eggs to 12-inch fish that were released to public rivers. What an experience to see them grow and to know how much work, planning, and science goes into it.
Being at a wildlife refuge in Tennessee taught us about the waterfowl coming down the Mississippi Flyway, wildlife management, and how the optimal environment can be created to give ducks and eagles nourishment for the winter or to get them strong for the journey further down south. All of those places have been outside classrooms for us and the best fitness center for our brain.
Bonding with new friends
This is a treasure that we did not expect when we hit the road. On the one side, you will become part of a team with co-volunteers, staff members, and rangers. All of your partners will help you to go through the learning curve fast and give you valuable feedback, and most of all, they turn into friends forever.
Creating a network of true comrades is also invaluable when you are looking for new places to go and new volunteer assignments to successfully apply for. As a volunteer, you are in the service business, and especially as a campground host, you have the opportunity to make many new friends from all walks of life and age groups.
When we volunteered at national parks as campground hosts, we were blessed with meeting many young people who were searching for their “True North” and were interested in hearing our life story as well. This created a great bond, and we are still in contact with many of them via our dog’s Facebook page (Merlot’s Tails) and directly. Relationships are jewels, and we were rewarded with finding many of them.
Being social while controlling your social distance
As for all of us, 2020 was an odd year. We started our road trip late and cut our volunteering to only one three-month job. During our 2020 journey we were able to make many new friends by keeping a healthy social distance. Performing our volunteer duties mainly outside and in the fresh air reduced our risk exposure to a minimal level. You also learn that nobody gets mad at you when you step back if the distance is getting too close for comfort.
Having a purpose in your life
We have often met people who complained about their empty life after retirement. You never will hear this from a volunteer. Being out and about tackling the tasks of your duties gives you purpose and adds value by serving others. I experienced another advantage: It is liberating not to be a boss, to get your projects and to finish them the best you can. It is also relaxing to have no strict deadlines and targets to meet.
Relationship on the go
After living in our Class A motorhome for more than two years, our relationship is better than ever. Working together allowed us to improve our verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Living together in a small space taught us to give room to each other; handling the chores of our daily lives guided us to share tasks. Driving together many miles across the country honed our expertise as pilot and copilot. We still say “please” and “thank you” to each other and will keep it this way. If you decide to become a volunteer on the go, your relationship will grow.
This is the reward of rewards, and you have to experience it for yourselves. I like what author and public speaker Valaida Fullwood is saying about “giving back”: “ It is like chicken and dumplings for the giver’s soul … warm, familiar, and filled with rich and nourishing content.” We are certain that you will have many of these “happy meals” being a camping volunteer.
Mark Twain once said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t 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. “
In November of 2018 we threw off the bowlines, moved full time into our Motorhome (called Loon named after a boat my in laws sailed for many years) and started our journey. I am on this voyage together with the love of my life Peggy and our handsome dog Merlot. After 15 years in the German Air Force I spent most of my career in sales of technical goods. We relocated in 2001 from Germany to the United States of America and I am a proud American citizen since January of 2010.
From childhood on (I had my first camera when I was 6 years old) , photography was my passion. It is my intention to capture the big picture as much as the details. To tell a story with my camera and to see things differently. Our travels allow me to create storybooks about places and people, which I share atand as a guest blogger for FMCA.
I hope at the end of our journey I can say what Benjamin Disraeli once said “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”