Millennial Coder Isn’t Waiting for Retirement to Travel the World
Three months ago, Mike Everett gave up his apartment to become a technological nomad. He spent $24,000 on a Roadtrek Versatile RV, sold or gave away everything that didn’t fit inside, and began a new life on the road. He started in Pennsylvania, meandered west to Ohio, south to Nashville, then on to Memphis and New Orleans, just because he’d never visited either city. From there, he set off for Mexico. On his way, the 29-year-old software consultant naturally stopped in Austin for a few weeks. He’d spent time in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Denver. “This was the last tech city I hadn’t visited.”
He plans to keep driving south until he hits the Darien Gap in Panama.
“I’m honestly surprised how easy it is,” said Everett. “It’s really not that hard. You just have to do it.”
After five years of telecommuting as a software consultant, Mike started taking smaller road trips, working from coffee shops during the day while he travelled. As long as he met deadlines and stayed productive, his clients didn’t care where he was located. He eventually realized he didn’t really need an apartment.
“I really like travel and I always wanted to go to a bunch of different places. I kind of did it because I could.”
From the outside, his RV looks like an ordinary van. Inside, the super-efficient design has just enough space for the six-foot-tall Mike to stretch out in back while he sleeps. In the middle, a curtain pulls out from the toilet area to create a small shower space opposite the sink and two-burner propane stove. Shelves pack every inch of space leading up to the front cabin, which looks just like any other van.
Shower schedules determine how long he’s willing to stay in any one place. His YMCA membership lets him visit gyms across the country. Each chapter allows visiting members full access for up to 10 days each year. With five YMCA chapters in Austin, he could stay up to 50 days. “I also work out and do some cardio while I’m there. The showers are a great motivator to go to the gym.”
Kindred Spirits and Hostel Living
At night, he often parks near whatever local attraction he wants to visit the next day. “I try to park in places where I won’t be offensive to people. If you park right in front of someone’s door, that’s bad. If there’s an empty lot, I’ll park there. In Austin, it’s really easy, actually. You can’t park downtown, but you can park two blocks east of sixth street with no restrictions.”
While most older RV enthusiasts stay at KOA campgrounds and RV parks, as a traveller in his 20’s Mike says he prefers youth hostels.
“Camping in the U.S. is expensive now. Near a big city, it’s $40 a night, about the same price as a shitty hotel room. You can stay in hostels for less than an RV park. You don’t have to sleep in the room. I’ve paid to stay in a hostel, use the shower and facilities, and sleep in the RV outside.”
For an outgoing tech nomad, the biggest advantage of staying in a hostel is socialization. Travelling across the country is great, but it can also get lonely. Mike said hostels are typically full of Europeans trekking across the United States as well as former expatriates who want to see their home country on a budget.
“You meet people who are open to travel. It’s a different kind of person than you normally meet in the US. You can meet a lot of really cool people, hang out, go have a beer - it’s a good environment.”
He said he’s also interested in trying couchsurfing as a way to meet locals. “Austin is the first place I’ve really spent time at Meetups. There are a lot of them here. most of the time I meet people by happenstance, staying in hostels, or meeting other people who are travelling.”
While the people he meets at hostels love the idea of meeting a professional who is young enough to really enjoy seeing the world instead of putting it off as a retirement dream, sometimes the locals he meets in new cities can’t wrap their brains around the idea of a successful, employed nomad with a real career. “There’s a distrust of people who aren’t rooted,” said Mike. “I was over by Epoch Coffee and overheard people outside my van saying, ‘You never know, he might just be homeless.’ Technically I am, but is that really what matters?”
The thing that most people don’t grasp is that for Mike, his RV isn’t a substitute apartment. It’s just a place to sleep. “This isn’t a house. There’s a big cognitive barrier. People like to relax in their house. I don’t want to relax in my RV. I don’t want to be sitting in there all day with the blinds closed. I want to be out, at a coffee shop or a bar. This is just a place to sleep.”
In fact, he’s basically only in the RV when asleep or driving. The Yelp app on his phone helps him find coffee shops for work and hole-in-the-wall local restaurants for meals. His GPS app locates laundromats. In Austin, the Meetup app has enough events to keep him busy every night.
“I like to use Yelp to filter by radius around me. I’ll look for top rated places within five miles, and that’s a great way to experience a lot of local things you wouldn’t otherwise know about. That’s how I found Strange Brew, Sugar Mama’s Cupcakes, Bouldin Creek. The bad thing about Yelp is sometimes nostalgia or lack of better options are a big part of ratings. Home Slice was a disappointment. They have over 1,000 ratings. It’s reasonable pizza, but it’s not the epic pizza that I expected.”
So far, Mike said he has yet to meet anyone else his age living the dream of traveling the country just because they can. “I think they’re all in Thailand. It seems to be a really good place for doing this kind of thing.”
Out on the Open Road
He said the best way to get started is just get in your car one day and do it. “You don’t have to buy a RV on your very first trip. Even if you just want to try out traveling, use your normal car, travel between hostels, and just start doing it.” It’s both cheap and easy to practice for a week or two at a time, visit everything in reasonable driving distance, and see if it’s a lifestyle you like.
Telecommuting from coffee shops is surprisingly easy. Without a television, housework or commuting for distractions, there are a lot more hours in the day to experience new things in interesting cities. “If you don’t have to work from an office, if you don’t have a lot of other constraints, you really don’t need much to survive. Just clothes and a place to sleep. The first hurdle is the biggest one. Just try.”
When asked when he’ll stop, Mike laughed. “It’s a big world. I have a lot to see.”