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By Ronnie Wendt
Kevin and Mandy Holesh wake up each day, roll out of bed, feed their two dogs and two cats, and set to work just like the rest of the world, but with one key difference.
Their home and their office happens to be a brightly colored, warm and welcoming renovated Keystone Cougar 276 fifth-wheel, circa 2002, that the couple bought for just $4,000.
Their journey to RVing full time began on a lark. They borrowed a family member’s tent camper and wintered in Texas. The year was 2015, and Mandy said, “We decided to try out the lifestyle just for fun. But the whole winter, we joked around saying ,‘What if we did this full time?’”
At the time, the sentiment seemed an impossible reality, so the couple returned home and made a valiant effort to do the expected in pursuit of the American dream. They rented an apartment; they worked; they saved money.
“But we had fallen in love with RVing full time, and when we tried to go back to normal living again, we found we just couldn’t,” 29-year-old Mandy recalled.
Another attractive feature was that the couple did the math and realized they could RV full time for about $600 a month, saving $800 a month to help pay off their student loans more quickly.
Two years ago, in December, they followed their wanderlust desires, after realizing that their jobs (Mandy is a wedding photographer and Kevin an app developer) allowed them to work from anywhere. The millennial couple turned in the keys to their favorite Pittsburgh apartment and set out on the open road.
“We love being on the road and setting our own schedule,” she said. The couple still works 40 hours a week, but now they do it from a national park as opposed to a cubicle.
Renovating the RV
At the RV industry open house in Elkhart, Indiana, Keystone RV Company — after taking notice of Mandy’s Instagram account, 188 square feet, a tongue-and-cheek reference to the size of the space they call home — offered the couple a free trial in a new Cougar.
The Holesh’s relished the trial upgrade, while the company reported it would help them gather inteligence about what millennials seek in their recreation vehicles.
Though in her Pinterest account of this adventure, Mandy noted the new RV “quickly felt like home” and cited many features that she loved, like its self-leveling capabilities, fireplace and large refrigerator, she also lamented that she longed for the white walls and bright colors of the couple’s renovated version.
“Even if we bought new, we would renovate it because we don’t like the colors currently on the market,” she wrote on Instagram.
They spent $2,000 renovating 2002 RV, which they pull with a Dodge Ram truck. The first thing to go was the camper’s crazy blue hues and wallpaper.
“We immediately removed everything from the camper and painted the walls white,” she explained. “This was one of the best decisions we ever made because RVs are small. White walls make the space appear more open than the dark tones you see in the industry.”
She stresses people must carefully consider weight and balance as they do these types of renovations. Kevin weighed the unit before they began the work, and weighed it repeatedly throughout the process to ensure it was safe and properly balanced.
“The furniture in our RV was super heavy, so we replaced it with an IKEA futon that was much lighter and helped a lot with the weight. Our floors are super thin. The paint is probably the heaviest thing we added, because we did several coats,” she said.
They painted the cabinets a sunny yellow and put splashes of color throughout the space. The upholstery is gray as opposed to dark leather. The result is a bright, airy and welcoming space to call home, Mandy added. The couple also built a stand-up desk in their Cougar.
Because as Mandy pointed out, “though there is a booth to sit at, it’s hard to have two laptops set up at the same time.” That’s a feature she’d like to see on new RVs.
“We love having a stand-up desk to kind of switch it up so we’re not always sitting down. Or, just having a separate working area would be huge,” she said, noting that though she still does wedding photography, she’s also started making silver jewelry, and having dedicated workspace for that would be very nice.
For this reason, Mandy says their next RV will likely be a toy hauler.
“We would like some separation between our living area and our workspace,” she explained. “It’s also nice to be able to have some personal space. When you live in such close quarters with your husband or wife, it’s just nice to be able to go to our own little workspaces during the day, then come back together in the evening and enjoy dinner together.”
Repairing the RV
Before setting out on an RV adventure, Mandy cautions millennials to do their homework. First and foremost, she recommends not buying too big.
“It’s really hard to manage a big rig when you’re just learning about RVing. Learning how to park and things like that in a 30-foot rig is not easy.” she said.
“The No. 1 thing is to soak up as much information as you can. There are a lot of great resources online that can teach you how to move into an RV, and more importantly, how to fix an RV, because things are going to break, and you have to be ready for that,” Mandy added.
She says they try to keep a positive attitude when things break.
“We had one of our leaf springs break while were driving, and we didn’t realize it until we arrived at our next location and the entire camper was tilted to the side,” she explained. “We had to replace all of them, but we did that ourselves. We looked the repair up online, and fixed them.
“We have had many things break but we try to not to let it ruin our day. We just laugh it off and figure out how to fix it,” she added.
A common challenge reported by full-timing millennials is winning family over to the idea, and the Holesh’s encountered the same. Though their intentions of paying off their student debt more quickly were well received, the fact that they planned to embrace this nomadic lifestyle was not.
“But as they have followed our journey, they’ve been inspired by it. Kevin’s parents recently decided they want to RV when they retire. They didn’t think they wanted to until they saw us doing it,” she explained.
A big part of their change of heart, she says, is the Instagram account where the Holesh’s share their journey. She also said she calls home more often than she would otherwise to keep them informed of their adventures.
Another challenge noted by mobile millennials is being away from friends and family.
“It’s kind of a lonely life, but luckily there are a lot of great resources available for making friends and staying connected with your family,” she said.
Mandy credits social media with helping them connect with others living on the road, and when they are in the same area, they try to meet.
“It’s so fun because you immediately have something in common with them because you are both living on the road,” she said. “You understand what it’s like and immediately can start talking about funny things that happen.”
Working on the road also presents a few obstacles to overcome, she adds. Kevin is an app developer and his work depends on Internet access. The couple relies on Campendium to find places with good cell service.
“We like to boondock a lot, so it’s nice to know ahead of time if there is service in an area,” she explained. “Campendium has been a total game-changer for us.”
Mandy said that though they love being disconnected from time to time, they do lug around tools, like a Verizon Jetpack, to help them to tap into weaker cell signals in remote areas.
Though the Holesh’s love life on the road, a final challenge remains — when they will end this adventure and pursue the traditional American dream.
“I don’t think we’ll do this forever,” Mandy admitted. “We don’t have a five-year plan or anything like that, we just kind of go with the flow. Right now, we’re really loving this lifestyle, so I think it’s safe to say we’ll be doing this for at least the next five years.”
To follow the Mandy and Kevin Holesh on their adventures, follow them on Instagram at 188sqft.