The Joys of RV Living
The 9-to-5 life as a competitive analyst for a tech company in California’s Silicon Valley was wearing thin on Chris Dunphy. In the mornings he would drive the 100-mile round-trip commute to his demanding job. In the evenings he spent what little personal time that remained to eat and sleep in his apartment in downtown San Francisco.
One day in 2006 he realized something: If he was going to spend all this time in a car, why not upgrade to a recreation vehicle, or RV, and use it to travel to places unknown instead?
“I had always wanted to live in an RV,” says Dunphy, “so I jumped at the opportunity to evict myself from my San Francisco apartment and move into a very tiny travel trailer and hit the road solo.”
Indeed his first trailer was tiny—a 16-foot T@b clamshell trailer that barely had enough living space or a bathroom for his use (he regularly used showers at public campgrounds instead). He outfitted the trailer with solar panels and a wireless Internet connection so he could work as independent consultant, and he’s loved every moment of it.
“It was really liberating,” says Dunphy, who writes about life on the road with his partner Cherie Ve Ard on their website Technomadia.com.
Dunphy is among a group of young professionals who eschew the quotidian lifestyle of working and living in a permanent location for a nomadic adventure that they say only an RV can provide.
Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard at the Laughton Glacier in Skagway, Alaska. (Technomadia.com)
RVers say their community is a young and fun one. (Technomadia.com)
Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy in front of Zephyr, their spruced-up RV. (Technomadia.com)
Zephyr, Chris and Cherie's RV, receiving a new paint job. (Technomadia.com)
Inside Chris and Cherie's RV. (Technomadia.com)
“I love the flexibility of it,” says Nina Fussing, who has been living in an RV since 2010, after she and her husband Paul quit their day jobs at the young ages of 39 and 41, respectively.
“We are able to travel with the weather and get a new backyard whenever we feel like it, and we can always adjust those travel plans to suit our budget,” says Fussing, who writes about her adventures on Wheelingit.us.
The Freedom of the Road
The first year of living in an RV was exciting and educational for Ve Ard and Dunphy.
Like Dunphy, Ve Ard was a tech professional who was suffering from a case of wanderlust. She and Dunphy met on the road, instantly fell in love, and dedicated themselves to traveling and living in an RV full-time.
Nina Fussing's RV "The Beast" in Quartzsite, AZ. (Nina Fussing)
Fussing at Alabama Hills, CA. (Nina Fussing)
“After the first year you’re full of excitement. You want to go to every national park or to every place where you’ve seen a beautiful photo from,” she says.
In 2011, Dunphy and Ve Ard purchased a vintage 1961 GM 4106 bus they converted into a customized RV. They installed solar panels with electrical and battery systems that can last for days without sun. The couple equipped the bus with two huge water tanks that allow them to reserve as much water as needed. And if people want to send them a letter, they use a mail-forwarding service based out of Florida.
As for the cost of fuel, Dunphy says that while it can be high, he compares it to paying a mortgage.
“Fuel costs and camping fees are completely in our control,” he says. “We control how many miles we travel each month and where we go, whether that’s choosing to live in downtown Austin where they have a great RV park, or go to Burning Man in Nevada.”
Fussing says, “Where you travel to and where you choose to camp are both costs that you can control to suit your budget.”
Other full-time “RVers” are not as young as Dunphy and Ve Ard. The New York Times reports that up to 1 million retirees now live full-time in RVs. That’s all changing, says Dunphy, who adds that he has a community of similarly aged peers with whom they caravan.
Xscapers.com, an online support network for young RVers, offers resources and references that support the RV lifestyle like health care options, homeschooling, and job boards.
“Full-time RVers are an incredibly social bunch,” says Fussing, “and we’ve formed deep friendships with both young and older folks who we’ve met on the road.”
From Home to RV to Home Again
Living in a mobile home offered a more affordable lifestyle for Melissa Alink. After she and her husband got married, they moved into a home in South Dakota in the dead of winter. The house was poorly insulated and barely had any heat.
Struggling to make ends meet, they couldn’t afford to pay the first month’s rent and struck a deal with their landlord to make extensive repairs to the home instead as their form of payment.
“Owning a home was very important to us because we wanted to be able to put our money toward something that could actually be ours instead of giving our money to a landlord,” says Alink.
As they were living a threadbare lifestyle at the time (they delivered newspapers for extra cash and ate nothing but pasta), they came up with the idea of living in a home on wheels to save money.
“Our top two reasons were to simplify our lifestyle for a period of time and to save as much money as we could for a home,” says Alink, who writes about living a frugal and self-sufficient lifestyle on her website LittleHouseLiving.com.
They bought a Jayco Eagle Fifth Wheel, for which they were able to secure a car loan (“anything that we could have bought for cash would have never lasted through the winter”).
“The highs of living in a mobile home were being together as a family and spending time focusing on each other instead of on material things,” she says, “because there wasn’t enough room for many.”
The mobile home lifestyle worked. Alink and her husband eventually paid off all of their debts and now live in a regular “sticks and bricks” home in South Dakota.
While Alink has happily returned to being a homeowner, neither Dunphy nor Fussing are in a rush to leave the RV life.
“There is so much fabulous land in the USA that I imagine we’ll be able to travel for 20 years and not see it all,” says Fussing.