Dave and Cindy Gilbert were on a collision course with a lifestyle they didn’t want. Here’s how they escaped the rat race to live full-time, footloose and fancy free, in a truck camper.
“You’re thirty-nine years old, Dave. If you subtract the last fifteen years of your life, when you won’t be spry enough to do much other than take a walk to the drug store, that leaves you about twenty years of quality life left in your proverbial tank. How are you going to spend them?”
That was the question in my mind years ago, after watching a DVD on full-timing in an RV. In our first life there were the two of us, a cat, a house, (and all that that entails) cars, kayaks, a forty hour work week, and a tent with sixty pounds of camping gear in the trunk of a 1994 Saturn. Life was good.
Above: Cindy’s first camping trip with the Saturn and the tent
It was so good that we never gave any thought to making any changes to it. We had done all the things a person is taught to do in life; get married, build credit, work hard, buy a home, and buy more things to fill up that home and the garage attached to it.
Our jobs were okay at the time. We had steady schedules and were able to plan for weekend getaways. There was balance and we felt fortunate. Many people didn’t have that luxury. We enjoyed the outdoors so much we eventually ditched the tent for a thirteen-foot and, eventually, an eighteen-foot travel trailer, so that we could camp in every season.
All that changed, somewhat, when I lost my job of fourteen plus years and had to find new work in my late thirties. With all of my experience, all I could find was shift work at a variety of manufacturing plants. Corrugated packaging, tomato-based foods, and hospital equipment; the one thing they all had in common was insane hours. My forty hour work week became sixty to sixty-five hours. What little time off I had, was unpredictable.
But, the pay was relatively good, so we reluctantly accepted the fact that we’d only see each other once a week (unless you count that minute or two when Cindy would open her eyes briefly, to kiss me good night when I crawled into bed at 4:00 am). Oh, and there were those twenty minutes we’d steal in the parking lot at around 11:00 pm. Cindy would sacrifice sleep to see me during lunch breaks.
With no more free weekends, we sold the trailer at a loss and fell into a rut of work, sleep, and yard maintenance. Unless there was a holiday, we didn’t see friends or family much and, when we did, I was usually in a sleep-deprived haze. It wasn’t that I disliked working, but I took it a little personally that my marriage, and personal liberty, was being kicked aside for something as trivial as moving boxes, or salsa!
A few months later, a funny thing happened. Cindy was laid off from her job. That was the first of two lay-offs for her. That was a real wake-up call for us.
We suddenly felt what many families feel around the world; insecurity. I began re-thinking our life plan, and here’s what we realized. We had been sold a lifestyle that’s no longer a reality for most people. Previous generations of Americans enjoyed things like forty years at the same job, enough wages to support a family, pensions, and the ability to work your way up the ladder with experience, not just a degree.
Today, experience doesn’t count, healthcare and education are unaffordable, Social Security isn’t a sure thing, and your retirement, if you’re able to contribute to one, is a 401K. You get the daily thrill of watching Wall Street gamble with your nest egg, even as it goes to Washington for bailouts.
I spent many a night imagining our probable future; long hours of work, no company pension for years of labor, and just a house full of stuff in a declining neighborhood. This is not how I wanted to remember my life when I grew old. Even though we’d done everything right, we weren’t secure or happy.
With no guarantee of a pot of bronze, and much less gold at the end of the rainbow, something was going to change.
With all the benefits that make settling down worthwhile gone, there was nothing holding us back from considering more radical options for how we’d live our lives.
I can’t remember the exact day I proposed the idea but, at some point, I said to Cindy, “Babe, I’ve got a crazy idea. What if we lived in an RV?”.
I couldn’t tell from her expression if she was thrilled or horrified, but I could see the wheels were turning. I began selling her the idea, “It’s a cheaper way to live. We could travel wherever we want. We wouldn’t have to work so much. We’d have access to more job markets if we wanted to work. With a generator and solar panels, utility outages wouldn’t be a problem. We could avoid bad weather instead of suffering through it. We’d have different scenery and neighbors whenever we chose.”