Aug. 13, 2012 at 8:28 AM ET
For many Americans, summer is the time to hit the road in an RV, taking time off work to see the country from the relative comfort of a home on wheels.
But for some free-spirited adventurers, summer never has to end as the RV becomes a mobile office, taking advantage of the growing ubiquity of wireless Internet access.
Jim Nelson and René Agredano are examples of this new breed of telecommuters who are at home on the road.
It’s a far different lifestyle than cubicle culture of the traditional office setting, Nelson said in an interview from their favorite guest ranch in Lake City, Colo.
When asked why they choose to work out of a recreational vehicle or camper, many professionals cite the freedom that comes with a mobile lifestyle.
Nelson made the choice years ago after suffering through a two-hour daily commute in the San Francisco Bay area, when he was a marketing manager for a hardware company.
“It just beats your soul,” Nelson said. “Now I can commute by choice. I can move somewhere if I want to if it’s prettier. It’s not the grindstone.”
In 2007, Nelson and Agredano sold their graphics business, their Eureka, Calif., home and most of their belongings and hit the road full-time in a 24-foot, fifth-wheel trailer. Equipped with gadgets including a satellite dish for Internet access, solar panels and a pair of laptops, they have a virtual office that travels with them. Nelson, 45, works remotely as a graphic designer, while his wife of 15 years, 43-year-old Agredano, works as a freelance writer and jewelry maker.
Clients rarely mind the fact that they work from a location that often changes, although coordinating shipping deliveries can be a challenge, Agredano said.
“The office view always changes,” said Nelson, adding that a picnic table or a hammock often serves as their desk.
Out of the 8.9 million American households that have RVs, about a half-million live full-time on the road, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association estimates. But it’s hard to know exactly how many of those full-timers work from the road, said Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the industry group.
Many campgrounds now offer free Wi-Fi, Broom notes. “With Internet access from anywhere, it’s more and more possible for professionals,” said Broom.
Almost all 485 Kampgrounds of America sites across the country have free Wi-Fi, said Mike Gast, a spokesman for the chain.
“(It) quickly became an amenity that people expected, like a swimming pool,” he said. When Wi-Fi is not in range, campers doing business on the go use network air cards or satellite dishes.
Nelson, who along with Agredano blogs about their experiences at LiveWorkDream.com, calls himself a “location-independent entrepreneur,” although the couple also spends the summer at a Colorado guest ranch where they can work in exchange for a free place to camp and some wages. That can mean helping out with everything from landscaping to laundry or even working the hay fields.
Most other full-time RVers they encounter are retired, but Agradero added: “There’s a growing group of non-retired young people.”
That growing group includes people like the Santarcangelo family. Security consultant Michael Santarcangelo said he “didn’t want to watch my kids grow up in pictures.”
For Santarcangelo it started with this rule of thumb: “50 percent of the time, when I travel, the kids come with.” But by 2005, Santarcangelo, his wife Tricia and his two children decided to hit the road full-time and logged over 100,000 miles between two RVs.
“What we found is living in an RV is a lot simpler,” Santarcangelo said. “We don’t have clutter. I had what I needed. Everything was just very simplified.”
He says the mobile lifestyle was an advantage in business: “It seems when you show up with a family, everyone wants to come talk to you … the conversations and connections. Some of the best friendships are from people who ventured to meet me.”
After a small fire damaged their second RV, and he and his wife had a third child, the family put down roots at least temporarily, and is now living in what Santarcangelo calls a “stick house” in Myrtle Beach, S.C. But now after living in a physical house for a year and a half, the family is antsy to get out on the pavement again and is shopping for a new RV, he said.
A personal touch
Ted Gregory is 73 years old and isn’t planning on slowing down from his life on the road until he is at least 85. The Huntington Beach, Calif.-based financial planner forgoes frequent flier miles and hotels and is instead planning another one of his business-camping trips for late August. Gregory, president of wealth management firm Gregory Advisors Inc., has racked up more than 45,000 miles in his Chevrolet truck, which that has an attached camper. To handle a 36-inch satellite and platform for data, the camper has a custom reinforced roof.
Though Gregory estimates he spends 80 percent of his time in his California office, he regularly takes his business on the road to visit clients who live out of the area.
“We travel to visit them at their place,” Gregory said. “Sometimes, particularly the elderly clients aren’t able to travel.”
Gregory likes to show up on his out-of-town clients’ driveways with his mobile office, allowing him to easily access hard-copy files and build relationships with clients, some of whom he has worked with for up to 30 years.
But it’s not all business for Gregory: he has been able to spend more time with his wife and daughter when they come along on these trips. Around 2003, Gregory used to bring his then-elementary-school-age daughter for the road trips, while she continued school assignments online: “She has seen all but one national park.”
The modern nature of business makes it easier than ever to work without a fixed physical location, according to Jaimie Hall Bruzenak, who spent eight years working full-time on the road in the 1990s. She did seasonal work for the National Park Service, along with freelance writing.
“It’s like having your own business. You have to be disciplined. You can find yourself working too much,” said Bruzenak, author of “Support Your RV Lifestyle! An Insider’s Guide to Working on the Road,” which gives others advice about this lifestyle.
Among her tips: Establishing a comfortable spot to work in your RV, including a proper chair.
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