What is the American dream? Typically, the answer involves a house, white picket fence, maybe a couple kids and a dog. But with higher costs of living and the rise of remote work, what if the new American dream means ditching the suburbs to live wherever you want, whenever you want — in an RV?
More than 1 million Americans live in RVs full time, and Cassie and Josh Bailey are two of them.
The married couple reinvented their American dream and took the road less traveled by selling it all to see it all. It’s a journey unfolding in real time via TikTok, where they're known as "The Wild Thornbaileys." The family of six shares their unconventional lifestyle to more than 550,000 followers across social media platforms.
"When the pandemic hit, the American dream kind of changed. Everybody's like, you know, 'I've been home enjoying my children, enjoying my life,' and they're being able to go out and experience more," said Josh.
Once owners of a 3,000-square-foot house in Upstate New York, Cassie worked as a photographer and Josh was a contractor for a construction company. The couple worked long hours. Josh labored during early mornings and Cassie picked up gigs during the evenings and weekends. Time was often spent apart, as maintaining a modern American family often requires more hours than exist in a day.
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A new outlook on life emerged in 2019. Their 5-year-old son collapsed at home after mentioning he felt a little funny. After an ambulance ride to the hospital, they learned he had type 1 diabetes. This was when the Baileys felt the need to reprioritize how they were living.
"I was trading my life with my children, that I chose to have, for a career to try to give them a better life," Cassie explained while tearing up. "But what's a better life when they're just as happy with 300 square feet and they have Mom and Dad?"
The family sold their house, bought a used 300-square-foot RV and truck, and hit the road.
They’ll tell you their start was rough as they learned the ropes to RV living. In 2020, the Baileys lost their jobs, had a flooded RV and a broken down truck. Then, the Baileys learned resilience. After getting over the initial bumps in the road, they say they have no regrets.
Four years later, the family has traveled more than 110,000 miles and visited 42 states together. Josh acts as the on-site maintenance man and primary caretaker to their kids, Ellie, Josiah, Clara and Emelia, all of whom are under 11 years old. He’s also tasked with the kids' home schooling, known as "road school."
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Cassie is the breadwinner with multiple streams of income. She’s continued her photography business and started monetizing her social media videos as a content creator. Her videos feature the whole family, providing educational tips for prospective #fulltimeRVers and a little self-deprecating humor about their choice to lead a nomadic lifestyle.
The young family is not alone on the road. In 2021, RV owners ages 18 to 34 increased to 21% of the market, according to Go RVing. It’s growth the RV Industry Association calls "significant."
Many newbies in the RV community saw the pandemic as an opportunity to reevaluate how they lived. Remote work provided space for reflection and allowed for a cultural realignment of sorts. For some, it was as an opportunity to remodel the blueprint-to-happiness instilled in Americans.
"I think [the pandemic] changed the 'go to college for 10 years and then work your whole life to pay it off.' And then when you're 60, you get to retire," Josh pondered around a Monday night campfire with new neighbors, a nightly activity among people in the RV park.
"You don’t have to be old to do this."
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