What’s it like to travel full-time with kids? It’s been three months since we sold our house, packed most of our belongings into a storage pod, and hit the road to travel full time for the next year or so with our two girls, ages 4 and 6. So after 3 months of full-time travel with kids, here’s an update on how things are going, and what our family has learned so far.
Hopefully, everything we’ve learned will help you plan your long-term family travel and not make some of the same mistakes that we did. Although you’ll still overpack. We promise.
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What Exactly is Full-Time Travel with Kids?
We are planning to travel for about a year, which many people call a Family Year Out, or a Family Gap Year.
Read Next: What is a Family Year Out?
Essentially, we have pulled the kids out of school, left our jobs, and hit the road to travel together as a family for a while. We started with a 60+ day road trip across the United States from Connecticut to Northern California. Our longest stops were to visit with family in Los Angeles for a week, and in northern California with family for just over two weeks.
You can read about our cross-country itinerary: An Epic Cross-Country Road Trip Itinerary: 8 Weeks Coast to Coast
Are You Driving an RV or a Camper?
We are driving a Subaru Outback, so we do not have a lot of space. We did add a cargo storage container on top of the car which holds things we don’t access very regularly, like camp chairs.
How Can You Afford to Travel Full-Time with Kids?
We sold our house in Connecticut when real estate was at a high, and are traveling off of some of the proceeds. We do not currently have remote jobs, though we’d love to see this blog support some of our travels eventually!
Where Are You Now?
We are currently in Seattle, WA. It’s raining, and the kids are quietly watching PBS shows on their iPads. We just did laundry using quarters in the hotel machine. When you are on the road, life doesn’t stop, you still have to get groceries and do laundry (though there’s a lot less cleaning of bathrooms!) You also have to pack and unpack the cooler a lot.
How’s School Going?
School is going well! Our kids are in Pre-K4 and Grade 2. Both kids are enjoying time4learning.com. We reserve iPads for school work (we have yet to use them in the car), and the kids know that after they complete their agreed-upon school work, they can have some free time on the iPad.
We also are big believers that our travel experiences themselves are half (or more) of their education. They learn geography as we cross borders, about various animals and geology in the national parks, and even math as we start working on currency conversions.
A few days ago we watched a glass blowing demonstration, and we all learned so much. They are also (slowly) learning how to be street smart, and bravely trying all sorts of new things, like hand-feeding bison!
How Do You Stay Safe Traveling with Kids?
We have created several rules for ourselves to keep all of us safe as we travel.
First, we all mask up indoors, all the time. In elevators, hotel hallways, stores, etc.
Second, we try to eat outdoors are much as possible. This is sometimes easy, in temperate climates, and can be really hard when it’s either very hot or very cold. We have picnic lunches a lot. We ate on patios in Las Vegas when the temps hit over 100 degrees, but have struggled more with cooler weather. Montana was rough- apparently, no one eats outside there, and masks are not common.
The kids are learning that testing is part of life now. We tested before being in contact with a baby cousin, after a friend we hung out with was potentially exposed, and again recently in order to cross the Canadian border.
Finally, we get to break our own rules when we see fit. For example, sometimes we agree to eat inside a restaurant if it’s early in the evening, there are open windows, and it’s not crowded.
Are You Going to Travel Internationally?
Yes, tomorrow we head to Canada! We are driving, which limits our exposure to other people. We are also planning to drive into Mexico (Baja Norte) in November.
Hopefully, we will be able to travel further internationally starting in January of 2022. Right now we are 2 vaccinated adults, and 2 unvaccinated kids, so we have to be very careful. We are hoping to have all of us vaccinated before we start taking long rides on public transportation, either by plane or by bus. There’s no guarantee on when that will happen, or which borders will open when, so we’re constantly readjusting our plans.
What We’ve Learned After 3 Months of Full-Time Travel with Kids
Here are a few of the things we’ve learned over the last three months as we found our groove traveling together as a family.
Travel is Not Vacation
We are not on vacation. You may see pictures of us smiling in beautiful locations on Instagram, but we still have to wash our clothes, get our kids to brush their teeth, negotiate over who gets to push the elevator button when, and deal with all the other tantrums and sulking and sass that come with raising kids.
Occasionally when we visit with friends or family, the kids are distracted by other people, and we get a break from being fully “on”. But generally, we are with each other 24 hours a day. There is no break while the kids are at school, or a play date, or anything else. Most of the time we are together, in one car or one small hotel room.
Road Time is Quiet Time
When we planned our first road trip, I was very wary of too many hours in the car, thinking we might drive each other crazy. Turns out, car time can often be the closest thing to a “break” that we get. While there is lots of chatter, and sometimes bickering, there are also times where the kids find their own groove with each other, or coloring books, and we all listen to music and just chill. This tends to be our reset time from each other.
Too Much Hotel Time is the Worst
The time when we are all at our worst? When the kids are couped up in a too-small hotel room, with no toys, and we’re busy trying to do something like find a place to get dinner. They twitch and thud and generally can’t control their bodies, which drives us all nuts in a confined space.
We (Still) Have Lots of Stuff
So, despite our best efforts, we overpacked. When we finally closed the door on our storage pod, we still had so much stuff we could barely close the car hatch. We shipped quite a few boxes to California and started out. When we hit California we purged again, and still, we are struggling to get our things down to a “manageable-on-a-plane” size.
Trying to pack for four people and three seasons (we long ago gave up on being equipped for a true winter), is tough. The kids are too small to carry much of their own stuff. We are getting there, but our packing situation is still a work in progress.
I was concerned that my LLBean White Moutain 55 liter backpack just doesn’t hold enough, so for this leg of our trip, I switched to the Osprey Fairview 55. The Fairview, while also 55 liters, opens flat like a suitcase and includes a zip-off daypack that increases its volume. I was hoping that packing differently would work better for me, but to be honest, I’m not loving it. I need something that is expandable when I need to just stuff and go, and the Osprey needs to be arranged just so or it won’t zip.
We are Tired of National Parks
So far, we have visited 12 National Parks and another handful of monuments, memorials, and other places that don’t quite qualify as National Parks (but you can get in with your Annual Park Pass). We have loved so many of these parks, but we are getting tired of national parks.
The kids loved getting Junior Ranger badges, but after so many of them in a short time, they have lost their luster. Some of these National Parks are as close to camping as we’ve come on this trip, and often the food options in the parks are very limited.
Food is Hard
When traveling with young kids, food is hard. Just like in normal life, we have to figure out meals multiple times a day, and it’s exhausting. We are in a hard middle ground- the kids are too old, and eat too much, to just share a plate with us, but we all get tired of the same old kid’s menu of junky burgers and chicken fingers. Finding a variety of food that we all like (and will eat, and bonus, has some kind of nutritional value) is hard. All the time.
We have a solid picnic routine down- we know the kids will eat sandwiches, and it’s a great way to keep us all eating fresh fruits and vegetables. We try to limit our picnic meals to once a day- sometimes for lunch, or if we are getting in late somewhere, sometimes for dinner.
We also get delivery or pick-up food to eat in our hotel room quite a bit. We find that after a busy day out, it’s great to kick back in the room with a movie and some food. We also find that we spend a lot less on delivery than we would if we sat down in a restaurant.
The other night I was getting frustrated trying to order food to be delivered to our room, it was getting late and the delivery estimates were long. S(6) volunteered to be in charge of making sandwiches instead. Sometimes simpler is better!
Hotels are Expensive
Hotels have gotten more expensive, and traveling in the US overall is expensive. I have memories of traveling cross-country a few years ago when a $75 motel room in a remote location off the highway was just fine. Maybe not luxurious, but clean, simple, and fine. I had a goal of keeping our average per night cost under $100. In reality, some of the rooms that were close to $100 a night were, well, icky. Wash your feet before you get into bed icky. Trying to stick to a budget and make the right choices for each location when moving so often is tough.
The World is (Still) Uncertain
When we first started planning in early spring of 2021, we were optimistic about the improving state of the world. We (like everyone at the time) thought that as we moved across the country, restrictions would lift and we could breathe easier about traveling. We were even considering traveling internationally by September. As we all know, things have only gotten more complicated and uncertain. So we are planning only a few months ahead, and keeping our options open as much as possible.
Time Together is Amazing
Overall, the time we are spending together is amazing. S(6) has lost two teeth on this trip, with several others that have been threatening to drop for months, and has learned to tie lace-up shoes. E(4) has become a better hiker and climber and is generally our family cheerleader. She loves to sing loudly while hiking, which makes everyone we pass smile. The girls’ bond with each other has grown as they constantly make up games together and share a bed most nights.
The Kids Need Other Kids
One thing we didn’t really plan for is our girls need to socialize with other kids. We do our best to spend time at playgrounds, and they are working on their confidence approaching other kids to make friends. Often they befriend more than one kid at a playground as kids come and go. But this is where S(6) suffers the most, she needs kids her age to chat with, and has recently developed more of a need to have some parts of her life be private from her parents. We are hoping to join some world schooling pop-ups in the near future to help her meet this need to socialize.
We Need to Slow Down
Slowing down is hard, especially when hotels are expensive, but we all need time to decompress and not pack and unpack quite so often. We have not been successful with AirBnbs because short stays are just not economical. Slowing down should allow us to stay in more of an apartment or suite setting where we have more space. We have been really lucky with the weather as we’ve traveled so far, but we are realizing that we need to schedule a few extra days just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
What’s Next for Our Family Travels?
We are now in the middle of a 30+ day loop through the American Northwest, including Wyoming, Montana, a bit of Canada, and then down the Pacific coast until we get back to family in California.
You can check out our full itinerary: American Northwest Road Trip with Kids: Yellowstone, Glacier, and the Pacific Northwest
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram (@sharingthewander), this is what we update the most often when we are on the move.
We’re planning another road trip down to Los Angeles, San Diego, and then crossing into Mexico and exploring Baja Norte. Hopefully, we’ll be able to explore Mexico more fully via plane and bus in January.
Do you have any questions for us? Anything you’re wondering about life on the road? Let us know in the comments!