For the last 20 years, I’ve had to travel, and, frankly, it sucked. Working as a tourism development expert meant 120+ nights a year of mediocre hotels, breakfast on the run, convention center chicken, and little time to enjoy being a tourist in any of the hundreds of destinations I visited. I wasn’t alone. At every stop, meeting, or trade show I met great people. People whose job it is to know every reason to explore their communities. These kindred spirits, those who make places worth visiting, became my friends. 

Planes were grounded; contracts, canceled. My work evaporated. I was faced with a choice – take a 10-year career setback or dust off a good idea and try something new. Within weeks, The Tourism Academy was launched and I joined the ranks of those who can work anywhere there’s Wi-Fi.

Stephen Ekstrom and his dog, Rudy (Photo Credit: James Vaucher)
Stephen Ekstrom and his dog, Rudy (Photo Credit: James Vaucher)

While I was busy nurturing a nonprofit start-up, the value of my home skyrocketed. That equity started to look a lot more practical in my pocket than in the walls of a 3/3 house that was already too big for just the dog and me. 

“Where will you go?” – it’s the first question everyone asks. There was no place I needed to be for work; no place so incredible that I dreamed of one day living there. Perhaps I’d get a townhouse. Maybe I’d settle closer to my family on the gulf coast. Would I rent or would I buy? What town or neighborhood would be the best fit? There were no obvious answers. 

The Edge in New York City (Photo Credit: Stephen Ekstrom)
The Edge in New York City (Photo Credit: Stephen Ekstrom)

Mindshift: “I no longer have to travel; instead I get to travel”

Ever dreamed of saying, “Screw this. I’m going to go live on an island?” Well, here’s my chance. But which island? I started putting pins on a map – islands to visit, locations to experience, destinations my friends have been asking me to visit for years. Soon, there were more than one-hundred-thirty points of interest throughout the Americas. I put my house on the market.

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s not exactly the best time to start an epic international adventure. I wanted to be with family for turkey, pie, and presents. My neighbor had an RV sitting in his driveway for months. I noticed that it hadn’t moved much. I began to wonder if I might be able to rent it for a few weeks, so I knocked on his door. He grabbed the keys and gave me a tour, explaining that he’d never spent a night in it, never even traveled with it beyond popping up at a friend’s house with champagne. It didn’t take long before we had a handshake agreement. I was going to buy the RV. 

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (Photo Credit: Stephen Ekstrom)
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland (Photo Credit: Stephen Ekstrom)

An offer quickly came in and the house was under contract. Time to clear out a 2200 square foot home and figure out what would be essential in an 85 square foot pretty sweet shag wagon. For what it would cost to store my belongings for a year or two, I’d be able to buy new. I decided to sell, donate, or give away everything. The truly sentimental stuff fit into just four plastic storage tubs, safely stored in my sister’s garage. I had just enough space in the RV for pantry items, work gadgets, toiletries, cleaning supplies, about two weeks’ worth of clean clothes, and goodies to keep Rudy (the dog) happy. Six bins, each only slightly larger than a shoebox, that’s all the space I had for things I needed to keep with me. I made it happen.

First Stop: Getting Acquainted with Gladys

I named her Gladys. She came fully equipped with a kitchen, two twin beds, bathroom, shower, steering wheel, lots of buttons, apps, control panels, inverters, generators, propane connections, battery monitors, solar panels, and an internet thingy on the roof. A gay campground seemed like the best place to figure out how this home on wheels worked without some good ol’ country boys lurking a few feet away. I made my reservations and checked in. I was one of the few weekday campers at a 270-acre resort. Plenty of space for me to push all the buttons and shed even more of the things I didn’t need. This fancy-pants motorhome is my jam for the next year or two. Time to get comfortable. I set up a lawn chair, opened Facebook, and went live to share an update. A fellow camper, thankfully wearing pants, rode his bike through the background.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photo Credit: Stephen Ekstrom)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photo Credit: Stephen Ekstrom)

I’m a dork and I own it. Each day, destination, and experience is an opportunity to learn. Teach me something new, show me something I’ve never seen before, take me to places I have yet to visit – this inspires me. 

From now through Christmas, my next stops will include Orlando, St. Augustine (Florida), Savannah (Georgia), Beaufort (South Carolina), Charleston (South Carolina), Sarasota (Florida), and Christmas. Then, it’s a road trip along the southern U.S. and into Mexico until spring. Follow along on Twitter @stephenrelates, LinkedIn, or The Tourism Academy’s Business Class podcast.