From Life in the Navy to Life on the Road

Jess Lawson's Thor Motor Coach Tellaro with the awning out facing a beautiful sunset.

I’ve always dreamt of road tripping across the United States. Even when I was a little girl, I used to fantasize about traveling the country and exploring all of the magical places I read about or saw on TV. Ever since I can remember, my definition of success has been unconventional—I think success is the ability to go wherever I want to, whenever I want to. I’ve always loved getting out into the world and experiencing new things, and it is this mindset that ultimately led me to enlist in the Navy and, eventually, travel extensively in my RV.

It’s clear to me now that my challenges and experiences in the Navy primed me for solo travel. In my 21 years of service, I gained confidence, grew stronger and more independent, and became more appreciative of the ordinary things in life. The ability to go outside, the freedom to drive, a good cup of coffee, the sight of land, and feeling soft earth beneath my feet—all of these things have become much more meaningful to me.

I think success is the ability to go wherever I want to, whenever I want to.

Jessica Lawson

During breaks in my service, I tried to spend as much time as possible outside. I joined several hiking groups, including some women-only groups, to maximize my outdoor recreation. Slowly, I began to organize and lead some of these groups myself. It was a great way for me to tap into my experiences in the Navy and speak with other women about independence, safety, and the beauty of the great outdoors. Going on these trips and sharing them with others started to feel like my true purpose. Touring the country and going on countless hikes made complete sense to me, seeing as I had just spent years working on a ship traveling all over the world. And so in 2019, after spending nearly half of my life in the Navy, I made the decision to retire and embark on another adventure—but this time, it would be in an RV and not a boat.  

In June 2020, after selling my home and most of my belongings, I purchased Nyxie—my Thor Motor Coach Tellaro 20KT Class B RV.  And in just a few short months, Nyxie and I have covered a lot of ground. Starting in California, we’ve driven through Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and back again. Every chance I get, I stop to hike and explore. When I stay with friends or family, we hike together. I even hike with people I’ve just met. I’m constantly meeting new people in the RV community, especially through the Thor Tellaro Facebook group, and we’ll often coordinate meet-ups or plan hikes together. Through all of this, I can’t help but smile because I know I’m making unforgettable memories. These memories can be as simple as a good conversation on the trail or a gorgeous sunset vista. Because after multiple deployments at sea and one boots-on-ground deployment to Iraq, celebrating life and all its little daily humors has become my personal, unspoken motto.

Since getting my RV, my life has become richer than it ever has been. I feel a strange sense of accomplishment just ‘being’ and living without a to-do list or any requirements (other than crossing hiking trails off my bucket list). Every time I get behind the wheel or step out onto a new trail, I literally can’t believe that this is my life now. I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness because I know where I’ve been and what I’ve been through, and this experience feels like a much-needed walk in the park. Or walk in the woods in my case.

For anyone who is interested in RVing and hiking, I’ve pulled together some tips and things I’ve learned along the way, including how to stay safe on the road, how to find the best trails and how to make the most of your next hiking adventure.

  1. Research, research and more research. Before you decide to buy an RV, research all options thoroughly, including price and feature comparisons. RVs come in all different shapes and sizes, and it’s super important to read up on the various components and features so you can narrow down exactly what you want. For me, I knew that I wanted something that I could comfortably camp in without hookups and be able to park on the street or in a parking lot. I also didn’t mind a unit with a minimal bathroom since I’m so used to showering in confined spaces. The Tellaro is sleek and fits all of my needs. Plus, it has a beautiful white kitchen that I adore! Take it from me and don’t settle for anything that doesn’t meet all of your needs.

  2. Be prepared to plan. To put it bluntly, RVing requires planning. Some RV resorts and campgrounds fill up quickly during certain times of the year. Some are first come, first serve. And many times, deposits are required to ensure reservations, especially if you are planning to stay somewhere for longer than a month. I do love boondocking, but these areas are very specific and you have to know where they are located. Here are some questions to ask yourself before finding your next site: Do you have pets? What breed is your pet and does the campground allow that particular breed? Are you towing an extra vehicle? How many feet is your RV? Do you need 30 or 50 amp hook-ups? These should help you find the right space and services.

  3. Try to learn some basic maintenance skills. Maintaining a healthy RV can sometimes feel costly, but there are some things you can do to help. First, learn how to do basic things like change the oil and battery. There are plenty of helpful guides and videos at your disposal to walk you through some simple RV maintenance. Second, lean on the incredible community of RVers for help. Talk to fellow RVers you meet on the road or join an online community—especially a community or group that is geared towards your exact RV. I’ve found there are endless amounts of people, both online and in the real world, who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise. You just have to ask!

  4. Know the trail before you hike. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a hard hike, in hot weather, and have run into other hikers who were ill-prepared. Either they didn’t know how long the trail was, they weren’t dressed appropriately or they didn’t have enough water. There are so many different ways to research a hike before you go—a simple online search will yield several results and usually provide details on basic things like length and difficulty. Weather is also important to understand before starting your hike—just be sure to look at the full day forecast. Conditions can change abruptly when you’re at over 10,000 feet elevation, especially during certain seasons, so try to layer your clothing or pack some extra jackets.

  5. Bring the basic ten. The list of ten hiking essentials can easily be found on multiple different websites. And while this is a great starting point, I do think it’s important to personalize your own list based on need. Things like distance of the hike, how long it will take to finish the hike, trail difficulty, weather and your individual fitness level will all impact what you should bring. Here is a list of items I bring on almost every hike: extra water, a whistle with compass, a map (ideally waterproof), sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, a few protein bars, a flashlight, a windbreaker jacket, a basic first aid kit and an extra pair of socks.

Jess Lawson travels in a 2020 Thor Motor Coach Tellaro 20KT.

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