I have been ruminating lately on our RV work on the road. It has evolved greatly since we began as fulltime RVers two years ago, and the change we have experienced is what leads me to delve in to the topic a little more today. I want to show the progression of our work from when we began as fulltime RVers to our current RV work life. I hope that you will be encouraged by our story, especially if you are hesitant to become a fulltime RVer. Or you may find one aspect of our work life helpful in establishing your own income on the road. Let’s have this conversation for a little while, so you can glean what you need and we can all learn better ways to balance our work life and finance our travels.
Beginning RV Work Life
We fell in to RVing backwards. It was never a desire or even a consideration for us. Instead, we were making other major changes in our lives including Chris quitting his job. He worked for a structural engineering firm at the time, and he had a small side business in drafting. We decided to take that small business (Nittany Design) and make a real go of it. Since he could do his job from anywhere, we were faced with deciding where we wanted to live. That is when the idea of traveling and experiencing more of the US came to mind. From there, it was a quick exercise in deduction to realize that the most affordable way to travel was as RVers.
It was tough at first. I had to quit my job too. So, our income was cut by more than half as we started out on the open road. I can’t say that I recommend establishing a business and becoming a fulltime RVer at the same time. It is not for everyone. But, some of the keys to our success were having an established and extensive network in the market, Chris’ great reputation in his field and a diligent willingness to work along with faith and hope in our future.
How was RVing helpful as we established the business?
The upside of our decision was that we cut our expenses. Owning an RV outright meant that we had no mortgage or financing payments on our home. We also had control over our nightly rent. We could choose to stay in less expensive campgrounds as needed. Early on, we actually went more than two months with no income. We handled it by staying put (fortunately it coincided with the winter months). We took advantage of monthly campground rates and cut down our gas costs. The flexibility of RVing actually turned out to be a positive as we balanced establishing a business.
Also, as Chris was starting out, he worked a shorter work week that was very flexible. His flexibility is what made it possible for us to visit 29 states in our first year on the road. We moved quickly, because we just weren’t sure how long we would last as RVers. Had he been working 40-50 hour weeks, we would never have been able to cover so much ground.
After our First Year
We have made a habit of talking with each other a lot about our goals and plans, so that we stay on track with our priorities. So, at the end of our first year, we spent a lot of time evaluating our situation and establishing what we wanted the next year to look like. As a part of that, we decided it was time to focus more attention on growing the business. We spent our second winter in Pennsylvania for multiple reasons, but one was to be able to build the business, and that is exactly what happened. Chris focused on increasing his client base, as well as increasing his services. During that time, he studied for, took and passed his professional engineering exam. He is now licensed as a professional engineer in the state of Pennsylvania. That was a huge accomplishment, and we were grateful to be able to strike a balance between traveling and moving forward in his professional career. RVing is a lot of fun, but we felt we needed to be careful and make sure that it was not becoming a distraction for us, holding us back from our other goals in life.
My work life grew as well. One of our reasons for making our life changes was that we wanted to commit to sharing our lives more with others, friends and strangers – that was our main reason for selling our home – we wanted to spend more time on people and less time on things. As a part of our efforts to share our lives, I started this blog and then a YouTube channel. I never thought about a YouTube channel (and really never watched YouTube), but when I saw actual Oregon trail ruts on Windlass Hill in Nebraska, I knew it was up to me to film it for posterity. Figures The Oregon Trail was my inspiration to start filming!
After our first year as RVers, I decided that I wanted a RV planner. Something that would help me keep our RV lifestyle organized but also serve as a record of our travels. Nothing existed to serve my purpose, so I created one. I took the design skills I learned in several different jobs, our full year of experience as fulltime RVers and my desire for a unique product specific to RVers, and just like that, To Wander Freely had its first product: The Original RV Planner. Currently, I am designing the 2018 version and adding even more features for RVers. I LOVE this project. I love the design work, and I love shipping each planner out knowing that it will be making the journey with a fellow RVer. Other than making some extra room on the RV to store the planners, I can easily do this on the road.
Additionally, I have been on a wellness journey for almost 5 years now. After a very dark year for Chris and I, choosing a natural healing path made drastic improvements in my health. Once the improvements started, it was really a catalyst for our bigger life changes that then lead to RVing. As part of my journey, I had replaced the synthetic chemicals in our home with homemade products (toothpaste, deodorant, cleaning supplies, etc.) I make an organic chapstick that everyone loves, so while we were back in PA for the winter, my sister talked me in to doing “Night At The Barn”. It is an event that her church organizes each year to feature womens’ businesses. I took my chapstick and whipped body butter and sold out! I could not believe it, and I left with more orders. I continued to hear amazing testimonials from my products, and people wanted to reorder. So, I added chapstick to To Wander Freely’s offerings online. I still have not figured out a good way to ship the body butter, but hopefully that is to come. The chapstick takes up minimal space on the RV, so this was a no brainer. The body butter would be a lot more difficult on the RV, because it takes a lot of space and a lot of time in the kitchen.
Out of demand for it, I have also started sharing about essential oils and Young Living. Essential oils are a huge part of my wellness journey and ridding my life of synthetic chemicals; and with so many people seeking me out for guidance, this was an opportunity that became a very natural choice for me. I love everything I do, but helping others in their wellness journey is my favorite work. It is the best teaching job I have ever had, and I have run the gamut from public & private high school to adult education and professional training for groups of hundreds of people. Again, something I can easily do from the road, and arguably, it makes it even easier, since I have a larger community and network.
Our Current RV Work Life
As you can see, we are both working a lot more now than we did in our first year. That has meant that we are not moving nearly as much as we did previously. Now, we are focusing on having bursts of travel and then a month or two in the same campground to be able to maintain our work levels. With our increased work, our income is on track to double this year from last year. We are still working on re-balancing our work lives, as we have found that we both have a tendency to want to work every day and not allow ourselves appropriate rest. It is a work in progress.
Yes, we could have built Chris’ business faster and made more money if we had stayed in Pennsylvania. However, money has never been a motivator for either for us. We have bigger priorities in life – we were grateful to trade in the rat race for the open road where we set our lifestyle in accordance to our values. However, we both believe in work, hard work. We believe that we were each created with a gift that we were meant to hone and use in this world. For Chris, he has a gift for building design. For me, it is teaching. Developing and using our gifts has taken different forms through the years, but we do not want RVing to distract us from using our gifts.
We believe in fiscal responsibility and stewardship of assets; we would not have quit our jobs if we did not have a plan or the savings we had built up in our twenties while we both worked a fulltime and parttime job each. In other words, we would not go in to debt in order to RV.
We LOVE owning our own businesses, both Nittany Design and To Wander Freely. May I repeat that? We LOVE owning our own businesses. It is a big risk, and we never know what our income will be next week or next month; but, for us, it has been like finally breathing clear air after years of having burdened lungs. Or reaching our arms to the sky for a great stretch after spending time curled up in a tight space. We now get to make the most of our gifts every day, set our own high standards, and put forth our best efforts knowing that they benefit our family and the people we work with. Our work lives have also expanded our relationships with others. Being responsible for bringing a product or service to people we care about has been truly rewarding. We had no idea we would love owning our own businesses this much.
I hope these work life ramblings have been helpful for you. I hope they help you to see some new possibilities and recognize the risk and balance involved in RV work on the road!