The windfalls and pitfalls of selling your house, canceling the cable, signing your kid up for online school and becoming RV-living, adventure-seeking nomads on an endless family adventure.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A SIMPLE QUESTION on the way home from a three-day photoshoot. What if instead of racing home between assignments to mow the lawn and do the laundry, we spent that time together as a family in the wilderness that we so desperately craved? Over the next few months, as we scrambled from meetings to school events, we did our best to cope with the frantic pace of normal life. But that question began to simmer until we could no longer shove it aside. Needing to slow things down and simplify everything, we began to plan, in earnest, the greatest family adventure of our lives.
When we told our daughter, Abby (then age 9), that we were moving, she expressed the typical concerns of any kid facing change…what about my friends? Where will I go to school? What about all of my toys?
But when we added that we were moving into a Winnebago RV for a year-long road trip, she was—for the first time ever—speechless. With the encouragement of our friends (who secretly thought we were crazy), and the reluctant support of our family (who knew we were crazy), we sold most of our things, packed up the rest and moved into a 24-foot Winnebago RV.
At best, we were destined for the biggest adventure of our lives. At worst, we would return with our careers in shambles, our family in financial ruin, and permanent emotional damage from life within the confines of 150 square feet. We eliminated all debt and monthly expenses (except the cell phones) and booked as many photography jobs as we could in advance, but ultimately the entire endeavor was a monumental leap of faith.
At first, life on the road was just like any of our other countless road trips over the years (except that life in the RV was way more comfortable than in our old pickup truck). We spent the majority of our days kayaking and climbing and managed to tick one extraordinary adventure after another off of our bucket list.But as the weeks and months passed, we realized that not only were we spending more time together doing what we loved in places where we wanted to be, but also that our business was growing exponentially. Could this really be a viable long-term lifestyle? Instead of returning home after a year, as we originally planned, the journey continues (for over two years now) with no end in sight.
Life on the road has a way of changing a person.
For me, this journey was the first time in my life that I allowed myself the luxury of slowing down. It was finally OK for me to step back and say I don’t have to volunteer for every worthwhile cause, and I don’t have to charge down the career path that seems set on a steady, relentless incline. Abby and I would both be fine if neither of us took part in school bake sales and PTO meetings.
That mental shift had a positive impact almost immediately. My stress simply vanished and my sleep patterns changed. Regardless of where we were and how much noise was around us, I was finally able to sleep, night after night, for the first time in over a decade. And being well rested allowed me to accomplish more during my waking hours, leading to a healthier and more successful me. Looking back, I could have just as easily stepped out of my self-imposed rat race while I was at home. The need to be more, to have more, to do more was my own internal struggle, that I was completely unaware of until I hit the road and let it all go.
My husband Peter’s transformation was much more gradual. His sense of responsibility to pay the bills and provide for our family made it easy for him to put aside his dream of becoming a National Geographic photographer, of creating images of adventures across the globe and share those experiences with the masses. Instead of pursuing that dream, he opted to channel his talent and love of photography into a more traditional career creating fine art portraits of families.
It wasn’t until we literally had nothing to lose (i.e. no debt, no bills, no house) that his dream of photographing adventures resurfaced. He posted images of our family adventures on our social media channels. Before long, we were overwhelmed with requests from outdoor brands asking us to partner with their marketing teams to create images, videos and stories of our adventures. What started out as a creative project to document and share our personal stories with family and friends has since become a full-time job. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we could make a living by photographing, filming and writing about our days in the wild doing what we love the most.
A whole new Abby
The most obvious change for our daughter has involved her whitewater paddling skills. She started out as a timid kayaker, uneasy on class II stretches of river. But after two years and countless new rivers, she is now taking the lead and charging ahead into thundering rapids. The confidence that comes from independently and successfully navigating potentially dangerous terrain is a skill that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.
More importantly, Abby has broken free of her shell. Every person we have met along the way, who has taken the time to ask Abby about her unusual lifestyle and shown excitement and interest in who she is and what she has done, has helped her morph from a shy little girl who rarely spoke up in a group to an outgoing young woman, comfortable in almost any social situation.
This became evident when we were working on a presentation for a large audience at the Winnebago Grand National Rally in Forrest City, Iowa. Abby insisted that she do an equal third of the presentation and spent the next week rehearsing her part. During the show, I stood on the sidelines and watched my 12-year old daughter take the stage. Her commanding presence filled the entire theater and captivated every person in the standing-room-only crowd. It was at that moment that I realized the profound impact this entire journey has had on her.
When we set out, we were simply trying to maintain some semblance of normal and avoid any permanent damage while we chased a crazy dream. Turns out, we have become our best selves, the ones who have been there lying dormant for so long. We hope that our new sparkle shines brightly through our images and stories and inspires others to get outside, go on adventures and live the best life possible. I have no idea what the future holds for us, but can’t wait to fire up the RV and discover what lies just over the horizon.
The Holcombes sold their Boulder, Colorado, home in June 2014 and have been exploring North America in their Winnebago ever since. They are photojournalists who specialize in bringing their adventures to life. They have travelled over 100,000 miles through 49 states, explored dozens of National Parks, and have some incredible stories from their adventures across the continent. Check out their website at famagogo.com or follow them onInstagram at@PeterHolcombe, @Adventurous.Miss and @Famagogo or Facebook @Peter.Holcombe, @Kathy.Holcombe, @Abby.Holcombe.95, @Famagogo.