Ever dream of quitting the rat race, hopping in an RV and taking life one day at a time, with nothing ahead of you except the open road?
Steve and Wendy McGrath, a couple in their 30s from Phoenix, Arizona have done just that. Since leaving their jobs last year, the couple has sold their home and is now living in a comfy 45-foot RV as they tour the US.
And they aren’t alone. The McGraths are on the road with their two young kids – Brady and Ainsley – as well as Ms. Pikachu the cat and a German shepherd named Eis.
Before setting out on the road, the family trialed camper life for a full year in Phoenix to allow the children to finish elementary school. It also gave them the opportunity to condense all of their necessities into a small space. In May, they finally hit the road.
They’ve since spent the summer in Maine and plan to simply go wherever the map guides them.
“I don’t want to work 40 hours a week, I don’t want a respectable job, I don’t want to spend the majority of my life working hard to enjoy a few weeks a year,” says Steve, a former ER nurse and US veteran who was deployed to war zones. “I won’t be a victim to the trap that is the American dream.
“Wendy and I have decided this way of life just doesn’t cut it anymore. We are doing things our own way. We are going to live every day like we are on vacation. We are going to roam this country and others. We are going to make every day, week, month and year truly count. If all goes well, we will not regret anything we have seen, done or experienced.”
Wendy, a former safety operations manager at an American airline, says the stress and pressure of her job had become unbearable. Coming home late from work every day, she says she was no longer able to spend quality time with her family.
Schooling from the road
Last year the McGraths sold their 200 square feet, five-bedroom house in a developed Phoenix neighborhood for $400,000, as well as their cars and moved into the RV, which is pulled by a truck.
They are now spending much less than when they had a house, roughly $1,200 per month for gas, food and basic needs.
However, mechanical issues are among the unpredictable extra costs they face, and they’ve already had to stop in Illinois for repairs.
But they are confident the family will be able to live off the money from the home sale while they are on the road.
Both parents say they are open to the possibility of finding a “simple” part-time online job to earn some extra spending dollars, but it’s not their core objective.
Right now, offering their children a better, happier and healthier life is their priority.
Eight-year-old Brady and Ainsley, seven, no longer go to a brick-and-mortar school. Their parents are ‘RV-schooling’ them, particularly their father who has also taken on the role of cook. He says he loves preparing fresh dishes each day and is proud to say that since they left Phoenix they have not eaten a single frozen meal or any fast food.
“The idea behind our choice was to simplify life, after the kids got good foundations of reading we wanted to teach them what the real world is,” says Wendy. “Instead of learning written things inside a textbook approved by the US government, it is better to show them what fishing is about by going fishing.
“This way they learn a lot of stuff from another viewpoint, and we are able to protect and keep them safe. Every week in some school in the US there is a shooting, it is no longer safe sending them to school.”
Brady says he “likes to see real bunnies, geese and chickens” in parks and natural reserves rather than learning about these in a classroom, even though he does miss his buddies but chats with them over the phone. Little Ainsley adores seeing new things and spending time with her family, says McGrath.
Steve argues that piling up working years and struggling to survive in the rat race eventually makes one angry and bitter.
“The issue was no longer having any work-life balance; Wendy was often stuck at work 16 hours straight, missing on the things we planned as a family,” he says.
“At the emergency department, I was okay dealing with stress but it was just getting to be the old same stuff. Then Covid hit, and I realized how stupid managers were making policies that had no sense (as) they didn’t work with us.”
Not having a plan doesn’t scare them one bit. On the contrary, traveling without knowing where they will go next is exciting.
“We’ve already fallen in love with our trailer roots,” says Steve. “Our typical day is: wake up without the alarm, have coffee outside in the fresh breeze, ask my kids what are their priorities for the day, whether they want to go to the lake to swim and fish. Or take the bikes for a ride, or go for a walk.
“Then in the evenings we play board games, watch a movie, have dinner, go to sleep. Wake the next morning and see what’s up for the day. We have no schedule, no agenda.”
Last stop: Latronico, Italy
The only destination they do plan to reach at some point is Latronico, a tiny rural village in the southern Italian region of Basilicata.
That’s the only property they now own.
But they won’t be taking their RV across the Atlantic when they do eventually make the move. They’ll store it at a friend’s house and fly to Italy. Steve says he was born in Germany and plans to apply for dual citizenship.
According to Wendy, Latronico and their new life on the road have a lot in common.
“We love the village’s laid-back vibe, green scenery and thermal park with the beautiful fountains,” she says.
“It’s totally the opposite from the chaotic center of Phoenix where we lived. Living on the road has an appeal similar to that of Latronico in getting back to nature, away from iPhones and iPads. It’s like going back to our roots.”