Living the #RVLife as a Gay Couple Wasn’t All Rainbows (but It Was All Worth It)
From Savannah to the Moab Desert, one writer shares his journey of coming out — and finding home — on the road.
I never had the traditional "coming out" experience. Growing up in a mostly liberal southern New Hampshire town, with an accepting family and an increasingly obvious “gay voice,” I didn’t need to. Even so, I was never very good at explaining who my first boyfriend was. So instead, he became some mysterious guy who’d call my house and spend the night sometimes. I officially came out in 2018 when I was with my husband, crisscrossing the US in an RV. We had just sold our loft in Chicago, purged our possessions, and said goodbye to the cozy liberal bubble I’d swaddled myself in for 13 years.
As exciting as the prospect of traveling full-time was, it was brutal to close such a formative and significant chapter in my life. Not only was Chicago where all my friends were and where I established my career after years of hustle and struggle, but it’s where I felt safe — where I felt the most “me.” To leave all that behind and take such a blind leap of faith was both invigorating and daunting, but we were ready. The siren song of travel and endless possibility was calling.
How we made the decision
My husband Brad and I made the decision to move during a time when we both traveled so frequently for our jobs that we barely crossed paths. At the time, he was an events manager for Burton’s Maplewood Farm in Indiana, where he roved around the country to farmers’ markets and festivals to train employees and run events. As a travel writer, I was constantly in and out of airports. We rarely got more than a couple consecutive days together in Chicago.
When Brad suggested the possibility of buying an RV and selling our loft, he did so as if it was the most casual thing in the world, and within a week, we were driving off an RV lot in Indiana in a 26-foot mobile. The road was filled with possibilities and prospects, from national parks and new cities to quirky landmarks and road trip-worthy restaurants. It was also filled with unforeseen obstacles, emotional strife — and for me in particular, seesawing moments of clarity, and discomfort with my own identity.
Coming out on the open road
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me living in an RV was their dream, I’d have paid off our RV with change by now. For so many, that free-wheeling lifestyle is the ultimate American pastime, filled with non-stop adventure and enchanting wanderlust. While yes, the adventure and wanderlust are there, it’s not all one big vacation.
As a gay couple, our new lifestyle created its own set of ups and downs. As someone who couldn’t hide my obvious gayness even if I draped myself in hoodies and basketball shorts (I tried and my husband lovingly confessed it only made me look like a runaway child), I was suddenly having to negotiate and navigate my own identity in occasionally uncomfortable environments. For the first time ever, far outside my urban liberal comfort zone, I had to decide what parts of myself to hide and what to reveal. I was 32 at the time and felt like I was repeatedly “coming out” (or not) in different settings. I would stifle my voice, wear baggy black clothes, and refer to Brad in more gender-neutral terms, calling him my “partner” as to avoid any awkwardness — or worse, experience a repeat incident like the time a group of teens shouted homophobic slurs at me while I walked down the street.
Through all the highs and lows, traveling full-time ultimately emboldened a sense of identity like I’ve never known. After doing it for long enough, I began to feel "at home” in different settings around the country; places that provided solace and inspiration, with friendly faces to reaffirm my safety, and even encourage me to grow.
Our homes away from home:
Over the two and a half years that we lived in our home-on-wheels with our dachshund Finn, we saw more of the US than I could have imagined. From the harrowing stories on display at Montana’s Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the sunny shores on Georgia’s Tybee Island, the surprisingly mountainous terrain and epic Tex-Mex in El Paso, or the finger-licking whimsy of Hersheypark, I was in awe of the beauty and discovery in every corner of the country. But here's a few of the places that really helped me find home, everywhere:
It was in Tucson where we hunkered down for the first two months of the pandemic. That's the place I felt a kindred connection to the earth in a way I had never experienced. With nowhere to go and nothing to do beyond nature, I was mystified by the skyscraping saguaro cacti and their life-giving resilience amidst such seemingly impossible extremes. Empowered by the omnipresent sunshine and inspired by the tranquility of nature, I felt at home. Two years after leaving Chicago, I finally had time to slow down and reflect on our journey, realizing how that leap of faith was worthwhile.
In 2019, while staying near Disney World for three-plus months, I calcified my obsession with that magical place, visiting the parks on a near-daily basis and riding Frozen Ever After by myself over and over again while Brad worked at the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival. Not only did I feel safe and blissfully happy in the Most Magical Place on Earth, but it motivated me to step outside my career comfort zone and start writing about Disney professionally. Suffice to say that writing about something as innately joyous as Disney World has been a soothing emotional balm during a pandemic.
Savannah, with its hauntingly beautiful Spanish moss and abundant seafood, also left a major mark. We stayed there for a few days pre-pandemic, and knew we loved it, but when we returned in 2021 (now almost a year into living in an actual house in our new hometown of Oklahoma City), its impact only deepened. With a new sense of identity by the time we made it back to Savannah, I was experimenting with body glitter, sequins, and hot-pink crop tops, overcompensating for the past two years spent in gym shorts and sneakers. There, Brad and I participated in an amazing drag pub crawl hosted by the extraordinary J. Deveraux. Bar-hopping was fun and hilarious, but through all the laughs and dancing, I felt wholly seen. J. Deveraux was the first person beside Brad who I felt comfortable talking with about being non-binary. Being able to feel that comfort and safety with someone else — while throwing caution to the wind doing my best runway walk through downtown — I was reminded of the wonders of travel.
Moab Desert, Utah
My full-circle, full-acceptance moment, though, happened in a place I’d least expect. Moab, a tiny tourist town in eastern Utah, has a population under 6,000 and a seemingly barren desert in every direction for what feels like hundreds of miles. Here, in this pastoral oasis, I started my journey of self-discovery in 2018, and I reaffirmed it when I visited again in October 2021.
Moab was our first stop in our RV. While we were en route to Las Vegas, we hung out here for a few days to visit nearby Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. We bopped around the small downtown, checking out charming gift shops and discovering shockingly good sushi. As we were so fresh in our journey, and I was still emotionally raw from leaving Chicago, this small, unassuming town felt like a safe place to break out of my shell, alleviate my homesickness, and go have fun. Moab helped me feel like myself again and allowed me to appreciate the positive potential of our newly itinerant lifestyle.
Fast forward to my recent return to Moab: This time, things were far better and clearer. Three years before, I was tiptoeing into travel, unsure of who I was, and staying at Moab Valley RV Resort & Campground. On my recent trip, I landed right next door at the beautiful new Element Moab hotel — a branch of Marriott, one of the most Queer-friendly hotel brands in the world — where I felt right at home. Situated practically right outside the entrance to Arches National Park, it was the optimal place to hole up for a few days and commune with nature to rejuvenate my creative juices. The property is strikingly chic, comfy, and stylishly designed to blend into its rugged high-desert environment — just icing on the cake of the trip.
But my change in Moab accommodations this time around wasn't just superficial. The fact that I was there by myself at all symbolized my personal journey and growth these past few years. Whereas in 2018, I was far too timid to go out alone in a totally unfamiliar town, I've now become comfortable enough in my own skin — and my sequined pants — to travel alone, wear what makes me feel like myself, and revisit past stopovers with a fresh perspective and sense of identity. It's apt that at the Element Moab, I'd never felt more literally, in my element.
Like the national parks it shares a zip code with, the desert is a place for self-discovery and growth. I returned to Moab to breathe its fresh air and hike its trails, but the hotel’s pool-sized outdoor hot tub and lobby bar gave me a sense of nature and wanderlust without even going out to find it. Just like in those other synergistic places like Tucson and Savannah, this little corner of Moab in this little corner of Utah is a place that helped me find and reaffirm myself through travel. So much so, that as I luxuriated on a bed large enough to comfortably fit the Seven Dwarfs, I finally felt inspired to continue a passion project I’ve been procrastinating for a year: writing a non-fiction book about my life on the road as a gay couple, the epic ups and downs, and the lessons learned along the way.
After embarking on a new life journey three years ago, I’d returned to the same place (albeit in much comfier confines) with a clear-eyed identity and new dreams to chase. Thanks to Moab, I finally felt ready to go home and make them happen.