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The American Dream Is Dead: Long Live the American Dream

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Ah, the American Dream -- living large and having it all, right? A 2011 MetLife study noted what they called a "significant shift," suggesting that many believe that the American Dream is more about "personal fulfillment" and less about material goods. As a young, full-time RVer, that doesn't surprise me a single bit.

Yes, you read that right -- a young (relatively speaking) full-time RVer. In a nutshell, what that means is that my husband Ray and I traded in a conventional life in our fourth and third decades for a wandering adventure with no specific plans, destinations, or timelines. In May 2000, we hit the open road -- living a life that many other Americans only dream of living. There was no expectation of how long we'd travel, what we'd do to finance our lifestyle, or even what it would be like. In fact, we'd never RVed before, only experienced extended tenting trips. That was a huge leap of faith or what some might consider the definition of a very personal American Dream.

Defining the Dream

Before we started RVing, we were on the American Dream fast track. We had terrific jobs with lots of potential, a cozy and unique living space -- a floating home on the Columbia River -- close friends, the works. We worked hard, and to reward ourselves we'd take great vacations and dine at fancy restaurants. Back then, we didn't understand that vicious cycle -- we work so we deserve a reward, we reward so we have to work. You get the picture.

But in a lightning bolt moment it struck us: Exactly whose American Dream were we living? While the orthodox American Dream is terrific for many, we realized it was not the sole option for contemporary dreamers. We decided we'd seek out our destiny as full-time RVers. About two weeks into our adventure, after arriving home -- a beautiful campsite near Arizona's Canyon de Chelly -- to a mangled awning on our "new to us" RV, it became abundantly clear that this was not your average two-week vacation. After selling our house, quitting our jobs and packing up a small selection of worldly goods, we were committed -- nowhere to be, no house, no jobs, no nothing. This was it, there was no turning back.

Dream Differentiators

I love full-timers, but being a generation younger than most of our on-the-road peers puts us into another category -- young, full-time RVers -- and that comes with its own set of rewards and challenges. One of the most frequent comments we hear from retiree full-timers is, "Good for you, I wish we'd started this lifestyle years ago when we were healthier and more able to easily get around." Ray and I are healthy, strong and active, we have freedoms that many of our contemporaries aren't afforded, we see more of our friends and family that are scattered around the nation than we did when we had a house, and we can control many of our expenses, allowing us the opportunity to partake in rewarding work -- regardless of the pay scale.

On the flip side, health care and health insurance are issues that must be dealt with -- a costly proposal for younger full-timers who are not yet eligible for Medicare. We continue to combat stereotypes about "living in a trailer." In fact, when we tell folks about our lifestyle, we get one of two responses: "That's fantastic, how can I do that?" or we get a look of pity and a reference to understanding how the current economic climate has affected us all. Frankly, that second response is offensive. Full-time RVers are like every other segment of the population: some have more, some have less, some make choices, others have fewer options.

Funding the Dream

If you ask me, a big part of the "dream" is making a distinction between earning money and experiencing life. When I think about what I do for a living, it's all about what inspires me and feeds my soul: hiking, cooking, entertaining, visiting off-the-beaten track places, taking photographs, and daydreaming. What I do to earn money, well, that's an entirely different question. We've found unique ways of accomplishing that goal, allowing us the freedom and adventure that attracted us to this lifestyle.

Being in our prime career years, we craved something more vocational than workamping (working + camping to cover expenses), something to call our own, allowing us to travel at will and still make a comfortable, livable amount of income.

In my RV office, we run two distinct lines of business, one a B2B, the other a B2C. In the business world I am known throughout my industry as a digital marketing guru. I write books and am a columnist, speaker, consultant, strategist, and go-to resource. Then there's my B2C work as the producer/host of the "RV Cooking Show." Love to travel? Love to eat? Yep, that's right up my alley. Both of these complementary, off-the-beaten-career-paths are made possible by technology. I can rule my destiny from anywhere I have Internet connectivity, access to an airport, and a nearby farmers market. Fortunately for me, it turns out that working at home can mean working from anywhere that one might call home -- no matter how temporary or touristy.

Dream Realities

As far as big dreams go, it continues to be a sensational ride. So what have we learned over the nearly 13 years of being young full-time RVers?

  • Change is often tough but most always good. Our lives change every time we move -- new roads, new grocery, new smells, sights, sounds. You just have to get used to not being used to anything (except the insides of your cupboards).
  • People want to put you in a box. If they can't square our lives it's confusing to them. Some are thrilled at the full-time RVing idea. Others question our role in society.
  • Everyone makes choices -- for now, this one is ours. For tomorrow, who knows?
  • What started out to be a short-term adventure turned into a lifestyle that works really well for us. Life as we knew it seems farther and farther away. We couldn't imagine settling down, getting back into "the routine."
  • Even today, there are people in our lives who can't get their head around the young full-time RVer idea. How do I know this? They keep asking when we're going to settle down and find a "real" place to live.
  • The nature of this lifestyle brings us plenty of terrific friends, though most of them are older than we are. We've begun experiencing the loss of "our peers" much earlier than real-world friends our age.
  • This lifestyle can be as frugal or expensive as you make it. Eat out at fancy places a lot? Spend on every museum's entrance fee? It's completely up to you.
  • Mail, banking, and everything else can be worked out without too much effort or hassle.
  • Being a young full-timer is not like being on vacation all of the time. You still have dishes and laundry to do, bills to pay, vehicle maintenance, etc.

Dare to Develop Your American Dream

Today, no one demands that we live by what our culture insists is good and right, and the question begs to be asked: Who determines the scope of the "American Dream" anyway? We do. Each and every one of us makes choices that guide our lives, whether it's a house on a cul de sac and a sweet little sports car or a life on the road with a one-ton dually.

It's up to us to discover our very own, personal American Dream. For me, instead of amassing things that must be paid for, insured, and maintained, it's all about life experiences, variety, inspiration and inspiring, freedom, friends and food. How about you?

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