The real story of fulltime travel, homeschooling and togetherness — debunking myths and doing life differently
There are many ways to educate and empower young people. Some are more conventional, some are more out-of-the-box. This issue of Best Self Youth focuses on one unconventional family and their decision to pack up and hit the road — not for a summer road trip or extended vacation, but for a life of full-time travel.
Whether or not you decide to embark on your own life-changing adventure, I hope you find some inspiration and guidance from the Orr family’s experiences as full-time travelers. Life on the road may not be a choice you ever imagined being possible for you or your family, but as this story reminds us, there are many ways to raise a family of best selfers.
So, go forth and tap into that inner wanderlust!
Joy McManigal, Best Self Youth Editor
• • •
Have you ever imagined what life would be like if you could scoop up your family, ditch the 9-5 grind, the carpool, PTA, and birthday party circuit — and ride off into the sunset to see the most beautiful places you have never seen before? Come on, admit it… who hasn’t?
Social media is chock-full of hashtags #travelingfamily #fulltimefamily #homeiswhereyouparkit and photographs documenting the lives of the lucky people who have done this. Some of them have small kids, some have older ones. Some of them live in tents, some in fancy motorhomes, and some in tiny Airstreams. Nonetheless, they are doing life differently. Though they post about how their life is far from perfect and how life on the road can have its difficulties, they’ve somehow got two things figured out: travel to breathtaking places and serious quality time with their families — and both for more than a few weeks a year.
How did they get so lucky? And what does it actually look like day-to-day?
These questions (and lots more) confronted us six years ago. Prior to 2012, we had spent a couple of wonderful years living overseas with our two babies and were trying everything we could to fit back into our ‘real’ lives in America. As they say, sometimes you can never go back home again.
We had the trappings that society tells us should make us happy: the big, beautiful house, stable jobs, two new cars, and all the fun material goodies to go with it. But we were not living in our groove, aligned with our authentic selves. Something else was calling to us. In fact, we were miserable again, like so many times before when we realized the choices we had been making were not helping us become who we really were meant to be.
Between the jobs and the social calendars, we simply did not have enough time together. We never seemed to find time to get outside and explore or meet new people or discover cool new places together. Something had to change. So, we had a talk and quickly remembered that we both tend to feel most alive when we are doing life our own way — a bit unconventional, no doubt — by traveling as a family and moving to new places.
We didn’t know where it was going to lead, but we dove in anyway. We decided to take the closest opportunity for a move available to us — a job transfer — then put our house on the market and moved to the coast. About a year later, we realized we wanted to move again. We loved the challenge and adventure that moving to a new community gave us — the new friends, new places to discover, and the togetherness that happens when we as a family are living outside of everyone’s comfort zone, leaning on each other. But rental deposits and U-hauls were expensive, and our furniture was getting heavier and heavier. We thought there surely must be a better way. We certainly couldn’t be the only ones dreaming of traveling and moving more, right?
A quick search on the internet told us we were right — there were people out there doing something called ‘full-time travel’. It rang as music to our wanderlust ears. Most of these full-timers were young single people who had figured out how to make money travel blogging. However, there were a few families who were making it work too, in all sorts of creative ways.
Twenty-one sleepless nights later, we found ourselves in the process of selling everything we owned and purchasing a RV and truck with plans to travel across the US. We had no idea how we would make it work since I did not have a remote job at the time, but we took the plunge nonetheless.
After those initial few weeks of doubt sprinkled with panic — What have we just done? — we have never looked back. We took an action step for ‘togetherness’: for adventure together, for work together, school together, and exploring the unknown together. It was a choice to recognize that life can be lived in all sorts of ways. It was a choice to see beyond convention and even our own preconceived limitations. It was a choice to see possibility.
Five years later, no regrets. We would still make that choice all over again.
These days, our choice for togetherness looks like a family of four living in a 200-square-foot Airstream while traveling across the United States — homeschooling, visiting national parks, enjoying nature, working, and living our life with more togetherness than we ever knew possible. We often spend months or a season in one location.
Would this approach to life and family work for everyone? Absolutely not, but it may look a little differently than what you may be imagining.
We are always surprised by the myths we hear about what we do, as well as those about why this lifestyle would never work for others. That’s why we were excited to be invited to share a bit of our journey with Best Self Magazine, to debunk some of the myths surrounding full-time travel, homeschooling and doing life differently. By shedding some light on myths about yourself and what you think is possible for your own life, it is our hope that it may spark others to re-envision how to think out of their own life boxes and on their terms — to live vibrantly, passionately and expansively.
5 Myths About Us
Myth 1: We are roughing it
Many people tend to think of full-time travelers as either living out of hotels or short-term rentals or trying to survive in a cramped RV with tiny versions of everything. While this may be true in some cases, we live in an Airstream that is pretty similar to living in a regular small house. We have two AC units and heaters, a furnace, a decent-sized refrigerator, a 3-burner stove, and even a pressure cooker that we use almost daily. We have a decent-sized bathroom, and we all shower every single day like good southerners. We also have more technology devices than we could possibly use at one time, along with a high-powered cell signal booster on the roof right beside our solar panels, and 3 WiFi hot spots to ensure that we can always work remotely from wherever we happen to be.
Whatever ‘roughing it’ may be, we are pretty sure we are not doing it, unless you catch us on one of the days when we have decided to live off-grid in the summer without our air conditioner for a while.
Myth 2: We live in a trailer park
While there are a lot of private campgrounds and RV parks out there that look like parking lots, where big rigs cruise in and plug up just inches from each other, and while loads of people enjoy spending time in such places for their pools, hot tubs, and game rooms, among other perks — those places are just about as far from our style as you can get.
Instead, most days you can find us in a forest or a desert, or right by the ocean on the beach. When we are trying to travel quickly, we take advantage of a night or two of free camping at a Cabela’s or we cash in our Harvest Host membership where we can stay overnight at a vineyard, brewery or farm for just a small purchase in their shop. In other words, we get creative. But when we travel slowly with more time, we stay in a lot of wild, free places such as Bureau of Land Management property out west, state fisheries in the east, and other interesting places in between.
Most summers we like to work/camp under the tall evergreens on the coast of Maine. Most winters we pay a nightly fee for a state or national park campground in the Florida Keys, or head over to Texas for the free beach camping, or out west to the wide-open spaces. Wherever we end up, you probably will not find us in a trailer park, although we do know other travelers who love them.
Myth 3: We are lucky people who have it all together
There might be such a thing as luck, but I am not so sure you will find that it follows full-time travelers. While we feel so blessed to have supportive family members who refrain from giving us a hard time about our choices (at least most of the time). Although we have two sets of really amazing grandparents who send our children special treats wherever we may be, and heaps of outstanding friends who stay connected no matter how long we go between visits — we don’t consider ourselves as having it all together.
We still have bad days. We still wonder what in the world we are doing and whether it will all shake out well in the end. We still have our moments of doubt and upset. But we also realize that everyone else goes through those things as well, travel or no travel.
Many people ask us if we are independently wealthy or if we have some benefactor funding our travels. Despite mulling over how amazing that would be — the answer continues to be no. In fact, I work full-time remotely for a non-profit while going to school for my master’s degree and homeschooling the boys. Matthew (my husband) plans all of our travels, does all of the driving and Airstream repairs, helps with homeschooling, and works at the best campgrounds we can find when we want to stay put for a while. Needless to say, there is a whole lot of work that goes on and not a lot of luck, which seems to be the case for most full-time traveling families, or at least the ones we have met.
I say we create our own luck.
Myth 4: We impose this on our children
Some people look at our lifestyle and think that our two boys must be miserable with no space, no privacy, no friends, no stability — and perhaps even no voice. On the contrary. Since we started traveling back in 2013, every single summer we sit them both down and ask them how they think life is going and what needs to change as we get ready for a new year. This is a family decision.
Our boys play a critical role in our chosen dynamic; they have both a voice and a vote in the conversation. Most of the time this talk is tied to our homeschool goals and whether or not it is time to consider public or private school or something else, but inevitably the conversation leads to the crux of it all: our travel lifestyle. We simply ask them: What do you think? Should we settle down this next year or travel a little bit longer? Are you making enough friends? Do you have enough space and everything you need? Are we missing something? So far, they are both still voting for the travel option right along with us.
Our hope is that our togetherness will continue to have more of a positive impact than any negative impact that the lack of space or certain conventions may cause. Also, we think our kids have the coolest friends, even if it is a small group. There are literally so many traveling families out there that we have friends all over the world, which is definitely one of the many reasons we are thankful for full-time travel.
Myth 5: We have checked out of life
While it is true that we do not regularly deal with the shuffle to little league, school drop-offs and pick-ups, birthday parties, extended family gatherings, or even daily work commutes — we haven’t checked out of life — it’s just our version of ‘regular’.
And that doesn’t mean we don’t have wants and desires. We want to own property again one day. We want to travel internationally. We are saving for retirement. We also want our boys to go to college and even have the opportunity for joint enrollment in the coming years if they choose. We would like to manage some rental properties. We want to own our own business in the future. We want to help other people who have a desire for more family togetherness and travel. We’re involved in the fight against human trafficking. I am working on graduate school so that I can teach at a university when I am old and gray. We might even just write a book (or two). Each of those goals requires a few baby steps that we can see right now, so we are taking those.
Regardless of what the next season of life holds for us, I am so glad that traveling full-time has not caused us to check out of life. I hope our children reap the benefits of our choices — and that it activates their own hopes and dreams.
5 Myths About You
Myth 1: You have to wait until your kids are out of the house to do what makes you come alive
We have heard it over and over again from older couples who waited to start traveling until after their kids were grown. They say, “I wish we had done this at your age.” While it is not for everyone by any means, you may think you could never do this until your kids are grown and gone. Maybe this article will cause you to rethink that, to spark a desire within that you can then can act upon. Chances are your kids might enjoy experiencing it with you, instead.
Myth 2: You have to wait until you retire to travel extensively
While it is definitely true that not all professions are amenable to full-time remote employment, it may be a possibility for more professions than you think, especially in this digital age of interconnectivity. When we were in our planning phase, we thought we would have to leave our professions completely and work in campgrounds instead. We tried that for little over a year and after finding ourselves in a dicey work-camping situation, I started to approach this differently. After researching and applying for remotely-located jobs, I found myself blessed with a wonderful opportunity with my former employer. You truly never know what is possible until you ask.
Myth 3: You have to be wealthy to travel full-time
Traveling can certainly be expensive, but we have found that the cost of full-time travel pales in comparison to what we were spending in our suburban life. We have one vehicle, one tiny home that rolls, and we tend not to waste money at Target any longer because we simply can only fit a certain amount of ‘stuff’ into our house. It is truly amazing what can happen in your budget when you make more room for vision and less room for things.
Myth 4: You could never homeschool
It is the response I get most often whenever I share something about homeschooling outside of the homeschooling community — “I could never do that. My kid is just completely different from me” or “We would fight all day” or “I am not smart enough to teach my kids.” And my response is always the same to each and every person: I have been homeschooling for 10 years now, and I have never learned so much. Thankfully it does not have to be perfect, and thankfully there are so many resources out there making it easier and easier every day. I have met so many different moms and dads who are traveling, and we all have different parenting styles and different homeschooling styles. I truly believe that if you are meant to do something, there is absolutely a way!
Myth 5: You have to be a crunchy nature-lover to travel full-time in a camper
While it is probably true that a love for nature and a desire to see a few outdoor wonders probably inspires a lot of full-time travelers, we do not all have a degree in outdoor studies or a vision of living off the grid. In fact, my family and I were such inexperienced hikers when we started traveling full-time that we all wore flip flops on our first hike. I wore jeans on our second outing that were so tight I had to take them off half-way up the mountain and hike the rest of the way in a dress shirt. Thankfully it was the off-season and there were no other hikers on the trail. And thankfully, five years later, I now know what not to wear while hiking. I’ve come a long way.
The moral of this story is that you definitely will not have it all figured out when you go after your dreams — whatever they may be. But keep going. As with just about anything in life, one step followed by another creates momentum. So, go ahead and move towards your dreams. It may not be full-time travel, or maybe it is, but however you choose to live in order to become the best version of yourself, trust that you can do it.
Hopefully by debunking a few myths, you have reconnected with a vision within you that is crying out to be activated. Get out of your own way and remember: There’s a big ol’ world out there awaiting you no matter how you get there.
Editor’s Note: At the time of publication, the Orr family celebrated what they call, their 5th ‘Nomadiversary’. Elijah is now 13, Malachi is 10. They were 8 and 5 when the adventure began. We at Best Self Magazine would like to wish them continued happy trails – and thank them for sharing their journey with us.
You may also enjoy reading #VanLife: Facing Off With Depression & Discovering Freedom On The Road by Carol Fisher