The Akpan family moved into an RV full-time at the beginning of 2020.
Their renovated space has a full-sized kitchen and two bedrooms.
They homeschool their son on the road, and they paid off $118,000 of student-loan debt by downsizing.
At the beginning of 2020, Karen and Sylvester Akpan decided to sell their home to move into an RV full-time.
The Akpans had two major motivators for downsizing: physical and financial freedom.
"We wanted to downsize and spend more time together," Karen Akpan told Insider. She and her husband Sylvester have a 9-year-old son, Aiden, who they always loved traveling with, and they realized they could have more adventures with him if they weren't attached to a house.
"Also, I feel like we were just working so much and everything was going toward bills," she added. "When you downsize, you have fewer bills to pay, and it's easier to spend more time together as a family."
The Akpans put their California home on the market at the beginning of 2020.
The Akpans bought a 270-square-foot RV for $14,000 at the beginning of 2020.
The family had previously rented an RV to travel in, and after the experience, they knew they could do it full-time.
The Akpans found their RV on Facebook Marketplace, and they spent an additional $4,000 on renovating it themselves.
When they were homeowners, the Akpans paid $4,200 for their mortgage and utilities each month, as Insider's Hillary Hoffower reported, so the investments in the RV would actually help them save money long-term.
They've been traveling ever since, and they've visited 20 states since they hit the road.
The RV consists of three distinct spaces: the living area, Aiden's room, and the master bedroom.
You're greeted by the kitchen and living room when you walk into the Akpans' home.
Karen told Insider that she wanted the space to feel neutral and inviting.
"I wanted to go for simple," she told Insider of her approach to the decor. "I wanted it to be neutral, but not too neutral."
Teal and mustard are two of her favorite colors, so she centered the decor around those hues through paint and accents.
The full-sized kitchen has all the appliances the Akpans need for life on the road.
Karen and Aiden love to cook, so it was important that the kitchen be as functional as possible for their family.
The space has wood countertops, a farmhouse sink, a microwave, a stove, and a refrigerator. Instead of an oven, the Akpans have a toaster oven that doubles as an air fryer, which gives them flexibility on what they cook while they're on the road.
Slyvester also replaced the stove that was originally in the space for a full-sized stovetop.
The Akpans packed cabinetry into the kitchen, and Karen made sure not to overfill them.
She told Insider her family replaced the pots and pans they owned when they lived in a house with smaller versions that made more sense for their nomadic life.
Their kitchen table has booth seating.
The table and booths are bolted into the floor so they don't move while the Akpans travel.
The table also has cupholders, so they don't have to worry about spills when they're driving.
Aiden's bedroom is above the driver's seat.
The living room has a couch and ottoman where the family can relax, as well as a rug to make the space welcoming.
The Akpans decided to make use of the space above the driver's seat by turning it into Aiden's room. Curtains give his loft privacy.
Aiden sleeps in his room most of the time, but his cousins share it when they visit.
Aiden's loft is home to his queen-sized bed, as well as some toys and games.
Karen told Insider that they travel with her niece and nephew frequently, and all three of the kids can fit in the space together.
It's the perfect sleepover spot.
Karen and Sylvester's room is at the back of the RV.
Their bedroom is packed with storage, as it's nestled into built-in cabinetry.
The bed also has storage space underneath it, where they keep most of their clothes.
Karen told Insider that her family uses "packing cubes" to keep everything in order.
The bedroom also has a television they can watch shows on or play video games, but Karen said they don't use it often.
The RV has a bathroom as well.
The shower and the toilet sit in separate rooms, so one person could shower while the other uses the restroom.
A storage basket hangs on the wall to prevent the space from feeling cluttered.
Karen told Insider that she doesn't find her family's life on the road challenging at all.
"We feel so blessed to be able to do this," she said. "I'm sitting here looking at my life now and thinking about how thankful I am."
The Apkans are even bigger fans of life on the road than they thought they would be.
"Initially, we were going to do this for about a year," Karen said. "But it's been almost a year now, and that's not happening. We're right where we want to be."
She also thinks the lifestyle has given them more freedom to travel safely in the pandemic. They socially distance themselves from others as they drive, but they're able to change their scenery, unlike many Americans.
The Akpans homeschool Aiden from the road.
They use the unschooling method for Aiden's education, as Karen told Insider's Monica Humphries, which allows children to choose what they want to learn.
Aiden was homeschooled before the Akpans downsized, so his education hasn't changed much since they moved into the RV.
Aiden studies subjects you would expect from traditional education, but he also spends time learning things he wants to learn, like how to change a tire and to cook.
"He's learning so much," Karen said.
The Akpans have also been able to pay off $118,000 of student-loan debt since downsizing.
Karen and Sylvester previously told Insider they used a three-part plan to pay off their debt: downsizing, budgeting, and increasing their income.
Karen estimates her family only needs around $24,000 a year to sustain their current lifestyle, which allows them to save close to 85% of the money they make.
The increased financial freedom has been empowering for the Akpans.
"When you don't owe anybody anything, it changes everything," Karen said. "My goal is to share with other families that you don't have to fit into that norm."
Karen hopes her platforms can show other Black families that nontraditional lifestyles are an option for them.
Although the Akpans love their life on the road, Karen told Insider they haven't seen any other Black families in their travels, which can be isolating and puts them on guard at times.
"We always scope around to see who is at an RV park, and if we don't feel comfortable, we'll leave," Karen said. The RV gives them the freedom to remove themselves from any situation in which they don't feel at ease, which they appreciate.
Karen also told Insider that Black families that live tiny don't have as much representation online as compared to white families.
For instance, Karen said she looked for other Black families living nomadically on YouTube and on social media when her family was preparing to downsize, and she couldn't find any.
"That's why I'm happy that stories like this can come out," Karen said. "I feel like if other Black families felt comfortable enough to RV more, it would start becoming more normal. Seeing people like us in spaces like this wouldn't be as shocking."
Her Instagram account also sheds light on her family's experience, bringing much-needed representation to the online portion of RV life.
"I like that people can see that and know it's possible for families of color," Karen told Insider.
If you're contemplating living in an RV, Karen recommends going for it.
Karen thinks even if people are nervous about downsizing, they should just take the plunge.
"People are scared to make the change," Karen said. "And I always say that if you try it out for six months and you don't like it, then you can always go back to a house."
"I don't think anything has to be set in stone, but you're not going to know if you don't try it out," she added.
You can follow Karen on Instagram here.
Read the original article on Insider