Living the Camper Life - My friend Pam set the trend...before the pandemic.

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Pam and I met almost 20 years ago. It was my second day living in Sydney, Australia for my semester abroad. Completely jet lagged, I woke up early in my new apartment and this pretty blond girl came out of her bedroom with a big smile. She introduced herself and said she was from Madison, Wisconsin. We hit it off instantly and had so much in common right from the start. During our time abroad, we shared such incredible experiences, living in a foreign country and traveling the world together. Pam turned into one of my greatest roommates and most wonderful life-long friends. We stayed close when we came back home to the US and we have been connected ever since.

As we've gotten older and created our lives, Pam absolutely lives on her own terms in the most amazing ways. She’s a mom to three great kids and she’s been married for almost 15 years to her brilliantly ambitious husband. Together they are complete business visionaries.

Almost 20 years ago, Pam and her husband started to build a real estate investment empire, before we even graduated from college! Now, they have been growing their business for almost two decades, before either of them have reached the age of 40. Due to their endless hustle and hard work, they continue to put all of their energy into new investments and expanding their real estate portfolio. After much savings, sacrifice and planning, being self-employed in this type of work allowed them a specific freedom that most of us can only dream of. Pam felt like they needed a big life change from their business of working seven days a week...all year...for almost 20 years. She had a dream to take a year off and travel, to reconnect as a family unit, and prioritize their time together. That dream was made a reality in late 2019.

Last year they made the very exciting, yet difficult decision to completely change their life. They rented the home they lived in, sold all of their possessions, and bought an RV to take their three small children to travel the country, for what was supposed to be a year on the road. Of course, our world changed in March and they ended up going back to their home state for safety reasons. While home, they stumbled on property they fell in love with, which is now their homestead. Traveling isn’t over for them, just paused for now.

When people completely change their life, I get so curious about the "road" (pun intended) less taken. I wonder, what motivates them to make the change? How do they eventually make the leap, and how do they feel after? Being so curious and so in awe of Pam and the journey her family has taken, I thought it would be interesting to interview her about her big life decision. Since the day I met her, Pam's outlook on life has fascinated me and I've always been inspired by her. I wanted to share her perspective on what she’s learned from living out her dreams and completely doing life on her own terms...out on the open road!

Here’s my conversation with Pam:

Q. Last year around this time you left to go on the road. What was that first month like, being together with your children 24/7 in such a confined space?

A. When we initially moved out of our house, we had like a 6-week transition period. We were wrapping up lots of projects with rental properties, and attempting to move our entire life into a little over 300 sq. feet - it was rocky and hard, but we were excited and full of wanderlust. That energy really carried us through the initial transition and gave us the momentum to follow-through and actually “launch.” We were stationary, on my in-laws property, basically learning how to live in a camper full-time. Trust me, there is a crater-sized learning curve. We moved our things in, learned quickly we had too much and purged some more. Anything for me or the kids that didn't fit in the camper we got rid of. My husband, however, found basements, and other places to store all of his beloved items. He is a bit of a hoarder, so this journey in minimalism was not exactly what he signed up for. I craved simplicity, and adventure - he found ways to flex and make it happen. The transition time set us up really well because the kids were still in school, doing all of the activities, but we were living in our new environment, figuring things out. Then...we left. It felt sudden, but looking back, I can see how much led up to that moment. I pulled the kids out of school on a Friday and we left on a rainy Monday morning - Florida bound.

Our launch date was December 9, 2019. The holiday’s were fast approaching, we craved warm weather, and wanted to share the beginning of our adventure with family (who live in Florida). It felt like a vacation, and it was lovely to ease into the lifestyle. We knew this was an adventure and was not a permanent life for us, so that also set the tone, in the sense that this was precious time. We met wonderful families, who have no plans to leave the nomadic life, and I can understand why, but we knew for us we would settle back in to “sticks and bricks” eventually. I never imagined we would find a homestead so quickly, but then again most of us could not imagine much of the realities of 2020.

Q. A family of 5 in such a small space – what was that like?

A. We did an incredible amount of planning and research to figure out exactly what we wanted in a rig. I knew I wanted a decent amount of kitchen and counter space, and also designated sleeping space, I did not want to fold down beds and convert living space every day. During our preparation phase, I’d lay in bed at night studying RV floor plans and because of all that research, we knew exactly what year and model we wanted. When one popped up on the market, we went and bought it.

I actually first considered a nomadic lifestyle about 5 years ago, at the time it was just one of those ideas that floats out there, but at some point it took root. Once we committed, it took us a full year to make it happen. Thankfully, living in a tiny space with 3 kids was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. It’s chaotic, 3 kids, they are loud, it’s tight, but it made our family so much closer. Living "small" creates this different vibration, at least for us. We are more connected, and I think there are a few reasons why. All of the noise that we create in our lives and in our households with toys, distractions and activities, didn’t bring us joy. They actually stole our time and stressed us out. We realized so many of those things we simply didn’t need, and in fact were making us kind of miserable. The second part is living so closely is kind of like having a mirror on yourself all the time, when you are grumpy, angry, or otherwise in a bad mood it affects everyone. I think it has really helped all of us recognize how our behaviors and feelings impact others, and we were really able to synchronize that. When you live small every item has purpose and is meaningful. It’s just a simpler life. The minimalism really shifts your mood and well-being. It’s unreal. It was almost instantaneous, our kids were so much calmer. It was unbelievable.

During the days, we spent most of our time outside, so our “living” space was virtually unlimited. Outdoors was the entertainment for the kids. Technology, screens, or other things were no longer needed to occupy and entertain. Don’t get me wrong, we had a TV, and unlimited internet plan, and would stream Netflix when we wanted to, but it definitely took the backseat. That was one of the biggest and best changes for all of us.

Q. Your kids are fairly young (all under the age of 7 at the time). Did they understand this was a special thing or adventure your family was going on?

A. They did, but as we traveled, everyone we met was in a camper and traveling the country so some of the novelty wore off quickly. We spent about 10-months living in our camper and they really don’t want to live a typical life. We are planning to head back out on the road for another adventure in a few weeks; the kids cannot wait to go hit the road again.

What I learned from my children is the sense of permanence for young kids doesn't need to be tied to one place. We were together all the time, that was enough for them. They never once said, I miss my room or toys. Being on this adventure together was enough for them. They were always fine.

Q. When we were talking about making such a big life decision, you expressed some of your extended family was supportive, but others were more judgmental. How did you manage this part of the journey?

A. There were a lot of ups and downs for me. Overwhelmingly, I just had this strong intuition that my family needed to do this. We had been hustling with our business for a very long time. Endlessly adding responsibilities and constantly expanding. Add everything with the kids and school - you know the constant shuffle. I knew it was only going to intensify as time marched on. I really felt like we needed a strong reset. If we didn't do something drastic, I had this feeling that life would just pass by and I'd be left with regrets. I kept imagining myself at the end of my life - contemplating life regrets - and I just couldn’t come up with a scenario where I would regret taking time off with my young family. It felt so right in my heart, yet I was terrified at times too. I had to pull courage from places I didn’t know lived within me.

As far as judgement goes, it’s definitely an area I need to work on personally, fear of judgement, that is. For a long time, I felt like the more I'd talk about it to others, the more they would understand. I'd find myself repeating this phrase “We are weaving a fabric.” I’m not exactly sure what I meant. Regardless, I expected eventually they'd all get it. Looking back, I may have been trying to convince myself, more than anyone else...I don’t really know. In some ways it worked, I think especially once they saw us settle into our new lifestyle and had witnessed that we had thought things through. In other ways, they could never understand. After all, so much of this was a journey in trusting my intuition - not something that necessarily makes sense to the outside world.

Even after we left, while we were traveling, I'd still have these overwhelming anxiety moments. I’d think to myself, “They think I am messing it all up. I am ruining our life. The kids should be in school, and I am doing this all wrong.” After much torment, my mind eventually settled. I had such strong feelings to trust my intuition. How can this be wrong when I saw these unbelievable positive changes in my family? How can this be wrong? I just had to trust my inner wisdom and eventually let go of the fears I harbored, especially those about what others think of our life. It felt like a shedding of deep wounds.

Q. What were some of the biggest highlights?

A. Definitely the biggest highlight was being in this traveling community. We met amazing people and families. My seven year old still regularly has face-time playdates with a friend he met in Texas. They will “play” for 3+ hours over the phone, it’s remarkable to witness the connection they have. The community is tight, you bond quickly because your time together is short-lived. One of you will likely be hitting the road within a week or two of meeting. There is also this strong sense that we are each other's “neighbor” and we rely on each other that way. We had the unfortunate experience of breaking down on the side of the highway during rush hour traffic in Houston. I posted in the community forum and within minutes someone we had never met responded and crafted a whole plan to rescue us! They brought the kids and me to the campsite and then went back to tow my husband with our rig. Not an easy feat, to say the least! It was an incredibly vulnerable moment, these were complete strangers, and they showed up to help us. They didn’t ask for money, or anything from us. The gratitude I experienced from that completely transformed me. It was a pivotal moment where I fully leaned into the idea that I can let go and it will all work out.

Everyone is living this different lifestyle so you have a pretty solid common ground from the start. I think because it is a journey in minimalism, people also have more time to invest in people. The outcome, is children play together and entertain themselves, usually outside, and parents have time and space for meaningful social connection. It feels like such a community and everyone is so embracing. We absolutely loved that part of it.

My kids really became skillful in the ability to entertain themselves, too. On their own, they were able to fill their time and make decisions about what they wanted to do. I actually think this is such an important skill, that many adults don’t have. Our kids lives are so scheduled, get up - go to school - after school, homework, practice - dinner and bed. Repeat. They don’t have the chance to learn how to craft their time, at least not in my experience. I'm still seeing this positive change in them, now that we are living the “sticks and bricks” life again. I'm confident this is a life lesson they would not have picked up, if we hadn't gone out on the road.

Q. In our new reality, when we all started being home with our families 24/7, was that bizarre that the rest of the world was kind of catching up to that concept of full time family that you had? You were definitely ahead of the curve. In March, we were all home schooling our children, together all the time, no breaks. What was that like once we were all home and the pandemic hit?

A. It was a really complicated time for me, as it was really for everyone. On the one hand, I felt grateful to already be living in a confined space. The kids weren’t experiencing the trauma their peers were, with the sudden closure of schools and isolation. Our camper is self-sufficient in the sense that we have generator power, and large holding tanks for water. So we “bugged” out to the Arizona desert. We isolated and lived completely off grid. We were truly quarantining to the next level. I have to say, it was the most liberating feeling!

So the next part of our experience is that I felt completely disconnected from what our friends and family were experiencing, being in the middle of the pandemic. I was also worried that when we needed to go home, we would not be able to get back. I worried that the campgrounds would be closed, that it would be difficult to get fuel and food. I was also incredibly worried about our business, and felt like it was not a good time to be absent.

When we got back, we lived in the camper at a campground until mid -September. We weren't sure if we were going to go back on the road or settle back down. Of course, just as we were making plans and booking campsites to head back out, a property came up, we made an offer and somehow it all came together. So now we have both a 15-acre homestead and a home on wheels we can travel the country in.

Q. Your story is so interesting and I love hearing about your plans, the fears, and then it being so worth it. I can't thank you enough for your time and sharing your story with us. Any last words of wisdom?

A. Trust yourself and your instincts. When you get out of your own way, remarkable things can happen. The way this year has unfolded for us is mind blowing. My husband and I literally look at each other everyday and say, “how did we get here? How did all of this happen?” I had to face some darkness to get where I am today, but had I not listened to those instincts I’m sure my life would not be much different than it was two-years ago.

I’ve also really reflected on how our culture defines “Success” and how that definition has shaped my perspective on how I “should'' live my life. The house I “should” live in, the car I “should'' drive, the mother I “should” be, the toys my kids “should” have, the list is literally endless. I’ve really come to terms with some of those anxious feelings and hope to continue to teach my kids, through example, to live their true self and not their “should” self. So much of this adventure was to show our kids you can do hard things and do scary things, overcome fear or judgement to make dreams happen and along the way, you might just learn something about yourself.

Thank you so much for your time Pam! I loved hearing about your adventures on the road. Best of luck in this new chapter and back to whatever we all call normal life these days!