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Off-Grid Living | 5 Jamaican Experiences That Prepared Me for RV Life

When I pull into a campground, people assume I have been RVing for years. The main reason for this is that, more often than not, I back up my travel trailer faster than they can get out of their trailers to help me. They are surprised to hear I knew nothing about RV life before I embarked on my journey and that I didn’t know a single person who owned an RV before buying one. The obvious question they ask next is: how did you learn all this stuff, then?

The answer I usually give is that I did a lot of research. I watched YouTube videos on RVing every day and read several books on RVing, van-dwelling, car camping, and off-grid living.

But, lately, I’ve had to acknowledge that even though RVs do not exist in Jamaica, my Jamaican experiences made transitioning into RV Life very easy. These are some of the Third-World experiences that prepped me for off-grid living.

1. Washing Laundry By Hand

In Jamaica, at my personal residence in the countryside, I had a washing machine. Unfortunately, when I went off to university, I couldn’t take the machine with me. The standard of living is lower in Kingston than on the North Coast, so none of the apartments I rented had a washing machine. I also took some time to get one when I moved to Montego Bay. Consequently, I washed my clothing by hand from 2008 to around 2014.

I absolutely hate using laundromats and I knew I would before I ever used one. Getting into the truck and driving to a shared space in a pandemic is just not appealing to me. Because I RV in rural areas, I also frequently run the risk of sharing that space with rednecks who don’t wear masks BECAUSE ‘MURICA. If you’d like to see my laundry setup, check the video below. I’ll do a more thorough write-up for this on Wednesday.

2. Surving a Kingston Drought

In my second year at the University of Technology, Kingston experienced a severe drought. At first, we had water at specific times of the day. Then, eventually, we had no running water at all. The government had to truck water to us, which naturally increased the risk of contamination. In fact, I developed a skin condition in university and two doctors confirmed it came from this experience.

Knowing how to survive without running water is an excellent skill for RVing in the desert. At my current campground, we were without water for about three or four days. I had not filled the RV tanks, but I was able to shower, cook, and clean with ease. One day, I’ll do a full post on how I handled that situation. I’m sure someone else can benefit from that information.

3. Driving on Dirt Roads

Americans often believe that Jamaica has only dirt roads or asphalt roads littered with potholes. Let me assure you that many places in Jamaica have better roads than America. Even in Atlanta, my aunt from Jamaica once expressed shock at how many pot-holes were on the road. The worst part is that Atlanta potholes are often on the highway and will show up out of nowhere. Before you know it, you’ve fallen plop into one at 65 MPH or faster.

In Jamaica, I grew up in the countryside where roads tend to be black and beautiful, but they are also interconnected with dirt roads. Because of this, off-roading was a natural component of my early life and we didn’t do it in trucks. We went off-roading in Fiat Unos and Suzuki Swifts and we did not air down. I also learned the hard way that gunning an SUV around a sharp bend on gravel will send you into a skid. All of these experiences proved helpful when not just driving off-road, but also when towing my 22-foot RV off paved roads. I enjoy every second of it.

4. Living Without Air Conditioning

Modern-day Jamaican homes in middle-class neighbourhoods and richer now increasingly have air conditioning units installed. The last two homes I occupied in Jamaica had air conditioning units and I never used them. I can’t even tell you if they worked. I hate air conditioning units. Like most Jamaicans, my AC comes from Mother Nature. I open the windows and doors and let that island breeze roll through. If this isn’t enough, I use a fan. In fact, when renovating my Atlanta home, I never installed an AC unit.

My RV comes fully equipped with a furnace and an air conditioning unit. When I am plugged into shore power at a campground or RV park, I have enough power to run the unit for as long as I like. However, I prefer to be off-grid and it is very difficult to run the air conditioning on solar. That means I’ll turn to fans and Mother Nature to stay cool. Because my vacation home is on wheels, I can also stay out of areas that hit the triple digits in the summer.

5. Handling Gas Tanks

In Jamaica, most homes have a gas stove, because electricity costs so much. This is not an experience unique to Jamaica. American homes have gas stoves, too. The difference is that, in most American homes, the gas is piped in and you just pay a bill at the end of the month. In Jamaica, we have physical access to refillable tanks we call cylinders. When we run out of gas, we call a local gas company to exchange our empty cylinder for a full one.

My RV works similarly. I have physical access to propane tanks that I have to disconnect and refill. I can also simply exchange them, but as most RVers know, exchanging propane tanks costs more than refilling. My experiences in Jamaica prepared me to safely handle propane on my own and not burn the RV to the ground. The main difference is that the propane doesn’t just fuel my stove. It also fuels my furnace and can run the fridge and water heater.

When I was a child, I often envied the easier life of my family members who lived overseas in America, Canada and the UK. Now, I’m glad I moved to America as an adult and that I lived out my first quarter-century in Jamaica. There is a much lower chance I would have learned these life skills in my suburban Atlanta life.

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