“Man, I wish I could do that!” This was the overwhelming response from friends and family when we shared with them our plan for Justin to quit his job, rent out our house, buy an RV and travel the country for the next nine to 12 months. Honestly, that was our reaction, too, when we first camped with some friends in January 2019 who were doing this very thing. As we talked about how cool it would be to follow in their footsteps, our conversation went from “must be nice” to “why not us?” So in March of 2019, Justin and I were having dinner before a Fleetwood Mac concert in Tampa when he told me that he wanted to get serious about making it happen, “it” being transitioning to RV life for a year. I was still on the fence about the plan (I like my space and my bubble baths) when Stevie Nicks spoke to me from the stage. She sang, “Time makes you bolder, children get older. I’m getting older, too.” Stevie had never steered me wrong before, so I decided to take her words to heart and go ALL-IN for the trip of a lifetime. What I found through preparing for and actually taking the trip is that it’s not unattainable for most people. It just takes a little determination and a lot of planning.
First Steps First
The first step for us was to see if we could rent out our house and eliminate the mortgage and household expenses while we would be on the road. This would mean Justin could take a leave of absence from work and focus on the trip. We were lucky. Within the first five minutes of listing the house on Zillow, I had two phone calls from interested renters. They came to see it that weekend, and one signed the lease the same day. There was no backing out now.
Once the house was rented, we got serious about Justin’s exit strategy with his job, buying an RV, buying a tow vehicle, roughly planning our route and (the most intimidating part) figuring out how to homeschool our two children. The children were coming off of a particularly rough school year, so I had the strong sense that just being with them and doing things with them was going to be so much more important than anything academic. This year my kids needed to feel OK being who they are and knowing that they’re loved.
There are TONS of great homeschool options out there, but with our kids being only 6 and 8 years old and me not exactly being Charlotte Mason, we went with a less-is-more approach to homeschooling. Keeping in mind that our goal of the trip was to ENJOY our time together and slow down enough to really remember this year, we decided to only do school while we were driving. That way we would be able to explore our new locations once we arrived and not have to worry about school. This meant that sometimes, like when we were at Yosemite or Glacier National Park for five to seven days, we didn’t do any official “school” for that entire time. But, that doesn’t mean the kids weren’t learning.
The national parks have a cool program called the Junior Ranger program. Kids complete a workbook of science and social studies with tasks and worksheets related to the park, its landscape and the indigenous people of the area. Once completed, kids answer questions from a park ranger, take an oath and earn a badge from that national park, becoming a Junior Ranger. It was a far superior curriculum than I could have provided for science or social studies, AND they got cool vests and badges to show for all their hard work. Outside of the non-traditional learning the kids did, we opted for an online curriculum for our third grader and a first-grade workbook curriculum for your younger child.
In terms of planning our trip, we stuck with our “less-is-more approach” here, too. A word to the wise, if you’re considering doing a trip like this, or even just visiting a national park for a short vacation, it’s best to plan well in advance because places like Yellowstone book up a year in advance. So, for a few destinations like the more popular national parks, we did make reservations as soon as we knew we would be doing this trip. Other than the national parks and Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, we typically made reservations the same day using apps like RV Trip Wizard, RV Parky and RV Life. If you’re RVing on a strict budget, Harvest Host is a great option. This app shows farms, breweries and wineries in every state that allows RVers to park on their property for free. And, if push comes to shove and you find yourself low on funds and needing a place to sleep, there’s always a Walmart, Bass Pro Shops or Target parking lot with plenty of space.
From August to December, we headed out west and did most states west of the Oklahoma/Kansas/Nebraska line, and this is where we hit the major national parks. There are simply no words to describe how remarkably beautiful these parks are. Many are clustered close enough to each other that you could easily visit three or four parks in one week-long vacation.
We ran out of time out west and had to skip Washington and Oregon because we wanted to be in Florida for Christmas. Spent the majority of the winter in Florida and kicked off the second leg of our trip by heading south to visit the Kennedy Space Center and the Everglades. We were making our way up the East Coast when things started to get serious with the Coronavirus. So, in March we came home to Gainesville until we knew what we were dealing with. In June, we felt comfortable traveling again, so we headed out to cover the eastern part of the county until August.
How to Handle the Change
Like anything in life, the key to being content and enjoying an experience is managing your own expectations. For example, we learned very early on that our kids do NOT like to hike. We still made them do it and inevitably we would hear the words “worth it” once we reached the summit, but we knew to expect a lot of complaining, needing breaks and snacks along the way. We also learned that our kids need a rest day in between hiking and exploring days. While my husband and I were good to go on heavy hikes a few days in a row, our kids needed some downtime in between. Once we learned this, things ran much smoother. We also had to get comfortable with not showering as often as we would have liked, eating meals from gas stations some days, not having TV or internet for days at a time, and we had to be really, really OK with being around each other CONSTANTLY.
We are not remarkable people in remarkable circumstances. We are a family that wanted to slow down time, enjoy our kids and enjoy this country. So, we made choices and sacrifices that helped to make this a reality. While my husband did quit his job because a leave of absence was not possible, I continued to work from the road to maintain our income. My company, Twinkle Toes Nanny Agency, is now a franchise and I can step back from the day-to-day operations and remotely oversee each location. I would highly recommend having at least one parent not work or work opposite schedules remotely so that someone can handle the day-to- day of the trip: the driving, cooking meals, homeschooling, planning, etc. The nature of working in America was trending to remote even before COVID-19, and now, it’s even more the norm. There are over a million Americans who live this lifestyle full time, taking advantage of the flexibility of remote work options.
We hiked to magnificent waterfalls, we got within 10 feet of a grizzly bear, we went whitewater rafting, we saw John Prine live at Red Rocks, we went to a rodeo, rode on a real coal train, went to over 20 national parks, got chased by a tarantula and we visited friends and family we hadn’t seen in years who the kids had never met. We consider ourselves beyond lucky to live in such a beautiful country and to have the opportunity to be able to travel and see so much of it.
Follow our RV life journey on Instagram: @ramblin.fever
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