Today’s home tour is taking us on the road. Laura George and her family spent their summer vacation on an epic road trip with their 6 young kids in a borrowed RV with spotty air conditioning. I know some of you are thinking: Sounds like the best summer ever! And others are thinking: No thank you a million times over. Hah!
Whatever your response, it certainly sounds like an adventure — one full of some epic highs and lows. Whether you’ve got your own family road trip planned this summer, or just know that inevitably you’re going to be spending some time with your kids in the car, Laura’s family’s journey is sure to inspire.
Hello, we’re the Georges. My husband Cylon and I met at our respective best friend’s wedding and were married less than two months later! We have 6 kids, with another due any day now. [Update: a little boy was born 6/15/17!]
Our oldest is Taye, who is 14. He is very mechanically minded and can usually be found outside in the backyard tinkering with something. He keeps our family’s bike fleet in working order. Arri is 10. She is a fierce leader, demanding, and sensitive. She loves to read. Micah is 8, and our resident helper. She is one I typically rely on to lend a hand, and she has a kind heart. She is also a voracious reader. Neville is 5 1/2, and is a handy beat boxer, always hungry, and learned how to ride a bike at age 4 with a little help from his older brother. Imogen, 4, is a fighter who is always jockeying for her place in the family. She is sometimes sweet and cuddly, and sometimes a roaring lion. Emrys is 2 1/2. He is our most verbal boy so far and is quick to express his needs and interests. He loves the attention and love he gets from his siblings and relies on them for care and entertainment.
My husband Cylon is a management consultant, blogger, and church musician. I’m a part-time nurse, and most-time mom and homeschool teacher to our kids.
When we aren’t on the road, we live in Albany, NY. It’s a nice little city with access to most of the things you would want in an urban area — libraries, stores, decent takeout, field trips, and cultural activities. Our house is on a street that backs up to one of the main veins that runs through the city, which in our case equals a parking lot behind our house instead of neighbors, and an unusually deep backyard. We feel blessed to have the city amenities, with a spacious place for the kids to play.
Not far from us are beautiful parks for hiking, and U-pick farms for seasonal crops. We especially like bringing home apples in the fall and strawberries in early summer. There is also a big homeschool community in our area. This means we have a number of groups to chose from with a variety of homeschool cultures. Our kids have friends in both the local school system from our neighborhood and involvement in extracurricular activities, as well as from the group of homeschool families we meet with regularly during the school year.
We had wanted to take an extended road trip for years, and had always been talking to the kids about it. As my husband Cylon put it, “We were trying to figure out how we were going to mark our anniversary. We’d talked about leaving the kids behind and taking a trip on our own. But the more we talked about it, the more we realized we wanted the kids to be with us. One night while laying in bed talking about it, I’d mentioned almost as a joke that we do that road trip we’ve always wanted to do. You latched on to the idea and the rest was history!”
I realized, if we don’t just go, it’s never going to happen. So I came up with a plan. I made a detailed itinerary with estimated drive times for each day, accommodations for each night, and suggested stops along the way.
When we first started planning the trip, we intended to tent camp. We were still working out some of the logistics of that — like a traveling kitchen, where to put all the equipment we would need, etc., when some friends of ours who also have six kids, offered to lend us their 27 foot camper for the trip! This was a huge game changer and also a big deal, since we would be caretakers of someone else’s camper for the trip if we said yes. And ultimately, we did say yes, since it was too good to pass up.
The camper has a queen bed in front, a sofa bed and table that converts to a bed in the middle, and a bunk bed in the back. If you’ve done the math, you’ll know that doesn’t quite accommodate 2 parents and 6 kids. We ended up keeping the table as a bed the whole trip and two of our girls shared that. The sofa bed was for our teenager, and his little brother slept on a portable cot next to him. Our oldest daughter slept on the bottom bunk in the back and the youngest slept on the top bunk, with an extra long baby gate firmly in place with rubber-backed wall protectors to keep him in. There is a stretch of counter space with a sink, stove, and fridge. Because of some electrical problems (it’s an old camper) the AC worked only sporadically, and the fridge basically functioned as a cooler, which made it hard to plan ahead for meals. We ate most of our meals outside at whatever picnic table came with our campsite.
We did a LOT of driving. Our original trip took us to California and back in 3 and a half weeks! It turns out our Ford Expedition was not up for both pulling a camper AND running the air conditioning at the same time, which we discovered on our first day of driving through Western New York. In fact, the heat was so bad that by our third day, when we reached St. Louis in 100 degree heat and with no AC in either our truck or the camper, Cylon was ready to turn back. I too, though stubborn, was at the end of my rope.
We ended up staying an extra day there and paying someone to fix the AC in the camper. In the evening, we headed downtown as a family to Citygarden, where you can play in the fountains. After cooling our heads and our spirits, Cylon notes, we realized the irony of turning back at the Gateway to the West and decided to press on, but we did adjust our plans to cut out the hottest stops on our trip, since fixing the AC in the truck was going to take too much time and money to fix on the road. At that point, Cylon had figured out a trick that would get it to work intermittently — at least enough to keep us sane!
The original itinerary took us to Southern California via Arizona and Nevada. , Instead, we ended up driving out to Utah, then heading north to Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, cutting the Southwest and West Coast out of the trip. This gave us a few extra days, and so we spent additional time in Utah and at Yellowstone. The change, while disappointing, meant we got to cool our heels in the middle of the trip, set up camp, and not worry about leaving for a few days at several stops.
I had planned a couple of days where we were driving just a few hours, but they were the exception rather than the rule. If I had it to do again, we would go for at LEAST twice the time, and drive much less per day. When we planned the trip, though, we only had the 3.5 weeks to work with, and wanted to get as much out of it as we could!
In terms of entertainment in the car, I had all kinds of plans for the kids. We had books, a children’s atlas, a license plate board game, and tons of audio dramas on CD and the dramatized Bible on CD to listen to, as well as a good selection of music. We also have a DVD player. As it turns out, when all the windows are open on the highway just to keep the temperature in the car survivable, you can’t really hear anything! So we listened to almost none of it.
Instead, the kids slept, ate, talked and hung out together, and one of them (Neville!) punctuated the time by having meltdowns every so often. We actually bought earplugs at one point and when he started carrying on, once we made sure all his needs were met, we would all put in the earplugs and just keep driving.
The surprising thing is, despite our long driving days, the built in fueling stops (which happened so often we almost never had to make additional stops for bathroom breaks) and being together — along with having their own spending money to get candy or drinks at gas stations — seemed to keep everyone pretty well occupied. What we were doing was totally new, so there wasn’t a lot of room for boredom.
One thing I noticed as I was going through photos of the trip is that often the pictures were of my kids playing with things that aren’t toys — a water bottle, a hat, a flashlight. We didn’t bring many toys with us on the trip, and it turned out we didn’t need to. The time we spent exploring fulfilled our kids’ need for entertainment, and we didn’t miss having traditional toys.
The top spots we visited that really made an impression on all of us were: Colorado, Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah, and Yellowstone National Park. At each place, we found unique landscapes unlike anything any of us had ever seen before. The kids had a joke, where I would tell them what we were doing for the day and they would groan and say, “Mom!! More rocks?” But what rocks they were!
The Rocky Mountains and Garden of the Gods in Colorado, the red arches of Utah, the incredible wilderness and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone were just breathtaking.
The kids did an admirable amount of hiking and exploring. Even though they complained at times, they also recognized what an amazing experience it was even as it was happening. During our stop in Colorado, we were able to stay with my mom’s cousin and her husband. The kids LOVED that stop and totally hit it off with our hosts, who were generous, unflappable, and great storytellers!
Because of our adjusted itinerary, we got an extra day at Yellowstone and were able to drive through the park three days in a row. Due to changing weather and the routes we took, it was a new experience each time, and even three days didn’t feel like enough time.
I hope the kids remember that their parents, two introverts and homebodies, got us all out of the house on an adventure, and even though there were a lot of tough moments, we really enjoyed our time with together. I hope they forget the times we bickered and sighed about the lack of air conditioning and the other inconveniences we encountered!
We tried to be good sports, but there were some nights when my “estimated driving time” didn’t take into account all the stops we would have to make, and we were pulling into a buggy campsite, exhausted and sweaty, in the wee hours of the morning with crying kids and a camper whose AC was busted, again, after riding in a hot car all day.
A year later, the kids still talk about the road trip almost daily, and they often ask when we we’re going on another road trip. I have never heard them mention those “other” moments, so maybe they HAVE forgotten them!
On our drive back East, we stopped at a campground in Minnesota for the night. It was another late night arrival, and the next morning as we were pulling out to leave, the grey water tank fell out of the bottom of the camper. We were due to arrive back home in just a few days, and we didn’t know what we should do about it — plus, we had an eight hour drive ahead of us.
Four total strangers came to our rescue and strapped the tank back up under the camper for the drive home, including a retired NASA technician who’d worked on the Apollo space program!
While Cylon was working with them to fix the camper, I was supervising the kids on the campground’s spacious playground. After 3 weeks in close quarters on the road, all our kids were playing on one small part of the playground, together, while the rest of the structure stood empty. It really summed up what I had wanted from the trip — that togetherness that sprouted from being through this crazy adventure with not enough personal space.
At home in our 2000 SF house, when we get sick of each other, we just spread out, but we weren’t able to do that on the road trip. I already miss not being able to get away from one another. It forced us to develop our relationships in a new way.
Ahead of the trip, we didn’t get a lot of advice — everyone we talked to loved that we were doing something so many Americans have on their bucket list. But when we got back, we were told by a lot of folks, from our Facebook friends to the media, how to feel about our fellow Americans during a painfully divisive election season. Our road trip helped inoculate us against all that toxicity we would encounter later.
We left on our trip during a summer full of unrest and racial tension, with unarmed black men and law enforcement alike finding themselves targets. When we pulled into our campsite at Idaho Dunes, chosen so our teenage son could fulfill his dreams of riding a four wheeler, our next door neighbors were camping in a beat-up converted horse trailer with a Confederate flag flying from the dune buggy parked nearby.
They weren’t there when we arrived, and Cylon and I were both apprehensive and not at all sure what to expect when they arrived back from riding at the dunes for the day. As it turns out, we ended up talking to the couple until late in the night, joking about the change as we drove West from roads full of Hybrids and Kia Souls to pickup trucks. We only spent one night at that campsite, but the kindness we experienced from everyone we came across — campers whose kids became fast friends with ours and those who willingly included us and shared with us — made the connections we made feel like they had come after a much longer stay. In November, it made the toxic news cycle much easier to stomach.
Sometimes I wish I had tried to make less happen in the time we had. But the intensity of the trip, and the long days of driving with the windows open, interspersed with eating out, stopping at places like the Dinosaur Museum in Colorado that our five year old will NEVER forget, standing in front of the cooling stations on a 100 degree day at the St. Louis Zoo — we might not have gotten to do any of those things if we had spent too much time thinking about what it was we were trying to do! The Road Trip has become a huge part of our family identity. Our memories are a rich, common place to draw from and a place we go often.
What an inspiring journey! Laura’s perspective is such a great reminder that there is a great big wide world out there full of beautiful things and interesting people. I loved hearing about the connections she and her family made along the way, both with surprise helpers along the route and unexpected neighbors who end up in the camp site next to you. I’m sure her kids will talk about this road trip for years to come.
Do you have a big road trip planned this summer? Are you heading to any of the National Parks Laura and her family visited? Could your kids make it 3.5 weeks in the car together (with spotty AC!)? What are your best tips for surviving on the road?
I asked Laura to share some of her favorite road trip supplies. Here is what she recommends:
Credits: Want to read more about the road trip? You can on Cylon’s blog here or on Laura’s. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.