The following is an interview with long time full-timers Jim Nelson and René Agredano, who we featured in our How to Make a Living on the Road article. Be sure to visit their site at liveworkdream.com for a plethora of additional information on how they have been living the full-time RV lifestyle for several years now!
- Let’s start with the basics, names & ages?
- Jim Nelson, 45
Rene Agredano, 42
- I understand that this all began as a one year trip which turned into a lifestyle. Can you tell us a little about the preplanning you did, and what originally made you want to hit the road full time?
- You’re correct. We had always wanted to take an extended road trip, but just never knew how to get started. Plus, our design and printing business was keeping us super and profitable, so taking time off just seemed impossible. Before we knew it, ten years had gone by and were in our late 30s, wondering “What happened?”
Around that time, we also became friends with adventure travel writer and motorcycle traveler, Ted Simon, author of “Jupiter’s Travels.” His amazing life of travel, writing, and just having a damn good time, stirred something within us. We wanted to live this lifestyle so bad, but it just didn’t seem possible. Being so freespirited was for slacker hippies, not responsible business people like us….right? Instead, we kept working, and making small steps toward selling our business, which was always or goal, anyways.
Then, our dog Jerry, the love of our life and center of our universe, was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. When doctors told us he had just months to live, and the only way to give him a good quality of life during that time, was to amputate his leg, we were stunned. Suddenly, working so hard just for more money didn’t seem like it was worth the stress if it meant that we wouldn’t get to spend the last few precious months with Jerry.
That’s when we sped up our business sale process, and put our home on the market too. We researched this kind of lifestyle mostly through books, since not too many RVers were blogging back then (in 2006). So books like ‘Live Your Road Trip Dream” by Carol White, and “Six Months Off” a sabbatical planning book, really got our gears turning. Another TV show called “Radical Sabbatical” really got us thinking, and we also kept meeting other RVers here and there, and grilling them about the lifestyle. We learned how to budget and what kind of expenses to expect. In addition, we went to several RV shows with a criteria list of what we were looking for in a rig, and talked to lots of folks about different types of RVs.
And all along, we kept our plans top secret from our friends and neighbors. Finally, seven stressful and worrisome months after Jerry was diagnosed, we closed the sale on our home and business, bought our RV and hit the road. Jerry was still kicking’ butt and defying expectations (he was only supposed to live four months!).
- I believe I’ve read that you guys had some money saved up for your first year. How long did that last? At what point did you start looking for alternative means of income?
- We took the sale proceeds from our house and business, and divided it up into a chunk for retirement, a chunk for a future home and business, and another chunk to live on for a year. We over-budgeted a LOT for that year on the road, so when we got to about 7 months out into our trip, we realized we could make that ‘year-off fund’ last twice as long if we were even more frugal, and started workamping.
- What was the moment that you decided this wasn’t going to be a one year thing, but you’d keep doing it indefinitely? Where were you in your careers at that point and how did it change your outlook on earning money?
- Seven months out, when we were spending time on the east coast, we realized that a year wasn’t nearly enough time to see the country and find our “perfect” place to settle down. Jerry was still doing great, and we wanted to spend as much time together as possible. After meeting a few people who were workamping and living the full-timing lifestyle, we attended a Workamper conference and decided that if we were going to spend more time on the road, we would spend that time researching our future ideal place to live, and what kind of business we would start. Our goal was to do workamping for types of businesses that we thought we might want to do ourselves someday (an animal rescue sanctuary, an organic farm, resorts, etc.).
We honestly did think that eventually, we would buy a home, start another business, take on debt to grow our business, and get back to “reality” once we were comfortable we had weighed all of our options while being out there exploring the country. While we knew that we didn’t want to go back to the type of work we did before (design, printing and marketing consulting), it never occurred to us that there was another way to live, and work — from anywhere!
Our outlook on earning money had also changed a lot by then. It took Jerry’s illness to help us realize that life wasn’t only about constantly reaching for the almighty dollar, stashing it away, and hoarding it for “someday”…it was about living our dream NOW, because you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So if that meant that we wouldn’t make as much money as we used to, so be it, at least we would be having a damn good time!
- You’ve done all types of random jobs, can you tell us a little bit about those experiences, which ones you enjoy the most, which are the most lucrative, which ones you would rather never participate in again?
- As I mentioned before, we started workamping at businesses that would give us insight on whether or not we were cut out to do that kind of work. Since we had always had a dream of running an animal sanctuary, we volunteered at one in New Bern, North Carolina. That’s when we learned that animal rescue is a noble cause, but we’re too wimpy for the day-to-day aspect. Animal rescue is hard, thankless work and it takes a very special person to do it on a full-time basis. We really admire the folks who can do this.
Later, we worked on an organic farm during a winter in Vero Beach Florida, since buying a small farm was another one of our brilliant ideas. Rene always loved gardening, and thought this would be ideal for us. But we learned that farmers are tied to their land and a ton of farm animals 24/7, 365 days a year, we knew it wasn’t something we wanted to endure. We had a blast working with the farm, but the traveling bug had already bitten us, and we knew we didn’t want to be so tied to one place.
One of the seasonal jobs that we enjoyed the most was when we took a summer gig at an historic dude ranch in Western Colorado. The job required the hardest amount of work, but they pay was good and the people were terrific. Even today, we still workamp for this family each summer, and enjoy the work as much as ever. It’s still incredibly physically demanding and the days are long, but knowing that we only have to maintain this pace for 3 months and we’ll be well-compensated is what keeps us sane.
Our most recent work that we’ve added to our repertoire is perfect for this lifestyle. We have become marketing and advertising representatives for an international health and wellness company. Our job is to spread the word, and each time a customer commits to shopping with this company, we earn a commission. We’re currently building a team of remote marketing executives to work with us, which people can read more about at bit.ly/incomeanywhere.
- Can you tell us how workamping works? Do you typically just get a free spot to park your RV, or is there financial compensation involved as well?
- Workamping jobs can vary from tasks as simple as picking up trash in a campground, to running a front office at a resort. Generally the jobs are in the service industry and while some will pay an hourly wage, most of the time you usually work a designated amount of hours for free, in exchange for a campsite.
Some larger organizations, like national park concessionaires, will pay a wage but then charge you for rent, so in the end you’re not really earning anything.
Oftentimes taking on a workamping job isn’t possible for the non-retired, working-age fulltimer. Some employers just ask for far too many hours in exchange for a free site, which prevents us working-age people from earning a living. We try to avoid gigs like this, or only take on assignments at places that require less than 10 hours of work between us.
Occasionally a paid, lucrative workamping job comes up, but there’s always a catch! Our dude ranch gig pays well but in exchange, the work kicks our ass for 50 hours a week (we work 6 days straight and get one day off). When we work at this dude ranch gig, we have very little time for our other income generating methods. But since it’s only seasonal, we don’t mind.
One of the best ways to learn about workamping is by joining the Workamper organization. They not only have the largest collection of workamping job advertisements, but they also put on a conference twice a year to teach people about the lifestyle.
Another good organization to check out is Caretaker Gazette. This group publishes job assignments generally in the areas of house sitting and property caretaking, for employers around the world. Property caretaking usually doesn’t pay anything but oftentimes requires less work than a traditional workamping assignment. For example, we took on one caretaking job that involved parking our rig at a vacant ranch in southern Arizona. All we had to do was maintain a presence to keep drug runners, border jumpers and vandals away. We didn’t get paid, but we had an awesome place to stay for a winter, and got a lot of our own work done. And saw no crime whatsoever!
You certainly don’t get materially rich living this lifestyle, but you are far wealthier in so many other ways than your cubicle-dwelling corporate counterparts!
- How do your expenses look now compared to when you lived in a stick house? Have you learned any tricks to limit expenses while traveling?
- We’ve found that it’s much, much cheaper to live on the road than it is to be a stick dweller. For instance, our food bill is less, because our fridge and kitchen won’t hold as much food. Even our fuel bill isn’t as expensive on an average, monthly basis because there are often several months out of the year where we do very little driving.
After being on the road for 5 years, we’ve learned a ton of tricks to save money and keep our expenses down, but our biggest lessons that we’ve learned are:
1) Don’t stay in RV parks. And if you do, join Passport America that allows you to save 50% off at designated campgrounds, which are usually pretty decent but in less well-known destinations.
2) Get a solar system, and learn how to boondock on free public lands. During winter we head to the free spots around the west and rarely pay more than $200 in campground fees between November and April.
3) Join Escapees. SKPs are full of great advice, without ever being condescending to full-timing newbies. We love this group. Escapees also publishes the “Days End Directory” which is a publication of thousands of free or cheap campgrounds around the continent, and is available only to SKP members.
4) Stay out of debt! If you’re acquiring debt, you’re living beyond your means. Debt drags you down, and forces you to work for someone else’s terms. And in this lifestyle, which often requires us to keep our expenses trimmed to the bone, debt can be a disaster. For folks who aren’t debt-free, they need to be before hitting the road. Check out Dave Ramsey’s teachings for information on how to get out of debt, and stay out.
- How did purchasing your property in Colorado change things?
- For us, it was a sense of accomplishment. We had reached a goal of having a long-term investment, and we attained it. Both of us had always wanted to own acreage in a mountain setting where our dog Jerry could run free, and that’s what this property, which we named “Jerry’s Acres” represents.
But the thing is, it really didn’t change our lifestyle at all, because we hit the road almost as soon as we bought it. And while it’s nice to have a place to go back to when we want to, we love being on the road too much to stop.
- Overall, how does what you’re doing now (to make a living) compare to what you were both doing before you began traveling?
- We don’t make nearly as much money as we used to, but now we measure our success in terms of quality of life, not the size of our paycheck or the possessions we own. Our overhead is much lower, our life is simpler and it’s far less expensive to have a good life now.
- How many hours on average do you both put in? Is the amount of time you spend working a conscious decision, that is, do you get to pick how much you want to work, or is it all just dependent on what’s coming in?
- We do make a conscious effort to limit the amount of hours we work, but with multiple revenue streams, some days end up being longer than others. When we are workamping on top of our regular endeavors the days are extra long, but knowing that it’s seasonal keeps us sane.
- Can you give us an idea of what a “normal” work week might look like?
- A normal week depends on whether we’re workamping at the time or not. See this blog post for details.
- Do you ever have difficulty staying focused, particularly when the
world’s your playground?
- Yes and no. When we are somewhere incredibly spectacular or hanging out with friends, we tend to work less hours, but we know that we’ll eventually make up for it.
But what ultimately keeps us focused is this philosophy of debt-free guru Dave Ramsey, who says “The only difference between a dream and a goal is a plan.”
What this philosophy means to us is, when it comes to succeeding in being self-employed, those who wander are indeed lost. If we don’t focus on keeping our revenue streams coming in, our lifestyle is over and it’s back to a J.O.B. Who want’s that?
This alone is enough motivation to keep us from slacking off.
- What can you tell us about Tripawds? How it evolved, is it a profitable venture, would you recommend others attempting to do something similar?
- Tripawds was created in 2006 when Jerry lost his leg. It started out as a simple blog to relay his progress and health status to friends and family, while learning to cope with the fact that he had terminal illness. Eventually, other pet parents who were going through the same thing started to find his blog, and they began asking us questions. When we realized we couldn’t answer everything, we added discussion forums in 2007, and that’s when the community grew exponentially. Today we have over 3000 members, and over 1000 Tripawds “dog blogs” where people tell their own story.
Tripawds is a WordPress Multi-Site community that provides a place for people to turn to when they receive the shocking news that their dog must lose a leg to preserve quality of life. Our emphasis is on providing education, resources and a platform for open discussion about life on three legs.
We like to call Tripawds our “labor of love” because we truly love being there for folks at a very dark time in their lives. And while the site does generate revenue through ad and product sales, our click through income isn’t enough to pay the hosting and maintenance costs of the community, or give us a salary to live on. It’s one small part of our overall revenue stream that combined, helps us make a living.
Tripawds is our biggest passion in life, and even though it doesn’t make a ton of money, being able to be there for people brings a huge sense of gratification into our lives. This experience has taught us that it’s so important to find something that you’re passionate about in life, then run with it.