While transitioning into becoming full-time RVers, we’ve found that many people are fascinated by how we got here – what led up to this decision and the reasons why we want to do it. Some of our best friends were no different. While talking about our plans with our good friends Lindsay and Joe, they felt inspired by our conversation and encouraged us to share it with others. Being a well published and successful writer, Lindsay had the idea to interview us and wrote the story below. Hope you enjoy!
The Open Road
A Q&A with Follow Your Detour Founders Dan and Lindsay McKenzie
By Lindsay Stafford Mader
Before Dan and Lindsay McKenzie decided to become full-time RVers, before they founded the Follow Your Detour website, before they uprooted their lives to move from Colorado to North Carolina, and even before they traversed Thailand and Italy and Greece and Portugal, they were two newlyweds living and working in Costa Rica, searching for experiences that felt different from the lives they left behind. One might say it was their very first intentional detour.
On a humid Saturday morning on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the McKenzies were perusing the local farmers’ market strung along the Quepos sea wall when they came across my husband’s hummus stand. They stopped to chat and try some samples and we invited them over for drinks at our apartment. Since that evening of shared Imperials and plantain chips and expat stories, we’ve been friends who try to meet up every chance we get. This has included near-death experiences from rolling boulders, tumbling down cliffs in the rainforest, eating oysters in the French Quarter, drinking wine in the Hill Country, dining on Thai in the presence of MLB stars, and two-stepping in a dingy Texas bar.
Throughout the years, we have watched Dan and Lindsay’s adventure-seeking spirits grow more curious and more determined. So we definitely got it when they decided to sell their house and move to Raleigh and when, eight months later, they told us they had just paid off all their debt, Lindsay had quit her teaching job, and they had sold most of their material possessions in order to take off into the sunset hauling a 200-square-foot house-on-wheels.
The McKenzies recently reunited with us for a few days at our home in Austin. With dogs on laps and margaritas in hand, we sat down to talk about the vision they have for their upcoming RV adventure and their plans to continue living the lives that feel right for them.
What about RVing full time are you most looking forward to and what would you like the journey’s outcome to be?
Lindsay McKenzie: I hope that we get somewhere where we’ve checked off these bucket list things but that we’re more impressed by the legacy we’ve left behind and the people we’ve touched some way, some how. Even just going to the RV Entrepreneur Summit this weekend in Fredericksburg, Texas, and seeing how many people are in this community of full-time RVers, you don’t even know how you can touch their lives in some way. So it’s the benefits that you don’t even know are coming. I pray that if our hearts are open, God will show us who needs help and will present us with those opportunities. We’ve had so many people help us up to this point that I just hope I can give back.
Dan McKenzie: I’m really excited to see where this lifestyle takes our relationship. Because even though we spend a ton of time together, we’ve never worked together. I’m so looking forward to seeing how Lindsay channels her skills and her talents. She’s always been a teacher and that’s always been who she is, but now she has time to apply herself to different areas, and I think she’ll blossom. What we really want to do is build something sustainable. This idea that travel can be incorporated into your everyday life—that’s the dream scenario. The RV is pushing us out of our comfort zone to allow us to remove the things we feel are dragging us down: materialistic endeavors, the idea that your self-worth is determined by the size of your house, the amount of money you have in the bank. And with the website, I want us to be another cog in the wheel that somebody could read about and think, if they can do it, we can do it. Even in our short time, we’ve had some people reach out and say, “I’ve shared your story with my friend who’s going through something really tough right now.” I’ve never had a feeling like that in the corporate world.
Do you have any fears?
L: I’m past the fear of failure. Moving to Raleigh and having that only last eight months—I feel like other people view it as a failure, but I see it as a stepping stone. Of course I’m scared of things like breaking down. But that’s why we didn’t buy a motorhome. Our truck is brand new and reliable. We’re smart and we do our research.
D: I’m afraid of being emasculated because I’m not going to know how to fix something right away. I imagine us in Death Valley and our car breaks down and we’re just stuck there. I’m not afraid of being confined to a small space with Lindsay. We actually thrive the more we’re together.
What would your ideal RV day look like?
L: We’re going to be in some of the most beautiful places and why would we want to sleep through that? So we want to wake up early and get in a good hike or bike or time with the dogs or even just some coffee outside on the picnic table while we enjoy the beautiful morning. Then we want to work hard on the blog. We’ve already found that we will work 10 hours and then have to force ourselves to take a break. I picture us having to tell each other, “Enough is enough, we didn’t do this to sit in the RV and work all day.” I really hope the evenings consist of as much outdoor space as possible. We might have a tiny space inside, but the point is for us to get out and explore. I hope we have a life that is based on the experiences more than anything else.
D: We’re also looking at working with some of the larger volunteer organizations or RV volunteer groups that are based around a mobile lifestyle. There’s no reason we couldn’t work at the homeless shelter or help people on hikes or somebody broken down on the road, who before we wouldn’t have stopped for because we were in a rush. Now we can stop and help them.
What does traveling mean to you?
L: I didn’t grow up traveling, and I thought that teaching was my dream. But when Dan started making me travel, I never felt so alive before—and those moments are what drives me. There’s nothing else I’ve done that makes me feel that way. To experience that together is twice as good. Because nobody else understands but Dan. And there’s so many other benefits that come along with traveling, like our friendship with you guys.
D: Traveling gives you a real-time, comfort-zone push, every second of the day. When you’re in a different environment, the littlest things can seem challenging. And then you combine that with the fact that you’re being exposed to a culture or people or a food that’s completely unique to you—it’s like sensory overload. You can feel yourself growing as a person when you experience new things. You also have this incredible feeling of fortune for being able to travel to another place. These things combine and it’s not like just getting up and going to your job.
Why do you think some people might have a hard time understanding your desire to travel?
L: I think if you’ve never experienced it, you don’t know what you’re missing. We understand. We constantly hear, “We can’t afford to go on vacation,” or “We were saving for vacation but then our water heater broke”. But overall, I don’t think it’s a priority for all people.
D: You can be very happy not traveling and being close to your family. It’s just a different path than the one that makes us feel invigorated. I also think part of it is the messaging. We’re conditioned in this country to buy and to gain and to acquire. Turning that on its head and saying, “We need to acquire memories, we don’t need to acquire things,” I think is very foreign to some. And we have a country that is full of hard-working people who aren’t familiar with the idea of taking time off.
Have you learned anything interesting about yourselves through traveling?
L: Traveling became a whole different part of me that I didn’t know. Especially in the beginning with Dan being well traveled and trusting him to guide us along and navigate and protect me, it was a huge part of our marriage. I think it helped identify our different roles with each other. Getting rid of a lot of things and realizing how little you need to be happy and survive is also going to be a huge lesson. I don’t feel like I’m the same person at all—and in a great way. I told Dan for so long, “I don’t think I can quit my job.” But eventually, something clicked. This is my life.
D: When you’re able to make it through a day that included a taxi ride, a grocery store visit, maybe going to the bank and cashing a check—all these things in another language, in a different culture—it gives you a real sense of confidence, like I can take on the world. So often when you’re in your little bubble, you feel like you’re in control of your own opportunities and your destiny. While that’s true to a degree, ultimately you’re not in control. You can only control the way you react to situations. Traveling teaches you to be okay with that. And, in Costa Rica, I realized that something they were doing was better than the way we do it at home. That’s a really weird feeling—it almost throws you off your rocker.
Tell me about the most important thing you’ve learned about RVing so far and any advice you have for people who are interested in this lifestyle.
L: At the RV Entrepreneur Summit in Fredericksburg, it was all about What’s your purpose? Why are you doing this? Everybody commented that they just wanted to live life a little more, whether it was spending more time with their family or spending less time with the day-to-day grind of a job. So we learned to always go back to that purpose. Yes, there are going to be hard times on the road and something is going to break with the RV and there are going to be times when we’re lonely or miserable, but the most important thing is to remember why you’re doing it. And don’t overthink things, but, yes, research. We’ve always said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” We would be back in our parents’ basement and would not be begging for food. We’re fortunate in that. Have your support system. Be smart.
D: It’s amazing what you can do from a transformation perspective in a short amount of time. Be present, try to enjoy what you have—but if you’re in a bad spot, know that you can change it. Also, you’re definitely going to make mistakes. You’re probably going to purchase a truck or an RV that doesn’t necessarily meet your needs! [Editor’s note: Dan laughed when saying this because he and Lindsay did this very thing.] It’s easy to let materialism come over into your purchasing decisions. Try and understand why you’re doing something and make those purchases reflect that. And, we’ve thought pretty long and hard about not only how we can support ourselves but also what our emergency fund and savings look like. Yes, be spontaneous but also don’t put yourself on the streets. Make sure that what you’re going to do is sustainable. Be diligent and be mindful about how you are pursuing your dream.
What is your concept of home?
L: I always think of that song that says “home is wherever I’m with you.” I will feel at home with Dan in a Super 8. While I loved our Parker, Colorado, home, walking away wasn’t a big deal. That was our first home and we put a lot of sentiment into that but at the same time, we’ve made every place we’ve ever been home.
D: I believe most of us have a place where a part of us grew enough that we can say, “This is my home,” and that doesn’t change. My hometown is always going to be Colorado Springs. But when you get older, home is when you find that comfort of somebody who you’re supposed to be with. Home is not a place, home is a person for me. Home is our connection, our inside jokes, our dogs—it has absolutely nothing to do with where we are physically located.
It’s strange to end by asking how the RV idea began, but what led you to this?
D: It would be naïve to think this is all about travel. We started down the path that most people do. We were so excited to buy our first house because it was the next step. There was a point when it became apparent that it was silly to be living in the suburbs with a bunch of families and kids if we weren’t achieving those goals. After getting my diagnosis of infertility, we went the donor route because we thought action was a replacement for grieving. We didn’t allow for the opportunity to feel for ourselves. We saw it as something to overcome. But it was something Lindsay wasn’t sure of in her heart and I wasn’t sure of in my heart. We kept doing the testing and spending the money and going to the doctor and it wasn’t working. There was finally a point when Lindsay was so stressed and upset that the thought of pursuing this objective became such a negative in our life. We booked a trip to Thailand out of pain. And out of that trip, we realized this isn’t right, right now. We left one life to move to North Carolina, which we realized was the door to a different life in the RV. Detours are not only helpful but they can be instrumental in your life.
L: Some people think we’re trying to run from our problems, but we don’t feel that way. We started on the donor route because it was easier to try and find a solution. I knew from the bottom of my heart that I didn’t want it. It was a totally weird feeling. Now it’s like what will be will be. I’m going to make the life I’m happy in. We moved to Raleigh because it was a part of the country we had never seen. It was also good to take some time for ourselves and to get away from everything else. We went on road trips to see all these different places. The more we did that, the more we realized we love this—we want to do this all the time.
Mader was raised on a Central Texas cattle ranch and eventually made her way down the road to Austin. After receiving her bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Texas, she spent a year exploring Latin America and blogging for Costa Rica’s award-winning English-language newspaper. Mader then worked as a staff editor and writer at various Austin-based publications for almost a decade and is now a freelance writer and meticulous yet creative copy editor. She is currently a reluctant although usually happy city slicker who writes a lot, reads a lot, ponders story ideas, takes creative writing classes, and travels.
You can read Mader’s published work by clicking here. She can be contacted by emailing lsm [at] lindsaystaffordmader [dot] com.