How A RV Showed One Couple The American Dream Doesn’t Have To Mean 9-to-5

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Mark, Katarina and their son at Mount Washington. Photo courtesy of Mark Koep.

For many, the 9-to-5 seems like the only option for how to make a living and have a successful life; however, married travelers and creators of the website Campgroundviews.com, Katarina and Mark Koep, have taken another approach: RV travel. Not only are they seeing the US on a budget, but strengthening their relationship, creating a family and making endless memories to enjoy for the rest of their life. Here’s how.

1. Mark, how did you and Katarina meet?

We met through family friends and went out on our first date 9/14/01 — three days after the World Trade Center attack. It was an eerie first date. Living in Southern California, we went out to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner and then to Universal CityWalk. At Universal there were more security guards than people out. This chaos and uncertainty was the back-drop for our early courtship.

2. What were you and Katarina doing work-wise before hitting the road?

The decision to hit the road came about 1 year before actually hitting the road. It is not necessarily something you want to jump right into.

I had graduated from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University with an MBA in 2005 and started a web marketing firm. I worked virtually from a home office having developed a service that helped small businesses get ranked at or near the top of Google Local. The trick for my business was that the majority of my clients came in from White Label providers allowing me to focus on the technical side and be a bit more free in scheduling.

Katarina had graduated from UCLA a couple years earlier and was working as a store manager for Hertz Rental Car. The huge advantage of her career was the use of a company vehicle and the constant “reassurance” that corporate life sucked.

3. How do you balance life on the road with work, family and friends?

The best way to put it is that we have a nice little apartment on wheels that occasionally moves to new locations. I work a regular entrepreneurs schedule — meaning way too much — and Katarina primarily cares for our now three-year-old son. During the day we switch roles since she is the editor of our videos and needs time to work on those. Katarina is also a children’s book author and illustrator building out a series of books based upon the different homes people live in around the world.

Regarding family, this lifestyle is amazing because we get to honestly and calmly visit family across the US. When we stay near, or at, their places we are there for a few weeks. This length of stay allows for a more casual and calm visiting experience devoid of the rush travel to and from their location. We also use Skype and phone calls to keep in touch.

We have built many friendships with others living this lifestyle and also maintain friends “back home.” Neither of us are big Facebook users so that is something we are trying to use more of now since everyone seems to be there.

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Katarina & Mark’s setup. Photo courtesy of Mark Koep.

4. What you compared your options for travel methods, what made you choose the RV?

The choice of a RV was based upon the “apartment on wheels” concept. We didn’t know how long we wanted to travel but we knew we wanted to not just be “travelers.” Instead we wanted to live in and experience these different communities all while maintaining and growing our businesses. We also wanted our own clothes, wanted to bring along our bikes — we are avid cyclists — and sleep in our own bed. A RV, in our case a fifth wheel trailer, affords all of these advantages over rentals and the such.

5. How has covering over 150,000 miles by RV helped you both grow?

Being able to see, experience, and live in all of these great, unique, and interesting communities around the US has opened our eyes to how amazing this country can be. Originally we figured we would be on the road for about 1.5 years, would find a place to settle down, and would do so. We just passed our 6 year anniversary and have a laundry list of amazing places to live… the amazing thing is we get to live in all of them!

We have no idea what new movies are coming out, what the latest TV shows are, or who the “hot” celebrities like or dislike. We couldn’t tell you the latest games for Xbox or what an Apple Watch looks like in person. One of the conscious things we did moving to this lifestyle was to ditch TV and movies replacing them with adventure and exploration. We enjoy the opportunity to explore and discover the communities of the US, the parks and the places.

6. What do you wish you knew before setting off on your RV journey that you know now?

I almost don’t want to give this one away. This is the most amazingly affordable lifestyle there is. We spend less on fuel, rent and general living expenses now than we did living in a rental apartment in Southern California.

7. What’s the most essential tip you would give someone planning a long-term RV trip?

We received this advice when we started and it is very true: buy the biggest thing you can afford. RVs are small by design but when you live in one it is your home, your office, your “space” everyday from now until you stop. When it rains for four days straight you are stuck inside. When its 110°F out and 70% humidity you are stuck inside. When you just want some time off you are spending it inside.

We have seen this many times where people and families buy a smaller rig, live in it for six months, and then buy a bigger one. Start out with the biggest thing you can afford.

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The great open road. Photo courtesy of Joshua Sortino/Unsplash.

8. How has RV and tent traveling strengthened your relationship with Katarina?

Well the easiest way to put it is we haven’t killed one another yet. Katarina and I love each other very much and work really well together. Like all people we have flaws and do fight but being in such close proximity all the time has forced us to be able to work the issues out and deal with one anothers’ annoying habits. The first two years living with an infant on-board has been, by far, the toughest. The strain of caring for, lack of solid sleep and general stress of raising an infant definitely stressed our relationship. Now that he is a little older I can have more of caregiver role and we are starting to get into more of a normal routine.

Our relationship is as strong now as it has ever been.

9. What’s your wildest story from the road?

Katarina is really into the Aurora Borealis and has always wanted to witness them in person. A couple years ago we were staying near Glacier National Park when an X-flare launched a CME at Earth. Katarina follows several websites that track this stuff and it is still an inexact science. They knew there was a chance for strong Northern Lights but not when. The first night we drove to the shores of Lake McDonald and stayed out until 3am… nothing. The second night we off-roaded way back and up into the forest outside the park and stayed up all night… nothing.

On the third night we almost didn’t go out but decided “why not” and drove the Going to the Sun road in the park. As we were climbing we noticed the twilight was really bright for 10:30pm but thought nothing of it. We parked at Logan Pass and were disappointed because the sun still had not set and was still lighting up the sky… kind of green and purple.

Yes, the Northern Lights had arrived and were magnificent. Here we were all alone in the Logan Pass parking lot staring at the most amazing display we had ever witnessed. Lights dancing across the night sky with greens, purples, and white flashes.

We enjoyed the view for over an hour and then began the trek back down the road towards Lake McDonald. We rolled into the Apgar parking lot, still nobody, set our chairs up on the southern shore of the lake and enjoyed the dancing lights for another 2 hours.

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Lake McDonald. Photo courtesy of Mark Koep.

Since that first encounter we have had the opportunity 2 other times to watch a display like the above. The last time was with our infant son in the Blackhills of SD during a no-moon strong light storm. those photos are attached too.

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Blackhills. Photo courtesy of Mark Koep

I guess the point is that living on the road is what you make of it. We love the natural world and those amazing experiences with nature in these different locales have become our “wildest times.”

10. For those wanting to travel but afraid of disrupting their 9-to-5 schedule, what would you tell them?

It takes planning to do properly but if you can do it, do it. Life is way too short and retirement, for most, leaves you way too old and ill to enjoy. What is interesting is that we are the early adopters to a lifestyle that many millennial are chasing. We have all seen first-hand the fallacies of the “American Dream” and are deciding to make our own dreams a reality right now.

For us we ended up identifying an underserved market and created a solution through our website www.campgroundviews.com. It is like Google Streetview for campgrounds using video submitted by everyday campers. We now have over 2,000 RV parks and campgrounds filmed so people can see what a place looks like from the perspective of another camper.

Also Check Out:

Why Traveling The World Is Important To Me [Blog Inspiration]

The Most Scenic Drives in America, Newly Revised and Updated: 120 Spectacular Road Trips by Reader’s Digest

Ticket Stub Diary [Travel Fun]

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