One of the most common questions we received when we told family and friends about our decision to travel full-time was, “What about the kids?”
Some would ask this exact question, leaving us to reply with the same question with varied emphasis, “What ABOUT the kids?” Others would ask: “Where are they going to sleep?”; “How will Avery get her schooling?”; “How are they going to stay social?”; “What about doctor appointments?”; “Will they have any toys?”; etc. etc.
We had answers to all of these questions prior to even leaving for our adventures, but now that we’ve been on the road for three months, we are even better equipped to respond. We’d traveled with the kids before going full-time — both kids had been on airplanes several times, and we often took road trips to my parents’ house, which was a four and a half-hour drive away from us — so we were all (mostly) used to traveling together. Obviously, when one decides to travel ALL THE TIME, and do so with young kids, the stakes are much higher and everything must be thought through even more thoroughly. But we’re still here, and we’re all alive, and dare I say we’re having fun. So much fun.
We asked you guys the other day on Instagram what you’d like to know about traveling with kids, so we’ve compiled a nifty list of our top 7 tips for traveling full-time with young kids, which includes some answers to your questions!
TIP #1: Plan, plan, plan, but don’t plan too much.
In the months before hitting the road, one of our biggest areas of planning was related to our children: What clothes, gear, toys, books, etc. we were keeping, how we were going to approach checkups and immunizations, how Avery was going to get some sort of “preschooling,” where the kids were going to sleep in the RV, how they were going to stay social — basically, everything other people were wondering, too.
When it came to our kids, we were hyper-organized on all the things. We knew exactly what clothes were coming with us, what clothes we were selling and what clothes we were keeping stored for Addy to wear once she grew into them. We kept up-to-date on their immunization schedule and made sure they were ready to go when we left Minnesota, but also when we would be back in town to get them up to date again. I researched homeschooling upwards, downwards and sideways to decide how best to approach it for Avery. We also researched for hours on what kind of crib to get for Addy, where exactly was the best location for her to sleep, whether the crib we chose would actually fit in the space we’d appointed for her sleeping quarters, and how Avery was going to be able to sleep in the cab-over bunk without falling out every night. Long story short, we anticipated every possible problem and came up with solutions.
And then, life happens, and you realize that for as much planning as you can do with young kids, you’ll always get a curve ball. For us, a lot of what we planned worked great; but, some of it didn’t. And that’s something we just had to learn with time. Now, we’ve entered into a routine on almost all fronts that is not only helpful for us, but for our kids, too. We always try to be in the RV during Addy’s nap time in the afternoon, but sometimes, we have to plan for her to sleep in the car. We were going to build a foolproof barrier in Avery’s bunk to keep her from falling down, but then we found that she sleeps closer to the front corner of the bunk (on the opposite side of the edge) and she hardly moves when she sleeps, so we didn’t have to build anything after all.
In short, it’s important to make plans, but it’s just as important to be willing to change them. This goes for our day-to-day plans, too, because sometimes, a sunny day forecast ends up being a rainy day, and we have to change course. For Avery in particular, a big lesson she’s been learning recently is that we can make plans, but they might change, and we have to accept that — meaning, we might say we can go to the playground, but then we find out the playground is closed or too far away or whatever, and so we can’t go after all. She doesn’t always react well to these scenarios, but we are learning. We are all learning.
TIP #2: Toys are overrated.
Paring down the kids’ toys while we were still in the house was at first cathartic, then cumbersome, then kind of just plain sad. I was sad to sell their play kitchen, so many books, toys they’d played with when they were bitty babies. I had to let my emotions go to the wayside, though, because in reality, most of the toys we got rid of were hardly ever played with at home.
We brought two baskets’ worth of toys with us into the RV, two small plastic bins for books and crafts, and one giant plastic bin for outside toys. The toys I couldn’t part with but couldn’t bring with us (like Avery’s dollhouse) are at my parents’ house. As we’ve been traveling, I’ve noticed that the girls still only play with maybe one third of the toys we brought along; we’ve already purged more. Because most of the time, they’re outside, climbing on rocks and grabbing sticks and making nature their play space.
And any time I purge more toys, they hardly ever notice. So if you’re thinking it’s time to purge some toys (I mean let’s be honest, we’ve all been at that breaking point when we have one too many McDonald’s Happy Meal toys piling up in the toy bin), DO IT. You’ll feel better, and your kids probably won’t even notice or care. And if they do, we tell them we have to say goodbye to old toys to make room for new ones (which almost always inevitably end up coming into the RV on a regular basis, anyway, thanks to family and friends and moms with no willpower who see cute animal figurines at the grocery store, ahem).
TIP #3: Make yourself some space.
We’ve learned very quickly in living this lifestyle that we all LOVE space. We crave it. We need it. And we don’t always get it. So we have to make it. For starters, when we purchased this RV, we knew we had to have our own space for Mom and Dad at the end of the day — for privacy, for SANITY, so we could work or watch movies or read or… be married. You know. And it’s been a game-changer: certainly a decision we are so glad we made for ourselves as parents.
As far as other times of the day, it’s been so helpful to give each other time to do our own thing. I’ll let Elliott watch the football game on Sunday. He’ll take the kids to the park so I can exercise or do some work in peace. It hasn’t been a perfect system (especially on rainy days), but when we are able, making space for each other has been good for US, and therefore, good for the kids.
TIP #4: Keep in touch with your people.
For as introverted as we are, we like people. We love our friends and our family, and it was really hard to leave all of them when we moved away. But we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping in touch, which has been good for everyone. When we can, we stay with relatives who live nearby, which has given the kids the opportunity to visit with family members we rarely get to see. We do the same with friends, taking time to see people we know in places where we stop along the way. And since Avery is our Resident Extrovert, she makes friends almost everywhere we go, and we try to foster those friendships by letting her play for extended periods of time with kids we meet at campgrounds or playgrounds. Even though we are “on our own” on this journey, I’ve hardly ever felt the kids are lonely. And when I think it’s been awhile since we’ve interacted with someone, we FaceTime or write and send postcards to the people we love and miss.
TIP #5: Just give it time.
The first week we lived in the RV, Addy slept TERRIBLE. Like, up crying all night kind of terrible, which is so unlike her. And for about the first month of travel, Avery struggled with the reality that we no longer had a house, or that we wouldn’t be in Minnesota all the time. But then, Addy slept through the night. And Avery started calling the RV “home.” And we’ve learned that, if we just give something new time, things will even out. This is a lesson even we as grownups are learning (I’m one of the least adaptable people on the planet and I love my routines, so I’m very much on the struggle bus in this category more often than not).
But when it comes to the kids, if we feel like something we’re doing (or not doing) isn’t working, we give it time. And if it still doesn’t work, we change it. It’s really that simple. We’ve even noticed that, as we continue to travel, the kids have become even more adaptable (and we are, too). And when they once used to keep each other up at night whenever they shared a room, they now sleep really well together, and even keep each other company for a few minutes in the morning when Mom and Dad are still rising like zombies from the grave.
TIP #6: Be well equipped.
Elliott has always been keen on having the best possible equipment in all scenarios — from pillows to shoes to cameras — so I relied on him a lot when it came to buying and bringing the right gear for the kids. But, like everything else, we learned over time what we’re so glad we brought, and what we’ve hardly used. Here’s a short list of what we did bring with us or buy that we are loving:
1. JOOVY Nook High Chair — this is the high chair we use in our camper for Addy. It folds up and fits nicely tucked to the side of our dinette slide-out, so it takes up hardly any necessary space while in storage.
2. Summer Infant Pop ‘N Sit Booster — this high chair has been a lifesaver for when we’re traveling outside of the RV. It works well for mealtime at family’s houses, at the park, when we have to fly somewhere, etc.
3. Osprey Poco Child Carrier — we put Addy (plus all of our waters, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, etc.) in this child carrier backpack any time we hike. Addy has even fallen asleep in it (!). Both Elliott and I can wear it for hours without feeling like our backs are breaking.
4. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons — Apart from discussing the natural curiosities we find on our hikes and general travels and visiting museums, we are trying to help Avery to learn to read this year. My BFF Sarah recommended this book to me and it has been so great. The book literally tells you what to say to your child, which is helpful to me as I am not a natural teacher. Avery already can sound out very basic words and we are only on lesson #12.
5. SNACKS. Joking, but also not joking. We always, always, always have snacks on us wherever we go. It has helped us to survive hikes, that waiting time between ordering food and getting your meal, car rides longer than 20 minutes, etc. Our kids are big into those soft-baked belVita bars and Quaker Breakfast Flats, along with Veggie Straws, dried fruit and nuts, all of which travel well, too. Also, always have water, because a lot of crankiness can be tempered by it.
6. Keen Kid’s Hiking Shoes — this only applies to Avery, as Addy is carried whenever we hike, but we bought these shoes for her when we first started hiking longer trails and they have been amazing. She never complains about her feet hurting, and they keep her feet dry from mud and water.
7. Magna-Tiles — These magnetic play tiles are a little pricey, but so worth the money. They travel well, they’re mostly nature/weatherproof, they don’t make a mess and they keep both of our kids busy for more than 10 minutes (a small miracle).
TIP #7: Make (and keep) memories.
A lot of people asked us how we feel about the fact that Addy, and maybe even Avery, won’t remember our adventures because she’s so young. While this is true — she’s 17 months old now, not exactly old enough to retain memories for a lifetime, and Avery is four years old — we aren’t doing this just to make memories. I mean, yes, making memories is a very big part of it all, but it’s about more than that. It’s about providing our children with experiences that will shape them into adults with noble character. It’s about instilling values within them that we treasure as a family — to respect and admire nature, to regard experiences above things, to be adaptable, to be adventurous, to be kind and curious. And it’s about living our life right now with those values in mind so that they when they are older and can make their own choices in life, they will already be equipped with a character that was built when they were very young.
Apart from that, we are doing everything we can to catalog our memories so they are able to have something to look at that will serve as a reminder of this time we have together. We’ve bought two National Parks passports, one for each girl, and stamped them at every National Park we’ve been to so far. We’ve taken a million billion pictures. We have a camcorder that we try to remember to use to capture everyday life from time to time. And when we are finished with our full-time travels, I hope to make scrapbooks of some sort for them to remember this time forever.
Um, OK, that was a novel and a half. But I hope it was helpful! If nothing else, I hope this post encourages you when it comes to traveling with young kids in that YES, it’s possible, and NO, you won’t die, and neither will they. Life might be a little more stressful and chaotic (but really, isn’t it always with littles?), but it’s also so very rewarding and even enchanting to watch these kids grow and learn in nature. We are all going to be better people for having taken this leap; I am sure of it.