Before we became a family of three... and then four... picking up to depart on an adventure was a matter of a couple minute conversation and maybe 30 minutes of preparation. Now the concept of just loading up and leaving is a bad joke.
Yet, it is our daily reality and routine, living on the road as a family of four in a converted 1978 German Fire Truck known as Orange Crush.
For those of you with young children, the idea of a weekend, week long, or even extended camping adventure may seem daunting or even impossible, but we're here to share a handful of tips for family travel we've learned over our first four years of adventure parenting.
The decision to move into a life on the road didn't just happen. A few years ago, we traveled back to New Zealand, our prior home for six years, and overlanded for seven weeks in a Toyota Surf before our first born turned two. The year before we spent a month traveling Europe when he was just one year old and the space between was filled with angst, wondering if we would ever have the freedom and flexibility to take on the challenging adventures that filled our life with meaning.
We've lived the 9-5, we've missed the best powder days, surf sessions, beers with friends and family occasions due to family needs, but as I mentioned, we are now four months into living on the road full-time and while it is the most challenging project we've ever taken on, it is also the most rewarding.
Before getting into the tips section, I wanted to pay homage to the process of building out a rig. It really comes down to the age-old question; time or money.
I knew early on that both my skillset and timeline weren’t stacked in my favor to do a full DIY build. I brought in pro help to assist in custom cabinetry, custom metalsmithing for the solar roof top frame, a full-day mechanical shakedown, and re-wiring ... and we successfully converted a 1978 German Communications Rig into a sweet 2019 American adventure mobile.
While this blew my initial budget out of the water, I learned from the best and had a hands-on education on how to properly do each step. For those without enough time, I recommend this route as it will save hours or even days of frustration. However, if you have the time, the internet has all the answers for any conversion question.
The following tips from the road are written for you, the wide eyed parent to one, two or more children under the age of six — wondering if you will ever be able to take on a longer, overland-style adventure.
A quick pit stop can quickly turn into an overnight stay.
1. Don’t turn off the vehicle unless you could imagine spending an hour, two, or even a night in that spot.
While this seems drastic and idling is the devil, we know what it's like when your child wakes up 20 minutes into a two-hour nap because you shut off the rig to run into the post office. If the children need to sleep, we try and organize longer drives around this time to get some road behind us, ensure they have proper naps, and to create time and space for ourselves for uninterrupted adult conversation. It's like dating on the road.
So, remember, before you stop — do you have rations to make lunch, dinner, and breakfast? Is there a playground within walking distance? Are there trails to run or bike? Is there a beach with pumping surf out the window? While stops at the hardware or grocery store are necessary, it's not fun to spend three hours in a hot parking lot because you didn't have the foresight to see it happen.
Pro Tip: Before just pulling into a spot, survey your options; swing through the lot once or twice considering flatness, view, elbow room, access to facilities, grass at your doorstep — and, of course, if you think you can spend the night there.
Quality, compact gear doesn't take up much space in the van and allows you to expand your camp setup when you have time to stay for a few days.
2. Comfort is key to success.
Life is different now. You aren't going ultralight. You are a family and that requires an excessive amount of gear. Don’t be ashamed; embrace the fact that you now take a table, chairs and hell maybe even a heater with you camping or on the road. We totally support the idea of only taking the essentials, but don't skimp when it comes to keeping the entire family warm, dry, entertained, and bellies full.
Some luxurious items we carry that make our lives easier include a NEMO Cosmo Double mattress for nights when we do camp, NEMO Stargaze Recliner Chairs, a wardrobe of select clothing that ranges from sub-zero to tropical, toys for the boys, running stroller, hiking baby backpack, multiple baby carriers, and the coveted NEMO Helio Pressure Shower for dishes, hauling water, showers, and even washing diapers.
For example, even when we took a trip to the Dry Tortugas, we brought both the stroller and child carrier to keep our young boys mobile, comfortable, and able to sleep through anything.Gear Tip: Here’s a list of key gear I didn’t think I would use as much as I have:
- Espro French Press Thermos (12 oz)
- 3 Inch Memory Foam Latex Mattress Topper
- Suction Cup Knife Sharpener
- Lockable Drawer Sliders
- Pre-made meals from Good To-Go from Kittery, Maine
- Children’s Audio Books and Spiderman headphones
Sometimes you have to go with the flow.
3. Adjust the itinerary.
One of the most challenging aspects of fatherhood that I had to succumb to was that the pace that I wanted to travel and live didn't jive with being a cohesive family unit. While it sounds like a sad personal betrayal, I eventually and temporarily gave up on first tracks, surfing at prime tidal/wind/swell conditions, or having a quiet pre-dawn morning to myself. I had to learn the art of flexibility and a new form of time management based on the ebb and flow of family needs in order to take the daily stress off my shoulders.
Today, this plays out by working either from 5-7 AM or 9 PM-12 AM. Taking on long drives at night, spending ridiculous amounts of time in random parking lots, meeting our daily needs inside our home on wheels, and knowing that if we go to the mountain and I spend an hour on the bunny slope with my son, it is all totally worth it. Don't get me wrong, now that our kids are older and more independent, my partner and I are making healthy space for each other to thrive, but the first years require total commitment.
Pro Tip: Acknowledge that this trip will likely be a major departure from your current state of normal. Prepare for this mentally prior to departing to limit the anxiety of too much freedom — as strange as that may sound.
4. Embody your mode of travel and make it a mobile command center.
Most of you reading this with kids are probably driving some sort of SUV, truck, van, or a self-propelled cargo bike and dream of owning a Sprinter, a sailboat or an overlanding rig that could take you and your family anywhere. While I encourage you to pursue your dreams — in the meantime, outfit your daily driver for any microadventure.
If you surf, bike, or ski — find some cheap racks so you can get your equipment on board in a matter of minutes. Always carry an emergency diaper bag, snacks, water, toys, and a change of seasonally appropriate clothes for the little ones; poop always comes at the most inconvenient of times.
Lastly, organize your gear garage into separate duffels, totes, or backpacks based on each activity your family participates in. Preparation will ensure you can spend your precious time out there, not frantically tearing apart the basement searching for the stove while the kids scream in the parked car and your partner loathes you.
Pro Tip: Streamline your kit for each family activity well before you hit the road. This will help to ensure you don’t overpack and have already culled the useless.
5. In parenthood, there is no wrong way; whatever works to get you there is a success.
So what if you don't do cloth diapers while on your two week overlanding adventure? Who cares if you load up your iPad with Netflix cartoons for the twelve-hour drive to Nova Scotia? And what about the schedule — napping, eating, playing, blah, blah, blah — might as well leave that expectation at home as the way in which you overland will quickly determine the rhythm of your family.
We have met so many families on the road that have their convenient hacks that bend the parenting values they typically aspire to; we do too and it keeps us sane and our kids in a happier space. While boundaries are needed, flexing the rules is necessary to keep the ship moving in the direction you want to head.
Pro Tip: Relax, parenting is all about the long game; you survived your childhood and a poor parenting decision (within reason) here and there is not going to ruin your child’s life.
For those seasoned parents out there, all of this may feel like old hat to you, but perhaps you know someone like us a few years ago, overwhelmed and struggling to find a new normal after the first or second child is born. The early years of parenthood are a struggle and while your lifestyle doesn't have to change, your priorities do. Don't give up on your dreams, but do go easy on yourself if it takes longer to achieve them on the circuitous, mundane routes that may be required to meet them.
Born out of a desire to rediscover themselves as a family, Colin Boyd, Sofi Aldinio and their two young boys have set off from Portland, Maine on an overlanding expedition to Argentina in a converted 1978 Mercedes 508D German Emergency Vehicle known as Orange Crush. Together they seek to capture the reality of living on the road through photography, film, the written word and a new podcast interviewing bold parents leading inspirational lifestyles. Visit Afuera Vida to sign up for their newsletter or follow their day to day adventures on instagram @Afueravida.