Slow is Fast: How to Pay Off Debt By Living in an RV

Traveling full time seems glamorous, right? Exploring all the time, eating at new restaurants, staying at unique hotels, and sharing that wanderlusty magic all over your social media accounts. My husband and I are full time travelers, but we’re not at all like that.

When we moved into our renovated camper full time, we had two goals in mind: 1) pay off our $180,000 student debt and 2) travel and explore North America. Right now, and for the past two years, we’ve been focused on #1. In another year or so (fingers crossed), we’ll completely knock off that student debt and be able to explore more places, spend endless nights on the Oregon coast, and finally be able to read a restaurant menu from left to right.

Luxurious travel is on the back burner ’til we were debt free.

Let me walk you through how. We both work for ourselves which means our schedules are really flexible. Because we were anxious to get away from an incoming Northeast winter, we decided to take a couple month road trip to the Southeast in a borrowed pop up camper. We weren’t super serious about paying off our debt then, but that road trip helped us see that full-time travel doesn’t have to be expensive, we can actually save money from living this lifestyle.

We got home from the trip, and started joking about doing it full time; just living on the road and enjoying nomadic life. We pushed that thought aside because it didn’t seem attainable. Instead, we decided to move into a cooler neighborhood in Pittsburgh, got all settled, and decided to tackle our debt head-on. But as the winter approached, we began to get that same itch to leave. We sat on our front porch on a gorgeous autumn day, beers in hand and had a heart-to-heart discussion about potentially living on the road. Yes, we loved the idea but doing it while making progress on our student debt was the only way we would agree to it.

So we started to look at vans, RVs, trailers, fifth wheels, and all things in between. Finding something that would comfortably fit us and our four pets (yes, four), with a layout we liked, and most importantly less expensive than $10,000. Staring at all RV selling sites for weeks, we finally found our fifth wheel “Keystone” and we knew she was the one. We took the trip to Buffalo, NY to see her in person and we bought her that day. Grand total? $6,000. We spent 6k in cash on our home. Keystone definitely needed some TLC and we were so excited to give her some.

We did most of the renovations in the first two weeks, we both took time off to work 100% on her. It was exhausting, but so rewarding. We had no idea what we were doing. We were renters before this so we never had a house, and we never had a camper either. TOTAL newbs.

I remember day 2 feeling super upset. We were in the demo phase, and all I saw was what we had destroyed. I just thought we ruined her, and what if we could’t fix her up? Luckily, my husband Kev was level headed and kept me hopeful. Many mistakes were made, from using a super powerful paint gun that dripped paint everywhere, to thinking a faucet that we used multiple times a day could hold up being painted. But honestly, we loved the process. Learning how to do things, then doing it to your home is addicting and so rewarding! Now we know what not to do for our next renovation!

Because we found our perfect layout, we didn’t have to do anything structurally. With a couple coats of paint, new floors, and concrete counter tops she was a good as new! It was our dream first home.

We wanted her to feel light and open. While being functional, with plenty of space for guests and our animals. Realistically, we knew we would spend a lot of time working, and not as much time exploring (at least not $$$ explorations), so her interior was very important. The renovation job isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t matter day-to-day.

We have now been living in Keystone for a full year and a half and have been loving it! But how do we make progress on debt and travel full time? Good question. We travel slower. We move every two weeks, and try to stay on public lands as much as possible. Public lands = free rent in some of the most gorgeous places we’ve ever seen! The “hard” parts being finding places to fill up on fresh water, learning how to conserve water, figuring out where/when to dump our waste water, and keeping our battery charged. All of these have taught us so much about how much we consume, and how to make our footprint more minimal.

Other ways we save money: we eat out a couple times a month, doing things such as hiking instead of double decker bus tours. We’re also working hard so we can make more money to accelerate our debt payoff! Kevin works as an independent iOS developer. His main app Moment helps you manage your screen time. His app is free, but has in-app purchases that can help you put down your phone and get back to your life. While I, am a freelance photographer doing things from weddings to small brand lifestyle photography. However, my newest obsession is making jewelry, I just started silversmithing in January and have been obsessing over it every since. My shop is here http://theroadtosilver.etsy.com/

We’ve calculated how much we save by living on the road rather than stationary and we save $700 per month! Which means $700 more that goes towards our debt each month and our incomes are increasing as well. Every day, I’m honestly shocked we can live our almost-ideal lifestyle and still make stellar progress on our financial goals.

The best part about this, is that it is available to all of us. Do you dream about living on the road? If you work remotely, then you are set up for it! If not, there is plenty of opportunity for remote work but it isn’t easy to find. If you want it bad enough, do it.


Mandy Holesh is a lifestyle photographer and silversmith while living in her @188sqft home on wheels with her husband and their 4 pets.

Hipcamp Staff

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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