Welcome to the first “20 Questions for RV Families” post. To have your family featured, please read the questions and e-mail me your answers (along with a family photo).
This week’s guest was a classmate of mine from high school. She’s been on quite a trip with her husband and two adorable sons, and has an even bigger adventure coming up. Read on to find out more!
Wright on Time Books: Tell me a bit about your family.
Jennifer: We are an adventure-loving family of 4 – Dan, Jennifer, Mason (9), and Griffin (8). We spent 2008 on a year-long tour of the United States in an RV studying American history.
Wright on Time Books: How long did your family live in an RV?
Jennifer: About 15 months
Wright on Time Books: What states/countries has your family traveled to?
Jennifer: Every state except DE, WV, AK, HI, ND, WI, MI, IA, NE
Wright on Time Books: Are you homeschoolers? Do you call yourselves roadschoolers? What type of homeschoolers are you (or do you prefer to not give your family a label)?
Jennifer: We are homeschoolers, always have been. While we were on the road we did refer to ourselves as roadschoolers, or as one newspaper article put it, road scholars. We don’t adhere to any one schooling philosophy, but rather a conglomerate of learning theories. We explore and learn as much as possible in a hands-on fashion, which explains why we would want to travel to study American history. We loved the idea of being able to run up Little Round Top or ride our bicycles where Paul Revere rode his horse.
Wright on Time Books: How well does homeschooling work while living on the road?
Jennifer: We found that our homeschool routine relaxed a bit on the road, mostly due to the extraordinary number of field trips we were taking. What we used to do in the morning might get done in the evening or while driving. We also found that our children read a lot more on the road than they had previously at home.
Wright on Time Books: Do you have a “home base”? This is especially important for legal homeschooling, isn’t it? Did you sell all of your possessions, or keep things in storage?
Jennifer: Every fulltimer (as we’re called) must set up a state of residence. It is important to take into account the state’s homeschool laws, tax laws, etc before making a choice. We remained TN residents during our trip because we kept our home and rented it out. All of our belongings were put into storage. This is a more expensive route than selling everything, but if you don’t intend to stay on the road long-term, it’s a good option. We expected to come back home after about a year.
Wright on Time Books: What resources did you use both before you began your adventure and/or while you were on the road? Any particular books or websites that you couldn’t have lived without?
Wright on Time Books: How hard is it to deal with the maintenance of the RV? What are the most difficult aspects? Who handles what?
Jennifer: We were very fortunate that my husband could handle many of the minor repairs, like fixing leaks, repairing the fridge, fixing lights/fuses, etc. We did almost have a blow-out once, and that was tricky. Finding a reputable mechanic is very difficult. And… the repairs are very costly (we had a motorhome).
Wright on Time Books: How large is your RV? What is it like? We want to know where everything goes and where everyone sleeps. In an ideal world, would you have wanted a bigger RV, smaller RV, or something the same size but with a different configuration?
Jennifer: We had a 40 foot long Holiday Rambler Ambassador PLQ. It originally had an office in the very back of the coach, but we had the office furniture removed and put bunkbeds in its place. So, we all slept in the bedroom in the rear of the coach, the bathroom was in the middle, and the living room/kitchen/dining area were in the front. We loved it. The kids kept their clothes in 3 cabinets above the master bed. My husband and I kept our clothes in the closet cabinets opposite the bed. Toys were stored under the bottom bunk in bins. Off season items, extras and things we used infrequently were stored under the master bed. Towels were rolled and tucked into the space between the shower and the wall. There was a medicine cabinet and a cabinet over the toilet that held spare toilet paper and some other supplies. We kept our food in a small pantry cabinet and in 3 cabinets above the table. School supplies were kept over the sofa. Baking supplies went over the computer area. (we removed the smaller sofa to make way for a small desk which held the computer, monitor, printer, office supplies like stamps and pens, and our Wii) Cleaning supplies went under the sink. Most of the rest of what we brought was stored in big, plastic containers in the underbelly or “basement”.
Wright on Time Books: How often do you move to a new location? Do gas prices and campground costs affect this? Where do you usually stay the night? Do you have a regular route that you repeat, or do you continually seek out new places to visit?
Jennifer: We moved about once a week, sometimes more often than that. We were on the road when gas prices were at their peak in 2008, so although the gas prices didn’t determine when we moved, we often didn’t go as far as we had planned. We couldn’t afford the extra gas. Campground fees were higher than we anticipated. We averaged about $30/night for full hook-ups (that includes water, sewer, and electricity). Some places, near big cities, were much higher, and some places were much lower. That’s an average. We had a route planned before we left and we stuck to it pretty closely.
Wright on Time Books: Who does the driving? Do you ever have issues driving such a large vehicle? Do you avoid cities or curvy/narrow roads up mountains, or do you take them in stride?
Jennifer: My husband did all the driving (thank God), but I got pretty good at pulling the rig up when we were in line to register at a campground:) In addition to the 40 ft. motorhome, we towed a van. We had trouble once getting into a place that looked big enough for us to turn around, but really wasn’t. After several attempts to get out of that tight squeeze, we realized that our tow dolly was chewing up the front fenders of our van! We had to take the van off the dolly and then we were able to get out. We didn’t avoid mountainous terrain, although we were very careful going down long, steep inclines. As long as the roads were big enough for us and we knew there’d be a way to turn around we’d go just about anywhere.
Wright on Time Books: How long have you been on the road/plan to be on the road? Has this worked out to your liking?
Jennifer: We were on the road for about a year. In retrospect, I think the kids would have gotten more out of it from an academic standpoint, if we had been on the road longer – maybe 2 or 3 years. We all really enjoyed being on the road, but every 4 months or so we’d find that we needed a break. It was usually during those times that we’d roll into a town where we had friends and we’d spend lots of time at their houses, away from the RV. Just a few days in a different environment was enough to renew our spirits.
Wright on Time Books: How do you handle privacy issues while living in close quarters?
Jennifer: The bedroom had a door. The bathroom had a sliding door. If you wanted to be alone you could go to the bedroom and close the door or go outside. We put the kids to bed fairly early, around 9:00, and then Dan and I could stay up in the front of the coach alone for a few hours. Plus…the rule…always, always, KNOCK.
Wright on Time Books: How do you keep in touch with friends and family? Do you visit them? Do they visit you? Phone, e-mail, etc.? What about holidays and birthdays?
Jennifer: Email, cell phones. We visited several friends around the country that we hadn’t seen for a long time. Some of our family came to visit us in St. Louis when Griffin was in a play there. We stopped by my hometown and visited relatives. We met up with some friends that were also traveling in a motorhome on 2 different occasions. We spent Thanksgiving on our own, one of our kids celebrated his birthday with family, one of our kids celebrated his birthday with friends. We came home for Christmas…hung our stockings with suction cups on the inside of the windshield and had a 2 ft. fiber optic Christmas tree. It was great..
Wright on Time Books: Does anyone ever get homesick for your old life? How do you deal with that?
Jennifer: Our kids were homesick for about 3 weeks when we first set out. They missed their friends and their routine. We used that desire to connect as motivation to learn to type. They each learned to touch-type in about 3 weeks and began emailing their friends. That helped. Plus, they met lots of kids along the trip, and as always, they had each other. My husband and I didn’t get homesick. We were too busy planning for the next stop.
Wright on Time Books: How do you pay for your living expenses? How do you make money while on the road? Do you work full-time/part-time? Do you work certain times of the year and travel other times? Have any of your children had paying jobs?
Jennifer: I had recently retired from my job as an Air Traffic Controller and we used my medical pension, along with our savings, to pay for our trip. My father also helped with the motorhome. We did not work. The kids set up a lemonade stand in Boise and earned about $16.
Wright on Time Books: Do you have a towed vehicle? Bicycles? Mopeds? Etc.?
Jennifer: Our “toad” was a van on a dolly. We also brought 4 bikes.
Wright on Time Books: Do you have any pets that travel with your family? How do they like living on the road?
Jennifer: We brought our dog, Priscilla, with us. She was a miniature schnauzer. She did pretty well on the road, but she was almost 14 and got sick and had to be put to sleep while we were in California. It was really difficult.
Wright on Time Books: Where is the best place you’ve been according to each member of your family?
Jennifer: The boys say Legoland in Carlsbad or the City Museum in St. Louis was their favorite, but that’s only until you remind them of something else, like “What about the tide pools in Oregon?” and then they’d say “Oh yeah. That was one of my favorites too.” It was all amazing. I loved the Redwoods. Dan loved Jackson Hole, WY and the Tetons.
Wright on Time Books: How can we find out more about you and your family? Website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter, etc.? Please tell us also what the next great adventure for your family is!
Jennifer: You can read about our journey around the U.S. in more detail (and see pictures) at www.driventoeducate.com. There you’ll see that, after being home for about 6 months, we’ve decided to join a missionary organization and work in Africa for a year. I’ll be teaching missionary kids and my husband will be providing IT support to a branch that is translating the Bible into 10 different languages. Our boys will get to learn about a new culture, learn Swahili, and develop a bigger world view. Can’t wait!