Oh boy, you guys. You are in for a TREAT. Well, that is if you are curious about many things regarding a big family road trip. We’ve compiled a bunch of questions we’ve received as we’ve traveled and answered them all there … in this very long post. Enjoy.
Three and one half months of traveling around America is coming to a close and it’s met with bittersweet feelings from all of us. On the one hand it feels like our family has been gone for a long time and on the other it seems as if we’ve just begun.
This experience of trading our regular life for one of travel, tight spaces, long drives, extensive family time, seeing America, experiencing history, trying new foods, meeting new people – every single part of it has been the best thing we’ve ever done for our family.
We still have so many places still to highlight and share on the blog (you can see the whole list of road trip blog posts here), but before that I wanted to answer the questions we’ve been receiving through comments and instagram.
What we’re doing – a big family road trip – is not an original idea, but its not totally common, either. We’ve figured it out along the way and are more than happy to share our experiences, logistics, lessons learned and thoughts about the whole thing with you.
I have broken up the most common questions into sections but will start with this one:
Would you do it again?
Yes, for sure, without question. If we could go back knowing what we now know about what it takes to pull off a trip like this, we would absolutely do it agin.
Will we actually ever do it again? Probably not on this scale. We have said from the beginning that this is a once in a lifetime trip and we are okay with that. It has been so good – even the hard stuff has made us into better people – and I’m sure we will look back on this road trip as some of the best memories of our lives.
leaving home behind
What do you miss most about home?
Of course we’ve missed our family and friends, so we’ll just say those are a given. Apart from that, we’ve been surprised at how little we’ve missed. Our airstream has been a great home-on-the-road with all the conveniences we have needed.
I asked the family what they missed most and here are the answers:
Ryan: not much. Maybe just the ease and routine of day to day and high speed internet.
Emily: Barre class. And puttering around the house moving things around and re-styling. And I miss my peony and hydrangea plants.
Ethan (12): Living in a house with more space. My friends. Building forts. Riding bikes. Going to school.
Brady (10): Friends. Being in open areas (like a big room for alone time).
Mason (8): Atlas (our dog). Playing with friends.
Audrey (6): Atlas, playing with baby dolls and stuffed animals. And Ellie (our sweet niece who turned one this summer).
The first few weeks were tough for our oldest, Ethan, who is just on the verge of becoming a teenager. He really missed his friends and worried about missing out on what was going on at home. We’ve said it a handful of times and truly believe that if we had planned this even one year later, it would have been much harder on him, especially.
Have the kids been getting along? Has bickering increased or decreased?
We pushed hard to make this trip happen for the sake of our family. We wanted to do something just as us, without extended family, friends, school and work to distract us from truly connecting as a family. The kids have missed their friends, without a doubt, but I have loved watching them depend on each other as their sole companions.
Do they still fight? Of course. I’m not sure if it is noticeably more or less. I do think their friendships with one another are deeper and that matters more to us than the inevitable bickering of siblings. Although I could do without the pestering.
How do you get alone time?
Alone time has been lacking for everyone but no one is particularly frustrated about it. Ryan and I both have introverted recharging needs and much of that happens while in the car or after the kids go to bed. Our 8 year old is probably the one who needs the most alone time and so we’ve tried to accommodate by giving him a hammock to sleep in and legos to play with.
If you’re curious about how Ryan and I get ‘alone time’, I will say these three things: we have a loud a/c unit, tired children, and sturdy stabilizer jacks :)
What did you do with Atlas? Have the kids missed him?
Atlas is our 3 year old labradoodle and yes, the kids do miss him. Ryan’s parents have generously taken him in while we’re gone. Ryan’s brother and sister-in-law live nearby on a lake and they have sent us lots of photos and videos of Atlas learning to dive off their dock. He’s had a pretty great summer!
What have you done for church/worship during the trip?
We miss going to church! When staying with friends we’ve joined them at their churches, but this has only been a few times. We look forward to returning to regular church-going.
While not going to church every Sunday, we are experiencing God’s beauty and creation in many of the places we’ve been. Whether in iconic places like the Grand Canyon or just driving across open grasslands, God’s creation can be found everywhere.
planning + logistics
How far in advance did you plan the trip?
We started dreaming 2 1/2 years ago. We made plans and adjustments to our lives to make the trip happen over the course of that time and started actually booking stops about three months before we left.
Did you buy or rent your trailer? Will you keep it after you are done?
We bought our Airstream a few weeks before we left for the trip. It was used but in great shape and has been the perfect home away from home (see the tour here). We weighed the cost of renting vs. buying (renting is fairly expensive even compared to staying in hotels) and ultimately decided buying was the right choice for us. We haven’t decided yet if we will keep it or sell it … if we do continue to take road trips in the future, we will probably want a different trailer as our kids will outgrow the sleeping situation very quickly. My guess is that we’ll sell it.
Any recommendations about towing a big trailer?
Our family SUV (a Ford Expedition XL) has worked great as both our towing vehicle and place of many hours of riding in the car. Ryan has done all of the driving on the trip and thankfully, he’s very comfortable towing, backing up, parking, navigating (could be his firefighting background driving around fire engines?!).
As far as advice for towing a big trailer, Ryan has a few recommendations:
- Make sure your tires are good and check the tire pressure regularly.
- Do not max out the towing capacity. Our car has a max capacity of 8,600 lbs and we’re pulling about 7,500 lbs with our trailer fully loaded. Towing a heavy trailer 14,000 miles in 3 months puts some wear on the car, but it has worked well for us.
- Drive during the day. We have avoided a lot of traffic, the roads are visible and safer and we get to enjoy the views out our window. Only once did we drive at night (through the Malibu canyon) and it was a little scary. Daylight makes a big difference.
- Add 5 to 10 minutes extra per every hour of drive time. Towing a big trailer means we can not drive as fast as the speed limit on many highways and our drive times are always more than what our gps navigation tells us. Just allow for that extra time.
How did you decide your route and places to stay?
Our family talked about this trip for over two years so there was plenty of time to dream, research and come up with our wish lists of places to visit. We knew we wanted to see all the major things (The White House, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon). A few southern cities were high on my list; Ryan was particularly excited about Washington DC and New York City.
With that list in hand, we used a combination of a google map to drop pins and the Roadtrippers app to help figure out the best routes. Ultimately, we decided on a counter-clockwise trip around the country that started in Seattle, down through California, through the National Parks in Arizona and Utah, down through Texas, east along the Florida Gulf Coast, up the East Coast, down to Nashville, over to St. Louis and up to Chicago and then westward to hit Iowa, Mt Rushmore, The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Our trip ends with a big family vacation in Eastern Washington/Northern Oregon.
We tried to limit our drive times to 4 hours on any travel day so we just picked places along the way that fit with the timing and destination. There have been a few longer drive days that were unavoidable and while very long, they were fine.
Do you pre-plan each destination/city/state (museums, restaurants, etc)?
We booked each of our overnights a few months in advance. Some of the stops had obvious must-visit places and so we marked those in our spreadsheet (think Statue of Liberty in NYC, Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown), but many of our stops were cities or National Parks we wanted to visit with no real knowledge of what exactly to do or see.
On the drive day leading up to the next destination I spent a bunch of time on my phone researching what sights we wanted to see, restaurants worth eating at, places to visit. We put up a survey before we left asking for suggestions along our route and you all came through big time! I referred back to the spreadsheet with suggestions many times to find local restaurant recommendations and make sure we weren’t missing anything big.
Instagram has also been the best way to discover what to do in each place. Every time I post a new photo showing where we are, comments come pouring in with such helpful suggestions. Our trip has been much richer because of the recommendations from readers around the country.
If we were to do the whole thing agin, we could have avoided some frustration and arguments (ahem) if we had a clearer plan or at least a few options for each stop ahead of time. It takes a lot of time to research and had we started the whole process earlier, perhaps we could have had a more set-in-stone plan for each stop. If we had more time, it would have been good to put together a short list of restaurants and sights to see at each stop to save time and make decision-making easier on the road.
On the other hand, I do enjoy the flexibility to figure it out as we go depending on what sounds good/fun at the time.
Do you have any tips on finding good campgrounds?
We booked all of our campgrounds ahead of time based on internet photos and reviews. We could have done a better job of looking at the 3-D google map to see what was surrounding the campground to make sure we were in a decent area (only a problem a few times and we dealt with it just fine).
When booking campsites, we preferred pull-thru with full hookups. These sites are generally a little more expensive, but made parking easier and the full hookups were a luxury we didn’t want to give up (full hookups means having electricity, water and sewer at your site). We have stayed in many KOA campgrounds which are great. There are a million of them, they are pretty consistent around the country, usually have pools and are family-friendly. We have noticed that KOAs are not always close to the city/site you are visiting, so if you stay in a KOA know that you’ll probably be driving a bit to get to your sight-seeing destination. For example, the Grand Canyon KOA is about an hour away from the Grand Canyon, the Charleston KOA is 35 minutes from Charleston. Most state parks do not offer full hook-ups, so they were not options for us on this trip.
Was having an agenda and lodging booked ahead of time a good thing or did it prevent you from ‘winging it’?
Having our stops booked ahead of time has worked great for us. It gives us a timeline to stick to and ensures that we make it to all of the stops we want to see. We knew we had 107 days to travel, had a list of places we wanted to visit and so we fit each one in accordingly.
Within the agenda of where each night was spent, we had a lot of freedom for what to do and see each day so that felt flexible enough. Having a preplanned route also made it easy to coordinate stops and visits with friends and family.
Did you skip/change much from original plan?
Not much. We have only strayed from our itinerary four times:
- We were not crazy about our campground in Fort Worth, TX and it was raining so hard, so we drove one night early to stay in Waco.
- After the tragedies in Orlando and because some plans fell through with family in the area, we skipped driving to Naples, FL and instead added a few extra days in Savannah, GA.
- We hoped to make it in Maine, but we decided to eliminate the stop to avoid a super long drive day. (We regret this one).
- Glacier National Park has been nixed from the end of the trip. We live close enough that we figure we can make another trip out there someday. We regret this one too, but after reading more about it, we realized it deserves a longer stay than just a couple days.
What is a typical day like?
We could split up our trip into a few different typical days, so I’ll run through all four.
For our more outdoorsy stops (like many of the National Parks through California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado) our typical day includes breakfast in the trailer, loading up snacks and lunch and lots of water in backpacks and then heading out for the day to explore. Most of the time we figure out a rough schedule of the day the night before for hikes to take or sights to see. We like to stop in to the Visitors Center of National Parks to learn more about the park and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids. After a full day out and about, we return to the trailer for dinner around 7 and then off to bed by about 10. Once the kids are in bed in the front of the trailer, Ryan and I are relegated to our bedroom where – if we have internet – we’ll work for an hour or two.
On drive days, we wake around 8, fix an easy breakfast and start packing up. Ryan does all of the outside tasks (unhooking utilities, hooking up the trailer to the car); I organize in the airstream to making sure all of the clothes are put away, I sweep and vacuum the floor, put away all dishes and loose items and close all windows and vents. It is really nice to reset each travel day and has helped keep things tidy in the trailer. This whole process takes about an hour.
Most of our drive days are about 4 hours, but it always takes at least an hour longer than our gps says plus time to stop for gas, bathroom breaks and lunch. We can usually make it with just two stops.
When we arrive at our next campground, we check in, find our site, unhook the car, hook up the electric/water/sewer and let the kids run and play. It has been super nice to stay at campground with pools, playgrounds and bouncy blob things.
IN THE CITY
Our time in bigger cities (like basically the entire East Coast) are full, full days. We wake, eat breakfast and head out in our car for our destination of the day. We pack in as much as we can as we have limited time in each place. Many times we skip lunch, eat a snack or two and then stop for dinner around 7. By the time we get back to our trailer it is 9 or 10 and we’ll chill for a bit then get to bed. And then wake up the next day and do it all again :)
STAYING WITH FRIENDS
Some of our best times have been staying with friends in different parts of the country. On these days, all bets are off to a typical schedule. There has been a little bit of sight-seeing, a whole lot of staying around the house and talking and playing and late nights of card games/movie watching/visiting. Except for our stop in San Antonio where we visited our close family friends, the other stops have been to friends of mine whom I met through blogging. Every time the kids have hit it off instantly and Ryan and I so enjoy connecting with other couples.
Do you wish you built in more downtime?
There have been a few times when we all have needed some downtime and we’ve been able to change our plans to accommodate but mostly, we know our trip is quick and we’re trying to take advantage of seeing as much as we can in a short time.
Our drive days do feel like downtime. The kids watch movies, draw or stare out the windows; Ryan and I talk or listen to a podcast or book. And the overnights with friends feel recharging, too.
The one place where we wish we added a few extra days of downtime was after New York City before heading up to Boston. We pushed hard for those 5 days in NYC walking 6-9 miles each day and we were wiped by the end of it! By the time we made it to Boston we were all fighting head colds and we just needed a break. Boston got the brunt of it and we did very little to explore the city. It is one of those places where we look forward to returning and giving it a fair shot!
When do you stop for groceries/necessities?
Without a lot of storage space and six mouths to feed, we have to stop fairly regularly to stock up on groceries. Unless we’re in a big city and eating out more, we probably grocery shop once per week. We’ve done a few stops at Costco along the way for bulk snacks, cereal, eggs, pre-marinated meats (a huge time saver!) and produce we know we’ll make it through. Some campgrounds have little stores that sell necessities like rv toilet paper and I always buy a bag of ice (have I ever shared with you my crazy love of ice? Oh, yes I have.).
What percentage of meals do you eat out vs. in the airstream?
This depends a bit on where we are.
If we are in a major city, we eat out quite a bit. We’ll do breakfast in the trailer, then grab lunch or a quick snack and dinner while out sight seeing. We LOVE good farm-to-table food and if there is a restaurant that comes recommended we’ll gladly eat out and enjoy a great meal. We’ve also tried to enjoy local food as much as possible to get a taste of each part of the country.
If we’re more remote (like a National Park), we eat in the trailer for most meals.
How difficult is it to cook in small space?
Surprisingly, cooking in the Airstream kitchen has worked just fine. I was really picky about wanting a trailer with at least enough counter space for a cutting board and I stand by that decision. I am not cooking elaborate meals with lots of dishes and we use the grill for nearly every meal so some of the work happens outside. I’m not sure I’d like my real life kitchen to be as small, but it has given us everything we need for this trip.
What are your go-to meals?
Breakfast: cereal, oatmeal, yogurt + granola, eggs + toast. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll make our favorite avocado toast (sourdough bread, avocado, arugula, spicy plum jam, goat cheese, poached egg and red pepper flakes).
Lunch: cheese, meat + crackers, pb+j, fruit + veggies, hummus, individual guacamole with crackers.
Dinner: burgers, grilled meat + salad, spaghetti with meat sauce + salad, burrito bowls. These four meals just go on rotation which makes shopping and cooking a lot easier because you don’t have to decide what to eat.
What did you do with kids’ school?
Thankfully our public school district was very accommodating to our plans and supported us pulling the kids out of school 7 weeks early. We un-enrolled them and are technically independently homeschooling. Our state does not have any requirements we needed to be concerned with (especially since the kids met end-of-year standards when we left). If we were going to miss more of the school year, we would have built schooling into our travel. I will say, though, that these kids have had the best education on American History, geography, government and nature we could ever wish for.
Let’s just start by saying a three-plus month trip anywhere is expensive. This trip is no exception. We skimped in some places, splurged in others. Each family has their own priorities and we truly viewed this as a once in a lifetime thing which influenced many of our spending choices.
How do you afford being gone so long/off work so long?
We realize taking months off of work is not normal for most American families. It has worked for us for a few reasons. First, we are self-employeed and nearly all of our work for JDC is done online and therefore not tied to any physical location.
Second, earlier this year, we made the hard and exciting decision to have Ryan leave his career as a firefighter to work full time on our businesses. He has always been behind the scenes on my business and we’re looking forward to what this new phase will look like with him more involved when we return home.
Third, we have a small team who work with us to keep things running while we’re gone. We never would be able to keep the businesses running without them!
It has taken us two years to prepare, save and plan for these three months. It’s been a sacrifice, but totally worth it.
We would love to encourage you that if an extended road trip is a dream of yours, pursue it. It may take some creativity with your job, you may need to make changes to your current life and be willing to take steps toward. We’re here to cheer you on.
How much are you spending on gas?
We were extremely fortunate to pick a summer when gas prices are historically low across the country. We’ve paid as high as $2.50 and as low as $1.79 for a gallon of gas, averaging somewhere around $2 per gallon. Multiply this by 14000 miles, 10 mile per gallon at $2 per gallon = $2800. If gas prices had been what they were two or three summers ago this number would easily be double.
How much have you spent on hotels and RV parks?
After the whole thing is over we’ll figure out exact numbers and will most likely put those into a cute infographic with lots of other facts and figures. Generally speaking, we pay about $60 per night on an rv site and $300 per night at a hotel. When we stay in hotels, we also pay to store the trailer at a local campground as most cities are just not set up for 28′ Airstream parking. When we stay with friends, parking is free.
Out of the 107 nights, we have spent 15 nights in a hotel, 13 nights with friends and the rest at campgrounds.
What is the total cost for a family of 6 for 3 months on the road?
It’s a lot :)
In addition to gas and lodging, we are also paying for meals and activities. If we were not on the trip we would also be buying groceries and doing activities so part of the costs are just normal doing life costs. Admittedly, we are eating out much more than we would be at home and choose good restaurants where we typically spend between $60 – $100 each meal.
We bought a year pass to all National Parks which gets us in free at each park. Our membership to the Seattle Science Center is part of a group of science museums around the country that offer free entrances with the pass. We are AAA members and ask for discounts at all campgrounds and hotels (they don’t always offer them, but it doesn’t hurt to try!) and we use our KOA membership number for 10% off our stays there.
Activities like horseback riding, touring Monticello, seeing a Broadway show, visiting museums, going up to the top of the Empire State Building – these are all additional costs that we knew we would not want to skimp on. It is expensive to travel and sight see as a family of six but the memories we’ve made are priceless (so cheesy, but true).
What places would you stay longer?
If we had more time, we would stay longer at every stop! There is so much to see in each town, city, National Park and we only just brushed the surface on each of our stops.
We have a list of places we’d like to return to. On that list are: Sonoma/California Wine Country, Charleston, Zion National Park, Washington D.C., Boston, Cape Cod, Watch Hill, RI, Chicago.
Do you think the trip was too long to absorb/appreciate the places? Would more shorter trips be better?
When all is said and done, we will have been on the road for 107 days and traveled over 14,000 miles. While we had to skip many great places around the country, we love the route we have taken. The whole thing has felt like a hands-on American history tour, making stories of people groups, war, government truly come alive for all of us. Moving from the south up the east coast was particularly incredible as it felt like each city’s history built upon the next.
We saw the first city in America, the first English settlement, we visited the home of Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence, stepped foot in the room where it was signed in Philadelphia and later saw the real thing in D.C.. We stood where much of America’s slave trade happened, walked the hills at Gettysburg, saw Civil War cannonballs, stood teary-eyed reading Abraham Lincoln’s words at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. and then visited the capitol building where President Lincoln’s body was on view for mourners following his assassination.
Beyond the American History piece, we also had the opportunity to watch sea lions in the Pacific Ocean, pelicans in the Atlantic, the breathtaking depth of the Grand Canyon, the crazy rock structures in Bryce Canyon, feel the mist off Niagara Falls, drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, prairies, cornfields, across rivers and bridges and bays.
We are forever grateful for the opportunity to see it all in one, long, connected road trip. It gives a perspective on America that we never would have had if we had done the trip in pieces.
How did you determine what souvenirs or mementos to buy knowing you had limited space?
Using limited space as a scapegoat has been the greatest for avoiding spending unnecessarily on souvenirs! If our daughter could, she would buy a stuffed animal at every single gift shop. We have hit many darling shops and have to walk out empty handed because we just don’t have room.
What we have collected are stickers from each stop that we’ve added to our car top box. Having at least one thing we’re collecting and something we say yes to in the gift shops has helped keep everyone happy.
Any stops that you could have done without? That didn’t meet expectations?
Thankfully, we can’t really think of any that have totally disappointed. We stayed for a few days in what we thought was Amish country in Pennsylvania but we probably didn’t choose the right city to stay in. We ended up using that stop to shop for necessities, swim at the pool and see a movie which was probably a good thing for all of us. We did visit a great Amish market on our drive out of town and viewed the gorgeous farms and buggies so we did get a little bit of what we were hoping for.
The funny thing that happens when you are seeing every amazing thing America has to offer is that it becomes easy to compare.
We have visited a bunch of museums and while of course each one is valuable in its own way, when you’ve just been to the Smithsonian Air + Space or the Chicago Field Museum, it’s hard to compete. We felt the same way after having just gone through Yosemite and the Grand Canyon when we came to Zion. It is beautiful there, but different than the previous two iconic National Parks and it took effort on my part to not compare the beauty and just appreciate it for what it is.
How do you balance kid-friendly activities with the types of things adults want to do?
Admittedly, we have pretty amazing kids. They have complained very little about all the sight-seeing, history lessons, hiking for miles, walking for miles, eating at nice restaurants, driving hour after hour, sleeping in too-tight spaces. It makes me teary just thinking about what flexible, fun troopers they are.
A majority of our activities have been perfect for both kids and adults. The Junior Ranger program at each National Park keeps the kids engaged and allows the adults to visit places of importance, too. A few spots offered family-friendly tours which we took them up on. Turns out, they are just as great for the parents as they are for kids. We hit the zoo, play at parks, stop for ice cream and do lots of swimming.
There have been times when Ryan and I look at each other and wished we were kidless. Times like at a nice restaurant or when we were the only one dragging our kids on a bourbon tour in Lexington. But for the most part, we’ve found a good balance of kid/adult activities to keep us all happy.
What is your plan for transitioning back to ‘real’ life?
At the end of our road trip is our annual one week family vacation with my Jones side. We will pull up to the big rented farmhouse in our airstream and celebrate with our family who we’ve all missed so much. That week of family, sharing stories, hanging out poolside and playing games is one that we look forward to every year and have high hopes that it acts as a great transition from road trip to real life.
We will have about two weeks before the kids start school, so we’ll get together with friends, unpack, reaquaint ourselves with normal life and prepare for the school year ahead.
Quite honestly, I don’t want this thing to end and I know the transition will be hard.
Has this adventure in ‘tiny living’ made you re-think all the stuff you left at home and haven’t needed? Do you think you’ll purge when you get home? Does it make you think about living smaller at home?
This experiment in living with much, much less has been so good. We do find that we don’t miss much and really don’t need anything more than we have in our little trailer.
Before we left, I went through a major purging phase to prepare our home for the summer. I packed up boxes of stuff – clothes, toys, pillows, dishes, decorative accessories I haven’t touched in years and donated it all. I’m sure I’ll return home and find more to clear out.
If anything, this tiny living experiment has made us more particular about what stuff we do have. Does it have meaning? Is it made well? Will it last? Do we really need it? This is more the direction we find ourselves going.
We have a big family and love entertaining so living small doesn’t necessarily hold the same appeal as living smarter and more intentionally.
How might you live differently back at home?
We will prioritize our family in a new and better way. Life gets awfully busy and we were starting to feel like we were missing opportunities to connect with each other and our kids. Taking three months off of everything has bonded us in ways I hope we will never lose and keep us looking for ways we can be together just as a family.
What will you miss most about being on the road?
I cry easily when I think about this whole thing being over! It truly has been a once in a lifetime trip and a sweet, sweet time for me and Ryan and for our kids. There are distractions at home that keep us from focusing on one another, on learning, on exploring and we don’t have those while on the road. Sure, it comes with its own set of issues: tight spaces, one million little decisions to be made, lack of internet, but none have been so hard that it makes us want to stop. This road life is not a permanent thing for us, so it has to come to an end and we’ll always have great memories.
What new inspiration and ideas have you found after being away from normal work space/flow? Any new dreams you have for JDC and new projects you are excited to explore when you come home?
It has been so nice to step away from regular work, give myself a break and take time to dream with Ryan about what’s next for Jones Design Company. What we’ve discovered is that I love houses. I love decorating. I’m excited to take a bit more of a house + home bent on the blog and post much more frequently. I especially love when I hear from readers that what I share on the blog makes their lives happier and prettier. So I want to do more of all of that. More coffee chats. More video. More interactive formats. As much as I don’t want the road trip to end, I am looking forward to getting back to work!
What adventure will be next?
Well our oldest is practically a teenager, so that’s going to be interesting :)
Actually, we’re not sure what’s next. The fact that we turned this road trip dream into such an incredible reality is very inspiring to us and makes us want to take more risks and steps toward new dreams and goals.
Whew! I told you it was long :) I hope this is helpful and encouraging as you pursue your dreams!
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Awesome stuff!! I relate to wanting time to connect as a family without distractions. We’re getting ready for our own journey for the same reason. We’ll be leaving in September for one year in our RV with our 3 kids (ages 8, 6, and 4). The little ones can’t wait, but the oldest is a little hesitant. We’ll see how it goes!
The main reason for going on this journey is exactly what you said: connecting to our family without distractions. I’ll be working on the road, so there’ll be one slight distraction, but we’ll still have a lot more time together than we do now.
You are so inspiring and I’m envious of the extended family time and incredible memories you’ve created with your children on this trip. Seriously, they will talk about it for the rest of their lives. They will tell their kids about it and their grandkids… it will go with them forever. What an amazing gift for all of you.
This is such an amazing post! So useful and meaningful. I just went on a similar trip (89 days with a very similar route but sans kids) earlier this year (and I second all of your tips). But I really loved this post because it was so lovely to hear stories of you doing it as a family. I can’t imagine how much fun it was to watch the kids explore and how they will cherish such a relationship building experience for the rest of their lives. So happy for you guys making your dreams come true and inspiring so many other people to do the same! I hope I get to do a repeat trip with my kids some day too. Thank you for sharing and inspiring! It’s been fun to follow!
This is so so amazing! I have thoroughly enjoyed every post about this road trip. Thank you so much for sharing all of your detais, information, recommendations, photos, etc. My little ones are not quite in those golden years, but I guess that means that now is a good time to start planning and saving! ;) I love roadtripping and I can’t wait to follow in some of your steps! Also, I’m near Chicago and am looking forward to reading about your time here. Hope it was fantastic!
Oh, and I totally agree with other readers about a book/travelogue. Would be such a great resource (and a fun read)! :)
I swear I saw you guys as my family and I were looking out over Samish Bay, WA yesterday.
I have been following your road trip and really enjoying it, particularly as we were planning our much shorter 18 day version, starting in Seattle and doing a round trip to Vancouver, Kamloops, Banff, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Idaho and Oregon.
And here we are on Day 3 and… it couldn’t have been, could it?
Not us :) But that trip sounds like a great one! Enjoy!
What a journey!! I have enjoyed reading about the places you’ve been. Thanks for sharing!
THANK YOU for this post. i have a follow-up question–how did you and/or your husband learn what to do with hook ups, and draining and filling water tanks, etc? also, did you guys shower in your trailer?
Ryan is just kind of amazing and knows these things. We are three months in and I still have no clue how to hook up anything :)
You can take classes – like at rv shows or when you purchase an rv at the dealer, so don’t be afraid if you are total novices. There are friendly people who can help!
Funny story: just the other day an older couple came over to our camp site and struck up a conversation. They had just bought their Airstream and didn’t know how to pull out the awning. We all walked over to their site and Ryan showed them how to do it. They showed us inside their trailer and we showed them a closet that they didn’t know existed! Its a learning experience and we’ve found that everyone is so nice around campgrounds.
Oops. I forgot to answer about the shower question.
Yes, we shower in the airstream. It is like a mini hotel room.
Sometimes we’ll use the campground showers if we all need to shower or if we’ve just gotten out of the pool, and it is really nice to have those available.
As a 60-something who has been reading your blog for several years, this is probably the first time I have commented (shame on me!) I really enjoy your blog but your summer trip has been awesome from a reader perspective. Oh, how I would have loved to do this back in the 70s/80s. I always wondered how you were wearing jeans in the summer and I think sometimes a hoodie when in the South we are sweltering. I had to laugh when you mentioned the South and humidity once you got further east. This summer will be a hard one to follow when you plan vacations but what a wonderful experience for your family. Thanks so much for all you have shared with your readers.
Enjoy Walla Walla! That is my home, been there for 37 years! We did a 12,500 mile trip very similar this spring, 13 weeks worth! The USA is an amazing country, so neat to see different regions! Your kids will remember it for the rest of their lives. We did it with our 5 many years ago, and they still talk about it!
This is a random comment, but would be VERY interested in buying your Airstream. We are seriously looking for one and yours looks to be the perfect fit. We are planning a 2 week road trip and would be going through your area to start (we are coming from MN). It’s been my dream to road trip the NorthWest pacific coast and your trip sparked the need to go NOW! Our boys are 11 and 9 now, and like you, we want to take the chance when we can.
If you would like a serious contender for purchasing, let me know. We are at firstname.lastname@example.org
LOVE watching your trip! Been a follower for years. And have your PaperWorks, which keep my life sane!
Our trip would be in the spring… (when I said we need to go NOW, I meant, after winter) HA!
I’ll let you know! We’ll likely be selling in a few weeks once we get home.
I have loved following along on your journey and am sad FOR you that it is over! Thanks for sharing so openly – I look forward to referring back to this series when I plan a similar trip for our family :)
Also, I’ve already forwarded a few posts to a friend who is traveling out west this fall.
Hi Emily! I’m not sure if our family went on an extensive road trip that everyone would be returning home :). Being originally from Lancaster, PA, I have to ask what town you were staying in?
We stayed in Harrisburg … but maybe the wrong side of Harrisburg?! I’m not sure. It ended up being a great couple of days to regroup and prepare for NYC, so it was fine. The Amish country area of Pennsylvania is gorgeous! I’m glad we were able to drive through on our way to Philadelphia.
Wow!!! Thank you so much for putting this all together! I have followed this entire trip in earnest, look forward to instagram notifications, and have dreamed of doing something like this with my family one day. I have started many a conversation with, “a wonderful blogger I follow is taking a cross country trip…”. Thank you for sharing this adventure! I’m sad for you, as your trip comes to an end, but can’t wait to see what you do with your inspirations for JDC!!!
Thank you, Deb! I hope you have a chance to do a trip like this in the future!
Please consider writing a book on your experience. Your writing is so entertaining. Your expressions (of deep sympathy/emotion and clever humor) always have me reaching for your next word.
You are a pleasure and thank you (and your beautiful family) for sharing your personal journey with us. It has been such a treat.
Wow! What kind words! We will for sure consider putting something together in book form – if only just to have as a family keepsake! I’m thankful that our story has resonated with so many and look forward to seeing how God will use our experience to bless others … we’ll see!
Thanks for sharing this adventure with us!!! Really appreciate you taking the time to answer all the questions, read every word. So good!!!!
How And when did you do laundry?
Most of the campgrounds have laundry rooms, so we do our laundry as we go. It has been surprisingly easy!
I just read every word ..you patiently and beautifully and honestly ..typed and composed for all of us who are “following” you. What an amazing adventure you’ve undertaken and everyone’s questions are so real because.. How many people do we know … have done what you’re doing?!? I don’t even know you but, I am terribly proud of you and your family for undertaking this incredible trip! Well done.
Thank you, Nancy!
Thank you for taking the time to share this. I wonder if you would consider selling a handbook with all this info? I’d love to take a trip like this with my family (two teens) but the thought of the planning it would take baffles me (even as an organized person). I think using this platform to sell a “handbook” of sorts is a great idea. Seems like no matter where you live in the country, you could just jump on it and start from the closest destination. Just an idea. Also, I wonder if the average hubby could handle parking and driving that thing? That would be my biggest concern. My hubby doesn’t even like to park my Enclave ;) Have a safe trip home!
We are toying with the idea of putting together a book of sorts. We’ll see!
As for driving and navigating with a huge trailer … yes, it takes some practice and is so helpful that Ryan is comfortable behind the wheel. Definitely give yourself time to practice before heading out for a long journey!
This is amazing! Thank you for all these answers. I’ve been following along as if I’m in the Airstream with you, sharing each update with my husband and kids. We’ve told so many people about your trip. What an inspiration you are to families, showing what it takes to connect!
I have never posted on your blog before but after reading this post as well as all travel related posts I felt I had to post! Your trip sounds amazing and so memorable for you all. Thanks for letting your readers/followers come along for the ride :)
Thank you for commenting, Katy!
Thank you for sharing all of this info, I wanted to know every detail so this was perfect :) I saved it to Evernote so I can have it forever!
You are so inspiring and I’m envious of the extended family time and incredible memories you’ve created with your children on this trip. Seriously, they will talk about it for the rest of their lives. They will tell their kids about it and their grandkids… it will go with them forever. What an amazing gift for all of you.
I love the idea of setting a crazy goal and going for it and it’s been amazing seeing that you accomplished this huge travel feat with four kiddos. Thank you for sharing your lives with all of us, you’ve taught us all so much through the years.
Now I’ve got to get my husband a job based on the internet so we can do something similar! :)
Thank you so much for taking us along on your big adventure! With two littles and my husband’s new job, we haven’t been able to do much this summer so I’ve really enjoyed living vicariously through you and dreaming about the future. :) I am looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip. Also, your avocado toast sound wonderful and I’d love to see a picture of it!
yum…it is delicious! I’ll post a ‘recipe’.
In a few short days I will be an official empty nester. I teared up hearing you talk about not wanting it to end…the days are long but the years are so short. bravo to you and your hubby.
Beautiful, Emily! (I cried, too!) and thanks for sharing your life with us. Safe travels…
Emily, Thanks for this wealth of information! I have 2 more questions if you have time to answer…
Do you think you could easily stay at Lake Powell for 3-4 days or a day or two and you’re done? And–is there anything you would do differently to save money on the trip?
We really liked Lake Powell. I think you could stay for a few days, for sure. A boat would be useful to enjoy the lake – the beach was little more than dusty sandstone and not super impressive. But that lake, and the mountains are gorgeous.
Things to save money: we love eating out and have found that eating at a nice restaurant vs. eating at a not-so-nice restaurant costs about the same for our big family. We would have skipped eating at a few unremarkable restaurants.
I have loved hearing about your trip and am so glad you have had this opportunity! I totally laughed at your comment on your daughter wanting al the stuffed animals! I can completely relate: my 7 year old son wanted an animal at every stop! We limited it to one the whole trip and he had to choose wisely! Have a safe trip home!
I love reading about your adventures! I never usually comment but I just had to say you’ve inspired me. A trip like this has been a dream for my husband and I. Our little guy is only 18 months old but I’ve already started compiling a list of places we will take him when he – and hopefully a few more siblings – are a bit older. Thanks so much for sharing!!
I can’t imagine how hard it will be to get back to real life. I soak up every minute of our weekends. I’m sure with your children getting older, it makes it even more special!
Enjoy the rest of your trip!!
Thanks for commenting Kristyn! I hope you and your family have a chance to take a trip like this in the future! I’m sure its hard to imagine traveling with your little 18month old, but just remember 6-12 years are the golden years and the kids travel so well!
Love this update! I’m thrilled to hear your excitement to post more on home life/houses – while I read all of your posts, those are some of my favorites! And a big YES to more coffee chats. ;)
So it made me sad to see you were skipping glacier, until you said that you recognized that it needed more time on its own! As a Colorado native, who has been to many of the amazing national parks our country has to offer, I feel like I can say Glacier is in a class all by itself. Please go back and spend a few days there! I went there for a wedding a few years ago, not knowing what to expect and was STUNNED at the total beauty of the park.
Thank you. This was so interesting to read. Safe travels!
My absolute favorite post of yours to date!! I loved reading all the answers to the great questions. Makes me want to hit the road with my family of 6 too.
My biggest take away from this post is to take the time as a family to just be together and enjoy all that life has to offer. You and Ryan have given an amazing gift to each other and to your kids. Well done, you have to much to be proud of.
Looking forward to many years of enjoying and being inspired by your blog.
Safe travels home!
The summer after my freshman year in high school, (1964)my parents took us on a 6 week road trip in our station wagon. There were four kids…18, 15, 10 and 8. Instead of a trailer, we stayed in those tiny rustic motels that used to be so common. I still remember my mother making “dinner” in an old plug-in coffee pot…warming hot dogs in hot water, or heating soup. The first order of business every day was shopping for fresh food and ice, and gassing up the car. We traveled much the same route you did, only we started in California. I remember sweltering in DC because I insisted on wearing a new sweater just because it was new. And I remember driving west toward the Rockies, and how incredibly huge they looked. I remember being car sick in NYC and missing the trip up to the top of the Empire State building as a result, and a family reunion on the shore of Lake Michigan. It snowed in Wyoming (in August!) as we drove to Yellowstone. I’ve never understood how my parents managed the trip, since my mother was a stay at home mom, and my dad had retired from the Army and was starting out on a second career. But I’ll never forget the memories.
What wonderful memories! Thank you for sharing!
Great post. We live in Texas. Last summer we drove to Montana and this summer we drove to New York… stopping at many amazing places on the way and back on both trips. Good times. Love hearing about your trip!
Emily, I don’t know why but your post makes me cry. I just love what you’ve shared. So happy for your once-in-a-lifetime experience with your family, and I appreciate your sharing it with all of your readers. I have no doubt your kids will look back on this time with family and be forever grateful to you and your husband for making it happen. You’ve truly inspired me to dream big and make memories with my family. We fall into the camp of the typical American family who can’t take 3 months off at a time, but I would love to do something similar on a smaller scale. Maybe take a region at a time for few weeks at a time–I’m truly inspired. Thank you!!!
This was so good, Emily! I’m sad it’s going to be over, too. I’m learning so much from your adventure and can’t wait until our family is a little bigger/older to take a similar trip. Thank you for taking the time to share all of this with us!
xx, Katie Lewis
This was a great read! I giggled when I read your response to your and Ryan’s ‘alone time’. :)
It was also interesting to me that you might consider selling the Airstream. It totally makes sense, although I would have not thought about it like that. I think if we had decided to purchase a big item like that, I’d feel like it would be something we’d keep for a long time. However, owning it for just a short period of time and sort of leasing it, seems like an idea that makes perfect sense!
I’m wondering though… since you bought the trailer just a few weeks before you left, and things were already booked, planned, and scheduled, what would you have done if you hadn’t found one to suit your needs?
Lastly, I know you said you’d probably be putting an infographic together. I’m wondering if you would mind sharing your spreadsheet too?
Thanks for the inspiration!
We were not super worried about finding the right trailer. They are plentiful! Not necessarily used, good-condition Airstreams, which is why it took us so long to find one, but if we were not able to find one, we would have been fine taking a non-airstream trailer.
We probably won’t share our exact spreadsheet, but we’re thinking of ways we can create a helpful resource for other traveling families.
Thank you for such a detailed post and all of the posts along the way! I have really enjoyed following along on your adventure and am inspired to create a similar one for my family. Enjoy the rest of your trip and summer! ;)
I have loved following your trip and look forward to hearing/seeing the rest of your blogs full of all of your wonderful destinations. I hope a book is in order :-)
It has been such a joy tagging along on your journey. We also have 4 kids the exact same ages :) who are great travelers and I’ve loved every word of what you’ve shared about growing closer, exploring more, creating lasting memories….just beautiful.
All the best as your enter the home-stretch! You are a lovely mama and such an encouraging blogger to follow! Blessings on you + yours.
Thank you, Emily! I have been grateful to go along for the ride with your family on this trip and my husband and I are inspired to do something similar when our girls are a little older. This post and the others you have written will be very helpful when we plan. We have been cheering you on and enjoying your posts on instagram as well as the blog! I love that you have had such a special, intentional time together without the distractions and to-do’s of home and I crave that kind of focused time with my family. I am looking forward to your new content when you get back and getting back to coffee chats with you. ;)
I loved reading this …. and have LOVED following your journey!
Hi Emily, I have enjoyed every post on your amazing family trip! What an awesome thing you and Ryan have done for your family. You can bet this will provide memories and stories to last a lifetime for each of you. If only all families could do this. Or would even want to. My dream would be to do this with our children and grandchildren. We did take a big family vacay with all of them to Virginia a couple of years ago and did Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Washington D. C. I love when we are watching a movie or something on TV and one of the places show up. I always say “hey, remember when we were there?” and it always leads to sharing a memory or 2. :) You have included more information that I can even wrap my head around. lol Good job. I can’t think of anything you have left out. Thanks for sharing!
So fun to read through all of this! What an inspiration! Two things, you must post a photo sometime of your special avocado toast….sounds delicious and I need a picture! And, will you be sharing which campgrounds you stayed in each city, for those of us who may be dreaming of a similar trip….helpful to know which actual campgrounds you picked that are in close proximity to the must-do’s!
Just curious…what town in Amish Country did you stay in? I live in Lancaster County, which is considered Amish country.
Thanks for sharing this, Emily!!
My husband are doing 6 months around the world right now (no kids yet), and I’m feeling so many of the same feelings you wrote here. I’m saving this post to use your questions to share with my husband. I’m so eager to do a US trip, and I’ve loved seeing your travels here! So inspiring!
Soooooo great! I was waiting for this post. I lived in NYC for 10+ years and it’s so fun but yes exhausting for sure. Now I live in Sonoma County so it was great to see that on your “must return” list!! I drove across country to get to CA so I totally get a lot of your tips/tricks! Great advice and makes me dream again.
Oh I wish I could’ve helped you out in Lancaster, Pa! I was just showing my sister and her family around here in June, looking for Amish (they do drive their buggies right by our driveway every Sunday too!). I think I know where you probably stayed. Also, you will have to go to Maine and spend a week! It’s my favorite state! Cadillac Mountain is amazing in Acadia National Park and the air smells like roses and pine needles! But it is a hike to get there. I’m inspired by your trip and hope to do more traveling, though now just my husband and I since both kids are in college this fall.
Emily, this is a fantastic, incredibly well written piece. It’s a testament to all of you that you have created a truly magical and memorable family trip.
Is there a way you can insert an image so that people like me can easily pin it?
Thank you and cheers,
I just added an image. Thanks for the suggestion!
Thank you and pinned, Emily!
P.S. Enjoying all of the great comments and feedback.