When a passerby at Kevin and Ruth Read's garage sale asked where they were moving, the Canadian snowbird couple pointed across the street to where their motorhome was parked.
They had just decided to quit their jobs and sell their Ottawa home to travel the world. The passerby sighed wistfully. "I planned to do the same thing when my husband retired, but he dropped dead three months later," she told them.
The chance encounter only served as further confirmation that the Reads, now 53 and on the road for the past eight years, were justified in starting their adventures so early.
"We want to explore the world and do lots of active things while we're still young and healthy enough to do that," says Kevin. "We could have stuck to the security of owning a home, and having a normal job with two or three weeks of vacation a year, but we wanted to do something different with our lives."
And for the Reads, something different has included extensive travels to 23 countries so far – many overseas through conventional travel and camping, but also throughout North America in their recreational vehicle (RV). They've taken months at a time to explore locales as far flung as Colombia, Namibia and South Korea, and even longer in their RV to traverse tiny Mexican villages, where they were once invited to be witnesses at a local wedding and have kept in touch with the families since. Last week, they were in Colombia.
The couple met at age 22 in a First Choice salon in Ottawa, when Kevin walked in for a haircut and Ruth just happened to be his stylist. It was love at first sight – 15 months later they were married, and then they went on to raise two children who are now 29 and 27.
"We share a lot of the same interests, one of which was travel, which has always been a priority for us. Even when we had young children we tried to work trips into our few weeks of vacation time," says Kevin.
It wasn't until the summer of 2007 that the Reads caught the RV bug. With both children out of the house, they were initially considering selling their home and downsizing to a condo downtown. But they changed their mind after hosting a British couple travelling through North America in a motorhome.
"They stayed with us for four days and explained to us how they travelled. We never knew anything about RVs prior to that – we were always tent campers," says Kevin.
"These people were experienced globetrotters who had travelled via RV through Australia, Europe, South Africa and New Zealand. They had solar panels and batteries, monitored their water usage carefully, and found places to park free.
"Before that, we could never picture ourselves as RV kind of people – firstly, because of the expense, and secondly, because we always thought RV parks were too close quarters, with one awning almost touching the trailer beside it. That wasn't our style of camping, and it still holds true to this day."
Three months later, they were the proud owners of a 1996 RV which they had bought in New York State. The nine-metre-long vehicle had just 46,000 kilometres on it. They named it Sherman.
"We took off across Canada, from Ottawa to Vancouver, and then south to Baja, Mexico, where we spent the winter with the British couple," says Kevin.
"The following spring, we drove to Florida where our son was doing spring training playing college baseball. We drove far too many miles that first year and learned that you don't have to see everything all at once. We have since refined our ways of doing things with regards to cost, and are slowing down and taking time to see everything."
Sherman's odometer has now clicked past 125,000.
The Reads keep a blog of their adventures for friends and family to track their whereabouts; the site, travelwithkevinandruth, gets up to 2,000 readers a day. It has come in handy as a means of making some modest supplementary income, too.
"We realized the blog had some value when the City of Chicago treated us as journalists and gave us a package of things to do for free if we would write about them. We've done several things like that for tourism boards – Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco, and Seoul, South Korea, a year ago," says Kevin.
As an Amazon affiliate, they make about $400 (U.S.) monthly in commission if people buy something off the links on their blog. In addition to being very frugal when they travel, they also work part of the year as regional park managers in Cabri, Sask. – a town with a population of 400, to where they moved three years ago.
"Saskatchewan is the only province that has regional parks as well as provincial parks," says Kevin. "They were having a hard time finding managers. That's what we do for our summer job for about five months out of the year, and then we travel for the balance.
"We've already signed the contract to go back next year."
When they first started travelling they had a two-year plan to decide what to do from there. "We could have easily gone back to our old lives but we adapted our thinking over time. Our number one goal in life is to never spend another winter in Canada," says Ruth.
"If you want to do something, just find a way. No one ever regrets what they've done – they regret what they haven't."
Tips for the road
The Reads offer these five tips to make RV travel more efficient and less costly:
1. Choose free local WiFi over expensive data packages – best bets include Starbucks, fast food outlets and libraries. "We park our motorhome outside and use a range-extending antenna for WiFi so that we don't even have to go inside," says Kevin.
2. Ask questions at online RV forums such as Rv.net and the Rving in Canada group on Facebook.
3. Save money by avoiding RV parks – do what in the RV world is known as boondocking. In other words, find a place in the middle of nowhere and park for the night. The Reads post pictures on their site of boondocking spots with GPS co-ordinates. Check out Facebook groups on boondocking and free camping in various locations.
4. Slow down, don't try to do everything, and stay off the Interstate. The prettiest spots and hidden gems are off the freeways and highways.