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These RV-riding retirees will make you incredibly jealous of their life on the road

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Carroll and Basil's daughter lives in Key Largo, where they spent their first year of retirement.

RV retirees

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Carroll and Basil Melnyk decided 12 years ago that they didn't want to retire when they were too old to enjoy life. Carroll, who was 56 at the time, had worked more than 30 years as a teacher and college professor, and Basil, 55, was a mechanical engineer in their hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

“We knew that things for our families had not worked out health-wise as they aged and we knew that we wanted to travel,” says Carroll, now 68. “So we got out the old spreadsheet, took a look at our finances and decided that whether we worked another five years or not, it wouldn’t make a big difference.”

So the couple sold their 4,000-square-foot home, gave their friends and family first dibs on their furniture and sold the rest of their belongings in a massive garage sale. They packed what was left into a U-Haul truck and drove to Key Largo, Fla to visit their daughter. Shortly after that, they purchased a 29-foot trailer and an old pick-up truck and took off.

[Click the photo above to see photos from their life on the road]

In just over a decade, they have visited all 50 U.S. states, every province and territory of Canada, and traveled to more than 70 countries. In 2010, they upgraded to a used 2003 40-foot American Tradition RV and decided to make life on the road permanent.

Managing finances on the road

Like many retirees, the Melnyks live primarily on fixed income, the bulk of which consists of Carroll’s pension and both of their Social Security benefits. With those funds, they are able to get by on a budget of about $2,000 to $2,800 a month, though that can vary widely depending on where their journey takes them.

“We do watch our funds, but don’t let that have too much impact on the decisions we make to do one thing or another,” Carroll says

When it comes to financing pricier excursions abroad, the couple relies on passive income they earn from two rental properties in Lubbock. They keep their IRA and 401(k) savings on hand for the years when they won’t be able to manage year-round travel any longer. And last August, they purchased a condo in Ruidoso, N.M., which will be their final retirement destination some day.

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Their biggest expense is often, unsurprisingly, gas. During their busiest travel years, fuel can eat up more than 20% of their annual budget (for shorter excursions, they also have an SUV). When they drove from Southern California to Newfoundland in 2008, they spent about $600 a month on gas alone. In other years, their average fuel costs were as low as $300 a month.

“2008 was an expensive year, but most years, fuel is 8-10% of our budget,” Basil says.

‘We don’t sit around’

They spent some time last summer in Iceland (July 2014).

The Melnyks tend to plan their years by the season. The majority of their winters had typically been spent in El Centro, Calif., but in the last two years, they laid down roots in the Rincon County RV resort in Tucson, Ariz.

This is no trailer park. The resort, home to more than 2,000 RV-dwellers, has a swimming pool, laundry facilities and a roster of social activities that would rival most college campuses. Rent is $540 a month and includes utilities and wi-fi.

“Even today, we’re considered ‘babies’ because we’re so much younger than most of the people here,” says Basil. “Unfortunately, the people our age that should have been retiring right about now got caught up [by the recession].”

The couple splits their leisure time between practices with the local choir, theater performances and bicycling club. To stay healthy, they committed to pescetarianism four years ago and are thinking about going vegan. They typically return to Lubbock once per year, in May, to keep up with doctor’s visits.  

“We don’t sit around,” says Carroll. “We’ve always been going, even when we were working before retirement. We traveled. We camped. Now we’ve just moved from camping to something a little bit bigger.”

One destination at a time

Enjoying a meal together during a trip to Spain in May 2010.

By the time spring arrives, they’re usually itching to strike out on their own again. Where they go almost always varies. They belong to two national camping clubs (Passport America and Coast to Coast) which, for an annual fee of about $125, offer discounted rates at park grounds across the country. In their early RV-ing years, they made a point not to stay in any one place for more than two or three days.

If there’s one thing their lifestyle doesn’t allow for it’s clutter. The couple keeps a small stash of valuables in their daughter’s house in Key Largo, but otherwise all of their worldly possessions are in their RV. With the exception of their two-year-old dog, Sirius, which they adopted two weeks ago in Tucson, they rarely buy souvenirs.

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“If we find out down the road that we need something we don’t have, there’s always thrift shops,” Basil says. “We knew we were going to Alaska eventually, so when we were on a tour of the Great Lakes in Canada one year, we stopped at a thrift shop to get winter clothing.”

Now that they’ve seen every state and most of Canada, they’re backtracking to their favorite destinations for longer stays of one to two weeks. They loved traveling through the Canadian Rockies, so four years ago they spent the whole summer there, staying two weeks in every park along the way. At least once a year, they plan a major international trip. Last July, they spent two weeks in Iceland (they swapped the RV for a rental car and B&Bs) and in December, they went on a German river cruise that carried them from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland. This year, they signed up for HomeExchange.com and hope to trade their New Mexico condo for a place in Wales or Belgium.

“It’s in our personality that we both love to travel,” Carroll says. “We like to see things and to be involved and as long as we have the energy and the health to do it, we intend to keep on as long as we possibly can.”

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