John & Kathy Huggins: Building a community while living their RV dream

John and Kathy Huggins, who are both in their 70s today, were lifted out of relative obscurity by a single idea to embrace a new hobby and teach others to join them along the way.

John worked at an industrial manufacturing facility for many years, and Kathy served as a receptionist. But, at 58, their lives took an entirely different direction.

“There were things we wanted to do and to have; but we didn’t dream about them a lot because we knew we still had some time to go before we retired,” said Kathy.

They were living in Sarasota, Fla., at the time. Suddenly, a number of things occurred that paved the way to an entirely new life.

They had raised their two sons in a large home in a golf community, but no longer needed a house that big for just the two of them. The market was hot in 2004, so they put their home up for sale, bought a condo and pocketed a significant amount of money.

“Because I had done such a good job moving production lines to Mexico, I worked myself out of a job,” John explained. “The company gave my job to someone I hired who spoke Spanish, paid him half of what I was making and ushered me out the door.

“I felt bad about losing that job for about 10 seconds because I really hated the last two years of work,” he added. “Every time I came back from Mexico, I knew 20 people wouldn’t be working for the company anymore.”

Kathy had been hinting for years that she wanted to go camping, but John dismissed any discussion of it until they decided to attend a convention in Branson, Mo. They bought a great big tent, giant airbed and two sleeping bags just to try it out.

“It was a gorgeous park in Branson and really relaxing. It was so much fun that I wanted to do more of that,” said Kathy. “But, I knew we had to get off the ground. A few nights of tent camping convinced me we were not young enough for that.”

The experience got the couple thinking about buying a recreation vehicle, so they attended the Tampa RV Supershow in January 2005. It was there they met people from the Escapees organization who were promoting a full-time RV lifestyle. The Huggins didn’t even know that kind of life existed, but it sounded good to them.

A short time later, the couple received a letter out of the blue from a woman in Ohio who knew about their community and wanted to move there to care for her husband with dementia.

“When I read that she wanted to buy a condo outright with cash and not involve a realtor, I was on the phone in minutes,” John explained. “I invited her to come view our home. She did and made us an offer with a stipulation that we vacate it within 30 days. Her offer was the highest selling price in the whole area.”

Kathy noted they had better buy an RV right away or else they’d be homeless in a few weeks. John ramped up his online research and they settled on a 39-foot motorhome to hit the road touring America.

Divine appointment

The following winter, the couple was back in Florida when their son called them with an urgent request.

“He was a programmer for a local radio station and the person hosting a 10 a.m. Saturday show had abruptly quit. My son wanted us to come in and host a radio show,” Kathy explained.

“We didn’t know squat about radio. I thought it would be one or two weeks until the station found a replacement, but it turned out to be 17 weeks,” John added. “We called it Living the RV Dream.”

The show was also available online and people started tuning in from all over and sending email to the couple. In September 2005, the Huggins were anxious to hit the road again, but they liked what they were doing on the radio.

“I heard about this thing called podcasting, but didn’t know anything about it. YouTube was in its infancy at that time, so I bought a book about podcasting and did a little more research,” John said. “I bought a little mixer, a couple of microphones and headphones, and started the Living the RV Dream podcast a month after the radio gig ended.”

“We decided to produce a show once a week, but had no idea how long we would keep it up,” he added. “I would do all the technical stuff for the show and talk about the technical aspects of RVing while Kathy would talk about feel-good aspects of the RV lifestyle.”

The Huggins entered the right market, at the right time with the right product. People started subscribing to the show and talking about it with their friends. They had 400 loyal listeners when they started, many of them carryovers from the radio show.

However, at their peak, there would be 3,000 initial downloads for each new weekly show and a single episode would be downloaded 8,000 times over several months. Keep in mind, podcasting was also in its infancy at that time, which meant Living the RV Dream was a very popular show.

Growing a community

The Huggins also started a Living the RV Dream group on a relatively new social media site called Facebook, and amassed quite a following. People seemed to love the down-home, friendly show that wasn’t controlled by a big organization or company.

“We wanted to tell people about things we learned the hard way so that their experiences could be a little easier,” John explained. “We talked about all the places we traveled and cool places we visited.”

“We also encouraged people to avoid looking at the outside of an RV when shopping and really take a look on the inside,” Kathy added. “We described things we learned when starting out that we thought other people should know, too.”

After producing a number of podcast episodes, Living the RV Dream community members wanted an easier way to access the valuable information during the show.

“People were sending us emails commending us on the great information and tips we provide each week, but bemoaning how difficult it was to find specific information from an episode we did long ago,” said John. “’Maybe you should write a book,’ they said.”

However, neither John nor Kathy ever considered themselves to be writers. Yet, after receiving more than a dozen emails with the same message in one month, they knew it was a nudge to move outside their comfort zone.

“We were in Texas over a summer and just hunkered down and hammered out our first book,” said John. “It was titled, ‘So You Want to be a Full-Time RVer?‘ I didn’t expect to make any money off the book, but it was surprisingly popular and brought in a little income.”

Financing their travel dreams

Then the couple noticed they were fielding a lot of questions from people who wanted to know more about Workamping, which is a lifestyle where people work temporary, short-term jobs at campgrounds, amusement parks and other businesses. They may be paid, but almost always receive a free or deeply-discounted RV site.

Because Workamping was how the Huggins financed their travel dreams, and they had worked dozens of different jobs over the years, they wrote another book titled, “So You Want to be a Workamper?

In it, they described jobs people performed to earn extra spending money or reduce their expenses. The Huggins had worked as campground hosts, taking reservations, mowing lawns, managing pools, cleaning campsites, guarding gates at oil fields, harvesting beets, packing boxes at warehouses, serving customers in stores, and selling pumpkins, Christmas trees and fireworks.

“It’s a great way to find new friends and learn more about them,” said Kathy. “You’re not going to get rich, but you will defer some costs so that you have more money to spend on entertainment.”

“Our first Workamping gig was working at a ranch near Mount Rushmore. We initially stayed there for four days, then learned they hired part-time Workampers in exchange for a free RV site at the exclusive resort,” said John. “A few months earlier, I was earning more than $100,000 per year at a job I didn’t like, but now I was cleaning toilets and loving every minute.”

A broader market

A few years later, after getting some advice from Chuck Woodbury at RV Travel to expand their audience beyond the niche of full-time RVers, the Huggins updated their book, created a new cover and released it as “So, You Want to be an RVer?

Woodbury’s advice was spot on. As soon as the book was released, it started selling thousands of copies online, at bookstores and even at Camping World locations.

“I never considered myself an expert at RVing. There were a lot of people who I considered to be experts – and I interviewed many of them,” John admitted. “I was just a guy who had been there, done that and was willing to tell others how I did it.”

Small investment

Outside of buying the RV itself, the Huggins never really invested a lot of money into starting Living the RV Dream. In fact, John estimates he initially spent about $200 for podcasting equipment.

“I always kept updating to better equipment, but it was never a big chunk of money,” he said.

“You have to have a passion for whatever you’re going to do, and you may not find that passion right away,” said Kathy. “My passion was to travel and see things. It never occurred to me to start a podcast.

“We really enjoyed our travel time and had a lot of fun because of it. However, people didn’t know about full-time RVing,” she added. “They may have known about camping, but they didn’t know it was possible to support themselves while traveling around the country.”

When someone is new to a hobby, they may not even know what questions to ask to gather more information. They just know it sounds interesting.

“People also don’t know anything about buying a camper, how to hook it up or the rules for living in a campground,” Kathy explained. “We were just helping educate people about little things we thought they should know that really fired us up.”

Author Nick Russell also gave John some valuable insight. “He told me anyone who has a passion for anything, has a book idea inside them. I believe that is absolutely true,” said John.

Another common problem the Huggins discovered with the RV lifestyle is that people really didn’t know how to take advantage of big RV shows. They were often overwhelmed by hundreds of different RVs to look at during the show. It resulted in information overload and people often walked out of a show more confused than they were going in.

“We created a 16-page booklet titled ‘How to Survive an RV Show and Still Have Fun Doing it‘ and pretty much just gave it away,” said John. “We really put a lot of hard-earned personal knowledge into that and people really appreciated the advice.”

Starting over

If the Huggins had to start over again, they would put more money down on their RV so they didn’t have such large payments to make each month. After a few years on the road, the RV was worth less than the balance due on the loan. That made trading it in difficult without a large payoff.

As for business, John said he would have learned more about marketing.

“If I had done more marketing, I could have made some serious money,” he explained. “We had a few sponsors over the years, but never really made any money off it. We did a weekly show for eight years and had a lot of fun with it, but I know we could have made more money for our effort.”

Although the Huggins sold the podcast and Living the RV Dream website to Robert Morales in 2017, they maintained control of the Facebook Group which still has 82,500 active members who like to share stories of their adventures, offer product recommendations, and give advice to new and experienced RVers alike.

For Kathy, the experience was an opportunity for them to change the entire direction of their lives.

“You have a choice. You can stay in the same house and golf at the same course every week, or you can travel and see the entire country,” she said. “When you’re older, you can even go back to school and learn about something you find interesting. In fact, most colleges allow older folks to attend for free.

“You can watch television or surf the internet all day, or go learn skills you have always wanted to learn,” she added. “Retirement is an opportunity to change directions and find something you have a passion for and fall in love with it.”

Seek joy

John remembers talking with several people on the Living the RV Dream Facebook group who were always saying they were going to go RVing themselves.

“By the time they really decided to pursue their dream, they were in their 70s and too old to really enjoy themselves while traveling,” he said. “So do it now! Don’t sit around and think about it or convince yourself you have to do something else first. You need to do it now. The only regret you will have is not doing it 10 years earlier.”

They learned that lesson themselves. When they were in their late 60s, shortly after the age when most people retire, Kathy developed a very serious medical condition that forced them to come off the road. Had they played by “the rules” and waited until society considered it acceptable for them to leave their jobs to experience more adventure, they would never have been able to see the things they did, nor would they have had so many doors open for them.

“If there are things in your life which don’t bring you joy, then don’t do it. It really is that simple,” said Kathy. “Start pursuing things you’re truly interested in and see where it can take you.”

Above all else, don’t listen to naysayers who try to talk you out of pursuing your dreams.

“If you listen to those naysayers too long, you will run out of time to do what you want to do,” said John.

People can connect with John and Kathy on Facebook.