Tech advances fuel increase in families living on the road

L ong the prerogative of the gray-haired retired set, the RV lifestyle is being embraced by a growing number of young families who discovered they can travel the country while making a living and raising kids, thanks to advances in cellphone and wi-fi technology.

Brad Fitzgerald, 36, and his wife Sarah Fitzgerald, 35, exemplify the new movement. The couple rented out their home in Wenatchee, Wash., in August 2016 and hit the road with their daughters, Sunny and Coral, now 8 and 5. Since then, they’ve been living in a 2002 31-foot Keystone Cougar fifth-wheel RV pulled by a Ford F-250 diesel truck. They’ve visited all the states except Alaska and Hawaii and they’ve seen around 40 national parks, been to major cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., and countless museums and libraries.

Coral Fitzgerald, 5, shows off some of the patches, pins and buttons she has collected since her family started living on the road. They have been to around 40 national parks and love spending time at libraries and museums. Their parents say the kids used to be shy but now readily make friends when they meet other families who share the same lifestyle. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Their stays vary from a night or two up to two months when they wintered near relatives who live in Yuma, Ariz. They plan to keep traveling for at least another year before returning to a settled lifestyle, although they haven’t decided where.

The Journal caught up with the Fitzgeralds during a recent stay at Enchanted Trails RV Park & Trading Post, just west of the city, where they talked about their nomadic adventures.

“We thought about this for a long time,” said Brad Fitzgerald. “But there were always reasons why we decided not to do it – church, friends, jobs.”

After he launched his own graphic and web design business, Brad realized all he needed was an Internet connection to keep working. Sarah decided she could quit her job and home-school the kids and they could indulge their shared passion for traveling.

“I think the RV lifestyle is more feasible because of technology. You can be in touch wherever. You don’t have to give up so much,” Brad Fitzgerald said.

His wife admits it was hard to leave her job and say goodbye to friends, but they felt that they could seize the opportunity while the girls were young.

“It got to a point where we thought, it’s now or never, so we took the plunge,” Sarah Fitzgerald said.

Before launching out, they spent months researching RVs, trucks and the lifestyle. That’s when they discovered how many others shared their dream.

“There’s like a movement, a huge community of families on the road,” she said.

During their travels, the Fitzgeralds have met many other families, either through social media sites like Instagram and the Facebook page Full-time RV Families, or in person at places they’ve stayed. People staying in RV parks tend to be respectful of each other’s space, she said, but they’ve found great camaraderie when they’ve been “boondocking,” staying out in the open on a dirt road or on Bureau of Land Management land.

“It feels less intrusive when you’re camped next to someone and you’re in the middle of nowhere,” Sarah Fitzgerald said.

She recalled meeting up with a group in the Teton Range in Wyoming where grown-ups, kids and dogs gathered around campfires each night.

Constant travel and living in tight quarters can be challenging, however. Brad Fitzgerald quickly realized it was too distracting to work in the fifth-wheel while the girls were there. He works outside, in the truck or drives a few miles to find a coffee shop with wi-fi. Sometimes he’s paid to use a co-working space like Fatpipe ABQ in Albuquerque.

Sarah Fitzgerald said being with the girls 24 hours a day, seven days a week is tough after being a working mom.

“But the challenge is worth it for me because I’m so grateful to be able to do this right now. It’s been a dream and I feel like we won the opportunity lottery. So many people would love to travel full time and we have this chance,” she said.

The girls talked excitedly about visiting libraries, meeting new friends, going to Disney World and national parks. They each showed off collections of patches and pins they’d collected during their adventure.

How to get mail and health insurance were also concerns. They had mail forwarded to one or other parent’s home for a while. Mail can also be sent “general delivery” to a post office, which will hold it for a few days. They managed to find temporary health care insurance that would cover them while traveling through the website www.agilehealthinsurance.com, Information about health insurance for RV dwellers is also available at www.rverinsurance.com.

Enchanted Trails RV Park owner Vickie Ashcraft, who has worked there 31 years, said she started to see more young families living in RVs about 10 years ago. Before that, it was mostly people in their fifties and sixties who belonged to clubs like Good Sam and traveled in large groups. The younger folks are more individualistic, she said.

Some older RVers have found ways to make their new lifestyle pay. Lori Wells and her husband, both 53, sold their home in Arvada, Colo., bought a Holiday Rambler motorhome and discovered they could find temporary jobs through workamper.com.

The most common jobs are RV park services and maintenance or campground hosting. Positions usually offer RV site and minimum wage. The Wellses have been living this way for nearly three years. They have cleaned motel rooms, managed a Christmas tree lot and are currently working at American RV Resort, just west of Albuquerque.

“I love it. I have absolutely no regrets,” Wells said.

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