In 2017, Amber Baldwin realized she was in a rut. She worked long hours from her home near Seattle, and on weekends, there was always some sort of project or chore to do at the house. She felt like she never left, that she was working too much, that she wasn’t living.
“I have friends and family who have died early,” she said. “My cousin was only a year older than me, in her early 40s, when she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. So, I thought: I can’t keep doing this, what if I never get to retirement age?”
She felt lucky to have a job she could do anywhere, so figured, why wait? So, Amber got rid of all her stuff, sold her house, and bought a 26′ Winnebago RV.
While she was sorting through her belongings and preparing for life in her new motorhome, Amber started to feel claustrophobic.
“Maybe I just don’t resonate with the American Dream of home ownership,” she said. “All my stuff just made me itchy to leave and downsize.”
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The fear of living in an RV alone
While she felt elated by her choice to travel full-time and newfound freedom, Amber, who started a website called Story Chasing, also felt fear and anxiety. She knew nothing about RVs or RV maintenance, and questions swirled around in her head.
- What if I get a flat?
- What if I hate RVing?
- Am I going to be lonely?
- What equipment do you need in an RV?
- How do you dump sewer tanks, and what’s a black tank versus a gray tank and should I get a composting toilet?
But she researched, and learned the answers to these questions, slowly building her confidence.
“We as women are coming out of this culture of men doing everything for us, and now we’re being independent and doing things on our own,” said Amber. “Women are getting stronger with each generation, but there’s still a lot of fear wrapped around doing things on your own. I have this quote that says ‘on the other side of fear is your greatest reward’, which means every time you overcome fear or a challenge, something beautiful comes out of it.”'On the other side of fear is your greatest reward'
She said her first time at Lake Tahoe was terrifying; she was in a huge RV navigating a tiny, narrow road and wanted to turn around. But she kept on going, and was so happy to have overcome her fear.
How she stays safe while living in an RV
When Amber first started RVing, she was concerned about where she’d sleep. She knew she’d have to move around often, and came up with ways to feel safe.
“My family was a bit concerned about my safety so I got a GPS device called a Garmin InReach,” she said. “It’s based on satellite and you can preprogram it. Every night I hit a button and it sends a text to four people, sending them my GPS location with a link on a map. The InReach also has a button where you can immediately call the police.”
Amber also keeps mace with her, and has specific rules about stealth camping. For those who aren’t in the know, stealth camping is parking and sleeping where nobody knows you’re inside, often on a street or in a neighborhood.
“If I’m stealth camping in a city I don’t walk my dog where I’m going to stealth camp,” she said. “I don’t get out because I don’t want people seeing I’m in there alone. I also circle a neighborhood to make sure it feels safe.”
When boondocking, Amber makes sure she arrives during daylight hours, so that she has plenty of time to move somewhere else if need be. She always has a backup location at the ready that she finds through the use of camping apps.
Partway through her RVing adventure, Amber decided to switch rigs. She was used to living with less, and the 26′ motorhome seemed too big. Plus, it was hard to navigate on city streets and narrow roads.
So, she downsized once again, this time to a Hymer camper van. Hymer is a popular van in Europe by a German manufacturer built on a Dodge Ram Promaster chassis.
Check out this video for a tour of her new van:
How Amber travels with a dog in her campervan
Amber isn’t traveling the United States on her own – she also has a small dog named Lily. A lot of people want to travel with their dogs, so I asked Amber how she keeps her dog safe and cool on the road.
“I picked this van because it has a lot of ventilation with the number of windows, plus it has a Fantastic Fan,” she said. “Also, my van has air conditioning. When the air conditioning drains the battery, the engine turns on automatically to charge the battery.”
She also installed a Canary camera so she can keep watch on her pup when she’s out and about. Also, there’s a temperature gage in her van that Amber can monitor from afar.
“I also make sure I’m never too far away from the van, and I try to stay in cooler climates,” she said.
How Amber makes money while traveling in a van full time
Amber is lucky to have stayed with her same company while also traveling the United States in her van. Just recently, she decided to become a consultant rather than an employee to reduce her hours and stress.
“My line of business there was managing an accounting department where we did a lot of acquisitions and building of luxury apartment buildings,” she said. “Now, part of my consulting is with that company and part is for clients who are buying RV parks, multi-family housing or real estate.”
Amber now works on blogging and monetizing her YouTube channel as ways to earn extra income.
She recently decided to start releasing income reports to motivate and inspire other people who want to make money while traveling full-time.
“I’ve had a really great response to my income reports so far. Not only were people excited for me but excited to see how I was managing a life on the road,” she said. “They also have a lot of questions, so now I offer an expense report, my budget and a free mini-course that shows people how to finance RVing.”
She said there are so many options out there for making money. To see some options, check out 30+ ways to make money from anywhere.
Why Amber calls herself a Story Chaser
Amber is a huge fan of chasing dreams, and that’s where the name Story Chaser comes from.
According to her website, “A Story Chaser is someone who is determined to go after their dreams even when fear and anxiety consume them. A Story Chaser will overcome those fears and anxiety with each mile they travel, with each experience they encounter, with each person they meet. A Story Chaser is creating stories. Stories of their travels. Collecting stories from people they meet and sharing their dreams and experiences. These stories fuel even more stories which are collected in video, blog, and in my mind as I live out my dreams now. I am a Story Chaser and I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life!”
Amber thinks a lot about the idea of retirement, and how many people don’t reach the golden years.
One of those is Shawn O’Conner of Road Warriors, a fulltime RVer who always talked about living your best life today and not waiting for tomorrow. Tragically, he died in a scooter accident in 2017 and was only in his mid-30s.
This drove the idea home even further for Amber, who’s happy she made the choice to live a life on the road less traveled. She hopes her story inspires other women to get up and go, to live the life they’ve been waiting for, to not be overcome with fear.
“In relation to women going out and doing this, I would want to encourage them that yes, there will be fear, but you have to push through it. There is a learning curve, but the world out there is safer that what media makes it out to be,” she said. “I’ve gotten my RV stuck twice and it was pulled out by a backhoe! People surround you, people help you. There are good people out there.”
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van in San Francisco. She worked in radio news for 15 years before a massive layoff in 2016. Kristin has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire, SF Gate and The Bold Italic, among others.