Leaving My Job for Vanlife is the Best Decision I Have Ever Made

by  Amy Marturana Winderl | Mar 23, 2020
 Monument Valley, USA
Monument Valley, USA / bluejayphoto/iStock

Last summer, I did something that a lot of people might find a bit reckless: I quit my great job in New York City. More specifically, I quit my job and transitioned to a freelance career so that my husband and I could move out of our apartment in New Jersey and move into a camper trailer and travel the country for a year. My husband also quit his job, without having any ability to make money freelancing.

This whole quitting-to-road-trip-the-country thing wasn’t a decision we made lightly or quickly. However, now that it's been a little over six months since we embarked on this exciting chapter, I can confidently say that leaving my comfortable dream job for the uncertainty that comes with traveling full-time was the best decision I’ve ever made — for multiple reasons. But, before I get into that, let me explain how we actually landed on this decision.

Related: 5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Road Trip

For a few years, my husband and I had talked about quitting our jobs to visit as many national parks as possible. At the time, we had been planning these sorts of trips piecemeal. We’d pick a week, book flights to somewhere like San Francisco; check our luggage; bring our tent, sleeping bags, and hiking gear; pick up a rental car; and then drive out to a national park to camp and hike for the week. It was expensive, especially for a vacation that should be relatively affordable — we’re talking about camping, after all!

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Several years ago, we offhandedly had a discussion about how cool it would be to take months off of "real life" to pack in a bunch of park time. At the time, it seemed like a totally laughable (and unrealistic) idea. Eventually, though, the conversation slowly morphed from “what if we did it?” to “what if we didn’t do it?” Ultimately, we knew we’d regret it if we pushed it aside and ignored our dream. We talked about how we wouldn’t want to do this hypothetical trip once we had kids. (Although many people travel full-time with children, we didn’t feel confident enough to do that.) And, while we had no idea how to drive (or let alone live in) a camper, we felt okay with making big mistakes since it was just the two of us. So, we decided it was now or never. 

However, it's not so easy to just up and quit your job to embark on a year-long road trip across the country. There were a lot of things we had to get into place — first and foremost, our finances. 

Full disclosure: My husband and I both had very good jobs. And, since it is just the two of us, we had a good amount of disposable income (and, therefore, the ability to save money). We feel really lucky that we were in a position to be able to build up our savings enough to feel comfortable quitting. I also work in an industry where remote freelance work is very normal, which allows us to have a stream of income (albeit smaller and less reliable than before).

Before we even decided to embark on our once-in-a-lifetime trip, my husband, an accountant, made a spreadsheet. We compared our current income to our necessary expenses (mortgage, utilities, food, car insurance, commuting to work, phone, and internet) and calculated how much we could theoretically save. We then looked at how much we were currently setting aside each month, and we weren’t even coming close. From there, we decided to start aggressively saving by cutting back drastically on non-essentials. We didn’t go from 100 to 0, but more like 100 to 40. Instead of going out for dinner with friends, we asked them if they wanted to come over to split two six-packs of beer and play games. We made coffee at home and took it to work. We got rid of cable and (very gratefully!) shared friends’ Netflix and Hulu accounts instead. We stopped buying new clothes or any other material goods we didn’t need.

Every month, we had a self-imposed “credit check,” during which we’d both open up our most recent credit card statement to reveal how much we had spent. Having open conversations about where my money was going made it a lot easier to face my decisions and make better ones. And, having a really awesome goal was great motivation to turn down brunch plans (easily $30 to $40 alone!). 

Once our savings plan was in motion, we realized our dream was possible. So, we soon brought it up to friends and family, and, soon after, it became more real. About three years after we first dreamed up this idea of traveling the U.S. for a year, we bought a 24-foot camper trailer, quit our jobs, rented out our apartment, moved all our things into my in-laws’ basement (they’re the true MVPs), and left the life we had spent the last seven years building.

Related: 5 Great Road Trips to Take

At the time, I had doubts. What if I regretted quitting my job? I loved my job. It was fulfilling. I was learning every day. It wasn’t perfect, but no job is. I found myself wondering if I’d ever find a job that good again. Writers and editors get laid off all the time (I had been laid off from a job a few years prior). Was it irresponsible and frivolous to quit and go do something for fun?

So far, though, I’ve learned that my worries were unfounded. While I loved my job, I also really enjoy working for myself. I get to write for multiple publications and cover a variety of topics. I’m also doing work outside of traditional publishing, which is a refreshing learning opportunity. I’m flexing new muscles, and I’m learning how to run my business on my own terms. It’s pretty awesome and fulfilling.

On another note, the mental health benefits have been monumental. Some people love the hustle-and-bustle of New York City, but it was really wearing me down.  And, even though I left my steady, stable job with a guaranteed paycheck, my stress levels have dropped significantly. I am a better friend, daughter, and wife because I have the mental and emotional capacity for it. 

Traveling with my husband has also brought us closer both literally (after all, our living space is less than 200 square feet!) and emotionally. While we did live together when we worked in NYC, we barely saw each other during the week. After work, exercise classes, commuting, and social plans, we were lucky if we had two hours to hang out before bed. In fact, we ate dinner separately more often than we did together. Now, we spend A LOT of meaningful time together doing something we both love, and it’s wonderful.

Related: Tips for Avoiding the Masses at National Parks This Summer

Something we couldn't plan for, however, is the current pandemic sweeping our country and the world. We were already out on the road before things began to escalate. However, we already committed to social distancing when we chose to live remotely —in fact, we spend all our time with just each other and nature! — so it hasn't been hard to stay away from other people and just keep to ourselves. In fact, it's something we've gotten really good at it in the past six months. (Just a note: I absolutely wouldn't suggest anyone decide to set out on a trip like this right now — it's best to stay put in your current situation until things get better!)

We don’t plan to travel forever. We’ll probably wrap up this trip by the end of the year. Then, we'll decide where to put down our roots. But, no matter what we do next, I have no doubt that this meaningful experience will help guide us through the rest of our lives.

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