Have you ever dreamed of hitting the road for an extended period of time -- with no ultimate destination but just traveling to see what’s around the next bend? America is a multitude of landscapes and we are blessed to have access to state and national parks, wildlife refuges, and land trust preserves where we can walk amongst the wild things and be in awe of all that nature has to offer. So, it was exciting to learn about friends Molly and Joe, who along with their four kids, packed up their things last summer to do life together in an airstream. They started in Texas logging miles in Oregon, the midwest, and sojourning through the winter in Florida. I checked in with Molly to see how the experience was going...
All photos in this post courtesy of The Moore Air
You can follow their journey at:
1. Six months ago you bought an airstream and with your husband and four kids decided to travel the United States. You had been thinking about this idea long before the pandemic hit. What made now feel like the right time to do the journey?
As it did most people, the pandemic hit us hard. Our stability was upended — we felt out of control and wanted to take back some of what we felt was out of our hands. We had been dreaming about doing this, but it was only a few days into quarantine that we jokingly said, “I wonder if now’s the time,” which turned into “let’s just go look [at some RVs],” which turned into “this year is going to be a mess.”
Those inklings persisted as the pandemic blows continued, and at a certain point, the decision to just do it became obvious and intuitive. The outdoors had also been an important part of how our family operated and it became even more life-giving during the pandemic. It was something we wanted to lean into to salvage and redeem a challenging season.
2. In your blog, The Moore Air, you begin a beautiful letter to your kids by writing, “It’s not just a trip.” Now that you’ve had some miles under you, has the the experience been meeting your hope and expectations of time spent together?
Ha! We continue to stumble over ourselves as we mistakenly call it a ‘trip.’ What is it then, a lifestyle? An orientation? We will let you know when we have that figured out.
The travel, the amazing destinations, the sites we’ve seen have all paled in comparison to the quality time we have spent together.
In terms of our marriage: cell signals and electricity are often sparse, meaning we can’t do many of the unfulfilling things that once dictated our evenings: responding to our jobs, doing undone tasks, or unwinding with Netflix. Instead, we have starry nights to sit under and books to read. In terms of the kids, we have always both worked full-time jobs, so we have relished having more of a balance of work, school, and fun that provides us the presence and connection with the kiddos. I have been enchanted by each of them, getting to watch them, teach them, and learn with them. That said, there have been challenges too — we live in a tight space — we are parent, teacher, counselor, and coach to the kids. But even in the hardest of hard moments, I am grateful I can let things blow up and then be present enough to go through the forgiveness process that might otherwise get lost in a typical life routine. Before, it often felt like so much was packed into my schedule and brain that it was harder to remember to follow up or check-in. The gift of quality time as a family has been incomparable.
3. What are some aspects of the journey that have been most surprising and most challenging for you?
Surprising —(1) A friend allowed us to stay in her condo in Crested Butte. There was plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, and all sorts of stuff we hadn’t had in months. Yet, these convenient things came with familiar expectations that caused stress. I discovered that though hand-washing dishes three times a day, making coffee in a french press, and cooking food in a space the size of a closet with limited utensils was more time and energy-intensive, I was present doing it. I knew I could only do one thing at a time. Making coffee was slower, but I learned to accept and slow myself down, too. And this is ten-fold when we are in more remote locations -- boon docking or dry camping. We don’t really take showers, the food we cook is simple, we don’t really engage with electronics. I have found simplicity in what might otherwise be complication versus complication coming from all the things promising to make our lives simpler.
(2) The rhythms of nature! I love slowly moving across our country, seeing how landscapes shift. I love watching the sun come out after days of rain and watching the depth of color of all the trees emerge. I love seasons and their changing sunsets, sunrises, and tides. I love how the weather affects what we do, what we eat, how we feel. I am learning to trust those landscapes, weather-patterns, and seasons in my own life and using nature as a cue to teach me how to better do so.
Challenging — (1) Just like home upkeep, car and RV maintenance is annoying and frustrating except it seems to upend things a bit more. We’ve blown a transmission, lost our electricity in 113 degree heat in Moab, broken down without a cell signal, and countless other derailments which have led to less-than-ideal locations, itineraries, and potential worst-case-scenarios. It comes with the territory, but it’s never fun.
(2) I want to see and do everything. And we can’t. As footloose and fancy-free as the lifestyle may seem, we still attend to work and school. We still need rest. Every now and then, there’s laundry. There will never be enough minutes in the day. So we have to pick between great options, we have to rule out some things, we have to not take some exits. And that has been hard.
4. You have a great quote in your blog that says, “We will explore, give up, rise again, and relax together. We will have deep respect for our land, our trees, our waters because we’ve seen its power, know it’s goodness. We’ve lived its seasons and can be grateful for the changing tides.” Can you speak more about your kids’ experience in nature as you visit various wild places? How do you think it’s shaped their understanding of the world?
It’s hard to articulate the profound connection I see my kids having with nature. All four of them are so different so we like to joke about how this experience will manifest itself in their adulthood. One might be a marine biologist, one might be a vet, and then there’s another who might just include some of these stories in his stand-up act. They have eaten fish and crabs they have caught. They’ve become attuned to bird calls (one can tell the difference in the pitches of different woodpeckers tapping the wood). They know how to tell the difference between a spruce, pine, and fir, and distinguish between a butte, mesa, and plateau. They all have their favorite temperature because we spend so much time outside that they know every little degree change. And then there is Sam, the two-year-old whose earliest words will always be manatee, great egret, cormorant, horseshoe crab, great blue heron, man o’ war, and a whole host of other wild animals that he identifies accurately!
Their appreciation and awe of nature is deep in their bones.
5. What are some of your kids’ favorite places and/or animals they’ve seen on the trip so far?
After making a few ‘favorites’ lists, one kiddo was feeling overwhelmed and suggested we do it geographically so that he could name some favorites for the Southeast, Northwest, etc. That said, a few places and experiences that always bubble up to the top when they are asked about their favorites include: Black Canyon Campground in Santa Fe National Forest, Driftwood Beach at Jekyll Island, Curry Hammock State Park in the Keys, watching a shark snatch a fish that my son had just caught, seeing antelope, coyote, and bison from our RV at Antelope Island at the Great Salt Lake, fishing at Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park while a massive herd of elk moved through, and the abundance of alligators, crocodiles, roseate spoonbills, iguanas, and manatees of Florida. And oh, the sea life — sand dollars, fighting whelks, horseshoe crabs, queen conchs, fiddler crabs.
6. What advice would you give to others who are considering doing the same thing?
My advice is less about taking a crazy leap off a cliff…I recognize so much goes into making this lifestyle a reality. Instead, I’d urge you to start small or, in Wendell Berry’s words “Think Little.” Years ago, we bought a family sized tent and though it required more effort than a weekend of camping would justify, it renewed me in a way that nothing else could. And, it allowed me to protect my family time. So we kept camping. Or if we couldn’t camp, we’d just go on a Saturday adventure to a swimming or fishing hole. And then another. And then another after that. And suddenly, we were on the verge of buying an RV. And then we did and here we are. So if you have the itch or if you are filled with wanderlust, start small…but then after you’ve started small, let it keep consuming you. A backyard or a neighborhood stream has life in it. Frogs, caterpillars, bird calls to hear, lizards to name.
Walk outside barefoot more. Sit on your porch instead of in your living room. Slow down with the small things, be more present to the nature you are already near.
7. Where are you headed next?
We are leaving the coast to head for the hills and journey up the Blue Ridge Parkway to connect us to a northeast route. Lots of things like Canada are up in the air given travel restrictions, but our hope is to head across the northern states to get to Wyoming and Montana by summer.
- The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess
- The Burgess Seashore Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess
- Ocean Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of the World under the Sea by Julia Rothman
- Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman
- Trees and Shrubs by Arabella B. Buckley
- Sibley Birds West: Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
- Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids: 50 Creative Projects to Spark Curiosity in the Outdoors by Kim Andrews
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashells by National Audubon Society