8 People on Why Living in a Tiny Home on Wheels Is a Risk Worth Taking

published Oct 15, 2019
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Welcome to Risk Month at Apartment Therapy. For the month of October, we’ll look at what risk means in the context of home—whether it’s taking a big design risk when creating your home, dealing with the inherent risks that are associated with owning a home, or anything that involves putting yourself out there without knowing what awaits on the other side. Check out all of our Risk Month content here.

To many, giving up the comforts of a salaried job, a permanent address, and a home on solid ground is a risk too enormous to undertake. For others, it’s a tantalizing adventure worth exploring. Whatever your opinion of homes on wheels—and the folks switching from a “conventional life” in a home with a foundation rooted in the ground to one traveling on the road in a mobile tiny home‚ you have to admit it: it’s a risk to quit your job, give up your house or rental, and take to the open road full-time.

In honor of Risk Month, I interviewed people who have taken this exact kind of risk to find out what friends and family think of their life change, whether the risk was worth it, and where they’re living now.

“Life is full of risks. I think you just need to figure out which ones you want to take on.”

Michael Fuehrer, Navigation Nowhere
Credit: Mandy Holesh

What’s your background, and why did you decide to move into a home on wheels?

Before moving to living full-time in an RV Apartment Therapy toured last year, Samantha Binger was working a 9-5 job as a teacher. “I had always planned to become an entrepreneur eventually, but I was worried that if I quit my job cold turkey, I wouldn’t be able to make enough money to cover my bills,” she explains. “Moving into the RV allowed me to lower my monthly expenses and go all in on my writing business without worrying about whether or not I’d be able to make enough money for my mortgage and utilities and such.” Getting to see the country while traveling? Samantha says that was an added bonus.

Before Michael Fuehrer began living, traveling, and working from his bus-turned-home, he was a graduate student living in a small one-room dormitory, and also worked in an office. “Because of this, I was comfortable with tiny spaces or the idea of living in a bus,” he explained. “After some time of adjustment, I have to say I like my current office way better than my last one. The view changes everyday.”

LeeAnn Mathus and her partner—who currently call home a 188-square-foot RV we toured earlier this year—were paying almost $2000 a month for a rental house in Portland. “It felt defeating and like we would never be able to save money for a home of our own while we were ‘throwing’ money away on rent,” she says.

Elyse DeLisle and Amanda Goelz were living a similar life before moving into their current mobile home; they shared a 3/2 home in Florida, Amanda working in a clinic as a physical therapist, and Elyse as a college lacrosse coach. Printmaking—now Elyse’s profession—was just a hobby at that point.

Kevin and Mandy Holesh were already out of the office-grind when they moved into their first RV, a 188-square-foot Keystone Cougar fifth wheel. “Kev has always worked on a laptop, and I am a photographer,” Mandy says. But though the move to a more mobile lifestyle didn’t mean an office upgrade, it still meant more freedom and travel for the couple.

Jacqueline Sarah, her partner, and their son had fallen on hard financial times when they came up with the idea to move into an RV. “We had just moved back home to Massachusetts from North Carolina after a business venture didn’t quite work out for my husband. We had to swallow our pride and move our family in with my father. My husband began a new job as a sales representative, and I was working part time at a coffee shop. While we were apartment hunting one night, my husband brought up the idea of remodeling a camper and living in it!”

What did you think the biggest risk was going to be before hitting the road?

Elyse and Amanda, Gerry on the Road: Starting a small business on the road. It required some major personal and professional changes, including navigating the finances of living and working from the trailer.

Kevin and Mandy Holesh, 188sqft: Honestly, we didn’t see any risk. Which is probably silly… we’re extreme optimists over here. We spent minimal amounts of money on our first camper, and planned on just a trial trip. So we didn’t see it as a risk at all.

“My concerns were valid, but I’m so glad they didn’t hold me back from achieving my dreams.”

Samantha Binger, Life Among Pines

Samantha Binger, Life Among Pines: I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to generate enough income and that I would have to call it quits. By living in the RV, I was able to drastically reduce my necessary monthly income while I was getting my business off the ground. Since then, things have really picked up. My concerns were valid, but I’m so glad they didn’t hold me back from achieving my dreams.

LeeAnn Mathus, Leeannieblivin: The biggest risk to making the transition to tiny living for us was the risk of selling all our things and downsizing in such a manner that if it didn’t end up working out we would have to start all over with building up our monetary belongings. I think as a society we are raised that the more things we have the more successful we are and that we are winning at life, so to speak. It was scary breaking that mindset and only keeping our most special pieces!

Credit: Mandy Holesh

What did the biggest risk or challenge actually end up being?

Michael Fuehrer, Navigation Nowhere: Missing out on family events. I am fortunate to have a close family who regularly sees one another. Moving into a school bus and planning on traveling full-time means, I knew I would miss certain things. Over the past few years, I think I have missed out on some family moments or events but I have learned now that I am only a plane ticket away so I now budget to fly home for important family events and holidays. It was the biggest risk to me starting out, but I think I have found a way to work around it.

Elyse and Amanda, Gerry on the Road: Continuing to grow my art and design business. There are still many unknowns, but if there’s one thing a year on the road has taught me, it’s that saying yes to the unknown is the quickest way to learn what you’re capable of.

LeeAnn Mathus, Leeannieblivin: The greatest challenge I have had since living in the RV for awhile now would be remembering that we are in fact living in less than 200 square feet. I will admit that I am a materialistic girl when it comes to my home, so it has been a challenge working out if I need something or want it. I have been working through FOMO on home decor and let me tell you, the struggle is real! 

Jacqueline Sarah, jacquelinesarahh: The biggest risk for us after we moved into the RV was that I was going to be living the lifestyle alone with my son, pretty much. My husband joined the Army and left for boot camp just a couple months after we had moved in.

What did your friends and family say about making this life change?

Michael Fuehrer, Navigation Nowhere: When I first told my family and friends that I had bought a bus and was going to convert it in to my full-time home, I think they thought that it was just “another idea,” “a way to delay getting a job,” or just “completely crazy.” My one close friend remembers thinking, “Well if anyone is going to do it, it’s going to be Mike.” And my sister said, “I thought it wasn’t going to happen. But, when he bought a bus I thought it was cool and that he should just throw a bed in the back and get going.” I think that over time, they all began to see that I was serious about the idea and was really going to live on a bus. It’s funny because I now have a few friends who bought their own vans and are traveling the country.

Kevin and Mandy Holesh, 188sqft: I remember a lot of our friends and family just being confused. I know a friend was like “But why?!” There are a lot of parts of living in a camper that are uncomfortable, so I understand why people didn’t get it. But it seemed like the more we had crazy adventures, took photographs and shared them, the more they understood. Sometimes we even encouraged them to invite more adventure into their lives!

“Yes we were met with some skepticism but the support trumped it!”

LeeAnn Mathus, Leeannieblivin

Samantha Binger, Life Among Pines: My friends and family were mostly supportive. I’ve always been one of those “go against the grain types,” so I think they honestly thought it was pretty standard for me to take such a big leap. Right before I was about to hit the road in my RV in December 2016, one of my friends said to me, “So you’re actually doing this, huh? That’s pretty cool. Most people just talk about the things they want to do and try, but you’re actually making it happen.” That honestly inspired me to want to succeed and make the road life work for me even more.

Jacqueline Sarah, jacquelinesarahh: My family and friends mostly thought it was “cool.”  We didn’t quite receive as much negative feedback as I had imagined we would. However, we heard a few, “what? You’re crazy!” comments as well as a couple people concerned with us taking away from our son’s childhood by making him live in an RV. From my mother, “When my daughter Jacqueline told me they were moving into and RV I was a little surprised, but I knew they could make it work! She told me excitedly about her plans to renovate it and make it her own, and I knew she was passionate about the decision, so I supported her.”

LeeAnn Mathus, Leeannieblivin: When we told friends and family of the decision to sell our things and ditch the goal of buying a house of our own we were mostly met with support! Yes we were met with some skepticism, but the support trumped it! My mom—who I was worried about what she would think—thought it would be a fun adventure. Even eight months in and there are still a few who don’t understand this lifestyle and question why we are doing this.

What’s the best advice for someone considering “risking” it all to live a life on the road?

Michael Fuehrer, Navigation Nowhere: I think the best advice I can give to someone who might want to build a full-time rig and travel the country is to not just think about the destinations and road you will drive, even though I know it is very exciting. Rather, think about the people with you now during the build process and those you will meet along your way. I have found that the best part about taking a risk and living the bus life is that visiting amazing architectural and natural places is awesome, but it was the people with me in a particular location that eventually formed the memory. I wrote this when living on my bus to remind me of this point: “It’s not about the number of miles that you drive but the people every mile along the way.”

“Your capacity to problem solve is usually way better than you give yourself credit for, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to predict every possible outcome. Sometimes it’s better to say ‘yes’ and figure it out as you go.”

Elyse and Amanda, Gerry on the Road

LeeAnn Mathus, Leeannieblivin: Just go for it! Dive head first. Because it’s all unknown, but you’ll never know the impact it will have on your life until you try it! Be brave! This has been the best experience and if I would have let what others were saying or my fear take hold I would have missed out on an amazing life experience.

Elyse and Amanda, Gerry on the Road: It’s natural to have fears before taking big risks, but try to eliminate the variables you can’t actually control. Your capacity to problem solve is usually way better than you give yourself credit for, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to predict every possible outcome. Sometimes it’s better to say “yes” and figure it out as you go.

“Our best advice is to stop making excuses and to just try it.”

Kevin and Mandy Holesh, 188sqft

Samantha Binger, Life Among Pines: Life is all about what you make it, and, if the risk you’re considering will significantly improve your life and/or set you on a path towards achieving your dreams, then I think you should take it. It’s helpful to consider the worst possible outcome when weighing potential risks. What’s the worst that could happen if you take this chance? For me, the worst case scenario would have been having to stop traveling and head back to my old home and start another 9-5 job. Before moving into the RV, I was living that exact same scenario already. Having to potentially go back to that if things didn’t work out wouldn’t have been so bad, and that thought helped me feel much more comfortable in my transition. If you’re considering taking a similar risk, ask yourself what the worst possible outcome of your intended risk would be. Chances are, it’s not nearly as bad as you think.

Jacqueline Sarah, jacquelinesarahh: The best advice I have given to anyone who may be on the fence about making this lifestyle change is, to just go for it! Take the plunge! It may be the scariest thing you’ve ever done, but it’ll be one of the best adventures of your life!

What does “risk” mean to you?

Michael Fuehrer, Navigation Nowhere: The first thing that I think when I hear the word “risk” is challenge. When I am confronted with moments in life where I might need to take a risk or step outside the box, I try to look at the situation as a challenge. Risks to me are not inherently negative, dangerous, or something to shrug to the side. Rather, it is something I try to take head on and think through the pros and cons to everything set in front of me. Life is full of risks. I think you just need to figure out which ones you want to take on.

Elyse and Amanda, Gerry on the Road: To me, “risk” means taking a chance on something that I want, without fully knowing or having control over the consequences. For me, personally, taking a risk is best done quickly before I allow doubt to creep in.

“To take a risk is to take a chance on yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else does, and you know what you are capable of.”

Samantha Binger, Life Among Pines

Samantha Binger, Life Among Pines: For me, to take a risk is to take a chance on yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else does, and you know what you are capable of. As cheesy as it may sound, if you believe you will succeed when considering taking a risk, whatever that may be, then I truly believe you will. We are all capable of accomplishing big things, especially if you really dig deep and give it your all. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things, especially if it will put you closer to achieving your dreams.

LeeAnn Mathus, Leeannieblivin: The feeling of bravery comes to mind. We took a huge risk in buying a camper without even having camped in one and decided to make it into something we would live in full time! We risked normalcy by selling all our furniture and belongings we wouldn’t need anymore, not knowing if tiny living would even work out. We took a risk and made this huge life change for a more intentional life and that to me is brave.

Jacqueline Sarah, jacquelinesarahh: Risk is all about taking chances even if you’re not quite sure what the outcome will be. It’s about living your life to the fullest with no regrets. Without risk, you may never know all the wonderful things you could achieve.

Credit: Sam Binger

How is your life on the road going? Have any changes happened since you took your big risk?

Amanda and Elyse still call their RV home, as well as LeeAnn and her partner. Michael is still living in his bus, but since his Apartment Therapy tour, he’s had his eyes on another adventure: “I am beginning the process of buying a sailboat to rebuild with some friends and sail for the winter. Sailing has been an adventure that I have wanted to try for a long time and I finally feel like I am ready to start this next adventure. Since I will be sailing soon, my bus will be parked until my parents take it on their own trip this winter,” he reports.

“Without risk, you may never know all the wonderful things you could achieve.”

Jacqueline Sarah, jacquelinesarahh

Mandy and Kevin are no longer in the exact RV that we toured… but they’re still living that mobile life. “We are no longer in that RV, that one we bought for super cheap and renovated so we could pay off debt. We ended up paying off all of our debt, saved up, and bought a new fifth wheel. We renovated it and are now living in that.” Jacqueline Sarah and her family JUST moved out of their RV a few weeks ago… because she’s pregnant! “We felt for this new season in life moving on post to Fort Bragg (my husband is military) would be easier for many different reasons for us as we soon become a family of four. We currently live in a condo that we’re essentially renting on base.”

Samantha also no longer lives in the RV we toured (it’s actually for sale); she’s currently living in a stationary home outside of Philadelphia. “Traveling is still very much a part of my life, but after two full years on the road, I was ready for a break and wanted to put down some roots,” she writes. “I still travel part-time in my RV and truly feel like I get to enjoy the best of both worlds in doing so.”

Huge thanks to everyone for participating in these Risk month interviews! Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly left out Jacqueline Sarah’s extremely thoughtful responses, which were received while I (Adrienne) was on vacation. I updated this post to included her answers—I blame it on the leaf-peeping frenzy I was on while vacationing through New England.