When Jess Glazer and her husband Mike DeRose traded their Manhattan apartment for a 40-foot motor home last fall, they imagined crisscrossing the U.S., camping by peaceful lakes and mountain streams. Last week, via Zoom, Ms. Glazer showed me the Arizona RV park where they’ve been stationed since the start of the year.
“It looks like a parking lot,” she said, surveying the vast expanse of gravel crowded with hundreds of motor homes. “Well, it is a parking lot.”
Like many young professionals, Ms. Glazer and Mr. DeRose fled Manhattan during the pandemic for greener pastures. Only in their case, the new location can change weekly or daily. After leaving last October, the self-described “digital nomads” motored down the East Coast before heading west through Alabama, Texas and Arizona. And life on the road is nothing like what they envisioned.
RV life has many advantages over Manhattan life, they say. It’s cheaper, for one. They were renting a 1,100 square-foot two-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen for $5,800 a month. Now, they’re paying $2,000 a month on a loan for their $412,000 Tiffin Phaeton. Even factoring in insurance, fuel and site fees of about $700 a month, their expenses are roughly half what they were in New York City. “We’re saving a lot of money,” Mr. DeRose says.
While the motor home is about 450 square feet, they’ve shared small apartments in Manhattan before, so it doesn’t feel like a squeeze, they say. Plus, the RV includes features their city digs never had—a washer and dryer, heated floors, a central vacuum, and four built-in televisions. “It’s so silly!” says Ms. Glazer. “We don’t even watch TV.”
They enjoy their revolving cast of new neighbors. Living in Manhattan, they didn’t know who lived down the hall. But RV folks are friendly and chatty, they say, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation about someone’s license plate.
What they most enjoy, of course, is the freedom to travel and explore. They’ve taken their Jeep, which they hitch to their RV, off-roading on the beach and in the mountains. They’ve explored obscure Texas hamlets, national forests and Arizona ghost towns. “Now my hiking shoes are my favorite shoes that I have. It’s so funny—I was little Miss Stiletto,” Ms. Glazer says.
The couple never expected to join the nation’s RV herd. This time last year, Ms. Glazer, who is 36 years old, was happily working at home, building her fast-growing business-coaching service. Mr. DeRose, 37, loved his job managing a territory of financial centers for Bank of America.
They enjoyed long weekend walks exploring the city. On Saturday nights, they’d typically meet friends for dinner, drinks at a rooftop bar and dancing.
Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, everything they loved about Manhattan—the restaurants, the theaters, the crowds—vanished. “It lost its sparkle and uniqueness,” Mr. DeRose says.
They hit on the RV idea last summer on a networking Zoom call for entrepreneurs. The host, who lived in California, recently bought an RV, and his tale was inspiring. Within two weeks, Mr. DeRose and Ms. Glazer purchased their motor home. Mr. DeRose gave several months notice to his employer so he could join his wife’s company as its CFO and COO after they hit the highway.
But even getting on the road was a challenge. You can’t just drive an RV into Manhattan and load up your things. They had to rent an RV-size parking spot near Princeton, N.J., and hire a moving van to transport their belongings, stowing the majority in a self-storage unit they’re renting for $150 a month.
They also were surprised to learn that a lot of people had the same pandemic plan. According to the RV Industry Association, RV shipments rose 34% in the second half of 2020, to 254,000.
Many RV parks were totally booked months in advance. Mr. DeRose took to putting parks on speed dial, making call after call until he got through.
And they’ve discovered they’re not welcome at the many parks reserved for guests 55-plus. Which explains why they’ve spent the last six weeks at a site that has a nice clubhouse and pool, but looks like a giant parking lot.
Life on the road is more chill than life in the city where everyone’s hustling, they agree. But this presents the opposite problem: It’s hard to clock your usual 10-hour workday when most of the people around you are retired or on vacation.
And it’s even harder to work when the Wi-Fi crashes—a reality that has led to several meltdowns. Ms. Glazer typically schedules back-to-back Zoom calls for her business, which employs a team of 11. But she’s found that some RV parks advertising Wi-Fi have spotty service at best. They’ve had to subscribe to and install a bewildering array of services and backup devices to compensate.
They miss New York—walking to Central Park, Friday night Thai delivery and Sunday grocery delivery. Now, every errand and expedition requires a drive. “And we’ve been to a lot of Thai places along our journey. It’s not Thai food!” Ms. Glazer laments.
After venturing north through Utah and Wyoming this spring, they plan to return to the East Coast in the fall to settle down and start a family.
Will they return to the city? Probably not. “Our Manhattan time has passed,” Mr. DeRose says.
“But who knows?” says Ms. Glazer of their plans. “Because if you told me a year ago we’d be living in an RV, I’d tell you you were crazy.”
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