I grew up watching movies like “The Parent Trap,” “Troop Beverly Hills” and “The Great Outdoors.” I was in my element when I was surround by miles and miles of nothingness, except maybe some squirrels or coyotes, and I longed to spend a summer at a classic sleep-away camp, or join the Girl Scouts, or spend a week inside a cozy cabin surrounded by tall evergreens. None of those things ever happened, so I had to settle for living vicariously through video tapes and a VCR.
I did, however, come to appreciate the freedom to travel, to see, to do, that an RV provides, as that was my family’s choice transportation for almost every vacation we ever took. I never found the community of peers my own age in a scouts or sleep-away camp environment, but traveling highways and byways in an RV did give me a sense of adventure and a taste of freedom.
I think I may have found two souls after my own heart in Amy Beth Oppenheimer and Yair Horowitz. They’re the authors of a blog, “Our Take on Freedom: Escaping the 9-to-5 before 25,” and they’re New York Wall Street types turned RV adventurers. A young married couple, both in their mid-20s, both from active and observant Jewish backgrounds, both with successful jobs in management consulting and finance, who both decided the corporate ladder-climb wasn’t for them.
“We don’t like the idea of golden handcuffs,” they write on their blog. “Just because we’re smart enough to win the rat race doesn’t mean we want to spend or lives running in it. In our view, our jobs were ‘good’ because they enabled us to take this time off and gave us some professional experience along the way. We excelled at our jobs, but worked to live rather than lived to work. When full-time travel got old for Ayo [Amy] and the time was right for Jay [Yair], we left.”
They left, first, to a high-end resort in the Dominican Republic, where they bartered their teaching services for free room and board. Upon return to the U.S., they purchased an RV about a year ago and have been on the road ever since, exploring the cultural intricacies and natural beauty of the U.S. while meeting new people at every stop and bringing educational programming (in dance, Hebrew, yoga and astronomy) to Jewish communities nationwide. (Amy also promotes her documentary, “Faces of Israel,” about marriage, state and religion in the Jewish homeland, which she produced a few years ago while an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University.)
The couple stays in each place a few months, finding work while there and living out of their RV on government land or in a space they’ve cleared with its owners. They installed solar panels to their roof to make living without electrical hook-ups possible, sold most of their possessions, and are on an adventure I’m guessing few people their age — or any age, for that matter — would be daring enough to take. As I write this they’re in Los Angeles. They call their choice “a unique, long-term, and well-planned experiment in lifestyle design.”
Though I admire Amy and Yair for knowing what they want in life and pursuing it aggressively, I don’t know that I could replicate their experiment. I’m generally not a risk-taker, and living nomadically without a stable source of income makes me start to twitch and sweat a little. I’m no Matt Foley living in a van down by the river, that’s for sure. (As a completely unrelated side note, those classic Saturday Night Live sketches with Chris Farley from the early 90s are some of my all-time favorites.)
But Amy and Yair do give pause for thought about how we live our lives. Are we living with intent and purpose? Are we making a conscious decision about the kind of life we want to live, then pursuing that passionately? Are we taking advantage of every opportunity, even if it seems premature (again, they’re 25!), so we won’t be on our deathbeds wishing we had?
I guarantee I won’t be selling off all my belongings and hitting the road for good in an RV any time soon, but maybe one day soon I’ll put my efforts toward some of the much humbler skills and adventures I’ve always desired: learn to play an instrument, sew well, kayak or raft a wild river without a guide, decorate a cake that looks like it cost a million bucks, learn to swing dance, grow a garden, ride a horse into the wilderness for a weekend pack trip.
Amy and Yair are certainly not the norm, and their experience is not easily replicable, but we all have our own versions of their “escaping the 9-to-5 before 25.” It’s just a matter of putting them into action before we no longer have the chance.