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The Five-Year Road Trip: Two Adults and Two Teenagers Live Full-Time in an RV

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Dissatisfied with the typical suburban lifestyle, the Boyinks packed up their teenagers and hit the road. For the past five years, they’ve lived together in an RV, traveling America, meeting like-minded families and having adventures.

Introduce yourselves!

We are Michael, Crissa, Harrison, and Miranda – parents and two teens originally from West Michigan. Five years ago, we packed an RV for a one-year road trip and ended up with a new life. Beyond seeing amazing places, we have more friends and better friendships since selling our house in the suburbs.

So far, we’ve been to 39 states. We don’t have a plan of where to go next, and we don’t want one. This adventure was about leaving routines behind.

Originally, we traveled based on what we wanted to see. Now, we focus on who we want to be with. We’ve made friends with other traveling families and route planning is more collaborative.

Admittedly, there’s been some talk of finding land where we could all park our RV’s, let our kids hang out, grow a garden together, and just come and go as the need arises. The more we talk about it the more it starts to sound like a hippie commune … but maybe that isn’t so bad.

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What inspired you to travel?

I put a toddler to bed and he stumbled out the next morning as a teenager. Seriously! Where did that time go? Everyone says “They grow up so fast,” but the truth of that doesn’t sink in until they are your own kids. The realization that most of our time with him living with us was already over was sobering.

My wife and I had some casual, wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if conversations over the years about selling it all and hitting the road. If we were ever going to do this as a family, the time was now.

We looked for serious reasons to not do it. We didn’t find any.

Crissa and I figured that so far, Harrison and Miranda had an OK story—not unlike a million other suburban families. This was the chance to give us all a really good story.

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Harrison and Miranda entering a BMX race in Georgia (last minute!).

Tell us a story from your travels.

This just happened: we booked a month in a Florida campground with another traveling family. The tenter at the site next to us was a 20-something single actor from LA who claimed to hate kids.

Regardless, we reached out and invited him to a shared supper. An unlikely friendship grew.

He ended up spending a couple of weeks and (likely) $100’s of dollars planning and executing a highly personalized treasure hunt for the families. Clues in glass bottles, maps burned into leather, all staged around the park we were in, leading to an actual buried treasure chest wrapped in artificially-aged chain and lock. Inside were personalized gifts for all based on his learning about us over the month we were there.

It chokes me up just thinking about it.

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Families on the treasure hunt. Photo by Jonathan Tracy.

How would you describe the experience of raising teenagers on the road?

Raising teens on the road is still raising teens. But we haven’t raised teens while not being on the road, so comparing the two situations is comparing reality to what might have been.

Life in our suburban house was like being in centrifuge. We’d come home and go spinning into our own corners. The RV is more like a blender. It pulls us into the center and mixes us all up in each other’s lives.

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We actually struggle with having parent-only conversations. Any part of the RV is within earshot of every other part of the RV. We actually have a rule that if you are in the bathroom you have to pretend you can’t hear the conversation and you can’t be part of it until you come out.

Question for Harrison and Miranda: What’s it like being a teenager on the road?

Here’s Harrison:

Traveling has changed my life in every way. I think it’s made me more mature than I would be otherwise, and I’ve done things some people only dream of: dancing in an Indian Powwow, surfing in San Diego, coasting down a bike on the side of a mountain (repeatedly!). While I haven’t loved every minute of it, I have enjoyed most of it.

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Lately, I’ve been diving in to another adventure – moving out on my own. 18 is a scary time for everyone, but adjusting to not moving regularly, along with living alone, makes it even more daunting.

And here’s Miranda:
I love traveling – now. For the first year, I did not like it at all. I hated leaving my town, and my friends, my weekly routine, my safe, “seeing-a-blue-jay-is-a-rare-occurence” lifestyle.

But now, change is my life.

One great thing is we direct our own education. In Arizona, I was enamored with the native plants and animals. I learned everything I could about them, eventually helping lead guided walks in the Sonoran Desert. We’re in one spot this summer, and I’m interning at the humane society, training a dog and helping with surgeries and procedures (along with less cool tasks like cleaning the animal’s living quarters).

For years, I’ve faced adventure with a smile.

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What does “life in the blender” look like?

There is no typical day for any of us. Between self-employment, home schooling, changing locations, and changing pace, there’s always changing schedules.

Take today.

Crissa and I woke up between 5-6am. She’s learning how to be the social media manager for our site, writing a new 30-day series of blog posts, and still being Mom (menu planning, job search coaching, driving if there’s rain).

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Crissa greets the sun at Myrtle Beach, Georgia.

I split my time between client work and our site. Today, I worked at the stand up desk I created on the side of our RV, took a nap in the early afternoon, and had a call about a job. As the day wound down, Crissa and I pulled our lawn chairs up to the neighboring RV and enjoyed the sunshine with our friends.

As it’s Monday, we did our parental date-night at a local tavern.

Harrison and Miranda get up around 8am. He’s looking for work, so he dropped off his newly minted resume at a few places, then headed into town on his bike to do laundry. One of his side jobs is as an umpire for a little league in town, so he did that before getting ready for bed.

Miranda studied Dutch, worked on a blog post about the Berlin Wall (the kids are blogging their way through the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire), did some knitting, wrote a fiction story, and is watching Princess Bride now.

Tell us about an encounter fresh in your mind.

Heading south earlier this year, we found a small North Carolina town advertising $12/night with full-hookups for RV’s, on riverfront sites, with wifi and nature center. That’s an unheard of price in our world (we’re usually happy to pay under $30/night), and we figured we’d stay three days.

We ended up staying almost three weeks.

There was a town celebration. Taking a photo of a vintage Willys truck led to a conversation with it’s owner, who also owned a local art gallery. That led to an invite to a sake tasting party. While sampling sake we struck up conversation with the people next to us at the small table. Turns out they were farmers, and were part of a TV show called Chef and the Farmer that runs on PBS. They invited us over for the classic southern Sunday dinner, fried chicken and all the fixings on the large covered porch with fans spinning overhead.

We came for the cheap camping and ended up hanging out with reality TV show stars.

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Our home on Wekiva Springs State Park, Florida.

The great debate: aisle or window?

The driver’s seat!

Best travel tips – go:

Let a place present itself to you.

Don’t over-research a place. Let your interest in it be natural and organic – not what the guidebooks or wikipedia claims should interest you.

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Boyink kids at Fort Frederica National Monument in Georgia.

It’s okay to just plain not like an area everyone else loves.

We’ve visited some places that rank pretty high on the “must-see” lists of other people and found them to be inauthentic or just plain boring.

What did we miss:

It hasn’t all been butterflies and rainbows. We have had tense days and seasons of discontent during our travel years. The upside is that our house is too small for elephants. Issues have to be dealt with. The downside is that if we need outside help we have to stop in an area long enough to find that help and work with them.

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Crissa and Harrison Boyink at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana.

Where are you now?

We’re in Michigan for the summer so the kids can have summer jobs. It’s a small lakefront farming town big enough for a Walmart but too small for the other big-box retailers. We’ll have a seasonal spot in a city-owned campground on a lake. Jobs, library, downtown and a farmer’s market are all a bike ride away.

Come fall, it’s back on the road.

Stay up to date with the Boyinks at their site, Ditching Suburbia, or on Twitter @boyink. 

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