Perhaps you’ve read stories that go something like this: a person begins to question the seemingly endless American pursuit of material things. He decides that he doesn’t need all those things to be happy so he sells most of his stuff, pays off any of his debts, and hits the road. As a perennial traveler, he finds opportunities to connect deeply with people he meets along the way, and learns about what he really values.
Such a story describes what Mike Boyink of Holland, Michigan, did nearly four years ago. What makes Mike’s story a little different is that he undertook this adventure with his wife Crissa, and his teenage children, Harrison and Miranda. The Boyinks downsized and began a year-long odyssey traveling the country, towing a fifth wheel. Within that first year, they decided to sell their house and make the road their home for the foreseeable future. The family has chronicled their path to full-time travel on their blog, which they author collaboratively.
Recently, Mike tweeted that he was the happy owner of two Tom Bihn bags. He was nice enough to sit down (virtually) with us and tell us more about life on the road and the complicated nature of the Stuff that fills our lives.
TOM BIHN Crew: What are the bags you use, and the items you typically carry in them?
MIKE BOYINK: We have two of the Ristretto 13" bags. One carries a Macbook Air (mine), the other a Macbook Pro (family). In my bag I also have a Grid-it for the various bits and connectors, a small headphones case, and one of the TB zippered pouches for meds and change. The family bag carries roughly the same—we're pretty minimalist. The bags live under our living room chairs when we are in place or go into the truck if we're on the go.
TBC: How did you find out about Tom Bihn bags, and what convinced you to buy them?
MB: I asked on Twitter and had multiple recommendations. I bought my bag first, and mainly what I liked was that the bag seemed designed to fit—I bought an Air to be as portable as possible and wanted no slop in the bag.
TBC: On your travels, how do you decide where to go?
MB: Sometimes there are specific destinations—like Crystal River, Florida, to swim with manatees or Silver Springs, Florida to look for the wild monkeys. Sometimes it's people— family or friends that we want to connect with. Other times it's "I'm done driving; where can we stop?" or "Where is the weather nice?"
TBC: What kind of planning goes into a lifestyle like yours? If the extremes are “completely spontaneous” and “meticulously planned out,” where do you fall?
MB: We started out more towards the latter and realized just how insanely stressful that was. We are more the former now, except for times when we can't be—like being in Florida in the wintertime, you can't just show up at a state park on the weekend. In those cases we will book ahead a week to two weeks out of necessity.
And then there are times like now, where we are coming off a couple months of travel and heading back to Michigan where we will purchase a seasonal lot in one campground and be there for the summer. We are doing this for a few reasons—the kids want jobs, summer in the midwest is hard because it's camping season everywhere, and I have some business projects I need to focus on.
TBC: Do you have advice for people who wish they could travel more?
MB: It's funny how often we hear that, then after saying it there comes a "but." We wish we could travel full time but...
...we can't afford it.
...our kids are in soccer/little league/drama.
...we really need to be in community.
From our perspective, it's what comes after the "but" that's really more important to you currently. And that may not be a bad thing. However—whatever your "but" is, there's probably a way to enjoy it or overcome it and travel too. Challenge those buts and see if they are really roadblocks after all!
TBC: What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned from this experience?
MB: How easy it is to get in a rut.
That there are no laws dictating a traditional work week or lifestyle.
How we can have more friends and closer friends than living stationary.
How little stuff we need.
How awesome it is to always be "home" yet have changing views and experiences.
How our world isn't really designed for being location independent.
TBC: Can you say more about what you mean by "our world isn't really designed for being location independent"? How do you work around some of the challenges that reality presents?
MB: Just in general our government and society expect you to have a physical address.
We have three of them: one for invoice payments, one for other mail (there are mail services that scan your mail for you and send PDFs), and a "legal residence"—which in our case is our in-laws’.
Another example: trash. If we aren't staying in a campground, but instead are "boon docking" (just in parking lots, etc.), then trash is an issue. Where you do you legally get rid of trash if you don't have an address? Either [dumpsters] are privately owned, so dumping our stuff there isn't fair to the owner, or they are in public places but most often have "no household waste" signs on them. We don't want to just throw [trash away] randomly; we want to do the right thing, but there often isn't a great solution. While we don't buy much other than consumables, we do try to ditch whatever packaging we can while in the store. Otherwise we have held on to trash until we are in a campground again.
TBC: I imagine that would make you ask yourself if you really need X or if it can wait?
MB: Oh we do that anyway. Limited onboard room for storage, plus RVs have inherent weight limitations.
TBC: That makes perfect sense. It's easy to ignore when you have a house-house.
MB: Sticks and bricks we call them ;) . It's a good constraint. … Minimalism really. I've seen a fair amount of interest in it even outside the RV world. Do you know the Fight Club quote about stuff?
"You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you."
It’s a huge paradigm shift. We are so ingrained in a consumer culture that when you try to remove that goal of stuff ownership people don't know what to do.
TBC: Did you have to sell the idea of less is more to your kids, or were they somewhat predisposed to agreeing with it?
MB: I not only had to sell it, I had to model it.
For years I was into old Jeeps. I owned several at different times. Garage full of tools.
Spare parts everywhere. I was in the middle of telling the kids they'd have to make some sacrifices for the trip, and realized I couldn't ask them to do what I didn't do. So [I] put a “for sale” sign on a Jeep I had worked on for five years and everything else. It was a huge part of my identity. I had put so much of myself into that Jeep. But it occurred to me that there will always be Jeep projects. But the opportunity to see the country as a family wouldn't happen again. I can get all the stuff back at some point if I really want to. Not so much the time.
TBC: Since you've been traveling, have your children ever expressed a desire or longing for the things that accompany a stationary lifestyle?
MB: Yes. Some of those are why we just booked a seasonal spot for five months. They are excited to have library cards, maybe get involved with some summer sports, etc.
TBC: How do you establish a sense of community in the places where you stop, especially when you know that you won't be putting down permanent roots in any one location?
MB: Community doesn't happen at every stop. Sometimes we purposely go somewhere where we know friends are so that we can be part of that community. Other times we have worked for campgrounds or ranches for a few months and built community that way. We are all part of different online communities and those can also lead to offline meetings.
TBC: How did you prepare your family for the changes they would be making? This doesn't seem like something you can even comprehend until you're in the thick of it yourself.
MB: It's hard—we didn't really know what it would be like. We did put a printed map on the wall and start pinpointing places that sounded interesting. We also didn't replace a broken dishwasher because the RV wouldn't have one. But otherwise we talked about the unknown really being the adventure.
TBC: Final words?
MB: If I paint this lifestyle as all sun and roses that's not accurate. We have family conflict like any family. The upside is that our house is too small to hide in—we have to deal with things. But it's the flexibility we enjoy—we can park for five months if that's what will benefit the family most. And we don't have to move into a new house to do so.
Mike Boyink is an author, teacher, web developer, and the owner of Train-ee.com. Read more about his family’s story and their day-to-day travels on their blog, Boyinks4Adventure, or follow Mike on Twitter.