How do you go from deciding you want to become a full-timer to hitting the road in two-and-a-half years? Well, to be honest, we did not expect to start full-timing so quickly.
In the spring of 2003, we decided we wanted to be full-time RVers, but then we had to figure out how to make it happen. My first estimates on how long it would take us to start traveling put our departure date in May or June of 2008. This factored in paying off our debts, selling our house and belongings, buying our RV and quitting our jobs - roughly in that order. (Hardly anything happened in that order, but it all got done.)
For the first year, we mainly focused on paying off our debts. We had purchased a home the year before and had been renovating it ever since. Most of our debts stemmed from the purchase of the house, our cars, school loans and the ever-present credit card debt. We both had good-paying jobs, so we focused on spending less and paying more on what we owed, especially the high-interest stuff.
Around that same time, I was getting very frustrated with my job. In the fall of 2003, I applied for a position at another university. This was a big step for me because I am a very loyal person, and I did not want to leave Penn State. Even though I did not take the other job, the interview process was a good focus. It made me think – do I really want to keep doing this for another four years? So in part to keep our goal in sight and in part to speed things along, I started to research RVing a little more seriously.
You can read more about our search in Picking our RV (part 1) – A New RV. The main thing was we did a lot of research online and in books. We made what we feel was a good investment in the RV Consumers Group ratings books for motor homes and trailers. They helped us realistically narrow down the manufactures we wanted to look at. But nothing can beat going out and seeing the RVs in person.
Meanwhile, life was moving along. One day when I had a rough time at work, I started to crunch the numbers. What would it really take to get us out of there?
Using the books we had and information on the internet, I worked out a rudimentary budget that showed we could travel comfortably if we made around $24,000 each year. To live on that amount of money means we have to make some sacrifices, like no medical insurance (which is no longer an option) and no retirement fund. But we were willing to forgo those safety nets. Just keep in mind, what income is comfortable for us might not be for you, so this number is not a hard-and-fast rule.
In our research, we had learned about working on the road (workamping) and the opportunities for people to do seasonal work. There are many places you can work for a few months that provide an RV spot as part of your compensation. These jobs vary from managing campgrounds to working in retail stores to doing maintenance work at amusement parks. This doesn’t even factor in consulting work or getting jobs through temp agencies. Of course, compensation varies from no money to nice salaries depending on what you are doing and how long you will be there. If you are thinking of becoming a workamper, it is a good idea to keep in mind what you have done in your previous careers. Any skills you have can be put to use as you travel. Reading the workamping want ads, I figured that we could definitely make what we needed each month.
Armed with this information, I made a pitch to Sue that we move up our plans by two years. To her credit, she didn’t laugh out loud, but said we should think about it further. This is a dangerous thing to say to me, because I do think about things a lot, but Sue rightly didn’t want us rushing into it and finding out that we couldn’t make it work. So my thinking got me wondering about what kind of work I would like to do on the road.
For ten years I had been in academic fundraising – asking people for money to support their schools. This was a fun career because I got to travel and meet a lot of different people, but academia can be a difficult environment if you don’t work well in a bureaucracy. I had been a good fundraiser because I always believed in what I was raising money for. But the last few years were starting to chip away at my belief, and my work was suffering.
So I needed a change. I liked working with people, and wanted to have something a little more hands-on. But it was when I kept seeing how many resorts and campgrounds had Massage Therapists on staff that I hit upon this as a potential career. My experience with massage to this point was mainly through my stepmother, who was a therapist, and being one of those people who is always giving others back rubs (not in the creepy way). I did more research on that industry and found that we had a great school right there in town.
I interviewed at the massage school in town and decided that is what I wanted to do. Fortunately, Sue is extremely supportive and agreed to me quitting my job at the end of the year and using my retirement money to fund my education.
In August, we decided to put our house up for sale. We also mentioned this to one of our friends who said he was interested in the place if we ever wanted to sell. He turned out to be very interested, and over the next few months he made us an offer we were happy with. We even lucked into a place to live the following year when another friend told us she was going overseas and was looking for someone to sublet her house.
So the end of 2004 found me unemployed and getting ready to go into a 1260-hour massage therapy program, us selling our house and moving into a new place, and us being that much closer to realizing our dream. We were supposed to sublet the house until the end of the year, and then we would look for an apartment for six more months, making our planned departure date in June of 2006.
We had used our move as a reason to get rid of a lot of our stuff. Over the years, things just accumulate, and it was hard to toss so many things. In a series of garage sales, we sold a lot of our knick-knacks . We transferred all our music onto our computer so we could get rid of the CDs. Clothes were easier to parcel down through a few big donations to Goodwill. The hardest thing for both of us was selling all of our books. We were both book-o-phials and every room in our house had at least one bookcase filled to the brim. But over the next year, we sold or donated almost all of them. And once you do trim down on your possessions, you find you don’t really miss them all that much.
While I was going to school, I started my own massage therapy business and had a few steady customers. Also that summer, an unexpected windfall came our way in the form of me doing consulting work. The money from that job and my massage work allowed us to make some technological upgrades that we were putting off . We purchased cell phones and a very good laptop computer. It also gave us enough of a nest egg, along with money from the sale of our house, to start shopping for our RV in earnest.
Around this time, we started to develop our web site. This was an interesting experience since neither of us had a lot of web site experience. But Sue’s job came in handy in that regard since she worked with some extremely good programmers who were willing to teach us what we needed to learn. We wanted to have a web site mostly so our family and friends could follow us on our travels. It also gives us a permanent home, even if it is just online.
In July, we found out that our friend whose house we were subletting was thinking of coming back early. This made us rethink our plans. We could either rent an apartment in August or take a leap and plan to start traveling in November of that year. As I mentioned, Sue was not happy in her job and I did not have big plans in town after my school work was done in October, so we could not see much keeping us there. Things just seemed to be clicking for us in such ways as to make it feasible to push up our plans, so we decided to take the leap. The only thing we needed now was an RV.
By the end of July, we knew what kind of RV we wanted - a Sunnybrook Titan. It had the floor plan we wanted and was built with a lot of care put into the guts of the rig. We also knew what price we were willing to pay, so we scoured the internet for a unit that met our needs. During one of Sue’s searches at work, she found exactly what we were looking for...in Maine!
Good Times Unlimited in Farmington, Maine, had a 2004 unit that they had used as a floor model. So in August we drove overnight up to Maine from Pennsylvania. Negotiations went smoothly, and by two o’clock we were proud owners of an RV.
The dealer gave us a quick lesson in their back lot and on a local road, and then we were on our own. Of course, there were a few problems on that initial drive, including me missing a turn and having to do a thirty-point turn in the middle of the woods, but we managed to pull it to a KOA in Augusta, ME, and had our first overnighter. Even after we got some rest and the sleep deprivation wore off, we were more excited about our new house than we had been about the last one. After all, this house could have a new view out the windows whenever we wanted.
But we had to say goodbye to the rig while we finished up our obligations back in State College. Sue’s parents were good enough to let us park the RV on their land so we could come and use it on the weekends. And before we knew it, I was done with school and Sue was done with work, so we moved our two cats and pug out to the RV and we set off for good.
The past year on the road has been an adventure, but neither of us could imagine going back to a “normal” life. If you have the desire to leave it all behind like us, don’t wait. But a few things to keep in mind are:
- Make sure your partner wants to travel as much as you do. Living in an RV with no other home is not for everyone. If both of you are not 100% certain it’s what you both want to do, it won’t work. We’ve heard the stories.
- Work out a budget and figure out what you will need financially to travel.
- Do your homework. Spend the money to do research on your new home and make sure you get something you feel comfortable with.
- Don’t be afraid to dream big. Sometimes it works out better than you expect.
Sue and Phil Payne traveled the country full-time in their RV with their two cats and two pugs on endless roads. After eight years, they settled down at the Grand Canyon, but still get out camping in their motor home as much as they can.