About two months ago I was sitting on my porch in New Hampshire finishing up a series of articles about three towns in Colorado and New Mexico. “It would be amazing to see these places,” I said to my husband. Then, we looked at each other — why couldn’t we see them?
The pandemic has turned life upside down for many people, including us. But we were lucky to have the flexibility that allowed us to check out for a while. I’m self-employed and can work from anywhere that I have good (or even mediocre) internet service. My husband is a stay-at-home dad to our daughters, 6 and 2. We were already learning toward homeschooling our first grader for the 2020-2021 school year. What was stopping us from doing all this on the road
Planning the Trip
We spent the next we delving into research and troubleshooting. Would we be contributing to the spread of the pandemic? Probably not, since we planned to stay to ourselves in campgrounds and parks, avoiding cities and indoor spaces. Could we tolerate each other for weeks on the road? Probably — after all, we’d been together essentially full-time since March. What’s the worst that could happen? There were two answers to that one — the country could lock down again, in which case we’d just drive home. Or, the economy could tank and we could be stuck with an RV that we no longer wanted or needed after our trip ended.
Both of those felt like acceptable risks. After two weeks of brainstorming, neither or us could come up for a reason not to take the trip. Ultimately, we knew that we would regret not trying it more than we would regret trying and failing.
It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a lot of privilege in this. At a time when people are struggling for basic healthcare and human rights, it feels indulgent to be taking the trip of a lifetime. At the same time, we felt like our family had this amazing opportunity that so many people would love to have — and we should at least give it a try. We felt like we could do the important work of this time — like voting and amplifying voices of people of color — from the road just as well as we could from home.
Looking at Dollars and Cents
With our minds made up, we began to look at the finances of the trip. The biggest expense would be purchasing an RV. We ended up financing a newer RV that we hope to sell in the spring. Since we bought at the end of the season and will be selling at the beginning, we’re hoping to get almost what we paid. Financing the vehicle allowed us to keep our savings on hand for any unexpected expenses.
The real financial breakthrough was listing our home on Airbnb. We live in a rural town about two hours North of Boston. While it’s just home to us, I realized it might be an escape for people looking to spend the fall outside of the city. Although my husband was hesitant, I listed the home on a whim, and it immediately booked up for 8 weeks. The revenue from that should cover gas and camping expenses, meaning that the only additional cost is the payment of the RV — about $100 less per month than we would be spending on daycare during a normal year.
Life on the Road
We’ve been on the road for a little more than a week now, and we’ve been surprised at how easy it is. So far, we’re confident we made the right decision. Still, the start of the trip has involved some adjustments.
My first goal was to get to Yellowstone National Park. I figured it would take us about 10 days to get there, traveling with kids. It turns out, we’re moving much more slowly — we’re less than halfway there. I’ve had to adjust my mindset to recognize that this isn’t a typical vacation. If we’re going to sustain the trip — and enjoy it — we’re going to have to rest whenever one of us needs it. No one wants to travel with overtired kids or adults. It’s too soon to say whether our Great American Road Trip will be a smashing success, but I know it will be the stuff of family lore no matter how it plays out. Watching my daughter’s jaw drop at Niagara Falls was something I won’t forget, and having lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in five years filled my heart after months of social distancing. Waking up in a new place each day and discovering alongside my kids is magical. So, for now, we’re chugging along on our family trip, savoring the new experiences each day brings.