"Wow, you guys are SO! LUCKY!"
This is one of the more frequent things we hear in response to the lifestyle we live and share on this blog. Although we understand where this sentiment comes from, the fact of the matter is that it's not luck at all. We didn't win the lottery. Neither of us has a trust fund. No rich relatives died and left us gazillions of dollars or anything. Here's what we did: we committed to a goal, and then we worked really hard toward that goal, and we didn't allow ourselves to be distracted by things that were not supportive of this goal. That's it, and you can do it too!
We feel very fortunate to be able to live and travel the way we do but "luck" has very little to do with it. "Luck" paints a picture of ease…velvet sofas and mint juleps on the veranda after sleeping until noon, while golden opportunities fall gently into your robed lap. But when it comes to luck, I'm sure we have just as much bad luck as we have good luck.
The lifestyle we've crafted for ourselves is very deliberate. We have worked hard and sacrificed a lot to make it happen. We have gone through difficult and challenging times, and have persevered because we really wanted to have a life like the one we live today. Years ago, we visualized it, we planned it, we worked hard to achieve it, and we adapted as we went along. Plans didn't always go as expected and there were many obstacles we had to overcome along the way. We kept our dream in focus. If you have a dream, and you make choices that support that dream (instead of listening to people who tell you that your dream is too…"dreamy"), your dream really can become your reality.
We've wanted to address this for a long time, and we think it's important, because if you attribute our lifestyle to "luck" — it might give you an excuse not to pursue the life that you want for yourself. You can't control your luck, but you can control the choices you make as you craft your life. Here's some background on how we got where we are today:
Controlling Your Life (or at least making a big effort to steer)
Back in 2001 and 2002 we were happily going along working at our fairly normal jobs and living our fairly normal lives. We camped and backpacked on the weekends or when we had vacation time. I was working as an artist. I had gallery representation, but the life of a painter is not exactly a booming money-making endeavor. Kevin was working for a large electronics design company where he'd been successful for 15 years. In 2003, Kevin got laid off from his job. There we were with a little bit of savings, two teenage daughters about to start college, and no health insurance. The internet bubble had just burst, and our investments had tanked. We had enough money and credit card slack to live for a few months before…well…you get the picture.
The high-tech job market in Portland was terrible. Most of the local tech companies were laying off rather than hiring. Kevin's expertise was fairly specialized, and finding a new job in his industry would have most likely required us to move to a different state. Things looked pretty grim.
However, we had always wanted to start our own business. We visualized a company that didn't have an office, where everyone worked from home, and where people set their own schedules and worked happily together toward common goals. In this vision, we sat outside our tent day after day watching happy little bunnies frolic in the grass while faraway internet servers worked day and night – earning us enough to pay campground fees. (Definitely in the "dream" stage, I'd say.)
We bought two laptops and a couple of domain names, signed up for some $10/month internet hosting, and filled out the paperwork to start a sub-S corporation. The company we started was an online publication geared toward electronics engineers. I started learning web design so I could create and maintain our website, and Kevin started writing articles about electronics technology. We began by sending out an email newsletter every week to our growing list of subscribers. We soon had a publication and an audience, but no income. Kevin hopped on a plane and flew to Silicon Valley to meet with marketers from various companies he had worked with in the past – in hopes of finding someone to buy advertising on our new website. That turned out to be a very slow process.
Each month our savings would decline, and we cringed as watched ourselves careening toward financial failure. Finally, we got a breakthrough – our first advertiser – for a whopping $1,500. That wasn't enough to save our sinking ship, but it gave us hope. Gradually, we sold more and more. We brought a sales person on board part time – working for commissions – and doubled our efforts to grow the publication. We cautiously started to discuss what we'd do "If we could somehow manage to get this business to cover our living expenses."
We were now in business for ourselves, which meant basically no more paid vacation time, and most weekends were filled with work alongside whatever else we wanted to do for fun. Some of you, I'm sure, know what it takes to own and run your own business, and it's no piece of cake. We could still travel and camp and backpack, but it took a lot more planning and sacrifice. It also took energy, and during those first stressful months, we had very little left.
Ever-so-slowly the income increased until we had stopped burning savings and weren't running up credit card balances anymore. We were encouraged, and were able to reduce our stress levels a bit – unfortunately without reducing our work hours. Now, we needed to do something to keep our sanity.
We decided to take a one-month road trip in our car with our camping and backpacking gear. We figured we could publish articles and run our business from the road, and we did this two different ways: (1) from our tent using a Treo smartphone tethered to a laptop for internet (by candle lantern at night sometimes), and when we couldn't get any internet service that way (2) we'd hit a coffee shop or check into a motel/hotel with Wi-Fi so we could publish our weekly article and send newsletters. Romantic, huh? (It kinda was, actually.)
During that road trip we went through San Francisco, and during a side trip to SF MOMA (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), we saw the Christopher Deam 16' Airstream Bambi as part of an exhibition. We thought "Hm. We could work from THAT!" and our Airstreaming dream began.
We researched and researched (for about a year) and eventually decided on and purchased a 2005 22' International Airstream trailer. We loved it. It had a double bed, a dinette, a wet bath, a great kitchen, and a little desk in the back (perfect for work, we thought). We had the little bit of solar that came with it, plus some that we added afterwards, but it was nowhere near the ship of technology that our Airstream (and now our Nordic Tug) is today.
We used the Airstream on weekends and for shorter trips, and during the five years we had this 22' Airstream (June 2005 to April 2010) we spent 156 nights in it. That's about 30 nights per year. We wanted more. Fortunately, our business was growing.
In 2010 we took the 22' trailer in for a few repairs, and while we were waiting, we went across the street to "just look at the new ones" (hint: Don't do this!) We never got our old trailer back. We traded it in for a 2010 27'FB International. Five more feet!!! They pulled the new Airstream up alongside the old Airstream cop-style, we unloaded everything from the 22' into the 27', and off we went.
At that point, it sounds like things could go on cruise control, right? We had a growing business, a cool trailer, and a solid plan…but no. Toward the beginning of this decade we went through several major crises all at once. We realized that there was a real chance that the whole thing we'd worked so hard for might crumble. Things looked very bleak. We had several very stressful months of sleepless nights. Finally, when we couldn't take the stress anymore, we did what we do…we took a road trip. On that road trip, we made our contingency plan. If the business tanked and we had no more money, we would just sell everything but the Airstream and the truck and go full time on the road, living a frugal, nomadic life while exploring the country. We know a lot of VERY happy people who were already doing this by choice. It wouldn't be bad at all.
Once we'd come to grips with our "worst case" and knew we would make it fun, we redoubled our efforts. We worked twice as hard at keeping our company alive and our small team happy and healthy. We came up with new ideas for making our company succeed, and improved on the old ones. With everybody pitching in and with the new plans in place, one win at a time, the business came back, stronger than it had ever been.
Where We Are Today
Our company now has ten people. Everyone works from home (or wherever they are) and has the flexibility and freedom to set their own work hours, manage their own responsibilities, and share in the rewards. (It turns out it's hard to find people with the self-discipline to work this way.)
We are constantly refining and redefining how we want to live. It takes much trial and error, and constant attention, compromise, and sacrifice to successfully run our company and travel the way we want to. We've been building our business for 11 years now, and each year we're able to travel more. As of this week we've spent over 700 nights on the road in our 2010 Airstream and 100 nights on the water in our new Nordic Tug. This lifestyle is not for everyone, but we love it and it works well for us. We feel lucky. But we know that it's not about luck at all. It's about setting your sights on what you want, defining a plan to move ever closer to your dream, and then doing it (not just talking about it or wishing for it or waiting for retirement for it).
That's it. It's not easy, but it's definitely doable, and you can do it too.
One More Thing
Recently, a colleague of Kevin's was giving him a hard time about our lifestyle. He implied that by being out "gallivanting around the country all the time," we weren't being serious or mature about our lives and our careers.
"Y'know…" Kevin said, "…my father died when he was three years older than I am right now. It's really important to me to live a healthy, low stress life, and maybe that will help me live longer than my dad did, but whether it does or not I refuse to spend my life waiting around and planning for some future fulfillment that might or might not happen." (Go Kevin!)
We want to explore and experience the world NOW. We want to continue growing an ethical business that empowers and enables other people to follow their dreams as well.
We want to do things, not just think about doing them. And we hope to inspire you to do the same.