Full-time RVers Find Serendipity, Love (and Cell Service) on the Road

May 22, 2020 | Interviews

Full-time RVers Find Serendipity, Love (and Cell Service) on the Road

By Nathan Paul Swartz

In 2006, Cherie was living in Melbourne, Florida, trying to dodge hurricanes, when she met Chris, who had just given up his life in Silicon Valley to travel full-time.

“I had just put my house up for sale,” she recalls, “bought a brand new Prius hybrid car and was planning a cross country trip to California with a stop at Burning Man on the way.” She had plans to move to Silicon Valley herself.

a couple stands in front of an Amtrak train

The previous year, partly due to the hurricane situation at home, Cherie had already purchased an RV and taken it out on the weekends, exploring Florida. Meanwhile, Chris was contemplating quitting his job to travel, inspired by a friend who’d traveled by bicycle decades before.

“But,” Cherie tells, “he had a job too good to give up – essentially the ‘Chief Spy’ for Palm and Palm Source. He got to travel the world attending tech conferences, get people drunk and learn their secrets so he could plot the future of mobile technology.”

You may recall Palm, memorable for their “Palm Pilots” and the predecessor of modern day smartphones, just a little too ahead of their time it would seem. The company made the decision for him, though, “When Palm imploded on itself in 2005, he won the lay-off lottery. Six months severance.”

“On April 1, 2006 – he became a Technomad,” Cherie remembers.

The two met on a Prius forum. Chris was lamenting the fact that he’d just had to give up his Prius for a Jeep (in order to successfully tow his new trailer) and she was looking for info on how to keep her hybrid car from beeping when it backed up. “I recognized him,” she says about the forum, “commented about our mutual friends and that I was planning to take my new Prius to Burning Man that year. Maybe we could say hi there?

“He took that as I wanted to sell my house and travel the country with him.

He was right.”

“And we’ve been inseparable ever since. After several trial runs together in his super tiny trailer with no bathroom, we hit the road together full time on May 10, 2007.”

The two had more than just Prius ownership in common, though.

“A shared passion for travel is in part what brought us together,” she reveals.

“We both grew up traveling with our families. Chris even spending several years in Indonesia as a kid. I was solo traveling by age 12, and by the time I graduated high school I had spent a summer in England and traveling around the former Soviet Union. Our individual travel paths clearly finally brought our life paths together. We were living thousands of miles apart.”

The couple spent a few years switching between RVs, figuring out what worked for them, but never completely comfortable with the small travel trailers they’d chosen.

“We were ready to switch things up. We weren’t sure what was next for us – boating? backpacking?

“So we took an opportunity to move to the Virgin Islands to sublet a friend’s treehouse apartment.”

Despite having never heard of the place previously, Chris and Cherie spent five months on St. Johns in the Virgin Islands when a friend needed someone to rent her place while she underwent surgery. They worked in the mornings, visited beaches every afternoon and began to acquaint themselves with the boating community.

“After the end of our season there, we had decided we wanted to continue RVing,” boating was a lot of work, they discovered during their time on the island, “but needed something larger. And we were pretty sure a smaller motorhome would be next, as we didn’t want to drive a big truck to pull a larger trailer.

“After looking at some motorhomes in our price range – we were unimpressed.

“But we had a friend who had just purchased a vintage bus to convert, and were keen on the idea of something uniquely us and built on a chassis made to last.

“So we sold the truck and trailer, got a backpack, picked up a month long Amtrak rail pass and started our search by train across the country.”

They criss-crossed the nation in search of their next home on wheels. “Traveling by train is an amazing experience,” Cherie remembers how they purchased monthly rail passes, taking short and longer, overnight trips alike. “Going on a hunt for a vintage bus conversion, which are scattered all over the country, was the perfect opportunity to combine two adventures.”

“When we did cross country trips that had two overnights,” she mentions a specific route from Chicago to San Francisco, a line known as the Zephyr, “we’d upgrade to a roomette. It gave us bunk beds for sleeping and converted to a two-person dinette setup for working during the day.

“It was romantic in every way you imagine…and an oh so relaxing way to experience the country. You get to go places that road bound vehicles can’t. And the gentle sway of the tracks rocks you to sleep.

“But,” she admits that travel by train is not without its downsides as well, “there’s usually only one train per day on many routes, and commercial trains have priority on the tracks. So there can be delays, sometimes horrendous ones. A flexible attitude is key for enjoying train travel.”

They eventually found their new RV, a 1961 GM vintage bus conversion, which would serve as their full-time home for the next six years.

“It was like moving into a mansion,” Cherie admits, “after so many years living in under 85 square feet of space.  We had actual desk space, a queen size bed that we didn’t have to crawl over each other to get in and out of, a non-wet bath and huge holding tanks.”

When it came time to christen their new home, they decided on the name Zephyr.

a vintage bus

With over a decade of road experience, Chris and Cherie now spend half of the year on a yacht and the other half in Zephyr.

When in the RV, or a van they’ve recently added to their growing fleet, their travel plans are largely based on events they’ve committed to–whether they’ll be speaking at a gathering of fellow travelers or just going to a festival to have fun. “And then we make it up in-between,” she continues.

They purchased the van as a way to get back and forth between Zephyr and their yacht.

“In 2017,” Cherie recollects, “we decided it was time to pursue our boating dreams, and purchased a 47′ motor yacht for cruising the east coast of America.  But we still wanted to keep the bus which we’d situate out in Arizona for spending our winters.”

This led to a cross country trip in their “toad,” a Mini Cooper, which got them thinking about their options. “We quickly discovered it wasn’t comfortable for cross country travel with a cat on our laps.

“So we … came up with the idea of replacing the Mini with a camper van.” The concept of having more space to do these commuting road trips, and the means to camp along the way, was appealing.

“Traveling in the van is much like going back to our small trailer living days,” Cherie reveals, “but so much easier being just one vehicle. We absolutely love it. For a few weeks anyway.”

When it comes to their boat, a 1999 motor yacht, they are exploring an aquatic loop around the Eastern United States, slowly.

Chris and Cherie on a dingy, their motor yacht in the background

“The Great Loop is a grand adventure,” she says, “that is less navigated than those climbing Mt. Everest every year. It’s about 6000 miles moving up the Atlantic intracoastal waterway from Florida to New York, and then into the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, and then down the river system back to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Many do it in a year, following the seasons,” she states.

“But 6000 miles in a boat is not like 6000 miles in an RV.

In a boat you travel at about 6 to 8 miles per hour, not 50 to 60.” She compares the 6000 nautical miles as roughly equivalent to 50,000 road miles.

“So instead, we decided on a slow pace of working our way along the Loop. Which would mean the boat would eventually be in places where this winter thing happens and you really can’t move,” she continues, “water freezes into ice – or so we hear.”

“We purchased our boat in Florida, and then have been finding amazing marinas that are close to city centers. After all, cities developed around ports. And monthly marina costs are much more affordable than nightly.

“We’ve found a great pace of cruising for a couple of weeks, enjoying a lot of anchoring out,” which she compares to boondocking in an RV, “and then finding our next extended stay.

“Thus far, we have covered about 1000 miles of the Loop getting as far north as Charleston. Far slower than we originally intended, but so so so rewarding and enjoyable.”

Beyond the Prius forum where they initially met, the couple also blogged independently–but on the same platform–before all of this traveling began, and they continue to write on their personal, now joint, travel blog.

“Since I was running a software development business from the road,” Cherie explains, “mobile internet was critical for me to continue my career. And Chris’ background was mobile tech. So we talked a lot about our connectivity, which lead to an inbox full of questions.

“In 2013 it was time to wind down my business that I had run with my father after he passed. In my grief, I wrote the first edition of ‘The Mobile Internet Handbook’ to try to field all the questions we were getting. It wasn’t intended to become a new career, but a year later we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a niche topic.”

Mobile Internet Resource Center became their full-time career.

“We actually had to fire some clients we were working with so we could focus on it,” Cherie speaks to the transition, “And we now have four paid team members who help us keep the content constantly up to date.” The site is member-funded, where a subscription gets you access to forums, videos and reviews, and more information about staying connected while traveling by RV or boat.

“We offer a ton of free content to the public,” without ads, she notes, “but those who subscribe get even more. We love not being tied to having to chase advertising dollars, sponsorships or selling stuff – and instead being held accountable to our members to be unbiased and focused on their needs.”

They also manage a handful of apps focused on traveling.

“Other than that, we resist the urge to dive into other projects. We just don’t have the brain cells left at the end of the day.”

Given that Chris’ original inspiration to hit the road came from that bicycling friend, the original “technomad,” from which the couple drew their name, and their many years of experience working from across the nation, that they have oodles of information on how it all works, and more details on everything from which data plans are the best to reviews on specific devices, they’re in a perfect position to provide this information to the ever-growing tribe of digital workers on the road.

“Back in 2007 when we hit the road together we were lucky to get a solid 3G signal in our travels. But when we did, we could stream Netflix even back then.”

Cherie’s job at that time depended on her being available, and they quickly learned how to make sure that could always happen–from multiple cell phone plans to installing satellite internet on Zephyr.

“These days, we can get speeds over cellular that run circles around the old cable wired connection I left behind.”

“Now that I’m no longer providing mission crucial services to the government and medical sectors – we can technically be offline for more extended periods of time. Problem is, with the arsenal we’ve built, it’s really hard to find places we can’t get connected anymore.

“It’s really a new world mobile internet wise. And the future is looking bright with upcoming advancements for 5G cellular and low earth satellite internet.”

The couple has recently been floating in Sanford, Florida.

Chris and Cherie had a saying, “Our favorite spot is where we are now, and when it isn’t any longer – it’s time to move on.” And while they still believe that to be their creed, they’re quite happy with where they’ve landed during all of this.

“When…being somewhere we felt was home became appealing, Sanford called us back with no question. We love the historic town that has been revitalized but isn’t touristy (yet). With several independently owned shops, restaurants, breweries and bars – it has heart and community. And with a marina within steps that we can get to via a 100 mile amazing jungle-like river cruise, it’s a perfect spot to be for hurricane season.

“It’s crazy that after 13 years of full time travel,” she contemplates, “the place we most felt called to was just 60 miles from where I started my nomadic journey. And along a river named the St. Johns.”

For anyone considering full-time traveling, Cherie says, “The nomadic lifestyle is a fit for some, but not most. And there’s no trophy anyone awards you for having completed X number of years of RVing or boating.

“Do it because you want to, because it inspires you. And when it no longer does, find what brings you joy and happiness.

“The challenges of life don’t melt away when you hit the road or water. In fact, they can be complicated quite a bit.

“Labels like ‘Full Time RVer’ or ‘Digital Nomad’ are best used as descriptions not prescriptions. Give yourself leeway to change things up as they call you.”

Cherie talks about serendipity and freedom and doing what makes you happy, but the reality is that even successful entrepreneurs who’ve found love and made a life of travel happen for themselves still have to answer to someone.

In this case, it’s their twelve-year-old cat. “Kiki is the Admiral of our fleet of nomadic vessels,” Cherie admits, “She rules us and we live to serve her.”

a cat in the woods with a van and a converted bus parked behind

They found Kiki at 7 weeks old on a llama ranch in Oregon. She was “being raised by chickens,” as Cherie tells it. “She crawled up on my lap when we sat down to dinner while visiting our friends, and pretty much told us she was coming with us.

“She’s grown up on the road and water, and it is my life’s purpose to make sure she is happy and well-fed,” she jokes, “she may have just threatened to kill me and made me type that.”

So what’s next for Technomadia?

“We don’t know what the future holds. We’ll continue to steer our path forward by serendipity,” she foresees, “our true mistress…sorry Kiki.”

Cherie also mentions that Chris really wants a Zeppelin. “Let us know if you find one on a used airship lot.”