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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

For Podcaster, Home Is the Open Road

So, while talking to the host of The Midlife Makeover podcast, who is interviewing me over Zoom about rightsizing, I notice that this host, Wendy Valentine, is recording from inside an RV trailer. Though she’s asking the questions, I have a few for her.


“Wendy,” I interrupt. “Is that RV your office or do you live there?”


“Both,” she said. Here I am talking about rightsizing, specifically how to choose where, in what, and with what to live your last and ideally best third or more of your life, and I realize my host could be the poster child. After she’d finished with her questions, I asked if I could turn the tables and talk about her rightsized RV life.


“Heck,” I started, “I need an RV just to hold my cosmetics. How do you do it?”


Her story tumbled out. Five years ago, Wendy, now age 51, was going through a divorce. Her brother had just died. She learned she had Lyme disease. Her three sons had moved out. And she was depressed, anxious, unemployed and $150,000 in debt.


“I had a meltdown,” she said. “I was a complete mess.” As she was coming to grips with her situation, she had a vision of herself driving an RV across the country. “Of course, no way could I drive an RV across the country, but the thought represented pure freedom to me.” (While the RV life is not my definition of freedom, rightsizing lesson No. 1 is: one size does not fit all.)


In that moment she decided everything had to change. (Most rightsizing journeys start with a life-change: a divorce, an empty nest, a brush with mortality, a financial reversal, but not usually all at once, as in her case.)


Step one, she said, was to get a job, preferably outside Virginia where she was living alone in a 2,400 square-foot rental house. In April 2019, she accepted a job in Chicago selling new construction houses. She packed up a U-Haul and moved 700 miles away into a 1,200-square-foot apartment. The long drive fortified her vision of a new life on the road someday.


The job paid handsomely. She soon retired her debt and put money in the bank. Her depression and anxiety disappeared with her money woes. “It was a domino effect,” she said. “Working made me feel empowered. As I was achieving goals, I was gaining hope and inspiration.” But she still yearned for the freedom of the open road.


Then in October 2021, she moved out of her apartment and into a 24-foot RV she bought for $150,000. She then took her home and eventually her podcast show on the road. How did that work out? I had some more questions:


Marni: Where did this idea come from? Did you have any RV experience before?

Wendy: I blame my parents. (Laugh) Forty years ago, my father, a retired FBI agent, and my musician mom announced they were selling their 4,000 square-foot home in San Antonio to live in an RV and travel the United States. I thought they were nuts. We were the typical four-bedroom-house, two-car American family, then suddenly, they were selling the house and everything in it. All I had to say to that was, “Can I have the couch?” Today, mom is 77 and dad is 80. They are starting to slow down and still live in a 40-foot RV in Arizona.


Q. You made a drastic downsize, from 2400-square-feet to 1,200 to 120. What was the hardest part?

A: Clothes! I used to have a closet the size of this RV. Now I’m down to elastic pants and tank tops. As I went through my apartment, I made piles of what would go in the RV, what would go to Goodwill and what my kids could use. My youngest was moving into a new apartment, so I shipped him my furniture. And, just in case I do need an apartment someday, I have about 10 boxes of household items, a few paintings, and a bin of family photos in a storage facility in Arizona.


Q: How do you support yourself?

A: The podcast has sponsors, and I have an online course, seven steps to finding freedom at midlife. I can do those from anywhere. We are so blessed today to be able to work remotely. More people should take advantage of that, so we don’t stay stuck.


Q What questions do you get asked the most?

A: People want to know if I’m lonely. Not really. There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I crave being alone, though I did pick up a little dog along the way. People also ask if I get scared. Never. I stay in nice RV parks. I am a glamper.


Q. How do you manage seeing family?

A: My sons live in Arizona, California and Virginia. Living near any one of them meant not living near the other two. With the RV, I can be near all three. Right now, I’m in Malibu with a view of the ocean, and near one of my sons.


Q. What about the benefits of being in one community that you lose when you lead a nomadic life, of knowing where to get groceries or get your hair done?

A: Covid really helped because now so much can come to you. I get Uber Eats and have groceries delivered. RV life teaches you to be adaptable. Oh, and I have a hairdresser in Scottsdale, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Hair is important.


Q: Do you see yourself settling down again?

A: I try not to plan too far ahead or be too rigid. The 50s are a great time to explore. Life is like a buffet. You sample a lot then go back and get more of what you like. I want to sample as much as I can. 


CAPTION: At Home on the Road — “After my kids left home and my divorce, the definition of home changed for me,” said Wendy Valentine, pictured in her RV with her Maltese, Daisy.  Photo courtesy Wendy Valentine.

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