It’s hard to get hold of Karen Akpan. One week, the 32-year-old might be visiting family in Florida with her husband, Sylvester, and their son Aiden; the next, the family is sunbathing in Aruba or sightseeing in the Dominican Republic. In the past month alone, their travels also included Colombia, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, where CNBC Make It caught up with them.
The family wasn’t always so mobile. But at the end of 2019, Karen and Sylvester, 41, took a hard look at their finances and decided to make a change. They sold both of their homes in California (they lived in one and rented out the other), used $14,000 from their savings to buy an RV off of Facebook Marketplace in early 2020 and started traveling around the U.S.
The family — yes, even 8-year-old Aiden earns a paycheck — now make a living from Karen’s blog, The Mom Trotter, and by creating ad campaigns for the likes of Camping World, Circle K Stores, Hilton Hotels and Disney, among others, for Instagram and TikTok. Income has varied from month to month since they started in 2020, but last year they took home around $81,000. This year they are on track to more than double those earnings.
“There’s no way we’re going back to a house or careers or anything like that,” Karen says. “We love the freedom that working for ourselves, being entrepreneurs, has given us.”
Making a change
Growing up in Cameroon in Central Africa, Karen says she wasn’t taught about money. “It was taboo,” she says.
After moving to the U.S. at 15, she attended both undergrad and graduate school at Cal State Northridge, accruing close to $70,000 in student loan debt while studying family and consumer sciences. When she married Sylvester, who had student loan debt of his own, in August 2011, the couple bought a home they couldn’t really afford and began to live what they considered at the time to be the American dream.
A 2019 RV trip around Arizona, Nevada and Utah inspired the couple to rethink their dream. “We were house poor, that’s the honest truth,” Karen says, noting they couldn’t really afford their $4,200-per-month house payment on their salaries at the time.
Plus, after they had Aiden, the family was traveling at least once a month to show him the world. They rarely spent time in the big house they were paying so much to live in.
Soon after that trip, they exchanged their hefty mortgage for the one-time RV payment (Aiden was already being homeschooled, which made the transition easier), with the intention to pay off all of their debt and start building wealth for Aiden.
They left their 9-5 jobs, so at the time, Karen’s blog was their only income stream; she estimates they were bringing home less than $50,000 a year.
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SOURCE: CNBC, Alicia Adamczyk