“So how long are you going to do this for?”
The question wasn’t all that surprising given that “this” referred to our ongoing travel plans that have found us spending approximately seven weeks every year RVing around the country. Although we live in an average house, drive average (and older) cars, and earn a household income that plants us squarely in the national average for middle-income families, our lifestyle choices aren’t exactly average among our peers.
Still in our mid-30s, we’ve been traveling as much as some retirees we know. We’ve covered approximately 29,000 miles with our kids over the past four years of RVing, traveling to new states and exploring iconic destinations all along the way. And we’ve loved every minute of it. (Ok, maybe not every minute of it; it’s not always fun and games traveling in 250-square-feet together. 😉 )
Travel has definitely wreaked us for all-time, though, and we are ok with being 100 percent un-average if it means our kids are reaping long-term benefits.
Not full-timers, but more than weekend warriors
Our family experience falls into a rather unique category. We’re not full-time RVers living in a camper with “work-from-home” jobs. And yet we’re more than Weekend Warrior RVers who head to the campground to escape the rigors of daily life as often as possible. We fall somewhere in between: Jarrett’s job at a small college affords him a long stretch of summer vacation, as well as holiday breaks, while my telecommuting work can go anywhere with me. We also homeschool our children, so we’re not constrained to a typical school calendar.
We realized a few years ago that we only had about 10 more summers to plot bucket list adventures before our oldest headed off to college. If we were going to start doing the things we had dreamed about doing with our kids, we decided we needed to get intentional about making plans or else it might never happen.
In the years since, we’ve been on a wild RVing adventure with our kids. From traveling as far West as Yellowstone and as far South as Texas’ Padre Island, we have hiked in national parks, visited countless museums, and driven America’s scenic countryside. We’ve dug for diamonds in Arkansas, circled the base of Devils Tower, witnessed Old Faithful’s eruption, and climbed a mountain of sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
A whole new world
As we’ve traveled to these amazing places, all along the way we have strived to create family connections one RV adventure at a time. While the lifetime of memories are priceless for our whole family, our kids have also benefited in other ways:
They’ve gotten to walk in the footsteps of history.
Walking in the footsteps of history has birthed in our whole family the desire to learn more about the people and places we discover on our journeys. What once were just words and pictures in their history books have now become fascinating encounters for our kids.
One of the things our kids especially love to do on our travels is work on Junior Ranger badge programs. As homeschoolers, this National Park Service program has provided a fantastic way to merge our travel fun with deeper learning. And it has greatly expanded our children’s understanding of history, culture, and the environment.
They’ve gained a greater appreciation for our vast and diverse creation.
From purple mountains majesty to amber waves of grain, our nation is a compilation of beautiful and diverse land and people. When we travel, we see populaces different from our own: from big city life to small-town farming communities. We drive through prairie lands, deserts, and forests—ecosystems as diverse as the many ethnicities, skin colors, and religions we encounter. And through it all, we start to comprehend the magnitude of how big this land (and world) is, and how small our personal realm really is.
As our children grow into adulthood, we hope these years of travel will have helped shape them into people with big hearts for the world around them, and who will seek the good of their community as they live justly, walk humbly, and pursue kindness.
Their sense of adventure has blossomed.
One of the best parts about our family’s travels is seeing how our kids’ sense of adventure has blossomed. Several of us in the family definitely fall into the introverted category. I am particularly a homebody who likes nothing more than the quiet, the routine, and the familiar. But travel has helped push me and my introverted children out of our comfort zones. Anytime you are stripped of all things familiar, it is a growing experience, and you will emerge a different person!
It’s been exciting to see our children eager to try new things because “new” doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore. Just this past year, they conquered several fears when they climbed to the top of a ridiculously high summit, paddled kayaks all by themselves, and swooped over a lake on a zip-line. They now have their own “bucket lists” that reflect the growing adventurers inside of them.
Embarking on this wild RV adventure, though, has required some sacrifices. And it has required our whole family to make some hard choices.
Financially, we’ve had to get creative to stretch our dollars. For years I have been an avid couponer, bargain hunter, and Aldi shopper. We only occasionally eat out, and when we do it’s usually when we are traveling (and preparing a meal isn’t an option). I buy most of our family’s clothes at Good-Will, garage sales, or off the clearance rack. Our home features mostly hand-me-down, yard sale, or IKEA furniture. Jarrett drives a 10-year-old vehicle to work; my van is now nearly seven. Five years ago we bought a used camper to cut our cost substantially, and currently we are remodeling a vintage camper since buying a new camper still wasn’t a financial option.
Extracurricularly we’ve also had to be careful not to over-involve our children–or ourselves. We’ve picked activities that they all can be involved in so that we reduce the amount of chauffeuring as well as the amount of time commitment and financial investment. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to others why we don’t have our kids involved in multiple sports or other extracurricular activities. And I know some people may wonder whether we have deprived our kids of the opportunity to cultivate multiple interests in various activities. But in order to pursue this life of travel and adventure, we had to pick and choose, so for us that meant reining in on activities that would limit our family’s ability to travel.
We firmly believe that the short-term sacrifices have opened up a different world and life experience for our kids. Yes, it’s an atypical lifestyle, but it’s been invaluable for our kids to see for themselves the world beyond their front door. When we travel, we develop an affinity with what was once foreign to us. And as travel broadens our world, it broadens our connections with the bigger world around us. And that’s why we’re ok with being 100 percent un-average.
So going back to the original question, no, we don’t know exactly when we’ll stop our wild RV adventure. One never knows what the future might hold, so for now we plan to seize the opportunities to make memories and create lasting connections with our children. And since the kids keep adding to their own bucket lists, looks like we’ll have a full itinerary for the next few years. 😉