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Mom moves family into an RV to help pay debt, travel full-time: ‘Life is too short’

After years of “barely scraping by,” and living in debt, Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move their family into an RV to travel full-time

Akpan, 42, told Fox News that they sold their California home in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the U.S.  Akpan, Sylvester, 43, and their 8-year-old son Aiden moved into their renovated RV by May of that year. 

“We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by,” Akpan told Fox. “We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son.”

Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move into an RV to travel full-time in February 2020.
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

She said that she and her husband had several goals in mind when they moved into the RV. 

“First of all, to pay off all our debt and then to create generational wealth,” Akpan said. “And then just spend more time together, which is so important to us because I feel like life is too short. And what matters the most is just you being around people that you love.”

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Now that it’s been about a year and a half, Akpan said her family has been able to pay off $200,000 in debt, about half of which was student loan debt. 

“It sounds scary when you say that because, to be honest, we shouldn’t have been in that much debt in the first place,” Akpan said. “It was absolutely nuts.”

The Akpans travel full-time, both around the U.S. and internationally with their 8-year-old son Aiden. 

The Akpans travel full-time, both around the U.S. and internationally with their 8-year-old son Aiden. 
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan )

Though they still have a little more credit card debt they’re working to pay off, Akpan said they’re almost done. 

“Right now we’re at the tail end of it,” Akpan said. “We have very, very little left.”

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Through their journey of paying off their debts, Akpan said she’s become something of an advocate for financial literacy, encouraging her friends and family to start their own Roth IRAs and learn more about ways to save for their future and avoid going into debt. 

“People don’t know these basic things that they could have that could help them, help their families, help them save,” Akpan said, adding: “So it makes it hard for you not to get into debt and make these silly mistakes when you literally don’t know.”

“To be honest, we shouldn’t have been in that much debt in the first place. It was absolutely nuts.”

— Karen Akpan

She added: “It is a mission of mine, especially this year, to talk about it and make people aware … especially with my friends. Just starting with my friends and my family who don’t know these things.”

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Akpan added that she and her husband have been educating Aiden along the way, while also starting to invest in his future now through his own accounts, including a Roth IRA and a 529 plan.

“We have set up our lives in a way that we are not just pouring into ourselves and our future, but we’re already pouring into him right now,” Akpan said. 

The Akpans have been able to pay off about $200,000 in debt since they moved into their RV. 

The Akpans have been able to pay off about $200,000 in debt since they moved into their RV. 
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

Akpan also talks about financial literacy and financial planning for kids on her blog, The Mom Trotter. She also runs a nonprofit called Black Kids Do Travel, where she encourages families of color to travel the world. 

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Aside from being taught financial literacy, Aiden is also homeschooled, which makes it possible for the family to travel full-time, both around the country and internationally. 

“His learning has always been on the road,” Akpan said, adding: “Everything is a learning experience for him. And the difference is that he gets to not only watch videos and read about it, he gets to see it. He gets to be there.”

"We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by," Karen Akpan told Fox. "We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son."

“We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by,” Karen Akpan told Fox. “We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son.”
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

Aside from getting to experience places first-hand, international travel also allows Aiden to learn about other cultures. 

“It’s really been very important to me to expose my son to different cultures and different people and everything and being able to travel internationally gives us that opportunity for him to appreciate and be respectful,” Akpan said. “I want to explain to my son: ‘Everybody will not do things the way you do it. And the fact that they don’t doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them.’”

“Being able to travel internationally puts us in a place where he’s right front and center of all of it, so he’s really learning to be a global citizen, which has really been a goal of mine.”

— Karen Akpan

“So I want him to actually see other people’s cultures, see how they live, appreciate it, ask questions and be respectful of it,” she added. “And being able to travel internationally puts us in a place where he’s right front and center of all of it, so he’s really learning to be a global citizen, which is really been a goal of mine.”

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Akpan told Fox that after the last year-and-a-half of full-time traveling, she’s still not ready to go back to living in a house.

“I’m not going back to that monthly mortgage,” Akpan said.”If we ever do live in a house, I always say this, we would have to buy in cash, to be honest. I cannot go back to monthly payments… I just can’t. Not with the lifestyle I’m living now.”

She added: “I can afford more vacations that are not strictly budget, where I’m counting pennies everywhere we go. So, living in a house would take that away from us again.”

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