Three years ago in August 2016 I turned 60 years old, a milestone birthday in anyone’s life. It is the kind of birthday that causes one to pause and take stock. I have been a self-employed professional photographer for most of my adult life. The Great Recession of 2008 wiped out my limited savings and retirement funds. I came from a rather average middle class family and while my parents worked very hard to make sure I had a comfortable life growing up there is no inheritance in my future to provide additional retirement funds, in short, my financial status was not very promising and appeared to limit my choices and opportunities.
After some careful thought and lots of reflection, slowly during the fall and early winter of 2016 a plan began to take shape. I assessed my situation, resources, and skills. I discovered that my future was not as dire as what I once thought. I determined that the key to my future was my ability to let go of the conventional idea of life, work, and retirement. In this regard my life experience and personality has prepared me very well.
I discovered the AirBnB phenomena, and I realized the funky old barn I had converted to my living and studio space could payoff in yet another manner. In the winter of 2016 I bought an old used Suburban with over 200,000 miles on it, additionally in the spring of 2017 I purchased a 25-foot travel trailer. These were to become my new home. I can tell you that the idea of converting my living space into a 25-foot travel trailer wasn’t without a fair amount of apprehension and fret. I remember waking up one morning and sitting up in my bed in my bedroom, which was about 10×24 feet in size, and thinking “Am I crazy? I am moving my entire life into a space no bigger than this bedroom!”
Perhaps the biggest challenge I have faced in making the transition to my new lifestyle is the notion that experiences trump material possessions. This transition has not been easy for me to make. I definitely come from a background of American Middle Class consumerism and materialism. I have spent much of my life collecting things around me. Things that I believe I need to make me comfortable. My new lifestyle has challenged these long held desires and forced me to adapt. While I have changed I still hold onto the notion of security through material goods. I think it is especially difficult for a photographer to let go of material wealth completely.
My sense of adventure in life is high. I know that I am comfortable taking chances that many others would not risk. My life skills developed over 40 years of being a self-employed photographer also means that I am able to earn a living in a manner that is non-traditional. These factors meant I could take my work on the road and build a reasonably stable source of income that isn’t available to many.
While my lifestyle is not nearly perfect it is one that suits me very well. I don’t believe anyone can go through life without compromising and while my life has its compromises it also has its advantages. Freedom is a big part of what I enjoy. While I am concerned about what will happen when the economy slows down, something I know is going to happen in the next couple of years, I am lucky to enjoy a lifestyle that is the envy of many. That envy grows from a notion what most believe are the best parts of my lifestyle, but don’t necessarily account for the less desirable aspects like; long lonely nights on the road, an economic future that is somewhat uncertain, and living in a very small space with limited material goods.
I don’t want to imply that the last three years have been anything short of astounding. I have traveled and seen sights that are amazingly beautiful, and spiritual fulfilling. I have met many people who have helped me in numerous ways, and I continue to marvel at the generosity of total strangers or newly formed friends. Traveling alone has opened opportunities for me to connect with people from widely diverse backgrounds. In the last three years I have made many new friends spread over three different countries.
With some luck the economy and my health will hold out reasonably well for another 12 years allowing me to take stock of my life again once I reach 75. That seems like a good time to reassess for the next stage of my life.