Jane Pauley, AARP's "Your Life Calling" Ambassador
Cathie Carr, Former CEO, Escapees RV Club
Trudy Lundgren, Living a permanent life on wheels
Online visitors to AARP.org/Jane
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Jane Pauley: Welcome everyone! Thanks for joining us this afternoon. I hope you found our Today Show segment this morning featuring Trudy Lundgren as amazing as I did! I had quite an enjoyable time “on the road” with her.
During my visit with Trudy and her partner Lisa Wade, I have a new found appreciation for all of you who have chosen a permanent life on wheels. It’s a growing trend among Baby Boomers as we age. It’s clearly a lifestyle for those who see themselves as risk takers, wanting to travel with an adventurous spirit. However, there are some practical considerations to address before choosing this life.
My guest this afternoon is Cathie Carr, the former CEO of the Escapees RV Club, an organization representing 60,000 members with RVs. It was founded by her parents Joe and Kay Peterson in 1978. Cathy recently retired from her position as the CEO and is now again a full-time RV-er after she and her husband became empty nesters.
Also joining me is Trudy Lundgren, the subject we profiled this morning on our “Your Life Calling” series on the NBC Today Show. A couple of weeks ago Trudy broke her ankle after sliding down the pole of a fire station. We’re hope you’re feeling better and glad we shot the story with you when we did!
Comment from Ginger: I finally exited the corporate life on Friday, June 11 and today is the first day of life as it was meant to be. I've stepped totally into my freelance writing and this webcast seems an ideal way to celebrate it. I hitchhiked through Europe for 7 months in 1973 (actually ended up living there until 1995) and one of my first projects is writing my memoirs of that (something I've been talking about for at least 15 years). I dream of getting back on the open road, meeting new characters and writing about it -- this time here in the U.S. I love this series you're doing!
Cathie Carr: Congratulations, Ginger. It's obvious you've discovered that there is an exciting alternative lifestyle that allows you to pursue your dreams and a higher quality lifestyle, than perhaps someone who remains in one place year round.
Comment from Katherine: Have you found the best place to live -- good weather, doctors, low taxes, lots to see and do? Paradise, yet?
Trudy Lundgren: Katherine -- There is no best place to live -- that's why we are still on the road. Every place we've been has something to offer. A shorter list would be places we don't like.
Comment from Sue: Did you take any RV driving class before starting out on your adventure? Do you have a book about your experiences of the past 6 years?
Trudy Lundgren: Sue -- No classes -- the guy we bought the RV from gave us a few pointers and the rest was learned white-knuckling down the road. I'm working on a book -- looking for a publisher.
Cathie Carr: We would highly recommend taking a driving course. One excellent resource for you would be the RV Driving School.
Comment from Gerry: Have they considered taking their life concept to Europe, Asia, Australia, etc. It would seem feasible.
Cathie Carr: Escapees RV Club does not specifically have branches in other countries. However, we do have members in other countries and offer what we call a sister relationship where someone who may want to swap their home for a rig in our country. Check out our discussion forum if this is something you might be interested in.
Comment from Joe: Jane- great seeing you in the morning again. If asked, would you consider a regular morning show job again? Anything else for TV? Also, for Trudy: How tough is it to drive the RV? Thanks!
Jane Pauley: Joe, I love being back on the TODAY Show and working with AARP, telling stories for a reason. That's the kind of story I always liked telling best. But I also liked the flexibility of not having a full-time TV show, which frees me to do other things that interest me and that I care about: advocacy work, I adopted a kitten this weekend, and reinvention -- if you choose to design an array of things to be doing as opposed to looking for one perfect thing. So at this point, I think having a show would cramp my style. But thanks for asking!
Comment from Mom: Really enjoyed the clip!! Happy to see your smiling face, honey. How's the ankle?
Jane Pauley: Trudy, your mom is asking about your ankle. Is there a story?
Trudy Lundgren: Hi Mom. Ankle is coming along. The pain pills help a lot. I broke it sliding down the pole in a firehouse I was touring.
Jane Pauley: Trudy, fess up: you broke your ankle in two places. Speaking of "cramp your style," how's that working out on the road?
Comment from Guest: What do you do about healthcare?
Jane Pauley: Hang on, Trudy's getting to that.
Trudy Lundgren: It sucks. I am on crutches and Lisa has to wait on me hand and foot. She is also doing the driving.
Trudy Lundgren: It’s amazing what they can do these days with stainless steel. It also amazes me how screwed up our healthcare system really is. When they wheeled me into the ER, I told them up front that I wasn’t from the area and that I had no health insurance. No problem – they ended up giving me a 67% discount on the final bill. Same thing at the surgery center – I got a 50% reduction on the bill. And the doctor knocked off 33% of his fee and sold me the jack boot wholesale. So without health insurance, this whole thing cost me about what I would have paid for 6 months of health insurance and I would only gone through half my deductible, so I still would have had to pay out of pocket. What is wrong with this picture? I wonder if my being an employed Caucasian with an American Express Gold Card had anything to do with it?
Comment from Ruby C: I'm nearing my golden years and starting to let my artistic side glow out of me. My time to express myself in a creative way. I enjoyed the segment on the Today Show. It's wonderful to see you on the Today Show.
Jane Pauley: Ruby, tell me about your artistic side.
Cathie Carr: Health insurance is hard, the same way it’s hard for everyone right now. But another factor on the road is finding doctors. We believe people should go to their hometown doctor if they maintain a home base. Personally, I have relied on urgent care centers for issues on the road.
Comment from Elizabeth: Cathie - I'm curious ... do you find that people, for the most part, are running TO ... or running FROM a new life...?
Cathie Carr: Maybe a little of both. Personally I was running TO something - a simpler way of life. I found downsizing from a 4,000 square foot home to less than 400 square feet was actually liberating. Imagine yourself perched on the banks of Seward, Alaska watching the eagles glide and whales sing. Next week, you might be in Washington D.C. reading the Gettysburg Address while leaning against Abraham in the Lincoln Memorial.
Comment from Guest: Also, I'd like to know a good way to get started? Do I research kinds of vehicles and where the RV parks are located?
Trudy Lundgren: Check out these websites for lots of good info – to answer most of your questions: escapees.com, woodalls.com, trailerlifedirectory.com, gorving.com and goodsamclub.com.
Comment from Bobbie Chapman: We are full-timers 3 years now. Love this lifestyle. We camp host in southern Colorado during the summer and work for amazon.com during the holidays. I think this lifestyle DOES allow you to have better control over your expenses than living in a stick and brick.
Jane Pauley: What does 'camp host' mean?
Cathie Carr: A camp host is the same as a work camper. Both mean an RV park worker. Sometimes it’s welcoming guests and other times it may mean cleaning bathrooms. It’s a great way to meet people and supplement your income.
Comment from Karen: Trudy - How much courage did it take to make this life-altering decision?
Jane Pauley: Karen, I would like to observe that it would take 100 times more courage than I was born with, but I don't think it took as much courage for Trudy. She is a very resourceful person, adaptable (she's still on the road with a broken ankle), and just has a set of personal qualities and competencies that enable her to pull this off. I could not in a million years.
Comment from Elizabeth Craig: Hi Trudy, Thank you so much for candidly sharing your whole health insurance story. It helps so much when people are willing to share stories like this!
Comment from Sue: I have done over a year of research and read at least a dozen books about full time RVing. Even so, it would really be nice to get some perspective from someone who is doing it. Would either of you be willing to share a link (email, snail mail, whatever) so I could ask you a few more questions?
Jane Pauley: Sue, Cathie and Trudy are right here. What's your #1 question?
Trudy Lundgren: It didn't take much courage for me -- I RV'd as a kid and knew what I was getting into. Plus we did a BOATLOAD of research. Also, I am the type of person who was always the first on in the cold swimming pool.
Comment from Karen: Jane - Nor could I.
Cathie Carr: You’re right. But don’t let fear cripple opportunity. Sometimes leaving family behind is the hardest part. The good news is now when you go to visit they’ll be really glad to see you (smile). If you have family in different parts of the country, you can divide your time and go for quality visits.
Comment from roaryro: Are businesses reluctant to hire you knowing that you're just passing through?
Trudy Lundgren: Don't tell them -- you can always develop a personal "emergency" when it's time to leave.
Comment from Sue: Approximately what are your expenses for a year?
Comment from Keith (friend of Kirk): Sue: Go to a nearby RV park, find a rig with Texas plates, and ask if they're full-timers. Then be prepared to spend an hour or more talking to them!
Cathie Carr: Sue, I think annual expenses all depend on the individual. You can be as thrifty or lavish as you choose to be but I feel you can live on a tighter budget in an RV than a home. However, you can get more specific expense information through our discussion forum. There are over 10,000 users on our discussion forum (including myself) that are available to answer any of your questions. www.rvnetwork.com
Comment from Sue: Great idea Keith
Comment from Nina: For the most part are RV parks animal friendly? Do you walk your dogs or let them out for a run?
Trudy Lundgren: Very animal friendly -- but they must be on a leash and you must pick up after them.
Comment from Keith (friend of Kirk): Sue: Go to Kirk's site. He lists five years worth or expenses!
Comment from Elizabeth C: What are the top 3 personal qualities and competencies you would identify in being a successful RVer? Other RVers please let me know your answers, too!
Cathie Carr: 1. Live simply. 2. Have a good relationship with your partner. 3. Enjoy adventure.
Comment from Ken: Most RV parks are pet friendly. They do prefer them to be on a leash, not left alone outside, and cleaned up after.
Comment from Ken: Some RV parks also have fenced in areas for pets to run free in.
Comment from Jane Rose: Are you coming to the Escapade?
Jane Pauley: What's the Escapade?
Cathie Carr: You betcha! Hope to see you there too! As you know, Escapees Escapade events offer over 60 RV related seminars for both newbies and seasoned RVers. This year we’ll be in Goshen, Indiana, September 12-17.
Jane Pauley: I don't think Trudy comes that far east. Why do you spend all your time out west, Trudy? Are the roads easier to navigate?
Trudy Lundgren: I lived on the east coast most of my adult life, so we are exploring the west. And that's where our jobs are. Plus, there is less traffic in the west.
Comment from roaryro: What safety concerns do we need to be aware of when traveling (especially women)?
Trudy Lundgren: We have never had any problems -- most people are friendly and courteous. Of course, you have to be street smart and follow common sense. It's no different than living in a big city.
Comment from Jbob: Trudy: Do you consider yourself working on the road or living the "RV lifestyle", ie is it a temporary thing because of work or something you'll continue after work. The "American Dream" that's sold to everyone is a home with lots of material things. The "RV lifestyle" bucks this even though most of the "homes" cost more than the stick homes valued by the general public.
Trudy Lundgren: We're doing both. We work on the road to finance living the RV lifestyle.
Cathie Carr: As we are growing up, most of us establish a vision of what our lives will be…we’ll go to school, to get a career, to buy a house, to raise a family—but then the vision usually gets all fuzzy and vague. Once you get all those things and the kids are raised and the career is getting old, you discover that there’s a whole new life waiting out there for you. It just takes a set of wheels.
Comment from Paula & Bob N: We have been full timing for almost 6 years. This lifestyle gives you a chance to do and see things that you would never have been able to do. You meet a lot of interesting people and make many new friends from all over the country. I worked at Dollywood in Tennessee for two seasons for three months each time. It was lots of fun.
Comment from Barbara: Trudy, what do you most miss while on the open road and in RV campgrounds?
Trudy Lundgren: I miss my friends the most, and the quality and variety of food available in NYC.
Cathie Carr: Some people might miss being part of a community. The truth is there’s a community of RVers out there that most people aren’t aware of. For instance, when I pull into one of our parks, it’s just like coming home. Of course, the thing I miss most when I’m away is my family. Technology helps keep us connected.
Comment from Phil: Hi Jane, Cathie & Trudy, We live in an old Beaver Motor Home. Just wondering how you cope with living in a small contained area.
Jane Pauley: Trudy, how many square feet in your Bluebird?
Trudy Lundgren: 320 sq ft plus the great outdoors, NYC apt had 500 sq ft and was a 4th floor walkup.
Cathie Carr: In my case, a 40 foot RV offers everything I need. I rarely feel cramped except in my closet. If I could offload more of my husband’s clothes, it couldn’t get any better. But that’s just me. Another trick is leave the curtains open and hopefully the view outside will soothe you.
Comment from Keith (friend of Kirk): You'll almost never find an RV with more than 400 square feet. The rules change at 400; beyond that the manufacturer would have to follow rules for houses ---which is basically impossible to do at reasonable cost.
Comment from Sue: Thank you for your time and input. Best of luck to both of you on your travels. Maybe I'll see you on the road one day
Cathie Carr: Just don't give up your dreams. Escape to the open road...life is calling.
Jane Pauley: Well it looks like we've just run out of time. So many great questions and comments!
Thank you so much for participating in this “live chat” as part of AARP’s “Your Life Calling” series on the NBC Today show and here on aarp.org. Cathie and Trudy, thanks so much for your contributions. I hope you enjoyed being here as much as I have.
Catch me again July 13th on the Today show, where I’ll be bringing you another great story about someone who is hearing his or her life calling in a new and different way. Stay tuned to aarp.org/Jane for more resources and inspiring stories on reinvention. See you next time!