LINDA SWEELY AND LINDA BALDASSARI
Linda Sweely had been toiling in dining services at Pennsylvania College of Technology for 15 years when she realized that waiting for retirement to live her dream of traveling the U.S. was waiting too long. She’d seen colleagues slowly give up dreams as health issues robbed them of mobility, or financial issues took away their freedom. So, in 2003, the 53-year-old and her partner, Linda Baldassari, 58, began plotting their escape. With the help of a financial advisor, they figured out how to achieve a life on the move that combined fulltime RVing with the ability to keep working. It took three years and a massive scaling back—each had a house and truckloads of possessions to sell—but by fall 2008, they were mobile. “When you try to imagine what will fit into an RV,” says Sweely, “especially at first, you have no clue. You think you have it down to where it’s just a little bit of stuff, but it’s not.” They each kept a small plastic tub of sentimental possessions from their children (they each have three from previous marriages), along with some heirloom books, but almost everything else went out the door.
What they’ve lost in material possessions, they’ve made up for in experience. The women, married for 5 years now, have held a variety of unusual jobs along the way. In Livingston, Texas, they volunteered at a care center for senior RVers who’d “hung up the keys.” At Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., Baldassari worked in the vault, while Sweely hosed down the rides early each morning before guests arrived, all the while watching the park’s famous Clydesdales trot out to meet the day. One year, they worked as roving managers for a national storage company. They spent one holiday season in an Amazon.com warehouse in Coffeyville, Kansas, walking 12 to 16 miles a night scanning orders. “I wanted to try different things,” says Sweely, “because I’d been sitting behind a desk for 18 years.”
Since 2010, the couple has worked as independent contractors for AGS Print and Publishing, which makes guest guides and maps for 800 RV parks in the U.S. and Canada. Every two weeks, they travel to a park, where they sell advertising for the guides. The schedule suits them just fine; spending too much time in one place drives them stir crazy, says Sweely. Recently, they took a six-month leave from AGS so Sweely could intern at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.. It won’t be long, though, until the two are rolling again. “I can’t imagine giving it up,” says Sweely. “We love it. We’ve seen so many neat things, met so many awesome people. It’s a phenomenal lifestyle.”