Do you dream of permanently escaping to the open road long before retirement age? We did, and thanks to some careful planning and ongoing budgeting, we can travel around North America by RV while making a living from anywhere we please.
In June 2007 we left on a road trip that we only expected to last a year. But once we learned that there’s no rule saying you must be of retirement age to live the full-time RVing dream, we decided to make RVing our way of life. At ages 45 and 42, we’re younger than our mostly retired counterparts, so people often ask us things like: “How do you support yourself? Did you win the lotto?”
We have to laugh and come back with our usual response of “Hardly!” We really do work, we tell them. Then, we show them we are not on a permanent vacation by explaining that we work from home, just like many other self-employed people do. The only difference is that we can change our office view any time we choose.
If you dream of full-timing before retirement age, don’t wait! There are simple steps you can take to put your plan in action. First, you’ll need to find the courage to detach yourself from material baggage by holding a yard sale or two and giving away things you can’t take on the road. While many full-timers like us have hung onto a few irreplaceable and mostly sentimental items, keep in mind that if the dollar value of your possessions is less than what it would cost you to store them, they probably aren’t worth keeping.
After reducing your material possessions, you’ll want to eliminate personal debt. Cutting up your credit cards, paying off loans and learning to live within your means are critical for enjoying the full-timing way of life without the worry of having creditors at your door. If you can pay off your RV before you start traveling, do it; this is the best way to experience absolute freedom. Personal finance guru Dave Ramsey (daveramsey.com) is a good source of information on how to get started on the road to financial freedom.
When it comes to making money, you’ll need to adapt a flexible attitude about the kind of work you’ll do. To be successful with a full-timing lifestyle, an open mind is necessary since sometimes the best moneymaking opportunities are available in roles you may have never considered before. From seasonal jobs such as selling Christmas trees to demonstrating cookware at a warehouse store, the list of opportunities is endless if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone.
Another way to earn money and offset your cost of living is through an arrangement known as work-camping or “workamping,” which usually involves trading a few hours of labor each week in exchange for a free campsite and sometimes a small wage. Work-camping hasn’t made us rich, but it is one of the main ways we are able to enjoy our full-timing lifestyle decades before retirement. You can learn the ins and outs of this arrangement through work-camping support communities like Workamper News (workamper.com) or Workers on Wheels (work-for-rvers-and-campers.com).
Become a Mobile Entrepreneur
Working for someone else isn’t the only way to fund your road tripping lifestyle. Most non-retired full-timers we know are supporting their lifestyles through a combination of work-camping and entrepreneurialism. One big advantage of running a little enterprise from your rig is that you cannot only derive revenue, but also may be able to enjoy tax write-offs that can lower your cost of living. Typical tax write-offs include your cellphone bill, Internet access and even a percentage of your “mobile office” itself. See a certified tax preparer to determine what deductions may be applicable.
If you’re stumped about what kind of business to start, remember this: your venture doesn’t have to be an expensive or complicated one, but it should be something that you’re enthusiastic about. And if you build a business around your strongest skill sets, you are more likely to succeed than starting from scratch.
When we decided to make our road-tripping lifestyle permanent, we knew that whatever business we pursued would need to be as automated as possible. It would need to free us from carrying large amounts of inventory and equipment, manageable using a less-robust wireless Internet connection, and easily replicated to help expand our customer base with minimal effort. Ultimately we decided to follow the advice of “lifestyle design” experts like Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek, and create multiple micro-enterprises that would bring in ongoing, reliable income. By diversifying our income-generating opportunities, we weren’t trapped into to one method of making a living.
Some of our ways of making a living from the road include freelance graphic design and writing services, managing blogs and websites, pursuing commission-based product and advertising sales, working at scenic tourist destinations in exchange for campsites, and coaching aspiring full-time RVers about making a living from the road.
One of the most lucrative ways we earn income is teaming up with vendors who will drop ship merchandise directly to customers. This means that we don’t stock inventory, place orders or provide customer service, which is ideal for someone living in a small space.
Consider all of your Options
When you are a working-age full-timer, it’s financially beneficial to stay flexible and open to all of the income-generating possibilities that come your way. Don’t say yes or no to an income opportunity until you’ve explored the idea thoroughly, talked to others who have done the same type of work, and asked every question necessary to give you enough confidence to try it.
Remember, you don’t have to wait until you retire to enjoy the full-timing lifestyle. After all, you might not even make it to your retirement years! And while full-timing before your golden years means that you’ll need to sacrifice some time in order to feed your piggy bank, earning money as a full-time RVer can be just as adventurous as life on the road itself.
René Agredano and Jim Nelson are working-age RVers who travel with their three-legged dog Wyatt while coaching others about how to make a living on the road. Their website is agreda.com.
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.