Every morning, Scott Watson gets out of bed, brushes his teeth and takes a shower.
Then, he pours himself a cup of coffee, turns on some music and completes a few minutes of journaling before starting work around 9 a.m.
His morning routine sounds familiar, but the location — or perhaps the lack thereof — of his life might surprise some.
“During conference calls in the morning, my clients can get annoyed hearing birds chirping in the background,” Watson said.
The 53-year-old former Kankakeean now works, eats, sleeps, showers and lives in a camper van.
Watson technically lives in Florida with his partner, Kyle Truong. The pair owned The Magruder House and Burr Oak Bed & Breakfast locations on South Chicago Avenue when they lived in the city for more than 10 years.
After moving away from the area, first to Chicago and then later to Florida, Watson felt an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with his routine. He didn’t dislike his partner or his job, but he felt weighed down in “a house full of stuff that didn’t matter,” he said Monday while sitting in his RV parked beside the Kankakee River at Cobb Park.
Watson’s house – his “storage unit,” as he calls it — was filled with “a lot of stuff,” mostly useless and unnecessary stuff that became a weight on Watson’s brain.
Over time, his dissatisfaction grew while his sense of adventure rose. He wanted to start doing things differently.
So, he sat down with Truong and they pulled together what Truong jokingly coined a “fantasy plan” to live a larger life with fewer possessions — an effort commonly known as “minimalism.”
Living your fantasy
To begin the process, Watson went to his employer and asked to work remotely, which he did so beginning on a part time basis this past October.
Since February, Watson has been on the road full time, working and driving through the quiet, uncommon and under-appreciated parts of the western U.S.
Completing his work while disconnected from a traditional office requires an abundance of internet data, so Watson subscribes to four separate internet connections, including a Verizon hotspot device and connections to his smartphone, iPad and even the roof of his 2019 Winnebago Travato 59GL.
“To collect a paycheck on the road is pretty cool,” he admitted.
His 21-foot long van, nicknamed Lily, doesn’t hold much, so he had to immensely downsize his belongings. Recently, he pitched 16 pounds worth of clothing he hadn’t touched in months.
“Through the RV lifestyle, you’re forced to downsize and prioritize,” Watson said. “One of the serendipities I didn’t expect is just shredding the appetite for stuff.”
Though Watson doesn’t own much clothing, he has noticed a dramatic increase in his sticker collection.
“Stickers are my new best friend because they don’t take up that much room,” he said.
Each sticker adorned on his van walls contains a small degree of significance and reminds him of where he was when he found the sticker.
Sharing your knowledge
Among a myriad of stickers, pins and magnets, Watson owns one that states, “Teach everything you know,” placed just above the exit of the back-passenger side door of his van.
And that statement a philosophy he’s actively trying to live up to.
He started a YouTube channel titled “Go Small. Live Large!” a few months ago, and has since grown to 2,500 subscribers. His uploads have reached a total of 197,000 views, the most popular of which being a video tour of his van.
While teaching others, Watson is also learning more about himself, the world and his part in it.
Prior to October, Watson never owned an RV, never drove one and never stayed overnight in one. He never really considered himself to be a nature lover or a traveler, and he drove a two-door sports car.
Now, Lily has allowed him to “veer off the beaten path,” and today, he feels more connected to the earth, nature and himself.
“The aliveness of humanity is way more real to me now than it was when I was commuting to a corporate cube in an air-conditioned office,” he said.
“I still work for the same company, but my whole perspective has changed.”
Unlocking your future
Living in a van has encouraged Watson to be bolder and more confident in himself and his choices, no matter how outlandish.
Though they might seem too flashy to some, Watson wears bracelets he’s collected during his travels, which serve as a way to remind him of what really matters.
On his right wrist is a thick bracelet, handmade in San Antonio, that is divided into three distinct parts.
The first section is a cross-stitched straight line running down the center of the material, which represents the scheduled old life Watson lived: full of structure, rigor and pragmatism.
The opposite end of the bracelet features small beads sewn haphazardly, seemingly without any structure or pattern. “Now this is my life,” Watson explained as he touched the symbol on his wrist.
Connecting the two parts of the bracelet is a depiction of a door’s keyhole.
“You don’t know what’s behind it until you unlock it and step through.”
Watson stepped through his own mysterious door, and found a small and simpler life on the other side.
And he has no future plans to permanently park his camper van.
After leaving Kankakee early Tuesday morning, Watson began his next journey to Paris. (Paris, of course, meaning the Illinois city about 120 miles away from his past home.)
Watson has spoken on his YouTube channel about the freedom he feels living on the expansive, endless U.S. highways, without the demands of a corporate cubicle or the distractions of a house full of stuff.
“Every day is like a weekend to me,” he said.
He reminds his YouTube audience there is another way to live and encourages them to create their own “fantasy plan,” and then develop that fantasy into something more concrete.
“And don’t wait until you’re retired.”