“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s life.” —Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Powerful words. So powerful, in fact, two Coastal Virginia couples are taking this advice to heart. They left the safety of full-time office jobs (although they are all still working) and the confines of their traditional homes and set out on a journey to see more of the world—one by land; one by sea. Here are their stories.
John and Sonya Schweitzer have been avid travelers their whole lives. They have flown all over the world and lived in a variety of places, both overseas and in the United States. (Sonya is originally from Australia and still has family there.)
In late 2014, John suffered from a debilitating neurological issue that makes him extremely foggy and dizzy. He can no longer fly or travel by boat due to the movement, but they still wanted to scratch their travel itch.
“I’m not a fan of sleeping on the ground (bugs!) and a bathroom is kind of a must,” says Sonya. “So we started looking at different camper options and bought a small RV to spend our weekends in. We joined some RV groups on Facebook and discovered a whole bunch of people our age who are living in RVs and traveling around the country (and world) while doing their jobs remotely. We quickly realized that RVing full time was what we wanted to do and started putting the wheels in motion to downsize our lives.”
Ryan Carroll and Sheena Jeffers departed from Norfolk on Nov. 30, 2017 to sail to undesignated places for as long and as far as they can financially muster, and as long as it remains fun. They made the decision to head out based on personal assessments.
Photo by Stellar Exposures
Photo by Mark Edward Atkinson
“We had some facts on the table,” says Sheena. “Fact 1: We knew this dream was important to Ryan and for him to achieve. Fact 2: We knew it was possible after finding the perfect boat and figuring out how to finance it. Fact 3: We knew we were both at career forks in the roads—for myself as an arts educator and for him as a real estate agent. We both knew we wanted to try to trust ourselves and start our own businesses or passion projects. Fact 4: We knew it was the perfect time to give it all a go. For me, I made the decision based on two fundamental beliefs I hold: I want to support my partner, whom I love, and I want to be fully present with my time, energy, talent and resources to build something I love.”
Both couples admit that it was a scary prospect to leave friends and family behind to head out into the unknown. But the allure of literally being able to navigate their own paths far outweighed the apprehension of contemplating the journey.
“It is incredibly scary, uncomfortable and uprooting to head into the unknown,” says Sheena. “It’s a rewiring of self. Everything I depended on—steady income, the physical closeness of family and friends, routine checkups, my car—felt gone. All of the conveniences of life—endless fresh water and electricity, washers and dryers, dish washers—were no longer available for my consumption. It took overcoming a lot of personal fear and hesitation.”
For the Schweitzers, being away from family wasn’t a major issue, but they have found some people along the way who have been somewhat problematic. “Although we have the support of family and friends, we have encountered some judgment in the general public, especially since we have been on the West Coast,” says Sonya. “We have to explain that we are not homeless or poor but have chosen to live this way as we continue our careers. There is a bit of a negative reputation about RVing (maybe due to "Breaking Bad"?), and as we near cities that have super high rental and property costs, a lot more people are moving in to older RVs and parking in car parks and on the streets if they can’t afford other forms of housing.”
One might think that spending so much time together might have a negative impact on a couple’s relationship, but both couples report that their time together has been a positive experience.
“Even though we are living in a much smaller space 24/7, we are actually getting along pretty well,” says Sonya. “We communicate a lot more as there are a lot more decisions to be made and compromises that happen. We know when to just take a walk or a drive to give each other space. Overall, it’s been a really good thing for us!”
Sheena agrees. “Rarely do you get to spend uninterrupted 24 hours a day, seven days a week with your partner. The world doesn’t allow it because you have to work, you overcommit yourselves to outside things, this or that needs you. This has given us the opportunity to know each other on a deeper, more intimate level. To learn each other’s needs, quirks, passions, talents and abilities, strengths and weaknesses. We are stronger and have learned to work together as a team to accomplish anything we want, no matter how big and scary the dream or goal may be.”
What’s next on the horizon for our travelers?
“We start by picking a destination in a broad sense,” says Sonya. “For example, we are visiting the Pacific Northwest this summer. We then drill down a bit and choose national or state parks we want to visit, or cities we want to see, then prepare our route around that. There are a bunch of apps we use to help with our planning to find campgrounds, things to do and hiking trails. We also depend on apps to find places for our dogs to play and restaurants that allow dogs, as they are a big part of our RVing life. We try not to drive more than 200–300 miles a day, we only drive on the weekends (because of that whole work thing) and we try to stay in the same location for two to three weeks. So movement can be slow, but we like the slower pace. It gives us time to really get to know an area.”
On the open ocean, the course is a little more spontaneous. “We travel where our curiosity leads us,” says Sheena. “Many times, we’ll take a suggestion from a fellow traveler if they report somewhere full of beauty or kindness, history or good stuff. We’ve also stopped at unexpected places when the weather gets rough and tells us to pull in to safe harbors for rest.”
You can follow along with both couples’ adventures through their various social media channels:
John and Sonya
Ryan and Sheena