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.
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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.
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.
The road goes on forever
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.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints