Wright on Time Books: Tell me a bit about your family.
Watkins Family: We are a family of five, Joe (42), Vicki (38), Jake (12), Jonas (10), and Jewel (8).
Wright on Time Books: How long has your family (or did your family) live in an RV?
Watkins Family: We’ve been a nomadic family for eleven years now. We started off with just one baby in 1998 and now in 2009 have three easy going life long travelers.
Wright on Time Books: What states/countries has your family traveled to?
Watkins Family: We’ve been to every state except Alaska and the southeast ones. We have yet to take the kids out of the country….well, except that time in Big Bend National Park when we crossed the Rio Grande River by small row boat to eat lunch in a tiny Mexican village. We hope to travel Australia and Europe with the kids before they venture out on their own.
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)?
Watkins Family: We are most definitely full fledged life living unschoolers!
Wright on Time Books: How well does homeschooling work while living on the road? How do you get new resources (DVDs, books, audio books, etc.)? Are you able to use local libraries, or do you have to buy everything?
Watkins Family: I believe our traveling lifestyle has enriched our home learning tremendously! With Unschooling everything is a learning experience so curriculum and formal lessons aren’t required. We don’t waste money on textbooks and curriculums, and prefer to spend it on National and State Parks, Zoos and Museums, and gas to get us there.
We also use the Internet, TV, video games and people as learning resources, and have subscribed to dozens of fun magazines over the years, including Discovery, Nat Geo for Kids, Puzzlemania, Mathmania and Zoo Books, to name a few.
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?
Watkins Family: We use my parent’s as our “home base” and since they live in TX we get the luxury of taking advantage of the lax homeschooling laws and no state income tax. For legal reasons you must have a state of residency, or else we wouldn’t even claim a state.
We have sold or given away almost everything. The only things we’ve kept have been personal and sentimental items, and those we store at my parent’s house. We’ve had a storage unit in the past but after two years learned it was a huge waste of money since there wasn’t hardly anything in there we even wanted after coming back to it two years later.
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?
Watkins Family: When we first started out the Internet was nothing like it is today so there wasn’t the information out there like it is now. We never knew anyone who hit the road like we had planned, so we pretty much just forged our own path….and learned as we went.
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?
Watkins Family: RV maintenance isn’t any harder than a home or a car, it’s pretty much a trade off. When we had an engine blow on our first RV we had to move out of it for a couple weeks while it got a new one, so we just hung out at Grama’s. When the power steering went out on the Bus (our current RV) we spent the day playing at the water park across the street from the repair shop. We try to make the best of difficult situations.
Joe handles pretty much everything RV related, filling water tanks, dumping waste tanks, fueling diesel, repairs, maintenance. Vicki handles the cooking, cleaning and shopping. Kids handle the video games.
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?
Watkins Family: We have a 37 ft converted flatnose schoolbus. It was professionally converted by a Canadian company so it has wall to wall overhead cupboards, a large kitchen with floor to ceiling cabinets with large pull out drawers. Built in microwave, 4 burner stove, 10 cu. ft. refrigerator, double sinks, ample countertop space. Pullout couch for the oldest son to sleep on, with a cupboard for his bedding and one for his clothes. Four cupboards for books, art supplies, and games. Two for coats and hats. Built in TV. Dining table with 4 chairs. Computer desk, printer and chair, along with two cupboards with desk supplies. Small sitting area for kids to play video games. Bunk beds with shelves for the other two kids and their clothes and stuffed animals. Drawers under couch for toys and more games. Bathroom with tiny tub and medium shower, RV toilet, large mirrored medicine cabinet with sink and vanity. Floor to ceiling shelves for clothes in the master bedroom with more overhead cabinets to hold more clothes and old photo albums. Queen size bed with underneath storage. Lots of big RV windows. Two A/C’s. Three roof vents with exhaust fans.
We started off with a much smaller RV, and after three years in this one we’re ready to increase size again. However, I think my current configuration is perfect, just could be wider and taller, but I’d do the same set up over again.
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?
Watkins Family: It’s never the same. We have no set agenda, and pretty much go with the flow. Gas and camping fees do affect our decisions but probably not as much as work, weather, mood and scenery does. We used to dry camp (overnights in rest areas and parking lots) a lot, but now we tend to hook up more often. We continually seek out new places to visit but unlike our old selves we’re finding ourselves visiting some of the same places over and over again. In the beginning you tend to move quickly and make mental notes to come back again when you can explore longer, so I guess we’re at that point now. We stay way longer in places than we ever used to.
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?
Watkins Family: Joey does ALL the bus driving, while I drive his work truck. Back in the old days though I would drive the small motorhome almost as much as him. Now that we’re so big we are finding driving challenges, unlike in the 23 footer. We much prefer smaller for traveling but larger for living.
We do avoid cities, and prefer the smaller highways. Mountain roads don’t scare us, but the bus does tend to get overheated so we have to allow for plenty of cooling breaks.
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?
Watkins Family: As stated earlier, we’ve been on the road for eleven years and really never plan to give up the lifestyle. We may get a house occasionally here and there, but we’ll forever be nomadic. We didn’t plan to live this way, but it has become our liking.
Wright on Time Books: How do you handle privacy issues while living in close quarters?
Watkins Family: We shut the bathroom door and ask everyone to give us some privacy. That goes for adults as well as kids. Other than the restroom, there really isn’t a privacy issue at this point. Everyone has found their place that they can go to to chill or sulk.
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?
Watkins Family: We keep in touch by cell phone, twitter, facebook and email. We visit family at least once a year, and friends whenever we’re in the area. Joey’s Dad just flew out and spent a week with us at a lake in NE, my parents have flown out for each birth, and one summer when we rented a farm in Iowa, but for the most part it’s us doing the visiting. Apparently it’s closer for us to drive. But if you ask our Mom’s it’s because they can’t pin us down!
Wright on Time Books: Does anyone ever get homesick for your old life? How do you deal with that?
Watkins Family: Our kids can’t get homesick because this is the only life they’ve known. Besides, home is where we park it! As long as they have electricity, they’re happy.
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?
Watkins Family: Joe is a traveling pipeline welder, so we actually get paid to travel to new locations! He usually works four to six months a year and then either wander aimlessly the rest or visit with family for extended periods. We normally always worked winters and took summers off, but now it’s just whenever. The only paying jobs the kids have had was $5 if they’d jump in a cold pool. Their choice, not ours.
Wright on Time Books: Do you have a towed vehicle? Bicycles? Mopeds? Etc.?
Watkins Family: We have had so many configurations! Started out with nothing but a motorhome, then added bikes with a pull trailer for the kid and groceries. Then we towed a boat for a while. Then we towed a work truck and a boat. Then we traded the boat for a 4×4 for me. So, now the bus drives solo while I drive the work truck towing the family car. Next I’d like to have the work truck towing a trailer towing my car……we’ll see.
Wright on Time Books: Do you have any pets that travel with your family? How do they like living on the road?
Watkins Family: We started off with an English Bulldog that would get car sick so we eventually let my Grandmother take care of him. It was another eight yrs before we tried another pet, besides goldfish. We rescued a kitten at a campground in Michigan and had her for six months until we lost her in a campground in Nebraska. We now have a rat and he’s the perfect bus pet! Driving over the Rockies hurt his little ears but other than that he seems perfectly happy.
Wright on Time Books: Where is the best place you’ve been according to each member of your family?
Watkins Family: Hawaii. Other favorites include Lake McConaughy in NE & Big Bend Nat. Park in TX
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!
Watkins Family: Vicki blogs at http://www.FuhKauiFamily.blogspot.com and twitters occasionally as Jakesmome.
Our next adventure is to find land in Hawaii and build us a small palapa on it. We’d like to give the kids a sense of community, and the ability to live off the land with water catchment, solar electricity, vegetable gardens and farm animals, but at the same time keep an RV on the mainland for work or for Island Fever.