The 2020-2021 school year has left parents trying to pick their poison when it comes to their children’s education. Whether you chose in-person schooling, homeschool or remote learning, we have all dealt with a certain level of chaos and uncertainty this year. The only thing that we know for sure is that the end of 2020–like the rest of the year–will be unlike any other.
With that in mind, my husband I decided to just lean into the abyss and fully embrace the weirdness that defines life during a pandemic. So, about a month ago, we decided that we’d purchase an RV and hit the road with our two daughters, who are ages 2 and 6. We weren’t deterred by the fact that we’d never spent a night an an RV. We weren’t deterred by the fact that we had no idea what we were doing. If we were all going to be stuck together, we might as well see the country while doing it, we reasoned.
So far, we’ve made it through seven states, from New Hampshire to Indiana. We’re moving at a snail’s pace, but we’re having fun. Here’s what life on the road look like for us.
Even before we decided to travel, my husband and I were leaning toward homeschooling our first-grader. We weren’t happy with either of the two options our district offered for schooling, and we had the flexibility to homeschool, so we figured it was worth a try.
Before committing, I cornered my sister-in-law, a second grade teacher, and made her give it to me straight: were we nuts to homeschool? She assured us we couldn’t mess up first grade. Phew. Next, I reached out to my daughter’s assigned teacher, who was kind enough to give me some guidance in what to cover this year.
Still, homeschool on the road is pretty lax. We aim to do 20 minutes each day of math and language arts — reading and writing. When we’re exploring, I find myself giving more long-winded answers to my daughter’s questions, hoping that she’ll absorb some information on geology and history.
Really, I know that my daughter’s experiences will teach her more than anything this year. So far, she’s learned how to help hook up the RV to water and electric and how to check the tire pressure. She’s navigated campgrounds on her bike and purchased ice cream in the camp store all by herself. Those practical experiences are easy to overlook when we think about school, but they’re critical life skills.
We’re Rethinking Routine
While we’re going to be in new places constantly, we also want to make this trip sustainable and enjoyable. For our family, that means making sure that there’s a bit of routine in place and that everyone gets enough sleep.
When we wake up in the morning, we cook a big breakfast and tidy the RV. My older daughter walks the dog, while the little one demands food. Then, it’s work and school time and depending on the plan for the day, my husbands drives or takes the toddler out so we can concentrate. By mid-morning we aim to explore — either hiking or biking. Then, it’s back to the RV for lunch, followed by a nap for the kids, and more driving and work time for mom and dad. By mid-afternoon, we settle in to wherever we’re sleeping that night. You can drive through different time zones, but witching hour is universal and you don’t want to be dealing with it on the road.
Just like at home, this routine gets interrupted, but by making it our framework our kids at least have an idea of what to expect from their days.
We’re Embracing Traveling with Kids
When we left home, I had grand ambitions for this trip. I wanted to power through and spend as much time in the Rockies as we could before it got too cold. My husband tried to tell me that wasn’t realistic, and two days into the trip I had to admit he was right. The kids aren’t interested in hours of driving each day, and if we tried to push them, we would all end up miserable.
Instead, we’re meandering. We’ve camped in almost every state we’ve been through. Most days we only drive two hours, if that. At this pace, we won’t have as much time to spend out west before it starts snowing. I’ve had to adjust my expectations, but I’m realizing that’s not a bad thing. We’ve stopped at state parks and explored areas that we never would have seen from the freeway. Meanwhile, my kids think this is the Great American Playground Tour, and would be perfectly happy if that’s all we did.
We’re Figuring Out The Logistics
When we went to pick up the RV, the salesman walked us through everything we needed to know, from how to empty the black water tank (ick) to starting the generator. At that moment I felt super overwhelmed by all the things I didn’t know about RV life.
Luckily, the logistics have been easy to navigate now that we’re on the road. We have a mini-fridge, so we grocery shop 2-3 times a week. Rather than cooking up gourmet meals, we’re focusing on the basics: rice and beans; paninis; or chili. By keeping meals simple, we’ve been able to cook almost all of our meals in the RV, which helps keep costs down.
Laundry is the other never-ending challenge with kids, especially one who is recently potty trained. I packed 10 days of clothes for the kids, and so far we’ve done laundry every 5 days or so, whenever we stay at a campground with a laundromat.
We can stay in the RV for about three days without any hookups for water or electricity. So far, we’ve stayed mostly in campgrounds, but we’re hoping to reduce expenses by camping on public land and in parks, and only paying for campsites every third night or so. We found a great app called Harvest Host that connects campers with wineries and farms that allow you to park on their land for free, and we’re excited to make more use of that now that we have the basics down!
We’re Teaching Life Lessons
When my husband and I were debating taking this trip, we kept coming back to why not? Sure, it’s a risk and sure, it might be miserable — but it might also be a really awesome time that we look back on for years to come.
I want my daughters to take chances, to enjoy new spaces and to learn about other people — which is especially important since we live in an area without a lot of diversity. If that’s going to happen, I need to lead by example and jump into big opportunities when we have them. Hopefully one day when they’re raising their own families, they’ll look back and appreciate the adventures we all had during the pandemic school year.