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Dave Dudley and his family used to have a house; today they roam America in an RV. And they are only one of many families who have taken up an itinerant lifestyle to cut costs in difficult economic times.
TODAY contributor
updated 11/4/2009 9:11:17 AM ET 2009-11-04T14:11:17

When Dave Dudley lost his plum job as a vice president of a software company, he knew it wouldn’t be long before his house mortgage became unmanageable. So he changed his address — to Anywhere, U.S.A.

Dudley gathered up his wife, Joleen, and children, Justice, Adriane and Jayden, and hit the highway. But it’s far from a Jack Kerouac “On the Road”-style life; the Dudleys live a pleasant, relatively roomy life in their 41-foot Heartland Cyclone trailer, towed by a beefy GMC Topkick truck.

As they travel, they’re likely to pass similar families along the way. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, some 400,000 Americans live full time on the road. And while some of them are retirees seeing their golden years through a windshield, the stubborn recession has made what seems like a vacation life a necessary, full-time proposition for many. Kimberly Goza, a 20-year veteran of the nomad life who runs a Web site for on-the-road families with her husband, says they have recently seen their traffic increase tenfold.

Home, home on the road
TODAY profiled the trend of families pulling up stakes in a tough economy on Wednesday, telling the story through the eyes of the Dudley family and their search for adventure — as well as a cheaper lifestyle.

Video: Web only: Kids talk about life on the road Joleen Dudley told NBC that when her husband lost his job, “I panicked. I saw six months down the road and my husband still not having a job and having a mortgage that we wouldn’t be able to pay.”

Dave and Joleen had long dreamed of ditching their high-maintenance lifestyle and living free as birds. But the idea really hit home when Dave started to crunch numbers.

“Just taking care of the house, with the mortgage and the insurance and the utility bill and all that, we were probably looking at around $3,000 a month,” he told NBC. “Now we’re looking around $300 a month for the same thing.”

Joleen told the Web site momlogic.com the reaction from friends was mixed. “One stated, ‘What a beautiful thing to do with your kids — they will learn so much,’ ” she said. “My other friend’s comment was, ‘What, you’ll be homeless!’ ”

Lots of togetherness
But the Dudleys are far from homeless: Their home just rolls. Justice, 14, Adriane, 10, and Jayden, 8, do their schoolwork online, but the whole of North America has become their classroom. One week the family backyard is a beach in Mexico; the next, the Santa Ynez Mountains.

To save money, the Dudleys sold their house. In the tighter confines of their RV, they have less space — but more togetherness.
In fact, there’s little between the two coasts that the Dudleys haven’t seen during their nearly one year on the road. They’re currently taking in the fall foliage in New Hampshire before they head south to beat the cold.

The Dudleys are living in the relatively cozy 400 square feet of their trailer, but Justice, the family’s animated eldest, says he doesn’t miss the family’s sprawling former home in Washington state: He’s learning the joys that can come with close-quarters family togetherness.

“In a big house you’re not really with your family at all,” Justice told NBC. “You’re just everywhere: You’re at a friend’s house, they’re at a soccer game, school.” When asked if he missed the sedentary lifestyle, Justice beamed and said, “Nope! Not at all.”

Video: Web only: Another family on the road

The road goes on forever
Things recently took an uptick financially for the Dudleys. Dave landed a new job that allows him to work from his trailer home on the road. Joleen told momlogic.com that she and Dave gave their gypsy life a two-year timetable, and are currently eyeing the spots in their travels they like best for a possible nesting place when they retire their trailer.

But, she admitted to NBC, any solid plans they make could go up in smoke in an ever-changing world.

“Who knows when the economy is going to turn around?” Joleen said. “It could be next year, it could be five years, or 10 years. So we’re just making our plans with the best that we can go on right now.”

In the meantime, the Dudleys stick with a tried-and-true format for travel: Husband Dave drives, wife Joleen handles directions.

For more information about families on extended road trips, visit FamiliesontheRoad.com. And to learn more about the Dudley family and their travels, visit their Web site here.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: In tough times, one family hits the road

  1. Closed captioning of: In tough times, one family hits the road

    >>> back now at 7:44. with the high rate of foreclosures and national unemployment figures edging toward 10%, many families are going to extremes to survive. nbc's michelle franzen has the story of one family now spending their days on the road. *

    >> reporter: jolene and dave dudley are mapping out the day.

    >> should we turn that way?

    >> reporter: driving to mt. rushmore for a sight-seeing trip with kids justice, jaden and adrian.

    >> ooh, there it is.

    >> reporter: it looks like a picture-perfect vacation right out of a movie.

    >> how about the wally world national anthem ? *

    >> reporter: but for the dudleys , driving state to state in an rv has been a way of life for nearly a year since dave was laid off as vice president at a software company.

    >> the economy kind of hit. things happened at work, too, where i was no longer needed at the time and i was let go.

    >> reporter: it didn't take long before the couple realized they would have to let go of their washington state home and lifestyle.

    >> i panicked. i saw six months down the road and my husband still not having a job and having a mortgage that we wouldn't be able to pay.

    >> reporter: they sold it all and drastically cut expenses.

    >> just taking care of the house with the mortgage and insurance and utility bills and things like that, we were probably looking at $3,000 a month. now we're looking at $300 a month for the same thing.

    >> reporter: americans have always hit the road in search of adventure, but in the past few years, families have been turning to living life on the road full time out of necessity to survive in this recession.

    >> now we live on the road.

    >> reporter: performers kimberly and dennis goza have nearly 20 years experience of rv living and run a website for families living on the road. she says they have seen a spike in membership and more average families like the dudleys are joining.

    >> i would say it's ten-fold, the number of families that are listed on my website, and that's only the ones with websites.

    >> reporter: the biggest dilemma, downsizing. the dudleys ' living space is just 400 square feet . did you share a room at the other house or each have your own room?

    >> nope. own room.

    >> reporter: instead, the whole country is their backyard and classroom.

    >> nebraska, kansas and missouri.

    >> reporter: the kids are enrolled in online school programs and there are other lessons along the way.

    >> in a big house , you're not really with your family at all. it just -- you're everywhere. you're at a friend's house, a soccer game, school.

    >> reporter: you don't miss that?

    >> no. not at all.

    >> reporter: dave recently landed a job where he can work from the road, but the family is not financially secure yet.

    >> who knows when the economy's going to turn around. it could be next year. it could be five years or ten years. and so, we're just making plans with the best that we can go on right now.

    >> reporter: investing in family and hoping it all pays off down the road. for "today," michelle franzen , nbc news, south dakota and wyoming.

    >>> and still ahead, the couple who had a baby and


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