Nathan and Marissa Moss were living the American dream in Cookeville, Tennessee — or so they thought. Four-bedroom home? Check. Steady paychecks? Check. Two young kids? Check.
But one morning, before Marissa left for a 13-hour shift, she realized that she would miss her young daughter waking up — and would return home after she went to sleep.
“I remember leaving in tears,” Marissa recalled. “That’s when we decided that if we let go of all that overhead and just simply live below our means, how much more freedom and time that would open up.”
That’s when the couple made the big decision to ditch the life they had built in exchange for something they believed offered more freedom: RV living.
Nathan and Marissa are not alone. Today, around a million Americans live in RVs full time. Since 2005, RV ownership has grown from 7.9 million to 9 million American households, according to a recent report.
In the age of high-speed WiFi, many single Millennials have been opting-out of the traditional workforce over the past decade, choosing the “digital nomad” life over the traditional 9-5. Typically, this lifestyle has only been accessible to single people. But recently, entire families are picking up and changing course.
When the global pandemic hit in 2020 — ushering in a new age of economic uncertainty — RV living became even more appealing to many. And the shift from traditional offices to remote work made the transition easier for those looking to take the leap.
“We were living this American dream and then realized that it wasn’t our dream,” Nathan said. “It was a beautiful dream, but it wasn’t ours.”
How to make the transition
One of the biggest challenges in the transition to RV living? Downsizing. We live in a consumer culture, which means we tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. Those who want to get into RV life often have to part ways with many of their belongings.
“We look like we’re whimsical and we just fly by the seat of our pants and don’t have any plans,” Marissa said. But nothing could be further from the truth. It took them a whole year to downsize.
There are other important factors to consider, too. The biggest one is finances.
Before hitting the road, Nathan and Marissa were forced to rethink their expenses. When you live in a physical home, many of these normal household expenses are fixed. On your house, “your mortgage is fixed. Your insurance is fixed. The upkeep, for the most part, is fixed,” Marissa said.
That can be a plus, but it also means there’s a lot of overhead expenses with a house — and not much flexibility.
RV living, on the other hand, minimizes overhead, which can result in significant savings.
Not only is there no mortgage, but impulse purchases are no longer an option simply because there’s nowhere to put anything that’s not essential.
Nathan and Marissa decided to share their experience online, like many others who are capitalizing on the broad interest in RV living. The lifestyle has spawned a massive online community on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, where people share photos, videos, and advice for fellow #vanlife nomads. In 2020, there were more than 7 million posts on Instagram tagged #vanlife.
For Nathan and Marissa, it started with catching fish in Alaska, where Marissa first learned that she was pregnant. They say the experience has been about merging work and play and sharing what they’ve learned from their experiences.
“When we go on a hike, it might be a hike we have to film,” said Nathan. “And so we’re filming the hike with the kids, trying to show the value to our audience of how this hike can be good for a family with kids.”
Through these social media videos, the couple provides a road map for other families who want to escape the rat race, too.
“Home is where you park it”
After seven years on the road, Nathan and Marissa are now full-time “adventuring” with their kids. When work is harder to come by, they are able to adjust their expenses.
In the end, they define success as “just being able to play with my kids. Like if I get too busy to play with my kids and spend time with my kids, I’m just too busy,” says Nathan.
Their time on the road has also made them reconsider the meaning of “home.”
“When you RV, you say home is where you park it,” Marissa said, “which is such a unique perspective. We can pull our home up and be on the beach for the week or be in the mountains for the weekend. Home is wherever we are — wherever our family is.”
Nathan and Marissa aren’t sure how long this RV-living dream will last for them. But it has helped them become aware of their true wants and needs, and what they can live without.
“We ask: Does this add ‘journey’ to my life?” Marissa said. “Does this give me more adventure? Does this allow me to play with my kids more?”
“We want to make an impact on the world. And if you can combine making an impact with making an income, that was our American dream.”