I was searching for an exit, worried that I would never be able to afford retirement. One morning, while making the bed, a program on the radio caught my attention...

Columbia River Backwater SunsetSunset on the Columbia River Backwater

There may be quite a few of you out there who can identify with my story.

In 2004 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, it was early stage, and a lumpectomy and course of radiation took care of it. At least I hoped so.

I was a realtor at the time, with my own company and eight agents. The market was booming; I was very busy and doing well, but often at the end of the day, I found myself sitting out on my porch, writing and thinking. It was during those quiet times that I would hear a little voice in my head. “You know all those things you say you want to do with your life? Maybe you should stop putting them off,” it cautioned. So, I started searching for an exit.

Over the next couple of years that little voice claimed my attention more frequently. How could I ever manage to retire, or even semi-retire? I wanted time to paint, to travel, to read and write. Yet life seemed to be getting more and more expensive. Was there some way to reverse that trend, to opt out of the busyness? I was a human “doing” – was there a way to become a human “being?” I kept on searching.

One morning, a program on National Public Radio caught my attention. It was about people living either part-time or full-time in an RV. They talked about their adventures, the places they went and the wonderful people they met. Some were retired and some were independently wealthy, but many had found that the income-generating portion of their life was transportable. The program was well-done and it stuck in my memory.

I started doing research on RVs and the RV life. I went to the local Winnebago dealer, spent the morning talking with the sales people and watched a man and his wife hook up their new 5th Wheel trailer. I knew there was no way I could do that by myself, so 5th wheels were out. That left Class A and Class C RVs, and the 27’ one looked like it would work fine.

There were many nights I woke up about 2:00AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, wondering if I could manage to drive a 27’ RV while towing a car. It was probably too much to expect all the roads would be straight. It appeared there were no RV driver training schools in my part of the country.

Even a used RV was pretty expensive though. How could I make it work? Maybe my searching for an exit needed to turn in another direction.

The answer was obvious. I would sell my house and all my belongings and live full-time in the RV. Of course! This was exciting and I couldn’t wait to start my new life, on the road with my cat, Bijou.

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Searching for an Exit - Moving Forward

Bijou, My Russian Blue

I started collecting groups of things in my house and taking photos of them. I took some antiques up to an auction house in MA on my next trip to visit family. Other items I posted on Craigslist.

It quickly became apparent that getting rid of all my belongings would be a lengthy process. And what if I sold my house and then discovered that I couldn’t stand fulltime rv living? So, I decided I had better hang onto the house for awhile. I could travel for a few months in the winter, then come back in the early spring and play realtor again. That would give me a chance to save more and work at reducing my living expenses as well.

In the meantime, I ordered several RV books and started reading up on this rv lifestyle. It was apparent the job of searching for an exit had a lot of parts to it and kept leading to more questions, but I felt like I was making some progress.

In the course of my reading, I discovered that the vehicle you tow behind the RV (the dinghy) needs to be standard shift if you want to tow it the safest way, with all four wheels on the ground. Naturally, my almost-new RAV-4, a leased vehicle, was an automatic. Not to worry – I took it back and traded it in for a Toyota Corolla. There was a hefty penalty for turning it in. However, I cut my car payment in half and would get much better gas mileage, so I figured I’d be even in a little over a year. And I would pay off the loan early.

A few of my friends asked what I intended to do for money when I was traveling the country in my RV. During all the time I spent searching for an exit and mulling over this plan (which sounded pretty extreme to my friends), it didn’t even occur to me to worry about money. Long ago, I’d worked various secretarial jobs through a temp agency, so I figured I could do that again. A couple of the RV books gave lots of guidance for finding jobs on the road. I also thought I could make some extra money with an online business – more on that later.

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Home in Raleigh, NCMy House in Raleigh, NC

I started reading books on retirement. Generally, they just made me angry or depressed, as they dwelled heavily on how much money you needed to amass before you could retire. The main message was to start saving early. At 64, it was already too late for me. Furthermore, if you manage to save a few hundred thousand, you then must spend most of your time making sure you don’t lose it, moving it from place to place, and continually re-balancing your investments. This definitely didn’t sound like fun.

I had some money in an IRA and some equity in my home, but they certainly wouldn’t produce much income with which to augment social security. The best course of action seemed to be to reduce my cost of living. So, I concentrated on that and taking care of my health.

I’m in good health. Most of the time, I expect to live to be at least 100 and to be healthy until the end. I’ve never spent much time worrying about the possibility of a recurrence of cancer, but it’s in the news a lot so it’s not easy to forget about it.

So, I was feeling some internal pressure to move forward with my dream, and decided that 2007 was going to be the year. I made mental lists of things I must remember to take with me when I finally drove off. I started practicing water conservation when hand-washing dishes. I wondered if my driveway was wide enough for the RV. I wondered about a lot of things, and every time I walked through the house, I saw more items to get rid of. Searching for an exit started focusing on other ways to make extra money.

The best book I read, Retirement on a Shoestring, by John Howells, was the most encouraging. There was a nice long chapter about the RV lifestyle and rv retirement, noting many places you could “boondock” (no water, sewer or electric hookups available) at little or no cost. This searching for an exit exercise was bearing fruit and it was becoming clear that my plan was doable. Unfortunately, that particular book is out of print though you may be able to find a used copy at Amazon.

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I had always been an audio junkie. I listened to cassettes, and CDs, in my car when driving, when I walked, at home – pretty much anywhere. I believe in life-long-learning, and if you do a fair amount of driving, you can complete the equivalent of a college degree. In 2006, I had discovered Learning Strategies, Inc. More than anything else, a program called Abundance for Life helped me to clarify my thinking and dreaming about buying an RV, and retiring from real estate to become a full-time RVer.

What all the great minds tell you is actually true. When you put your mind on a problem and start searching hard for solutions, the  universe moves to help you out.

I received an invitation to attend an evening workshop on an internet marketing business opportunity. They promised a free dinner, so what did I have to lose?

I went to the workshop (the dinner was abominable) which was used to entice us to sign up for the all-day workshop to be held a couple of weeks later. A wonderful lunch was promised and it only cost $20. I signed up, sure that I would learn some things that would be useful and equally sure that I would not invest the several thousand dollars required to buy into their “opportunity.”

The all-day event was fantastic and, much to my surprise, so was the lunch. I started to see real possibilities that spelled “freedom” to me. (Yes, I did invest in their opportunity. And yes, I spent a lot of money and never made anything with my first idea, but I did learn a great deal. You can read more about that adventure here.)

Commitment Time

One day, I looked online at the RV dealer’s site and he had a used 27’ Class A motorhome on the lot that looked pretty good. It was considerably less money than I had thought I was going to have to spend, so I drove over to take a look.

The RV, a Winnebago Sightseer, was beautiful, and seemed to be in excellent condition. I spent some time with the manager, asking every question I could think of and getting his promise to teach me to drive it, then spent the weekend thinking it over and doing some research. On Monday morning I called and made an offer. An hour later, my offer was accepted.

Mehitabel in the DrivewayMehitabel in My Driveway

I was a little dry-mouthed during my first driving lesson, but he gave me high marks. The big test was going over speed bumps in his lot. He kept saying, “Slower, slower!” I was only going two or three miles an hour, but the RV wallowed like a big boat in a heavy swell.

I had done considerable research over the past couple of years while searching for an exit , and had become clearer on what I wanted my “retirement” to look like. I still didn’t know exactly how it would be managed financially, but I firmly believed that it would work out. I had been searching for an exit and it seemed I had found one. I was willing to do my part, and confident the universe would take care of the details.

So, if you're searching for an exit like I was, take a look at the solution I eventually found (after several mistakes). There's a wonderful Zen saying, "Leap, and the net will appear."

P.S. That's Mehitabel. Well, I had to give her a name, didn't I?

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