In August 2013, Mark Christy and Nives Riddles decided to quit their jobs and move into a camper trailer, touring the US in an 88-square-foot home.
Living in a Philadelphia apartment with their six-pound Chihuahua, Hector, they had been leading a comfortable life, earning a combined $US175,000 a year working in film production (Christy) and freelance makeup artistry (Riddles).
“Even though we loved our jobs, the feeling of travelling and adventuring on the open road was too strong to ignore,” the 30-somethings wrote in an email to Business Insider.
“Coming from the world of advertising, we are both very conscious about the effects of wanting brand-new things all the time. Our apartment was filled with all sorts of gadgets, nice furniture, big TV’s, etc … There is nothing wrong with that, but for us it wasn’t leading to a life that we really wanted.”
So they quit their jobs in May 2014 and decamped the month afterward to Christy’s parents’ house in upstate New York to spend three months refinishing a used, ex-military trailer they bought off Craigslist for $US800.
They then spent about $US6,200 “finishing it off,” replacing everything except the frame and axle. Most of that money went to solar panels and wiring to provide the camper with an energy source ($US900), their refrigerator ($US800), and replacing the wheels, tires, and brakes ($US1,200).
To finance the project, they spent a few months toning down discretionary spending like eating out, and then sold most of their belongings, leaving the remnants in the attic of Christy’s parents’ home.
After a few “test runs” to Vermont, they loaded Hector into the camper in the summer of 2014 and set off to spend weeks — or months — at a time in Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona, California, and British Columbia, where they are today.
They’re now working together, freelancing in photography and video production, running their camping website CampTrend, and documenting their adventures on their blog, Camp by Camp. Their income is less than half of what it was when they were living in Philadelphia, and most of their savings were eaten up when they had to purchase a new truck — a Chevrolet Silverado — only three weeks into their trip, when they realised the truck they had outfitted to tow the camper wasn’t up to the challenge on steeper terrain.
However, they point out, “we also don’t pay $US25,000 a year for rent anymore, or eat out like we used to, so our need for income is different than it was when we lived in Philadelphia.”
Their expenses, they say, aren’t too extensive: a $US450 monthly payment for the Chevy truck; $US300 a month on gas to transport their home; $US1,000 on groceries, $US250 on their cell phone plan, and $US120 a month on miscellaneous costs like doing their laundry and spending days working in coffeehouses when their wireless hotspot isn’t up to deal with larger files. They haven’t paid for camping since they left New York.
They say they spend almost all of their time working on one of their various projects, however, hardly any of it feels like work. “Our expectations [before taking this trip] were pretty lofty,” they say. “We’d travel to places where the camping/scenery is stunning and in-between, shoot and write as much as possible. So far we’ve been very fortunate in that it’s been living up to those high expectations. Of course there are days that we really miss running water, or a place to escape wind or dust, but quite honestly at this point of the journey it’s exactly how we want it to be.”
When asked about their favourite camping spot, Christy and Riddles can’t narrow it down. “The high deserts of Arizona had incredible fiery sunsets and endless red-rock formations, the ocean views and redwood trees in Big Sur were unlike any other coastal spots, the forests and canyons of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon make you feel like you’re inside a fairytale, and the glacial melt lakes and rivers of British Columbia flow with surreal aqua colours,” they say. “You see the dilemma in choosing a favourite?”
As of now, their adventure doesn’t have an end date. “We really wanted to truly live this lifestyle, so it’s not a trip, not a vacation, but really a new way of life for us,” they write. “It’s impossible right now to say how long we’ll be ‘on the road’ but judging on how many incredible places exist that we want to experience, it could be a while.”