Transitioning from Success in Career to Significance in Retirement: Exploring and Serving from Home on the Road

Five years ago Russell Vance was a geriatric psychotherapist with many more years of work ahead of him, or so he thought. “I was burned out. Within 18 months, my wife, my mother and my father died,” he said. “It wasn’t until my daughter told me, ‘You know, you might think about retirement,’ that I considered the possibility.”


With the assistance of his financial planner, Russell divested himself of his practice and took time to explore his interests. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I started getting out and doing trail runs across the country.” One of his treks included a 45-mile run across the Badlands of South Dakota. During this exploration period, Russell lived in a converted trailer and participated in runs in Georgia and Florida and in the St. Jude Marathon.


Just as Russell settled into his new lifestyle, he realized running around the country solo could get lonely. When he met Pamela Smith, a retired biology professor, he found a companion willing to live untethered from a traditional home. Together they have made the open road their home, adopting the term Nitsitapiisinni, which translates from the Blackfeet Indian language as “our way of life.” They nicknamed their live-in 20-foot trailer Sinni and their Dodge Ram 1500 4X4 pulling it Mighty Moe. “We go down the road and our home is 18 feet behind us,” Russell said. Every supply they need is neatly packed in the trailer or in the truck – from their two bright yellow kayaks to their bicycles, generator and camping and scuba equipment.


They drive an average 15,000 miles a year – traveling as far south as Florida and as far west as California — while also serving as volunteer park rangers at Glacier National Park in Montana. “We’re able to park our trailer, we wear uniforms when we patrol, and we receive a small stipend,” Russell said.


Pam and Russell have mapped out a new course for their lives that is full of family visits, exploration and environmental projects. As a park ranger, Russell is learning new skills that include studying the legalities of land acts, writing environmentally beneficial proposals and rebuilding log cabins, barns and new corrals, while Pam is becoming an expert in geology. Russell loves to cook, and during his quiet time, he writes. He is currently working on his fifth novel and writes a regular blog about their adventures. You can check out his blog at www.followsinni.com.


The couple plans to continue their nomadic lifestyle, while working for the park service. “They are wonderful and treat you like gold. Everyday we are learning, seeing and experiencing new and exciting things from the rocks to the plants to the weather,” Russell said.


Pam and Russell encourage their friends to consider life on the open road or at least early retirement. “I tell people to retire as soon as they can; they shouldn’t wait around. Find a financial advisor to help you make it happen. They will be a valuable partner in making decisions about your future.”


We could all learn a lot from Russel and Pam about living a carefree life that gives back to others and cares for the planet we live on. #VectorStories