S1:E3 – Trading Stuff for Places

We answer our most frequently asked #vanlife questions: what we’re doing with all our stuff and where we’re going once we start for real.

This episode was written, recorded, edited, and produced by Lisa McNamara, with additional editing and recording by Paul Olson. Music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay.


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Photos from this episode: visit our blog, Driving Inertia


This is Road Tripping in America series one, before the truck starts. I’m Lisa and this is Paul and this is episode three: trading stuff for places.

Today, we answer our most frequently asked questions: what we’re doing with all our stuff and where we’re going once we start for real. And we’ll also share an update on what’s next for the podcast.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been on a post-vaccination epic tour of friends and family that involved five airports and three states. As usual, we packed a lot into a little time, we didn’t get to see everyone we wanted to see, and we didn’t get enough of the people we did see.

At the end of the tour, I found myself in the Milwaukee airport once again and this time, the contrast between that previous tense, cold, barren January trip and this one – warm, busy, people back to being lazy about government and pandemics, impatient to get on with it – it was both jarring and reassuring. I guess we’re back to normal? We kept saying to one another.

Then, last weekend, it was welcome home, for the last time. On our last extended road trip, we felt smothered by our condo and couldn’t wait to get away from it. Now, we like our place and are a little sad to leave. This house was the happy place that I returned to from my work trips. Sinking into the bed after being away is still one of the best feelings in the world.

But the pull of travel is stronger.

It’s been difficult to get this episode together, with our return to travel and the effort of dealing with all of our stuff and other last minute chores.

But we’ve heard the same two questions from just about everyone we’ve talked to about our trip, and we thought you might be interested in hearing the answers to these questions too. We’re also excited to share our thoughts on what the podcast will look like once we finally take off.

Up first, the question we hear most often is: what are you going to do with all your stuff?

As I packed, I realized that I have no idea when and where I would be unpacking the things that I was snugging into cardboard boxes. It could be six months from now in Colorado, it could be three years from now in another state before I see these things again. That could argue for tossing it all and starting over later, but I’m attached to some of this junk.

Many of the things we have now we have moved from Chicago to New York to Wisconsin to Chicago to Colorado over the past ten years. We don’t have a ton of stuff, we don’t buy a lot, but it still feels daunting to deal with the things we need to store, bring, and shed.

When you’re moving everything from one place to another, you throw it all in a box, move it, then unpack it all into a similar room in the new place. When you’re moving most things into a storage unit that is only as big as you think you’ll need and no bigger, you’ve got to consider every single item that you own. Things are loaded with memories and meaning, but do you really need the thing to keep the memory? Based on my experience I can confidently say that you usually don’t…unless it’s an irreplaceable family heirloom. If it’s just a pair of shoes you bought as a teenager that were really expensive then so you think you should keep them forever, even though you no longer like or wear them – just take a pic, save it for the memories, and donate those shoes so they’ll maybe make another teenager’s day.

So what exactly did we do with all of our stuff, you ask?

A very small amount, maybe 5%, we’re bringing with us. You know when you’re packing for a vacation and you only pack your very favorite clothes and the few things that you use on a daily basis? It’s like that for every room in your house, plus camping stuff.

The majority of our stuff we’re putting into storage. Last time around we donated the majority of our things, and then we never bulked back up, so the stuff we have now is the stuff we love, for the most part. Hand-me-down furniture from parents and grandparents, work clothes in case we, gasp, someday need them again, vintage finds, memories we haven’t digitized, essential things we’d need to buy again on day one, artwork. All of this goes into a climate controlled storage unit in Fort Collins to hang out until (and if) we once again settle down. (storage unit opening audio) The empty storage unit felt huge!

After finding that the cost of moving has apparently doubled in the last three years, we decided that we will move ourselves into our storage unit. I’m terrified, but we’re going to take it slow and spend at least two days shuttling things between the house and the storage unit, and we can always call for backup if needed.

We’d love it if our next biggest category was things we were able to sell, but it’s turning out to be even harder to unload things in Fort Collins than it was in Chicago, go figure. We’ve sold a few large furniture items, a bike rack, and a bike, but the other things are moving slowly and might end up coming along for the storage ride. Except for the Tahoe – that’s gotta go.

Paul has been handling the majority of the effort to sell things, and it’s starting to wear him down.

Paul: So, we knew things were going to come together this week, and things have come together this week, but it’s been so stressful before the things have started to come together for me. Like, it’s just been shitty. And it’s nice, and we knew it was coming, but it was so hard to even know that it was coming to relax and let it happen. The last couple weeks have been shitty.

Yeah, they’ve been tough.

Paul: But I feel like we’re over the hump, you know. We’re getting there.

What made you feel like we got over the hump?

Paul: A little bit of it’s the treadmill, man! That thing was daunting.

It was daunting for me too. I still can’t believe it’s gone.

Paul: I can’t believe that dude f-ing manhandled it up the stairs basically!

I still think they’re going to come back and say, “we don’t want this anymore.”

Paul: No refunds!

Paul: I think the other thing will if we can sell the Tahoe. I mean, when we sell it – we have to sell the Tahoe so we’ll sell it, but that’s another thing that’s just taking so long. We knew it was going to take long, and we know it will happen, but until it happens it’s just like…a drag.

You know, it’s just like the condo last time. We kept thinking it wasn’t gonna sell, it wasn’t gonna sell, and then, it sold and we were free.

Paul: Yeah! It was like a really big Tahoe.

Hmm. I think you just got yourself into the episode.

So that’s the for sale category.

Next is the pile of donations. We either haul things over to the local resale shop or post a curb alert for the bigger things or the things the shops won’t take and set the stuff on our porch for someone to pick up. We give things to friends and family but try not to be obnoxious about it. We only want to give them things they would want or need, not junk they’d just end up needing to get rid of themselves.

And lastly, the 5% that is just trash. I always make sure this is the last and least used option. Still, there are things that we can’t keep and that no one else wants.

A long time ago, we decided to prioritize time over possessions. It’s part of what got us to where we are now. Even though we don’t have that much stuff, I was still shocked to discover some of the things that were hiding in the corners of our cabinets. Like the container of sea salt that was in our van ten years ago that we didn’t use then and apparently have then moved to four states without ever using. I know salt doesn’t expire, probably, but we apparently don’t use fine salt anymore. So into the trash it goes. Or the box of mementos I found after thinking I had gotten through everything earlier this year. OK, I’m not tossing most of that, but we’ve hopefully now uncovered all the gremlins hiding in the corner of our closets.

So that’s our stuff. The other thing people really wanted to know was, where are you going first? We’ll get to that, after the break.

Welcome back. We’ve lived in Colorado for three years, but thanks to jobs that required travel that often bled into and over weekends, we actually didn’t have a ton of time to explore the state before the pandemic. During the worst of the pandemic, we kept our recreating within our county, as suggested at the time – thankfully our county is humongous and we had lots of stuff to do, but still, there’s a ton of Colorado that we haven’t seen yet. So naturally, we’re starting there…here! We’ll spend the first stint in Colorado, first celebrating with friends in the Grand Junction area in the western central part of the state, then either heading north or south, either to the Dinosaur area or to the Canyons of the Ancients area. Then it’ll be a rough spiral around the state, finishing either north or south, the opposite of wherever we started.

After that, we’ll get to Wyoming – the area just to the north of Fort Collins, between Laramie and Cheyenne, has been one of my favorite weekend excursions, and I want to finish hiking or biking every single trail there. We also have only scratched the surface of the Wind River Range and want to do much, much more there.

After that, it’ll be on to Idaho, Oregon, then California, Vegas, Utah, friends and family for the holidays, south for warmth in Florida and Louisiana. For the most part, we’re planning to avoid national parks and other popular attractions, anticipating that this year they’ll be extra busy and knowing how much other great stuff is out there, often right next door. Then maybe we’ll tourist visa to Mexico for a few months. For international stuff, we need to see how Covid progresses. For US stuff, boy are we happy that it seems like we don’t need to worry about that anymore.

And then after that, who knows? That is the beauty of it. We’re putting the things we may need later closest to the door of the storage unit. Cold weather clothes for family time in November and December. The seats and tailgate we removed from Bob the truck, in case we decide to do long term international travel and need to sell our setup. We’re thinking about plans and options and wildcards. I am delighted that our future is so unknown, so flexible and open to possibility.

If there are any other trip prep things you’re curious about or places we should be sure to visit, shoot us a note using the contact form on the Road Tripping in America website – we may answer more questions in an upcoming episode.

This is our last episode on road life prep. Because it’s almost go-time! Since we’re currently in the crunch of last minute packing, storage unit optimization, and camper fit-out, next time we’ll change it up a bit and share a story from travels-past about the time we spent six hours in a Mexico City police station. We think you’ll like it, and/or be horrified by it.

Then we’ll be off! Going forward, our main focus will be sharing the most interesting things we learn and places we visit. We’ll also bring you occasional updates on the Bobs, days in the life, and other voices and stories from the road. After all this time preparing, we can’t wait to get out there, and we can’t wait to share what we find with you.

Starting this podcast has been an awesome journey. Rather than spending months perfecting our skills, we decided to just get started and learn as we go. With a perfectionist at the helm, you can be confident that we’re going to make this as good as we’re capable of making it.

I can see anonymized demographic data about our listeners on Anchor, including where you’re from. It’s no surprise to me that the majority of our current listeners are in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York, since we’ve spent the majority of our lives in those three states. But what is surprising is that we have people listening in from 22 other states and 7 other countries! We’re so happy you’re here for the ride.

It’s been a lot of fun to take the time to learn a completely new skill. But even better has been hearing from friends and family along the way. The best part of being restless is that it has given us the chance to meet so many friends and coworkers who have become friends along the way. We are so lucky to know you all and it has been an absolute delight to hear your thoughts, feedback, and stories. Here’s to future hangouts with you all and all the new friends that we’ll make down the road.

Until next time, check out our website, roadtrippinginamerica.com, for more. If you are enjoying this podcast, please subscribe to it and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

And, once again and always, thank you for listening!